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Summer Symposia Recap: Forming the Person as Icon

In late June, the Center for Liturgy of the McGrath Institute for Church Life facilitated a summer symposium designed to creatively explore the senses of Scripture. Drawing from Sofia Cavalletti and Gianna Gobbi’s Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy sought to nurture and develop the sacramental imagination of the symposium participants and, consequently, the faith communities to which these individuals would return and catechize. While the symposium offered intellectual formation pertaining to the literal, allegorical, moral, and anagogical senses of the Scriptures, the structure of the week allowed participants to experience these senses. According to the principles of Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, it is this paradoxical structure of the human person’s physical and spiritual natures that allows the child to experience, and, more importantly, participate in, the story of sacred history. Here it is helpful to turn to Cavalletti’s own writing: [Sacred history] seems to unite elements derived from two different worlds. . . . Indeed, the expression “sacred history” could appear to be a contradiction in terms. But …

Saying God Sacramentally

My God my bright abyss Into which all my longing will not go Once more I come to the edge of all I know And believing nothing believe in this: Christian Wiman begins his memoir of faith, My Bright Abyss, with the above poem. The short verse elegantly and poignantly captures the impossible project of trying to define the ineffable mystery of God whom Wiman, as a Christian, throws his entire life into believing. At the end of this past June, Notre Dame’s Institute for Scholarship in the Liberal Arts hosted a literary gathering entitled “Trying to Say ‘God’: Re-enchanting the Catholic Literary Imagination.” This gathering commenced as the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy’s annual Liturgy Symposium, “Encountering Jesus Christ in the Bible and the Liturgy,” concluded. Both the literary gathering and the liturgy symposium meditated on words and the Word at the heart of the Christian life. As Bishop Daniel Flores remarked in his opening address at “Trying to Say ‘God’”: “The whole Christian life is a participation in the expressiveness of the WORD. …

A House Built on the Rock

Tucked into the eastern slope of Mount Zion is a beautiful church called St. Peter in Gallicantu (Peter at Cockcrow). It boasts beautiful, panoramic views of the city from its expansive grounds, which reveal the rolling contours of the Judean hills still undulating gracefully beneath the urban development which saddles them. The church’s location on the mountain’s shoulder does more than invite visitors to admire the view. Through its multiple levels, built one upon the other, St. Peter in Gallicantu invites pilgrims on a journey through its architectural explication of redemptive love. A visit to the church begins at its base, under the foundations. At this deepest level of the church, a visitor can access the archeological excavations which were traditionally believed to be the system of prisons underneath (or nearby) the first century house of the high priest Caiaphas, in which Jesus was kept the night of his arrest. The site was venerated by early Christians, as witnessed by the fourth century Pilgrim of Bordeaux, who, in 333, bears testimony to this site, remarking …

An Act of Faith: a Parent’s Experience of the Atrium

My first window into Catechesis of the Good Shepherd was actually as a senior in college, through an Atrium at a Montessori school.  I was surrounded by six, seven, and eight year olds busily coloring, arranging flowers, inviting friends into processions and little prayer services, and unrolling the longest ribbon I think I have ever seen to illustrate the History of the Kingdom of God at work (humans don’t come into the scene until about the last foot of the ribbon).  I was delighted by what I saw, and it also seemed a bit foreign—a particular language and culture with which I was not familiar. One of my favorite moments as a rookie to the Atrium that first year was when a small first grader (the son of a theologian, to be fair), came up to me and showed me his Alleluia banner—a montage the children draw during the Easter season.  He had created scenes from the Old Testament and the New Testament: the Burning Bush, the parting of the Red Sea, the Last Supper, …

Mission of Charity: Catechesis of the Good Shepherd in Northeast England

In 1933, Maria Montessori published a little-known book entitled, simply, The Mass Explained to Children. This wonderful, slim volume argues that the Mass is perfect for children. Note well: Montessori is describing the Tridentine rite, which might seem utterly impenetrable to young minds. But, she argues, a child’s sensibilities tend toward awe and wonder, and the Mass could elicit these very responses, if the child was brought to an understanding of its meaning. “Our Lord,” Montessori wrote, “perceived in children something that the adult did not perceive two thousand years ago and does not perceive today. Yet the Gospel says plainly that many mysteries shall be revealed to these little ones…We must always keep this fact in mind, so that we may be prepared not only to offer children the noblest teaching, but to offer it in a worthy form”.[1] Twenty years later, Sofia Cavalletti began to discover the perception Montessori described, and eventually published her observations in The Religious Potential of the Child (1979). Together with Gianna Gobbi, an educator who trained and worked …

The Ladder of Homiletics: 7 Steps to Effective Preaching, Part 2

In part one of this series, I introduced the first four steps on the ladder of effective preaching. I conclude here with the final three steps. 5. Communicating in Contemporary Culture The New Evangelization cannot be other than a Christian encounter with the world within our contemporary horizon. As they say, context determines content. Gaudium et Spes calls the Church to recognize the commonality that the disciples of the Lord share with all humanity, especially the poor. If the homily is unified in its method by a deployment of inductive narration, then the preacher recognizes the crucial role of the listener in an engagement of the text. Rather than simply a series of sentences supplying information, the homily becomes an event—a kind of sacrament—which forms the Christian assembly. As a formational text, then, the homily gathers and shapes the listener in Jesus’ name with a pastoral imperative to reach the contemporary ear. In this regard, the preacher keeps substantial developments in contemporary language and culture at the ready. A familiarity with the contemporary rhetoric of …

The Ladder of Homiletics: 7 Steps to Effective Preaching, Part 1

Veteran homiletics teachers are asked a perennial question: what qualities make for great preaching? In 2016, the Kyle Lake Center for Effective Preaching at Baylor University’s George W. Truett Theological Seminary took a survey on the dimensions of effective preaching. The usual suspects were mostly all there: make the sermon biblical, relevant, authentic, theological, and effectively communicated in delivery and form. But what about the sequence of these qualities? Are there aspects of effective preaching which build one upon the other, something like St. Benedict’s famous Ladder of Humility? Configuring dimensions of effective preaching like steps one after the other asks homilists to get a sure footing in one of these preaching steps before moving on to another. Here is what seven of these stages might look like. 1. Claiming a Personal Theology of Preaching The foundational principle of all preaching rests on developing an integrated theology. Why preach? When teaching seminarians studying for the priesthood, it is not unusual to hear that the initial call to ministry had little to do with a call …

Time and America’s Pastime: Baseball with My Dad

Moments before the opening pitch of a Giants-Cardinals doubleheader at the Polo Grounds in the summer of 1934, my dad remembers Jerome “Dizzy” Dean strutting up and down the length of the Giants dugout. The scrappy Cardinals ace taunted the opposition, repeating, “You guys ain’t got a chance. Nah, you ain’t got a chance today. You know why? ‘Cause Dean’s pitchin’. Yeah, that’s right. Dean’s pitchin’. . . . Dizzy and Daffy.” My dad was three. Baseball was in my father’s bones before he knew he had bones. And so it is for me because it was for him. Like a treasured family heirloom, baseball has been passed down in our family from one generation to the next. I arrived in the late-middle innings of my father’s life—that long, sleepy stretch between the bottom of the fourth and the top of the seventh. By the time I was two years old, baseball had definitively revealed that I was the family’s lone southpaw, much to my grandmother’s dismay (and distress). This had been a matter of …

Fatherhood and the Eucharist

Father’s Day is an opportunity to reflect on the meaning of fatherhood. Rather than becoming enmeshed in secular images of fatherhood, our notion of fatherhood as Christians should be derived from God the Father. Likewise, the archetype of gift within the child-father relationship is revealed in the Eucharistic sacrifice. On this holiday, we give cards, special meals, our time, a new toolbox, or other gifts to show gratitude and love. Like most holidays, Father’s Day can easily be overcome by consumerism and a superficial image of fatherhood. Consumerism and superficiality can morph the idea of gift into something entirely disconnected from the I-thou relationship. A gift is intimately connected to the I-thou relationship because a gift is something both offered and received by persons. It becomes the expression of the gratuitous love that one has for one’s father. I would like to suggest that our concept of gift can be seen anew in light of the Eucharist. Because gift implies offering, we can turn to Christ’s sacrificial self-offering on the Cross as the perfect gift. …

Notre Dame Vision and the Art of Accompaniment

As an undergraduate student imagining what life after college might hold, I joked more than once about wanting to be a professional Notre Dame Vision Mentor-in-Faith. Besides all of the laughter and play that came with the job, I discovered that walking with the high school participants made me come alive. The participants’ unique stories of struggle and joy inspired me, and their impressionability in such a broken world motivated me to pray hard for them and for myself as their Mentor-in-Faith. I hoped to find a way of life after college that might spur me to holiness in the way that being a small group leader did. During my first Vision summer in 2010, a dear friend and Holy Cross seminarian invited some Mentors-in-Faith to wash dishes at Our Lady of the Road, a drop-in center run by the Catholic Worker that offers breakfast, laundry, and showers to anyone who might walk through the doors. I fell in love with the people there and discerned to move into the Catholic Worker house of hospitality …