All posts tagged: self-giving love

Cruciform Beauty: Icon and Pattern of Self-Giving Love

Of the many images that have found artistic expression in Christianity, the Crucifixion of Jesus is perhaps the most powerful. Representations of the Annunciation, the Nativity, or the Madonna and Child have the capacity to inspire awe-filled contemplation of the Incarnation; however, few images in these categories can utterly arrest the gaze of the viewer in the same manner as the image of Jesus on the Cross. The image of the Crucifixion in all its awful glory invites and even demands the viewer to pause for a moment to consider the weight of human sin and the depths of divine love that fastened the God-man to the Cross. It is the paradox of the Cross—the mystery that the Son of God dies so that we might have life and remains glorious as God even in his horrific death as man—that has inspired artists for centuries, and each artist in his or her own way must grapple with how they will portray this pivotal moment in human history: does one emphasize the unimaginable physical sufferings of …

Witness of the Holy Fool

Dostoevsky’s task as a novelist is to portray the self-sacrifice of the holy fool in such a way that readers will recognize its beauty and want to participate in it. —Harriet Murov The moment I knew that grad school was getting to me was the moment that I found myself deeply identifying with the manic-depressive protagonist of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, Raskolnikov. Throughout the novel, Raskolnikov’s troubled state of soul manifests itself in long, circular interior diatribes and labyrinthine monologues, clearly the entrails of a mind coming unhinged. Raskolnikov is no idiot. He is a sharp and intelligent young man. The modern intellectual milieu that he inhabits, however, is a world devoid of Christ, and accordingly, Raskolnikov’s ability to make sense of the world has begun to break down. In trying to make sense of the world on the terms of his reason and his self alone, Raskolnikov has lost his mind. His intelligence, without the guide of charity or faith, leads him to a hellish despair and emptiness. It has led him to a …

The Bread and Wine of Liturgical Evangelization

Not to put too much pressure on anyone, but after you read a few hundred pages of the Compendium on the New Evangelization and study Pope Francis’ encyclical letter The Joy of the Gospel, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that the popes are expecting us to bring about, with God’s help, a total transformation of culture worldwide. This renewal of all reality is to organically grow out of the personal relationships with Christ of lay disciples who put their faith into action in our vocations of work, family, and community life. This isn’t to say that the clergy and religious don’t have a role to play. A world evangelization mission requires a laity that is formed in accordance with the Gospel and the Catechism. Thus we will be able to “Observe, Judge, and Act” our way through the myriad situations of our shared lives. That won’t happen without the experience of sacraments and especially the Mass as moments of grace, holiness, and formation. Consider two of the Americans Pope Francis recommended to us during …

“Little Children, Love One Another”

For reasons I can’t sufficiently explain, I find that the saints honored by the Church during the Christmas season somehow call my attention a little more than those celebrated at other times of the year. Perhaps it’s because these saints seem to be made more radiant in the glow of the Christmas celebration. Today the Church honors one of the most important figures in the history of Christianity: St. John, Apostle and Evangelist. John has long been a source of fascination for me: my younger brother shares his name, and because of that, when I was a small child, my ears always perked up at Mass whenever I heard the name “John” mentioned. (They still do.) As an adult, I am even more fascinated by St. John the Evangelist—his Gospel and epistles contain some of my favorite passages in all of Scripture. Were I ever to share John’s fate and be banished to an island like Patmos, I would take his writings with me, for I feel certain that I could spend the rest of my life studying …

A New Song for the New Evangelization: In the Beginning

Few things impact the celebration of the liturgy more concretely than music. Ask any Mass-goer exiting the church to recap the Gospel and he or she may begin to resemble the proverbial deer in the headlights. However, ask that same person to name any hymn sung during the liturgy and you’re not only more likely to receive an actual answer (or even a serenade), but you’re also likely to receive an opinion on the quality of the liturgical music itself. Music quite literally resonates within the hearts of worshipers in a unique way. Whether vocal or instrumental, music has a power to evoke an intellectual or emotional response that cannot be underestimated; therefore, its role in the overall impact of a liturgical celebration also cannot be underestimated. Music clothes our communal prayer in beauty, allowing us truly to “lift up our hearts” to the Lord in a way that simultaneously expresses our unique humanity and our universal desire for communion with God and one another. Given this reality, the question for parish music directors in …

Receiving the One Who Gives

All you who are thirsty, come to the water! You who have no money, come, receive grain and eat; Come, without paying and without cost, drink wine and milk! Why spend your money for what is not bread; your wages for what fails to satisfy? Heed me, and you shall eat well, you shall delight in rich fare. Come to me heedfully, listen, that you may have life. I will renew with you the everlasting covenant, the benefits assured to David. (Is 55:1–3)­ We are all thirsty. We are all hungry. We are all poor. However, if we heed the Lord we are given water and wine, milk and grain. Indeed, we delight in rich fare; it is the banquet of our God. The prophet’s words to those dispersed to participate in God’s plan for the restoration of Israel need not be locked in a purely historical framing. The prophet extends the promises made to David to the whole of God’s people; a renewed promise to all who are thirsty, to all who are poor—that …

Kings of the King

This isn’t the behavior of a Messiah. You can almost hear the crowd gathered around Jesus murmuring this to themselves. They haven’t followed this prophetic miracle-worker, this teacher extraordinaire to watch him die. He’s supposed to be the king, the Messiah, the anointed one, the Christ who has come into the world to rid Israel of Roman authority, to restore the Temple to pure worship, and gather all the nations in Jerusalem. That’s what Peter calls Jesus: “The Christ of God” (Lk 9:20). He’s the king, after all—God’s Son, who is chosen to rule over the nations. You know David? Think bigger. You know Solomon? Think even bigger. “‘The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised’” (Lk 9:22). This is not, at least upon initial hearing, bigger. Jesus in the Gospel of Luke is re-interpreting for the disciples what it means to be the Messiah. His throne is not upon the temple mount but …

The Sacrament of Marriage and the Healing of Desire

Within Catholicism, there is a significant vocation crisis, and it relates to the sacrament of marriage. In 1970, there were 426,309 sacramental celebrations of marriage in the United States with a Catholic population of 51 million.[1] In 2015, there were 148,134 marriages with a Catholic population of 81 million. While quantitative data does not tell a narrative, it remains the case that sacramental marriage among those baptized into the Church risks becoming a marginally practiced rite in the next two generations, as Americans’ views of marriage—especially among emerging adults—continue to change.[2] Of course, while an Irish American Catholic would love to simply leave the reader with this bad news as an act of dramatic performance, my obligation is to address one reason for this decline: the incapacity to make a permanent commitment to another person. This problem with commitment is especially evident among emerging adults (18–29-year-olds), who struggle with the demands placed upon them by career, financial expectations, and a malformed understanding of what constitutes the “perfect” relationship.[3] If the Church seeks to renew marriage, …

Practices of Priesthood

I have been quite fortunate in my twenty-three years of priesthood to have known some superb role models of priestly life and sacerdotal zeal; unsurprisingly, most of them are older than I am, but in fact a few of them are younger. And the lessons I have learned from them in terms of pastoral fruitfulness can, I think, be boiled down to four simple—stunningly simple—principles. Now I say “fruitfulness” rather than “success” not merely out of deference to Blessed Mother Teresa, whose advice was, quite similarly, “worry about being faithful, not successful,” but also because the language of success carries the baggage of a secular business model and I am not entirely persuaded that the Church at all benefits, least of all unwittingly, from shaping its life around the corporate paradigm; a crucifix is not, after all, an image of efficiency, productivity, or success. What are these four stunningly simple principles of pastoral fruitfulness? In short: Show Up, Smile, Work Hard, and Be Nice to People. Of course these lessons could be offered by almost any …

A Gift Unto the End

The opening Gospel for Palm Sunday describes the hope that marks Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. The disciples sing a hymn welcoming the long hoped for king into the great city: “Blessed is the king who comes/in the name of the Lord./Peace in heaven/and glory in the highest” (Lk 19:38). The reader is returned to the angelic hymn sung by angels at the birth of Jesus. Yet soon, we will find ourselves encountering not the silent peace of the manger but the sorrowful stillness of those who wait at the tomb of our dead King and God. Jesus’ entire ministry in the Gospel of Luke has been oriented toward this death. He is the suffering servant from the prophet Isaiah, who speaks words of divine comfort to the weary (cf. Is 50:4), while taking upon himself the violence of the world: “I gave my back to those who beat me . . . my face I did not shield from buffets and spitting” (Is 50:6). The more righteous the suffering servant, the more he conforms himself …