Thursday, April 30, 2009

Transparent for his light

[...] At the end remains this question: What does this saint [Germanus] have to tell us today, [being] chronologically and also culturally very far from us? I think substantially three things. The first: There is a certain visibility of God in the world, in the Church, which we should learn to perceive. God has created man in his image, but this image has been covered in so much filth from sin that consequently God is almost not seen anymore in it. Thus the Son of God became true man, perfect image of God: In Christ we can thus contemplate the face of God and learn to ourselves be true men, true images of God.

Christ invites us to imitate him, to come to be similar to him, so that in each man the face of God, the image of God, again shines through. In truth, God had prohibited in the Ten Commandments making images of God, but this was caused by the temptations to idolatry that believers could be exposed to in the context of paganism. Nevertheless, when God became visible in Christ through the incarnation, it became legitimate to reproduce the face of Christ. Holy images teach us to see God in the form of the face of Christ. After the incarnation of the Son of God, it has therefore become possible to see God in the images of Christ and also in the face of the saints, in the face of all men in whom the holiness of God shines.

The second [lesson] is the beauty and dignity of the liturgy. To celebrate the liturgy in the awareness of the presence of God, with this dignity and beauty that allows one to see a bit of his splendor, is the task of every Christian formed in his faith.

The third [lesson] is to love the Church. Precisely concerning the Church, we men are inclined to see above all its sins, the negative; but with the help of faith, which makes us capable of seeing authentically, we can also, today and always, rediscover in her the divine beauty. It is in Church where God makes himself present, offers himself in the holy Eucharist and remains present for adoration. In the Church, God speaks with us, in the Church, "God walks with us," as St. Germanus says. In the Church, we receive the forgiveness of God and we learn to forgive.

Let us pray to God so that he teaches us to see in the Church his presence, his beauty, to see his presence in the world, and that he helps us also to be transparent for his light.
(The end of a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave today [Thursday, April 30, 2009] at the general audience in St. Peter's Square, part of a catechetical series he is giving about great writers of the Church in the Middle Ages. Full text here.)

Giving you a gift that originates in you...

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

I guess I have to say something about this

Mary Ann Glendon did not refuse the Laetare medal because the president would speak at the Notre Dame graduation. She also did not refuse the honor because the president would receive an award at Notre Dame. She told Fr. Jenkins that she was refusing the Laetare medal for one reason, and one reason only:

Then I learned that “talking points” issued by Notre Dame in response to widespread criticism of its decision included two statements implying that my acceptance speech would somehow balance the event:

• “President Obama won’t be doing all the talking. Mary Ann Glendon, the former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, will be speaking as the recipient of the Laetare Medal.”

• “We think having the president come to Notre Dame, see our graduates, meet our leaders, and hear a talk from Mary Ann Glendon is a good thing for the president and for the causes we care about.”
This was the reason she decided to refuse the Laetare medal -- because she felt (rightly so) that she was being used as a political poker chip. This was the deal breaker.

Before she decided to refuse the medal, she was indeed "dismayed" with Notre Dame's decision to give the president an honorary degree: "First, as a longtime consultant to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, I could not help but be dismayed by the news that Notre Dame also planned to award the president an honorary degree."

What Dr. Glendon did not realize at the time of writing her letter, is that Fr. Jenkins had submitted his talking points to his bishop, John D'Arcy, and had already been told that the points were in serious error.

I feel it is disingenuous to suggest that Dr. Glendon refused the award only because of Obama's stance on abortion. It's just not true. If Fr. Jenkins hadn't issued his talking points and publicized them widely, it is most likely that she would have arrived at the Notre Dame commencement and delivered a very interesting speech ("Last month, when you called to tell me that the commencement speech was to be given by President Obama, I mentioned to you that I would have to rewrite my speech."). Boy, I wish I could read that speech! I wonder whether she will release it anyway, following the pope's example in his misadventure with La Sapienza University in Rome. Who will write to her to request it?

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

This is the only real problem with the whole Notre Dame thing...

Bishop D'Arcy

The legality of abortion is a small matter when compared to the question of obedience to one's local bishop. It would be a beautiful day for the Church in the United States if what is contained in this letter would raise a greater outcry than the question of the president's abortion policies.

A letter written by John M. Darcy, local bishop in South Bend, Indiana:

Statement to the faithful


I am not someone who counts prayers -- I mean, if you know anything about the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, you will think that I probably don't get it if I'm counting Memorares. God certainly takes us to uncomfortable places we never thought he'd lead us.

That's my first observation upon having reached 979 Memorares -- this feels uncomfortable.

One interesting thing that has happened to me on this adventure has to do with the problem of translation. When I learned the prayer, my translation was different than the one that many of my friends use, so I've come to address both the most "gracious" Virgin Mary, as well as the most "blessed" Virgin Mary. As I've been repeating this prayer, sometimes I will say "gracious" and sometimes "blessed," without any sort of plan or reason. Then, one time, both words wanted to come at once and I addressed Mary as "most blecious," which sounded to me like "precious." Then I prayed a whole cycle of Memorares using the word "precious." Finally, I looked up the original Latin and spent quite a bit of time trying to learn it in Latin, and then praying in English but using the word "piisima" or sometimes "most pious" or "most loving" in place of all the other words. Unfortunately, my favorite of all these words is still "blecious" -- it sounds awful, not at all like a word to be addressed to Mary - and yet, it sums everything up so nicely!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

500 Memorares

After quite a bit of search, I was unable to find a painting of St. Bernard standing in front of Mary. Isn't that remarkable?

When Fr. Roberto visited us, he told us that he prays the Memorare in sets of ten thousand, asking to see Christ's face -- and he suggested that we do the same. At first I thought that I didn't need to follow this suggestion, since it hadn't been directly addressed to me and because I was under the impression that I could see his face just fine, already.

But then a need I had been ignoring couldn't be ignored any longer, and I realized that I would stand to lose something that I treasure unless I could begin to see Christ's face in a given set of circumstances. The choice became very clear: pony up the ten thousand Memorares or sacrifice what I hold most dear.

So, I began. And now I've had some interesting experiences with this prayer that I can share with you. The first concerns common sense. I had no idea what an enemy common sense can be to doing what is necessary to be happy! Inside, I began to quibble about whether it was necessary to go on reminding Mary of something she so clearly already knows better than I -- I wanted to change the prayer to "I remember, O most gracious..." or "Remind me..." and I even did change the prayer during several recitations (and no, I haven't subtracted those from my total!) because it felt wrong to say something so silly to Mary. The truth is that by soliciting this prayer from me, she is indeed reminding me, and in setting up this irritation (like an itchy grain of sand) in me, she allows the pearl of simplicity slowly to form. And common sense stirred up another problem: why so many of the same prayer -- am I not simply multiplying words? Surely 100 is more than too many? This objection is answered very simply -- my good friend Sharon once gave me the best advice I've ever received, "Follow and live." I have followed Fr. Roberto in other things, and he helped me immensely. The only reason to do ten thousand Memorares is that Fr. Roberto has clearly showed me the face of Christ, and I want to follow him -- if I do follow him, I expect great things. Otherwise, it's crazy to follow anyone!

I've only completed 500 Memorares, but I have already received tangible gifts. The first is the great honor to stand in close proximity, in front of my mother, Mary. Who can say this prayer without being thrust into her presence? To stand, "sinful and sorrowful" in front of Mary is the greatest grace! And how soon after we've finished this prayer, do we forget where and with whom we've been? To repeat the prayer means to remain in front of her, to prolong our awareness and awe.

Also, my particular petition has already been answered. I saw Christ's face, finally, in a place where I'd despaired of finding him. So, why continue? Because with God there is always more. Who knows what will happen? I'm taking whatever adventure he sends me!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Picture of the year

My friend Sharon shared this photo, taken in Abruzzo: “A fireman kisses a statue of a Virgin after recuperating it from the tower of a Barroque church that was destroyed during the earthquake that hit the Italian region of Abruzzo. Photo: EFE / Ettore Ferrari.” Article here. The picture was posted on Iconia, a blog I'd never seen before.

Friday, April 10, 2009

bittersweet 16

I asked Serena what I should write about Sophie, and she said, "Um, she's cool... and pretty ... and nice ... and sixteen?"

Perhaps that is all there is to say about her today. It sums up everything, and yet it feels inadequate. Sixteen years ago today she made me a mother. And the absolutely marvelous thing is that she is herself. She has talent and grace and insight that I've never had. Where did these things come from? If I had any doubt that God exists, Sophie would be all the proof I need that he doesn't merely exist, but he rules every moment that happens and rules with a tenderness that is beyond anything anyone can imagine.

Happy birthday, my dear.

Thursday, April 9, 2009


each light represents a gift

There was a time in my life when every year I was disappointed by my birthday. One year, while I was in college, in order to solve this problem, I decided to declare the week before my birthday "Suzanne week." The rationale for this move was that at least one of the days leading up to April 9 would have to be a good day. But then, in April of 1993, I began a new stage in life, when every day of the whole year felt good enough to be my birthday. That's what it's like to encounter Christ. What happened? My first child was born. Though this experience was ambiguous, and I didn't have the wisdom of CL to help me to call it an encounter with Christ, nonetheless, that's what it was.

To be handed back my life, so that each day is a complete miracle and so that moments that pass each contain amazement and wonder is not something I earned or even worked for. I just had to want it with all my heart, to expect it with trembling, hoping against hope. This is what I pray will happen to you.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

"A slave is one who waits for someone to come and free him"

The quote in the title come from the poet Ezra Pound. It's a fascinating definition. What are we waiting for? As Christians, we are indeed waiting for Christ, the one who frees us. Thus we're slaves of Christ, as St. Paul describes.

But what defines the person who is not waiting for anyone to free him? Hopeless. One could even call this person lifeless.

The issue is, do we look to situations and circumstances to rescue us from the feeling of restlessness and dissatisfaction we experience in front of any limited object? Or do we rather settle for something less -- for material comfort, for power, for the regard of others, from the dream of our own moral consistency?

In only one case is this point in the circle [the human being in the immensity of the cosmos], this single human being, free from the entire world, free, so that the world together and even the total universe cannot force him to do anything...This is when we assume that this point is not totally the fruit of the biology of the mother and father, not strictly derived from the biological tradition of mechanical antecedents but rather when it possesses a direct relationship with the infinite, the origin of all the flux of the world, of the whole “circle,” ... that is to say, it is endowed with something derived from God...So here is the paradox: freedom is dependence on God. It is a paradox, but it is absolutely clear. The human being – the concrete human person, me, you – once we were not, now we are, and tomorrow will no longer be: thus we depend. And either we depend upon the flux of our material antecedents, and are consequently slaves of the powers that be, or we depend on What lies at the origin of the movement of all things, beyond them, which is to say, God. (Luigi Giussani, The Religious Sense, page 91)
If we are not waiting for God to free us, and yet we're still waiting and open, then we will indeed be slaves of whomever holds power -- be they peers with forceful personalities, overbearing supervisors, critics (if we're artists), popular opinion (if we're politicians), rules and regulations and even points of etiquette that define every sphere of life. Even the masters, in this scenario, are slaves.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Friendship in Christ...

... is something so utterly other from ordinary friendships. It doesn't depend on how marvelous I am or how entertaining the other person is. It doesn't require proximity in space -- or even in time! It begins before the two people meet (even before they meet through the internet). It takes as many forms as there are people, and yet the substance is the same in every case. A friend is first of all a witness -- someone who has seen the face of Christ. Her prior meeting with Christ doesn't even need to be a subject of conversation (though it inevitably becomes one) -- you can see the experience in her eyes. And as soon as you see it, you know you are friends. There might only ever be one look exchanged -- one look in an entire lifetime -- and never any words spoken, and still you are friends for life. Or you might never see the person, but another friend can tell you about her, and you are lifelong friends (I'm friends with St. Teresa and St. Charles in this way).

How different this friendship is from the toil and the vagaries of the other sort of "friendship," in which one must always be "something" for the other person, one must always meet some need. Only in friendship in Christ can I be so free, so happy!

O Lord I love the habitation of your house and the place where your glory dwells!

A judgment that comes out of Notre Dame

The following is a judgment written by members of the Notre Dame community who belong to Communion and Liberation. It concerns the controversy surrounding the university's invitation of President Barack Obama to receive an honorary Doctorate of Laws and to give the 2009 Commencement address.

A New Commencement

Notre Dame’s invitation to President Obama to deliver the Commencement address and to receive an honorary degree unleashed a wide controversy and provoked violently opposed reactions among all who look upon this University as a sign of the ideal of Catholic higher education. The community finds itself divided and confused, and the integrity of the University’s educational mission is being challenged. On such an occasion, with great urgency we feel the need to take hold of the reasons for which such an institution exists.

What is the meaning of Christian education, and even more fundamentally what is Christian life today? How do we live today the fruitful faith that led a handful of French missionaries a century and a half ago to found a tiny college on the shore of Saint Mary’s Lake—where before there was nothing—with the firm conviction that that the school “will be one of the most powerful means for doing good in this country”? How is that connection between faith and life present as the impetus for our work in the university and in society?

For us faith is not an ethical code nor an ideology but an experience: an encounter with Christ present here and now in the Christian community. Christian faith gives us a freedom and a passion for living that express themselves above all in the form of questions as we face reality, and an inexhaustible openness to everything human. Political and ethical categories do not define us; our life springs from belonging to a fact, to a story begun and carried forward by an exceptional Presence in human history. Over the course of two millennia, that Presence has inspired innumerable initiatives that have educated men and women, including the University of Notre Dame. We cannot limit our thirst for truth and our desire to enter into a genuine relationship with reality; we want certainty about its meaning in its totality. We need a place where faith and reason are not enemies, where their unity launches us on a path of knowledge that is fearless, open, and free.

An invitation to a Catholic university – an invitation to anyone, especially to the President of the United States of America – should be an invitation to encounter that history, that method of relating to reality, and that experience of life and freedom.

What then is at stake in this Commencement Day? Much more than merely defending values — even the most sacred — or affirming a Catholic institution’s “openness” to the world. At stake is our hope for the future of the university and the future of society.

For us hope begins from the recognition that with Christ we discover a new way to live life, to study, to do research, to be involved in politics and economics, to work in the world. In commencing from that Presence, we live hope not merely as a sentiment, a dream, or a project of power but as a certainty for the future that springs forth from an experience happening now.

With the certainty of faith that Father Sorin had after Notre Dame burned to the ground in 1879, let us recognize at the end of each day that we “built it too small … so, tomorrow, as soon as the bricks cool, we will rebuild it, bigger and better than ever”.

- Communion and Liberation

Monday, April 6, 2009

Mud isn't nice

Over the weekend, our visitor, Pietro Rossotti came with two friends, Santi Ramos and Amy Sapenoff. Pietro gave a presentation on our School of Community book, Is It Possible to Live This Way? Volume 2 Hope. Next year, Pietro will be ordained in the Fraternity of Saint Charles Borromeo.

Pietro's presentation was useful because in it he told us about his experience of meeting the Movement, an encounter that led him, eventually, to the seminary. While he was in college, studying philosophy, he met another student named Manuel, who invited him to go out for beer. As they were speaking, Pietro described his love for philosophy. Manuel said to him, "You are trying to make sense of reality, but it's the opposite. You have to be in wonder in front of reality." Then he told us that hope is born from being open and being with somebody else.

It is so difficult to speak about these things that happen! Who am I that these friends should come into my life? Because during this weekend, by chance, another person from the Movement came to visit her daughters. Before this weekend, we had only exchanged a few sentences at the National Diakonia. But during this week, she has been staying with us, and her witness at School of Community and in the many beautiful conversations we've had, has been an anchor and a light to me. So, Elizabeth has shared all the time we had with Pietro, Santi, and Amy; and the experience was richer (even richer!).

What I am struck by, yet again, is that CL is not a club, and it isn't a place where we huddle so that we can then deal with reality. It is a breath of life, an unfolding beauty that we observe in awe. Christ truly embraces everything.

And I am grateful for the trials that God has given me. I am so very grateful because without them, I would never have moved. I would be stuck, like a dumb ox in mud, thinking the mud was nice.

A Catholic University?

I have been following the events at Notre Dame with great curiosity, and when I read what Sharon blogged (she has links to everyone else, so just read what she wrote and follow her links) on the subject, I sensed an invitation in her post. So, here I am!

Every time I began to think about the president's invitation to speak at (and to receive an honorary degree from) Notre Dame, a conversation I once overheard would run through my mind. A Catholic philosopher who was teaching at the University of Chicago was speaking to the dean of one of the colleges that is considered more orthodox and serious about its Catholic identity. The philosopher observed that he could always tell which of his students were either Catholic or Jewish from the rest of the students. The dean asked him how he could tell, and the philosopher replied, "The Catholic and Jewish students all have a sense that there are other countries in the world, that people speak other languages, that in the past there were people, people who came from cultures very different from our own, who thought great things and whose works are worthy of examination." The dean seemed bemused and then said, "Well, we know our students are Catholic because daily Mass on campus is packed with students, because they often gather together to pray the rosary, and because a majority of them major in theology, and because they engage in a multitude of pro-life activities." And that was the end of the conversation.

I think that Stephen (not my husband, but a good friend) is right that the people who now decry Notre Dame's invitation to President Obame are (more or less) the same people who have been suspicious of Notre Dame's claim to being a truly Catholic institution. It seems that this controversy provides them with a litmus test -- to judge just how "Catholic" Notre Dame is. Will Notre Dame waver under the barage of email, phone messages and letters of protest, or will she remain "Catholic in name only"?

The question about what makes a University Catholic and what makes its students Catholic seems to be the unspoken heart of the whole brouhaha. There is enormous pressure on the students to "prove" their Catholicism by protesting or even boycotting their graduation ceremony.

What troubles me is that this drive to reject a man (who is after all, our president) seems neither human nor Christian. Many of the children in my atrium pray for President Obama that he may be a good president and make good decisions. A few pray that he will stop killing babies. Both prayers indicate a commitment toward his person, toward his humanity, I think. These prayers imply a relationsionship with the man. If we want these things for him, for his ultimate good, then we must spend time with the man. Jesus spent more time with Pharisees than he did even with the poor and the lame -- at least, his conversations with the Pharisees use much more ink in the Bible. Why? Why did he spend time with them? Why did he pray with them, witness to them? Why did he forgive them from the Cross?

As Catholics, we should think hard about how we approach those who come from other worlds, who speak another language. God has placed this president in our lives for a reason. He exists and leads us for our good, to lead us to Christian maturity (as Sharon so beautifully points out). We should spend some time thinking about what is best for him, how we might help him "to be a good president and make good decisions."

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

from the big event...


Happy Birthday, Sylvie!

Seven years ago.

Dumbstruck by the Mystery

...our temptation is always to impose our prejudices or our measure on reality -- except when we are faced with a fact that leaves us dumbstruck, and instead of dominating the fact ourselves, we are dominated, overcome by it. If there were no moments of this kind, the Mystery could do anything, but in the end, we would reduce everything to the usual explanation. But not even a Nobel Prize winner can stop himself from being dumbstruck before an absolutely gratuitous gesture. If there were not these moments, we would find answers, explanations, and interpretations to avoid being struck by anything. It is good that some things happen that we cannot dominate, then we have to take them seriously, and this is the great question of philosophy. If the conditions for the possibility of knowledge (see Kant) impose themselves on reality or if there is something that is so powerfully disproportionate that it does not let itself be "grasped" by the conditions of possibility, then the horizon opens. If this were not the case, then we could dominate everything and be in peace, or at least without drama. Instead, not even the intelligence of a Nobel Prize winner could prevent him from coming face-to-face with a fact that made him dumbstruck -- instead of dominating, it was he who was dominated. Here begins the drama, because I am called to answer. It is the drama that unfolds between us and the Mystery, through certain facts, certain moments, in which the Mystery imposes itself with this evidence. These are facts that we cannot put in our pocket, which we cannot reduce to antecedent factors.
-- Julian Carron in "Friends, that is, Witnesses."