Highlights from the Notre Dame “Liturgy and Vocations” Symposium

This week I’ve had the pleasure of attending the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy‘s annual summer symposium, focusing this year on “Liturgy and Vocation.” This was my first time attending the symposium — indeed, my first time on the campus of Notre Dame — and I was delighted by the rich conversations that matched pressing pastoral questions with deep theological insights.

(Next year’s topic will be Liturgy and the New Evangelization — I would highly recommend attending!)

The symposium began on Tuesday evening with Msgr. Michael Heintz. His address on “Liturgy and Vocation” set the stage for the remaining general sessions and afternoon seminars:

The second general session by Dr. Brant Pitre was a whirlwind tour of nuptial imagery in the Bible, based in large part on his book Jesus the Bridegroom: The Greatest Love Story Ever Told.

On Wednesday Dr. Chad Pecknold of CUA spoke about the social and political dimensions of marriage and the priesthood, rooting his talk in St. Augustine’s image of the two cites.

Finally, on Thursday, Dr. Holly Taylor Coolman helped us to reflect on the nature of icons in order to practice seeing marriage and ordination as icons of Christ’s love.

These highlights don’t even touch the panel discussion on marriage and priestly formation or the two-day afternoon seminar on marriage prep that I attended — I’ll share more on them next week. In the meantime you can browse all the live-tweeting from the event by following the #NDSymposium2015 hashtag.

Thanks to Timothy O’Malley for inviting me to the symposium and for the gracious hospitality extended by the staff of the NDCL. I look forward to attending more Center for Liturgy events in the future!

“So much else is possible…”

Saint Augustine reminds us that the City of Man and the City of God intermingle. We have obligations to each. But out final home and our real citizenship are not in this world. Politics is important, but it’s never the main focus or purpose of a Christian life. If we do not know and love Jesus Christ, and commit our lives to him, and act on what we claim to believe, everything else is empty. But if we do, so much else is possible — including the conversion of the world around us. The only question that finally matters to any of us is the one Jesus posed to his apostles: “Who do you say I am?” (Mk 8:29). Everything depends on the answer. Faith leads in one direction, the lack of it in another. But the issue is faith — always and everywhere, whether we are scholars or doctors or priests or lawyers or mechanics. Do we really believe in Jesus Christ, or don’t we? And if we do, what are we going to do about it?

– Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, OFM Cap, A Heart on Fire: Catholic Witness and the Next America

Book Review: Raised Right

Alisa Harris’ Raised Right: How I Untangled My Faith from Politics and Learned to Start Living the Gospel is an interesting look into the evolving beliefs of young evangelicals raised by the now-aging members of the Religious Right and Moral Majority. The book charts Harris’ conversions from the fundamentalist Protestant religion of her youth to the triumphalist Republican politics of her adolescence to the more uncertain, searching faith of her early adulthood.

The book flits back and forth between different periods in Harris’ life, making it hard to construct a chronological narrative of how her outlook has evolved over time. It’s not until mid-way through the book that a real sense of that conversion emerges, after she enters a conservative christian college and encounters the hypocrisy of her peers and the emptiness of political maneuvering.

Harris is good at constructing a compelling narrative — each chapter includes clever anecdotes from her early life in religion and politics — but I would have liked a more nuanced look at the belief systems Harris has encountered during her life. Everything in the book is from her perspective, and the various systems of thought encountered are explained only in the most superficial way. While I recognize that this is a memoir and not a more systematic treatment of American politics and religion, a little more depth would have added context to her story.

I would also have been interested to hear if and how her parents’ outlooks have changed. In the beginning of the book they sound rigid and inflexible in their beliefs, yet by the end of the book Harris seems to indicate that their stances have softened, if not as radically as hers.

Raised Right is a quick, easy read for anyone interested in learning more about the outlook of young evangelicals seeking to move beyond the easy answers of partisan politics towards a more Gospel-based means of living in the world.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from LibraryThing‘s Early Reviewer program.

On the Usefulness of Death Panels

It seems to me that, in the cacophony of debate surrounding health care reform and the so-called “death panels,” that a simple foundational reality has eluded some people: Death panels would be immeasurably useful in modern American society.

Which is to say, they are useful in a society that has largely abandoned the traditional family and the network of support it ensures.

In the past, the elderly were largely taken care of by relatives — usually adult children — in the context of an extended network of family who lived in geographical proximity to one another. There was no question of mom or dad moving to an assisted   living facility; they simply moved in and were cared for at home, with other family members offering support and assistance as needed.

Today, this reality no longer exists — as I see it, for two primary reasons. First, children no longer live close to their parents. I live six hours from my mother; many of the friends I know live even further than that from their parents. In a mobile society, distance limits the amount of direct care children can provide for their aging parents. And given the quality of health care seniors now receive, most are able to live more active lives than their parents are their age. (My mother certainly doesn’t want to leave her home to live with my family. We’d crimp her style!) Second, the Boomers had fewer children than their parents did. This means fewer children sharing the responsibility of caring for aging parents which leads to additional stress as family.

These two factors are only exacerbated when aging parents enter the final phase of their life on earth. Again, given the quality of modern health care, this phase is often marked by catastrophic illness that even the best hospitals and doctors are unable to treat. In this situation children are called on to make excruciating decisions regarding how their parents will be treated and what medical interventions are appropriate. Most are not prepared to make these decisions, either a) because they do not know what their mother or father   would want, or b) because their own unresolved emotional issues make them less likely to accept the reality of impending death and more likely to choose superhuman interventions that only prolong dying. (I’m speaking here extraordinary measures such as choosing to resuscitate a patient in a coma who has gone into cardiac arrest while in the final stages of pancreatic cancer, not ordinary care such as nutrition and hydration either naturally or artificially administered.)

Caring for the dying elderly, especially those we love, is a thankless and heartrending task! And given that reality, the truth is that death panels would be enormously efficient and useful by taking the messy, painful, difficult — and most of all human! — process of dying and placing it in the hands of an impartial and disinterested group of individuals.

And isn’t that what we all want for our loved ones?

An End to the Culture Wars? Two Views

This is not a political blog (and don’t look for that to change any time soon), but two interesting posts on President Obama’s approach to the so-called culture wars popped up today that are too interesting to pass up. First, a post by Peter Beinart on Obama and the negating of culture issues:

[Obama] seems to think there are large numbers of conservative white Protestants and Catholics who will look beyond culture when they enter the voting booth as long as he and other Democrats don’t ram cultural liberalism down their throats. In this effort, Obama has two big advantages. The first is the economic crisis, a trauma of such historic magnitude that it makes issues like guns and gays seem trivial. The second is a generational shift taking place among evangelical Christians, in which younger leaders like Warren are broadening their agendas to include issues like poverty and the environment, thus signaling at least a partial willingness to look beyond the culture war.

Next, Ross Douthat’s rejoinder:

[W]hat makes Obama promising to liberals isn’t his potential to “end” culture-war battles – it’s his potential ability to win them, by dressing up the policies that Planned Parenthood or the Human Rights Campaign or the ACLU or whomever would like to see in the kind of religiose language and fuzzy talk about consensus that swing voters like to hear. So waiting a day to reverse the ban on overseas funding for groups that provide abortions, for instance, isn’t a compromise in the culture wars, or an act of moderation – it’s a way of making a victory for the left seem like an act of moderation to people who aren’t that invested in the issue.

I’m inclined to side with Douthat on this one: ignoring cultural issues doesn’t make them go away, and public policy is never culturally nuetral. Whatever his intentions, the end result of Obama’s policies land us squarely into cultural liberalism.

Novena for Faithful Citizenship

Today is the first day of the national Novena for Faithful Citizenship. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has invited Catholics in America to pray every week leading up to the November elections.

Through the Novena prayers and accompanying scripture readings, Catholics will be able to prayerfully reflect on the Church’s teachings on life issues, reconciliation, social justice and the dignity of the human person.

The Novena, which is based on the USCCB’s document Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, is available in both print and mp3 formats and can be downloaded at www.faithfulcitizenship.org/resources/podcasts.