Author: Maria Morrow


This image appears in the 1941 “My Sunday Missal Explained,” Confraternity of the Precious Blood (Brooklyn), original copyright 1938. (This was my grandmother’s missal.) As a cradle Catholic raised in the post-Vatican II era, I began lectoring alongside my dad at my local parish at the young age of 12. The diocese of Des Moines must have been behind the rest of the U.S. because girls were not yet allowed to be altar servers in the 1980s. I never minded that; I preferred to lector. And when I attended the University of Notre Dame, I became the liturgical commissioner for my dorm, in charge of scheduling presiders and training lectors, and yes, I was now responsible for serving at Mass. I also was privileged to lector at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, and I credit the rector Fr. Peter Rocca for improving my skill at the ambo – “louder, slower, louder, slower,” were the constant reminders that stuck with me for years to come. After college, as a young singleton living in southern California, I continued to lector and to be a Eucharistic minister. And when I moved to Ohio to begin graduate school, I made sure to get on the Sunday lector and Eucharistic minister rotations at my new parish, as well as at the University of Dayton chapel for the daily 12:10 Mass. Then I got...

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(Negative) Experience as a Theological and Pastoral Category

In recent years, there has been a trend toward what is called “positive psychology.” In brief, the point of positive psychology is to examine what makes people happy or fulfilled, rather than focusing upon the negative circumstances that have led to problems or serious pathologies. Positive psychologists ask what leads to a life of flourishing. Interestingly, one common idea is that difficult, challenging, and even painful experiences can eventually lead to greater overall happiness or fulfillment. This argument can be found in the works of psychologist Martin Seligman or captured in the movie Happy. In his book Flourish: A Visionary Understanding of Happiness and Well-being, Seligman suggests that people can grow psychologically in response to trauma or adversity. He identifies three skills that can help people respond well to adversity: 1) building mental toughness, 2) building strengths, and 3) building strong relationships. Seligman argues that these traits can also be developed in a person….again, by effort. Optimism, including “learned optimism” even has positive biological effects. A person’s conviction that his actions and responses to situations can affect her future make a difference. A person’s social support system – having friends and family that he can count on – make a difference in responding well to adversity. When it comes to Catholic moral theology, the role of experience is often debated. Understanding someone’s experiences by listening carefully and accompanying them...

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Lent and the Environment

Lent is here again! Most of us are a full week into our self-selected Lenten resolution(s) and are finding out just how easy or difficult they are for us to manage. And, like every year, people have chimed in with their recommendations as to suitable Lenten sacrifices. Among these was the call for people to give up plastic bags for Lent. For many of us, such a resolution would require some sacrifice and thus could be a great opportunity to grow closer to God, uniting our suffering to Christ’s and helping us to prepare for the great celebration of Easter. However, those who propose such a Lenten resolution do not seem to have the spiritual growth of the person or supernatural impact on the church as a whole on their minds. Rather, they are concerned about the environment, and see this sacrifice as a great opportunity for Lent to have a positive impact on the environment, in contrast with more typical resolutions, such as giving up chocolate for Lent. A bit of history Until November of 1966, Catholics were required to fast each day of Lent and maintain partial abstinence from meat. That is, meat was allowed only at the main or “principal” meal, thus once a day. And that rule of “partial abstinence” active until 1966 was actually the application of  the “working man’s indult.” Prior to Leo...

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Praise and Thanksgiving

This week we celebrate that great American holiday of Thanksgiving. Perhaps the details of the day – family, food, football – have come to obscure the name and meaning behind Thanksgiving. While not a Catholic liturgical holiday in its origins, Thanksgiving nonetheless indicates something absolutely fundamental to Catholic life: recognizing gifts from God and offering thanks to God for those gifts. “Eucharist,” the Greek word for thanksgiving, reflects this importance of thanksgiving for the Christian life; Eucharist was the choice of the early church to name both the liturgy and the sacrament received during that liturgy. At the spring 2018 meeting of the Catholic Theological Society of America, Christopher Ruddy presented an excellent paper on the “theology of praise,” as a task for theologians. John Cavadini has also noted, relying on St. Augustine, that the meaning of life is to praise God, to learn to say “thank you” better. For moral theologians, this may seem strange. The usual tasks seem to involve interacting with and addressing contemporary moral issues or crises, both inside and outside of the Church. There are so many topics that require our attention – from immigrants and war to ecclesial scandals. There are also various Church teachings to investigate, understand, and explain. There are opportunities to teach students and to argue with colleagues. It is all too easy to be caught up in the past,...

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Scandal in the Church and Concern for the Environment: A Renewed Need for Ember Days

At a recent conference, someone commented that one task of today’s theologian is to review Vatican II and the implementations and other changes made in the years following this council. Among these changes was one that resulted in a drastic decline of penitential culture in the United States. This was precipitated by an apostolic constitution of Blessed Paul VI, who wrote Paenitemini with the hope that local bishops would be able to renew the practices of penance in their respective locales. An updating of such practices, it was hoped, would bring penances more directly related to (and appropriate for) the situation of the faithful in particular places, rather than prescribing (as canon law did) a one-size-fits-all obligatory penance. In the United States, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops wrote a letter establishing new guidelines for penance, which were implemented in Advent of 1966. Among the required penance that was altered for the faithful was the practice of Ember Days. Due to this change in 1966, most post-Vatican II Catholics are altogether unfamiliar with Ember Days. This time of year, however, people will occasionally mention the practice, and there are a few who still choose to observe Ember Days. Ember Days represent a classic re-appropriating of the pagan culture, as they were a way to sanctify the pagan rituals associated with the seasonal changes related to planting, harvesting, and vintage. The western...

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