June 26, 2016

Wretched Flesh Heaped Up In A Corner

Today was my turn for the Sunday Mass at the Bethlemite Sisters' old folks home. I enjoy taking my turn. The Mother Superior leads the singing from the back pew with her very particular voice. The Sister Sacristan is very funny. To save washing I guess, she has a large collection of little boxes in the sacristy in which she keeps each priest's purificator from Mass to Mass. Mine used to be labeled P. Carlo tedesco, "Fr. Charles [the] German," to distinguish me from my confrere P. Carlo italiano. I guess at first they thought I was a German. Now my box says P. Carlo tedesco USA.

USA! USA!

Anyway, today I think it was the hottest Mass I had ever celebrated. The weather report says it's only 90 degrees out today, so that's not hot enough or Italians--left to their own judgment--to turn on the air conditioning. (For Italians and air conditioning, see various reflections easily searchable online, which I need not duplicate for fear of falling into fraternal uncharities.) I don't think it was any cooler in the chapel.

Sure, we had some hot days back at good old Sacred Heart in Yonkers, especially after a few sunny days had heated up the bricks real nice. But there we always had a couple of fans in the sanctuary, and the merciful breeze that might pass across the sanctuary between the propped open side door to Convent Ave. and the friars' chapel. (Passing also by the door on which the stained glass window depicts, according to me, St. Norbert, against the opinion of certain pastors who say it's St. Dominic.)

No such mercies at the Sisters' today. Not to be gross, but I was sweating outrageously. So much so that I was very careful when making the slight bow at the institution narrative not to sweat onto the sacred species! I read once that this was one of the original purposes of the maniple, to be a kind of hanky for sweaty celebrants. But no maniple for me. Thanks Tres abhinc annos!

The point is that I was nonetheless very happy. Happy to have been given, even with all my distraction and sin, this beautiful and mysterious service at the altar of the Lord's Sacrifice, happy to love the people he gave me to pray with today, doing my best to gather up their own prayers into that same one Sacrifice.

I think these are very precious moments in the spiritual journey, these moments when we have an experience of spiritual joy even in the midst of some more earthly affliction, whether that be something as simple and bodily as the heat or something touching more on the interior person like depression or anxiety. We experience, at least for that moment, the spiritual truth that our deliverance from suffering doesn't exactly mean we don't suffer anymore, but that we have found ourselves within a reality that it is greater than ourselves, and more beautiful, joyful, and durable than our suffering.

In fact, our suffering can even make this distinction more apparent, more clear. I think that perhaps this is what the saints were about when they experienced a desire to suffer; they wished to see more clearly the peace and beauty of the divine reality on which their truest selves stood, and were able to do so better when this experience was in contrast with their experience of their own wretchedness.

During Holy Communion, I was reminded of Simone Weil's description of her experience at Solesmes:
In 1938 I spent ten days at Solesmes, from Palm Sunday to Easter Tuesday, following all the liturgical services. I was suffering from splitting headaches; each sound hurt me like a blow; by an extreme effort of concentration I was able to rise above this wretched flesh, to leave it to suffer by itself, heaped up in a corner, and to find a pure and perfect joy in the unimaginable beauty of the chanting and the words. This experience enabled me by analogy to get a better understanding of the possibility of loving divine love in the midst of affliction. It goes without saying that in the course of these services the thought of the Passion of Christ entered into my being once and for all. (Waiting for God)

June 13, 2016

Lawrence of Brindisi on the Vestments

I suppose my deficiencies as a Capuchin friar are many. For example, I like to say that my physical inability to grow a proper Capuchin beard is my Pauline thorn. Another one is that I have never really known--and nor has any confrere been able to tell me clearly--why the lone doctor of the Church of our Capuchin reform, St. Lawrence of Brindisi, should be especially a doctor of the Church.

So for a long time I have thought that I ought to read what he wrote and find out for myself. Therefore it was my delight to discover one day that the house where I find myself now has a set of St. Lawrence's works in the English translation of Vernon Wagner, OFM Cap. So as I have had time and inspiration, I have started to read some of them.

Here's a fun passage on the meaning of the priestly vestments from the sermon, "The Eucharist as Sacrifice."
But the priestly vestments of the Church are totally representative of the mystery of redemption. Do you not think that a vested priest resembles Christ? Do you not see that the thin amice that covers his head is the most pure flesh of Christ which covered the Word of God? God is the head of Christ. (1 Cor 11:3) And the alb which is totally white, can it represent anything besides the innocence and the immaculate holiness of the entire life of Christ? It was fitting that we should have such a high priest: holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners, higher than the heavens. (Heb 7:26) Does not the cincture express what was said by Isaiah: Justice shall be a band around his waist. (Is 11:5) And does not the maniple speak to you of the indomitable patience of Christ throughout his entire life and especially in his passion? Does not that stole around his neck appear to you as a symbol of that yoke which Christ spontaneously took upon his shoulders in obedience to his Father in order to suffer and die for our salvation? For us Christ became obedient to death, even death on a cross. (Phil 2:8) And does it not seem to you that the chasuble, which is a single piece of cloth but divided into two parts, one in front and the other in back, represents the Church old and new, one in faith, two by reason of various rites and customs, both signed with the cross, because both and the other are redeemed by the power of the cross of Christ and by Christ on the cross? O what great mysteries are contained in the Mass!
(St. Lawrence of Brindisi, Feastday Sermons, trans. Vernon Wagner, OFM Cap. (Delhi: Media House, 2007), 633)

It's interesting how Lawrence identifies the stole with the yoke of Christ, while the vesting prayers locate this association with the chasuble.

June 4, 2016

Immaculate Heart of Mary

"And his mother kept all these things in her heart." (Luke 2:51)

It's a beautiful little line that St. Luke gives us, and it reminds us that Mary kept in her heart all the mysteries of the earthly life of Jesus Christ. And not just the mysteries about which we know something, like his birth in Bethlehem and his passion and death on the Cross, but also those aspects of Jesus' life that we cannot know, like what he was like as a boy, how it was to observe him working with St. Joseph, and all the other blessed details of a daily life lived with the Son of God.

When we think about this, we realize that Mary knows Jesus better than any other person who ever lived, or will ever live. This realization forms part of our motivation for turning to Mary in our desire to follow after Jesus. It is she who knows best him whom our hearts desire and whom we wish to follow.

Let us turn, then, to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, that place of safe-keeping and cherishing of all the mysteries of the Word of God made man in Jesus Christ. May she obtain for us the grace of knowing Jesus ever more fully and deeply, and may we too keep, protect, and cherish his presence in our own hearts.

May 29, 2016

4 and 10

I notice that today I begin my fifth year in Rome. What shall I say about that? God is good. I have settled into the life and work of a very particular community; a local Capuchin fraternity sui generis as our statutes say.

May 24, 2016

Basilica of St. Francis

Happy feast day to a beautiful church. I love this picture I took from the back stairwell of our Capuchin friary on the Via San Francesco in Assisi.


May 23, 2016

Amoris laetitia: Divorce, Remarriage, and Communion

No series on Amoris laetitia would be complete without a post on one of the issues that got a lot of attention, from the two sessions of the Synod on the Family down to the publication of the Exhortation itself, namely the question of Holy Communion for the divorced and civilly remarried. Chapter eight of Amoris laetitia goes into this question in detail.

While it's true that the Exhortation gives us no new doctrine in the strict sense of the term, we are in a new place in the post-Amoris laetitia Church. As I alluded to when I began this series of posts, it seems to me that what we have mostly is a new challenge for pastors of souls.

May 19, 2016

Amoris laetitia: Priestly Formation

Seminarians should receive a more extensive interdisciplinary, and not merely doctrinal, formation in the areas of engagement and marriage. Their training does not always allow them to explore their own psychological and affective background and experiences. Some come from troubled families, with absent parents and a lack of emotional stability. There is a need to ensure that the formation process can enable them to attain the maturity and psychological balance needed for their future ministry. Family bonds are essential for reinforcing healthy self-esteem. (203)
Arriving at this paragraph in Amoris laetitia made me happy.

Priests don't fall out of the sky fully formed. They are people who have a background and a family of origin just like the rest of humanity. And as the Pope notes, these backgrounds--like everybody else's--can have their troubles and dysfunctions.

This isn't a bad thing. It is the work of the Holy Spirit to transform suffering and alienation into compassion; this is one of the ways that the pattern of the Lord's paschal mystery of his passion, death, and resurrection comes to take form in our lives. And so it makes sense that many vocations to service, the priesthood included, can have roots in situations of difficulty and personal suffering.