September 9, 2014

Best Penance Ever

On my way home from an appointment this morning I stopped by the Lateran Basilica to visit the Italian-English-Irish confessor, a gentle old friar. (How many penitents does he get who confess in Irish?) I really appreciated the penance he gave me:

"Pray the Veni Creator Spiritus for yourself, five Hail Marys for the people of the parish, and few more for the person you hurt."

September 2, 2014

A Couple of Joys

It's been almost a month since the move to town, and I find myself just thanking God for some of the joys of the new situation. Here are a couple of them:

After lunch and supper we friars do the dishes. Maybe it doesn't seem like a big deal, but it's something plain and wholesome and honest that wasn't part of our life during my two years at the Collegio. Most days it has fallen to me to do the drying at the end of the pots and pans line. I enjoy the conversation or pray if there isn't any. I often think of St. Teresa: Mirad que entre los pucheros y las ollas anda Dios. "See that God walks among the pots and pans."

Another joy is that now that we are in town, I'm able to take some Masses outside of the house. This week I'm going to the Capuchin Sisters of Mother Rubatto. It's good to have to preach at daily Mass, even if it's with my very few words of Italian. It's also a nice walk to the sisters--through the Villa Borghese park and around the zoo, where I hear some of the animals getting up in the morning. It's also good to pray and be with women, even if Mother General gave me a translation project to do!

One other note about the sisters: Since I would be going all week, I left my alb at the convent. Sister Sacristan, perhaps regarding my paper-clip zipper pull as undignified or inadequate, replaced it with a loop of cord.

August 29, 2014


That's how old I am today. In the Lord, anyway. Twenty-two years ago this afternoon I walked up and out of the basement of Freeman dormitory and down to Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Quaker Hill, Connecticut, where I was baptized into the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. It was the most important moment of my life, and I had little idea of what I was getting into. And this was mercy on the Holy Spirit's part.

It's been quite a journey since then. If you had told me then that on the twenty-second anniversary of that day I would get up in Rome, pray Morning Prayer and Mass and then descend to the secret life of an office where I would translate news blurbs from Italian to English and prepare letters for bishops in Ethiopia and Eritrea, I don't know what I would have thought.

After twenty-two years, my greatest challenge is getting too comfortable. For better and for worse, I am fully socialized to religious life. I could live this life without devotion, without real prayer. I could do the assignment the Order has given me on natural talent alone. The few times I have to preach in my current circumstances I could manage on natural cleverness, though it would be a betrayal of the Church that has ordained me. The great danger is to get comfortable saying all my prayers and doing what I have to do, all without God.

In this regard I am fortunate that God permits me certain afflictions, angels of Satan to beat me and keep me from getting comfortable. (cf. 2 Corinthians 12:7) Though I have put on Christ in baptism, the old Adam still haunts me, carrying on because he doesn't realize that he's dead, drowned at the bottom of the Jordan.

But, though occasionally tempted, I don't despair. On the contrary, I have joy because God gives me the desire to pray each day, and I know that this is the Holy Spirit praying in me, if only I surrender to the grace. When I have to preach the same Holy Spirit gives me the words. And above all I know that God is faithful, and that if he has put into my heart the desire to be a 'convert' he will bring this grace to fulfillment, in this life or the next, and convert my heart to him.

August 6, 2014


A couple of months into my third year in Italy I have landed in my fourth--and presumably final--location. First was a month in Assisi as a student at the Accademia Lingua Italiana Assisi then three months in the Roman neighborhood of Garbatella while a student at the funnily named Torre di Babele (Tower of Babel) language school here in Rome. Then almost two years in the back section of the Collegio Internazionale San Lorenzo da Brindisi in the outskirts of Rome with the rest of the displaced fraternity of the General Curia, where it was staying while the Curia in town began renovations.

And now, even though the renovations aren't quite done, I've moved with the rest of the fraternity of the General Curia back to its proper home in the middle of Rome.

The new building is very nice. For the first time since I was parochial vicar in Yonkers, I have an office that isn't my room, which is a good boundary between work and life. I'm reminded a lot of the beginning of my post-novitiate formation, which was the last time I lived through a building renovation. One of the things that isn't done is the church, so we have been going around the corner in the morning to pray Morning Prayer and Mass with the Montfort Missionaries at their little church dedicated to Our Lady, Regina Cordium. (Queen of Hearts). I don't mind at all. Sometimes in religious life I have missed that feeling of 'going to church.'

Mostly I'm grateful for the landing.

July 10, 2014

Residency Permit Renewal, Part 3

The latest step in trying to renew my permesso di soggiorno went so well and smoothly that it felt strange. Having filled out the forms with the help of a model provided by the same helpful brother from the previous post, I set out with them after Mass this morning.

After the walk to the bus stop, I waited only a couple of minutes before two Franciscan nuns pulled up to the bus stop.

"Pace e bene," they greeted. "Where are you going?"

"Ahead to the Commercial Center," I responded. They said they would take me.

The sisters dropped me off right in front of a tabacchi, which is where you need to go to buy the 16 euro stamp that you have to stick on the top of form #1 before you hand it in at the post office. From there I went across the street to the post office. I pressed the appropriate button on the machine where you take a number. As soon as my number came out of the machine it came up at the Sportello Amico. That's the "friend window," because the Republic of Italy is your friend. No waiting at the Italian post office, that's a new one. I gave my kit to the man, who turned out to be very nice. He checked this, scanned that, typed into his computer, took my €158.50, and eventually provided me with the correct receipts and the sheet of paper that tells you when to show up at Via Del Mascherino 12.

In fact, the only thing that didn't go so well was the wait for the bus to take me home. But at that point I wasn't about to complain.

July 9, 2014

Residency Permit Renewal, Part 2

Returning from the morning described in the previous post, I mentioned my insuccess to those of the brothers that I ran into. One of them, much more experienced in such things, said that he would have opportunity to check for the kit in his travels, and would do so for me. A few days later, while I was waiting for the least hot day of the week to try again at new post offices, he said, "I have something that will make you happy," and delivered a kit to me.

So while it is unbecoming of a religious to whine or complain of the troubles and difficulties his vocation offers him--which are graces in which rather he should rejoice and give thanks to God--it can be good to share one's lament. Second, sometimes the Lord wishes to remind us that it is more blessed to depend on one's brother than on oneself.

July 4, 2014

Residency Permit Renewal, Part 1

So you realize, somewhat to your surprise, that you have been in Italy for two years. One of the effects of this is that your permesso di soggiorno, or residency permit, obtained not without difficulty and misadventure (see this post and this post) is getting ready to expire.

It's time to think about applying for a renewal of the residency permit.

The first step in this process, which would seem easy enough, is to collect the 'kit' (English: 'kit') alleged to be "available in all post offices."

So you are reminded that there is a nice-looking post office that you have passed in the course of your regular appointments, and decide to visit the next time you're there. Trying to execute this plan, you find that you have to regard yourself as a silly person for having presumed that a post office would be open as late as early afternoon on a weekday.

Then you admit to yourself that a dedicated trip is going to be necessary and, having checked your insight with a more experienced confrere, decide to visit a larger post office where you have had some good fortune in the past. You leave in the morning and ride the bus to the area of the post office. You take a number. You lend your almost-used-up WSOU pen to a random guy carrying all of his vital documents in his inverted motorcycle helmet. Your number comes up and you go to the window. No, we're out of the kit says the guy. Maybe try the post office near such-and-such subway stop.

So you get on the subway for a couple of stops. Thanks to Google Maps you have a guess as to what post office the guy was talking about. When you get there you have high hopes because the post office seems very fancy, having individual, double automatic doors like an airlock. But unfortunately you find that like many fancy things in Italy, it's fancy for no particular reason and they don't have the kit either. Do you have any advice, you ask the post office guy.

"You have to keep going to post offices." he offers, in a tone that suggests he is explaining something obvious.

By now it's starting to get pretty hot and you might decide to go home so as to be sure to be there for Midday Prayer and dinner, but you think that maybe you have time to try on more post office. Faithfulness is what you have to do with your freedom, you think. So back to Google Maps and a walk to the next closest post office, where your luck doesn't change.

So you turn to find your way home, having spent a morning making no progress on getting the Republic of Italy to allow you to live there another two years. You sit down on the bus and thank God for the gift of the smallest taste of the sufferings and frustrations of foreigners and displaced people, and you pray for all of them, for their strength and safety.

To be continued...