January 23, 2015

The Basics

For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

I believe in God, the Father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. (Apostles Creed)

The first and foremost duty of all religious is to be the contemplation of divine things and assiduous union with God in prayer. (Can. 663 §1)

The rule and life of the Lesser Brothers is this: to observe the holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ by living in obedience, without anything of one’s own, and in chastity. (the Rule)

Priests, as co-workers with their bishops, have the primary duty of proclaiming the Gospel of God to all. (Vatican II, Decree on Ministry and Life of Priests)

January 20, 2015

Correction

Once in a while in my wish to live a spiritual life I have wandered into a dead end or a blind alley. Usually it involves the wrong use of religion. I seek to do something appealingly religious while not paying attention what grace may be really inviting me to do or look at, which may be something less appealing on the surface, that is, to the flesh.

These moments have been very helpful and instructive for me, for they both warn me about my capacity to use religion poorly and leave me better able to discern. In this sense they are missteps that become gifts of grace, for through them God helps me grow in awareness and in the ability to see better what I am supposed to attend to.

Reflecting on a conversation with a confessor the other day, it became clear to me that my 'observance' of the Lent of Benediction was one of these moments. This is not to say that the blessing of God through the intercession of St. Francis isn't upon the friars who observe this 'Lent' according to the Rule we have promised, but that in my case, at this moment, what I imagined to be an inspiration to observe this 'Lent' was really a way to avoid paying attention to what grace is really inviting me to at this particular moment in my story.

The journey on which being a disciple of the Lord sets us is not always so easy and nor is it even pleasant insofar as we have not been delivered from our addiction to comfort and easy consolations. It is all too easy--and indeed the world invites us to this constantly--to self-medicate rather than seek the true health that is our salvation. And religion can be one of these false medications as much as any other created thing that the flesh can learn how to use wrongly.

And so I gratefully let go and try to begin again to be attentive to what grace invites.
Untie my hands and deliver my heart from sloth. Set me free from the laziness that goes about disguised as activity when activity is not required of me, and from the cowardice that does what is not demanded, in order to escape sacrifice. (Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation, 45)

January 9, 2015

RIP: Fr. Joel Daniels, OFM Cap.

I got to know Fr. Joel when I was in the parish and he moved into the adjacent senior friars' residence. I found in him a sort of kindred spirit on a certain level. Since he was typically easy to find and very willing, for a while I adopted him as a confessor. He didn't care for visitors in his room, so he would come to my room to hear my confession. All I had to do was lay out my purple stole for him. Fr. Joel was the source of this 'From my Confessor' post. He was also my first confessor to use the longer post-absolution prayer:
May the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ, the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary and of all the saints, whatever good you do and suffering you endure, heal your sins, help you to grow in holiness, and reward you with eternal life. Go in peace.
I love that prayer. The Irish OFM at the Lateran, to whom I go sometimes these days, also uses it.

Fr. Joel once told me how he got permission to go away to study counseling. The pastor of the parish where he was went away for a week, and asked Fr. Joel to look after a certain parishioner. During the week, she had a mental breakdown. When the pastor (who was also the religious superior) returned, Joel pointed this out as evidence that he needed training in counseling.

One time in the middle of the night there was a knock on my door. It was Fr. Joel. He was concerned about a very elderly friar. He had overheard this friar asking for me late at night but then had also heard his health aide tell him that it was too late to call Fr. Charles, that he should go to sleep, and that they could call Fr. Charles in the morning. Fr. Joel was concerned that perhaps this friar knew he was near death and wanted me to hear his confession. So down I went to the elderly friar's room, where he was half asleep and recognized me right away. Oh good, he said, it's you, Charles. He then went on to tell me that he wasn't feeling well and asked if I could open the church for him in the morning and take the morning Mass. Now this friar's days of opening churches and taking morning Masses had long since passed into history, but even in the partial confusion of his old mind, he was still a solicitous pastor of souls. I said that I would be happy to cover for him in the morning so he could rest. I went back to my room fairly pleased with myself, having relieved the anxiety of two of my senior brothers with one little nocturnal visit.

Read Fr. Joel's obituary here.

Requiescat in pace.

January 7, 2015

Lent of Benediction

Thinking to write this post, a quick search revealed that my confrere Br. Anthony had already written it, more or less. So, with my apologies, I write my own version.

From the Rule of the Friars Minor:
Let them fast from the feast of All Saints until the Lord’s Nativity. May those be blessed by the Lord [Latin: benedicti sint a Domino] who fast voluntarily during that holy Lent that begins at the Epiphany and lasts during the forty days which our Lord consecrated by His own fast; but those who do not wish to keep it will not be obliged. Let them fast, however, during the other [Lent] until the Lord’s Resurrection. (III: 5-7)
It strikes me that in my years as a Franciscan it has never occurred to me to seek this blessing from the Lord that St. Francis promises to the brothers who observe this other "Lent."

Here's what the Capuchin Constitutions have to say about it:
Christ the Lord, having been sent by his Father and led by the Holy Spirit, fasted in the desert for forty days and forty nights. 
His disciple, Saint Francis, burning with the desire to imitate the Lord, also spent his life in fasting and prayer. 
We, too, therefore, practice fasting, prayer and works of mercy, which lead us to inner freedom and open us to love for God and neighbor. 
The season of Advent and, above all, the Lent before Easter, as well as every Friday, are for us times of more intense private and communal penance. 
In addition, the “Lent of Benediction”, as it is called, which begins at the Epiphany, and the vigils of the solemnities of Saint Francis and of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary are recommended. 
On these days, let us apply ourselves more eagerly to those works which foster conversion: prayer, recollection, listening to the word of God, bodily mortification and communal fasting. In a brotherly spirit, let us share with other poor people that which comes to us from the table of the Lord because of our greater frugality. Let us also perform works of mercy more fervently in keeping with our traditional custom. (111, 1-6)
I have decided upon some practices for observing this other "Lent." I hope they are inspired. Looking at the calendar I realize that to make forty days I have to include Sundays (unlike in the season of Lent) in order for my "Lent of Benediction" to conclude before the season of Lent begins. So if I begin the "Lent of Benediction" today (which is the day after Epiphany here in Italy), and include the Sundays, the last day will be February 15. That leaves two days for carnevale before Ash Wednesday on the 18. Thus may I seek the blessing of the Lord!

December 31, 2014

The Glorious Exchange

They recommended it to us when we were students, but I've rarely preached on one of the orations for a Mass. But I did on Monday (December 29) so taken I was with the Prayer over the Gifts (is that what it's called in English?):
Receive, Lord, our gifts,
which exercise a glorious exchange,
that, offering what you have given, we may win you yourself.
That's my translation. Maybe someone can post how the English really goes (I don't have an English missal here) and we can see how close I got.

That 'glorious exchange' is the joy of Christmas. We who have so little to give receive a gift greater than we can contain or comprehend: God himself. In the mystery of the Incarnation, God abandons his divinity into our humanity, lifting it into the mysterious inner life of the Blessed Trinity himself. This is the gift of which St. John speaks in the Gospel of Christmas Day: "But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave the power to become children of God; who were born not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God." (John 1:12-13) Our rebirth in God becomes available through the birth of the Word of God as one of us.

When we realize the depth and greatness of the gift we have received in Jesus Christ, no response makes sense but to give ourselves totally to him. Our giving of ourselves to God remains a gift ever meager and poor; God's gift of himself to us remains ever greater than we can think or imagine. As St. Francis puts it in the Letter to the Entire Order, "Hold back nothing of yourselves for yourselves, that He Who gives Himself totally to you may receive you totally."

December 25, 2014

Christmas

Today, the twenty–fifth day of December,
unknown ages from the time when God created the heavens and the earth
 and then formed man and woman in his own image.

Several thousand years after the flood,
when God made the rainbow shine forth
 as a sign of the covenant.

Twenty–one centuries from the time of Abraham and Sarah;
thirteen centuries after Moses led the people of Israel
 out of Egypt.
Eleven hundred years from the time of Ruth and the Judges;
one thousand years from the anointing of David as king;
in the sixty–fifth week according to the prophecy of Daniel.

In the one hundred and ninety–fourth Olympiad;
the seven hundred and fifty–second year from the foundation
 of the city of Rome.

The forty–second year of the reign of Octavian Augustus;
the whole world being at peace,
Jesus Christ, eternal God and Son of the eternal Father,
desiring to sanctify the world by his most merciful coming,
being conceived by the Holy Spirit,
and nine months having passed since his conception,
was born in Bethlehem of Judea of the Virgin Mary.

Today is the nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh.

December 24, 2014

Christmas Eve

"The LORD also reveals to you that he will establish a house for you," announces the prophet Nathan to David. (2 Samuel 7:11b)

This house is born for us in the divine humanity of Jesus Christ. This humanity will grow and teach and heal and suffer and finally die on the Cross, drawing into himself all the suffering we have brought upon ourselves and each other with our sins.

But by the power of his divinity this sacred humanity is raised from the dead, raised into the sacraments that make a people into a Church, into the mystical Body of the Risen Christ.

"and, like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ." (1 Peter, 2:5)

Baptized into the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ and becoming his Body and Blood that we receive in the holy Eucharist, we are the spiritual house God promised to David in an everlasting covenant.

As the Body of Christ, as Church, we become the presence of Jesus, teaching, healing, reconciling, and finally accepting the Cross with the faith that the divine humanity of Christ has blazed a trail through our suffering to the new life of the Resurrection.

So his birth is our rebirth as the resurrected humanity that is his mystical Body.