February 6, 2016

On Masturbation

I received a message via the contact form, and given that it touches upon an issue that arises with some frequency in confession, and which probably touches the consciences of many of the faithful who try to live chastely according to their state of life (whether in marriage or in the single or consecrated life), I thought I would answer in a post rather than privately.

Here's the message, with the personal details removed, of course:
I just have a serious question about our faith which needs a clear answer. I believe that you can help me reflect and understand what is really true. I am now...years old and I am still struggling with masturbation. I have tried many times to get rid of it. For the record, I was able to stop it for 8 months. However, there came a time that I can't resist it anymore. Honestly, it feels so natural but a voice in my head says its wrong. I am really confused if its a sin or not? This is a hard battle.

January 16, 2016

Protomartyrs of the Order

I noticed this painting of the Protomartyrs of the Order on Italian Wikipedia. It made me think that perhaps we can seek the intercession of these friars in our time when we have been made so aware of beheadings and other barbaric executions.

Francisco Henriques, The Martyrs of Morocco (1508)
St. Francis himself sent Brothers Berard, Otho, Peter, Accursius, and Adjutus to preach in Spain. After preaching in a mosque they were arrested and deported to Morocco. There they began to preach again and were again arrested. After torture and efforts to tempt them to convert to Islam, they were beheaded on this day in 1220.

For a longer treatment of their martyrdom, you'll want to read the Chronicle of the Twenty-Four Generals of the Order of Friars Minor. Search for Appendix I, which contains their story.

Pray for us!

January 7, 2016

A Sollemnitate EpiphaniƦ

It's one of my favorite little spells, this last bit of the Christmas season following Epiphany. In the States, with Epiphany celebrated on a Sunday, you get a week of it. Here in Italy, where Epiphany is still celebrated on the traditional sixth of January, you get from zero days to a week in between Epiphany and the Baptism of the Lord, depending on how things fall.

St. Peter Chrysologus in the Office of Readings today: "In choosing to be born for us, God chose to be known by us."

The Lord's birth is after all something fairly secret; he is born away from home, in an obscure place, to poor parents, to a small people. In the same way the birth of the presence of God within us always has some sense of secret, of an intimacy not easily communicated to others, of something precious and utterly personal.

But secret doesn't mean private. Or what is born in secret the Holy Spirit doesn't mean to remain private. And thus we come to Epiphany, to the Magi. In the same way, the graces that the Holy Spirit conceives in our lives are not only for us, but for offering in service and in helps to the salvation of others. In this way the Holy Spirit conceives us as Christ-ians, those who are in Christ, those who become the members of Christ and instruments of his saving work and his peace.

In the Magi is the first public revelation that Jesus Christ is the God of all, the King of the Universe, as we celebrate him at the other end of the liturgical year. They are the forerunners of all of us who are not descended from the patriarchs by blood, but have been grafted into the "Israel of God" (Galatians 6:16) in Christ. They are the patron saints of all who surrender to the truth that all human knowledge, all true created wisdom, lead to Christ.

In Christ, all people have been called, invited into the promises made to Abraham. Christ is the beginning of the new creation, his birth a decisive break with the old creation corrupted by sin. This is why he is born of the Virgin, for his birth is a break with the generation of human history. And this is why her Immaculate Conception is the first light of the new creation which dawns in Jesus Christ.

In surrendering the death that is our sin into his death on the cross in our baptism, we have risen again as citizens of the new creation.

December 28, 2015

Sober and Devout

"In a society so often intoxicated by consumerism and hedonism, wealth and extravagance, appearances and narcissism, this Child calls us to act soberly, in other words, in a way that is simple, balanced, consistent, capable of seeing and doing what is essential. In a world which all too often is merciless to the sinner and lenient to the sin, we need to cultivate a strong sense of justice, to discern and to do God’s will. Amid a culture of indifference which not infrequently turns ruthless, our style of life should instead be devout, filled with empathy, compassion and mercy, drawn daily from the wellspring of prayer."

(Pope Francis, homily for Christmas, Missa in nocte)

December 24, 2015

Christmas on a Friday

[St. Francis] used to observe the Nativity of the Child Jesus with an immense eagerness above all other solemnities, affirming it was the Feast of Feasts, when God was made a little child and hung on human breasts. he would kiss the images of the baby's limbs thinking of hunger, and the melting compassion of his heart toward the child also made him stammer sweet words as babies do. This name was to him like honey and honeycomb in his mouth.

When there was a discussion about not eating meat, because it was on Friday, he replied to Brother Morico: "You sin, brother, when you call 'Friday' the day when unto us a child is born. I want even the walls to eat meat on that day, and if they cannot, at least on the outside they be rubbed with grease!"

He wanted the poor and hungry to be filled by the rich, and oxen and asses to be spoiled with extra feed and hay. "If I ever speak with the Emperor," he would say, "I will beg him to issue a general decree that all who can should throw wheat and grain along the roads, so that on the day of such a great solemnity, the birds may have an abundance, especially our sisters the larks."

(Thomas of Celano, 2nd Life of St. Francis, Chapter 151, FA:ED II, 374-375)

December 5, 2015

I'm a Friar, Not a Rocket Scientist

One of the brothers shared this fun story with me:

Br. So-and-so came to us after graduating from MIT. One time back in 1952 I showed him an article I had written for my high school magazine explaining in detail how the rocket scientists, given enough money, could send a manned space craft into orbit around the earth, and from there to the moon and back. He said: "You can believe that science fiction stuff if you want, but take it from me, a graduate of MIT, it can't be done. To escape from the gravitational pull of the earth, you have to add more fuel, which adds more weight, which requires more fuel. It just can't be done."

December 1, 2015

There's a Space for You

In the hallway outside our chapel, there's a 'family tree' of Franciscan saints and blesseds (click to enlarge):

There's St. Francis and his early companions at the root. St. Clare is on the first branch on the right. After all, she did call herself St. Francis's "little plant."

One of my favorite things about the tree is that there is an empty space:

There it is. Nestled among St. Joan of Valois, St. Joseph Cafasso, and a Gandulphus and a Hugh that I haven't been able to identify for myself, there's an open space.

When I pass by the picture with another brother I sometimes point to the space and say, "There's a space for you."

It's true. There's a particular space for everyone on the family tree of sanctity. Each human life is a unique and unrepeatable creation. And since, as St. Thomas teaches us, grace perfects nature, the graces God desires for each of us are also unique and unrepeatable, as will be the sanctity and the saint that they produce.

So let's embrace our grace and sink into our space, becoming the unique and particular saint that God has created us to be.