May 25, 2015

The Loving Invitation

Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said to him,
“You are lacking in one thing.
Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor
and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”
At that statement, his face fell,
and he went away sad, for he had many possessions. (Mark 10:21-22)
Jesus loves the man in his desire to do what leads to life, not for what he will do, or not, with the invitation. God invites us to life because he loves us, not so that we may become lovable in his sight.

How many times we 'go away sad' because we did not--or found ourselves unwilling to--respond to a grace of a particular moment, a particular day, a particular struggle. But the invitation remains in the next moment or the next day or the next temptation, for God continues to love the soul that desires life. And we all desire life, however mistaken can be the ways in which we seek to grasp it.

Grace is the love of Jesus Christ formed into the particular contours of divine mercy for our unique and unrepeatable journey.

May 24, 2015

Begotten in the Only Begotten

I always appreciate when St. Irenaeus's Against Heresies comes up in the Office of Readings; it's one of a handful of books given me to read in theology that I think improved my understanding of Christianity in a basic way. The passage given for Pentecost begins this way:
When the Lord told his disciples to go and teach all nations and baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, he conferred on them the power of giving men new life in God.
Reflecting on that, I found myself, as I do sometimes, praying for all of those who have been my spiritual parents along the way.

I prayed for my first priest, Fr. Larry, and for the friars and parishioners of St. Mary's in New Haven, whose reverence and piety first attracted me to prayer.

Then I prayed for Deacon Ron, who baptized me, and for his family; for Fr. Leo Sutula, requeiscat in pace, who gave me my first Holy Communion and who also heard my first confession; for Bishop Dan Reilly, who confirmed me; for Fr. Dan, OFM, who invested me in the Franciscan habit; for Fr. Michael, OFM Cap., who received my profession of both temporary and perpetual vows; for Bishop Francis X. Irwin, who ordained me deacon; and for Cardinal Sean O'Malley, OFM Cap. who ordained me priest.

I thanked God for my spiritual directors, from whom I have profited so much: Fr. Charles, OFM, Sr. Joyce, FMM, Fr. Confer, OP, Mr. Zepf, Sr. Vivienne, Sr. Pat, CSA, Fr. Salvatore, OCD, Fr. Greg, OMV, Fr. Karl., and Msgr. Fay.

Then, for my formation directors: Vincent and Fr. Aubrey, Fr. Andrew and Br. Richard, Fr. Bill and Fr. Raphael, Br. John and Ken, Fr. Marty, Fr. Tom, and Fr. Jack.

And for my classmates in religious life, who have formed me in many ways: Phil, Hank, Brian, Mike, Ken, John, Steve, Robert, Sam, Tom, James, Arlen, Justin, Drew, Jim, Bart, Louis, and Marvin.

Finally I prayed for the teachers who have been so encouraging to me: For Professor Gould, requiescat in pace, of Yale University, from whom I first learned about spiritual realities; for Eddie, Eugene, Garrett, Lester, requiescat in pace, and John of Connecticut College; Fr. Garvey, OFM, of University College Galway; Fr. Dominic and Br. Bill of the OFM; Khaled, Sr. Meg, OSF, Cathy, Fr. John of the Sulpicians, Frs. John, Randy, Peter, Dan and Stanley, requiescat in pace, of the Society of Jesus, teachers at the former Weston Jesuit School of Theology; Stephen and Boyd of Boston College.

After praying for all of these people that the Lord has given me in order to beget me in Christ, I prayed that the Holy Spirit might make me fruitful, might make my celibacy fruitful in the Lord.

May 18, 2015

Plenary Indulgence for the Feast of St. Felix of Cantalice

Today is the feast of St. Felix of Cantalice, the first Capuchin friar to be canonized. And this year it's an extra special occasion because we also celebrate the 500th anniversary of his birth. For the occasion, the Apostolic Penitentiary has granted the opportunity for a plenary indulgence, which may be had starting today until May 18, 2016.

The Apostolic Penitentiary, by mandate of our Holy Father Francis, kindly grants a plenary indulgence, under the normal conditions (sacramental confession, Eucharistic communion, and prayer for the intentions of the Supreme Pontiff), to all the faithful who are truly penitent and moved by charity, which may be gained once a day, and is applicable also in suffrage to the souls in Purgatory, each time that, in harmony with the spiritual ends of the Year of Consecrated Life, they participate devoutly at any sacred function or pious exercise in honor of St. Felix of Cantalice, or at least spend some time before his remains or before an image of him and recollect themselves in pious meditation, concluding with an Our Father, the Credo, and the invocation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, of St. Francis, and of St. Felix:

a. in all the churches of the Order and in all places, where pastoral care is entrusted to the Capuchin Order;

b. in the Church of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Rome.

(click to enlarge)

May 17, 2015

Cardinal Burke on Sinful Habits

I've been reading this book of retreat conferences for priests by Cardinal Burke. In one of the conferences on the sacrament of Reconciliation, the Cardinal speaks about certain special situations. The first is vocational discernment and the second is scruples. Here's the third:

"The third situation is that of the person enchained by a sinful habit. In this case the temptation is not the sin in itself, but the first and more fundamental temptation, the temptation to discouragement. Whereas as good pastors of souls we try to help the penitent to discover the roots of this habit and to heal them, we must first of all help him to not fall into discouragement. Once the penitent becomes discouraged, as Satan well knows, he will remain paralyzed and will no longer succeed in carrying on with his battle against sin. Acts of trust in Divine Providence, the intercession of Our Lady, Refugium Peccatorum [refuge of sinners], and recourse to patron saints are all every effective tools against discouragement." (p. 75)

This resonates with my own experience as a sinner and a confessor. If we are afflicted with sinful habit X, often 'stop doing X' is not the best strategy for our spiritual effort. Often it's better to look at the rest of our life apart from X, in order to (1) avoid the occasions of X, and (2) to find the function of X in our life so as to be able to heal the problem at the root.

As the Cardinal points out, the greatest temptation is the discouragement that makes us despair of ever healing our sinful habit. We give up whatever means are given to us to avoid the occasions of sin, we stop trying to let and abandon ourselves to God's Providence and the prayers of Our Lady and our saintly patrons. This is the danger that is usually much more grave than the acts of the sinful habit itself.

May 12, 2015

My Six

I read this morning a startling statistic announced by the Pew Research Center, that for every convert to the Catholic faith, six people abandon her.

I'm a convert to the faith, so apparently I am correlated to six people who have left.

So I decide I need to be praying for my six.

Certainly the Holy Spirit will give all of them occasions to return to the faith; marriage, the birth of a child, the need to bury a loved one, serious illness, etc. I should be there for them with my prayer when these occasions come.

How many of them left because of my bad example? How many because of the sins and crimes of religious and priests? If, having left because they were scandalized by one of us priests, they then commit any sin in malformed conscience, surely God will make us priests accountable for the guilt of such sin. Have we taken seriously the Lord's warning that scandalizing the innocent can result in our damnation? Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. (Mark 9:42) Do we believe in hell?

As a priest, I must pray the Holy Spirit to teach me not only how to begin to do penance for my own sins, but also for the sins any of my six commit because they have abandoned the truth.

How many of my six will one day return as strong and joyful reverts? For this I entrust them to the prayers of Blessed Anthony Neyrot.

May I pray as though God has entrusted to me the spiritual care of my six. Amen.

May 9, 2015

Overeating and Spaciousness

A number of things have come together in the reflection that this post represents: a recent post by long-time internet acquaintance The Crescat, the inspiration from retreat to reread Gerald May's Addiction and Grace, and the potential side effects of a new medication.

As I have written before on this old blog, since about third grade I have had a weight problem. It has been with me to one degree or another ever since.

Recently, with the new medication I mentioned, I am trying to find a new energy to address my overeating. I have also become more and more convinced, especially since I have been here in Italy, that it is a kind of spiritual block for me.

Gerald May suggests, more or less, that the answer to addiction is contemplation. In refusing the addicted behavior, one must accept the emptiness--or 'spaciousness,' in his language--that is left. It is into this spaciousness that contemplation is born. This resonates with me; I think I learned to overeat as a strategy to fill a certain emptiness which was unbearable at the time. But now that I am adult--and even more now that God has granted me the grace of baptism--I believe the Holy Spirit wills to make this spaciousness into contemplation, if only I would try to stop filling it with food.

So I pray that the Lord bless this new inspiration he has conceived in me.

inquietum est cor nostrum, donec requiescat in te.
our heart is restless until it rests in you.
(St. Augustine)

May 3, 2015

Being a Branch

I find today's gospel, that of the vine and the branches from St. John's Last Supper Discourses, so beautiful and encouraging.

I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower. (John 15:1)

Who is the Father? He is one who grows something, someone who cultivates. He plants and cultivates a vine in his creation, the Vine Jesus Christ.

I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing. (John 15:5)

Branches are part of the vine, but one can still make a distinction between the vine and the branches. So it is with us who are baptized into Christ and who renew our union with him in Holy Communion. We remain at the same time the free and discrete beings we were created and members of the mystical Body of Christ.

Branches draw their growth and nourishment from the vine; they grow from the life of the vine. So it is with us in our prayer and our participation in the sacraments. While the vine is the life of the branches, on the other hand the branches are the flourishing of the vine; it is from the branches that the leaves and the fruit come. This is what we branches are called to be--the flourishing of the vine:

By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples. (John 15:8)

The glory of God is our bearing of fruit, through our humanity joined to the sacred humanity of Christ. The fruits of the Holy Spirit are where the glorification of God and human flourishing intersect: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23)

But this is not without its challenges:

He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and everyone that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit. (John 15:2)

If we set out on the journey of letting ourselves to be a branch of the Vine Jesus Christ, we can expect to be pruned. When God finds a soul willing to work, he puts her to work. This pruning is a letting go. A letting go of sins, attachments, and ideas, even ideas of God. The pruning can feel painful because we have become attached to material things and our ways of thinking in disordered ways. This is to say that we try to love them outside of the love of God.The pruning can seem to take away even the person we thought we were, but it has the purpose of revealing the true person that God has created and that God wills to flourish in his her humanity. Our pruning comes first of all through an attentive and prayerful listening to the Word of God, a listening that is ready to be challenged to action and to change:

You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to you. (John 15:3)

It is the Word proclaimed in the assembled Church that prunes us believers, as well as the Word pronounced by Father and breathed out by the Holy Spirit in the interior place of our prayer, that breath that conceives us in the Word, as Christians, members of the Body of Christ.