July 15, 2015

Feast of St. Bonaventure

By gift or blessed coincidence, my turn to preside at the community Mass fell on today, the feast of our Seraphic Doctor St. Bonaventure.

I had some time to spend with him, so I returned to some texts and thought about what I might give for a homily. In the end I landed on Bonaventure's account of St. Francis descending the mountain after the experience of the stigmata:
After true love for Christ transformed the lover into his image, when the forty days were over that he spent in solitude as he had desired, and the feast of St. Michael the Archangel had also arrived, the angelic man Francis came down from the mountain, bearing with him the likeness of the crucified, depicted not on tablets of stone or on panels of wood carved by hand, but engraved on parts of his flesh by the finger of the living God. (Major Legend XIII:5)
The comparison with Moses is bold and interesting. As Moses descended the mountain with the tablets of stone, inscribed by God with the law that would guide his people, so Francis descends with his flesh inscribed with the marks of Christ crucified. So St. Bonaventure teaches that Christ crucified is the supreme rule and guide of the Franciscan soul.

As St. Francis himself writes:
And the Lord gave me such faith in churches that I would pray with simplicity in this way and say: “We adore You, Lord Jesus Christ, in all Your churches throughout the whole world and we bless You because by Your holy cross You have redeemed the world.” (St. Francis, Testament, 4-5)
So also Bonaventure opens his Tree of Life (Lignum vitae):
The true worshiper of God and disciple of Christ, who wants to conform perfectly to the Savior of all men, crucified for him, should, above all, strive with earnest endeavor of the soul to carry about continuously, both in his soul and in his flesh, the cross of Christ.
Indeed this is the spirituality taught to us by St. Paul:
But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us....always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. (2 Cor 4:7,10)
It is in this sense that we can understand what St. Bonaventure says in the selection from his Itinerarium that we pray in the Office of Readings today: Christ is the way and the door. Christ is the ladder and the vehicle.

By joining ourselves to the humanity of Christ crucified in our praying for one another, in our charity, and in our own sacrifices, his sacred humanity becomes the means by which we travel through the suffering of sin and the misery we have brought upon this world to becoming citizens of the new creation inaugurated in Christ's resurrection.

In the end it is about adoring and following in the footsteps of a Love that reveals itself as cruciform, and in so revealing itself as cruciform love, makes itself the Way.

As St. Bonaventure affirms, via autem non est nisi per ardentissimum amorem crucifixi. "There is no way but through the most burning love of the crucified." (Itinerarium, prologue)

July 6, 2015

Jacob's Ladder

And Jacob dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it! And behold, the LORD stood above it and said, "I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. (Genesis 28:12-13b)

And Jesus said to Nathanael, "Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man." (John 1:50-51)

Jesus, as the Son of man, reveals himself as Jacob's ladder. It is the humanity of Christ that is the ladder, that which joins heaven to earth.

Christian life and spirituality is a finding of ourselves, day by day, in that sacred humanity of Christ, so that we may also say of our own humanity, with Jacob, "Surely the Lord is in this place; and I did not know it." (Genesis 28:16) It is a discovery of who we truly were all along, a humanity made sharer in the infinite love and creativity of God by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Christ is the way and the door. Christ is the ladder and the vehicle. (St. Bonaventure)

June 28, 2015

Laudato Si': My Ranty Examination of Conscience

Here is the part of Laudato si' which has hit me the hardest:
This [lack of "awareness of problems which especially affect the excluded"] is due partly to the fact that many professionals, opinion makers, communications media and centres of power, being located in affluent urban areas, are far removed from the poor, with little direct contact with their problems. They live and reason from the comfortable position of a high level of development and a quality of life well beyond the reach of the majority of the world’s population. (49)
Is this me? Is this us as religious? Is my 'holy poverty' as a religious such that it shields me from contact with the poor? Do I 'live and reason'--and pray--from a 'comfortable position' and live 'a quality of life well beyond the reach of the majority of the world's population'?

Sometimes I'm afraid I have to say yes. And if I have to say yes, my Franciscan vocation, as I am living it now, has become meaningless.

It's not supposed to be that way. A few quotes from our Capuchin Constitutions:
Poverty, chosen in order to follow Christ, makes us sharers in his filial relation towards the Father and in his state as brother and servant in the midst of people, and leads us to solidarity with the littlest of this world. (61,2) 
Those friars are to be praised who in particular situations, living with the poor and sharing in their conditions and aspirations, encourage them in social and cultural progress and in the hope of eternal goods. (63,2) 
Called the gospel path of poverty, let us accustom ourselves to suffering privations after the example of Christ and the memory of St. Francis, who wanted thus to be poor and to entrust himself, having abandoned all things and free from bonds of the heart, to the Father who cares for us. (77,1) 
And let us not be numbered among those false poor, who love to be poor on the condition that they lack nothing. (77,2)
Do I put myself in a place where I share the aspirations of the poor? Do I have to suffer any privations for the love of Christ and his poor? Do I love to be poor in such a way as to lack nothing? Laudato si' has brought me the torment of these questions. But I have to trust it as a good, a graced torment.

The hungry he has filled with good things; the rich he has sent away empty. (Luke 1:53) I pray that line every evening in Our Lady's Magnificat. And I worry that I am the rich, not the hungry. And if so, how do I dare to hope for any grace from God?

In one of the presentations this past week at the New Provincials' Workshop, one of our General Councilors spoke on the embourgeoisement of religious obedience. I will agree to do this or that, I will take up this or that life, so long as it serves my goals of self-realization, of amassing my own moral capital within the organization, etc.

Has religious life as I have found it served to help me to become one of God's poor or has it served my embourgeoisement? I worry that the answer may be the latter.

So what do I do? I pray. I pray you Lord, for the courage to go where my consecration leads me. I pray for the grace of giving you permission to do what you have to do to make me the poor man I have professed to be before you, the Church, and the world. 

June 25, 2015

Pause: Misery and Surrender

I have another quote or two from Laudato si'  to blog on, but I've saved the ones that struck me most for last and I'm not ready to post on them yet. They challenge me, especially as a religious, a Franciscan, and a Capuchin, and I need some more time with my thoughts on them.

Today--and not unrelated to my reflection on Laudato si'--I'm just thinking about surrender. I'm thinking about how a spiritual life is an ongoing surrender to the will of God, a daily turning of things over to God.

When you begin you feel as if you have turned over your life to God, have surrendered to his will, and you have the energy of a first fervor. But time goes by. And God, finding you willing to work, puts you to work. He invites you a deeper level, revealing to you parts of yourself, aspects of your thinking or behavior for example, that you have not surrendered. And even though these attachments--these little reserves of your own will, where you say in this case or that case, or when this or that happens, I reserve the right to do it my way--give you nothing but misery, it can be very hard to let go of them.

And so you struggle. You have moments of surrender and the peace and serenity that goes with it, and moments of failure in which you taste the fruit of your own will, ever more rotten. And yet God is always there, always inviting, asking you, 'Will you let go of this, will you let your own will be crucified with me so that I may draw you into the new life of resurrection?'

June 23, 2015

Laudato Si': An Admonition to the Online

Furthermore, when media and the digital world become omnipresent, their influence can stop people from learning how to live wisely, to think deeply and to love generously. In this context, the great sages of the past run the risk of going unheard amid the noise and distractions of an information overload. Efforts need to be made to help these media become sources of new cultural progress for humanity and not a threat to our deepest riches. True wisdom, as the fruit of self-examination, dialogue and generous encounter between persons, is not acquired by a mere accumulation of data which eventually leads to overload and confusion, a sort of mental pollution. Real relationships with others, with all the challenges they entail, now tend to be replaced by a type of internet communication which enables us to choose or eliminate relationships at whim, thus giving rise to a new type of contrived emotion which has more to do with devices and displays than with other people and with nature. Today’s media do enable us to communicate and to share our knowledge and affections. Yet at times they also shield us from direct contact with the pain, the fears and the joys of others and the complexity of their personal experiences. For this reason, we should be concerned that, alongside the exciting possibilities offered by these media, a deep and melancholic dissatisfaction with interpersonal relations, or a harmful sense of isolation, can also arise. (47)

June 22, 2015

Laudato Si': Mindfulness

To be serenely present to each reality, however small it may be, opens us to much greater horizons of understanding and personal fulfillment. Christian spirituality proposes a growth marked by moderation and the capacity to be happy with little. It is a return to that simplicity which allows us to stop and appreciate the small things, to be grateful for the opportunities which life affords us, to be spiritually detached from what we possess, and not to succumb to sadness for what we lack. This implies avoiding the dynamic of dominion and the mere accumulation of pleasures. (222)

June 21, 2015

Laudato Si': Progress

There is also the fact that people no longer seem to believe in a happy future; they no longer have blind trust in a better tomorrow based on the present state of the world and our technical abilities. There is a growing awareness that scientific and technological progress cannot be equated with the progress of humanity and history, a growing sense that the way to a better future lies elsewhere. (113)
As the variously attributed quote goes, 'God is dead, Marx is dead, and I don't feel so well myself.'

The Holy Father says a lot regarding the aimlessness of our modern culture. In days past it threw off the eschatology of Christianity and replaced it with other, more worldly eschatologies: communism, eugenics, technocracy, better living through chemistry.

The twentieth century is the age of the crumbling of these human ideas of progress, each of which come to nothing after they had given birth to their rotten fruit for the world. (Although we have to say that abortion, as a child of the eugenics movement, is still with us.)

Thus the current 'post-modern' moment represents an opportunity that the Holy Father recommends to us, a moment to make friends again with ourselves and with our own dignity, to learn to love chastely our sister mother earth, to believe in something better that is beyond the hubris of our own ideas of progress, but is hidden in the little mustard seeds of chaste love that are the Kingdom of God planted among us.

A better future does lie 'beyond ourselves' as the Pope says, but it is a 'beyond ourselves' who has identified himself with our joy and struggles in Jesus Christ. His divine humanity is the Kingdom of God, and it is ours to find our own humanity in it.