December 30, 2006

Saddam Hussein

Executing someone does not constitute a coherent method of demonstrating that killing people is unacceptable.

December 28, 2006

Movie Review: Padre Pio: Miracle Man

Last night I found myself home alone, so I got some hot and sour soup and watched Padre Pio: Miracle Man, which has been lying around the house. It's a fine treatment, and worth watching if you're interested. Church and Capuchin details are done pretty well.

Though it presents Pio as the saint he is, it does take seriously some of the irregularity of his religious life and the struggles, censures, and accusations he went through with the brothers and the hierarchy.

For me, I've never known what to make of the man. A lot of friars don't have a lot of nice things to say about him, and, from what I understand, it has been proven that he plagiarized some of his spiritual advice from his contemporary and sister stigmatic, St. Gemma Galgani. In the end, I judge Padre Pio by the "by their fruits you shall know them" principle; he seems to have engendered so much devotion and love of God and the faith all over the world, so there must be something to his sanctity.

It's a long, episodic movie. There's a lot of great work with color and light and shadow. The DVD I had allowed you to watch it in the original Italian, or dubbed into English or Spanish. Subtitles in English could be turned on and off.

December 27, 2006

Christmas Sins

For a Christmas present, my father gave me the New York Public Library/Oxford University Press series on the Seven Deadly Sins. All of them.

So the question arises: in what order do I read them? One of the brothers suggested that they should be read in order of publication, but that doesn't seem right to me. They're ought to be a an order of internal logic, you know?

Now the classic list of the sins, pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, anger, and sloth, it seems to come from Pope St. Gregory the Great. But I don't know what order he put them in, and, luckily, the library at school is closed this week, so I don't have to deal with the temptation to go read his Moralia in Job to try to find out.

The list that has always made the most sense to me, although it's a little different, comes from John Cassian. He puts the sins in a definite, logical progression: gluttony, fornication, envy, anger, sadness, acedia, vainglory, and pride.

Cassian lists the sins in ascending order of insidiousness and complexity of cure. The first three, gluttony, fornication, and envy, are afflictions of the body and our relation to the world around us. The middle two, anger and sadness, are afflictions of our emotions and internal life. The last three, acedia, vainglory and pride are diseases of the spirit and are the most dangerous because they can hobble our spiritual and religious life.

You can read John Cassian's treatise on the eight principle vices in a new and fresh translation.

So, if I adapted Cassian's list to the books I have, I suppose I would read them in this order: gluttony, lust, greed, envy, anger, sloth, and pride. So I suppose I'll look pretty funny reading them on the subway.

December 26, 2006

Onymity


Somehow, this Christmas, I feel like it's time to start being my real self.

December 24, 2006

In Nativitate Domini

Merry Christmas everyone! Here's a little Christmas homily I wrote as part of final exam in a course on the Blessed Trinity:


Rejoice, friends, for the mystery of Christmas is the revelation of God’s loving plan for our salvation. “The grace of God has appeared,” as Paul tells us. The human birth of the Son of God reveals the mystery that God indeed has a son. Our God is a perfect love, and what is love that does not love someone? Therefore from all eternity there is lover and beloved in God, the Father and the Son.

Be assured that this Son of God whose human birth we adore tonight is God himself, “light from light,” and “true God from true God” as we shall soon pray in the creed. Paul himself calls him “our great God and savior.”

While contemplating the poor and simple birth of the Lord, let us pay attention to our attitude toward the mystery. Is it just that we have awe for the humility of the God who was willing to accept not only the poverty of our nature but to be born among simple parents in an obscure nation? Is Christmas here to teach us to be humble too? I assure you that the Son of God is much more than a role model, though he is surely that as well. Paul tells us that this appearance of the grace of God will, in fact, “deliver us from all lawlessness” and “cleanse” us, making us into God’s own people.

This is the great good news of Christmas: the Son of God is born in our human nature and thus provides our human nature a path to the divine life of God that he himself has been from all eternity. By becoming one of us, the infinite love that the Son has always received is now extended to us through the human nature of Jesus Christ.

The Incarnation connects the divine with the human, extending God’s life to us. This sacred exchange is voiced in the preface to tonight’s Eucharist prayer when it says that in Christ we see “our God made visible and so are caught up in love of the God we cannot see.” This stretching forth, as it were, of the eternal love of Father and Son to us is what we call the Holy Spirit. The Incarnation of God establishes a path for our human nature to be brought back to God, and God’s Spirit draws us in. This is what we mean when we say that Jesus Christ was conceived by the Holy Spirit; the Spirit of God, God’s desire to be known, works in the Incarnation so that God’s saving plan may be known.

This is good news! The birth of Jesus Christ reveals the new availability of the infinitely beautiful and satisfying love that is the personal life of God himself. This is our adoption into the eternal Sonship of Christ himself, through which we become the true children of God. We rejoice tonight for, through the human birth of Christ, the Holy Spirit includes us in the eternal and perfect relationship of the Lover whom we call Father and the Beloved whom we call the Son. And this is the grand and mysterious reality that we call God.

December 23, 2006

Fickleness


O.k., my amusement with my South Park portrait wore off. This likeness I borrow from St. Charles of Sezze, about whom I don't know much, except that I heard once that he burned down a friary while trying to fry onions.

December 22, 2006

Magnifying

One of the brothers had a brilliant reflection on Mary's Magnificat, which is the gospel for today.

Mary proclaims:

My soul magnifies the Lord; my spirit exalts in God my Savior!

The brother said: "The soul is a dangerous thing; it always magnifies something. If we don't let it magnify the Lord, it will magnify our problems and faults and put everything out of perspective."

December 21, 2006

Solstice

Each year I feel more like a foreigner this time of year, at Christmas.

The other day I was out doing some errands when I was near one of my favorite bookstores. So I thought I would go in and see if there was a 2007 calendar that I liked. Then I went in and saw the hordes of people and the long lines and I remembered, oh yeah, it's Christmas, and everyone is shopping.

I just didn't think of it ahead of time; it's just not my world anymore.

It's the funniest thing; both us Christians and the world around us are celebrating a great feast day. We even call it the same thing, Christmas. But even though the world calls its celebration "Christmas," what they are celebrating is the winter solstice.

And it's natural to celebrate the winter solstice. At the darkest time of year, with the least light, when it's cold and nature is going to sleep, it's natural to renew our bonds of family and friendship with gifts and food and drink and conviviality.

But the world fails to look through these things to see the great Secret they are meant to serve: that out of the very darkness and obscurity of this world and this life, the Eternal Word of God takes human flesh from the Virgin Mary and is born among us, God with us, Emmanuel.

The world carefully peels the fruit, throws it away, and eats the rind.

December 20, 2006

Keeping It Real

It's almost a commonplace for us Franciscans to brag about how St. Francis invented the Nativity scene, or at least the live version.

But it's easy to forget about motives. He didn't do it to elicit sweet or pastoral feelings.

Francis' first biographer, Brother Thomas of Celano, quotes him:

I wish to enact the memory of the babe who was born in Bethlehem: to see as much as is possible with my own bodily eyes the discomfort of his infant needs, how he lay in a manger, and how, with an ox and an ass standing by, he rested on hay.

As always, Francis works in the tangible and concrete. He desires to see with his bodily eyes what he already sees with his heart: the poverty of Christ, the poor and humble Lord of the manger and of the Cross.

(The translation from Celano's Life is from the version included in the first volume of this series, which I recommend to all.)

December 19, 2006

Tomorrow I Will Be

This one goes in the 'you learn something every day' file:

One of the brothers pointed out to me that the initials of the "O" antiphons, read backwards, make an acronym of the mystery of Christmas.

During the last seven days before the vigil of Christmas, the church sings the famous "O" antiphons, either with the Magnificat at Evening Prayer (Vespers) or as adapted into songs, such as the classic O Come, O Come Emmanuel or Marty Haugen's My Soul in Stillness Waits.

Here they are:

(clunky translations are my own)

O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodisti, attingens a fine usque ad finem, fortiter suaveritque disponens omnia: veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae. (O Wisdom, who comes from the mouth of the Most High, governing from beginning to end, strongly and sweetly disposing all things: come and teach us the way of prudence.)

O Adonai et Dux Domus Israel, qui Moysi in igne flammae rubi apparuisti, et ei in Sina legem dedisti: veni ad redimendum nos bracchio extento. (O Lord and Leader of the house of Israel, who appeared to Moses in the flame of the burning bush, and gave him the Law on Sinai, come to redeem us with outstretched arm.)

O Radix Iesse, qui stas in signum popolorum, super quem continebunt reges os suum, quem gentes deprecabuntur: veni ad liberandum nos, iam noli tardare. (O Root of Jesse, who stands as a sign for the people, in front of whom kings shut their mouths, whom the people seek: come to save us without delay.)

O Clavis David, et sceptrum domus Israel: qui aperis, et nemo claudit; claudis, et nemo aperit: veni et educ vinctum de domo carceris, sedentem in tenebris et umbra mortis. (O Key of David and scepter of the house of Israel: what you open no one can close, and what you close no one can open: come and lead the one in chains out of the prison, and also those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death.)

O Oriens, splendor lucis aeternae et sol iustitiae: veni, et illumina sedentes in tenebris et umbra mortis. (O Dawn, splendor of eternal light and sun of justice: come and illumine those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death.)

O Rex gentium, et desideratus earum, lapisque angularis, qui facis utraque unum: veni et salva hominum, quem de limo formasti. (O King of the nations and their desire, cornerstone who unifies: come and save the people you formed from the earth.)

O Emmanuel, rex et legifer noster, exspectatio gentium et salvator earum: veni ad salvandum nos , Domine Deus noster. (O Emmanuel, our King and Lawgiver, hope and salvation of the nations: come and save us, Lord our God.)

If you then take the initials of the antiphons and read them backwards, you get Ero Cras "I will be tomorrow." The Tomorrow we look forward to is the manifestation of the Lord himself.

The Lord is coming, and he will not delay. Nor will he pro-cras-tinate, for he says, ero cras.

December 18, 2006

Wedding, Follow Up

Well I'm back from the wedding, and thank you so much for the encouraging comments on my homily. Had I known that bride, groom, parents and wedding party would be standing up through the whole thing, I would have cut it in half.

So, it's true. I have very mixed feelings about this wedding I just went to. On the one hand, I'm very grateful for the opportunity to preach and serve a couple who were real good friends to me in the discernment years before I entered the Order.

On the other hand, the ceremony itself bugged me. First of all, there wasn't much to it; if it hadn't been for me preaching for eight minutes, it would have been over in fifteen, shorter than daily Mass on a hot day in Ordinary Time. It was in a protestant church to which neither bride nor groom had any relationship before or, as far as I can tell, plan to have in the future. There was pretty organ music to accompany movement, but no singing. There was no dialogue with or response by the assembly.

It was as if I went to a civil wedding that had been dressed up with a church building and the occasional pronunciation of the Lord's name. As the recessional was winding up, I was standing in the front of the church with the minister, and I told him that I hardly felt as if I'd been to church. He said he knew what I meant, but that it was business.

Part of me wants to call the whole thing a sacrilege, but I don't think it ascended to that level of intentionality.

I have to admit that the reception was fun. I was seated with a friend of the bride who was the last girl I ever dated (briefly) before entering the Order. It was fun to see someone I remembered as a party girl sitting there with a husband and two little kids. Even better was that she didn't seem at all surprised by my current state.

December 16, 2006

Wedding

Today I'm preaching my first wedding. I don't feel like I know what I'm doing, but here's the homily I came up with:

Good afternoon everyone, especially you, bride and groom and your parents, greetings to all in the Lord. Thank you especially for the invitation to preach on this happy day.

Just to introduce myself, I’m a Franciscan friar, originally from this area, and I had the privilege of being a co-worker of the bride for a few years before I went into the monastery. So my invitation is based on that, rather than on any reputation as a preacher.

Nevertheless, this bride and groom have made my job very easy by the readings from Sacred Scripture they have selected. We have Paul’s boast that nothing will separate us from the love of God in Christ from the Letter to the Romans, and his great hymn to love from the 1st Letter to the Corinthians. So it’s all about love, and really, what else is there to preach about?

We call this book [the Bible] the Word of God. The 1st Letter of John tells us that “God is love.” Now if God is love, and nothing but love, mind you, what can the Word of God be but the word “I love you”?

Indeed, the “I love you” that God speaks is powerful and effective. In fact, it is the force of creation itself.

Think back to the creation of the world. Even if you don’t spend a lot of time in church, I’m sure that you’ve heard the story. In the beginning, God said, “let there be light!” And there was light. And God said, “Let the seas be gathered into a basin so that the dry land may appear!” And so it happened. In the same way, by speaking forth his Word, God creates everything else, including you and me. By breathing forth the first and original “I love you” God brings us and everything else into being.

When God says “I love you,” we exist. We happen. When God says “I love you,” the world happens. Love makes the world, and love is what we are made out of. In the most literal terms you can imagine, love is what it’s all about.

Now I want to tell you a secret. The “I love you” that passes between the bride and groom today, of which we are all joyful witnesses, is the same “I love you,” the same Word of God through which the world was created. Yes, perhaps on smaller terms, but the same “I love you” nonetheless.

Do you find this far-fetched? Look, then, at how powerful and creative their “I love you” has been today! It has created this joyful celebration; it has brought us all together in this lovely church. Even more, their love has put joy in each of our hearts.

Go ahead everyone, notice the joy inside you right now, feel it, enjoy it. That joy we feel in our hearts today is the creation of their love for each other, and it is ours to rejoice in. Even more, this joy that their love has put in our hearts and into this congregation today, it’s a glimpse of the very face of God.

There are a lot of people in the world who want to tell you what God thinks or what God expects of you, but the joy that you feel when you contemplate what the bride and groom are doing today, that’s the real thing, a glimpse of God himself.

So thank you, you two. In your courage to make public, in this wedding, the “I love you” that passes between you, you give us all a chance to see the face of God, to see the mysterious Source that is behind it all.

Well, so much for praising you. Perhaps all of you wouldn’t think me a proper preacher if I didn’t also tell you to do something. And so I will.

Bride and groom, on your wedding day, I give you two tasks. First, be grateful for and to one another. Be grateful for all of the risks and efforts in your relationship that have paid off in the joy of this day. And be grateful for all of the risk and struggle and joy you have to look forward to in the future. It is all the fruit of the love of God that has taken root in your hearts.

Second, cherish the gift of God you have received. It is the greatest thing in the world. It is the only thing that matters in the world, and the only thing worthy of human striving or interest. In your hearts is the love that will save the world. It is the love that is stronger than death, as we heard about from St. Paul.

Go to the most miserable place in the world, where there is the most horrible human suffering, and you will still see people falling in love with each other. Nobody can stop it. It’s the most powerful and unstoppable thing in the world, this love that we fall into. It’s the greatest power there is, it’s the power that will save the world, and it’s all yours. Cherish it with all reverence, today and forever.

And to the rest of us, family, friends, children, ministers and well-wishers of all kinds, I give the same two tasks, to be grateful and to cherish. First, be grateful to your friends who are married today. Be grateful for the joy they have put in your hearts today. Not only are they showing you the love that will save the world, they are revealing the very face of God to you. They are making their lives into an example of the first truth of faith: that love will save the world, that love is stronger than meaninglessness and death. By their courage and inspiration to make this commitment today, they are demonstrating the life of faith to you. So be grateful to them, and tell them so.

And cherish them. As you go forth from this day, friends and family, care for and treat their marriage as something precious. Have reverence for it. Visit them, support them, continue to be their friends and loved ones. And if one of them needs a shoulder to cry on, be there for them. This marriage is the precious possession of all of you; take care of it!

St. Francis of Assisi, the founder of my Order, had a special greeting. He used to say, “Pax et Bonum,” “Peace and good!” And I want to wish you that same peace and good today.

And so, bride and groom, thank you. Thank you for showing us your faith in the goodness and trustworthiness of God’s creation. You trust in the truth of true love enough to risk and rejoice in the marriage you make with each other today. In your love, you give us a chance to see the true peace and goodness that is the destiny and meaning of the whole world.

I wish you every blessing, all peace, and every good thing as you begin this newness in your life together, now and forever. Amen.

December 15, 2006

Holy Poverty

Once when I was very young in religion, an illustrious friar came to give us a talk on holy poverty.

He explained it very simply: we are poor whether we like it or not. We are poor in our creatureliness. We can only be in one place. We can only do one thing at a time. We can't know everything, please everyone, or have everything. We're all limited in a million ways and ultimately subject to sickness, decay, and death.

Thus we all live in a state ontological poverty; it's just the lot of a creature to live in incompleteness.

So with this realization we can do one of two things. We can panic and try to make up for our lack by greedily amassing security and recognition and pleasure and flatterers, wrapping all these things around ourselves to try to mask our identity as poor creatures. We grasp and grasp, hoping to make up for the poverty within. At best we will fail to fool ourselves in this way and are led into misery. At worst we will succeed in fooling ourselves and are led into violence and moral poverty.

On the other hand, we can accept our creaturely poverty before God. Once we learn that no created thing will change this, we are free to use the things of this world without having to grasp at them and possess them as proper to ourselves. And that's what it means to live Franciscan poverty, the life of sine proprio. That's holy poverty.

And by the way, when you apply sine proprio to your relationships to other people, it's called chastity, and that goes for everyone, whether called to marriage, celibacy, or the single life.

December 14, 2006

Juan de la Cruz

Por ninguna ocupación dejar la oración mental, que es sustento del alma.

Don't give up your mental prayer for any other activity, for it is the sustenance of the soul.

Juan de la Cruz, Grados de Perfección, 5.

I thank God all the time that I discovered people like Francis of Assisi, John of the Cross, John Cassian, and the author of the Cloud of Unknowing. They make so much more sense to me than many of the contemporary spiritual guides I've met.

December 13, 2006

Misery

Everywhere I've ever been I find walking routes. I need them for the sake of the thinking and solitude that keeps me sane and in reasonable perspective. One of my favorite ones from here at school takes about an hour and a half. I walk up one of the roads that leaves campus, eventually turn down a wooded pedestrian path, and end up at a subway terminus where I can ride right back. Even better, right at the intersection of the street and the path is one of those Greek pizza places, where you can stop for a gyro or sangwich.

Anyway, I was doing just this in the threatening gray gloom of today, thinking about a hundred useless things, when I see a man up ahead standing on the edge of the pedestrian path. He was carrying a grungy shopping bag in each hand, and wearing a dirty coat and a Santa hat.

I told him good afternoon, and he immediately responded, "Christmas sucks!"

He then continued, "It's the most miserable time of year! Good for nothing but a chance to get drunk!"

Not really wanting to know where this conversation might go, standing alone there in the artifical urban woods, I bid him good day and went along my way. But then I was thinking about what he said.

For all of the "Christmas cheer" and "ho ho ho" and domestic joy we are supposed to believe in (and buy) this time of year, Christmas is, in fact, partly about misery and despair.

After all, Jesus was born into the obscurity of Nazareth, the homelessness of Bethlehem, and the shame and danger of foreign-occupied 1st century Palestine. And from his birth his destiny was the Cross, which is nothing else but God's identification with our misery, despair, wretchedness, and failure.

New Picture


Maybe it's because I've been feeling like the old picture is pompous, or maybe it's because it's the end of the semester, or maybe it's just that I'm a silly person, but I've decided to replace my profile picture with this version of me as a South Park character.

December 12, 2006

Emperatriz de las Americas

One of the intercessions for evening prayer tonight, though rhetorically clunky, is theologically brilliant:

The image of the mother of your Son was imprinted on the garment of the Indian Juan Diego with features of his race, imprint within us Mary's virtues and her love of the defenseless.

The mysteries of our faith are Incarnate in the very particularity of each people on earth. And even in the tragic story of the indigenous peoples of the Americas, Our Lord and his Mother are present to them from within.

So let's give thanks today for Our Lady of Guadalupe, Queen of Mexico and Empress of all the Americas.

Fixed

Brother computer guy unbroke my computer, like nothing happened. Though I did have to endure much scolding for not being a good backer-upper, not even owning a USB drive to save my work on, and for risking the kind of lossage that would keep me from finishing my STL on time.

He was also annoyed because he couldn't guess my windows password, and because he couldn't figure out why the computer was named "Monica." I told him I named it after St. Augustine's mother.

December 11, 2006

Broken

Last night when I got home from my weekend gig my computer wouldn't start. No safe mode, no returning to the last functioning configuration, nothing.

It's really something when your computer breaks: no work can get done, you're cut off from communicating, and you keep thinking that all of the notes, papers, unfinished projects, and homilies in there are gone forever.

There's a temptation to anxiety and despair that goes with it, but it only shows that I've put my security into this funny little box filled with text and programs. It makes sense that when we late modern people get nervous about the end of the world, we imagine it in terms of the failure of technology to support us any longer, i.e. the old Y2K problem.

The situation reminds me of one of my favorite sayings of the desert fathers, although I'm not sure it relates:

If a monk knows of a place where he can make progress, but where the necessities of life can only be had with difficulty, and for that reason does not go there, such a monk does not believe in God.

Oh well, I'm taking it to brother computer guy for examination later on this morning.

December 9, 2006

Insight

I had dinner with an old friend last night, and he told me his "latest theory" on God:

"To say that someone else exists in the world is already religious."

I thought it was utterly brilliant. To admit that someone else exists, with feelings, thoughts, dreams and hopes is to make an act of faith and to go outside of the lonely prison of yourself. You'll never really know the inside of another person; but to admit that it is there, and is as central to the world as your own inner self, well, that's a spiritual assertion made by faith.

If then you start to manage your life around the admission that other people exist apart from your own needs and desires and gratification, then you've moved from faith to practice.

Sin is simply the failure to see others apart from our own terms and needs and desires. They're just props in the world to help us with our need for recognition, praise, pleasure and security. When it's really bad it gets called ministry: other people exist to serve our need to help them or save them. This kind of selfishness is the worst because it masquerades as altruism and helpfulness.

To admit that you yourself aren't the center of the world, in spite of all appearances and suggestions to the contrary in your own mind and heart, that's the beginning of spirituality. To admit that there is an "other" is the beginning of admitting that there is Otherness Itself, the mystery that we clumsily call "God."

Search Results

One of the most consistently amusing thing about maintaining a site like this is seeing what search terms bring one's visitors. Some of my favorite recent queries that have brought visitors to a minor friar:

how does the habit of a capuchin friar minor look like,

latin word for snowman,

prayer of the faithful advent from Austrian Google, and, ever so simply put,

friar.

December 8, 2006

Immaculate Conception

Some of the scholastic theologians had a problem with the (now) dogma of the Immaculate Conception. Their argument went something like this: If Mary was always without the injury of original sin, enjoying a perfect state of grace from the first moment of her conception, what need did she have of the redemption wrought by Christ some forty to fifty years later in his Passion, death, and Resurrection?

Thus it seemed, at least to them, that if we affirmed the Immaculate Conception, we then had to say that Christ died and rose for most, not for all, because Mary didn't need it. This little reductio ad absurdum helps us to look back at the errors in the starting assumptions.

First, we shouldn't think that the Incarnation was just about redemption from sin. It's not as if the coming of the Son of God as a human being was God's "Plan B." We shouldn't imagine that, after Adam and Eve sinned, then the Blessed Trinity had a meeting to decide what to do, finally deciding that the Son would become flesh to "fix" the situation. No. The Incarnation was always the final end and plan of creation. God creates so as to be present to and loving towards his creatures, and the Incarnation of the Son is the ultimate expression of this desire and intimacy.

Second, we shouldn't think about the redemption Christ accomplished as something that exists mechanically in time. After all, Paul assures us that Abraham was justified by his faith in the Resurrection. (Rom 4:17) So why shouldn't it be that Mary was able to enjoy the fruits of Christ's redemption before they occurred within worldly history?

I owe some of this reflection to two fine theologians, the privilege of being taught by I have gratefully enjoyed: Mary Beth Ingham and John Randall Sachs. Neither is a Franciscan, but they do seem to have the grace of tendencies in that direction.

December 7, 2006

Both/And

Student and teacher got in an argument yesterday, during class, over whether or not the historical Jesus of Nazareth could have said, "Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory which I had with you before the world was made." (John 17:5)

Student: "You do admit that, because you can't know what he said, he could have said this, no?"

Teacher: "All I'm saying is that a devout Jew of the 1st century could never have said such a thing."

Student: "But Jesus was more than an ordinary Jew."

Teacher: "No he wasn't."

Trouble is, they both have to be right. Jesus has to be more than an ordinary Jew of the 1st century; that's the central claim of Christianity after all. On the other hand, we have to be able to say that he was an ordinary person just like us; if he wasn't just like us we wouldn't be saved by his passage through death to life.

December 6, 2006

Relief and Panic

After nine semesters of theological education, and now in my second degree program, today is the last day that I am responsible for any in-semester course work. On the other hand, I still have a thesis to produce, and I realized this morning that I have only 135 days to write it.

December 5, 2006

Peace

One line form the psalm for today really caught me: in the reign of the King who is to come we will enjoy "profound peace."

A lot of people talk about peace. "Peace" is the goal of the military maladventures of these United States. But mostly, when the world talks about peace and its desire for peace, they don't have the faintest idea what they are talking about.

The peace that the world wants is just freedom from annoyance. It's the absence of anyone getting in the way of their plans for security and power, their efforts at exploiting the earth and everyone else for their own comfort and gratification.

Real peace isn't the absence of anyone getting in the way of fulfilling your unreasonable desires, but is the courage to let go of them. Real peace starts with treating others as if they were human beings like yourself, or better, as human beings better than yourself.

The "profound peace" that the psalmist looks forward to is the power of love to break down all the ways that we insist on misery, both for ourselves and those around us.

December 4, 2006

Happy New Year

And so the year of grace 2007 is upon us, and another advent has begun. I really appreciate it when advent rolls around. It's like a fresh start, a new year. The lectionary cycles turn over, and you switch to volume I of the Liturgy of the Hours, which is always the last beat up volume in a given set. (I have an elaborate theory on this too, why the order of beat-upedness in any set of breviaries is I-III-II-IV) It's like the spiritual life equivalent of the beginning of school, when you delight in clean notebooks and sharp crayons.

At such a dark time of year, it's the perfect space for such a mystical season. I find advent mystical because we try to appreciate three things at once: the Incarnation of the Word in the human life of Jesus of Nazareth, the novelty and joy of the Incarnation of Christ in ourselves through our Baptism and Holy Communion, and the final advent of the Risen Lord at the end of time. The great thing is that these three comings of the Lord are not discrete; in fact they blend in with each other and identify with each other. That's what makes advent so mystical and mysterious for me.

December 2, 2006

Theology

One of my jobs lately has been to lead a liturgy of the Word for little children. It's supposed to include each element from the regular rite: reading, psalm, alleluia, Gospel, profession of faith, prayer of the faithful.

When it comes to the prayers at the end, I have them pray for the usual intentions of the universal church: the Holy Father, the bishops and our pastor, our diocese and our parish, the suffering world around us, the poor, the sick, the dying and the dead.

Then I ask them for their own intentions. So they pray for their parents, grandparents, and dogs and cats. Inevitably, one kid will say we should pray for God or Jesus. Pray for God? Why would you have to pray for God? At first I dismissed this inspiration as randomness. But it kept happening, so I was thinking about it.

Perhaps I framed prayer narrowly for them. I asked them, "who or what should we pray for?" This seems to imply that prayer is a response to a lack - there is something wrong, something missing, and therefore we need to pray for God to fix it, renew it, protect it, etc.

But this isn't all there is to prayer, or even prayer at its real heart. Prayer is the proper response of a creature who admits that she is a creature, who admits that he is not God. Yes, this is a lack, but it's a lack that's proper to our condition and which makes us who we are. So when the kids say they want to "pray for God" or "pray for Jesus," perhaps they just want to affirm God in his goodness, or praise our Lord for his compassion and obedience.

In any case, these little ones make me think sometimes.

December 1, 2006

Hell

You know it's the end of the liturgical year when you get readings like those of today.

The book of Revelation proclaims the role of hell in the last things:

Then Death and Hades were thrown into the pool of fire.
(This pool of fire is the second death.)
Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life
was thrown into the pool of fire.

Hell is primarily the destination of death itself, not of any of us.

The victory of Christ is not about sending any of us to hell, and indeed the church has never claimed for sure that anybody has even gone there, but consists primarily in sending death and hades themselves to hell.

November 30, 2006

Franciscan Spirituality

Every once in a while I get an email forwarded to me about a friend of a friend who says he wants to be a friar. Usually these don't go anywhere.

The once I received yesterday seemed a little more promising than usual. In the forwarded email the man said he had a "burning desire" for the Franciscan life. To say something like that reveals some intuition of the Franciscan vocation. As St. Bonaventure says in the prologue to the Itinerarium:

Via autem non est nisi per ardentissimum amorem Crucifixi

"Indeed there is no other way but through the burning love of the Crucified." In this simple statement we hear two of the central themes of Franciscan spirituality. First, it always has a focus on the affective; it lodges in our heart, our love, our feelings. Second, these are devoted to Christ crucified, the perfect intersection of love and suffering that is the Cross.

November 29, 2006

All (Franciscan) Saints

Yes, we Franciscans even have our own feast of all saints, a time to remember and celebrate the little Franciscan cohort of the church at rest in heaven.

It's been almost 800 years since Francis received his first companions, which Francis described in his Testament as the time "when the Lord gave me brothers."

Since then God only knows how many friars and sisters and seculars have lived their lives through the inspiration of Francis and Clare. Surely many of them are among the saints with God. Today we celebrate them, and look forward to sharing in their joy, rest, and destiny.

November 28, 2006

Turkey

The Holy Father's visit to Turkey this week is truly a big deal. Cardinal Sean has a prayer posted for him and his trip.

Feelings

Feelings are a funny thing in the spiritual life. On the one hand you have to pay close attention to them: the little angers and annoyances that arise in our heart remind us of our unreasonable expectations of the world and other people. Our little attractions to others remind us of our vocation to communion with one another, and ultimately, to God. When we're sad for no reason, it can teach us that our home is not here, but in heaven. When we're happy for no reason, it can be a foretaste of our eternal joy and beatitude with God.

On the other hand, sometimes proper ascesis and right effort is to ignore and disregard our feelings. On Sunday I was preaching, and I felt terrible. I was tired, and kept thinking that I was going either too fast or too slow. I didn't feel connected to the assembly, and found my text stale and repetitive. But my pastor said it was the best he had heard from me thus far.

I guess knowing when to listen to our feelings and when to ignore them is a work of discernment.

November 25, 2006

Christ the King

Well, we've reached the last week of the year of grace 2006, and here's my homily for this weekend. (P.s. I made this homily before I was aware of the recent difficulties in Tonga. So let's remember to pray for their intentions and their peace.)

A few years ago I took a political science course, and in the class I met a guy from the island of Tonga. Now maybe you’ve never heard of Tonga – I know I hadn’t. Tonga is a little island in the south Pacific, and our political science teacher, interested as he was in different systems of government, was very interested in meeting someone from Tonga. You see, Tonga is one of the last places in the world with a real monarchy. They have a real king who actually rules the country.

Now this is pretty foreign to our experience. We’re not used to being ruled by royalty. For us, we are familiar with more modern forms of earthly government: presidents and prime ministers, parliaments and congresses. For us, kings are a thing of the past.

Does this make it hard for us to get into this feast of Christ the King? I don’t think so. Fact is, the kingship of Jesus Christ and the nature of his kingdom are so different from any earthly idea of power and government that perhaps we who don’t have any experience of earthly kings will understand today’s feast more easily.

Think about it. Take a look at Christ the King there on the Cross. What kind of power is that? Instead of earthly power he is nailed to the Cross and can’t even move his hands and feet. Instead of royal robes he is naked and shamed. For a crown he has only the crown of thorns made by his torturers.

What kind of king is this? Pontius Pilate was pretty curious about it. Seeing the beaten and bound Jesus before him, he wondered what kind of king he could possibly be dealing with. And so Jesus described his kingship to Pilate:

For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth hears my voice.

The kingdom of Christ is about truth, not earthly power. Reigning from the throne of his Cross, Jesus Christ reveals the truth. And the truth is that real power in this world is humility and the giving of oneself for others. It’s not about having it your way, and not the power to influence and control anybody. Real power is humility and the willingness to give of oneself for others. And this is the kind of king we are dealing with in Jesus Christ.

Reigning from the throne of the Cross, Christ the King reveals to us the truth about our world. The true story of the world is not in the halls of power or in the overwhelming suffering of war. It’s not even in the world’s false hope for an earthly peace which is only about everyone being able to pursue their own desires without interference. The real history of the world is not found in the careers of presidents and prime ministers.

Christ the King reveals to us from the Cross that the true kings and queens of this world are those who quietly struggle to love each other, to bear with each other’s burdens, to give of themselves without counting the cost or expecting anything in return. The true story of this world is the story of those who in so many small and forgotten ways, give of themselves for each other, give of themselves for the life of another. And this is the Kingdom of God. It’s the real history of the world, and you won’t see it on CNN.

Jesus explains to Pontius Pilate that his kingdom “does not belong to this world.” The kingdom of Jesus Christ is not of this world, but it is in this world. And the kingdom of Christ is in the world because of you and me. In the book of Revelation we hear today how Jesus Christ

has made us into a kingdom, priests for his God and Father.

It is us who are made into the kingdom of God in this world.

We are fortunate here at this parish in so many ways, not the least of which is that we baptize our children here in the midst of the Sunday assembly. In this we have the tremendous privilege of witnessing the very thing we proclaim today in the book of Revelation. In the baptisms we celebrate we see with our own eyes how Jesus Christ makes “us into a kingdom and priests for his God and Father.”

In baptism we witness the royal anointing with oil we have all received. Just as David was anointed by the prophet Samuel to be the greatest of the kings of Israel, and just as Jesus was anointed on his feet by Mary in preparation for his enthronement and glorification on the Cross, we too are anointed in our baptism to share in the kingship of Christ.

You and me, we are the anointed royalty of the kingdom of God. As baptized Christians we are the kings of the world. But our royalty doesn’t get us anything as this world counts power and value. Our royalty is the kingship of Christ the King who rules from the Cross, naked, unable to move, and crowned with thorns.

Our kingdom is the kingdom of God, the kingdom of those who try to follow and imitate Christ by giving of themselves for each other, who offer their efforts and love and lives for the life of the other, indeed for the very life of the world.

November 22, 2006

Franciscan Blogroll

For those who read German, go ahead and check out Pax et Bonum.

Vinculi

Anyone who reads my posts once in a while knows that Wikipedia is one my favorite sites. Not only do I love the knowledge it provides, but the very idea of the project appeals to me too. Of course it's a project that's going on in many different languages. The other day I noticed that a "Vicipaedia" is being built up in Latin! You can check out the homepage here, and here's their page on Benedict XVI. And while you're at it, why not check out the news at Nuntii Latini.

Too much fun it all is.

November 21, 2006

Presentation

Today is the feast of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, recalling her dedication in the Temple by her parents, Ss. Anne and Joachim.

It's a curious feast day in that it has its origins in extra-canonical scripture, namely the Protoevangelion of James. I couldn't think of any other feast day like that; can anybody else?

In a way it reminds me of the Jewish feast of Hanukkah, with its origin in the second book of Maccabees. Because Catholic Christians accept the Old Testament of the Septuagint, while Protestants and Jews do not, this feast doesn't appear in the current version of the Jewish Scriptures. So, oddly enough, this Jewish feast appears in the Christian, but not the Jewish Scriptures. To make matters even more strange, Hanukkah also appears in the Gospel of John at verse 10:22.

November 20, 2006

And All his Empty Promises

KJN had a great post yesterday about her decision to start wearing a chapel veil. Apparently she has done so in the past, but was shamed out of it by some helpful and progressive souls.

For me it's not about whether or not a woman ought to wear a chapel veil. Nobody wears such thing where I serve. Not even the religious sisters I know and work with wear veils!

For me the story spoke to how we use our labels and factions in the catholic church to tear each other down. When we see someone praying in a certain way we put a label on him or her. And we have a host of labels: liberal, conservative, progressive, neo-con, restorationist, radical, traditionalist. And by these labels we are tricked into ignoring the simple fact that the person we are labeling is praying at all and struggling to express some devotion to God.

What would I say in my heart if I saw a woman wearing a chapel veil? Would I think, "Oh my, this one is a traditionalist!" or, "Well, here's someone who has internalized the patriarchal culture of oppressing women!"

Or perhaps would I see someone who was trying, in her own way, to express her reverence and devotion for our Lord? Even if it isn't what I would do, do I take up the challenge of seeing the grace of God in her devotion, or do I dismiss her with a label?

The devil uses these handy labels to help us to dismiss each other, so that we might not see the grace of God, especially if it's a grace that we don't understand or wouldn't want for ourselves.

Just for the record, people make fun of me for wearing a zucchetto.

November 18, 2006

The End of the World

Here's my homily for this weekend:

My grandmother lived down the road from here in Gloucester, Massachusetts. When she was getting on in years she would speak very matter-of-factly about her coming departure from this world. She would say things like,

“I’ll never need to buy any more socks; I have all the socks I’ll ever need.” Or one day when we were at “Stah Mahket” she said,

“I’m so old; I don’t even buy green bananas anymore!”

Such plain talk about death and dying can seem shocking to us who live in a culture that is so bent on denying death. Medicines and consumer products promise to make us look and feel younger. Even the normal signs of aging and growing up, like my ever-disappearing hair, are supposed to be a cause for shame, and a cause to give somebody our money for a remedy.

But thanks be to our Lord Jesus Christ, our death is not something to look upon as an evil to be feared or as a misfortune to be denied. Our death is the moment when all of the love we have given and received for the Lord’s sake, all of the goodness we have struggled to do, and all of the grace we have rejoiced in are summed up all at once. As we leave this world, all of the love, grace, and goodness of our lives are sealed into history and become permanent and indestructible in the Lord. And we ought to rejoice in such a thing as a graced destiny that is given to us by God.

And as each of us has an end that we can look forward to, so does the world as a whole. Every year at this time the Scriptures we proclaim at Mass lead us to reflect on this final destiny of creation. Today we begin the last two weeks of the year of grace 2006, and at the end of the liturgical year we are always invited to reflect on the end of the world.

Now there are a ton of people out there who would like to help you to reflect on the end of the world, from the protestant evangelical authors of the popular Left Behind series, to the Jehovah’s Witnesses who come to knock on your door. Trouble is, when folks reflect upon and look forward to the end of the world, they tend to create it in their own image. Mostly when I listen to them, I don’t hear about the glory of our Lord, but about eternal rewards and vindication for the speakers themselves and the punishment and misfortune of those they don’t approve of.

And when you hear preachers talking about rewards for themselves and punishments for everybody else, rather than preaching the glory of God, run, don’t walk, to the nearest exit.

But what are we catholic Christians to say about the end of the world? Well, if we stick close to the Word of God as we hear it here in the assembled community of faith, we can’t go wrong.

Already in the book of the prophet Daniel, six or seven generations before the birth of our Lord, we hear about the Resurrection. The prophet describes the rising of the dead as the great sign of the end of the world.

And this Resurrection has already begun! The Resurrection of Christ, the great mystery of our faith, is the end of the world breaking into human history. We look forward not to a Resurrection that is just about us as individuals, but about us as the Body of Christ, as those who have become the members of the Lord through our Baptism! This is why St. Paul can call Jesus the “first fruits from the dead.”

By our baptism and our reception of the Body and Blood of the Lord in Holy Communion, we share in the very Resurrection of Christ. The Body of Christ that we receive is the Body of Christ that we are, and it is the same body that was Risen from the tomb on the third day.

This is how we may take the gospel we proclaim today from St. Mark’s apocalypse:

And then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in the clouds’ with great power and glory, and then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the end of the earth to the end of the sky.

Now this isn’t like with superman: “Look, up in the sky! It’s a bird, it’s a plane.” No. In fact, the opening of the Acts of the Apostles, you will remember, has the Risen Lord himself asking the disciples, “men of Galilee, why are you standing looking into the sky?”

No, seeing the Son of Man coming in the clouds, the Lord Jesus Christ who is the meaning and purpose of time and history, it isn’t about looking up into the sky or looking forward to future events in a merely human history. It’s about right now, and about what we are doing right now.

The Son of Man who is the judge of the world comes to us in the Scriptures we hear and in the sacrament we receive. The Body of Christ we receive here at Mass is the Body of Christ eternally raised from the dead, it is the Resurrection itself that we consume and take into our own lowly bodies!

This Resurrection is the end of the world in the sense of being the purpose, or goal of the world. In the Eucharist God gives us this Resurrection in the Body of his only-begotten Son. In our communion we are brought into the goal or purpose of all creation. We ourselves are fashioned and made into the end of the world.

And let’s take some comfort and encouragement from all this! The day-to-day struggles and the pains and inevitable decay we suffer in this life are not the whole story. We know that there is a deeper meaning, a deeper purpose to human life and the world. We know that all of the anxieties and pains we suffer for the sake of each other, all of the love we struggle to give to and accept from one another, all of this is summed up in the life and ministry, the suffering and death of the Lord Jesus.

And by his own Resurrection from the dead, Jesus will bring all of our love and pain and meaning along with him into the Risen life with God that is the real goal, purpose, and end of the world.

So let us praise the Lord and receive Communion in faith and gratitude, for by our Communion with him we will be caught up into the Resurrection and have our little lives hidden away in God for all eternity.

November 17, 2006

Elizabeth of Hungary

Today is also the feast of St. Elizabeth, patroness of the Secular Franciscan Order. Chiara has a couple of great posts on her, so check them out here.

Names

I was reading a book yesterday about Bible translations. It was discussing the question of using the name of the local deity in the local language to translate "God."

The idea made me uncomfortable, I must admit. Not that I know anything about this stuff, to be sure. So take what I say with a grain of salt, at least.

Nevertheless, "God" is not an utterance that is somebody's name. It is a clumsy placeholder of a term with it's referent in a transcendent Reality that is quite beyond our naming. This goes for the abstract nouns Elohim or Theos or for Biblical titles of God like Adonai or Kyrios.

God does reveal a name to Moses, YHWH, but it's cryptic and hardly a name in any sense that relates to our experience. Jesus reveals God as Father, which isn't a name but a suggestion of a particular kind of relationship.

Thus it seems to me that translating the complex utterance "God" with a proper name doesn't make much sense, religiously or theologically.

November 16, 2006

End

Since this weekend in the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time already, and we are coming to the end of the liturgical year, I'm sitting here this morning trying to write a homily on the end of the world. For whatever reason, it seems to be a difficult birth so far.

The trick is to hold the two senses of "end" together at the same time. The end of the world is both the terminal point of history and temporal progression, but is also the goal of human life and history.

The same is true of our personal end in death. It is the terminal point of what we have come to think of as ourselves, our life in time and in this world. But our death is also the goal to which we look forward, in which all of our love and goodness and effort for each other's sakes and for the sake of the Lord are summed up and made unrevisable and indestructible.

After all, as Francis approached the end of his life at the ripe old age of 44 or 45, he invited in the presence of "sister death."

November 15, 2006

Adam

The question came up: did Adam pray? If so, what was his prayer life like?

Of course Adam had it all: a peaceful life and original innocence. So what could he possibly pray for?

How we answer this question may reveal our own idea of prayer. If we see prayer as basically remedial, as something we have to do because of our wretched condition and constant need to ask for the "graces we need," well then we might say that Adam hardly needed to pray.

On the other hand, if we see prayer as the grateful response of creature blessing its Creator, then Adam would have had just as much reason to pray as the rest of us who happen to live with the effects of original sin.

November 14, 2006

History, Eschatology, and Mission

I have been having such fun this morning writing this piece of homework that I thought I would post it:

One aspect of our reading that has caught my “ecclesial imagination’ with regard to missionary activity” has been the interaction of missionary dynamics with different theologies of history. The God of Israel and Christianity is a God who is revealed in the violent processes of history (e.g. Ex 15:3, 12) and who creates a place to dwell among a people on earth. (Ex 15:17) The same God is revealed in the historical life of Jesus of Nazareth. (Jn 1:14) This same Jesus, resurrected from the dead as the Risen Lord is God as the end of history. (Rev 22:13) He is the end of history both in the sense of purpose and terminal point.

As we have moved through the course these past weeks, I have been attentive to the ways in which conceptions or theologies of history interact with the theology of mission.

The powerful interaction between theologies of history and Christian mission begins in the New Testament itself, both in the sense of the practice of the primitive church and New Testament theological reflection. Here we can see the beginnings of how eschatology can set the tone for mission. And in this sense it seems to make quite a difference if one’s eschatology is of the futuristic or realized type.

Paul, though he seems to soften his apocalyptic expectation over the course of his career, seems generally confident in the immanent, historical return of Christ and the end of the age. (e.g. 1 Thess 5:2) This lack of remaining time no doubt inspired some of Paul’s incredible missionary zeal as a founder of churches, and his concern that the churches be found behaving decently and at peace at the Lord’s coming. (e.g., 1 Cor 1:10)

Perhaps most interestingly, in the letter to the Romans Paul’s eschatology and sense of history necessitate his contribution to the great missionary revolution of the New Testament: the mission to the gentiles. In the middle of the letter to the Romans, Paul presents a theological reflection that is a theology of history and mission at the same time. In the seemingly strange historical plan of God, the conversion of the nations will be required to convert unbelieving Israel. (Rom 11:13) The unbelieving “trespass” of the Israel of history (11:11) is the condition for the mission to the nations. (11:12) In fact, the gentile mission must come to some completion in history before the Israel of history can be saved, (11:25) but saved it will be. (11:26) Once the “full number” (11:25) of the gentiles are “grafted” (11:17) into Israel, the Jews will also be saved. (11:26)

Thus human effort in history at preaching the Gospel and converting all the nations to Christ will be required if God is not to be a liar in his covenant promises to Israel.

A more realized eschatology leads to a theology of mission with less urgency. The book of Revelation suggests that the final judgment has already come to pass: “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great!” (18:2) In this kind of theological imagination, history has, in a sense, already come to an end, and there is not much left to do but to wait in “patient endurance” (2:2) for the great apocalyptic mess to pass over.

This distinction between the theologies of mission produced by different kinds of historical sense and eschatology can be seen in modern Christian groups with strong apocalyptic expectation. The Jehovah’s Witnesses, for example, look forward to the coming of a renewed and perfected world in a very concrete way. Since this perfected kingdom will only be enjoyed by those who confess religion properly, it is the good will of the Witness to make an effort at helping others to share in it. This imagination of the immanent end of history as we know it can account, at least in part, for the tremendous missionary zeal of the Witnesses.

On the other hand, a fringe group like the Branch Davidians, who came to public consciousness in 1993, believed that they had already received their eschatological prophet in the person of their leader. For them the time of mission was over; they had only to wait for the completion of the final apocalyptic battle.

But what of us who have a Christianity that is more towards the mainstream? What is our theology of history or sense of eschatology? There is a general vertigo and malaise around these issues for us late- or postmodern people. As the old saying goes, attributed to various French philosophers, ‘God is dead, Marx is dead, and I don’t feel very well myself.’

Our world is no longer pervaded by a general sense of its theological finality. The horrors of the twentieth century have broken down our confidence in the evolutionary and progress based models that were supposed to replace a superstitious eschatology. The strongly acclaimed “end” of Marxism has even broken the hopes of purely material and secular eschatologies.

Catholic Christians seem to favor a theological approach of “both/and.” Thus we try to affirm an eschatology that is both futuristic and realized at the same time. The kingdom of God that is the finality of history has already been realized in the Incarnation, Jesus’ preaching of the kingdom, and especially in the mysterious connection of his historical human life and the transcendent event of his Resurrection. On the other hand, human history is still “on the way” to somewhere; The Risen Christ has not yet come to “full stature” (Eph 4:13) and world is still groaning for its full redemption. (Rom 8:21-22)

We must be sure that this “both/and” approach is an invitation to live in a creative tension rather than a way to absolve ourselves from having to make any theological claim at all. Living in such a tense, two-fold theology of history will lead us to a double sense of mission.

First, our realized eschatology, our belief that history has reached its completion in the Resurrection, will lead us to proclaim to the world the great joy that “fallen, fallen is Babylon the great!” (Rev 18:2) This will be a mission of preaching and proclamation, of bring the world the good news that it has been freed from its “bondage to decay” and may begin to enjoy “the glorious liberty of the children of God.” (Rom 8:21)

Second, our belief in a “not yet,” in a futuristic eschatology, will lead us to a mission of service. This vision of history as not yet complete will call us to serve the world as healers and prophets. This is the missionary mandate to heal the sick and preach the coming kingdom, (Lk 9:1-3) to denounce injustice, and to “bind up the brokenhearted.” (Is 61:1)

Liturgy Lite

One of my teachers told a story about a Mass he went to. The presiding priest introduced the Penitential Rite by inviting the assembly to call to mind their "failures and shortcomings."

At the end of the Mass our teacher went to the priest and told him:

"Paul tells us that we are to boast of our failures and shortcomings, that the power of Christ may shine through us. I came here today for forgiveness of sins."

November 13, 2006

Coffee

You just never know where Wisdom is going to show up.

This morning, as I'm sitting here reading C.K. Barrett's commentary on the Gospel of John, I look up and see this quote on my Starbuck's coffee cup:

Life is a school for angels. Love is the Teacher, so do your homework without fear. Death is merely graduation.

Isn't that great? Now we know that we aren't going to become angels; but we do aspire to the life of the angels in the sense that we hope to share with them the life of heaven.

The first letter of John teaches us that God is love. If we are very bold, we may even turn it around to say that Love is God! And we believe that love is our Teacher because Love Itself became one of us in the human life of Jesus of Nazareth.

So let's love, do our homework, and have our coffee without fear, and look forward to our graduation.

Thanks Starbuck's!

November 11, 2006

Religion

I don't have to preach liturgically this weekend, but I was thinking about the Gospel nonetheless.

Last Sunday we heard the great double commandment: We are to love God with all we are, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. But what will this look like in our spiritual practice? This Sunday we are given a positive and negative example.

Religion can go either way for us. It can teach and enrich us toward openness and love and make us better people. It can make us more gentle, or it can make us more hurtful. It can serve our health or it can make us sick. The same is true of other basic vectors of human life: sexuality, family, food, etc.

The scribes in the Gospel use their religion as a way to indulge themselves: their pride, their vanity, their security. As the old saying goes, "power is the lust of the clergy." Their religion is not about loving God and neighbor, but about loving their own self-satisfaction.

The poor widow, on the other hand, gives to the Temple out of her poverty. And that's the trick to real spiritual practice. We must give not out of our riches but out of our poverty, not out of our power but out of our humility.

We must not, like the scribes in the Gospel, indulge ourselves in the (erroneous) idea that we are something great. We must not even please ourselves with what one friar called "delusions of adequacy."

Hardly anyone of us is a living saint. Nor are we spectacular sinners. Both our goodness and our sinfulness are unremarkable for the most part. To be humble is to accept the truth, to realize that we are "poor in spirit."

Now with this knowledge we can do one of two things. We can panic and try to fool the world into thinking we are something special, or a genius, or a saint, or whatever. And religion can be a big help in this project, as it was with the scribes! Eventually we can even fool ourselves.

Or we can accept our poverty and our insignificance. And when we find this kind of genuine humility, we can offer the little good we do have to the world. And to offer the world something truly humble is to offer it something fresh and about which it knows little these days. In this way we can imitate the widow whom Jesus praises today.

November 10, 2006

Wrong

Yesterday afternoon I went for a walk to clear my head of a paper I was trying to write. On the way back I went by two police officers who were attending to street repairs around the corner from our house. As I passed them I said hi. One of them looked at me and said, "You don't look right walking around here." I smiled, but I was speechless at the comment.

I hardly think about it, but it's true. I live in the wrong neighborhood. By the world's standards, I don't belong here. And I'm proud of it. Proud of it in the Lord, of course.

It reminded me of a band I used to listen to back in college, Nomeansno. Their best album, "Wrong," contained a poster or something that said, "Be Strong. Be Wrong." I hung it in my dorm room, and I think it might still be pasted to the inside of the lid of my footlocker.

Sometimes that's just the attitude that the disciple of the Lord needs. To have the strength and courage to think and do the wrong thing in the eyes of the selfish and glittering ideologies of this world.

November 9, 2006

Open

Today is the first day since Columbus Day that I have nothing on my calendar. No lectures to attend, no appointments with friars, teachers, doctors, or for car maintenance. No prayer to lead and no dinner to prepare for the brothers.

Not that it's a day off. There's plenty to do and lots of things to file away and deal with here on my desk. Not to speak of the paper I need to get going on this morning or the laundry I desperately need to get done today. But I have the time to myself, and I can put on some college radio and enjoy the peace of the house and do what I need to do.

One time I was working with another friar and when we got the project together I said, "O.k., good, that's all set." The brother remarked that it was my favorite feeling to look at something - a term paper, a clean room, a pot of beans, my own soul, whatever - and see it squared away and "all set."

I guess that's why I like a day like today.

November 8, 2006

Idolatry

I spent all of yesterday morning pushing myself through the ponderous, 140 page penultimate chapter of David Bosch's Transforming Mission. The book claims to be an attempt to use Thomas Kuhn's philosophy of paradigm shift to understand the history of Christian mission. I don't know if he really accomplishes this in particular, but it's a great book with a lot to think about. By the way, reading Kuhn's Structure of Scientific Revolutions made a big difference for me back when I was 19, but maybe that's for another day.

Bosch has a great statement toward the end of the book: he says our problem is that we're all Romantics and Pelagians at heart, and they amount to the same thing. I thought it was a brilliant thought and I was reflecting on it all day.

We're Romantics because rather than worship God, we would rather adore our cherished images of ourselves and the great things we imagine we will accomplish. When we desire prayer or "spirituality," sometimes what we really want is to admire our own imagined holiness.

We're Pelagians because all of these great plans for holiness and transformation of the world and inauguration of the Kingdom of God, we imagine as efforts or projects that are our own. And we want to own them as if they were worldly works.

These amount to the same thing because they are both ordered to the same goal: worship of ourselves.

Reflecting on this reminded me of the beginning of Hilaire Belloc's Pelagian Drinking Song:

Pelagius lived at Kardonoel
and taught a doctrine there
How, whether you went to heaven or hell
It was your own affair
It had nothing to do with the church, my boy,
But was your own affair.

November 7, 2006

Plug

Check out Michael Hallman, a seminarian whose posts display a rigorous thoughtfulness.

November 6, 2006

Penance

In the Franciscan sense, penance is the grace of effort we receive from the Lord to turn ourselves to God and away from our selfishness and self-involvement. This is how Francis described his own conversion at the beginning of his Testament, and how he described the life of penance in his Letters to the Brothers and Sisters of Penance, or his Letters to All the Faithful, depending on the edition you have.

One of the funny things about penance is that the penance we are given is not usually the penance we imagined ourselves doing. What we are given to do in order to turn ourselves to God and away from ourselves turns out to be something we don't really want.

This is because the penance we picture ourselves doing when we imagine ourselves as fine disciples of the Lord often turns out to be just one more form of selfishness, and in the more dangerous form of spiritual pride. Penance is hardly penance if it feeds our sense of self-satisfaction and makes the flesh feel like it's accomplishing something spiritual.

The devil is perfectly happy to have us do great things for the Lord, provided we can be made to do them in order to feed our own pride and lusts for recognition and approval. But because we are serving ourselves and not the glory of God, we will be constant grouches for lack of receiving the miserable rewards we seek. Our discipleship we will be opaque, and even little children will be able to tell that we are fakers.

November 4, 2006

Fall

Last night the network went down in the friary where I live. So this morning I walked over to our other house to read my email and blog a bit.

On the way I was thinking about how this is really my favorite time of year. Perhaps it just suits my temperament. It's as if after the loud and manic mood of summer the earth cools off, takes a deep breath, lets go of some of her brightness and settles down for a quieter reflection.

It's just seems easier this time of year to relax the heart and think straight.

November 3, 2006

Hands

One aspect of being ordained deacon last month is that I have become an ordinary Eucharistic minister. This doesn't make much difference, except that, for the first time ever, I have been a regular minister of the host.

As a minister of the host, one sees a lot of outstretched hands. Since most people receive the host in their left hand, I notice a lot of wedding bands. And I reflect on how all of the holiness and pain and sacrifices of those marriages are taken up into the love and sacrifice of Christ in the Eucharist.

I also notice hands that have worked hard, hands that look tired, and the occasional mangled hand or missing finger. So many individual stories of effort and hope, pain and misfortune that are offered in the great sacrifice and thanksgiving of the Eucharist.

All of these, by Baptism and Eucharist, are aspects of the humanity of Christ. And by the Incarnation, the humanity of Christ is our door into the perfect peace, joy, and communality of the life of the blessed Trinity.

November 2, 2006

All Souls Day

Last Sunday after the early Mass I was sitting having coffee with some of the brothers, and they were teasing one another. The one was telling the other that he was earning more and more time in purgatory for his teasing.

As if purgatory is a bad thing! In fact, it is a teaching about the outrageous kindness and mercy of God. Even if we haven't finished - or hardly begun - getting ourselves ready for the full vision of God upon our earthly death, God has provided this manner, this time, this place - who knows what it is really - to complete our purification.

Sometimes I hear people say that this world is a test, and they're right in a way. But it's not like a final exam or a drug test. Yes, we have a choice whether to accept or reject the revelation of God the Father in Jesus Christ. But God is so good that the odds are stacked way in our favor. Even if we don't finish the "test" in this life, God has provided a way for us to be further purified after our death.

To wake up one day in purgatory is a great joy! Because there is only one exit from purgatory: the presence of God.

God wants nothing more than to save the world from it's insistence on its own misery, and bring us into the perfect peace and joy that is God himself. In fact, God is literally just dying to save us.

November 1, 2006

All Saints Day

Today is one of my favorite feast days. It's sort of a populist celebration in that we venerate today not just the publicly canonized saints, but all of the holy people who lived and died in obscurity. We'll never know who they are, but today we celebrate their eternal enjoyment of the presence of God.

It's also a day about hope, a hope that began in one family and has snowballed throughout history to include all the nations and peoples of the world. God promised Abraham and Sarah, in their old age, that they would have a child and that their descendants would be a great nation. Remember that Paul says that this birth from a barren couple was the beginning of the Resurrection!

This promise has grown and grown through the ages until it reaches its final fulfillment in the picture of heaven from today's first reading, in which thousands upon thousands from every nation and people sing the praises of God in the great flowing sea of joy and praise that is heaven.

Not only do we celebrate all the saints today, but we celebrate a destiny, our destiny and that of the whole creation.

October 31, 2006

Funny

This morning I went for my annual physical exam. Afterwards I went to have my blood taken, where I was handed a print-out in order to "check over my information" to see if anything had changed since last year.

In the box labeled "employer or guarantor" I noticed that they had written "God." When I saw it I just started laughing, and I showed it to the woman who was working with me. She explained that they had to write something there, and it must have seemed like the appropriate thing.

But then I quizzed her: what would they do if I defaulted on payment? Do they have God's phone number or email address? Even if they got in touch with God, from what bank would he draw the check? I thought it was all pretty funny.

But it got me thinking on the way home. From what does God save us in Christ? Certainly we are not saved from creditors. We're not even saved from all the illnesses and problems that keep us going to the doctor all the time.

As one of my teachers says, "In Christ we're saved from death, but not from dying."

Democracy

Don has a great Merton quote posted today. It points out the education and spiritual formation that is the condition of possibility for a democratic society. And from somebody who rides the subways with the schoolchildren of today, I'm not confident that such formation is going on. They seem like sheep without a shepherd to me.

Check out the post here.

October 29, 2006

Desire

Today's Gospel stands in direct contrast to the passage we heard last Sunday. They are unified by Jesus' response to those who seek him out: "What do you want me to do for you?"

Last week we had a negative example in the sons of Zebedee who asked Jesus to increase their own glory. Today we have blind Bartimaeus, an example of faith and a model for our prayer.

From the side of the road Bartimaeus calls out, "Son of David, have pity on me!" Thus he reveals that, though blind by the world's standards, he is the one who can truly see - immediately he sees Truth itself in Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ of God.

Once he approaches Jesus he tells the Master that he wants to see. But we know that he already sees what really matters. Thus Jesus does not say anything about sight, but simply, "your faith has saved you." This is the faith that made Bartimaeus call out in the first place. He was already saved when he knew in his heart that Jesus was the Son of David, the Anointed of God.

There is only one true desire in the human heart. Yes, we need and want love and care and security, but all of these things at their best are incarnations of the divine presence. Our prayer is simply the realization that God sits humbly amidst all of these earthly loves. In this little bit of faith we call out to God that we want to see, we want more, to enter more fully into this divine mystery.

To be on this path is to enter into the human life of Jesus Christ, and to accept the journey is faith. That is why Jesus is able to say, "Go on your way. Your faith has saved you."

October 28, 2006

Durability

A brother I met today was talking about how Italian communism never managed to shake the culture of catholicism. He described their creed:

There is no God, and Mary is his mother.

October 25, 2006

Browsing

Mozilla Firefox 2.0 has been released, and I've just updated. It's looks and feels better than ever, and the only thing hard to get used to thus far is that the closing buttons for tabs are on the tabs themselves rather than on the extreme right side of the bar.

My stats indicate that just under half of the visitors to this site come via Internet Explorer, so this is a great time to make the switch. You won't regret it!

October 23, 2006

Foiling the Enemy

Yesterday I was leading a children's liturgy of the Word, and I asked the kids why we make the sign of the cross on our forehead, lips, and heart as we begin to hear the Gospel.

One little girl raised her hand and said, "Because we should think about Jesus, and tell him that we love him." Who could improve on an answer like that?

It brought Psalm 8:3 to mind: Out of the mouths of children and of babes you have found praise to foil the enemy and the avenger.

Franciscan Blogroll

Thanks to Chiara I found out about the blogging Poor Clares of Clare-Light on the Mountain. Check them out!

October 21, 2006

Priesthood

Here's my homily for this weekend:

One of the recent events down in the Church of Boston, where I live and go to school during the week, has been a visit from the heart of St. John Vianney. There were a couple of prayer services, and there were invitations to come “see the heart of a priest.” The focus was on prayer for vocations to the priesthood.

I thought it was a beautiful thing; the permanent deacon who baptized me was very devoted to St. John Vianney, and he made a real impression on me. And whose intercession could be better sought for vocations to the priesthood than the patron of diocesan priests himself?

But I was also reflecting on how it’s too bad that whenever we hear about priesthood it’s almost always about the ministry of ordained priests in the church. We don’t hear a lot about the priesthood of Christ, or the priesthood of the church itself, or about the priesthood of the baptized. Oh yes, we might not to be reminded of it too often, or be encouraged to reflect on it that much, but every baptized person is a priest because of their baptism into the body of Jesus Christ our high priest.

Our readings today are perfect for a reflection on our priesthood. We have the sacrifice of the suffering servant from the prophet Isaiah, and a description of the high priesthood of Christ in the letter to the Hebrews.

So, what is a priest? A priest is simply someone who offers sacrifice to God. In the Old Testament the priests of the Old Covenant offered all of the complicated sacrifices of animals and grains prescribed in the Law of Moses. These sacrifices of the Jerusalem Temple established the people of God as a people who gave the best of themselves and their goods back to God in thanksgiving. The priests had to offer sacrifice day after day and year after year.

Now our Lord changes all that. He offers the perfect sacrifice of his very self, human and divine, on the Cross. And this sacrifice needs only to happen once for the redemption of all the world, past, present, and future.

But this is what makes Jesus Christ a priest! He is a priest because he offers sacrifice to God. He offers the perfect priestly sacrifice of his own life for the life of the world. In this way Jesus Christ fulfills Isaiah’s prophecy of the suffering servant who will redeem Israel. Isaiah says, “because of his affliction he shall see the light in fullness of days; through his suffering, my servant shall justify many, and their guilt he shall bear.”

We, the gathered church, are the body of Christ. Indeed that’s what we celebrate in the Eucharist; that we become what we receive in the Blessed Sacrament. When the minister of communion looks us in the eye and says, “The Body of Christ,” they aren’t just talking about the host we are being given. It’s also an affirmation that we ourselves are the Body of Christ – in communion we are addressed by our true name: “Body of Christ.”

The Body of Christ is a body that sacrifices itself for the life of the world. In this sense the Body of Christ is a priestly body. And all of us are called by our baptism into Christ to participate in the sacrifice of Jesus for the life of the world.

Most of the time this is nothing very grand. Almost all of our sacrifices of ourselves are small. We respond with quiet patience when someone interrupts what we were doing. We listen when someone needs to talk, even when it might be boring. We wash someone’s feet by saving them from embarrassment or the natural consequences of their negligence. We clean up after someone whom we know is tired and distracted by other things.

These are the sort of little kindnesses that we do every day, and we can easily pass them over without reflection. But because of our baptism even these little kinds of little sacrifices have a great dignity before God. Whenever you give up some of yourself, your time, or your resources for someone else you are participating in the one perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ. And as someone who offers such sacrifice to God, that’s what makes you a priest. In all of your little expressions of patience and kindness and gentleness you are a priest of the New Covenant, offering yourself for the life and reconciliation of the world.

So appreciate your priesthood and rejoice in the dignity to which God has raised you! In this Mass we celebrate the New Covenant in Christ’s blood, a perfect sacrifice that we participate in as the priestly Body of Christ. In the Eucharist, all of the otherwise forgotten tiny sacrifices of parents for children, of friends for each other, of co-workers making the effort to put up with each other in patience, all of this is summed up in the sacrifice of Christ. Christ on the Cross draws all of our efforts and hopes into himself and offers them to God on our behalf.

The letter to the Hebrews tells us today that in Jesus we have “a great high priest who has passed through the heavens.” Know that this isn’t just about Jesus Christ, but is about you and me! As the self-sacrificing body of Christ, we too pass through the heavens!

We are the Body of Christ. In the Eucharist, we become what we receive. And so in all of the sacrifices for others, in all that we do for the life and well-being of those we love, it is us who pass through the heavens. And what does ‘passing through the heavens’ mean but coming into contact with God himself? Jesus Christ has made us a priestly people, and because of what he has done for us, every time we sacrifice ourselves for each other, we are brought into closer union with the very life of God. And to see God is our greatest joy.