April 30, 2006

Resurrection and Creation

Fr. Cantalamessa's homily for this sunday is quite beautiful:

"All this tells us something important about the Resurrection. The latter is not only a great miracle, an argument or a proof in favor of the truth of Christ. More than that, it is a new world in which one enters with faith accompanied by wonder and joy. Christ's resurrection is the 'new creation.'"

You can check out Zenit for the whole thing. And don't miss Fr. Cantalamessa's site either.

Understanding the Scriptures

Today's Gospel tells of a Resurrection appearance during which the Risen Lord "opens" the minds of the disciples to understand the Scriptures.

How to understand the Scriptures is very much a live issue in our world. It constitutes lamentable divisions with Christianity and impacts controversies about creation and evolution.

In our relativistic world, we look for a "controlling insight" to guide our interpretation. And this principle is the Risen Christ himself. It is he who opens the mind to understand the Scriptures. And where is he found? He is alive in the church constituted as Body of Christ, and in his Spirit working through the Sacraments. So if you want to read the Scriptures properly, place yourself within the sacramental life of the Body of Christ.

Nuestro Himno

Much has been made of president Bush's recent comments on the newly appeared Spanish version of the Star-Spangled Banner. When asked if the song would be just as good in Spanish, he said no. Now everybody knows what this is about; if he had said yes it would be interpreted as an affirmation that Spanish was just as good a language for Americans as English.

Never mind that the United States is hardly a nation unto itself in the classical sense, but an artificially created middle-modern experiment in human optimism. And you have to admit, it's been a modest success. But that doesn't give it much claim to being a nation in the classical sense, with a proper culture and language, etc.

Of course everybody knows that things are better in their original language; if you can learn Greek so as to read the New Testament without translation, all the better.

But what really struck me in the president's remarks was his suggestion that people who come to the U.S.A. ought to learn to sing the national anthem in english. Now this is unreasonable. The Star-Spangled Banner has a range of almost two octaves, making it a big stretch for most ordinarily voiced people. Singing half-drunk at a ball game encourages one not to notice such things. And how many Americans know all four verses? How many even know that there are four verses?

April 29, 2006

How to be a Franciscan Student

Franciscan study has always been a thorny issue. There is Francis himself, in chapter X of the Rule: "let those who don't know how to read not be anxious to learn." That would seem to dispense with the question of learning, and perhaps it's this streak in the Franciscan tradition that has kept it from being identified closely with scholarship in the fashion of the Dominicans or Jesuits.

We must notice the context of Francis' statement, however. This section of chapter X is about the danger of vainglory and pride, not about scholarship. Ever since St. Paul the Christian tradition has known that knowledge carries with it the tempation to these sins. Francis' concern is that his brothers and sisters maintain the minority of humility. With these, they can engage in any work suited to the life. Without them, it doesn't matter what they do.

As far as sacred or theological study goes, in his Testament Francis himself commands us to venerate all theologians.

The Capuchin Franciscan Constitutions of 1536 offer a prayerful exhortation to be made to students before each lesson:

Lord, I am the lowliest of your servants, unworthy of anything good, but I wish to enter and see your treasure. May it please you to let me come in, unworthy as I am, and grant that, through these words and holy reading, I may not only learn about you, but learn to love you, for I wish to know you only so that I may love you, my Creator, my Lord and my God. Amen.

So long as the end of our learning is the love of God, and we remember that the treasure of knowledge is not our own, but belongs to God and that we are studying for the sake of the service of those for whom we are learning, we will be well on our way to becoming genuine Franciscan students.

Update: Today one of the friars supplied to me the original Latin of the prayer above, which I had never seen. I was struck that the word translated "lowliest" is vilissimus, from vilitas, from which we derive "vile" in English. This recalls also the Rule in which the friars are admonished to vestimentis vilibus induantur, to be dressed in cheap clothing.

Apology for Advertising

You might wonder why a Franciscan blog has ads. Therefore I offer a few points on my decision to include them.

1. No one can realistically imagine that any money is going to be made from clickable ads on a site as specialized and particular as this one.

2. I was genuinely curious about what kind of text adds the posts might produce.

3. I believe we Franciscans need to always remind ourselves that we live sine proprio, without property, without anything of our own. This goes even for the ethereal space of the world wide web. I publish in this corner of that space by the generosity or prerogatives of someone else. The advertising serves to remind me and any readers that this space is not our own.

4. In order to be in full accord with my religious and clerical state, I probably will not even accept any revenue generated on this site, should there be any. But I do want to have the ads on the page, for the reasons listed above.

April 28, 2006

Franciscan Blogroll

I have decided to maintain a blogroll for the sake of promoting the Franciscan blogosphere.

Please email me if:

1. You would like your blog included
2. You would like your blog removed
3. You would like your link name changed
4. You would like a copy of the code for your site

5. If you are already on the roll, but your blog has been dormant for a while, I may have stopped checking it regularly. When you get going again, drop me a line or a comment. Thanks!

ut melius observemus!

Twelve Baskets

In today's readings we hear John's account of the feeding of the five thousand. After the people eat of the five loaves and two fish, the leftovers, that which was "more than they could eat," fills twelve wicker baskets.

So what happens when Jesus feeds us? That is, what does the Eucharist do? First of all, in our celebration and reception of the Eucharist, the New Israel is constituted. Once we have been fed, twelve full baskets remain, the fullness of the re-creation of the twelve tribes of Israel. This puts us on the straight path to the New Jerusalem, the promised fulfillment of the world in Revelation 21.

Second, the leftovers are more than what he had when we started. That is to say that our mere humanity is fed by the Body of Christ and thus brought into the Sonship of the Word. We become what we receive, and are transformed into the Body of Christ. Humble bread and wine is received by humble humanity, and all together, by Christ's sacrifice, are brought into the the dynamic love which is the Trinitarian life. By the super-abundant goodness of God, we end up with infinitely more than we had at the beginning.

It was "more than they could eat." The mystery of the Eucharist is deeper than we can ever know.

April 27, 2006

The Poverty of the Holy Spirit


The Gospel reading for today assures us that God gives us his Spirit with utter generosity; God doesn't give according to "measure." Or, as our New American Bible would have it, God does not "ration" the Spirit.

The poor old Holy Spirit, often the forgotten Person of the Trinity. Even we Catholics can sometimes focus so much on the presence of Christ in the Eucharist, or the Church itself as the Body of the Risen Christ extended, as it were, through history, that we lose sight of the Spirit. This isn't even to speak of those who preach to us that we must accept Jesus as our "personal Lord and savior," as if Jesus Christ were one more discrete individual with whom we must network in order to obtain some kind of spiritual commodity.

But this isn't all our fault. The Holy Spirit does have a kind of poverty of identity, poured forth not to make Himself known, but the Word. See, here's how the Trinity happens, if we may speak so roughly. From all eternity the super-abundant goodness of God speaks forth a Word, who, because God is perfect, is a perfect self-image and self-knowledge of God. The mutual delight of God the Source and the Word we call the Spirit. Thus we end up with the Trinity of God as unbegotten Source or Father, Word, and Love, or Spirit.

And this is not so strange! Whenever you think of someone you love, immediately your delight in that person arises. But this process of thought and delight in our own mind is only our distant imitation of the eternal, infinite, dynamic movement we call God.

The Spirit stretches forth from the Source and the Word to make the Word known. Thus when it is time for the Word to take flesh from the womb of Mary, it is the Holy Spirit who conceives Him. After the Resurrection, it is the Spirit that forms the Church that will continue the incarnate presence of the Word of God in the world and through history.

April 26, 2006

Francis and the Snowmen

I got to talking about this story with someone yesterday. It's one of my favorites. Francis finds himself having a temptation against chastity, so he goes out into the snow and makes himself a snow wife.

Seeing that he has a wife, Francis says, "Well, Francis, now that you have a wife you will certainly have some children!" So he makes two snow sons and two snow daughters.

Now that he has a whole household, Francis completes his new family by making two snow servants to help around the house. Then Francis becomes alarmed when he sees he has seven people to care for. "Can't you see your family is freezing to death," he says to himself, "you had better go get some work so as to buy them proper clothes!" And it gets worse when he realizes that they are probably hungry and he has to go find them something to eat.

By giving himself all this anxiety, Francis cures himself of his temptation. What I find brilliant about the story is that by doing something ridiculous, Francis corrects his thinking and makes it more realistic. And this is part of the anatomy of temptation: we are attracted to something without seeing the whole picture. We sin because our thinking is distorted and we look for happiness within an incomplete conception of things.

Francis corrected his thinking, using the snowmen to shock himself into a more realistic view of what a non-celibate life would mean for him. This, then, is part of the cure for temptation and sin: correcting our thinking, bending it to reality. For Francis this meant making five people out of snow; nowadays this is called cognitive therapy.

My favorite version of this story is in St. Bonaventure's Legenda maior of St. Francis. When I first began to learn Latin I was excited to look up this story and see what the Latin word for "snowman" might be. Unfortunately it seems that snowman technology was not very advanced in the thirteenth century, for all Bonaventure says is that Francis made some "lumps" or "masses" out of the snow:

Insuper et mirando fervore spiritus animatus, aperta cella, foras exivit in hortum, et in magnam demergens nivem corpusculurn iam nudatum, septem ex ea plenis manibus coepit compingere massas. (Bonaventure, Legenda maior, chapter 5)

I don't know of an english translation of the Legenda maior that can be had for free. There is however, a nice trade paperback, and a recent translation in the latest series of Franciscan documents.

April 25, 2006

Condoms

Rumor has it that Benedict XVI has appointed a group to look into the question of condoms and the AIDS crisis in Africa.

So the question arises: will the Vatican o.k. the use of condoms for married couples in which a partner is in danger of contracting HIV? Various standard principles of moral theology could be employed, such as "lesser evil."

Here's my question, though. What will we let the discourse be about if a document appears? Will we make it about birth control, and the nest of issues around authority and sexuality that have arisen since Paul VI published Humanae Vitae? If we let any coming hoopla be only about this stuff, we just find one more way to ignore the pandemic in Africa.

Instead, let's let whatever comes out of Rome be about Africa, and about our collective need to say and do something about their suffering. I know a brother who worked full-time burying the dead for ten years.

You can check out the full Catholic News Service article here.

Of course some are having too much fun with this already, like Blogger colleague German Shepherd.

God or the Girl

Ok, this is a rant. I caught a little of this TV program God or the Girl over the weekend, and I was pretty much appalled. It's a series of shows about four young men who are trying to decide if they ought to go to the seminary and study for the priesthood. Hence we see them in all of the agonies and uncertainties of vocation discernment, and that in itself is supposed to be the drama of the show, I guess. It had so many problems, I hardly know where to start. Nevertheless, here's an attempt:

1. First of all, to set up this "god or the girl" dilemma is unfair to both God and girls. Of course a choice for the seminary means they have to give up their girlfriends. But it doesn't work the other way. As if a choice for the girlfriend would the exclude God from their lives. Perhaps A&E needs to be reminded that God instituted the union of women and men long before the celibate priesthood.

2. The program presents the choice to enter the seminary and the choice to enter the priesthood as the same thing. This is surely false, as those who are ordained to the priesthood or those who become finally professed in religious institutes are only a subset of those who enter. And this is not necessarily a defect. The Holy Spirit may mean for someone to spend some time in theological education or religious formation for the sake of something else that they are supposed to do in life. Such a confusion also places an unfair amount of pressure on the discernment of those considering a vocation to priesthood or religious life.

3. The pastoral care given to some of these young men seemed to leave a lot to be desired. One priest seemed overly attached to the idea of the kid being a priest, allowing him to live in the rectory and dressing him up in cassock and surplice for Sunday mass. Another guy was under the direction of a priest who made him make and 80-pound cross and then carry it 22 miles. As if the Christian life were one of agonistic effort rather than an unglamourous and quiet project of being docile to the Holy Spirit. I think this priest has watched The Passion of the Christ one too many times.

My advice is: skip it. But for a more positive treatment, you can click here.

That Time Again

Nothing deep or spiritual about this post. Just to acknowledge that I'm at that point in the semester when all the day-to-day reading and writing is done and it's time to start writing the term papers. This is my last real semester of course work for the STL degree.

Some of us student brothers used to have game we played at this time of semester. We would put up the number of pages left to write on our doors or screensavers and then count them down as we wrote. Somebody was once up to 96. Right now my magic number is 34 with sixteen days left to write, which is manageable so long as I start one of these days.

Hello World

We have secretly returned, friends.