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.

October 19, 2006

Friends

Special thanks to Bloody Papist and Historical Christian for linking a minor friar. I've returned the favor.

Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam

Before I began to receive the splendid Jesuit education I have been going through these past nine semesters, all I knew about the Society I learned from the Exorcist.

Over the years I've come to appreciate their particular style, even though it's a little different from ours. The selection from John de Brebeuf's spiritual diaries from today's Office of Readings really brings out what I love about the Jesuits:

I bind myself in this way so that for the rest of my life I will have neither permission nor freedom to refuse opportunities of dying and shedding my blood for you, unless at a particular juncture I should consider it more suitable for your glory to act otherwise at that time.

Isn't that something? He aspires to the grace of martyrdom (and we celebrate just that today) but he puts a caveat in his prayer, knowing that what he really desires is the greater glory of God. John knows that he will always have to discern how to adjust his spiritual ambition to circumstances. He doesn't know whether or not the greater glory of God will demand something else, but he wants to be open to it.

October 18, 2006

Tired

Sometimes in the late afternoon, when I get tired and lose focus and can't get anything done, I watch the news channels for a little bit. Now they try to distract you with pretty faces and colorful graphics, but the truth is that all they reveal is a weary, aimless, violent world. It's a world that has no goal, that isn't going anywhere, that can only wait for the next sensational event.

It's only sensation, not meaning. And in a world like that it's no wonder that children shoot each other, that people consider killing people who kill people an adequate way to show that killing is wrong, or that the aborting of unwanted children is a personal right.

It all reminds me of one of my favorite lecture quotes I've ever heard:

God is dead, Marx is dead, and I don't feel so well myself.

I don't remember who said it, but it's brilliant. Nobody has really thought out the dire consequences of having dispensed with God (and this is what Nietzsche was trying to point out in his famous phrase). The brightest secular and dialectical materialist dreams have come to nothing.

For the bright and exciting dreams of Marx we now have North Korea. Even the great American democratic experiment has turned into an imperialist oligarchy in which the democratic illusion is enforced by those who control the rhetoric and the content of the so-called free press.

If the Old Testament can teach us anything, it is that the Israelites had to turn back to God many times. So at least we can be encouraged by the knowledge that repentance is possible. Pray for the conversion of the western world!

October 17, 2006

Eucharist

Today is the feast of St. Ignatius of Antioch, and part of his letter to the Romans caught me in the Office of Readings, as he pleads for his right to be martyred:

Let me be food for wild beasts, for they are my way to God. I am God's wheat and shall be ground by their teeth so that I may become Christ's pure bread.

All drama aside, here's someone who really understood the eucharist. In it we celebrate who we really are, and become what we receive: the Body of Christ. And what is the Body of Christ but a body that gives itself for others.

So in our celebration of the Eucharist we both celebrate that God has enabled us to be people who give themselves up for others, and are strengthened for continued transformation into the self-sacrificing Body of Christ we receive.

October 14, 2006

Going Away Sad

This weekend I give my first Sunday homily. Here are the readings, and here's what I came up with:

Thank you again for the welcome into your parish that everyone has so graciously offered me in these past few weeks. Your hospitality gives glory to God.

Both today and last Sunday we hear Gospels about receiving the Kingdom of God, and who may receive it.

Recall the ending of last week’s Gospel: Jesus embraces the little children, blesses them, and tells his astonished disciples that the Kingdom of God belongs to those who accept it like a child. Today we have a harder lesson: an eager and devout man goes away from Jesus disappointed, unable to follow the Lord into the Kingdom because he is weighed down by his many possessions.

Behold the great reversal we are witnessing! The kingdom of God belongs to the little children who are nobodies in this world, and it is denied to the man whose many possessions were tangible evidence of God’s blessing!

For us, may not be rich, or have many possessions by the standards of our society, but we are rich in the overwhelming number of activities we engage in, with the many commitments we have to fulfill on a daily basis. And these too can make it hard for us to follow the Lord into his Kingdom. And habits are even harder to let go of than material possessions. And our minds are always running too; multi-tasking by thinking about three or four jobs at once – and this can make it hard for us to hear the Word of God, spoken by the Father in Silence.

But here’s the good news in today’s Gospel. The Lord says, “there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and the for the sake of the Gospel who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age… and eternal life in the age to come.” Now don’t be distracted by the examples that Jesus uses! Not many of us will perhaps be called upon to give up lands or houses or family members for the sake of the Kingdom. The things we will be called upon to let go of will be smaller and less glamorous, and in that sense more difficult.

The point is that what we receive from God is totally out of proportion with the effort we put into our spiritual and religious lives. For every little step we take toward God, He takes a hundred steps toward us! In Paul’s letter to the Romans he speaks about how the sacrifice of Christ reverses the original sin of our first parents. But he also says that “the gift is not like the trespass.” What God gives us in Christ not only forgives the sin of the world but goes so much further. So we ought to be encouraged in going to God like the man in the Gospel and asking what more we can do. What we will receive in return will be outrageously and unfairly to our benefit.

If we are brave enough, like this man, to ask God what more we can do for him, we might be asked to let go of some of our busy-ness of our lives. Or maybe we’ll be asked to give up some of the racket of our radios and televisions and cell phones to make more room for prayer and contemplation.

Even worse, if we seek what more we can do for the Lord, we might be nudged by the Holy Spirit to let go of a pet peeve, or a precious grudge, or even a prejudice that we hold dear. The great 13th century Franciscan theologian, St. Bonaventure, said that the hardest thing for someone to let go of is “the money-bag of his own opinions.” Making even slight modifications in our patterns of thinking can be the hardest kind of asceticism there is!

If we go to Jesus with a quiet heart and an open mind, we can be assured that we will hear something from the Spirit of God. It might be a call to change our thinking, reform our lives, or a deepening of the devotion or prayer we already enjoy. And when the Lord lets us know what more we can do, one of two things can happen. We might immediately find the willingness to answer the call we receive. Like the apostles who immediately dropped their nets and followed Jesus, we may be able to follow the call we receive without hesitation or reservation. If this happens, well, thanks be to God! Our willingness and devotion to the will of God gives glory to Jesus Christ, and what else is our Christian life about?

On the other hand, things may not work out so well. When God invites us to deepen our life of prayer or discipleship we often hesitate. We may not feel able to fulfill God’s will completely or right away, or we might not even have the graced willingness to try at all. When this happens we are truly like the man in the Gospel whose face fell at Jesus’ words and who went away sad.

But we shouldn’t go away sad, for there is good news in this too! Pay careful attention to the interaction between Jesus and the man. As soon as Jesus sees the good will of the man, as soon as Jesus sees his long devotion to the commandments and his desire to do more for God, Jesus, “looking at him, loved him.” That the man was unable to respond to Jesus’ invitation doesn’t change this. Jesus loved him just for asking, Jesus loved him for simply expressing the deepest desire of his heart, of what more he could do for God.

So let’s seek this week what more we can do for God. And let’s pray for the willingness to respond to the nudgings of the Holy Spirit that we receive. But let’s also remember the good news that even with our discipleship weighed down by the many things we have to worry about every day, and even with our prayer life made poor by our racing and distracted minds, Jesus gazes upon us with love just for wanting to serve Him, just for asking what more we can do for God.

October 13, 2006

Further Unicorn Reflections

Now I know this is silly stuff, but I had to post this one. In the post before last I was writing about the unicorns, as a symbol, of course, of junk from the so-called New Age movement that creeps into our Catholic Christian religion.

Today I noticed evidence that Jesus himself was against the unicorns. I was, just for practice, saying my prayers in Latin when I noticed verse 22 (21 in some numberings) of psalm 22:

Save me from the mouth of the lion, my afflicted soul from the horns of the wild oxen! (RSV)

In Latin, however, the verse reads:

Salva me ex ore leonis, et a cornibus unicornium humilitatem meam.

Now the Douay Old Testament, trying to be faithful to Jerome's Latin if not artful English, renders the verse thusly:

Save me from the lion's mouth; and my lowness from the horns of the unicorns.

Both Matthew and Mark portray Jesus praying this psalm from the Cross. Therefore we can conclude that Jesus was emphatically against the unicorns.

The

When we read the Scriptures in our liturgies, we always conclude by proclaiming what we've read as "The Word of the Lord."

It's never, "a word of the Lord," but always, "The Word of the Lord."

With God there is only one utterance: perfect, complete, and eternal.

It is all one thing: the Word God spoke to bring the creation into being, the promises to Noah, Abraham, and David, the Word in the mouth of the prophets, and the Word Who becomes flesh in the human life of Jesus of Nazareth.

October 12, 2006

Quote of the Day

One of the friars here is taking a course in spiritual direction, and he feels that the images of God expressed there sometimes tend toward the pagan or New Age "spiritualities." We were talking about it, and the quote of the day came out:

"Christian prayer does have a certain specificity; we pray to the Transcendent God that Jesus called his Father, from within our adoption into Christ's relationship to Him, through the Holy Spirit. And there's no room for unicorns in there."

Prayer

Last night my subway wasn't working right, and we were stuck between every stop. I took the opportunity to say evening prayer. At one point a woman looked over my shoulder at my breviary and exclaimed,

"Psalm 64, that's the only prayer I need for life in this world! Look it up and pray it!"

So here it is:

Hear my voice, O God, in my complaint; preserve my life from dread of the enemy,
hide me from the secret plots of the wicked, from the scheming of evildoers,
who whet their tongues like swords, who aim bitter words like arrows,
shooting from ambush at the blameless, shooting at him suddenly and without fear.
They hold fast to their evil purpose; they talk of laying snares secretly, thinking, "Who can see us? Who can search out our crimes? We have thought out a cunningly conceived plot."
For the inward mind and heart of a man are deep!
But God will shoot his arrow at them; they will be wounded suddenly.
Because of their tongue he will bring them to ruin; all who see them will wag their heads.
Then all men will fear; they will tell what God has wrought, and ponder what he has done.
Let the righteous rejoice in the LORD, and take refuge in him! Let all the upright in heart glory! (RSV)

Now I'm all for having our adversarial relationship with the world be a part of our prayer life, but if this is the only prayer you need, it worries me. If we do not also find some joy in the great miracle of the Spirit of God praying within us, what seems to be our spirituality will probably only succeed in making us more morose.

So today I want to pray for the joy and peace of my friends from the broken subway.

October 9, 2006

Debut

My first day as a deacon was really something. Fortunately for me, the experienced permanent deacon was there for all the Masses, coaching me and sharing the deacon duties with me in genuine spirit of ministerial hospitality. Here's how it went:

Mass #1: Early morning Mass in English, without music. My first bumbling attempt at setting up the altar.

Mass #2: Principal Mass in English, with the choir. My first proclamation of the Gospel, which I forgot to kiss when it was done. Coffee time afterwards with the English-speaking folks.

Mass #3: Principal Mass in Spanish, with the baptism of four babies. My first dismissal of the assembly. Then we were given Latino lunch.

Mass #4: Mass with the Sudanese community for the celebration of the feast of Daniel Comboni, the first bishop of Khartoum. The Mass was partly in English, with all of the sung parts and responses in Arabic. It was very beautiful, actually. After this Mass we were given Sudanese supper, and I gave my first meal blessing.

What a day! But I'm very grateful.

October 6, 2006

St. Bruno

I've always been a little fascinated by and curious about the Carthusians. The intensity of their retirement from the world, their silence, their solitude, all of these things that are part of any religious vocation but seem to be so intense in their particular Order.

They only have one house here in the USA, the Charterhouse of the Transfiguration in Vermont.

I have been looking forward to Into Great Silence, the movie about the Carthusians, to appear here in America. If anyone knows how or where I can see it, let me know.

October 4, 2006

Francis

In the winter of 1999 three people in a row told me to think about the priesthood. It was the nun who organized the readers and eucharistic ministers in my parish. Then it was a permanent deacon I met on retreat. Finally it was an old friend on the phone.

Thinking that it might be the Spirit speaking, I went up to the seminary of my home diocese for an interview. I arrived early, as I often do, and so I went to their chapel to pray. I prayed that whatever should happen in the interview, it would help me discern my path.

The interview went poorly; we were just speaking different languages. It was clear to me that the vocation director didn't see me as a diocesan seminarian.

I was confident that my prayer would be answered, however, so when I got home I was reflecting on what this interview might have meant. Pacing around my apartment, I picked up the writings of Francis and read the first paragraph of his Testament:

The Lord gave to me, brother Francis, to begin to do penance: for when I was in sin it seemed bitter for me to see lepers. And the Lord himself led me among them, and I had mercy on them. And returning from them, that which had seemed bitter was changed into sweetness of soul and body; and after that I stood for a little while and then left the world.

At that moment I knew that I was a Franciscan at heart.

October 3, 2006

School Shootings

It was 780 years ago tonight that our holy father Francis was born to eternal life, so that's what I should be writing about today, what we call the transitus of Francis.

But three school shootings in a week-and now even the daughters of our radical anabaptist Amish friends are in danger.

Who needs any other sign that there is something horribly wrong with our culture? Violence is the answer for everything. People who kill people? We kill them. Inconvenient babies? We kill them. Children at school? We use them to take out our anger at the God and the world.

And now with the so-called 1% doctrine, we here in the United States respond with violence and pre-emptive war to threats that have yet even to appear.

We are already guilty; by doing nothing we simply maintain our condemnation as murderers. We need to uproot from inside ourselves the obvious and the hidden wellsprings of violence and anger and hate.

There is no time.

October 2, 2006

Sunday

Yesterday I was up north at the parish where I spend the weekends. I served at a couple of Masses and helped with a blessing of animals, in preparation for the feast of Francis this week.

As, praised be Jesus Christ and thanks to your prayers, I am to be ordained to the diaconate on saturday, I realized that yesterday was my last Sunday as a layman. Though I'm very happy about the ordination, I felt a little grief too.

I figure that, apart from the occasional blizzard or traveling misadventure, I've been going to the Sunday Eucharist for the past eight hundred Sundays or so. And I've participated in a lot of ways: Both before and during my religious life I've been a quiet member of the assembly. I've served as a reader, a cantor, and an acolyte. I've been monitor at Masses in Spanish. I've even been Master of Ceremony once in a while.

There's been a great variety and choice in my place in the Sunday assembly, but this is about to change. In accepting a hierarchical office and a particular place in the Eucharistic assembly, I realize that from here on in Sundays will be something new.

Every spiritual choice closes the doors to other options. But new doors open as well. To hold them all up in reverence and thoughtfulness, that's discernment.