December 29, 2007

Sisters and Brothers

The mystery of the Holy Family of Nazareth deepens our appreciation of the Incarnation, sanctifies our own families, and teaches us to seek the universal family of all creation. My homily for this weekend is posted here.

December 28, 2007

Nativity Scenes


It was a quiet day after this morning's funerals, so I decided to take a good long walk around the neighborhood before the work week begins again in the morning.

I saw a lot of little Bethlehems set up on lawns, in front of churches, and even one up in a tree house. I love the concept of making the Christmas mystery concrete; the Word of life that we have seen and heard and touched with our hands as the first letter of John says. When I see them I try to pray in thanksgiving to God for the devotion of those who took the time to set them up and witness to their faith.

I also like how all these different nativity scenes range from the tasteful and beautiful to the tacky and corny. When I see the good ones I try to thank God that despite all of the violence and darkness of this world, people still insist on making beauty. When I see the ugly ones I try to remember how the Lord was born away from anything considered important or beautiful in his time, and I also pray for the people in China or wherever who made the animals and people, perhaps without even knowing what they were supposed to mean.

December 27, 2007

Christmas Violence

It's always a little jarring to celebrate the great feasts of martyrs right after Christmas, the feast of St. Stephen on the 26th and the Holy Innocents on the 28th. I think that they serve as a counterpoint to the sweetness of the Nativity stories, and they remind us both that the Lord's life was beset with violence from beginning to end, and that the world "did not know him" and remains somewhat hostile to God to this day.

It reminds me of when I was still living in Boston there was a controversy over whether the state should be able to display a Christmas tree, i.e. did it violate the "separation of church and state."

A reporter stopped me on the street in Harvard Square and asked my opinion. I said that no one could reasonably accuse a state that was mean to foreigners and supported "gay marriage" as endorsing Christianity, and so Christians ought to be the first ones trying to prevent it from displaying a Christmas Tree.

December 24, 2007

In Nativitate Domini

Merry Christmas everyone!

The mystery of Christmas is upon us, the mystery of God's re-creation of our humanity through the Incarnation of the Word.

I have our midnight Mass tonight, for which I'm giving the homily I posted last year. I've never had a chance to offer it live, and I like it a lot.

For Mass during the day tomorrow, my homily is posted here.

December 22, 2007

Divine Names

The mystery of the Lord's birth is near. Jesus our Emmanuel, "the true light that enlightens everyone" is coming into the world. My homily for this weekend is posted here.

December 20, 2007

Franciscan Blogroll

For some beautiful and rich reflections, check out Prophetic Fraternal Franciscan.

The Cute and Clever God

St. Bonaventure has an interesting take on the birth of Jesus Christ. He says that there are four ways of producing a human being:

1. Someone could be born from neither a man nor a woman, as was the case with Adam, who came directly from God.

2. Someone could be born from a man, but not from a woman, as was the case with Eve, who came from Adam's side but had no human mother.

3. As it is with just about everybody else, one can be born from the union of a human mother and father.

4. This leaves just one more possibility, for someone to be born only of a woman, with no human father. This is, of course, the virgin birth of Jesus.

Thus completing the possibilities for how one can come into the world, Jesus provides creation with a certain completeness and universality.

I pointed out this argument to one of my teachers once, and he said, "It's like, see how cute and clever God is." Nevertheless, it is Bonaventure's way of getting at the completion of creation in the Incarnation and at a sense of fullness of purpose for God and the world that it brings.

For the real text, see Breviloquium IV:5.

December 19, 2007

More Christmas Rant

One of the brothers forwarded me an e-Christmas card yesterday. It was from one of the few prestigious graduate schools of Catholic theology here in these United States, where they educate and train many candidates for ordination as well as women and men for lay ecclesial ministry.

And there it was: "Season's Greetings."

Now I expect this from the capitalists and the lovers of this world who celebrate not Christmas, but Yule. But from a Catholic school of theology?

Many martyrs and missionaries gave up their efforts and lives to convert our ancestors from the worship of seasons to the worship of the living God. Should we thus mock them?

To riff on St. Paul, preaching Christ crucified is indeed a stumbling block and foolishness to the secular holiday of "Christmas."

December 18, 2007

Titles

The great days of our proximate preparation for the Nativity of the Lord have come again, and we are singing the beautiful "O antiphons" again.

O Wisdom, O Lord, O Root, O Key, O Dawn, O King, O Emmanuel.

These antiphons, these names for our Lord, almost overwhelm with the breadth of the mystery of the Incarnation, with the richness of possibility in the titles of Christ. The titles of Christ go on and on even in the Scriptures themselves, showing us that the mystery of Christ is an inexhaustible richness for us.

December 17, 2007

Grateful

There are certain moments in ministry when you are really grateful for certain courses you took in school, like today, when you get up in morning and find yourself having to preach on Matthew's version of the Lord's genealogy at ten minutes to seven in the morning.

So I was glad for the class notes that reminded me that the three sets of fourteen generations that begin the New Testament are more than a catalog of funny names.

Against all who complain that the Abrahamic traditions are nothing but patriarchy, Jesus' genealogy reminds us of four special women among the Lord's ancestors: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and finally, Mary.

Against those who want a god who is only interested in the pure or the holy, we are reminded that Jesus' was descended from a line of kings who were both good and bad.

December 15, 2007

The Renovation

With joyful expectation we hope for our re-creation and renewal in the mystery of the Incarnate Word. My homily for this weekend is posted here.

December 14, 2007

Christmas Acedia

One of my favorite things about maintaining a blog is watching the search engine results that refer visitors to it. And one of my recent favorites is the visitor who came here after putting "Acedia Christmas" into their Google.

I feel for this person, because acedia is the real danger we face in our struggle against the secular holiday the world insists on calling "Christmas."

All of the noise, the lights, the outrageous consumerism and continuous pushes toward conspicuous consumption, it can easily drive from us our taste for prayer and spiritual things, leaving us in the dangerous state of acedia. And there we can easily fail to notice the God who decided to be born in secret, away from home and in a place that nobody in that world considered to be of any consequence. And that's something we should keep in mind when the constant din of commercials try to play on nostalgia for a sense of home.

December 13, 2007

Theory and Practice

Theological reflection doesn't exist in a vacuum. In fact, the Incarnation of the Word demands that the our personal, concrete situations in life will influence our reflections on faith.

I've been aware of this in a special way this week. In a space of 48 hours I led three funeral Masses, three final committals, and two wake services. That's about four homilies, and it's a lot of Christian reflection on death.

It challenges me to believe what I say. It challenges me to believe that bodily death can do us no harm because we have already died in our burial in the waters of baptism. It challenges me to rejoice in the free availability of the Resurrection for all who will accept it. It challenges me to know that just as dead grain of wheat becomes our true food in the Eucharist, so God harvests all the love and goodness we allow him to express through us in this life, gathering it all to himself and making it permanent and indestructible in his eternity.

December 11, 2007

Christmas Judgment

Thanks to the always informative Whispers in the Loggia for pointing out this beautiful Angelus message from the Holy Father:

The Father does not judge anyone but he has given all judgment to his Son [. . .] because he is the Son of Man. It is today, in the present, that our future destiny is decided. It is through our actual behavior in this life that we decide our eternal fate. In the twilight of our days on earth, when we are about to die, we shall be judged on the basis of our similarity to the child whose birth shall occur in the plain grotto in Bethlehem since it is He who is the God-given standard by which humanity shall live. The Father who is Heaven, who through the birth of His one and only Begotten Son has shown us His merciful love, calls upon us to follow His steps and turn our lives, as He did, into a gift of love.
What more could we say about the good news of Christmas, apart from the revelation of God's perspective on what it means to be a human being?

December 10, 2007

Heaven

Recently a friend sent me a link to Reserve a Spot in Heaven. This website purports to sell reservations for the hereafter in heaven, complete with certificates and credentials. Naturally I went immediately to their disclaimer page. There I read the truth: "We in no way can guarantee someone entry into heaven." To be fair, they do offer a refund to anyone who buys their "humorous gag gift" and then "in fact did not get into heaven."

The theological problems with this whole thing are many. First of all, heaven is not something to be desired for itself. We are called in this life to love God and to accept his love for us and our fellow creatures. If we soften our hearts and daily dispositions in this way, we hope that our birth into eternal life will be the same in kind. That's what we call our new life in the eternity of God. If we spend our lives turning against God's love and closing ourselves to compassion for each other, we run the risk of making ourselves so indisposed to Love that we will reject God in finality. And that's what we call hell.

Second, the whole gag is based on the idea of a scarcity of grace, as if there was only so much "room" in heaven and we had better reserve our own spot now. With apologies to those who read Revelation 17 to suggest that only the 144,000 will be saved in the final end, grace and salvation are never scarce but rather super-abundant. As one of my teachers from theology likes to say, "grace is free, but it's not cheap."

There are no reservations for heaven. But there are tastes and glimpses that will make us desire it. And the desire for the presence of God and the Presence itself are nearly the same thing, because God is a consuming fire and a burning passion.

December 8, 2007

Changing Our Minds

John the Baptist announces the appearance of the Lord and the judgment of the world that Jesus Christ himself will be. My homily for this weekend is posted here.

December 6, 2007

Christmas Rant

It's nothing new to rant about how the secular holiday of "Christmas" always ruins the observance of Advent. I even know a priest who says, provocatively, "I don't celebrate Christmas. I celebrate the Nativity of the Lord."

But even among us who claim to observe Advent faithfully, fighting the influence of the empty promises of advertising and the importunity of Christmas lights and giant inflatable Santa Clauses, I think even we often fail.

This is because, as I hear over and over, Advent is "the time to prepare for Christmas." Well, yes and no. It's very clear from the readings and prayers for the first week of Advent that we aren't about preparing for the Nativity just yet. We're about looking forward to the return of the Lord in glory. But since, in a lot of ways, we have ceased to desire or believe in the return of the Lord, this doesn't mean much.

Even when we get to the second Sunday of Advent, we are aware of the judgment announced by John the Baptist. Indeed, the Incarnation we celebrate at the Nativity is a judgment; it marks the beginning of the judgment we bring upon ourselves by accepting the Gospel or not. But it's also about the final judgment.

Yes, the season of Advent is about preparing for Christmas, but this only becomes a specific and discrete spiritual theme along the way. In the end we really just trying to remind ourselves of a God who is adventitious by nature, appearing as the Other in the life of Abraham, in his Nativity, as our Bread, and as the glorious Lord of all at the end of time.

December 3, 2007

Advent

I think I love Advent because I find it to be one of the more mystical of the seasons...not that Easter isn't the most mystical of all, but somehow the mystery of Advent seems more immediate and accessible.

I guess it's the manifold senses of the arrival of the Lord that we remember especially at this time:

We recall our faith that he was begotten of the Father before all time, a perfect Word spoken forth as a complete expression of the Eternal Source. We remember his birth as one of us, taking our human nature, yours and mine, to himself. We look forward to his coming again in glory in the final fulfillment of his Kingdom.

Finally, we go back into the darkness and quiet of our own selves, seeking the Lord who is struggling to be born in our prayer, in our discernment, in our knowledge, and in our consciousness. Here we find our own Marian vocation, to be those who conceive and bear the Word, that our souls might become Virgines ecclesia factae, Virgins made church, to use St. Francis's language.

To me the mysticism of Advent is the near-overwhelming realization that these are not discrete manifestations of the Son. Though not identical, they are all one.

December 1, 2007

You Have One New Message

Happy new year, everyone. The year of grace 2008 begins with vespers this afternoon. My homily for the first Sunday of Advent is posted here.

November 29, 2007

A Plan

Today is the feast of All Franciscan Saints, and the Office of Readings today has an adapted selection from St. Bonaventure's Apologia Pauperum. The Seraphic Doctor riffs on the Rule a little bit to produce a simple plan for the spiritual life by which we may be crucified to the world, as Paul recommends, and then conformed to God:

Having been crucified to the world by the three values of obedience, poverty, and chastity, we may then conform ourselves to God through these counsels of Francis:

1. having [and desiring!] the spirit of the Lord and his holy operation.
2. prayer and patience.
3. love of those who persecute, reprehend, and blame us.

N Ordines, or Utter Pedantry

We had a lively and ridiculous grammatical discussion at supper the other day.

This time of year everyone needs a new Ordo. It's a little book that helps you to find your way through the Liturgy of the Hours and the Eucharist each day. In our case, it also details the interaction of the general Roman calendar with our special Franciscan one, which has its own saints. For priests, it also offers suggestions for the prayers to choose for Mass, when there are options, of course.

Well, it turned out we needed two more than we had received. So our guardian was wondering how to ask for them. What is the plural? Is it Ordos, as we usually say in our sloppy speech? Or is it Ordoes, as our guardian opined, by analogy with potato?

Well, I said, it's obviously the Latin word ordo, ordinis that's at issue here, and since this is not a word that has "arrived" in English, we should form the plural in Latin.

But what is the use of ordo, ordinis in this case? Why is the book called the Ordo? The brothers assured me that it is short for Ordo Missae, "the order of Mass," but I don't buy this because the subtitle of the book is "The Order of Prayer in the Liturgy of the Hours and Celebration of the Eucharist."

My conclusion is that Ordo is short for Ordo Recitandi, "the order of reciting." Ok, that's all I need to know: Ordo is a simple noun.

Therefore, if we need more than one Ordo, we should ask for n Ordines. The full plural would be Ordines Recitandorum, wouldn't it? (someone with better Latin feel free to correct me.)

November 27, 2007

Franciscan Blogroll

Check out Under the Hood of a Capuchin Friar for a blogging glimpse into the life of Franciscan novitiate. Brother has a lot of pictures too!

November 26, 2007

Questioning my Philistinism

One of my general faults is that I'm not much for literature. Only very rarely can I get into fiction, and forget about poetry. That's why I was so surprised this morning when one of my own literary opinions was confirmed by a famous author.

Today's newspapers hadn't made it to the breakfast table by the time I got there, so I started to look through yesterday's New York Times Sunday magazine. There I ran into a short interview with Umberto Eco. I was intrigued because he was asked about Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code, which I found to be a kind of dumb version of Eco's Foucault's Pendulum. And that's just what he said, more or less, alleging (and what an insult!) that Brown was one the characters he created for Foucault's Pendulum.

"So you created Dan Brown?" asked the interviewer. "Yes," was the answer.

November 24, 2007

Christ the King

I found homily production especially difficult this week. The spiritual doctrine of Christ the King is so striking and sublime: the Lord, anointed and reigning from the Cross, unable even to move much less control the world, having emptied himself of everything it should mean to be God in order to give himself up for the life of the world.

But how to package it in a way that is accessible and not overwhelming when we come to consider our own call as anointed Christians to do the very same thing?

And then in Luke's account, which we read this year, we have the famous "good" and "bad" criminals. The former recognizes the irony of the cross: it is Jesus who suffers the condemnation that we have earned for ourselves. And yet he recognizes that this crucified God has the dominion and power to save: "remember me when you come into your kingdom."

So I'm not sure if it will end up being what I offer tomorrow, but the homily I came up with so far is posted here.

November 22, 2007

Doubts

For just over fifteen years I had received the Eucharist and sacramental absolution regularly before I myself became a minister of these mysteries. Rarely did I doubt their effectiveness, and if I did it was because of my own poor spiritual disposition and not because I doubted the priesthood.

I don't know if this is normal for a new priest, but sometimes a doubt creeps into my mind when I myself administer the sacraments. Yes, I have always believed in the transubstantiation of the sacrificed bread and wine over which the Great Thanksgiving has been pronounced, but does it "work" when plain old me does it?

This is a good example of how spiritual doubt can help us to notice inadequate theological thinking. For it is not "my" priesthood that makes the sacraments happen, but the priesthood, first of all, of Jesus Christ himself. It is the priesthood of the Church as his Body extended through history. It is the priesthood of the whole people of God, baptized into Christ's eternal identity as Priest, Prophet, and King. It is the priesthood of all the priests who laid hands on me, and of those who did the same for them, all the way back to the Lord's own apostles.

It's only in the smallest sense that it is my priesthood that effects the sacraments at which I preside with God's people. Again, it's like my formation director told me on my ordination day, "it's about the communion of saints. That's the only way this makes sense."

November 19, 2007

Invalid Matter, but Cute

Yesterday I finally got back to the parish where I served as deacon to offer the customary Mass of Thanksgiving. For the regular coffee hour after Mass, the friends I had made there had prepared a cake. Instead of the standard candy flowers on top, it had a chalice and host.

When I saw the little sugar host, complete with an IHS on it, I thought it was the funniest thing, and I made sure nobody ate it. I had it wrapped up and I took it home.

November 17, 2007

The Fiery End

The heart of God is like a blazing oven at the center of creation, and a love that longs to consume and fulfill all things. My homily for this weekend is posted here.

November 15, 2007

The Bishops and Abortion

I just turned on CNN for a minute and heard them announce that our bishops here in the USA had recommended to us to be flexible in choosing political candidates who support the "right" to abortion. I thought that this couldn't be exactly true, so I immediately went and read their latest Faithful Citizenship document, approved only yesterday. Here's what they really say:
Two temptations in public life can distort the Church’s defense of human life and dignity:

The first is a moral equivalence that makes no ethical distinctions between different kinds of issues involving human life and dignity. The direct and intentional destruction of innocent human life from the moment of conception until natural death is always wrong and is not just one issue among many. It must always be opposed.

The second is the misuse of these necessary moral distinctions as a way of dismissing or ignoring other serious threats to human life and dignity. Racism and other unjust discrimination, the use of the death penalty, resorting to unjust war, the use of torture, war crimes, the failure to respond to those who are suffering from hunger or a lack of health care, or an unjust immigration policy are all serious moral issues that challenge our consciences and require us to act. These are not optional concerns which can be dismissed. Catholics are urged to seriously consider Church teaching on these issues. Although choices about how best to respond to these and other compelling threats to human life and dignity are matters for principled debate and decision, this does not make them optional concerns or permit Catholics to dismiss or ignore Church teaching on these important issues. Clearly not every Catholic can be actively involved in each of these concerns, but we need to support one another as our community of faith defends human life and dignity wherever it is threatened. We are not factions, but one family of faith fulfilling the mission of Jesus Christ.

This is, of course, something very different than simply recommending flexibility. It is an exhortation to all of us to see the issues of life and our battle against the "culture of death" in the broadest possible scope, and not as an excuse to create factions among ourselves which are ultimately a countersign of the "seamless ethic" of which we are meant to be witnesses.

Read the whole document for yourself here.

New Wedding Wineskins

I like to look ahead, to think "outside the box" as they tell us. Here's an example, my new plan for the church celebration of marriage.

My idea is to model the celebration of marriage on the celebration of funerals. This is because funerals run like a well-oiled machine, while wedding planning and execution is full of pitfalls and potential tears and disaster.

Here's how it goes: When a couple decides to get married, they are immediately taken to the "wedding home," modeled on the classic funeral home. There they are sat down in the front of a parlor where everyone can come and congratulate them. Their family and close friends also sit close by where they can be greeted and congratulated. This part is modeled on the wake, of course.

At some point the priest shows up and offers them a special blessing. He then asks them if there are any particular readings or music they would like for their wedding, to which they respond, "Oh Father, we just decided to get married this morning, we can't think about that right now...we're sure you will pick out something appropriate." This step alone will reduce the annual professional wear and tear on clergy and organists by approximately three hundred percent, and will free up enough time, in the words of Charles Merrill Smith, "to learn several Biblical languages and write a two-volume commentary on the book of Habbakuk."*

"Ok," says the priest, "I'll see you guys in the morning."

The next day--this all happens fast, so as to avoid any time to think up any problems--the happy bride and groom are strapped into a kind of float that can be driven to church and rolled up the aisle to the altar. This device, which I haven't exactly been able to envision yet, is analogous to the casket, of course. Being strapped in ensures that the bride will show up on time, for one thing, and also reduces the ability to make outrageous last minute demands. It also obviates the need for a rehearsal.

Then the nuptial service or Mass can proceed according to the current ritual. At then end, the newly married couple is wheeled out of church, where they can be released for pictures, cocktail hour, and dinner.

*This silly post is actually an imitation of this hilarious book by Smith.

Albertus Magnus

The collect for the feast of St. Albert is one of those that gets me every year:
God, who made blessed bishop Albert combine human wisdom with divine faith, grant us who receive his doctrine, that we might, by the progress of science, come to a more profound knowledge and love of You.

It's a good prayer for a world in which reason and science seem to be in competition with faith and religion. It asks to instead seek the divine wisdom which makes these complementary modes of human knowing.

We must avoid the two cheap roads the world offers us in this quandary. On the one hand we must not become fundamentalists who ignore that the world was created through the Word of God, thus forgetting that the empirical knowledge of creation can yield divine wisdom. On the other hand, we must not embrace "intelligent design," which is a subtle way to sell out our faith and embrace empirical categories as the normative means of human knowing.

November 14, 2007

Blogger

This post is a big cheer for blogger, who have brought my homily blog, Praise and Bless, back from deletion. Thanks Blogger Team!

November 10, 2007

November 9, 2007

Flesh and Spirit

Today the liturgy celebrates the dedication of the Lateran basilica, the proper cathedral of Rome. I've visited twice, and both times I was struck by the statues of the apostles that line the main nave.

These apostles are huge, strong, burly men. Their hands look like they would crush the skull of anyone they tried to ordain to follow them in the apostolic ministry. But for people who were less hampered by our modern denial of the spiritual, I suppose it was less dissonant to express the spiritual strength of the apostles by showing them as physically strong.

The more I think about it, I believe that the problem isn't that people don't believe in God. The problem is that the notion of God they think they are supposed to assent to is unbelievable. And when you tell them that if they have some experience of love or truth, then they have a glimpse of what is meant by the utterance, "God."

But those are "just ideas," they protest, by which they mean that they aren't real. Nevertheless, people routinely make life decisions based on their experience of love or truth, and that seems pretty real to me. This is what I mean by our hampering of our spiritual imagination.

November 8, 2007

Sex

Two priests have been arrested here in the greater NYC area in recent weeks; one for the "forcible touching" of an undercover police officer at a highway rest area and another for stalking a celebrity.

I don't think anyone can deny that there is something the matter with the culture of the Catholic clergy. The question is (and with which I struggle) is how to make a balanced and fair diagnosis so that we might find a strategy for reforming ourselves.

Oops

I deleted my homilies blog by mistake. I'm doing my best to ask Blogger if it can be recovered, but I'm not too confident. So if doesn't come back I'll just take out all of the now broken links that are here.

There might be a good side, though. We should have a real parish website coming out soon, and that will probably become my homily posting place.

November 7, 2007

Symbols


Our tabernacle here is quite grand. It has both an inner and outer door. On the inner door, quite appropriately, is an image of a lamb holding the banner of the Risen Lord. It's sitting on what I thought was a missal or sacramentary.

Whenever I opened the tabernacle and saw this Risen Lamb sitting on top of a Roman Missal, I would be amused by the thought of the apotheosis of a liturgical book.

But then I looked again. I noticed that this particular missal had seven ribbons. That's when I knew that it wasn't a missal at all, but the scroll of the seven seals from the book of Revelation--the scroll that only the Lamb can open.

So now I find in this image a rich interplay of metaphor and symbol and catholic imagination, picturing the scroll of the seven seals so that it looks like a Roman Missal.

November 6, 2007

Franciscan Blogroll

Check out Perfect Joy, a blog by a brother of the SFO. He has a number of fine reflections that are very Franciscan by both content and orientation.

November 5, 2007

Anxiety

Sometimes in ministry someone will come up to you and thank you for some word that touched them in a special or helpful way. Usually you have no recollection of saying any such thing, which is good, because it helps you to refer the grace to God and away from yourself. But it is encouraging to think that the Holy Spirit is making use of your speech to help someone hear about the grace God wants to give them.

One example for me is the time I told my formation director that I was struggling with the anxieties of ministry and community life. So he said:
The poor man is perpetually anxious.

That really stuck with me, and it reminds me that a true vow of poverty commits me to a life that will be anxious at times. And it also reminds me to be humble, because my anxiety is as nothing next to the struggles of those who are the real poor of this world.

November 2, 2007

All Souls Day

This morning I had the grade school children for Mass. People say that kids these days don't know their religion, but with a little help from good old catholic "analogical imagination" they seemed to know a lot. They knew that a community is a group of individuals connected by love or shared values or a common project. They could produce examples of such communities, like a family, a village, a city, or a church.

From there it's only one step to say that the revealed divine Love that we know in Jesus Christ is so pervasive and passionate that it makes one community out of both the living and the dead.

In celebration I have put my favorite contemporary song about All Souls Day on my MySpace page, Dia de los Muertos by Rezurex. For those who are more classically minded, and because the friars didn't really respond to my suggestion that we sing it at Morning Prayer, here's a sing-a-long version of the Dies Irae:

October 31, 2007

The Great Pumpkin

Last night I watched a little bit of It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, before being called away to solve an equipment crisis in the sacristy. Any praying person has to identify a little with poor Linus, as his primitive belief in the Great Pumpkin, though doomed and ultimately inadequate, has some elements of theological sophistication.

First, he knows that the Great Pumpkin will not appear if he is dismissed or disbelieved. He requires sincerity and faith, just like the God for Whom believing is seeing. And one only has to peruse the gospel according to John lightly to see that this is indeed the case; to believe and to see God are ultimately the same thing. Meister Eckhart knew this when he famously said, "the eye with which I see God is the same eye with which God sees me."

Second, Linus knows that the Great Pumpkin is not just a fulfiller of selfish human wishes. Unlike Santa Claus, he does not take requests. He brings you something, yes, but you can't choose it and are only called to be grateful.

Third, Linus knows that, despite the failure of the Great Pumpkin to appear, or better, our failure to allow him to appear, Linus must remain faithful.

Halloween Again

And who could let this day go by without the eponymous song by the greatest band of all time, the Misfits.

October 29, 2007

Franciscan Blogroll

For those who read or blog in Spanish, check out La Parroquia Maria Madre del Buen Pastor.

Baptism

Yesterday I had my first baptisms ever. It was quite an experience, trying to preach, sing, and lead prayer over the cacophonous din of babies and children, and to maintain some sense of ritual with little people running around all over the place. At one point I turned around from the font and saw some little kid sitting on St. Francis's altar!

I wasn't mad though; in fact it made me think about the unstoppable energy of life and love that God overflows over our world, despite all our efforts to make life gloomy, bitter, and sad.

I really appreciated the four movements of the ritual. We start in the back of the church because the children are beginning their Christian life. Then, as always, we pause to listen to the Word. Having heard the Word, we move to the font for the anointings and baptism. Finally, we arrive at the altar. The altar is the tomb of Christ, in which the newly baptized are now buried. It is also the cross of Christ, on which water and blood flowed from Jesus' side for them who are now washed in the blood of the Lamb.

Right after my own baptism I remember hearing the deacon whisper to himself, "beautiful." Now I know how he felt.

October 28, 2007

Franciscan Blogroll

Check out this gem: Our Lady's Little Scribe, the blog of the Our Lady of the Pearl fraternity of the SFO in Pearlington, Mississippi.

October 26, 2007

Random or Weird Facts Meme

I'm really bad about these memes. I don't respond when tagged, and even if I do, I don't tag others as instructed. But this one that Paula has tagged me with is just too tempting to pass up.

So here goes, seven weird or random facts about me:

1. I believe that I had mystical experiences as a little kid.

2. The first time I ever knew of any connection between classical philosophy and Christianity was in the Iron Maiden song, Alexander the Great.

3. Since I left home seventeen years ago to go to college, I have lived at 17 different addresses.

4. I celebrate my baptismal name day on the feast of Charles Lwanga. In odd ways, I have come to appreciate him more and more over the years.

5. The first place I ever read the Scriptures at Mass was inside the Lord's tomb at the church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, and the first place I was ever an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion was in the Capuchin church in Cartago, Costa Rica.

6. Here on my desk I have a sliver of wood from St. Bonaventure's cell at the Franciscan hermitage of Monte Casale.

7. When I noticed that I was tagged for this meme, I was listening to Rammstein's Rosenrot.

Franciscan Blogroll

Check out my latest delightful discovery of the Franciscan family blogsophere: Franciscan Diary.

October 25, 2007

Concelebration

I'm almost seven weeks into my priesthood. It's really an intense change of life, both inside and out, and I'm still adjusting. For some things I could have done a better job preparing myself, and for others no preparation could have been possible.

But in everything there are moments of such gratitude that I'm not discouraged. One of these was one night this week when I felt as if I was concelebrating a Mass for the first time. Of course I have concelebrated on several occasions, including at my own ordination and at a Mass of Thanksgiving of one of my classmates. But this was the first time I was in a group of priests concelebrating around their own bishop, in our case Cardinal Egan.

As the General Instruction of the Roman Missal puts it, concelebration "appropriately expresses the unity of the priesthood, of the Sacrifice, and also of the whole people of God" (199) and "To be held in high regard is that concelebration in which the priests of each diocese concelebrate with their own bishop" (203).

I appreciate what the GIRM says about unity. There is one Eucharist, and there is one Risen Lord, risen as Body of Christ that is both blessed Sacrament and assembly.

October 23, 2007

Stress

It's a stressful week here where I work. We have eight funerals in this five day work week. For me, it means I am taking care of three of them, giving me a kind of 'evening came and morning followed' daily rhythm of wake-funeral-committal for three and a half days in a row. It also means I have to keep several sets of family and multiple homilies rolling around in my head at the same time.

It's times like these when, in contrast to the contemporary teachers of warm and fuzzy religious life, I find a lot of wisdom in someone like John of the Cross:
Trials will never be lacking in religious life, nor does God want them to be. Since he brings souls there to be proved and purified, like gold, with hammer and the fire, it is fitting that they encounter trials and temptations from human beings and from devils, and the fire of anguish and affliction.

The religious must undergo these trials and should endeavor to bear them patiently and in conformity to God's will, and not so sustain them that instead of being approved by God in this affliction he be reproved for not having wanted to carry the cross of Christ in patience.

Since many religious do not understand that they have entered religious life to carry Christ's cross, they do not get along well with others. At the time of reckoning they will find themselves greatly confused and frustrated. Cuatro Avisos a un Religioso, 4.
His insight into the inability to get along is priceless. This is the translation of Kavanaugh and Rodriguez, which is really a treasure. Check out their edition here.

October 22, 2007

Peter of Alcantara

I always like the feast days of the great reformers of religious life, probably because we are so in need of them now!

Peter is one my favorites because he was part of the great movement of discalced reforms that was going on in the Iberian peninsula (and elsewhere) in the 16th century. We know this movement mostly from the Carmelites Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross and the Discalced Carmelite Order (OCD) that came out of it.

Brother Peter's feast day reminds me that the reforms of our religious life were movements larger than particular orders or traditions, and it gives me hope that religious life is reformable for our time.

October 19, 2007

Memory and Compassion

Before I was a friar I was in the direct care business with the mentally retarded/developmentally disabled community. One of the most physically and emotionally strenuous aspects of my job was doing "outings." They were necessary though. Everyone deserves to get out of the house, to try to shop for themselves as well as they can, to go out for recreation or a treat from time to time.

You got to learn first hand how inaccessible to wheelchairs many places still remain, and you had to deal emotionally with the folks who stared at the clients or who looked at you the way people look at you when you have a cute dog.

Sometimes I see similar folks on an "outing" with their staff and helpers. And I'm reminded to pray for all of them, in thanksgiving for those having a good time, and for the patience of those who are working.

And then I think about the infinity of life and work situations of which I am ignorant and thus am not led immediately to an automatic compassion, and I pray to be patient and compassionate even when the struggles and sufferings of others are hidden from me.

October 18, 2007

Creation as Tenant Association

Slowly but surely I've been making my way through Pope Benedict's Jesus of Nazareth. Earlier today I read his exegesis of the synoptic parable of the wicked tenants. (Mt 21:33-46, Mk 12:1-12, Lk 20:9-19) Here's Luke's version, in honor of his feast day:
And he began to tell the people this parable: "A man planted a vineyard, and let it out to tenants, and went into another country for a long while. When the time came, he sent a servant to the tenants, that they should give him some of the fruit of the vineyard; but the tenants beat him, and sent him away empty-handed. And he sent another servant; him also they beat and treated shamefully, and sent him away empty-handed. And he sent yet a third; this one they wounded and cast out. Then the owner of the vineyard said, `What shall I do? I will send my beloved son; it may be they will respect him.' But when the tenants saw him, they said to themselves, `This is the heir; let us kill him, that the inheritance may be ours.' And they cast him out of the vineyard and killed him. What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? He will come and destroy those tenants, and give the vineyard to others."

The parable is itself a riff on Isaiah's "Song of the Vineyard," in which God sings a lament over how poorly his people have cared for the vineyard of the world he entrusted to them. In the synoptic parable, of course, the landlord finally sends his own son to take care of the situation, but the tenants kill him.

Of course we are meant to see the mission of the Incarnate Son in our hearing of the parable, but Benedict takes it to another level, interpreting the parable for our own time:
If we open our eyes, isn't what is said in the parable actually a description of our present world?Isn't it precisely the logic of the modern age, or our age? Let us declare that God is dead, then we ourselves will be God. At last we no longer belong to anyone else; rather, we are simply the owners of ourselves and of the world. At last we can do as we please. We get rid of God; there is no measuring rod above us; we ourselves are our only measure. The "vineyard" belongs to us. What happens to man and the world next? We are already beginning to see it... (p. 257)

October 16, 2007

St. Margaret Mary


The parish I work in is dedicated to the Sacred Heart, so it's a joy to celebrate the feast of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, who gave us this devotion. Her image is it at the very top of our sanctuary, above the marble baldochino that reads Cor Iesu Sacratissimum, Miserere Nobis.

It's really something to imagine God as a Heart. It might save us from images of God that are more like a boss or landlord. To me the Sacred Heart suggests that God is a loving drive, a desire, a passion, sometimes broken, but always a com-passion.

October 15, 2007

Fruits and Roots

This morning I was looking at passages I had underlined in St. Teresa's autobiography, looking for something short and sweet I could give for a homily in her Mass today. I finally decided to give a very short form of her beautiful metaphor of prayer as watering and tending a garden. But I noticed another, much more critical thought I had underlined:
Mas parécenos que lo damos todo, y es que ofrecemos a Dios la renta o los frutos y quedámonos con la raíz y posesión. (11:2)

"It seems to us that we are giving all, but it's more like we offer God rent or the fruits while we hold on to the root and the ownership." With cutting insight like that, it's no wonder she got to be the first woman declared a doctor of the Church.

October 9, 2007

Aggiornamento

One thing I've been doing in these early days of my priesthood is trying to learn the old vesting prayers. I've got the hand washing one down already, mostly because it is engraved over the sink in our sacristy. And I don't use an amice, so I skip that one.

What I've been thinking is that they need one piece of updating, because part of vesting in our time is putting on the wireless microphone. In fact, many albs are made nowadays with pockets for them and openings for their wires. I put the microphone on after the alb and before the cincture, and I think this needs a prayer too.

So, you liturgists and Latinists, get to work.

Sublime Humility

I'm getting more comfortable each day with presiding at Mass, but as I do I'm able to really pray the Eucharist. And as I'm able to pray, certain moments strike me more forcefully.

It happens especially when I pronounce the Lord's words over the bread and the cup. I'm never bothered by the standard question, 'how can this host be the body of Christ?'

What goes through my mind is more like the question, 'what kind of God is it that decides to hide himself in bread?' It turns all of our expectations and human expectations of deity upside-down.

October 4, 2007

Francis

This feast of St. Francis, I've been thinking about and preaching on my favorite line from Francis's letter to brother Leo:
In whatever way it seems better to you to please the Lord God and to follow [in his] footstep and his poverty, do it with the blessing of the Lord God and my obedience.
Franciscans love to puzzle over the odd singular, "footstep." For me, I think of it as the Cross. For when the almighty, eternal, spiritual God passes over and makes an impression on time and space and human life, that impression is the crucified Christ. That is, a burning love that is literally dying to save each and every one of us from the misery we have brought upon ourselves and each other because of our selfishness and sin.

I imagine the Franciscan vocation as a resolution to put our feet into the footstep of the Cross, trying to walk within and according to the burning love of the Crucified.

October 2, 2007

What They Don't Teach You In Seminary

I can tell this is going to be a new theme for posting!

One thing they don't tell you in theological studies is what it is that will become your principle tool as a priest. What might you think it is? A chalice and paten? A confessional? A preaching style and voice? It's none of these things.

I've learned that the principle tool of the presbyteral ministry is the telephone. It's used to consult with upcoming brides, to counsel and give reminders to the parents of those to be baptized, to check in on the sick, and to arrange the blessings of new homes, cars, and pets. The telephone is certainly a critical piece of ministerial equipment.

September 28, 2007

Perspective

After I started preaching regularly when I was first ordained deacon, I never listened to a homily the same way again. Once I was a preacher myself, I would be listening not only to the homily, but examining its strategies and structures, rhetorical seams and logics.

Well, yesterday I went to confession for the first time as a priest myself, and now that has changed too! I found myself not only listening to the priest as a penitent, but also as a priest who was interested in how my confessor approached the "sacramental dialogue."

I guess it's good confirmation, as my textbook on how to hear confessions says that the best way to become a good confessor is to be a good penitent.

September 24, 2007

Kids

This past weekend I gave communion to an extraordinary number of children. On Saturday there was a large outdoor Mass in celebration of the bicentennial of our archdiocese. I was placed at a communion station where there were a lot of children from one of the local parish schools. On Sunday we had a Mass for the alumni of our own parish grade school, and a choir of children did the singing.

It's really a remarkable theological proclamation, if you think about, to have these small, shy, vulnerable, and often bewildered looking people come before you and to proclaim them "the Body of Christ."

This humility of God, it's not just beautiful and edifying; it's pretty subversive too.

September 20, 2007

Communion of Saints

The day of my ordination, my formation director gave me this advice: "Just keep the communion of saints in mind; it's the only way this makes sense."

So I've tried. It comes to me especially when I am speaking the Lord's words over the chalice:
Take this, all of you, and drink from it.
This is the cup of my blood.
the blood of the new and everlasting covenant.
It will be shed for you and for all so that sins may be forgiven.
Do this in memory of me.

I think of Jesus himself, knowing he was to die so horribly the next day, and how he wanted to help his disciples understand what it meant, his death, "according to the Scriptures."

Then I think of all the martyrs who shed their blood for the truth, consecrating it into the blood of the body of Christ. And I don't just think of the martyrs we remember in the calendar, but of everyone who gives themselves for others.

Finally I think of the priests in the line of the laying on of hands that ended with me, especially Cardinal O'Malley, Pius X, Clement XIII, and Benedicts XIV and XIII.

September 17, 2007

Stigmata

The feast of the Sacred Stigmata of Francis is one of my favorites. For me, it's a feast that affirms the mystery of the Cross as so much more than a terrible event in the life of one historical human being, Jesus of Nazareth.

Through God's identification with this one life, the Cross becomes God's response to all human suffering and com-passion. And for all of the violence and hurt heaped upon God through Christ crucified, nothing comes back but the forgiveness and new life of the Resurrection.

To identify with Christ crucified is not just for stigmatics like Francis. It is for all of us to look through our limitation and pain, to see God suffering in our humanity, and to get a glimpse of Resurrected destiny.

September 14, 2007

Ordo Missae

One of the coolest presents I received for ordination was a third typical edition Roman Missal. You know, the one from which we have the famous "new GIRM" but for which we do not yet have a translation of the Mass itself.

So now, of course, I want to use it, but I will need at least one person to make the responses. To this end I've made a "worship aid" that has all the Latin responses.

If anyone else could use it, I can send it to you.

September 11, 2007

Mass


It is quite an experience beginning to preside at the Eucharist. My only idea of what it would be like to celebrate my first Masses was from reading Thomas Merton's experiences in The Sign of Jonas. Needless to say, my experience was a little different.

My first Mass felt like some kind of surreal dream. Not that I wasn't very grateful, but it had a kind of feast of fools feel to it: there I was, the most junior priest of all, presiding in front of my provincial, my formation director, and many senior friars, one of whom just celebrated 70 years of priesthood. I felt like the little child that Jesus put in the midst of his disciples.

Today, at my third Mass, I was finally able to really pray the prayers. Thanks be to God!

September 9, 2007

Apostolic Succession



One of my classmates in the Order calls me a "church nerd." So I guess it was in that spirit that this morning, when I woke up as a priest for the first time, I looked up the episcopal lineage of my ordination.

And I was pleased to discover that, from my ordination, it was only seven steps back to Pope St. Pius X.

September 6, 2007

Being an Event Planner

It's not easy to get ordained. Dealing with Saturday's big event has been a full-time job the last couple of days. Music rehearsals, floral arrangements, picking out the right (matching, of course) corporal and purificators, arranging airport transportation for the ordaining bishop and his secretary, thinking about supper for arrivals at three different times the night before (not to mention lunch for 300 after the Mass!), finding five matching chasubles and four matching dalmatics, and praying that nobody has passed on to the Lord today because the musicians plan to practice in the Saturday funeral time-slot.

In all seriousness, it will be a testament to divine Providence if it all comes together!

September 4, 2007

Shoes

The other day I was called to lead prayers at the home of a man who had just died. After we had prayed I just stayed with the deceased for a while and said a rosary for him. Between two of the decades I opened my eyes and found myself looking at his shoes sitting beneath the bed.

And I thought about how every time I wake up I need to figure out where I left my shoes. But this man, having left this world, never has to do that again. His shoes just sit there under the bed, now as superfluous and unnecessary as could be.

Though the body is dead, the person lives on, but in a new way that reminds us who remain that all the little things we worry about each day will be left behind.

The Body of Christ is risen from the dead; this is the core of our faith. And if we are the body of Christ in our communion with him, death is only an ushering into a greater clarity of identity.

September 3, 2007

Franciscan Fun



When St. Francis threw away his hermit's belt and adopted the cord that has become such an icon of Franciscanism, he was perhaps unaware of some of its many uses, e.g. as a fun toy for kittens.

August 31, 2007

Suddenly Real

Sometimes things that are long expected don't become real for me until some particular but otherwise mundane moment. I spent over a year in the candidacy and application process for the Order, but it wasn't until the day I sold my car that my entrance into religious life was suddenly really going to happen.

Well today, like every week, the Sunday bulletins arrived in the parish office. And there on the front I saw the change: "Rev." had been added to my name. I've been looking forward to this for a long time, but now, when it's only a week away, it's real: I'm going to be a priest.

August 29, 2007

Baptism

Today I am fifteen years old. It seems like so long ago, that Saturday afternoon when I was baptized, and I can hardly imagine what I was thinking or what my sense of what was going on might have been at that time.

It's a funny thing. In some ways time gives me more clarity about my conversion to Christianity. In other ways, whatever it was that happened to me becomes more cloudy and obscure. The more time that goes by, the further back I have to start the conversion story. When I was first baptized, the story I told myself (and others) only went back a couple of years. Later I was able to see how God was working going back five or six years. Now I can trace it back almost to pre-school.

On the other hand, when people ask me how it was I came to be a Catholic Christian, I'm often at a loss to give a satisfying or simple answer. It's somewhat mysterious to me, and has become increasingly so over time.

I guess all of this is the sometimes wonderful and sometimes searingly confusing dynamic of trying to be a prayerful person. We grow more confident in our faith in the faithfulness of God, but at the same time place ourselves in a kind of vertigo of mystery that is sometimes quite disorienting and even frightening.

August 28, 2007

Pilgrimage: San Giovanni Rotondo


This place is a madhouse. At Pio’s tomb you can hardly pray because of the racket of people firing coins at the sarcophagus.

Just walking around I think I’ve blessed more stuff in this afternoon than in the rest of my whole previous clerical career. Rosaries, pictures, bracelets, and even an infant of Prague big enough to be a toddler—in French, as best I could—for a couple from Lille.

The new church is very “modern.” The lower level is like a circular maze in which everyone is lost looking for the confessionals or the Blessed Sacrament. I’m as lost as they are, so I’m more than useless when everyone asks me for directions. Just put on a Capuchin habit, and not only will everyone think you know your way around, but that you speak their own proper language, whether it be Italian, French, German, or Polish.

But, with all of the noise and confusion of this place, I remember how Jesus told us that a tree is known by its fruits. And what fruits can be seen here? Everywhere there are people praying and streaming to confession, all in shadow of the hospitals that carry on Pio’s works of mercy.

August 27, 2007

Pilgrimage: Basilica of St. Francis

Today we had our official tour of the basilica of St. Francis, though most of us had already explored it on our own. It was good to have a solid introduction, though, so we could know what to look for.

Afterwards, having heard from some the brothers that there is a friendly, English speaking confessor, I try to go to confession. Of course, I don’t get him. I get the impatient Italian who insists that I don’t wait for someone else. He doesn’t speak Spanish or English, and I don’t speak Italian. Nevertheless, he prods me to get going. Not knowing what do to, I confess in a combination of Latin and Spanish. The priest gets a little annoyed. Nevertheless, I’m grateful. It’s a chance to believe in the presence of grace in even the most awkward human moments, given our right hope and good intention.

August 24, 2007

Pilgrimage: Capuchin Friary at Camerino

We arrived here late this afternoon for a one-day, two-night moment of recollection. Sitting here after supper it feels like the first moment of peace and quiet since the beginning of the trip.

Here in the original house of our Capuchin reform, it’s like the religious life of the movies. It’s a stone building with a gravel road, tiny cells, and a little church with a cloistered choir on the side. At supper, jolly, bearded friars—ourselves, the frati Americani, included—sit around the perimeter of the refectory while novices run around frantically in their effort to bring us wine, cheese, salami, fruit, and grappa, all of it homemade.

In my mind I keep comparing this place to the novitiate in Honduras. They are similar in a lot of ways. The horarium is almost exactly the same. The novices are a lot chattier, though. And fatter. They are always blabbing amongst themselves, and occasionally even break into song—all spiritual, though, or at least as far as I heard.

This morning I couldn’t bring myself to shave. Somehow it felt like it would be sacrilegious for a Capuchin to shave in Camerino.

August 23, 2007

Pilgrimage: Capuchin Church of the Immaculate Conception, Rome

Cardinal Barberini’s tomb is front and center in the floor. It reads, “hic iacet pulvis, cinis, et nihil.”

To write, “here lies nothing.” It’s so ironic—to say that something you are looking at is nothing. But this is one of central ironies of the Christian life: to be alive, but baptized into the death of Christ, and to be dead in sin, but alive in Christ.

St. Justin Martyr’s relics are here. Pray for us St. Justin, especially for Capuchin students.

We have Mass here on the altar of St. Felix of Cantalice. What a grace to make the connection between the body of Christ offered in the Mass—and which we receive and become—and the resting body of our own St. Felix. The body of Christ, past, present, and to come. At the same time, buses full of the curious come to see our famous bone yard, remarking on one expression of our belief in the Resurrection that has now become quaint and macabre by the world’s standards.


Update: This post gets a lot of search engine traffic, so I'm adding this link to the friars' own site about the crypt chapels.

August 22, 2007

Pilgrimage Journal

I kept a journal while we were away on pilgrimage, and I thought I would start to share some it here. So here's the beginning:
Pelagius lived at Kardanoel
And he 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.
--Hilaire Belloc, The Pelagian Drinking Song

But to really believe this, individualists that we are, that God teaches and saves and sanctifies through community, fraternity, through a people of God—that’s the challenge.

I’ve been on pilgrimage before, and I’ve even been a pilgrim in a group. But to go on pilgrimage as a group, as brothers—that’s the grace of this opportunity.

The brothers are all here. Some I know well, others only a little. Two of them I have never met before.

August 20, 2007

Franciscan Blogroll

Go ahead and check out Friar Matt, a brother of the OFM Conv., who are, after all, the original Friars Minor.

August 16, 2007

Francis and Clare Medals

Thanks be to God I'm safely back from pilgrimage! It was really a wonderful time--good brothers, good directors, places of such grace.

One of my special finds was the religious articles wholesaler in Assisi, where I bought (among other things) a bunch of Francis and Clare medals. They're small, round medals, about 3/4 inch in diameter, with Francis on one side and Clare on the other. I blessed them in prayer before the San Damiano crucifix, which famously spoke to Francis and which remained in Clare's monastery throughout her life.

If you would like one, send me an email.

July 26, 2007

Pilgrimage: Camerino

I write today from the original Capuchin friary in the little town of Camerino. It is like the religious life of the movies. An old stone cloister with a public church attached surrounded gravel roads and gardens. At supper last night all the bearded local friars--and we Frati Americani too--sat around the perimeter of the refectory while the novices came around bringing us wine and fruit, salami and cheese.

I have been very grateful to God on this pilgrimage. Yesterday we had Mass at the crypt of the Basilica of St. Peter in Rome, right in front of the tomb of the apostle. It had been fifteen years since I had been in that spot, and I was just thinking over and over about how much God had done for me during that time--Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, an invitation to a life of prayer--not that I really accepted it!--and a religious vocation through which I have received so much grace and opportunity.

So thanks to the prayers of many things are going well, and you can be assured of mine too.

July 20, 2007

Away on Pilgrimage

I'm leaving for pilgrimage soon, so I'll be (gratefully!) off the grid for a while. If I get a chance to post, I will. Otherwise, I'll be back around the middle of August.

I'm going to Assisi, Rome, San Giovanni Rotondo, and some other places of Capuchin significance.

Pray for me and my brother pilgrims!

July 19, 2007

Finds

A lot of religious poo-poo life in a big, institutional style monastery. It has its advantages, though. For one thing, they are great repositories of random stuff, some of which you might need.

For example, in a couple of days I'm leaving for a pilgrimage to Assisi, Rome, San Giovanni Rotondo, and a few other sites of Franciscan and Capuchin interest. This morning I was thinking about what I might still need for the trip, and I thought of four things:

1. A small, new notebook to write a travelogue for our communications office
2. A portable Italian dictionary
3. Travel-size laundry detergent
4. A copy of the Biblioteca de Autores Cristianos volume of St. Francis. It's several times smaller and lighter than its English language counterparts and thus better for travel.

I found all of them without even leaving the house. So thank God for big, old, institutional religious houses.

July 18, 2007

Water

There was a terrific thunderstorm here earlier this morning, so I spent my morning meditation just listening to it. I was thinking about how remarkable it is that our world and our bodies are so full of liquid water; water is liquid at an almost negligible temperature range in the cosmic scheme of things.

And I was thinking about how its always out of water that God brings new life. Creation itself was called forth by the Word out of the waters, and then, later, the dry land was called forth from the sea.

Later on, a new beginning of humanity emerged out of the Flood. Moses too, in his little ark, began his vocation by being taken out of the water by Pharoah's daughter.

The Israelites made their way to the Promised Land after passing safely through the Red Sea, and in the same way Christ was baptized in the Jordan to open for us a way to the Father through his own humanity.

Each one of us are born into this world as we leave the waters of the womb. We enter a world whose expansiveness and possibility we could have hardly have imagined before we were born. And I expect it's the same when we are one day born out of this life.
Laudato si, mi signore, per sor aqua,
la quale è multo utile et humile et pretiosa et casta.

Praised be you, my Lord, through Sister Water,
Who is so useful and humble and precious and chaste.

--Francis of Assisi

July 17, 2007

The LA Settlement

Another diocese has made a record settlement of their sexual abuse cases. These always leave me sad. The victims know and express that the money satisfies neither their spiritual desire for apology and reconciliation, nor their more base desire for punishment. Dioceses become more broke, and it's the people in the pew who will suffer.

But what I really worry about is whether a deeper conversion will happen within our leadership. Certainly we now have better safeguards and systems of certification, but it's my belief that clerical sexual abuse is only the violent, criminal and tragic tip of the larger iceberg of spiritual malaise and other troubles in the clerical culture and men's religious life. (I can't speak for the women.)

Money settlements for the sake of damages and better institutional systems for protecting children are one thing. And I believe they will help prevent the abuse that is so damaging to the lives of victims. But what we really need is a conversion of heart. And I mean we the clerics of the Church.

July 13, 2007

You Know You're Back in New York When...

The other day we had a guest priest come to celebrate a funeral. He didn't have time to do the committal, however, so after the Mass I had to rush out to jump in the hearse and go to the cemetery. I wanted to tell him that our sacristan could be trusted to help him put things away and show him out in my absence, so I said to him:

"Father, I have to go to the cemetery, but our sacristan, he'll take care of you."

"Oh no," the priest replied, "I'm not taking any money!"

Best Cover Ever

I'm a great lover of clever or creative cover versions of songs. This one is really something. Hopefully I won't have to sing it in church anytime soon or I might crack up. The band, by the way, is The Vandals from Orange county, California.

July 12, 2007

Summorum Pontificum: Orientation

I think I'm having too much fun with the long-anticipated appearance of Summorum pontificum. I'll try to quit after this, but one other issue that I think deserves attention is one of the most obvious differences between the "old" Mass and the "new" one: the orientation (literally!) of the ministers in relation to the rest of the assembly.

When Mass is celebrated according to the Missal of John XXIII (and of Pius V), the whole assembly faces in one direction. Thus they are able to fulfill the ancient Christian practice of facing east for prayer, orienting themselves. Since the most recent reform of the liturgy, Mass is usually celebrated with ministers facing the rest of the assembly, gathered around the altar either in a binary, cruciform, or in-the-round fashion.

Most people seem to have strong feelings about which set of postures is better. I don't. I see deep symbolic resonances in both, and ways in which either one can be done so as to ruin them.

To have the whole assembly facing in the same direction is a profound symbol of unity. It also suggests that the whole ritual is directed somewhere, rather than in on itself. However, if the clergy, not looking at the people, begin to see what they are doing as a semi-private ritual to which the rest of the assembly are only spectators, then this is truly what critics always call "having your back to the people."

To have the ministers face the rest of the assembly is also profound. It suggests that a community, however diverse, gathers around the unity that is Christ--in the altar that is his table and his tomb. But if the priest uses this arrangement to turn the Mass into a theatrical or histrionic cult of personality or a cooking show--in short, if he makes it focus on himself rather than on Jesus Christ--then this too fails.

July 11, 2007

Summorum Pontificum: Lay Empowerment

Summorum Pontificum is supposed to be a victory for traditionalist catholics, but on the other hand it holds up what is usually seen as a progressive and liberal catholic value: the empowerment of the lay faithful.

There is now a (more generalized) choice between the ordinary form of the Roman rite found in the missal of Paul VI and the extraordinary form, found in the missal of Blessed John XXIII. And who gets to choose? Not the bishop or the pastor, but the lay faithful.

Consider the beginning of article 5:
In those parishes, where a group of the faithful attached to the traditional liturgy exists continuously, the pastor shall accept their petitions to celebrate the holy mass according the Roman Missal of 1962.

And again, the beginning of article 7:
Where there is such a group of the lay faithful, as in article 5, paragraph 1, not having obtained their wish from the pastor, they should make the issue known to the diocesan bishop.


Thus what seems like a conserving and "conservative" document puts the power of choice in the hands of the laity, who have recourse even against the opinions of their pastors!

July 10, 2007

Summorum Pontificum: On Language

I have a lot of thoughts on the recent developments regarding Summorum pontificum, issued motu proprio by Benedict XVI this past weekend. The ones that are coalescing first are about language.

For me, I have no problem with liturgy in Latin. What doesn't make sense is what you always hear about "going back to Latin." Vatican II affirmed Latin as the ordinary language of the Roman rite, while at the same time opening up the possibility of translating the liturgy into local languages. Therefore, to celebrate the Latin rite in Latin (shocking!) is not to "go back" to anything.

Even more, I have some hermeneutic suspicion about Vatican II and the vernacular liturgy. The more I read Vatican II, especially Gaudium et spes, the more I see, as a basic framework, an admission of the ideas of the European Enlightenment. It's like (just when it was getting to be too late), the fathers of the Council are going to admit that the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries happened. So therefore you end up with a theology that incorporates all of these good Enlightenment ideas like historical optimism and confidence in the human role in historical progress. And one of the most powerful ideas of the Enlightenment was the nation-state.

Therefore, my interpretation of Vatican II and the vernacular liturgy is that it was about "full, conscious and active participation" for sure, but I think it's also about the affirmation of the particularity of peoples and of national character.

Now this makes sense when you have Italians in Italy praying in Italian and Germans in Germany praying in German. But in our time the nation-state is breaking down, especially in the sense of a certain people, an ethnos, making up a homogeneous country. On the contrary, ours is a time of migration and ethnic diversity. Only once in my life as a friar have I been part of a parish with only one language, and often there have been three or even five.

It seems to me that Latin might be part of the answer to the multi-lingual parish question. Not that it would be a full solution, but it might be part of a plan. With many languages in a congregation you can either have separate services, which tends to produce parallel congregations, or you can try to do multi-lingual liturgies.

Now the latter celebrate diversity for sure, and are a beautiful sign of the many peoples processing to the Lord, as Isaiah prophesied. But they are also awkward by nature and difficult to plan and execute. Might there also be a place of the ordinary language of our liturgy, Latin, as a sign of unity?

Of course, Summorum pontificum is not about the supposed "restoration" of Latin at all, but about liberalizing the use of the Roman rite as it was before 1970, which used to require special permission.

July 9, 2007

Geometric Grace

A little while back I went to a rosary devotion and prayed with a bunch of people. When it was over, one of them explained to me that it was a real good idea to attend group rosaries, because, if you pray the rosary with a number of people, each gets "credit" for having prayed that number of rosaries.

At one level I appreciate the thought. On another I don't. I like it because it suggests the superabundance of grace. According to this model, the grace or "credit" of having prayed a rosary increases geometrically. That is to say, when one person prays the rosary, one portion of grace is received. If two people, then four, as each would receive two. If five people prayed the rosary together, then there would be 25 portions of grace. If 100, then 10,000, and so on.

Grace is always given utterly out of proportion with our desire, effort or willingness to receive it, so in this sense I like my friend's idea.

On the other hand, God does not dispense credit to those who do the things that God allegedly wants. As Jesus himself said, God lets the sun shine and the rain fall for both the just and unjust, because God loves his enemies just as much as his friends. Thus there is no sense in which one person has more "credit" than another before God. As Paul says over and over, all have sinned and fallen short of God's glory.

Even more, grace is not a quantifiable commodity like money, or a credit rating, the respect of a community, or human trust. Good or bad, saint or sinner (or miserable and unglamorous mix of both, as most of us are), we all move and have our being in the grace of God. It's like living and working in the light of day. Most of the time we are just looking at stuff and tasks, without reflecting on the Light that illuminates our vision and understanding in the first place.

July 6, 2007

Vocation

In the course of my religious life I have encountered an astounding diversity of theologies of vocation and vocational discernment. But often it comes down to one question: does God will a particular and certain path for each person?

In other words, is there only one possible correct outcome as we try to discern a vocation? Is God's will so specific that the divine will means for one to become a religious is this community, or to marry this particular person, or to become a hermit, or to stay single in the world?

Some say yes. Others say it's a more complex process of cooperation without a predetermined outcome. I have heard wise people come down on both sides of the question.

For whatever reason I was thinking about it yesterday on the bus, and I thought of a simple problem I hadn't noticed before.

Let's say the divine will has A. entering religious life, but A. marries B. instead. This means that both are in the wrong vocation, because B. has also missed the mark. Or let's say C. was supposed to marry D., but D. becomes a hermit, and now C. goes and marries E., whom God meant to marry someone else entirely.

Thus the whole idea of God demanding a certain and particular vocation from each, though it seems encouraging in the individual interior life, breaks down when it comes to an inter-personal system. But is this a reductio ad absurdum for the whole idea? Well, it would seem so, because why would God let someone suffer the loss of his or her proper vocation because of the negligence of another?

On the other hand, the world is full of those who suffer unfulfilled lives of poverty, sickness and despair because of the selfish choices of others.

July 3, 2007

St. Thomas

One of our homework assignments in theology was to decide whether our faith in the Resurrection was the same as that of the apostles. There wasn't a right or wrong answer. It was more of a test to see if you could make a theological argument.

Some said our faith was the same, some said different. One of my favorite answers came from the classmate who said that our faith was better because of the blessing that Thomas had earned for those who have not seen but have believed nonetheless:
Jesus said to him, "Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed." (John 21:29)

July 2, 2007

Amoris Victima

The church where I'm working now has a grand baldachino over the tabernacle. In the center of its vault is a mosaic of the cross surrounded by two angels. The angels are holding a placard in front of the cross that says, amoris victima, victim of love.

It's true that the Latin victima is not exactly as generic a term as the English victim, but it's a defensible translation.

As I look at it each morning, the phrase has been on my mind. It's like two words that don't seem to go together, at least by the world's standards. Love is something good. Being a victim or victimizing someone else is something bad. Real love doesn't make victims, only distorted love.

And yet, if we risk love, and especially if we risk letting someone love us, we become vulnerable. Love leaves us open to injury. If we accept this, practicing patience with whatever injuries to come from our efforts at openness to love, this is the vocation of the Body of Christ in this world. This is willingness to take up the Cross.

Via non est nisi per ardentissimum amorem crucifixi, said St. Bonaventure. There is no other way but through the burning love of the Crucified.

June 27, 2007

Cleaning Your Room

Ever since I made that post yesterday with the note about cleaning my room, this passage has been in the back of my mind:
When an unclean spirit goes out of a person it roams through arid regions searching for rest, but finds none. Then it says, 'I will return to my home from which I came.' But upon return it finds it empty, swept clean, and put in order. Then it goes and brings back with itself seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they move in and dwell there; and the last condition of that person is worse than the first. (Mt 13:43-45)

This bit of teaching has always fascinated me, and I guess I've always given it a psychological interpretation. If we begin (or begin again!) to pursue the interior life seriously, there is often a little euphoria as we try to let go of sins and negative patterns. But if we keep at it, we will soon uncover the more awful demons that we were previously medicating ourselves against.

June 26, 2007

Inner & Outer

I'm always fascinated by the inter-relation between the inner and outer person. On the one hand, I've often known people whose circumstances are dire, or whose bodies are falling apart, but who have robust and fruitful spirits.

On the other hand, if I need to get a fresh start with prayer, it always helps to clean my room first.

June 25, 2007

Anxiety

One of the brothers showed up the other day with a great piece of advice. Instead of delegating tasks, he said, concentrate on delegating anxiety.

In other words, if something is someone else's problem, let them worry about it.

June 22, 2007

Treasure

Old friend Don has had some good posts on mindfulness and living in the present moment these past few days, and they have helped me to think about the Gospel for today, in which the Lord teaches us that where our treasure is, so will our heart be.

For me it's a good examination of conscience for mindfulness to ask myself where my heart is at some point in the day. What are my preoccupations that day? Where do my thoughts seem to drift automatically? How charged are the feelings that follow upon the thoughts? By doing this, I can figure out where my treasure is, and whether it's with the Lord and his work, or with something else.

June 21, 2007

St. Aloysius

One of the brothers told me that the collect for St. Aloysius is his favorite one of the whole year:
Father of love,
giver of all good things,
in St. Aloysius you combined remarkable innocence
with the spirit of penance.
By the help of his prayers
may we who have not followed his innocence
follow his example of penance.

The prayer admits that we are not yet saints, but that we hope for it.

June 19, 2007

Death

Yesterday morning I went over the parish grade school to try to drum up some altar servers for the summer months. It's the last few days of school, and the kids were all full of joy and anticipation.

Rightly or wrongly, they see before them nothing but empty time and freedom from care and toil. They long to be freed from all the constraints of the classroom.

I know it's a little morbid, perhaps, but when I left I was thinking about how the children's anticipation of the last day of school would be a beautiful model for how to make the final journey to death. To see nothing before you but peace and freedom and the eternal Silence in which God speaks his one Word.

June 14, 2007

Enlightenment?

The author of the book of Wisdom speaks of his desire for wisdom:
And I chose to have her rather than the light

This line came up twice in the liturgy yesterday, for the feast of St. Anthony.

Insight is certainly important in the spiritual life, but we can't count on it. The Light of God is so brilliant that we often experience it only as darkness. In prayer we are purified even of our ideas of God, sometimes coming out feeling as if we understand less than before.

This is all against those folks who say that religion is something we use to feel better, at best an exercise in unjustified optimism and at worst, an "opiate of the masses." Anyone who has given themselves to prayer and the obscurity of faith in a real way knows that it leads to its own anguish and struggles.

June 13, 2007

St. Anthony

Today is the feast of St. Anthony, either of Lisbon, if you go by birth, or of Padua, if by birth to eternal life.

Anthony was the first of the brothers to teach theology to the friars. The letter Francis wrote to him about this is one of my favorites:

Fratri Antonio episcopo meo frater Franciscus salutem. Placet mihi quod sacram theologiam legas fratribus, dummodo inter huius studium orationis et devotionis spiritum non exstinguas, sicut in regula continetur.

Greetings from brother Francis to brother Anthony, my bishop. It pleases me that you teach sacred theology to the brothers, so long as, amidst this study, you do not extinguish the spirit of prayer and devotion, as contained in the rule.

Amen!

For a couple of nice feast of St. Anthony posts, check our Chiara and Frater.

June 12, 2007

Striking and Decisive

Last night we received a new circular letter from our minister general, Br. Mauro Jöhri, the head of our branch of the Franciscan Order. One paragraph in particular really fired my imagination:
Aware of the thrust towards renewal permeating the whole Church, as children of their time and according to the sensibilities of that epoch, the first Capuchins made Saint Francis alive. They did this in conformity with their vocation. They had no fear or dread in living and proposing what Francis himself had lived. We should pay particular attention to the fact that those Capuchin friars were animated by a strong desire for reform: they wanted to make something striking and decisive of their lives. They had a clear objective and chose the means of reaching it, wishing to live in conformity with the ideal Saint Francis had lived and bequeathed.

There is so much in this paragraph that speaks to what hooked me into this vocation. To react against those who look at radical choices with "fear or dread." To desire to make something "striking or decisive" out of life, for the sake of the reformation of the world.

Perhaps a lot of these desires were worldly or vain for me at the beginning, but grace builds on nature, thank God.

June 11, 2007

Vision

When St. Barnabas met the believers in Antioch, he "saw the grace of God," as the Acts of the Apostles describes it today.

It makes me reflect on what I "see" in the people around me. Do I see their faults and the ways that they make things difficult? Do I see what they can get done or how they can be useful to my purposes?

Or do I notice the grace of God in them? Do I see what God has worked in them, perhaps in their faith, their faithfulness, or the love and gentleness that God has put in their hearts?

And so I try to remember that I am free, with the help of the Spirit, to choose a perspective: to pay attention to the negative, or, like Barnabas, to "see the grace of God."

June 10, 2007

Corpus Christi

Anxious about how five thousand people were going to get anything to eat, the Twelve advised Jesus to send them away:
Dismiss the crowd so that they can go to the surrounding villages and farms and find lodging and provisions; for we are in a deserted place here.

So many times it's easy to feel like our prayer life or our efforts to follow the Lord are a "deserted place," but as soon as we allow the Lord to take, bless, break and give the little we do have, we allow ourselves to be transformed by grace.

June 7, 2007

Day Off

One's day off is an institution with the parish clergy, as well it should be. Monday is the traditional choice, as with pizza makers, because of the intensity of the weekend.

Today was my day off, so I decided to take a long walk and explore the town. I found two things that made me happy: White Castle, and a neighboring Catholic church that was open during the day.

I love to sit for a few minutes in a downtown church when nothing is going on. I think it's because it speaks to me as an image of God: dark, quiet, peaceful, and cavernous. And yet somehow these are synthesized and served up as an obscure sense of welcome that is both striking and mystical.

Peace

One of the brothers I know is visiting our friars in Africa. We have many indigenous vocations there, but the brothers certainly participate in the terrible crosses that the African continent is suffering in our time.

Our brother recently wrote to us here at home. He told one story about trying to help a frail, 96 year old friar. Our North American brother described how he was feeling bad about the imperfection of his Swahili and ability to communicate. But the old friar gestured toward the courtyard of the friary, at the sky and sun, as if that was all that needed to be said.

I can only think of the words of Francis himself:
Praised be you my Lord, through all your creatures,
Especially Sir Brother Sun,
Through whom we have the day
And you bring the light by him.
And he is beautiful and radiant with great splendor.

Of you Most High, he bears a likeness.

June 5, 2007

"Medieval Times"

One of my first activities as part of the parish staff here was an end-of-year thank-you trip for the altar servers. We went to Medieval Times, a kind of cross between dinner theater and the circus. You eat in barbaric fashion without utensils and are entertained by horse tricks, knightly combats, and a general atmosphere of ludicrous anachronism: "Would you like more Pepsi, my Lord?"

Just for fun I went on their website and looked at the career opportunities, which are introduced like this:

Ever worked in a Castle?
Thought about wearing a costume to work?
Or are you looking for an exciting employment opportunity in a unique and fun environment?
Must be available evenings and weekends.


No thanks, that sounds just like the job I have already.

Don't Look Down

Last night I was talking with a young man who works in the construction of tall buildings, building service elevators and scaffolding. He said he was afraid of heights.

"How do you do your job?" I asked.

"I just don't look down. It's worked so far!" he said.

Later on I was thinking about how it's good advice for the spiritual life. The first step in avoiding our sins and little selfishnesses and our bad "tapes" and poor patterns of thinking is to concentrate our intention--our spiritual gaze--on the grace of God. If we "don't look down" into our occasions of sin or into our habitual spiritual pitfalls in the first place, then we will be less likely to be intimidated by them.