October 28, 2013

Buses for the Holy Souls

It can't be denied that living in Rome one does have occasion to be scandalized from time to time by some of the very human souls our humble Lord chooses for the building up of his Church on the rock of St. Peter. There's even a joke about it; they say that Rome is the Deposit of Faith, in the sense that you arrive with your faith and then lose it in Rome, making your 'deposit.'

But from time to time Rome also edifies, warming your heart with the depth and strength of her tender devotion to our ancient faith.

To get anywhere beyond the remote compound where holy obedience finds me at this stage of my journey, I depend on Rome's buses, operated by ATAC, the Azienda Tramvie ed Autobus del Comune di Roma (Tram-ways and Bus Company of the Municipality of Rome, @InfoAtac on Twitter). Almost every morning, especially when I have to go somewhere that day (or the next day) I check their web page called "the log of public transport of the week." It tells you about diversions and cancellations for construction, protests, parades, political and papal events, etc., and most importantly, when there will be a strike.

Checking the page this morning, I found a link to this page, entitled, "Cemetery Lines: Enhanced Departures from Saturday, October 26 to Sunday, November 3."  There are more buses to help folks get to cemeteries and pray for the dead around All Souls' Day. That means that the city of Rome is helping the Holy Souls in Purgatory by making it easier for the faithful to obtain the All Souls' indulgences on their behalf. 

Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat eis. 
Requiescant in pace. Amen.

October 25, 2013

Docta Ignorantia

For a few days each year around this time we get, in the Office of Readings, St. Augustine's Letter 130, to Proba, on prayer. It touches me every time.

Today I landed on one of Augustine's somewhat famous expressions, docta ignorantia, 'learned ignorance.' In prayer there is an ignorance, an unknowledge that we learn, for our not knowing "how to pray as we ought" in which "the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words" (Romans 8:26) is not just something we lack because of our distraction and sin, or even because of our innate limitedness, but is something positive that we learn in prayer, one of its precious fruits.

Indeed there is much to unlearn in prayer; it is, as Evagrius says, "the shedding of thoughts." I must unlearn about the deity that the flesh weaves out of its lusts and even ideas of the divine that give more rarefied delights to the intellect. True prayer means unlearning the unvirtues of the those false religiosities the flesh concocts to serve its purposes under sacrilegious cover. I am even invited to unlearn cherished ideas and attributions about myself.

In the end, it is all aimed toward the searing unlearning that "there is 'no such thing' as God because God is neither a 'what' nor a 'thing' but a pure 'Who.'" (Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation, chapter 2) And it is precisely this awakening that bears the most blessed fruit of prayer, the shedding of the 'whatness' and objectification of other people, learning to see them only as persons, as 'who.'


October 19, 2013

Shiny Muddy Puddle

In the dark chapel the brother sacristan begins to light the altar candles. From my place in choir towards the back of the chapel I see the smooth metal of the monstrance--in which we will soon adore the Blessed Sacrament--begin to glow in reflection.

Somewhere in the back of my mind St. Bonaventure reminds me that the power of these things--the light, the brother, the monstrance--to reproduce themselves as objects of reflection in my mind is the footprint from their origin, their faint imitation of the Word in which they are created, the Word who proceeds from the Unbegotten Source as perfect Image and Refulgence.

I take a moment to just appreciate the light; its dignity as the first of us creatures, the first of us to receive the original gaze of divine blessing, 'it was good.'

Seeing again the beautiful glow of the monstrance, I start to think that maybe it's good that we have shiny stuff in the practice of faith, for this too is our vocation, to become shiny, to become those from whom the light of God's overflowing love reflects to the people and situations around us.

Another teacher arrives from the back of my mind, certainly one my first teachers of the Franciscan tradition though I've forgotten which. I remember how he told us about a moment when he looked down and saw his reflection in a muddy puddle. He decided that the muddy puddle was his image for Franciscan spirituality. Even though the puddle was muddy, when the light was right he could see his reflection just fine.

And so that's our confession. The Light is right. The Light is right for the love of God to shine through us to the world, even though we aren't quite shiny, even in the poverty before God of being, at times, as shallow and dirty as a muddy puddle.

October 12, 2013

The Road of Iniquity

As a sort of token effort at interior consent to my new life in Italy I have been making my slow way through Manzoni's The Betrothed. I read some in English (trans. Bruce Penman, Penguin Classics, 1972) and then if I feel up to it I go back and try to read the section again in Italian.

About half done after a year, I came across this wonderful description of how it feels to be a sinner:
Our manuscript remarks here that the road of iniquity is indeed wide, but that does not mean that it is a comfortable road to travel; it has its stumbling blocks and its difficult stretches; it is a painful road and a tiring one, although it goes downhill. (337)

October 5, 2013

Meeting Pope Francis

Back when it was announced that Pope Francis would go to Assisi for the feast of St. Francis we were told that his day would include a short visit to the parish church of Santa Maria Maggiore, adjacent to the bishop's house and currently in Capuchin care. There he would have a brief meeting with our General Minister and other Capuchins. For this purpose especially, the Provincial Minister of Umbria was going to offer hospitality to twenty friars from the General Curia fraternity.

The rarely-seen Umbrian Balloon of Welcome

So up went that commonplace of religious life, the sign-up sheet, and even I signed up.

October 1, 2013

Praying for the Big Meeting

Who can keep up with our good Pope Francis? Today there is another interview, this time with La Repubblica. This morning on Twitter I saw some exasperated soul wish out loud that Pope Francis would 'switch to decaf.'

And today begins the first official meeting of Francis's council of Cardinals, including, of course, our own Se├ín Patrick O'Malley, from whose prayer and hands I am a priest of Jesus Christ and a presbyter of the Roman Church, though I bear both poorly and awkwardly.

I find their meeting coming into my prayer. I pray for them, for their courage, their wisdom, their humility, their willingness. I keep thinking about how often you open the breviary to the feast of some bishop or other and it says that he was a reformer of his diocese, the clergy, etc. Perhaps it takes saints for true reform, and so we should pray for saints and serve each other's holiness. But I think reform itself--in the struggles and energy released in the work of reforming--also makes saints.

So I want to pray in thanksgiving for the holiness of our Holy Father and his council of Cardinals as they begin to meet today, that their discernment and effort may serve the holiness of the Universal Church, at once the bride of Christ and his Body, born in poverty, working to heal and reconcile, suffering, crucified, and Risen.