December 28, 2015

Sober and Devout

"In a society so often intoxicated by consumerism and hedonism, wealth and extravagance, appearances and narcissism, this Child calls us to act soberly, in other words, in a way that is simple, balanced, consistent, capable of seeing and doing what is essential. In a world which all too often is merciless to the sinner and lenient to the sin, we need to cultivate a strong sense of justice, to discern and to do God’s will. Amid a culture of indifference which not infrequently turns ruthless, our style of life should instead be devout, filled with empathy, compassion and mercy, drawn daily from the wellspring of prayer."

(Pope Francis, homily for Christmas, Missa in nocte)

December 24, 2015

Christmas on a Friday

[St. Francis] used to observe the Nativity of the Child Jesus with an immense eagerness above all other solemnities, affirming it was the Feast of Feasts, when God was made a little child and hung on human breasts. he would kiss the images of the baby's limbs thinking of hunger, and the melting compassion of his heart toward the child also made him stammer sweet words as babies do. This name was to him like honey and honeycomb in his mouth.

When there was a discussion about not eating meat, because it was on Friday, he replied to Brother Morico: "You sin, brother, when you call 'Friday' the day when unto us a child is born. I want even the walls to eat meat on that day, and if they cannot, at least on the outside they be rubbed with grease!"

He wanted the poor and hungry to be filled by the rich, and oxen and asses to be spoiled with extra feed and hay. "If I ever speak with the Emperor," he would say, "I will beg him to issue a general decree that all who can should throw wheat and grain along the roads, so that on the day of such a great solemnity, the birds may have an abundance, especially our sisters the larks."

(Thomas of Celano, 2nd Life of St. Francis, Chapter 151, FA:ED II, 374-375)

December 5, 2015

I'm a Friar, Not a Rocket Scientist

One of the brothers shared this fun story with me:

Br. So-and-so came to us after graduating from MIT. One time back in 1952 I showed him an article I had written for my high school magazine explaining in detail how the rocket scientists, given enough money, could send a manned space craft into orbit around the earth, and from there to the moon and back. He said: "You can believe that science fiction stuff if you want, but take it from me, a graduate of MIT, it can't be done. To escape from the gravitational pull of the earth, you have to add more fuel, which adds more weight, which requires more fuel. It just can't be done."

December 1, 2015

There's a Space for You

In the hallway outside our chapel, there's a 'family tree' of Franciscan saints and blesseds (click to enlarge):


There's St. Francis and his early companions at the root. St. Clare is on the first branch on the right. After all, she did call herself St. Francis's "little plant."

One of my favorite things about the tree is that there is an empty space:


There it is. Nestled among St. Joan of Valois, St. Joseph Cafasso, and a Gandulphus and a Hugh that I haven't been able to identify for myself, there's an open space.

When I pass by the picture with another brother I sometimes point to the space and say, "There's a space for you."

It's true. There's a particular space for everyone on the family tree of sanctity. Each human life is a unique and unrepeatable creation. And since, as St. Thomas teaches us, grace perfects nature, the graces God desires for each of us are also unique and unrepeatable, as will be the sanctity and the saint that they produce.

So let's embrace our grace and sink into our space, becoming the unique and particular saint that God has created us to be.

November 20, 2015

Some Thoughts on Indulgences

The other day at lunch we got to talking about indulgences. One of the brothers confessed that he didn't really understand the concept. It's hard enough to grasp, I suppose. Continuing to think on it, I went back and read Indulgentiarum doctrina, Paul VI's apostolic constitution on the subject following Vatican II.
An indulgence is the remission before God of the temporal punishment due sins already forgiven as far as their guilt is concerned, which the follower of Christ with the proper dispositions and under certain determined conditions acquires through the intervention of the Church which, as minister of the Redemption, authoritatively dispenses and applies the treasury of the satisfaction won by Christ and the saints. (norms, 1)
It seems to me that the practice of indulgences depends on a few things. I think of three:

First, it depends on the idea that expiation is something apart from forgiveness and pardon. Sin injures the creation, and though a sin be forgiven and absolved, God's justice demands that the injury be somehow corrected or undone. This is accomplished through acts of penance, the good use of the sufferings of this life, or the purification of purgatory thereafter. An indulgence remits this responsibility to expiate the injury we do to the universe by our sins.

Second, it depends on the very basic assertion of Christianity, which the document also makes, that the Church is "minister of the Redemption of Christ" (38) I think it's easy to have the idea that redemption and salvation is something basically transacted between the individual soul and God ("Jesus my personal savior") and that the Church exists as a more or less human institution to promote and encourage this. A Catholic ecclesiology is much deeper than that, of course. Such would assert that the Church, as the Mystical Body of Christ, is herself the mediation of the salvation God wills for the world and which we have in the person of Jesus Christ. Therefore, it pertains to the Church to minister this redemption. It is in this sense that we can understand extra ecclesiam nulla salus, 'outside the Church there is no salvation.' As the Catechism explains, this phrase "means that all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his Body." (846)

Third, the doctrine and practice of indulgences depends on a strong and spiritual sense of the communion of saints. All the baptized are in communion with each other. Or, as Indulgentiarum doctrina puts it, "[t]here reigns among men, by the hidden and benign mystery of the divine will, a supernatural solidarity." The sins of one are an injury for all, but the merits and salvation of each are also a benefit to all. From this communion or solidarity derives a certain fungibility of grace on which the idea of indulgences depends. The Church, as "minister of the Redemption of Christ" can apply the merit of one to another. This communion of saints is catholic in the sense of embracing all of time and space, and so the individual Christian, as a member of the Church, can apply an indulgence gained to one of the faithful departed. (norms, 3)

November 11, 2015

Venerable Update

Among many noteworthy happenings back when I was parochial vicar in Yonkers, one day in 2008 an Italian friar showed up and announced that he was the archbishop emeritus of Izmir (i.e. Smyrna) and that he was making a pilgrimage to one of the earthly assignments of our own Venerable Solanus Casey. (Original post here.) Among other things he related that he was working on the cause for canonization of his parents, Sergio Bernardini and Domenica née Bedonni. Read about them here.

Well today at lunch I found myself sitting next to the same Archbishop Giuseppe. I reminded him that we had met once before and I asked how his parents were moving along. He was happy to say that they were now venerable, another step toward blessed and perhaps saint.

Archbishop Giuseppe is not the only priest I have ever met who was trying to canonize his parents. There's also Fr. Raffaele of the Carmelites, whose parents Ulisse and Lelia are Servants of God. You can read about them in Italian here.

You can find Fr. Raffaele giving daily inspiration on Twitter
or in the back corner of Santa Maria della Vittoria (which is also Cardinal O'Malley's Roman church) saying his rosary and receiving local penitents like me.

November 9, 2015

Worry

Sometimes I get a little worried about the future of the Order.

But what to do about my worry?

Looking at the history of religious life, it seems to me that reform and renewal in religious life comes from one place: saints.

When I was in the OFM the buzzword was 'refounding.' This was going to bring renewal. And I have encountered other buzzwords along the way in my journey in religious life. Mostly they seem sterile when it comes to generating reform and renewal.

So, again, what we need, it seems to me, are saints.

But what does this mean practically?

First of all, I must ask God in prayer for the saint who will bring reform and renewal to the Order.

Then, I must be open to the possibility that God wills to make one of my confreres into this saint. Therefore, charity towards my brother must mean treating him and interacting with him so as to support and encourage his sanctity. Anything less is not really love.

November 2, 2015

All Souls

The first entry in the Martyrology today:
The commemoration of all the deceased faithful, wherein devout Mother Church--having just encouraged the fitting celebration of all her children rejoicing in heaven-- busies herself interceding before God for all souls who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith and who sleep in the hope of resurrection, and also for all those from the beginning of the world whose faith is known to God alone, that, purged of the contagion of sin, they may merit to enjoy the eternal beatific vision.
For the first time in my priesthood, I celebrated today all three Masses of All Souls, according to the privilege granted to all priests by the bull Incruentum altaris of Benedict XVI. The first, concelebrating at the regular conventual Mass, I offered for the deceased of my family. The second and third I offered alone (according to the directions of Fr. McNamara, whom I tend to trust on liturgical questions) for all the faithful departed and for the intention of the Holy Father, as is prescribed. (I still feel scruples about celebrating Mass alone, and wonder if simply desiring to offer the sacrifice is a 'just and reasonable cause,' but priests seem to do it. It's not something I do often.)

All of these things--prayers for the dead, Masses offered for them--speak to me of hope and of a merciful God. A God whose desire for our salvation goes beyond the limits of our earthly life, providing even a means to be purified of our sins after our bodily death. That means we call purgatory, without affirming much else about it.

May all the faithful departed, as well as all the holy souls from the beginning of time whose faith is known to God alone, by his mercy, rest in peace. Amen.

October 31, 2015

Deordination

Catherine of Siena is beautiful in the Office of Readings today:
The eternal Father, indescribably kind and tender, turned his eye to this soul and spoke to her thus: 
‘O dearest daughter, I have determined to show my mercy and loving kindness to the world, and I choose to provide for mankind all that is good. But man, ignorant, turns into a death-giving thing what I gave in order to give him life. Not only ignorant, but cruel: cruel to himself. But still I go on providing. For this reason I want you to know: whatever I give to man, I do it out of my great providence.
That's the whole story of misery and sin; we twist the good gifts God has given us into a sort of violence towards ourselves, We grasp at what is freely given to all and try to hoard it for ourselves. We cling to miserable little consolations rather than risk opening ourselves up to the Consoler who is the Spouse of the soul.
The moral theology of the devil starts out with the principle: "Pleasure is sin." Then he goes on to work it the other way: "All sin is pleasure." 
After that he points out that pleasure is practically unavoidable and that we have a natural tendency to do things that please us, from which he reasons that all our natural tendencies are evil and that our nature is evil in itself. And he leads us to the conclusion that no one can possibly avoid sin, since pleasure is inescapable. 
After that, to make sure no one will try to escape or avoid sin, he adds that was unavoidable cannot be a sin. Then the whole concept of sin is thrown out the window as irrelevant, and people decide that there is nothing left but to live for pleasure, and in that way pleasures that are naturally good become evil by de-ordination and lives are thrown away in unhappiness and sin. (Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation, 93)

October 30, 2015

Hemo the Magnificent

As a child I was interested in religion and I experienced some attraction to Jesus. But since I had no formal religious upbringing, where did I get these ideas? Various places, I suppose, but one that I've been reminded of recently is the film Hemo the Magnificent--on blood and the circulatory system--which I saw at least once in elementary school. Watching it now, it's amazing that something with so much explicit Christianity was shown in a public school. I'm sure it wouldn't fly nowadays.

The film begins with Leviticus - "the life of the flesh is in the blood" (17:11) and ends with St. Paul.

October 28, 2015

Finding a Spiritual Director

I also wanted to share some good news. After some adventures and awkward moments--including asking a Cardinal of the Roman Church, true story--I think I have found a spiritual director here in Rome. When the time was right I had the inspiration to send an email in a certain direction, and right away I was led to someone who seems good.

We had a first meeting, which seemed to go well. He recommended that I no longer use the meditation period between Morning Prayer and Mass to pray the Office of Readings, but that I use it for meditation in the strict sense, what in the Capuchin tradition we call mental prayer.

He also recommended that I reread Thoughts Matter by Sr. Mary Margaret Funk. Also a very good idea. She writes:
This book is intended for a person who is looking seriously for the right path on the spiritual journey. According to John Cassian, a fourth-century monk, renunciations are required of us if we are on that journey. First, we must renounce our former way of life and move closer to our heart's desire, toward the interior life. Second, we must do the inner work (of asceticism) by renouncing our mindless thoughts. This renunciation is particularly difficult because we have little control over our thoughts. Third, we must renounce our own images of God so that we enter into contemplation of God as God.

October 27, 2015

Heavy

Lately things have been coming together to try to shake me out of my denial regarding my weight problem. Not that it's anything new; I've had a weight problem, sometimes worse, sometimes better, for about thirty-five years.

But lately, what I think what has always been an emotional difficulty, namely my overeating, seems to me also a spiritual block. And I'm hoping that this realization is the Providence that will help me to do something about it. Not that I haven't tried to do anything before; I have had periods of regular exercise as an adult, as well as some interesting nutritional experiments in the late 90s and early 00s. Nevertheless, especially since entering the Capuchins, the weight gain has been steady. I estimate that since I entered the Capuchins fifteen years ago, I have gained fifty pounds. And I wasn't so thin when I entered either.

He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent empty away. (Luke 1:53)

I pray those words every single day during Evening Prayer, in Mary's Magnificat. If on account of my overeating I never experience hunger, how can I hope for the grace that Mary sings? If I am never hungry, how can I identify with, pray well for, or hope to serve the poor with whom I have supposedly united myself by my vow of poverty?

The hegumen of a monastery asked Abba Poemen, “How can I acquire the fear of God?” Abba Poemen said to him, “How can we acquire the fear of God when our belly is full of cheese and preserved foods?”

Indeed. And yet one of the graces of my current situation is that living with the friars in Italy is generally a better nutritional situation than living with the friars in the States. So I pray to take advantage of that.

So I ask your prayers in responding to the graces I have described, that I might finally address, gently and well, the physical issue and spiritual block of my weight problem. I thought of starting a whole new blog about it, but maybe not. This blog has been about all sorts of different things, so why not this? I would appreciate your thoughts on the question of a new blog or not.

October 26, 2015

The Synod and the Internal Forum

Well, the Synod is over and maybe we can all relax a little bit. The whole business brings to mind something from my early days in the Church. When I was taking 'convert instructions' one of the books I was given for my catechesis was called The Question Box, or something like that, by a Fr. John Dietzen. It was a kind of question-and-answer book, like a compilation of questions addressed to a newspaper column.

I remember that two of the big issues in the book were whether the Eucharist was a meal or a sacrifice (both of course, with each transforming the other and the result being more than the sum of its parts) and the internal forum solution for the divorced and civilly remarried. That was over twenty years ago when I read the book, and it must have been published before that. So what the Synod has said on this is hardly new.

Is such an internal forum solution subject to abuse? Certainly. But so is the whole of the sacramental economy. How many Masses are offered each day by priests in mortal sin? On the other hand, are there folks out there who could surely benefit from such an internal forum solution but do not receive it because they never approach a pastor or because their pastor is unapproachable, because the Church has not given them with the 'accompaniment' and 'discernment' of which the Synod speaks? Also certainly yes.

October 22, 2015

In Christ

The memorial of Pope St. John Paul II, optional in most places, is obligatory here in Rome. The popes are our local bishops, after all. The proper reading for the Office of Readings comes from his homily for the inauguration of his pontificate.
So often today, man does not know that which is in him, in the depths of his mind and heart. So often he is uncertain about the meaning of his life on this earth. He is assailed by doubt, a doubt which turns into despair. We ask you, therefore, we beg you with humility and with trust, let Christ speak to man. He alone has words of life, yes, of life eternal.
So much of the early genesis of my own conversion is in that. What is this consciousness that finds itself existing? Does finding myself to be a human existence impose on me a responsibility? Why bother continuing to exist? What's it all for?

The creation, and the individual creature in it, exists so that God might be incarnate in it, that the Origin and Source we clumsily call 'God' might overflow not only in love for the Beloved who is God, but into another, sharing the blessedness that is deity.

Because of our sin this incarnate Beloved reveals himself from the Cross, not only showing but blazing for our humanity a path from the death of sin to the blessed life God has always willed for the creation, the path that for us takes the shape of an immolation of self for the sake of the other. This we call Resurrection.

I discover my true self in this created humanity of Christ, for he is both the firstborn of all creatures (Colossians 1:15) and the Word through whom all things were made (John 1:3). The breath of life that made the first human being a living soul (Genesis 2:7) has wound its way down to me. What will I do with it? Always there is a choice; the self-will that the cluster of passions that Christian tradition calls the 'world' teaches, or the obedience of the Cross that is my liberation from sin and the helping of my neighbor toward this same liberation.

October 6, 2015

A Martyr's Prayer

Today I am working on translating a letter from the Minister General for the occasion of the next beatification of martyrs of the Spanish Civil War (November 21, 2015 in Barcelona), which will include twenty-six Catalan Capuchins. One of them, a certain Fr. Modest of Mieres, composed this prayer for the friars to recite together while they were on the run:
In this moment and certainly in the hour of death, if I should find myself in the right circumstance, with the help of the divine grace that I humbly trust you will grant me, I accept, O my God, willingly, in a way that is pleasing, humbly and with whole heart, the death that you wish to send to me. Whatever it should be, I unite my death to the most holy death of our Lord Jesus Christ, that in this moment is being renewed in the holy sacrifice of the Mass, and so united I offer my death to you, O my God, beseeching you humbly that you would condescend to accept it kindly, despite my wretchedness and misery, joined as it is to the death of our Lord Jesus Christ, for the remission of all my faults and sins, and of the faults and sins of all people.
Amen.

Read the whole letter here (PDF).

October 4, 2015

Feast of St. Francis Post

Today is the feast of St. Francis. As the Roman-Seraphic Liturgy of the Hours puts it, 'St. Francis of Assisi, Deacon, Founder of the Three Orders.' So happy feast day to all the friars of the First Order, all the nuns of the Second Order, and to all the brothers and sisters of the Third Order, Secular and Regular.

Last night we had the Transitus--the prayer service that commemorates Francis's passing from this life on the evening of October 3, 1226. It was simple by the standard of what I'm used to with the friars in the States, but still beautiful. Our Father Guardian gave an encouraging homily, beginning from the Testament of Siena. It's a short enough text to post in its entirety:
Write that I bless all my brothers, those who are in religion and those who will be until the end of the world. Since because of the weakness and pain of illness I cannot speak to them, I reveal my will for my brothers in these three statements, namely: that as a sign and remembrance of my blessing and my testament, they love one another, that they love and observe our holy Lady Poverty, and that they always be faithful and subject to the prelates and all clerics of holy Mother Church.
So today I'm just praying for willingness and faithfulness regarding these three admonitions of our Seraphic Father.

I pray to love the brothers God has given me in my vocation to be a Franciscan friar, to always speak and act toward them with charity. To love my brother whether I find him helpful or not, whether I agree with him or not, whether I am edified by his visible behavior or if I endure the temptation of the flesh to consider him a bad religious or priest.  And in the same way I pray that God and my brothers would look past all the ways I give scandal and bad example by my laxity and disregard for what I have promised to them.

I pray for the grace to always nourish my love for my spouse Lady Poverty, and that the Lord would show me how to love her more completely in the circumstances in which I find myself by holy obedience. I pray to be able to notice, take, and thank God for the opportunities I am given to share in the suffering of his poor, as I pray to know and take the opportunities to make myself subject to them for his sake and for the sake of his Kingdom.

I pray that I might love the Church as the mother who has received me into her care, offering me a chance to be free of the misery that this world insists on for itself with its errors and selfishness. May I love her and surrender to her embrace always and in all things, even when she seems confusing or even unholy in some ways, because Christ himself loved her and gave himself up to make her holy. (Ephesians 5:24-25)

Amen.

September 26, 2015

Paul VI Speaks To The Capuchins

Here in Rome today is the (obligatory) memorial of Pope Blessed Paul VI. Poking around for something to give for a homily, I landed on a talk the Pope gave to the friars at our General Chapter of 1976. Towards the end he sets out three "requirements" for the work of evangelization.
The first could be formulated thus: the priority of being over doing. Evangelization demands witness and witness supposes an experience, one that follows from a deep life of interior union with Christ, that brings the disciple into a progressive conformity with the Teacher, to a becoming like Him, for Him, and in Him, something which little by little shrines through, and then in a convincing way, even in the external forms of living and of working. An external form marked particularly by the poverty of Christ, who, though he was rich made himself poor for love of us, in order to make us rich by his poverty. (cf. 2 Cor 8:9, Matt 8:20, Perfectae caritatis 13). And this is an essential teaching, which shines from the most authentic Franciscan message, a message more current now than ever. 
The second requirement: closeness to the people. The Capuchin Order is an Order of the people, it rose up with this characteristic and will be accepted and effective in its evangelizing action if it keeps itself as people have seen it through the centuries. Hence the duty to live close to the humble classes; hence the commitment to a style of life, which, as far as it is poor, does not distance itself from them, hence the consistent exclusion of compromises against traditional austerity and simplicity of life, even regarding the external figure of a Capuchin. 
Third requirement: fidelity to the Church, to the Vicar of Christ and to the bishops. Evangelization is never a personal thing, but always and only in the name of the Church, because it is to the Church that Christ has entrusted the task of announcing the Gospel to all peoples. (cf. Matt 20:18-20, Mk 16:15-16) To keep oneself in communion of mind, of heart, and of action with the directives and instructions of ecclesial authority in the concrete circumstances in which one has been called to work, both at the level of the universal Church and also in the individual particular churches; it is innate to every apostolic work which wishes to be "for building up and not for destroying" (2 Cor 10:8) the souls that Christ entrusts to you.

The whole thing is here (in Italian).

July 6, 2015

Jacob's Ladder

And Jacob dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it! And behold, the LORD stood above it and said, "I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. (Genesis 28:12-13b)

And Jesus said to Nathanael, "Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man." (John 1:50-51)

Jesus, as the Son of man, reveals himself as Jacob's ladder. It is the humanity of Christ that is the ladder, that which joins heaven to earth.

Christian life and spirituality is a finding of ourselves, day by day, in that sacred humanity of Christ, so that we may also say of our own humanity, with Jacob, "Surely the Lord is in this place; and I did not know it." (Genesis 28:16) It is a discovery of who we truly were all along, a humanity made sharer in the infinite love and creativity of God by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Christ is the way and the door. Christ is the ladder and the vehicle. (St. Bonaventure)

June 28, 2015

Laudato Si': My Ranty Examination of Conscience

Here is the part of Laudato si' which has hit me the hardest:
This [lack of "awareness of problems which especially affect the excluded"] is due partly to the fact that many professionals, opinion makers, communications media and centres of power, being located in affluent urban areas, are far removed from the poor, with little direct contact with their problems. They live and reason from the comfortable position of a high level of development and a quality of life well beyond the reach of the majority of the world’s population. (49)
Is this me? Is this us as religious? Is my 'holy poverty' as a religious such that it shields me from contact with the poor? Do I 'live and reason'--and pray--from a 'comfortable position' and live 'a quality of life well beyond the reach of the majority of the world's population'?

Sometimes I'm afraid I have to say yes. And if I have to say yes, my Franciscan vocation, as I am living it now, has become meaningless.

It's not supposed to be that way. A few quotes from our Capuchin Constitutions:
Poverty, chosen in order to follow Christ, makes us sharers in his filial relation towards the Father and in his state as brother and servant in the midst of people, and leads us to solidarity with the littlest of this world. (61,2) 
Those friars are to be praised who in particular situations, living with the poor and sharing in their conditions and aspirations, encourage them in social and cultural progress and in the hope of eternal goods. (63,2) 
Called the gospel path of poverty, let us accustom ourselves to suffering privations after the example of Christ and the memory of St. Francis, who wanted thus to be poor and to entrust himself, having abandoned all things and free from bonds of the heart, to the Father who cares for us. (77,1) 
And let us not be numbered among those false poor, who love to be poor on the condition that they lack nothing. (77,2)
Do I put myself in a place where I share the aspirations of the poor? Do I have to suffer any privations for the love of Christ and his poor? Do I love to be poor in such a way as to lack nothing? Laudato si' has brought me the torment of these questions. But I have to trust it as a good, a graced torment.

The hungry he has filled with good things; the rich he has sent away empty. (Luke 1:53) I pray that line every evening in Our Lady's Magnificat. And I worry that I am the rich, not the hungry. And if so, how do I dare to hope for any grace from God?

In one of the presentations this past week at the New Provincials' Workshop, one of our General Councilors spoke on the embourgeoisement of religious obedience. I will agree to do this or that, I will take up this or that life, so long as it serves my goals of self-realization, of amassing my own moral capital within the organization, etc.

Has religious life as I have found it served to help me to become one of God's poor or has it served my embourgeoisement? I worry that the answer may be the latter.

So what do I do? I pray. I pray you Lord, for the courage to go where my consecration leads me. I pray for the grace of giving you permission to do what you have to do to make me the poor man I have professed to be before you, the Church, and the world. 

June 25, 2015

Pause: Misery and Surrender

I have another quote or two from Laudato si'  to blog on, but I've saved the ones that struck me most for last and I'm not ready to post on them yet. They challenge me, especially as a religious, a Franciscan, and a Capuchin, and I need some more time with my thoughts on them.

Today--and not unrelated to my reflection on Laudato si'--I'm just thinking about surrender. I'm thinking about how a spiritual life is an ongoing surrender to the will of God, a daily turning of things over to God.

When you begin you feel as if you have turned over your life to God, have surrendered to his will, and you have the energy of a first fervor. But time goes by. And God, finding you willing to work, puts you to work. He invites you a deeper level, revealing to you parts of yourself, aspects of your thinking or behavior for example, that you have not surrendered. And even though these attachments--these little reserves of your own will, where you say in this case or that case, or when this or that happens, I reserve the right to do it my way--give you nothing but misery, it can be very hard to let go of them.

And so you struggle. You have moments of surrender and the peace and serenity that goes with it, and moments of failure in which you taste the fruit of your own will, ever more rotten. And yet God is always there, always inviting, asking you, 'Will you let go of this, will you let your own will be crucified with me so that I may draw you into the new life of resurrection?'

June 23, 2015

Laudato Si': An Admonition to the Online

Furthermore, when media and the digital world become omnipresent, their influence can stop people from learning how to live wisely, to think deeply and to love generously. In this context, the great sages of the past run the risk of going unheard amid the noise and distractions of an information overload. Efforts need to be made to help these media become sources of new cultural progress for humanity and not a threat to our deepest riches. True wisdom, as the fruit of self-examination, dialogue and generous encounter between persons, is not acquired by a mere accumulation of data which eventually leads to overload and confusion, a sort of mental pollution. Real relationships with others, with all the challenges they entail, now tend to be replaced by a type of internet communication which enables us to choose or eliminate relationships at whim, thus giving rise to a new type of contrived emotion which has more to do with devices and displays than with other people and with nature. Today’s media do enable us to communicate and to share our knowledge and affections. Yet at times they also shield us from direct contact with the pain, the fears and the joys of others and the complexity of their personal experiences. For this reason, we should be concerned that, alongside the exciting possibilities offered by these media, a deep and melancholic dissatisfaction with interpersonal relations, or a harmful sense of isolation, can also arise. (47)

June 22, 2015

Laudato Si': Mindfulness

To be serenely present to each reality, however small it may be, opens us to much greater horizons of understanding and personal fulfillment. Christian spirituality proposes a growth marked by moderation and the capacity to be happy with little. It is a return to that simplicity which allows us to stop and appreciate the small things, to be grateful for the opportunities which life affords us, to be spiritually detached from what we possess, and not to succumb to sadness for what we lack. This implies avoiding the dynamic of dominion and the mere accumulation of pleasures. (222)

June 21, 2015

Laudato Si': Progress

There is also the fact that people no longer seem to believe in a happy future; they no longer have blind trust in a better tomorrow based on the present state of the world and our technical abilities. There is a growing awareness that scientific and technological progress cannot be equated with the progress of humanity and history, a growing sense that the way to a better future lies elsewhere. (113)
As the variously attributed quote goes, 'God is dead, Marx is dead, and I don't feel so well myself.'

The Holy Father says a lot regarding the aimlessness of our modern culture. In days past it threw off the eschatology of Christianity and replaced it with other, more worldly eschatologies: communism, eugenics, technocracy, better living through chemistry.

The twentieth century is the age of the crumbling of these human ideas of progress, each of which come to nothing after they had given birth to their rotten fruit for the world. (Although we have to say that abortion, as a child of the eugenics movement, is still with us.)

Thus the current 'post-modern' moment represents an opportunity that the Holy Father recommends to us, a moment to make friends again with ourselves and with our own dignity, to learn to love chastely our sister mother earth, to believe in something better that is beyond the hubris of our own ideas of progress, but is hidden in the little mustard seeds of chaste love that are the Kingdom of God planted among us.

A better future does lie 'beyond ourselves' as the Pope says, but it is a 'beyond ourselves' who has identified himself with our joy and struggles in Jesus Christ. His divine humanity is the Kingdom of God, and it is ours to find our own humanity in it.

June 19, 2015

Laudato Si': The Sanctity of Human Life

A sense of deep communion with the rest of nature cannot be real if our hearts lack tenderness, compassion and concern for our fellow human beings. It is clearly inconsistent to combat trafficking in endangered species while remaining completely indifferent to human trafficking, unconcerned about the poor, or undertaking to destroy another human being deemed unwanted.
(91)
Since everything is interrelated, concern for the protection of nature is also incompatible with the justification of abortion. How can we genuinely teach the importance of concern for other vulnerable beings, however troublesome or inconvenient they may be, if we fail to protect a human embryo, even when its presence is uncomfortable and creates difficulties? (120)
On the other hand, it is troubling that, when some ecological movements defend the integrity of the environment, rightly demanding that certain limits be imposed on scientific research, they sometimes fail to apply those same principles to human life. There is a tendency to justify transgressing all boundaries when experimentation is carried out on living human embryos. We forget that the inalienable worth of a human being transcends his or her degree of development. (136)

June 18, 2015

Laudato Si': Holy Poverty

I was fortunate today to have cleared my desk of work by noon, so as to start to read Laudato si' as it was published. I read it quickly and will have to go back and read it again. It's quite a marvelous document. I thought of making a post of my favorite quotes, but now I realize it will take more post than one.

Right at the beginning is the beautiful and clear intuition of St. Francis that is the root of Franciscan sine proprio and holy poverty:
The poverty and austerity of Saint Francis were no mere veneer of asceticism, but something much more radical: a refusal to turn reality into an object simply to be used and controlled. (11) 
 That is Franciscanism. It is the admission that nothing, not a thing or a place or a person or even your own self belongs to you alone. It is a confession that you yourself are not god, are not the center of the universe, and that other persons and things have ends and purposes and joys that are apart from your use or enjoyment of them.

In human relationships, this holy poverty is called chastity. Pope Francis is helping us to see that we need to find together a new chastity toward our sister mother earth.

June 14, 2015

Priestly Ramble

Yesterday was ordination day in my Province at home. Bishop John Corriveau, former General Minister of the Order and now Bishop of Nelson, Canada, was the ordaining prelate. Three brothers were ordained priests. I've been praying for them, that they may be faithful priests of Jesus Christ, configured to the head of his body, the Church, and conformed to his death and Resurrection for the sake of the Church and the world.

June 6, 2015

Why Franciscan?

The other day someone put the question to me: 'why did you become a Franciscan?' I was caught a little off guard. There's no short answer. Indeed, there is an array of 'answers.'

There is grace. The Holy Spirit judged that being a Franciscan friar was the best way to work my salvation and make use of me for the salvation of others. This I believe.

There are moments. There's when I met St. Francis in a history class. There's the week I spent alone in Assisi in 1993. There's the day I came home from a disastrous interview with my diocese and read St. Francis's Testament.

Though there is a lot more to it, I think at the root of my wish to be a Franciscan is that St. Francis provided me with a compelling way to respond to the experience of finding myself a privileged person in a violent world.

I don't think St. Francis was what we would call a pacifist; his response to the violence of his society was more radical. He just decided to have nothing to defend, neither material wealth nor personal capital. He simply opted out of the systems of wealth, power, and privilege. With nothing left to defend, he became free from any temptation of violence or retaliation. This is why a Franciscan, if he is given some kind of capital--the spiritual and sacramental capital of priesthood, for example--he must exercise this power in a very detached fashion, or, as I have suggested elsewhere, in an ironic fashion, that is in such a way as to undermine the systems of worldly domination and subordination. A Franciscan who is attached to any form of prestige has forgotten who he is.

I had some of 'Job's friends' way back when I was struggling with all this. 'Have a normal life and help the poor one weekend a month' someone said. But to me, 'helping the poor' from a position of power and the control of resources was never an answer. Francis didn't help the lepers from the position of his privilege; he 'went among them' and served them. Like Jesus the Servant who washed the feet of his disciples, he set himself below those he served. Helping from above wasn't enough for me; it seemed to me that serving from below was the only way to step outside of, to renounce cooperation with the systems that had left some people poor and other people privileged.

Have I succeeded in living these dreams by being a brother of the Friars Minor Capuchin? Maybe that's another post, and a harder one.

May 29, 2015

Three Years In Italy Post

This morning I begin my fourth year here in Italy. It means I'm half done with my assignment here, at least as it appears on paper. But I probably shouldn't expect to pack up and go home on May 28, 2018. Sometime stuff happens that calls brothers back to their home provinces earlier than expected or on the other hand I could be asked to stay beyond the six years of my original obedience. A little later in that same year we will have a new Minister General, and who knows what that could bring.

There are certainly things that I miss at home, the friars of my Province, friends, CVS, dryers, larger cups of coffee. But Rome has its charms too; there's always a church to visit everywhere you go, you can go to confession any day, any time, the food is nice and so is the climate for about a month twice a year.

I appreciate the community life here too. It's much larger and more diverse than anything I had experienced before. It's also a much more 'regular' life than I ever experienced at home. Common prayers and formal meals are about twice as frequent here as they have been in my experience of religious life in the States. Sometimes I have to take a break from it all, but on the whole I appreciate it and I think it has been good for me. The brothers I have found here are worth appreciating as well. Here in the Curia everybody has his little (or big) job, and basically everybody does his own thing calmly.

Now that we are living in town I have the opportunity to celebrate Mass outside of the house sometimes, either on a Sunday for the Bethlemite Sisters or for a week of weekdays at the Capuchin Sisters of Mother Rubatto. I miss parish life very much in some ways, but in other ways not.

It's a quieter life I live now than any I knew before in my religious life. I discern that in this quiet the Holy Spirit is inviting me to a more contemplative practice and stance. I pray to accept it.

May 28, 2015

The Redefinition of Marriage

I've started versions of this post a couple times. I guess it's part rant, part examination of conscience, and part lament for the trials that await the Catholic faith in our time.

I remember one of the catechetical books I was given when I was taking 'convert instructions.' I don't remember what it was called but I do remember that it was blue. What I remember most from the content was the section on the Church's teaching on artificial contraception and how it had an extra little paragraph that basically apologized for the teaching.

For the world, sexual relationships and openness to the generation of new life are two different things. They are separate and separable. That's why something like same-sex marriage is a no-brainer for the world, and anyone who might be against it can only seem like a bigot. For the world, to use the terms of Humane vitae, the unitive and procreative aspects of sex are readily separable. Sex is something between two people, graced and beautiful, but without any necessary connection to the gift of procreation.

From what I understand--it was before my time--the pastors of the Church didn't do a very good job standing up for Humane vitae. And I put myself with them, in a sense. I've never preached a sermon on artificial contraception. In the context of marriage preparation, did I ever challenge a couple on their cohabitation? No. As a priest, I too have acquiesced to the redefinition of sexuality, the so-called sexual revolution.

When the Church didn't stand up for Humane vitae, that's when sexuality was redefined, not now with same-sex marriage. Same-sex marriage is only possible as an idea given the redefinition of marriage afforded by artificial contraception, that is the redefinition that takes the separation of the unitive and procreative graces as a given.

This is why, and I hate to say it, I don't have much pity for the leaders of our Church on these questions; for it seems to me that they already made the decision to tolerate the redefinition of sexuality a generation and a half ago.

May 25, 2015

The Loving Invitation

Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said to him,
“You are lacking in one thing.
Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor
and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”
At that statement, his face fell,
and he went away sad, for he had many possessions. (Mark 10:21-22)
Jesus loves the man in his desire to do what leads to life, not for what he will do, or not, with the invitation. God invites us to life because he loves us, not so that we may become lovable in his sight.

How many times we 'go away sad' because we did not--or found ourselves unwilling to--respond to a grace of a particular moment, a particular day, a particular struggle. But the invitation remains in the next moment or the next day or the next temptation, for God continues to love the soul that desires life. And we all desire life, however mistaken can be the ways in which we seek to grasp it.

Grace is the love of Jesus Christ formed into the particular contours of divine mercy for our unique and unrepeatable journey.

May 24, 2015

Begotten in the Only Begotten

I always appreciate when St. Irenaeus's Against Heresies comes up in the Office of Readings; it's one of a handful of books given me to read in theology that I think improved my understanding of Christianity in a basic way. The passage given for Pentecost begins this way:
When the Lord told his disciples to go and teach all nations and baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, he conferred on them the power of giving men new life in God.
Reflecting on that, I found myself, as I do sometimes, praying for all of those who have been my spiritual parents along the way.

May 18, 2015

Plenary Indulgence for the Feast of St. Felix of Cantalice

Today is the feast of St. Felix of Cantalice, the first Capuchin friar to be canonized. And this year it's an extra special occasion because we also celebrate the 500th anniversary of his birth. For the occasion, the Apostolic Penitentiary has granted the opportunity for a plenary indulgence, which may be had starting today until May 18, 2016.

The Apostolic Penitentiary, by mandate of our Holy Father Francis, kindly grants a plenary indulgence, under the normal conditions (sacramental confession, Eucharistic communion, and prayer for the intentions of the Supreme Pontiff), to all the faithful who are truly penitent and moved by charity, which may be gained once a day, and is applicable also in suffrage to the souls in Purgatory, each time that, in harmony with the spiritual ends of the Year of Consecrated Life, they participate devoutly at any sacred function or pious exercise in honor of St. Felix of Cantalice, or at least spend some time before his remains or before an image of him and recollect themselves in pious meditation, concluding with an Our Father, the Credo, and the invocation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, of St. Francis, and of St. Felix:

a. in all the churches of the Order and in all places, where pastoral care is entrusted to the Capuchin Order;

b. in the Church of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Rome.

(click to enlarge)


May 17, 2015

Cardinal Burke on Sinful Habits

I've been reading this book of retreat conferences for priests by Cardinal Burke. In one of the conferences on the sacrament of Reconciliation, the Cardinal speaks about certain special situations. The first is vocational discernment and the second is scruples. Here's the third:

"The third situation is that of the person enchained by a sinful habit. In this case the temptation is not the sin in itself, but the first and more fundamental temptation, the temptation to discouragement. Whereas as good pastors of souls we try to help the penitent to discover the roots of this habit and to heal them, we must first of all help him to not fall into discouragement. Once the penitent becomes discouraged, as Satan well knows, he will remain paralyzed and will no longer succeed in carrying on with his battle against sin. Acts of trust in Divine Providence, the intercession of Our Lady, Refugium Peccatorum [refuge of sinners], and recourse to patron saints are all every effective tools against discouragement." (p. 75)

This resonates with my own experience as a sinner and a confessor. If we are afflicted with sinful habit X, often 'stop doing X' is not the best strategy for our spiritual effort. Often it's better to look at the rest of our life apart from X, in order to (1) avoid the occasions of X, and (2) to find the function of X in our life so as to be able to heal the problem at the root.

As the Cardinal points out, the greatest temptation is the discouragement that makes us despair of ever healing our sinful habit. We give up whatever means are given to us to avoid the occasions of sin, we stop trying to let and abandon ourselves to God's Providence and the prayers of Our Lady and our saintly patrons. This is the danger that is usually much more grave than the acts of the sinful habit itself.

May 12, 2015

My Six

I read this morning a startling statistic announced by the Pew Research Center, that for every convert to the Catholic faith, six people abandon her.

I'm a convert to the faith, so apparently I am correlated to six people who have left.

So I decide I need to be praying for my six.

Certainly the Holy Spirit will give all of them occasions to return to the faith; marriage, the birth of a child, the need to bury a loved one, serious illness, etc. I should be there for them with my prayer when these occasions come.

How many of them left because of my bad example? How many because of the sins and crimes of religious and priests? If, having left because they were scandalized by one of us priests, they then commit any sin in malformed conscience, surely God will make us priests accountable for the guilt of such sin. Have we taken seriously the Lord's warning that scandalizing the innocent can result in our damnation? Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. (Mark 9:42) Do we believe in hell?

As a priest, I must pray the Holy Spirit to teach me not only how to begin to do penance for my own sins, but also for the sins any of my six commit because they have abandoned the truth.

How many of my six will one day return as strong and joyful reverts? For this I entrust them to the prayers of Blessed Anthony Neyrot.

May I pray as though God has entrusted to me the spiritual care of my six. Amen.

May 9, 2015

Overeating and Spaciousness

A number of things have come together in the reflection that this post represents: a recent post by long-time internet acquaintance The Crescat, the inspiration from retreat to reread Gerald May's Addiction and Grace, and the potential side effects of a new medication.

As I have written before on this old blog, since about third grade I have had a weight problem. It has been with me to one degree or another ever since.

Recently, with the new medication I mentioned, I am trying to find a new energy to address my overeating. I have also become more and more convinced, especially since I have been here in Italy, that it is a kind of spiritual block for me.

Gerald May suggests, more or less, that the answer to addiction is contemplation. In refusing the addicted behavior, one must accept the emptiness--or 'spaciousness,' in his language--that is left. It is into this spaciousness that contemplation is born. This resonates with me; I think I learned to overeat as a strategy to fill a certain emptiness which was unbearable at the time. But now that I am adult--and even more now that God has granted me the grace of baptism--I believe the Holy Spirit wills to make this spaciousness into contemplation, if only I would try to stop filling it with food.

So I pray that the Lord bless this new inspiration he has conceived in me.

inquietum est cor nostrum, donec requiescat in te.
our heart is restless until it rests in you.
(St. Augustine)

May 3, 2015

Being a Branch

I find today's gospel, that of the vine and the branches from St. John's Last Supper Discourses, so beautiful and encouraging.

I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower. (John 15:1)

Who is the Father? He is one who grows something, someone who cultivates. He plants and cultivates a vine in his creation, the Vine Jesus Christ.

I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing. (John 15:5)

Branches are part of the vine, but one can still make a distinction between the vine and the branches. So it is with us who are baptized into Christ and who renew our union with him in Holy Communion. We remain at the same time the free and discrete beings we were created and members of the mystical Body of Christ.

Branches draw their growth and nourishment from the vine; they grow from the life of the vine. So it is with us in our prayer and our participation in the sacraments. While the vine is the life of the branches, on the other hand the branches are the flourishing of the vine; it is from the branches that the leaves and the fruit come. This is what we branches are called to be--the flourishing of the vine:

By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples. (John 15:8)

The glory of God is our bearing of fruit, through our humanity joined to the sacred humanity of Christ. The fruits of the Holy Spirit are where the glorification of God and human flourishing intersect: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23)

But this is not without its challenges:

He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and everyone that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit. (John 15:2)

If we set out on the journey of letting ourselves to be a branch of the Vine Jesus Christ, we can expect to be pruned. When God finds a soul willing to work, he puts her to work. This pruning is a letting go. A letting go of sins, attachments, and ideas, even ideas of God. The pruning can feel painful because we have become attached to material things and our ways of thinking in disordered ways. This is to say that we try to love them outside of the love of God.The pruning can seem to take away even the person we thought we were, but it has the purpose of revealing the true person that God has created and that God wills to flourish in his her humanity. Our pruning comes first of all through an attentive and prayerful listening to the Word of God, a listening that is ready to be challenged to action and to change:

You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to you. (John 15:3)

It is the Word proclaimed in the assembled Church that prunes us believers, as well as the Word pronounced by Father and breathed out by the Holy Spirit in the interior place of our prayer, that breath that conceives us in the Word, as Christians, members of the Body of Christ.

May 2, 2015

Cantalamessa on Athanasius

Today we had Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa for the conventual Mass. He summed up St. Athanasius's contribution to the faith in three lines:

"The problem wasn't whether Jesus Christ was God; this everyone conceded. Athanasius's contribution was to say that Jesus Christ was not God 'in some sense' but in the strongest and fullest sense that 'God' has in every culture."

April 26, 2015

Looking for a Spiritual Director

The Fourth Sunday of Easter, already. The Sundays of Easter always seem to go faster than those of Lent, no? I appreciate this fourth Sunday because it's now that the great shift of the Easter season comes into focus: with the Sunday of the Good Shepherd we have moved definitively from the simple and bold announcement of the Risen Lord to a celebration of how this Lord remains present to us and with us. Of course this movement comes to its fulfillment at Pentecost, with the Gift Who is the Holy Spirit.

One way the Good Shepherd has been with me in these days is in my search for a spiritual director. Since coming to Rome I have known that a spiritual director was something I wanted to give to myself. In one sense it might seem like something not too difficult; Rome, after all, is lousy with priests and religious. Surely the Holy Spirit could find one of them willing and fitting for this relationship with me.

But the truth is that I have yet to find someone. I have prayed for God to show me the way to someone I might ask, I have made requests and sent letters, and so far I have not arrived at anyone. Right now I have two possibilities that I have followed up on with letters and I pray they have the effect that God wills for me.

According to a worldly logic, it could seem frustrating; an effort with no result. But the truth is that I feel fine with it; it is my faithfulness to the process that matters. I seek a spiritual director because I want to care for and cultivate a spiritual life; while I am seeking that care and cultivation lies partly in the search itself, in my faithfulness to following up on recommendations, to discerning whether some suggestion may be from the Holy Spirit, etc.

In a way it's like prayer itself. Does prayer yield clearer ideas of God? Perhaps not. But it does give us trust in the Mystery even as our entering into it renders it ever more mysterious. Does prayer make clearer the path that God sets out for us, our next steps? Not always. But prayer prepares us to trust the path even when we can see no more than the very next step, and strengthens us to take that step with a certain serenity.

April 19, 2015

A Prayer After Holy Communion

Lord God, may this Holy Communion with the Body and your Blood of your Son be for me true food and true drink (John 6:55) to nourish the person you have created, and to starve and put to death the old man (Ephesians 4:22) with the futile conduct he has learned. (1 Peter 1:18)

May this Holy Communion burn in me with the fire of your Holy Spirit, to conceive me anew as a member of the Body of Christ; may it burn my lips like the coal with which you purified the voice of the prophet Isaiah (6:7) so that I may speak the truth to myself, to those whose journey you make intersect with mine, and to the world.

Let this Holy Communion sink into me as that white stone, inscribed with the new name that no one knows except the one who receives it, (Revelation 2:17) that I may come to know You who call me by name, by the true identity by which I am truly called, and in which is my only real existence, in You, conceived by Your Holy Spirit and reborn in the humanity of Jesus Christ.

April 18, 2015

Prescription for Mass

This is cute to me: our physician gives us Mass intentions from her prescription pad.


April 14, 2015

Prayer for Love

The Easter Octave--that standing still of the first day of the new creation for eight days--has passed, and we enter into the second week of Easter. And with it comes the beginning of the Book of Revelation in the Office of Readings. I always find the letters to the Churches a challenging examination of conscience.

I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name's sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember then from what you have fallen, repent and do the works you did at first. (Revelation 1: 3-4)

Lord, help me to re-member the love I had at first, but give me also the discernment to know the difference between the good desire for that love and the itchy lust of nostalgia for first fervors that can never return. Overshadow me with your Holy Spirit and conceive me anew as a member of the Body of Christ, that I may bear well my own small part of your sacred humanity, buried in the waters of baptism and raised up to new life in your Resurrection. Renew in me the taste for  the "contemplation of divine things and assiduous union with you in prayer" which is the first duty of the consecration you have granted me in your mercy. (Can. 663 §1) May I live my "primary duty of proclaiming the Gospel of God to all." (Vatican II, Decree on Ministry and Life of Priests) Make of me a humble servant of God and a follower of most holy poverty. (Rule, V:4) Above all, grant me the grace of surrendering to the particular and unrepeatable holiness that your tenderness wills for me.

April 12, 2015

Activism and Sobriety in Rome

Next month I will mark three years in Rome. That's half of my assignment, at least as it stands right now on paper. And after these almost three years, I think I may have arrived at my first fully-formed criticism of 'Rome.'

This past week I spent a couple of days interpreting between Italian and English for a small international meeting. The brothers were about preparing a working document for a larger international meeting on the way. Of course the document is written in Italian, and will then have to be translated into the other languages of the participants.

There was a little tension in the meeting regarding the translation of the document from Italian to English. For example, it was said, probably rightly, that the Italian terms attivismo and sobrietà cannot be correctly rendered into English by their obvious cognates, activism and sobriety, respectively, but rather other words that approximate the Italian meanings must be chosen. Approximate. Every translation is a betrayal, of course. Omnis traductor traditor and all that.

All of which got me thinking. If every translation is a betrayal to one degree or another, as indeed they are, and it is just such misunderstandings and failures in communication that lead people to reject documents that come from 'Rome,' why would a Roman institution (like the General Curia of the Friars Minor Capuchin, for example) insist on using as its base language a language that is very small in terms of general international use and increasingly small in the international use of the Church, namely Italian, and thereby multiply such opportunities for misunderstanding and miscommunication in translation? In other words, according to Wikipedia for example, Italian is the twenty-fifth most spoken language in the world. Is it thus the best choice for the base language of documents for an international organization?

In this I see what must have been the powerful utility of Latin. Why not make Latin the base, working language again? Why shouldn't the international working language be a challenge that unites instead of a small property that insists upon the pitfalls of translation? Yes, translation would still have to be made back at home. But at least the document in the 'typical edition' would be in a language that was nobody's property in particular.

I remember one eminent friar saying that back when international meetings themselves were conducted in Latin, they took much less time, because friars only said what they really needed to say. Everyone likes shorter meetings. And they're cheaper too.

And if Latin is too radical a proposition, sending religious and priests as it does into anaphylaxis, why not make English the base, working language, as many other international organizations have done? At least then the 'typical edition' of documents would be in the single largest language group with regard to the constituency.

All of this is why, when I'm General Minister (may God forbid it!), the working language of the General Curia will be English and the liturgical language will be Latin, which is after all the ordinary language of the liturgy anyway (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 36.1) That way, respectively, the inevitable misunderstandings in communication are minimized, and the language of the liturgy becomes nobody's property, but a challenge that can be shared by all.

March 28, 2015

Finding Ourselves

Gregory of Nazianzus is beautiful in the Office of Readings today:
If you are a Simon of Cyrene, take up your cross and follow Christ. If you are crucified beside him like one of the thieves, now, like the good thief, acknowledge your God. For your sake, and because of your sin, Christ himself was regarded as a sinner; for his sake, therefore, you must cease to sin. Worship him who was hung on the cross because of you, even if you are hanging there yourself. Derive some benefit from the very shame; purchase salvation with your death. Enter paradise with Jesus, and discover how far you have fallen. Contemplate the glories there, and leave the other scoffing thief to die outside in his blasphemy. 
If you are a Joseph of Arimathea, go to the one who ordered his crucifixion, and ask for Christ’s body. Make your own the expiation for the sins of the whole world. If you are a Nicodemus, like the man who worshipped God by night, bring spices and prepare Christ’s body for burial. If you are one of the Marys, or Salome, or Joanna, weep in the early morning. Be the first to see the stone rolled back, and even the angels perhaps, and Jesus himself.
The journey in the Spirit is all about finding ourselves in the mystery; entering into the whole Mystery of Jesus Christ--his birth, life, teaching, suffering, death, and resurrection--and within it finding our own truest humanity, the selves that are created by God, letting go of the masks that we wear in our fear and the miserable habits we have learned in our error, both of which we have come to confuse with 'myself.'

We confess easily enough that Jesus Christ reveals the Father, but we must also remember that in him is also revealed created humanity and in that humanity, who we really are.

March 22, 2015

Salvation

The mini-season of Passiontide isn't explicit in the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite, but it is there. On the Fifth Sunday of Lent the readings for Mass shift toward the Passion. The Letter to the Hebrews, with its emphasis on sacrifice and the priesthood of Jesus Christ, begins in the Office of Readings.

Hebrews 2:3 caught my reflection this morning.

how shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation?

For the 'ignore' that the New American Bible offers, the Italian breviary has the verb trascurare, a word I have used in confession for something I have neglected or overlooked, something I ought to have done but have not. The original verb is ameleó, which the dictionary tells me means 'to neglect' or 'to disregard.'

How shall we escape if we disregard so great a salvation?

I am grateful to be reminded today that the salvation we have in Jesus Christ is something that is ours to neglect or disregard. That is to say it is not something that is ours to obtain or attain to. It is freely lavished on our humanity through the humanity of Christ, if only we surrender to it and consent to receive it.

Of course, given our attachments and our concupiscence, this is not as easy as it seems. It is furthermore not so easy because it is a consent and a surrender that must be made each day, and will also include the suffering of giving ourselves for the sake of the salvation in Christ of others, those God gives to us in our lives, and of the poor. Without becoming a vehicle for salvation, we have not been saved. This is the mystery of the Cross as it takes shape in the journey of each baptized person, and without the Cross there is no Resurrection.

March 19, 2015

Feast of St. Joseph

It's the feast of my confirmation saint and special patron.

The solemnity of St. Joseph, husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who, a just man, coming from the stock of David, was in loco parentis for Jesus Christ the Son of God, who willed to be called the son of Joseph and was obedient to him as a son to a father. The Church honors him as a special patron, whom God established at the head of his family. (Roman Martyrology)

Pray for us!

March 15, 2015

Get Up, Lazy

Just some thoughts for Laetare Sunday. Rejoice, Jerusalem, and come together, all you who love her.

If we haven't done so well with Lent so far, St. Augustine, in the Office of Readings today, reminds us that there is still time:

Get up, lazy! The Way himself has come to you and roused you from sleep; if then you have been roused, get up and walk.

We still have time to make something of our Lent. On this day especially we remember that rejoicing in the Lord is our strength. (Nehemiah 8:10)

The end of the second reading at Mass (if we're using Year B) from Ephesians also comes to our help in this regard, reminding us that the good works of our Lent are not our own:

For we are his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the good works that God has prepared in advance, that we should live in them. (Ephesians 2:10)

The 'good works' have been prepared in advance. And what is this? It is the one good work that is the passing of Jesus Christ from death to life. In Holy Communion we receive this Passover of the Lord into our bodies and into our lives. The passage from the misery of sin that we have insisted upon for ourselves and one another to the life of the new creation has come to make a dwelling in us and its power has become available to us, that we may be transformed in it and surrender to God's work of transforming the world through us as members of Christ's Resurrected Body.

This is what it means for us to be the Church of God, that we may we live in the work of salvation God has prepared and accomplished in Jesus Christ.

March 9, 2015

Aggiornamento

From the Philokalia:

The fathers ... kept the commandments; their successors wrote them down; but we have placed their books on the shelves.

Overheard on retreat:

In the old days, when a friar arrived at a friary for the first time, the first thing he asked was, 'where's the chapel?' Then it was, 'where's the refectory?' Now it's, 'what's the password for the wifi?

March 7, 2015

Theses on the Parable of the Lost Son

(Luke 15: 11-32)

Those who deny, ignore, or hate God are still happy to make use of the good things he has given them. In fact, we all fall into this error because we have all made use of or enjoyed created things without putting them in their proper context as things created by God. And this is what we call sin.

Sin is a sort of death. Repentance is a participation in the Resurrection.

We tend to think of repentance as a returning to God, but it is more properly a 'coming to our senses,' a 'coming back to ourselves' that puts us back in touch with our most real and best selves, the selves that recognize the God who is always arriving in order to meet us.

The confession of the sins that have separated us from God's embrace is only of interest to him insofar as it is the means by which we accept that embrace anew.

It is just as easy for 'religious' people to lose their sense of God's goodness as it is for 'sinners.' Perhaps it's even easier in some cases. This is because righteous people easily forget that they are just as much sinners as are the 'sinners,' because all sin is overwhelmingly offensive before the infinite loving-kindness of God. It is also because righteous people sometimes don't recognize--and confess--how much of their religion is of the flesh. Helpfully, however, this latter condition is revealed by the emotion of resentment that arises at the gifts God gives to another, and in this it can be recognized and perhaps mortified.

March 2, 2015

The Breadth of Obedience

I just think this is a remarkable passage and so I wanted to post it:
Whatever good a brother may do with a right intention and on his own initiative is also true obedience when he knows that this is not contrary to the will of the superior or detrimental to brotherly unity. (Capuchin Constitutions, 166, 2)
It calls St. Francis himself to mind:
In whatever way it seems better to you to please the Lord God and to follow his footprint and poverty, do it with the blessing of the Lord God and my obedience. (Letter to Brother Leo)

February 27, 2015

Fraternity and Sacrifice

So if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come back and offer your gift. (Matthew 5: 23-24)

Positively, we can say that it is living in a reconciled, fraternal way that makes us fit to offer sacrifice to God.

But the relation between the two things is even tighter than this. For what do we offer when we are at Mass but our own desire and efforts and loving our brothers and sisters and the sacrifices we make for them, uniting our own sacrifices to the one Sacrifice of the Lord?

In fact, everything that comes from the desire--itself a gift of grace--to be reconciled to our brother or sister is itself a sacrifice acceptable to God, an imitation of the Lord himself who allows himself to be tortured and killed that the world should be reconciled to God.

St. Francis is a model and pattern in this. For it is the same Francis who called the group that gathered around him a fraternitas as it was who adored Jesus Christ poor and crucified. His genius is the realization, in his life, that the two things must go together. Indeed, in communion with God in Christ, they become the same thing.

February 26, 2015

From My Confessor: Perfection

You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48)

"What, then, is the perfection the Lord asks of us? Does it mean that all of our intentions become utterly pure and that we should become totally free of temptation? No. We are to be perfect in our turning to God, in our reliance on his mercy."

February 23, 2015

Ash Sunday

Now far be it from me to be a liturgical innovator, but yesterday I celebrated the Mass of a liturgical day previously unknown in the tradition of the Roman Rite, the Mass of Ash Sunday.

Here's how it happened.

It was my turn to go and celebrate at the chapel of a certain group of sisters. I am very grateful for my turns when they come around. The folks who come to the Mass there are of a certain age, and it reminds me a little bit of when I used to go for Mass at Monastery Manor and Finian Sullivan Tower back in Yonkers.

While I was setting up for Mass, Sr. Sacristan asked me if I would be willing to impose ashes for anyone who had missed out on Ash Wednesday. Sister had saved a little bowl of ashes just for this possibility. Now back in the parish I would probably have said no to such irregularity, but at this place I'm a guest, I can see that some of the people (being of a certain age, as I said) have mobility issues, and I know how big a deal it can be for people to 'get their ashes.'

So I imagined that at the end of the Mass I would make an announcement, inviting anyone who had not received their ashes on Ash Wednesday to stick around a moment, whereupon I would go to the sacristy and put aside the chasuble so as to mark this extraordinary ash imposition as something apart from the Mass of the First Sunday of Lent.

It didn't happen that way.

As soon as the Liturgy of the Word was completed with the presidential prayer at the end of the Universal Prayer, Sr. Sacristan came up the aisle with the ashes in order to remind me of what I had agreed to do. So there it was. I turned to the assembly and said that if there was anyone who had not received ashes on Ash Wednesday, I could impose them now. One person got up, then a few more, and after another moment the whole assembly was in line for ashes (except for the two or three sisters.)

When I concluded the imposition of Ashes for Ash Sunday, I went to the sacristy and washed my hands (which is much easier with the dry ashes they use in Italy, as opposed to the ash and water paste commonly used in the States) and then went to the altar to continue with the offertory of what had been the First Sunday of Lent.

February 18, 2015

Ash Wednesday Confession

After Morning Prayer, Office of Readings, Mass, and hanging up some laundry on the roof to dry, I make it to the office and add an #ashtag column to my Tweetdeck, just for the day, so I can pray for everyone who uses it and share in the hope and promise of Ash Wednesday.

And as I start to see the faces with their ashes, it makes me think of the cross that Deacon Ron traced on my own forehead on the day of my baptism, and how necrotic I have let it become, Lord.

How little have I reached up to Heaven, entrusting myself to the prayers, protection, and example of Our Lady and the saints, knowing and taking courage from my membership in a sacred communion that overcomes the limits of time and space.

How little have I taken and still less have I sought the opportunities to be your own compassion to those who suffer because of my sins and the sins of the world, knowing that in charity and forgetfulness of self lies the freedom from the tyranny of this self that doesn't realize he was drowned in the Jordan.

How much of what I have called discipleship or a spiritual life has really been the work of a fleshly religion, an effort to make myself just and acceptable before God, as if our Father in Heaven were an earthly parent who love was conditional, as if I had not been baptized into your sacred humanity, Lord Jesus, a humanity with which the Father is "well pleased," (Mark 1:11), as if your Passion, death, and Resurrection had not delivered us from such a religion, from self-justification by works of the law, from wearing our human righteousness like a badge that marks as just and saved.

How little have I truly turned my life over to you Lord, preferring instead of rotten luxury of my own will. As long as my poverty is mine, I have not become poor, I have not followed in your footprint.

And yet you, Lord, have continued to hold me in your mercy, have continued to invite me to the salvation you are always working for me. Grant me the willingness to turn myself over to you, to find myself only in your love and your will. Grant me the surrender to sink into the grace of my baptism.

February 17, 2015

Pope Francis: Message for Lent 2015

In order to receive what God gives us and to make it bear abundant fruit, we need to press beyond the boundaries of the visible Church in two ways.

In the first place, by uniting ourselves in prayer with the Church in heaven. The prayers of the Church on earth establish a communion of mutual service and goodness which reaches up into the sight of God. Together with the saints who have found their fulfillment in God, we form part of that communion in which indifference is conquered by love. The Church in heaven is not triumphant because she has turned her back on the sufferings of the world and rejoices in splendid isolation. Rather, the saints already joyfully contemplate the fact that, through Jesus’ death and resurrection, they have triumphed once and for all over indifference, hardness of heart and hatred. Until this victory of love penetrates the whole world, the saints continue to accompany us on our pilgrim way.

[...]

In the second place, every Christian community is called to go out of itself and to be engaged in the life of the greater society of which it is a part, especially with the poor and those who are far away. The Church is missionary by her very nature; she is not self-enclosed but sent out to every nation and people.

Her mission is to bear patient witness to the One who desires to draw all creation and every man and woman to the Father. Her mission is to bring to all a love which cannot remain silent. The Church follows Jesus Christ along the paths that lead to every man and woman, to the very ends of the earth (cf. Acts 1:8). In each of our neighbours, then, we must see a brother or sister for whom Christ died and rose again. What we ourselves have received, we have received for them as well. Similarly, all that our brothers and sisters possess is a gift for the Church and for all humanity.

Read the whole message here.

February 13, 2015

Spiritual Life

Spiritual life is a funny business.

It's less about getting something than letting go of everything.

It's less about getting somewhere than awakening to the truth that you are arriving at blessedness in this very moment.

It's less about accomplishing anything than letting go of what you always took to be your agency and your individuality, the following of which has always led you into misery and isolation.

It's less about doing something than surrendering to Someone.

And there's always an invitation to a more profound and more complete surrender, new surrenderings that at first seem overwhelming, then become possible by the grace of willingness, and finally reveal themselves as who we always were, though we were asleep to it.

February 4, 2015

Why do Penance?

Brothers and sisters: in your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood. (Hebrews 12:4)

Nevertheless, we practice penance now, so that we might learn the fortitude that will serve us well should God some day judge us worthy of the opportunity.

January 23, 2015

The Basics

For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

I believe in God, the Father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. (Apostles Creed)

The first and foremost duty of all religious is to be the contemplation of divine things and assiduous union with God in prayer. (Can. 663 §1)

The rule and life of the Lesser Brothers is this: to observe the holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ by living in obedience, without anything of one’s own, and in chastity. (the Rule)

Priests, as co-workers with their bishops, have the primary duty of proclaiming the Gospel of God to all. (Vatican II, Decree on Ministry and Life of Priests)

January 20, 2015

Correction

Once in a while in my wish to live a spiritual life I have wandered into a dead end or a blind alley. Usually it involves the wrong use of religion. I seek to do something appealingly religious while not paying attention what grace may be really inviting me to do or look at, which may be something less appealing on the surface, that is, to the flesh.

These moments have been very helpful and instructive for me, for they both warn me about my capacity to use religion poorly and leave me better able to discern. In this sense they are missteps that become gifts of grace, for through them God helps me grow in awareness and in the ability to see better what I am supposed to attend to.

Reflecting on a conversation with a confessor the other day, it became clear to me that my 'observance' of the Lent of Benediction was one of these moments. This is not to say that the blessing of God through the intercession of St. Francis isn't upon the friars who observe this 'Lent' according to the Rule we have promised, but that in my case, at this moment, what I imagined to be an inspiration to observe this 'Lent' was really a way to avoid paying attention to what grace is really inviting me to at this particular moment in my story.

The journey on which being a disciple of the Lord sets us is not always so easy and nor is it even pleasant insofar as we have not been delivered from our addiction to comfort and easy consolations. It is all too easy--and indeed the world invites us to this constantly--to self-medicate rather than seek the true health that is our salvation. And religion can be one of these false medications as much as any other created thing that the flesh can learn how to use wrongly.

And so I gratefully let go and try to begin again to be attentive to what grace invites.
Untie my hands and deliver my heart from sloth. Set me free from the laziness that goes about disguised as activity when activity is not required of me, and from the cowardice that does what is not demanded, in order to escape sacrifice. (Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation, 45)

January 9, 2015

RIP: Fr. Joel Daniels, OFM Cap.

I got to know Fr. Joel when I was in the parish and he moved into the adjacent senior friars' residence. I found in him a sort of kindred spirit on a certain level. Since he was typically easy to find and very willing, for a while I adopted him as a confessor. He didn't care for visitors in his room, so he would come to my room to hear my confession. All I had to do was lay out my purple stole for him. Fr. Joel was the source of this 'From my Confessor' post. He was also my first confessor to use the longer post-absolution prayer:
May the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ, the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary and of all the saints, whatever good you do and suffering you endure, heal your sins, help you to grow in holiness, and reward you with eternal life. Go in peace.
I love that prayer. The Irish OFM at the Lateran, to whom I go sometimes these days, also uses it.

Fr. Joel once told me how he got permission to go away to study counseling. The pastor of the parish where he was went away for a week, and asked Fr. Joel to look after a certain parishioner. During the week, she had a mental breakdown. When the pastor (who was also the religious superior) returned, Joel pointed this out as evidence that he needed training in counseling.

One time in the middle of the night there was a knock on my door. It was Fr. Joel. He was concerned about a very elderly friar. He had overheard this friar asking for me late at night but then had also heard his health aide tell him that it was too late to call Fr. Charles, that he should go to sleep, and that they could call Fr. Charles in the morning. Fr. Joel was concerned that perhaps this friar knew he was near death and wanted me to hear his confession. So down I went to the elderly friar's room, where he was half asleep and recognized me right away. Oh good, he said, it's you, Charles. He then went on to tell me that he wasn't feeling well and asked if I could open the church for him in the morning and take the morning Mass. Now this friar's days of opening churches and taking morning Masses had long since passed into history, but even in the partial confusion of his old mind, he was still a solicitous pastor of souls. I said that I would be happy to cover for him in the morning so he could rest. I went back to my room fairly pleased with myself, having relieved the anxiety of two of my senior brothers with one little nocturnal visit.

Read Fr. Joel's obituary here.

Requiescat in pace.

January 7, 2015

Lent of Benediction

Thinking to write this post, a quick search revealed that my confrere Br. Anthony had already written it, more or less. So, with my apologies, I write my own version.

From the Rule of the Friars Minor:
Let them fast from the feast of All Saints until the Lord’s Nativity. May those be blessed by the Lord [Latin: benedicti sint a Domino] who fast voluntarily during that holy Lent that begins at the Epiphany and lasts during the forty days which our Lord consecrated by His own fast; but those who do not wish to keep it will not be obliged. Let them fast, however, during the other [Lent] until the Lord’s Resurrection. (III: 5-7)
It strikes me that in my years as a Franciscan it has never occurred to me to seek this blessing from the Lord that St. Francis promises to the brothers who observe this other "Lent."

Here's what the Capuchin Constitutions have to say about it:
Christ the Lord, having been sent by his Father and led by the Holy Spirit, fasted in the desert for forty days and forty nights. 
His disciple, Saint Francis, burning with the desire to imitate the Lord, also spent his life in fasting and prayer. 
We, too, therefore, practice fasting, prayer and works of mercy, which lead us to inner freedom and open us to love for God and neighbor. 
The season of Advent and, above all, the Lent before Easter, as well as every Friday, are for us times of more intense private and communal penance. 
In addition, the “Lent of Benediction”, as it is called, which begins at the Epiphany, and the vigils of the solemnities of Saint Francis and of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary are recommended. 
On these days, let us apply ourselves more eagerly to those works which foster conversion: prayer, recollection, listening to the word of God, bodily mortification and communal fasting. In a brotherly spirit, let us share with other poor people that which comes to us from the table of the Lord because of our greater frugality. Let us also perform works of mercy more fervently in keeping with our traditional custom. (111, 1-6)
I have decided upon some practices for observing this other "Lent." I hope they are inspired. Looking at the calendar I realize that to make forty days I have to include Sundays (unlike in the season of Lent) in order for my "Lent of Benediction" to conclude before the season of Lent begins. So if I begin the "Lent of Benediction" today (which is the day after Epiphany here in Italy), and include the Sundays, the last day will be February 15. That leaves two days for carnevale before Ash Wednesday on the 18. Thus may I seek the blessing of the Lord!