December 16, 2016

Resting Like A Bundle of Myrrh

Back on the feast of All Franciscan Saints, long-time internet friend and sometime fellow American in Rome Fr. Daren J. Zehnle tweeted this lovely image of some of said saints from St. Francis of Assisi church in Teutopolis, Illinois:


(It looks like a nice parish by the way. See their website here.)

That's St. Bonaventure, of course, to Our Lady's left. You can tell because of his red cardinal's hat, which he has rightly doffed in such heavenly company and deposited on his little cloud. So right away I wanted to know what his book says. You couldn't quite make it out in the photo, though you can tell that it says something. So I asked Fr. Daren to find out, and now he has come back with a closer photo, in which you can see that it says crucifixus.


Now I was intrigued. Certainly St. Bonaventure speaks often enough of the crucified, but usually--at least in my memory--in a declined form. I couldn't remember any instance of it in the nominative, as in the book in the picture.

But sure enough a little searching surfaced what must be the page of the book Bonaventure is holding open. It's from chapter nine of the Major Legend of St. Francis, on Francis's "ardor of charity and desire for martyrdom."

Christus Iesus crucifixus intra suae mentis ubera ut myrrhae fasciculus iugiter morabatur in quem optabat per excessivi amoris incendium totaliter transformari.

"Jesus Christ crucified always rested like a bundle of myrrh in the bosom of [St. Francis's] soul, into Whom he longed to be totally transformed through an enkindling of ecstatic love."

(FA:ED II: 597, cf. Song of Songs 1:13)

December 5, 2016

Cooperatores veritatis

Today I finished Last Testament: In His Own Words. To be honest, I didn't find it as interesting as Seewald's other interview books, but if you appreciate Benedict XVI very much, as I do, you will enjoy it. Particularly interesting is the material about Joseph Ratzinger's younger life, especially the time around the Second World War.

November 19, 2016

Priestly Vocations Ramble/Rant



That tweet is from the other day. Given responses, it seems to have hit some particular nail on the head. In thinking about it I decided it needed some follow-up for fairness sake.

November 7, 2016

All Franciscan Souls Ramble

On Saturday, in the Mass I celebrated with the Capuchin Sisters of Mother Rubatto and in the Liturgy of the Hours here at home, we had the Commemoration of all the Franciscan Faithful Departed, or All Franciscan or All Seraphic Souls.

Sister Death presides over the friars' cemetery, Yonkers, New York

I like how we Franciscans have our own All Souls Day. It's like a family thing; just as in a family folks might take care to have Masses celebrated for their dear departed, so we Franciscans have a liturgical day for ours. I forget how we do it at home in the USA, but here in Italy this day always gets scheduled for the first totally free liturgical day after November 2. So this year, having duly celebrated the days for Martin de Porres and Charles Borromeo, it was this past Saturday.

The gospel for the Mass was from St. John.

November 1, 2016

Catholicity

The feast of All Saints today and the commemoration of All Souls tomorrow are perfect opportunities to recall to ourselves the catholicity of the Church. We are members of the Catholic Church, practitioners of Catholic Christianity. Catholic is a Greek word that simply means general or universal. The Church is ‘universal’ or ‘general’ in many ways. In one sense the Church is universal because it extends over the whole earth. There’s even a Catholic chapel in Antarctica; it’s dedicated to St. Francis by the way. The moon, it’s already been decided, is part of the diocese of Rome, in case you were thinking of making a visit and were wondering who your bishop might be. The Church is also universal because it extends until the end of time. But most of all, the Church is universal and catholic because it passes beyond the boundaries of time and space to include both heaven and earth.

This teaching on the catholicity of the church comes to us in the classic language of the Church Triumphant, the Church Militant, and the Church Suffering or Expectant. The Church Triumphant is the Church we honor today on All Saints’ Day: those Christians who have completed their journey and enjoy the vision of God in heaven. We who make up the Church on earth are classically called the Church Militant; “militant” in the sense that we are in the midst of the struggle with sin and the work of ushering in the fullness of the Kingdom of God.

October 31, 2016

Vatican II Speaks To The Election

Maybe like a lot of people, I find the choices for the next president of the USA disappointing. Even if I had bothered to ask for an absentee ballot--I'm registered at home in a very blue state and so I didn't think it mattered much--I don't know if I could vote for either of them.

October 27, 2016

The Dashboard Clock Changing Difficulty

This weekend the clocks turn back here in Italy. Here they call Standard Time and Daylight Savings Time ora solare and ora legale, respectively. 'Solar time' and 'legal time.' The change in the fall is a week before that in the USA. Not that this affects me much, but I do notice that regularly expected emails start to arrive at different times, and I have to remember the difference when tuning into radio programs from home. In the spring the difference is two weeks.

So I was reminded of a cute story. One of the senior friars would go through some stress twice a year because he could never remember how to change the time on his watch. It was of the inexpensive, digital variety. Brethren were consulted, manuals were searched for online, etc., and eventually the biannual crisis would be resolved.

So one time I suggested to him, given that his watch was of a very inexpensive kind, why didn't he just get another one. He could set one to EST and the other to DST, and then twice a year he would only have to switch watches.

The friar seemed to appreciate the solution. But then he raised the following objection:

"But next I will need two cars."

October 15, 2016

Lazy Capuchin Friars

One of the brethren brought to my attention this excerpt from William Dean Howells's Venetian Life.
The islands near Venice are all small, except the Giudecca (which is properly a part of the city), the Lido, and Murano. The Giudecca, from being anciently the bounds in which certain factious nobles were confined, was later laid out in pleasure-gardens, and built up with summer-palaces. The gardens still remain to some extent; but they are now chiefly turned to practical account in raising vegetables and fruits for the Venetian market, and the palaces have been converted into warehouses and factories. This island produces a variety of beggar, the most truculent and tenacious in all Venice, and it has a convent of lazy Capuchin friars, who are likewise beggars. To them belongs the church of the Redentore, which only the Madonnas of Bellini in the sacristy make worthy to be seen.

October 14, 2016

The Beard From Head To Heart

Recently I was in an email conversation about an occasional topic on this blog, Capuchin beards and Capuchin beard-growing.

One of the participants offered a link to an interesting Jewish take on the spiritual meaning of beard-growing. Rabbi Aron Moss writes:
One of the greatest struggles in life is to live up to our ideals. ... Between theory and practice there is a huge gulf. It is one thing to have good intentions, but that is far from actually doing good. ... This is what the beard represents. The beard is hair that grows down from the head to the rest of the body. It is the bridge between mind and heart, thoughts and actions, theory and practice, good intentions and good deeds.
Read the whole thing here.

When I was a kid the Chabad-Lubavitchers had a van that they would park in town in order to attract unobservant Jews and therein convert them. People called it the 'Mitzvah Tank.'

October 1, 2016

Quid Pro Quo

On a Saturday morning one of the General Councilors of the Order was mopping his room. As I passed in the hallway, he remarked that in the olden days the General Definitors (as they were until recently called) would bring along to Rome a brother famulus to assist them with such things.

As I thought upon this as I started to clean my own room--it is a duty explicitly defined by the Statutes of the General Curia and customarily fulfilled on a Saturday--I began to wonder if it wasn't because the Church has largely abandoned the Roman Canon (e.g. Eucharistic Prayer I), and so no longer prays pro famulis, that the brothers were no longer found ready to be famuli.

One gives himself to obedience for the sake of some spiritual benefit, of course. And if the spiritual benefit disappears, what use is the obedience?

September 26, 2016

Rant Follow Up

I received a couple of bits of salutary feedback on yesterday's post; I won't say 'fraternal correction,' just fraternal thoughts.

Though we can't always agree with or support certain choices of our brothers and sisters in religious life--or in the faith, for that matter--we can try to understand them and of course we are commanded by the Lord to love them. Probably just as many us around my age find some of the choices of our fathers and mothers in religious life hard to understand, so probably they found their spiritual forebears difficult as well. And probably when I get even older there will be younger friars who think I'm crazy and that my priorities are out of order.

To one degree or another, we are all conditioned by our experience and our historical moment in the world and in the Church as she exists in time (the Church Militant, if the traditional term is still retrievable), and this can have a great effect on the particular things we care about as well as our blind spots. I know well enough that there are aspects of the religious life at which I don't excel because of my deficits and the injuries of my own story.

I am proud of my resistance to the abuse of the liturgy and my unwillingness to participate in it. Once or twice I have had the happy occasion to suffer humiliation for it. But this doesn't mean I don't love or perhaps very much respect my brother. I understand that our choices arise in part from the complex places we come from. And I am grateful for all the ways I am sure that the brothers make similar allowances for me in the areas where my religious life is deficient and less than coherent.

September 25, 2016

(Franciscan) Liturgical Abuse Rant

Recently I've had some occasions to think about liturgical abuse.

Some of it, I think, is just pride and vainglory on the part of clergy. I need to do things my way. I need to get my theological or, horribile dictu, political tagline or slogan into the Mass, etc. But like most expressions of clerical vainglory and pride, these are often more laughable than dangerous.

But there's another form of liturgical abuse I've encountered in my Catholic life, in certain religious houses, schools, and parishes. It's the liturgical abuse that derives from the intuition that the liturgy as the Church presents it does not properly express who we are as a community, and therefore has to be adjusted or changed to fit our needs and identity.

Perhaps my experience of life as a Franciscan friar provides an example.

September 1, 2016

All Seraphic Saints Friary

Religious houses are usually named for some heavenly patronage, either a saint or some mystery of the faith. For example, the first friary I ever lived in was the former Holy Cross Friary on Soundview Ave. in the Bronx. Right now I'm taking some vacation while staying at St. Francis of Assisi Friary, the second house to bear that title during my time in my Province of the Capuchins.

Somewhat strangely, the house where I am assigned now, in which resides the fraternity of the Capuchin General Curia, did not seem to have such a patron. It was just 'the General Curia' or, in the habit of religious to call places by their earthly location rather than by their heavenly patron, 'Via Piemonte.'

Well today we have received a letter from the General Minister in which he decrees a remedy for this situation. The house is to be dedicated to All Seraphic Saints, with the corresponding titular feast day of November 29.

August 29, 2016

Twenty-Four Years of Brothers and Sisters

[an old post, updated]

Today is my twenty-fourth anniversary of baptism. I don't think I had any idea what I was getting into that Saturday midday when I walked up out of the basement of Freeman Hall at Connecticut College, made my way out the Williams St. gate and went down to Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Quaker Hill. Perhaps it's part of the mercy of God that I had little idea. In any case, the Holy Spirit knew what he was doing and that's what matters.

As always, this anniversary reminds me to thank God and pray for all the people he has given me along the way, those who have been bearers of the graces God has willed in his generosity towards a lukewarm disciple like myself.

August 12, 2016

The Forms of Charity

This week I've been staying at our place in Yonkers, New York. For reading I took from the library their copy of John of Meerle's Seraphic Spirit and Life, which is a beautiful old book of Capuchin-Franciscan wisdom and spirituality.

I thought I would share this passage on the different expressions of charity:
When therefore charity is directed to God, it called love of God, when towards our neighbor, it is love of one's neighbor; if it shares in the afflictions of others, it is called compassion, when it shares the good fortune of others, it is congratulatory love; if charity is patient in adversity, it is called patience, if it renders good for evil, it is benevolence, if it is not proud and does not exalt itself above others, it is humility, if it yields to authority as is becoming, is is obedience, if it moderates and restricts the requirements of the body it is temperance, if it abhors whatever is licentious, it is chastity; by renouncing the things of this world it becomes the spirit of poverty, by distributing riches to the poor it becomes generosity, by making us wait courageously and without annoyance for a promised good it is longanimity; when making us discern carefully between what is good and what is better, or between bad and worse, it is called prudence, when keeping us from excess in delectation or pleasure it is moderation, when preventing us from being cast down by difficulties it is strength, when we believe what is to be believed it is faith, if we confidently expect what faith promises it is hope. (p. 117-118)

July 27, 2016

Fr. Jacques Hamel

Of course we find ourselves yesterday and today praying for Fr. Jacques, for his eternal rest and in thanksgiving for his vocation and ministry and for the eternal reward of his labors and witness. Nor do we forget to pray for the other hostage who was hurt. And we pray for the men who murdered Fr. Jacques, that they may find the rest that perhaps they didn't know in this life, that they may find  a truer face of the merciful God than perhaps they had known.

Fr. Jacques would have begun the Mass, leading the people in the prayer of the Sacrifice as he had done thousands of times before. Could he have known as he did so on a proverbially plain Tuesday of Ordinary Time that he would be brutally murdered before it was over? And yet everything I've read about him says that he had lived as to prepare for such a moment, in generosity and priestly dedication.

We all have this call before us. In this world, increasing hostile to the God revealed in Jesus Christ, there will be more martyrs in the traditional sense. But all of us who are believers will face some kind of martyrdom, some invitation to suffer, to be limited, cut short or cut out for the sake of the Gospel, whether by those committed to religion that doesn't realize it has been delivered from the blood-drinking gods of human invention by the Sacrifice of Jesus Christ or by those whose secularism becomes intolerant and dogmatic--as it must, for it has nothing to stand on but its self-referential insistence on its own truth, even as it often denies that there is even such a thing as 'truth.'

It is our task to be prepared for this moment, that we also may be found faithful. The Lord himself invites us to witness. The world needs it desperately, for it has no idea how to respond to the violence. It has no idea how to respond because it has lost any place from which to speak or reason, any foundation on which to stand. That foundation, that place to begin, can only be the living God, the self-emptying God revealed in Jesus Christ, and the more the world forgets him, its own Creator, Source, and Ground, the more God himself will look for martyrs.

July 23, 2016

Latin Doubts Changing World Ramble

There are those who like to think that liturgical Latin has been making comeback. Not that it needs to of course; as goes the oft quoted section 36 of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of Vatican II, Linguae latinae usus, salvo particulari iure, in Ritibus latinis servetur. "Particular law remaining in force, the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites."

Recent experience has made me doubt, however.

July 18, 2016

Prayer Ramble Lament for the World

In these days I have been mourning with the world. So many attacks, so many murders.

When I first came to Rome you could walk right into three out of the four major basilicas in Rome: the Lateran, St. Mary Major, and St. Paul's. And I did so, pretty often. Since the attacks in Paris last year, you have to go through security. It's a reminder of the world we live in and those who have been murdered in it.

How do I pray? What is my lament to God?

July 16, 2016

The Franciscan Theology of Fundraising

The Franciscan traditions provides Franciscan friars with a simple and robust theology of fundraising.

Thomas of Celano, the first biographer of St. Francis, records his words:

"There is a contract between the world and the brothers: the brothers must give the world a good example, the world must provide for their needs. When they break faith and withdraw good example, the world will withdraw its hand in just censure."

(Remembrance of the Desire of a Soul / 2nd Life of St. Francis, XL/86:4, trans. Placid Hermann, OFM)

July 15, 2016

Feast of St. Bonaventure

By gift or blessed coincidence, my turn to preside at the community Mass fell on today, the feast of our Seraphic Doctor St. Bonaventure.

I had some time to spend with him, so I returned to some texts and thought about what I might give for a homily. In the end I landed on Bonaventure's account of St. Francis descending the mountain after the experience of the stigmata:
After true love for Christ transformed the lover into his image, when the forty days were over that he spent in solitude as he had desired, and the feast of St. Michael the Archangel had also arrived, the angelic man Francis came down from the mountain, bearing with him the likeness of the crucified, depicted not on tablets of stone or on panels of wood carved by hand, but engraved on parts of his flesh by the finger of the living God. (Major Legend XIII:5)

July 9, 2016

Veronica Giuliani

This year the feast of St. Veronica Giuliani, Capuchin Poor Clare abbess and one of the great characters of our Capuchin tradition, is suppressed by the XV Sunday of Ordinary Time tomorrow.

This past week, however, was my turn taking the morning Mass at the General Curia of the Capuchin Sisters of Mother Rubatto, and the sisters asked me if I would celebrate St. Veronica's Mass today, on Saturday. It seemed a little irregular to me, but no other celebration in particular obliged today, and since I'm more flexible when I'm a guest (cf. how I once celebrated the previously unknown liturgical day of Ash Sunday) I said fine, nice idea.

(Left to my own devices I probably would have taken either the optional memorial of Nicholas Pieck and companions, the Franciscans among the Martyrs of Gorkum, or the regular memorial of Our Lady on Saturday.)

Never having read St. Veronica and feeling thus inadequate to preach about her, I brought a selection from another priest's words on her:
In particular, Veronica proved a courageous witness of the beauty and power of Divine Love which attracted her, pervaded her and inflamed her. Crucified Love was impressed within her flesh as it was in that of St Francis of Assisi, with Jesus’ stigmata. “‘My Bride’, the Crucified Christ whispers to me, ‘the penance you do for those who suffer my disgrace is dear to me’.... Then detaching one of his arms from the Cross he made a sign to me to draw near to his side... and I found myself in the arms of the Crucified One. What I felt at that point I cannot describe: I should have liked to remain for ever in his most holy side” (ibid., I, 37). This is also an image of her spiritual journey, of her interior life: to be in the embrace of the Crucified One and thus to remain in Christ's love for others.
(Pope Benedict XVI, general audience of December 15, 2010)

June 29, 2016

Have a Pope-Blessed Rosary? Pray It Today!

This is something that I only discovered recently. Someone had given me a Pope Francis rosary, complete with his coat of arms on the center piece and said to have been blessed by him personally. But then I wondered to myself, in so many words, so what? Is a rosary blessed by a pope any better than a rosary blessed by any other priest?

Well, the truth is, yes. But only one day a year. And that day is today, the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul.

June 26, 2016

Wretched Flesh Heaped Up In A Corner

Today was my turn for the Sunday Mass at the Bethlemite Sisters' old folks home. I enjoy taking my turn. The Mother Superior leads the singing from the back pew with her very particular voice. The Sister Sacristan is very funny. To save washing I guess, she has a large collection of little boxes in the sacristy in which she keeps each priest's purificator from Mass to Mass. Mine used to be labeled P. Carlo tedesco, "Fr. Charles [the] German," to distinguish me from my confrere P. Carlo italiano. I guess at first they thought I was a German. Now my box says P. Carlo tedesco USA.

USA! USA!

Anyway, today I think it was the hottest Mass I had ever celebrated. The weather report says it's only 90 degrees out today, so that's not hot enough or Italians--left to their own judgment--to turn on the air conditioning. (For Italians and air conditioning, see various reflections easily searchable online, which I need not duplicate for fear of falling into fraternal uncharities.) I don't think it was any cooler in the chapel.

June 13, 2016

Lawrence of Brindisi on the Vestments

I suppose my deficiencies as a Capuchin friar are many. For example, I like to say that my physical inability to grow a proper Capuchin beard is my Pauline thorn. Another one is that I have never really known--and nor has any confrere been able to tell me clearly--why the lone doctor of the Church of our Capuchin reform, St. Lawrence of Brindisi, should be especially a doctor of the Church.

So for a long time I have thought that I ought to read what he wrote and find out for myself. Therefore it was my delight to discover one day that the house where I find myself now has a set of St. Lawrence's works in the English translation of Vernon Wagner, OFM Cap. So as I have had time and inspiration, I have started to read some of them.

Here's a fun passage on the meaning of the priestly vestments from the sermon, "The Eucharist as Sacrifice."
But the priestly vestments of the Church are totally representative of the mystery of redemption. Do you not think that a vested priest resembles Christ? Do you not see that the thin amice that covers his head is the most pure flesh of Christ which covered the Word of God? God is the head of Christ. (1 Cor 11:3) And the alb which is totally white, can it represent anything besides the innocence and the immaculate holiness of the entire life of Christ? It was fitting that we should have such a high priest: holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners, higher than the heavens. (Heb 7:26) Does not the cincture express what was said by Isaiah: Justice shall be a band around his waist. (Is 11:5) And does not the maniple speak to you of the indomitable patience of Christ throughout his entire life and especially in his passion? Does not that stole around his neck appear to you as a symbol of that yoke which Christ spontaneously took upon his shoulders in obedience to his Father in order to suffer and die for our salvation? For us Christ became obedient to death, even death on a cross. (Phil 2:8) And does it not seem to you that the chasuble, which is a single piece of cloth but divided into two parts, one in front and the other in back, represents the Church old and new, one in faith, two by reason of various rites and customs, both signed with the cross, because both and the other are redeemed by the power of the cross of Christ and by Christ on the cross? O what great mysteries are contained in the Mass!
(St. Lawrence of Brindisi, Feastday Sermons, trans. Vernon Wagner, OFM Cap. (Delhi: Media House, 2007), 633)

It's interesting how Lawrence identifies the stole with the yoke of Christ, while the vesting prayers locate this association with the chasuble.

June 4, 2016

Immaculate Heart of Mary

"And his mother kept all these things in her heart." (Luke 2:51)

It's a beautiful little line that St. Luke gives us, and it reminds us that Mary kept in her heart all the mysteries of the earthly life of Jesus Christ. And not just the mysteries about which we know something, like his birth in Bethlehem and his passion and death on the Cross, but also those aspects of Jesus' life that we cannot know, like what he was like as a boy, how it was to observe him working with St. Joseph, and all the other blessed details of a daily life lived with the Son of God.

When we think about this, we realize that Mary knows Jesus better than any other person who ever lived, or will ever live. This realization forms part of our motivation for turning to Mary in our desire to follow after Jesus. It is she who knows best him whom our hearts desire and whom we wish to follow.

Let us turn, then, to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, that place of safe-keeping and cherishing of all the mysteries of the Word of God made man in Jesus Christ. May she obtain for us the grace of knowing Jesus ever more fully and deeply, and may we too keep, protect, and cherish his presence in our own hearts.

May 29, 2016

4 and 10

I notice that today I begin my fifth year in Rome. What shall I say about that? God is good. I have settled into the life and work of a very particular community; a local Capuchin fraternity sui generis as our statutes say.

May 24, 2016

Basilica of St. Francis

Happy feast day to a beautiful church. I love this picture I took from the back stairwell of our Capuchin friary on the Via San Francesco in Assisi.


May 23, 2016

Amoris laetitia: Divorce, Remarriage, and Communion

No series on Amoris laetitia would be complete without a post on one of the issues that got a lot of attention, from the two sessions of the Synod on the Family down to the publication of the Exhortation itself, namely the question of Holy Communion for the divorced and civilly remarried. Chapter eight of Amoris laetitia goes into this question in detail.

While it's true that the Exhortation gives us no new doctrine in the strict sense of the term, we are in a new place in the post-Amoris laetitia Church. As I alluded to when I began this series of posts, it seems to me that what we have mostly is a new challenge for pastors of souls.

May 19, 2016

Amoris laetitia: Priestly Formation

Seminarians should receive a more extensive interdisciplinary, and not merely doctrinal, formation in the areas of engagement and marriage. Their training does not always allow them to explore their own psychological and affective background and experiences. Some come from troubled families, with absent parents and a lack of emotional stability. There is a need to ensure that the formation process can enable them to attain the maturity and psychological balance needed for their future ministry. Family bonds are essential for reinforcing healthy self-esteem. (203)
Arriving at this paragraph in Amoris laetitia made me happy.

Priests don't fall out of the sky fully formed. They are people who have a background and a family of origin just like the rest of humanity. And as the Pope notes, these backgrounds--like everybody else's--can have their troubles and dysfunctions.

This isn't a bad thing. It is the work of the Holy Spirit to transform suffering and alienation into compassion; this is one of the ways that the pattern of the Lord's paschal mystery of his passion, death, and resurrection comes to take form in our lives. And so it makes sense that many vocations to service, the priesthood included, can have roots in situations of difficulty and personal suffering.

May 17, 2016

Amoris laetitia: Faith

Committing oneself exclusively and definitively to another person always involves a risk and a bold gamble. (132)
Finding this line in Amoris laetitia reminded me a lot of the marriage preparation and pastoral care I used to do when I was assigned to a parish.

Starting out in the parish ministry, I struggled a little to know how to preach faith to the folks who came for marriage preparation and to celebrate their weddings, most of whom--with some brightly shining exceptions--were not practicing the faith.

After some time, experience, and reflection, I arrived at the point that worked for me in preaching and pastoral care: the very thing that they were doing, exchanging the consent of marriage, was a great act of faith.

May 12, 2016

Amoris laetitia: Mary

Nor would it be good for them to arrive at the wedding without ever having prayed together, one for the other, to seek God’s help in remaining faithful and generous, to ask the Lord together what he wants of them, and to consecrate their love before an image of the Virgin Mary. (216)
This quote reminded me of the many weddings I had back in Yonkers that included a little procession of the newlyweds to offer some flowers to Our Lady on her side altar. During rehearsals I would advise the couple to take it slow and spend a good moment on this little pilgrimage, perhaps saying a Hail Mary together and asking Our Lady's prayers for their new life together.

May 5, 2016

Amoris laetitia: Celibacy

Amoris laetitia is a document on the family, but it also has something to say about the celibate vocation in the Church. For example:
Whereas virginity is an “eschatological” sign of the risen Christ, marriage is a “historical” sign for us living in this world, a sign of the earthly Christ who chose to become one with us and gave himself up for us even to shedding his blood. (161)
This is true, so long as we don't push it too far. Christian married people, of course, like all Christians, participate in the eschatological character of the Church, and those consecrated to celibacy still have a foot in history.

May 3, 2016

Amoris laetitia: Pro-Life

This section can go without comment:
Here I feel it urgent to state that, if the family is the sanctuary of life, the place where life is conceived and cared for, it is a horrendous contradiction when it becomes a place where life is rejected and destroyed. So great is the value of a human life, and so inalienable the right to life of an innocent child growing in the mother’s womb, that no alleged right to one’s own body can justify a decision to terminate that life, which is an end in itself and which can never be considered the “property” of another human being. The family protects human life in all its stages, including its last. Consequently, “those who work in healthcare facilities are reminded of the moral duty of conscientious objection. Similarly, the Church not only feels the urgency to assert the right to a natural death, without aggressive treatment and euthanasia”, but likewise “firmly rejects the death penalty”. (83)
The quoted material is from the Relatio finalis of the Synod.

May 2, 2016

God's Dwelling

I think I have about six more posts on Amoris laetitia still to come, but for today a break from it.

Here in my Roman life I only preach on Sundays once in a while, but yesterday was one of those days. I focused on John 14:23.

Jesus said to his disciples: “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him."

This 'making of a dwelling' is the fruit of the Easter mystery and the whole good news of our faith.

April 29, 2016

Amoris laetitia: Living With Each Other

We have to realize that all of us are a complex mixture of light and shadows. The other person is much more than the sum of the little things that annoy me. Love does not have to be perfect for us to value it. The other person loves me as best they can, with all their limits, but the fact that love is imperfect does not mean that it is untrue or unreal. It is real, albeit limited and earthly. If I expect too much, the other person will let me know, for he or she can neither play God nor serve all my needs. (113)
It's true. We are called to do our best with one another, to love each other precisely as the 'complex mixture of light and shadows' that we are. I remember how I once moved into a new friary and right away I appreciated one of the brothers in charge and how precise he was with the liturgy. One of the first nights after supper I tried to begin helping with the dishes. I took a towel and was drying a plate. The same brother angrily snatched the towel from me and yelled, "That towel is for drying hands!" Nice way to make a new brother feel welcome! But as I thought about it, I saw that the brother I appreciated with the liturgy and the brother with his rudeness about towels was the same person. What about him was a gift to the community in one situation was antisocial in another. Good things and hassles, but a single individual calling me to fraternal charity in both.

April 28, 2016

Amoris laetitia: The Cultural Challenges

Freedom of choice makes it possible to plan our lives and to make the most of ourselves. Yet if this freedom lacks noble goals or personal discipline, it degenerates into an inability to give oneself generously to others. Indeed, in many countries where the number of marriages is decreasing, more and more people are choosing to live alone or simply to spend time together without cohabiting. We can also point to a praiseworthy concern for justice; but if misunderstood, this can turn citizens into clients interested solely in the provision of services. (33)
Freedom is highly valued in our world; freedom of choice, self-determination, etc. This is a good thing in itself. But the Holy Father points out rightly that if freedom is not accompanied by "noble goals or personal discipline, it degenerates." If in my 'freedom' to do what I want with myself I do what makes me miserable and makes those around me suffer, I am not free. I am a slave to sin. If I am 'free' in such a way as to compromise or ruin the gifts I have been given for my own flourishing and the good of others, what good is such 'freedom'?

As Pope St. John Paul II famously put it, "Freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought."

April 26, 2016

Amoris laetitia: Generally Speaking

I finished reading Amoris laetitia yesterday. It's really a beautiful document, and very tender. True to genre, it's an exhortation, exhorting those to whom it is addressed--bishops, priests, deacons, consecrated persons, Christian married couples, and all the lay faithful--to recognize the great graces God gives to us and desires for us in our existence as families and members of families, even in the many situations in which we find ourselves falling short of receiving all of them. In this spirit, the exhortation concludes:

"May we never lose heart because of our limitations, or ever stop seeking that fullness of love and communion which God holds out before us." (325)

April 18, 2016

I Guess I'm Staying Then

My relationship with the Spanish language has grown strange. My efforts and wish to learn it has a long history. In the OFM postulancy at good old Holy Cross friary on Soundview Ave. in the Bronx (of happy memory) we studied it one or two mornings a week, if I remember rightly. In the late 90s, living by myself but contemplating a return to religious life, I studied some on my own. In the Capuchins I was given great opportunities to learn. As postulants we spent a couple of months living with the brothers in Cartago, Costa Rica and attending the ILISA Instituto de Idiomas in San José, which was a lovely place. Great memories. Our various teachers named Carlos and the funny nicknames we made up to distinguish them, our other teacher Loco Antonio, empanadas at break time, the afternoon tutor--Carlos 'the real teacher' to be exact--who challenged me to teach him the Allegory of the Cave in Spanish, the fellow student who could do a perfect Bill Cosby impression, Friday graduation speeches and cake-on-hand.

April 9, 2016

Amoris laetitia

This post isn't really about Amoris laetitia, since I haven't read it yet. Yes, I've looked over it, and yes, of course, I've taken a look at the parts that touch on the 'hot button' issues. When my regular travels in the coming week take me by the Libreria Editrice Vaticana on the via di Propaganda, I'll pick up a nice, physical copy and start to give to the exhortation the careful reading it deserves.

March 27, 2016

Easter

We had an Easter Vigil  here in the house last night. It was a homely, disorganized business. I should have listened better to rubric #3 that the Missale Romanum provides at the beginning of the Sacred Paschal Triduum, where it says that, for the celebrations of the Triduum, smaller communities ought to join themselves to larger parochial and cathedral churches. Oh well, next time, should I still be in this life and find myself in the same circumstances. I have often been led astray by human beings in the practice of the Catholic faith, but never by a careful consideration of and obedience to the rubrics.

Nevertheless, holding my candle at the Vigil, I knew that, spiritually, this was the baptismal candle that Deacon Ron had passed into my hands on the day of my baptism almost twenty-four (!) years ago. (The physical candle, now dry and brittle, lies in pieces with other religious artifacts of my journey, in a box in a basement in Jamaica Plain.)

In the most holy night, it was my job to hold my candle and witness to the baptism I had received as the Church all over the world baptized the elect who are now neophytes this Easter Sunday. I prayed for them as they descended into the waters of the Jordan and passed through the Red Sea, leaving all the machinery of the slavery of Egypt to drown behind them. I prayed for them as the rose again with Christ, having passed through the path he has blazed for us--with the humanity he borrowed from us through the consent of our Blessed Mother--through the misery of sin and the meaninglessness of death to the new life the Risen Lord, whom death, nor any other created thing, could hold.

We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life. (Romans 6:4)

March 12, 2016

Matins and Babies

From Fr. Cantalamessa's fourth Lenten homily for this year:

"I am speaking from experience here. I belong to a religious order in which, until a few decades ago, we would get up at night to recite the office of Matins that would last about an hour. Then there came a great turning point in religious life after the Council. It seemed that the rhythm of modern life—studies for the younger monks and apostolic ministry for the priests—no longer allowed for this nightly rising that interrupted sleep, and little by little the practice was abandoned except in a few houses of formation.

"When later the Lord had me come to know various young families well through my ministry, I discovered something that startled me but in a good way. These fathers and mothers had to get up not once but two or three times a night to feed a baby, or give it medicine, or rock it if it was crying, or check it for a fever. And in the morning one or both of the parents had to rush off to work at the same time after taking the baby girl or boy to the grandparents or to day-care. There was a time card to punch whether the weather was good or bad and whether their health was good or bad.

"Then I said to myself, if we do not take remedial action we are in grave danger. Our religious way of life, if it is not supported by a genuine observance of the Rule and a certain rigor in our schedule and habits, is in danger of becoming a comfortable life and of leading to hardness of heart. What good parents are capable of doing for their biological children—the level of self-forgetfulness that they are capable of to provide for their children’s well-being, their studies, their happiness—must be the standard of what we should do for our children or spiritual brothers. The example we have for this is set by the apostle Paul himself who said, 'I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls' (2 Cor 12:15)."

Read the whole thing.

February 27, 2016

Anaphora

I begin to realize that this religious life is made of different seasons. At the beginning were the first steps (and missteps!) in praying and living in community. Then there was the settling into the longer period of studies, with its own particular spiritual delights and pitfalls. Then the time of being a new priest in a parish, a time lush with people, variety, and spiritual gifts, but also capable of producing great theological and pastoral frustrations. Now--and for almost four years now!--I have the life of a secretary in the General Curia, a more hidden kind of life, closer to the interior of the brotherhood of the Order, more monastic in both its spiritual opportunities and dangers.

February 18, 2016

Litany of Praise

A friend of mine wrote to share the news that she had received ecclesiastical approbation for a prayer litany she had composed, the Litany of Praise. In her letter she said I could distribute it at my discretion. Given an impramatur from none other than Cardinal Dolan, how could I not?

Here's a sample:

Praised by Jesus in His Transfiguration, now and forever.
Praised be Jesus in His Institution of the Eucharist, now and forever
Praised be Jesus in His agony in the garden, now and forever

Pray and download the whole thing with this link. Share and enjoy!

February 10, 2016

Missionaries of Mercy

There have been friars here in Rome from all over who will be commissioned today by Pope Francis to be Missionaries of Mercy for the Holy Year. One of them asked me to translate the decree he received:

FRANCIS
SUPREME PONTIFF

establishes you
N.
A MISSIONARY OF MERCY

That, as a special gift of the Mercy of the Father, you may duly and validly absolve each and every sin, even those reserved to the Apostolic See, everywhere on the earth, until the end of the same Extraordinary Holy Year.

In fulfilling devoutly and faithfully your service for the salvation of the souls of the Christian faithful, with simplicity of heart and benevolence and kindness of soul, may you always have before your eyes God the Father of Mercies and the Most Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Mercy.

May the Charity, Peace, and Mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ be always with you.

From the office of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization
February 10, 2016 A.D.

+Salvatore FISICHELLA
titular archbishop of Vicohabentia
President

+Octavio RUIZ ARENAS
Secretary

February 8, 2016

The Cloud

When the priests left the holy place,
the cloud filled the temple of the LORD
so that the priests could no longer minister because of the cloud,
since the LORD’s glory had filled the temple of the LORD.
(1 Kings 8: 10-11)

This moment in the first reading today, from the dedication of the Temple, is one of my favorites in all the Scriptures.

The priests could no longer minister because of the cloud.

To me it's an image of that place in prayer where religious ideas and concepts of God start to fail, and one can no longer 'minister,' in the sense of know what to do in order to serve 'God.'

And yet the Presence is there. Murky (the cloud),  but also glorious and somehow full and complete (the LORD's glory had filled the temple).

February 6, 2016

On Masturbation

I received a message via the contact form, and given that it touches upon an issue that arises with some frequency in confession, and which probably touches the consciences of many of the faithful who try to live chastely according to their state of life (whether in marriage or in the single or consecrated life), I thought I would answer in a post rather than privately.

Here's the message, with the personal details removed, of course:
I just have a serious question about our faith which needs a clear answer. I believe that you can help me reflect and understand what is really true. I am now...years old and I am still struggling with masturbation. I have tried many times to get rid of it. For the record, I was able to stop it for 8 months. However, there came a time that I can't resist it anymore. Honestly, it feels so natural but a voice in my head says its wrong. I am really confused if its a sin or not? This is a hard battle.

January 16, 2016

Protomartyrs of the Order

I noticed this painting of the Protomartyrs of the Order on Italian Wikipedia. It made me think that perhaps we can seek the intercession of these friars in our time when we have been made so aware of beheadings and other barbaric executions.

Francisco Henriques, The Martyrs of Morocco (1508)
St. Francis himself sent Brothers Berard, Otho, Peter, Accursius, and Adjutus to preach in Spain. After preaching in a mosque they were arrested and deported to Morocco. There they began to preach again and were again arrested. After torture and efforts to tempt them to convert to Islam, they were beheaded on this day in 1220.

For a longer treatment of their martyrdom, you'll want to read the Chronicle of the Twenty-Four Generals of the Order of Friars Minor. Search for Appendix I, which contains their story.

Pray for us!

January 7, 2016

A Sollemnitate Epiphaniæ

It's one of my favorite little spells, this last bit of the Christmas season following Epiphany. In the States, with Epiphany celebrated on a Sunday, you get a week of it. Here in Italy, where Epiphany is still celebrated on the traditional sixth of January, you get from zero days to a week in between Epiphany and the Baptism of the Lord, depending on how things fall.

St. Peter Chrysologus in the Office of Readings today: "In choosing to be born for us, God chose to be known by us."

The Lord's birth is after all something fairly secret; he is born away from home, in an obscure place, to poor parents, to a small people. In the same way the birth of the presence of God within us always has some sense of secret, of an intimacy not easily communicated to others, of something precious and utterly personal.

But secret doesn't mean private. Or what is born in secret the Holy Spirit doesn't mean to remain private. And thus we come to Epiphany, to the Magi. In the same way, the graces that the Holy Spirit conceives in our lives are not only for us, but for offering in service and in helps to the salvation of others. In this way the Holy Spirit conceives us as Christ-ians, those who are in Christ, those who become the members of Christ and instruments of his saving work and his peace.

In the Magi is the first public revelation that Jesus Christ is the God of all, the King of the Universe, as we celebrate him at the other end of the liturgical year. They are the forerunners of all of us who are not descended from the patriarchs by blood, but have been grafted into the "Israel of God" (Galatians 6:16) in Christ. They are the patron saints of all who surrender to the truth that all human knowledge, all true created wisdom, lead to Christ.

In Christ, all people have been called, invited into the promises made to Abraham. Christ is the beginning of the new creation, his birth a decisive break with the old creation corrupted by sin. This is why he is born of the Virgin, for his birth is a break with the generation of human history. And this is why her Immaculate Conception is the first light of the new creation which dawns in Jesus Christ.

In surrendering the death that is our sin into his death on the cross in our baptism, we have risen again as citizens of the new creation.