July 31, 2006

Ignatius of Loyola

Today we celebrate the memory of St. Ignatius, founder of the Society of Jesus. Good Franciscan that I am, I didn't know the first thing about Ignatius until I had to read his Reminiscences for a course at school. It's really quite remarkable and worth the time. Ignatius is really an early modern person and thus may be easier for us to resonate with than some of the medieval or antique saints.

I find the similarities in trajectory in the vocations of Ignatius and Francis striking. Both embark on their religious life after a long convalescence from war injuries. Neither follows what would have been a traditional path for the time. Instead they grope about with their dreams and spiritual practice until a new form of religious life, suited to their time, emerges from their inspiration.

Let's keep our Jesuit brothers in prayer today as they celebrate. I know I'm grateful for the Jesuit education I've received from them.

July 29, 2006

Creation and Coincidence

I'm passing this weekend in a huge empty seminary. I'm between a workshop that was last week and another one that starts on tuesday. Yesterday almost half a day went without my seeing anyone. It felt like The Shining. Well, when I put the TV on last night to see if anything was on, there it was. And I watched it too.

And I thought, this is funny. This is a coincidence. A funny coincidence can be delightful; it makes us question the random and meaningless universe us late modern people have been taught to believe in.

In fact, the most primordial movement of reality is a delightful coincidence. God, such and overwhelming love and goodness, overflows into a perfect coincidence of God. God's perfect love and goodness demands that God be both Lover and Beloved. And so we see the original mutual delight within God that we call God the Father and God the Son.

Maybe when we delight in a coincidence and find in it something of that most human sense, humor, we can a see a faint shadow of that most originary movement: The procession of the Word from the unbegotten God.

July 27, 2006

Cardinal George

Keep Francis George, the archbishop of Chicago, in your prayers today. He's been diagnosed with bladder cancer.

July 26, 2006

Anne and Joachim

Today we celebrate the memory of Jesus' maternal grandparents. They were perhaps very ordinary people, apart from having a daughter whom God brought into the world without the effects of original sin. But maybe they didn't even have a sense of that great mystery.

It makes me think about ancestors and grandparents. From what little I know about my own grandparents, I already realize that there is a lot of them in me. It's one of those things that touches the mystery of human being; there's a lot about yourself that you don't know and perhaps can't ever know.

Human Resources

This week I am at workshop on the human resource management of parishes, a little introduction to everything a pastor might need to know about being an employer in our litigious and service-based economy.

It all makes me see how much church life has come to be modeled as a kind of small business centered around the provision of pastoral care and spirituality as a consumer good. Is this a valid inculturation of the faith in our north american context? Or is it a submission to an economic paradigm at odds with the Gospel? If we really had a catholic culture, would we need to think in these ways?

I'm not pushing one opinion or the other; I'm genuinely unsure about this.

July 24, 2006


Today is one of those mornings when I'm off on a trip. That means packing a bag, turning off the alarm clock, changing the voice mail message, taking out the garbage, hitting the road for a week or two.

There's something about this process, even if I'm only going to some tedious workshop somewhere, that makes me feel curiously alive and optimistic. Maybe that's why the Holy Spirit made me want to join an itinerant order.


It was really bemusing to me to see today that someone came across this blog through a Google search for "catholic friar 'heavy metal.'"

July 21, 2006

Lawrence of Brindisi

Today we celebrate St. Lawrence, a Capuchin friar who had an illustrious preaching career around the turn of the 17th century. He was declared a doctor of the church in 1959.

Three Franciscans have been declared doctors: Anthony of Padua, Bonaventure of Bagnoregio, and Lawrence of Brindisi. That might not sound like very many, but it actually is compared to the other religious families of the western church. As far as I know the Jesuits have two, Robert Bellarmine and Peter Canisius, the Dominicans have two, Catherine of Siena and Thomas Aquinas, and the Carmelites have two, Therese of Lisieux and John of the Cross. Not that this is a competition.

These saints participated in the teaching ministry of Christ in very special ways. Nevertheless, all the baptized have a share in Christ the teacher. The ways we pray and behave and treat one another are an education for those around us. Our lives teach people whether or not the message we bring is really good news, whether it's worth the risk to try to love, whether or not there just might be Someone here whom we clumsily call "God."

Read more about Lawrence here, and check out one of his sermons here. Learn more about the doctors of the church here.

July 19, 2006

Surprise and Humility

Once in a while I'm surprised by grace. It just goes to show how little I actually believe in the faithfulness of God.

Yesterday I suffered through a mis-communication with another friar. My schedule of things to do was disrupted and I felt a little slighted. So immediately comes the temptation to all kinds of afflictive emotions: self-criticism, anger, bitterness, acedia, etc.

Instead I just quietly returned to some other work and put my mind and heart into something else. I'm not usually able to brush things off so easily. It's because I'm not yet humble.

And here we enter into one of those paradoxical truths of the spiritual life. When people fail to treat us according to our unrealistic and idiosyncratic expectations, we are reminded of how little humility we actually have. But the acceptance of how impoverished we are spiritually can propel us into true spiritual humility.

July 17, 2006


It's been real hot these past couple of days here in the northeastern USA. It was already 80 degrees when I went over to church this morning. Our parish church is an old brick and stone job, and it heats up pretty good after two or three hot and bright days. And as I sat there I thought about how St. Francis couldn't possibly have been thinking about days like these when he came up with our habit.

But then I started thinking about all of the religious sisters who wore those big habits all the time. Worse than mine, they had to wear those complicated veils and big socks and nun shoes. Wow, they must have been uncomfortable in the heat. And then I started thinking about the poor people in Beirut and Haifa and Nazareth, where it's not only hot but there are also bombs and missles to worry about.

This is when I realize something blessed had happened to me at that moment. Our little sufferings help us practice. Either we use them to practice being self-centered, sensual, bitter and annoyed, or we use them to practice compassion.

This morning I was grateful for the little blessing of having my own reflection led into the latter possibility. The Spirit used my miserable little discomfort to help me re-member, to hold in reverence, the very real sufferings of other people in the world.

July 14, 2006


This morning one of the brothers was preaching on innocence. He reminded us of the roots the word has in a sense of of harmlessness. "Innocence" is compounded from the Latin verb noceo, to harm, as in the medical motto, primum non nocere, "first do no harm."

We can fail to understand innocence because of the backwardness of the world's logic; it makes us look at innocence as a lack, a lack that is then completed by experience or wisdom.

Real innocence is, in fact, the power not to harm ourselves, others, and the earth by our sins. The corruption of sin traps us in patterns of thinking and acting by which we come to hurt ourselves and those around us. To become innocent is to recover the power not to hurt anyone.

July 12, 2006

College Radio

It seems to me that one of the greatest things that can happen to someone is to be forced to take the "critical turn." We begin to question what we have been taught, we wonder if the baseline wisdom we have received about being a human being in the world is actually right, we wonder if there isn't something better.

For Abraham it was the call to leave his native place. For Paul it was the Risen Lord speaking on the way to Damascus. For Augustine it was the frustration of not being able to figure himself out with his own mental power. For Francis it seems to have been the war of the Assisiani with Perugia and his encounters with lepers.

Now I wouldn't dare compare myself to these great converts, but for me it was college radio.

I think I was about 10 when I started listening to popular music. And I listened to what seemed to be the music that all of my peers were listening to, the "top 40" songs that were playing on the radio.

When I was 14 or so, a friend recommended to me that I turn my radio dial to the left and tune in some college radio. So I tuned in WNHU from the University of New Haven, and it changed my life. In some very real ways it set me on the path I'm trying to follow today. Every saturday they played underground heavy metal and on weekday afternoons a combination of hardcore punk and what would later be called "alternative" rock.

I recognized the superiority of the music immediately. It was more energetic and visceral. It was more interesting because it often spoke of real issues and emerged from social consciousness or radical politics. And it started to change my basic orientation toward the world. If the music that everybody else liked so much wasn't actually any good, maybe their ideas about the world or their wisdom about going through life was open to question too.

I started to question authority. Eventually I started to question even the fundamental understandings of the world that were around me. One thing led to another, and to make a long story short, I eventually came to Christianity in my desire for a seamless way to grasp and understand human being in the world.

Fortunately, I've been living in a good college town these past few years, with good college radio.

July 11, 2006

Benedict of Nursia

Today we celebrate the feast of St. Benedict, the patriarch of western religious life. I couldn't resist posting my favorite part of Benedict's Rule:

On the proper amount of drink:

We read that monks should not drink wine at all, but because in our time the monks cannot be persuaded of this, let us at least agree to drink sparingly. (40:6)

Sometimes we have to be wary even of our ideals. The devil is perfectly happy to have us to be devout and idealistic, provided it can be done without God. When we lust after the self-satisfaction of being the idealists we want to be according to our own will, it is easy to forget the more subtle and hidden splendor of the living God.

July 10, 2006

Veronica Giuliani

Today we remember St. Veronica Giuliani, an Italian Capuchin Poor Clare of the late 17th and early 18th centuries. She acquired some fame even in her own lifetime for her intense and sometimes outlandish mystical experiences, as well as some stigmata.

Part of the selection from her diary that is in the Office of Readings grabbed me this morning:

For several days now I am experiencing a certain disposition in my heart which I do not understand, so I will merely describe the effects it produces in me.

It reminded me of the advice of a wise spiritual director. He told me not to expect or be greedy for any experiences of God during prayer or meditation. Instead, I should try to notice the effects of the meditation in the rest of my life.

"What do you usually do right after your meditation?" he asked me.

I told him that I usually have coffee or wash the dishes from the morning.

"And do you have coffee or wash dishes differently, with more recollection and peace, because you have meditated?" he asked.

He taught me to try to discern the presence of God in this sort of way.

July 8, 2006


Thanks again to Steph for provoking me to a post that's challenging to write.

So, where did St. Francis get all his ideas? From what insights did the Franciscan movement emerge? A lot of ink has been spilled on this issue, but you might start at Cajetan Esser's Origins of the Franciscan Order, if you can find it.

For a quick and dirty answer, I suggest 4 categories: apostolic life, class, violence, and money.

1. The apostolic life. The 12th century was a time of great energy around religious life and the experimentation with new forms. In contrast to the stable life of the monastery built around the communal, primitive church imagination of Acts 2:42-47, people began to long for the life of the apostles themselves. This meant itinerant preaching, homelessness, and the economic insecurity that goes with them. This insight produced a lot of religious movements, including the Franciscans. The followers of Peter Waldo are a good example of an expression that came before Francis.

2. Class. A shift in social class structures was going on at the time of Francis, especially in Italy. The re-invention of the money economy was producing a merchant class, shifting power away from the church and the ruling classes to the towns. Francis himself was part of this nouveau riche merchant class. As a child, Francis presumably witnessed the sacking of the imperial fortress of Assisi by this new class of urban elites.

Even more, the young Francis dreamed of his own upward mobility. He would become a knight. This imagination never really leaves Francis, though it shifts into his chivalrous affiar with Lady Poverty.

From his experience of these chaotic changes, it is easy to see how Francis could have imagined his brothers as fratres menores, identifying them with one of the older social categories, those who were "lesser" in society. Francis saw the emergence of new forms of power and appropriation. With these came new forms of economic and class injustice. Thus he wanted his brothers to be "lesser" brothers who lived sine proprio, without property.

3. Violence. Francis was born into a very violent world. I've already mentioned the destruction of the imperial fortress by the people of Assisi in 1198. Francis himself was taken prisoner in one of Assisi's savage wars with neighboring Perugia. His biographers tell us that his conversion began to take place during his convalescence after spending a year in the Perugian dungeons.

It was perhaps from his own experience of violence that Francis began to identify with the ultimate victim of violence, Christ crucified. In any case, he soon rejects all the power and property that leads people to need weapons and protection.

4. Money. The new economy was changing everything in Francis' time. It changed relationships, upset the old order of things, and created new forms of poverty and wealth. Francis became almost pathologically opposed to money, and was always forbidding his brothers to receive it or even to touch it (with the exception of caring for sick brothers in the Earlier Rule.) For Francis, money was a concentrated form of impersonal power, and thus a threat to the dependence on God and others that was the life of the lesser brother.

O.k., that's a lot. But notice! All of these motivations are even more true today! That's why the Franciscan movement continues to have something to say to the world.


Our friend by the bay has gotten to the heart of a profound spiritual lesson in a simple way.

Franciscan Blogosphere

It has really been a joy to get in touch with so many other Franciscan blogs over these months. This is just a note to say that, often for good reason, some have become dormant for the summer. I'm going to stop checking them every day, so let me know when you get going again. Thanks!

July 7, 2006


In her comment on yesterday's post, Steph brought up the sometimes thorny question of how religious communities do or don't support themselves.

Some classic monastic communities have an ideal of self-sufficiency. Thus a monastery runs a school, or publishes books, or makes fudge to support themselves through their own work.

Franciscans, though, are not monks but mendicants. They are supposed to live in a less secure way that the self-sufficient monastery. Francis recommended to his brothers that they receive their daily sustenance in exchange for their labor, so long as they didn't receive money. If this wasn't enough, they were to beg.

This is more or less how we live to this day. We are supported in part by our own work, and in part by fund raising. In fact, we owe much of our livelihood to the generosity of others.

St. Clare was even stricter with her sisters. Being cloistered, they weren't able to work outside their monastery or beg. And yet Clare insisted that they have no stable means of support through rents or endowments. And it was a hard life, as you can imagine for yourself if you read the Acts of the Process of Canonization for Clare.

So, are we mendicants moochers off the world? Why should people support us with their hard-earned resources? Well, hopefully we offer something in return: our availability, our ministry, our witness to the Risen Lord and the life of the world to come. Of course if our witness to these things become incredible, no one ought to support our life.

The Franciscan ideal is not indepedence but inter-dependence. Hopefully we try to show how resources and economic realites can be used to produce solidarity and mutuality among people, rather than simply individual financial security.

This is the economic sense of what we mean by universal fraternity. Mutuality and solidarity, inter-dependence among persons is ultimately an imitatio Dei, an imitation of the perfect mutuality Who is the Trinity.

July 6, 2006

Things to Do

There's a monastery of Poor Clare Nuns less than two miles from our house. Unfortunately, their semi-public Mass is at the same time as our Morning Prayer, so I rarely get to go. But today I was out of the house early to drop off a brother at a doctor's appointment, so I was able to attend Mass at the monastery.

They really are something to see. All of these women, young and old, living an enclosed, secret life. They don't do or accomplish anything by the world's standards. But we almost instinctively recognize the holiness of their hidden life.

It's important for us who live in the world (though hopefully not of the world!) to remember the contemplatives, the recluses, the hermits. Many who don't understand our faith learn to appreciate us Christians from what we do. We work on the side of the poor. We seek non-violence and a more humane world. And there's nothing wrong with this; Jesus himself warned us that we could recognize true and false disciples by their fruits.

But we must remember that our Christianity, our faithfulness does not depend on what we do or what we accomplish. If we allow ourselves to absorb the world's standards of visible results and productivity, our religion will turn into what one of my theology professors called a "grim activism." Social justice is important, but it is not the standard by which everything else is measured.

Christianity is not, in the first place, about what we do, but about what God has accomplished and continues to do. God has adopted us into the life of the Trinity through the humanity of Christ. Whatever good works we do in response to this great gift, great. But just to appreciate the gift full time is enough for those who have enough love.

July 4, 2006

Nota Bene

I've added a new site to the "Become a Friar" sidebar section. It's an interesting jurisdiction of the Order indeed, with an interesting history, including the imprisonment of friars during the Second World War.

I Don't Know

I find Independence Day a little depressing. As I try to reflect on the questions facing these United States, I have few answers.

What to say about immigration? I've spent my life in the Franciscan order living and working in churches built by Germans, but now populated by folks of various Spanish-speaking cultures. I ride on the railroads built by the Chinese and the subways built by the Irish. Should it be any surpise that people are still seeking a share in our wealth and spirit of self-determination?

What to say about our conflict with violent Islam, the so-called war on terror? Yes, people need protection from harm. But there is part of me that has some sympathy with the "terrorists." Theirs is a theological world, and perhaps they feel threatened by the economic and cultural imperialism of the secular west. At least the paganism of the classical pagans was one of beauty and order; ours is the much more crass paganism of power, wealth, and security.

We (and our allies) are the only ones allowed to have nuclear weapons. Unfriendly states are only allowed defenses that we can beat easily. We decide what defenses and economies others are allowed to have; what is this but the colonialism whose rejection we allegedly celebrate today?

When I was in school and they taught us about the American Revolution, we were told about how the American soldiers used subterfuge and guerilla tactics to defeat the orderly British army. But they weren't terrorists, we were taught, they were creative, do-it-yourself, American freedom fighters.

July 3, 2006

Doubting Thomas

Today is the feast of Thomas the apostle, famous for doubting the Resurrection. He wanted to put his hand in Jesus' wounds before he would believe, and the Risen Lord indulged him.

The Cross is, quite literally, an intersection. It is where God meets humanity most deeply. Mysteriously, God meets us most strongly in the most unlikely place: in the depth of human suffering, pain, and despair.

So if we want to know God, if we desire the presence of God, we must imitate Thomas and put our hands into the wounds of Christ. We must get involved with the suffering of the world. God has identified his own life with the suffering of the poor, the sick, the desparing, the unwanted; this is the meaning of the Cross.

When we're willing to get our hands dirty with the pain of the world, to be in solidarity with those who suffer, to accept the vulnerability of having all of our easy answers fall apart in the depth of their despair, that's when, like Thomas, we can find the eyes to see the Risen Christ.

Franciscan Spirituality

Be sure to catch the series of posts that Paula is up to these days. She is posting insights from Franciscan Prayer, a fine book by sister, scholar, and brilliant Franciscan popularizer Ilia Delio.

July 2, 2006

Clean and Unclean

Mark's story of the woman with the hemorrhage, contained in today's gospel, is a brilliant story of reversal. According to Jewish law and belief, her touching of Jesus ought to have transmitted her uncleanness to him. Instead, his power makes her well.

The world can seem entropic; it seems to tend toward the worse. It's easy to see how often the corruption of evil infects and ruins our good intentions. These are all symptoms of a world made tired and old by the effects of original sin.

And yet the touch of Christ not only transforms illness into wellness, but also destroys the power of evil itself to corrupt others into its downward spiral. And what else do we celebrate in the sacraments but this same touch of Christ?

O.k., that's probably enough metaphors for one day!