August 30, 2006

The Book Meme

Jeff tagged me for the book meme, so here goes:

1. One book that changed my life

New Seeds of Contemplation by Thomas Merton. For better or for worse, this collection had an immense influence on the early development of my sense of prayer, religious practice, and Christianity in general.

2. One book that you’ve read more than once

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. I read it every year around Christmas. It's funny and sad at the same time, and the combination really gets me.

3. One Book you’d want on a desert island

I think I would want a breviary. Keeping to the daily prayers might help me not to lose my mind, and it would keep me close to the Word.

4. One book that made you laugh

How to Become a Bishop without Being Religious by Charles Merrill Smith. This roast of the ministerial life is priceless. It's protestant in tone, but the chapters on preaching, clerical attire, church finance, and managing committees hit home for everyone.

5. One book that made you cry

Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser. This little glimpse into the immense suffering we not only demand of our brother and (mostly) sister animals, as well as the misery we insist on for ourselves and those who work on our behalf really got me when I first read it.

6. One book you wish had been written

How to Survive Religious Formation: A Spiritual Handbook. Sometimes, in a grandiose moment, I think of trying to write something like this. But then I remember that I'm not even writing the thesis I'm supposed to be writing by virtue of obedience.

It's just that, for most guys who enter religious life, their image and expectations of the life come from the movies, the lives of the saints, and from EWTN. These are hardly a fine preparation for many unexpected and yet standard experiences of disappointment and being scandalized that await the new religious. Hence the need for this honest treatment.

7. One Book that you wish had never been written

Whatever it is that we call the work of Parmenides. I'm still convinced that he's one of the great villains of the history of thought.

8. One book you are currently reading

Augustine of Hippo, by Peter Brown. I received it for a final profession present, and I'm up to Augustine's conversion to the life of "philosophy." It's good so far.

9. One book you’ve been meaning to read

For another profession present, I received a signed first edition of Fight Club, by Chuck Palahniuk. The movie spoke to my journey and conversion a good deal, so now it's time to go to the source.

The inscription, by the author himself, reads, "Best wishes in your search for God."

10. Now tag five people

I tag Chiara, Mike, by the bay, PMP, and Kelly. Forgive me if you've done it already and I missed it!

Behind the Veil

For everyone who ever wanted a glimpse into the workings of religious life, some funny friar is writing a "behind the scenes" account of the 83rd general chapter of the Capuchin Franciscans. Check out Chapter Glossary.

August 29, 2006


Check out the Merton quote that Don has posted today. It goes a long way toward helping us realize that once we have given up greed and lust as worldly passions, we have only begun to have any spirituality. It's very easy to simply translate these passions into our "spiritual" life and chase after "holiness," "spirituality," "contemplation," and "advancement in prayer" as if they were things to own. Check out the post here.

August 28, 2006

St. Augustine

I tried to get in the mood for the feast of St. Augustine by going over my notes from the great course I took on him last spring. As often happens, the notes I had written to myself in the margins struck me more than the notes themselves. Some were serious and some were silly:

On Augustine’s theological problems:

“Ah, the post-lapsarian paralysis”

“How do you know all this, professor Plotinus?”

“Factus eram ipse mihi magna quaestio”
(My favorite Augustine quote, which I like to translate “I became my own big problem,” Confessions 4.4.9)

On Augustine the man:

“The great poet of Christian failure”

“He only had one thing to say, but it was a big thing”

On Augustinian spirituality:

“Note to self: apply remedy to concupiscence”

“Kill bad thoughts, just don’t shoot anyone”

And some silly ones:

“Thesis idea: Manichean Ontology and the Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy”

“Ok, if by ‘not being’ you mean ‘being’”

August 27, 2006


I've been offered a link exchange with the site Religious Forums. It looks like quite the discussion site for the generalist of spiritual traditions. I've perused some of the Catholic discussions and the general religious debates. It looks like an interesting resource, so check it out.

August 26, 2006


I'm surprised that I haven't run across this blog before; she seems quite thoughtful and interesting. Check out Fioretta here.

August 25, 2006

Dry Bones

In today's first reading we have Christianity's most celebrated passage from the prophet Ezekiel. Led by God, the prophet witnesses a vision of the resurrection of Israel. He sees a whole plain of dry bones transformed and reborn into a "vast army," inhabited by the Spirit of God.

Note God's promise to Israel: I will put my spirit within you that you may live, and I will settle you upon you land; thus you shall know that I am the Lord. I have promised, and I will do it, says the Lord.

The prophecy is fulfilled in the mystery of Christmas. Jesus Christ is conceived by the Holy Spirit and thus his humanity becomes the means and the vehicle for God to put his Spirit into all of humanity. Those who are willing to receive the Gift are settled within the Church, the New Jerusalem that comes down from God. (Revelation 21) Thus we come to the promised knowledge of God, for no one can say that Jesus is Lord, except by the Holy Spirit. (1 Corinthians 12:3)

August 24, 2006

Site News

1. I enjoyed the "countdown clock" that I had on the blog for my final vows. After the big day I replaced it with one counting down to the day in October, when, please God and thanks to your prayers, I will be ordained deacon. After looking at it for a couple of days, though, I decided that it looked pompous and presumptuous, so I went back to the good old Universalis liturgical calendar banner.

2. The wireless connection I have in my new friary does not seem to have a fixed IP address. Thus I have not yet been able to exclude my own visits from the hit counter. Until I figure out how to do it, if ever, the hit count will be artificially inflated by my own visits.

3. In all of the movement and itinerancy of the summer, I have been negligent about trying to return links. So, thanks to The Hermitage for the link.

August 23, 2006


Today's job was writing the thank-you notes for those who helped us with the perpetual profession ceremony. Naturally, I was thinking about gratitude.

Later this month I'll be fourteen years baptized. Why me? There were many kids just like me back in college when I converted. Children of privilege we were, indulging in how smart and clever we were with our little bit of learning, enjoying the life of beer and drugs, rock and roll shows and mosh pits in the consequence-free world of college. I dont' know why I was priveleged to have Christianity happen to me but it did.

I don't know what would have become of me without this mysterious hand of God that slowly but surely entered my life. I don't know what use I would have made of the gifts of my early education and the influence of my parents without religious life and ministry. But in this life I have professed, these things can now be at the disposal of God and of the Church.

August 22, 2006

Franciscan Love of Animals

The new friary that I moved into last week is not what you might call a miracle of good housekeeping. In fact, it's a bit dirty and somewhat infested.

Yesterday I spent the morning cleaning out the pantry, washing all of the canned goods free of mouse droppings and throwing out dry goods that had already been through the nocturnal sampling of our little furry friends. This morning I am washing all of the cleaning rags and dish towels, some of which the mice had already used for their little toilet.

After morning prayer today my first duty was the dispatching of two little mice, lured to their mortal crippling by their interest in a bit of chocolate chip cookie. Some Franciscan I am!

This house desperately needs a cat, and there is a perfectly good stray cat who hangs around outside. He's moderately friendly, seems domesticated, and looks like he could use a bath and a snack. I'd like to invite him in for our mutual interest in getting rid of the mice, but it's been my experience that pets don't do well in houses of men religious. We travel too much, and the poor creatures usually go mad or at least become nervous wrecks in their inability to comprehend why some of the brothers love them and others don't.

St. Francis was once reported to have responded this way to a brother who wanted the friars to have their own house to live in: "When we have a house, we will need weapons to protect it." Francis understood the violence inherent in the idea of appropriating the goods of the world to oneself. That's why we Franciscans profess not poverty, but to live sine proprio, without appropriation, without anything of our own, without self-appropriation.

Today I feel like paraphrasing Francis and saying that when we have a house, we will have to kill the little creatures who come to sample our cereal.

August 20, 2006

Thank You

Thanks to everyone for your support for my final profession of vows yesterday. Thanks to your prayers we had a beautiful Mass and a fine celebration.

I don't have too much time to write this morning, because I am off to the new parish where I am supposed to work on weekends this coming school year.

August 18, 2006


Today I am off to the church where I am to make my final vows tomorrow morning.

At school they tried to teach us a lot about freedom. They told us that our real freedom did not consist of our ability to revise our lives over and over, but in the freedom to dispose of ourselves definitively in and for God.

In fact, our possibilities for revising our life decrease with every moment and every year until finally, one day, we reach our death. When that day comes we have no more choices and we have to say, with our friend Pontius Pilate, like it or not, "what I have written, I have written" and what I have done, I have done.

So if my real freedom consists not in the illusion of having as many options as I can have for as long as possible, but in my liberty to dispose of myself once and for all for God and for the Body of Christ which is the Church of God, well that's what I'll try to do tomorrow.

Pray for me, my friends.

August 17, 2006


I couldn't sleep on retreat. Maybe it was the unfamiliar place, or the noisy house, or the cycles of the central air conditioning, who knows. But it made me reflect a little on trying to make spiritual friends with the night hours.

I find it curious. Religious life is definitely for morning people. Morning prayer and conventual Mass are usually early in the morning. When you live in community, the early morning is often the best (or only) time to find quiet for peaceful prayer or reflection.

On the other hand, the two greatest mysteries of our faith, the birth of the Lord and his Resurrection, happened in the middle of the night. Jesus was born in the night, presumably with only Mary and Joseph as witnesses. Of course it's normal to be born at night. The Resurrection seems to have happened at some moment in the night following the Sabbath of Good Friday night and Holy Saturday. Jesus, good Jew that he was, rested on the Sabbath, and didn't want to start the work of renovating the world until it was over. And there were no witnesses to the Resurrection itself.

On every feast and solemnity the psalmody for morning prayer declares, "On my bed I remember you, on you I muse through the night." (psalm 63) And in the night prayer for each vigil of Sunday we pray, "Lift up your hands to the holy place and bless the Lord through the night." (psalm 130)

With so much spiritual mystery to the night, it's funny that religion is so based on getting up early in the morning!

August 16, 2006

Final Profession

One night on retreat I was pacing outside, thinking about the very idea of taking my final, perpetual vows in religious life. Then I saw the big tree in the center of the retreat house's circular driveway and for some reason I addressed it:

"Well, what do you have to say for yourself, Tree, seeing as you're perpetually professed?"

So then I reflected on the perpetual profession of the tree. The tree receives the sunlight and the rain from God, but it doesn't agonize over what to do with these graces. It doesn't need to discern what to do with the rain and the sun. It doesn't need to journal about it, or wonder how someone with its particular Enneagram number or Myers-Briggs letters would handle them.

The tree has a form of life, or a rule, through which it already knows how it will use the sunlight and the rain. It will grow and flourish and provide shade for the driveway and for those who pray to Our Lady at the grotto across from the house. The tree is committed to its form of life, to its rule. It's perpetually professed.

(By the way, I am 5, INTJ.)

August 15, 2006


Thank you everyone for your prayers for my retreat. I'm back and moved into a new friary, with several other transitions to go. But how can I complain? I'm supposed to be an itinerant and a mendicant. Francis was fond of a brother who refused to live more than a month in one place. After a month he would get up and go, saying, "Our home is not here, but in heaven."

I worked a lot on retreat with Jacob's encounter with the Angel of the Lord in Genesis 32. I reflected on its nature as a model for prayer. "Some man," who turns out to be the angel, or the presence of God, approaches Jacob when he is alone at night. They struggle, or wrestle, until dawn. In the same way I've often experienced prayer as an obscure and mysterious encounter initiated from somewhere, I know not where.

In the end Jacob demands two things from the angel of the Lord, but only gets half of what we wants. He demands a blessing and receives his new name, Israel, and thus his new vocation. He asks to know the name of the one with whom we has been struggling, and doesn't get it. To me it speaks of the fruits of prayer. Through prayer we can receive discernment of our next step and something we call our vocation in the Lord. But when we hope to penetrate the mystery of the One with whom we struggle, the obscure presence of God only retreats further. We're left with great blessings, but also the frustration of feeling that we know less about who God is than when we started.

Of course there are other famous details in the story, but I didn't have any inspirations about their meaning for me.

Enjoy the feast of the Assumption today. If anything, it's a beautiful affirmation of the blessed possibilities of our bodily existence.

August 6, 2006


I'm going off on retreat today, in preparation for my upcoming final religious profession. I intend to be more or less off the grid during this time, so I won't be posting for at least a week.

Enjoy the feast of the Transfiguration today. I've always thought that it was one of the more mystical of our celebrations. In the synoptic gospel tradition, I take the Transfiguration as a Resurrection appearance that comes before the Resurrection itself.

It goes to show that the Resurrection in not a discrete historical event, but an inbreaking of the transcendent into time and history. It's the same with us: the mystery of our risen, transfigured life is hidden within our mundane existence. To notice it at all is already a lot. To live it is to be a saint.

August 2, 2006


Today is the feast day of the mother church of the Franciscan order. It was at the little church of the Portiuncula, dedicated to Our Lady of the Angels, that Franciscan pre-history became the story of a great religious order. The first friars were staying there in 1209 when the so-called primitive rule was said to be verbally approved by Innocent III.

You may be more familiar with Our Lady of the Angels as a title for Mary than you might think: I believe that Santa Maria de Los Angeles is the full name of the city of Los Angeles, California. There's a lot of Franciscan influence out that way, you know.

Nowadays that tiny church of the Portiuncula is located inside a larger church dedicated to Our Lady in the modern city of Assisi. There are some good pictures in the Wikipedia article.

August 1, 2006

Summer Reading

I'm not much good for reading fiction, except that sometimes during times when I'm on the road a lot like this part of the summer. It's nice to have something to read on trains and planes. Also, for some reason I've gotten into the habit of reading The Catcher in the Rye each winter. I don't know why; it seems very funny to me in some way.

During this trip I've been reading Eco's Foucault's Pendulum. It's a lot of fun. I only mention it as an addendum to my comments on The Da Vinci Code. Foucault's Pendulum strikes me as what Dan Brown's book might be like if it was not only about mystery but mysterious itself, wasn't so tediously linear, and actually had interesting characters.

But I warn you, it's a little hard to figure out what Foucault's Pendulum is actually about, or even to follow the plot. Nevertheless, the language and construction is a joy.