February 28, 2007


Today in Canon Law class I learned about this special opportunity for you ladies:

A woman may not contract a valid marriage with a man who has abducted her for this purpose, but there isn't any problem with matrimonial consent in the opposite case.

See for yourself. Canon 1089.

February 27, 2007


I got a note this morning from someone which said, "give thanks for who you are and who you are becoming." I liked it because it reveals some sense of the mystery of freedom, habit, virtue, and vice.

Every choice we make is a choice not only to do something, but to become somebody. Acting gently and peacefully makes us more peaceful and gentle. Deciding to be angry or greedy makes us a more angry and greedy person when we come to the next choice.

February 26, 2007


I have a new diagnosis for the DSM-IV. I call it "Attention Hypertrophy/Hypoactivity Disorder."

You might be one of the many afflicted if you can answer "yes" to any of these questions:

1. I have looked up one word in a dictionary and then read several surrounding entries as well.
2. I have followed enough cross-references in Wikipedia that I end up reading about a totally different topic.
3. I grew up playing D&D.
4. I have spent two hours sitting in an ice cream shop with a professor, arguing about what constitutes "overly colloquial" prose.
5. I have marinated a sauerbraten for more than two days.
6. I have prayed all 15 (before the Luminous Mysteries) or 20 (after them) mysteries of the Rosary in one go.
7. I have used up a disposable ballpoint pen.
8. I have read any of the following in their entirety: The General Instruction of the Roman Missal, the General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours, or the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
9. I have, even once, looked up a reference to anyone's Commentary on the Sentences.
10. I have read the entire thank-you list from a record album.
11. I have watched episodes IV, V, and VI of Star Wars in a row.
12. I have tried to calculate, in my head, the exact day that was the mid-point of my life.

If this is you, you may have too much attention. Go get yourself the help that you need.

February 23, 2007


The prophet Isaiah is quite clear in today's first reading:
Is this the manner of fasting I wish,
of keeping a day of penance:
That a man bow his head like a reed
and lie in sackcloth and ashes?
Do you call this a fast,
a day acceptable to the LORD?
This, rather, is the fasting that I wish:
releasing those bound unjustly,
untying the thongs of the yoke;
Setting free the oppressed,
breaking every yoke;
Sharing your bread with the hungry,
sheltering the oppressed and the homeless;
Clothing the naked when you see them,
and not turning your back on your own.
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your wound shall quickly be healed;
Your vindication shall go before you,
and the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.

Fasting is no end in itself. It should only serve to break our selfishness that we might be less violent and more tuned in to the needs of the world. Fasting to any other end is vainglory.

There are lots of things we can fast from classics like chocolate and beer to other things our imaginations feed upon like the internet and CNN. The trick is to choose not the one that seems the most religious, but the one that will make our hearts less selfish, setting us up to contribute to the justice and peace of the world.


There are lots of moments in the course of a religious vocation when you say, either to yourself or someone else, "Back when I was discerning a vocation to religious life, if you had told me I would be doing this as part of it, I wouldn't have believed it." Here's one of those moments:

Here in my house we decided to have adoration of the Blessed Sacrament on Friday nights in Lent. We also thought we could invite locals folks to join us if they wanted; tonight we were going to invite the "Blue Brothers."

But there was a problem. All we have in the house are 2 3/4 inch hosts, and the luna of our monstrance is only 2 1/2 inches in internal diameter. So there I am last night, cutting a quarter inch wide ring off the edge of a wafer.

February 21, 2007

Ash Wednesday


I find Ash Wednesday to be one of the most intriguing and curious liturgies of the year. Think about it: first we proclaim Jesus' instructions on how to fast, from the Sermon on the Mount:
When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. They neglect their appearance, so that they may appear to others to be fasting. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden. And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.

Then, right after hearing about how we are supposed to wash our faces and hide our fasting from others, everyone puts dirt on their head and walks around all day like that.

What can this mean, that we proclaim the doctrine of Jesus and then ritually do the exact opposite? To me it can only be a ritualized form of admitting that we have not lived up to the good news offered us in Jesus Christ. We have heard the Gospel all year, haven't responded, so now we do a ritual that proclaims our failure physically. That's powerful. And that's my theory about why everyone in the world goes to Church today.

February 20, 2007

Lent Eve

Whatever you call it, Mardi Gras, Pancake Day, or Shrove Tuesday, this is one of my favorite days of the year.

It's the day to get ready for Lent; to decide on practices, to get all the religious equipment together, and to hope for a spiritual renewal to culminate in the renewal of our baptismal vows at the Great Vigil of Easter.

I guess I see the beginning of Lent as something like the fresh start of a new year; a time to gather things back up and start again. It's a moment to dream of what could be, of how I can learn anew to pray, fast, and give alms. Time to quiet down, forget about trifles, pull out hefty volume II of the breviary, and make a new effort to be faithful to the Lord.

Yes the temptation is spiritualized ambition, but hopefully the ambition aims at giving up ownership and control over prayer, fasting, and almsgiving and letting the Spirit of the God and the daily cycles of Mass and Office take control of my imagination.

February 19, 2007


The other day I was walking down to the subway stop when I saw a big, black and white cat sitting at the edge of an alley. So I stopped to say hi. When I talked to the cat, he began to complain to me with big meows. That's when I realized I was standing in the sunbeam he had been enjoying. So I moved.

It's one of those old Trinitarian images: Father, Son, and Spirit as Sun, Beam, and Light. And it's the first lesson of ministry: don't block the light, and know how to get out of the way of the Son and Spirit, the two hands that the Father uses to embrace the world.

February 18, 2007


The woman with whom I did the children's liturgy of the word today "translated" this Sunday's part of the Sermon on the Plain like this:

If you help your mother because you think you're going to get a treat, what credit is that to you? Even bad kids are helpful when they think they're going to get something.

February 16, 2007

When Ministry Goes Wrong

As one of my confreres said this morning, "There I was, hard at work, doing for God what God couldn't do for himself."


Everything these days is multicultural, especially in Church. We're supposed to celebrate diversity, and find in it some sign of the manifold generosity of the Creator. Over one weekend I might say "The Gospel of the Lord!" in English, Spanish, French and Arabic. And this is supposed to be a sign of vibrancy, unity, and multicultural success.

So it always cracks me up when the Tower of Babel rolls around in the lectionary, as it does for Mass today. For this story presents the diversity of cultural and language on earth as a punishment for human hubris.

And indeed it is a divine curse which is only overcome in the New Covenant: instead of the people who, in their pride, said 'let us build bricks and make a tower that will reach to heaven,' God builds the Church out of living stones. In the Spirit the apostles are heard in several languages at once, overcoming the confusion of languages. The people who were "scattered all over the earth" at Babel are drawn back together in the Unity who is Christ.

Nevertheless, unity is not the same thing as uniformity. Uniformity is not necessarily unity, and diversity is not necessarily disunity.

February 15, 2007


God is dead, Marx is dead, Anna Nicole Smith is dead, and I don't feel so well myself.

The trouble with our culture is that we don't realize what a catastrophic thing we've done by letting the first die, or how we have robbed ourselves of even a secular salvation history by killing the second, and how we mourn the third just reveals how puerile and petty it has left us.

As for me, I worry, though contrary to the Lord's command not to, I might add.

Shame on Us

I finished a first draft of chapter 3 of my thesis this morning, so for a break I caught a little of the President Bush's speech on Afghanistan.

There he was, talking about further escalations of the so-called "war on terror," in front of his friends of the American Enterprise Institute, as if nobody even wants to hide or is even a little bit ashamed of the awful collusion of business and profit interest in these "wars."


At it's most basic symbolic level, the Cross is an intersection. In fact, in Christ crucified we contemplate the intersection and coincidence of all opposites. The divine is joined to the human, our time-bound world coincides with the eternity of God, and the impassible God suffers his Passion. As an instrument of death, the Cross becomes the Tree of Life. And this is the same Tree of Life from the garden of Eden and the same Tree of Life from the New Jerusalem in Revelation 22. Thus the end is joined to the beginning and creation is restored to "original blessing."

Christ crucified proclaims to us, "I am the first and the last, the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end."

February 14, 2007


The Trinity is not just a doctrine of God. Among other things, it is a doctrine of our spiritual life, of our interface with the divine life. Consider, for example, the Form of Life Given to Saint Clare by Francis:

Since by divine inspiration you have made yourselves daughters and handmaids of the Most High King and heavenly Father, and have betrothed yourselves to the Holy Spirit to live according to the perfection of the holy Gospel, I will and promise for me and my brothers to always have for you the same loving care and special solicitude I have for them.

The Holy Spirit inspires us to live according to the Gospel, that is the Word of God, the same Word made flesh in Jesus Christ. By living, through the power of the Spirit, according to the pattern of Jesus Christ, we are made children, servants, and friends of the Most High God is the first Source of all.

February 13, 2007


The news frightened me yesterday. On and on with the killing in Iraq, and now you have to wonder if a conflict with Iran is coming. Not to speak of a new "spring offensive" in Afghanistan. I just wonder if we are heading to a world of permanent warfare, like the Oceania-Eastasia-Eurasia war in 1984.

Everyone says that they want peace, but their problem is they don't know what peace is. To the world, peace is just the absence of annoyance and conflict. It is the absence of anything which would interfere with their own selfish projects and plans for exploitation of others.

Real peace isn't just the absence of conflict. It is an active, provocative force. It "turns the other cheek," putting the power of peace and non-violence in the face of those whose misery and self-hate explodes into the all the violence of the world.

As long as we live in fear, there can be no peace. But the answer to fear is not war, is not the "Cheney doctrine" of destroying threats before they can arise. Perhaps Yoda put it best: "Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering."

February 12, 2007

More Christology

Sometimes I learn random facts, like that a nanocentury is just about pi seconds, and it convinces me even more that the universe was created in the image of the Word of God, who is perfect Order and Beauty.


Francis writes, at the beginning of this fifth Admonition:
Pay attention, o human being, to the excellency the Lord God has placed you in, who created and formed you to the image of his beloved Son according to the body and to his likeness according to the spirit.

In this little phrase is all the genius of Franciscan reflection on Christ and his Incarnation. For Francis claims that even our bodies are created in the image of the Son of God. Therefore, that the Son of God became one of us could not have been God's "plan B" to deal with original sin, but must have been in the plan of Providence from the Beginning.

God would have become Incarnate in Jesus Christ even if we had never sinned, because the point of the Incarnation is not remedial, but the summing up of all things in the overwhelming generosity and goodness of God.


Sometimes it just takes some Armenian-American alternative metal music to capture your experience of prayer.

February 10, 2007


Today in the Office of Readings, Paul's discussion of his stigmata comes around, and thus we have the Scriptural basis for the spiritual reality that was so real for Francis:

Henceforth let no man trouble me; for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.

"Marks of Jesus" is stigmata tou Iesou.

Stigmata in Greek has the general sense of a mark, but the more technical sense of a branding mark. Thus Paul is marked as the property of, as dedicated to Jesus Christ. He is the slave of Christ, as he so often puts it. This stands in contrast to the circumcision party he was arguing with in Galatia: we ought not to seek the marks of human custom and approval, but the brand marks of Jesus Christ, those that come to us through his service.

For, me, I'm going to recall this when I am hearing this Sunday's Gospel of Luke's Beatitudes and Woes: Woe to you, when all speak well of you, for so their ancestors did the same to the false prophets.

The marks of worldly, human approval are useless. The brand marks, the limitations and sufferings we earn through the service of God in Christ, they alone count for something.

February 9, 2007


A spiritual practice or ascesis of thoughts or "guard of the heart" becomes very important for me when I get into any kind of personal conflict in which I feel hurt or angry.

My mind tends to occupy itself with playing out my defensive responses for future, imagined conversations, and going over and over the things that felt frustrating or hurtful.

But all of this is a trick, and if I let myself get more and more committed to living in a world of conversations that might or might not happen, and in any case don't exist right now, I am trading in unreality. And unreality is no-thing, is incapable of carrying meaning, and only leads to further misery.

The ascesis is to notice when the angry, defensive thoughts arise, either before of after they start to coalesce into narratives and "tapes," and decide to let go of them. In their place, I try to simply return to the situation before me, and ask what is called for at this moment, "in the now."

A simple, repeated prayer like the Rosary or the Jesus Prayer can be a big help in this practice: to replace intrusive thoughts that produce anxiety and agitation with holy thoughts that produce patience and peace.

February 8, 2007

St. Josephine

Today is the feast of St. Josephine Bakhita (1869-1947), a Sudanese who spent much of her life suffering in brutal slavery, and later became famous for her gentleness as portress with the Canossian Sisters.

Her feast day reminds us of the need to pray and seek justice and peace for the people of Sudan, and to do penance for the violence of the slavery and human trafficking still inflicted on many people, especially women and children.

Book Review: Anger

Not to fear, I'm still on my way through my Christmas present, the Seven Deadly Sins Series. Yesterday I finished Robert Thurman's Anger.

This one was a treat because it's the first volume in the series that I would call a spiritual book. Now it's not written from a Christian perspective, Thurman being a practitioner, scholar, and popularizer of Buddhism, but this doesn't take away from the utility of his discussion for Christians.

Thurman helps us to understand why anger is harmful and why we should want to be rid of it, and then spends several short chapters outlining the practices of active patience that will help us to heal ourselves and others who harm themselves by being angry with us.

The whole discussion has the clean, plain, practical edge of Buddhist advice. For example:
It might be hard right away to feel compassion for someone who is trying to kill or harm you.You may be gripped by flight or fight reactions, you may practically need to defend yourself and have no time to feel sorry for your delusional attacker, but why bother to explode in anger? Save your energy for the most effective rational response to avoid the harm, to cool down the enemy with the most efficient means.

In the end the truth about anger shines forth: that it is a sign that we are too attached to ourselves, have absolutized our own being, and it hurts us more than anyone unfortunate enough to receive it.

Nice book, worth reading. Robert Thurman, incidentally, is father to the somewhat more famous and always fetching Uma Thurman.

February 7, 2007

You Know You're a Nerd When...

You go to school to see your thesis director and run into another professor, who says he has a present for you. The present then turns out to be a re-gift of a T-shirt that says, Sona Si Loqueris Latina, "Honk if You Speak Latin."

You just might be a nerd if...

1. You can read it,
2. You think it's funny,
3. You wonder if it's not supposed to say "loqueris latinam," but then having looked up and reviewed the transitive and intransitive uses of loquor, locutus sum, loqui decide that it's correct
4. are so bemused by 1. and 2. and the fact that you really did 3., you will have no shame and actually wear it.
5. The next thing you do is visit the library to borrow Bonaventure's Collationes in Hexaemeron, and find one of your own lost bookmarks in it.

Colette of Corbie

Today is the feast of St. Colette, fifteenth-century reformer of the Poor Clares. Her Wikipedia article is pretty good, but if you read French, here's a better page.

Nemo Ostendebat Mihi

The Testament of St. Francis has always spoken very deeply to my experience. Here's one my favorite parts:
And after the Lord gave me some brothers, no one showed me what I was supposed to do, but the Most Hight himself revealed to me that I should live according to the form of the holy Gospel.

The first part of the sentence is the most often quoted, to express the Franciscan insight that our spiritual brothers and sisters are a gift from God. The final part is cited frequently as well, the great insight of the mendicant, evangelical life. But what speaks to me is the middle part, "no one showed me what I was supposed to do."

I guess it's because I've experienced a crisis of spiritual guidance at many stages of my own life, and because I perceive such a crisis in the world around me. I feel it when I see old people struggling to use our new-fangled subway cards and turnstiles here in Boston. I see it every time I go out and see young people, floating through the world in identities and thought-worlds created for them by greedy advertisers.

I even see a crisis of spiritual guidance in Church. We have such beautiful mysteries in Christianity: the Cross and Resurrection, the cleansing death of Baptism, the spiritual food of the Eucharist. And yet sometimes I feel like people in Church look upon the Cross and Resurrection, for instance, as discrete events that are outside of them, like something on the news. Where is the spiritual guidance to help everyone realize that, because of the humanity of Christ, the mystery of Cross and Resurrection, Baptism and Eucharist, are first of all about them and their experience in all its glorious and unglamorous particularity?

February 6, 2007

Nagasaki Martyrs

Today is the feast of the martyrs of Japan, 26 Christians crucified in Nagasaki in February 1597. Among them were 17 Japanese laymen (including three children), 3 Japanese Jesuits, and 6 European Franciscans.

In the general Roman calendar they are celebrated as "Paul Miki and companions," Paul being one of the Jesuits. He was only one year away from his ordination. In the Franciscan calendar they are celebrated as "Peter Baptist, Paul Miki, and companions." Peter Baptist was a Spanish friar who had worked several years in the Philippines before going to Japan.

Their courage is almost impossible for me to imagine. Having already had an ear cut off and expecting to be crucified the next day or the day after, Peter Baptist wrote to his confreres:
Dearest brothers, help us with your prayers that our death may be acceptable to the majesty of God in heaven where, God willing, we hope to go. We will remember you. We have not forgotten your love here. I have loved you and still love you with all my heart. I wish you the peace and love of our Lord Jesus Christ. Farewell, dearest brothers, because there is no longer any time to speak to you. Till we meet in heaven. Remember me.

February 5, 2007

Catholic Blog Awards

I've always considered part of the point of a minor friar to be the promotion of the Franciscan Blogosphere. To this end, I've made some nominations for this year's Catholic Blog Awards. Namely, Cardinal Sean for best blog by a cleric or religious, Reflections of a Secular Franciscan for best political commentary on a Catholic blog, and An Ambassador for Christ for the best spiritual Catholic blog.


I watched a little bit of Superbowl XLI last night, until I saw this commercial. I found the ad so depressing that I turned it off. Though the robot is cute and the idea of a robot having dreams is intriguing, the message is very sad.

In a world without God, you have nothing to fall back on but the competence, wealth, fame, and security that can be accomplished in this life. But since most of us will live obscure lives of varying degrees of success and failure, to be less than rich, and to suffer the ultimate insecurity of disease, misfortune and death, well that's a very sad world indeed. Given this grim situation, we may as well jump of a bridge and kill ourselves.

The world says that we had better be "obsessed with quality," because the other option is meaninglessness and suicide. Put that together with the fact that the world is so broken, and our hearts are so prone to self-sabotage, well that's a very sad world to live in.

If only the robot could hear the good news that her value does not consist in success or failure on the assembly line.

February 2, 2007


Today is the feast of the Presentation of the Lord, also known in the West as Candlemas, and I think, formerly known as the Purification of Mary. It's a perfect day to celebrate light by blessing candles, on the cross-quarter day half-way between the winter solstice and the vernal equinox.

I like these feast days that seem to come out of order. The feast of the Presentation is like a piece of Christmas--the child Jesus, the theme of the light, the Lukan narrative of Simeon and Anna--that comes in the middle of winter Ordinary Time. I feel the same way about the Transfiguration; it's like a piece of the Resurrection glory of Easter that arrives suddenly in the otherwise liturgically drab middle of the summer.

That feast days like today should monkey-wrench the otherwise neat and linear progression of liturgical mystery by appearing a little out of order, it reminds me that all the mysteries we celebrate are a unity, not, as it were, coming one after the other, but as a single benevolent Mystery viewed from different angles.

February 1, 2007


The breviary gives little blurbs about the saints on their feast days. Usually they aren't very interesting, but part of the one for St. John Bosco yesterday caught my attention:
His early years were most difficult and once ordained to the priesthood he dedicated himself to the education of the young.

I was thinking about how that little statement has everything I need to know about spirituality. We have two choices about what to do with our suffering: we can try get even with the world by making others suffer as well, continuing the cycle of violence whereby the abused becomes the abuser, the terrorized becomes the terrorist, the revolutionary becomes the dictator, etc., or we can choose to transform suffering into compassion.

The latter choice says, "the cycle of violence ends here, for I am returning life in exchange for the suffering of death." And that, I suppose, is the mystery of the Cross and Resurrection.

Taking our suffering and making sure it doesn't become violence, and trying to transform it into compassion is the work of spirituality, by whatever name you call it: ascesis, right effort, jihad, working our program, yoga.

And Jesus promised that his yoga was easy and light. (Same word, no kidding.)