June 27, 2007

Cleaning Your Room

Ever since I made that post yesterday with the note about cleaning my room, this passage has been in the back of my mind:
When an unclean spirit goes out of a person it roams through arid regions searching for rest, but finds none. Then it says, 'I will return to my home from which I came.' But upon return it finds it empty, swept clean, and put in order. Then it goes and brings back with itself seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they move in and dwell there; and the last condition of that person is worse than the first. (Mt 13:43-45)

This bit of teaching has always fascinated me, and I guess I've always given it a psychological interpretation. If we begin (or begin again!) to pursue the interior life seriously, there is often a little euphoria as we try to let go of sins and negative patterns. But if we keep at it, we will soon uncover the more awful demons that we were previously medicating ourselves against.

June 26, 2007

Inner & Outer

I'm always fascinated by the inter-relation between the inner and outer person. On the one hand, I've often known people whose circumstances are dire, or whose bodies are falling apart, but who have robust and fruitful spirits.

On the other hand, if I need to get a fresh start with prayer, it always helps to clean my room first.

June 25, 2007


One of the brothers showed up the other day with a great piece of advice. Instead of delegating tasks, he said, concentrate on delegating anxiety.

In other words, if something is someone else's problem, let them worry about it.

June 22, 2007


Old friend Don has had some good posts on mindfulness and living in the present moment these past few days, and they have helped me to think about the Gospel for today, in which the Lord teaches us that where our treasure is, so will our heart be.

For me it's a good examination of conscience for mindfulness to ask myself where my heart is at some point in the day. What are my preoccupations that day? Where do my thoughts seem to drift automatically? How charged are the feelings that follow upon the thoughts? By doing this, I can figure out where my treasure is, and whether it's with the Lord and his work, or with something else.

June 21, 2007

St. Aloysius

One of the brothers told me that the collect for St. Aloysius is his favorite one of the whole year:
Father of love,
giver of all good things,
in St. Aloysius you combined remarkable innocence
with the spirit of penance.
By the help of his prayers
may we who have not followed his innocence
follow his example of penance.

The prayer admits that we are not yet saints, but that we hope for it.

June 19, 2007


Yesterday morning I went over the parish grade school to try to drum up some altar servers for the summer months. It's the last few days of school, and the kids were all full of joy and anticipation.

Rightly or wrongly, they see before them nothing but empty time and freedom from care and toil. They long to be freed from all the constraints of the classroom.

I know it's a little morbid, perhaps, but when I left I was thinking about how the children's anticipation of the last day of school would be a beautiful model for how to make the final journey to death. To see nothing before you but peace and freedom and the eternal Silence in which God speaks his one Word.

June 14, 2007


The author of the book of Wisdom speaks of his desire for wisdom:
And I chose to have her rather than the light

This line came up twice in the liturgy yesterday, for the feast of St. Anthony.

Insight is certainly important in the spiritual life, but we can't count on it. The Light of God is so brilliant that we often experience it only as darkness. In prayer we are purified even of our ideas of God, sometimes coming out feeling as if we understand less than before.

This is all against those folks who say that religion is something we use to feel better, at best an exercise in unjustified optimism and at worst, an "opiate of the masses." Anyone who has given themselves to prayer and the obscurity of faith in a real way knows that it leads to its own anguish and struggles.

June 13, 2007

St. Anthony

Today is the feast of St. Anthony, either of Lisbon, if you go by birth, or of Padua, if by birth to eternal life.

Anthony was the first of the brothers to teach theology to the friars. The letter Francis wrote to him about this is one of my favorites:

Fratri Antonio episcopo meo frater Franciscus salutem. Placet mihi quod sacram theologiam legas fratribus, dummodo inter huius studium orationis et devotionis spiritum non exstinguas, sicut in regula continetur.

Greetings from brother Francis to brother Anthony, my bishop. It pleases me that you teach sacred theology to the brothers, so long as, amidst this study, you do not extinguish the spirit of prayer and devotion, as contained in the rule.


For a couple of nice feast of St. Anthony posts, check our Chiara and Frater.

June 12, 2007

Striking and Decisive

Last night we received a new circular letter from our minister general, Br. Mauro Jöhri, the head of our branch of the Franciscan Order. One paragraph in particular really fired my imagination:
Aware of the thrust towards renewal permeating the whole Church, as children of their time and according to the sensibilities of that epoch, the first Capuchins made Saint Francis alive. They did this in conformity with their vocation. They had no fear or dread in living and proposing what Francis himself had lived. We should pay particular attention to the fact that those Capuchin friars were animated by a strong desire for reform: they wanted to make something striking and decisive of their lives. They had a clear objective and chose the means of reaching it, wishing to live in conformity with the ideal Saint Francis had lived and bequeathed.

There is so much in this paragraph that speaks to what hooked me into this vocation. To react against those who look at radical choices with "fear or dread." To desire to make something "striking or decisive" out of life, for the sake of the reformation of the world.

Perhaps a lot of these desires were worldly or vain for me at the beginning, but grace builds on nature, thank God.

June 11, 2007


When St. Barnabas met the believers in Antioch, he "saw the grace of God," as the Acts of the Apostles describes it today.

It makes me reflect on what I "see" in the people around me. Do I see their faults and the ways that they make things difficult? Do I see what they can get done or how they can be useful to my purposes?

Or do I notice the grace of God in them? Do I see what God has worked in them, perhaps in their faith, their faithfulness, or the love and gentleness that God has put in their hearts?

And so I try to remember that I am free, with the help of the Spirit, to choose a perspective: to pay attention to the negative, or, like Barnabas, to "see the grace of God."

June 10, 2007

Corpus Christi

Anxious about how five thousand people were going to get anything to eat, the Twelve advised Jesus to send them away:
Dismiss the crowd so that they can go to the surrounding villages and farms and find lodging and provisions; for we are in a deserted place here.

So many times it's easy to feel like our prayer life or our efforts to follow the Lord are a "deserted place," but as soon as we allow the Lord to take, bless, break and give the little we do have, we allow ourselves to be transformed by grace.

June 7, 2007

Day Off

One's day off is an institution with the parish clergy, as well it should be. Monday is the traditional choice, as with pizza makers, because of the intensity of the weekend.

Today was my day off, so I decided to take a long walk and explore the town. I found two things that made me happy: White Castle, and a neighboring Catholic church that was open during the day.

I love to sit for a few minutes in a downtown church when nothing is going on. I think it's because it speaks to me as an image of God: dark, quiet, peaceful, and cavernous. And yet somehow these are synthesized and served up as an obscure sense of welcome that is both striking and mystical.


One of the brothers I know is visiting our friars in Africa. We have many indigenous vocations there, but the brothers certainly participate in the terrible crosses that the African continent is suffering in our time.

Our brother recently wrote to us here at home. He told one story about trying to help a frail, 96 year old friar. Our North American brother described how he was feeling bad about the imperfection of his Swahili and ability to communicate. But the old friar gestured toward the courtyard of the friary, at the sky and sun, as if that was all that needed to be said.

I can only think of the words of Francis himself:
Praised be you my Lord, through all your creatures,
Especially Sir Brother Sun,
Through whom we have the day
And you bring the light by him.
And he is beautiful and radiant with great splendor.

Of you Most High, he bears a likeness.

June 5, 2007

"Medieval Times"

One of my first activities as part of the parish staff here was an end-of-year thank-you trip for the altar servers. We went to Medieval Times, a kind of cross between dinner theater and the circus. You eat in barbaric fashion without utensils and are entertained by horse tricks, knightly combats, and a general atmosphere of ludicrous anachronism: "Would you like more Pepsi, my Lord?"

Just for fun I went on their website and looked at the career opportunities, which are introduced like this:

Ever worked in a Castle?
Thought about wearing a costume to work?
Or are you looking for an exciting employment opportunity in a unique and fun environment?
Must be available evenings and weekends.

No thanks, that sounds just like the job I have already.

Don't Look Down

Last night I was talking with a young man who works in the construction of tall buildings, building service elevators and scaffolding. He said he was afraid of heights.

"How do you do your job?" I asked.

"I just don't look down. It's worked so far!" he said.

Later on I was thinking about how it's good advice for the spiritual life. The first step in avoiding our sins and little selfishnesses and our bad "tapes" and poor patterns of thinking is to concentrate our intention--our spiritual gaze--on the grace of God. If we "don't look down" into our occasions of sin or into our habitual spiritual pitfalls in the first place, then we will be less likely to be intimidated by them.

June 3, 2007

Trinity Sunday

As long as we try to wrap our minds around the Trinity of God as God is in himself, we're going to be banging our heads against the wall. But if we start by thinking about what God has done for us, then we might get somewhere. The communion antiphon for today says it all:
You are sons of God, so God has given you the Spirit of his Son to form your hearts and make you cry out: Abba, Father.

Because Jesus Christ has appeared, "full of grace and truth," as John says, we have come to know that there is both Lover and Beloved in God. And because the Beloved has joined himself to our humanity in Jesus of Nazareth, we too can become daughters and sons in the Son. Having been joined to the Beloved in Christ, we realize that the Love of the Father remains with us, and this we call the Spirit.

The overflowing Love and Delight that is God is always stretching forth into human hearts and indeed, into all creation. And it is because we have come to enjoy this grace that we realize that there is Lover, Beloved, and Love in God. And these we call the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

June 1, 2007

Justin Martyr

Today is the feast of St. Justin, patron of philosophers, and one of my favorites. Perhaps it's one of those assertions that make teachers write "strained" on your papers, but I love his claim that it was Moses who taught Plato:
And that you may learn that it was from our teachers—we mean the account given through the prophets— that Plato borrowed his statement that God, having altered matter which was shapeless, made the world, hear the very words spoken through Moses, who, as above shown, was the first prophet, and of greater antiquity than the Greek writers; and through whom the Spirit of prophecy, signifying how and from what materials God at first formed the world, spake thus: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was invisible and unfurnished, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God moved over the waters. And God said, Let there be light; and it was so.” So that both Plato and they who agree with him, and we ourselves, have learned, and you also can be convinced, that by the word of God the whole world was made out of the substance spoken of before by Moses. (Justin Martyr, First Apology, LIX)

Certainly it's quite a far-fetched thing to say. But it does raise the question for us: Do we read history in terms of the Scriptures? Do we allow Revelation to be the interpretive key for all of human experience?