July 25, 2007

Pilgrimage: Camerino

I write today from the original Capuchin friary in the little town of Camerino. It is like the religious life of the movies. An old stone cloister with a public church attached surrounded gravel roads and gardens. At supper last night all the bearded local friars--and we Frati Americani too--sat around the perimeter of the refectory while the novices came around bringing us wine and fruit, salami and cheese.

I have been very grateful to God on this pilgrimage. Yesterday we had Mass at the crypt of the Basilica of St. Peter in Rome, right in front of the tomb of the apostle. It had been fifteen years since I had been in that spot, and I was just thinking over and over about how much God had done for me during that time--Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, an invitation to a life of prayer--not that I really accepted it!--and a religious vocation through which I have received so much grace and opportunity.

So thanks to the prayers of many things are going well, and you can be assured of mine too.

July 20, 2007

Away on Pilgrimage

I'm leaving for pilgrimage soon, so I'll be (gratefully!) off the grid for a while. If I get a chance to post, I will. Otherwise, I'll be back around the middle of August.

I'm going to Assisi, Rome, San Giovanni Rotondo, and some other places of Capuchin significance.

Pray for me and my brother pilgrims!

July 19, 2007


A lot of religious poo-poo life in a big, institutional style monastery. It has its advantages, though. For one thing, they are great repositories of random stuff, some of which you might need.

For example, in a couple of days I'm leaving for a pilgrimage to Assisi, Rome, San Giovanni Rotondo, and a few other sites of Franciscan and Capuchin interest. This morning I was thinking about what I might still need for the trip, and I thought of four things:

1. A small, new notebook to write a travelogue for our communications office
2. A portable Italian dictionary
3. Travel-size laundry detergent
4. A copy of the Biblioteca de Autores Cristianos volume of St. Francis. It's several times smaller and lighter than its English language counterparts and thus better for travel.

I found all of them without even leaving the house. So thank God for big, old, institutional religious houses.

July 18, 2007


There was a terrific thunderstorm here earlier this morning, so I spent my morning meditation just listening to it. I was thinking about how remarkable it is that our world and our bodies are so full of liquid water; water is liquid at an almost negligible temperature range in the cosmic scheme of things.

And I was thinking about how its always out of water that God brings new life. Creation itself was called forth by the Word out of the waters, and then, later, the dry land was called forth from the sea.

Later on, a new beginning of humanity emerged out of the Flood. Moses too, in his little ark, began his vocation by being taken out of the water by Pharoah's daughter.

The Israelites made their way to the Promised Land after passing safely through the Red Sea, and in the same way Christ was baptized in the Jordan to open for us a way to the Father through his own humanity.

Each one of us are born into this world as we leave the waters of the womb. We enter a world whose expansiveness and possibility we could have hardly have imagined before we were born. And I expect it's the same when we are one day born out of this life.
Laudato si, mi signore, per sor aqua,
la quale รจ multo utile et humile et pretiosa et casta.

Praised be you, my Lord, through Sister Water,
Who is so useful and humble and precious and chaste.

--Francis of Assisi

July 17, 2007

The LA Settlement

Another diocese has made a record settlement of their sexual abuse cases. These always leave me sad. The victims know and express that the money satisfies neither their spiritual desire for apology and reconciliation, nor their more base desire for punishment. Dioceses become more broke, and it's the people in the pew who will suffer.

But what I really worry about is whether a deeper conversion will happen within our leadership. Certainly we now have better safeguards and systems of certification, but it's my belief that clerical sexual abuse is only the violent, criminal and tragic tip of the larger iceberg of spiritual malaise and other troubles in the clerical culture and men's religious life. (I can't speak for the women.)

Money settlements for the sake of damages and better institutional systems for protecting children are one thing. And I believe they will help prevent the abuse that is so damaging to the lives of victims. But what we really need is a conversion of heart. And I mean we the clerics of the Church.

July 13, 2007

You Know You're Back in New York When...

The other day we had a guest priest come to celebrate a funeral. He didn't have time to do the committal, however, so after the Mass I had to rush out to jump in the hearse and go to the cemetery. I wanted to tell him that our sacristan could be trusted to help him put things away and show him out in my absence, so I said to him:

"Father, I have to go to the cemetery, but our sacristan, he'll take care of you."

"Oh no," the priest replied, "I'm not taking any money!"

July 12, 2007

Best Cover Ever

I'm a great lover of clever or creative cover versions of songs. This one is really something. Hopefully I won't have to sing it in church anytime soon or I might crack up. The band, by the way, is The Vandals from Orange county, California.

Summorum Pontificum: Orientation

I think I'm having too much fun with the long-anticipated appearance of Summorum pontificum. I'll try to quit after this, but one other issue that I think deserves attention is one of the most obvious differences between the "old" Mass and the "new" one: the orientation (literally!) of the ministers in relation to the rest of the assembly.

When Mass is celebrated according to the Missal of John XXIII (and of Pius V), the whole assembly faces in one direction. Thus they are able to fulfill the ancient Christian practice of facing east for prayer, orienting themselves. Since the most recent reform of the liturgy, Mass is usually celebrated with ministers facing the rest of the assembly, gathered around the altar either in a binary, cruciform, or in-the-round fashion.

Most people seem to have strong feelings about which set of postures is better. I don't. I see deep symbolic resonances in both, and ways in which either one can be done so as to ruin them.

To have the whole assembly facing in the same direction is a profound symbol of unity. It also suggests that the whole ritual is directed somewhere, rather than in on itself. However, if the clergy, not looking at the people, begin to see what they are doing as a semi-private ritual to which the rest of the assembly are only spectators, then this is truly what critics always call "having your back to the people."

To have the ministers face the rest of the assembly is also profound. It suggests that a community, however diverse, gathers around the unity that is Christ--in the altar that is his table and his tomb. But if the priest uses this arrangement to turn the Mass into a theatrical or histrionic cult of personality or a cooking show--in short, if he makes it focus on himself rather than on Jesus Christ--then this too fails.

July 11, 2007

Summorum Pontificum: Lay Empowerment

Summorum Pontificum is supposed to be a victory for traditionalist catholics, but on the other hand it holds up what is usually seen as a progressive and liberal catholic value: the empowerment of the lay faithful.

There is now a (more generalized) choice between the ordinary form of the Roman rite found in the missal of Paul VI and the extraordinary form, found in the missal of Blessed John XXIII. And who gets to choose? Not the bishop or the pastor, but the lay faithful.

Consider the beginning of article 5:
In those parishes, where a group of the faithful attached to the traditional liturgy exists continuously, the pastor shall accept their petitions to celebrate the holy mass according the Roman Missal of 1962.

And again, the beginning of article 7:
Where there is such a group of the lay faithful, as in article 5, paragraph 1, not having obtained their wish from the pastor, they should make the issue known to the diocesan bishop.

Thus what seems like a conserving and "conservative" document puts the power of choice in the hands of the laity, who have recourse even against the opinions of their pastors!

July 10, 2007

Summorum Pontificum: On Language

I have a lot of thoughts on the recent developments regarding Summorum pontificum, issued motu proprio by Benedict XVI this past weekend. The ones that are coalescing first are about language.

For me, I have no problem with liturgy in Latin. What doesn't make sense is what you always hear about "going back to Latin." Vatican II affirmed Latin as the ordinary language of the Roman rite, while at the same time opening up the possibility of translating the liturgy into local languages. Therefore, to celebrate the Latin rite in Latin (shocking!) is not to "go back" to anything.

Even more, I have some hermeneutic suspicion about Vatican II and the vernacular liturgy. The more I read Vatican II, especially Gaudium et spes, the more I see, as a basic framework, an admission of the ideas of the European Enlightenment. It's like (just when it was getting to be too late), the fathers of the Council are going to admit that the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries happened. So therefore you end up with a theology that incorporates all of these good Enlightenment ideas like historical optimism and confidence in the human role in historical progress. And one of the most powerful ideas of the Enlightenment was the nation-state.

Therefore, my interpretation of Vatican II and the vernacular liturgy is that it was about "full, conscious and active participation" for sure, but I think it's also about the affirmation of the particularity of peoples and of national character.

Now this makes sense when you have Italians in Italy praying in Italian and Germans in Germany praying in German. But in our time the nation-state is breaking down, especially in the sense of a certain people, an ethnos, making up a homogeneous country. On the contrary, ours is a time of migration and ethnic diversity. Only once in my life as a friar have I been part of a parish with only one language, and often there have been three or even five.

It seems to me that Latin might be part of the answer to the multi-lingual parish question. Not that it would be a full solution, but it might be part of a plan. With many languages in a congregation you can either have separate services, which tends to produce parallel congregations, or you can try to do multi-lingual liturgies.

Now the latter celebrate diversity for sure, and are a beautiful sign of the many peoples processing to the Lord, as Isaiah prophesied. But they are also awkward by nature and difficult to plan and execute. Might there also be a place of the ordinary language of our liturgy, Latin, as a sign of unity?

Of course, Summorum pontificum is not about the supposed "restoration" of Latin at all, but about liberalizing the use of the Roman rite as it was before 1970, which used to require special permission.

July 9, 2007

Geometric Grace

A little while back I went to a rosary devotion and prayed with a bunch of people. When it was over, one of them explained to me that it was a real good idea to attend group rosaries, because, if you pray the rosary with a number of people, each gets "credit" for having prayed that number of rosaries.

At one level I appreciate the thought. On another I don't. I like it because it suggests the superabundance of grace. According to this model, the grace or "credit" of having prayed a rosary increases geometrically. That is to say, when one person prays the rosary, one portion of grace is received. If two people, then four, as each would receive two. If five people prayed the rosary together, then there would be 25 portions of grace. If 100, then 10,000, and so on.

Grace is always given utterly out of proportion with our desire, effort or willingness to receive it, so in this sense I like my friend's idea.

On the other hand, God does not dispense credit to those who do the things that God allegedly wants. As Jesus himself said, God lets the sun shine and the rain fall for both the just and unjust, because God loves his enemies just as much as his friends. Thus there is no sense in which one person has more "credit" than another before God. As Paul says over and over, all have sinned and fallen short of God's glory.

Even more, grace is not a quantifiable commodity like money, or a credit rating, the respect of a community, or human trust. Good or bad, saint or sinner (or miserable and unglamorous mix of both, as most of us are), we all move and have our being in the grace of God. It's like living and working in the light of day. Most of the time we are just looking at stuff and tasks, without reflecting on the Light that illuminates our vision and understanding in the first place.

July 6, 2007


In the course of my religious life I have encountered an astounding diversity of theologies of vocation and vocational discernment. But often it comes down to one question: does God will a particular and certain path for each person?

In other words, is there only one possible correct outcome as we try to discern a vocation? Is God's will so specific that the divine will means for one to become a religious is this community, or to marry this particular person, or to become a hermit, or to stay single in the world?

Some say yes. Others say it's a more complex process of cooperation without a predetermined outcome. I have heard wise people come down on both sides of the question.

For whatever reason I was thinking about it yesterday on the bus, and I thought of a simple problem I hadn't noticed before.

Let's say the divine will has A. entering religious life, but A. marries B. instead. This means that both are in the wrong vocation, because B. has also missed the mark. Or let's say C. was supposed to marry D., but D. becomes a hermit, and now C. goes and marries E., whom God meant to marry someone else entirely.

Thus the whole idea of God demanding a certain and particular vocation from each, though it seems encouraging in the individual interior life, breaks down when it comes to an inter-personal system. But is this a reductio ad absurdum for the whole idea? Well, it would seem so, because why would God let someone suffer the loss of his or her proper vocation because of the negligence of another?

On the other hand, the world is full of those who suffer unfulfilled lives of poverty, sickness and despair because of the selfish choices of others.

July 3, 2007

St. Thomas

One of our homework assignments in theology was to decide whether our faith in the Resurrection was the same as that of the apostles. There wasn't a right or wrong answer. It was more of a test to see if you could make a theological argument.

Some said our faith was the same, some said different. One of my favorite answers came from the classmate who said that our faith was better because of the blessing that Thomas had earned for those who have not seen but have believed nonetheless:
Jesus said to him, "Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed." (John 21:29)

July 2, 2007

Amoris Victima

The church where I'm working now has a grand baldachino over the tabernacle. In the center of its vault is a mosaic of the cross surrounded by two angels. The angels are holding a placard in front of the cross that says, amoris victima, victim of love.

It's true that the Latin victima is not exactly as generic a term as the English victim, but it's a defensible translation.

As I look at it each morning, the phrase has been on my mind. It's like two words that don't seem to go together, at least by the world's standards. Love is something good. Being a victim or victimizing someone else is something bad. Real love doesn't make victims, only distorted love.

And yet, if we risk love, and especially if we risk letting someone love us, we become vulnerable. Love leaves us open to injury. If we accept this, practicing patience with whatever injuries to come from our efforts at openness to love, this is the vocation of the Body of Christ in this world. This is willingness to take up the Cross.

Via non est nisi per ardentissimum amorem crucifixi, said St. Bonaventure. There is no other way but through the burning love of the Crucified.