August 31, 2007

Suddenly Real

Sometimes things that are long expected don't become real for me until some particular but otherwise mundane moment. I spent over a year in the candidacy and application process for the Order, but it wasn't until the day I sold my car that my entrance into religious life was suddenly really going to happen.

Well today, like every week, the Sunday bulletins arrived in the parish office. And there on the front I saw the change: "Rev." had been added to my name. I've been looking forward to this for a long time, but now, when it's only a week away, it's real: I'm going to be a priest.

August 29, 2007


Today I am fifteen years old. It seems like so long ago, that Saturday afternoon when I was baptized, and I can hardly imagine what I was thinking or what my sense of what was going on might have been at that time.

It's a funny thing. In some ways time gives me more clarity about my conversion to Christianity. In other ways, whatever it was that happened to me becomes more cloudy and obscure. The more time that goes by, the further back I have to start the conversion story. When I was first baptized, the story I told myself (and others) only went back a couple of years. Later I was able to see how God was working going back five or six years. Now I can trace it back almost to pre-school.

On the other hand, when people ask me how it was I came to be a Catholic Christian, I'm often at a loss to give a satisfying or simple answer. It's somewhat mysterious to me, and has become increasingly so over time.

I guess all of this is the sometimes wonderful and sometimes searingly confusing dynamic of trying to be a prayerful person. We grow more confident in our faith in the faithfulness of God, but at the same time place ourselves in a kind of vertigo of mystery that is sometimes quite disorienting and even frightening.

August 28, 2007

Pilgrimage: San Giovanni Rotondo

This place is a madhouse. At Pio’s tomb you can hardly pray because of the racket of people firing coins at the sarcophagus.

Just walking around I think I’ve blessed more stuff in this afternoon than in the rest of my whole previous clerical career. Rosaries, pictures, bracelets, and even an infant of Prague big enough to be a toddler—in French, as best I could—for a couple from Lille.

The new church is very “modern.” The lower level is like a circular maze in which everyone is lost looking for the confessionals or the Blessed Sacrament. I’m as lost as they are, so I’m more than useless when everyone asks me for directions. Just put on a Capuchin habit, and not only will everyone think you know your way around, but that you speak their own proper language, whether it be Italian, French, German, or Polish.

But, with all of the noise and confusion of this place, I remember how Jesus told us that a tree is known by its fruits. And what fruits can be seen here? Everywhere there are people praying and streaming to confession, all in shadow of the hospitals that carry on Pio’s works of mercy.

August 27, 2007

Pilgrimage: Basilica of St. Francis

Today we had our official tour of the basilica of St. Francis, though most of us had already explored it on our own. It was good to have a solid introduction, though, so we could know what to look for.

Afterwards, having heard from some the brothers that there is a friendly, English speaking confessor, I try to go to confession. Of course, I don’t get him. I get the impatient Italian who insists that I don’t wait for someone else. He doesn’t speak Spanish or English, and I don’t speak Italian. Nevertheless, he prods me to get going. Not knowing what do to, I confess in a combination of Latin and Spanish. The priest gets a little annoyed. Nevertheless, I’m grateful. It’s a chance to believe in the presence of grace in even the most awkward human moments, given our right hope and good intention.

August 24, 2007

Pilgrimage: Capuchin Friary at Camerino

We arrived here late this afternoon for a one-day, two-night moment of recollection. Sitting here after supper it feels like the first moment of peace and quiet since the beginning of the trip.

Here in the original house of our Capuchin reform, it’s like the religious life of the movies. It’s a stone building with a gravel road, tiny cells, and a little church with a cloistered choir on the side. At supper, jolly, bearded friars—ourselves, the frati Americani, included—sit around the perimeter of the refectory while novices run around frantically in their effort to bring us wine, cheese, salami, fruit, and grappa, all of it homemade.

In my mind I keep comparing this place to the novitiate in Honduras. They are similar in a lot of ways. The horarium is almost exactly the same. The novices are a lot chattier, though. And fatter. They are always blabbing amongst themselves, and occasionally even break into song—all spiritual, though, or at least as far as I heard.

This morning I couldn’t bring myself to shave. Somehow it felt like it would be sacrilegious for a Capuchin to shave in Camerino.

August 23, 2007

Pilgrimage: Capuchin Church of the Immaculate Conception, Rome

Cardinal Barberini’s tomb is front and center in the floor. It reads, “hic iacet pulvis, cinis, et nihil.”

To write, “here lies nothing.” It’s so ironic—to say that something you are looking at is nothing. But this is one of central ironies of the Christian life: to be alive, but baptized into the death of Christ, and to be dead in sin, but alive in Christ.

St. Justin Martyr’s relics are here. Pray for us St. Justin, especially for Capuchin students.

We have Mass here on the altar of St. Felix of Cantalice. What a grace to make the connection between the body of Christ offered in the Mass—and which we receive and become—and the resting body of our own St. Felix. The body of Christ, past, present, and to come. At the same time, buses full of the curious come to see our famous bone yard, remarking on one expression of our belief in the Resurrection that has now become quaint and macabre by the world’s standards.

Update: This post gets a lot of search engine traffic, so I'm adding this link to the friars' own site about the crypt chapels.

August 22, 2007

Pilgrimage Journal

I kept a journal while we were away on pilgrimage, and I thought I would start to share some it here. So here's the beginning:
Pelagius lived at Kardanoel
And he taught a doctrine there
How whether you went to heaven or hell
It was your own affair.
It had nothing to do with the Church, my boy
But was your own affair.
--Hilaire Belloc, The Pelagian Drinking Song

But to really believe this, individualists that we are, that God teaches and saves and sanctifies through community, fraternity, through a people of God—that’s the challenge.

I’ve been on pilgrimage before, and I’ve even been a pilgrim in a group. But to go on pilgrimage as a group, as brothers—that’s the grace of this opportunity.

The brothers are all here. Some I know well, others only a little. Two of them I have never met before.

August 20, 2007

Franciscan Blogroll

Go ahead and check out Friar Matt, a brother of the OFM Conv., who are, after all, the original Friars Minor.

August 16, 2007

Francis and Clare Medals

Thanks be to God I'm safely back from pilgrimage! It was really a wonderful time--good brothers, good directors, places of such grace.

One of my special finds was the religious articles wholesaler in Assisi, where I bought (among other things) a bunch of Francis and Clare medals. They're small, round medals, about 3/4 inch in diameter, with Francis on one side and Clare on the other. I blessed them in prayer before the San Damiano crucifix, which famously spoke to Francis and which remained in Clare's monastery throughout her life.

If you would like one, send me an email.