November 29, 2007

A Plan

Today is the feast of All Franciscan Saints, and the Office of Readings today has an adapted selection from St. Bonaventure's Apologia Pauperum. The Seraphic Doctor riffs on the Rule a little bit to produce a simple plan for the spiritual life by which we may be crucified to the world, as Paul recommends, and then conformed to God:

Having been crucified to the world by the three values of obedience, poverty, and chastity, we may then conform ourselves to God through these counsels of Francis:

1. having [and desiring!] the spirit of the Lord and his holy operation.
2. prayer and patience.
3. love of those who persecute, reprehend, and blame us.

N Ordines, or Utter Pedantry

We had a lively and ridiculous grammatical discussion at supper the other day.

This time of year everyone needs a new Ordo. It's a little book that helps you to find your way through the Liturgy of the Hours and the Eucharist each day. In our case, it also details the interaction of the general Roman calendar with our special Franciscan one, which has its own saints. For priests, it also offers suggestions for the prayers to choose for Mass, when there are options, of course.

Well, it turned out we needed two more than we had received. So our guardian was wondering how to ask for them. What is the plural? Is it Ordos, as we usually say in our sloppy speech? Or is it Ordoes, as our guardian opined, by analogy with potato?

Well, I said, it's obviously the Latin word ordo, ordinis that's at issue here, and since this is not a word that has "arrived" in English, we should form the plural in Latin.

But what is the use of ordo, ordinis in this case? Why is the book called the Ordo? The brothers assured me that it is short for Ordo Missae, "the order of Mass," but I don't buy this because the subtitle of the book is "The Order of Prayer in the Liturgy of the Hours and Celebration of the Eucharist."

My conclusion is that Ordo is short for Ordo Recitandi, "the order of reciting." Ok, that's all I need to know: Ordo is a simple noun.

Therefore, if we need more than one Ordo, we should ask for n Ordines. The full plural would be Ordines Recitandorum, wouldn't it? (someone with better Latin feel free to correct me.)

November 27, 2007

Franciscan Blogroll

Check out Under the Hood of a Capuchin Friar for a blogging glimpse into the life of Franciscan novitiate. Brother has a lot of pictures too!

November 26, 2007

Questioning my Philistinism

One of my general faults is that I'm not much for literature. Only very rarely can I get into fiction, and forget about poetry. That's why I was so surprised this morning when one of my own literary opinions was confirmed by a famous author.

Today's newspapers hadn't made it to the breakfast table by the time I got there, so I started to look through yesterday's New York Times Sunday magazine. There I ran into a short interview with Umberto Eco. I was intrigued because he was asked about Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code, which I found to be a kind of dumb version of Eco's Foucault's Pendulum. And that's just what he said, more or less, alleging (and what an insult!) that Brown was one the characters he created for Foucault's Pendulum.

"So you created Dan Brown?" asked the interviewer. "Yes," was the answer.

November 24, 2007

Christ the King

I found homily production especially difficult this week. The spiritual doctrine of Christ the King is so striking and sublime: the Lord, anointed and reigning from the Cross, unable even to move much less control the world, having emptied himself of everything it should mean to be God in order to give himself up for the life of the world.

But how to package it in a way that is accessible and not overwhelming when we come to consider our own call as anointed Christians to do the very same thing?

And then in Luke's account, which we read this year, we have the famous "good" and "bad" criminals. The former recognizes the irony of the cross: it is Jesus who suffers the condemnation that we have earned for ourselves. And yet he recognizes that this crucified God has the dominion and power to save: "remember me when you come into your kingdom."

So I'm not sure if it will end up being what I offer tomorrow, but the homily I came up with so far is posted here.

November 22, 2007


For just over fifteen years I had received the Eucharist and sacramental absolution regularly before I myself became a minister of these mysteries. Rarely did I doubt their effectiveness, and if I did it was because of my own poor spiritual disposition and not because I doubted the priesthood.

I don't know if this is normal for a new priest, but sometimes a doubt creeps into my mind when I myself administer the sacraments. Yes, I have always believed in the transubstantiation of the sacrificed bread and wine over which the Great Thanksgiving has been pronounced, but does it "work" when plain old me does it?

This is a good example of how spiritual doubt can help us to notice inadequate theological thinking. For it is not "my" priesthood that makes the sacraments happen, but the priesthood, first of all, of Jesus Christ himself. It is the priesthood of the Church as his Body extended through history. It is the priesthood of the whole people of God, baptized into Christ's eternal identity as Priest, Prophet, and King. It is the priesthood of all the priests who laid hands on me, and of those who did the same for them, all the way back to the Lord's own apostles.

It's only in the smallest sense that it is my priesthood that effects the sacraments at which I preside with God's people. Again, it's like my formation director told me on my ordination day, "it's about the communion of saints. That's the only way this makes sense."

November 19, 2007

Invalid Matter, but Cute

Yesterday I finally got back to the parish where I served as deacon to offer the customary Mass of Thanksgiving. For the regular coffee hour after Mass, the friends I had made there had prepared a cake. Instead of the standard candy flowers on top, it had a chalice and host.

When I saw the little sugar host, complete with an IHS on it, I thought it was the funniest thing, and I made sure nobody ate it. I had it wrapped up and I took it home.

November 17, 2007

The Fiery End

The heart of God is like a blazing oven at the center of creation, and a love that longs to consume and fulfill all things. My homily for this weekend is posted here.

November 15, 2007

The Bishops and Abortion

I just turned on CNN for a minute and heard them announce that our bishops here in the USA had recommended to us to be flexible in choosing political candidates who support the "right" to abortion. I thought that this couldn't be exactly true, so I immediately went and read their latest Faithful Citizenship document, approved only yesterday. Here's what they really say:
Two temptations in public life can distort the Church’s defense of human life and dignity:

The first is a moral equivalence that makes no ethical distinctions between different kinds of issues involving human life and dignity. The direct and intentional destruction of innocent human life from the moment of conception until natural death is always wrong and is not just one issue among many. It must always be opposed.

The second is the misuse of these necessary moral distinctions as a way of dismissing or ignoring other serious threats to human life and dignity. Racism and other unjust discrimination, the use of the death penalty, resorting to unjust war, the use of torture, war crimes, the failure to respond to those who are suffering from hunger or a lack of health care, or an unjust immigration policy are all serious moral issues that challenge our consciences and require us to act. These are not optional concerns which can be dismissed. Catholics are urged to seriously consider Church teaching on these issues. Although choices about how best to respond to these and other compelling threats to human life and dignity are matters for principled debate and decision, this does not make them optional concerns or permit Catholics to dismiss or ignore Church teaching on these important issues. Clearly not every Catholic can be actively involved in each of these concerns, but we need to support one another as our community of faith defends human life and dignity wherever it is threatened. We are not factions, but one family of faith fulfilling the mission of Jesus Christ.

This is, of course, something very different than simply recommending flexibility. It is an exhortation to all of us to see the issues of life and our battle against the "culture of death" in the broadest possible scope, and not as an excuse to create factions among ourselves which are ultimately a countersign of the "seamless ethic" of which we are meant to be witnesses.

Read the whole document for yourself here.

New Wedding Wineskins

I like to look ahead, to think "outside the box" as they tell us. Here's an example, my new plan for the church celebration of marriage.

My idea is to model the celebration of marriage on the celebration of funerals. This is because funerals run like a well-oiled machine, while wedding planning and execution is full of pitfalls and potential tears and disaster.

Here's how it goes: When a couple decides to get married, they are immediately taken to the "wedding home," modeled on the classic funeral home. There they are sat down in the front of a parlor where everyone can come and congratulate them. Their family and close friends also sit close by where they can be greeted and congratulated. This part is modeled on the wake, of course.

At some point the priest shows up and offers them a special blessing. He then asks them if there are any particular readings or music they would like for their wedding, to which they respond, "Oh Father, we just decided to get married this morning, we can't think about that right now...we're sure you will pick out something appropriate." This step alone will reduce the annual professional wear and tear on clergy and organists by approximately three hundred percent, and will free up enough time, in the words of Charles Merrill Smith, "to learn several Biblical languages and write a two-volume commentary on the book of Habbakuk."*

"Ok," says the priest, "I'll see you guys in the morning."

The next day--this all happens fast, so as to avoid any time to think up any problems--the happy bride and groom are strapped into a kind of float that can be driven to church and rolled up the aisle to the altar. This device, which I haven't exactly been able to envision yet, is analogous to the casket, of course. Being strapped in ensures that the bride will show up on time, for one thing, and also reduces the ability to make outrageous last minute demands. It also obviates the need for a rehearsal.

Then the nuptial service or Mass can proceed according to the current ritual. At then end, the newly married couple is wheeled out of church, where they can be released for pictures, cocktail hour, and dinner.

*This silly post is actually an imitation of this hilarious book by Smith.

Albertus Magnus

The collect for the feast of St. Albert is one of those that gets me every year:
God, who made blessed bishop Albert combine human wisdom with divine faith, grant us who receive his doctrine, that we might, by the progress of science, come to a more profound knowledge and love of You.

It's a good prayer for a world in which reason and science seem to be in competition with faith and religion. It asks to instead seek the divine wisdom which makes these complementary modes of human knowing.

We must avoid the two cheap roads the world offers us in this quandary. On the one hand we must not become fundamentalists who ignore that the world was created through the Word of God, thus forgetting that the empirical knowledge of creation can yield divine wisdom. On the other hand, we must not embrace "intelligent design," which is a subtle way to sell out our faith and embrace empirical categories as the normative means of human knowing.

November 14, 2007


This post is a big cheer for blogger, who have brought my homily blog, Praise and Bless, back from deletion. Thanks Blogger Team!

November 10, 2007

November 9, 2007

Flesh and Spirit

Today the liturgy celebrates the dedication of the Lateran basilica, the proper cathedral of Rome. I've visited twice, and both times I was struck by the statues of the apostles that line the main nave.

These apostles are huge, strong, burly men. Their hands look like they would crush the skull of anyone they tried to ordain to follow them in the apostolic ministry. But for people who were less hampered by our modern denial of the spiritual, I suppose it was less dissonant to express the spiritual strength of the apostles by showing them as physically strong.

The more I think about it, I believe that the problem isn't that people don't believe in God. The problem is that the notion of God they think they are supposed to assent to is unbelievable. And when you tell them that if they have some experience of love or truth, then they have a glimpse of what is meant by the utterance, "God."

But those are "just ideas," they protest, by which they mean that they aren't real. Nevertheless, people routinely make life decisions based on their experience of love or truth, and that seems pretty real to me. This is what I mean by our hampering of our spiritual imagination.

November 8, 2007


Two priests have been arrested here in the greater NYC area in recent weeks; one for the "forcible touching" of an undercover police officer at a highway rest area and another for stalking a celebrity.

I don't think anyone can deny that there is something the matter with the culture of the Catholic clergy. The question is (and with which I struggle) is how to make a balanced and fair diagnosis so that we might find a strategy for reforming ourselves.


I deleted my homilies blog by mistake. I'm doing my best to ask Blogger if it can be recovered, but I'm not too confident. So if doesn't come back I'll just take out all of the now broken links that are here.

There might be a good side, though. We should have a real parish website coming out soon, and that will probably become my homily posting place.

November 7, 2007


Our tabernacle here is quite grand. It has both an inner and outer door. On the inner door, quite appropriately, is an image of a lamb holding the banner of the Risen Lord. It's sitting on what I thought was a missal or sacramentary.

Whenever I opened the tabernacle and saw this Risen Lamb sitting on top of a Roman Missal, I would be amused by the thought of the apotheosis of a liturgical book.

But then I looked again. I noticed that this particular missal had seven ribbons. That's when I knew that it wasn't a missal at all, but the scroll of the seven seals from the book of Revelation--the scroll that only the Lamb can open.

So now I find in this image a rich interplay of metaphor and symbol and catholic imagination, picturing the scroll of the seven seals so that it looks like a Roman Missal.

November 6, 2007

Franciscan Blogroll

Check out Perfect Joy, a blog by a brother of the SFO. He has a number of fine reflections that are very Franciscan by both content and orientation.

November 5, 2007


Sometimes in ministry someone will come up to you and thank you for some word that touched them in a special or helpful way. Usually you have no recollection of saying any such thing, which is good, because it helps you to refer the grace to God and away from yourself. But it is encouraging to think that the Holy Spirit is making use of your speech to help someone hear about the grace God wants to give them.

One example for me is the time I told my formation director that I was struggling with the anxieties of ministry and community life. So he said:
The poor man is perpetually anxious.

That really stuck with me, and it reminds me that a true vow of poverty commits me to a life that will be anxious at times. And it also reminds me to be humble, because my anxiety is as nothing next to the struggles of those who are the real poor of this world.

November 2, 2007

All Souls Day

This morning I had the grade school children for Mass. People say that kids these days don't know their religion, but with a little help from good old catholic "analogical imagination" they seemed to know a lot. They knew that a community is a group of individuals connected by love or shared values or a common project. They could produce examples of such communities, like a family, a village, a city, or a church.

From there it's only one step to say that the revealed divine Love that we know in Jesus Christ is so pervasive and passionate that it makes one community out of both the living and the dead.

In celebration I have put my favorite contemporary song about All Souls Day on my MySpace page, Dia de los Muertos by Rezurex. For those who are more classically minded, and because the friars didn't really respond to my suggestion that we sing it at Morning Prayer, here's a sing-a-long version of the Dies Irae: