April 30, 2008

The Unknown God

The selection from the Acts of the Apostles for the first reading today is one of my favorites:
Then Paul stood up at the Areopagus and said: “You Athenians, I see that in every respect you are very religious. For as I walked around looking carefully at your shrines, I even discovered an altar inscribed, ‘To an Unknown God.’ What therefore you unknowingly worship, I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and all that is in it, the Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in sanctuaries made by human hands,nor is he served by human hands because he needs anything.

Paul's strategy is clever, and I think that it's one that might imitate. For though much of our world has ceased to be interested in God or real spiritual health, people still know that they want something more. The prevalence of failed relationships, addictions, and consumerism shows that we late modern people are grasping for something. But because we have outgrown the living God, we attempt to console ourselves with pseudo-spiritual utterances that are useless and vague. "Intelligent design," "supreme being," "my spirituality," and other inanities form the late modern ersatz for God.

It is up to us Christians to proclaim to the world that the deepest longing of the human heart, this something that we are chasing after with all of our selfishnesses and sins, this is what is, in truth, the living God, the God of Israel, the Creator of heaven and earth, the God of Jesus Christ.

April 29, 2008

Egan and Giuliani

There was a buzz yesterday about a scolding issued by our archbishop, Cardinal Egan, against former mayor Rudy Giuliani for receiving Communion during the Mass with Benedict XVI at St. Patricks' Cathedral the week before last. Egan cited Giuliani's support of the right to abortion. The former mayor's people responded by saying that Giuliani's faith “is a deeply personal matter and should remain confidential.”

Now leaving aside the debate over the communication of notorious and unrepentant sinners or, as in this case, those who lend their public support and influence to policies against God and the common good, I just have to say that Giuliani's response is pretty poor.

Faith is certainly a very personal matter, and because it has to do with the soul of a person, which is always in some sense unavailable to anyone else, it is also a secret thing to some degree. But to receive the Eucharist is always a very public act. To admit our truest identity--that we are Body of Christ--and that we want to made even more into the Body of Christ we receive, this is a public act because it is never about a private "relationship with God."

In the Eucharist we first of all confess that the Body and Blood of Christ is present in the bread and wine consecrated by the prayer of Christ the priest acting through his ministers and his assembly. When we receive this "eucharistized" food, we are brought into a sharing of life, mind, and heart with the humanity of Christ present in the whole Christ and his whole Body extended through history and in all his saints in the past and yet to come.

So something called a "communion," a sharing, could never be personal in the sense of being private. It could never be confidential in the sense of not being about a whole community of tradition and the faith of a people.

To dare to receive Holy Communion is to confess that God has made us into a member of the Body of Christ that taught and healed and suffered on the Cross in the human life of Jesus of Nazareth, and that God has done this in the Resurrection, which extends the Presence of Christ through history in the assembly of the Church which is his Body. I'm the first to admit that I don't live up to this. But that's not the point.

April 28, 2008

Eternal Truths Eternally

Last night we were having a wake for one of the friars. His funeral is this morning. When we were asked to share memories and stories, many remarked on how talented a preacher the brother had been. Concision, on the other hand, did not seem to have been among his gifts. As one of us put it, "It wasn't so much that he preached eternal truths, but that he preached them eternally."

April 26, 2008

Handing On The Spirit

As we begin to approach the final fulfillment of the Easter season at Pentecost, we become more and more aware of the Paraclete, the abiding presence of God that Jesus hands over to us by his death and Resurrection. As he was handed over for our sake, so we are to hand over the Spirit for the sake of the world. My homily for this weekend is posted here.

April 25, 2008


Away at Chapter I missed a great moment for the Capuchin Franciscan Order, and indeed for the whole Church: the public display of the remains of Pio of Pietrelcina on the fortieth anniversary of his birth to eternal life. Check it out here.

Chapter, Continued

The last day of Chapter was pretty exciting. Our General Minister, Brother Mauro Jöhri, preached on the feast of St. Fidelis of Sigmaringen, announcing that it was people from his own region of Switzerland who had martyred the saint. But he then explained how, four hundred years later, Catholics and Protestants were able to celebrate their local feast days together. He admonished us that perhaps we could begin to heal the schism in our own province of the Capuchin Order--that is, with the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal--in a shorter time frame.

In a very bittersweet event for me, the pastor of the church where I work (and guardian of our friary) was elected Provincial Minister. He's a great choice to lead our province, but we will be sorry to lose him as pastor.

April 24, 2008


All this week I have been away--here, actually--at our Provincial Chapter, a meeting we have every three years of all the friars of my jurisdiction of the Order. The new General Minister of the Order is here with us, presiding through an interpreter.

Today, after a few days of meetings and many public and secret conversations, it's time for elections. This morning--and afternoon, if necessary--we will elect a new Provincial Minister to lead our Province, and a partly new council of definitors to assist him.

This is my third Chapter, but it's the first time that I have the right to vote. Only those brothers who have made perpetual religious profession can vote.

April 20, 2008

Mass with Benedict XVI

To attend and concelebrate Mass with Benedict XVI yesterday was a joy far beyond all the sufferings that led up to it: getting up at four in the morning, stumbling around the New York Palace Hotel in a sea of clergy and religious looking for a place to vest and then waiting around in the Cathedral for two hours before being packed into a pew with a chunk of the Phildadelphia presbyterate.

To see the Pope in person and to be led in the prayer of the Mass by him, to hear the apostolic preaching live, it was all so beautiful. And then to pronounce the Lord's own words of institution with the Holy Father and so to participate in the consecration with the successor of St. Peter himself--it was almost overwhelming.

His words at the end of Mass--and I don't know if this part was on TV or not--were the most touching to me. He said that like St. Peter he was a man with faults and sins, that he was old, and that he needed our prayers if he was to live up to the ministry the Holy Spirit has given him.

There were other mundane details that were also entertaining on the natural level. Mayor Bloomberg thanked Benedict for bringing good weather for Passover.

Posting may be slow this week; today we friars begin our provincial chapter, held every three years for meetings and elections. I'm not sure what kind of connectivity there will be, if any, at the place where we're going. It's the first time when I will have a vote, so pray for me that the Holy Spirit will make known his candidates to me.

April 19, 2008

Big Day

My alb and our official archdiocese of New York chasuble are all folded up, I have my ticket, and I'm about to set out at this early hour to concelebrate with Pope Benedict XVI.

Living Stones

The Lord is risen into the life and vocation of a people, the Church that is his body extended through history. My homily for this weekend is posted here.

April 18, 2008

The Meeting

Yesterday, when I started to read about Benedict's reception of victims of sexual abuse, it made so happy. It's hopeful. I'm the first person to say that we haven't done enough to address the roots of this problem, but the fact that Benedict has come back to it in every speech he's made so far, and that he actually met personally with a few victims, it makes me so grateful for him and gives me hope. Hope is meant to be the theme of his visit, after all.

April 17, 2008

Get Your Scorecard

Many thanks to Whispers for putting up a link to what we would call the "worship aid" for Benedict's visit. Check it out here.

Now I know what Mass I'll be concelebrating on Saturday: the votive Mass for the Universal Church. And I know that we'll be praying Eucharistic Prayer I, so I can try to remember in advance how I'm supposed to hold my hands.

You can also see that those who attend the Mass at Yankee Stadium get the treat of professing the creed in Latin.

A Disturbance In The Force

I can almost feel the teeth of the Catholic blogosphere--which so often rants against Marty Haugen--go on edge as I hear (parts of) the Mass of Creation sung at the Papal Mass at Nationals Park.

No School

I just walked over to our parish school, thinking I might be able to talk a little with one of the principals, only to find the whole place dark and locked up. Immediately I wondered if I had forgotten about some kind of holiday, or if I had slept for two days and woken up on Saturday.

When I got back to the parish office I found out that Cardinal Egan had given everyone two days off in honor of Benedict's visit, even though he won't be here in New York until later on tomorrow.

Singing a New Song

Well, I think it's finally happened. I've had a falling out with punk rock. A while back I had discovered a new band, and I was listening to them on their MySpace page. I liked their attitude and their message, and so I sent a "friend request." I included my appreciation for their work in my note as they were very much into a consciousness of social justice and critique of our systems. I got back a very nasty and insulting response, and it shook me for a couple of days for some reason.

It helped me to remember something I often forget: Even though it is my belief that Christianity is a radical social and political stance in the world, other people often don't see it this way. I see Catholic Christianity's confession of God's Incarnation as a radical affirmation of the human person over and against systems of oppression and injustice and dehumanization, but sometimes others only see the outer layer of human traditionalism in the Church.

I have to admit, though, that alternative forms of music have been an important part of my journey. When I first heard Metallica's Master of Puppets when I was 15, it really changed my life. It was so different from anything I had heard before. And it was better. If this music was so much better than what was on the radio and the "Top 40" I had been listening to up to that time, why wasn't it on the radio instead? The seed of a counter-cultural stance was planted. I think it was from that day that I began to realize that the dominant tastes and values, the things that were presented for entertainment and devotion were perhaps not always the best choices, and one had to search "underground" for the real thing, the good thing. Later on when I got into much more politically oriented bands like the anarcho-syndicalist Subhumans of the U.K., I was all ready to reject the whole system of values that the world presented and to begin to look for something different. From there I was set up to seek an all-encompassing radical response to finding myself existing in this world. By Providence I eventually arrived at Christianity.

But merely human forms of radicality are doomed to failure. Without an ultimate end in God, all of them, from the adolescent exuberance of Punk to the reasoned plan of a secular eschatology like Communism, are doomed to burn out or turn against themselves. Even so, there are forms of the punk culture that became very advanced morally and socially. Some of those who were "straight-edge" and didn't use drugs or alcohol began to find in their stance an affirmation of life. From there it wasn't too many steps to the Hardline movement, which even arrived at a Pro-Life position and a consciousness of Natural Law.

But without God, it was all destined to burn itself out.

April 15, 2008

Benedict Arrives

I have just finished watching the arrival of His Holiness, Benedict XVI in Washington. His cassock looked a little bit in need of an iron, but that's how you always feel after flying across the Atlantic. Some of the assembled folks sang happy birthday a day early.

I'm really excited about the visit, and especially for the chance to concelebrate with Benedict on Saturday. It makes me so grateful to God for my baptism and my vocation. I know I'm a geek about this stuff, but I was just looking to see how far back I would have to go in the apostolic lineage of my ordination to find a common ancestor with Benedict.

The answer: to Clement XIII. Benedict was ordained bishop by Josef Stangl of Würzburg, from whom it is 15 steps back to Clement. Cardinal Seán O'Malley of Boston, who ordained me priest, was ordained bishop by Edward John Harper, C. Ss. R., from whom it is 12 steps back to Clement.

April 12, 2008

Stepping Into The Mystery

Jesus is the door through which we are called to step into our new and resurrected life. My homily for this weekend is posted here.

April 11, 2008

Extraordinary Form and Postmodernism

I got some positive feedback on my post a little while ago in which I wondered if I should familiarize myself with what's now called the "extraordinary form" of the Roman Rite, just in case I'm ever called upon to celebrate it according to the new norms of Summorum pontificum.

So today I picked up the a "new" edition 1962 hand missal. It's the very handsome and well-bound one published by Baronius Press.

As I was looking through it while coming home on the bus, a funny thought struck me. This business of issuing fairly general permission to celebrate Mass according to the Missal of John XXIII--i.e., mutatis mutandis, the Missal of Pius V, the so-called Tridentine Mass--this seems like an affirmation of traditionalism, conservatism, and restorationism, but it's not.

Holy and devout pontiffs from Gregory the Great and Pius V and down to our own time have worked hard to unify the Roman liturgy. This was the point of publishing Missals in the first place; to ensure that the liturgy was prayed properly and in the same way in all the local churches.

For a Pope to now come out and say, well, there are multiple forms of the same Roman Rite, that's a very postmodern thing to say, really. To acknowledge a pluriformity of expression of the same liturgy, a manifold expression or lex orandi of the one lex credendi--this is actually a daring step into the flexibility of postmodern thinking.

Just think: what will happen if John Paul XI comes out one day and renews the whole of the liturgy again? What we will have then? An ordinary form of the Roman Rite, an extraordinary form, and an extra-extraordinary form?

Perhaps I'm making my argument too strongly, as I was often accused of in philosophy. Or perhaps not. In any case, the missal I bought is very nice and I look forward to using it to assist at an extraordinary form Mass somewhere.

April 9, 2008

Christ Our Hope

Here's the message that Benedict XVI sends us ahead of his upcoming visit, in English and Spanish:

I signed up to concelebrate with him at St. Patrick's Cathedral next Saturday. Someone in security called me for my SSN, but I haven't seen a ticket yet.

Update: My ticket and pew assignment came in the mail this morning.

April 7, 2008


The other night we had Confirmations here in our parish. It had me thinking about the so-called "sacrament in search of a theology."

What is it, honestly? Is it the sealing with or giving of the Holy Spirit, as if someone had only been previously baptized into some of the Trinity, as if the Trinity of God had parts? Is it a rite of passage in the anthropological sense? What of those Churches that Confirm (or Chrismate) at infancy? Is it a graduation from religious education, as it sometimes looks like when everyone is wearing a gown in the academic style?

The discipline of the Roman Church puts Confirmation at the "age of discretion." In most places here in the States we have moved first Communion up to that milestone, and left Confirmation for an adolescent rite of passage. It has never made sense to me, but after the other night, I've thought of another approach.

I used to say that Confirmation should be given either at infancy, as is the practice of most of the Eastern Churches, or should be offered to genuine young adults, say college age, that it might really be the "adult decision" that it is so often advertised to be. After working as a parish priest, I'm not so sure. I never realized how important one's status as confirmed or not was to Catholic life; it is required for one to be a sponsor for baptism (i.e. godparent) and is preferred for the celebration of matrimony. These are times when a parish has a chance to hook a lapsed Christian back into his or her faith; if even fewer Catholics were confirmed perhaps there would be fewer of these opportunities. On the other hand, if full initiation was completed at infancy, there would be no sacramental means, in the external forum, of telling a catechized adult Catholic from an uncatechized one.

But maybe there's a different approach to the whole question. The other night, as I stood there holding the Sacred Chrism for the bishop, watching the kids get confirmed one after another, I was thinking about how difficult and dangerous it must be to grow up in this world. And I thought it was crazy when I was growing up. Maybe the critical time of middle adolescence is a time when young people need a sacrament to strengthen them in grace.

April 5, 2008

On The Way

On the first Easter evening, Jesus walked with his disciples, opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and was made known to them in the breaking of the bread. My homily for this weekend is posted here.

April 4, 2008

Extraordinary Form

Ever since the appearance of Summorum Pontificum I've wondered if I ought to learn what's now called the "extraordinary form" of the Roman Rite Mass. My Latin is probably good enough, and I'm sure I could manage the singing with some practice.

I haven't bothered with it yet. It seems like the spirit of the letter would be not to worry about it until some "stable community" of the faithful requested it in some place where I was serving. I guess I kind of imagined that if this ever happened, I would have those who wanted it donate the few hundred dollars I guess I would need for a 1962 altar missal and a maniple. I bet I could find everything else I would need in a half decent novus ordo sacristy.

But maybe this is something I should learn on my own, just to keep up, so to speak, with the times.

April 2, 2008

These Go To Eleven

Every year I enjoy the feast of St. Francis of Paola, for he did us Franciscans one better.

Francis of Assisi founded the Ordo Fratrum Minorum, the Order of Lesser Brothers. But Francis of Paola founded the Ordo Minimorum, the Order of the Least. To paraphrase Nigel Tufnel, they're "one humbler."

I only worry that, since April 2 is also the date of the birth to eternal life of the Servant of God John Paul II, Francis may one day lose his feast day in the general Roman calendar.

April 1, 2008

April Fool

The Google April Fool's hoax is one of my favorite annual events. I know, that's pretty geeky. But they've done it again this year. I presume the new invitation to join the new project of Google civilization on Mars isn't exactly real. Check it out here.

Liturgy of the Hours

Thanks to Lake for challenging me on my rant-ish claims about the Liturgy of the Hours in yesterday's post. It is certainly silly to suggest that if priests only said their prayers it would save the Church, or that their failing to do so will destroy us, as if the life of the Church depended on our faithfulness rather than the faithfulness of Christ.

That being said, over the years, my learning of the Tradition as well as my reflection on the meaning and function of the Scriptures in the life of the Church has led me to the strong belief that, apart from the Eucharist, the Liturgy of the Hours is the ordinary and preeminent way that the Holy Spirit--as the abiding Presence of Christ in the Church--prays with us, for us, and as us to the Father.

Therefore, it is my sincere belief that we as a Church, and we who are clergy in particular, take the Hours lightly at our spiritual peril. It is the public prayer of the Church, and the Church and the world have a right to expect that those of us who have accepted the obligation to pray the Hours either through ordination or religious choir are actually doing it.

All that being said, I do have two complicating reflections:

First, we must also recognize that in most places we have not yet heeded the call of the most recent reform of the liturgy to make the Liturgy of the Hours into true public prayer, a prayer of the whole people of God in their cathedrals and parish churches. (See, e.g. Sacrosanctum concilium 100 or the General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours 2o) In some places and at certain special times of year there have been great successes in this regard, but generally speaking this has not yet been carried out.

Second, as a cleric, I must admit that there are times when I have "said" one of the Hours--especially Daytime Prayer or Night Prayer--with such distraction and stress that I have wondered if "fulfilling" my obligation to keep the Hour is overshadowed by the danger of breaking the second commandment in its execution, i.e. taking the name of God in vain. Now this is probably just a challenge to live a more orderly religious life, but it does remind me that it is always dangerous to talk about law and obligation without love, lest I "strain out the gnat and swallow the camel." (Matthew 23:24)