December 31, 2009

The Christian Religion

As I was saying my prayers this morning, I was struck by the collect for today:

Ever-living God, in the birth of your Son our religion has its origin and its perfect fulfillment. Help us to share in the life of Christ for he is the salvation of mankind, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

'Religion,' to me, is a funny term in its usage and connotations. On the one hand, there's the modern dichotomy between 'religion' and 'spirituality,' which has its truths but is also the source of grave and insidious falsities. On the other hand, there is the use of 'religion' as a genus for various forms of human behavior without much critical account of how they relate to each other. For example, it's fairly easy for me to see how Judaism and Christianity are the same sort of thing, or how Islam is the same sort of thing as the other two, but I have never been able to hear a coherent or satisfying account of how something like Buddhism or Hinduism is the same sort of thing as Christianity, such that they could be put into one genus called 'religions.'

One of our teachers in college, Mr. Woody, whom I remember fondly for many of his doctrines, used to intervene whenever a student committed the vagueness of saying, 'There's a sense in which...' He used to say something like, 'There is also a sense in which a bear and a pig are the same thing, but the purpose of critical inquiry is not for you to tell me that there is such a sense, but to give me an account of what that sense is.'

So before I tried to embark on a reflection on the use of 'religion' in this prayer, I checked it against the typical edition, and there it was again: totíus religiónis inítium perfectionemque. So the question arises, what do we mean by the Christian religion?

I don't think anybody is quite sure whether the root word of religio is ligo, to bind, or lego, to read, pick out, choose, etc. (e.g. from which we derive "elect," for example.) The former etymology seems to have more currency in the Christian tradition. Religion is that to which we have bound ourselves in order to be again where we were meant to be in the first place.

But here is exactly where we must be careful in our reflection. In the eyes of the world, the act of religion is the binding of oneself to a set of practices and beliefs. In the Christian sense, then, the Christian religion would be the binding of oneself to the beliefs, teachings, and practices that come to us from the Sacred Scriptures authentically interpreted by the apostles and especially by their successors gathered in ecumenical council. But this is only secondary. That we are bound to the content of our faith, no matter who true and sublime, is not the primary thing in the Christian religio. That we are bound to its rituals and practices, no matter how beautiful and salutary, is not the primary thing either.

The Chrisitan religio is, first and foremost, about being bound to a Person. Every other aspect of the believed and practiced religion flows from this Encounter. To me, this is what is prayed in our collect today. The birth of Christ is the beginning and perfection of our religion, because the Lord's Nativity is God's initiation of this Encounter. God has willed that humanity will be the site of his revealed Presence in the world, and has given us the means (i.e. faith, prayer, sacramental life) to find ourselves within that divine humanity which is Jesus Christ. To be a Christian, in the strictest sense, is not really to bind ourselves to anything, but simply to consent to God's Delight to bind our humanity to his Joyful Trinitarian Perfection in the humanity of Christ. That is what is meant by the Christian religion.

December 30, 2009

Some Christmas Music

I just wanted to post a couple of pieces of Christmas music I have been enjoying during the Octave.

First, the introit of the Mass at midnight from Westminster Cathedral, which I first saw on NLM. I have been listening to this over and over; it's just so hauntingly beautiful to me, and illustrates what reverence and beauty could be accomplished if we just let go of this practice of substituting the actual antiphons and texts of the Mass with hymns and songs.

Second, from a Facebook post of a very old friend, Ronnie James Dio singing God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen. I think that's the great Tony Iommi on guitar.

December 29, 2009

Homo Incurvatus

Fearing that if I started to preach on Simeon and the Nunc dimittis, I would involve myself--and torment the daily Mass crowd--with an overblown account of the whole Lukan project and end up at least at Pentecost, if not Paul's trials, I decided to preach on the first reading today. I concentrated on the very end: "Whoever hates his brother is in darkness; he walks in darkness and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes." (1 John 2:11)

To love is to think straight. If we do not love, that is, if we fail to bother to act out of a desire for the good, happiness, and flourishment of the brother and sister creatures around us, we are confused and our thinking is distorted.

This is why we sin even though we think we don't really want to, as in St. Paul's famous complaint, "For I do not do the good I want, but I do the evil I do not want." (Romans 7:19) Even though we know--or part of us knows--that it is not what our heart really wants, we continue to sin. Because we are not completely loving we are not thinking straight and can't make clear decisions about our behavior. We are the homo incurvatus, the 'bent over' human being who doesn't see the whole picture of light and goodness.

Let us repent of anything that is not love in our hearts and behavior, stand up straight, and see the perfect Love made flesh in Jesus Christ. Let us take care to fix our eyes on this Love, that we may always imitate the mystery we have received, and not fall back into confusion.

December 28, 2009

Overheard at the Parish Office

Caller: Is this St. Clare?

Receptionist: No, this is Alison.

Reminds me of another of my favorites:

Sergeant Stedenko: Radio dispatch, do you know who this is?

Cheech Marin: No, who is 'this is'?

Vocation, Communion, Sacrifice, and Dread

Today I am thinking about one of the most graced days in the whole of my vocation discernment, which was when I went for an interview with my home diocese in January 1999.

It had been three years since leaving my first experience of religious life on Christmas morning of 1995. In the course of a couple of weeks, both the DRE and the nun who coordinated lectors and EMoHC at my parish, as well as an old friend and a permanent deacon I met on retreat, had all mentioned the diocesan priesthood to me. Thinking that this might be a communication from the Holy Spirit, which it certainly was, I acted on it and made an appointment with the vocation director. In any case, whether it was going to be priesthood or religious life or something else, I had come to realize that I was not promotable in the company where I was working, and I knew I had to start thinking about what was going to come next for me.

I went to the seminary early so I could visit the chapel before my interview. It was a steamy, unseasonably warm day. I remember praying that the Spirit would use the interview to enlighten my discernment and guide me on my path. I think I went into the interview with the idea that I was a pretty good candidate, and that the vocation director ought to have been very glad to see me. After all, I was young, (26) had a perfect undergraduate transcript for entering the seminary, and was active in my parish. So I was very surprised when the meeting went very poorly! It was so bad, in fact, that I started to laugh as soon as I got away from the vocation director. He was very unimpressed with my answers and dismissed me with this advice, which I wrote in my journal as soon as I got back to my car: "Search your soul, try to make friends with some priests, and if you want you can call me again in a year."

My career in the secular clergy had ended before it started. What made my interview go so badly? For one thing, Fr. Vocation Director probably found me scandalously loose and informal. To that point, my only real experience of the clergy was through the college chaplaincy and the easy-going life of a Franciscan friary. I'm sure I didn't know how to act in the diocesan world. But on the other hand, in fairness, I didn't have real and discerned answers to his questions. I had not really reflected at all on the idea of priesthood; at that point in my life I had considered my vocation mostly in terms of religious life. (In fact, some years later when it came time--from within religious life--to decide whether or not to declare myself a candidate for ordination, I had to find a different means of discernment entirely.) In fact, my prayer in the chapel was answered in the sense that I arrived home from the seminary that day convinced that my place was in religious life.

I remember part of the response the priest gave me, which I also wrote down: "In all that you have said I have heard nothing about uniting yourself to the sacrifice of Christ or about the Eucharist." Fair enough, I realize now, but at the time I barely understood the critique.

All of this comes back to me now because I remember not really getting it at the time, but how now such language is a part of my interior life on a daily basis. It's like how I can remember being little and looking at text without being able to read, or how--this one really amuses me--I puzzled over the unknown word, 'contrition,' on the SAT, a word that would become a heavy-laden part of my daily reflection and vocabulary just a couple of years later.

I think of my diocesan vocation director's words sometimes when I receive Holy Communion. Of course I am grateful as I make the prayers, Corpus/Sanguis Christi custódiat me in vitam ætérnam, and receive, but often I am filled with a little bit of dread as well. This is the broken and sacrificed Body of Christ before me, and his Blood poured out in ratification of an eternal covenant. This is a God so sublimely humble that He abandons everything it ought to mean to be God (in human terms) and puts himself into the womb and hands of our Blessed Mother as a powerless and vulnerable infant. And so with Mary, as with us, except in reverse; he puts his Vulnerable Self into our hands that he may enter and live within our bodies. This is, in fact, the exitus and reditus of the Incarnation, drawing us into itself through the Eucharist.

Am I prepared for this? Am I ready to receive such a sacrifice and such a humility into my body? You are what you eat, after all. By putting the broken and sacrificed Body and Blood of Christ into my body, do I know what I am getting into? Have I really consented to have my life and flesh united to that Sacrifice?

December 26, 2009

Holy Family

Looking at it again, it's not my most inspired work, but you can follow this link for my homily from this weekend three years ago, which I am moving from this blog over to my homily blog, Praise and Bless. It wasn't quite three years ago that I started a separate blog for homilies, so I'm still moving some material over there from the four month period after I started preaching on Sundays and before I started the homily blog.

Priesthood Fail

One thing that really gets me is when someone is evaluated or judged on criteria that have not been articulated or previously agreed upon. It just seems so unjust to me. But am I also guilty, in a way? Here's what I'm thinking about:

One of the most unpleasant duties of my employment as parish priest is when I have to thwart what folks want to do. A couple of examples will illustrate what I'm talking about. Many times in the course of my ministry I have the singularly rotten duty of trying to explain to the recently bereaved that if they choose to cremate their dead, they are still obligated to bury or entomb the remains. Cremated remains are due the same respect, and are to be handled in the same way as a body. On the other side of life, I often have to tell new parents that the persons they have chosen as their child's godparents are ineligible for the role, either because they have not completed their own sacramental initiation, are not (yet) seeking convalidation for marriages contracted outside of canonical form, or are simulating marriage through cohabitation.

To these, and many other similarly combative assertions I have to make, I often receive the very annoyed answer, 'Well, I never heard of that.'

Now I'm not forgiving the voluntary ignorance of Catholics who have not made any effort to be informed about the faith. But have I been complicit with it?

How often have I tried to stir up the eagerness of adults to complete their sacramental initiation through Confirmation? Have I preached that eligibility for joys like sacramental sponsorship presupposes it?

How often have I preached on the expectations of Catholics with regard to marriage? How often have I preached against cohabitation or getting married at city hall? And if I have not preached on the meaning of marriage, should I be surprised when Catholics have such an impoverished sense of what marriage is that they don't automatically see through this nonsense about same-sex marriage being some kind of 'civil right'?

How often have I preached--apart from funerals themselves--on the meaning of Christian death and the destiny of the physical body?

Have I preached against the crime of abortion? Even though the warnings of Humanae vitae have turned out to be uncannily prophetic, am I still afraid to preach against artificial birth control and other so-called 'reproductive technologies' that deny the dignity of the human person?

I say all this because I don't think I've done it, nor is it my experience that priests tend to preach on such things. Most priests want to be nice, so we don't preach in such a way as to make demands, or tell people what they have to do. But if I don't do these things, should I be surprised when folks say, 'Well, I never heard of that.'? If they have never heard of some Catholic teaching or ordinary expectation of Catholic life, it's my fault, and I can expect to be held accountable for it at my judgment, at least in part.

It's not fair for me to call people on their ignorance if I have refused to be their teacher.

May God help me to live up to Presbyterorum ordinis 6:

Priests therefore, as educators in the faith, must see to it either by themselves or through others that the faithful are led individually in the Holy Spirit to a development of their own vocation according to the Gospel, to a sincere and practical charity, and to that freedom with which Christ has made us free. Ceremonies however beautiful, or associations however flourishing, will be of little value if they are not directed toward the education of men to Christian maturity. In furthering this, priests should help men to see what is required and what is God's will in the important and unimportant events of life. Also, Christians should be taught that they live not only for themselves, but, according to the demands of the new law of charity; as every man has received grace, he must administer the same to others. In this way, all will discharge in a Christian manner their duties in the community of men.

December 25, 2009

Overheard in the Monastery

Searching friar: "Has anyone seen Shadrach?"

Apocalyptic friar: "Did you look in the furnace?"

(Yes, there is someone here named Shadrach.)

Veritas Horarum

Christmas night brings one of my very favorite rubrics of the whole liturgy:

In eadem nocte Nativitatis, veritas horarum impedit regulariter ne Laudes matutinae statim post Missam de nocte celebrentur.

As Englished by our American Liturgy of the Hours: "The plan of the hours demands that Morning Prayer not be celebrated immediately after the Mass at midnight, but in the morning."

Sorry, efficient pray-er! The temptation is easy to imagine. Having offered or assisted at the Mass in nocte, which replaces Night Prayer, and with the Office of Readings already having been prayed in its rightful place beforehand, one might have the temptation to dive right into Morning Prayer, so as to have more time to rest in the morning! Not so fast, says our rubric; Morning Prayer is for the morning. Veritas horarum.

This has to be said, given that the rubric in the older Breviarium Romanum says the exact opposite! After the collect following the third nocturn of Matins, so says the older rubric:

Et dicto Benedicámus Dómino, celebratur prima Missa post mediam noctem, ut in Missali: qua finita, dicuntur Laudes.

"Having said the Benedicámus Dómino, the first Mass is celebrated after midnight, as in the Missal. After Mass, Lauds is said."

Merry Christmas

The Savior is born and an angel appears singing glory to God. Blessed be God who borrows our humanity from our Most Blessed Mother in order to redeem and recreate us from within!

December 24, 2009

Thank You to Readers

Well, here we are on Christmas Eve. It's the thirty-eighth of my pilgrimage in this world, the eighteenth of my baptism, the tenth of my religious life, and the third of my priesthood. I have the Vigil Mass tonight for the first time, which means my first chance to preach on St. Matthew's genealogy! So a merry Christmas to you, Abraham and David, Amminadab and Zerubbabel. Watch out Tamar and Bathsheba; this homily will be your time to shine.

Later on I will concelebrate at our missa in nocte with the pastor. It will be at ten p.m., following the current Roman custom (how deeply we are invested in a Franciscan liturgical praxis!) I intend to offer the Mass for all of you and your intentions, the regular readers of a minor friar and for all the friends that I have met through blogging. It has been a genuinely providential experience for me to have this means of expressing myself and exploring ideas, to meet so many devout souls and to have a chance to reflect together.

It's the best way I can thank you. Form your intentions if you wish; the Mass tonight is for them.

Gloria in excelsis Deo et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis.

December 23, 2009

RIP: Edward Schillebeeckx, OP

Just as the established sign of salvation which is the risen body of Christ also actually gives that which it signifies, through the Lord's incarnate saving activity, so also the earthly body of the Lord, the Church, is sacramentally identical with the heavenly body of Christ.

From Christ the Sacrament of the Encounter with God (trans. Paul Barrett)

Reading texts like this did me a lot of good at a time when I needed it.

Requiescat in pace.

In the Faith of Abraham

An email conversation with my mother regarding the upcoming birth of my Jewish nephew has got me thinking about the relationship of Christianity to non-Christians in the faith of Abraham. I know that there is magisterial teaching on these questions, but I'm just musing this morning.

Perhaps many Jews would object to this, but it seems to me that a Christian is a peculiar sort of Jew. After all, we do what Jews do: we follow the Law and worship at the Temple. For us this is not the historical law or the physical Temple. We keep the Law as it has been received in its prophetic interpretation down to and including the historical Jesus. We worship within the eschatological Temple that is the sacrificed and risen Body of Christ. Therefore, when I meet a Jew, I don't see someone from a different religion but someone of the same religion in a different concept of time. We are both Jews, one a member of the Israel of history, the other a member of the Israel of transcendent time, the end times, the ultimate horizon, the eschaton.

I believe that this is sound and demonstrable Biblical teaching deriving especially from the later prophets, St. John, St. Paul, and Revelation, and if it wasn't two days before Christmas for which three different Sunday-length homilies have to be given in three days, I might have time to point some of this out.

Islam is a lot harder for me, and I admit that I have an unresolved internal tension when I think about it. It seems to me that you have to face the question: Did the angel Gabriel reveal the Qur'an to Muhammad (peace be upon him) or not? If one consents to this proposition, then the only reasonable thing is to surrender to God and become a Muslim right now. If one denies that the Qur'an came from Gabriel, doesn't this invalidate Islam altogether and throw out the faith of nearly a quarter of the people on earth? Is there a way out of this seemingly binary problem?

Of course, if what I say about Christianity being an eschatological religion is accepted in a certain way, then the faith/fulness of Jesus Christ is still a more recent revelation of God than the Qur'an. After all, the Resurrection is the definitive and constitutive sign of the end times, and it has reached back into history and grabbed us.

December 22, 2009

Advent vs. Christmas

It's the big trouble that arises in one way or another every Advent: how, and to what degree, is the integrity of the Advent season to be protected from Christmas?

The question arises from an argument we have with the world. For the world, the Christmas season begins right after Thanksgiving and ends on Christmas Day. For us Catholic Christians, on the other hand, the Christmas Season begins with either the Vigil Mass of the Nativity or its Evening Prayer I, whichever comes first, and proceeds through the feasts of the Holy Family, the motherhood of Mary, the Epiphany, and the Baptism of the Lord.

While we are trying to observe the season of Advent, the world already has its Christmas songs playing and its trees decorated, and while we are celebrating the Christmas season, the world's songs are silent and its Christmas trees are already drying out in the dumpster.

To me, the critical reason that Advent has to be protected from the world's Christmas is to preserve ourselves from the shallow description of Advent as the 'time to prepare for Christmas.' It is the time to prepare ourselves for Christmas for sure, to our recalling of the Lord's birth, but Advent is equally about our "joyful hope" as we look forward to the Lord's return in glory. Even more it seems to me that the delicate spiritual task of Advent is to wrap our shallow hearts and limited minds around the truth that these are, in fact, the same thing, without one collapsing into the other. Such a spiritual task is surely impossible with eyes and ears filled with all the tackiness of the world's "celebration" of "Christmas."

To this end, each religious community or parish is furnished with zealots who protect Advent with ferocity. They refuse to attend Christmas parties, scheduled as they usually are in days of Advent. They won't put up the tree until Evening Prayer I of the Lord's Nativity has been persolved.

As has been noted in both encouragement and exasperation, I'm usually all for zealotry. But in this case, I've always had a question:

Doesn't the culture of the world we live in train us to see Christmas stuff as anticipatory? And isn't this part of what Advent is supposed to be about? For example, if children get a visit from someone playing Santa Claus, do they not experience this as something looking forward to Christmas? Don't folks feel the same way decorating a Christmas tree?

Could it be that the world's celebration of Christmas, beginning after Thanksgiving and proceeding to Christmas Day, is not, in fact, a misplaced observe of the Christmas season, but actually an incomplete observance of Advent? Are our complaints misplaced? Perhaps the world is trying to observe Advent (though inadequately, of course) through an anticipatory use of Christmas stuff and symbol, and what they really lack is the actual celebration of Christmas.

December 20, 2009

From Visitation to Pentecost Via Baptism

One of my favorite things about the church where I work is the depiction of the mysteries of the rosary in the windows. The Joyful Mysteries begin to the left of the sanctuary and progress to the back of the church. Then, on the other side, the Glorious Mysteries begin and proceed back to the sanctuary, so that the Coronation of Mary ends up opposite the Annunciation. The Sorrowful Mysteries appear as paintings on the ceiling, also proceeding to the sanctuary.

When the light is good, one can use the windows as meditations in praying the rosary in the same manner that one would make the Stations of the Cross.

Before Mass today, as my final preparation to preach on today's Gospel, I spent some time with the window of the Visitation:

Elizabeth's posture proclaims her words from St. Luke: how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? Mary reaches out one hand in greeting, while the other is over her heart, where she kept all these things, reflecting on them. Poor Zechariah gestures in his muteness, and St. Joseph hangs back with his green halo. Anybody know why it's green?

One of my little dreams for the church is to tear up the awful carpeting and have the Luminous Mysteries put into the floor of the main aisle, opposite the Sorrowful Mysteries on the ceiling. It could be a nice mosaic or something. Because St. Anthony's altar and the old baptistery break up perfect evenness in the Joyful-Glorious layout, the Baptism of the Lord would end up in the floor right in between the Visitation pictured above and Pentecost:

Now this would be quite a lovely accident, because Jesus and John in the Baptism could parallel the postures of each other's mother in the Visitation window. John and Jesus would recapitulate their previous meeting in utero, except the other way around, accentuating the humility of the scene and the objection of John.

Then, the Holy Spirit that appears in the Baptism could parallel the radiant Dove in the Pentecost window. As you can see, I'm full of ideas on this fourth Sunday of Advent.

December 19, 2009

Overheard at the Drive-Thru

Friar: "I'll have a number six with a Diet Coke."

Other Friar: "What's number six?"

Friar: "I don't even know! I just say a number and enjoy being surprised!"

Where You Are

I was just looking at the places from which a minor friar has been visited over the last couple of days, and was inspired, on this day made quiet by impending snow, to give a few shout outs.

Here are just a few of the places you are:

Abu Dhabi, UAE
Islamabad, Pakistan
Kielce, Polan
Taipei, Taiwan
Olean, NY
Glendale, CA
Quebec City
Odivelas, Portugal

Haifa, Israel. Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, pray for us.

The two places from which my own DNA originated, Cleveland, Ohio and Gloucester, Massachusetts.

But best of all, Bethlehem, Palestinian Territories, the City of David.

The Visitation

The disciples Mary and Elizabeth show us the path of divine charity. Follow this link for my homily for this weekend.

December 18, 2009

From My Confessor

Qui bene distinguit, bene docet:

As sinners we should keep in mind that our root problem is not that we are people who commit this or that sin, but that we are squanderers of grace. Sin, after all, considered as evil, is the privation of the good or virtue that ought to be there instead. That is why there is nothing delightful or even interesting about sin; when there seems to be it is because we have been deluded or tricked by worldly distraction, concupiscence, or the devil.

We believe in a just God, a God who is Justice, and one of the primary expression of God's justice in our lives is to supply with us with all of the particular grace we might require to live the life to which we have been called with freedom and joy. My yoke is easy, and my burden light. So if we sin, it is because we have missed out on the grace that is offered to live the opposite virtue or to do the opposite work.

This is why vigilance and attention are so critical, to leave our minds and senses free enough to notice and take advantage of the graces that come to us in the course of our days.

Penance: the old 10, 10, and 10.

December 17, 2009

The Inner Room

With the exception of two holiday parties I have to attend in succession tonight, between the committal I did this morning (alone with just the undertaker and a social worker, may the deceased rest in peace) and what will surely be a very long and challenging Spanish confessions gig tomorrow night, I have about 34 hours of time off. I'm trying to use it well; with both Christmas and the solemnity of the Motherhood of Mary falling across my usual days off, I probably won't catch another break until right before the weekend of Epiphany.

So, the usual stuff to recover and renew: pray, quiet down inside, tidy up. Tomorrow I'll try to get to confession. This afternoon I took some time for spiritual reading; not in the stretching and challenging way in which I know I should usually take it, but in the reparative mode which knows that I need something solid to remind me of the love of God and my need to be just that--diligent--in living it if I hope not to fall apart in the midst of so many distractions, troubles, and scandalizations I have to suffer--things that I can't unsee or unhear.

In the afternoons the sun strikes forcefully on the side of the friary opposite my room. Looking up from my reading at a certain moment, perhaps around three o'clock, I noticed that my door was open just a few inches and that the strong yellows and oranges of the sunlight were bright around it, illuminating the corner of my room around the door. The rest of my room was dimly lit, dusty, littered with piles of books and notebooks, some in active use, others representing neglected projects. As I noticed the contrast between the rest of my room and the afternoon sun creeping around the door, I started to think about it as an image of my soul.

My soul is something like my room, full of words and ideas packed away here and there, some of them useful and others a distraction and all of it somewhat dusty and unmotivated. My dilettantism and philistinism are revealed by the variously negected discernments and ambitions that are lying around. On the other hand all the tools are there to become who I say I am, who I know I want to be in God. There are a lot of good intentions, and certain virtues that have been acquired through the intersection of Providence and some willingness to work. But all of this only means anything because there is some obscure edge or corner of my soul--how coarse it is to try to speak in such terms!--that has become illuminated by the Light Itself. To follow this Light is prayer, or at least--in the language of the best compliment I have ever received--the "desire for prayer."

This is why Jesus tells us that secret and solitude are necessary for prayer. To go to the inner room and close the door is necessary if we are to even notice the other Door that opens up into the Light.

Overheard: Eschatological Desserts

One of the brothers was passing out boxes of nice candy as Christmas gifts for the parish staff, and another of the friars put out his hand too.

"Sorry, Brother, yours is in heaven."

Mary and Joseph Arrive

It's the 17th of December and the great "O Antiphons" at Vespers begin our proximate preparation for the Lord's Nativity.

December 16, 2009

Washing Feet in Blood

This morning I was visiting someone in the hospital, and as I rode home on the bus I prayed my midday prayer from the 1962 Breviarium Romano-Seraphicum. As far as I can tell we are allowed to do so, and it's a lot smaller and lighter a book to carry around.

In praying from the older breviary, once in a while one gets a shock in coming by one of the psalms or sections of psalms that were expunged from the psalter in the production of the reformed Liturgy of the Hours. Imagine how taken aback I was to suddenly find myself praying the end of psalm 58, which does not appear in the LOH at all:

Laetábitur iustus, cum víderet vindíctam, pedes suos lavábit in sanguine iníqui.

"The just one will rejoice when he sees vengeance, and will wash his feet in the blood of the wicked."

There's a pious thought for one's midday prayer!

December 15, 2009

Signing Off on a Blessing

I had never heard of this before, but I think it's neat.

A man came to the office today with an image of the Sacred Heart to be blessed before he put it up in his home. He explained how he had brought it from Our Lady's shrine at Knock. We spoke a little about the shrine, and I told him about how I had visited by myself during the semester when I was alleged to be studying philosophy at University College Galway.

After we had prayed and blessed the image, he indicated to me that I had to sign it. I had never heard of such a thing, but there it was: in very small print at the bottom of the picture was a place for the blessing priest to sign!

It makes me think of all the religious articles I have and those priests who blessed them for me.

Cor Iesu Sacratissimum, Miserere Nobis
Cor Iesu Sacratissimum, Miserere Nobis
Cor Iesu Sacratissimum, Miserere Nobis

How To Become A Bishop

I have noticed with delight that some kind and thoughtful (and no doubt devout) soul has graced the web with the text of Charles Merrill Smith's How to Become a Bishop Without Being Religious. This is certainly one of the funniest books I have ever read. It is a biting satire on church and ministry that somehow manages to be good-natured, light, and loyal at the same time. I recommend it.

Smith writes from a protestant perspective, so certain chapters, though very funny, are not directly applicable to us Catholics, e.g. "Selecting the Clerical Wife." "The most important one piece of equipment the aspiring clergyman will acquire."

Other sections are either directly or closely applicable to the Catholic ministry, such as Smith's advice on "pastoral counseling," "the theology of church finance," developing a preaching program, good and bad hymns, dealing with the committee structure of a parish, the differences between managing mens' and womens' organizations, religious education, wedding rehearsals, and achieving the crucial "humility/ability balance."

Here's a sample, from the section on learning the professional stance of the clergyman:

Perhaps the best single word to describe the flavor of personality, one must strive to achieve is “pious.” This implies that the preacher will gather up, in himself, a host of qualities and characteristics and distill them into an essence which he exudes at all times, and which advertises, unmistakably, that here is a man of much prayer, meditation and lofty thoughts; a man who has disentangled himself from the secular, soiling concerns which obsess most men — in short, a clergyman.

Now someone is bound to say that this means a preacher, to be a success, must be religious — a contention which this book is written to deny. Here, we must pause to make a distinction between “religious” and “pious.”

A genuinely-religious man is, as the sociologists would say, inner-directed. He has deep and abiding convictions, usually derived from his faith in God and what he believes to be God's will. Thus, he is likely to be socially-irresponsible, largely uninterested in the kind of impression he makes on people, often involved in unpopular causes. He tends to be a crusader, frequently intolerant of what he conceives to be injustice or evil. Unfortunately, he is usually tactless, making enemies unneccessarily and, thus, becoming an embarrassment to the church.

December 14, 2009

Overheard: Next to Godliness

A friar, observing another putting his habit into the washing machine: "Oh, it must be Christmas time!"

Laundering friar: "Once a year, whether it needs it or not!"

December 13, 2009

Vindicated at 10 p.m.

"What time is Midnight Mass?"

It's one of the standard questions--and not really a joke--one gets this time of year.

The year before my arrival here in the parish where I work, the traditional Midnight Mass at midnight was moved to 10 p.m. It was observed that attendance was not injured, so we've kept it that way.

For all of my taste for doing things in the classical or traditional way, I am entirely committed to the Mass at Midnight at 10 p.m. Children are less cranky, adults are less drunk, and fewer of both go to sleep. The 10 p.m. time is also a help to clerical traditions surrounding Christmas Eve television: One can watch the Midnight Mass from St. Peter's Basilica a little earlier in the day, and still catch the Midnight Mass from St. Patrick's Cathedral here in New York after locking up the church.

Sometimes people complain about the Mass at Midnight at 10 p.m. For this argument I have two strategies. For the casual complainer, I explain that the Mass is designed to end at midnight, and is thus a Midnight Mass in another form. For the more advanced or sophisticated, I explain that I would happily invite a trade: I will lobby for the Midnight Mass at midnight, if we can also have the Easter Vigil in the most proper spirit of veritas horarum and schedule it so that it ends right around first light on Easter morning. At this unimaginable suggestion, folks usually realize it is hardly worth the trouble of arguing with me.

Anyway, all this just to say that I feel vindicated by the Holy Father himself, as I read that Benedict XVI has decided that the Midnight Mass at St. Peter's Basilica will be at 10 p.m. This will make the television schedule even better on Christmas Eve, because it means that the Papal Mass can be viewed before the traditional priestly meal of Chinese take-out. (This is a way of being in touch with our Jewish roots as we celebrate the Lord's Nativity.)

We're on the same page, this Pope and I.

Update: My canonical counsel, having consulted his rubrical counsel, delivers this critical reminder: Though the (lame duck) American Sacramentary calls the Mass formulary in question, "Mass at Midnight," the actual rubric is "Ad Missam in nocte." Just night, not midnight.

December 12, 2009

Cooking Up Some Apostolic Faith

At preprandium tonight, I overheard a couple of the old fathers comparing stories about funny liturgical flubs and manglings of public prayer. They declared this one the best:

"We offer them for your holy catholic Church, watch over it, Lord, and guide it; grant it peace and unity throughout the world. We offer them for Paul our Pope, for Terence our cook, and for all who hold and teach the catholic faith that comes to us from the apostles."

Of course the joke is on poor Servant of God Terence Cardinal Cooke.

A Shepherd Appears

It's the third Sunday of Advent, and a shepherd appears, knowing something is up:

In Inventione S. P. N. Francisci

One of the brothers here set up an old (pre-1962) Missale Romano-Seraphicum in one of our hallways as a museum piece. As I have gone by each day, I have set it up for the Mass that would have corresponded to the day.

Today is a Franciscan feast that I haven't been able to figure out: In inventione S. P. N. Francisci conf. I suppose it's the "Finding of our holy father Francis, confessor." The observance does not appear in the current Franciscan calendar nor in the 1962 M R-S, and so is no longer observed in any form of the Roman rite.

I'm guessing that it has something to do with the translation of the remains of the saint, but I can't guess exactly how. Anybody know?

Update: a clue! Opening my mail today, I read the newsletter of the local fraternity of the Secular Franciscan Order of which I am Spiritual Assistant. The little Franciscan calendar box lists tomorrow as the feast of the "Finding of the Body of St. Francis." I must speak with Sister Editrix!

Update 2: From the very good website of a Florida region of SFO fraternities:

The church which was built at Assisi in honor of St. Francis soon after his death (1228-1230) was a double church, and the body of the saint was buried deep under the lower church. In the course of time the exact location of the tomb was forgotten, and with the permission of the Holy See, excavations were made in 1818 for the purpose of finding the relics. After 52 nights of hard work, the stone coffin containing the bones and ashes of St. Francis was found. A third underground church was then hewn out of solid rock upon which the church had been built; and there the relics of St. Francis are venerated today. Pope Leo XII instituted a special feast to commemorate the finding of the body of St. Francis. It is observed by the Franciscan Order on Dec 12, except in the Americas where it is kept on the following day.

So that also solves the question of the divergent days. Presumably In inventione was celebrated a day late here in the Americas because of the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. So that leads to the next question: When did her day become universal in the Americas? Benedict XIV granted her day to "New Spain" in 1754, but was she celebrated everywhere before being declared the Patroness of the Americas by Pius XII in 1946?

Our Lady of Guadalupe, pray for us!

Baptized or Burned

We rejoice as our joyful hope nears fulfillment. The passionate love of God will be born among us. What will God's burning love be for us? Will it burn us away or baptize us into itself? Follow this link for my homily for this weekend.

December 11, 2009

Madly in Love

Sometime last week I took a look at someone's Blogger profile, and was struck by how she defined herself: "I'm madly in love with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament."

This confession of love has been sticking with me; it comes to mind sometimes at the genuflections during the consecration, or when I first arrive in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament if I'm opening the church in the morning quiet. What a thing to say! I mean, anyone who is trying to live the Christian life has fallen in love with God on some level, but to make the claim so vividly and viscerally just strikes me.

St. Peter Chrysologus was in the Office of Readings yesterday:

"Love does not reflect; it is unreasonable and knows no moderation. Love refused to be consoled when its goal proves impossible, despises all hindrances to the attainment of its object...It is intolerable for love not to see the object of its longing."

To be in love with someone is to arrange one's life around being in the presence of the beloved and to actively seek opportunities to do good for the beloved. I want to be in love with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament that way!

December 10, 2009

On Accepting Redemption

One of the losses that comes with ordination is that you just don't hear a lot of homilies anymore. You read the classics, of course, and hear bishops, religious superiors, and even Popes preach at larger occasions, but most of the time you don't often hear the plain old day-to-day preaching that can be so honest and encouraging.

Here's a line from a daily Mass homily I heard today:

"We're like people sitting in jail. The bail has been paid and the gates have been opened, but we don't believe it."

Wow. That's the whole tragedy of my so-called spiritual life.

Like things often do, my confrere's words reminded me of a line from New Seeds of Contemplation:

"The devils are very pleased with a soul that comes out of its dry house and shivers in the rain for no other reason than that the house is dry."

December 9, 2009

Overheard: Infirm Purposes of Amendment

A priest was charging his cell phone in the hallway next to the parish offices.

Funny Lady: Father, is it 'finders keepers'? Because there's a nice cell phone out here...

Priest: Go ahead and take it. But you'll have to hear the confessions of everyone who calls up when I'm on duty.

Funny Lady: I can hear their confessions, I just can't do anything about them.

Priest: Don't worry, some of them don't want to do anything about them either.

As a confessor told me once, "Just because you feel contrite, doesn't mean you're repentant."

a minor friar on Wikipedia

I know this is supremely geeky, but I can't resist a visit from Wikipe-tan, in celebration the appearance of this blog in the references of an article on Wikipedia.

This is the article in question, which refers to the recent post on the death of our sometime Capuchin confrere, Pius XIII.

Colligit Fragmenta

There seems to be a new genre of post developing, in which I confess to negligences and sins of which I often accuse others. May I be at work on removing the beams from my eyes!

It was a very quiet 8:30 Mass this morning, because of the terrible weather. I was enjoying it, and thought I preached well, if a little too long. At the fraction, though, something went wrong. I don't know if I forgot to do the bend-before-break, or failed to hold the top end, or was holding the Host too far above the paten, but as I fractioned the Host I thought I saw a small particle fly off the left. I looked, and I found what I thought was probably a particle on the corporal, but I wasn't sure if it was the one I had lost. Maybe it was from some other Mass. In any case, I rescued the particle I found, and even if it wasn't the one I had lost, the relative sacrilege in this world remained as it was under my watch.

Of course the comfort in such situations is that the Body of Christ comes to us under the appearance of the bread. Where there is no longer any recognizable appearance, or where particles have become practically invisible, there is no fear the Blessed Sacrament is being lost.

On the other hand, it makes me mourn all of the particles that must get lost every day. I used to worry about this--to myself--when I was a novice, as we celebrated Mass with our sweet, muffiny altar breads made by one of the old friars (who was a renowned baker, truth be told, and a dear and deeply fraternal soul, God be good to him.) They were so yummy that friars would eat them right out of the freezer instead of saving them for the Masses for which they were destined. When I was in studies at the theological school we attended, I wondered about the large amounts of crumby pita bread that was used for Mass, and what recognizable particles must have inevitably been lost.

There are those who say that the treatment of the Sacred Species in the older form of Mass was overly protective and fussy. Perhaps there is something too that. But it can also be said that in the course of the reception of the reformed liturgy, something of reverence, care, and salutary fear has been lost in many places. Perhaps the treatment of the Sacred Species is one of those areas in which we should take up the Holy Father's advice in the cover letter to Summorum pontificum and seek a "mutual enrichment" of what are now called the Ordinary and Extraordinary forms of the Roman rite.

May God forgive me all of the sacrileges I commit against Him and his creatures each day. Amen.

December 8, 2009

Tim Dolan on the Immaculate Conception

Last night, on the vigil of the Immaculate Conception, here in the Yonkers vicariate of the Archdiocese of New York, we had our official visit by our new archbishop, who came to offer Mass with his priests, deacons, and people in the mother church of Yonkers, dedicated to Mary under that same title.

Archbishop Dolan gave a homily that was at once encouraging, entertaining, scriptural, good catechesis, and included a vocal solo.

Our first parents, though they had been given everything, refused divine love through disobedience and said "no" to God. After that God could have said to them, literally, "go to hell." But He didn't. Instead, our God is so good and so generous that He "won't take no for an answer." God refused to take our 'no' as a final response. So, as soon as our first parents had sinned, God began to sing a song...

And so began the long Advent, the long wait for the Savior. God prepared the New Eve to be the mother of this New Adam, and her fiat, her "let it be done to my according to your word," became the 'yes' that reversed the 'no' of our first parents. How was she able to make such a total assent to the work of God within her? She had been preserved from the corruption of sin from the first moment of her conception, making her free to conceive the Word of God in all spiritual freedom.

Our God won't take 'no' for an answer, and he takes the 'yes' of sinless Mary as the beginning of the new creation. Amen.

It was an enjoyable and encouraging evening. I'm happy for the Archdiocese of New York, and I offered the Mass for the ministry of our new Archbishop. May God furnish him with every good gift and grace and he bears the burden of shepherd and teacher.

Extra feast day credit for mendicants and mendicant sympathizers: Anybody care to rehearse St. Thomas's trouble with the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception (see ST 3,27,2) and/or describe how it might be used as a reductio ad absurdum for the implicit Christology above? What then is the alternative?

December 6, 2009


Today around the friary we have learned of the passing of our sometime Capuchin confrere, Fr. Lucian Pulvermacher, a.k.a. Pope Pius XIII.

He was one of four brothers who all entered the Order. One of them, born Robert Alois but known in the Order--coincidentally--as Fr. Pius, died when I was a novice. A classmate and I received permission to make the trip to his funeral, thinking we might get to meet a pope. His Holiness didn't show. Now I don't care if you're Pius XIII or Hadrian VII or Petrus Romanus, you have to attend your own brother's funeral.

Some of the friars here worked with Pius XIII in the Ryukyu Islands before his "election," and were telling stories about the serious harm he did to his family and many other souls by his apostasy. May God receive him back with mercy.

For more information on this curious Capuchin, Brother Vito has a fine post.

Requiescat in pace.

P.S. I received a recent anonymous gift of the SSPX book, Priest, Where is thy Mass? Mass, where is thy Priest? in which you can meet another of the Pulvermacher brothers, Fr. Carl.

P.P.S. Between the links from Wikipedia and Fisheaters (which is a great resource, if you have not yet visited), this post has been receiving a lot of visits. Welcome to all new visitors, and may God furnish you with every grace, that you may live your consecration in all confidence and joy.

I have decided to turn off the comment thread on this post. Not that the discussion didn't raise real questions with a lot at stake for our faith and our world, but the comment box is not the most productive forum for every kind of debate. In any case, they were at least a little tangential to this post, which I just wrote as an invitation to pray for one of my religious brothers who, as can happen to anyone, lost his way in his pilgrimage in this world, and perhaps could use our intercession

December 5, 2009

Sheep and Ox Arrive

It must be the second Sunday of Advent, because sheep and ox seem to have arrived:

Joy, Longing, and Mission

"I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus." It is our joy to be those within whom God has begun his good work of the redemption of creation. We long for the fulfillment of this good work, and are called to prepare the path of grace within and without. Follow this link for my homily for this weekend.

December 4, 2009

My Shoddy Liturgical Life

Since I spend so many of these posts ranting against liturgical irregularity and crying out for regular religious observance, it's good for me to confess when my own life becomes irregular. Check out my imperfect liturgical day today:

Office of Readings and Morning Prayer: Prayed in my room over a cup of coffee each, with making my bed and doing the morning email sift in between.

Mass: Intended to offer the Mass of St. Peter Chrysologus later in the day after returning from a meeting in Connecticut. I got home later than I thought, and with less energy, and it didn't happen. Nice job, Charles, living up to CIC 663, 2: "[Religious] are to make every effort to participate in the eucharistic sacrifice daily, to receive the most sacred Body of Christ, and to adore the Lord himself present in the sacrament."

Mid-Afternoon and Evening Prayer: recited in rapid succession while sitting in a Yonkers storefront, waiting for Chinese take-out (I'm home alone in the friary tonight.)

Night Prayer: to be offered later in the usual manner, presumably.

December 3, 2009

From My Confessor

The friar to whom I have been going for confession lately has a couple of practices that I have come to appreciate. First, he begins his own counsel in this way:

"Let us pray together for God's forgiveness of all of our sins."

With this, the encounter becomes not only priest and penitent, but also two brother sinners praying together for forgiveness. Then, at the end he always adds, "Please don't hesitate to ask for confession. We need to support each other." The ministry of the sacrament is a means of fraternal support. It recalls to me the procedure for confession from the Earlier Rule:

Et fratres mei benedicti tam clerici quam laici confiteantur peccata sua sacerdotibus nostrae religionis.Et si non potuerint, confiteantur aliis discretis et catholicis sacerdotibus scientes firmiter et attendentes, quia a quibuscumque sacerdotibus catholicis acceperint poenitentiam et absolutionem, absoluti erunt procul dubio ab illis peccatis, si poenitentiam sibi iniunctam procuraverint humiliter et fideliter observare. 3Si vero tunc non potuerint habere sacerdotem, confiteantur fratri suo, sicut dicit apostolus Jacobus: «Confitemini alterutrum peccata vestra» (Jac 5,16). 4Non tamen propter hoc dimittant recurrere ad sacerdotem, quia potestas ligandi et solvendi solis sacerdotibus est concessa. (XX: 1-4)

"Let my blessed brothers, cleric and lay, confess their sins to priests of our religion. And if they cannot, let them confess to other discreet and catholic priests, knowing and holding that the one who has received penance and absolution from any catholic priest is absolved beyond doubt, if he observes humbly and faithfully the penance enjoined on him. If they cannot even have a priest, let them confess to their brother, as the apostle James says: Confess your sins to one another. (James 5:16). Nevertheless, on account of this, let them not abandon recourse to a priest, who alone has been given the power to bind and loose."

Penance: a little unusual in configuration, "2 and 10."

December 2, 2009

Porcius Festus

The other day I was telling someone about the passage of Sacred Scripture that amuses me the most, which is the description of Paul's trial before Festus in Acts 25.

Festus, at a loss at how to investigate the case, describes the situtation:

When the accusers stood up, they brought no charge in his case of such evils as I supposed; but they had certain points of dispute with him about their own superstition and about one Jesus, who was dead, but whom Paul asserted to be alive. (Acts 25: 18-19, RSV)

I used to riff off this passage for course evaluations when I was in studies. I would write:

Professor N. had certain points of dispute with us about his own superstition, and about one Jesus, who was dead, but whom Professor N. asserted to be alive.

Then I would write, "cf. Acts 25: 18-19."

"Superstition" here is δεισιδαιμονία, which is often translated "religion" rather than "superstition." It can go either way. This passage comes up in the lectionary on the Friday of the seventh week of Easter. Listen for it!

Temptation and Resentment

It took me years of spiritual reading and direction to realize that one of my basic and ingrained spiritual troubles is an attitude toward temptation that is both bad and wrong.

I didn't see it for a long time, but I resented having to be tempted. I interpreted the angst as the pain of the struggle with sin, but I was wrong. My anguish was actually resentment at having to deal with sin and temptation in the first place. I wanted to think of myself as holy, and sin and temptation interfered with my little plan! The more dangerous the source of the temptation (from the flesh to the world, and finally to the devil) and the deeper its location (from the physical, to the emotional and social to the spiritual) the more subtle and insidious was my resentment. I didn't want to have to deal with temptation in the first place, nor know myself as a spiritual mediocrity in my vain self-regard. Of course this made temptations that much harder to deal with, having made them all the more distracting and strong by loading them up with a negative emotional charge on top of everything else.

My resentment, however, when I learned to look at it rightly, became a gift insofar as it revealed to me the disordered spiritualities from which it came. It revealed to me two dangerous distortions. First, when I realized that I resented having to be tempted, it showed me that I was far from the hard-working spiritual practitioner I had imagined myself to be. In fact, I was lazy and I resented having to fight and work for the sanctity I thought I desired. Second, and worse, my resentment helped me to understand that I was not so much in love with God as wanting to admire myself as a godly person. I wanted to enjoy a certain spiritual vanity rather than worship the living God. It took me many years to put words around this distortion; I remember several incidents with spiritual directors and confessors in which they admitted that they didn't know what I was trying to get at. I see the same thing in some of my journals from the early years; I was struggling to figure out my own particular temptation to vanity and idolatry, but I had not yet the experience of prayer to make a functioning distinction between God and my own idea of God, between my vision of sanctity and the Holy One Himself.

Now, on a good day, I'm able to recognize the resentment as a temptation that compounds other temptations. I try to make it a spiritual practice to make acts of gratitude for trials and temptations. When you love someone, you are grateful for the chances to do something difficult and costly for that Person.

December 1, 2009

In Defense of the Novus Ordo Missae

For the fortieth anniversary of the Novus Ordo Missae this past weekend I have read many stern evaluations of its legacy and reception in the blogosphere and even in the secular press. So I thought that perhaps it would be a good and healthy thing to make a post in its defense. My apology for the modern Roman liturgy has two parts. First, I shall suggest some areas in which I think we need to discipline our speech and make sure we avoid unfair criticisms. Second, I will describe those elements of the Mass of Paul VI that are--to me--an improvement over the traditional form of Mass.

One of the oddnesses of the modern Roman liturgy is that some of its de facto ordinary procedures and practices for celebration are actually exceptions, substitutions, or non-essentials. Thus, these aspects are not fair targets for unqualified criticism. For example:
  • Benedict XVI is oft-quoted (from The Spirit of the Liturgy) on the theological and ecclesiological problems of the Mass offered versus populum. Many agree with him. However, though this option for celebration may seem to the casual observer to be one of the distinctive marks of the Mass of Paul VI, and is treated by many priests as a sacred and unalterable religious duty, it is neither essential nor normative. In fact, in the newer form of Mass, the priest is required to turn and face the people fewer times than in the older form. Thus, it is not fair to criticize the Novus Ordo based on troubles attendant on the offering of Mass "facing the people."
  • Analogously, though it may also seem that Mass offered in local languages is an instrinsic mark of the newer form of Mass, this is also an option rather than a norm. Sacrosanctum concilium 36 clearly affirms that the Latin remains the ordinary language of the Roman rite. Thus, it is also unfair to base criticisms on the use of the vernacular.
  • Much criticism, and some of it justified, has been made against contemporary Catholic music that has grown up alongside the newer form of Mass. For most of us, the ordinary procedure for arriving at music for Mass is to contoct the 'four song sandwich' that will match the readings or suit our theme. This custom is taken for granted so much of the time that we forget that it is a matter of exception and substitution. The ordinary way of music-ing the Roman liturgy is to sing the actual texts of the Mass as they are found in the Missal and the Gradual, rather than substituting them for songs and metrical hymns. For this purpose, Gregorian chants allegedly retain their "pride of place," at least according to Sacrosanctum concilium 116. Therefore, it is not exactly fair to criticize the modern Roman liturgy based on some of the bad music with which it has become associated, for this association is neither essential nor normative.

Secondly, in my opinion there are aspects of the reformed liturgy that are improvements on the older form. For example:
  • The introduction of proper formularies for each day of the Advent and Easter seasons helps to genuinely privilege these liturgical times.
  • The reformed lectionary succeeds in its effort to provide a "richer fare" from the table of God's word; the reformed cycles provide a greater comprehensiveness and diversity through both Sundays and weekdays. This reform affirms the foundational place of proclaimed Sacred Scripture in the liturgy.
  • The new Eucharistic Prayers which we have in addition to the venerable Roman Canon demonstrate that the Roman Missal is not Roman in the narrow sense, but in the most catholic and ecumenical sense. If the clergy of the Roman rite have abused this diversity by marginalizing the Roman Canon, this is not the fault of the reform. (Indeed, when I took the 'how to say Mass' course in studies, we were taught to despise the Roman Canon.) I suggest to them that they begin to pray the Canon, perhaps according to my plan for the minimum use of Eucharistic Prayer I.

In conclusion, by way of all this I just want to say that in the midst of all of this criticism of the Mass of Paul VI, we should keep in mind that it does have certain virtues to recommend it, and that much of the criticism leveled against it is based in non-essentials and imaginary norms.

November 28, 2009

The Spirit of Vigilance

As the year of our salvation 2010 begins to dawn this weekend, the first Sunday of Advent invites us into a meditation on the in-between-ness of our pilgrim way: we simultaneously look back to the dawn of our salvation in the birth of Christ and look forward to the terrible day of his return in glory. Follow this link for my homily for this weekend.

November 27, 2009

Six Stages in the Threefold Way

Today for the feast of Francis Fasani, the Franciscan breviary offers a reading from Bonaventure's De Triplici Via on the stages of the spiritual life. Since everybody loves such a schema and we all like to diagnose ourselves, I thought I would reproduce it. Some of the English looks a little sketchy to me, so next time I go to the library I'll try to find the passage in the Opera omnia and see if it can't be improved.

Six stages toward perfection through love:

1. Agreeableness. Meditations on the love of God produce sweetness in the heart, and the soul first learns how good God is.

2. Avidity. The soul, having some experience of this sweetness, is overcome with a desire for complete possession of the Beloved.

3. Satiety. No satisfaction or rest is found in anything else.

4. Ebreity. The soul loves God so much that anguish and sufferings for His sake are more delightful than spiritual consolation. Indeed, consolation--because it is a delight that is not God Himself--is loathed.

5. Security. Because it does not matter to the soul whether it is consoled or suffers, all fear is expelled. Nothing can separate the soul from God.

6. Tranquillity. The soul arrives at peace, rest, and silence.

So, as usual, diagnose yourself and the holiest person you know. For me, 2 (on a good day) and 4.

Charles Laughton Storyteller

Driving home from Thanksgiving dinner with my parents, their old cat, my brother and sister-in-law and unborn nephew, I tuned in this recording on the far left of the FM dial, somewhere around the border of Connecticut and New York.

Somehow I found it all very encouraging in some way that really matters to me.

November 25, 2009

Well, It Finally Happened

It has happened. A parishioner approached me about exercising the right given him by Benedict XVI in Summorum pontificum 6,3 to a funeral Mass in the Extraordinary Form.

At first I was anxious, but after thinking about it for a while, it seemed like something that could be done without too much trouble. We don't have vestments or a funeral pall, but these could be borrowed. I'm not sure if any of our choirs would know the Requiem Mass, but they might be happy to learn. If not, between the music director and myself I'm sure we have enough contacts to make it work. A server could be hired or borrowed, and perhaps there are young friars in my community who know how or are learning to serve the EF, whether they care to admit it or not. We have plenty of kneelers for Holy Communion. The one thing that still has me a little perplexed or concerned is candles...suffice it to say that the "candles" we have now would not be licit for the EF.

So I told the man that I would do my best to prepare and soften some ground so that he might be able to have the funeral he wants for himself.

Thanksgiving Rant

Wherein I wish to rant about liturgy and charity, which I find annoying and amusing, respectively.

First, liturgy. This morning someone asked me if Thanksgiving were a holy day of obligation. Of course it isn't, but the question reveals how far we have taken the canonization of the civil holiday into the liturgy. The proper preface that the American sacramentary gives for Thanksgiving Day has to be one of the most theologically inadequate liturgical texts ever foisted upon the People of God. I have never used it, and have tried not to even hear it. NLM has a reprint of an article about it by Fr. Thomas Kocik, and its "distinctively American misconstrual of divine election." No thanks for me too. As far as I'm concerned, in both expressions of the Roman rite, tomorrow is the feast of St. Leonard of Port Maurice.

Second, charity. Now I don't mean to make light of the beautiful efforts to feed the hungry that many people make this time of year. I was just over at our high school watching our students distribute a huge amount of food to the vans of charitable organizations that come by each year. Their joy at the experience of doing good gives glory to God. But this business about churches getting into the free turkey business this time of year, I have to say that it cracks me up. People start to show up at the door of the church to "get their turkey" with a spirit similar to the one that brings out the hordes to "get their ashes" or "get their palms." It cracks me up because turkey is actually very cheap as edible proteins go, and not without hazards and pitfalls when it comes to preparation. It's a symbolic thing, I know, a graced transaction that has more depth of meaning than economic need reveals. But it's still amusing to see all of these people consumed with a need to get a free turkey, probably spending more than the turkey would cost on gas as they drive around to different parish offices all day.

In any case, to all who support and encourage me in this ministry, enjoy your Thanksgiving and the feast of St. Leonard, whether you paid the national average of a dollar or so a pound for your turkey, or got it for free. Peace.

November 24, 2009

Encouragements and Dangers

Over the course of the Year of the Priest so far, I've been touched by the gestures of many. I've received medals and holy cards and even a letter from someone who let me know she was praying for me on a particular day. I thank God every day for the charity of so many; as I often say to penitents and visitors to our parlor, it may only be in heaven that we learn how much we were supported by the prayers of others.

I'm grateful for the Year of the Priest because I think the Church at large needs good reflection and catechesis on the priesthood, but I'm also wary because we need to make sure we make these teachings and reflections in the right way.

A couple of examples from my own experience highlight the need for catechesis on the priesthood. When I was younger in the faith I could be a little scrupulous. (I imagine that some of my confreres would say that I still am.) I tried to attend Mass as often as I could, but I didn't always receive Holy Communion if I felt as if there were a good chance I was in a state of mortal sin. I remember how on one of these days I asked myself what it would be like if I were a priest who had to offer Mass each day; what would happen then if I were in a state of mortal sin? Could I offer Mass but not receive Communion? I had never noticed this happening, but I didn't see why it couldn't be done. That I didn't understand that no Mass in fact occurs without the Communion of the priest revealed my lack of understanding and catechetical formation on the priesthood and the Eucharist.

Once when I was in studies a classmate told me about a wonderfully progressive Mass that she attended. Everyone shared in all the prayers, with one person praying the Collect, another the Prayer over the Gifts, etc. The Eucharistic Prayer was similarly shared among the various persons assisting at the "Mass," except for the Institution Narrative itself: Father had to say that part. In this particular abuse those who thought themselves liberal and progressive actually reveal that their thinking about the Eucharist and the priesthood is actually quite shallow and magical; the priest was only required for the hocus pocus.

These sorts of distortions and misunderstandings, as well as false ideas of "active participation" have left many of us with a shallow or impoverished sense of the nature of the priesthood and its relation to the Eucharist.

On the other hand, as we try to lift up the priesthood and restore proper catechesis during this Year of the Priest, we must be very careful. Whenever we say "priest" or "priesthood" or "Year of the Priest" we must always keep in mind that the primary referent of these utterances is Jesus Christ, not any presbyter or bishop. Sometimes when I have a free morning I make the three mile trip to the St. Joseph's Seminary library. As seems right, I always make a visit to the Blessed Sacrament on my way into and out of the building. Their chapel is very beautiful to me: the white of the walls combined with the deep brown of the choirs, the lack of carpet, it just does it for me. The words of psalm 110 ring out from the sanctuary: Te es sacerdos in aeternum. Sometimes I try to imagine what it might be like to pray beneath those words each day. If a young man saw in them the inner delight of the Blessed Trinity, of the Father's joy in the mission of the Incarnate Son, these words might form him in some mighty grace.* But if a young man began to see himself as the primary referent of these words, then there is clerical arrogance on the horizon for sure.

So let us enjoy the Year of the Priest, encouraging and supporting the ordained priests of Jesus Christ and letting them know. But let us be sure that we are deepening our sense of the One and only Priest of the New Covenant, Jesus Christ. Let us deepen our knowledge of his one Sacrifice, so as to avoid superstition, magic, and clericalism.

*Here we might rant a little against those who are fanatic for 'inclusive language' in psalmody for prayer; in their haste to be politically correct, they often remove from our attention the Christological and Trinitarian meanings of the Psalms on which so much classic Christian spirituality is based.

November 23, 2009

Franciscan Blogroll

Check out New Sandals. Click and spike brother's stats!

Also, I have removed from the roll a couple of apparently dormant blogs. If you become active again, let me know!

Giving Communicant Catechesis

This morning it was my joy to offer Mass with the students and teachers from both our grade and high schools. The younger ones come to Mass once a month, but the high school students only come a few times in the course of the school year. Because it's the ancient Christian feast of American Thanksgiving this week, we had a big Mass for everyone. It's good to see the church almost full once in a while apart from the Christmas Vigil and Ash Wednesday.

I really enjoy the kids, and I especially appreciate the preaching challenge at these Masses. Today I added an extra little homily. Normally I abhor the giving of instructions during Mass, but I just had to go over how to receive Holy Communion with the kids. We are blessed with some fine and diligent young people, but in my experience some of them receive Communion a little carelessly. I often surprise some kid who wasn't expecting me to 'go for the tongue' because they are holding their hands so low, 'do the pincers,' or present their hands with jacket sleeves over them. Inevitably I end up chasing some child or other down the aisle to make sure he has consumed the Host. Since this is embarrassing for the poor kid, and a little distracting for me--although I love having the reputation as a priest who does it when necessary--I wanted to give a little practical catechesis on being a good communicant at the end of my homily.

I meant to just give the practical expectations for those who choose to receive in the hand: how to hold up the hands, not to grab or pinch, and then to receive the Host before turning around, stepping to the side if one desires. But what I found was that it was hard for me to give purely practical directions; I couldn't do it without giving the theological catechesis that goes with it. I found myself explaining why we do what we do, what it means, and why it is critical to our Catholic faith and identity that we receive the sacraments diligently and carefully. This is, of course, a very Catholic way to experience oneself as a preacher; the lex orandi and the lex credendi go together. In Christ, God has emptied himself into our humanity and how we move and behave plays out who we are saying we are when each of us accepts our new Name from the minister of Holy Communion: "Body of Christ."

So there I was, committing one of the sins I hate most in preachers: giving two homilies at one Mass. But the experience confirmed for me what I am and desire to be: a catholic Christian.

November 21, 2009

Prayer and Survival

For better or for worse--and I honestly don't know if it's one or the other or both--passages like this one from The Seven Storey Mountain have had a lasting and formative effect on me:

It was no longer possible to consider myself, abstractly, as being in a certain "state of life" which had certain technical relations to other "states of life. All that occupied me now was the immediate practical problem of getting up my hill with this terrific burden I had on my shoulders, step by step, begging God to drag me along and get me away from my enemies and from those who were trying to destroy me.

I did not even reflect how the Breviary, the Canonical Office, was the most powerful and effective prayer I could possibly have chosen, since it is the prayer of the whole Church, and concentrates in itself all the power of the Church's impetration, centered around the infinitely mighty Sacrifice of the Mass--the jewel of which the rest of the Liturgy is the setting: the soul which is the life of the whole Liturgy and of all the Sacramentals. All this was beyond me, although I grasped it at least obscurely. All I knew was that I needed to say the Breviary, and say it every day.

Buying those books at Benziger's that day was one of the best things I ever did in my life. The inspiration to do it was a very great grace. There are few things I remember that give me more joy. (329-330)

Christ the King

This homily is mostly a re-post, but it's from three years ago before I got the homily blog proper going. Plus, I still like it a lot and it's certainly new to the people of God in Yonkers and probably most readers of a minor friar. Follow this link for my homily for this weekend.

November 20, 2009

Overheard at the Seminary Library

Me: Thank you for your gracious permission to use the library.

Sister: Of course. Where are you going to sit, so I can put on the overhead light in that spot?

Me: I'm going to sit somewhere in between BX 890 and PA 2365

Sister: I meant, at which table?

November 19, 2009

A Kludge for the Holy Souls

Good luck finding a real candle around these parts, much less an unbleached beeswax one. (We use the kind--oh horror!--you unscrew and fill up.) For my own use in my room I've been working on a case of paraffin votives that I blessed all the way back on Candlemas 2008.

But today for my day off I was doing some errands when I decided to stop and pray at a local Orthodox chapel. You can trust the Orthodox to do candles right, so as I put my beeswax taper into the candelabrum around the Blessed Mother, to be lit during the next prayer or Divine Liturgy, I began to think. During this month of November, wouldn't it be nice to have such unbleached beeswax goodness to offer before my own little shrine to the departed? I presume that when you make an offering for a candle in church, you don't have to burn the candle on site, but are free to take it with you. And that's just what I did, making another offering and taking two more candles home with me.

Trouble is, how do you get this

Into one of these?

Well, borrowing a few of the pellets we use to surround charcoals in our incense brazier, I stood the taper up in the votive candle stand:

And here it is: my kludged up shrine to the deceased friars, complete with unbleached beeswax candle for the rest of November:

Perhaps I should start a Catholic version of one of my favorite non-religious blogs, There, I Fixed It.

Under a Bushel Basket (or Masking Tape)

It is no small thing to stand up for the truth, as we become especially aware in the readings from Maccabees this week.

Yesterday I found myself in the parking lot of a Catholic religious house. I noticed a mess of bumper sticker shaped masking tape on the back of one the cars. Of course I was curious, but I reminded myself that it was none of my business. But I just had to know...what bumper sticker could have been so inappropriate or offensive that it would have to be covered over outside a house of Catholic religious? So I looked. It's probably a venial sin to have indulged my curiosity, but I did.

I peered through the masking tape to read the text obscured below. What did it say?

Abortion stops a beating heart.

For some religious or other, to display this little message in defense of life was just too much. It's no small thing to stand up for the truth. If we find ourselves able to do it, we should be very grateful. Not everyone is able to accept this grace.

November 18, 2009

Give Me a Double Share of Your Spirit

Today one of the brothers informs me that my favorite confrere I've never met, Br. Cesare Bonizzi, has given up his ministry as a heavy metal singer. He seems to think that his ministry is too divisive among the brothers; that his superior doesn't really approve (despite giving permission) and that the brothers don't like the noise. I can relate to that part. When I arrived in my current assignment, I was made to understand, in strong terms, that my neighbor didn't appreciate my listening to Black Sabbath's Master of Reality as a way to psych myself up for the 6:45 am Mass.

Well, good for him. We say that fraternity is our primary ministry and witness, so he's trying to be true to that.

But now the question this Providence inviting me to take up this ministry and become the rock and roller I've always dreamed of being? Shall I try to become the next Fratello Metallo?

Check him out and practice your Portuguese: