May 31, 2009


From time to time people tell me about their worry over doubting God or some truth of the faith. I become concerned for them, not because they may be doubting, but because such anxiety easily gets in the way of using the experience of doubt well. I tend to offer these sorts of reflections to those who say they are struggling with doubt:

First of all, the human mind is a creation of God. Therefore, there can be no fear of being led away from God by the right and thoughtful use of the mind God has given us. Indeed, the mind is mysterious, spiritual, and sublime and can be thus overwhelming in its incomprehensibility, but this is only part of its imitation of the God to whom it is similar. In other words, we shouldn't be afraid to think. Opening up our minds to the Mystery may wrench some of what we thought were our beliefs, but this is not doubt or danger.

Second, we need to recognize that the truths of faith, though often expressed in simple language, are often quite subtle in their meaning, and are complex combinations of metaphorical, symbolic, sacramental, and narrative expressions. In the Creed we make utterances like, "I believe in God," or "begotten, not made." These are deceptively simple in language, but demand for their understanding at least a partial grasp of many difficult concepts, e.g. eternity, divinity, etc.

Far too often I find that people have not been helped to own a faith that goes beyond a simple intellectual assent to claims that they aren't sure how to understand. I once knew a religious sister in the prime of life who would omit the line, "is seated at the right hand of Father" when praying the Creed, because she found it unbelievable that "heaven was a place with chairs." How bad I felt for her that she had never come to the realization that the language (compare iconography here) is a window into eternity and not a discourse on furniture!*

Most of the time, in my experience, people who think they are struggling with doubt are actually being invited into a deeper relationship with the truths of the faith. They are experiencing God's invitation to give up the role of spectator--those who worship God and his Mysteries as something beautiful and praiseworthy, but without relationship to themselves--and to accept that the Truths of faith are mysteries that we are to step into with our lives.

*Here I have to mention, parenthetically, the error that is commonly made by the world when someone arrives at this spiritual moment. The world suggests the civil theology of 'many paths to one spiritual something-or-other' in which all religious language is more or less inadequate, but all of it points to something, perhaps spiritual, perhaps ultimate, that we call "God." Conveniently, this pseudo-doctrine leads to no demand on anyone and no dogmatic claims, except for the "dictatorship of relativism" in which no one is allowed to say that anything might be wrong or unacceptable.

No. Language is important, not because someone says so, but because we believe in the Incarnation. Christianity is and will always be a kind of 'scandal of particularity' because it proclaims that God is perfectly revealed in the very particular human life of Jesus of Nazareth. By his Resurrection into the Eucharistized community that we call his Body, the mystery of the Incarnation is extended through time. This is why the particular language of the successors of the apostles gathered in ecumenical council is privileged as an unfolding of our understanding of divine revelation.

Urgent Prayer Request

Please pray for the eternal rest of Dr. George Tiller, who was shot to death in church this morning.

Pray for the consolation and the peace of his family, friends, and for the other members of his church.

Pray for his killer and for our country.

The Outpouring

Each of the baptized is called to fulfill their Marian vocation by consenting to the Holy Spirit's conception of the Word of God within them, and thus to become "another Christ" for the reconciliation and salvation of the world. My homily for Pentecost Day is posted here.

May 30, 2009

Thank You

This afternoon I am alerted by the referrer log that some kind soul (or souls!) has put this little ministry into contention for the 2009 Catholic New Media Awards in the category "best blog by a religious."

As always, thank you for your prayers and encouragement. I'm going to put up the nominee badge right away.

The Desire of our Hearts

Today we wait for the surpassing gift of God, the Holy Spirit. My homily for the Pentecost Vigil is posted here.

May 28, 2009

Discerning the Diabolical

More often than you might think, people ask me whether or not I think their temptations and struggles are of diabolical origin.

Most of the time I don't think so, but I tend to take the practical approach: bracketing off the question of the devil's possible role, I ask whether or not guessing him to be involved will help someone take action. In other words, I ask myself whether the idea of the diabolical will tone someone up for fruitful spiritual combat or further absolve him from taking responsibility for himself.

That being said, there are a couple of cases of spiritual erring and sin where I am inclined, at times, to consider diabolical influence:

1. When someone is "inspired" to be intensely religious, but in such a way that is not about God, but about himself. I think it's a mistake for a devout person to think that the devil will try to tempt her to sin in ways that are obviously crude and worldly. It is the devil's joy to have us be as religious as could be, so long as we do it his way. So the diabolical attacks on devout people take the form of temptations to spiritual vanity, self-righteousness, abuse of church power and control of others, etc. To form a very religious person who only reflects on the sins of others and the punishment they have earned for themselves, a proud religious, or a priest who delights in vanities, power, or ambition, are examples of the devil's proud accomplishments.

2. In certain temptations that make a tricky inversion of self-indulgence and humility. Say someone is working hard at the spiritual combat against a habitual sin, like an addiction of some sort. A suggestion comes into his mind saying, "Just sin and get it over with, then you can at least pray in repentance." Of course this is a trick because the good of repentant prayer--which is a familiar place for our victim--is set up (falsely) as a way to get him to give up the fight. His greater familiarity--and hence comfort--with the state of praying as a repentant sinner is used to get him to give up the newer and much more awkward and uncomfortable position of being in the spiritual combat.

UPDATE: Credit where credit is due. Since this morning I have begun to suspect that I got at least the idea of 2. from Fr. Benedict Groeschel's The Courage to be Chaste. I can't check or give a citation because I gave away my copy some years ago. Nevertheless, it's a good book and I recommend it.

May 27, 2009

Telling the Conversion Story

As an adult convert, the telling of the conversion story becomes a regular part of religious practice. You are called upon to tell your story to brothers and sisters who also marvel at God's grace, but also to people who are just curious. You also have an awareness of the conversion story as an internal narrative that forms a kind of self-apology in the consciousness of yourself as a praying person.

Since the day of my Baptism almost seventeen years ago, I have told my "conversion story" more times than I know, both to myself and to others. What is fascinating to me is how the story has changed.

My sense of my conversion story has changed in two basic ways: it's starting point has been steadily retreating to an earlier point in my earthly life, and the agency of the story has been shifting away from me and onto God.

When someone asked me to tell my story around the time of my Baptism, I started the story a couple of years before, when I became interested in this or that, concerned about what it meant to be a human being in this or that way, how I picked up the gospel of St. Matthew on a hot summer night and read the Sermon on the Mount, and how my inability to know any criteria by which I might "choose" a church was my first school of the surrender of prayer.

But as time went on, the starting point of the story retreated into the past. After a couple of years I realized the importance of choices and influences that came upon me several years before. My discovery of punk rock and hardcore rock and roll, for instance, was helping me to make the "critical turn," to know that the values and given wisdom about the world were not always the best or what the heart really wanted. An interest in mathematics combined with the awakening of reading Plato for the first time had both helped me to understand what it is meant by a spiritual reality.

Even later I began to remember certain experiences of the Infinite Mystery that I had when I was real little. Returning to such experiences from time to time in prayer, I have begun to see how God was drawing me into the grace of prayer--unaware as I was--even from early childhood. This helped me to understand certain spotty attractions to Christ crucified and to the life of faith that I also experienced as a kid.

All this is to say that it has been an amazing experience to see my conversion story unfold backwards. When I was baptized I thought that this was a process I had begun a year or two before, but now I can see it as something that was going on as far back as I can remember.

All of this makes for the second shift in my consciousness of my conversion story, which is the question of the main character. When I was baptized, I admit that it was mostly me. I had decided to do this bold thing because of what I had to come to believe and to desire. More and more I know that this is a story about God and not about me; about how God--in his tremendous mercy--has given me the opportunity to be relieved of the tyranny of my life being about me. In other words, it's not my conversion story anymore. It's a story about grace in which I play a supporting role, and not even very well. But that doesn't matter, honestly. God is so good, who cares about me?

May 26, 2009

Silent Bob

A delightful surprise appointment today made we want to riff on one of the critical lines of my generation's great film:

You know, there's a million fine spiritual directees in the world, dude. But they don't all bring you Jamaican beef patties at work.

RIP: Fr. Sylvan Conover, OFM Cap.

Last night one of the brothers here passed over into eternity. During his long, last illness, Fr. Sylvan would call me often asking for prayer. His desire to join others in prayer was a support to me in many ways.

Fr. Sylvan was my favorite friar to go to for confession, and was the source of many of my "from my confessor" posts. Check out his pastoral counsel on:

Love of neighbor.

Stages of the spiritual life.

Priesthood and loneliness.

Requiescat in pace. Now you pray for me.

May 25, 2009

Meta-Contrition and Compunction

I remember seeing "contrition" on the SAT in the Spring of 1989 and having no idea what it meant. I read it over and over, but there was no association in my mind. I have often recalled that moment with great bemusement, because just over three years later, on September 5, 1992, the Act of Contrition was elicited from me for the first time, and I knew exactly what it was all about.

But I have always had a question about acts of contrition: is the spiritual ideal to make an "act of perfect contrition," or a "perfect act of contrition?" My whole Catholic life, I have heard it both ways. People who would seem to be trustworthy usually come down on the side of the former. On the other hand, I kind of like the latter with its suggestion that we are called to make the act, the spiritual intention perfectly, which might mean we weren't entirely contrite all through ourselves.

For me, I know all to well that contrition is a relative experience. If there were no attachment to selfishness and sin, we would not need to frequent the sacrament of penance. Relative contrition is important, though, insofar as an awareness of the internal struggle is a great opportunity for humility and dependence on grace. When we come to contrition over our inability to be truly contrite, that's when we reach the sublime prayer-moment of meta-contrition. I believe this is what the saints meant when they talk about compunction.

Practically speaking, I don't use the language of perfection at all. I invite people to make the best act of contrition they can, especially in cases in which they have a wholesome spiritual desire for Holy Communion but no option for sacramental absolution beforehand.

So, better informed Catholics than your humble blogger, what's the answer?

May 24, 2009

How I Stopped Caring (About Sleep)

For a long time I haven't been a good sleeper, and how I stopped caring was a real liberation for me, and a model for my further desire for spiritual freedom.

Back in college I used to sleep soundly for long periods. You wouldn't dream of getting up any earlier than to have just enough time to get a cup of coffee and get to your first class, no matter whether it was at 8:30, 10:05, or 11:30. On weekends, forget it. There was brunch until one in the afternoon, and I knew none of my buddies would be there before noon, so that's when I got up. Towards the end, when I had started to pray the Liturgy of the Hours a little bit, I would get up a little earlier to say Morning Prayer before the first class, unless the class was at 8:30. Do something before an 8:30 class? You must be kidding. I would go to the chapel after class and pray Morning Prayer at 9:30.

A couple of times I remember sleeping through a whole period of daylight, which I found very disorienting, so to speak.

But since those days I haven't slept well. I'm one of those people who goes to sleep but doesn't stay asleep. I wake up five minutes later, or half an hour later, or whenever. One of the best graces I have ever received is when I stopped caring about this or looking at it as a problem.

A few times in my adult life I have gone through a more intense sleepless spell; it's usually at a time that I later recognize to be much more spiritually important than I know at the time. The worst was during the fall right before I entered the Capuchin Order. I couldn't stay asleep, and my employment as a second shift worker didn't help much. When I did sleep for brief periods, I had very violent dreams in which I would sometime lose limbs. Once I had an eye gouged out.

Up until this time I was very annoyed at my sleeplessness. I would get all nervous and bitter about how I would feel tired the next day, think of all the things I would have to try to do with no energy, etc. I would try to force myself to go to sleep, which never worked.

And then, one day, I gave up. I knew I would be tired at work the next day, but I didn't care about how I felt anymore. Instead of tossing and turning and trying to force myself to sleep, I would save projects for when I couldn't sleep. At two in the morning I would be cleaning the apartment or out doing my grocery shopping. I was free, and whether or not I felt energetic or fatigued during the next day I tried to give thanks to God and work just as diligently.

Nowadays I try to take sleepless times as invitations to prayer. After all, God called the light out of the darkness, so perhaps its in the darkness that we might see the Light. And the greatest mysteries of our faith, the Nativity and the Resurrection, were both nocturnal events.

May 23, 2009

Our Lady of Fátima Procession

Here are some pictures from the parish's Our Lady of Fátima procession today. First, Our Lady's image emerges from church, borne by some of the leading men of the Portuguese community:

Here are Lúcia, Jacinta, and Francisco, the visionaries, accompanied by Angels:

As the people pray the rosary, the procession makes its way up Lake Ave., the main street of the parish:

The Mission Handed Over

For us who live in these days between the Lord's Ascension and his Second Coming, his mission has been put into our hands and entrusted to our care. My homily for this weekend is posted here.

May 22, 2009

From My Confessor: Public Penance

Strong words from my confession today:
Christian perfection is the interior freedom to serve God completely and faithfully at every moment and in each circumstance. Therefore you must look at anything that distracts from or hinders this freedom as the work of the devil. Do I sound too serious? A religious, by public vows, has made their striving for Christian perfection a public property. Thus, any sin you commit, even if it be interior or secret, is a betrayal not only of God and your best self, but of everyone else too.
Penance: to offer a rosary in reparation for my sins.

(My long-standing (14 or 15 years) penance record still holds: to say 15 Our Fathers and then to pray Evening Prayer 'with great devotion')

May 21, 2009

Hermitage Notes: The Arboreal Observance

It's a beautiful Spring morning. Four young Franciscan friars offer Mass together with quiet devotion, two of the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin and two of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal. Amen. Thank you, Holy Spirit.

After Mass I take a walk in the woods, up to a little clearing where someone has placed a statue of Francis. The woods, it really does it for me. Peaceful and secure. Quiet and yet full of the little noises of insistent life.

The trees are my spiritual directors. Reaching up to the sky they fulfill the joyful Easter slogan, sursum sunt quaerite, "Seek the things that are above." Without torturous self-reflection they take the grace of God poured out in sunlight and rain and transform it into their own flourishing. Could it be so simple with us? Yes!

May 20, 2009

Hermitage Notes: Religious Life

You know you have been in religious life a while when this conversation between two friars makes perfect sense:

"What time would you like to have Mass tomorrow, Brother?"

"Not too early. Late morning, maybe. Like nine o'clock?"

These little orange critters were everywhere around the place. Anybody know what they are?

May 19, 2009

Hermitage Notes: Prayer and Chastity

Time stretches out empty. No appointments, no phone, no internet, no parlor calls. Just an empty time for prayer.

That's what prayer has always been for me, a sort of interior emptiness. It's the Holy of Holies, that core of the Temple that God has commanded be left empty. That's the heart of of prayer, and the prayer of the heart, the empty place surrounded by the great Temple of sacrifice.

That's my praying heart, empty. That's my solitude against loneliness. That's my celibacy subsumed into prayer in blessed emptiness of heart--and this is the only way celibacy really makes senses if I want to be honest. (And I do.)

May 18, 2009

Felix of Cantalice

Happy feast day of our own St. Felix! Here he is in one of the windows in our sacristy:

Check out a bio here.


Let us give thanks to God for blessing the world today with the marriage of my brother Ben and new sister-in-law Anna.

Grant perfect joy to these loving companions,
as you did your creations in the Garden of Eden.
Blessed are You, LORD,
who grants the joy of groom and bride.


The ladies in the parish office decided that we had to have a cake for the great occasion. It's hard to see, but it does say, "Ben & Anna 5.18"

May 16, 2009

The Love of God

Jesus' farewell instruction to us is as simple as it is deep: that we love one another with the same love with which God loves the world. My homily for this weekend is posted here.

May 15, 2009

Hermitage Notes: The Enemy, Myself

Hi friends! I'm back from the hermitage, and as usual I'll be posting some of my "hermitage notes" over the next few days, along with pictures. Here's the first:

As I sit in "prayer" I try to have a reflection--something clear to write down, perhaps to blog! Nothing happens.

Merciful God! How you refuse to let me ruin the time you have reserved for Yourself with my temptations to vanity and spiritual commercialism!

Because of other, previously scheduled posts, the next installment of "hermitage notes" will appear on Tuesday.

May 14, 2009

The Eremetic Cure

I'm off to the hermitage for two half-days and a night of prayer. If you think of it, pray for me and my conversion.

May 13, 2009

Blessing of Beer

My new Roman Ritual from PCP arrived today. I'll try to write a proper review once I've had some chance to use it. For now, here's my favorite item, the Benedictio cerevisiae. Fr. Weller translates this as the "Blessing of ale," but "beer" is equally correct as far as I can tell.

V. Our help is in the name of the Lord.
R. Who made heaven and earth.
V. The Lord be with you.
R. And with thy spirit.

Let us pray.

Bless, + O Lord, this creature, ale which by thy power has been produced from kernels of grain. May it be a healthful beverage to mankind, and grant that through the invoking of thy holy name to all who drink thereof may find it a help in body and protection in soul. Through Christ our Lord. R. Amen

Amen, indeed.

Search Results

One of the really fun things about keeping a blog is seeing the terms that have brought visitors via search engines. Here are two of my recent favorites:

"How not be self-involved" What a spiritual honor to have appeared as the top Google result!

"Capuchin friars drinking beer" The eighth result, but still on the first page, (and that's what counts) and perhaps closer to the spiritual truth!

Prayer to Our Lady of Fátima

Blessed Lady, you have blessed us in your apparition to the children at Fátima.

As you willed to appear in a place bearing the name of the beloved daughter of Muhammad, the prophet of Islam, obtain for all the children of Abraham the grace of living in tolerance and peace.

May 12, 2009

Broken and Tired

It wasn't a good morning for parish technology. There was no internet or any access to documents on the office server. To my embarrassment it turned out to be as simple as the server having gone in some kind of hibernate mode, which was actually a good thing because I found a lot of dust to vacuum when I removed the front panel to turn it back on.

At one point during my efforts to fix the network, I was going down the hall and remarked to one of our older friars,

"Nothing works in this tired and broken world!"

to which he responded immediately,

"Brother, that's why we're here."

But what did he mean? Are we here because we too are tired and broken? Or are we here because it is our mission to soothe and heal the tired and broken world? Or is it both?

Coincidence or Providence?

I think that a lot of people on the spiritual journey have had an experience that can be interpreted as either coincidence or Providence. We meet a spiritual mother or father who has the exact wisdom we need at a certain time. We come across the precise spiritual book that helps us forward. A homily seems to speak to our precise spiritual concern. A holy card in our pew or on the floor in church seems like it was just for us.

Are experiences like this coincidences, or little acts of Divine Providence arranged by the Holy Spirit for our benefit? People ask me that sort of question all the time. To be honest, I don't think how we interpret them matters so much. What matters is that prayer has freed us just a little from distraction and misery and made us sensitive to the superabundant goodness of God that is always around us. Little sparks or seeds of God's love are all around us all the time; most of them we miss because of our distraction, much of which is necessary in order to fulfill the work and acts of love we are called to each day.

Here's my favorite example from my own life: For whatever reason I have always had a certain attraction to and spiritual affinity for the mystery of the Lord's Transfiguration. It has always fascinated me as a sort of Resurrection appearance that precedes the Passion, given to a select, inner circle of the disciples. Praying the mystery, I'm led into its mystical, precious, and glorious light, what you would call in Latin, praeclarus.

If I had to pick a day for receiving my religious vocation, it would be the feast of the Transfiguration in 1993. Not that there was anything grand about it, but I remember praying that day--in a chapel dedicated to the Transfiguration--and finding the grace to consent in a concrete way to my desire and interest in pursuing a vocation to religious life.

So it was a delight and a wonder for me to one day calculate that I was born on the second Sunday of Lent, on which the Lord's Transfiguration has been proclaimed for as long as anyone can remember.

Is this a coincidence or an act of Providence and destiny? To me the question doesn't really matter. Everything that exists is a sort of co-incidence of the love of God and the creation that overflows out of that love. Prayer is the discipline that allows the Spirit to train us to see ourselves and the world as this perfect and mystical "coincidence."

May 9, 2009

Vine Grower and Vine

"I am the true vine and my Father is the vine grower," says the Lord. By making us into the limbs and branches of his own body, Jesus has given us the opportunity to fulfill our vocation as creatures made in the image and likeness of the Blessed Trinity. My homily for this weekend is posted here.

May 7, 2009

Dom Chautard's Stages

Today I'm just finishing up Jean-Baptiste Chautard's The Soul of the Apostolate. Since everybody loves a schema of the stages of the spiritual life, I thought I would share his:

1. Hardened in Sin

Mortal sin. Stubborn persistence in sin, either out of ignorance or because of a maliciously warped conscience.

. Deliberate refusal to have any recourse to God.

2. Surface Christianity

Mortal sin.
Considered as a trifling evil, easily forgiven. The soul easily gives way and commits mortal sin at every possible occasion or temptation. Confession almost without contrition.

Mechanical; either inattentive, or always dictated by temporal interest. Such souls enter into themselves very rarely and superficially.

3. Mediocre Piety

Mortal sin.
Weak resistance. Hardly ever avoids occasions but seriously regrets having sinned, and makes good confessions.

Venial sin.
Complete acceptance of this sin, which is considered as insignificant. Hence tepidity of the will. Does nothing whatever to prevent venial sin, or to extirpate it, or to find it out when it is concealed.

From time to time, prays well. Momentary fits of fervor.

4. Intermittent Piety

Mortal sin.
Loyal resistance. Habitually avoids occasion. Deep regrets. Does penance to make reparation.

Venial sin
. Sometimes deliberate. Puts up a weak fight. Sorrow only superficial. Makes a particular examination of conscience, but without any method or coherence.

. Not firmly resolved to remain faithful to meditation. Gives it up as soon as dryness is felt, or as soon as there is business to attend to.

5. Sustained Piety

Mortal sin
. Never. At most very rare, when taken suddenly and violently by surprise. And then, often it is to be doubted if the sin is mortal. It is followed by ardent compunction and penance.

Venial sin.
Vigilant in avoiding and fighting it. Rarely deliberate. Keen sorrow, but does little by way of reparation. Consistent particular examen, but aiming only at avoidance of venial sin.

The soul either avoids uncovering them, so as not to have to fight them, or else easily excuses them. Approves the thought of renouncing them, and would like to do so, but makes little effort in that direction.

. Always faithful to prayer, no matter what happens. Often affective. Alternating consolations and dryness, the latter endured with considerable hardship.

6. Fervor

Venial sin.
Never deliberate. By surprise, sometimes, or with imperfect advertence. Keenly regretted, and serious reparation made.

. Wants nothing to do with them. Watches over them, fights them with courage, in order to be more pleasing to God. Sometimes accepted, however, but regretted at once. Frequent acts of renunciation. Particular examen aims at perfection in a given virtue.

. Mental prayer gladly prolonged. Prayer on the affective side, or even prayer of simplicity. Alternation between powerful consolations and fierce trials.

7. Relative Perfection

. Guards against them energetically and with much love. They only happen with half-advertence.

Habitual life of prayer, even when occupied in external works. Thirst for self-renunciation, annihilation, detachment, and divine love. Hunger for the Eucharist and for Heaven. Graces of infused prayer, of different degree. Often passive purification.

8. Heroic Perfection

Nothing but the first impulse.

Supernatural graces of contemplation, sometimes accompanied by extraordinary phenomena. Pronounced passive purifications. Contempt of self to the point of complete self-forgetness. [sic] Prefers sufferings to joys.

9. Complete Sanctity

Hardly apparent.

. Usually, transforming union. Spiritual marriage. Purifications by love. Ardent thirst for sufferings and humiliations.

I love how the spiritual life is at its simplest at the most miserable and the most blessed, when it has only two descriptive categories. In the middle there can be up to four!

My short experience with the care of souls has convinced me that very few of us can accurately grade our own relative sanctity or lack thereof. People either accuse themselves of being worse than they are, thus robbing God of credit, or fail to take their imperfection and misery seriously and rob him of opportunity.

I diagnose myself at a 3. But there are people in my life whom I am confident to say live at 6, and might be perhaps be even higher.

So, leave a comment diagnosing yourself and the holiest person you know.

First Fervor

The "first fervor" describes the state of intense energy and openness that characterizes the beginning our spiritual life. It may be the zeal of a convert or "revert" or the grace given to someone as they begin a new vocation.

First fervors are wonderful times, replete with grace and spiritual energy. People who are in them are inspiring and encouraging. The problem with the first fervor, however, is that it ends. Mine lasted for about two years from my sacraments of initiation and then fizzled out, hard.

The loss of the first fervor can be an intense spiritual challenge. Sadly, I don't think some ever get over it. Suddenly we don't have the taste for prayer and devotion (on the natural level) to which we had become accustomed. The novelty of the experience of the interior life wears off, not to mention the novelty of the material elements of religion. We find ourselves falling into old habits and sins that we thought we had overcome, no longer finding what we thought was the fortitude and spiritual energy to fight temptations.

The disciple must accept this transition as a blessing within the loss. The grace of God is inviting the soul into a faith that is more intimate and pure precisely because it has a weaker foundation on the natural level. If we only grieve for the imagined loss of the consolations and the intensity of feeling we had in our first fervor, we miss out on grace and don't manage to grow up spiritually.

Longings for the pleasing feelings and easy internal acts of piety of the first fervor must be fought as a temptation. First, they betray a certain materialism in the spiritual life which is seeking after commodities to be enjoyed rather than the naked will of God. Second, these temptations suggest to us that God has not given us what we need, and that the grace of faith we have been given is somehow insufficient. We are greedy for certainty and religious feelings. If we start to base our so-called spiritual life on this, we are lost. Luckily, the sensuality to which we have committed ourselves will betray us in the rest of our life and if we are humble enough we will notice.

May 5, 2009

Sublime to Mundane

The habit rosary* traditional with the friars of my province is very simple, and hangs from the cord on two little pieces of heavy gauge wire bent into the shape of an omega. Today one of my little omegas broke.

So I went to the friar who cares for the workshop in the downstairs of the monastery to see if I could get a new one. Going into a cigar box deep in one of the drawers, he pulled out two new ones, showing me how he makes them out of--get this--shower curtain rings. "Better to replace both at once, brother."

*Unlike some orders and congregations, a rosary is not an official part of the Capuchin habit.

Habitus noster, iuxta Regulam et usum Ordinis, constat tunica cum caputio castanei coloris, cingulo et sandaliis, vel, iusta de causa, calceamentis.

Our habit, according the Rule and use of the Order, consists of a chestnut colored tunic with a hood, a cord, and sandals, or, for a just cause, shoes. (Capuchin constitutions, 33)


Just a little post to note that today a minor friar had its fifty thousandth visit.

Thanks so much to everyone I've met through this little ministry and to all who have been so encouraging.

Self Immolated, Not Self Involved

I love Peter Chrysologus in the Office of Readings today:

How marvelous is the priesthood of the Christian, for he is both the victim that is offered on his own behalf, and the priest who makes the offering. He does not need to go beyond himself to seek what he is to immolate to God: within himself and in himself he brings the sacrifice he is to offer to God for himself. The victim remains and the priest remains, always one and the same. Immolated, the victim still lives: the priest who immolates cannot kill. Truly it is an amazing sacrifice in which a body is offered without being slain and blood is offered without being shed.

Each Christian is anointed into the priesthood of Christ and offers self as sacrifice to God in Christ. This self-immolation is the gift of true freedom from the misery of self-involvement and the chasing after the illusory securities and the miserable pleasures of this world.

This is our escape from the miserable self-involvement of anxiety and depression as well as from the seemingly happy self-involvement of pride and power.

"I an age where there is much talk about 'being yourself' I reserve the right to forget about being myself..." --Thomas Merton, Day of a Stranger.

May 4, 2009

Solidarity, Not Magic

God's response to the "problem of evil," to the intense and widespread suffering of the world, is not magical intervention but self-emptying solidarity.

To me this is part of the central message of Christianity, of the Incarnation and the Cross, but it's a revelation that is easily missed in our human addiction to control and aversion to letting go.

But to accept and internalize the difference is necessary for both the health of our prayer and our efforts to serve our suffering brothers and sisters.

May 3, 2009

First Communion Day

Today I was delighted to have another one of those "firsts" as a priest: I ministered first Holy Communion (The Precious Blood) to someone whom I had also baptized.

"But Father, you have been a priest for less than two years, how can this be?"

Well, she had been baptized in the later years of her canonical infancy. (To learn about canonical majority, minority, and infancy, take out your Code of Canon Law and look at c. 97.)

May 2, 2009

The Good Shepherd

Jesus the Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep, shepherding us out of the suffering and misery which threaten the world. My homily for this weekend is posted here.

May 1, 2009

Against the Aesthetes

I started to read Dom Chautard's The Soul of the Apostolate because of a quote from this post over on Historical Christian.

This afternoon I arrived at the quote given to me:

St. Paul summed up his apostolate as "preaching Christ crucified." Because he lived in Christ, and in Christ crucified, he was able to give souls a taste for the mystery of the Cross, and teach them to live it. Too many apostles in our own day no longer have enough interior life to fathom this life-giving mystery, to steep themselves through and through with it, until it shines forth from everything they do. They look at religion too much from the point of view of philosophy, sociology, or even of esthetics. They see in it only those elements which appeal to the mind and excite the sensibilites and imagination. They give free scope to their inclination to regard religion as a sublime school of poetry and incomparable art.

My emphasis. That last part sounds pretty good, right? But he is describing an error!

(pp. 142-143, in the TAN edition, 1974. ? trans.)

My Childhood Is Over

When the New York Times reviewed a Slayer concert a couple of years ago, I knew that my adolescence was long gone. Far away were the days when hearing a then obscure 1986 record called Reign in Blood was to change my life forever. To his credit, reviewer Ben Ratliff did describe the music as "unreasonable." I love that.

Today, upon reading A. O. Scott's review of X-Men Origins: Wolverine, I notice that he uses the term adamantium without seeing the need to explain what it is, and now I realize that my childhood is long gone too.

Oh well. I guess I'll just look forward to the guilty pleasure of the macabre Catholic kitsch that could be X-Men Origins: Nightcrawler.

Unity Candle Rant

When you live the life of junior parochial vicar on a parish staff, sometimes you wonder what you might do differently if you were in charge. Any new pastor brings changes, so what would change if it were me? What would be suppressed, and what restored? You can't help but think about it. But I'll tell you one thing that would be forbidden if I were pastor: the dreaded wedding or "unity" candle.

You're familiar with it: typically it's a set of three candles; two slighter ones flanking a large one. The idea is that, just as two people are united in marriage, so the flames from the smaller candles unite to ignite the large one. To be honest, it's actually a nice symbol, and if you can get the bride and groom to produce their actual baptismal candles to serve as the two smaller lights, even better.

But here's the problem: it's just one more example of how we focus on "nice" and accessible symbols instead of facing the subtle and transcendent mysteries that are before us in the liturgy.

I encourage couples to skip the "unity candle" that they might focus on the Word of God speaking to them, their sacramental consent to one another, and (in most cases) the sacrifice of the Eucharist offered for them during their first moments as newlyweds. Isn't that enough to do for one day, without adding in these bonus features?