July 31, 2009

All Your Sins?

Here's one that's been on my conscience. I'm curious to see what readers think.

Everyone knows the standard English formula of absolution:

God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church, may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, + and of the Holy Spirit.*

Over the years I've noticed that many confessors add an 'all' to this formula so that it becomes, ...I absolve you from all your sins... To be honest, I've always found this comforting and encouraging. Therein lies my problem. Should I add the 'all' to the formula myself, or not? If I appreciate it myself, is it not an easy matter of caring for a brother or sister as I would like to be cared for? Or is it better to be strict in praying according to the exact lex orandi of the Church?

Does the 'all' set up a penitent for temptations to despair if he then does not hear it from some confessor?

So what do you think? All or no all?

*Deus, Pater misericordiarum, qui per mortem et resurrectionem Filii Sui mundum Sibi reconciliavit et Spiritum Sanctum effudit in remissionem peccatorum, per ministerium Ecclesiae indulgentiam tibi tribuat et pacem. Et ego te absolvo a peccatis tuis in nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti.

Sorry about this, I couldn't resist:

Appreciating the Centurion

I've been on a tear with weddings this summer, having witnessed nine marriages over the last eleven weekends. The ordinary weekly rhythm of it has become part of my routine: rehearsal on Thursday night, wedding Saturday afternoon. They don't differ a whole lot; the people change, of course, but the roles and personalities stay more or less the same. What does vary a lot is the degree of difficulty in organizing and executing the ceremony. Some are very easy and well-planned; others not so much. So what makes for the difference?

The greatest difference is surely the degree of Catholic practice of the bride and groom and their families. I have had couples who assist at Sunday Mass without fail as well as couples that I don't think had been to church since their first Holy Communion, and everything in between. It's much easier to plan and pray through a liturgy with folks who have been part of the praying community to one degree or another.

But there's another factor that makes a big difference. For whatever reason, we do a lot of weddings for cops, firefighters, and military personnel. There's something about these folks that makes them easy to work with; perhaps it's that they're used to rules and expectations. I say that I need such and such paperwork by this day, and it appears. I lay down rules about what may or may not be done in church, and they obey. It makes me think of the centurion with the sick slave in the gospels, whose words will soon be gloriously restored to the English translation of the Mass:

When he entered Capernaum, a centurion approached him and appealed to him, saying, "Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, suffering dreadfully." He said to him, "I will come and cure him.The centurion said in reply, "Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed.For I too am a person subject to authority, with soldiers subject to me. And I say to one, 'Go,' and he goes; and to another, 'Come here,' and he comes; and to my slave, 'Do this,' and he does it.When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, "Amen, I say to you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith. (Matthew 8:5-10)

It used to be that military service was considered a good preparation for religious life, though perhaps with the problems of decadence, New Ageism, and the general malaise in North American religious life this is less the case than it used to be. I'm thinking about all of this morning on the feast of St. Ignatius, who, like our holy father Francis, was a soldier before becoming a religious founder. For both of them, in different ways, their military service had a profound effect on the religious life they would inspire.

Ignatius, Francis, and all soldier-saints, pray for us.

July 30, 2009


Another of the friars and I were talking about limbo, the idea that there is some kind of eschatological destiny that corresponds to perfect natural happiness for the human person. This is opposed, of course, to the idea of heaven, which is perfect supernatural happiness.

At certain points in the history of Christian theological reflection, limbo served as a solution to two theological problems. First, where did the patriarchs, prophets, and righteous people of God of the old covenants await the resurrection they would receive in Christ? This is the so-called limbo of the fathers. Second, what becomes of infants who do not receive baptism through no fault of their own? Certainly God would not deny them a happy destiny! So perhaps there is a state on the "border" or limbus of hell, that corresponds to natural fulfillment, short of the supernatural fulfillment of heaven. This seems to have been the view of St. Thomas, though we have to say that Thomas was not always real good on eschatology; after all he didn't really want to accept the Immaculate Conception. And oh yes, the Immaculate Conception is a doctrine about eschatology and ultimate destiny.

Now folks will point out, quite correctly, that we don't talk about limbo anymore. Indeed, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, when it faces the question of unbaptized infants doesn't mention it all but holds out a well-founded and confident hope for their highest salvation.

But this doesn't mean that there is no such thing as limbo; doctrine is accurate to Truth, but it does not exhaust Truth. This is especially true when we are talking about something as difficult as the Last Things. Limbo remains a theological possibility. There are other things like this, theological possibilities that we don't talk about or teach because they are too unsure. For another example, I think it's entirely theologically possible that two or three presbyters (i.e. priests who aren't bishops) could ordain a layman a deacon, or ordain a deacon a priest. But we can't be so sure about this, so we don't put the validity of sacramental ministry in danger by doing such a thing.

For me, I don't have a problem accepting the idea of limbo. To me it sounds pretty good: a state of eternal, perfect happiness on the natural level for those who were denied baptism of water, desire, or blood through no fault of their own. It's not the perfect supernatural happiness of heaven which we begin to live in baptism, but it doesn't sound so bad.

Retreat Notes: From My Confessor

I'm always struck by confession with these Trappists. I have found them very wise and extraordinarily gentle.

Self-knowledge is part of asceticism, and so is always a good in the spiritual life. If your self-knowledge amounts to how wretched you are, then it won't seem like a step forward, but it really is because God meets us where we are, not in the imaginary self we think we want to be.

Every day is a new opportunity to wake up from sleep walking. That's the core of the ascetic invitation.

This is the retreat house chapel. Check out the dove-shaped tabernacle where the Most Blessed Sacrament is reserved, suspended above the altar.

July 29, 2009

Retreat Notes: Mary Magdalene

For her day today, I was praying with Mary Magdalene, especially through the gospel for her feast, John 20:11-18

"Mary stayed outside the tomb weeping." The beginning of prayer. We are left alone, and we lament before the empty tomb. What is our lament? Our compunction over our sins and distraction, and the obscuring of the presence of God we have brought upon ourselves. Contrition is the beginning of prayer.

As Mary addresses her concern and pain to the one she thinks is the gardener, so we cry out into the obscure and unknown wilderness that opens inside us through prayer.

But then this Unknown is recognized as God--not because of our efforts, or because our perception is clever, but because we are called by name. Mary, who knew Jesus well in his earthly life, does not recognize him right away in his Risen Life. But once she is called by name there is no doubt, and this Encounter cuts through and renders obsolete all of her previous concern and sorrow. Something new has appeared, broken in. It is the Resurrection.

But that experience in prayer, of being called by name and knowing, recognizing the Teacher in that moment--that's all you get. You can't hold on to it, and afterward you can hardly understand or recall it. Noli me tangere, "stop holding on to me." God refuses to be a possession. This is the coincidence of prayer and holy poverty.

July 28, 2009

Movie Review: Clare and Francis

Yesterday I watched the film Clare and Francis. Directed by Fabrizio Costa and originally produced as a mini-series for Italian TV, this 2007 production is now available as a DVD from the trustworthy Ignatius Press. My reaction is mixed. On the one hand this is a praiseworthy effort on several counts; but to me it doesn't quite succeed in being a good movie.

The greatest success of the film is the effort to be true to history and the sources we have for the life of Francis. It covers a huge amount of material and historical territory, beginning (laudably) with the civil wars and insurrections of the Assisiani in 1198-9 and the battle of Collestrada in 1202, both of which are critical to understanding Francis's background. From there we pass through Francis's imprisonment, conversion, the growth of the early fraternity, the rebuilding of San Damiano, the approval of the primitive Rule, the escape of Clare from her family, Francis's trip to the east and the crisis of leadership upon his return, his illness, stigmata, and death.

Some of the critical conversion moments are dramatized quite nicely, such as the encounters of Francis with the lepers, the message from the crucifix of San Damiano, and the dream of the arms and its subsequent reinterpretation. (To this I would also add the scene of Clare's tonsure, which is one of the most dramatic moments in the whole production.) In this the film is also to be praised for showing Francis's conversion as a sum of various experiences.

On the other hand, Clare and Francis covers so much ground that the progression of parts seemed a little mechanical to me. It also makes it very long when packaged as a single movie; listed at 200 minutes, the whole thing is over three hours. I also found the acting rather flat, though Maria Petruolo occasionally captures a little pathos as Clare. Ettore Bassi didn't do much for me as Francis, but perhaps my own expectations are intense and loaded. (Perhaps I'm not to be trusted on this point, however, as my favorite movie Francis is Mickey Rourke, whom nobody else seems to like.) Even someone like Brother Elias, for whom it would have been easy to capture the ambiguity of his place in the tradition, seemed one-sided. The best characters are Bishop Guido and Pietro Bernardone, who is presented as basically well-meaning until he is finally reduced to rage. Monaldo Favarone, Clare's uncle, makes a serviceable movie villain.

Even more, because the film is clearly working hard to be historically accurate--such that is even possible--I cringed once in a while when certain events about which we don't know much get dramatized in very particular ways. The 1209 trip to Rome for the approval of the primitive Rule is the best example. Clare and Francis presents this great event in the history of the movement as having a very definite motivation within very specific pressures. It's not that the suggestions are uninformed or outlandish, but we just don't know these things for sure and can't say with absolute certainity that this trip ever even happened.

Clare and Francis is clearly presenting itself as an effort to lift up Clare to her proper place within the early Franciscan movement. On this count the film is partially successful. But to be really true to this ambition, it would have had to go on for another two hours in order to cover the rest of Clare's life, the twenty-seven years she outlived Francis, providing both a charismatic authority within the movement and an incontrovertible connection with Francis and the genius of the early fraternity. Other parts take away from this effort by being just plain corny, such as the heartfelt encounter of teenage Francis with little girl Clare as she escapes to Perugia with her family.

Twice during the film the friars at San Damiano are depicted assisting at Mass. Both times they are interrupted, and at one point it seems like there is a danger of desecration to the Blessed Sacrament. One imagines that Francis would have taken this much more seriously than he seems to.

In any case, here's my bottom line on Clare and Francis: if you are looking for a responsible treatment of the lives of Francis and Clare and the beginnings of the Franciscan movement, perhaps as an educational presentation, this would be a fine choice in many of its parts or as a whole. If you are looking for a good movie, maybe not.

The DVD says that it can be watched in the original Italian or dubbed (very well) into English. I wanted the Italian, but the language options wouldn't work for me. Subtitles in English and Spanish are also supposed to be included.

Follow this link to check it out.

Retreat Notes: Prayer and Intention

The "practice" of contemplative prayer can be an obstacle to prayer--if, consciously or not, we come to it and execute it wrong-headedly as one more project, one more task. Dismiss thoughts! Form intention! Desire God!

No! This is not a job or another task! "You have only to keep still." (Exodus 14:14) Let go of thoughts not as a project in itself, which only reinforces religion as agonistic self-involvement, but to sit still and hear God calling within. It is not a strenuous reaching up to God, but the practice of noticing that he delights to descend and live within you.

July 27, 2009

Retreat Notes: Quotes

A collection of quotes read and heard that I wrote down during the retreat.

"...it's when I am with people that I am lonely, and when I am alone I am no longer lonely."

--Thomas Merton, The Sign of Jonas

"The Word of God is a light to the mind and a fire to the will."

--St. Lawrence of Brindisi, from his sermons for Lent

"I cannot think what harsher curse I could call down upon a man than that he should always get what he asks for when he tears away from sweet repose out of a curiosity which revels in restlessness."

--St. Bernard of Clairvaux, On Conversion, a Sermon to Clerics (trans. Bernard Saïd, OSB) (In my margin it says, "like when you realize you've been surfing Wikipedia articles for 20 minutes".)

"Grammar is not for me. I am a free dancer. Life begins beyond the rules. I am a free dancer."

--Foreign born, not so young Trappist opening an Amazon box containing a book of English grammar, after explaining, in perfect English, that he now has to learn English.

"I think it is likely that much of the restless boredom, frantic escapism, commitment phobia, and enervating despair that plagues us today is the ancient demon of acedia in modern dress."

--Kathleen Norris, Acedia & Me

"Luminous beings are we; not this crude matter!"

--retreatant waiting for the dishwasher, quoting Yoda in half-mockery of the taped lecture we heard during the meal.

The tools of retreat: The Sacred Scriptures, breviary, rosary, and journal.

July 26, 2009

Retreat Notes: Meals

The silent meals are a real treasure for me here. I could even do without the "spiritual" tapes they play. (I'm pretty sure it's the same one as last time.) But to be able to eat moderately, slowly, not cutting or forking another bite until finishing the current one, I find it all so refreshing. To consider the food in itself--what is it? From what sort of living creature did it come? How did the nutrients and energy get into it? How did it get to the table? With what loves in its journey? With what sufferings? What am I eating on the spiritual level? What love and care? What injustices?

July 25, 2009

Retreat Notes: Acts of Contrition

The long retreat morning, Office, Mass, and breakfast all being done before 8 a.m. Now its down to the chapel to pray. As soon as I start, I'm fighting with sleepiness. The wisps of dreams float into my consciousness--those eccentric and yet logical mash-ups of the people and places of the last few days. So, the answer--in holy obedience--get up, go back to my room and go to sleep. About an hour later I am awakened by the bell announcing the optional retreatant's conference. I have no intention of going.

Back in the chapel I start in on prayer again. I do everything right. Sit quietly. Let go of thoughts. Disidentify with feelings. Purify my intention. God alone the desire of my heart, God alone the end of my will, God alone the delight of my mind. After the 20 minutes I have trained myself to sit and "do" this, I get up and walk the retreat house cloister, quietly, eyes cast down, refusing all reflections and the resumption of the interior monologue. Returning the chapel, I continue where I left off, as if such an expression makes any sense with this.

And what of it? Do I get a feeling? No. An awareness of God? Not really. An experience of God? No. I can't say that it's an experience of any-thing. But it's not quite no-thing either. It does not satisfy, does not make me feel better. This is my "dryness," this is the "aridity" as the spiritual writers call it, of my so-called prayer life.

Writing about St. John of the Cross, Thomas Merton called contemplative prayer an "uninteresting wilderness," and does that ever speak to me!

Indeed, John speaks to me a lot at times like this. For years God has been trying to invite me into the "night of sense," and for years I have been resisting the invitation. The sensual satisfactions of prayer and spiritual practice from my first fervor--now lost by the kindness of God--I have replaced by running off to other intellectual delights and physical comforts, as well as pointless distractions and anodynes.

Thus, I have not been willing--interiorly, that is--to enter the night of sense. So though I am clever enough to seem spiritual, I remain shallow.

The answer: the Cross.

July 24, 2009

Retreat Notes: Arrival

[Hi friends. I'm back from retreat, and thanks to your prayers it was a good one. I have reflections and pictures to post over the next few days.]

I arrive. I'm not on the little list in the guestmaster's hand, but I'm in the big book. St. Agnes is to be my home, one of the rooms on the more or less western exposure, with a little yard attached. It's a trade-off; either you get the eastern exposure or a yard.

I go to the chapel and pray recite None. I ask the Lord for a good retreat. Back to St. Agnes and unpack. Find a spot for the coffee pot.

Tired but not sleepy. It's also part of retreat to get back in physical balance.

What now? Back to the chapel to push right into prayer mode? Make coffee? Try to sleep a little bit? Just hide out? This too is retreat.

The shocking first couple of hours crawl by--"how long until Vespers?" cries out the question inside...but it's not quite yet the love of God and desire for prayer; it's just the effect of the sudden fasting from noise and the lust to be distracted from the Truth that is only spoken in silence.

July 17, 2009

Away on Retreat

This weekend I leave for my annual retreat. After making a couple of visits on the way, I will arrive at one of my favorite places in the whole world, St. Joseph's Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts.

So, there will be no posts this coming week. Once I leave no comments will be moderated until I return next Saturday.

In your charity please offer a prayer for me on retreat.

I'll post pictures when I return, and reflections should there be any.

Without you, Lord, I am nothing. May I go into the woods to find you again, for the first time.

July 15, 2009

It's a Small (Capuchin) World

It's a small world. Today I and fellow Capuchin blogger Br. Tom realized that we had met each other in person on the Feast of the Portiuncula, August 2, 2007 in Assisi. I just found my journal from the trip and confirmed it.

I also found in the notebook a hilarious post-it note, a little artifact of the trip. It reads, in fine blue sharpie:

Assisi Free Day Things to Do/Shopping List

Tau Crosses for John
Medals (?)
Check email

Furta Sacra for the Feast of St. Bonaventure

One of the perks of making it through the Capuchin formation program is a pilgrimage to Assisi, Rome, and various other Franciscan holy places. Taking place around the time of perpetual vows, the trip is meant to encourage and inflame the hearts of the brothers as they prepare for or begin to live their permanent gift of self to the fraternity.

When I went two summers ago, one of the places we visited was the Franciscan hermitage at Monte Casale. There we were shown a little cell where St. Bonaventure had stayed when he was doing some writing. Later on I returned to the cell by myself to pray for the intercession of the Seraphic Doctor and for the courage to follow his example. In a little act of sacra furta--I think forgivable--I took a little splinter of St. Bonaventure's cell as a relic for my own devotion. I brought it home and put it in a little reliquary with the label, ex cella S. Bonaventurae Montis Casalis.

My little relic of St. Bonaventure sits at the center of the images of the Lord and his saints I have in my "cell":

Clockwise from the top: Christ crucified (from my trip to the holy land in 1994), the Virgin of the Sign (from a retreat at Graymoor in 1995), John of the Cross, Paschal Baylon (gift of a confrere), Francis (gift from a ministry supervisor), the Transfiguration (gift from academic adviser).

Secret for St. Bonaventure

The Secret from St. Bonaventure's Mass in the 1962 Missale Romano-Seraphicum is really striking:

Incruéntum Fílii tui sacrifícium offeréntes, te supplíciter exorámus, omnípotens Deus: ut, sicut passiónis eius iugis meditátio intelléctum sancti Bonaventúrae Pontíficis erudívit; ita mentes et corda nostra igne caritátis inflámmet. Per eúndem Dóminum.

I've been thinking this morning about how to make an artful translation, but I'm not yet satisfied with my ideas. If I come up with something later, I'll update the post. If anybody wants to beat me to it in the comments, feel free.

Update: Ok, I'm not happy with it, but here goes. Edits to follow (I hope.)

Offering to you the unbloody sacrifice of your Son, we humbly implore you, Almighty God: that prayerfully joined to the understanding of the passion brought forth by St. Bonaventure the bishop, our minds and hearts might also be inflamed with the fire of charity.

Improvements are welcome!

July 14, 2009

St. Bonaventure's First Encyclical Letter

Today I was poking around for something to read in preparation for the feast of St. Bonaventure tomorrow, and I happened upon the first encyclical letter he wrote to the friars after being elected Minister General in 1257. I think it's worth a re-issue! Check out some of the Seraphic Doctor's concerns for the brothers:

"All sorts of business transactions are going on, in which money, the archenemy of the poverty of our Order, is being eagerly sought, recklessly accepted, and even more recklessly handled."

"Certain brothers have succumbed to idleness, that cesspool of every vice, where they have been lulled into choosing a monstrous kind of state somewhere between the active life and the contemplative, while cruelly feeding on the blood of living souls."

"Many more are wandering about, intent primarily on their bodily comforts. They are only annoying the people they come across, leaving behind them scandal instead of good example."

"The construction of buildings on a lavish and extravagant scale is upsetting many brothers, becoming a burden to friendly benefactors, and leaving us prey to all sorts of hostile critics."

I guess the challenges and temptations we religious face are pretty constant over time!

These are from the translation of Dominic Monti, OFM, in St. Bonaventure's Writings Concerning the Franciscan Order, from Franciscan Institute Publications.

July 13, 2009

Overheard in the Monastery

There were some good ones today:

"When Fr. Guardian got back from his vacation, I didn't know how to tell him that Mrs. Keenan had jumped out the window."

"Do you mind if I use the copy of First Things I found in the backseat of your car to start my campfire?"

The Holiness of Ordinary People

I guess I've been kind of down on stuff lately; I can see it in all of the ponderous posts and mystifying of my frustrations in my writing. It's true that the parish priest trade--the life in which I now find myself--can be tiring and difficult. The hours are terrible, someone is always mad at you and calling you a rotten priest, wedding paperwork is tedious, sacrilegious "eulogies" at funerals poison your heart with boredom. You have to get up early and work in the evening. Nothing ever seems finished and there are always more fires to put out and another wedding or funeral coming in.

So it all begs the question: why do it? What keeps a person going? Well, the first answer is certainly a desire to love God and to serve him as best you can, responding to the vocation which is a such a gift and so wound up with God's merciful Providence in your own life. But day to day, on the natural level, what keeps me going and what helps me stay positive is the simple holiness of ordinary people.

It's the devotion of secret saints. People of all ages who would wouldn't think of going through a day without Holy Communion, or a visit to the Blessed Sacrament, or the afternoon rosary. Thank you. I see you in church and you are my teachers. It's you in the confessional who are working your particular ascesis much harder than I'm working mine. Thank you for your encouragement and good example.

It's the beautiful practices of charity. People who save box tops and can wrappers in order that money be donated to some worthy cause. People who make secret donations to the parish food pantry. Folks who visit and check on their elderly neighbors.

It's the tremendous sacrifices of ordinary Christians. Adult children who give up opportunities, up to and including families of their own, to take care of sick or aged parents and siblings. Poor folks who pay the church's heat bill by the crumpled bills they stuff into the votive light boxes. It's the parents who work so hard because of the opportunities they want their kids to have. May my celibacy never make me ignorant of your sacrifice.

So as blue as I can get sometimes, and as heavy are my own temptations to arrogant criticism, I am humbled and grateful for the chance to work as a servant of the saints.

Roman Martyrology

The Roman Martyrology is a recent discovery for me, and one that I know I will enjoy very much. For one thing, it has cured me of a long-standing bit of ignorance.

In our communities, each friar gets an annual celebration. For those who received names in religion, the name day is celebrated. For those of us who entered after the end of religious names (as well for those who reverted to their baptismal names when given the chance), we celebrate birthdays like the rest of the world.

I was always baffled by these name days. A lot of the religious names among us aren't saints you've ever heard of. They aren't in the liturgical calendar as most of us know it. So where did these name days come from? Well, now that I know the Roman Martyrology, I have found the source. For example, today over at the old friars' home they are celebrating the name day of Fr. Joel, whose name in the world was Dan. And there it is in the Martyrology for July 13:

In Palæstína sanctórum Joélis et Esdræ Prophetárum.

Catholic Conflicts

The comments on yesterday's post reveal that I hit some neuralgic spots for us Catholic Christians. I've been thinking about it.

There have been several moments in the journey of my baptism when I have found things very different than what I expected. These experiences have almost always left me confused, and sometimes quite scandalized. My entrance into religious life was one of the hardest; so hard in fact that I needed to quit and start over.

Another, not unrelated crisis of expectation and experience, deeper and more seminal for who I would become as a Catholic, came upon me almost immediately after my sacramental initiation. I found, to my surprise and confusion, that one had to decide whom to listen to when it came to Catholic teaching and practice. I had entered a church that seemed to be full of conflicts. Liberal vs. conservative, progressive vs. traditional, radical vs. restorationist, the "spirit of Vatican II" against the continuity of ancient tradition, those who were derided as "70s priests" vs. those equally derided as "neocons." Being innocent and somewhat ignorant--as well as very scandalized by the whole thing--I hardly knew what to think.

It was even hard to know what was the genuine Catholic doctrine. One priest said one thing, and another priest something else. One confessor identified something as a serious sin, another as a minor sin, and a third as not a sin at all. One spiritual director would advise you not to believe anything you read in National Catholic Reporter, while another would warn you not to believe anything you heard on EWTN. When rubrics or parts of the Mass delineated in my hand missal were not included in the liturgy I attended, I would ask the priest about it. One priest would tell me that certain parts were optional, while another would assure me that they were not.

Fortunately, I found a solution to this confused and frustrating situtation, one that I now recommend to others: I empowered myself. I picked up a copy of the Catechism, which was new in those days, a Code of Canon Law, and an enchiridion of doctrine. (For this last treasure, read this and then buy this.) I read it myself.

Catholic teaching on faith, morals, and practice is not a secret. You don't have to wonder what it is, or if the priest or whoever trying to tell you something is trustworthy or knows what he is talking about. Be empowered and read it yourself. It worked for me.

July 12, 2009

My Internal OF vs. EF Ascesis

Reading Matt's impressions of assisting at his first EF Mass got me to thinking about things.

When I first started to attend Mass in the EF on Sunday afternoons, it was purely out of curiosity and professional interest. On my reading of Summorum pontificum, our Holy Father had empowered the laity to ask for this form of Holy Mass, so it seemed to me only proper for me as a priest to be acquainted with it.

But what really hooked me was not anything about the Mass per se, but the people I observed and met. Here was the reverence I had been missing. Before Mass was not a cacophony of worldly conversations. Cell phones didn't ring, and nor were any answered during Mass. (!) Nobody here would need to be asked not to drink their coffee during the service. There was no anguish to be endured over irreverence before the Blessed Sacrament; everyone who entered or left the church was eager to make the appopriate reverence. I realized in my own Catholic heart that silence and reverence were things that had drawn me into the Church from the beginning, and I had forgotten how close they were to my heart.

So I went back; not so much for the Mass--though the EF itself continued to interest me on the intellectual and professional levels--but for the chance to pray with brothers and sisters who also just wanted to pray and join themselves to the Lord's sacrifice in quiet reverence.

For me, though, I have to keep myself from the thought that this is really a question of OF vs. EF or modern vs. traditional Roman rite. The scandalous lack of liturgical and sacramental catechesis and our terrible lack of reverence is not the fault of the newer form of Mass itself. This is to oversimplify and to ignore a very wide complex of questions and issues. It is eminently possible for a Sunday assembly to celebrate the Ordinary Form of Mass with all of the reverence that is due to the liturgy and to the Most Blessed Sacrament. Not that I have seen this in most places I have lived and prayed, but it is certainly possible.

There is a cultural struggle here, but it's one that is not reducible to OF vs. EF. These might be symbolic of several aspects of the struggle, but they are not the thing itself. This is just something I am trying to keep in mind these days.

July 11, 2009

The Spirit of Adoption

From all eternity the overflowing divine Love seeks to adopt us into it's own blessedness and joy. Follow this link for my homily for this weekend.

July 9, 2009

Being Schticky

I find that in the course of my ministry I have developed certain bits of schtick, formulaic ways of delivering a message in a humorous way. It's like bits of speech that get ingrained in my execution of various duties, and which I find myself saying over and over.

Here's my schtick for the end of a wedding rehearsal:

"Ok, everybody, I have good news, bad news, and an opportunity for you.

"The good news is that we have the privilege of witnessing one of the greatest acts of faith there is in this life. This is church, and in church we are about faith, right? Right? (I can't hear you!) These guys [the candidates for matrimony] are about to pledge their consent to each other forever, wagering the love they have experienced through each other against an unknown future. And there's no greater act of faith. So give them every reverence and respect, as you would any other sacramental revelation of God.

"The bad news is that this nuptial Mass which we will celebrate on Saturday does not satisfy your ordinary obligation to assist at Sunday Mass. So those of you who are Catholics get to go to church two days in a row!

"The opportunity is this: I'm not saying this applies to anybody here, but sometimes it happens that when people come to a wedding, they haven't been to Mass in a while. So, if this is you, and you would like to share in Holy Communion with our friends who will be newly married at that point, you should really go to confession. Pope Innocent III, in his decree Omnis utriusque sexus--it sounds like a hot document, right?--asked that each Catholic receive Holy Communion once a year, confessing any serious sins if necessary. So, I'll sit in the confessional for a while, just in case. Otherwise, have a great night. I hope these guys are taking you all somewhere good, and buying you a drink for the effort you put into this rehearsal. Enjoy yourselves and I'll see you on Saturday!"

That last part, about confession, I only started doing recently. The response has really surprised me, and sometimes I'm in the confessional for a half an hour or so at the end of a wedding rehearsal. I challenge myself at weddings and funerals to try to hook people back into the practice of their faith.

Four Days of Veronica Giuliani

St. Veronica Giuliani is one of the great characters from our Capuchin tradition. Our current Roman-Franciscan breviary and sacramentary celebrate her feast day on July 10. The 1962 Missale Romano-Seraphicum celebrates her on July 9. This creates the curious situation of being able to celebrate the same saint two days in a row, in the Extraordinary and Ordinary Forms, respectively.

Even more confusing, the 1942 M R-S puts her day on July 11, and her English wikipedia article puts it on the 12th.

Rosary Plan

As a catechumen I learned this plan for the daily rosary: Joyful Mysteries on Mondays and Thursdays, Sorrowful Mysteries on Tuesdays and Fridays, Glorious Mysteries on Sundays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays.

Over the years, two things have interfered with this plan. First, I acquired the devotion to the Franciscan Crown rosary while I was in formation with the OFM. The Crown more or less duplicates the Joyful Mysteries (less the Presentation) so it can conveniently replace the Dominican rosary on the Joyful Mystery days. Second, the appearance of the Luminous Mysteries on Thursdays created a problem. That leaves the Joyful Mysteries with just one day, while the Glorious still have three.

Thanks in part to frequent and erudite commenter Ben in Denver, I have finally come up with a plan for the daily rosary that has been working for me:

Advent-Christmas: Franciscan Crown every day.

Lent: Sorrowful Mysteries every day.

Easter and Ordinary Time:

Sunday: Glorious Mysteries
Monday: Franciscan Crown
Tuesday: Sorrowful Mysteries
Wednesday: Glorious Mysteries
Thursday: Luminous Mysteries
Friday: Sorrowful Mysteries
Saturday: Franciscan Crown

Problems in the Assesment of Guilt

One thing I have learned in the ministry is that we are not good at assessing our own moral guilt and responsibility. Over and over in the parlor or the confessional, I realize that people have a hard time judging their own moral culpability well.

Many judge themselves to more guilty than they really are. For some this is grandiosity. They try to take responsibility for all kinds of difficulties and sins in which they are not a moral agent. Many times this is the root problem of those who come to confession to confess other people's sins. In their perverse desire for self-victimization, they want to take the blame for others. Thus the actual moral agent is absolved from responsibility, and our grandiose subject is freed from the discomfort of being angry with the one for whom she is trying to take moral responsibility. My suspicion is that this is the real root of the problem in many cases; to accuse the self is easier than being angry with another, so why not just pretend the guilt is our own?

Others judge themselves more guilty than they are because they are scrupulous. In the end, scrupulosity, too, is a form of inverted self-importance that makes one's own internal experience the subject of the spiritual life instead of God. So what if you are so full of sin and everything you do is tainted by impure motives? Did not the Lord promise to harvest the wheat along with the weeds and preserve the wheat unto eternal life? Isn't the goodness of God to the whole of creation so much more important than your sins, no matter how terrible? Sometimes scrupulous people don't believe in forgiveness and so have no use for God. Without an experience of God's love, there is nothing left to reflect on in the "spiritual" life but one's own goodness or badness. Sometimes they are guilty of angelism and deeply resent having to deal with temptations. At the root of all their useless guilt is the proud and entitled attitude that believes that if God calls us to be saints he ought to make us so without us having to suffer any temptations. Resenting temptations is very dangerous. We should be grateful for them.

On the other hand, many times people seem to think themselves less guilty than they really are. Perhaps they have decided that this or that habitual sin isn't mortal because its occasions are supposedly unavoidable or because they habitually lack "full consent of the will." Having decided that they are not in a state of mortal sin, they stop worrying about it so much, and fall into the state of presumption. But just because a serious sin might not be mortal in some particular case, it does not mean that the matter of the sin isn't grave. It might not be the spiritual danger of mortal sin, but it's still the serious responsibility of a grave disorder in one's life.

Others, in a curious opposite of the grandiose person, blame their sins on everyone and everything else, absolving themselves of their own guilt. Thus they are freed from any obligation to correct themselves. Sexual impurity is blamed on the television or the internet. Gossip, calumny, and detraction are blamed on the "culture" of the workplace or the neighborhood. Religious blame the mess of their prayer life on the alleged sorry state of the community in which they live. Sure, all these things fight against virtue, but we're supposed to fight back!

All of this has convinced me that examination of conscience is very important and needs to be retrieved as a practice. We can't be shallow about it; to examine our conscience is not just to notice what we feel bad about. It has to be a rigorous examination of our moral condition, of what is and what is not our fault.

July 8, 2009

Rambling Apostolic Rant

The gospel for today contains St. Matthew's list of the twelve apostles, who are given "authority over unclean spirits" and entrusted with Jesus' own fundamental proclamation, "The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand."

Sometimes I think when it comes like a passage like people say in their hearts, 'Ugh, a list of names...whatever!' I know that some preachers feel that way, because I've heard them. But on the contrary, I say that a list like this places a very challenging and powerful claim before us.

The mission and authority of Jesus is handed over to a specific collection of people; real historical people who are named and identified specifically. The proclamation of the Kingdom, the Resurrection faith, and the authority passed on by Jesus are not the property of just anyone who decides he should have them.

This can be very hard for us Americans to hear; the do-it-yourself, independent attitude is very powerful within us. We have this idea that we only have to form a committee made of members who might or might not know something about the question at hand, and by some supra-rational process they will come to an infallible authority. Unfortunately, Christianity is not a do-it-yourself kind of thing. It is a proclamation and a faith given to specific community of persons, and remainig therein. To suggest that we can become Christians by ourselves, much less preachers and teachers of the faith without this community, is a form of Pelagianism. Here I'm reminded of one of my favorite ditties, Hilaire Belloc's Pelagian Drinking Song, which starts like this:

Pelagius lived at Kardanoel
And taught a doctrine there
How, whether you went to heaven or hell
It was your own affair.
It had nothing to do with the Church, my boy,
But was your own affair.

This is why it is important for us, if we want to be Christians in the best way we can, to find ourselves in one of the apostolic churches, those communions that derive concretely and historically from the Apostles to whom Jesus entrusted his mission and authority. By this we mean one of the 23 particular churches (rites) that make up the Catholic Church or one of the Eastern or Oriental Orthodox churches. Of course there are a lot of gray areas here; both Catholics and Orthodox have schismatic groups that have maintained apostolic succession, and some Anglicans and Lutherans claim it too. But why would someone place themselves in such an ambiguous place, much less settle for less by joining an "ecclesial community" with no realistic claim to derive from the Apostles at all?

For me, in the course of my own conversion, it became a no-brainer. Based on my reading of the Scriptures and first experiences of prayer, I had decided that I wanted to become a Christian. As I began to learn the history of Christianity and how sacramentality follows directly upon the confession of the Incarnation, one of the sacramental, apostolic churches seemed like the only possible choice. Being a European American, Latin rite catholicism was the clear option.

July 7, 2009

The Creative Melancholy

My mind and heart work and discern at their best in a state I have come to call 'the creative melancholy.' For whatever reasons I have decided would be coarse to try to articulate, the music of the Pixies has always captured this mood for me.

As anti-emo as I am, I like Sense Field's cover of Caribou, the haunting and pretty opener from the first Pixies release, Come on Pilgrim. (1987)

Caritas in Veritate

Be joyful all Franciscan hearts!

In his new encyclical, Caritas in veritate, our Holy Father uses fraternity as an economic category in his teaching on the progress of the human family.

I can't find the Latin to double check this. If anyone can supply a link, thanks!

Jacob Wrestles

I know I have written similar posts before, but every time Jacob's wrestling with the Presence of God (Genesis 32: 23-33) comes around in the readings, I am just overwhelmed by the intensity of the passage as a model of prayer.

The incident happens at night, signifying the obscurity of the experience of prayer. Our intellect before the Divine Light is like the physical eye staring into the sun; it is blinded and becomes nearly useless; nothing can be made out in the intensity of the light. Divine Illumination is so bright that we only experience it as an interior darkness.

Jacob asks two things from the Presence with Whom he wrestles. He asks for a blessing, and this he receives in the form of his new name, Israel. Within his new name is his vocation, his calling and privileged role within the history of salvation and the economy of grace.

He then asks to know the name of the One with whom he is contending, and this he does not receive. "Why should you want to know my name?"

So it is with us in prayer; we receive one thing but not the other. Through prayer we receive the blessing of our vocation. Perhaps we will know only the very next step, but this is how it is with God. God is in eternity, and exists in an eternal Now, the nunc stans of the scholastic theologians. But this too is part of God's mercy; if our whole journey were revealed to us ahead of time, many of us would leave the path in dread. Nevertheless; this is the primary grace of prayer: to hear the quiet but insistent voice of God within.

But the Presence itself remains mysterious; indeed, He will seem ever more mysterious and alien over time. Our minds yearn to understand the experience of God, and this is nothing to be ashamed of, because it is the nature of the mind to want to know. But the understanding of the Presence retreats from us, and many times we leave our prayer blessed, but feeling as if we know less about who God is than when we started. "Why should you want to know my name?"

Finally, Jacob leaves the experience injured. Having been struck in his hip socket, he goes through the world with a limp from then on. So it is with all who set themselves earnestly on the path of prayer; the experience of God opens up a new wound in our being, and we are pierced with the knowledge that the world in which we have lived thus far is not the last word. We have lost the innocence of those who go through this life knowing only the visible world. As Ben Kenobi put it so well, "You have taken your first step into a larger world." After we become true practioners of prayer, we will always limp a little bit in this world, because from then on we will a always be alien and stranger.

July 6, 2009

St. Maria Goretti

This morning was the first time I have had the opportunity to offer the Mass of St. Maria Goretti. (Last year her day was impeded by a Sunday.) Her feast day is always a little special to us Capuchins, because her murderer and attempted rapist finished his days on earth as one of us. I found a page on him in Italian, with a couple of pictures.

Preparing for Mass I was very grateful for the chance to pray with a saint who knew the suffering of sexual assault. As I composed the petitions for the prayer of the faithful in my mind, I was inspired to pray for all the victims of human trafficking, pornography, abuse, and every form of sexualized violence in our society, and for a renewed spirit of repentance among us priests for our own crimes against the dignity of children and young people.

July 4, 2009

Indian Orthodox Wedding

We had a very ecumenical afternoon here in church, as hosts for a wedding for the Malankara Orthodox. I don't know how it was arranged, but I ended up being the host. I got a few blurry pictures:

First, the presiding priest gave an exhortation on the meaning and purpose of marriage:

Deacon Gregory incenses everyone. Ah...praying ad orientem.

The heads of bride and groom were blessed in preparation for the crowning:

Thank You to Readers

I was delighted to see that a minor friar received quite a few votes for "best blog by a religious" in this year's Catholic New Media Awards.

Thanks to all of you for your prayers, support, and encouragement.

So here's the question for readers: now the voting is over, and not being the winner, do I leave the nomination badge up on the sidebar?

Thorns in the Flesh

Spiritual obstacles can be spiritual opportunities if we use them well, avoiding self-pity and practicing our dependence on God. Follow this link for my homily for this weekend.

July 3, 2009

Memento for the Dead

After ordination to the priesthood, it takes a while to really start praying the Mass. At first you are mostly nervous about remembering everything. But after a while you learn it all well enough to actually pray through the Mass, first on weekdays and then on Sundays.

One thing I've noticed over time is that certain prayers of the Mass bring people to mind for me. Two examples:

My grandmother, even though she wasn't a Catholic, used to watch the Mass on TV. She once told me that her favorite prayer of the Mass was the embolism after the Our Father: Deliver us Lord, from every evil, and grant us peace in our day. In your mercy keep us free from sin and protect us from all anxiety as we wait in joyful hope for the coming our Savior, Jesus Christ. So whenever I pray that prayer part of me thinks of her.

In the parish in which I was baptized (down the street from where I went to college) the pastor used to pray all the 'quiet voice' prayers out loud. I've always remembered how devoutly he said the priest's prayer of private preparation for Holy Communion: Lord Jesus Christ, with faith in your love and mercy I eat your body and drink your blood. Let it not bring me condemnation, but health in mind and body. Even though I've taken to praying the quiet prayers in Latin, and in Latin I prefer the other option for this prayer (Domine Iesu Christe, Fili Dei Vivi...), I always think of my first pastor at this point in the Mass.

There are other examples. I'm grateful for this effect. It helps me feel united in prayer with those from whom I have arrived in this world.

I do wonder if it will be the same when we finally get the new translations of these prayers.

July 2, 2009

Sweating Through The TLM

I know this is a bit indelicate, but it's a real question.

In the offering of Mass according to the Extraordinary Form, the priest must maintain "custody" of thumbs and forefingers from the consecration through the ablutions.

Now let's say it's summer in the humid Hudson river valley. It's hot in church. Some parts of Father's body--"Brother Ass" as our holy father Francis called his--are covered in five layers of clothing and vestments. In the time between the consecration and the ablutions, it would seem outside of the spirit of the rubrics to pull one's hanky from one's cincture or sleeve, much less wipe one's face while maintaining custody of thumbs and forefingers. But then what do you do when, by the time of the prayers before Holy Communion, the sweat is stinging your eyes and you can't read the missal?

I am told this is what the maniple is for...but I don't want to wipe my sweaty face with fancy stitching, and much less with a representation of the Lord's Cross! Could a server do it, like someone might do for a surgeon?

I know this is kind of gross, but it's the sort of practical question that just presents itself!


Overheard at Indian Orthodox wedding rehearsal:

Priest: Just please remind everyone that we don't allow the throwing of rice.

Groom: Father, we're Indians! We have better things to do with our rice!