August 31, 2009

Funeral and Burial Requests

The parish where I work operates on the same campus as our cemetery for the friars (see this post for a lovely picture.) We also have the funerals for our brothers here in the parish church, and one of the little jobs I have picked up along the way is to be MC and liturgical coordinator for these Masses and Committals. When one of the brothers concludes his pilgrimage in this life, his personnel file is opened and requests he has made for his funeral are sent to me. Some are very detailed, others not. Most have asked for certain readings and nominated friars as potential preachers.

So, after having been through this process a few times, I decided to write up my own requests and send them in to be entered into my file. Here's what I wrote:

Funeral and Burial Requests
Br. Charles L. of New Haven

Anything that I have not delineated is considered ad libitum.


Ezekiel 43:1-6
Romans 12: 1-2
John 3:1-10

Black, Violet, and White are all acceptable; my only preference is that everything, i.e. pall and vestments, match.


Preacher: Br. N., if possible. Otherwise, please ask my other classmates, in reverse order of seniority. Then proceed to members of the class immediately before mine, then after, then the next before, etc.


If possible, I would love if the antiphons and propers of the Mass could be sung instead of replacing them with hymns. This goes especially for the Entrance and Communion antiphons outside of the Easter season, the Requiem aeternam and Lux aeterna, respectively.

If it is not possible to sing the actual Mass and hymns and songs must be used, these are to be selected by the actual musician for the Mass or music director of the place.


I would like to be buried in a Capuchin habit. I do not wish to have a rosary wrapped about my hands. Please vest me with the traditional violet stole.

August 30, 2009

Humble Sublimity

Today is the seventeenth anniversary of my first Holy Communion. As I did my best this morning to follow the rubric Et reverenter sumit Corpus Christi and received the Sacrifice, the moment came back to me: Fr. Sutula calling me forward after the communion procession of the faithful, announcing that I had been baptized the afternoon before, and putting into my hand a whole half of the priest's host--that last detail was unexpected and such a big deal to me at the time.

At least in my experience, priesthood changes one's relationship to the Eucharist in unexpected ways. There are things I miss, and other, unexpected graces for which I am grateful.

I miss being given the host, that brief but profound interaction of two members of the Body of Christ, becoming the Mystery they receive. There are certain spiritual lonelinesses that come with the priesthood, and this is one of them.

On the other hand, to be privileged to offer the Sacrifice to God, or within God, is almost overwhelming at times. This aspect of the change in my sense of the Eucharist is one I didn't expect. I think I was more or less raised to look at the Mass as a kind a communal prayer, a fraternal gathering in praise of God, and of course it is certainly those things. But I never thought much about the Mass as sacrifice until I was a priest. Then it forced itself on me--the intertwining of the Mass with the Lord's Passion, the humility of the Son of God breaking himself into our hands and shedding his blood into our mouths--these sorts of spiritual senses began to appear for me when I started myself to the offer the Mass.

Also, there is an increased familiarity with the Blessed Sacrament that comes with the priesthood; you deal with It in other contexts apart from Holy Communion. You re-arrange hosts in ciboria and pyxes, and fill and replace hosts in the luna, for example. You gain the random skill of knowing if a bunch of altar breads in a ciborium is 50, 100, or 200. This daily familiarity only makes the sacramental mystery more amazing, though, because it leads the heart to awe of the God who chooses to be revealed in this almost unimaginably humble way, cutting right through all of our worldly ideas of what the almightiness of God should look like.

O admirable heights and sublime lowliness! O sublime humility! O humble sublimity! That the Lord of the universe, God and the Son of God, so humbles Himself that for our salvation He hides Himself under the little form of bread! Look, brothers, at the humility of God and pour out your hearts before Him! Humble yourselves, as well, that you may be exalted by Him. Therefore, hold back nothing of yourselves for yourselves so that He Who gives Himself totally to you may receive you totally” --Francis of Assisi, Letter to the Entire Order.

August 29, 2009


Seventeen years ago today, I put on my blue tie and walked the mile and a third or so from my room in the basement of Freeman dormitory at Connecticut College to Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church up the road in Quaker Hill. There I was baptized, and quite a journey began.


If the Gospels teach us anything about the human practice of religion, it's that it can go very wrong at times. This is why it is important for us to reflect on our own observance of religion or 'spiritual practice' from time to time. Follow this link for my homily for this weekend.

August 28, 2009

Seventeen Years of Brothers and Sisters

Tomorrow is my anniversary of baptism; I will be seventeen years old. By Providence I have a liturgical day free of obligation for public Mass, so I intend to get up early and offer a Mass for those whom the Lord has given me along the way:

First, for my first priest, Fr. Larry, and for the friars and parishioners of St. Mary's in New Haven, whose reverence and piety first attracted me to prayer.

Second, for Deacon Ron, who baptized me, and for his family; for Fr. Leo Sutula, requeiscat in pace, who gave me my first Holy Communion and who also heard my first confession; for Bishop Dan Reilly, who confirmed me; for Fr. Dan, OFM, who invested me in the Franciscan habit; for Fr. Michael, OFM Cap., who received my profession of both temporary and perpetual vows; for Bishop Francis X. Irwin, who ordained me deacon; and for Cardinal Sean O'Malley, OFM Cap. who ordained me priest.

Third, for my spiritual directors, from whom I have profited so much: Fr. Charles, Sr. Joyce, Fr. Confer, Mr. Zepf, Sr. Vivienne, Sr. Pat, priests of the Discalced Carmelites and Oblates of the Virgin Mary whose names I have forgotten, and Fr. Karl.

Fourth, for my formation directors: Vincent and Fr. Aubrey, Fr. Andrew and Br. Richard, Fr. Bill and Fr. Raphael, Br. John and Ken, Fr. Marty, Fr. Tom, and Fr. Jack.

Fifth, for my classmates in religious life: Phil, Hank, Brian, Mike, Ken, John, Steve, Robert, Sam, Tom, James, Arlen, Justin, Drew, Jim, Bart, Louis, and Marvin.

Sixth, for the teachers who have been so encouraging to me: Fr. Dominic and Br. Bill of the OFM, Carlos ('the real teacher'), Antonio, ('el Loco'), Khaled, Sr. Meg, Cathy, Fr. John of the Sulpicians, and Frs. John, Randy, Peter, Dan, and Stanley of the Society of Jesus.

This is going to be one long memento for the living!

August 27, 2009


I'm just noticing CNA's article today about the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, titled, "Ann Arbor sisters can't build fast enough to house new members." I got to know a little bit about this community when one young sister attended Mass at our parish during her break between postulancy and novitiate.

It just goes to show that there is no such thing as a problem of vocations to religious life.

If you want vocations, put on your habit, build up and be proud of your Catholic Christian identity, practice solid, traditional Catholic prayer, devotional, and communal life, and have a focused ministry that is based in and promotes Catholic Christian evangelization.

Endings in Confession

Ever since I've been a Catholic--minus the seven days in between my baptism and first confession--I've found the end of confessions awkward. After a priest prayed the absolution, I would respond with "Amen" and then various things might happen. The priest might say any number of things or nothing at all. If he said something, it would usually be "go in peace," to which I would respond, "Thanks be to God." But he might also say "Have a nice weekend," "Take it easy," or something like that. If the priest didn't say anything after my "Amen," I would say, "Thank you, Father."

Because of all this I was very pleased when I took the confessions course and learned what was really supposed to happen.

After the penitent responds to the absolution with "Amen," the priest is supposed to say, "Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good," to which the reconciled penitent responds, "His mercy endures forever."

Then the priest dismisses the penitent with one of several formulas, the first of which is, "The Lord has freed you from your sins. Go in peace."

Now I'm willing to bet that the majority of readers have never experienced this. I never experienced it myself before I was ordained. Also, my experience as a confessor is that a large portion of penitents start to get up as soon as the absolution formula is done, or are already saying thank you or bless you or wishing you a good weekend.

Part of the trouble with it is that unless the penitent is a religious or a priest, they are unlikely to produce the response, "His mercy endures forever" naturally.

This brings me to my newest confessor. After I respond to the absolution with "Amen" he continues: May the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ, the merits of the Blessed Virgin Mary and all the saints, the good you have done and any suffering you have endured be cause for the remission of your sins, the increase in grace, and eternal reward. Amen.

Right away I thought, 'this is pretty cool,' and I wondered where this encouraging formula had come from. A quick trip to my Roman Ritual revealed that this ending is my confessor's version of the post-absolution prayer for the old Rite of Penance: Pássio Dómini nostri Jesu Christi, mérita beátae Maríae Vírginis, et ómnium Sanctórum, quidquid boni féceris, et mali sustinúeris, sint tibi in remissiónem peccatórum, augméntum grátiae, et praémium vitae aetérnae. Amen.

Looking back at my copy of the Rite of Penance (which is out of print and very hard to find; how telling is that?) I was surprised to see that a version of this prayer is preserved in the current rite as well, as one of the choices for the priest after the verse "Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good" and the response, "His mercy endures forever." In the current American English translation of the rite it goes like this: May the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ , the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary and of all the saints, whatever good you do and suffering you endure, heal your sins, help you to grow in holiness, and reward you with eternal life. Go in peace.

I like it and I'm thinking of starting to use it myself.

August 26, 2009

Hypocrite Rant

The strong gospel passages of the beginning of this week continue to get under my skin. I seriously worry about being found a hypocrite and earning a hypocrite's condemnation from the Lord.

In my ministry I routinely have to call people on their failures in religious observance. For example, if someone comes to the office asking to be certified as a godparent, but is an inactive Catholic with no desire to remedy his condition, I have to say no. There are lots of ugly and upsetting arguments on this issue. And there are many situations similar to this, e.g. issues surrounding marriage and re-marriage, the refusal to bury the dead, etc.

But what right do I have? Am I so righteous? Does the religious community of which I am a member follow it's own Rule and Constitutions? Am I faithful as a religious to daily Mass, mental prayer, devotion to Our Lady, and annual retreat as I am obligated by Canon Law? (c. 663)

Priests routinely deny to me the existence of the obligation they accepted at their diaconate ordination to offer the full course of the Liturgy of the Hours each day. (General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours, 29) Maybe some of the faithful have failed in their observance because we aren't praying for them as we have promised, and it is us who will be held accountable! I admit that sometimes I lose my edge by the end of the day and Night Prayer doesn't happen. Sometimes, because of grave negligence I hesitate even to confess, I forget to offer Evening Prayer on Sundays. So if the faithful lapse in the practice of the faith or fail to understand their own obligations, maybe it's because it is I who have failed them first!

Nevertheless, the spiritual task is the same. Useless anxiety, scrupulosity, and the indulgence of desires to correct those whom the Holy Spirit has not put into my care are all dead ends and blind alleys. What is useful is real fear of the Lord, the kind that lights you on fire with a desire for conversion.

August 25, 2009

Out for a Walk

If there isn't anything else going on, these summer evenings are a great opportunity for a walk around the parish territory. There is a lot of activity and humanity to observe and lift up in prayer. It's a little spiritual practice that I've invented, imagining as I do that I will held accountable on the day of judgment--to some degree--for the pastoral care of the people of our neighborhood. Here's some of what you can encounter in just an hour's walk around our parish:

Three other apostolic churches--one Orthodox and two other Catholic (Melkite and Ukrainian)--where you can stop and pray outside for a moment.

Two separate gangs of children being put through football drills.

A full teams basketball game.

People waiting for the bus.

A crowd of folks waiting for Chinese food.

Sketchy guys standing on corners, looking suspicious.

A very serious looking tennis match, with several spectators.

An old couple out for a stroll.

Guys acting tough outside of the fried chicken place.

Girl taking out the trash with opera-length black gloves on.

Tired looking men and women smoking outside of bars.

Folks gabbing outside the funeral home.

A friendly black cat, needing very much to be brushed and with an endless appetite for scratches on top of his head.

Four thuggish looking guys having an acrimonious card game.

Woe To Me

Words from Jesus like those in the gospel for today scare me:

Jesus said:
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites.
You pay tithes of mint and dill and cummin,
and have neglected the weightier things of the law:
judgment and mercy and fidelity.
But these you should have done, without neglecting the others.
Blind guides, who strain out the gnat and swallow the camel!

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites.
You cleanse the outside of cup and dish,
but inside they are full of plunder and self-indulgence.
Blind Pharisee, cleanse first the inside of the cup,
so that the outside also may be clean.” (Matthew 23: 23-36)

If I were to die later on this morning, it would not surprise me one bit to find myself at my particular judgment and hear similar words. 'Woe to you, Charles, you hypocrite. You are careful to observe rubrics and prepare marriage and baptism paperwork but have neglected the weightier things of the law: judgment, mercy, and fidelity. But these you should have done, without neglecting the cleanse the vessels in the sacristy and neatly set ribbons in breviaries but inside you are full of plunder and self-indulgence. Blind friar, cleanse and set up the inside first, so that the outside also may be clean.'

Maybe the problem isn't that I'm scared, but that I'm not scared enough. To achieve a salutary fear should be the goal, so that the Lord's words would literally scare the hell out of me.

August 24, 2009

First Day of Religious Life

Holding our new postulants in prayer as they moved in yesterday, I was reminded of the first day of my own religious life. It's funny how certain days are remembered so vividly. It was July 17, 1994. I remember because it was the last day of the World Cup, on which Brazil beat Italy on penalty shots. I had graduated from college less than two months before, and had been staying with my parents, praying, doing some painting, and watching the World Cup and the OJ trial. The Beastie Boys' Ill Communication had just come out, and its tracks still remind me of that blessed and liminal time.

When the day arrived I got up and went to Sunday Mass. I believe it was the 10 am Mass at St. Mary's in New Haven. When I got home, my parents drove me to the station, and I took the train to Grand Central Terminal. All I had was a little suitcase and a backpack--how little I went with! A couple of friars picked me out of the crowd at Grand Central, and as well they might have; I realize now how carefully I had dressed the part of new postulant: Tau cross, gray heather polo shirt, jeans, and sandals. We jumped in their van and drove up to the friary in the Bronx.

Arriving at the friary--I had been there once before--I met a couple of my classmates. Not everyone had arrived yet. I was shown to my room, which was right across from the middle stairwell on the third floor. There were a few things for me on the desk. I remember that there was a letter from the principal on the parish school, welcoming us and inviting us to visit and perhaps even minister there. There was also a folded cardboard box with "Roman-Franciscan Christian Prayer" printed on it--I knew right away that this would be my breviary. I didn't open it though, thinking it better to wait for instructions.

I don't remember if we had Evening Prayer that night. I do remember that we had a cook-out on the roof of the friary, and that the friar assigned to work the grill had brought a portable television up there in order to watch the big game of Italy vs. Brazil. He was very Italian, as I recall.

Later on, either emboldened or having received instructions, I set up my new Roman-Franciscan Christian Prayer. I had used breviaries before, including the Shorter Christian Prayer and the Commonwealth English Daily Prayer that I had bought when I was a student in Ireland, but I was fascinated by this new and particularly Franciscan edition. I remember setting a ribbon at the next proper feast in the Franciscan calendar, which was Lawrence of Brindisi.

I know that there is at least one other who was there that day who checks these posts from time to time. So please throw in other details and correct my fabrications!

August 23, 2009

Dirty Holy Water

One of the little chores that has accrued to me over a couple years of working as a parish priest is to change the holy water in the stoups in the church. You see, when it's humid most of the time, as it is in the summer here in the Hudson valley, the holy water gets dirty before it evaporates. Exposure and having everybody sticking their fingers in it takes its toll. It gets these earth-colored floaties that congregate around the bottom and show up very well in our lovely white marble stoups. So every couple weeks or so, the holy water has to be changed.

Here's the procedure:

1. Get dedicated holy water sponge and bucket.
2. Soak up dirty holy water with sponge and empty it into the bucket.
3. Wipe out stoups if they need it.
4. Use the dirty holy water to water a particularly blessed plant. Like many of the humble saints of this world, her identity is a secret.
5. Get dedicated holy watering can, and fill it.
6. Pray over the water, asking God's blessing on everyone who uses and prays with it devoutly, that it might be an effective recollection of their own baptism. Make the sign of the Cross over the water, and bless yourself with it.
7. Fill the stoups and empty the whatever remains into the holy water bucket in the back of church.

The byproduct of this little job is that whenever I go to another church, I now notice whether the holy water is clean or not. The other day I went for a visit to the Blessed Sacrament at another parish, and noticed that the holy water was pretty grungy. Walking home, I got to thinking about it. Dirty holy water is a pretty good metaphor for my own Christian life.

It does the job, more or less. You can still bless yourself with it, and if you don't really look, you might not even notice what a mess it is. Even though its dirtiness obscures the brilliant light of God that desires to show through it, this doesn't destroy the blessing God recalls to those who seek a way to pray. It's still an effective sign of Christ, just one that isn't as clear and pure as it could be with some diligent attention.

First Day of Postulancy

Today our new brothers enter the postulancy. Though it's the least meaningful of the various incorporations one goes through in entering religious life on the canonical level, in some ways it is the heaviest transition on the personal, existential level. It's the beginning, and the actual, physical entrance, the 'moving in' to the community.

So in your charity offer a prayer for the peace, discernment, and perseverance of our new brothers. At least one that I know of, Matt of Be Thou My Vision, can be expected to blog his experience.

August 22, 2009

Like the Great Phreaks of Yore

Here's one for the 'stranger than fiction' file:

Some months ago I had Verizon come and install their FiOs equipment in a building adjacent to the monastery, just so there could be a wireless internet connection through which a VPN tunnel could be made to connect the telephone network in both buildings. After a few headaches, it has all worked fine.

But the weird thing was, I never saw a bill for the FiOs service. I thought perhaps I had been removed from the triangulation and someone else was taking care of it. Besides, who complains about not getting a bill?

The other day I got a call from a nice lady in California. When I listened to her message, I thought it was a joke. But I checked the incoming call log, reverse searched the number, and found that it wasn't. She said, "Hello, Fr. Charles, my name is so-and-so from Sacred Heart Church in such-and-such a town, California. We have been getting your FiOs bills. I have not succeeded in convincing Verizon that you don't live here, so I'm sending them to you. I looked you up in the [Kenedy] directory, and see that you live in Yonkers, NY. Thanks for your attention to this matter, and God bless."

Telling this story around today, somebody said, "Maybe they think Sacred Heart Church is a chain, like Burger King."

(The title of the post is an homage to the Jargon File, which has been one of my favorite little lexical diversions ever since I first found it in college.)

The Hard Saying

Do we also want to go away, or will we accept what might be difficult to hear and begin anew to follow the Lord? Follow this link for my homily for this weekend.

August 21, 2009

1000 Posts

This is the thousandth post to a minor friar. Thanks to all the friends I have made through blogging, for your prayers, encouragement, and good example.

Roman Missal: Third Edition

Thanks to Paul for the alert that our bishops have launched a new section of their website dedicated to the anticipated English edition of the Missale Romanum, editio typica tertia.

Check it out here.

Latin Downloads

Over the past couple of years, I've taken time to type out a few things to assist with liturgical Latin. So today I thought of sharing them for the sake of priests, seminarians, or anyone else who might be interested or have a use for them!

Even though you probably offer Mass in the Ordinary Form according to a local translation, why not at least learn the prayers to be said voce submissa in Latin? Try my Novus Ordo altar card for Masses otherwise celebrated in translation, easily formatted to fit in two columns and printed on letter sized paper or card stock, and then folded in half.

Want to celebrate the Ordinary Form of Holy Mass in the ordinary language of the Roman Rite, but need to help folks learn the responses? Try my 2002 Missale Romanum Worship Aid. N.B. that is seems out of order, but it's meant to be formatted so that you can print it out as a folded half sheet booklet.

Are you learning to offer Mass in the Extraordinary Form but need even a little more help than traditional altar cards can give you? Try my TLM Low Mass Cheat Sheet, which is easily formatted to be printed as a slender half sheet that can fit discreetly on the altar until you have it all down. "+" indicates a Sign of the Cross, and "o" indicates a kiss.

Finally, learn the Vesting Prayers! Note that since the amice and maniple have fallen into widespread desuetude, these prayers are in parentheses.

More to come! Sharp readers who catch errors should let me know!

Womb and Tomb

Last night at about a quarter to one the fire alarm went off in the monastery. When I heard the fire trucks on the way, I got up and decided to go outside. Usually these alarms amount to nothing. But you never know, so I went out through the church just in case there was any real danger and the Blessed Sacrament needed to be rescued.

The church was particularly dark in the middle of the night, and the lights from the fire trucks flickered through the Capuchin saints that adorn the windows of the church doors. Not seeing any reason to be alarmed, I stopped for a moment in the completely darkened and empty space. There are deep spiritual senses of the church building or liturgical space that suggest themselves most strongly in the middle of the night when the lights are off.

A church is the dark tomb of our Lord, the place where he rests on the sabbath from the work of redemption before rising again to re-create the world on the first day. Like Mary Magdalene, we gather in vigil at this tomb, lamenting our own part in his death and then rejoicing in that moment when the Lord calls us by name and we suddenly recognize his Presence.

A church is also the darkness of Mary's womb, the secret and inner cavern where the Word of God will be spoken and conceived--with our consent--in human flesh. At Mass we consent, like Mary, to have the humanity of Christ conceived in our lives, and we become the Body of Christ we receive. As Mary gave birth to the Word made flesh in her son Jesus Christ, so we become the Body of Christ we receive in the Eucharist and are born into the world as his Presence when we are sent forth at the end of Mass. The church, as the womb of Mary, is the dark and secret place where the Word of God becomes flesh, and from which His saving presence is sent into the world.

August 20, 2009

Prayer and Poverty

I put a star next to this paragraph as I read Dumitru Staniloae's "Prayer and Freedom" on the bus today:

Prayer is the reverse of the will to dominate. That is why it guarantees the freedom of man; it affirms another Freedom, and that Freedom assures freedom to the one who prays. True prayer is prayer addressed to God; it is the encounter with Freedom itself, boundless Freedom which nothing can threaten and therefore presents no threat. The Freedom desires to affirm and uphold the freedom of every person who is content to be thus affirmed without affirming himself.

This is why evangelical minority--which is the heart of the Franciscan vocation--is first of all the plain honesty of the encounter with God in prayer. It is not first of all about money, or gadgets, or material security, but about surrendering oneself--the whole messy mixture of freedom for goodness and slavery to sin--to God in order to be relieved of the will to domination and coercion by which we insist on making ourselves and each other miserable, and which harden into the violence and social sins of our world.

Bernard on the Dangers of Celibacy

For his feast day today, here's one of my favorite challenging quotes from St. Bernard's On Conversion, a Sermon to Clerics (trans. Bernard Saïd, OSB) against all of us who put forth an external image of renunciation but are really willing victims of all manner of luxury within and without.
If only those who are incapable of remaining continent would fear to profess perfection rashly and to assume the title of would without doubt have been better to marry than to burn (1 Cor 7:9), to be saved in the humble ranks of the faithful than to live less worthily in the lofty ranks of the clergy and be more severely judged...They abstain from from the remedy afforded by marriage and give themselves up to all forms of vice.
This can be a hard thing to hear, because in the clergy and religious life you rejoice to encounter those for whom celibate chastity seems to have worked as advertised, leaving them more open, more completely giving of time and self, utterly non-exclusive with their attention and affection, etc. But for others it seems to have hardened them into their private eccentricity or provided a consequence-free setting for their affective disorderliness, sexual and otherwise.

So for celibates who are young in the spiritual order, it is critical to choose our spiritual mothers and fathers carefully!

August 19, 2009

In Defense of the Sea

In the American English Liturgy of the Hours one of two given hymns for Evening Prayer on Wednesday of Week IV is Robert Grant's "O Worship the king, all glorious above" for which William Croft's "Hanover" is suggested as the workout of a tune.

I've always kind of liked it, both as a text and a tune, but tonight I noticed a serious problem with the third verse:

This earth, with its store of wonders untold,
Almighty, thy power hath founded of old;
Hath 'stablished it fast by a changeless decree,
And round it has cast, like a mantle, the sea.

Now everybody knows that God did not put the sea around the earth, but instead called the land out of the sea, having already separated the waters into two with the dome of the sky. In other words, the sea was already there when God spoke the dry land out of it, and so it doesn't make any sense to suggest that the sea was "cast" around the land.

Anybody care to try to rewrite the verse to make it Biblically responsible, maintaining meter and the lovely double rhyme of the offending couplet?

Perpetual Profession

Today I am three years perpetually professed in the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin. There is another brother here in the friary who professed the same day. He must have remembered too, because we acknowledged one another in chapel this morning.

Here is the formula by which we make our religious profession:

For the praise and glory of the Most Holy Trinity.

I, Brother N., since the Lord has given me this grace
to follow more closely
the Gospel and the footprints of Our Lord Jesus Christ,
in the presence of my brothers here assembled,
and into your hands, Brother N.,
with a firm faith and will:
I vow to God the Father, holy and almighty,
to live for the entire time of my life
in obedience,
without anything of my own,
and in chastity.
At the same time,
I profess to observe faithfully
the life and Rule of the Friars Minor
confirmed by Pope Honorius,
and I promise to observe it faithfully
according to the Constitutions of the Order of Capuchin Friars Minor.

with all my heart I commit myself to this Fraternity,
so that, through the effective working of the Holy Spirit,
led by the example of Mary Immaculate,
the united intercession of our Father Francis with all the saints, and with you helping me in brotherhood,
I may strive for the fullness of love
in the service of God, the Church, and all people.

So I'm thinking this morning about how I've been doing. Have I become more free in my renunciation of ownership and acquisitiveness in favor of holy poverty? Have I embraced ever more fully the refusal to dominate, manipulate, or commodify other people in favor of evangelical chastity? Do I continue to renounce my own will and, as St. Bonaventure puts it so bitingly, the 'money bag of my own opinions' in favor of obedience for the Kingdom of God?

An honest person can only answer yes and no. Yes, by the grace of God, and no, because certain corners of my heart remain defended and chained up in selfishness, sin, and unfreedom. Vows are not magic and they don't make you a saint automatically. When you say this so plainly, it is obvious and reasonable, but it can actually be a hard thing to get into our dim and shallow minds.

I remember the day I was baptized, when--knowing it only obscurely then--I consented to set this whole thing in motion. I walked down to the little church on a Saturday afternoon, excited and grateful to begin this whole new journey in my life. I seriously thought, in my innocence, that things would be totally different, that I would suddenly leave all my sins and dissipations behind in favor of serving God in complete joy and freedom. It always makes me thing of that line from some Les Claypool song: "He remembered walking in/not knowing applesauce from sin."

Over the first few years of my life as a Catholic Christian, it was a hard lesson for me to learn that being in love with the idea of holiness was not the same thing as having the will to actually work toward it. Nevertheless, sanctity is the only thing really worth our efforts, and it is made out of a multitude of little ascetical acts which God--in his mercy--keeps secret and unglamorous.

August 18, 2009

Can I Keep My iPod?

In my arrogant opinion it seems that mainstream North American religious life is pretty assimilated to the values and lifestyle of the American middle class. Those of us who get angry about this often blame it on the renewal of religious life after the Council. My own experience has led me to doubt this suggestion; from what I have heard over the years I think this process was well underway soon after World War II.

It's curious to notice the ambiguities in one' s own relationship to this. (Of course this is my own very particular experience, but I'll bet it's not unique.) When you first begin to explore religious life and the idea of a vocation, there is this great moment of giddy relief as you discover that the real thing is not as severe and controlled as you were led to believe by the movies and from reading the lives of the saints. You discover that you will get your own room, and even sometimes your own bathroom. You will still be able to visit family, and keep in touch with friends. You can still listen to music, go to the movies, or watch TV. The presence of all of these things to which you were accustomed in the secular world softens the doubt and shock about making this allegedly radical choice to enter religious life. When you are discerning a limiting and largely misunderstood option in life and are dealing with a lot of doubt and fear, these little learnings that soften the blow make it seem easier at first.

Over the years, though, you start to resent it all, and start to wish that religious life was in fact more like what first attracted you in reading the lives of the saints.

August 17, 2009

The Convert Vertigo

At the end of the month will be my anniversaries of Baptism and first Holy Communion. It's been seventeen years. If you throw in my catechumenate and time as a serious 'seeker,' I've spent almost half of my time on earth preoccupied with how to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.

For the convert, God always retains a kind of adventitious character; He is a God who--at least from our limited perspective--seemed to arrive at a certain point, with a Voice that was quiet and obscure but nevertheless insistent and unrelenting.

Once in a while it occurs to me to try to imagine what my life might have been like had this whole thing not happened to me. As the years go by it gets harder and harder to guess. This is part of what I call the 'convert vertigo;' how our lives become increasingly impossible to narrate without first talking about grace. I suppose this is a process that approaches infinity as we prepare for our own death, when our own historical story is no more and there is only the eternity of God.

You notice it in how you tell the whole story to yourself and others. I know I have written about this before, but it's amazing and liberating how the 'conversion story' becomes less a story about yourself, of something you did, and more a story about how God delights to relate to His creation in which you are only a tiny illustration, and a somewhat dingy and distracting one at that. You start to realize, through a curious internal cocktail of fear, vertigo, gratitude, and liberation what Paul was talking about in Romans 6:3, that "we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death." In an increasingly real way, I know that this clever but bothered, smart but unmotivated kid named Charles was drowned to death in a little font in a sleepy suburban church seventeen summers ago.

Well, let him rest in peace. I always carried him as a burden anyway. Am I nostalgic for him? As long as I indulge feelings like that I impede grace and become less myself. That's the mystery of Christian death and life.

August 15, 2009

Lady Wisdom

Let us open the ears of our heart to hear the invitation of Wisdom. Let us sit and dine at her table that we might have Life. Follow this link for my homily for this weekend.

August 14, 2009

St. Maximilian

Two years ago today was one of the last days of our perpetual profession pilgrimage. We had just returned to Rome from San Giovanni Rotondo, and were given a free day before flying home. As it is today, it was the feast of St. Maximilian Kolbe. I decided to start my day by walking over to St. Peter's Basilica for Mass. When St. Peter's opens in the morning, all the various groups of pilgrims are deposited at various altars by the businesslike altar boys. So there's this wonderful period early in the morning, before the crowds of tourists show up, when Masses are being offered left and right in every language you can think of. Since it was the feast of St. Maximilian, I thought I would go to Mass in Polish. I knelt, saying my rosary by the door to the side sacristy, until I heard a group of Polish pilgrims emerge, and then followed them to their side altar and joined them for Mass.

This morning I'm just grateful for my Franciscan brother St. Maximilian, not only in his generous martyrdom, but also in his strenuous ministry of fostering devotion to Our Lady. It was an important moment in my own life as a Christian and a minister of Christianity, when I realized that the primary purpose of ministry is not social progress or individual psychological health, but the glory of God, from which the flourishing of both society and individuals flows.

August 12, 2009

Sacristy Surprise

A pound of new, extra-special incense arrived in the mail this morning, to replace the stale old stuff we have been using for about a week. A funeral Mass with the pastor presiding was just beginning, so I ran over to the sacristy and switched out the old for the new in the incense boat, just to give everybody a pleasant, fragrant surprise.

All I could think of was, "We've secretly replaced Father's usual incense with Folger's Crystals."

August 11, 2009

Thank You

It's a big deal for a Catholic blogger to have a post picked up by Fr. Z, so I want to say thank you.

Thank you, Fr. Z, for your ministry, for the cross-post and plug today, for everything I have learned from WDTPRS, for personal advice, and for the prayers and good example of the friends I have met through Z-chat.

Feast of St. Clare Blog Roundup

The blogosphere is alive with posts for the feast of St. Clare today. Here are some to check out:

View from the Choir has posted Clare's beautiful letter to Ermentrude of Bruges.

Portiuncula has a picture of Clare's mantle and the collect for the day.

A Capuchin Journey has a great quote from Clare's correspondence with Agnes of Prague.

Communio has a prayer, a quote, and some good links.

Be Thou my Vision has a reflection on Clare, humility, and trust.

And we shall not forget a whole blog dedicated to Clare's spirit and inspiration, Canticle of Chiara.

Prefaces of St. Clare

One of the treasures of the Franciscan liturgical calendar is having proper prefaces for Francis and Clare. Here is the preface for Clare's Mass in the 1962 Missale Romano-Seraphicum:

Per ómnia saécula saeculórum.
R. Amen.
V. Dóminus vobíscum.
R. Et cum spíritu tuo.
V. Surusm corda.
R. Habémus ad Dóminum.
V. Grátias agámus Dómino Deo nostro.
R. Dignum et iustum est.

Vere dignum et iustum est, aequum et salutáre,
nos tibi simper et ubíque grátias ágere:
Dómine, sancte Pater, omnípotens aetérne Deus:

Qui fámulam tuam Claram,
per beátum Francíscum,
studio vitae sublimióris incénsam,
ad sanctae Maríae Virginis
aram Fílio tuo mýstice desponsásti;
eámque, ad seráphicae perfectiónis culmen evéctam,
matrem plurimárum virginum delegísti.

Et ídeo cum Angelis et Archángelis, cum Thronis et
Dominatiónibus, cumque omni milítia caeléstis exércitus,
hymnum glóriae tuae cánimus, sine fine dicéntes:

And here is the version as it appears in the 1974 Roman-Franciscan Sacramentary:

V. The Lord be with you.
R. And also with you.
V. Lift up your hearts.
R. We lift them up to the Lord.
V. Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
R. It is right to give him thanks and praise.

Father all-powerful and ever-living God,
we do well always and everywhere to give you thanks.
You wondrously inflamed your servant Clare
to follow like Francis in the footsteps of your Son.

To him you espoused her mystically
through perpetual fidelity and love.
Raising her to the summit of seraphic perfection
through the highest poverty.
You made her the mother of countless virgins.

Through him the choirs of angels and all the powers of heaven
praise and worship your glory. May our voices blend with theirs
as we join in their unending hymn of praise:

The progression is interesting. In the newer preface, the Marian element is eliminated, but some specifically Franciscan vocabulary is added, such as "highest poverty" and the idea of following in the "footsteps" of Christ. Amen. Pray for us, holy mother Clare.

August 10, 2009

Sponsored Links

If you write a long email about the devil, the demons, and the practice and rite of exorcism and then look at the 'sponsored links' sidebar that Gmail generated from your message, you can almost despair at the confused and ignorant spiritual condition of the internet.

(No offense to you Gmail. You're the best, especially the way you fetch, archive, search, and make labels.)

Knowing the Audience

This morning I offered a funeral Mass. There was no wake in advance of today, so I didn't have the opportunity to meet the family, though I did speak with the daughter of the deceased and a deacon, a family friend, who assisted at the Mass.

It was only after the Mass, in the sacristy, that the deacon informed me that some of the folks in the front pew were Jewish. The gospel they had chosen was the raising of Lazarus and I would have preached somewhat differently had I known; perhaps to preach on Martha's faith in the resurrection on the "last day," the Resurrection of the Lord and the recapitulation of Joshua's leadership, the inbreaking of the final destiny of the world in the temple-less New Jerusalem, etc. (They had also chosen this part of Revelation as the second reading.)

Not knowing any of this, I preached up the baptism and eucharistic angle, of being united to Christ in his passing over from death to new life. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but I would have done something different had I known. Oh well.

August 9, 2009

Images and Titles of Mary

In the sacristy this morning the pastor and I got into a conversation about different titles and images of Our Lady, and how different religious orders and congregations seem to have one that is particular to them.

For example,

We Franciscans are especially fond of Our Lady Queen of Angels, as the mother church of our Order was dedicated to Mary under this title. The Immaculate Conception is also dear to us, for other reasons.

Carmelites have Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, of course.

Redemptorists have Our Lady of Perpetual Help.

Dominicans have Our Lady of the Rosary, we supposed.

The ones we couldn't figure out were the Benedictine family of Orders, and the Jesuits. Anybody have an answer?

August 7, 2009

Get Up and Eat

The Eucharist is the very life of God making a home in our lives. Strengthened by the bread from heaven, may we walk together toward the Kingdom of God. Click here for my homily for this weekend.

Office for the Dead

I have been praying the Liturgy of the Hours, in some form, in whole or in part, for about sixteen years. Nevertheless, there are still things I haven't figured out.

One of these is the Office for the Dead. When does it get used? As the proper for All Souls Day, of course, but at what other liturgical times?

I don't find anything about this in the General Instruction. Is the Office for the Dead an option that can replace the offices otherwise assigned or optioned for a particular day? What sort of days would impede this option? Sundays and solemnities of precept for sure, but what about solemnities without precept or feasts? (I.e. does it work like the options for Mass?) Is the Office for the Dead meant to be said in addition to the Office of the day?

I have developed the habit of using the Office for the Dead for those liturgical hours that occur within the stations of the the funeral liturgy (e.g. Blessing of the Body, Vigil Service, Mass, Committal) for one of our friars, unless it's a Sunday, solemnity, or feast.

This seems fitting to me, but I don't know for sure.

August 6, 2009

Passing Over

I was fortunate yesterday to hear of Fr. Jack's passing almost right away, and so had the opportunity to visit with him and pray before a lot of people showed up. Kneeling by his bed, I offered what remained of yesterday's rosary for his eternal rest.

In the course of praying I noticed his rosary and breviary placed neatly on the nightstand. Apart from our clothes, breviaries are the only thing the Rule allows us to have for our own. For a friar--especially a friar who is a cleric--one' s breviary is a permanent daily companion.

But now this particular breviary sat, useless as could be because the praying Christian to which it pertained had passed in prayer from the foretaste to the feast, from the corruptible world to the eternal. There were the ribbons protruding from the book, marking the moment in liturgical time when this transition had begun, the final exercise of the faint liturgy of earth before the glorious liturgy of the heavenly court replaced it in the individual pilgrimage of our brother.

Requiescat in pace.

August 5, 2009

Letting God Move In

One of the greatest privileges and beauties of my life as a parish priest is that I am a witness to some very intense spiritual lives.

Often their experience is very wrenching; it brings them God's joy and peace, but it also imposes on them some of the sorrow and pain of the Lord's Passion. Usually it is the former that is seen outwardly, while God (in his mercy, to protect us from vainglory) keeps the "pain of heart" and spiritual anguish secret. When I encounter people who seem to be going through this double experience, I can't help but think of St. Francis and the stigmata. Brother Thomas of Celano, Francis's first biographer, describes Francis's internal state as he is about to be imprinted with the Passion: ...tristis et laetus, et gaudium atque moeror suas in ipso alternabant vices. (First Life, 94) "Sad and joyful, with both joy and sorrow alternating by turns in himself."

When the Holy Spirit finds a soul willing to work, he puts it to work for as long as it can consent. But why does God put souls through this 'emotional rollercoaster'? For me I think it has something to do with the grace of Christmas.

When it came time for the Word of God to be born in the creation that the Father had spoken through him, "There was no room for them in the inn" as St. Luke tells us. That's the trouble with the "world" in the spiritually negative sense. There isn't an obvious and given place for God to dwell. From the sin of our first parents down to the sins, injustice, culture of death, and philosophical and practical atheisms of our own day, God has been excluded from his creation. When God wills to be incarnate among us, there is no room for him to be born, and he dies outside society, both literally and spiritually. "The Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head."

This is why the spiritual life can be such a wrenching, perilous journey. God is looking for homes in this world, for He delights to live among us. When God finds hearts and minds that are willing to be a home for him in this world He sets about cleaning, purifying, and hollowing them out for his own. This is not an easy process on the emotional level, as we are called to let go of more and more of our external selves, parts of our self-conscious being we mistakenly thought were our real selves.

It's rough, but it's our joy. As it was with St. Francis as he became in his body a home for our Lord's Passion, it is our joy and our sadness, our peace and our pain of heart.

August 4, 2009


I've always been a talker. In my early years of religious life, however, I found my talkativeness dissipating, so since then I have consciously trained myself to speak less.

I think that most people talk too much. On the other hand, we don't spend enough time reflecting on the meaning and power of speech.

In these first couple years of my priesthood I have had a lot of opportunity to reflect on speech. Words are powerful. I pronounce the Eucharistic Prayer each day, and that act combined with my intention and the ordination the Church has given me, renews and commemorates on the altar the sacrifice of the Cross and the sublime self-giving of Christ. Whether I speak the words of absolution as a confessor or receive them as a penitent, the power and depth of that moment of speech is stunning.

As a confessor, however, I have also come to a new appreciation of the destructive power of speech. Indeed, I am convinced that much of everyday sin and some of the most serious sins of ordinary people are those committed through speech. Detraction and calumny, gossip, simulation and dissimulation, and lying to ourselves and others are all examples of the ways we hurt each other. They are embedded in the cultures of workplaces and religious communities. I have been surprised (and scandalized) as a confessor to find that a lot of people don't have a very well formed conscience in this area and often lack the moral vocabulary to examine their consciences about it. For example, many don't seem to know the difference between gossip and detraction, or between detraction and calumny. (I don't find every form of speech that we might call 'gossip' to be sinful, by the way.)

In the confessional, one of the passages of Scripture I find myself quoting most frequently is James 3:5, "...the tongue is a small member but has great pretensions."

Speech is one aspect of our creation in the image and likeness of God. This is why it is so powerful. We must remember that it was through speech that God created the universe: 'God said...and so it happened.' The core of our Trinitarian faith is the confession that from all eternity the Father speaks the Word who is the perfect image of himself. "God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God." This is the Word that appears in Genesis as the creating power, and the Word become flesh in Jesus Christ. As those creatures made in God's 'image and likeness' we share in this power, this speech which is that the heart of both creation and redemption. That's why our words are so powerful. Human speech is close to the intense creative power of God and so has infinite potential for good in our relationships. On the other hand, when it turns wrong, it has a terrible destructive power. (Here we should note that this is much like our sexuality, through which we also experience the blessing of sharing in divine creativity but also the danger of terrible hurt.) Let us imitate the God who, from all eternity, speaks only the creative and reconciling Word.

August 3, 2009

Morning Meditation

This morning I was walking by and saw our housekeeper standing the middle of the pantry saying to herself, "Now, why did I come in here?"

We've all done it, for sure. But it makes a good and brief particular examination for a religious in the midst of the busy day. I stop just for a second to remind myself why I chose this life, why I "came in here."

Ruthless and Selfish

These two words might seem out of place in a discussion of the spiritual life, but over the years I have come to appreciate a certain sort of selfishness and a certain practice of ruthlessness in the Christian life.

A spiritual director once told me that the spiritual life demands a particular selfishness; we have to make the sanctity to which God calls us as individuals an absolute priority. It's like when people in recovery say, 'nothing comes before my sobriety.' We have to say that nothing comes before our prayer, devotion, and daily right effort to follow in the footsteps of Christ. This doesn't mean that we ignore the requests and demands of people we love, people to whom we are committed by circumstance or state of life, or even strangers. But it does we mean that we discern these relationships carefully and ask ourselves if the time and energy we give to others are demanded by charity and justice, or if what goes into the relationship is a distraction. This can be very difficult, as most relationships mix both; in some ways they give glory to God and lift us up, and in other ways we conspire with each other to commit the distractions and dissipations of gossip, detraction, and the enabling of destructive behavior and sin. When someone gets selfish about sanctity, his refusal to participate in these comfortable sins of ordinary human interaction will earn him accusations of being conceited or proud. This can be a terrible loneliness and a difficult cross to bear and though I have not yet made a beginning of this myself, I pray for the grace of accept this burden with joy. "Blessed are you when they insult you and and persecute you and uttery every kind of evil against you because of me." (Matthew 5:11)

the spiritual life also demands ruthlessness with self. Patterns and habits of thought and action and ways of relating must be subjected to intense scrutiny. From our ways of praying all the way down to the manner in which we do the plainest activities of daily living, all must be examined to see if they give glory to God or distract us from our vocation to holiness. This can be very difficult, and when someone consents to be converted to God he usually has no idea what he is getting into. When the Holy Spirit finds a soul willing to work, the work will arrive. God is a jealous lover, and wants the whole person--the "whole person" being more than we even know of ourselves in the consciousness we have in this life. When a soul is asked to let go of habits and to adjust the patterns of external life it seems like the hardest ascesis there could be. But this is nothing compared to the work of the Holy Spirit in converting our maladaptive habits of heart and mind. It is one thing to let go of things and activities that we thought we loved, but it's quite another to begin to let of internal habits and dispositions, things we thought were our very self. But who we really are is hidden in God. We must be ruthless in this process and ready to let go of everything that keeps us from utter freedom in our response to God's gracious invitation to joy and sanctity. "If your right hand causes you sin, cut it off and throw it away." (Matthew 5:30)

August 2, 2009

Spirituality and Climate Control

My first experience of religious life was in a Benedictine community in Kentucky. I worked and lived there as a volunteer during the summer before my senior year of college. The monastery was a collection of several buildings. The only air-conditioned space was the chapel building.

Where I live now it is the opposite: everywhere is cooled except for the chapel and church.

Whether it's summer in rural Kentucky or the humid Hudson valley, where the cooler air can be found makes a difference for spiritual practice and prayer.

New Blog?

The previous post is the latest example of an interesting phenomenon on this blog. Whenever it I write a post on Confession, it seems to generate a lot of discussion and attracts more comments than any other topic. Perhaps I should start a blog dedicated to Confession or to the experience of being penitent or confessor!