October 31, 2009


The great observances of All Saints and All Souls which we begin to celebrate tonight are a perfect opportunity for us to recall, reflect upon, and give thanks for the catholicity of the Church, which includes both Heaven and earth. Follow this link for my homily for this weekend.

Happy Halloween

This wonderfully complicated day cannot pass without some tribute to the greatest of Rock and Roll's guilty pleasures, the Misfits, and their eponymous song. Here it is (sort of) in German:

October 30, 2009


Imagine my delight when I was setting up for a wedding today and came across this box hidden away in our sacristy:

What could be in it to help me understand such a historic and exciting time?

A hard hat, a piece of slate, some crumpled notes, and a bunch of rubber bands.

October 29, 2009

Advice to a Young Vocation

I had an email recently from a young man discerning a vocation to the religious life and the priesthood, asking for some advice. So I wrote something and sent it to him. I thought I would share it here:

First of all, pray in thanksgiving for your vocation, which is precious, no matter where it leads in the future. Expect opposition from friends and enemies alike and even from family. This is nothing out of the ordinary.

Be sure to have a good spiritual director, especially one who is mature enough in the Lord to be indifferent to your discernment process. If your director is a priest or religious, ignore his advice to join the diocese or community that he is a member of himself. (Not that you can't do this; you only have to discount biased advice to do it.) At best you need someone who is removed enough to help you discern impartially.

Go to college and finish before entering. Developmentally and spiritually, I think it just makes sense in our culture. Plus, if you decide on religious life and are called to study for the priesthood, having already done your undergraduate study removes cumbersome extra steps that a lot of guys have to deal with. So, go to college and study philosophy, as a minor at the very least.

Take your time. Communities everywhere are looking for applicants. It's a sellers' market. You are young, devout, and bright--every vocation director's dream. So when you meet them many will be trying to sign you up right away. Don't let them rush you. Seven or eight years from now you would still be a young candidate by current standards. Many vocation directors are looking for numbers, but the question for you is not which vocation director calls or pays the most attention to you, but where God wants you to be. There's a reason why vocation director is one of the ministries from which religious most often leave.

In that same spirit, visit different communities. This isn't a consumerist, 'shopper' attitude, but the accumulation of food for discernment. Always look at what the particular group or province does for their ministry--this is a realistic view of what you might be doing. Pay attention to your heart on visits, especially to what attracts and gives spiritual delight to your heart. On the other hand, If you are ever scandalized or confused by what you see, don't second guess yourself about it. Both of these are the Spirit working on you.

Look for a group that has others interested as well, and with whom you feel like you have something spiritually in common. If there are no other candidates or aspirants, walk away. There is probably a reason. If all of the other candidates or potential applicants seem like fanatics, lunatics, unorthodox Catholics, or deviants, walk away. Again, there is a reason.

Be ready for an adventure, both inside and out. I can't stress that enough.

From My Confessor

Some strong and encouraging words on prayer from my confessor today:

Notice how you form your confession, because it displays exactly the insight you need to keep in mind: You begin your confession with the irregularities and missings of the mark you have committed in your prayer life. Lack of vigilance and failure in right effort in this area is the source of all of the other sins and voluntary faults you have confessed today.

Our morning meditation is vitally important. It is our daily contact with the Mystery Itself. Without it we will not have the strength we need to face the work and difficulties of the day. On the positive side, it is from our morning meditation that we have the contact with God that enables us to notice, name, and celebrate the grace that is working in the lives of the people we serve. Without that, we are sacramental bureaucrats at best, and this is a recipe for our own misery and the discouragement of the faithful.

The same goes for the Office. It is called the Hours because its prayers--along with our Mass and meditation--are supposed to frame our days, to structure everything else around our habitual contact with God. In the busy life of ministry it is all too easy to begin to recite our breviary as an extra obligation appended to all the things we 'have to do' in the course of a day. It becomes one more chore. When this happens we will find that our devotion fades and we start to rationalize our prayer away. We begin to say that the daytime hour or night prayer don't bind under serious sin or grave obligation, so we begin to forget about them. But this kind of desensitization to the obligations of our state is very dangerous and you must strive to avoid the beginnings of its patterns in your thoughts. We all know the scandal and tragedy of priests who seem to have built up an internal insensitivity to the obligations of the clerical state.

So be about your prayer!

Penance: the old ten and ten.

Father's counsel reminded me of one of my favorite quotes from John of the Cross:

Por ninguna ocupación dejar la oración mental, que es sustento del alma. (Grados de Perfección, 5)

"Don't give up your mental prayer for any other activity, for it is the sustenance of the soul."

Rant Follow Up

After writing yesterday's rant I went to offer Mass for some of our high school freshmen on their day of retreat. Returning to the parish office, I took care of a couple of random things before the late afternoon quiet set in. I had a wedding rehearsal to do at five o'clock--the visiting priest who was supposed do it having sketched out--and went into the church early to do a couple of things before the happy couple and their wedding party started to show up. I had plenty of time to do what I needed to do: pray None, empty the candle and poor boxes, switch out the holy water in the stoups, and finally pray Vespers, as the wedding rehearsal would take me away from Evening Prayer in common.

When I had finished all of that, I still had about fifteen minutes before the rehearsal was supposed to show up. The church was wonderfully dark because of the rainy day outside. I knelt down in the front pew of the church before the Lord's sanctuary--the same spot where I sat as a newly professed friar and where my parents stood as I was ordained priest on the sanctuary steps. As I looked up at the tabernacle, the crucifix, the great Cor Iesu Sacratissimum Miserere Nobis and Amoris Victima that speak insistently from the sanctuary, the message of the crucifix of San Damiano to St. Francis came to me:

"Francis, go and repair my house, which you see is being totally destroyed."

As the gift of my quiet time and prayer in church it came upon me insistently. If I discern and become aware that the Catholic faith is falling apart, its most basic teachings and tradition evaporating from the hearts of the baptized--well, here is my chance to become a son of St. Francis, to be the friar I have desired to be since I first met Francis in History 232 all the way back in college.

So, ranting has its place, so long as it helps to shock the ranter and audience into a discernment of what can be done. My prayer forces the question upon me: what am I doing, in my example, my stewardship of the sacred mysteries, and my preaching to rebuild the Church in the neighborhood that the Holy Spirit has put into my vicarious care?

October 28, 2009

Wherein H1N1 Reveals and I Rant

I'll develop this post more later, but I have to go preach to kids in a few minutes. I don't want to risk taking anything out on them, so I just have to get something posted now because I'm so upset.

I've had several conversations with folks lately regarding their concerns about Holy Communion and the H1N1 virus. The conversation starts like this:

"Father, I have concerns about the flu. When are we going to stop giving out the wine?"

To which I immediately respond, "We don't give out wine."

"But Father...the wine is given out at every Mass!"

Then I go for it: "Perhaps you mean to say that we minister the Precious Blood at each Mass?"

Having pointed out the telling error, I usually get a response like, "Ok, you know what you mean," or even a "whatever" from otherwise observant Catholics!

No, I don't think I know what you mean. No, not whatever! Do we really believe that this is not wine but the Precious Blood of Christ poured out from the Cross in the ratification of the New and Eternal Covenant?

Stop wondering why people don't come to church. Here's your answer. Catholics have ceased to believe in the Real Presence. I wouldn't bother either. Even more disturbing, most of the people with whom I have had this conversation have been older Catholics who were taught better. Who has untaught them the doctrine of the faith? Who?

And woe to us friars too! This is why we forsake our own chapel where we might pray in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament and with images of the Capuchin saints on the windows to recite our office around a fake fireplace. It is an intense privilege to live under the same roof as the Blessed Sacrament! People go out of their way to pray in the Presence! But for us it is 'too far away' even though it's the same building!

Who has untaught us the faith?

< /rant >

Extra credit to someone who caught the Merton quote.

Praecinge me, Domine

When I took the psychological tests as part of my application to the Capuchin Franciscan Order, the doctor, a religious himself, told me that I had a "feature" of obsessive compulsive disorder.

"What's a 'feature'?," I asked.

"It's the lowest level of diagnosable pathology," he responded. "Don't worry; it's actually an asset in religious life."

Later today I am to offer Mass for a high school student retreat. Have alb, cincture, stole, and chasuble, will travel:

UPDATE: Happy now, CUA?

October 27, 2009

Best. Canonical Argument. Ever.

Over on WDTPRS, there is a fun canonical argument over the jurisdiction of the moon. Check it out here. Apparently, the Holy See has claimed that the moon, should there ever be anybody there, will be part of the diocese of Rome. This is against the alleged rights of the bishop of Orlando, who also has some claim, given that people who have gone to the moon have left from there.

My question is, should the moon ever be elevated to be its own diocese, what will it be called? Here I need help from some of you ecclesiastical Latinists. Would it be the dioecesis Lunensis? Didn't there used to be a Roman city called Luna that would have already had that title? Maybe dioecesis Lunae, or just dioecesis Luna? I'm not sure on this one.

Why Did You Miss Mass?

I make a conscious effort only to ask questions of penitents when it is really necessary, but this is one I ask a lot. I do it because missing Sunday Mass is a frequently confessed sin, but it is also one in which culpability is very often reduced by circumstances such as advanced age, infirmity, child care, etc.

It's a sin that I have pretty much avoided altogether in my own Catholic life, but whenever I ask someone why they missed Mass I feel a little bit of amused gratitude inside as I remember the one time a confessor asked it of me, and the whole confession ended up with the priest laughing out loud.

It all started in Assisi. In the spring of 1993 I was alleged to be studying philosophy at University College Galway, on the west coast of Ireland. We had a whole month off for Easter, so I and this other kid decided to wander around on the continent. We had no plan and no set itinerary. To this day I can only piece together where we were by liturgical time, since we always went to Mass on Sundays. I know that on the fifth Sunday of Lent we were in Paris. It's a miracle of Providence that we were able to get to Mass on time in Paris, as it was only from a chance comment from a guy with whom we were playing hacky sack on the grass in front of Les Invalides that we knew daylight savings time had started. A week later, on Passion Sunday, we were in Prague. I'll never forget it. Listening to St. Matthew's Passion read in Czech by one priest all by himself was pretty tiring. By the time of the Triduum we were in Verona; I remember going to the Vigil there and sharing my hand missal with a tall American girl. Catholic player I was, in those days. By the second Sunday of Easter, having split up with my traveling companion, I was alone in Assisi. It was there that I ran out of money.

Assisi was to be the last stop anyway. School had already started again back in Ireland, and it was time to think about getting home. Now there was a lot of random religious stuff I wanted to pick up in Assisi, so I counted out what money I had left to make sure I would have enough for the return trip and for my lodging bill at the pilgrim's house where I was staying. I calculated--or so I thought--how much I had left for religious articles, books, etc., and went out shopping. Unfortunately, I must have counted wrong, and found that after I had settled up with sister guest mistress, I was broke. All I had was my European train pass and a few Italian coins. I spent the last little bit on some fruit, and started to make my way back to Galway.

I remember that the train from Assisi to Florence left at 12:16. It was a Friday afternoon. So there I was, sitting with my backpack in the plaza of Santa Maria degli Angeli waiting around for midday. A gypsy woman came up to me and asked for money. What a joy it was to honestly say that I didn't have any! She said something in indignation and then went behind the bushes and urinated loudly. I have always wondered if this was supposed to be insulting to me. Then she came back. For reasons I have never been able to guess, she gave me a holy card of Our Lady of the Angels. I've kept it in my wallet ever since. It's been through the wash a few times, but has held up.

So on Friday afternoon at 12:16, I began my destitute journey from Assisi to Galway. Later that afternoon I changed trains in Florence and was on my way to Milan. I spent Friday night on the overnight train from Milan to Paris. Arriving in Paris on Saturday morning, I faced a crisis. You see, in Paris there are a bunch of train stations, and the one at which I arrived was not the one where I could catch the train I needed to get to Cherbourg, where there was a boat back to Ireland. And I had no money, as has been said. Luckily, in the course of our travels, when we had left one country for another, we tended to exchange our paper money but just throw the coins into our bags for souvenirs. So there I was on an otherwise lovely Saturday morning, unpacking my backpack full of foul socks and eccentric religious paraphernalia in a French train station, looking for a few old francs that I could use for enough subway fare to get me to Gare du Nord. The coins turned up, and I was on my way.

By Saturday night, I was in Cherbourg getting on the boat. (My train pass was good for the boat, too) On the overnight trip I met a bunch of Germans who were reciting lines from This is Spinal Tap. We made friends right away, of course. I was ashamed to ask them for something to eat, however. On Sunday morning we arrived in Rosslare, where I boarded a bus headed across the country. It stopped at every little place you ever heard of, and many you haven't.

Finally, at about 9 pm on Sunday night I arrived at Eyre Square in Galway, having been traveling without a break for two and a half days and without anything to eat. The problem: it was Sunday and I had not been to Mass. I knew that I had plenty of time to make the regular 10 pm Mass at the University, but instead I went to the ATM and got a pizza on the way home. My Irish roommates started screaming when I walked in; since I had missed a week of school, they had presumed my death, they said.

So, having chosen the pizza over my Sunday obligation, I went to Galway Cathedral first thing Monday morning for confession. I confessed to the priest that I had missed Mass the day before. "Why?," he asked. So I started to explain, "Well, on Friday I was in Assisi..." Now the Irish are a storytelling culture, and the priest was clearly enjoying the tale I had to tell. By the time I came to the end, he was laughing out loud. He told me that I had probably made the right decision, but nevertheless gave me absolution for the other sins, irregularities, and missings of the mark I had committed in the course of my travels.

October 26, 2009

Search Terms

It's really not time for a new 'search terms' post, but two of the recent Google searches that have brought visitors to this blog having been amusing me for days:

spiritual director + creepy
. Examples abound, I assure you!

names for brides. Usually they come already bundled with a name, but you never know.

October 25, 2009

Overheard in the Refectory

One of the great things about living somewhere like New York is that you can get matzo ball soup in a house of Catholic religious.

"have some matzo ball soup, brother. It's from the Jews, just like salvation."

(cf. John 4:22)

October 24, 2009

Madisons and Isabellas

Continuing my anecdotal observations on baby names through the ministry of infant baptism, I notice that as of this weekend, an entire third of baby girls who have prepared for their baptism through me have been named either Madison or Isabella.

Blind Bartimaeus

Unfortunately, I don't have a real homily to post this morning. It's the pastor's weekend to give the financial report at the end of the Masses, so I'm only called upon for the brevis homilia. Looking into my files I notice that the last time old Bartimaeus came around, when I was just beginning my diaconate, I must have had the weekend off from preaching as well. God only knows if I will still be walking the earth or where I will find myself on the thirtieth Sunday per annum in 2012, but maybe then I'll finally have the chance to preach on this beautiful gospel.

St. Mark's presentation of blind Bartimaeus is full of wonderful ironies. Of course there is the classic irony of the blind person being the one who can actually see; after several episodes in which the disciples address Jesus with incomplete titles--e.g. master, teacher, rabbi--this blind beggar finally calls upon Jesus with all of his saving and royal dignity: "Son of David, have mercy on me!"

In their arrogance and presumption, James and John approached Jesus and told him, "We want you do for us whatever we ask of you." Now Jesus addresses Bartimaeus in the same way: "What do you want me to do for you?" An authentic encounter with Jesus, i.e. prayer, always becomes an encounter with the desires of the heart. If our desires are distorted we can expect, like James and John, to receive a jarring challenge in response. If our heart is in the right place we can also expect to hear the words Jesus gives back to Bartimaeus: "Go your way: your faith has made you well."

The end of the healing experience matter as well. Right away the newly sighted Bartimaeus follows Jesus "on the way." Here we see the difference between Christianity and the spirituality of the world. A worldly spirituality offers healing so that we might enjoy ourselves. The end of being healed in Christ is discipleship; we are restored in Christ so that we might follow him on his Way.

October 23, 2009

Considering My Next Conversion

I'm contemplating my next conversion: becoming a hockey fan. Not that I'm especially attracted to the game, but I've noticed over the years that hockey fandom seems to produce a remarkable amount of fun and catchy old-school punk rock. Who knew? If stuff like this is the soundtrack, it must be the right thing.

These guys are actually the great Nomeansno in disguise:

Then from Canada to Philadephia:

Finally, going back to some of the deep roots of punk rock, my brother Connecticutians, The Zambonis:

From My Confessor

Some strong words from my confessor on the topic of interior vigilance:

We priests or religious must be very careful of resentment. If we allow it a place in our heart and our thoughts, or--God forbid--nourish it there, we will soon find it emerging in uncharity of speech and our attention will rejoice in those opportunities to be dragged into gossip, detraction, or worse. We must always remember that we chose this life. Yes, we were called by God and our call was confirmed by the Church, but in the end it is we ourselves who consented to accepting this life. We asked for the crosses that come with this life, and so when we are faced with the temptation to see ourselves as victims of the particular sadnesses, anxieities, and interior poverties of our vocation, we must resist these dangerous self-pities with all of the zeal and strength we can. If we do not actively resist these tempations, we will find our resentment and self-pity reemerging from ourselves first as stupid and distracting sensualities, second as impatience and uncharity in speech and ministry, and finally as the toxic boredom that afflicts too many of us already.

Penance: the old 'ten and ten.'

October 22, 2009

Very Random Post on this Anglican Business

I won't pretend that I have anything new to say or add to this business with the Anglicans or Benedict's upcoming apostolic constitution that is supposed to unify procedures for their entrance into the Catholic Church. To be honest, what it makes me think of the most is how I wonder when and if there will ever be a new season of "The Tudors," and wasn't it a shame when the mean old king had Natalie Dormer's pretty head cut off, and when is Jonathan Rhys Meyers going to get all fat or at least wear a fat suit and wouldn't that be entertaining.

The whole business reminds of the day Roger Clemens was traded to the Yankess, which according to to baseball-reference.com was February 18, 1999. On that one of my college friends, just then finishing his doctorate, was returning to Connecticut College to give a lecture. So on my way to New London I stopped at one of my West Haven neighborhood's several seedy liquor stores to get him a present to mark the occasion. It was at the liquor store that I heard of the trade. An elaborate conversation was occurring on what it might mean and for whom. My next stop was the philosophy department at Connecticut College, where I found all of my old professors standing around having precisely the same conversation, and without any elevation in the level of the discourse, mind you. In the same way, wherever I have gone for the last couple of days, this Anglican business has been the topic of conversation.

There is a large Episcopalian church in downtown Yonkers. It's right on the route from my favorite off-site spot to go to confession to my favorite taco stand. So today as I was making that walk, I stopped in to say a prayer. It's a beautiful church in classic Episcopalian stone. The windows are imposing and beautiful. In one of them St. Paul looks over your head sternly as he grasps the sword with which he will be martyred. The kneelers and the side chapels are intact. Would that we could say that for some of our churches! The altar in the sanctuary looks like it has been pulled out for prayer versus populum, but not so far as to make ad orientem impossible. It would still look right to do it. But I don't know anything about the Anglican/Episcopalian history on this question.

Appreciating the place, I sat down and offered a prayer of thanksgiving for Benedict XVI, the Pope of Christian Unity, and in thanksgiving for all--on whatever side of whatever issue--who will find some peace through his efforts.

October 21, 2009

RIP: Crystal the Cat

The other day Crystal the cat passed from this life after almost twenty years of keeping one of our Manhattan friaries free of rats. It was a much needed ministry, believe me.

I spent a summer at the friary when I was doing my Clinical Pastoral Education. When I moved in I knew that there was a cat, but I didn't know her name. A friar from Honduras was staying in the room next to mine. Going back and forth getting my stuff, I heard him playing with the cat in the room, but I didn't know what I was hearing. All I could hear was this friar yelling something like, "Cristo! Cristo! Cristo!" I thought that maybe he was praying! It was going to be a long summer, I thought to myself.

Run Away!

"As soon as we saw a priest, if we could, we ran away. Every time we found ourselves before a priest, we prepared ourselves to offer to God one of our biggest sacrifices."

--Servant of God Lúcia Santos, in The True Story of Fatima.

October 20, 2009

The Scopos of the Monk

One of our many kind parishioners passes her issues of First Things on to me after she reads them. Thanks to her I can watch the ALCS while I read beautiful things like this letter of Thomas Merton to a sixth grader who wrote to ask him about monastic life:

Monks are people who seek to devote all their time to knowing God better and loving Him more. For that reason they leave the cities and go out into lonely places where it is quiet and they can think. As they go on in life they want to find lonelier and lonelier places so they can think even more. In the end people think these monks are really crazy going off by themselves and of course sometimes they are...

...I suggest that you sometimes be quiet and think about how good a thing it is that you are loved by God who is infinite and who wants you to be supremely happy and who in fact is going to make you supremely happy. Isn't that something? It is, my dear, and let us keep praying that it will work out like that for everybody. Good bye now.


The ministry of parish priest has held a lot of surprises for me, some pleasant, others not. One of the most notable as time goes by is that for the first time in my life I find myself relationally embedded in a local community of ordinary life. Relationships that used to be mere transactions now point to other human relationships and spiritual connections.

Here's my mechanic fixing my car. I offered the funeral Mass for his father. Here's the pizza guy. I witnessed his marriage to the local dog groomer. Here's the beat cop. I prayed with her when we had to bury her murdered little brother. Here's the beer distributor guy. He knows I'm a "monk" and so he's always trying--in vain--to sell me a case of Chimay Bleue. He doesn't believe me when I tell him I've been to the monastery where they make it, but it's true.

On the morning I was ordained priest my formation director advised me, "Think on the Communion of Saints; that's the only way this makes sense." That advice was a help to me that day and ever since. True, we keep our communion with the Church Triumphant in mind in all we do, but there is also a communion of saints in the neighborhood.

Mindfulness Training

There's an article worth reading in the science page of the New York Times this morning, describing how mindfulness training helped some doctors reduce stress and avoid burning out.

Mindfulness is a virtue for our age. Surrounded as we are by a constant flow of messages and information, speech, images, and noise, it's very easy to also become chaotic and stressed within. In my work I encounter many people who live at the mercy of their thoughts and feelings, batted around emotionally and spiritually, believing--quite erroneously--that this is 'who they are.'

One of the gifts of mindfulness (or of any solid spiritual practice) is to help us to discern our thoughts and feelings as they arise. This way we can keep the ones that are good, healthy, and accurate to our experience, and work against those that are destructive and distorting. A good spiritual director can help us. For example, I once presented to a director some trouble I was having with another friar. My director said that perhaps I had not handled the situation "in the best way I could." Some minutes later, I responded, "So you think I handled this all wrong." Immediately my director jumped on my response, pointing out my distortion: he had described my response as imperfect, but after passing this response through some of my distorting thought patterns, I mirrored back a much more negative judgment.

Our bad habits of mind do these sorts of things to us all the time. I would even go so far as to say that much of everyday misery is caused by distorted patterns of thought. The most common are magical thinking, overly negative (or positive!) interpretations of events and persons that are not in accord with the data of experience, or, as they like to say in recovery circles, 'doing the same thing over and over, expecting a different result.'

In our world it is a great work to deliver oneself from external distraction and noise, but this is only the beginning of spirituality. The real work is to become free from the interior tyranny, of living at the mercy of our distorted patterns of thought and destructive emotional habits.

Check out the article here

October 19, 2009

Receiving Requital for Ancient Doom

Once in a while I have one of those experiences that reminds me of how odd a life I lead. Tonight, after working with my RCIC group, I went to the friary TV room to hang out with the brethren. I usually bring a book in case the choice of program doesn't do it for me.

Well tonight was one of those nights. Since I can't even imagine being interested in Dancing with the Stars, I had brought the Meno to read for fun. I can still participate in banter and conversation, but I don't have to be bored to tears. Then, all of a sudden, I am rudely torn from my enjoyment of Plato's conceits when I hear a watered-down version of one of the great riffs of Randy Rhoads, and look up to see two ghoulish characters spinning around to it. What are you trying to do to my rock and roll memory?

Clergy Appreciation Month

I received an e-card this morning for the occasion of "clergy appreciation month." I didn't even know that there was such a thing! So now I'm sending some myself!

My favorite free e-careds are from the Bavarian Capuchins.

Martyrdom and Desire

Each year when today's feast of the martyrs of North America rolls around, the selection from the diaries of St. Jean de Brébeuf in the Office of Readings hits me pretty hard. It begins so starkly:

For two days now I have experienced a great desire to be a martyr and to endure all the torments the martyrs have suffered. Jesus, my Lord and Savior, what can I give you in return for all the favors you have first conferred on me?

Am I willing to own even the smallest part of such a desire? If I accept with patience the tiniest sufferings of want, inconvenience, misunderstanding, and rejection for the sake of Christ, this is only the most elementary piety. To put up with it is just the beginning. The saints longed for such martyrdom. Have I even made a beginning of learning to rejoice in opportunities to deny myself for love of the Cross? I pray for the willingness.

It is said of St. Jean that his composure and peace under torture was so great that those who killed him later ate his heart in hope of gaining his courage.

October 18, 2009

Extraordinary Form Startup Guide

Today I received an email from a brother Franciscan asking some advice about what he might need to get started in an exploration of the EF. After I wrote the email I thought, why not share it? Here it is:

So, you're ready to jump into the world of the EF? Be careful!

Here's what I recommend...

the new FSSP training video is very, very helpful. Get it. I'm not sure you have to read Fortescue or O'Connell in order to get started, but unless your Latin is very good you will want an English translation of the rubrics and the de defectibus.

You can order one of the FSSP kits, but you don't really need all that stuff. However this CD is very helpful for pronunciation and tones. Be warned! It has no internal track information so if you put it in your iTunes (as I did) you will have to go through and type in 137 titles and make sure they match. But it's worth it because you can listen and absorb good habits while walking, on the bus, etc.

At the very least you need a missal and altar cards. Two sets of the latter if you intend to do a requiem Mass. If you don't have nice ones, these travel ones are fine. But altar cards are everywhere. A missal is harder. The one you get with these kits isn't the nicest one out there. Perhaps there are missals to salvage around your church, or maybe you have one already. If you have a lot of money get one of the Benziger reprints. There has to be a way to get a better price than from PCP, but I haven't found it. Personally, I would go for the green, just to be different.

Ultimately what you really want is a Missale-Romano Seraphicum from 61/62. If you don't find one, I can give you the position of St. Francis in the confiteor. Speaking of other Franciscan differences and adjustments, follow this link and scroll down to the Franciscan section.

Finally, vestments. Presumably you have a proper sacristy where you can find an amice, alb, cincture, stole, and chasuble. Yes, you will need an amice because for us it replaces the biretta at the times when you must cover your head. Perhaps you even have burses and chalice veils lying around. Good. So all you need, at least to start, is to top off sets with a reasonably matching maniple. Try Ebay. Ebay is full of maniples. Then there's a set in black, which might be more of a challenge. You'll need it for requiem Masses, or if you pull this all together in time for All Souls' Day.

Good luck!

October 17, 2009

Can You Drink The Cup That I Drink?

To receive Jesus Christ in Holy Communion is to allow his Sacrifice to make a home in our lives. Are we ready for that? Follow this link for my homily for this weekend.

October 15, 2009

Hugh on the Nature of the Scriptures

This morning I am about my ponderous project of reading Hugh of St. Victor's De Sacramentis, and in I:6:12-13 I arrive at an interesting definition of the content of the Sacred Scriptures:

Before the fall, the human being had three kinds of knowledge that pertained to prelapsarian perfection: of God, of himself, and of the rest of creation over which he was meant to have dominion. This third area of knowledge is revealed in the naming of the animals (Genesis 2:19), as the human being was meant to use his own reason and knowledge to take care of the world.

Now only the first two categories of knowledge were obscured in the fall, so it's only these that are contained in the tutelage and remedy we receive through Sacred Scripture. That's why the Bible doesn't teach anything about math, goat care, or hut construction, because these sorts of knowledge were not obscured by original sin.


The blog has been quiet lately, I know. I discern two causes, both of which also make me ask for your prayers.

First, anyone who has tried to live the devout life knows how it is an experience of undulation. Sometimes we are on fire for prayer, penance, and charity, and sometimes it all dries up. My favorite description of this is in C. S. Lewis's The Screwtape Letters, chapter eight, which you can read for yourself on Google Books. Put "undulation" into the search box and you'll be right there. Anyway, I'm in one of the lower spells right now. Not that this is a bad thing; indeed living the spiritual life means taking advantage of such times. John of the Cross would no doubt see them as valuable opportunities to surrender to the nights of sense and spirit. But whatever spiritual utility they may have, it also means that fewer spiritual reflections arise for blogging.

Second, I've been working on an anxious little project in these days, and it has been taking a lot of my interior resources. It's not even urgent, but I want to get it done before the whirlwind of the privileged seasons begins at the end of next month. The anxiety isn't intense or dangerous or even unwelcome, but it does come from some deep places. It has to do with the discernment of my future work in the Order. Religious life is not place of spiritual safety and comfort; it pushes and stretches you, and like St. Peter, sometimes binds you up and takes you to places you might not want to go. (John 21:18) But once you have been around the block a few times, the Holy Spirit becomes easier to trust, and you know in your real heart that He is working for your redemption and the common good of the fraternity and the Church.

So, in your charity, offer a prayer for my perseverance, courage, and conversion if you can.

October 13, 2009

Holy Trinities

Here in the City of Gracious Living, a.k.a., Yonkers, New York, there is a little place called Trinity Plaza. There are three Churches there, and each one is dedicated to the Blessed Trinity. Trinity Plaza, get it?

There's a Lutheran church called Holy Trinity. There's an Orthodox church called Holy Trinity. Finally, there's a Catholic church called Most Holy Trinity.


October 10, 2009

But Wait, There's More!

If you have ever felt as if your spiritual life is inadequate and that you weren't living up to the faith you have professed, congratulations! This is a sure sign of God's loving invitation. Follow this link for my homily for this weekend.

October 9, 2009

The Delighted Trinity

This morning I had some time to get over to the St. Joseph's Seminary library to continue my project of reading St. Bonaventure's commentary on the Sentences. In the course of asking whether or not there are persons in God, I found this great quote, in which Bonaventure quotes Seneca:

Item, si summa iucunditas, cum "nullius boni sine socio sit iucunda possessio" ergo ad summam iucunditatem requiritur societas et ita pluritas.

If [God] is supreme delight, as "there is no joy in any good unless it be with a friend;" therefore supreme delight requires fellowship and thereby plurality."

This is why, by the way, friendship, society, sex, etc., are all imitations of God, and why they are therefore delightful.

Better translations welcome in the comments!

October 8, 2009

Latest Exercise in Pedantry

This morning I am trying to draft a homily for Sunday. In saving the file, however, a problem arises. Now that I have preached through the three years of the Sunday lectionary cycle, when I go to save my document as "28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, B" I find that there is already a file with this name, containing my first Sunday homily as a transitional deacon three years ago.

So what do I call this second homily to be preached on the same liturgical day? "28th Sunday, B-2"? "28th Sunday, B2, 'Keep on the Borderlands,'"? "The 28th Sunday of Year B Strikes Back"?

Well, in hearkening back to mathematics, one of several loves lost in the course of giving my life to this religious quest, I have decided that the file will be named "28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, B′," to be read, "Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time, B prime."

October 7, 2009

New Habit

Today I received a new habit in the mail from brother tailor's shop. This is my fourth habit since my class was invested eight years ago. When we were novices, we started out with two. I wore one of them until it started to get a little ratty, which was a couple of years into studies. Then I started to wear the second one for Sundays and big events, leaving the rattier habit or day-to-day use.

Eventually, my first habit was starting to fall apart and get very frayed around the cowl and the bottom hem, so I took it to brother tailor to see if he would fix it up. He took one look at it and--grabbing his shears--cut it up as beneath anyone's dignity. This wasn't too shocking for me, because I had a girlfriend in college who would perform this same ministry for me with my secular clothes.

Luckily, this was around the time of perpetual vows, at which we receive a new habit for the big event. So then I had two again, and I demoted my second novitiate habit to informal use, as my perpetual profession one was now the best I had.

Well, after two years in parish ministry, my second novitiate habit was getting pretty frayed around the cowl, and I had torn out the bottom hem a couple of times on office chairs, stairs, and car doors. Knowing it wasn't long for this world, and not wanting to be left with just a single habit, I ordered a new one over the summer. It arrived this morning, wrapped up tight in brother tailor's signature cylindrical package:

The packaging teases you; it's like some kind of friar superpower to get a habit folded up so well, and I have never been able to accomplish it.

Our Lady of the Rosary

Today's memorial is special to me because I was ordained deacon on this day three years ago. So a little bit later this morning I'll be embarking on my fourth year of the clerical state.

I remember learning the rosary as a catechumen. I had bought one at good old St. Jude's on Campbell Ave. in West Haven, Connecticut--how little I could have imagined then that only five years later, after many twists and turns, I would be living the hermit life in a little apartment around the corner! I had received a little tri-fold pamphlet of instructions with the rest of my catechetical materials. I remember how, for each of the fifteen mysteries (this was before the Luminous Mysteries) there was a little picture with one of the virtues listed under it. Each of these virtues had the label, "fruit of the mystery."

I guessed that it meant that by meditating on the various mysteries, one could obtain the various virtues. For example, meditation on the Visitation was associated with charity, the carrying of the Cross with patience, the Resurrection with faith, etc. I remember being intrigued but perplexed, and I wondered how this was supposed to work. What was the mechanism by which meditation on the mysteries was supposed to produce virtues?

Praying the rosary over the years, and reflecting on the meaning and purpose of discursive meditation, I think I have come to understand. Too often we treat the mysteries of faith, or the events of the lives of Our Lord and Our Lady as if we were merely spectators. They become beautiful and miraculous spectacles which we admire and love for their sublimity. Not that there is anything wrong with this in itself, but we are called to a much deeper place than this. Meditation on the mysteries of the rosary is meant to help us understand ourselves and our own deepest identity; we are to step into the mysteries with our minds, hearts, and lives. Perhaps better, we are meant to allow the mysteries to step into us.

After all, this is why the Eternal Word borrowed human flesh from the virgin motherhood of Mary and became man, so that our humanity--by being joined to the humanity of Christ through baptism and Holy Communion--might have the opportunity to be caught up into the joy, delight, and communion of the Life of the Blessed Trinity. Thus we bear virtuous fruit when we fulfill our vocation as Christ-ians, as those who are formed into the human members of the humanity of Christ.

This is what we pray for in the prayer that concludes the rosary, when we ask that we who meditate on these mysteries might "imitate what they contain, and obtain what they promise."

October 6, 2009

What Can a Deacon Bless?

Our brand new transitional deacon, ordained this past Saturday, wrote me an email asking clarification about those things to which he could now impart blessings. Most ordinary blessings are open to deacons, but some blessings--especially those that deal with the public cult and veneration of the Church--are not.

So I went through my trusty De Benedictionibus, an impulse buy for 41 euro when we were in Rome two summers ago, and made a list of those things a deacon can bless:

Water (i.e. "make" holy water), rosaries, holy pictures and statues destined for private veneration, medals, and personal religious articles in general. Families, couples, children, women before or after giving birth, old folks, sick folks, catechists, catechetical meetings, parish meetings, pilgrims, travelers, new homes, new schools and universities, new libraries, new hospitals, offices and shops, vehicles, technical equipment and tools, animals, fields and flocks, first fruits, and tables and meals.

Certain blessings, however, require a member of the priestly order. They include:

The blessing of a cathedra, ambo, tabernacle, of fonts and baptisteries, images of the Lord and the saints for public veneration, new church doors, bells, and organs, cemeteries, seminaries, and missionaries.

Dust. Wind. Dude.

The other day I was sitting in church at the end of the day, when the afternoon sun comes in low through the windows on the St. Joseph side. One of the windows in front of me as open, and the sunlight was beaming through. In the sunbeam I could see particles of dust hanging in the air or moving about. This sight fascinated me when I was little, and I still enjoy it.

As I continued to consider the illuminated dust, I noticed how strong a metaphor it is for ourselves. We are hardly anything, unnecessary and entirely contingent. That we are anything worth noticing--indeed anything of beauty--it is only because at certain moments we catch the Light and become illuminated by Grace. We would be dirt on the floor, except that the quickening heat of the Light bears us up so that we might float on the currents of the Spirit, Who blows where He wills. To have this habitually is what holiness means.

'Dust to dust,' as someone will pray of us one day as our bodies are committed to the earth, but in this time in between, we have a glimpse of the world to come as particles of dust made beautiful, shiny, buoyant, and warm in the Light.

Feast of St. Bruno

For the great Bruno of Cologne, I couldn't resist posting this song from one of all-time favorite records:

October 5, 2009

This Has to be Some Kind of Record

This morning, at the early Mass, one of the devout souls arrived during the consecration and then departed straight from receiving Holy Communion.

October 3, 2009


This year, for the first time in eleven years, the feast of St. Francis falls on a Sunday. For us Franciscans, the titular feast of our founder outranks the observance of the Sunday in Ordinary Time. Follow this link for my homily for the feast of St. Francis.

October 2, 2009

My Refuge

Refuge is an image of God encountered frequently in the psalms. It never spoke to me much until recently. It started when in the course of my daily life and work, I started to find a secret escape in our parish church. It's a busy church for sure, especially for a small parish; on one Saturday over the summer we had eight distinct services--Morning Prayer, morning Mass, funeral, funeral, wedding, confessions, Vigil Mass, and adoration and benediction.

But a lot of the time the church is just empty and quiet. It's like a big, quiet appendage off to the side of the business of the friary and the offices, and it's the last place anybody looks for someone. And perhaps rightly so; most of the time there is nobody there. Morning Prayer with the people gets prayed in the little friars' chapel adjacent to the sanctuary of the church, but for the brothers' Evening Prayer it is judged too far away, and so we exchange the presence of our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament and the windows depicting our Capuchin saints for prayer around a coffee table under the bored gaze of the fake fireplace.

In the church there are no phones, no fights over Mass intentions, nobody angry at you over baptism sponsorship or their forfeited wedding deposit, no malfunctioning wireless connections to fix, or telephones that are 'broken' because the 'do not disturb' function has been activated. It's there that I can hide for three or ten minutes or half an hour to pray or just sit or kneel before the Lord Who is my Refuge. There He waits in his tabernacle, in His overwhelming humility--having not only surrendered to his Body being broken on the Cross in descent into the misery we have brought upon the world, but making that same Sacrificed Body present for us in the Broken Bread come into our hands. May my only refuge be imitation of that Mystery, and may I find my only rest in becoming the Sacrifice I receive.

October 1, 2009

My Next Vacation

This is why the web is so great. I had no idea there were so many places to go to church in Antarctica!

I don't even know which one I would want to offer Mass at first; the chapel dedicated to St. Francis, or the one made out of ice!

Check them all out!

Proper Prefaces of St. Francis

Since I enjoyed doing this for our holy mother St. Clare, I didn't want to miss the chance to do the same for St. Francis. I know it's a couple of days early, but I'll have more Francis stuff to post for the feast day itself this weekend. Here are the proper prefaces of St. Francis as they appear in the Franciscan editions of the Missal of the Roman rite:

As the preface appears in the 1962 Missale Romano-Seraphicum:

Per ómnia saécula saeculórum.
R. Amen.
V. Dóminus vobíscum.
R. Et cum spíritu tuo.
V. Sursum 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 venerándum Confessórem
fámulam tuam beátum Francíscum,
tua, Deus, altíssima bonitáte et cleméntia,
Sanctórum tuórum méritis et virtútibus sublimásti;
mentémque ipsíus, Sancti Spíritus operatióne,
amor ille seráphicus ardentíssime incéndit intérius:
cuiúsque corpus sacris Stigmátibus insignívit extérius,
signo crucifíxi Iesu Christi Dómini nostri.

Per quem maiestátem tuam laudant Angeli,
adórant Dominatiónes, tremunt Potestátes.
Caeli caelorúmque Virtútes, ac beáta Séraphim,
sócia exsultatióne concélebrant. Cum quibus
et nostras voces, ut admití iúbeas, deprecámur,
súpplici confessióne 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 ev'rywhere to give you thanks.

You exalted your servant Francis
through sublime poverty and humility
to the heights of evangelical perfection.
You inflamed him with seraphic love
to exult with unspeakable joy
over all the works of your creation.
Branding him with the sacred stigmata,
you gave us the image of the crucified
Jesus Christ our Lord.

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:

Don't ask me about the "ev'rywhere." I have no idea. It's not musically necessary either.

The progression, again, is interesting. Some elements are lost in between, such as the Franciscan sense of the Holy Spirit and His holy "operation," (see the Rule, chapter X) and the juxtaposition of the Francis's burning, interior seraphic love with his exterior stigmata.

On the other hand, the 1974 preface adds some praiseworthy Franciscan elements, such as the adjective "evangelical," ("This is the life of the Friars Minor, to observe the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ..," Rule, chapter I), and the sense of Franciscan joy over creation.