November 28, 2009

The Spirit of Vigilance

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

November 27, 2009

Six Stages in the Threefold Way

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

Six stages toward perfection through love:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charles Laughton Storyteller

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

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

November 25, 2009

Well, It Finally Happened

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

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

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

Thanksgiving Rant

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

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

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

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

November 24, 2009

Encouragements and Dangers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 23, 2009

Franciscan Blogroll

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

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

Giving Communicant Catechesis

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

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

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

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

November 21, 2009

Prayer and Survival

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

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

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

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

Christ the King

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

November 20, 2009

Overheard at the Seminary Library

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

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

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

Sister: I meant, at which table?

November 19, 2009

A Kludge for the Holy Souls

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

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

Trouble is, how do you get this

Into one of these?

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

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

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

Under a Bushel Basket (or Masking Tape)

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

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

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

Abortion stops a beating heart.

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

November 18, 2009

Give Me a Double Share of Your Spirit

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

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

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

Check him out and practice your Portuguese:

November 17, 2009

St. Elizabeth's Children

This morning in my homily for the feast of Elizabeth of Hungary, I preached a little on the shortness of her life--betrothed at age four, married at fourteen, widowed at twenty, dead at twenty-four--and on her infamous and murdered spiritual director, the inquisitor Conrad of Marburg.

Later on in the morning, one of the ladies in the parish office asked me if I knew what had become of Elizabeth's three children, none of whom could have been much older than nine years when she died.

All of this via surfing Wikipedia:

St. Elizabeth's first child, who should have been Hermann II, Landgrave of Thuringia, died as a teenager and never ruled, perhaps having been poisoned by his uncle.

Her second child, Sophie, became the second wife of Henry II, Duke of Brabant. They had two children, one of whom was Henry I, who, not without a lot of intrigue, became the founder of the House of Hesse, currently headed by Donatus, Landgrave of Hesse.

The third child, Gertrude, was delivered to the Premonstratensian convent in Aldenberg at the tender age of two. How's that for vocation discernment! Twenty years later she was elected abbess and reigned for almost fifty more. She seems to be listed in some places around the internet as blessed.

UPDATE: The blessedness of Gertrude is confirmed; she's listed in the Roman Martyrology on August 13.


The archbishop was just being interviewed by the large priest who is covering the bishop's meeting on the Catholic TV of the diocese of Rockville Centre. They were speaking about how Cardinal Rigali had given each bishop a Tastykake to settle a bet over the World Series.

Large priest: "Well, today I may have my first Tastykake."

Archbishop Dolan: "I find that hard to believe."

Watch the bishop's meeting here.

Sanctity Against Bitterness

"It is not that someone else is preventing you from living happily; you yourself do not know what you want. Rather than admit this, you pretend that someone else is keeping you from exercising your liberty. Who is this? It is you yourself." (Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation, 110.)

One of the persistent temptations in the religious life is to give in to the unwillingness to take responsibility for our own mediocrity. You get into this life with a lot of pious imaginings and spiritual dreams all mixed up with a genuine desire for prayer and sacrifice. But eventually the disappointment comes. Sometimes it's just a mild malaise. In other cases it takes the form of a violent heartbreak. To be honest, I think the former is more dangerous on the spiritual level.

We are nagged by this feeling that our religious life isn't so different from secular life. Why don't I feel any holier or more religious? Sometimes we feel like the couple who let their engagement go on for too many years and then fall apart right after the wedding. We just felt more religious and devout before we lived under the same roof as the Blessed Sacrament. Many of us are better off now in terms of material comforts and securities than we were in the world, so how can we say that are poor?

The most dangerous temptation in all this is to blame somebody else. My lack of fervor is the fault of the brother who continually scandalizes me by walking into chapel and asking, "What week are we in?," announcing to all that he doesn't even bother to pray his breviary apart from the meager moments when we do it in common. I'm scattered and unrecollected because of the "culture" of the house or province, which I perceive as unprayerful and lax. It's brother grocery shopper's fault that I eat the wrong things, and the house's fault that I waste time watching TV or clicking around the internet. Back when I was in the world I didn't have to have TV or candy or beer in the house if I didn't want it, and I didn't have to deal with such distractions! Now it's the fault of these decadent brothers that I live in a state of dissipation and spiritual sadness!

This sort of thinking is a serious and dangerous temptation, because the decadent, lax, and unprayerful brother is you yourself. The devil is perfectly happy for us to be worked up about our sins and our faults, and even to be contrite and to experience something like compunction on a certain level, so long as we can do it in such a way as to absolve ourselves of any responsibility. Through this temptation the devil can turn perfectly laudable spiritual ambition into perfectly destructive interior acts of violence.

Are we annoyed that our daily world--even in religious life--is not set up to facilitate a life of prayer and virtue? Even worse, do we perceive that others are actively (though often not maliciously) working against spiritual values? Then we should surrender and join the club. It's called "the saints."

November 16, 2009

Pro Innumerabilibus Neglegentiis Meis

Like most mornings, I got up today, made some coffee, and then sat down with my breviary to pray the Office of Readings. That's when I noticed that I had forgotten to pray Evening Prayer last night; the ribbons were still set at the end of Sunday Daytime Prayer, Week I.

I know how it happened: At midday yesterday I knew that I would be at the funeral home in the afternoon for a wake, so I saved my Daytime Prayer for then, carrying a breviary along. But the wake went very quickly, and I was in and out in just a few minutes with prayers said and the funeral Mass planned. Once I got home and had the funeral Mass squared away, it was already late in the afternoon, and I still had the Daytime Prayer to offer. So I did, thinking I would then save Evening Prayer for after supper. Not so wise, it turned out, because I never remembered to get back to it.

This sort of thing provides a simple example for a reflection on guilt, negligence, and the locating of culpability in our lives. It is an objectively serious sin for me as a religious and a priest to neglect to offer one of the hinge hours (i.e. Morning and Evening Prayer.) On the other hand, I didn't miss the prayer on purpose, but simply forgot. But this doesn't mean that I am not culpable. The sin, however, lies not in "missing Evening Prayer" but in failing to live a life that is vigilant and mindful enough so that grave obligations are not simply forgotten.

In my experience as a sinner, penitent, and confessor, there are many situations like this in which actual guilt lies not in the sinful act or sinful negligence, but in the failure to organize the rest of one's life in order to avoid occasions of sin and provide occasions of faithfulness. I think this is often true of ingrained habits of sin, particularly around the areas of speech or chastity. The spiritual work called for is not to "stop doing x" but to find the willingness to re-arrange one's life and patterns of thought to reduce the maladaptive function of the sin or to rid oneself of its occasions. For this reason I often invite penitents to 'do a little detective work,' trying to notice when and under what internal and external circumstances stubborn bad habits are likely to materialize. Turning this reflection on myself, I'm reminded that the fatigue and unstructured quietness of Sunday afternoon needs to be an invitation into the mystery of prayer, not an occasion of forgetting who I am and what I have promised.

November 14, 2009

The End Times

As we take a lesson from the fig tree, we learn that the changing seasons give us a way to understand the final destiny of creation. Follow this link for my homily for this weekend.

November 12, 2009

When is the Feast of Mother Cabrini?

This is one of those for which I just don't have the background.

Here in the United States, tomorrow, November 13, is the feast of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, given at the rank of obligatory memorial.

In my Extraordinary Form Ordo cum missis propriis dioecesium Civitatum Foederatarum Americae Septentrionalis, (i.e. for the U.S.A.) which--quite sketchily and revealingly--does not list a publisher, Mother Cabrini is also listed for tomorrow as a iii class feast with the notation "US." However, in the back of the book, it is noted that in the dioceses of Indianaopolis, Joliet, Green Bay, Alexandria, and in the "vicariate" of Alaska, this is a first class feast not for tomorrow, but back on January 3.

Indeed, Mother Cabrini does appear on January 3 in my EF Missals, but only as a commemoration during the Mass of St. Gaspar del Bufalo, whom I am meeting for the first time in the course of this little investigation.

As if this weren't confusing enough, Wikipedia--from which I have lifted this lovely photo--lists Mother's feast day as December 22. Now as everybody knows, this is no time to schedule one's feast day, as you will be perpetually impeded by the proper Masses and Offices that ramp up to Christmas.

The date of December 22 (1917) seems to be her death date, which is a venerable means of establishing a feast day. November 13 (1938) seems to be the beatification date. I haven't figured out January 3.

Will the real feast of Mother Cabrini please stand up!

Even further, for Franciscans who might offer Mass in the EF tomorrow, it is also the iii class feast of St. Didacus. If it is indeed also the iii class feast of F.X. Cabrini, I wouldn't know who gets the day and who gets commemorated, given that there is no way (that I know of) to establish precedence, e.g. if one was a martyr, etc. Usually a missal would just let you know, but since these days are in different parts of the missal, Mother being in the appendix of American propers, and under a different day besides, it might get confusing.

Perhaps I should go consult with her in person. She's only a bus and two trains away. (Westchester #2 to from Park Ave. and Shonnard Place in Yonkers to 242nd and Broadway, 1 Train to 168th St., A train back to 190th St.)

In the end, as I have written before, if we are to fulfill Benedict's desire for a 'mutual enrichment' of the two forms of the Roman Rite, as he wrote in his cover letter to Summorum pontificum, these are exactly the sort of things that will need to be worked out in time.

November 10, 2009

Overheard Fears

Erudite elder: "Do you know what's the number one fear of American priests? Conflict."

Me: "I think I'm more afraid of hell, but I'll admit that it's close."

November 8, 2009

Homiletic Adventures

Following up on yesterday's post, this morning I thought that I almost had a homily together on Mark 12:38-44 and the donation of the widow. I still didn't feel as if it had really come together, but maybe it was done enough to give at Mass. So I offered the 11:30 assembly a choice: they could either have the uncongealed homily on the poor widow, or the more formed and edited one on Hebrews. As I know from the days of Applied Behavior Analysis lessons when I worked at the group home, offering choice always empowers the client and reduces refractory behaviors.

St. Mark won out over Hebrews, but here's the funny part: the vast majority of the assembly abstained from the vote! I suppose that their preference would have been to hear no homily at all!

November 7, 2009


I had a hard time in my Sunday homily preparation this week. The gospel is Mark 12: 38-44, which includes an account of Jesus' praise of the widow who puts the two small coins into the Temple treasury. I know that I have a beautiful homily on this somewhere inside. Holy poverty, the need to come at each other with our vulnerability rather than our arrogance, what people in recovery sometimes call "leading with our weakness," all of these themes came to me as the spiritual ways we imitate the Incarnation of Christ and become Christ-ians to each other. But the homily, in concrete form, never seemed to materialize. If it comes by tomorrow I'll give it.

Until then, since we are finishing our several weeks of hearing from Hebrews in the second reading, I decided to prepare a homily on the good news of our sharing in the priesthood of Christ. Follow this link for my homily for this weekend.

November 6, 2009

Make No Copies of This Novena

One of the little jobs around the church is to occasionally throw away the self-perpetuating novena prayers that show up in the pews or by the vigil lights. They are usually pieces of paper with detailed instructions on exactly how to pray to some saint or other, and often guarantee the granting of one's intentions if the conditions are fulfilled. The reader is instructed to make a certain amount of copies of the same paper, and to leave them in so many churches. The number is usually a nice theological amount like three or seven. The one circulating in our church right now guarantees the favorable intercession of St. Martha, and demands that nine copies be made and left in nine churches.

Of course one cannot expect to have one's prayer heard without following the precise instructions regarding copying and distribution. Therefore, it's easy to see how these viral novenas (apart from being superstitious) could use up an immense amount of paper.

In order to witness against this superstitious waste of paper, I am thinking of starting my own self-replicating novena to St. Francis. Instead of making copies of the paper and leaving them in churches, it will instruct the pray-er to seek an opportunity in the course of his or her life to save some paper by avoiding an unnecessary instance of photocopying, using both sides, etc. Then, the same sheet may be left in another church, without copying it.

Follow this link for a draft. Feel free to print and use, but only once.

November 5, 2009

Book Review: The New Men

One of the brothers passed on to me Brian Murphy's The New Men: Inside the Vatican's Elite School for American Priests. It's not a new book, but I liked it so much that I want to recommend it.

I started the book because I thought I might learn something about the mysterious high echelons of the diocesan priesthood here in America, or at least something about what it's like to be a seminarian. As a religious, especially one who studied not in the seminary but at a "school of theology" where a lot of my most interesting and intellectually challenging classmates were Catholic laywomen, I'm pretty ignorant of both topics.

If you are also interested in a glimpse into these hidden worlds, I don't think this is the book for you. I didn't feel like I learned much about seminary life or the elite clerical world. Fortunately, though, The New Men does something much more valuable and interesting.

The chapters, set loosely around the liturgical year, follow the lives of a handful of first-year seminarians at the North American College in Rome. We also meet their rector, Timothy Dolan, now archbishop of New York. They are grateful, prayerful, and in love with God. Their lives illustrate the very varied backgrounds and personalities out of which the Holy Spirit draws vocations.

They also struggle mightily. They pray and reflect as they wonder if they can accept priestly celibacy, or if they can even 'do it.' One works through the question of being called not to the diocesan priesthood but to the life of a monk. Another tries to make a responsible discernment about where he is meant to be, only to run afoul of some the ugliness of church politics. Not without some agony, each works to know what of himself he needs to bring to his vocation, and what of his former life must be left behind and cut off. They work on their prayer. To see this last element, which most of us (quite rightly) keep so private, is one of the real treasures of the book.

I would recommend the book to anyone who would appreciate an insight into the joys and struggles that go into the discernment of a vocation in the Church. Priests and religious do not just fall out of the sky or hatch somewhere fully formed. These seminarians knew much joy and wonder, but some wrenching struggles as well.

As I finished the book on the bus today, I found myself wanting to pray for the men I had met, to thank God for their willingness to be on the journey with the Lord. I suppose that most of them would be priests now, though some not. Probably at least one of them will reappear as a bishop one day. Whatever it is they are up to in the Lord, I thank God and them for the humanness, honesty, and love of God. To be a witness of these is the real gift of The New Men.

November 4, 2009

St. Charles Challenges

As they do each year, the words of St. Charles Borromeo hit me hard in the Office of Readings this morning:

One priest [or anyone] may wish to lead a good, holy life, as he knows he should. He may wish to be chaste and to reflect heavenly virtues in the way he lives. Yet he does not resolve to use suitable means, such as penance, prayer, the avoidance of evil discussions and harmful and dangerous friendships.

That's the story of my own Christian mediocrity. I think that I desire holiness and to devote myself to God, but when it comes to the innumerable little unglamorous, daily decisions to use the "suitable means" to get there, the project falls apart. And so the flaw is revealed: it is not God or sanctity that I am in love with, but the idea of being holy. Oh yes, sanctity and the image of oneself as devout can be as much of an idol as anything else, and perhaps even more insidious because of the inherent dishonesty.

When we fall in love with someone, we make it our constant aim to seek the company and the good pleasure of the beloved. So it must be with God. All of the plain and unnoticed decisions about our speech, our schedule, our work and recreation must be arranged around our desire to be with and to please Him.

For the saint preaches sermons by the way he walks and the way he stands and the way he sits down and the way he picks things up and holds them in his hand.

(Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation, 193.)

November 3, 2009

Judas Maccabeus vs. Gaudium et Spes

At the beginning of this thirty-first week of Ordinary Time we arrive at one of the oddest and most challenging counterpoints in the whole of the liturgy: the two day juxtaposition, in the Office of Readings, of 1 Maccabees and the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World of Vatican II. I didn't catch much of it this year, yesterday having been All Souls and opting for John XXIII's beautiful homily for the canonization of Martin de Porres today, but I did the readings anyway because they strike me so strongly each year at this time.

In the reading from Maccabees today, the great Mattathias is so filled with zeal to follow the Law that he not only kills the messenger bearing the king's demand of cultural assimilation, but even another Jew who was going to comply. He and his fellow zealots, after having left the city in order to protect the purity of their religious observance, go about destroying pagan altars and forcibly circumcising any uncircumcised boys they find.

After having meditated on all of this, one then turns to Gaudium et spes and is exhorted to "cooperate, willingly and wholeheartedly, in building an international order based on genuine respect for legitimate freedom and on a brotherhood of universal friendship." We are to "cooperate actively and constructively with other Christians" and to share resources "without being uniform and inflexible."

It's the classic question of how people of faith who value religion are supposed to relate to the unbelieving, persecuting, or lax world around them. Do we separate ourselves so as to protect the purity of our life, or do we assimilate to the world a little so as to include more souls in what really matters? What is our duty to the lapsed or unobservant among us? Do we come at them honey or vinegar, with cooperation or separation, with 'relevant,' 'updated' activities or a bomb?

Is it good to have a Catholic politician, even if they don't seem to believe and work for everything the Church teaches? Or is it an unacceptable scandal?

Christians have always enjoyed the right of 'plundering the Egyptians;' we may take the tools of the unbelieving world and use them for the benefit of the Gospel. (What else does it mean to be a Catholic blogger?) But in our relationship to the world, how willing are we to risk allowing its errors to infect the purity of our faith? It's a hard question, to know where to draw the line. If we run up into the mountains and refuse any relationship to the earthly city, we will fail to be the missionaries that we are called to be. But if we live in too close a spirit of cooperation with the unbelieving world, we will soon find--as we have!--that the faith becomes distorted by those of us who start to accept and support the world's crimes and absurdities, like abortion and various other things.

There have always been Christians firmly planted all over the map on this question, and it remains a challenge for each individual and community.

Appreciating Generational Differences

Much has been written about the generational conflicts we are going through in the Church and in religious life; it's the "70s priests" against the "neo-cons," the "John XXIII Catholics" against the "John Paul II Catholics," the so-called "spirit of Vatican II" against the so-called "reform of the reform," etc.

I was discussing these questions with an astute older priest yesterday, and he put it something like this: 'We grew up in a culture that valued conformity and was overly defined and regimented. So when the reforms of the Council came, we found our spiritual identity in our liberation. Guys your age, on the other hand, grew up after the Vietnam war and other events took away our moral clarity about our nation, after some of the darker sides of the sexual revolution began to appear. You attended educational institutions in the grip of the 'dictatorship of relativism,' as Benedict calls it, and just as we reacted against strictness and found our spirit in our liberation, you came to find your 'liberation' and spiritual identity in the struggle to have something solid and structured to stand on in the midst of the moral and cultural vertigo.'

Of course all this has been said before. I only rehearse it again because I thought that Father's articulation was particularly clear, and especially because I think we need to appreciate the source of each other's spirituality. We can argue about liturgy or canon law or whether to wear a religious habit until the end of time, but it won't help us at all unless we can appreciate and give thanks to God for the spiritual place in which someone else found their God.

November 2, 2009

Mass in the Friars' Cemetery

A group of us decided to offer one of the Masses of All Souls in the friars cemetery.

Here's Fr. Walter, 97 years old and still praying strong

Br. Michael proclaims the first reading.

The gifts are prepared.

Orate Fratres!

The Doxology

Special thanks to our photographer!


From a thank you note from a newlywed whose marriage I witnessed:

"You made me change my mind and views about the Catholic religion."

That could go either way!

The Welfare of the Dead

You can say what you want about how the faith is faring in our time, but an observance like today reveals the fundamental human concern for the welfare of our beloved dead. People come out for Mass, stuff money into All Souls' Novena envelopes, write the names of their deceased into books of intentions, and visit cemeteries.

It's just a basic thing; just as we could not have understood someone telling us about the breadth and sights and sounds of this world before we emerged from the womb, so we can barely understand the new life into which we will be born at our bodily death. We pray for those who have preceded us into this mystery as an act of care, charity, and concern. We hope in Christ for their peace and rest.

Today at the early Mass I proclaimed St. Luke's account of the miracle at Nain:

Jesus journeyed to a city called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd accompanied him.As he drew near to the gate of the city, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. A large crowd from the city was with her. When the Lord saw her, he was moved with pity for her and said to her, "Do not weep." He stepped forward and touched the coffin; at this the bearers halted, and he said, "Young man, I tell you, arise!" The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, exclaiming, "A great prophet has arisen in our midst," and "God has visited his people." This report about him spread through the whole of Judea and in all the surrounding region. (Luke 7: 11-17)

For me this gospel reveals so much of the personality of God. The miracle Jesus performs is not for the sake of the one who seems to receive it--the young man--but for his mother, who was going to be alone and vulnerable in the world without him. "Jesus gave him to his mother." The miracle is performed in order to preserve a human relationship. Jesus is unwilling to allow the bodily death we have brought into the world with our sins to interfere with human love. This good news always comes out for me in one of my favorite prayers from the entire liturgy, which comes from the beginning of the wake service:

"We believe that all of the ties of friendship and affection which knit us as one throughout our lives do not unravel in death."

Because God has emptied himself into our humanity in Christ, human love is lifted up as a revelation of divine Love in the world. God would not allow divine Love to simply evaporate from the creation just because of something as meaningless as our bodily corruption and death! Rather, the good news for the dead and for us who mourn is that upon our death and final purification, God harvests to himself all of the love and care we were in this life and makes them indestructible in eternity. Salvation is preservation in the sense that God does not allow the revelations of Love whom we become in this life to be lost.

All Souls Day

Visit those cemeteries! A plenary indulgence, applicable to the souls in Purgatory, is offered today and each day of the octave of All Souls, for those who do so, devoutly praying for the departed and the intentions of the Holy Father. The normal conditions apply, of course, namely confession and Holy Communion, plus or minus a week from the visit. On today itself, the same indulgence is offered for the same when visiting a church or oratory.

Don't forget that later in the week the first Thursday indulgence for the Year of Priest is available as well!

Here I am, ready to fulfill the apostolic constitution Incruentum altaris: