January 31, 2010

Latest Installment

God to said to Abraham: "I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing." (Genesis 12: 2, JPS)

In an email from my father this morning, I learn that God has delivered his most recent installment in the fulfillment of this promise, a baby boy to my brother and sister-in-law.

May the Holy One of Israel furnish him every good gift and help him to grow strong in wisdom and grace.

Because I am the brother of the child's father, I am an uncle but not an avunculus. Hence I am under no obligation to be avuncular.

January 30, 2010

The Little Bird and the Lions

I had a striking dream last night--a very biblical style dream, in fact--and I think it was about Twitter.

I have to say that I'm surprised nobody has called me out on my having resurrected my Twitter account after I quit another micro-blogging service, Plurk, with such a display of fervor some months ago. I had a Twitter account then too, but I synced it with Plurk so the updates were duplicated on Twitter without my having to look at it.

Two things coincided to make my try Twitter again. First came the Holy Father's message for World Communications Day, in which Benedict recommended the use of internet social media to priests as a means of evangelization. Second was the obsolescence of my PDA combined with a need to upgrade my cell phone, which led me together to enter the smartphone world. The possibility of mobile micro-blogging was too much to resist.

But what of the spiritual impact? In my individual case, which is the only one to which I can speak, are the possibilities of serving the glory of God through Twitter worth the risks of distraction? Well, last night I had a dream that suggests to me a cautious 'yes.'

In my dream I was on a neighborhood street. There was a small vehicle something like a chariot. Drawing the chariot was a team of three lions. Driving the chariot was a little tiny bird wearing a little harness that was attached to the back of the chariot with something like a set of leather straps. As I stood there, I was amazed that the little tiny bird could keep three big lions under control as it drove the chariot slowly along. But then something odd happened. The little bird fell into a pothole or some kind of fissure, and was being pulled along under the ground. I watched. Eventually the little bird emerged, all dusty and disheveled from being dragged underground. Then I realized that the bird wasn't moving and was probably dead. Then somebody was screaming from one of the houses and I knew that the lions had escaped their harnesses. I ran away in terror. In fleeing I realized my guilt; I had stood there with morbid curiosity as the bird was dragged underground. I could have helped it, and maybe it wouldn't have died and the lions wouldn't have escaped. Then I woke up.

I think the little bird was the tweeting Twitter bird. The lions, because they became such a danger when they became unbound, were the lion from 1 Peter 5ff., a reading familiar to anyone who prays Night Prayer on Tuesdays: "Be sober and vigilant. Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devout. Resist him, steadfast in faith."

The little bird was able to tame and manage the big lions. In the same way, micro-blogging done for the glory of God could be a 'mustard seed' planted amidst the confusion and sins of the internet. But if we begin to use such a service for simple or even morbid curiosity--as I indulged when I observed the little bird's misfortune without helping--we can be providing an occasion for the devil's work to be set free through ourselves.

Anyway, that's my interpretation.

January 29, 2010

Six Degrees of the Love of God

Back on the feast of St. Francis Fasani, I posted the six degrees of the love of God as it appeared in the passage from St. Bonaventure's De Triplici Via in the Office of Readings for that day. In the post I mentioned that I was a little suspicious of the translation in the Franciscan propers supplement to the breviary, and I mentioned that I would check it out on my next visit to the St. Joseph's Seminary library. (It's only three miles from where I live, and one of the real treasures of divine Providence in my current assignment.)

Today I finally made it. Having read the original, here is my new and improved version of Bonaventure's six degrees of the love of God. (de sex gradibus dilectionis Dei)

1. Sweetness. The soul has had a first taste of the sweetness of the Lord. (suavitas)

2. Eagerness. Having had this taste, the soul longs for more. (aviditas)

3. Satisfaction. The soul comes to know that only the love of God is the only thing that can fill and satisfy our longing. (saturitas)

4. Inebrietation. Now drunk with the love of God, the soul takes no pain or discouragement from trials and difficulties, but in fact seeks them for the love of God. (ebreitas)

5. Security. In this state, nothing is a threat to the soul, nothing can separate it from the love of God. (securitas)

6. Tranquility. Like those saved in Noah's Ark, the soul can rest and even sleep the sleep of contemplation, safe from everything. (tranquillitas)

Here's the text, from volume VII of Bonaventure's Opera Omnia. Friends Lewis and Short are seen above.

January 28, 2010

On the Feast of St. Thomas

I've been given some indication that I should expect to be sent back to school this coming fall. Should this happen, I anticipate that it will be a spiritually and emotionally challenging transition on several levels.

With some of that rolling around in the back of my consciousness, as it has been for months now, I prayed this morning's gospel canticle antiphon for St. Thomas with gratitude:

Blessed be the Lord; for love of him Saint Thomas Aquinas spent long hours in prayer, study, and writing.

Easily it turns around into my own prayer. If I am asked to transition into a full time assignment of study and writing, may I be without anxiety except to examine myself on my love of God. It is the only purpose and motivation, and the only foundation that will hold me together anyway.

When I checked my typical edition breviary, I was disappointed to see that the antiphon was not quite the same:

Benedictus Dominus, pro cuius amore beatus Thomas studuit, vigilavit et laboravit.

In fairness, though, vigilare in the sense of prayer doesn't have a simple translation in English, and the great labor of St. Thomas was certainly his writing.

Benedict on Francis

This morning I see from Zenit that the Holy Father taught on St. Francis for this week's Wednesday audience. To recount the life of St. Francis is to illustrate the Franciscan charism; more than some other spiritual families in the Church, the Franciscan idiom has often been about following in the footsteps of Jesus Christ according to the model of a life lived rather than a doctrine taught.

Here's some of Benedict's audience:

However, at the center of this Church in ruins is the Crucified and he speaks: he calls to renewal, he calls Francis to manual labor to repair concretely the little church of San Damiano, symbol of the more profound call to renew the Church of Christ itself, with his radical faith and his enthusiastic love for Christ.

This event, which probably occurred in 1205, makes one think of another similar event that happened in 1207: the dream of Pope Innocent III. He saw in a dream that the Basilica of St. John Lateran, the Mother Church of all churches, was collapsing and a small and insignificant religious supported the church with his shoulders so that it would not collapse. It is interesting to note, on one hand, that it is not the Pope who helps so that the church will not collapse, but a small and insignificant religious, whom the Pope recognizes in Francis who visited him. Innocent III was a powerful Pope, of great theological learning, as well as of great political power, yet it was not for him to renew the Church, but for the small and insignificant religious: It is St. Francis, called by God.

On the other hand, however, it is important to note that St. Francis does not renew the Church without or against the Pope, but only in communion with him. The two realities go together: the Successor of Peter, the bishops, the Church founded on the succession of the Apostles and the new charism that the Holy Spirit created at this moment to renew the Church. True renewal grows together.

Check out the full text here.

January 27, 2010

Keys and Nails

Each time I read St. Bernard I appreciate him even more. Who knows? Perhaps if I had found him earlier in life I would be a Cistercian now instead of a Franciscan. My first priest, who patiently endured dealing with me extensively as a pre-catechumen and then again as a neophyte, has always said that I was really a Benedictine at heart. I don't believe it, but perhaps some of my confreres would agree.

Bernard comes to us today in the Office of Readings, from a sermon on the Song of Songs:

"But the piercing nail has become a key to unlock the door, that I may see the good will of the Lord. And what can I see as I through the hole? Both the nail and the wound cry out that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself."

In Bernard's Latin the play of clavis, "key," clavus, "nail," and clamat, "cry" is striking:

At clavis reserans, clavus penetrans factus est mihi, ut videam voluntatem Domini. Quidni videam per foramen? Clamat clavus, clamat vulnus, quod vere Deus sit in Christo mundum reconcilians sibi.

The cry is the expression of God's Passion, the passionate desire for the salvation and reconciliation of the world. It is the sound of the incarnate Word of God being broken open so that the saving bath of his Precious Blood will pour out over the world.

January 26, 2010


Over my time so far in my first assignment, I have gotten to know the front pews of our church pretty intimately. Most days I manage to stop by and pray at least once, for Daytime Prayer, to finish my rosary, or just to make a visit or an emergency prayer.

There are four spots to choose from in the front row: two sections on either side of the aisle right in front of the sanctuary, and two on the far sides of the pillars in front of the Blessed Mother and St. Joseph altars, respectively.

I move around. Sometimes I go in front of St. Joseph. Ever since choosing him for my confirmation I have considered him a special patron, and I always pray to him for the grace of diligence and perseverance in my employment. When I was given an office here at the parish, I made my pastor bless an icon of St. Joseph and I put it up right away.

Sometimes I pray from the left-hand section in front of the sanctuary, because it was there that I sat on the day I took my first vows in the Order. Sometimes I go the right side, because it was from there that I approached the sanctuary to be ordained priest.

But of course I often choose the section in front of Our Lady's altar. Ever since her intercession saved me from a spiritual emergency when I was baptized only a few days, I have tried to entrust myself to her care. There is one noticeable difference in Mary's section of the front pews. The kneeler there is worn down much more than all the others. You feel as it as soon as you kneel down. It's the hardest, deadest, kneeler cushion in the whole church. It says a lot about how many people have knelt and prayed there over the years. Whenever I kneel there to say my breviary or rosary or just try to entrust my distracted and stupid soul to our Mother, I try to unite my prayer to all of theirs and to thank God for their good example hidden away in the hard kneeler.

January 25, 2010

Conversion of Paul

In preparing to preach today I was reflecting on how this feast day arrives as a sort of 'month's mind' Mass for Christmas Day. The gospel for the Mass of Christmas Day proclaims the prologue of St. John: the true Light, "which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world." Today Paul encounters that Light, and it changes the course of his whole life.

From there I was led to a reflection on how the major appearances of Paul (the man, that is) in the liturgy all have something to do with the Light. He first appears on the day after Christmas, at the martyrdom of Stephen, where St. Luke lets us know of his consent. The Light was not yet bright. Today, a month later in liturgical time, it's Brilliance is overwhelming.

Paul's own martyrdom comes to us on the feast of Peter and Paul, more or less on the octave day of the summer solstice. The Light has reached its peak, the gospel has been proclaimed to Jew and Gentile alike, and the great apostles go to their reward.

Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed

The other night I had a chance to watch Ben Stein's Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, a film about the scientific and academic conflicts between the Darwinian establishment and the proponents of so-called Intelligent Design. The film tries to illustrate an unscientific dogmatism in the academy which leads to the persecution and professional ruin of those who wish to explore ID. Also detailed are the darker chapters in the history of Darwinism, such as forced sterilizations, eugenics, and even Nazism. The abiding institutional child of the eugenics movement, Planned Parenthood, is also exposed at its rotten origins, and one (non-religious) sociologist articulates clearly the link between the theory of evolution and the acceptance of abortion and euthanasia.

Of course I must confess that I am receptive to such a film; back in theological studies I once submitted a term paper titled, "Why I Still Don't Believe in Evolution." It was coolly received. I am not really a fan of ID, but I do believe that evolution has ceased to be a theory that might explain certain natural phenomena, but has ascended into a irreproachable and universal dogma that informs every aspect of the contemporary worldview. It enforces a competitive model upon reality, reducing us to the Hobbesian "war of all against all." It removes from the human person (and every creature) any intrinsic privilege. In this way it paves the way for abortion, euthanasia, preemptive war, and the many other crimes against life which are destroying humane culture.

These ideas began to occur to me a few years ago during a lonely summer assignment where I read Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations and noticed some striking similarities to On the Origin of Species. Apart from the dangerous doctrines therein, one has to say that they are both beautiful examples of the English language.

The film has been poorly reviewed, but I suppose that Stein would say that this confirms his complaint that one is not allowed to say such things. Nevertheless, it's an interesting work, and I would recommend it.

January 23, 2010

Census Fears

Today I learn that the 2010 United States Census will be using our church hall for employment applications and interviews. This is somewhat troublesome to me, because God's low opinion of census-taking is very clear in the Scripture. See 2 Samuel 24. Also, I would caution anyone applying to work for the census, lest someone eat his liver "with fava beans and a nice Chianti."

Renovated and Missioned

The Eucharist makes the Church, which is our name as the heirs of the mission of Jesus Christ. Follow this link for my homily for this weekend.

January 21, 2010

Non-Catholics in Confession

There are lots of things in the work of the parish priest that still throw me. One of them is non-Catholics who come to confession. This happens more often than you might think. It seems to me that there are three fairly distinct types, which I present in ascending order of difficulty:

There are the catechumens or (more likely) pre-catechumens, who have a desire to seek God's mercy and forgiveness, or at least experience sacramental absolution. Either they just can't wait, or are confused or uncatechized about how the sacramental economy works. These aren't too hard to deal with, because they desire the sacraments at some level--and sometimes very intensely. I pray with them, give them some spiritual counsel, and try to explain to them that they should desire baptism all the more because of the forgiveness of sins it will bring. Then, if they should--God forbid--sin after their baptism, confession is there for them.

Then there are souls who seek God's forgiveness, or at least the therapeutic act of confession on the natural level, but who just aren't Catholics or a member of any of the apostolic churches that retain the sacrament of penance. It's easy to tell them apart from the Catholics; confession is a private and individual thing, but it's also a fairly scripted encounter. There are many versions of the script, but chances are that you tend to begin your confessions with one formula or another, have a favorite version of the Act of Contrition, etc. When someone comes in with no script or even 'confesses' not knowing how to 'do it,' I know it's time to see if the 'penitent' is even a Catholic (It is necessary to check, as he might be a baptized but totally uncatechized Catholic.)

If the person is an adult I usually ask him directly if he is a Catholic. If not, I try to find out if he is at least validly baptized, which people rarely seem to know. With kids the question is more delicate. My experience with Catholic children and teenagers is that they often don't know how to go to confession (I think that some religious education programs teach it in such a way that 'first reconciliation' is a nice celebration, but doesn't leave behind a portable skill), so if I suspect that a young person is not a Catholic, I ask them if they have received the sacrament of Confirmation. If the answer comes back, "Huh?," or "What's that?" I'm pretty sure that I have a non-Catholic. Having found out what I can, I let the 'penitent' confess as she or he needs to, explain to them why we are either not celebrating a sacrament or doing so in a very occult way, pray with them in thanksgiving for God's mercy, and send them on their way.

The final category is the hardest. These are the non-Catholics who are sent into confession by someone else. It might be a devout, well-meaning, but ultimately controlling and misguided spouse or significant other who thinks the person needs confession, penance, and absolution. Many times it is an aunt, uncle, or grandparent sending in non-Catholic child or teenager in an effort to make up for a lack of or incorrect (in their estimation) religious upbringing. In these cases I hear whatever 'confession' someone wants to make, but I also explain to them that this not a good use of the "sacrament," that they really should neither be there nor let anyone send them back. If it's a child, I tell them to send anyone who tries to make them "go to confession" to me, and I promise to deal with them.

All of these procedures are subject to abbreviation and/or the request to move the conversation to another time and setting if the line for confession is long or if I have to get to something else right after the end of scheduled confession time. Baptized Catholic Christians have a right to the sacraments that other baptized or unbaptized people do not enjoy in the same way.

January 20, 2010

David, Goliath, and the Spiritual Combat

Today in the first reading we arrive at the famous scene of David's defeat of Goliath. I didn't preach on it for the 8:30 am crowd, but maybe I'll be feeling loose and wild enough to go for it by the 7:30 pm Mass tonight. There's an allegorical interpretation in there about the battle of the Church or the individual Christian with evil, temptation, and the devil. I'm not sure that I have it all together, but I've arrived at a few points.

  • Confidence matters. David went out confident and trusting in the Lord. He dismisses Saul's warnings. He knows that God wants to give him victory. He knows that it is God's fight and not his.
  • "The Philistine held David in contempt." We should always know that evil and the devil hate us and the good we are able to do with God's help. All the "empty promises" have this contempt behind them. Keeping this in mind can help us to see through the non-being and non-sense of evil and not be distracted by the glittering wisdom of the world.
  • Taunting can help. Of course it's a standard part of warfare, and thus it appears in the story. Mocking and taunting demoralize the enemy and build up the confidence of the taunter. Sometimes it can be very helpful and liberating to mock our temptations and the world, flesh, and devil behind them.
  • "Am I a dog that you come against me with a staff?" says Goliath. He doesn't see and is unaware of David's real weapon, the sling and stone. It is the nature of sin, evil, and the devil to be cut off from God and thus to be unaware of grace. This is why temptations and diabolical attacks can come upon us with such confidence that we will fold up and be ruined--they can't see the power of God that is with us. Knowing this can give us a lot of confidence for the spiritual combat.
  • David defeats Goliath with sling and stone. It is a small, simple, and humble weapon, but one that requires skill. It also requires preparation; David had carefully selected the stones from the Wadi beforehand. So it is with us; our weapon in the spiritual fight is our simple faith and confidence that the battle is God's rather than our own. All we have to do is let God fight and win the battle on our behalf. Nevertheless, this surrender is so delicate and contrary to our wounded nature that it takes practice and preparation beforehand if we are to make it work at the critical moment of temptation or the attack of evil. The preparation is living a sacramental life of daily prayer, and the skill of the surrender is one that we must practice at each moment of the day.
  • To kill the Philistine is not enough. His head must be cut off. In the same way, to allow God to defeat a temptation within us is a great work of obedience and religion, but we are not done. We must also cut off the sources of temptation in ourselves. Ripping out the selfishnesses and myopias from our hearts and souls with leave some very raw and confused spots inside us, but these are the sorts of wounds that can become openings to the grace of God. They can become our stigmata. "From now on, let no one make troubles for me; for I bear the stigmata of Jesus on my body." (Galatians 6:17)

January 18, 2010


For someone who makes a sincere effort to "Say the Black and Do the Red," I made an interesting error at Mass this morning.

I was preaching on the sin of Saul, on God's right to the spoils of war, and what it might look like to examine our consciences on the issue of sins against the sovereignty of God. (Obviously, I got up too early.)

In the course of this I had a parenthesis on the heavenly armies: 'Sometimes we don't think about this too much, and yet we acclaim God as the leader of the heavenly armies in each Mass when we pray the Sanctus: Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts." The hosts, of course, are the angelic armies.

Trouble is, we don't say this in the Mass at all!

Our American English Sanctus says instead, "Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might," our current rendering of the familiar Latin text Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus Dominus Deus Sabaoth from Isaiah 6:3. In translating this divine title, "Lord Sabaoth" the LXX transliterates it, and so too the Roman rite in its ordinary language. We should note, however, that St. Jerome did translate it, as his rendering of Isaiah 6:3 is sanctus, sanctus, sanctus Dominus exercituum, "holy, holy, holy Lord of armies." (Now you know I got up too early. Something is up when both LXX and Vulgate are off the shelf already.)

So what was I thinking? Do I not know the texts of the Mass which I sing and pray each day? Am I reflecting across languages at some deeper level? Was I looking forward to the forthcoming new translation in which the "hosts" will be restored? (Among many other good things.) It's a funny thing I did. Luckily, nobody called me out on my error after Mass!

Search Terms

Looking over the referrer log, I see that it's time for a 'search terms' post, in order to display some of the curious internet searches that have brought visitors to a minor friar and to answer some questions found therein.

"Capuchin Catholic wedding." Unlikely. Someone is a little unclear on the concept, I think.

"how to become a bishop of a Christian church?" Ordination, I suppose, by some other bishops with a mandate from the Holy See.

"What to do if baptized Novus Ordo." Live it each day!

"How to become a licensed bishop in California." I think the answer would be the same as above. Any California readers care to add anything?

"Carthusians AND holiness." Amen.

"Franciscan priest picture." Here you go:

January 16, 2010

Being Invited and Saving the Party

Jesus begins his signs at the wedding at Cana, and so reveals his glory. Divine compassion saves the newlyweds from embarrassment and saves the party. So it can be for us in whatever we lack in being vessels of God's glory and delight. Follow this link for my homily for this weekend.

January 15, 2010

A Cool, Dry Place

Any prayerful person will concede that much of the economy of grace remains hidden from us in our pilgrimage through this life, but did you know that St. Francis is also the patron saint of dehumidifiers?

January 14, 2010

Overheard: Sacristy Hilarity

Liturgically curious friar: "Father, will we be celebrating St. Hilary today?"

Hagiographically curious friar: "Tell me about him."

LCF: "He was bishop of Poitiers in the fourth century and wrote an important book on the Trinity."

HGF: "What else?"

LCF: "I suppose he was also hilarious."

January 13, 2010

Toying with the Talkers

One of the quiet and profound joys of my current life is the early Mass on weekdays. A devout group of fifteen or so gather at 6:45 am to offer a simple but perfect sacrifice of praise to God. I have written about it before, about its light, its people, and the chapel where we pray.

The chapel is the so-called friars' chapel, which is adjacent to the left side of the sanctuary of the church. It suits the early Mass very much. Unfortunately, however, sometimes the intimacy of the smaller space becomes an occasion for the temptation to visit and chit-chat among those who like to come fifteen or twenty minutes early.

Of course I'm not into this. I like to get everything set up by 6:15 or so and then settle down for a half-hour of prayer and meditation before it's time for Mass. So what to do about the chatters, whom I do not wish to hear nor afford the right to steal my recollection? Up until today my solution was to remove myself physically as far as I could. I would get all vested, except for the chasuble, and then go sit on the other side of church, all the way in the back. This put some distance between me and the chapel. When it was almost time for Mass, I would walk up to the front, put on the chasuble, kneel before the tabernacle for a moment of final preparation, and walk into the chapel for Mass.

Recently, however, I have wondered if this was truly responsible. On the one hand, I could still hear the talking, which disturbed my prayer. On the other hand, shouldn't I be doing something to help the chatters confront the temptation to use the time before Mass in a frivolous way?

So today I tried something different. Instead of going to the back of church for my prayer before Mass, I knelt down right in the middle of the chapel. Everyone was quiet.

January 12, 2010

My Missent Ritual

I have to say that, for me, the tracking of packages is one of the greatest and most enjoyable uses of the internet. It's like taking a virtual journey through places near and far, with a conclusion of sudden reality when whatever it is actually shows up.

I have ordered from Paxbook and watched a package come all the way from the Holy See. It first appears in Rome and then quickly makes its way to Milan. Then it descends into silence for a few days before popping up in Pittsburgh.

I have tracked packages sent via UPS, FedEx, and Deutsche Post (The Dutch book dealer from whom I have found a few treasures seems to wander over the border to do his mailing.)

But the most obscure, mysterious--and in this sense, interesting--package tracking is with items sent via the U.S. Postal Service Media Mail, the former 4th class/Book Rate. The indications can be opaque and the itineraries without obvious logic.

Today I see that my latest package from the great Loome Booksellers, now in its ninth day in the epic journey from Stillwater, Minnesota to the City of Gracious Living, Yonkers, New York, has appeared in Englewood, New Jersey, having taken three days to get there from fifteen or so miles away in Jersey City.

This means that me and my package are probably less than three miles apart at this moment, but who knows how long it will take to get here, especially as the most recent "status" reads "missent."

I can only imagine what "missent" might mean: Perhaps some Jersey Wiccan or Scientologist is poring over the 1955 Rituale Romano-Seraphicum in a state of disappointment.

January 11, 2010


God has been working on me in various ways from an early age, many of which I'm only beginning to understand. Though I didn't really know what they were at the time, there are theological pressures from childhood that are still with me today.

This morning, hearing Jesus' proclamation from St. Mark as we do each year on the first Monday of Ordinary Time, "Repent, and believe in the Gospel," I was thinking back to the third or fourth grade at good old Worthington Hooker Elementary. There was some kid who was a self-styled missionary for the faith. I wasn't brought up with any religion or sense of God in particular, so I was unprepared (or perhaps perfectly prepared!) for his questions.

I remember how he asked me if I was "saved."

"From what?" I asked.

Did I believe in the Good News?

What was good about it, and what made it new?

My poor classmate was not yet very advanced or subtle in his own evangelical understanding or strategy, and was a little stumped by my responses. Even though I was asking in innocence and ignorance, my questions are important. We need to have a sense of the content of the good news of our salvation, of what is 'good' and 'new' about the Good News of the Gospel. We must, as Peter tells us, " always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope." (1 Peter 3: 15)

January 9, 2010

The Grace of God

The feast of the Baptism of the Lord reveals God's desire to draw each human person into the grace and delight of his own Life as Blessed Trinity. Follow this link for my homily for this weekend.

January 8, 2010

Blessed Angela

I notice this morning from View from the Choir that I somehow missed the feast of Blessed Angela of Foligno yesterday. She seems to have a checkered history in the liturgical calendar. Her feast day appears as a semiduplex in the 1942 Missale Romano-Seraphicum on January 4, but by the 1954 and 1962 editions of the M R-S she seems to have fallen off the calendar. She reappears in the current Roman-Franciscan liturgical calendar as an optional memorial for members of the Third Order on January 7.

Angela is one of the real characters that you meet in the history of the Franciscan family. Complicating her eccentricity is her relationship with the friar who was her spiritual director and amanuensis in the production of what we call her writings. They go from sublime to disarmingly plain to almost bizarre. All of these are from the Paulist Press edition, Angela of Foligno: Complete Works:

On hair style and beginnings in the spiritual life:

She likewise told me, brother scribe, that once while she was in prayer and asked God to teach her, he showed her, first of all, how she had offended him in every way possible; and he said to her: "Let's begin with what you do with your hair." This was beautiful, useful, and long instruction but I, brother scribe, could not write it because it was time for us to leave the church, and later I did not take time to do so because other things needed to be written.

On sexual purity and spiritual direction

My body (which nonetheless suffers less than my soul) experiences such burning in three places--the shameful parts--that I used to apply material fire to quench the other fire, until you [brother director] forbade me to do so. (198)

On the Eucharist:

My soul then understood that the medicine was his blood and he himself was the one who administers this medicine to the sick. (155)

And he made it understood that he himself was the table and the food which he was offering. (159)

On the intersection of compunction and spiritual joy:

This awareness is of such clarity, certitude, and abysmal profundity that there is not heart in the world that can ever in any way understand it or even conceive it. (213)

January 7, 2010

Begotten and Re-Made

From the first reading for Mass today: "Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is begotten by God." (1 John 5:1)

To me this is the good news of Christmas. The Son is begotten of the Father from all eternity, "begotten, not made" as we say in the Creed. By his Incarnation, we are given access to that same relationship to the Father. The Holy Spirit conceives the Word in the womb of Mary and thus bends the perfect love and mutuality of Father and Son into the world. This bending out of the relationship of the Son to the Father allows us to come in. (This, not incidentally, is why we call Mary the Mediatrix of grace.)

By the birth of Christ, the Life of the Blessed Trinity Himself is opened to us, that we might become new creatures begotten of God, enjoying the same relationship that Jesus has with the Father, as daughters and sons in the Son.

January 6, 2010

Little Breviary Table

This picture has appeared in this post over on WDTPRS. It's the little table where I keep my daily prayer books.

Going counter-clockwise from the top left:

American English Roman-Franciscan Liturgy of the Hours, volume I

Typical edition Liturgy of the Hours, volume I (in cover I got for 10 euro in Rome)

Liber Hymnarius (partially obscured)

1992 American Liturgy of the Hours supplement (totally obscured, but very necessary on a day like today, the feast of Brother André)

Baronius Press hand missal

1962 Breviarium Romano-Seraphicum, Capuchin use, pars prior

I have usufruct of the little table, but it came from another brother.


One of the spiritual practices that helps me get through daily struggles and difficulties is to recall how God redeems our gifts, personal histories, and even our eccentricities for His own purposes. This is one of the ways I try to work to stay grateful. Gratitude saves us from a multitude of sins and distractions. Here's an example from my own ministry.

Yesterday I had a large funeral Mass to offer, and the family had been very diligent about planning it. I wanted to try to make some extra effort for them, so I tried to sing some of the Eucharistic Prayer, which I had never done before. It wasn't anything grand, just EP III from the Memorial Acclamation to the Doxology from the simple notation (only three notes!) in the back of the Sacramentary. I was very nervous. It wasn't great, but it came out o.k.

After Mass I was thinking of the hours and years spent with the 'alpha female' music teacher in my elementary school, being put through the Kodály Method and standing there wondering what on earth could be the use of singing "Sol-Do-Sol-Do" over and over. I even remember the hand signals that went with it. But here I am, thirty years later, putting it to practical use for the glory of God, singing the Eucharistic Prayer. That's the way God works.

January 5, 2010

Question to Readers

Has anyone ever heard of or participated in some kind of parish program, workshop or anything like that to try to get irregular marital situations addressed in a friendly and pastoral way?

I'm tired to feeling like a burden preparing Pharisee when I have to tell people that they are ineligible for sacramental sponsorship, etc., because of their irregular marriages.

The Blogging Ascesis

I love this blog, and it's good for me on a number of levels. But blogging demands a certain ascesis of me, and I have to be faithful to it. Most of my posts appear in the morning. Early writing was one of the first functions of this blog for me; it provided a warm-up when I was hacking together my licentiate thesis. (And a hack, or even a kludge, it turned out to be.)

Each morning, though, I have to be careful not to permit myself thoughts about what I'm going to blog about that day. I have more important things to keep track of in the morning. On the spiritual level, I have to pray my Office of Readings, either go to Morning Prayer or offer it privately (it depends on the day), prepare to offer Mass and preach on most days, as well as make my personal meditation. On the physical level, I have to make sure I wash, put coffee into myself, and have some shredded wheat and soy milk. (I am nagged by the worry that consuming dairy products, deriving as they do from the commodification of someone else's reproductive faculties, is against chastity on some level.)

All of these things are more important than blogging, and I have to make sure I remember this each morning. So sometimes I have to practice the ascesis of letting go of musings about what I'm going to write about that day. The connection between Christmas and sacramental absolution? The post I've been trying to formulate about drugs, violence, and promiscuity producing the large part of the misery I encounter in ministry? Today these were suggesting themselves to me as I was trying to pray in the back of the church before Morning Prayer. I had to let go. If the Holy Spirit wants me to blog, I say to myself, He will give me the inspiration to write something at a moment when I have a few moments to do it. Thus far in my life as a blogger I have been able to keep to this ascesis and not the let the blog interfere with my prayer and ordinary discipline. If that stops being the case, I suppose I will have to quit, just like I had to quit Plurk and Twitter.

January 4, 2010

The "Groundhog Day" Effect

Christmas has worn me out. Much of it is the effect of having Christmas Day and its octave on Fridays. In the parish ministry, weekends are often the most intense work time; in general one works the most on weekends, evenings, and early in the morning when ordinary folks have time for elective activities and voluntary associations like religion.

Having Christmas and the octave on successive Fridays makes for this curious experience of going through a weekend schedule of services only to wake up the next day and have it be Saturday again. Have four of these "weekends" in two weeks, throw in a few parties, a couple of big funerals, and the fielding of Christmas engagements, and its enough to make someone tired.

January 3, 2010

Jesus Likes Sweatpants

'The Lord suffered on the Cross all morning; he can handle this.' It's a little phrase that I offer to myself to keep me from indulging unhelpful indignation when I see the indignities to which Our Lord is sometimes subjected in his Presence in the Blessed Sacrament. For example, when I see someone chewing gum in the communion procession and I feel like pulling them out of line and threatening to boil their head in vinegar, I just remind myself that Jesus can handle it and I ask him to inspire me notice the opportunities for a more charitable correction.

Of course many such indignities are accidents, like when someone drops the Host. This happens from time to time. To me it demands a quick, delicate, and twofold pastoral response. First, the dropped Host must be recovered immediately, and somehow reserved so that the priest, deacon, or EMoHC can consume It eventually. Second, and this, to me, is the part that requires some delicacy, a response--even if only by gesture--must be made to the communicant. If the communicant is embarrassed or horrified by the incident, it is important to do something by word, expression, or body language to put him at ease. On the other hand, if the communicant is nonchalant about having dropped the Host, even by accident, he needs to be put a little ill at ease about it. In just a few seconds, the priest or other minister must perform the physical act of recovering the dropped Host, discern the spiritual condition of the communicant, and communicate a corresponding pastoral reaction.

I'm just thinking about this today because at Mass this morning I had an incident of Host dropping like none I have ever experienced. The communicant, a nice older lady, mishandled the Host and dropped It. I immediately looked to the floor, but didn't see it. Somehow it had landed on the rear end of the previous communicant's sweatpants and stuck there. (He was to my right, facing away from me, in procession to receive the Precious Blood.) "Well," I thought to myself, "I'm not going to make him turn around by trying to have a conversation about this." So I just plucked the Host from his backside and put it in it's own spot in my ciborium. I told the lady that everything was o.k. and gave her Communion again. There's always something new that can happen at Mass!

January 2, 2010

Lights and Ladders

The magi fulfill the insight of St. Bonaventure, that the created world is a "ladder for ascending into God," as they follow the light of the star to the newborn Jesus. Let us imitate their faith, their journey, and their right effort. Follow this link for my homily for this weekend.