July 30, 2010

Some Time With The Novices

Our novices have been staying with us this week, having finished the novitiate program. They take their temporary vows tomorrow morning. In your charity offer a prayer of thanksgiving for their vocations, and for their courage as they go forward in our formation program.

Their presence reminds me of one of the ways I have changed my mind in the course of my religious life. In the community, we always make much of the young. Candidates and applicants are paraded around, and their 'vocation stories' get published in our newsletters. Brothers in formation are celebrated and treated quite well most of the time. I used to think this was a symptom of an unhealthy community; I worried that we were looking for our own validation through the young guys who were entering. It is they who should be excited about our life and work--presumably this is why they seek to join--rather than us finding our comfort in them. The classic tradition of religious life (across religions even) teaches that candidates should be discouraged in order to test their desire and resolve. Such was my worry.

I've changed my mind. I realize now that this behavior is the natural way families behave. As a sort of family in the spiritual order, the community makes a big deal about its babies, showing them off and trying to give them every good gift. Perhaps this is helpful and supportive for those who are going through the stresses of being formed into the community, but I now realize that it's mostly for us who are 'grown up' in the Order. To encounter and celebrate the guys who are younger in religion is just spiritually healthy. One sees their zeal and simplicity, and is reminded of these things in himself, before all of the internal compromises and friendships made with various forms of laxity and conformity to the spirit of this world. You are reminded of how you were once that way, and the desire to be so again peeks out from the stresses and details and all the anxieties of daily life and ministry.

So, as I've grown up a little bit in the Order, I realize now that we make a big deal about the new brothers at least in part because they minister to us, reminding us of how undivided our own hearts used to be in our desire for God in this life, and presenting a living invitation to accepting that zeal and simplicity once again.

July 29, 2010


The room as it will look upon my moving out is starting to appear. Yesterday I had the state inspection done on the parochial vicar car, had it washed and filled the tank before turning over the keys to my successor. The move is starting to become very real. Though I have been expecting these moments for over a year, it still seems like a surprise.

I guess it has to do with the way I conceive the parish in the story of my life. When I came here it was like a landing. After the many steps and moves of my six years in the formation program, I had arrived. Here it was, my first assignment. The parish then took me into its embrace; the schedules of days and the cycles of seasons, the support and prayer of the people, the headaches, the fights, and the interior trials. The linear timeline of the formation program (postulancy, novitiate, temporary profession and its renewals, diaconate, priesthood) gave way to the cyclical time of the parish. I had landed. Whether I was happy or struggling, joyful or stressed, devout or in a rut, it was home and I could breathe with some new kind of peace.

Now I'm going back to Boston and back to school, into something very like the condition I was in before coming here to the parish. I was ten semesters at the former Weston Jesuit School of Theology before my first assignment, and now I return to the same school's successor institution, the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry. Writing this out makes me realize that jarring nature of the transition: the parish, which was a landing and an arrival for me up until now, will now become for me an interlude between two academic lives in Boston. Not that this cheapens anything about my experience and the graces of the past three years, but it changes their nature in my imagination, in how I understand and narrate to myself the story of my desire to convert to Christianity.

July 28, 2010

1964 Dominican Vocation Video

Via my favorite source for morning news, Anna Arco of the Catholic Herald, I just watched this 1964 vocation video posted on Godzdogz, another blog you should follow.

It's really quite beautiful and inspiring. Note especially how the narrator's account of his meditation after Compline illustrates the motto from the beginning: contemplata aliis tradere. 'To pass on to others what we have contemplated,' or, 'To give to others the fruits of contemplation.' It's the mixed life of mendicancy, both contemplative and active.

Notice also one of the distinctive marks of the Dominican rite: the simultaneous oblation of bread and previously prepared chalice with one prayer. The narrator speaks of uniting himself to the sacrifice at the offertory; this is the heart of conscious participation in the Mass, and something which we need to recover in our own time.

Why should one desire religious life? It is a desire for both prayer and for sacred Truth, with Christ impelling us to share these with the world.

July 27, 2010

Are You There, Lucifer? It's Me, Charles

I'm sure that I've shared in the singing of Dan Schutte's "City of God" more than any other single piece of church music, excepting perhaps the Sanctus from Marty Haugen's "Mass of Creation." With it's giddy activism and joyful sense of eschatological transformation, it's a classic. Besides, I'm pretty sure it substituted for the entrance antiphon (what a mercy from God was my ignorance of such things at the time!) at every Sunday Mass for the three semesters that I was a Catholic in college.

Singing it today at Morning Prayer, though, an uncomfortable lyrical parallel came to mind. Consider the second verse:

We are sons of the morning, we are daughters of day
The One who has loved us, has brightened our way.

Now consider some 'horror punk.' This is the beginning of the later Misfits song "Speak of the Devil:"

Traded in my bible for a little black cat
The time of Armageddon's here
Some call me the son of the morning
God knows I'm the angel of light

The reference is to Lucifer, who is indeed sometimes called the "Son of the Morning." This is an uncomfortable parallel for sure!

July 26, 2010

Overheard in the Friary

This conversation is so religious life:

Father Guardian: What do you want for dinner for your going-away party?

Me: That depends on who's cooking.

July 25, 2010

To Parishioners

Today is my last Mass here at the parish. I don't know if I will be called upon to make a speech at the reception, and I don't feel the need to do so, but I prepared one in my head just in case. Here it is.

Thank you very much. Thank you for gracious welcome into the life of your parish, for the opportunity to pray, to work, and to open the Word of God with you. Thank you for the opportunity to give reverence to the presence of God within you as we prayed together at the baptisms and weddings in your families, as well as at the funerals of our friends and loved ones.

Most of all, though, I want to thank God. I believe that Providence arranged for me to be ordained priest in the course of my assignment here. As you know, I didn't grow up Catholic, and so when it came time to think about where to offer my first Mass, there was no traditional 'home parish' to go to. So it was a great gift to me to have already made a home here, and to have been graciously received into this parish by the weekend of my ordination. I was very grateful to you on that day of my first Mass, and remain so. Many of you were there. I'm happy to say that all of the altar servers from that day remain devout and active altar servers today.

So I'm very grateful. Because of all these particular contours of my first assignment, my religious life and certainly my priesthood will always belong to this place, to you, and to this church in a very special way. I believe that I have a good record of returning to places that were home to me, and so you can be sure that I will see you around.

I ask forgiveness of anyone whom I may have wronged or taken lightly during my time here, and for any moments in which I may have not fully returned the graciousness and kindness shown to me through my own failure to look after my spiritual life. Probably those folks for whose forgiveness I really need to ask aren't here right now, but--knowing how word gets around this place--I'm sure they will hear that I asked for it.

Thanks as always for your prayers and good example, and I ask for your prayers as I go forward to my next assignment, in which the interior challenges and trials may be more intense for me than those I have been through here. Be assured of my continued prayers for you, and may God bless Sacred Heart.

First Mass, September 9, 2007

July 24, 2010

Tracy on Mystery

This passage from David Tracy has been sticking in my conscience for a couple of days. It's the sort of thing that is good for me because it both affirms and challenges.

When Catholic Christians speak of mystery they either mean an uninteresting and basically irreligious datum, muddle, or puzzle. Or they mean--as Karl Rahner so clearly means--that radically mysterious dimension to our lives which limits and grounds the rest of our activities.

When I read the first sentence I want to cheer; longtime readers will recall my annual Trinity Sunday rant on the cheap substitution of mystification for mystery. On the other hand, I'm not comfortable with the second sentence either. I am very afraid of the pervasive operative theology that embeds human religiosity too far into anthropological or existential categories, because I believe it leads to different "religions" as mere human cultural expressions and thus without any real distinction among them in terms of truth. (It also requires, at least it seems to me, that we see God as an incompetent revealer, but that's another story.) I'm not saying that this is the claim of the text; it just brings up a worry in me. But I have to admit, I haven't worked some of this out for myself, and am still trying to un-muddle my thinking, as it were. I'm still puzzling my way toward a way between the politically correct dogmas of the so-called liberals on the one hand, and fundamentalist-style habits of thought on the other.

To be fair to the text, the passage continues with an equally interesting--though less pressuring for me, obviously--parallel pair of sentences on Protestants:

When Protestant Christians speak of the "scandal of Christianity" they either mean some uninteresting and basically irreligious tenet of fundamentalism. Or they mean--as Bultmann means--the dialectical, the limit scandal that this God of Jesus the Christ is also and always my God.

Both passages are from David Tracy, Blessed Rage for Order: The New Pluralism in Theology.

When posts like this start to come to mind, I guess I have to admit to myself that I am going back into student mode.

The Answer to Prayer

Jesus assures us that by our confidence and persistence we will receive a favorable answer to our prayer. In fact, we receive the greatest gift of all. Follow this link for my homily for this weekend.

July 20, 2010

Visiting the Dominicans

I'm visiting with my parents today, so for Mass I went to my "home" parish, St. Mary's in New Haven, which is served by the Order of Preachers.

A young deacon assisted at Mass and gave the homily. He must be a transitional deacon on summer assignment, and looking forward to priestly ordination either in the fall or spring. I was so impressed with the homily that I had to write him a note. Here's what I wrote:

Dear Brother,

May the Lord give you peace!

I just wanted to let you know how much I appreciated your homily at the noon Mass today.

It's not everywhere that you can go to church on a Monday in Ordinary Time and hear about the capacity of natural reason according to the teaching of
[the dogmatic constitution] Dei Filius, and the doctrine of God's mercy according to St. Thérèse.

Through the intercession of our holy fathers Dominic and Francis, may God flourish your religious life and your priesthood in every way.

Things Found in Books

I love to find things left in books, and so I often leave things in them. I use receipts or pictures or ticket stubs for bookmarks, and then leave them to be found and remembered.

This morning at my parents' house, I took Petr Beckmann's A History of π (PI) of the shelf in my old room and started to read a little. A printed travel itinerary fell out, not for me, but for a friend. Apparently, my friend flew from Hartford to Sarasota via Atlanta on a certain day in the spring of 1998.

Perhaps I had lent him the book, and perhaps he uses the same bookmarking procedure that I do.

Praying Toward Death

I liked the concluding oration for Morning Prayer today: "Increase in us, Lord, the faith you have given us, and bring to a harvest worthy of heaven the praise we offer you at the beginning of this new day." (I don't know 'what the prayer really says' because I'm staying with my parents and don't have my Liturgia Horarum with me.)

Everything we do contributes to who we will be at the moment of death when our lives shift from time to eternity. What we choose to do makes for habits, both of thought and behavior. Our habits define what sort of people we are in this life. Death, from the perspective of morality, is the moment at which our lives cease to be subject to revision. At that point, like it or not, we have decided who we have been in this life. Punk rockers The Vandals described this in negative terms in their song, "People That Are Going to Hell:" When their lives are over and they've done what they've done, they're the people that are going to hell.

For us who are still on the pilgrimage of this life, this is good news. Our lives are still revisable. We can avail ourselves of grace and do our best to consent to become saints at the moment of death. But there is urgency to this; as moments and days and years go by, our lives become that much less revisable. Since we do not know when we will die, let us surrender to the sanctity that God delights to give us. Let us give in to the destiny that Jesus Christ is dying to give us, and become the harvest worthy of heaven.

July 19, 2010

Finishing My First Assignment

After Masses yesterday I was finished with my assignment here at the parish. Now I have two weeks of vacation before beginning my new assignment in Boston on August 1. It's a very odd feeling. The life of parish ministry is so such an all-encompassing structure that it feels strange to be suddenly out of it.

I have only been here for three years, but it seems like longer. Perhaps this is because one's sense of time in parish life is somewhat cyclical, and so touches eternity. Morning Prayer, Mass, Evening Prayer, supper. Sundays, weekdays, days off. Advents, Christmases, Lents, Easters, and everything in between. Other little things that cycle around, no less regular but much less important, carrying their own meaning: the quiet of Holy Saturday, the camaraderie of the exhausted on Ash Wednesday and Palm Sunday, Chinese takeout on Christmas eve before heading back to church for the Mass in nocte.

We human beings strive for and desire eternity. It's why the engaged know that only the total self-giving of 'forever' will satisfy the revelation of God's love they have found in each other, and why novices look forward to their vows. It's why two kids in love can write 'together for ever' on a wall or a tree, even though they know nothing of life and commitment. It's why we make children and art. Life in cyclical time imitates eternity, and thus becomes a satisfying vehicle for grace. This is why structures like the Divine Office and the liturgical year are so important; they plan prayer and present revelation to us by arranging them in cyclical time, thereby giving us a saving taste of the nunc stans of God's own eternity.

Even the adventitious work of the parish priest proceeds according to regular patterns within which particular and individual grace comes to be revealed: The short encounters of confession, heavily scripted but full of the honest and particular intimacy of the desire for faithfulness God puts in the hearts of his saints. From the first look at a family at a wake, to the offering of the funeral Mass, to my last private prayer at the grave. From the first call from a newly engaged, through meetings and paperwork and planning, to the particular intensity of the dismissal at a nuptial Mass: "The Mass is ended; go in peace." These are the patterns and cycles in which grace is revealed and the eternity of God comes to dwell among us.

As I transition out of this life, I feel neither more nor less free. I feel a little unhinged and adrift, but not in a frightening way. The graces and the challenges will be somewhat different now, but grace is grace, and God is one.

July 17, 2010

In Cervisia Veritas

Back when I was in school, this amusing thing used to circulate making a distinction between theologians--and therefore the theologies that derived from them--who drink beer and those who drink Scotch. I don't remember how enlightening it was, but debemus distinguere, after all.

Now I wouldn't claim to be a theologian. But this morning, as I take advantage of the least hot part of the day to pack my own theological books into the car, it becomes abundantly clear into which category I would fall.

And for those who question whether it's good to drink beer at all, go ahead and check out what St. Thomas had to say on the subject.

July 15, 2010

Feast of St. Bonaventure Blog Roundup

Some posts to check out:

Fr. Longenecker posted the beautiful section of The Journey of the Soul to God found in the Office of Readings today.

Fr. Z presents on Bonaventure and the Bonaventuran-ness of Benedict XVI.

Taming the Wolf posts on how the mysticism of The Journey and the Tree of Life draw us to a mediating stance amidst the conflicts in our lives and in the world.

Enlarging the Heart presents some good stuff from the Collations on the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Daughter of the King and the Magdalene Sisters have portraits, prayers, and great sections from The Journey.

Bonaventure and the Daily Mass Crowd

This morning was my last regularly scheduled Mass with the 8:30 crowd. We have two daily Masses here, 6:45 and 8:30, but the latter is a much larger group.

As a parish priest, the folks who come to daily Mass get to be like family. They are the first people you get to know by name, and the ones whose spirituality and style of prayer you get to know the best. In turn, they know you better than anyone, both because they experience the more relaxed preaching and prayer of weekdays, but also because they get to see you both when you are generous and on fire with the love of God and also when you are grumpy and petty and not praying well. You get to be grateful for them as a kind of anchor in your daily life.

It all makes me realize how deeply supported the life of a parish priest is. The work has plenty of headaches and stresses about which I have often written gracelessly in these posts, but one is supported and held in prayer in a way that far outstrips them. I will very much miss the little group of folks with whom I have regularly shared in the secret of the Lord's Sacrifice.

Providence made today the feast of St. Bonaventure, which is appropriate because I am leaving the parish ministry to return to the life of a student. I preached on one of my favorite lines from the Itinerarium: In hac consideratione est perfectio illuminationis mentis...videt hominem factum ad imaginem Dei. "In this consideration is the perfect illumination of the mind...[when it] sees the human being made in the image of God." (VI:7) So often we take the doctrine of our creation in the image of God in a matter of fact way. As it turns out, however, it is the key to our journey into God. Our imagination, by which we can be anywhere and reach out in love and care both forward and backward in time, we imitate God's own eternity and ubiquity, finding a way into the consideration of these mysteries. But above all it is by our capacity to love, and in our freedom to dispose of ourselves completely in love for each other, that we imitate the delightful and delighted will of God.

July 14, 2010

Celebrants vs. Presiders

I never gave much thought to them, but it seems to me that the terms 'presider' and 'celebrant' are becoming more and more loaded. Both presumably aim to describe the same thing on the face of it, namely the role of the priest (whether he be bishop or presbyter) in the ordered assembly at the celebration of the liturgy.

Those who insist on the term 'presider' believe that 'celebrant' diminishes the role of the laity in the liturgy, even though these same sort of folks often have an activist and shallow view of conscious and active participation focused on exterior action. On the other hand, those who insist on the term 'celebrant' to the exclusion of 'presider' seem to ignore that this is an active term in the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (in the forms of the verb praesum), and sometimes seem to edge toward forgetting that there is only one priesthood--that of of Jesus Christ--in which the Church and her members share in different ways.

Again, I never gave much thought to this distinction until recently, but it seems like it gets pushed more and more. Instead of accepting the 'both/and' kind of thing it surely is, the use of these terms seems to be one of the many ways we push each other into polarizations. For example, I have been in places in which the very use of the term 'celebrant' would earn you an unpleasant label. On the other hand, I have received memos sent in anticipation of particular liturgical presidencies instructing me that the term 'presider' is to be studiously avoided.

Anyway, what I mean to say is that I would love to be able to read something about the history and use of these terms in the tradition. I don't feel like I know much in this area, apart from Justin Martyr referring to the "president" of the assembly. Does anybody know of anything I might be able to read?

Moving the Lord in First

I've crossed the line in my packing; my room now looks like I'm moving out. The shelves are empty and an obelisk of Corona and Brooklyn Brewery IPA boxes dominates the middle the room. Everything is off the walls except for the crucifix, because I shall need it to move.

See, I have some little rituals that go along with moving, and one of them is that I try to move the Lord into a space before anything else. I walk in with the crucifix and put it somewhere before I move in anything else. This particular crucifix is dear to me; it's a simple one of olive wood that I bought in Jerusalem in 1994. Because I was so picky about the plainness I was looking for, I got into a big conversation with the shopkeeper and ended up having to look at a photo album of his relatives in the States while we shared some bread and water.

I carried my new crucifix when we made the Stations of the Cross, and I have had it in my room ever since. That's a lot of places; since going away to college twenty years ago, I have lived at twelve different addresses, not counting summers. Throw summer assignments in there, and I have lived at seventeen addresses in five states and four countries.

My habit of 'moving the Lord in first' once helped me hit it off with a building superintendent and his assistant. One of them said, "Wow, a cool tenant." I consider that to be one of the greatest compliments I have ever received. To be fair, since they were still finishing up some painting, I took a break from moving to go across the street to get a sandwich from the deli, and I offered to get them something. So even if it was the sandwiches that made me seem cool, I like to think some of it was moving the Lord in first.

July 13, 2010

Catholic Foursquare

So, I have been using/playing with foursquare. What is my justification for introducing such a potential distraction and trifle into my life? Well, I have two; the first is ministerial and the second personal. First, I have always tried to conceive of my internet presence, in part, as a way for people--especially those who might be interested in religious life or discerning a vocation--to have a glimpse into what our life looks like, both inside the heart and in the activities of daily life. The foursquare application does some of this by revealing some of the places, movements, and activities of my days. Second, I have been constantly challenged in my religious life to 'get out more' and to be attentive to visiting confreres and friends. As a game, foursquare encourages me to do some of that stuff.

All that being said, the other day on the bus, having visited the foursquare "venues" St. Mary's Church, El Poblano Cafe, and "Ghetto" (i.e. "Getty") Square, I was thinking about the potential this application might have for Catholics. In playing foursquare, one can earn "badges" for checking in a certain number of times, for checking into a number of similar places, or with a certain number of people, as well as for many other little accomplishments. Several particularly Catholic badges come to mind:

Daily Communicant: That's five check-ins at daily Mass in one week!

Frequent Penitent: That's two check-ins for confession this month. Thanks for your good example!

Adorer: You've checked in at adoration in three different churches!

Triduum: That's all three stations of the Paschal Triduum liturgy for you!

Midnight Mass: You're lucky to still have one!

All Souls: You've checked in to a cemetery on All Souls day or during its octave. The plenary indulgence in available to you.

First Fridays: You've made the nine First Fridays! The Sacred Heart is your refuge!

First Saturdays: You've made the five First Saturdays! You are a devout agent of reparation!

These are just examples. I'm sure readers will come up with several more in the comments. There could also be particular badges for jubilee years, special observances, indulgences, and pilgrimage sites and shrines, etc., as well as ones for charisms, e.g. a certain number of check-ins at churches or institutions of Franciscan inspiration could earn a 'Franciscan' badge, etc.

In the course of using foursquare one may also become the "mayor" of venues by checking in more than any other user. Mayorships can also be usurped by other users. Some businesses offer special deals for foursquare 'mayors,' and so it could be for my Catholic version. For example, a Mass could be offered each month for the intentions of the mayor of a certain church.

So, you devout foursquare API and iPhone and Android app developers, I'll look forward to it. The EULA must include a pledge to resist using the application to indulge any Pelagian tendencies.

July 10, 2010

The Good Samaritan

I know I'm being a scrub, but in my transitional space I don't have a new homily to post today. Nevertheless, I'm still happy with what I posted three years ago, which you can check out by following this link.

July 9, 2010

The Original Blessing

Yesterday I spent some time with a couple of friends whom I've known since elementary school. Both have families now. The one whose home we were visiting has two children: the older one is a rambunctious toddler and the younger is only five months old. Almost every space in their home is overtaken with child related stuff and the atmosphere is generally chaotic. They are very happy. It's interesting to see people with whom you grew up, both friends and family, as parents themselves. They are the same people, of course, but are somehow transformed. They are renovated by the original blessing God pronounced on our first parents: "Be fruitful." The original blessing is on all of us, because we all derive from the compound marriage of the will of God and the bodies of Adam and Eve.

Perhaps it's when we forget about all this that we celibates get ourselves into trouble. Marriage is an option, but generativity is not. If we do not care for our spiritual lives and cultivate our own re-creation in God, we will be sterile, unable to conceive spiritual children. If we lose our missionary edge, the command of the Lord to make disciples of all nations, we can easily turn in on ourselves in eccentricity, comfort-seeking, and entitlement. All of these are disaster for the celibate soul, which is why we always need to remember that our vocations are not given to us for ourselves, but for the sake of those to whom God wishes to give us as spiritual mothers and fathers. Here the chaotic house filled with toys and childcare equipment is a good reflection for the celibate. Am I willing to surrender every space in my life to God, or do I hold back certain areas for myself?

July 8, 2010

Grateful Anti-Rant

Just as a counterpoint to yesterday's little rant, I have to say that I have only received two angry notes a I prepare to leave the parish. In contrast, the pile of encouraging and kind ones gets larger each day. The people here are very gracious, and though I have tried to work diligently and honestly on their behalf, the thanks that they are giving me is beyond anything I have actually done. But no matter. The thanks belong to God, whose work it is. If I have allowed some of his grace to come through my ministry, in spite of all of my distraction and eccentricity, it is all Him.

So I am very grateful to this place. Providence arranged that I would be ordained priest in the course of my assignment here, so that I would have a "home parish" in which to offer my first Mass. Not having grown up Catholic, there was no other obvious choice. In this sense, my life as a perpetually professed friar and especially as a priest will always belong to this place, to this particular altar and these people.

The groups whose care I have been given have edified me constantly by their gentleness and desire for faithfulness: The altar servers, lectors, and ministers of Holy Communion, the Spiritual Life Committee and the Secular Franciscans, and especially the little kids' catechumenate group, in which I experienced some of my most encouraging moments of common prayer.

I have heard confessions of people so advanced in the spiritual life that I could only speak to them based on things I've read in books, so far beyond anything I have experienced they were. Sometimes these intense holinesses are hidden from those who carry them in the world, and this too is God's mercy, that they might not be distracted by any of the conceits of those of us who are professionally pious.

So I am exceedingly grateful and entirely unworthy. But gratitude and the sense of our unworthiness are paths into God, and I want to take them. In this sense the people here have been ministering to me.

July 7, 2010

To My Haters

Just a note to the couple of souls who have graced me with hate mail on the occasion of my departure from the parish ministry:

I've said it many times, but the fact is that I care much more about the attachment of your souls to the Lord and to the practice of the faith than I care about the attachment of your sentiments to this church building and its glorious history. If I see no sign of the former, I will dismiss the latter as a matter of any concern. You can call me a rotten priest, and you will succeed in hurting my feelings. But you still won't get what you think you want, because I care more about your soul than my feelings.

So, to all the out-of-county or even out-of-state parents whose children I have suggested would be better baptized elsewhere: If this church meant so much to you when you grew up here, why wouldn't you give the same gift to your child by attending Sunday Mass in the place where you are now raising your children? Why do you deny them the gift that was given to you?

And to all of the potential sacramental sponsors whom I have suggested were not ready to certified: You can't sponsor someone for a journey that you aren't making yourself. You can't make the promises of baptism on someone's behalf when you aren't even thinking about your own. Your attempted election was an invitation from the Holy Spirit to return to the faith. You didn't want to accept the invitation, so I couldn't give you the benefit of the doubt. But God is in eternity, and sees us from that point of view; so the invitation remains. Hate me, fine. But love the Lord.

Thank you for your charity, and have a nice day.

Rubrics and Beams

The other night I was having fun with one of the brothers as we remarked upon all of the little additions, subtractions, and quirks of different priests when they offer Mass.

The funny thing is that they often find these things annoying in each other!

If you yourself change the prayers in accord with what you imagine to be your theology, or leave things out because they don't suit you, or add things because it's your "presiding style," you don't get to criticize someone else who leaves out or changes other things because he thinks that they suit him!

July 6, 2010

My First Convert

Through further conversations with the parents on other questions, I just realized that I baptized a Jewish baby the other day. Some of the baptism paperwork had been done by someone else and I had not noticed that the mother was Jewish, making the baby a Jew. He's my first convert!


My successor in the parochial vicariate has started work. Today he had his first Mass with the early weekday crowd (6:45). Yesterday we spent the afternoon touring the sacristy and going over various procedures for services in church.

As I've tried to pray through this process I've noticed a lot of feelings. I can't deny that there is a certain liberation in handing over the various little church chores that have punctuated my days for three years. But there's also a dull kind of grief, of letting go of a life that has become a home, and in which I have found some of my own redemption in the work of the parish priesthood. Somehow, though, it's a very healthy kind of grief with an almost generative edge. I pass on the work. I hand over this particular care of souls that I was given for this moment in my life, along with all of the unglamorous little jobs that support the place and keep it going each and every day. It really feels like an act of tradition, of handing something forward towards the fullness of the Kingdom of God. But it also demands a letting go; his experience will be very different from mine, and he will do things differently. The moment of who I have been for this parish comes to a close; I give thanks for the good I have been able to do and try to let go of what I have done poorly, or left undone altogether.

As I've prayed through this, I find myself hoping and desiring that my own death might be the same kind of spiritual moment: full of the healthy grief that comes from having loved as best I could, but also full of surrender and a willingness to let go in a faithful frame of towards-the-Kingdom.

July 5, 2010

Desperate, But Not Serious

One of the greatest challenges I have with penitents--and with myself!--is those who struggle with discouragement over committing the same sins again and again. Often it's a habit of misusing our speech, such as lying or gossip or detraction, or maybe it's a sin against purity. It's the same confession over and over, and sometimes there comes to be a dullness and a frustrated boredom that is often more spiritually dangerous the sin itself.

What can be done in this situation?

First of all, we must remember to treat internal invitations to discouragement or despair as temptations themselves. But when it comes to the patterns of sin themselves, sometimes I think our troubles were described by one of those early MTV songs by Adam Ant: We are 'desperate, but not serious.'

We are desperate to do something about our trouble; we don't want whatever it is in our lives. But, for some reason, we have not yet found the willingness to fearlessly re-arrange our days and mercilessly refuse to make provision for our habitual fault. Maybe we need to avoid the occasions and near occasions of sin. Maybe we need to avoid certain places or people. Maybe what we really have is an addiction over which we have lost any hope of control and need to find the humility to ask for help. Our desperation tells us that we no longer want the misery of sin, but our failure to get serious reveals that we aren't yet ready to make holiness an absolute priority in our lives.

July 3, 2010

Lambs Among Wolves

I didn't manage a new homily this week, but I'm still pretty happy with the one I wrote three years ago. Topics include fitness for mission and receiving the stigmata. Check it out here.

July 2, 2010


There's some great doctrine from St. Augustine in the Office of Readings today:

The grace which makes any a man a Christian from the first moment of his coming to believe is the same grace which made this man the Christ from his coming to be as man. The Spirit through whom men are reborn is the same Spirit through whom Christ was born.

As Christians, we do not worship the mysteries of faith as mere spectators; we consent to allow the mysteries to step into us and become who we are at our deepest identity. As the sacrifice of the Eucharist gives us a weekly rebirth as the Body of Christ, risen to the Father but still present on earth in the Spirit, the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem and our definitive rebirth in baptism approach a unity. This is the eschatological unity when Christ will be "all in all," the goodness of the Father having been multiplied through having been shared with a multitude of disciples through the ministry of Christ, and rolled back into the heavenly kingdom at the end of time.

July 1, 2010

Top Ten Least Favorite Communicants

After several heavy posts lately, I thought it might be time for a lighter and amusing one. This one I've been incubating for some time.

Of course I very much enjoy and appreciate being a minister of Holy Communion. I usually concentrate on the eyes and hands of the people, in which one can see the joys and griefs that make up the blessedness and the woundedness of the Body of Christ in the world. See more on that sort of thing in this old post.

Nevertheless, the communion procession is also a time when one observes the various little idiosyncrasies and funny habits that people have developed around receiving. In that bemused spirit--though not without a touch of horror--I present my top ten least favorite communicants:

The low-five. The hands are held low, even below the navel. Since I probably don't even see the hands in this position, I often get confused about how the communicant wants to receive. If I think I can get away with it, I sometimes 'go for the tongue' in a spirit of friendly correction. This one seems much more common among the young. Could it be shyness or self-consciousness?

The delayed reaction. This communicant wishes to receive in the hand, but only raises the hands to do so at the last second. Once you know who they are, it's fine, but if not it can produce collisions as hands are raised while I presume the intention to receive on the tongue. I don't know where this one comes from; artificial drama, perhaps?

The pincers. Thumb and forefinger are presented, ready to grab the Host when it is presented. Disrespectful and annoying!

The lips. Rather than receive on the tongue, this communicant wants to grab the host with their lips. Weird.

The teeth and tongue. Much like "The lips," but instead this communicant wants to grab the host between tongue and upper teeth. Not only weird but a little disconcerting. Don't bite me, Ma'am!

The re-fractioner. For some reason this person has to break the host in half before consuming it. I don't get it.

The overly polite. Either in place of or in addition to the standard "Amen," this communicant also has to say 'Thank you' or 'Thank you, Father," etc. Odd.

The sucker. After receiving in the hand, this communicant raises the hand and sucks the Host into the mouth. If you're going to do all that, why not just receive on the tongue already?

The hand licker. Same advice as above.

The kidnapper. This communicant, desiring to bring Holy Communion to someone who is sick or homebound, but also being shy or unwilling to ask a priest to do it or accept the public role of an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion, tries to consume only some of the Host and then take the rest away. Usually highly indignant when caught, because of the basically good intention.