August 30, 2010

A Challenge From Blessed Mother Teresa

The other day on CNA there was an article in which Cardinal Comastri, the archpriest of St. Peter's basilica, recounted how Blessed Mother Teresa saved his priesthood. Fr. Z picked it up, and that's where I saw it. I was challenged by what I read:

"How many hours do you pray a day?" she asked.

In 1969-70, he recalled, the Church was in a time of "dispute," so thinking that it was "near heroism, then-Father Comastri explained to her that he said daily Mass in addition to praying the Liturgy of the Hours and the Rosary.”

To this, she responded flatly, "That's not enough.”

"Love cannot be lived minimally," she said, and then asked him to promise to do half an hour of adoration every day.

"I promised," said Cardinal Comastri, "and today I can say that this saved my priesthood."

Daily Mass, Liturgy of the Hours, and the rosary. That seems like it would be enough, no? That's at least a couple of hours out of a busy day. I'll confess that there are plenty of days when I don't pray much more than that, if even. But as a religious priest, I have to recognize Mass, Liturgy of the Hours, and rosary as a minimum of daily prayer. As a priest I have promised to pray the whole of the Office each day. As a religious, Canon Law enjoins up me that I make "every effort" to assist at Mass daily, and as a priest I am "earnestly invited" to offer Mass each day. Both Canon Law and the Constitutions of the Order recommend devotion to Our Lady as indispensable to the spirituality of a religious, so there you have the rosary.

Daily Mass, Liturgy of the Hours, and rosary: this is the minimum of prayer that makes me an 'unprofitable servant,' the servant who had done no more than what he was asked to do, or as he promised to do. If I really love my Master, if I want to be more than an indifferent servant in the household of God, I must love beyond this minimum.

Thank you, Mother, for the challenge.

August 29, 2010

18th Anniversary of Baptism

It was eighteen years ago today that I exited the Freeman dormitory by the back basement stairs and walked through the still-empty campus of Connecticut College to the edge of North Lot on my way to Williams St. and the little church of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Quaker Hill. There I was baptized, and an odd and meandering ongoing journey--long hidden in God and only obscurely revealed to me--suddenly became my public life.

What did I think I was doing that day? Perhaps I imagined that I was putting to rest a question that I had long wondered about, i.e. what religion was I? I hardly realized that this was to frame the question all wrong; in fact I was trying to begin to surrender to a call that had always been there in some form. Have I progressed in that surrender after eighteen years? Most of the time I don't feel as if I have. In some ways I feel as though I have regressed! But none of that is the point. Who cares about me? This is a story about God, not Charles. Besides, Jesus came not to call the righteous, but sinners.

Perhaps I thought I was following the first tastes of the newly discovered horizon revealed in prayer. True enough, but I had not spent enough time in prayer to realize that these experiences called me so strongly because they hearkened back and resonated with certain confusing but attractive and intriguing interior experiences I routinely had as a small child. God had been there, a Mystery subtle and obscure on the one hand, but overwhelming and undeniable on the other.

If someone had been able to tell me what would become of my baptismal vocation, about all of the twists and turns and griefs and struggles up to this very day, I probably wouldn't have believed it. If I had, I might have feared to accept the sacrament. Sometimes it is an expression of God's mercy that we don't know what is to come. God knows knows that perhaps we can better accept our struggles for Him a little at a time, one day at a time.

My fear was just a shadow
And then a voice spoke in my head
And she said, "Dark is not the opposite of light
It's the absence of light."

And I thought to myself
She knows what she's talking about
And for a moment I knew
What it was all about.

(Beastie Boys, "Namaste")

August 28, 2010

Lux Lucens Nova

In his cover letter to Summorum pontificum, Benedict XVI calls for a "mutual enrichment" of the older and newer forms of the Roman rite. Thanks for Fr. Z for pointing out this tremendous contribution to that end:

August 27, 2010

Monica as Intercessor

In one of my early assignments we had a little shrine to St. Monica in the public chapel. It was enormously popular. One doesn't have to spend much time in ministry to realize that a large proportion of the prayers of this world come out of the anxiety of mothers for their sons in trouble. St. Monica is the perfect intercessor for these intentions.

Another area for which I have recommended Monica as an intercessor is in the area of sexual purity. St. Augustine had his troubles in this area, as he freely admits, and chastity was a stumbling for him in his discernment of Catholic Christianity. Therefore, if we take seriously what we pray in the collect today, that God received Monica's tears for the conversion of her son (the current English translation about God being moved misses the mark a little bit) we must conclude that her prayers helped Augustine accept the grace of chastity.

St. Monica, pray for us.

August 26, 2010


This new friary where I live has had a lot of problems with water. Yesterday I got my first taste of it. In the afternoon I went down to the basement to take my little walk on the treadmill, and there it was. It didn't look like much, but it turned out to be almost twenty gallons by the time I had vacuumed most of it up. Just that little bit of water was trouble; I spent the time trying to pray for the people in the floods in Pakistan.

Water can be very destructive. It's heavy, gets dirty, and it ruins things beyond repair. It's a good reflection for us when we think about baptism. Just as the positive natural powers of water like cleansing and refreshment are present for us in the supernatural grace of baptism, so also the more frightening powers of water: in our baptism we are drowned, we go down into the death of Christ and the old Adam is left dead at the bottom of the Jordan. If his distractions and concupiscence come with us out of the water, that's on us; the original sin is gone, though its injuries remain as we try to recuperate through the life of prayer and the sacraments.

In the course of this journey of recuperation, whether we finish it here on earth or in purgatory, we are freed from the fear of bodily death. After all, we already dead.

August 25, 2010

What About Islam?

For a long time I've been bothered by not knowing what to think about Islam. Current events are bringing it up for me once again.

On the one hand, it seems to me that there is a sense in which the confession of Christianity has to include a denial of the truth of Islam. The angel Gabriel announced the birth of Jesus Christ to Mary. Some centuries later he is said to have revealed the Qur'an to Muhammed. If I admit that this latter claim is true, even if I also accept the former, I ought to become a Muslim right now. If I go another day without converting to Islam, it seems to me that I'm denying that this revelation occurred. Either Gabriel came to Muhammed or he didn't. Perhaps I am simpleton in this regard, but I don't see any coherent way out of this dilemma.

So it would seem to me, in my own reflection, that there is no theological relationship between Christianity and Islam (in the sense that there is a theological relationship of Christianity to Judaism, not for example) However, I'm not ready to stand on this claim. Why? Because I look to the Church's teaching, and I don't know what to make of it. Nostra aetate, Vatican II's famous decree on non-Christian religions, has some nice things to say about Islam, but does not get at the question of a theological relationship, of a sense in which the existence of Islam might have meaning for Christianity (and hence for God.)

Lumen gentium 16 presents something harder:

Sed propositum salutis et eos amplectitur, qui Creatorem agnoscunt, inter quos imprimis Musulmanos, qui fidem Abrahae se tenere profitentes, nobiscum Deum adorant unicum, misericordem, homines die novissimo iudicaturum.

But the plan of salvation also embraces those who know the Creator, among whom first are the Muslims, who profess to hold the faith of Abraham, with us adore the one, merciful God, and will judge the human race on the last day.

The "propositum salutis," the plan, or design of salvation, which we read to be God's plan, seems to include Islam, at least according to Lumen gentium. As I described above, I'm not sure how to understand this myself, but it is what the Church seems to say.

Amplector is a rather interesting and suggestive verb in this text: amb, "around" plus plecto from the Greek, πλεκω, to twine, braid, or weave.


Yesterday I made my second trip to Boston College. I had an appointment with the health services office to get some shots. I was about an hour early, so I took the opportunity to reacquaint myself with the O'Neill library. I read some Fortescue just for fun, and checked to see if my brother's new book was on the shelf. It was, already. He and I are next to each other in the online catalog, which is pretty cool. (Not that I've ever written a book, but they have my licentiate thesis bound up somewhere, so that I may live forever in salutary humiliation.)

After all this fun, I made my way to health office. As I entered the waiting room, I saw a group of men, perhaps in their 30s. Pants and button-down shirts of medium formality, black shoes, watches sturdy but not flashy, clean-shaven with sensible haircuts. I knew right away who they were: Jesuit scholastics. These were the young Jesuits who would be beginning their theology this year, getting their PPD tests and tetanus shots before the first day of school.

Perhaps not everyone would have been able to tell right away that these were Jesuits. But over the years (and ten semesters of Jesuit education) I have developed the amazing faculty of Jesuit-dar. I can tell Jesuits. It's a little harder with the older ones, but not much.

In the course of religious life one develops these skills. Most achieve the power of nun-dar fairly quickly. Despite having abandoned the habit, many sisters have adopted a fairly recognizable look. Pretty soon you know sisters when you see them. You have nun-dar.

August 23, 2010

Starting Lonergan

Though it's surely a folly to think that I could finish it before the first day of school, this morning I have embarked on the last of my projected summer reading, Bernard Lonergan's Insight. You know you're in for something good when you read a sentence like this in the author's preface:

"...I find it difficult to state in any brief and easy manner what the present book is about, how a single author can expect to treat the variety of topics listed in the table of contents, why he should attempt to do so in a single work, and what good he could hope to accomplish even were he to succeed in his odd undertaking."

The Love of God and Pastoral Care

Thomas Aquinas's commentary on John appears in the Office of Readings today, for those who didn't take the option of celebrating Rose of Lima, or for us Capuchins who didn't take the option of celebrating Conrad of Offida.

This line caught me: "Nobody is a good shepherd (pastor) unless by charity he is made one with Christ and a member of the true Shepherd."

It is the love of God that makes pastors, and empowers someone to give pastoral care. To me, this has two senses. First, anyone who dares to be a minister of God has to first know himself as loved by God. Of course this is a spiritual ideal. Everyone has some admixture of nonsense and distraction in this. Our own self-hates and the wrong beliefs we have been taught about ourselves by others (passing on their own negativity to us) sometimes get projected onto God. Part of our prayer must be our ascetical effort against this sort of thing. It might be subtle or even a secret to us, but if we, even in small ways, believe that God disdains or even hates us, it will come out and get passed on in our pastoral care of others.

Second, we must strive to purify the encounter of our heart and mind with others. We might find someone to be interesting or tedious, enjoyable or annoying, but we have to learn to bracket such things interiorly if we want to be ministers of genuine pastoral care. In my job before I was in the Order most of my coworkers were young women. Moment to moment cooperation made a big difference in how smoothly we could get through a day. Once I was examining myself on my charity, on how freely I could be helpful to others. I realized that I was more attentive and helpful to the coworkers I found pretty. Realizing that I had uncovered a subtle unchastity, I asked my spiritual director about it. He said something like this, which was very helpful: 'Whether or not you find a particular person attractive is largely an accident of your own history and your arbitrary prejudices. It's all a dead end in the face of the truth: each person is a unique and unrepeatable creation, loved by God beyond what we can imagine. In other words, they are all beautiful and lovable to God, regardless of how you might feel. Get that into your mind and heart and eyes, learn to view others as God sees them, and let it free you from the narrowness of your own particularity.'

August 22, 2010

Overheard: Clerical Celibacies

Roman cleric 1: So this flamboyant and very gay seeming Orthodox priest is telling me about his wife and kids, and then he starts bad-mouthing priestly celibacy.

Roman cleric 2: Did you ask him if his wife was in favor of it?

August 21, 2010

Book Recommendation

Well, this afternoon I'm finishing up what will surely be (alas) my last accomplishment of summer reading, N.T. Wright's The Resurrection of the Son of God. I don't dare presume competence to write a review. All I can say is that as a student and a preacher, but most especially just as a Christian, I am very glad for the inspiration to read this book.

If you have ever found yourself perplexed about the differences in Paul and the evangelists themselves--not to mention the oddness of what they say--or by everything that has been interpreted for you about what really happened on the first day of the week following Jesus' execution, from noli me tangere to whether you can end a sentence with gar, or from what you have been told by priests and professors, by Bultmann and Crossan to Mel Gibson and the 'History' Channel, then read this book. I know it's 800 pages. You won't be sorry.

No wonder the Herods, the Caesars and the Sadducees of this world, ancient and modern, were and are eager to rule out all possibility of actual resurrection. They are, after all, staking a counter-claim on the real world. It is the real world that the tyrants and bullies (including intellectual and cultural tyrants and bullies) try to rule by force, only to discover that in order to do so they have to quash all rumours of resurrection, rumours that would imply that their greatest weapons, death and deconstruction, are not after all omnipotent. But it is the real world, in Jewish thinking, that the real God made, and still grieves over. It is the real world that, in the earliest stories of Jesus' resurrection, was decisively and for ever reclaimed by that event, and event which demanded to be understood, not as a bizarre miracle, but as the beginning of the new creation. (737)


Being back in the archdiocese of Boston is interesting. When I last moved here, the scandals were just breaking. When I moved away, the closings and reconfigurations of parishes were in effect. From what I hear, Boston is still a church with her troubles. Mass attendance here is among the lowest in the country, I think I read somewhere. There will be further combining of parishes and more difficult decisions ahead, I'm sure. The 'What's wrong with church' conversation is a common one here. There isn't enough money, there aren't enough priests, the priests and seminarians we have aren't the right sort (I hear it said; I don't know if I agree), there are too many buildings in disrepair, and so on and on.

On the other hand, I couldn't help noticing the other day, during my first trip to Boston College, that it seems like an extraordinarily prosperous institution. A couple of impressive buildings had been built even since I was last using their library in 2005. Everything is clean and neat. Presumably this is because Boston College has capitalized on the administrative talent of some Catholic person or persons, combined with the tuition paid on behalf of lots of young people, many of whom I presume are Catholic, along with the gifts of older Catholics.

So it seems like there is some kind of disconnect in the prosperity of Catholic institutions around here. I don't want to diagnose; I'm just saying that I noticed.

August 20, 2010

A Note to Religious Superiors

Just a friendly note to superiors of religious houses, and to myself should I ever become one (may God forbid it.)

Sometimes you get ideas that must be rejected and temptations that must be resisted. One of these is the thought that wouldn't it be nice to have more than one set of flatware. There could be one just a little nicer than the other--but still in keeping with our state--for special occasions, you think. Something for a day of 'greater solemnity,' to borrow a liturgical term. You must reject this idea, as sweet and devout as it may appear.

The average brother, though his life is based on the appreciation of many subtle distinctions of theology and of the spiritual life, cannot fathom, much less see, the distinction between a soup spoon and a tea spoon, or between a dinner fork and a dessert fork. A fortiori, he will be unable to distinguish your slightly more solemn flatware from the set meant for everyday use.

Since the whole plan will only lead to tedium and annoyance for the kind brother who decides, as a study break on a quiet day, to clean out the crumbs from the kitchen drawers and straighten up their contents, leading him unawares into the terrible task of not only separating the tea spoons from the soup spoons and the dinner forks from the dessert forks, but having to do so multiplied by two different sets of both, you better just forget about the whole idea.

(I don't know if the situation is any better for women religious.)

Names in Translation

One of my favorite little fascinations is how personal names function in foreign language environments. For example, when I go into a Spanish-speaking situation, I usually become Carlos, but not always. Sometimes I am Char-les. Indeed, a lady once vehemently assured me that Carlos and Charles were two different names, and I once met a native Spanish speaker called Char-les. Generally, though it seems that English speakers get their names translated when they go into a Spanish-speaking ministerial situation. However, it doesn't usually work the other way. Juans and Isabels do not become Johns and Elizabeths, much less Jacks and Bettys. When a name gets translated from a minority language into a dominant one, it is usually for the sake of some sort of clarity. I know an Italian priest named Andrea, but since his name is a homograph for a usually feminine name in English, he goes by Father Andrew.

There are little liturgical questions too. Here in Boston our archbishop is His Eminence Seán Patrick O'Malley. (He ordained me priest, by the way, photo here.) I'm almost completely ignorant of Irish, so I don't know what the accent means, or what it's called, but he insists on it. Now when he is named during the Eucharist Prayer at a Mass in Spanish, I usually hear his name translated, and have done so myself: con el Papa Benedicto, con nuestro Obispo Juan. But this doesn't happen in English: with Benedict our pope, and Seán our bishop. Irish names have entered into the ordinary use of English, I suppose. Of course in Latin here in Boston one says, cum famulo tuo Papa nostro Benedicto et Antistite nostro Ioanne.

August 19, 2010

Being a Prayer

A word from my confessor: "The life of a religious or a priest is only possible as a life of prayer. What does it mean to live a life of prayer? It means to abide in a constant, habitual awareness of God. Therefore it is also a habitual awareness of grace, the grace which is our strength in trial and temptation."

His words reminded me of one of the most challenging questions we friars are asked when we present ourselves for perpetual profession of vows:

Do you wish to serve the Lord and to love, adore, and pray to Him with a pure heart and a pure mind and to be a man of prayer or, better yet, to be made, like Saint Francis, a prayer?

It's startling to imagine that if we still imagine ourselves as people who pray, as if prayer was an activity beside other activities of daily life, we have not yet fully surrendered to the mystery and gift of our baptism. To be caught up completely in the Spirit, drawn up into the overflowing Love and creative Delight of the Blessed Trinity, this is where prayer is going; it is to become ourselves, in Christ, a prayer. "I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me." (Galatians 2:20)

And yet, it's also a dangerous idea; it can be pretended to far too early. Once when I was on retreat I met an old priest. I was talking to him about prayer. He said, "When I was young, I used to say that my work was my prayer. And it might have been, had I been praying."

August 17, 2010

Telephony Talion

Four years and two friaries ago, I was given the ministry of telephone menu administration in our little community. One of the friars had changed rooms, so I had to change the menus. As I was recording the new menu, one of the brothers (the room changer, not incidentally) entered the room just as I was pronouncing his name. "He rules!!!," came the response to his own name. His outburst could be heard in the background on the recorded menu, and I left it there.

Well, the telephone administrator for my new home, a friar who doesn't live here but in another friary nearby, came by this morning to update the directory and and add me to the phone menu. As anyone knows who has ever had to record a phone menu, especially one that has a lot of different names, titles, and numbers, your rarely succeed on the first try. You sit there recording and re-recording until you remember everyone and get it just right. After all, it's your voice that greets the world outside. Thinking it rude to abandon my brother at his task (I was the only one home), but not wanting to stand over his shoulder when he was trying to concentrate, I went around the corner to the kitchen and started to cook up a quesadilla. It was almost lunch time anyway, and besides, maybe I would have a chance to offer something to my confrere.

As fate and the gods of telecommunications would have it, I fumbled a cutting board with a crash just as my own name was being recorded. "I'm leaving that in there," says the friar, "I had the whole thing right at last, and it's your own fault."

More on Fr. Sigmund

I'm back from Fr. Sigmund's funeral, which was beautiful in its way. Hearing the eulogy and talking to friars before and after the Mass, I recalled some details that I had forgotten about Fr. Sigmund's life.

Sigmund was present at the liberation of the Dachau concentration camp. Having been there for five years, he used to say that he was scheduled to be shot the next day. After the war he dedicated himself to the hopefulness of the Esperanto movement, went all over the world promoting it, and was an Australian citizen when he finally came here to the USA.

I remember visiting Dachau. In the spring of 1993 I was supposed to be studying philosophy at NUI Galway. We had a month off for Easter, so this kid Travis and I went over to the continent and wandered around. We had no plan nor itinerary, so we were never lost or off schedule. Waking up in Munich one morning after a long evening of pretzel and beer consumption, we decided to make the short side trip to the concentration camp.

It was one of the eeriest experiences of my life. It was dusty and desolate. You didn't even want to talk. I remember seeing another tourist with his video camera going. It made me feel something like angry or sad. I wanted to say something to him, but again, I just didn't feel like speaking. I don't even feel much like writing about the experience now, but it does call out to me with something that I have come to believe, and which is at the heart of my own desire for God and conversion to Catholic Christianity: we human beings cannot trust ourselves to know what is good and right. We are too wounded. We need God.

August 15, 2010

First Spanish Mass

This morning I offered Mass in Spanish for the first time. I had concelebrated at Spanish Masses a few times before, but had never been celebrant until today. I was fairly nervous this morning as I paged up my little Spanish travel ritual and reviewed the orations in my Spanish hand missal.

Though I'm very out of practice, I think my several years attending Mass in Spanish on Sundays carried me. It's all in the ear even if I'm not used to pronouncing the words myself, or looking at them in the missal. I also had a deacon to preach, for which I was grateful.

I've always felt a gratitude for hospitality in the Lord when I've had a chance to pray or work with communities of another culture or language, but today I felt it even more. To be received in the role of priest, a role that sets me both below the community as servant and at its head as presider, put a sharper point on the graciousness of the people's welcome to me. It's very humbling.

Maybe it was Br. Matt's reflection on itinerancy that had an effect on me, but I was also seeing the Mass as a moment in the homelessness of my own mendicant life. Pronouncing the Lord's words in a language-home not my own, I felt something deep about the itinerant, mendicant vocation: we are meant to live the truth that are home is not here, but in heaven. (Latin doesn't count as a foreign language in this regard; as Roman Catholics Latin is everyone's mother tongue and nobody's at the same time.)

As a Franciscan my home is everywhere, but also nowhere in this world. It's a gospel challenge, but it's also a gospel freedom.

August 13, 2010

RIP: Fr. Sigmund Klimowicz, OFM Cap.

This morning I learn that the blessings of the feast of St. Clare this week included the passing from this life of Fr. Sigmund Klimowicz.

I met Fr. Sigmund (or Zygmunt) when I stayed at one of our Capuchin infirmaries one summer. I went to work a little bit in the care of the brothers and also to prepare for the dreaded Weston Jesuit Latin exam that fall. Fr. Sigmund was a sweet old friar, still very Polish despite having lived many years in America, and very curious and interested in people. His eyesight was failing, so he wouldn't recognize you until you got close. Then, all of a sudden, "Ah! Carlo! Carlo Borromeo!"

Fr. Sigmund discovered that I was partly in the infirmary as a way to have an environment free of distraction to work on Latin. He approved, believing strongly in the value of language learning, but was disappointed that I was not learning Esperanto. It had been a long time since he had met anyone with whom to practice. He used to say that his own ability to speak Russian was a big help in surviving the concentration camp.

Fr. Sigmund (and if I remember rightly, some classmates with him) was a deacon when he was imprisoned. His stories from the experience were interesting. They were always horrifying, for sure, but were also tender in some ways. He once told me about how he made friends with a Jewish barber because he was the biggest and strongest man he could find. The guards were afraid of him, said Sigmund, so he felt safe with him. But then the story and the friendship ended when the man was shot.

My most memorable experience with Fr. Sigmund came on the day we celebrate the five Capuchins among the 108 martyrs of the Second World War beatified by John Paul II. As I perused the ordo (the little annual book that gives the details for the Mass and Divine Office of each day) in the sacristy that morning, Fr. Sigmund came in. He took the book from me and began to go through the names of the blesseds. This one he could believe was a saint. Another one was a pain to live with in community. This one had always been jealous of Sigmund for his better ability to speak Russian. At that moment I realized with astonishment that it was only chance that separated the old friar before me, living in the obscurity of a friary in upstate New York, from perhaps being among these martyrs being celebrated by the public cult of the Church. From that moment on I began to look on him as a living martyr, and myself as someone given the extraordinary gift of knowing him.

After liberation, Sigmund (and again, if I remember rightly, some other Capuchin deacons) had no province to go home to. So they set out, looking for somewhere to complete their studies and be ordained priests. I don't remember all the details of this story, but I do remember that this journey left Fr. Sigmund with an enduring grudge against the French. After their ordination (in Belgium, if I remember rightly), the friars eventually made their way to the USA and began a Polish ministry here.

Among all the blessings God has given me through my life among the friars, meeting Fr. Sigmund is among those for which I am most grateful.

Requiescat in pace.

August 12, 2010

Grammar Lulz

Maybe I'm spending too much time reading, but this sentence made me laugh out loud this afternoon:

"The next paragraph, [Romans] 5.12-21, is as notorious among scholars for its compactness as it is among struggling students working out how Paul can write Greek sentences, as in verse 18, without subject, verb, or object." (N. T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, 249)

Ah, summer reading.

18Ἄρα οὖν ὡς δι' ἑνὸς παραπτώματος εἰς πάντας ἀνθρώπους εἰς κατάκριμα, οὕτως καὶ δι' ἑνὸς δικαιώματος εἰς πάντας ἀνθρώπους εἰς δικαίωσιν ζωῆς:

The Mirror of Mary

At Mass this morning, as the ladies sang Cordero de Dios, que quitas el pecado del mundo..., I looked at the Host for a moment. Jesus' words to Philip suddenly came to me: "Whoever has seen me has seen the Father." (John 14: 9)

We often dwell on the Eucharist as continuous with the sacrifice of the Lord's Passion and death, and rightly so, as it is the sacrifice of salvation. But the Eucharist is also continuous with the mystery of the incarnation. When the eternal Word is revealed on our terms, what happens? A baby born away from home to a young couple of an obscure and occupied people, a rejected teacher, a gentle healer, a friend of the wrong people, a wrongly accused a tortured criminal, and finally, in the most sublime humility, a little piece of bread.

Like all the genuine spiritualities of Christian vocations, that of the priesthood is deeply Marian. The priest at Mass is something like her mirror image. She consented to the Word being conceived in her body that she might be the Mother of God who held the infant Jesus in her arms. The priest consents to the Body of Christ descending into his hands that he might receive Him into his body, and offer the same grace to the faithful.

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

--Francis of Assisi, Letter to the Entire Order.

August 11, 2010

Firmiter Propono

Late last night a visitor arrived at this blog via searching for "how to say the act of contrition in latin." It's a rather curious question; acts of contrition are not liturgical prayers, properly speaking, and are not even necessary in the celebration of the sacrament of Penance. A confessor must ascertain that a penitent is contrite before giving absolution, and asking for an act of contrition is a simple way of doing this. At the same time, the prayer allows the penitent to be reminded of his contrition and to exercise it on the occasion of absolution.

Nevertheless, it's an interesting question. I don't think there is any need or real purpose to praying one's acts of contrition in Latin. Doing so would probably come as a great shock to many priests, and not a few would surely find it very annoying. (Perhaps, however, in some cases, these might not be bad things.)

But if anyone feels called to pray an act of contrition in Latin, navigate over to one of the great Catholic treasures of the web, the Thesaurus Precum Latinarum, where you can find all of your preces latinae, and an Act of Contrition in particular.

August 10, 2010

From My Confessor: Logismoi

A new town means testing out new confessors. I think it hit a home run on the first try:

Two things, Brother.

First, remember that our angers, frustrations, and distractions--and therefrom, our sins--derive from our consent to and coupling with our erroneous and distorted views and interpretations of ourselves, other people, and the world. Therefore we must always be praying for the grace to see things as they really are, as they are in God's sight, rather than as they might appear to be.

Second, remember that a sturdy sense of humor is invaluable in religious life.

Indeed, many times the second counsel fulfills the first. And pray for me, too.

Sacristy Finds

One of the adjustments of moving is getting used to new sacristies. There is the joy of discovering things that are beautiful, cool, or just neat, the aggravation of not being able to find what you need, and the adjustment of stuff just being different from what you had before.

One compartment in the sacristy here amused me especially:

Really? There are religious items in the sacristy? Who knew?

August 8, 2010

Returning to Boston

Coming back here is fascinating in some ways. On Friday I did several errands which had piled up in the wait for better weather. As I rode the "T," I found myself automatically walking to certain spots on platforms even though I couldn't remember the advantage of exiting the train from the same spot. I only remembered when I arrived at the next station. Things were more or less as I remembered them: the Thai food stand I've always liked, the friars at Arch St., The Chinatown CVS which was new last time I lived here and still seems more orderly and easier to deal with than most, St. Paul's by Bow and Arrow in Cambridge, the Central Square post office. I noticed that Rodney's Bookstore was going out of business, which made me sad. Having told a precise employee at Schoenhof's Foreign Books how long I had been out of town, he was able to explain to me the changes in the layout that had occurred since.

This morning I returned to the parish where I lived and prayed for four years during studies. I concelebrated the Spanish Mass with the pastor. It was all so familiar. There were people I remembered gratefully and fondly, and others I remembered only by sight. Names had been forgotten; others weren't really known before anyway. Children had grown up. The permanent deacons were still as unlike each other as one could imagine. The same man lumbered off to the bathroom during the homily, just as I remembered he always had.

So I'm grateful to be starting to feel at home again.

August 7, 2010

The Domestic Face of Christ Crucified

This Sunday's gospel has become one my favorites. The funeral ritual suggests the shorter form of it for the wake service, so I have preached on it often. I like to call it, 'the domestic face of Christ crucified:'

“Gird your loins and light your lamps and be like servants who await their master’s return from a wedding, ready to open immediately when he comes and knocks. Blessed are those servants whom the master finds vigilant on his arrival. Amen, I say to you, he will gird himself, have them recline at table, and proceed to wait on them." (Luke 12:35-37)

Here is the great reversal of Christianity. The master returns late from a wedding, presumably tired. But then it is not the servants who wait on him, but the master who invites the servants to recline at table while he waits on them. This is the God who reverses our human ideas of what lordship and dominion are supposed to mean, and places himself below us as Servant. To be empowered in Christ to do the same thing ourselves, to let go of all of our selfish and fleshly drives toward dominance, control, and commodification of each other, is the salvation offered to and accomplished for the world in Christ.

August 6, 2010

Becoming a Boston Fan (Sort of)

Lots of little questions arise through moving to a new place. One that comes up for me here in Boston is what to do for a baseball cap. I just can't go out without something on my head; it's too hard on my eyes. It would seem to be in poor taste--not to say perhaps dangerous--to wear my Yankees cap, so what to do? I don't feel like I can play the Red Sox fan; my nearest baseball fan ancestor from the area, my maternal grandfather, was a Boston Braves fan.*

Who knew that fifty-seven seasons after leaving town, a Braves cap could still be had in Boston?

*When you combine this with my father being from Cleveland, it's amusing to realize the common family memory of the 1948 World Series, in which Cleveland beat Boston four games to three. My father was twelve and my mother six.

Transfiguration and Vocation

I have always been fascinated by the Transfiguration; I find it to be one of the most overtly mystical feasts of the year. As a resurrection appearance before the Resurrection, the Transfiguration reveals that in the Resurrection we are not talking about a historical event per se, but a manifestation of eternity become history. And when Eternity Himself becomes human history, He is revealed as utter Belovedness.

The Transfiguration has also been important to me in my own journey; I count this day as the anniversary of receiving my vocation to religious life. Imagine, then, my wonder when I later calculated that I was born on the second Sunday of Lent, when the Transfiguration is always proclaimed!

It's worth dwelling on for a moment, this idea of 'receiving a vocation,' and why I associate it with a particular day. People often ask questions about these spiritual moments, about how one knows that he has a vocation, or how one is sure about it.

So what do I mean by the moment of 'receiving my vocation?' All I mean is a consent to an internal invitation, a finding of the willingness to risk exploring an attraction and the courage to let other options begin to close in pursuit of it.

The invitation from God, when examined on the natural level, is a sort of attraction. The attraction to religious life can be made up of many parts, some natural and some supernatural, some wholesome and some immature. But in whole mess of 'weeds and wheat,' one experiences something inside that invites a look. On the feast of the Transfiguration in 1993, circumstances--Providence!--had set me up to help me consent to the invitation. I was about to begin my senior year of college, and needed a plan for after graduation. I had spent the summer praying and volunteering with a religious community. On the natural level it was easy for me to consent; I had nothing to lose and needed something to do anyway.

To consent to an attraction to religious life does not mean consenting to the whole vocation of being a religious; this has to be tested and explored. One may discover with delight--on the day of perpetual profession--that this original consent was indeed a consent to a religious vocation, but at the first moments this is not yet known. Many are called to explore religious life for a time without arriving at a final commitment; typically these are not failures or detours, but fruitful moments in particular journeys to other destinations. Religious life is like any relationship of the heart; it proceeds through deepening stages of intimacy according to mounting consent and vulnerability. These moments are institutionalized in the classic stages of religious formation: aspirancy, postulancy, novitiate, temporary profession, perpetual profession.

So if anyone discerning a religious vocation makes her way to this post, all I can say is let go of any interior urges to look for 'signs' or 'certainty.' These are what the flesh seeks because it doesn't want to risk anything for love.

August 4, 2010

Seeking New Roots

I had imagined that arriving at the new friary would give me a lot of write about. On the contrary, my mind feels pretty blank. It's not necessarily a negative state; I just feel somewhat uprooted and like I'm only visiting this new place. I'm not bored either; I have plenty of holes in my reading that I would like to fill before school starts, not to mention getting my Spanish back together so that I can help with Sunday Masses here. Today I'm cooking for the brothers for the first time in three years (we had a cook in my last assignment) and tomorrow I have my first public Mass in the parish where we live.

Here's my new room, more or less set up. I was happy to learn from NLM that I instinctively put my icon corner in the traditional place without even knowing it. They are, going clockwise: Christ crucified, the Virgin of the Sign, St. Joseph, St. Francis, St. John of the Cross, and the Transfiguration. In the middle is my 'relic' of St. Bonaventure.

August 3, 2010

Search Terms

Looking over the referrer log tonight, I see that it's time for another 'search terms' post. Seeing the terms by which folks get to one's blog via search engines can be both amusing and perplexing. Here are some of the recent searches that brought visitors here:

"Order of Friars Minor." Not funny, but I was surprised to discover that this blog had worked it's way on to the first page of Google results for this one.

"Chronically acedic." I admit it; I am.

"Penitenziagite." I know. I need to.

"What is meant by hypertrophy?" It's what Jeremiah had in sympathy for God, according to Eddie Hanker, a teacher I was very fortunate to have at an impressionable moment.

"Cute nun." I'm not, but have nothing against the concept.

August 2, 2010

Moving In

I arrived at the new friary yesterday afternoon. There are three other friars here right now. What a blessing to have supper and Evening Prayer with them! Perhaps we take it for granted, but one of the deepest supports of life in the Order is being able to go almost anywhere and find brothers who pray and share a meal.

Starting to set up my room and unpack all the boxes is a little overwhelming. Going from a large room and an office to just a smaller room, I've been downsized to about a third of the physical space I inhabited in my last assignment. A lot of books will stay in boxes, and a lot of pictures won't make it onto the wall.

I have an eastern exposure, for which I am grateful. Enjoying it this morning as I prayed the Office of Readings for the feast of the Portiuncula, I realized that my first moving task this morning would be to wash the windows. After that, I'll think about books.