July 28, 2011

More on Stoles Under/Over Chasubles

According to the synchronicities of the secret economies of encouragement and bemusement, the other day I had another conversation on the issue of whether the stole goes under or over the chasuble.

Against my assertion that in the Roman rite the stole is worn under the chasuble, my gentle interlocutor informed me that I was quite wrong; the stole was certainly to be worn over the chasuble. As evidence for this position, he adduced "all the pictures" he had ever seen "of priests in the Maryknoll or America magazines."

So I guess it matters what one considers the sources of liturgical catechesis.

All of this begged for me a twofold question. First, in those rare cases in which it seems to me the better part of discretion and/or charity to consent to wear the stole over the chasuble, against the Church which has asked that such things be "eradicated" (Redemptionis Sacramentum 123), ought I also to wear another stole in its proper place under the chasuble? Second, if I were to do that, i.e., wear two stoles, may I take two stipends?

July 25, 2011

Self-Pity and Comfort

For the feast of St. James today I was thinking about a certain kind of self-pity and resentment which is very debilitating in the spiritual life. It took me a long time to recognize it as the dangerous temptation that it is, and I confess that I still struggle with it.

Here are some examples of how the temptation arises.

I'm on the bus on my way to offer Mass at a parish I've never been to before. I'm struggling against the anxiety that arises because I anticipate the possibility of being made to feel uncomfortable by liturgical abuses I could be asked to consent to. Into the fight with this affliction arises the temptation: 'Why can't I just go somewhere and expect to be able to offer Mass the way the Church asks? I shouldn't have to worry about this! Why should I be made to feel like the bad guy when I'm the one who is faithful?'

If I consent to this thought, the next thing that comes is resentment against the pastor who allowed or promoted the abuses. Ultimately, though, the temptation is to resent God. More on that as we go along.

A similar temptation arises in community life. Why should I have to be scandalized by other brothers, or bored by them, or made anxious by their issues? (Notice how missing from this reflection is any admission that I might be scandalous, boring, or annoying to them.) Why can't we all just quietly live our religious life according to the Rule and Constitutions we have professed? Why can't we all just do what Canon Law says are the ordinary obligations of religious? (Notice again, how conveniently missing is any admission of the ways that I fail to observe these things.)

These temptations are very dangerous. If we consent to them they introduce into our spirits a self-pitying resentment which is itself an occasion of other sins and a great destroyer of devotion and spiritual attention. The temptation works on and gains its power from a false and dangerous belief. The belief is simple but rarely confessed. It is the belief that I deserve and am entitled to comfort.

The flesh of someone who desires a devout life is like the mother of James and John as she tries to intrigue with Jesus for the nice seats in the Kingdom of God. The flesh tells us that we too, who enjoy thinking that we have given up so much to follow Jesus, are entitled to the comfy seats in the Kingdom of God, and deserve to be made much of for how nice and good we are.

Sorry. That's not Christianity. That's the world. Want to be someone in the Kingdom of God, to sit in a high place? The thrones in the Kingdom of God are the Cross. That's what you get. It's the way to freedom and salvation, but it's a searing and terrible business. The vainglorious and comfort-seeking flesh will try to trick you off the path at every turn, telling you that you deserve a comfy seat and to be adored for the (imagined) greatness of your generosity, but when you give in to this temptation you will be left with nothing but anxiety and the rotten luxury of resenting God himself for failing to give you what you think you want.

July 24, 2011

Thoughts on the Debt Crisis

This is one those risky posts, because I'm not an economist and I have a history of eccentric and crackpot political opinions, for which--I brag--I have occasionally accepted corrective criticism from friends with more sense and expertise.

At our provincial chapter this past spring, when we were discussing how to improve our efforts at fund raising, a friar got up and made a spectacular speech about how the problem with development was artificial contraception. The capital in the world had become less because, spiritually, people no longer believed in a future, and practically, because there weren't as many Catholics walking around as there should have been. I don't know if anybody took the brother seriously, but I thought it was one of the best interventions of the whole week.

With that memory wanting to get into some post or other ever since, I was thinking a little about this whole national debut business.

A system of debt and credit is a standard way to make money. But the system depends on people having faith that there will more wealth in the future. It is hard to have such faith in a culture grown decadent and pointless, and in which the making of more people--on which the production of further cultural capital and wealth depend--is an optional life-possibility for those who happen to 'oriented' in such a way that they can reproduce, rather than a constitutive part of human life to which one ought be open.

July 23, 2011

How to Step on the Altar

"It is customary that the sacristan, whenever he must step on the mensa of the altar, should do so barefooted, having first covered the mensa with a special cloth. He must never stand in the middle, that is, on the altarstone, for it is there that the sacred host and the chalice rest during the holy sacrifice of the Mass."

(Fr. John of Meerle, Capuchin Spirit and Life, 312)

July 22, 2011


So today it arrives in print, a signed and official letter of obedience--I am going to be guardian of the friary. The guardian, our Constitutions say, is the local superior, that is, of a friary. It's kind of a curious thing. 'Local' is a good Franciscan word; the first friars simply had 'places' where they stayed. But 'superior' is a tough word in the Franciscan imagination. As Francis says in the earlier Rule: "Let no one be called 'prior,' but let everyone in general be called a lesser brother. Let one wash the feet of another."

I'm apprehensive about this new turn in my religious life, but I'm humbled by the trust of the brothers and I'm trying to trust God, who has given me thus far all of the graces I've needed to manage what I have tried to do in a sincere effort at living my vow of obedience.

I've tried to be attentive to my spiritual preparation since this first started to come into focus at the beginning of the summer. I've prayed over the Rule and Constitutions, reviewed some of the constitutional history of the Order, and I re-read Jacques Dalarun's wonderful book, Francis of Assisi and Power.

Sometimes it is said that 'guardian' is a translation of what Francis called a custos or custodian, but this isn't quite the same thing in the history of our governance. Francis talked about guardians, and one of the things I've done for myself in these days is to remind myself of all the times he speaks of this ministry in his own writings:

"And let all the brothers be bound to obey their guardians and to recite the Office according to the Rule." (Testament, 30)

"And I firmly wish to obey the general minister of this fraternity and the other guardian whom it pleases him to give me. And I so wish to be a captive in his hands that I cannot go anywhere or do anything beyond obedience and his will, for he is my master." (Testament, 27)

"I, Brother Francis, a useless man and unworthy creature of the Lord God, speak through the Lord Jesus Christ to Brother H., [i.e. Brother Elias] the General Minister of our entire Order and all the general ministers who will come after him, and to the other custodians and guardians of the brothers, who are and who will be, that they might keep this writing with them, put it into practice and eagerly preserve it." (Letter to the Entire Order, 47)

The letter concerns the devout celebration of Mass in our places, as well as devotion to Mary.

"If any one of the brothers, at the instigation of the enemy, shall have sinned mortally, let him be bound by obedience to have recourse to his guardian." (Letter to a Minister, 14)

"I wish to know in this way if you love the Lord and me, His servant and yours: that there is not any brother in world who has sinned--however much he could have sinned--who, after he has looked into your eyes, would ever depart without your mercy, if he is looking for mercy. And if he were not looking for mercy, you would ask him if he wants mercy. And if he would sin a thousand times before your eyes, love him more than me so that you may draw him to the Lord; and always be merciful with brother such as these. And you may announce this to the guardians, when you can, that, for your part, you are resolved to act in this way." (Letter to a Minister, 9-12)

Translations from Francis of Assisi: Early Documents vol. I: The Saint

July 21, 2011

Usus Contrarius

In religious life and the priesthood, to call someone 'rigid' is one of the gravest accusations. One can be called rigid when his idea of his privilege to be faithful to what the Church asks and expects is interpreted by someone else as not real faithfulness at all, but rather legalism, pharisaism, obsessive compulsion, mania for control, or the symptom of some other mental pathology.

This post is an example of how I am not rigid, just in case anybody ever thought or said so.

Believe it or not, for Mass at the Poor Clares today, despite the fact that it's not what we do in the Roman rite, messes up the logic of the vesting prayers, and does not make sense in what seems to me to be the theology of sacred vesture, I...wait for it...wore the stole over the chasuble.

As we read in Redemptionis sacramentum 123:

"The vestment proper to the Priest celebrant at Mass, and in other sacred actions directly connected with Mass unless otherwise indicated, is the chasuble, worn over the alb and stole.” (GIRM 337) Likewise the Priest, in putting on the chasuble according to the rubrics, is not to omit the stole. All Ordinaries should be vigilant in order that all usage to the contrary be eradicated.

So why would I do such a thing? Because Sister Sacristan asked me nice, is very much my senior in religion, and because I new she had made the stole herself, complete with a lovely Franciscan coat of arms. So, because I'm not rigid, for the feast of St. Lawrence today, I wore Sister's Franciscan stole over the chasuble.

No doubt this post will be annoying to many readers. Some will be annoyed that I did such a thing, others that I'm bragging about it, and still others that I care about such things at all. But as one of my oldest friends in the Catholic journey used to say, "The devil is in the details, and I suspect God is to be found there too."

July 20, 2011

Ironing the Tabernacle

Many complaints can be made against religious life, but you can't say you don't get to do a lot of different things. You may recall how last month our vigil lamp decided to end it all. In the course of its demise, it left an unsightly mess of wax on top of the tabernacle. Cleaning it up has been one of many little things I've been wanting to do in these days, and today I finally got to it.

It's well known in sacristy lore that you can get candle wax out of fabric by ironing the wax into a brown paper bag. If it works with vestments, I thought, maybe I can do the same thing with the tabernacle.

So here's the mess:

And here's the procedure:

And here it is all clean:

Be assured that I removed and reposed the Blessed Sacrament elsewhere for the duration of this undignified procedure.

July 19, 2011


That's what I say, having heard the great news today of archbishop Charles Chaput being appointed to Philadelphia, I riff on my favorite title for a Franciscan blog.

Condolences to the church of Denver, and the beginnings of prayers for a new bishop for you.

Awe For The Journey

The bigger your world is, the more you will be in awe of it. The smaller you let your world get, the more little things will get to you.

In that spirit one of the little practices that helps me a lot is what I've come to call 'awe for the journey.' I cultivate moments when I can be overwhelmed by the journey as a whole. My life as a Christian has been full of surprising turns and misadventures that were only apparent detours. "God leads us, typically by the nose and often in spite of ourselves," said my first priest.

The other day I had one of those wonderful moments of awe for the journey. On Sunday I agreed to offer a Mass at a parish in order to save another friar from having double-booked himself. I got there early enough to spend some time alone in the church. As I prayed Mid-Morning Prayer and looked over the lovely remains of what must have been an impressive Art Deco-ish high altar, I was struck by a parallel. Twenty years ago this summer I was doing the same thing: sitting in new and mysterious churches and looking around, peering into the Mystery for what I thought in my arrogance was the first time. To think of how I got from sitting in the one church to the other over these past twenty years is absolutely overwhelming when I think about it like that.

That's an example of what I mean by taking time to sit with and be grateful for awe for the journey. It protects me from myself in all of the ways the flesh wants me to get worked up and distracted about little things.

July 18, 2011

Strategies for Stillness

Today's first reading contains one of my favorite verses in all of the scriptures, Exodus 14:14,"The LORD himself will fight for you; you have only to keep still."

A simple doctrine, but one of the hardest to put into practice. It's our interior distraction that keeps us simple prey for everything that makes us unhappy, with thoughts and feelings swirling around and darting about all over the place. We need some interior stillness if we are to surrender to the God who wants to fight for our freedom. Indeed, God has already won the victory over misery and sin; it is us who have not yet consented to receive it.

But we can't just decide to have interior stillness. We need to practice, and practice demands a plan, a strategy.

It seems to me that our lack of interior stillness comes from the afflictive emotions such as anxiety, fear, and anger. There are two standard ways of dealing with these emotions.

Some people turn afflictive emotions in on themselves and become anxious, afraid, self-hating, and depressed. Instead of taking responsibility for their feelings, they do violence to themselves instead.

Others attempt to export these feelings into others, usually by taking emotional advantage of loved ones or caregivers (including pastoral caregivers.) They might feel better themselves after raving or complaining, but the amount of affliction in the universe has not been reduced, only transferred from one heart to another.

Unfortunately, sometimes the sort of people who get into ministry suffer a double dose in this regard. They tend to be the sort of introverted people who turn feelings in on themselves and become anxious and depressed, and they are also often the sort of are just a little bit codependent on those who claim to be suffering, and become willing conspirators in the false compassion of letting someone export their pain into the consciousness of those they seek out for care.

So, back to strategies for fostering interior stillness.

1. The sort of person who violently turns her afflictive emotions back on herself needs to realize that such a thing is false responsibility and a failure to really believe that the soul is lovable before God and deserving of better treatment. We might not be able to believe that we are adorable just the way God made us, but we can consent to the truth that this is how God feels. That's the beginning of better self-care.

2. The sort of person who tries to feel better by exporting his anxieties needs to take responsibility for himself.

3. In all cases, we need some kind of prayer practice that helps us to dis-identify with our thoughts and feelings. After all, the things we think and the feelings we happen to have, both good and bad, hardly exhaust who we are as unique and unrepeatable creations of God. And yet, without any practice of letting go of conscious thoughts and feelings as they arise, we will simply act as though we are how we feel and what we think. Through contemplative prayer we can begin to touch the more interior person who is prior or superior (pick your metaphor) to our conscious selves, and thus we find that in the rest of our daily lives we are less bothered by the chaos of our minds, less thrown about by feelings and ideas as they arise.

4. Finally, something like 'guard of the heart' is very useful. We have to decide that nobody has the right to occupy our consciousness without our permission. So many times we continue a difficult conversation with someone in our mind, long after the real conversation over. Or we waste time rehearsing arguments or conversations that might happen. In all of this we are placing our attention into an unreality, and as long as we chase things that aren't real, we will find ourselves unhappy. When we practice guard of the heart, we consciously remind ourselves that others are not allowed to export their fears and anxieties in our hearts. To the person who is a little codependent, this seems cold and unfeeling, but in reality doing so will help us to see clearly how we can truly offer help to another.

July 15, 2011

St. Bonaventure and Ideas of Trees

It's kind of a corny story, but I remember one day when I was taking a walk in the Arnold Arboretum and all of a sudden some of St. Bonaventure became clear to me. For his feast day today, I was just thinking through that moment again, and thanking God for the Seraphic Doctor.

I was looking at a tree and I became aware that the tree had the power, through the use of my senses, to introduce an idea of itself into my mind. That the tree should have this power is a vestige of the generation of the Son from the Father.

God the Father, Who is the Fontal Fullness of being, eternally emanates a perfect Idea of Himself; this is the generation of the Son from the Father, the Eternal Word from the Source. According to different degrees of similarity, this primal dynamic of emanation comes to be embedded in everything else that has being. As rational creatures created in the image and likeness of God, we become aware of this in the capacity of existing things to 'process' an idea of themselves into our minds.

Among many other things, that's an insight for which I'm thanking St. Bonaventure today; that we can know and love other creatures precisely because we were created as a footprint of this Primal and Delighted Overflowing called the Blessed Trinity.

July 14, 2011

Sanctity is Pretty

This morning I was so grateful that it was cool enough to walk to the Poor Clares for Mass. On the way I was thinking about Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, whose feast day we keep today here in the United States.

I was reflecting on the holy pictures and statues I've seen of her. She always appears as a young and pretty American Indian woman. This might seem odd. As I understand it, her face was scarred from the outbreak of smallpox that killed the rest of her family when she was a child. So why is she depicted as pretty and without scars? I suppose it's because holy cards and statues aim to reflect the beauty of a soul. (How some of our sense of sanctity might change as we begin to have more and more photographs of saints!)

So what's the connection between sanctity and prettiness?

In reflecting on this I was reminded of something from my job before I entered the Capuchins. I worked in human services, doing mostly direct care. Our days required a lot of teamwork. Most of my coworkers were women. In examining my conscience one day I realized that I was more helpful and attentive to the coworkers who seemed more attractive. I brought this insight up with my spiritual director, who saw in it an opportunity for a positive work of chastity. He advised me to make a spiritual practice out of trying to let go of seeing my coworkers through my senses of attractiveness or interest--which are largely arbitrary anyway--and try to see them as God sees them, as unique and unrepeatable creations beloved by Him. I should try to reinforce this interior practice by the exterior behavior of trying to treat all of them as if they were interesting and attractive, because that's how God saw them.

It's like the time I did practice confessions with a class of children back when I was a parish priest. I asked for a volunteer, and a bold little boy offered himself. I told him to make up a sin for the sake of the practice.

"I called my sister ugly," he confessed.

"Do you know why that's wrong?" I asked.

He thought for a moment, and then responded brilliantly:

"Because God made her beautiful."

True story. And full of truth too.

But here's the thing. By working to see others as God sees them, as creations passionately beloved for the beauty of their souls, we begin to bend our own sentiments and attractions to the divine will. We ourselves become more clearly the image and likeness of God which we were created to be, and thus become more affable, attractive, interesting, and lovable.

God, after all, is adorable and interesting. Indeed, He is supremely so. So if we want to be attractive and interesting, we should try to become more like Him. That's the sense, I think, in which sanctity is pretty.

July 12, 2011

On Guilt, Shame, and Repentance

When I was a younger I used to think that because I felt guilty about my sins, that meant I was repentant. It took me a while to puzzle out the difference. I was confusing to myself when I observed that I kept on sinning; hadn't I repented? I thought I had, but I was wrong.

Guilt is an afflictive emotion that arises when we become conscious of having done something against our conscience, our best selves, or who we have decided we want to be. Like other afflictive emotions such as anger and dejection, guilt isn't really moral in itself. The moral decision arises when we decide what to do with our guilt, and there are two choices.

Guilt presents a temptation and an invitation.

The temptation is to transform guilt into shame. We go from realizing that we have done something wrong to believing that we ourselves are bad. We go from hating the evil we have done to hating ourselves. In this movement we are tricked into an inverse form of pride that is just as self-involved as any positive vanity. In our concentration on ourselves, we start to miss out on grace. We lose interior sight of the God who alone can free us from the rotten luxury of our particular self-involvment, and we end up reinforcing the selfish roots of sin that got us into the whole mess in the first place.

The invitation is to turn guilt into repentance. Repentance wants to get rid of guilt not because it will make us feel better, but because we want to be better. We want to be rid of sin because, having discovered that we are beloved of God, we trust God enough to confess that we are a creature lovable enough to deserve better care, and more happiness. Even if we don't yet love ourselves well, we can desire to care for ourselves better as Another's beloved.

In other words, the path to real repentance is not so much in hating sin, but in loving the God who has loved us first.

July 11, 2011

Feast of St. Benedict

I always think that the feast of St. Benedict ought to have a little more liturgical solemnity for us Franciscans. Benedict's day is ranked a memorial in our calendar, just as it is generally.

Maybe it's whatever it is that makes my first priest insist (to this day) that I'm supposed to be a Benedictine (and maybe some of my Capuchin confreres would agree with him, I don't know), but it seems to me that anyone who lives or takes inspiration from the tradition of religious life in the western Church has an enormous debt to St. Benedict.

This isn't really an area where I have a lot of expertise, but it seems to me that Benedict's gift to religious life was to hold up the common life as having a certain dignity in its own right. For him, the cenobitic life was not just a less-than form compared to the ideal of the hermit-monk. Indeed, the eremetic life presupposed the common life which would be the ordinary school of holiness and salvation for those taking up the religious life.

Francis, in his devotion or arrogance, or maybe both, desired to live such a religious life in common at the maximally general level, calling every created thing his sister or brother.

July 9, 2011

Moments of Grace

The other day there was a program on TV about St. Maria Goretti. At one point it showed a picture of the priest who gave Maria her first Holy Communion. He looked like a regular, unremarkable priest. I was thinking about him a little. In all of the joys and struggles of his life, whatever they were, in all of the highs and lows of his vocation, that particular moment, when he ministered first Holy Communion to Maria Goretti, was probably one of the most important moments of his life. What I mean is that it was so from God's perspective, from the point of view of the larger economies of grace.

I think that we're often unaware of the way God wishes to make instruments of us in particular moments with one another. God knows that it works better this way, without the interior tangles of pious self-awareness. In the economies by which God pours out his own sanctity in the world, we never know how God is making use of us.

Here's an example from my own life. When I was a senior in college I was considering religious life. There was another kid among the philosophy majors who had been a seminarian. I didn't really know him. One night we ran into each other in the library. He asked me if it was true, that I was thinking of entering religious life. I said that it was. "Good luck with your vocation," he said.

For him it was surely an offhand comment, but for me it made a big difference. Your vocation. It made the whole business real. I had been considering religious life, for sure, but as my idea. The idea of being a Franciscan friar attracted me, and so I was thinking of trying it out. I remember standing there after the guy walked away, jarred by the idea of having a vocation, a call from God. He had named something for me with a clarity that I hadn't known. God used him to accomplish an important grace for me at that moment, probably without his having any idea.

This is why it's good to pray that God guide our speech and interaction with others, and that we work whatever spiritual practices we need to stay open and attentive when we are with one another. Nevertheless, we may not be aware of the graces God works through us, and mercifully so. God keeps us ignorant of these movements a lot of the time, saving us not only from temptations to vanity but also keeping us from messing up the plainness of grace with the clumsiness of self-conscious piety. So we may get to heaven and find out that the most graced moments of our lives were things we hadn't even thought about. In fact, we may as well presume that this will be the case; it will help us to be humble on this pilgrimage and keep us from taking what we know of ourselves as graced before God, which is very little, too seriously.

July 7, 2011


I love this moment in the first reading today:

Joseph could no longer control himself in the presence of all his attendants, so he cried out, “Have everyone withdraw from me!” Thus no one else was about when he made himself known to his brothers. (Genesis 45:1)

To me, it's a beautiful image of the Resurrection.

Joseph, after all, is a type and foreshadowing of Christ himself. Resented, abandoned, turned over to pagans and presumed dead by his brothers, Joseph ends up coming to power in a foreign kingdom and thereby is able to save his family from famine.

Joseph is recognized in his new power in Egypt when he can no longer control is emotions and reveals himself to his brothers. He "could no longer control himself" says the scripture. In the same way the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is like an emotional outburst; God's compassion is so much greater than the works of death and misery we have insisted upon for ourselves with our sins and violence. Despite our having dismissed, mocked, tortured and killed our own Lord, Jesus reveals that from this very state of rejection and death he has come into a new power in a Kingdom that is foreign to this world. The most high joy of the divine creativity comes to be experienced as forgiveness and reconciliation as God wills to not contain Himself and bursts out in the revealing of the Risen Lord.

July 2, 2011

Reading Old Constitutions

For reasons that will become clear in the coming weeks, or not, I've been reviewing some of the great legislative texts from the history of the Order. It's always amusing and comforting to read such things, because it helps you realize that things aren't much different from the way they have always been.

Today I'm reading the Constitutions of Narbonne, issued by the general chapter of the same name in 1260, and written by St. Bonaventure when he was general minister of the Order. Here are some favorite bits:

No animal for the use of any brother or place shall be kept by the Order or by any person in the name of the Order, except for cats and certain types of birds for the purposes of removing garbage.

In 1260 this was probably about income from livestock, but it remains a good rule. Somewhat ironically, pets tend to do poorly in friaries. They don't figure out why some love them and others don't, and become wrecks of anxiety.

They should not drink in any town or village where the brothers have a house.

So we should travel in order to go out drinking?

In their sermons the brother shall in no way ask that money be collected for themselves.

Should it happen that some troublesome or mischievous brother is transferred from one province in order to dwell in another, the minister whose province he is leaving is bound to inform the minister to whom he is being sent of his dangerous propensities, so that the latter may take appropriate measures. The general minister is likewise to inform him.

Let the ministers strive to restrain the loquaciousness of the brothers and in chapter to persuade them to keep silence at meals they take outside the refectory, since this is the desire of the general chapter.

Good luck with that.

No brother shall dare to assert or knowingly approve any theological opinion which has been commonly rejected by our masters, nor dare to defend any singular, suspect, or malicious opinion, especially one contrary to faith or morals.

Good luck with that one too.

In preparation for the provincial chapter, each guardian is to hold a chapter, where the faults and failings of the minister and custodian should be discussed, as well as any other matters which should be forwarded to the chapter for discussion. When it comes time to consider the faults of the guardian, another brother selected by him with the advice of some of the friary councilors shall preside over the chapter.


From Dominic Monti, OFM, ed. and trans. St. Bonaventure's Writings Concerning the Franciscan Order, Franciscan Institute, 1994.

Immaculate Heart

Immaculate Heart of Mary is the feast day of my province of the Capuchin Order. As I said my prayers this morning I was just reflecting a little on this traditional image of Our Lady.

Mary's heart is an immaculate heart because she herself, in her whole person, is the Immaculate Conception. Her heart, the 'core' of the person, is without macula, any spot, stain, fault, or guilt.

On the other hand, images of the Immaculate Heart always remind us that Mary's heart is an injured heart, a hurt heart, run through with the sword of suffering as Simeon predicted at the beginning of her motherhood.

Pierced, hurt, and broken, her heart remains immaculate. In this Mary becomes herself a certain face, a particular perspective, on crucified humanity.

Everybody hurts, says the old song. Everyone on this earth is a victim of sin. The insidious power of violence and hurt is in its capacity to reproduce; the abused become abusers, injury demands retaliation, the misery of becoming separated from God by sin becomes the occasion for believing more of sin's false promises. Salvation enters the world when individual persons begin to refuse to become carriers of violence, alienation, and hurt. This is both the example and power of Christ crucified--the Passion of our Lord is humanity at its worst, when we are dismissing, mocking, torturing, and ultimately killing each other. Jesus, in that moment revealing most deeply both divinity and humanity, accepts all of it and gives us nothing back but the ultimate blessing of life that we call the Resurrection.

To become unwilling to be a carrier of the cycles of violence and sin that swirl through our relationships, families, and world is to embrace the Cross, to become an agent of the salvation that Jesus Christ has accomplished for the world. It is forgiveness against retaliation, blessing those who curse, loving one's enemies.

Here we might also note something that otherwise devout folks sometimes forget, that embracing the Cross in this way also excludes turning the violence of the world in on ourselves in the seemingly safe and pious turning of anger and scorn inside so that they become depression, anxiety, self-hate, and the sort of embrace of victimhood and misfortune that becomes a kind of rotten vanity. Jesus died and rose so that we could be free and happy, not so that we could sit around savoring the rotten luxury of our own misery, so long as we're not being hurtful to anyone else (even though we probably are hurting others by our attachment to our misery, but because we have become vainly focused on ourselves we fail to notice.)

Becoming a Christian will give us more heartbreak, not less. When we assent to the God-given dignity of humanity, the suffering of the world will hurt us more. When we assent to the teaching of the Church we will see how far we are from holiness. When we try to live a prayerful life, we will see how attached we are to our sins and the aspects of ourselves that conspire to pull us away from the joy God desires for us. Most of the time in the world, sin just makes more sin, misery begets more of itself, and violence reproduces itself in cycles. God's answer to this miserable situation is the Cross of Christ, which is both our example and empowerment (especially as we receive this sacrifice into our lives in Holy Communion) to break these cycles in ourselves, in our relationships, and in the world. God wants to make our hearts immaculate, hearts that are broken and pierced, and yet make an end to the cycles of hurt and brokenness in themselves, passing on, instead, nothing but blessing and new life to the world, becoming conceivers and bearers of God to the world.