August 31, 2011

Incomplete to Failing to Passing

The other day I got an email from the kind folks at the Boston College School of Theology & Ministry telling me that I wasn't registered for any classes and wondering whether I was still a student there. You see, I've never been able to figure out how to use the registration software, so at the beginning of these past two semesters I've gone to another nice lady in the school office (or as it seems to be called, the 'Service Center') and had her register me. But in order to get my scholarship money I have to be registered, so the person with whom I was emailing kindly enabled me in my incompetence and registered me from something called "TM 980," which is what you're in when you aren't in any actual courses anymore.

Following this email conversation I thought that the very fact of it perhaps meant I no longer had an 'F' in the Medieval Trinitarian theology seminar from last semester. And behold, when I checked my BC identity online, the F had been changed to a passing grade. So my grade in the course journeyed from an 'I' for incomplete at the end of the semester to an 'F' for 'administrative failure' on August 1 and then finally to a passing grade.

Of course in my vanity I enjoyed having an F in the course, at least for a little while, and even though it wasn't really an F. I had never had an F before. A couple of Ds along the way, but no F until now.

I got to reflecting on this as a metaphor for the spiritual life. We start out with the incomplete; without God there is something missing. Then, having let ourselves be found by God, we discover ourselves as a failure, unable to live up to the desire this new Presence works in our souls. And we live in the hope and prayer that this God who has come into our life is gently renovating our humanity so that in him we will become a passable human being. Perhaps with all of our resistances and hardness of heart we won't succeed in letting God make us into saints in this life, but in his mercy God has provided the searing joy of Purgatory as a mercy for those who need to continue this process after the end of earthly life. Either way, in the humanity of Christ our blessed incompleteness is offered salvation from the failing mess we tend to make of it, and that's what is meant by Christian hope.

August 30, 2011

Confessing our Deicide

These past couple of days I've enjoyed a visit from my sister. It was very good to see her and catch up. We spent yesterday morning at the Museum of Fine Arts. Because of my general Philistinism, I had not been there before despite having lived in Boston for a total of six years.

It's a lovely place, and we saw many interesting things. I have to say, though, that the visit troubled me a little. Journeying through the history of European art, it became clear to me that God, or at least a certain explicit way of expressing divine things, goes away. At the beginning one sees so many beautiful depictions of the Lord and the saints. Over the course of time, the dominance of the mysteries of revelation and the saints evaporates.

It brought Nietzsche to mind:

God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it? (The Gay Science, Section 125, tr. Walter Kaufmann)

I don't want to beat any culture war drum and bewail that our civilization went wrong by doing away with God. It may be true but that's a judgement that certain cautions with me prevent me from making. But I will say two things about what seems to follow. First, our civilization, as I think Nietzsche warns, has not understood the implications of having killed God. And now, as 'God' becomes a concept without any intelligible content at all for whole sections of society--sometimes even for religious people, though many times it's not their fault--we don't even know why it becomes impossible to make value judgments or avoid slipping into the relativism in which there is only the rule of power.

Second, and this is the thing that's really been on my mind, I wonder if we who are believers have really done any better with taking the death of God seriously. Have we found ways to preach and catechize that both confess and confront that all of us who are heirs to western civilization are implicated in deicide? God is dead. And remains Dead. And we have killed him. Does our religion admit this? Or worse, does it just live in denial in such a way that we become functional agnostics or even atheists?

To be fair to the Church, I think that Gaudium et spes, for example, was something like an attempt at answer to this sort of question. But the more I read it, the more I become convinced that it was the Church's shot at embracing the humanistic optimism that western civilization tried to substitute for God, and that just as the rest of the world was giving up on it after witnessing its rotten fruits during the bloody twentieth century.

For us who have killed God and put him out of the human civilization he himself created, I'm wondering if something more radical is called for. But I admit I'm not sure what it is.

Update: I'm not sure what it is primarily because the execution of the God who failed to live up to our best religious expectations is at the heart of Christianity, and I haven't put this truth together with the historical data yet.

August 26, 2011

Receiving the Stigmata

Thomas Merton:

To live "in Christ" is to live in a mystery equal to that of the Incarnation and similar to it. (New Seeds of Contemplation, 158)

Edith Stein:

Thus a new incarnation of Christ takes place in christians, which is synonymous with a resurrection from the death on the cross. The new self carries the wounds of Christ on the body: the remembrance of the misery of sin out of which the soul was awakened to a blessed life, and a reminder of the price that had to be paid for that. The pain of yearning for the fullness of life persists until, through the door of actual physical death, entrance into the shadowless light is gained. (The Science of the Cross, trans. Josephine Koeppel, OCD)

The Risen Lord continued to bear the wounds of the Crucified Christ. In the same way, the wounds of sin remain in the redemption-in-process that is the humanity of the Christian. For better or for worse, nothing makes us who we are more than our suffering. We find ourselves as human beings in an injured state, often foiled by our own faults and sins and subjected to misery because of the sins of others. This is the mystery of the effects of original sin in the world.

God redeems us in Christ by meeting us exactly in this miserable and alienated condition: This is the mystery of Christ crucified. Though killed in his human nature, death could not contain Christ as God. Thus the Cross blazes a new path for the humanity he shares with us, a path out of the deathly misery we have insisted upon for ourselves with our sins to a new and risen life.

As we become redeemed by consenting to let our own humanity be drawn into the humanity of Christ--and this is the mystery of baptism and Holy Communion, by the way--the wounds and broken parts of ourselves remain, but in a transformed way. Though freed and redeemed, our sufferings and struggles are still the things that have made us who we are. But these wounds, previously just a source of meaninglessness and pain, have been transformed into stigmata, signs of transformed suffering that illustrate to those around us the possibility of resurrected humanity.

Thus, in a sense every Christian is a stigmatic. But it's not that we 'receive' the stigmata, for the wounds have always been there. The hurts and brokenness that were meaningless and so often a source of the desperate cycles of violence of the world that does not know God, have now been transformed into the redeemed wounds that bleed only compassion.

August 25, 2011

Why I Stay

It's a commonplace in religious life to say that why you came isn't exactly the same as why you stay.

This is largely because religious life wasn't quite what you thought it would be. But perhaps more importantly, you also find out that you weren't exactly who you thought you were. Some of this is can be a painful purification. When the honeymoons are over and first fervor is gone, afflictive emotions that arise in community life reveal to us that our attraction to religious life wasn't entirely pious and pure. We realize our mixed motivations, that our hearts are mysterious and messy fields of weeds and wheat. We can let this teach us patience with each other and humility for ourselves, or we can refuse growth and just flail around in a doomed project of trying to get our disorderly emotional needs met. But no matter which we choose, we find ourselves a different person than we were when we started.

And so, because religious life doesn't turn out to be what we had imagined, and because we become different people within it, why we came usually isn't why we stay.

I was just thinking about this stuff because someone challenged me the other day with the question, "Why do you stay?" It's a good challenge, and the response ought to be dynamic and growing, parallel to the work of grace in a vocation. So here's where I am right now:

I'm a religious because it gives me peace to know that I have disposed of my life on earth. One of my confreres in the Order likes to say that my primary desire in life is to feel 'all set.' By my perpetual profession and my vow 'to give myself to this fraternity' I feel all set. I may be living it less than adequately, but I have dealt with and disposed of my earthly life. How much time have I wasted in life already, and how poor a steward of my life have I been! Who knows how much time is left? The time to begin preparing for my death is now.

I'm a Franciscan because I am convinced that the Franciscan way is my antidote to the world. I have always been looking for an alternative to the bleak and pointless tastes and attitudes that are the given in this world. When I was eleven I thought the answer was to escape into fantasy. When I was fourteen I thought it was the alternative taste and uniform of Heavy Metal. When I was seventeen I thought it was in the uncompromising cultural critique of Punk. When I was nineteen I began to become convinced that the only coherent answer was Christianity. Soon after that I met St. Francis in a history class, and ever since then it has seemed to me that the Franciscan way has been the best way for me to be a Christian.

I'm a priest because in living my priesthood I have become convinced that the vocation to priesthood has been God's way of redeeming my particular humanity, and making me useful for his work in the world.

August 21, 2011

The Caves of Francis and Edith Stein

'The cave' is an iconic part of the accounts of St. Francis's conversion that have come down to us.
Moreover, flooded with a new spirit, Francis frequently entered a certain cave, while his companion entered outside, completely ignorant of what Francis was doing inside. There, in secret, Francis prayed with tears to his heavenly Father that, as his guide on his way, he might show him his will more clearly. Thus praying at great length, he harshly afflicted himself, and until he knew by divine inspiration how he should begin, the distraction of his changing feelings would allow him no rest. There alternated within him happiness for the sweet taste of the spirit, the gravest sorrow for sins of the past, not a little fear of the future, and a fervent desire for what he had begun. (The Life of St. Francis by Julian of Speyer, chapter I)
But the caves into which we go to allow ourselves to be found by God are also the empty darknesses of ourselves. By reducing our attachments to created things and our appetites for them, we begin to empty ourselves that we might be filled anew by God. This is what John of the Cross calls the active Night of Sense.

As Edith Stein points out, following John, this makes caves out of our interior faculties:
The first cave is the intellect, its emptiness is a thirst for God and it longs for divine wisdom. The second cave is the will, which hungers for God and clamors for the perfection of love. The third cave is the memory. It is consumed with the desire for the possession of God. (The Science of the Cross, 207)
The incarnation has made the human person the locus of saving sacrifice. The humanity of Christ is the New Temple. As members of his body by our baptism into his death and resurrection and our communion with him in the Eucharist, our individual personhoods also become that Temple. But we must also remember that when the Temple was rebuilt after the Captivity the Holy of Holies remained empty. The Ark of the Covenant was gone. The space was filled only with God's own silent and invisible Presence.

If we are to be Temple wherein the Presence of God abides and perfect Sacrifice finds a home, we too must empty ourselves and then enter into the emptiness in prayer. It is there that we will find the sweetness of the Spirit and the burning desire for our vocation.

August 20, 2011

Actual Graces

An important truth of the spiritual life which is vital to remember but easy to miss:

When we become aware of needing some particular grace, such as God's help in the struggle with some temptation, or with overcoming some sin, or in obtaining some virtue, this awareness itself is the grace of God at work.

It's easy to get the idea that the pursuit of holiness works like this: we examine ourselves, find ourselves deficient and miserable, decide that we need certain graces to become more holy and less unhappy, and then go to God in prayer to ask for what we have figured out we need.

When things get really bad on this impoverished idea of religion, God can get to be imaged as kind of ultimate spiritual clerk. Prayer is like going to the DMV. You know just what you need, and you hope your request and materials are in order to have it fulfilled. Of course it's even worse than that, because often you walk away from the DMV having succeeded in taking care of your business. If you treat God this way, he will allow you to continue to fail at happiness and fall prey to sin, because you have not understood the most basic of graces God wants to share.

When the desire for grace and God's help arise in the heart, perhaps suggesting that we pray, this already is the grace of God at work. Of course God wants to give us all the graces we need to overcome our sins and to obtain the virtues that will make us happy ourselves and beneficial to each other, but most of all God wants to freely consent to our created condition as persons made from and imagined in the creativity of his own overflowing, trinitarian love.

The thought that I need a certain grace is not my spiritual self-diagnosis, but God's invitation to consent to my dependence on him.

August 19, 2011

Age in Religion

In subtle and not-so-subtle ways, seniority means something in religious life. From deference at table to who gets his choice of rooms, one's 'age in religion' comes into play.

In past generations, one's biological age and religious age were often more or less the same. Most candidates came to the community at the same or very similar ages, and so seniority tended to match up with age.

Of course this is no longer the case. Candidates come to religious life at quite a range of ages. Some are right out of high school while others have already had whole careers in the world. Most communities have an age limit for entrance, but these tend to be generous and even with them exceptions seem to be common.

I've just been thinking about this little topic as I try to reflect and pray about this friary in which I've been asked to be the guardian or 'local superior.' By age in this world, I am the third youngest of eight friars. But by age in religion, I am the second most senior. It's a curious thing.

August 17, 2011

On Trials

In the spiritual life it can take a long time to learn very simple things, and it can take even longer to put what one learns into practice.

For example, when I was younger in the faith I used to pray constantly for strength and endurance in trials and temptations. But it didn't seem to me that my prayer was answered. I didn't realize that my prayer was disingenuous.

I didn't really want 'strength and endurance' in temptation at all; what I wanted was not to be tempted. I wanted a daily existence of virtuous serenity in which I could adore my God in peace and admire the excellence of this option I had decided upon for my life. Laziness and vainglory, all that, and devoid of the Cross.

It took me a long time to figure out that the spiritual life is not about arriving at a place of freedom from trials and temptations, but about suffering trials and temptations well.

Finding ourselves as the sinners that we are, there is a mortal choice. The world's answer is self-hate and self-destruction, and it is visible all around us in so many subtle and not-so-subtle forms. But because Jesus Christ crucified has identified himself with all of the misery and alienation we have insisted upon for ourselves with our sins, there is another answer: the divine humility become human salvation.

So Christianity is not about being rid of the terrifying and inane trials of this life, nor about being free from the searing meaninglessness that attacks us in temptation, but accepting these things daily in faith, passing through them prayerfully in such a way that they become our salvation in the one Sacrifice of Christ.

Yes, it is true that in the spiritual life sins can be overcome, and we should strive to do so. In this sense we can become free from temptation. But there will always more and terrible trials and temptations to come, which God offers us so that our love for him might continue to be purified, and that, by taking up our own Cross we might participate in the salvation Christ has won for the world. Do we not imagine that the Cross began to feel heavier on the way to Calvary?

August 16, 2011

Ten Years of Religious Life

Ten years ago today, at the parish church of St. Philip Neri on Jane St. in Toronto, I and six other men were invested in the Capuchin Franciscan habit and began our canonical religious life. All seven of us are still in the Order today.

I'm grateful for all of it, the joys and the trials, the opportunities and the renunciations.

I've been praying over this in gratitude as a way to try to enter well into my current transition into guardian of the fraternity where I live. I realize that there are a lot of round numbers rolling around in my life around now. This is my fortieth year on this earth. Soon I will have been baptized for half of that life. Just more than half of my baptized life I have spent with the Capuchins, and just over half of that I have been blogging here.

There have been both trials and joys in abundance. But most of all there is the Lord, who is untiring in the way he tries to give me the grace of these consecrations each day. I have hardly made a beginning of living even a token response to such a gift, but who cares? Before the goodness of God and the salvation we have in Jesus Christ, my sins and my love both are tedious and boring.

Praised be Jesus Christ. That's all there is to say.

August 15, 2011

Retreat Notes: Trappist Humor

[On the last afternoon of my retreat, when I was doing my gift shopping, one of the monks told me a Trappist joke.]

A Jesuit, a Dominican, and a Trappist were on a deserted island. There they found a magical bottle, out of which came a genie. The genie granted them three wishes in thanksgiving for his liberation. The men decided to divide the wishes equally, one for each.

The Jesuit went first.

"I wish I were teaching in the most prestigious university in the world!" he proclaimed. As soon as he had said this, the Jesuit vanished from sight, whisked away to his glorious new academic appointment.

The Dominican went next.

"I wish I were preaching in the most beautiful cathedral in Christendom!" he piously wished. As soon as he had said this, he too vanished from sight, spirited away to his august new pulpit.

At last the genie came to the Trappist.

"And what do you wish for, brother monk?"

"Never mind," said the Trappist, "I already got it."

August 14, 2011

Retreat Notes: Arise, My Beloved

[Songs of Songs 2:8-14 was the reading for Morning Prayer on the feast of St. Clare at the Abbey]

"Arise, my beloved, my beautiful one, and come...the time of pruning the vines has come."

That is prayer. That is the spiritual life. The desire to pray, the inspiration to turn to prayer, is our experience of this invitation. Our heart and mind lifted up to God in prayer is just the call of God to the soul, 'Arise my beloved, my beautiful one, and come' viewed from our human perspective. So to pray is only to surrender and consent to be lifted up into the call of Love to the beloved.

But prayer must also be the consent to pruned, to be cut, to accept the painful excision of attachments, of sentiments and aspects of the self that you thought were integral to who you are, to 'being yourself.' For the created person whom God loves is not the same as my idea of who I am. So I must have faith that the loss and pain of the pruning is not only what is supposed to happen through prayer and is not a sign of something wrong, but instead is directed toward making me more the creature beautiful to God and therefore more happy and free for the purposes of his kingdom.

August 13, 2011

Retreat Notes: Righteousness and Vainglory

Here is the danger in allowing yourself to be astonished or scandalized by others, or, put better, allowing yourself to consider others unrighteous:

If you indulge the thought that others are unrighteous, conversely it will include within itself your taste for the idea of yourself as righteous. You then risk making this the motivation for your religion: you pray not because of the love of God, but because you want to be able to think of yourself as a righteous person. Thus, your religion becomes vainglorious at best and an idolatry at worst.

Considering others as less righteous leads one to be even less so himself.

August 12, 2011

Back From Retreat

Well, I'm back from retreat. I guess there's not a whole lot to say about the week. I spent most time trying to sit in the 'uninteresting wilderness' of quiet prayer and catching up with my beloved John of the Cross. I have a couple of bloggable reflections, which I'll be putting up over the next few days when I get to it.

For starters, the little encounters of my arrival and departure:

"The monk who greets me--I recall his face--tells me he's from Marblehead. I tell him that my mother's from Gloucester. We discover that we both had our first experience of religious life in the OFM of the Holy Name province. He was a student at Callicoon. They used to say the rosary walking around the lake. He wanted more prayer. Now he's a Trappist.

'I've been here for 53 years. I think I have a vocation.' he says.

He takes me to the room called St. Catherine, and leaves me there."

This morning after Mass the same monk greeted me in the sacristy, thanked me for reminding him of his first fervor, and said he hoped I would be back soon.

Over the course of the week I also had a few conversations with this chipmunk, who seemed to live in the retreat house courtyard, often sitting--as if presiding over things--on one of the hedges.

Franciscan Blogroll

Go ahead and check out Br. Jack's Preaching Ministry.

August 7, 2011

On Retreat

Today I'm getting myself ready to be off on retreat tomorrow. Once I go, comments will not be published until I get back next weekend. In the past, retreat has given me some reflections to blog. Should that happen again, I'll put them up next week.

In your charity, pray for me.

Here are the Mass intentions I intend to offer during the week:

Tuesday: For all those against whom I have sinned in the past year

Wednesday: For our newly professed friars, and for those preparing for perpetual profession next month

Thursday: For the friars I have been asked to serve as guardian

Friday: For the readers of this blog, and your intentions

August 6, 2011

A Model For Liturgical Abusers

There are very few areas in which I would present myself as a model for imitation, but this at least is one: when I commit a liturgical abuse, I beg forgiveness.

This morning was a good example. I offered the Mass of the Transfiguration for the locals and visitors staying here at the friary. During the first reading I realized that I had forgotten the Gloria. So at the end of Mass, at the customary place for announcements between the Prayer after Communion and the blessing and dismissal, I asked,

"Brothers, in my negligence I forget the Gloria, didn't I? So I ask your forgiveness for denying you a complete Mass."

We priests should realize that we owe a complete and properly celebrated liturgy to the people on whose behalf we celebrate. The people, for their part, have a right to expect and demand the same. When, on account of our negligence, distraction, confused conscience, or voluntary ignorance we fail to celebrate the liturgy completely or in the way that the Church asks, we ought to apologize to the people for our sin against them.

August 5, 2011

Why We Don't Make Progress

"God has created human souls for himself. He desires to unite them to himself and to give them the immeasurable fullness and incomprehensible bliss of his own divine life, already in this life. That is the goal to which he directs them and toward which they themselves should strive with all their might. But the way to it is narrow, steep, and difficult. Most people remain en route. A few manage to get beyond the first beginnings--a dwindling small number arrive at the goal. That is due to dangers on the way--worldly dangers, the evil enemy, and one's own nature--but also due to ignorance and lack of qualified guidance. Souls do not understand what is happening within them, and seldom is someone to be found who could open their eyes to what is going on."

Edith Stein, The Science of the Cross, 37. Trans. Josephine Koeppel, OCD

August 4, 2011

Devotion to the Saints

Each year on the feast of St. John Vianney I think of the permanent deacon who instructed me as a catechumen and then baptized me nineteen years ago this month.

The deacon thought of himself a simple man, and had found in John Vianney another cleric who had persevered through difficulty in his theological studies. Over the years I've realized that this was an important thing for me to see; it was my first real-life experience of personal devotion of a saint.

There are all sorts of devotions to saints, all of them blessed.

Sometimes we find in a saint or spiritual writer a resonance with our own experience of Christianity; we see some similarity in the graces and struggles and find someone in whom we can see ourselves. For me I think of Augustine, Benedict Joseph Labré, Thomas Merton, and Edith Stein.

Sometimes the saint seems to have something that we desire, or who seems like an intercessor consonant with what we seek. For me I think of Joseph, Monica, Thomas, and Bonaventure.

Sometimes a devotion arises from something like a combination of these two sorts of dynamics; the life and holiness of the saint not only speaks to something in our own experience, but of taking it to a depth or a place that we still want to go. For me I think of Francis.

Sometimes we can become devoted to a saint because his or her doctrine helps us understand the operation of grace in our own prayer and desire for Christianity. For me I think of Cassian and John of the Cross.

I suppose there are many more ways that we come to receive the gift of devotion to different saints. In all of it we give thanks to Christ, because it is his death and resurrection that has established us in a communion that transcends time and death.

August 3, 2011

et, percutientes sibi pectus, dicunt

Thanks to the thoughtfulness and charity of reader Carl, who rescued the book from a culling at a seminary library, today I have received a 1944 Caeremoniale Romano-Seraphicum in the Capuchin use. Ironically, the bears a library stamp from our old monastery in Garrison, New York. So it has made a trip and come home.

The ceremonial is full of great stuff. Here's a fun little sample:

De pectoris percussione

Percussio pectoris, quando in sacris functionibus praescribitur, fit manu dextera aperta et extensa, digitisque simul coniunctis. Ne sit strepitosa, sed modesta, ita ut mentem et cor sincera peccatorum suorum contritione imbutum in spem divinae clementiae erigat, ac ceteros ad pietatem excitet.

On the striking of the breast

The striking of the breast, when it is prescribed in the sacred services, is to be made with the right hand open and extended, and also with the fingers joined. It is not to be noisy, but modest, that the mind be raised to hope in divine clemency and the heart be imbued with sincere contrition for its sins, and that others be aroused to piety.

Here's hoping everyone gets to pray the new and improved Confiteor on the first Sunday of Advent this year, beating their breasts in just such a spirit.

As always, translation improvements are welcome in the comments.

Vocation and Sinking

Due to the aligning of the Sunday and weekday readings cycles this week, as well as my friary's lack of a Roman-Franciscan Lectionary, I got to hear Matthew 14:22-36 twice this week. The passage has been on my mind, especially in light of the religious profession of our novices last Saturday.

Professions are always inspiring. They always remind me of the simpler zeal and more bare desire I like to think I once had, before all the interior compromises and makings of peace with pet sins and lukewarmness that I have allowed to pile up in me over the years.

Matthew's account of Peter walking on the water is a great comfort to me in this regard. It doesn't matter that Peter falters in his journey from the boat to the Lord's presence. Crying out for salvation when he finds himself sinking, Jesus stretches forth his hand and catches him immediately. The Lord's call is fulfilled. Peter gets to Jesus on the water even though he doubts and slips, and maybe even because he does.

Two things matter in living the vocation we have received from the Lord.

First, that we answer and set out boldly. This is true not only in the great ceremonial moments of vocation, but also in our daily resolutions to be faithful. Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus. He boldly set himself to doing something ridiculous, impossible, and unnatural. The world would laugh at you if you tried to walk on water, just like the world laughs at you if you decide to embrace the evangelical counsels, desire to become a consecrated celibate, or consent to give yourself in marriage until death. No matter. The Lord calls, so step out of the boat.

Second, when we slip, falter, and fail, we must call upon Jesus for salvation. His hand will be there.

Notice that such slips and failures do not compromise our vocation. In the end they don't really matter.

When it comes to the call given to each of us, God is not 'set it and forget it.' It's not as if God gives the grace of a vocation which we are then to execute with our own power, like some kind of agonistic project which God watches from afar, either approving or disapproving of how we've done with it. God is with us all the way, ready to have us bring the cry for salvation out of the misery of our sins. We're characters made up of desire for faithfulness mixed with faults and sins and stupidities, but it doesn't matter. We make it to Jesus across the water not because of us but because of him.

August 1, 2011


It was one year ago today that I moved back here to Boston. There have been many graces, but that doesn't mean it hasn't been a challenging adjustment. Being a full-time doctoral student is a very different life than the parish priesthood.

Today, a year later, I find myself moving again, if only to a new room in the house. It's an effect of being named guardian of the fraternity; I get a new and improved room.

Sometimes in religious life it seems like as soon as you get adjusted to your circumstances, things change and you have to start over again. It's easy to fall into the attitude of always waiting for things to 'calm down' or 'get back to normal' so you can live a peaceful religious life. At this point I'm starting to realize that it is the adjusting, the demand to let go occasioned by change, that is the life itself. As the friar who preached the other day at the Mass of religious profession for our novices said in his homily, our vows are only a means to embracing the fullness of a life of letting go in gospel poverty.

It's so easy to say that we'll get to something once we get settled or 'things get back to normal.' That's when I'll get my prayer life back together, or reconcile with someone who has something against me, repent of some pet sin, go on a diet, etc. All of that is an excuse to live in the unreality of an imaginary future. In the spiritual life there is only now. This isn't just some cheap spiritual saying, but derives from the eternity of God himself, for Whom there is no before or after, but only Now.