October 26, 2011

Born Out of Order

I was just looking over an article that one of the student brothers is working on for school, on a classic problem with the sacraments of initiation: If the ordinary means of intiating new Christians is as it is presented in the restored catechumentate of the RCIA, namely catechumenate, election, sacramental initiation through baptism, confirmation, and Eucharist (in that order), and mystagogy, then why do most come to be initiated in a seemingly contrary pattern of infant baptism, preparation for first Holy Communion, and then confirmation, perhaps with a 'first confession' thrown in somewhere as well?

Reading an earnest effort to say something about this little dissonance and what might be done to apply a pastoral remedy reminds me of how random and out of order my own sacramental initiation was: baptism according to the rite for the baptism of infants at age twenty on a random Saturday afternoon in Ordinary Time, first Holy Communion at the regular parish Mass the next day, and confirmation some months later by getting on the end of the line of the current batch of kids. The funniest part of the whole business is that anyone who knows me even a little bit knows that I would have insisted on every formality had I known any better at the time. But it was a blessed time nevertheless, in which I was trying to do my best to by faithful to a call from God, and in which those who helped me were doing their best to help me with every charity and kindness. To be honest, I wouldn't trade it for anything.

It all reminds me that the economies of God's grace in the creation are broader than the ordering and discipline of sacramental grace (in the broad sense) at any historical moment. As the Catechism proclaims, making this point in all of its holy mystery: "God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism, but he himself is not bound by his sacraments." (1257) The Church is and carries within herself the saving mission of Jesus Christ, but the Church is not just what we can see, what we can put into pastoral procedures, or what we can write an article about. As we edge toward November and all the Masses for the Holy Souls in which we are reminded of the Church expectant, we find an eminent moment to remember that the visible Church on earth is only a small segment of the Church as she is in her whole mystery extended through time and space and into eternity.

October 24, 2011

Quod fratres non recipiant pecuniam

The other day I was out taking care of the friary banking. At the bank I ran into one of my teachers, and not just any teacher, but the one who had helped me very much with the portions of my licentiate thesis that concerned Franciscan history.

She had some complaints about the practices and fees of the particular bank, so I joined in with my own annoyances.

In protest against all the various aggravation, I eventually proclaimed, "I am going to invent a form of religious life marked by the renunciation of the use of money!"

She laughed.

October 23, 2011

Theses on Love of Neighbor

To love means to will the best for the beloved, that the beloved might enjoy the best in happiness and flourishing.

God is the best 'thing' there is.

God, in giving himself to his creatures by adopting us in the Spirit into his own blessed life by the death and resurrection of the incarnate Son, is the perfect practitioner of love of neighbor.

Therefore, if we wish to love our neighbor, our desire must be that our neighbor have God.

But since God has already given himself to our neighbor in Christ, we must not think that it is our job to give God to our neighbor.

Instead, both love of self and love of neighbor mean the facilitation and encouragement of the acceptance of and surrender to the Gift already given in Jesus Christ.

Therefore, we who are Christians much ask ourselves each day how we may live our lives such that those around us will desire what it is we have come to have in Christ. If the joy, peace, and confidence in God we have in the Spirit attracts someone else to the acceptance of the Gift who is Jesus Christ, then we have loved our neighbor in the most supreme way.

October 21, 2011


"You should accept as grace all those things which deter you from loving the Lord God." (Francis of Assisi, Letter to a Minister)

That's a hard teaching. At first it might seem to make no sense.

So why should we thank God for whatever impedes us from loving Him? Because this is the surest path to humility, to confessing before God that we do not yet love him as we ought.

This humility is the way to the holiness of life in which nothing will deter us from the love of God; not our joys and the goodness around us, because all of it will speak of God without any danger of distraction, and not our sufferings and rejections, because even these we will gratefully receive as sharings in the sufferings of Christ of which we have been found worthy, in communion with Christ crucified in the salvation he is for the world.

October 19, 2011

RIP: Fr. Charles Repole, OFM Cap.

Last night the second-most senior friar of our province, Fr. Charles Repole, departed this life at age 96. He was one of two brothers from the same mother who entered the Order. His brother, known in religion as Fr. Celsus, died when I was a novice. Charlie seemed to miss him terribly. Or better, he seemed to find it somehow awkward and wrong to be in this world without his brother. I think Fr. Charles once told me that they were from St. Francis Xavier parish in Manhattan. Daniel, as he was born, entered the Order in 1936.

As a young priest, in the days before Skype, email, and probably the telephone in most places he was, he went off the missions of Nicaragua. He was immensely proud of his work in editing a trilingual translation dictionary in Spanish, English, and Miskito.

I first got to know Fr. Charles in my first assignment, when he was living at our residence for senior friars adjacent to the parish where I was working. He used to call me mi tocayo, which means, "my namesake." In order to avoid confusion around the friaries, I quickly became 'Charles junior' which another of the senior friars soon shortened to 'CJ.' He had his own anxieties and interior demons, but they never kept him from his natural gregariousness and earnest interest in people. For that I was always grateful for his good example. Descansa en paz, tocayo.

Follow this link for the full obituary.

Against Personal Holiness

Each year on this feast of the North American Martyrs I read in the Office of Readings the selection from the diaries of St. Jean de Br├ębeuf and I'm cut to the heart as I hear him express his desire for the martyrdom and horrible sufferings he certainly received.

Still bumbling along, now in the twentieth year of my baptism, how far I am from that! On a good day I can thank Jesus Christ for having found me worthy of the little sufferings of my easy life, but that's on a good day. A lot of the time I still resist, and am still the miserable plaything of the world, the flesh, and devil. Still seeking comfort rather than the Cross, status and esteem rather than the poverty of being nobody for this world, security and a cool dry place to take my walks and sit and read instead of the anxiety of the poor and the dependence on God that only comes from interior poverty.

But what to do with this experience is perhaps the real spiritual question. To be disappointed about it, to let myself feel let down by the fact that I find myself not yet a saint, is also from the flesh. It leads to subtle resentments against God for not fulfilling the vainglorious desires that go all the way back to my first fervor, my love for the idea of being holy, to breathe a purer and more rarefied atmosphere than the rest of humanity mired in its confusion and sin. There is anger in the half-conscious thought that surely I would be a saint by now, surely I would be able to look at myself and see an excellent soul rather than a miserable sinner.

Against such disappointment and resentment, the better response is humility. To forget about my stupid self altogether and its selfish longing to look on itself as holy--this is the path to real sanctity. When I am no longer concerned with myself, it is then that there will no longer be any hooks for the temptations of the world, the flesh, and devil and still less room for the tedious distractions and dramas by which we conspire to hobble each other in the mission to which we are called.

This is why I'm sometimes troubled by talk of 'personal holiness' as a work of the spiritual life. It's all to easy to start to imagine holiness as some sort of commodity or credential that we are supposed to obtain, purchasing bits of it with what effort we can afford. Of course this is an easy way to imagine things, even unconsciously, in a commercial world.

But the way to become holy is not to desire holiness but to desire God. Since God has been our desire all along, it's not even really about doing something at all but about letting go of the distractions that keep us from being who we are in the first place.

October 18, 2011

What Eric Thunk

For a 'music captures prayer' post, mutatis mutandis, "I saw a hippie girl on 8th Ave." by Jeffrey Lewis

Priesthood and Praise

On my way to the Poor Clare monastery for Mass yesterday, I remembered that it had been a year since I started going there on Mondays. So at the end of Mass I mentioned it, intending to thank the sisters and the people who assist there for the opportunity to pray with them. As I tried to do so, I was interrupted by applause. I felt funny. I didn't announce that I had been going there for a year in order to be praised, but to express my own gratitude.

There's a lot of praise to be had in the priesthood. On the one hand, there's nothing wrong with it; people are grateful for your work and your sacrifices on behalf of the Church and the world and want to express it. Folks want to support their priests, and the priest must also remember that the unwillingness to accept thanks and praise is also a failure in humility.

On the other hand, there are dangers. It's easy to begin, in subtle ways, to start working for the praise and recognition, seeking ministerial moments and making pastoral decisions to vainglorious purposes. It's not a negligible proportion of the clergy who have a touch of narcissism, and sometimes people have learned to manipulate their priests by making use of it to get what they think they want. It always amazes me, given the obvious fact that God doesn't just give us whatever we think we want, that people on all sides still think that this is how ministry is supposed to work.

These dangers are less present in religious life as such. Most people, including many Catholics, don't really know what a religious is, so they don't know what to say about it. Out in public in my habit, I have been called or asked if I am any number of things: a Buddhist, a Mormon, a Lutheran, a Jedi, a member of the KKK, even a ninja.

For me, the praise gets to feel funny. The longer I go in my religious life and priesthood the more I realize that my vocation is an expression of God's mercy for me, rather than any sort of extraordinary grace or special privilege. This life was God's best opportunity to save me from misery and damnation, and so here I am, a religious and a priest, a not a very good one at that.

October 17, 2011

Lapsed Atheist

The other day I saw someone on Google+ who described himself as a 'lapsed atheist.' I found the term a little fascinating, and I was reflecting on it as I walked home from Mass at the Poor Clares this morning.

I guess we tend to think of the theist as the one who makes assertions and claims, while the atheist does not. In other words, in our somewhat godless society, atheism is the default position. To confess God is to make claims that are alternative, and indeed rebellious.

In fact, however, this is a false imagination. Even though many of us religious people operate under it all the time, it is atheistic in its presumptions.

Atheism is, in fact, a very strong sort of claim or set of claims. Often it is based on an appeal to reason, though taking great (and ultimately useless) pains to avoid the intuition that the very reasonableness of the cosmos and the ability of our minds to interface with it through our own reason have been ordinary paths to the intuition of Reason itself, and the great religious intuition that this Reason is not a what, but a benevolent Who.

To be a theist, on the other hand, is just to surrender to the actuality of things, and I mean 'actuality' in all of its metaphysical force and theological richness.

So I like the idea of a 'lapsed atheist' and I'm thinking of adopting the language for myself. It suggests that the position of faith or the confession of God is not some sort of claim or set of claims that are adopted in a positive way, but simply an admission of what is and surrender to its implications.

In other words, the religious person is not someone who has become special by adopting some extraordinary outlook or worldview, but someone who has become ordinary by just accepting things as they are. We must never let ourselves become, in so many subtle ways, the Pharisee who thanked God that he was not like other men.

May I lapse from my atheism today. Amen.

October 15, 2011

Sexual Abuse

Everything going on in my life these days has meant a lot of walks. I've always been someone who thinks and processes experience in the solitude of walking. Everywhere I live I fall into habitual routes.

On my walk yesterday I was thinking about the big news of the indictment of bishop Finn. From there I got to remembering another priest, whom I met very early on in my religious life. He had that perfect mixture of sincere devotion and don't-take-it-all-too-seriously bemusement that seems to be the charm of us Franciscans. He was fun and full of quotes from the saints. He seemed self-confident in his love of the vocation. I looked up to him, and hoped that one day I would be like him.

Today he's in prison.

When I think about this it reminds me of how sexual abuse in the Church is still an issue. Now I'm not putting down all the programs and checks that are in place for the protection of children; I have great respect for the folks who work hard at implementing and administrating these things, and I have no doubt that they have been a great help. But I am saying that I don't think we have yet taken seriously the larger problems of the use of power and endemic emotional immaturity of which the sexual abuse of children by priests is just the horrific, criminal edge.

It gives me pause to remember that a friar who seemed in every way to fit in, and was even someone to look up to in his apparent happy adjustment to our life, and to whom I myself looked up in my first steps as a religious, is in prison as I write this post. But the betrayal I feel as I think back on myself innocently looking up to a friar who seemed so successful and cool is but the tiniest taste of the injuries of those who have been abused by priests.

But maybe God wills that tiny taste to be an invitation.

A couple of years back there was a spell when it would often come up in my prayer that I should accept some particular penance or work of reparation for the sexual abuse committed by my brother priests. I don't think I ever decided on anything. Maybe it's time to seek such a thing again in my prayer.

October 14, 2011

The Solitude of the Cross

Yesterday I spent some time with one of the wisest Christian teachers I know. This is a riff on something he said:

Why do families tend to fight on vacation and around holidays? I think it's because of a certain frustrated utopianism. There's this idea that the time of vacation or holiday will a perfect and wonderful time of peace and harmony, but when this doesn't exactly happen a lot of frustration and anger can come out.

Something analogous can happen in a Christian community; part of the reason there can be so much tension, frustration, and anger is that our optimism and idealism made us think that a Christian community, whether it be a religious house or a marriage or whatever, would also be a kind of utopia, as if the Kingdom of God were already here in its fullness.

This can easily become a sort of double denial:

First, we forget that there is a fullness of the Kingdom of God to which we look forward in Christian hope, and second, that the Cross means that each of us, in the solitude of his own heart, has to surrender to carrying not only the burden of his own sins and imperfections, but those of the whole community as well. This is what it means, as individual Christians, to take seriously that the Church as communion derives from Christ crucified.

Without that solitude, there is no Christian person to offer as a communion with others, and Christian community comes to be based only on emotional needs and the other concerns of the flesh. And then we wonder why it falls apart at any sign of trouble.

October 13, 2011

The School of Humility

Early on in my religious life I had an insight that has served me well: Life in community could help me to become good, or even a saint, but if it ended up making me worse I would be far worse than I would have been without it. In this sense I think religious life is hazardous; the possibilities for sanctity are many and great, but so are the possibilities for ruin.

Arriving in any new arrangement of common life, I bring my desire to be a good religious and a brother to my confreres and indeed to every creature. But I also bring my sins, immaturities, blind spots, idiosyncrasies, and things I'm just not good at. My mind and heart are weeds and wheat, as the Lord said in his parable.

The challenge of common life is that my weeds come to interface with other people's weeds, and the rotten blossoms of personality conflicts, imperfections in religious observance, and failures in charity and zeal begin to emerge.

It can get pretty uncomfortable. It's enough to make you think that there's something wrong with religious life, and of course there is. (It's called original sin, or at least the wound that original sin has left on our humanity.) But the danger here is to respond to the dysfunction with only lamenting, complaining, and blaming. Too easily these only lead to the sort of gossip, detraction, and backbiting that only reinforce and harden the difficulties.

As I get older in the religious life I realize that, at least in some sense, things are supposed to be this way. Why? Because the situation of difficulty, of not finding it easy to get along, of having my faults come into contact with the faults of others and together brew up a rotten cocktail of dysfunction, it's all meant to be a school of patience, charity, and the Cross. Thus, common life becomes an opportunity to let go of blaming and diagnosing in favor of confessing together that we are more or less at fault. Because the common life makes our own imperfections and sins more obvious both to ourselves and others, it is a school of humility. It is in this humility that the resurrection of mutual acceptance and forgiveness emerges.

This confession is the paradox of the Cross revealed in common life. On the individual level this paradox is revealed like this: the way to stop committing a particular sin is not to try real hard not to do it, but to surrender to the God who wants to free you from not only some stupid sin but your whole self. So it is in common life; the way for a collection of characters to begin to be saved from the common entanglement of their individual imperfections is not to resit the situation, but to embrace it and let it teach a sort of common humility.

Asking whose fault it is that common life suffers imperfections is as pointless as asking who killed Jesus Christ. As one of my teachers says, "The only reasonable answer to that question is you and me."

October 11, 2011

Grieving the Soon-To-Be Old Translation

Now that we are allowed to have copies of the new translation here in the United States, I've been looking through it. For the most part, I like it. I think that a lot has been improved. I like very much the restoration of and with your spirit. I like that the bees got back into the Easter Proclamation. It's going to be a challenging transition, though, especially for priests.

So far I have but one complaint with the translation, the little prayer the priest says quietly before consuming the Body and Blood of Christ. "May the Body/Blood of Christ keep me safe for eternal life," to me doesn't capture the richness of Corpus/Sanguis Christi custodiat me in vitam aeternam. I'm not in love with the current, outgoing translation either, "May the body/blood of Christ bring me to everlasting life," but I like it better than the new one. Not that it probably matters to me in the end; I usually say this prayer in Latin anyway.

That's a little thing. Here's another, maybe more important: One of the first priests I ever knew was the pastor of the parish where I was baptized, Fr. Leo Sutula at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Quaker Hill, Connecticut. May he rest in peace. He gave me my first Holy Communion and also (six days later) heard my first confession. He had a gentleness that gave glory to God. He also had a funny habit, at least at daily Mass, of saying all of the secret prayers out loud. So, until I learned the Mass well myself several years later, his Mass always seemed to have more prayers in it. I remember being especially struck by the private preparation prayer before Communion, which he would say out loud:

"Lord Jesus Christ, with faith in your love and mercy I eat your body and drink your blood. Let it not bring me condemnation but health in mind and body."

When I use this option myself, I always think of Fr. Sutula. Until I came to be a priest myself, he was my only experience of this prayer. As I pray the words myself, I'm aware of my connection to the man and his ministry in the economies of grace in my own journey. The prayer is a glimpse for me of the communion of saints.

So there's a little grief in my heart at the thought of losing that little prayer at the end of next month. The new version is quite different, and I'll probably just start saying the other option, the Domine, Iesu Christi... in Latin.

It's not a big thing, but in thinking about it I started to guess that there are probably many such things for all kinds of people, connections and devout memory associated with the particular words of the outgoing translation. I bet that a lot of folks have certain parts of the Mass that serve to remind them of specific blessings and graces, or of struggles with which God's help was saving.

I'll grieve the loss of Fr. Sutula's little prayer, but I'll remember that the gift of the new translation serves our devotion and love for the same Eucharist he celebrated for me on that day of my first Holy Communion, and thus is no betrayal but rather a movement of love. As we approach and engage this new moment in our eucharistic lives, I'll also be praying for everyone else who grieves some particular thing soon to become liturgical history.

October 10, 2011

My News and Coming Transitions

Within the last few weeks, new developments in my life have brought me into a new time of transition and reorientation. In a post a couple of weeks back I asked your prayers for the situation, and I have been grateful for the strength of that encouragement.

So here's the news: I have been asked to join the ministry of the Order's general secretariat at our general curia in Rome as an English-language secretary. This news came as a complete surprise. As I calmed down inside, however, and was able to start to think and pray about it, I became grateful and happy about this new possibility and direction in my religious life. My spiritual director confirmed these senses for me.

I don't, however, have to move until spring, towards the end of the school year.

As happy as I am about this new assignment, it left me in an awkward condition in my current assignment as a student at Boston College. I'm still in the beginning stages of the STD program there, and so this new assignment necessarily interrupts my studies in some way or other. Exactly how to craft this interruption into shape has been occupying my thoughts and reflection ever since I first got the call about the new assignment three weeks ago. After thinking various things through as best as I could: my own academic situation, the possibilities of the current moment before I move, my relationships with my teachers, and especially the whole history of my successes and--I confess--failures in obedience since I was first asked to apply to BC two years ago, it has been decided that I will take a leave of absence from the BC School of Theology & Ministry. The new assignment seems to have a probationary period of a year or so; applying for leave now could preserve the possibility of returning to BC if I don't work out.

With the time that will open up as I begin my leave and until I am supposed to move to Rome, I will seek further priestly work here in Boston.

Thank you for your prayers as I continue to try to be faithful in these transitions.

October 7, 2011

A Timely Word From Alvarus Pelagius

An email from Boston College alerts me that something called an 'unresolved balance' could impede my registration for the spring semester.

"[The students] contract debts and sometimes withdraw from the university without paying them, on which account they are excommunicated and do not care..."

(Alvarus Pelagius (ca. 1275-1349), De Planctu Ecclesiae, quoted from Brian Tierney, ed. Sources of Medieval History, 4th ed. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1983), 297.)

Our New Deacons And The Journey

Two of the brothers here at the friary are to be ordained deacon tomorrow morning. Each in his own way has had a long journey toward the sacred ministry, and I'm very happy for them both. Pray for them, in thanksgiving to God for their vocations and for their openness to the graces that will open up for them in the days and seasons to come.

The occasion reminds me even more strongly that it was five years ago today, on the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, that I was ordained deacon. It was at St. Peter's in Cambridge, Massachusetts, together with one other Capuchin and my Jesuit classmates through the laying on of hands of F.X. Irwin, retired auxiliary bishop of Boston. I have a few vivid memories of the day: How it was one of the only times I have ever worn a regular clerical outfit, since the dalmatics the Jesuits supplied for the ordination did not fit well over our Capuchin hoods. How when I prayed Midafternoon Prayer later in the day my spirit rejoiced at the first time I was praying the Liturgy of the Hours according to the promise of my ordination. How my provincial minister not long after the Mass informed me that I would be ordained priest on the Blessed Mother's birthday the following year.

That's five years in the clerical state, and what a journey it's turning out to be.

Reflecting on the whole business does a lot for me in appreciating grace. I didn't join the Order with any strong idea about being a priest; I just knew that I wanted to be a Franciscan. In fact, when I got into studies I found it hard to know how to even discern the question of whether or not to present myself as a candidate for Orders. Nevertheless, as I have prayed through the experience of priesthood these past few years, I have become convinced that it is a grace and vocation that God has been working in me for much longer than I ever knew.

This helps me to remember that our discernments and reflections on God's will for us are never complete, and that God's purposes in the greater economies of grace are larger than our own consciousness of what we call our spiritual life. Remembering this helps me to trust. All that is required is openness to what is at hand and faithfulness to the next step God reveals.

October 6, 2011

What I Learned At Supper Tonight

We had some guests for supper tonight and in the fertile conversation that ensued, I learned many new things:

Beard and union suit is an acceptable fire-fighting outfit.

Your confreres in religion many not find it as funny and lighthearted as you do to jump in a fountain with your habit on.

Electricity may, or may not, have a hard time going up hill.

Italian bats are smarter than you, so don't even think about it.

Magicians who give magic shows in Latin have no need of stage names.

In the olden days when a young and liberated man would grow his hair long, it made the conferral of tonsure very entertaining.

Germans always want to sing.

There are places, houses of Franciscan friars to be more precise, where one is only allowed to smoke inside.

Day in the Life of Fr. Guardian

I call company A, in the business of service X, to take care of X for the friary. Representative of company A informs me that my predecessor fired company A, telling company A that service X would now be taken care of by company B, which is in the business of service Y, but also, apparently, able to take care of service X. Unfortunately, my predecessor later fired company B, in favor of having service Y rendered by company C. Company C, though highly competent at service Y among many others, does not deal with service X. So I would have to re-hire company A for service X, if it weren't for an issue asserted by civil government entity Z demanding resolution before service X can be rendered. So now I have to call company D to take care of the assertion of civil government entity Z before I can call company A again to re-retain them once again for service X.

This is leaving the world?

Being a Unique Snowflake

Thinking on St. Bruno for his feast day this morning, I opened up the home page of the Carthusian order. I don't know if it's some kind of quote or motto or something, but I was struck by the greeting to visitors:

"Friend, whoever you are, whatever led you to this site, welcome. You will not find anything fashionable, not even a concern for being different."

I find that profound and challenging. Anyone who wants to live a devout life of any sort must forever struggle with the rotten intuition of the Pharisee who thanked God that he was not like other men. This is especially true in a society that has given up not only on the truth of eschatology but even the erstatz eschatologies of the worldly philosophers of history and thus craves novelty and celebrity as the only things left to provide temporary relief from the general aimlessness.

When we decide each day that we want to live a spiritual life, the devil will do everything he can to stoke our vainglory and encourage us to think it zeal and righteousness. The injury of original sin has left each of us with a little narcissistic celebrity inside. It's easy to get convinced that this person is our 'leadership potential' or our zeal for the reform of others. Since it's easier to worship a celebrity than to worship the living God, the devil sees a lot of potential for damage to souls through ministers who let themselves become their own worst selves.

The good news is that God wills to save us from ourselves. The very work of prayer teaches us interior poverty because God refuses to be a commodity or a possession. A life of prayer doesn't make us special, but instead teaches us that the need to be special is a dead end that leads only to alienation. The God who desires us in prayer is no-thing that can be had and no credential that can be pinned to our insecure heart. Prayer delivers us from the horrendous cut-throat system of this world in which I can only be somebody if everyone else is a nobody. Prayer opens us to the truth that we are all somebody only because of the Someone who is the Ground and Love out of which we are all spoken into being. The spiritual life exists not to help us indulge our need to be special or different, but to let go of it.

'Be yourself', as we were told as children. True enough, but they didn't know what they were talking about. Being yourself does not mean what the world thinks it means, namely indulging one's quirks and so-called individuality so as to wrap a certain uniqueness around the meaningless and moral chaos that the world asks us to accept. No, being yourself means letting God love the person he created, and discovering the liberating humility of journeying through the discovery of who that person really is.

"The way to contemplation is an obscurity so obscure that it is no longer even dramatic. There is nothing in it that can be grasped and cherished as heroic or even unusual." (Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation, 250)

October 5, 2011

39. For Chastity

Back in this post I remarked on my discovery of the Mass formulary ad postulandam continentiam in the 2002 Missale Romanum, and how it doesn't appear in the soon-to-be-replaced American English sacramentary. With a little more research I found that this set of prayers appears in older missals, and had been restored by the 2002 missal.

Now that we finally can have our hands on the new translation, I see that this Mass does indeed appear, under "Masses and Prayers for Various Needs and Occasions 39, "For Chastity." I like the Prayer after Communion the best:

Through the Sacraments we have received, O Lord,
may our heart and our body flourish anew
by a keen sense of modesty and renewed chastity,
so that what has passed our lips as food
we may posses in purity of heart.
Through Christ our Lord

I appreciate these sense in which chastity and modesty are the flourishing of body and heart, and that the end of both is our appreciation of Holy Communion.

Given the world we live in and the state of the Church, why would someone have thought it a good idea to get rid of such a set of prayers?

October 4, 2011

St. Francis and Me

The feast of St. Francis. How this funny little man has driven my life in so many directions!

I first met him in a history class in the spring of 1992. I was a sophomore in college. The first Iraq war had left this punk rock kid longing for a way to opt of the horrendous cut-throat system of this world. On the other side, Christianity was starting to tug on my spirit. Francis synthesized an example for me that captured both. I was set on the path of my Franciscan journey, without even yet being baptized.

A year later, a newly initiated Catholic Christian, I found myself wandering through Europe with a friend who was a student at Marquette. After a wonderful Easter in Verona, we came to a disagreement on our next stop. He wanted to go to Switzerland to try to go skiing. I wanted to go to Assisi. So we went to Assisi where we celebrated my companion's birthday, and then he went off to his own adventures. Alone I was in Assisi for almost a week, praying all day, taking it all in. In the vainglory that I called being romantic at the time, how I wanted to throw away my wallet and just crawl into a cave like I was brother Giles or somebody, giving the rest of my life to the praise of the Most High who had made all his creatures so good and beautiful in imitation of Himself!

Returning to the States, I finished college and then went off immediately to become a friar myself. Filled with zeal, I made a good go of it. But it was too much too soon. When my third anniversary of baptism rolled around, I already found myself an invested, novice religious. The interior work of the novitiate revealed my lack of roots. I had to leave, and did so on Christmas morning, 1995. It was one of the hardest moments of my life. It was the first time I was off the pre-set, linear path. I had no idea what to do next. But the Most High himself revealed to me that this was the Franciscan poverty I had been desiring the whole time, to have to depend on God even to know who you were and what you had to do next.

Soon the Holy Spirit got me a job where I could serve humble folks and learn for myself patience, humility, and dependence on God. A few years went by. Around the winter of 1999, several people asked me if I had ever thought about the priesthood. I took at as a sign, and went up to meet with the vocation director of my diocese. Praying in the seminary chapel beforehand, I asked God to reveal his will to me through the interview. It went so poorly that I had to suppress laughter after it was done. I thought I was a good candidate for seminary: young, coming with an undergraduate transcript eminently suited to the requirements, active in my parish, etc. But the vocation director was right: I hadn't seem to have thought the whole thing through.

What did the bad interview mean, given that I had asked God to reveal himself through what I would experience? Going home, I picked up the Testament of Francis. That was it, I realized: I was a Franciscan. Having met the Capuchins while I was a novice in the OFM, I called them up.

That's some of how Francis has been with me. I continue to pray to him, read his writings, and read about him. In some ways parallel to my relationship with God himself, Francis becomes more compelling over time, but harder to pin down. He was a curious person.

St. Francis, pray for us.

October 3, 2011

The New Translation: What of the Hours?

The new translation is afoot. At the parish where I celebrated Mass yesterday the new Gloria was sung. Here in the States we are now allowed to have to the books, and who knows how many are in the mail. Very soon sacred ministers and seminarians, sacristans and liturgy coordinators will be perusing and inspecting the new missal with delight or disgust, depending on what they have decided upon for themselves.

As I've looked forward to all of this myself, a question keeps bugging me. What of the Liturgy of the Hours? On both rubrical and theological grounds, one might presume that more general changes like and with your spirit will flow to the whole of the liturgy as it is celebrated in English. But what of, for example, the collects? Eight weeks from now, when the first Sunday of Advent arrives, we will pray the Opening Prayer for Mass in the new translation. But we will still have the 1975 American English Liturgy of the Hours on that day, in which we will find printed the old version of the same prayer. So will it happen that the American-English speaking Church will pray, on that day, the new version of the prayer once (at Mass) and the old version for the other five times it is to be prayed on that liturgical day? (I.e. Evening Prayer I, Office of Readings, Morning Prayer, Daytime Prayer, Evening Prayer II)

Sundays are, of course, the most glaring case with regard to this problem, but the same question arises for almost every day outside of ferias of Ordinary Time--and even on those days the collect for the Sunday of the week is presented as the ordinary option to conclude the Office of Readings.

In the end, this presents a fine opportunity for a new edition of the Liturgy of the Hours in English, which would be a chance to fix and update some other things as well. It could also be a moment to follow the lead of the new English missal and let go of the division between Commonwealth and American English.

So, if you pray the Divine Office with the American English Liturgy of the Hours, what will you do on the first Sunday of Advent?