December 31, 2011

New Translation: Victimhood

In accord with my practice for the minimum use of Eucharistic Prayer I, I've been praying the Roman Canon through this whole week of the Christmas Octave. This has given me further opportunity to pray through and reflect upon the new translation.

One thing that strikes me with some intensity is the restoration of the triad at the end of the Unde et memores: offered to God is the hostiam puram, hostiam, sanctam, hostiam immaculatam.

The new translation renders this as it is in the Latin: this pure victim, this holy victim, this spotless victim.

The old translation did away with the structure of the triad, replacing it with this holy and perfect sacrifice.

On the one hand, I like the restoration of the normative structure of the prayer. Now I just have to let go of the interior urge to make the signs of the cross that accompany this moment in the Extraordinary Form! On the other hand, I see the translation problem. In our time and place, victimhood and victimization have such a connotation of meaninglessness injustice. Jesus' victimhood was certainly an injustice, but one that was, in the paradox of the cross, superabundant in meaning. Can we hear this over and above our common connotations of 'victim'?

Even though hostia and victima may have been somewhat interchangeable in late antiquity when the Roman Canon came together, the meaning-history of hostia, with its general sense of sacrificial victim and technical use as such in ancient religion would seem to be lost to the average pray-er speaking it as 'victim' in twenty-first century English.

So it goes to some basic questions regarding liturgical translation. For example, what is the value of trying to bring out the sense of terms in our best guesses as to their original connotation and intent? On other hand, one of the values embedded in the new translation, and to which I consent easily, is that sacral language, such as that of the liturgy, is not supposed to be the same as or beholden to common speech.

So what do you think? Is it an o.k., good, or not-so-good thing to translate the hostia in hostiam puram, hostiam sanctam, hostiam immaculatam as 'victim'?

December 30, 2011

Some Questions from the Referrer Log

I love to review the internet searches that bring visitors to this little blog. Here are some recent search queries in the form of questions:

"My attitudes toward temptations?" Gratitude is the only good answer, and the best attitude for making the most of the gift of a temptation.

"Franciscan ordination of a priest--what color is the stole [?]" White. That is to say, liturgical white, which includes festive edgings toward decoration and gold, etc. Contrary to various nonsense one may be told or experience, Franciscanism is not a separate religion from Catholic Christianity.

(That being said, Franciscans do, however, enjoy some ancient rubrical privileges, such as that of saying Mass barefoot. But since the rubrics of the Ordinary Form do not explicitly demand that sacred ministers wear shoes, it doesn't mean much. We used to get to put St. Francis into the Confiteor, but I guess he went the way of John the Baptist, Peter, and Paul in the reform of the liturgy.)

"Who is friars in noli me tangere?" I get versions of this one from time to time, often enough to make me wonder. I have to say that I don't have any idea. Is there are a church dedicated to the noli me tangere where there are friars? Anybody know what this and similar queries might be about?

December 28, 2011

Learn some Latin

From Fr. Finigan's blog I learn today of a conference for the fiftieth anniversary of John XXIII's apostolic constitution Veterum sapientia, which urged the study of Latin as a requirement for priestly formation. The same requirement is echoed by the decree on priestly training of Vatican II, Optatam totius. My experience, however, at least where I studied for priesthood and where our men continue to do so, is that no Latin is required. So much for the spirit of Vatican II.

I had to get myself a little Latin because I took an extra year in studies for priesthood and completed an STL, and I have to say that it was one of the best things I ever did for myself as a Catholic Christian. Even a little bit of Latin opens up tremendous vistas in one's awareness of the traditions of western Christianity.

It's too bad that Latin gets so wound up with our factions and disagreements, as if the only reason a seminarian might learn Latin would be so that he could put on a maniple or black vestments or do some other, equally horrifying thing. Latin is a matter of our tradition, not of so-called traditionalism.

When I was at Weston Jesuit it was joked that, in the theological vision of the school, nothing of note had happened in Christianity between the death of St. Paul and the birth of Karl Rahner. Perhaps that wasn't quite fair, but the jab did get at something. But you have to say that without any Latin, those who would be Catholic priests and theologians do cut themselves off from their ancestors in a certain way.

And when it comes to the ministry of sacred orders and the practice of theology, ancestors aren't just ancestors, but the communion of saints. They are worth conversing with in their own words. So learn some Latin.

December 27, 2011

Christmas, Atheism, and Power

Reflecting on Christmas, and especially our Holy Father's Christmas homily in which St. Francis plays such a part, I've been thinking about contemporary disbelief in God and how maybe it relates to our wrong ideas of power.

Perhaps part of what makes it so hard for folks to believe in God--and even for us religious folks, sometimes, to act as if he exists--is that we are confused about power. God is the Almighty; he is the infinite creative power that made the heavens and the earth and sustains all things in being. And yet, when the Almighty God is revealed to us, what do we get? First, a baby born not only in an obscure place but away from home, to plain parents, and into an ethnic group that was--at least at that time--historically important by no accepted standard. Second, a tortured and convicted criminal being executed on the cross. Christ crucified could not even move his hands and feet, much less control anything or make anybody do anything. And yet these are the privileged revelations of the all-powerful, Almighty God.

Perhaps when we talk about power we are too often talking about what is really the abuse of power, the leverage or ability to manipulate and coerce, to make others conform to our will, to co-opt others into the disorders of our hearts and the futility of our sins.

In Jesus Christ the highest power is revealed as self-emptying humility. If we were to come to really understand and practice our own wills to power in this way, maybe it would be easier to believe in God. Indeed, perhaps God would become as self-evident as he necessarily must be.

Not that it's easy. To embrace the true power revealed in humility is hard on the flesh, which has lusted for the violent domination of others ever since Cain killed his own brother. The crown of thorns cuts and digs when we put it on. But is the crown of the true royalty of this world, of those who bear the real power that is the only source of peace.

December 26, 2011


I love the first preface of Christmas. I sing it all week during the octave.

...dum visibiliter Deum cognoscimus, per hunc in invisibilium amorem rapiamur.

" we recognize in him God made visible, we may be caught up through him in love of things invisible."

Maybe I like the old translation better. We used to say that in Christ we see “our God made visible and so are caught up in love of the God we cannot see.”

It's the strength of the rapiamur that gets me. Somehow to me the English 'caught up' just doesn't grab the sense of an almost violent seizing in the verb rapio, rapere.

I was thinking about this today when it occurred to me that the same verb is at the root of the term 'rapture,' the idea, based on a certain readings of 1 Thessalonians and Revelation, that the end times will include the elect being snatched out of the world to leave those who remain to suffer a period of tribulation.

But the real bite and force of Christianity is that the end time isn't exactly a temporal event we await on some schedule. The end of time and of everything else has already appeared in the person of Jesus Christ. And, as the prayer of the preface reveals, it is his birth that initiates and makes available a rapture, and not just for a certain elect, for all humanity.

The Incarnation of the Son of God makes divinity available to our humanity. In him God becomes visible, indeed tangible. And by our surrender to having his divine humanity mingle with ours in Holy Communion, the invisible God makes a home in us as our own blessedness. The Incarnation of the Son of God, and the abiding Presence of his body in the Eucharist, offers us the chance to be caught up, to be raptured into the infinite joy, delight, and creativity that we call the Blessed Trinity.

December 24, 2011

Santa Runs on Dunkin

You can say what you want about my neighborhood, but it has its charms.

December 23, 2011

On Rules, Perspective, and Humility

Massachusetts is famous for its traffic rotaries. In other places these are more often called traffic circles or roundabouts, but here it's always a rotary.

I never knew this until one recent day when I saw the name on a map I was trying to interpret for some disoriented tourists, but the rotary in my neighborhood is called Murray Circle. It stands at the intersection of the Arborway/Jamaica Way and Centre St., as the latter snakes its way from Jamaica Plain to West Roxbury. Directly to the south of the rotary is the Arnold Arboretum.

On the part of Centre St. on the West Roxbury side of the rotary there are a couple of sets of traffic lights that are alternately red and flashing yellow. A sign next to each set indicates their purpose. It says that the signals are timed to require frequent stops, or something like that. Inevitably, some sarcastic soul will have affixed another adjective to these signs, indicating that the stops are 'needless' or 'pointless.'

To a motorist, perhaps the pauses do seem pointless and needless. But to me, it is very helpful that the drivers speeding into the rotary from the south-east are occasionally stopped.

At least once I a week I offer Mass at the Poor Clare monastery on the other side of the rotary from where I live. I would much rather walk there, as I love the early-morning quiet and solitude. If there is a place where I am most likely to leave this world quickly and decisively in the course of my ordinary daily life, it's trying to cross the rotary where the southbound Arborway leaves it. There's a crosswalk there, but very few drivers respect it. For a significant part of the year, it's not even quite light out yet when I'm trying to cross the rotary around 6:30 in the morning. It's only because of the so-called pointless and needless stops that I occasionally have a chance to cross the rotary and get to Mass, as these stops pause the speeding traffic entering at the closest point to where I need to cross. And lest anyone protest that the stops going the other way out of the rotary remain pointless, these are good too, in the way that they slow down the traffic altogether so that someone may cross.

So, before we call arbitrary or pointless some rule we are asked to follow, may we humbly remember that perhaps our particular situation does not reveal the whole picture.

December 22, 2011

Christmas Mass Dubia

The ordinary rule of the Church is that one priest should only offer one Mass each day. They may be given faculties for offer Mass twice on weekdays and thrice on Sundays, should there be a pastoral need in a certain place. In fact, such faculties are pretty much the norm nowadays.

There are two days a year when priests have the right to offer three Masses as a given: All Souls Day and Christmas. On All Souls, a stipend may be taken only for the first Mass, and it is also the only one for which the priest may decide upon or accept an intention. The second Mass is to be offered for all the faithful departed, and the third for the intentions of the pope. On Christmas, as far as I know, there is no such restriction on intentions, and stipends may be accepted for all of the Masses. Another difference is that the three Masses of All Souls, should a priest decide to celebrate all of them, could be offered in succession. The three Masses of Christmas must be offered at the times of day to which they are assigned.

The Christmas situation raises some questions for me, however.

1. From the missal it seems that the 'three Masses' begin after the vigil Mass, and therefore would be the Mass at night, the Mass at dawn, and the Mass during the day. These three are the 'traditional' Masses of Christmas, i.e. midnight, dawn, and day. So my first question is that it would seem a priest could celebrate the vigil Mass, and then still be able to celebrate the three Masses of Christmas Day proper. That would be four Masses over the whole of the liturgical day. Is that still o.k.? Would it be an abuse of the tradition?

2. Traditionally, the Mass during the night was the Mass at Midnight. Now, at least in the Ordinary Form, it is only the Mass in nocte, and can be celebrated during the night prior to midnight. So, would it be o.k. to celebrate the Mass in nocte as one of the 'three traditional Masses' even if this were before midnight? In other words, if someone were taking up the traditional practice of the 'three Masses, ' ought he also to follow the traditional rubric for the time?

3. For pastoral purposes, the different readings for the Masses of Christmas may be switched around. For example, if you attend Christmas Mass at 4 or 5 pm on Christmas eve, you probably won't hear the gospel for the vigil Mass, but the gospel for the night Mass. The angels and the shepherds from St. Luke, which everyone knows if only from A Charlie Brown Christmas, just says Christmas in a much more accessible way that St. Matthew's genealogy. So let's say you were going to celebrate the vigil Mass in a parish complete the readings for the night Mass. If you were going to offer the night Mass later on privately, should you use the night readings again, back-fill the liturgy with the vigil readings, or go ahead to the readings for dawn?

December 21, 2011

Broken Fingers and Foolishness to the World

My spiritual director often speaks to me about the Cross, which is good because I remain hesitant to embrace it.

Over time I've collected a few of these sayings. Here are three that I try to keep close:

"The more you find the Cross problematic, the more difficulty you will have finding peace. It's that simple."

"Just because you embrace the Cross doesn't always make it understandable. It's still foolishness to the world, and to the world that still lives inside you especially."

"Crucifixion is a messy business. On top of the nails, you're going to get a finger smashed when the hammer misses. It's an awful mess."

New Translation: Womb and Altar

The Prayer over the Offerings from this past Sunday has been sticking with me this week.

May the Holy Spirit, O Lord,
sanctify these gifts laid upon your altar,
just as he filled with his power the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary,
Through Christ our Lord.

The prayer brings out the relationship between the Eucharist and the mystery of the Incarnation.

It is the Holy Spirit who stretches forth the overflowing love of the Father such that this Beloved takes on our humanity in the womb of Mary. The prayer asks this same grace for the altar at the center of the Christian assembly. As St. Francis put it so simply, Mary is the virgo ecclesia facta, the Virgin made Church. In the Eucharist the Church takes up her Marian role, becoming once again the place where the Spirit conceives the Body of Christ.

Having become once again the Body of Christ in Holy Communion, the faithful go forth from the Eucharist as the Word-made-flesh born into the world, on his way to preach, heal, suffer, and give his life that the grace of his Passion and Resurrection may continue to flow over the world.

December 20, 2011

Party Like It's 5199

I'm a little bummed that the Christmas proclamation, i.e. the "Proclamation of the birth of Christ," which can be sung leading up to the Mass in nocte, doesn't seem to be included in the new Roman Missal in English. I guess it's just another symptom of the marginalization of the Martyrology in the reformed Roman rite.

CORRECTION: Thanks to my erudite friend cua guy, I have been corrected. A new version of the proclamation does appear in the new English Roman Missal, towards the end of the appendix, "Various chants for the Order of Mass."

Personally, I don't like this new version, and nor did I like the version that appeared in the 2004 Sacramentary Supplement. The latter is still available on the USCCB website, oddly enough.  I prefer the big numbers that date the creation, and a history that begins before Abraham. "When ages beyond number had run their course from the creation of the world" Boring. It's Christmas. Be a creationist for one night and party like it's 5199!

December 19, 2011

Born Again

I love how the Sunday and weekday readings intersect this week such that yesterday we had the scene of the Annunciation and today we have the angel Gabriel's announcement to Zechariah of the birth of John the Baptist.

At first glance, the parallelism of the scenes might seem to reveal an unfairness. Both Mary and Zechariah question the announcements they receive; Mary because, presumably, she knows where babies come from, and Zechariah because he knows that he and Elizabeth had been unable to have children and had grown too old by then anyway. In response to Mary's questioning, the angel gently describes what will happen. Zechariah, on the other hand, is struck mute in punishment for his questioning, and remains speechless until John is born and named.

What gives? Is the angel Gabriel just nice to young women and mean to old men?

On the contrary, this difference in the scenes reveals the good news of Christmas.

Zechariah, because he knew the scriptures, ought to have recognized what God was up to. Several times previously in the history of the people of God, a birth from parents who were previously unable to have children or too old, or both, had signaled the beginning of new moment of salvation. So it was with Samson, Samuel, and Isaac. What was announced to Zechariah was something God was known to do, and Zechariah should have known it.

With Mary the case is different. For her, in her conception of Jesus, God doesn't just stretch the capacity of nature but goes beyond it. The miraculous births of Samson, Samuel, and Isaac are new beginnings of what already was; the birth of Jesus, as a break in the cycles of ordinary human generation as it has occurred since Adam and Eve, is a new humanity. Because what Gabriel announces to Mary is a entirely new thing that God was doing, her questioning is forgiven.

In the Nativity of Jesus, humanity has a new birth. And this is good news for all of us who know the ennui and weariness of life in the old Adam, because this 'born again-ness' is available to us by baptism into Christ's death and Holy Communion with his broken and risen humanity.

December 18, 2011

Thoughts and Decisions about my Online Self

Recently I've made some decisions about my online self, mostly around levels of privacy. It's not that I've had any trouble, thank God, but that I want to clear some distraction and also better appreciate folks with whom I'm connected.

So here's my sense of it:

The blog. I've been blogging here at a minor friar for almost six years. It's become part of the fabric of my daily life, ongoing reflection, and even my prayer. It serves a lot of purposes for me, and on the balance it seems like a salutary project, so I keep going. Of course it's eminently public. There are a few hundred visitors each day. Anyone may leave comments, and I do my best to publish all of them. I only reject out of hand comments that are spammy, overly rude, or vulgar. I'm very grateful for all of the friends I have made through blogging, and for the chance to link to other fine and interesting blogs.

Twitter. The first time I was on Twitter I quit with some drama, having decided it was a distraction. I came back when some circumstances changed in my life and I thought micro-blogging might be fun and worthwhile again. I appreciate Twitter for a lot of reasons, and I use it for an array of purposes, from preaching and devout encouragement all the way to outright silliness. My tweets are set to public. Anyone may follow. Whether or not I follow you back is somewhat arbitrary, so don't take it personally either way. Just because I don't follow you back doesn't mean I don't approve of or like your tweets, and just because I do doesn't necessarily mean I agree with you.

Facebook. I guess by now I would be considered an early adopter. For years I have accepted almost every friend request I received. Lately, however, I began to ask myself why I should bother staying on Facebook. But then I decided that I did appreciate it for certain things, and I edited my list of friends toward this purpose. I don't want to use Facebook for Christian encouragement or to play games. I don't really see it for me as a tool for evangelization, like I sometimes see Twitter and the blog. I basically like Facebook as I way to keep connected and stay grateful for folks I have known in person along the way. You see, I'm really a very shy person, and not likely to stay in touch with people from childhood, college, jobs, earlier assignments, etc., by way of calling or visiting. Facebook lets me stay in touch and keep grateful for all those folks. When I 'unfriended' all the people I didn't really know, I was surprised that so many friends were left. So that's it. Facebook is now a sort of more private place for me, limited to interacting with people I actually know in 'real life' or with whom I have had a significant internet relationship across various social networks.

Google +. I'm not quite sure what to make of Google + yet, though I like it. This doesn't bother me, because I don't think Google + yet knows what to make of itself. It looks like Facebook, more or less, but the way users connect is something closer to Twitter. For now I'm treating it a something in between. That is to say I may share posts with 'extended circles' but I myself will probably only encircle those that I know in person or with whom I have a previous internet relationship.

foursquare. In some ways foursquare is going to be the most private social network of all for me, for obvious reasons.

December 17, 2011

Sapida Scientia

December 17 is one of those hinge days in the Church's prayer; the season of Advent turns from the mystical and second comings of Christ to the proximate preparation for the coming commemoration of the Lord's Nativity. The beloved 'O antiphons' appear in their traditional place around the Magnificat at Vespers and are also used as the alleluia verse at Mass. The second Advent preface, an option on the third Sunday, now takes over until the vigil Mass of Christmas.

It's a liturgical hinge not unlike the one between the fourth and fifth weeks of Lent. Though Passiontide isn't named as a season or moment in the modern Roman rite, you will notice that it's still there if you pay close attention to changes in the preface at Mass and to the cycles of texts in the Liturgy of the Hours.

It gets me praying as best as I can in the Advent spirit. The season speaks to me in a basic way, as one who has known God as just that: adventitious. God arrived in my life; he slowly appeared along the way as some sort of mysterious character. Mysterious and even so subtle as to be exasperating sometimes, but still compelling enough to make me want to organize my life around his advent.

I guess I've been thinking about some of this stuff as I approach some milestones in the coming year. This winter I'll be forty years old. In the summer I'll be twenty years baptized. Over these years my life has come to be consumed--and if it were only more consumed!--with this mysterious 'God' who has made this adventitious appearance in my life. The defining elements and contours of my life now,  my celibacy, my prayer, my Franciscanism, my priesthood, all of these cluster around my stumbling attempts to understand what has happened to me in this experience, and how I might learn to be both a good host for it and also mirror its goodness and trustworthiness to others.

At certain points in the journey I've been a pretty good host for this adventitious Guest. At other times I have avoided Him, or distracted myself from interior hospitality with all sorts of trifles, inanities and excuses. And sometimes these were even made out of religion. But the good news of Christmas is that the Word, proceeding forth from the Father from all eternity, is the tasty Wisdom who wills to become flesh precisely in the world where there is no room for Him.

December 16, 2011

On Jewishness

Yesterday I followed a link to this fascinating article: Rosalind Moss' Unexpected Journey, and it's been on my mind. Hers is an amazing story indeed; from a good Jewish home in Brooklyn to a meeting with messianic Jews, to Protestantism and then Catholicism, and now foundress of a "contemplative-active teaching and evangelistic community."

Her points of view are very interesting, from what it would mean to take the messianic promises of the scripture seriously to the no-brainer of ad orientem worship and the connection of Gregorian chant to the worship of the Old Covenants. Perhaps the most startling thing she says is this:

"I’ve said many times that the most Jewish thing a Jew can do is to become Catholic"

Read the article to get a sense of just what she means by that. Her sense reminded me of something that's been on my mind from reading the medievals. I can't help but notice that when the medieval theologians talk about Abraham or Moses or the prophets of Old Testament, they do not speak of them (as I think we would) as if they were members of a 'different religion' than themselves.

In fact, I am increasingly convinced that the common idea that there is some genus called 'religion' of which human phenomena like Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, etc., are the various species is scripturally and theologically untenable, all your 'coexist' bumper stickers be damned. Nevertheless, I think this conceptual framework about 'religion' and 'religions' is generally presumed, even by religious people.

Rather, it seems to me that the basic issue in this regard is whether one is a Jew or a pagan. Either you are one of those to whom God has given the Promised Land, or not. The good news is that because of Jesus Christ, everyone is free to become the funny kind of eschatological Jew that has come to be called a 'Christian.'

December 15, 2011

New Translation: Femininity Restored

The other night I was talking with someone about the new translation and the many things we appreciated about it and how grateful we were for its appearance.

One thing that was mentioned, which I hadn't yet thought of myself, was the restoration of feminine pronouns for the Church. As one example among many that could be adduced, the intercession for the Church in the ever-popular Eucharistic Prayer II used to say, Lord, remember your Church throughout the world; make us grow in love...but now it says, Remember, Lord, your Church, spread throughout the world, and bring her to the fullness of charity...

My friend said that he was very grateful for this change, and that he thought it would have good spiritual effects.

So what do you think? What will the restoration of the femininity of the Church in the new translation do for us and our prayer? Will it help us amid the world's widespread confusions around sex and gender, many of which have crept into the Church?

December 14, 2011

Sustento del Alma

Many times in the first few years of my Christianity I tried to read John of the Cross but failed. Then, one day, as novice Capuchin friar on retreat in lovely Marathon, Wisconsin, I picked up The Ascent of Mount Carmel and read it freely. The moment had come for me to meet one of my great teachers. A few years later, having learned a little Spanish and finding myself as a student at the former Weston Jesuit School of Theology in Cambridge, Massachusetts, I went over to Shoenhof's and spent a large portion of my monthly 'day off' money on his Obras Completas.

It is often said in the spiritual life that God sends us guides and teachers at the moments when we need them. I have found this to be the case in my own life, and I believe it is one of the graces of the communion of saints. It's not limited to the Church on earth, however. We are also given saints to read at the right moments. That's why John of the Cross didn't work for me until I was ready. My first desires to read him were vainglorious; I thought I would read him because he was supposed to be deep and I wanted to be deep as well. When I had stumbled along long enough trying to live a life of prayer such that I could understand what John was talking about, then I was given the grace of being able to read him.

In this spirit we should be attentive if we have an inspiration to take up a devotion to a certain saint or to read his writings. God can also speak to us through others who suggest to us what we might read or with whom we might pray. The communion of saints is a way to talk about larger economies of grace working through friends of God across time and space, and it is a communion that is on our side in our desire for prayer and sanctity.

"Por ninguna ocupación dejar la oración mental, que es sustento del alma." ~Juan de la Cruz, Grados de Perfección, 5.

December 13, 2011

Defiance and Repentance

I love the gospel for today, the parable of the two sons from Matthew 21. Both sons are asked by their father to 'go out and work in the vineyard today.' The first son is defiant and refuses to go, but afterwards changes his mind and does. The second says that he will go but then doesn't.

When Jesus asks which son did the will of his father, of course it is the first.

Thus, it is the first son whom we are given to imitate in our relationship with our heavenly Father.

Therefore, it seems to me that the first spiritual step is to pray to know or to become aware of the ways we have defiantly refused the command of God, that we might think again, change our minds, and repentantly go out and do what we're told.

As God draws us ever deeper into the mystery of himself, we will find that these acts of defiance and refusal become ever more subtle and tricky. That's why our prayer for self-knowledge and willingness must become ever more fervent.

December 12, 2011

What to do for Christmas

I love looking at the search terms that bring people to this blog. They are often funny and frequently fascinating. Here's one of my recent favorites: "What is Christmas to me as a Franciscan friar?"

Oh, dear brother, it is many things...

  • A good time to get some friends and some stinky animals to go up with you on some cold mountain where you proclaim the gospel of Christ's birth.
  • A chance to smear meat on the walls of your house.
  • A moment to stand in awe before the mystery of the sublime poverty of the Son of God, of which your whole life has become a grateful imitation.

Our Lady of Guadalupe

On my walk to the Poor Clares for Mass this morning, I was reflecting on Our Lady of Guadalupe, and what I might say by way of a homily for her feast day today.

I think she is a great encouragement for the Church and the world. That our Blessed Mother should have appeared from among the indigenous people of the Americas precisely as the eschatological Mary, the apocalyptic woman clothed with the sun from Revelation 12, is hope in the midst of the mess and ambivalence of human history.

Whatever the sins of history and the abiding injuries and injustices of Christianity coming to the 'New World,' our Lady of Guadalupe assures us that Babylon the great is already fallen, and that the king of the nations she bears has been preserved from the destructive dragon. The one she bears to the world is the Eternal Word who empties his divinity into the suffering humanity of this world, offering salvation to all of us who have insisted on such misery for ourselves and each other with our violence and sin.

December 10, 2011

Rolling the Gimel

I hate Christmas. Don't get me wrong. The mystery of the Incarnation, the celebration of the Lord's Nativity, its wonderful octave and whole liturgical season, crowned as it is with the mystic awakening of Epiphany and the hope of Jesus' baptism--I love all of that very much. But the world's 'holiday season,' with its sappy songs, so many shopping days left, Santa hats and antlers on cars, all of that y'all can have, because it ain't my bag.

So I'm always happy to have little experiences at this time of year, and I always do, that reveal the feebleness of the whole business.

On my walk today I saw an odd sight. A lady was assembling an artificial Christmas tree right there on the sidewalk. Next to the tree, lying there on the curb, was a big dreidel. And I mean silly big. The cuboid portion had to be at least four cubic feet.

With something like earnest exasperation she addressed me as I approached.

"Want a free Christmas tree?"

"No thank you," I responded.

"Oh well. I just thought I would ask and maybe save myself the trouble of making a 'free to take' sign to put on it."

"How about the giant dreidel?" I inquired.

"That's free too."

I didn't take it. So, if you feel like an artificial Christmas tree of medium height or a huge dreidel would make your holiday season, take your bad self down to Moraine St. in Jamaica Plain.

Pilgrimage to Providence

Yesterday I made a pilgrimage of sorts, to the place where I first took the Franciscan habit. Here it is:

When I lived there it was called St. Francis Chapel & City Ministry Center. Now it's a Hampton Inn & Suites. Where I once prayed before the Blessed Sacrament, which was exposed each weekday afternoon, folks now sit in a lobby with newspapers and coffee. So pass the glories of this world, even the pious ones.

I prayed None outside, and I prayed for my vocation.

In his Testament St. Francis said simply that when what had bitter was changed into "sweetness of soul and body" after his time with the lepers, he paused for a moment and then "left the world." But here's the thing about leaving the world: pious vainglory tells you that you can leave the world in a big, dramatic, single step. The truth is, the world still lives inside. It will fight to get you back at every step. The world is a possessive, unchaste, jealous lover. And the world would rather have you dead than let you belong to someone else.

Leaving the world means doing so anew each day.

December 8, 2011

Eschaton Made Flesh

I love the feast of the Immaculate Conception because I think it's one of the most explicitly and plainly eschatological liturgical observances of the whole year, and because we are so badly in need of recovering our eschatological sense. I think this is especially true for us Franciscans. As the young Benedict XVI wrote of the Franciscan Rule in his Habilitationsschrift, The Theology of History in St. Bonaventure:

The unsophisticated and unrealistic way in which Francis tried to make the Sermon on the Mount the rule of his 'new People' is not understood properly if we designate it as 'idealism' is understandable only as...eschatological confidence..

A couple of common-sense objections to the Immaculate Conception help us to understand the eschatological nature of this dogma. First, it is asked how Mary could have benefited from the salvation Christ won by his Passion and Resurrection before these things happened. Second, if Mary was free of both the guilt and the effects of original sin from the first moment of her conception, what need did she have of the redemption Christ was to win for us?

These objections reveal an overly temporal and mechanical imagination surrounding the Resurrection of Christ and the salvation that it is for us. The Resurrection matters precisely because it is an eschatological event; it is the end and destiny of the creation made historical by revelation.

This is why Paul, in Romans 4, is able to suggest that Abraham's faith that God could bring forth descendants from the bodies of himself and Sarah, which were 'as good as dead,' is a sort of occult faith in the Resurrection. Abraham believed that God could bring a fresh and new life from a creation that had become old and dead in the corruption inherited from our first parents, and that God would do just that through his body and that of his wife.

Isaac, is then, the first visible light of the dawn of Resurrection faith. As the power of this eschaton-made-history rolls through time, it prepares Mary to be the new and final Ark in which the full inauguration of the End will come into the world.

December 5, 2011

New Translation: Similitudini Mortis

On a rainy Tuesday in Ordinary Time--that was my first, and very formative, liturgy teacher's shorthand for a liturgical day of low solemnity--I have a tendency to use Eucharistic Prayer II. If the Mass is being offered for a deceased person or persons, and I have not the liturgical or pastoral option to offer Mass in one of the full formularies for the dead, I tend to add the embolism for the deceased during the prayer.

This little prayer is one of many improvements in the new translation. Here's the old version:

Remember N., whom you have called from this life. In baptism he (she) died with Christ: may he (she) also share his resurrection.

And the new one:

Remember your servant N., whom you have called (today) from this world to yourself. Grant that he (she) who was united with your Son in a death like his, may also be one with him in his Resurrection.

It is the conformity of our death to the death of Christ which is saving, a conformity that God has accomplished in the Son by emptying himself into the misery of our death-bound condition in Christ. Of course the 'death like his' language comes from St. Paul and refers most specifically to our baptism. The translators of the older version were surely trying to bring out this baptismal connection. Our baptism is our dying into the death of Christ, passing mystically into the new life of the Resurrection. The whole of our post-baptismal, eucharistic life is the working out and flowering of this Resurrection mystery, culminating in the final letting-go into God that is our bodily death. But bodily death means little to the Christian; after all, we have already died in baptism.

Nevertheless, in having prayed this prayer a couple times now in the new translation, I'm led to pray for all of those in this world who die a death like the Lord's in a more plain and immediate way: lonely, humiliated, in physical torment, abandoned by friends and even feeling abandoned by God. Offering the Mass that is the memorial and re-presentation of the Sacrifice of the Cross, I remember that is for such that the Compassion of God stretches forth from the Blessedness of the Trinity to live and die in us.

December 2, 2011

New Translation: Sinning Toward Christmas

You can certainly say this about the transition of praying in the new translation: one feels more like a sinner. It starts with the change in the Confiteor: it used to be that I had sinned. Now I have greatly sinned. It used to be through my fault. Now it's through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault. And in many other ways, too, the new translation is marked by a greater and more explicit language of the tragedy of sin.

There are those who have and will object to this, protesting that 'we are an Easter people' and such things, and reminding us that an obsession with sin is terribly unhealthy. I have no argument with that; as a confessor I have witnessed many times the miserable trap of so-called spiritual lives becoming about nothing but sin and the failure of our struggles against it.

On the other hand, I have to say that the renewed--some might say 'restored'--emphasis on sin speaks better to my own experience. How today's Collect resonates with the supplications of own journey in prayer!

Stir up your power, we pray, O Lord, and come,
that with you to protect us,
we may find rescue
from the pressing dangers of our sins,
and with you to set us free,
we may be found worthy of salvation.
Who live and reign...

That's something like the compunction I have found at my own most authentic moments of prayer. The realization that the roots of sin in myself are a pressing danger, revealing even my pious desires as vainglorious fantasies and my seemingly good deeds as the 'polluted rags' spoken of in these days by the prophet Isaiah. Over the course of my life as a Christian, I have found myself over and over shaken from denial about the depth, insidiousness, and rottenness of sin. From sensuality to vainglory, tricks of the mind and denial, rationalization and jadedness, I'm always discovering that I thought I was taking sin seriously when in fact I had hardly even begun.

In that spirit the new translation reminds me of an early experience in my own journey. At the beginning of my Christian life I tried to read books about prayer and the spiritual life. But I didn't get them, or maybe they didn't get me. All of their happy doctrine about 'experiences of God' and fruitful and nourishing experiences of prayer just didn't resonate with my own experience of trying to pray and find the grace of living a spiritual life. Then one day I read John Cassian on the eight principal vices and John of the Cross on the errors of beginners and the spiritual analogues of the capital sins. It was like meeting real friends for the first time. These men got me; they knew what I was going through, and their writings gave me hope.

So I am glad to have a new translation of the Mass that suits me as the miserable and grievous sinner that I am. But it's not that confessing and growing honest about the depths of our sinfulness is the end of the spiritual life. The good news of the coming great feast of the incarnation is that it is precisely in places that are dark, rejected, cold, and dirty that the Lord wills to be born. If my heart is such a place, then I have that much more hope in the ancient prayer: Come, Lord Jesus.