January 31, 2012

A Dubium for the Feast of St. Brigid

Here's a liturgical question. I'm interested in hearing thoughts and opinions.

I've been helping out with Masses in two South Boston churches lately, St. Brigid and Gate of Heaven. They are separate parishes canonically, but have one pastor, one parish office, one staff, and one bulletin. Thus, though they remain two parishes, they are very much associated with one another.

My question has to do with the observance of the liturgical day tomorrow.

It's a ferial day in the general Roman calendar, as well as in the proper calendar for the United States, the plain old weekday in Ordinary Time that is the standard example of low solemnity. It is also, however, the feast day of St. Brigid.

At St. Brigid's, the answer is simple. It's their titular feast day, and so the Mass of St. Brigid would be offered, either with the Commons from an American edition of the Roman Missal, or with the proper prayers, which I suppose one could use if he considered South Boston to be a suburb of Ireland. I checked my Commonwealth English breviary; Brigid is a feast day there, as well she might be as patroness.

I, however, have the Mass at Gate of Heaven tomorrow. Given the strong association of the place with the other parish, as well as the fairly intense Irishness of the place, ought I to use the Commons to offer a Mass of St. Brigid? As I said, the day is otherwise free to select 'any Mass' for just cause or pastoral advantage. Or would it be better to respect the individuality of the place by not doing so?

Of course, should he say anything, I will do as the pastor directs.

St. Brigid, pray for us. Happy spring, happy Imbolc, and happy whatever else you would like to be happy about.

Per Ardentissimum Amorem Crucifixi

I'm always fascinated by the way words and phrases swirl about and reiterate and recombine not only in the mind but also in community. One brother articulates something, and the words or phrase can enter the general discourse of the community. Sometimes this can be constructive, giving the group a common critical vocabulary. Other times it can be destructive, as when we reduce each other to labels and explanations.

Anyway, that's not my point today. I was just thinking about how, according to this sort of phenomenon, a title from a few posts ago perhaps came to me from a song without my being aware of it. The song is "The Last Time I Did Acid I Went Insane" by Jeffrey Lewis:

The seventh rule (I hope you understand)
Is not to look to deep into your soul
Or you might find a hideous, hopeless hole
Of hatred, hunger, infinite, idiot
Mindless, meaningless, nothingness, nothingness,
Nothingness, nothingness, nothingness, nothingness
Nothingness, nothingness, nothingness, nothingness
And that's what I did

And every aspect of life that I selected
Was instantly and brutally dissected
I saw the horrible emptiness within
The reasons behind everything
And it was at that moment that I went insane.

That's the trouble with the ersatz spiritual experiences one might have through drugs, or with the endless journey of personal archaeology to which we are invited by the therapeutic culture: You arrive at the searing experience of your interior poverty, but with no good news on the other side.

The spiritual life, that is, a life lived in and according to the invitations of the Holy Spirit, reveals the saving discovering that our horrible interior poverty is not a cause for insanity or even sadness, but something to be embraced because it is exactly where God wills and delights to meet us in the burning love of Christ crucified.

The self-emptying of God who is Jesus Christ is the healing of our horrible emptiness within, the poverty of God in Christ condemned and crucified is the redemption of the poverty of our hearts.

Via autem non est nisi per ardentissimum amorem Crucifixi.

"There is no way but through the burning love of the Crucified." (St. Bonaventure's Itinerarium, prologue)

January 27, 2012

Poor So-And-So, He's So Understood

The title is one of the funny little sayings we have among the brothers. The joke is this: in the common life, it is less likely for someone to suffer from being misunderstood, and more likely that the aspects of his self that make trouble for him in community--and we all have them--will be obvious to everyone but him.

This makes for one of the hardest and deepest acts of obedience: to admit that sometimes, and especially with regard to our faults and imperfections, others will see us with more clarity than we have about ourselves.

Some of this condition is due, no doubt, to denial and distraction. But I also think God permits us the blind-spots we have about ourselves so as to give us the opportunity of learning humility in our obedience to the confessors, spiritual directors, elders, and brothers and sisters we are given on the journey.

January 26, 2012

Theological Re-Flection

In the ferial gospel for today we hear St. Mark's version of Jesus' word on the lamp and the lampstand. Nobody lights a lamp to hide it away somewhere under a bed or a basket, but instead puts it on a stand, so that, as St. Matthew puts it, it may give light to all in the house.

This word is a good example of how we sometimes miss the richness of the scripture because we jump too quickly to a shallow moral sense. As soon as we hear the word, we go immediately into an examination of conscience, asking ourselves if we have hidden away the light of grace that God has given us, or whether we have sufficiently shared it with others. Before we know it, we miss the good news of the gospel because we are beating our breasts and saying Acts of Contrition.

Not that this is our fault; preachers too often do this on our behalf, as they throw in some vague and shallow encouragement to bolster the shallow exegesis.

Sitting with the word, we realize that is a word first of all about God. It is the eternal God who has lit a lamp from himself in the generation of the Son from the Father. In the incarnation of this only-begotten Word, the Holy Spirit conceives this Light on the lampstand of the humanity of Christ, from which all creation is bathed in divine light. From every Mass at which he is offered and from every tabernacle where he rests, the Light-lampstand who is the risen Christ shines out to anyone willing to become a little mirror, re-flecting and re-presenting the gospel light to others.

From here it is safer and more fruitful to turn to the moral demand of the word. The Light is already on the lampstand; it is only ours to join in its work of enlightening all in the house by cleaning the dust of distraction and the grime of sin from the little mirror that is our soul.

January 25, 2012

The Indifference Within

To make an intellectual assent to what the Holy Spirit teaches is the beginning of everything, but it's just that, a beginning. When I was first a Catholic I thought, in my zeal, that I had consented fully to everything the Church teaches. In a way, in my willingness to do so, I had. But just because we say we believe something doesn't mean every hidden part of ourselves has assented to it. From time to time I have experiences that remind me that the false doctrines of the world are still rolling around inside me, clung to by the old Adam as he seeks distraction from the bitterness and boredom he has bought for himself with his disobedience.

Two recent examples.

The other night I was watching some silly sitcom with a couple of the brothers. For whatever reason it came back to me when I was on the bus this morning. I thought of a scene in which two the characters, not married to each other, were lying in bed, lightheartedly discussing the sexual relations they had just had. I noticed that, at the time when I was watching the show, I didn't think anything of it. Despite wanting to give my life to Jesus Christ and his Church, and despite many, many hours sitting in the parlor and the confessional observing the misery we insist upon for ourselves with our disorderly sexual lives, somewhere inside me still dwells the false liberation of the world's pernicious doctrine that sex is o.k. and even expected outside of marriage, and, indeed, even outside of nature. But watching the show I thought nothing of it, and that makes me realize that my conversion is still shallow, and that I must begin again to ask God for the grace of belief.

The other example is perhaps more pointed. Today I was offering Mass at a parish for the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. In praying the Universal Prayer ad lib, I prayed that through the intercession of St. Paul, all those who did not yet believe in Jesus Christ would come to faith. Immediately the political correctness warning bell went off inside. 'Is that o.k. to say?' I second-guessed myself, as I do so many times. Is it o.k. to pray for unbelievers to come to confess Jesus Christ? Of course it is, if we really believe that there is no other name given to us by which we are to be saved, as Peter proclaims in Acts 4:12. In the gospel for today (Mark 16:15-18) we hear that those who fail to believe in Jesus Christ risk condemnation. So would it not be the greatest charity to pray for the conversion of those who do not believe, if we really loved them and wanted the best for them, namely salvation in this life and in the world to come? So then why did my little 'warning bell' go off? Because the religious indifferentism of our age, and the comfy, civil theology of 'many paths to one divine something-or-other' still lives in my assumptions. Part of me is still at home in the world and its errors, and has not yet surrendered to the scandal who is Jesus Christ.

So I thank God for these sort of experiences, which remind me that it should be easy for me to be humble, not because it's some sort of virtue, but because I have hardly made a beginning of living a spiritual life. But I want that Beginning, and pray that Jesus Christ might take my desire into his own Sacrifice, that I too might be transformed by the new creation that is his Resurrection.

January 24, 2012

Theses on Helpfulness in Community

Every grown person is ultimately his or her own responsibility.

Thus, taking responsibility for the feelings of another is a failure in charity, because we are giving someone else permission to be less than an integral, mature being.

Everyone can be helped, but not every situation can be fixed. Awareness of this distinction is critical.

What people think or say they want or need isn't always what they actually want or need.

God, who has the best boundaries of anyone in community, is notorious for his failure to always give us what we say we want or say we need. Perversely, however, we sometimes insist that this is what ministry is supposed to be. This is because niceness is easier than love.

Someone may need help but not know it, or be unwilling to accept it, or ignorant of how to accept it. Others may know they need help and be willing to accept it, but ignorant of what sort of help they need. Sometimes someone may even ask for help but only mean to refuse it as an act of passive aggression. Therefore, it is intensely dangerous to base one's sense of self or vocation on feeling helpful.

When we fail to accept help because we are indulging pride, fear, or an unwillingness to be vulnerable, we fail in love because we risk making fruitless the charity that God has inspired in our neighbor.

January 23, 2012

Exterius Ungantur

Today there arose an experience of a lovely little bit of Catholic tradition. I and two other friars were praying the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick for a certain priest. There is a striking little difference when a priest receives this sacrament, explicit in the former rubrics of Extreme Unction and still practiced, though missing from the current rite.

Everyone else is anointed on the palms, while priests are anointed on the backs of the hands.

The palms of a priest's hands already bear an anointing, which he received at his priestly ordination. Because this anointing remains even long after the material, visible signs of it may have been washed away--see this favorite old post for a reflection on that--the palms of the hands are not anointed again.

January 20, 2012

Vocation Weekend

Today I'm off on a little road trip to attend one of the weekends that our vocation office offers for men considering our life. The theme is, 'getting to know St. Francis and the Capuchin saints.' I'll be presenting on the Francis end. In preparing, I've tried to pick out a few characteristic episodes from his life that might be inspiring or useful for those in the midst of vocation discernment.

In reflecting on how to prepare I thought back to the first time I went on such a weekend, eighteen years ago this winter. I was 21 years old, a senior in college, and had not even arrived at my second anniversary of baptism. I had no idea how innocent I was of so much. Though I was anxious, I enjoyed the weekend very much: staying in the peaceful and venerable friary, the prayer, the ease of the conviviality, the kindness and down-to-earth manner that the friars had. These are the things that stick in my heart even to do this day in my desire for the Franciscan life.

I have no recollection whatsoever about talks or presentations, who might have given them or what they might have been about. So that puts me at ease in my own presenting this weekend. Many times in ministry the most important things aren't what we generally think of as 'content.'

So in your charity, offer a prayer for the men attending the weekend, for their confidence in God's call to them, whatever it may turn out to be. And pray for me, that the Holy Spirit may help me speak the words that will assist his purposes in them.

January 19, 2012

Hierarchical Aquatic Ceremony

Earlier today a confrere and I were taking a walk around Jamaica Pond when we saw something unusual ahead. From some distance I could tell someone was vested in some kind of garb or other. It was about twenty degrees out, so I wondered in horror if perhaps someone was being baptized in the pond.

When we got a little closer I could make out a priest in eastern vestments and what I took to be a couple of subdeacons. That's when I took this picture:

As we got closer, we could see that the priest was blessing everyone with water. Arriving on the scene, I made the sign of the Cross in eastern fashion and hoped the priest would offer us a blessing too. Indeed, he did.

"Would you like the special water blessing?"

"Yes, Father, please."

He offered me a crucifix to kiss, invoked the Blessed Trinity, and then smacked me about the face a few times with a leafy branch he had dipped in his holy water. Then he offered me his ring to kiss and that was it.

So tell me, does anyone know what exactly we witnessed and what blessing was received?

Update: A conversation on Twitter reveals the obvious, but for my ignorance and calendrical presumptions : Epiphany!

January 18, 2012

New Translation: Prayer for Various Needs

Today I had my first chance to use the new translation of the good old 'Swiss Synod' prayer, formerly called in English the "Eucharistic Prayer for Masses for Various Needs and Occasions," appearing in the typical edition Missal as "prex eucharistica quae in missis pro variis necessitatibus adhiberi potest" and now similarly Englished as "Eucharistic Prayer for use in Masses for various needs."

It's a free day in the calendar today, at least where I am, so I took the ordo's suggestion to offer the Mass for the unity of Christians # 17A, which I presume is a way to participate in the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

Generally speaking, it's fairly close to the previous English translation as it appeared for use in the United States in 1995. So if you're one of those who doesn't like the new translation and misses how things were before last Advent, this is the eucharistic prayer for you.

I especially like the new version of the post-consecratory epiclesis. Here's the old version:

Look with favor on the offering of your Church
in which we show forth the paschal sacrifice of Christ
entrusted to us.
Through the power of your Spirit of love
include us now and forever
among the members of your Son,
whose body and blood we share.

And the current one:

Look with favor on the oblation of your Church,
in which we show forth
the paschal Sacrifice of Christ that has been handed on to us,
and grant that, by the power of the Spirit of your love,
we may be counted now and until the day of eternity
among the members of your Son,
in whose Body and Blood we have communion.

I appreciate the stronger and more explicit eschatological language in the new translation. Our communion with Christ in the Eucharist is not just 'now and forever' but 'now and until the day of eternity.' This eternity is the blessed destiny to which Jesus Christ has blazed a trail through the death we have earned for ourselves with our sin. By passing through, with the humanity he borrowed from us by the consent of our Blessed Mother, all of our misery up to and including the searing grief of knowing oneself alienated from the Father, the Son of God has made the blessedness the Trinity himself available to our humanity. This is the eternal life we both have now and towards which we journey in the holiness of communion.

January 17, 2012

Gnosis Against Diagnosis

Less and less do I feel as though I have any contribution to the discussion and debates that surround me in my religious life. Is our charism best defined as this or that? By what criteria do we take on or give up ministerial commitments? What is the nature of the spiritual malaise that seems to afflict us? Where did it come from? What is the remedy? Is it better to tend toward 'liberal' or 'conservative'? 'Traditional' or 'progressive'? 'Hermeneutic of continuity' or the so-called 'spirit of Vatican II'?

I feel less and less secure staking a claim in any of these dilemmas. The same goes, with even more force, for secular politics. As I was telling an old friend the other day, I feel like I understand so little about the nature and purpose of government, economics, and the origin and constitution of 'human rights' that I don't even know how to say that I would support some politician over another.

Of course I know certain things. I know that I'm supposed to adhere to the ordinary precepts of Catholic Christian life. I know that I'm supposed to observe the Rule as I have promised, as it is interpreted for me in St. Francis's Testament and the Constitutions of the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin. I know that I'm supposed to celebrate Mass and the other sacraments with the greatest care I can find, according to the pattern the Church presents.

Thinking about all this, God sends me the feast of St. Anthony today. His life by St. Athanasius is one of my favorite spiritual books. When a Franciscan reads it, he is bound to see the similarities with the material we have about Francis's vocation and conversions. The historical-critical liberator of minds (and sense and devotion) will say that this is because these are tropes in the hagiographical tradition and proof that they can't be taken as historical fact. But I say that we come to sanctity precisely in a communion of saints, and that they are family resemblances to be celebrated:

Hearing the gospel proclaimed and putting it into immediate practice simply and without gloss. Pushing again and again outside the boundaries of society, convention, and civilization in search of the God who had given a burning desire for himself alone. Leaving everything for that experience, wanting nothing but God. Nothing to protect, no comfort, security, allegiance, or slogan that mattered in the face of that grace of prayer and devotion.

So maybe that's my answer right now. If I ever manage to consent and surrender to God's gentle desire to have me overcome my lukewarmness and laziness and make a beginning of living a spiritual life, I want to push outside everything that keeps me from praying to him with all of my heart and my tears and my joy before I even dare to talk about what he might want me or my community to do or think next.

January 16, 2012

Epitaphs and Frijoles

I was quizzed today, with mixed results. I was read this (apparently) famous epitaph, and asked if I knew whose it was:

Petrus eram
quem petra tegit
dictusque Comestor
nunc comedor.

Of course I guessed without too much trouble that this was the epitaph of the great Petrus Comestor. When the quiz then continued to his dates, my luck ran out.

"I was Peter, whom this stone covers, called the 'Eater,' now I am eaten.

"Comedor," in Latin, as a present passive indicative, makes the sense of 'I am eaten.' "Comedor" in the sorts of Spanish with which I'm familiar, usually means a dining room or a casual restaurant.

So now when I go out in the neighborhood here to eat Dominican food, I'll have to be reminded of the dissolution of old Peter's mortal remains.

It is said that they called him Peter the Eater because of his ability to devour books and knowledge, which he certainly did. But knowing how nicknames work among the clergy, I have strong suspicions that there may have been other senses.

January 15, 2012

Archangelic Accessorizing

Saint Michael the Archangel,
defend us in battle;
be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray:
and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly host,
by the power of God, thrust into hell Satan and all the evil spirits
who prowl about the world
making fun of the pretty bow you wear in your hair. Amen.

(Click the picture for a larger view.)

January 14, 2012

The Beginning of Humility

As I continued to reflect on the 'examination of conscience' post from yesterday, a quote from Merton's New Seeds of Contemplation came to mind. This happens often; the book had an early and deep influence on my Christianity.

"Everything you love for its own sake, outside of God alone, blinds your intellect and destroys your judgment of moral values. It vitiates your choices so that you cannot clearly distinguish good from evil and you do not truly know God's will." (203)

The problem with being a sinner isn't just that sin offends God, or that by our sins we not only insist on our own misery but also inflict that misery on each other. Each and every sinful act we commit also deforms our mind and imagination. Every evil or detracting word forms and reinforces both interior and exterior speech in uncharity. Every unchaste movement to which we consent deforms our ability to see other creatures as God made them. Every self-indulgent act reinforces our taste for whatever it is.

The sinner must recognize and admit that because of sin, he or she can't think straight. Though we are made free and clean from original sin in baptism, the wounds of sin still fester in our bodies, minds, and personalities. To know oneself as a sinner is also to admit that all of our reflections and thoughts are also so tainted.

This is the beginning of humility: to recognize that, because of my sins, even my judgments, reflections, and discernments are not entirely trustworthy. I don't see things for what they really are because I have refused to do so by attachment to my sins. I don't know everything, I don't have the sense to say something about a lot of things, and I'm certainly not fit to direct myself in the spiritual life.

Whenever we notice that we are giving ourselves every benefit of the doubt and excuse for our failures and sins, but doing no such thing for others, we can remember that it's time to get back to this beginning of humility.

January 13, 2012

A Post About Itself

In my experience of religious life, one of the main forms of speech I have encountered is what I like to call the 'diagnostic discourse.' It focuses on asking the question of what is wrong with us and how it might be remedied. It might be base and shameful gossip about or detraction against some brother or other, or very reflective historical and archaeological exercises in asking how we might have gone astray from what we wanted or are meant to be about.

I sin against the gift of this knowledge daily, but I know that I cannot hope to participate in any of these discourses well unless: First, I have confessed and received absolution for any serious failure in my vows, as well as anything on my conscience that could be a mortal sin. Second, I have fulfilled with zeal and attentiveness the minimum prayer life that I have promised, namely with regard to Eucharist, Liturgy of the Hours, mental prayer, devotion to Our Lady and St. Joseph, and the reading of Sacred Scripture.

But here's my point: This is not a question of being or not being a hypocrite, or of people living in glass houses not throwing stones. It is a question of God, grace, and spirituality. I cannot hope to reflect or comment upon a religious enterprise, whether that be an individual vocation or the life of an institute or province therein, unless I have done at least what I have promised with regard to putting myself in the way of the grace of God. If the enterprise is spiritual in nature, it must be reflected upon according to spiritual criteria. The lingering effects of original sin being what they are, not to speak of the devil, make such a mess of things that one can only hope to think straight about religious things after he has done everything he can to live a spiritual life according to the state he has chosen.

So I guess that's my suggestion to religious life: let's forget about diagnosing ourselves and each other for a bit, and put that energy into saying our prayers, asking the intercession of the saints, mental prayer, and reading the Sacred Scriptures. Having done that, perhaps we would soon find ourselves opened up to new kinds of individual reflection and shared discourse.

Of course, given what I have said, I can't even say that. According to my own reflection in this post, it's just the sort of thing my shoddy spiritual life and lukewarmness in my vocation disqualifies me from saying. For that I ask forgiveness from you and the grace of repentance from God.

January 12, 2012

The Gift Is Not Like The Transgression

The feast of Bernard of Corleone today was my first chance to pray the new preface for "Holy Virgins and Religious." There was one change in particular for which I was grateful:

...For in the Saints who consecrated themselves to Christ
for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven,
it is right to celebrate the wonders of your providence,
by which you call human nature back to its original holiness...

I appreciate the "holiness." (The Latin is sanctitas) The old preface said "innocence."

The change reminds me that "the gift is not like the transgression." (Romans 5:15, NAB) The redemption we have in Christ is not just a restoration of the original innocence--or even the blessedness--of Adam and Eve in the Garden. Our salvation goes beyond even this to raising us to the holiness of the Origin himself, that we might come to participate in the infinite delight, joy, and creativity of the Blessed Trinity.

Jesus Christ is not God's 'plan B' for fixing what was lost in the fall. Christ accomplishes this, of course, but does even more, fulfilling God's eternal plan to make his rational creature a sharer in the originary, creative delight out of which everything else that is comes to be.

January 11, 2012

Religious Life and Prayer

I had been baptized for only a couple of years when I went on my first directed retreat. As the retreat began, a venerable Jesuit with a big beard gave an opening talk. He made a comment about prayer and religious life that has always stuck with me. When he was a younger religious, he said, he worked very hard at many things. Unfortunately, he confessed, prayer wasn't one of them.

"I would tell myself that my work was my prayer. And it might have been true, had I been praying."

The comment really struck me at the time and I've remembered it ever since. Not that I've ever had the temptation to imagine that 'my work is my prayer'; I'm too lazy to be able to say that with a straight face. But the general idea still challenges; with prayer at the center, everything else can be drawn into the spirit of prayer and the sacrifice of our consecration of ourselves to God. Without prayer, everything else runs on resources that will fail us sooner or later, and probably sooner.

It might be surprising to hear, but it's possible and even easy for a religious to lose the spirit of prayer. Living under the same roof as the Blessed Sacrament for years can make you take such a privilege and spiritual gift for granted. There's a tabernacle in this room, just like there's a TV or a refrigerator in another. Vainglory or maybe even the devil can trick one into the complacency of thinking that just because all the prayers one is obligated to say are said, then this is some kind of virtue. I think here of the famous exchange between Mother Teresa and Cardinal Comastri. The Cardinal related that Mother Teresa had asked him how much he prayed. Thinking it "near heroism" in the difficult days right after Vatican II, Father Comastri responded that he said Mass, prayed his whole Liturgy of the Hours, and said the rosary each day. Mother flatly told him that this wasn't enough, and that he needed to add an hour of adoration.

Eucharist and the whole daily cycle of the Liturgy of the Hours is the bare minimum of prayer for me as a religious priest. And yet I confess that there are days when I don't even live up to that, when I do not even ascend to the 'useless servitude' of doing what I have been commanded and what I have promised the Church I would do. My experience of myself is that if I am doing the minimum in this way, I am probably not even praying those prayers very well.

It's really one of the ironic realizations of the religious life. Everyone, to some degree, feels like his prayer life is inadequate and shaky. Some of this is how we are supposed to feel before the infinite goodness of God. But some of it is also our lukewarmness and the ambivalence that comes from our sins and mixed motivations. When we enter religious life we have this feeling that the new environment will help us in this regard; that an atmosphere of prayer will reinforce the flimsiness of our spiritual life as we have known it thus far. As usual, however, we fail to take the devil and the effects of original sin seriously, and we find out that in the religious life it can be even easier to lose the spirit of prayer that we desire. Then comes the real spiritual choice: blaming and bitterness on the one hand, or surrendering to this experience as God's call to accept a deeper responsibility for our own prayerfulness, that of the community, and that of the world.

January 10, 2012

New Translation: Temptations to Idolatry

The Christmas season having ended, we find ourselves again in the tempus per annum, unfortunately Englished as 'Ordinary Time.' My first--and very influential--liturgy teacher used to refer to the typical day of low solemnity as the 'rainy Tuesday in Ordinary Time.' And so here it is. As the first day with the new translation when one is free to offer 'any Mass' as the Ordo puts it, a 'feria of the iv class' in an older dispensation, I decided to pray one of the new Mass forumularies for the dead this morning, offering the Mass for the the recently deceased father of one of the friars. Requiescat in pace.

After Mass I was thinking about how the prayers seemed like an improvement, and how they were more supplicative and contained less presumption about the deceased having already arrived at the beatific vision. But you know what? When I went back and looked at the old prayers, they weren't much different. I thought I would be writing a post about how the new prayers better recognized continued purification after death and the need to pray for the dead on their continued journey to the fullness of salvation. I was going to sing the praises of the new translation, saying that it would help restore a pastoral consciousness of the Last Things. As it turned out, there wasn't much in the old prayers to accuse them of failing in these things.

So I guess one has to say that the widespread error of presumption with regard to the state of the departed after bodily death is not the fault of the liturgy, or at least of the liturgy as the Church presents it (How the liturgy is celebrated, mis-celebrated, and abused is another matter.) Conversely, then, one has to say that the new translation won't auto-magically fix the problem. Thus we arrive, by extension, at a general principle: the new English translation of the Roman Missal will not magically solve all the pastoral and theological problems with which the Church is afflicted.

The new Missal isn't a savior. We have one of those already.

January 9, 2012

Rejoice And Be Happy

I was going to write a boring old post on some of the editorial wins (e.g. in-line proper prefaces, like for the Baptism of the Lord today) and fails (e.g. in-line music in the Communion Rite, which, let's be honest, won't get used much) in editions of the new English Missal, but let's have something fun instead. Like some encouragement from the forever wonderful Violent Femmes:

Rejoice and be happy when men revile you, just like our Savior told us to do. Rejoice and be glad when for His name's sake, they speak all manner of evil and against you they hate.

Blessed are you who are persecuted too, for righteousness and the good that you do, if in the bread you put a little leaven, the Kingdom is yours and it's the Kingdom of Heaven.

Rejoice and be happy when men revile you, just like the Savior told us to do. Rejoice and be glad when for His name's sake, they speak all manner of evil and against you they hate.

Ye are the salt of the earth, if you're not salty, what are you worth?

Rejoice and be ye exceedingly glad for great is the reward in Heaven to be had for the prophets they did persecute too, unjust though it was, they came way before you.

Rejoice and be happy when men revile you, just like the Savior told us to do. Rejoice and be glad when for His name's sake, they speak all manner of evil and against you they hate.

We are the salt of the earth, if we're not salty, what are we worth?

Rejoice and be happy when men revile you, just like the Savior told us to do. Rejoice and be glad when for His name's sake, they speak all manner of evil and against you they hate.

Rejoice and be happy when men revile you, just like the Savior told us to do. Rejoice and be glad when for His name's sake, they speak all manner of evil and against you they hate.

January 8, 2012

On Stardom and Mirrors

Many times in preaching the Epiphany, I have taken as my angle the imitation of the magi. We too, ought to be wise, and true wisdom means seeking Wisdom herself made flesh in Jesus Christ. As the magi followed the star, so too we can realize that the natural world, properly interpreted, leads us to the Word through whom it is created. As St. Bonaventure writes in his famous treatise, The Journey of the Soul into God, we are to see the whole created universe as a scala ad ascendendum in Deum, a ladder or stairway by which we can ascend to the contemplation of God. (I:2)

Maybe I notice this every year and forget, or maybe I never caught it before, but it's interesting that Leo the Great, in the Office of Readings today, recommends for our imitation not the magi but the star. "The obedience of the star calls us to imitate its humble service: to be servants, as best we can, of the grace that invites all men to find Christ."

The love of God that shines upon us in Christ doesn't will to terminate in us. Holiness isn't something to be sought and possessed personally like another consumer commodity. On the contrary, we strive to surrender to the sanctity God wills to shine upon us not only so that we ourselves might become shiny, brilliant, and happy, but so that God might find in us a sort of mirror to reflect his love to others.

Our being is meant to be just that, a sort of mirror. When we strive to let go of the dust of our distractions and to let God heal us from the filth of our sins, we are allowing the mirror to become clean and clear once again. The cleaner our mirror, the more fully and purely we can reflect the Light God shines on us to the relationships and situations around us.

Thus, our spiritual life is about letting God make us into stars by which others might find a way to the Light.

January 6, 2012

The Spirituality of Christmas

I opted out of celebrating the memorial of Brother André for Mass this morning, not because I have anything against French-Canadians (God help me in this friary if I did) but because I just love the Collect for the weekday of Christmas:

Cast your kindly light upon your faithful, Lord, we pray,
and with the splendor of your glory
set their hearts ever aflame,
that they may never cease to acknowledge their Savior
and may truly hold fast to him.
Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

There's so much beautiful Christmas doctrine in that prayer.

How is that we are inspired to acknowledge the Savior? Exactly. We are inspired. Just as the Holy Spirit conceives the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ, in the womb of Mary, so--by the same movement--the Spirit conceives the life of Christ in us. This is what faith is: the divine life of Christ at work in our humanity.

To acknowledge the Savior is to hold fast to him. The sequence of verbs is even better in the untranslated Latin: agnoscant...apprehendant. To know God is to love him; acknowledging him is holding fast to him, and it is by holding fast to him that we know and recognize him.

To know God is to love him. But in some sense it's more important to notice this the other way around: to love God is to know him, because God is love, and the only real knowledge of love is being in love.

When we surrender to the burning Love of the Spirit conceiving the knowledge of God in us, our spiritual life becomes the mystery of Christmas.

January 5, 2012

In All The Tabernacles

When folks want to hear my conversion story, they are always particularly interested in how I grew up without any religious affiliation. Over the years, however, I've realized that it wasn't as if there was no religion at all. Even though my family didn't seem to have any religious self-attributions or practices, there was a lot of religion in the surrounding landscape.

Various neighbors were overtly or at least obviously religious in different ways. There was a Catholic college, Albertus Magnus, just a block away. (Was the Universal Doctor praying for me the countless times I read his name above the entrance?) The best hill for sledding in the neighborhood was at the Yale Divinity School. A student there was one of my Cub Scout leaders. I think of him from time to time. He's a Cranmer scholar now, among other things. There were churches, too. The preschool I attended was in the lot behind the mysterious building of the Unitarian Universalists. When I was little I thought that the Presbyterian church was the coolest building in the neighborhood. My Boy Scout Troop met in a Lutheran church hall. A Congregationalist church stands at a corner I turned on every walk home from high school.

Most of all, sometimes I just think of all the tabernacles that surrounded me as I grew up. I didn't know it, but the Blessed Sacrament was reserved humbly and quietly all around me. And He was always calling, always inviting, patiently working out my salvation. Surely the Blessed Sacrament was reserved at the convent of Dominican sisters on the far side of Albertus Magnus, only a couple of blocks away. I used to deliver their newspaper. I suspect that there was also a tabernacle at St. Thomas More chapel downtown, not far from a lot my teenage haunts. And the Presence was reserved in the middle of it all in the tabernacle at St. Mary's, the first Catholic church where I ever prayed and knew I was praying. He was there all the time, and I knew it not. He was the desire that I didn't know how to name, and that I hardly understand even now.

I once read that when John of the Cross was made superior, the only privilege he would accept for himself was the cell closest to the Blessed Sacrament.

January 4, 2012

The Answer to Prayer

I love the exchange in the gospel today (John 1:35-42) between Jesus and the two disciples of John the Baptist, one of whom is the future apostle Andrew. They ask, "Rabbi, where are you staying?"

Jesus responds, "Come, and you will see."

Isn't that the story of our prayer life? So many times we ask for information, but all we get is an invitation. We want to know the what of God's purposes for us and where our journey is meant to go, but all we get is the how of getting there.

And this is enough. It's an invitation to trust, to the next step, to go and see.

January 3, 2012

Drops vs. Gushes, Etc.

One of the fascinating dynamics of my religious life in recent years has been my questioning of doctrines that I received and took for granted in my early training. Here's a convoluted path to an example.

On one of the evenings over the Christmas quiet, another friar and I watched the movie Black Robe. It's one of his favorites. One of the things I always note in the film is the way the Jesuits baptize with just the tiny amount of water that will stay on a fingertip or two.

It reminded me of one of the doctrines I was taught early in my religious life, which suggested that we had inherited a minimization of the symbolic riches of the sacraments, and that this needed to be strenuously and energetically corrected. Baptism ought to be by immersion, of course, but if this was not possible a whole lot of water ought to be poured. Altar bread shouldn't be boring wafers ordered from the church supplier, but made at home to look like bread. (Here is inserted the classic gag about the kid who, being tested before his first Holy Communion, said that he could believe that the bread became the Body of Christ, but that he didn't believe it was bread beforehand.) Confirmation shouldn't be a dab of Chrism on the forehead, but oil all through the hair and running down on the collar of Aaron's robes, as it were.

We were taught that the 'symbols were rich' and thus were to presented abundantly and sumptuously. Not that there's anything wrong with that as a principle.

On the other hand, why would someone believe that with a paltry few drops of water he was baptizing in a way that was in no sense deficient? I think, because the efficacy of the sacrament was believed in, and was known to be unrelated to what was made of the 'symbol.' The danger of placing a lot of emphasis on the sensual and conscious experience of the 'richness of symbol' is that these things can become a focus. Performance and showmanship can get to be too important. Is this not also the funny clericalism that is the danger of the Mass celebrated versus populum? (Which is not to deny that the Mass celebrated ad orientem doesn't also risk certain clericalisms.)

The GIRM does say that the "meaning of the sign demands" that the bread offered at Mass "truly have the appearance of food." (321) On the other hand, my experience says that the concern that altar bread resemble or taste like what we ordinarily have for bread is inversely proportional to the concern for caring for the sacred species after consecration. In other words, the more a group holds up the value of using what they think of as 'real bread,' the less concerned they are about consuming or caring for the Body of Christ that the bread becomes. So what's more important, the sensual experience of the bread or the sacramental communion with Christ?

January 1, 2012

High Praise

One always feels somewhat anxious preaching in a Sunday assembly that includes an eminent scripture scholar. The encounter after Mass is approached with some trepidation, especially when one is well aware that his homily was scatter-shot and somewhat shticky.

"Happy new year, Professor."

"Charles! You know, I have to tell you..." Oh no, here it comes.

"You really got through the new Roman Canon well!"

What a relief. Especially because then I could bring up some of my recent questions on the new translation of the Canon, like ors that I think should be alsos and such.