May 30, 2012


My trip was a long day for sure. Arriving in Rome and waiting for my baggage, the Beastie Boys lyric came to mind: "Groggy eyed and fried and I'm headed for the station."

The friars are very kind and welcoming, and I enjoyed very much my introduction to the typical schedule of prayer and meals in an Italian friary.

Language is a funny business in these international settings. Arriving for my new assignment in Italy, right away I was thrown into trying to speak Spanish. Without my yet knowing Italian, Spanish was the best common language between me and the friars taking care of me in these first days. At then end of the day I was introduced to the sala inglese, the English-speaking recreation room of the college, where I hung out in English with some of our scholars and a couple of our Capuchin bishops who are in town for their ad limina visit today.

More adventures to come.

May 26, 2012

Mutual Enrichment Dubium: Pentecost Octave

In the cover letter to Summorum Pontificum, Benedict XVI expressed hope for a "mutual enrichment" of the newly-named Ordinary and Extraordinary forms of the Roman rite. How such a thing plays out will continue to be a matter of discernment and debate, a work of local custom and of the sensus fidelium.

In that spirit, here's a practical question. I'm curious to see what people think.

When I first acquainted myself with the older form of the liturgy, I became sensitized, like many, to the absence of the Pentecost Octave in the reformed calendar. Indeed, the relationship of Pentecost to the whole of the liturgy between Pentecost Sunday and the new beginning of Advent was transformed; where there used to be Sundays 'after Pentecost' we now have the second round of the time per annum, or as we call it in English, 'Ordinary Time'--which doesn't mean that it's ordinary in the sense of plain, but that we keep track of it with ordinal numbers.

So when I first was learning the Extraordinary Form, I began to 'enrich' my celebration of the Ordinary Form with certain elements from the older tradition. For instance, on the first of July, if nothing else were going on, I would celebrate the votive Mass of the Precious Blood, in recognition of the feast of the Precious Blood assigned to that day in the Extraordinary Form. (In the Ordinary Form, what we sloppily still call "Corpus Christi" is now the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, obviating the second observance.)

On the weekdays after Pentecost, as Ordinary Time resumed, I would sneak in a votive Mass of the Holy Spirit or two, so long as the day was free for such a thing. I thought I was recognizing the older observance of the Pentecost Octave by doing so. And I will admit that there was a little feeling in me, as many have felt, that the suppression of the Octave was one of the misfortunes of the reform.

So, is this a legitimate and sensible choice toward 'mutual enrichment,' or is it contrary to the form and flow of the Ordinary Form? Were my votive Masses of the Holy Spirit an enriching strategy for recognizing the tradition that used to be there--and now continues to be in the Extraordinary Form--or are they a distracting act of pretending that does violence to the change of season that the Ordinary Form supposes?

I was just thinking on this as I look forward to Monday, which will be a very odd liturgical day for me. It will begin in Boston as Monday of the eighth week in Ordinary Time, so my votive Mass of the Holy Spirit would be an option for the morning. God willing, however, I will conclude the day by transitioning into the Roman-Franciscan calendar in Italy, where Monday is the obligatory memorial of St. Mariana de Jesús de Paredes.

So, what do you think? Votive Mass of the Holy Spirit or not?

May 25, 2012

in aliam terram ad faciendam poenitentiam

cum benedictione Dei, of course.

When a letter of obedience suddenly made this new assignment in Rome real a few weeks ago, there were many practical details to look after. Attending to all of them, I didn't really think to become anxious or even excited about the move. As of today almost everything is done and squared away: I'm just about packed, with just some minor questions about what's going to fit and what will have to be left behind, other things have been stowed in a friary basement, the car I've been using has been passed on to the next friar, my American cell phone has been disconnected.

It's funny how the unfolding of life shifts how one looks at the past. I first moved to Boston from the old Capuchin novitiate in Mt. Calvary, Wisconsin, at the end of the summer of 2002. Five years later I had an MDiv and an STL and had made my final vows in the Order. As I went to my first assignment in Yonkers, New York, and was ordained priest there, I had a strong sense of having arrived, of having landed in the place to which I had been journeying--whether I knew it or not--for a long time. Three years later I was back in Boston starting another degree program. At that point my time in the parish ceased to be a landing and began to be an interlude, a kind of blessed break between academic assignments.

As I experience the shock of this new assignment now becoming real, memories of prior moments in Italy come up in prayer as matter for re-vision in the Spirit. One evening twenty years ago this spring, I was on a city bus in Florence with my college girlfriend, on our way to see the Ramones. I remember another kid on the bus trying to strike up a conversation by addressing me quizzically: "Punk Americano?" In those days I wasn't even baptized, though I would be just a few months later. I was thinking about that night yesterday when I got a shout-out and good wishes for my journey from a local college radio legend here in Boston, Joanie of the Late Risers' Club on WMBR.

The following spring I found myself in Italy again. Having taken our Easter break from University College Galway as a chance to wander around on the continent, this kid Travis and I eventually found ourselves in Assisi. It was there that we split up; he wanted to try to go skiing in Switzerland and I wanted to stay in Assisi to make a retreat of sorts. I spent almost a week getting to know the place and attending prayers and Masses in various Churches. I remember one afternoon I was hiking around on the trails out around the Carceri. I paused in my rosary to notice the beauty and solitude of the place. I thought about how nobody in the whole world knew where I was or what I was doing, and how secret was my prayer. I experienced a refreshing sense of being at home, of being where I belonged. At the time I interpreted this as an attraction to the Franciscan family, and this was certainly true. But the Holy Spirit knew it was even more than that, as He always does.

May 19, 2012

Comfort in Ruin

In various places I saw this week the announcement from the Canadian bishops' conference regarding bishop Raymond Lahey having been dismissed from the clerical state. (Read the whole thing here.)  Lahey, you will recall, was caught with child pornography at the Ottawa airport.

The bishops' announcement details the effects of the penalty: "loss of the rights and duties attached to the clerical state, except for the obligation of celibacy; prohibition of the exercise of any ministry, except as provided for by Canon 976 of the Code of Canon Law in those cases involving danger of death; loss of all offices and functions and of all delegated power, as well as prohibition of the use of clerical attire."

But it's the next sentence that struck me the most: "Lahey has accepted the Decree of Dismissal, which also requires him to pray the Liturgy of the Hours in reparation for the harm and the scandal he has caused, and for the sanctification of clergy."

I find that very comforting.

Even I should make a complete ruin of the vocation God has given me in his mercy, and even if I should become such a wicked priest as to require my dismissal from the clerical state, I will still have the Liturgy of the Hours and the privilege of praying it for the Church and the world. Even if I should make such a mess of the vows of my religious profession and the promises of my ordinations, that promise I made to pray the Hours on the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary in 2006 will always be with me. Even if I should die and go to hell, it will be my last joy to tell the devil that it was the privilege of this ruined soul to pray his breviary up to that moment.

One doesn't just all of a sudden have a laptop full of child pornography. I'm guessing that on the way to such a thing there are various moments when one might notice the destructive and abusive descent he was making. But anyone who is a sinner knows the power of concupiscence and denial in this regard.

So as I was praying the Office of Readings and Morning Prayer today, it was one of my intentions to pray for those who were abused in the production of the images on Lahey's laptop. And I pray also that all the victims of sexual abuse by priests would forgive me for praying for them without knowing what else to do about the sicknesses in the clergy at the root of their victimization. And I hope that Lahey, according to his decree of dismissal, is praying for me.

May 18, 2012

Liturgical Kludgery: The Utility of Paper Clips

Paper clips are very versatile. Since they can can be had in different colors, they are eminently useful for liturgical kludges.

Here a rubric red (apologies for the redundancy) paper clip affixes the rarely heard nuptial hanc igitur to the Roman Canon:

For a portable photocopy of the Exsultet, a paper clip of Easter white:

And when the zipper pull on my everyday alb broke after six years of dutiful service, the same baptismal paper clip stepped in to keep things running. Dealba me, Domine.

May 17, 2012

Near and Far

I have been fortunate in my Christian life to have lived most of it--so far--in regions that have preserved the Ascension on its proper day. In most places, today is Thursday of the sixth week of Easter, a novelty of a liturgical day unknown to our ancestors in the faith.

I remember that it was the vigil of Ascension in 1992 when I first walked down to the church where I would be baptized and introduced myself to the pastor and the permanent deacon. My 'convert instructions' proceeded quickly from there--I had already journeyed through a sort of pre-catechumenate with the priest on campus--and I would be baptized on the other side of that summer on the feast that was then called the Beheading of John the Baptist.

I have always loved Ascension day. It seems to hold within itself the coincidences of opposites that make up the fruitfulness of the Christian mystery. In its curious mash-up of the chronologies and pneumatologies of the gospel traditions surrounding the Resurrection, we pray through the good news that Jesus' departure assures his abiding Presence among us, and are reminded that his descent into our humanity is the occasion of our ascent from the misery and frustration of selfishness and sin. A period marked by the apostles' privileged experience of the Risen Lord in little Galilee ends so that the Spirit who is his Presence may begin to be handed on to the whole world.

In prayer we experience a reflection of these mysteries in the little mirror of our soul. Who is this God to whom we pray, or this Spirit who prays in us? As no-thing, he seems to be more of an absence than a presence, he who is the Light so bright that our minds and hearts only see him as darkness. Indeed, it is the apparent inaccessibility of God that continues to draw us into the mystery. And so we continue in our interior striving after the adorable Mystery that is God Most High, with the striving that is the only true rest. The opposites that frame and enable our rational thought begin to coincide, a sign of our own ascension above ourselves, of our new freedom in Christ.

May 16, 2012

Cloud of Witnesses

Today my devout hope is to make my final visit to the Italian consulate, emerging with my visa. The letter partly pictured below will accomplish this. That the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin, the Secretariat of State of the Holy See, and the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life--and one would hope, in the midst of their agreement, the Holy Spirit--have blessed by their seals my summons to Rome is supposed to convince the Republic of Italy to permit me entrance.

May 11, 2012

Layers and Locations

I had an amazing transition-time dream last night. Like a lot of my dreams it took the form of an adventure. There were curious but telling locations: a dark intersection at night, a celebratory event with friars, a hospital that turned out to be dedicated to St. Francis, Newhallville (a neighborhood near where I grew up), and the home of a high school classmate. Between these there were various means of transportation: walking with the GPS on my phone malfunctioning and a ride each in a soccer-mom van and a dumb waiter. Some of the friars were in the dream, as well as other people I haven't seen or thought about in ages.

In one part of the dream I was cooking. It was like one of the afternoons when it's my turn to prepare the friars' supper. The funny part was that people kept bringing me new ingredients. Since the new items I kept receiving were of very high quality, and also to be polite, I had to keep revising the meal in order to include them in the dish. It got to be very challenging. Isn't that a rich image of the spiritual life? God gives us increasingly rare and beautiful graces, and we are left with the challenge of integrating these into the whole of our journey with all of its weeds and wheat, thereby forever arriving at a new grasp of ourselves and who we are before and in God.

The dream reminded me of some truths about people and places in the journey. Because of God's eternity, and because our spiritual lives are nothing but our participation in the mystery of God, our spirituality is somehow simultaneous over the whole of life. When we enter into a new relationship, for example, we bring into it everyone else to whom we have related. This is why we are all such blessed messes of true love and destructive pathology in all of our relationships. Salvation is the process by which each relationship becomes ever more chaste and charitable, with new ones starting at a better baseline. Places exert a similar influence; the places we have been have formed us, and we bring them into the new places we settle. I guess that's why religious life-options like the monastic vow of stability or the mendicant life of itinerancy are so spiritually potent.

In my prayer today I'm just thanking God for everyone and each place I take with me into this new life.

May 10, 2012

Slow Posting

Posting has been slow this week. I guess I'm somewhat preoccupied since hearing that my move and transition is coming up so quickly. There are so many things to think about: all the loose ends I need to tie up here in States before I go, planning my flight, deciding what I need to bring and what I need to get over taking along, trying to communicate with my new community, etc.

Not the least of these preoccupying things has been the last two mornings I've spent at the Italian consulate here in Boston, trying to apply for the visa per motivi religiosi, tipo 'D', per lunga durata. To my surprise, I think I have succeeded in this task as of yesterday afternoon, despite not yet having an original copy of the letter bearing the seal of the Vatican secretariat of state. What the secretary of state of the Holy See has to do with the Republic of Italy allowing the Capuchins to invite me to live and work for the Order in Rome I'm not sure, but I suppose this is exactly the sort of holy mystery that may be revealed to me in this new ministry as secretary for the English language.

If anything, my mornings at the consulate have shown me how simple my life really is. Overhearing the various and often tense conversations between the seekers of visas and the consular staff, I heard about all kinds of elaborate travel, complex international work, intricate finances, bi-continental marriages, the repatriation of mortal remains, etc. Last night I suggested to the formation staff that the student friars could be sent to the consulate on visa application days for the sake of learning multicultural sensitivities. The interactions between American applicants and the Italian staff did not always look to me like successful multicultural encounters, if you ascertain my meaning.

So, thanks for your prayers. More adventures to come.

May 7, 2012

Apis Mater

This little candle nub used to be about two feet long.

It was one of the beeswax baptismal candles prepared for the clergy at the Easter Vigil of our cathedral here in Boston. One of the friars brought one back for me that night. I've been burning it as a prayer candle in my room. I was hoping that it would make it to Pentecost, but it wasn't to be.

Prayer consumes. Prayer immolates. In offering the Paschal Candle to God at the Easter Vigil, it was presented as "the work of bees and of your servants' hands." There's the logic of the incarnation; the Word of God having become flesh in Christ renders creation fit to be transformed through immolating sacrifice to God. My little Easter candle was consumed in its work as a symbol accompanying my moments of prayer. The substance of bread and wine, as both created matter and a product of human work, is immolated in the Sacrifice of the Mass so as to re-present the one Sacrifice such that we might receive its victory over sin and death into our bodies and our lives.

This is the paschal mystery. In his own high priestly sacrifice, Jesus Christ carries in himself a disfigured creation that it might be transfigured in his victory. Abandoning ourselves to the immolation of the same Sacrifice, we find ourselves reborn for the great Easter slogan: sursum sunt quaerite, "seek the things that are above."

May 4, 2012

Updates on my Transition

The latest plan has me moving to Italy toward the end of this month. That's a little sooner that I had most recently anticipated, but I can be ready. After arriving in Rome and having a few things taken care of, I am to go to Assisi to take courses in Italian. Eventually, perhaps with other stops beforehand, I am to take up the ministry of secretary for the English language at our Capuchin general curia.

Right now I'm supposed to wait for a letter of obedience from Rome. Once I receive it, I am to take it to the Italian consulate to apply for a visa for "motivi religiosi". May it be so for everything I do!

Of course I hope to keep blogging through and after this transition, but I'll have to see. One never knows about time, permission, and connectivity going into a new assignment, and of course the things that the brothers have actually asked me to do have to come first. Nevertheless, some of the brothers who work in the general ministry are bloggers: General definitors Br. Mark and Br. Carlos blog at Just a Brother and Artesano de Dios respectively, and Br. Helmut, secretary for the missions, blogs his ministry at Ad Gentes OFMCap. Maybe there are others.

So perhaps I can have some hope that my rants and ramblings here at a minor friar can join this august group. One of my classmates in religion once accused me of joining religious life just for the stories (along the lines of Jerry Seinfeld's dentist Dr. Whatley, who was accused to converting to Judaism "just for the jokes"). No doubt there's some truth in that observation, but grace builds on nature, no?

In any case, thank you for the charity of your prayer.

May 3, 2012

Is That You, St. James?

Today being the feast of the apostles Philip and James, it's a Roman Canon day according to my 'Plan for the minimum use of Eucharistic Prayer I,' which I recommend to all of my brother priests as a means of recovering this venerable prayer from having been (in some places) marginalized in the modern Roman liturgy.

Thinking about this last night was the occasion of thinking on something I had never noticed. Even after almost twenty years as a Catholic and almost five as a priest, I still make personal discoveries in the liturgy. Some of this comes from the shallowness of my own prayer and spirituality, but it also comes the amazing richness of the liturgy.

Today it was St. James in the Roman Canon. Both the apostles James are commemorated in the Canon, but I had never thought of which was which. It's fairly obvious with just a thoughtful look: the first James comes right before John, suggesting that this one is James the Greater, the brother of John. The second James is next to Philip, matching the liturgical association they have on this feast, and so is James the Less. Of course it's all as easy as the first being James the Greater and the second being James the Less, but my point is that I had never thought about it before. If I had prayed as far as the Jameses, I was probably looking ahead in anxiety as I hoped to get through the tongue-tying middle of Lini, Cleti, Clementis, Xysti, Cornelii, Cypriani, Laurentii, Chrysogoni/Linus, Cletus, Clement, Sixtus, Cornelius, Cyprian, Lawrence, Chrysogonus.

I have always been fascinated by the more or less insoluble question of whether or not James the Less was the same James who was bishop of Jerusalem. Whoever designed the last parish I worked in seemed to think so; the twelve apostles (with Paul replacing Judas, sorry Matthias) were painted at the tops of the columns, and James had a very nice miter on.

There are also two Peters in the Roman Canon.

One can read about the saints of the Canon in lots of places, but because it is such a useful and attractive site, I suggest the article posted at Sancta Missa.

May 1, 2012

Baker on Ochino

As I've mentioned a couple of times, one of my delights these days has been finally getting around to reading Dom Augustine Baker. Most recently, I was amused and surprised to find in his Sancta Sophia a take on early Capuchin history. Baker adduces our own Bernard Ochino as a negative example in his discussion of the necessity of prayer in the ministry of being a religious superior. Ochino, of course, is famous for apostatizing to Calvinism during his term as vicar general of the nascent Capuchin reform. After wandering through various Protestantisms and pastorates and starting a family that would eventually die of a plague in Poland, Ochino himself died in obscurity somewhere in Moravia.

"A fearful example of the mischief following the neglect of internal prayer in a superior, we find in Bernardine Ochinus, a superior in a most strict order, who was a famous zealous preacher, and, as might be judged by outward appearance, of more than ordinary sanctity; yet withal, to comply with those outward employments, a great neglecter of internal conventual recollections. And when he was sometimes charitably admonished of such his tepidity, his ordinary answer was: Do you not know that he who is always in a good action is always in prayer? Which saying of his had been true, if such good actions had been performed in virtue of prayer, and by grace obtained thereby, for then they had been virtually prayers; whereas actions, though in themselves never so good, if they want that purity of intention which is only to be had by pure prayer, are in God's esteem of little or no value,--the principal motives of them being no other than such as corrupt nature is likely to suggest. Ochinus, therefore, continuing in the same neglect, was by one of his brethren prophetically warned that he must expect some terrible issue thereof, in these words: Cave ne te ordo evomat, that is, Take heed that our order be not hereafter constrained to vomit thee out of it. The which unhappily fell out; for notwithstanding all his other specious qualities and endowments, he, first forsaking God, was afterwards forsaken by Him, and became a wretched Antitrinitarian apostate. And it is very probable that the greatest part of the apostates of these times (such I mean as have formerly lived in religious orders) do owe their apostasy and perdition to no other cause so much as to such neglect and apostasy first from prayer; the which holy exercise if they had continued, they would never have been weary of their habit first and afterward of their faith."

As an old Jesuit retreat master once said to us, "I used to tell myself that my life was prayer. And it might have been true, had I been praying." As the oft-repeated and variously attributed saying goes, when a priest or religious gets himself into trouble, the first question you ask is, "When did you stop praying your breviary?"