August 18, 2012

General Chapter Links

The 84th General Chapter of the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin begins this coming week.

The website is here.

You can also follow the Chapter on Twitter:


August 17, 2012

In Paradiso Con Altro Titolo

It's interesting living close to the administrative center of the Order; you learn the answers to questions you never knew you had. Today provides a good example.

If you are a Catholic, you are no doubt familiar with holy cards of the saints. You probably have some in your missal or your breviary. I have a holy card of Our Lady of the Angels that's been in my wallet for almost twenty years, long story.

Now, perhaps you have had a holy card of someone who has been beatified, a holy card of blessed so-and-so.

Have you ever wondered what happens to the holy cards of blessed so-and-so if and when blessed so-and-so gets canonized and becomes saint so-and-so? Me neither. But now I know. The person who was in charge of the causes of those former blesseds, from whom the holy cards of blessed so-and-so originate, finding himself home alone on a very hot day, puts them in the fireplace.

He even had a little chant to go with his raking around in the fireplace,

In cielo, in cielo con altro titolo ...

"In heaven, in heaven with new title."

One learns these things because inquiring minds always want to know why someone would make a fire in the fireplace in Rome in August.

Amen. May we all learn to know the Christ of the burnt men.

August 15, 2012


The holiday today has been good. In it God has provided some graces of realizing this moment in my vocation.

This little friary where I'm living now is the first place in my religious life where the Office of Readings is prayed in common. I don't think I prefer it, actually. I'm just so used to being able to take the readings at my own pace, stop and use the dictionary, etc., and then take some time between the readings and responsories to reflect a little. Nevertheless, it's a good thing and good practice. Being the friar in the house with the least Italian, I usually don't have to do one of the readings. Today, though, due to friars going out to offer Masses, there were only two of us and I ended up with the long reading from Munificentissimus Deus. Despite the many instances of incorruttibilità over which I stumbled each time, it went o.k. Sometimes I think I can feel the neural ruts being dug for Italian syntactical and grammatical logics.

Because the friars knew there would be few of us here today because of vacations and the soon-to-begin Capuchin general chapter, I was asked a while back if I would go today to offer Mass at the Discepole di Gesù Eucaristico, an institute of sisters that has their generalate here in the neighborhood. It was the first time I have offered Mass in Italian outside of a friary chapel. I did o.k., but not great. Nevertheless, the experience reminded me of my vocation. It was like, 'Oh yeah; this is what I'm meant to do in this world.'

I had put off writing the homily much longer than I usually would; my thought was that since I'm supposed to be learning more Italian each week, it would turn out better if I waited. I'm not sure it worked. It was too short, and also too short on presenting the hopefulness of the day.

It's funny about eschatology; you need some pretty advanced verb tenses to do it right. There are very delicate senses of time and eternity, of what has been, as well as the already fulfilled for which we still groan in expectation. Mary, the Immaculate Conception, is free from every burden of original sin. Today we celebrate her freedom from the most searingly obvious of the effects of that sin, the bodily corruption of our temporal death. In her we see our hope as she anticipates the resurrection for which we all have a sure hope in Christ. And yet we know all too well that even though we are free from the guilt of original sin by the grace of baptism, the effects of that sin still smolder and rot within us. All of us sinners, may God have mercy on us, know this as we face daily the anguished unmeaning of knowing how we have, with our sins, insisted on our own misery--and worse--insisted on the misery of others.

Mary's Assumption shows us that the fruits of Christ's victory are available to our humanity. The victory has been won; it is ours to surrender to it if we can only find the willingness. Fallen, fallen is Babylon the Great. But she still fascinates, and so often we still hook our attention to her and drag each other down to the hell into which she eternally falls. But our hope in the confusion of our woundedness is that God wills our salvation. Salvation isn't a commodity held out by some merchant or landlord of a deity for those who might care to buy it. It is the very self-giving of God as it is experienced by a cured but still healing creature. In Mary, through whom this self-giving of God comes to be given to the world, we are shown today the destiny that God is just dying--literally--to give us.

August 13, 2012

Via del Mascherino 12

You may recall my tragicomic post on my first visit to the office of the Italian Polizia di Stato for foreign religious. Today I was there again, and this time with more success. Nevertheless, it remains an interesting and curious business.

The first funny thing is that you don't go to the address to which your appointment directs you, but to a featureless waiting room next door. It is immediately recognizable by the wide variety of foreign religious (in their various habits) sitting there in anxious expectation. There you take a number. It's like the deli counter; first come, first served. This might lead you to believe that the time of your appointment is meaningless, whether it be 8:42 (mine, this time) or 10:03 (mine, last time), and if so you would be right. However, if you then made the logical leap to thinking that the day of your appointment didn't matter either, you would be very wrong. Indeed, you had better have the letter that says you are supposed to be there on that day.

With your number, you sit in the waiting room. Some read, some study their Italian. Others say their breviary or their rosary. Some make new friends. Numbers get called through a speaker. Because they are not easy to understand, they get repeated around the room in various other languages.

When your number is called you go to next door to the office proper and wait for your number to be called again. Then you approach the counter, surrendering first your number. Then you hand over your passport and your collection of diverse receipts and stamps, along with two photocopies thereof, your four passport pictures, and most importantly, your declaration from your religious community that they have invited you to come to Italy and would therefore be grateful if the Republic of Italy would grant you the coveted permesso di soggiorno. In this letter your religious institute not only promises to house and care for you, but also promises to inform the Republic if you go missing or run away. The official behind the counter inspects all these things. If they are all in order, as they seemed to be in my case this time, the official puts them into a folder and directs you back to the waiting room.

So back to the waiting room you go, where you wait to be called again. This time, however, you don't have a number, so you have to spend the wait meditating on the question of what your surname might sound like if an Italian tried to pronounce it. Just like with the numbers--which are also still being called--interpreting these invitations sometimes requires inter-lingual consultation in the waiting room. When your name is called you go back next door to the office and are invited to sit at the desk of another official. This fellow takes your fingerprints and extracts from you a promise to spend a day attending a special civics class so that can learn the culture and ways of Italy. An Irish Missionary of Charity, who was there today accompanying some of her sisters, informed me that the purpose of the class was to learn not to cut your spaghetti.

Once you are done with this fellow, you are invited to wait again. This time you don't have to go back to the waiting room, but are instructed to wait in the office proper. After another little while, a tall, stylish Italian lady in a white lab coat takes you into a back room, measures your height and looks into your eyes to asses their color. Once these things are written down, she takes you by the hand, and then by the other hand, pressing them in turn into another machine to take more fingerprints. After all this you are given back your passport, informed that your document will arrive 'within a couple of months' and dismissed. The whole process took about three and a half hours, most of which was waiting. How much waiting? Exactly enough to meet the aforementioned Irish sister, a young priest from Indiana looking forward to doing his JCL in Rome, another priest from Colombia, and say five decades of the rosary for the safety and consolation of all the migrating people of the world.

August 12, 2012

Of Gelato and the Feast of San Rufino

The feast of St. Clare was interesting here in Rome. On Friday afternoon I came home from school very tired, both from the week itself and also from having just taken the test to pass over, Deo volente, to the next level Italian class. I was looking forward to a quiet afternoon, and maybe a chance to do some laundry. Instead, one of the friars appeared to tell me that we had been invited to a solemn vespers next door at the monastery of the Capuchin Poor Clares. Within their walls, of course, the feast of St. Clare is a solemnity, complete with first vespers.

It was good to pray and sing in the worship of God and the veneration of our holy mother Clare. However, the surprises continued when, at the end of the prayer, the abbess announced that there would then be ice cream. And so I was led into the cloister where we all sat down in the courtyard. Everyone was given an ice cream cone. It was a curious thing, suddenly meeting, in the most ordinary fashion, these women with whom I had been praying the Mass each day for a month. One of them turned out to be an American.

The feast of St. Clare was also the occasion of my learning a curious little bit of Franciscan trivia that I had never known in all of my eighteen years of varying relationship to the movement. It started when I read the martyrology yesterday. This is why I enjoy reading and praying through the martyrology; you learn stuff.

The first entry for yesterday was, of course, our holy mother Clare: Memoriae sanctae Clarae, virginis, quae, prima planta Pauperum Dominarum Ordinis Minorum...I love how it includes the autobiographical 'little plant.' (For those with the 2004 LEV edition, note the unfortunate typo.)

But then, reading on, I came across another familiar personage: Asisii in Umbria, sancti Rufini, qui primus huius civitatis episcopus et martyr habetur. 'At Assisi in Umbria, San Rufino, held to be a martyr and first bishop of the city.'

Rufino is, of course, the patron saint of Assisi. If you arrive in Assisi by means of the local bus from Santa Maria degli Angeli, and are smart enough to take the bus all the way to Piazza Mateotti so you don't have to walk anywhere uphill, San Rufino, the cathedral, is probably the first church you will see.

Reading all this I began to wonder. How does this work liturgically, since the feast of St. Clare and the feast of San Rufino seem to be on the same day? So at supper last night I asked the friars. They then explained to me this fun little Franciscan fact that I had never known: the feast of St. Clare of Assisi is celebrated on August 11 everywhere in the world except in Assisi itself, where it is impeded by the titular observance of San Rufino. In Assisi, the feast of St. Clare is put of until the next day, August 12.

However, in the midst of all this liturgical trivia, let us not miss the truly edifying example of St. Clare in her very devout act of passing from this life on the feast day of the patron saint of her hometown.

Pray for us.

August 5, 2012

Some Unfinished Thoughts on Vulgarity

It's been interesting, after all the anticipation surrounding the appearance of the new translation of the Mass in English, and after the larger part of a liturgical year praying it myself, moving to Italy and encountering the Mass in Italian.

I say it's been interesting because in some of the places where the changes to the English provoked the most praise and condemnation, the Italian Mass is more like the English used to be. The most glaring example is the pro multis. Some praised the new for many in English while others condemned it. But after all those discussions, presentations, bulletin inserts, etc., explaining and defending the change, it's curious that here in Rome, offering Mass in the diocese of Rome herself, the chalice is still versato per voi e per tutti, 'poured out for you and for all/everybody.'

The prayer before Holy Communion is another example that strikes me. In English we used to say simply that we weren't worthy to receive the Lord, but now the biblical text has been restored, in which we proclaim our unworthiness to have the Lord come under our roof. I appreciated this change very much; to me it speaks to the body as a dwelling, in the Pauline sense of the tent. I proclaim my absolute unworthiness for this act of hospitality. Others didn't like it. They can move here because in Italian the roof and the hospitality are as missing as they used to be in English: O Signore, non sono degno di partecipare alla tua mensa..., 'O Lord, I am not worthy to share at your table...'

More and more I realize that the whole idea of liturgy in a local language means something a little different here in Italy, and especially here in Latium, i.e. Lazio. Perhaps, the use of the modern, local language, in the sense of carrying within itself a set of theological and ecclesiological assertions, carries even more force here at the historical and administrative center of Latin Christianity. In other words, in a certain sense, it means something stronger, theologically and ecclesiologically, to offer Mass in Italian in Rome than it does to offer Mass in English in New York. Exactly how to describe what this sense is I haven't quite figured out yet.

I have also begun to think that maybe the new translation in English is a bigger deal than I even realized. I say this because living here has made me understand better the powerful place of English in the world. It's amazing to see, as I often do, two young people from very different parts of the world communicate with the little bit of English they have in common. It makes me realize the power English has gained as a common language. What this means for the significance of the liturgy in English is something I'm also not sure about, but I'm convinced it means something.

August 4, 2012

Religious Profession Anniversary Ramble

At the friary where I've been staying it seems to be the custom that a priest may offer Mass twice a month for his personal intentions. The rest of the time Mass is to be offered for the intentions of the house. This wasn't altogether new to me; it used to be the policy also of my province, until such plans were abolished by a provincial chapter voting on the work of a task force headed by none other than your humble blogger. Nevertheless, my curious work as chairperson of what I called the 'purgatory committee' is another story, one of which I am simultaneously proud and ashamed. It produces curious emotional states, this 'religious life.'

So this morning I offered the Mass of St. John Vianney for my classmates in religion. You see, today completes ten years of religious profession for us. Ten years ago today we emerged from the now suppressed Capuchin novitiate in Mt. Calvary, Wisconsin, and made our temporary vows at Sacred Heart in Yonkers, New York, where I would later be assigned as a new priest.

At breakfast I let it out and told the friars. They, of course, immediately quizzed me with the standard questions: How many made vows that day? (five) Are we all still alive? (yes) How many are still in the Order? (all of us) And what are we doing now? Well, I'm here in Rome going to Italian school in preparation for a job at our general curia. Three others are parochial vicars in parishes of our province. The other is a couple of dissertation chapters away from the illustrious title of juris utriusque doctor.

Father Guardian, having learned of this anniversary, decided that we would have ice cream at the midday meal today. Usually we only get ice cream on days that rank a solemnity or proper feast, and it is always accompanied by the comment that since the ice cream costs less than both meat and fish, perhaps we could eat it for penance, instead of the other things.