February 28, 2013

Naive and Pessimistic, All At Once

Probably a mistake, but yesterday I took a look at the newspaper. There was an article about the problem of rape in the military. Another piece spoke about a prelate recently accused to inappropriate behavior against his subjects.

The two things stuck together in my thoughts.

February 27, 2013

Liberal Length

The Pope spoke sweetly at his last Wednesday Audience this morning. Of course we all watched and listened attentively. At lunch all the brothers remarked on how beautiful and personal were his words and on the humility he radiated in various ways.

February 26, 2013

How To Ride The Bus In Rome

(Noticing that this post gets a little bit of search traffic, presumably from folks looking for actual, useful information (not that the post doesn't contain any of that), I decided to put a little preface here. Google Maps can be very helpful with bus stops in Rome and for planning trips. Just check the website or @infoAtac on Twitter to make sure there isn't a strike. I have found the Twitter very response to queries, even on strike days. Also, the mobile app you want is Moovit. But beware; it is data hungry if you're visiting and on a data budget. Much can be accomplished, at less data cost, with Google Maps. And remember, even if there is a strike, that doesn't necessarily mean your bus driver is on strike, or that there are no buses at all.)

When I was first invited to accept my current assignment here in Rome, I asked why anybody would have thought of me for the position. One of the things I was told was that I was known to enjoy public transportation. Now I wouldn't say that I enjoy it, per se, but I do appreciate the opportunity it affords to observe and learn about humanity. I'm a five on the Enneagram, you know, 'The Observer.'

So after most of a year here in Rome, I'm prepared to share my accumulated wisdom about riding the buses here, for the edification of anyone who might find it helpful. After all, many will be descending on Rome in these days, and surely some will have the privilege of adventuring on her buses.

February 25, 2013

February 24, 2013


Ever since I figured out that I was born on the second Sunday of Lent, the day has felt special to me. Not that it often falls on my actual birthday, but that's something I would prefer not to think about anyway. It only reminds me that I'm getting older without yet having made a solid start in serving God or doing anything with my life. But that's just pride, and in one of his uglier masks.

February 22, 2013

notam facio excellentiam tuam

What a striking thing it is--in this curious moment in the pilgrimage of the Church Militant--to celebrate today the feast of the Chair of Peter, knowing that by this time next week that chair will be empty, sede vacante, as they say.

Overheard: Macchiato and Fraternal Correction

Sometimes when I'm getting my little caffè macchiato out of the machine after Mass in the morning, I crack the joke that I drink caffè macchiato for my anima macchiata, my 'stained soul.'

Today one of my seniors in religion corrected me:

"Why do you make empty [rendere vano] the sacrifice of Christ, by which he has made your soul spotless [illibata]?

February 21, 2013

Clever or Corny?

Well, there's a creative tension in which I have long and bemusedly dwelt. But this past weekend it also occurred to me as a question about something in particular with regard to liturgical planning.

Up until now in my religious life, I have never lived in a place where the liturgy runs like such a well-oiled machine. In most places, God bless them, I have experienced the liturgy as a functioning machine, though perhaps in need of some oil. Sometimes it's been a machine for which somebody seems to have lost the manual. Sometimes it's been a machine with missing parts, other times a machine into which someone has tried to fit some ill-fitting replacement part, either homemade or taken from some experimental prototype found among the pet projects of a deceased mad scientist. Sometimes it's even been a time machine.

Anyway, fun metaphor. But I digress.

February 19, 2013

Table Prayers

One of the friars who usually does such things having gone home for a visit and a bit of vacation, I was asked to take care of setting the refectory tables for dinner and supper each day.

So twice a day, once at some point in the morning and again during the afternoon, I spend about half of an hour setting it all up. Lately eighteen places has been about right, so I set three tables of six. A plate and then a shallow bowl on top of it. Though only a few of the brothers actually conform to the traditional Italian meal sequence of the primo and secondo piatto in the eating of the meal, the places are always set this way. I count out eighteen forks, eighteen knives, and nineteen spoons--one extra for the tupperware of grated cheese which will arrive later. Eighteen little cups, eighteen little napkins.

I've grown to appreciate this little job pretty quickly. If there isn't a lot of work, it's something peaceful to do. If there is, it's a nice break. It touches on the part of my heart that looks to nurture, to nourish. And I find I can pray very simply while I do it, for the brother who usually sits in this or that spot, for those who don't have enough to eat, for those who can't feed their own. And I pray that God shows me how to serve them, how to be a lesser brother to them.

May God forgive me for eating when I have not worked diligently at the profession I have professed publicly before the Church and the world, for as St. Paul says, "If any one will not work, let him not eat." (2 Thessalonians 3:10) May he forgive me for eating for any other purpose but to continue living so as to serve those who go hungry, either physically or spiritually. May he teach me to set the table for his poor, for all those whom he himself will serve at table in his Kingdom. (Luke 12:37)

February 18, 2013

Overheard: Morituri Te Salutant

As is said of Italians, they identify not as much with the modern nation-state that is the Republic of Italy, but with their particular historical regions and even neighborhoods. This exceedingly random conversation provides an example:

An Italian friar, playing--I hope--comes at me with a knife.

Me: You may kill me on May 29.

Italian: Why May 29?

Me: On May 29, the prova will be complete.

(The prova is my one-year trial period in this assignment. According to my interpretation of my letter of obedience, once it is completed I am free to declare myself free of the assignment and hence, of any particular holy obedience. Thus, I could be free to die in good conscience, at least as far as religious obedience goes.)

Italian: I could not kill you on May 29.

Me: Why?

Italian: May 29 is the day we were liberated from the aggression of Frederick Barbarossa!

February 17, 2013

The Temptations

It being the first Sunday of Lent, I was thinking about the temptations. More specifically, I was thinking about the Holy Spirit. In Luke's account, which we read this year, Jesus goes into the desert 'full of the Holy Spirit.' As also in Matthew, it is the Spirit who leads him there. In Mark, the Spirit pushes Jesus into the wilderness.

I think it's easy to look at the temptations as a sort of initiation for Jesus, a test by which he becomes fully the Jesus Christ of the 'public ministry.' But Jesus is already full of the Holy Spirit when he goes into the desert; as the Word made flesh through conception by the Holy Spirit, to be full of the Spirit is to be already who he is and is going to be, fully and completely.

February 16, 2013

What Things?

Before I came here to Rome, a friar reported to me a comment about my assignment that another friar had made. The latter friar said that perhaps I was suited to a Roman assignment because I didn't seem 'easily impressed.' When I heard this, I didn't agree. I'm often impressed, I objected. I'm just not easily seduced, I remember saying.

February 14, 2013

Sister Ash

Our Ash Wednesday Mass provided a charming instance of omnis traductor traditor.

One of the preacher's points included quoting St. Francis as he comes to us in the fifth chapter of the Legend of the Three Companions:
Whenever he would eat with seculars, and they would give him some delicious food, he would eat only a little of it, offering some excuse so that it would not seem he was refusing it because of fasting. When he ate with his brothers, he often sprinkled ashes on the food he was eating, telling a brother, as a cover for his abstinence, that "Brother Ash" was chaste. (FA: ED II, 77)

February 13, 2013

Shrimp and Blindness

Ash Wednesday. My twenty-first Lent. Every Ash Wednesday I write some version of the same old post. So this year I won't. But if you want to read it anyway, here's a simple version and here's a more baroque one.

This morning I was praying on the fast today, and praying for inspiration about fasting during Lent. Into my thoughts came a memory and a new understanding. With the new understanding, came a new repentance.

February 10, 2013

Lost, Unworthy, Burning, and Sent

I was thinking about the calls of Isaiah and Peter as we have them in the readings for Mass today.

It's funny; we tend to think of heaven as pleasant, or at least comforting--at funerals we are consoled by our hope that the faithful departed are now on their final journey to heaven and we take courage for our own lives in looking forward to heaven ourselves--but the prophet Isaiah, faced with the heavenly court, is afraid. Finding himself in that blessed firmament, the first thing created after the light, Isaiah can only say, "Woe is me! For I am lost." (Isaiah 6:5a, RSV)

February 8, 2013

Overheard: St. Francis Is Not A Mushroom

From an edifying friar:

"I turned to study the Church fathers because, when I was a young friar, St. Francis started to give me indigestion. Not St. Francis himself, but the way they used him. Without an idea of the tradition of religious life they would justify any crazy thing they wanted to do with, 'St. Francis says this...' or 'St. Francis says we have to...' as if St. Francis was born like a mushroom."

Apparently, to be born like a mushroom is a French saying that suggests someone or something born ex nihilo, without provenance or parentage.


February 7, 2013

Apostolic Non-Adventure

Warning: this is something of a non-post.

Recently I went on my first errand to procure a papal blessing, and I thought it might result in one of my 'Italian Adventures' posts. You know what I'm talking about, those papal blessings. You've seen them. People get them for special occasions, big anniversaries and things like that. Here's a picture of one I found on Wikimedia Commons:

FF-1093 papal blessing

Obtaining these things for purposes associated with the English-using Capuchin world is part of my new job. You can arrange for them in lots of the gift shops around the Vatican, but because I thought it would be more prone to having an interesting adventure, I decided to go right to the office in the Vatican itself, the Elemosineria Apostolica. How would you translate that? The 'Apostolic Almonry,' I guess. Unfortunately, no great story emerged.

Idea For A New Religious Community

One of the things that makes religious life in common a rich adventure is that we all tend to play out our family of origin issues in community. Since religious life is a highly idealistic enterprise and bears--for better or for worse--the idea of the 'pursuit of perfection', but since we all come from families made up of imperfect people, ourselves included, it can get a little messy. Nonetheless--and I think this is what God wills--it can be redemptive; inner children are re-born of the Holy Spirit and souls re-parent themselves into flourishing and fruitful celibates. Sometimes, though, it doesn't work so well. Most of us, of course, end up somewhere in the middle, blessed messes of wheat and weeds. As my first priest once said to me, one of the hardest things about our life is finding ourselves neither remarkably holy nor remarkable sinners. Nevertheless, our hope is in a God who promised to burn the weeds and harvest the wheat for eternal life.