May 29, 2013

Now For The Real Fire

At supper tonight we got to talking about Capuchin beards, their growth, meaning, value, etc. Among items confessed was my abiding shame at being, apparently, incapable of growing a proper, traditional Capuchin beard. It's my Pauline thorn, I suppose.

May 28, 2013


Over the years some of those who have had the misfortune of being my pastoral caregivers have suggested that I might be afflicted with scrupulosity. I've never really accepted the diagnosis; in any case they can't be all bad, the sort of things that get pointed out, because I learn things from them.

For example, at times I have had a hard time getting myself to genuflect to the Blessed Sacrament. At such moments it seemed like it could be hypocritical for such a person, so far from submission to God in mind and so far from a pure intention of pleasing God in the heart, to make such a strong, public gesture of adoration. But in trying to reflect upon and pray through my hesitation I came to realize that a gesture like a genuflection to the Blessed Sacrament is less a proclamation, 'this is the sort of person that I am,' than a confession, 'this is the sort of person I would like to become.'

Perhaps a spoken prayer like the Act of Contrition is an easier starting point to elaborate the same point. I couldn't even guess how many times I have said one version or another of this prayer since my first one at my first confession, a week and two hours after my baptism. Nevertheless, sometimes I have had trouble getting myself to say it. How could I dare to speak such a prayer, proclaiming myself genuinely contrite when I knew all too well that I wasn't? Would it not be at best a lie and at worst a sin against the commandment, taking God's name in vain?

But again, trying to reflect upon and pray through this hesitation, I came to understand better the nature of the  prayer. An Act of Contrition is not a proclamation, saying 'I am this sort of person,' but a confession that God has put into my heart a desire to be the sort of person who might be able to say such a prayer honestly, and thus, precisely as a prayer, it contains the supplication that God would help me surrender to the grace of becoming one.

May 26, 2013

Y el ventalle de cedros aire daba

I was quite struck by the homily of the friar whose turn it was to be principal celebrant at Mass today. I guess it was the Holy Spirit's way of taking me down a bit after last night's vanity of re-linking on Twitter my own Trinity Sunday homily from three years ago, in which I make fun of Trinity Sunday homilies as an opening device before stumbling around in my own doctrinal brambles.

May 22, 2013

Pope Francis's Exorcism

I saw what has been called the Holy Father's exorcism on Sunday and didn't take much note of it at the time, though inquiring minds would like to know what was in that folder. Since then, though, it's been coming back to mind. Maybe it's the strange progression of the story in the Italian media, though I have to admit that the grammar of Italian public discourse is somewhat opaque to me even at baseline.

Was it an exorcism? Spokescleric Fr. Lombardi says no. Apparently some experienced exorcists who watched said it certainly was. Another I heard speaking in private said no. In any case, as far as I'm concerned, it's none of my business. If the Holy Father knew by some means, natural or supernatural, that an exorcism was indicated and he did it, well, good for him.

What I do feel like saying, however--and this goes for both the more religious and less religious sorts of people--is that often when we get to talking about such things we don't take seriously enough that the devil is happy for us to do so, so long as our discussion, whether it be fearful or dismissive, bemused or pious, can be made to serve his purposes. The devil is happy to have us discuss things like demons, possession, exorcism, etc., so long as such conversations serve to make us dismiss religion or spiritual danger on the one hand, or to focus less on the love of God and the victory of Christ on the other. In other words, if the result of such talk is that we end up more dismissive of God and true religion on the one hand or more afraid and timid on the other, the devil wins.

In my opinion, we would do well to take Fr. Merrin's advice and be wary of demonic tactics that could be at work even in our conversations about such things:

"He is a liar. The demon is a liar. He will lie to confuse us. But he will also mix lies with the truth to attack us."

But we should also remember that the devil knows well our tendency to collect shiny things even when their edges cut us, and always tries to make us think that his primary efforts are the sorts of sensational things that make for tabloid sales and  'viral' videos. The comment of Jeffrey Burton Russell comes to mind:

"The Devil no doubt has some interest in cultural despair, Satan chic, and demonic rock groups, but he must be much more enthusiastic about nuclear armament, gulags, and exploitive imperialism . . ."

(Mephistopheles, 257, quoted from Arthur Lyons, Satan Wants You: The Cult of Devil Worship in America)

May 19, 2013

One Year In Italy Post

There's still a week left to go until I will have been here in Italy for a calendar year, but in liturgical time the anniversary has come. It was the Monday after Pentecost, the first day of the greater stretch of Ordinary Time, that I left the USA.

May 18, 2013


For us Capuchins, today is the feast our first confrere to be canonized, St. Felix of Cantalice. Having served here in Rome, and with his relics venerated here to this day, he is also an optional memorial for the diocese.

Saying my prayers this morning, I was, however, a little troubled. For the second reading in the Office of Readings, we are given a chunk of chapter 17 of the Earlier Rule, which is basically St. Francis's sense of the interior attitudes of the Friar Minor-preacher (and, perhaps, more generally, a spirituality of Franciscan ministry).

May 9, 2013

Novelties Ironic and Blessed

At this point in my little journey, going on twenty-one years since I was baptized according to the rite of the Roman Church, I find myself living in Rome herself. And how funny Rome seems today as the brothers and I celebrate a liturgical day unknown to our mothers and fathers in faith, namely the Thursday of the Sixth Week of Easter.

May 7, 2013

Rosary Ramble

It's almost twenty-two years since I first tried to pray the rosary. Since then I've had a lot of them; some break, some get given away, others go missing. Still others that seem extra special for some reason or other get hidden away before they break. I tend to identify them with where they came from, who gave them to me, or who blessed them.

May 3, 2013

RIP: Jeff Hanneman

I had known about his unfortunate illness, but I didn't realize how serious it was.

For better or for worse, Reign in Blood--much of the music for which Hanneman wrote--changed my life. I still listen to it sometimes. One time a while back I found myself listening to it on my little old iPod (which I have thanks to a gracious Yonkers bride who gave me an iTunes gift card) as I walked the path around the Collegio Internazionale San Lorenzo da Brindisi here in Rome. I stopped as I recalled how, twenty-one years before, my decision to become a catechumen had come out of a brooding daily routine that often included a nocturnal walk around the outer path of Connecticut College while Reign in Blood played in my Walkman. Maybe I'm boring. Maybe I know a classic.

Though at times the devil has gotten into it to stir up a vainglory that made me forget other, more important graces, it's still true that the music epitomized by what Jeff Hanneman gave us was indeed a remote preparation for greater graces God has given me, by making me realize that the ordinary thing, in this case the music that everybody else was listening to, wasn't what I really wanted.

Requiescat in pace. May his family and friends have strength and comfort in these days.