Some of us had gone to the Pentecost Vigil at Holy Cross Cathedral, where I concelebrated the Mass with Cardinal O'Malley. On Sunday I made my final decisions about what I could bring and what had to be left. Most of the choices I made turned out to be good, but not all. I didn't need to bring two albs. I wish I had brought my 1962 Roman-Seraphic breviaries, and I'm still surprised at myself for not bringing my oil stocks. On Monday my guardian got Chinese for lunch and then took me to the airport. The next morning I was here in Italy, and I've been here ever since. Those moments came back to me during the post-second-vespers-of Pentecost ritual of paging up my volume III of the Liturgia delle Ore secondo il rito romano e il calendario serafico, the same book I tried to pray with on the airplane, maybe understanding enough to say that I had said my prayers, maybe not.
I'll admit that it's been a curious time; very graced in some ways but often difficult. In some ways I've felt somewhat unhinged ever since Sunday morning, August 1, 2010, when I went to the sacristy to ask the blessing of my guardian and pastor and then left Yonkers to move back to Boston. (By the way, one of the reasons I use the term 'unhinged' is because it's so wonderful in Italian, especially in Rome: 'scardinato', from cardo (whence 'cardinal'), 'hinge' in Latin.) First there was my false start in the doctoral program at BC, which I now realize was a half-hearted effort, then my appointment as guardian of a house, a ministry in which I didn't succeed in getting my feet under me before it too was cut short by the unexpected call to Rome.
Once here I spent a month in Assisi as a student at the Accademia Lingua Italiana Assisi, then three months in Garbatella, riding Roman Metro B each day to the wonderfully named Torre di Babele. On the Saturday after the feast of St. Francis I moved here to the Capuchin General Curia, where I have been ever since, translating news blurbs, ghost-writing correspondence, scrivening decrees, and posting translations of web pages by case and paste.
It's been an intense time in prayer; sometimes intensely dry, sometimes very rich, always inviting and never easy to interpret. It just becomes more of what it has always been becoming over the years; an adventure by which I grow more convinced and aware of how God has been with me at all kinds of moments and points of my life, but simultaneously less sure of what it all means.
To take a more concrete manifestation, I get more convinced of myself as a Franciscan, that God has always willed for me to be a Christian according to this pattern. I read Francis more than ever, and pay more attention. But on the other hand I seem to understand less what it is supposed to means for me exactly, how it ought to translate into my reflection, my choices, my behavior. At some level the comment could be disingenuous; after all, I have disposed of my earthly life and its choices by my religious profession. Obedience decides what I do with my days. In this sense the thought could be one of those pious, interior charades that pretend to be religious but are really just delights for the flesh...and which please the devil so much more than what are usually thought of as the 'sins of the flesh'!
But it's also true that religious obedience, narrowly understood, only touches on the most exterior things, the house where you stay, what you are supposed to do for work. There remain a multitude of choices to be made in the conduct of daily life: fraternal charity, personal prayer, friendships inside and outside of the Order, what to read, whom to trust, to whom to confess, whether and from whom to seek spiritual counsel, whether or not to write a blog or tweet and what such things might mean in the context of everything else, if one were to be honest about it, and whether one, if he were to do such things, could stand to do them with a little more honesty in the first place.
So for everyone who supports me in this little way that I have come to express myself over the past seven years, thanks for that and for your prayers, and be assured that you have mine as I continue to find myself in this blessed and curious condition, in this blessed and curious place, writing big words in a little room in a big building next to a round highway, a twenty-minute walk and two buses from the tomb of St. Peter.