September 28, 2013


For the second time in my religious life, I find myself in community with another Charles. The first time was back in Yonkers when the late Fr. Charles Repole was living on the other side of the building in the fraternity for senior friars. He had spent much of his religious life as a missionary in Nicaragua, and his claim to fame, of which he was very proud, was that he had edited a trilingual dictionary of the English, Spanish, and Miskito languages.

I doubt that there was ever much danger of confusion but in order to avoid it anyway, he used to call me 'Charles, junior.' and would say, "You're my 'junior.'" Some of the other brothers, finding this amusing--Fr. Charles, senior, was somewhat given to the 'mascot' role in the family system of the senior friars--shortened this to 'CJ.' Fr. Charles would also call me mi tocayo, Spanish for 'my namesake.'

In this second situation of two Charleses, some elements in the community seem to be suggesting that it be clarified by calling the other Charles 'Charley' and me 'Chuck.' I guess I don't have anything against 'Chuck,' but I would tend to resist it a little in the current circumstances of my life, given the resonance that immediately obtains between Friar Chuck and Friar Tuck.

Anyway, yesterday we had a local chapter here in the General Curia fraternity. One of the events during the chapter was an election held in order to fill a vacancy on the house council. The fraternity is large enough, hovering around thirty friars, to have an elected council to meet with and advise the guardian and his vicar. I was nominated a scrutineer for this election, and my main duty ended up being the verification, out loud, that the number of ballots received matched the number of ballots passed out. This was very amusing for the brethren because it put on display the inability to count which has been a thorn in my side since second grade.

When no election (by majority vote) had occurred on the second ballot, we proceeded, according to our customs, to the third ballot on which only the two brothers who had received the most votes on the second ballot would be eligible. There was, however, a three-way tie for second place on the second ballot, and I was one of those so placed. This meant, according to our customs, that the tie would be broken by seniority in the Order and so we were each called upon to announce the date of our temporary profession. Things got even funnier at this point when one of the brothers needed help remembering. I, on the other hand, knew well and announced my date of August 4, 2002 with confidence because I knew I was the youngest in religion and thus the most disqualified from further eligibility in the process at hand.

The point of all this is to say that as scrutineer I also had to verify the names written on the ballots while the other scrutineer announced them. One of them was found inscribed with 'Ciak.' After a moment of reflection, this was revealed as an attempt to write 'Chuck' in Italian.

It's kind of odd because there's no letter 'k' in italiano standard, as the Italians would call it. Nevertheless, the internet tells me that in Italian a ciak is one of those clapperboard things they use making movies. So in that spirit, here's a still of me from the last movie I was in, ca. 1997.


September 23, 2013

Overheard: Alleluia

 Overheard at fraternal recreation:

"When he was a member of the Académie française, they asked Cardinal Lustiger what was the most beautiful word in the French language. He said,


I always remember Cardinal Lustiger because I recall how, when I was first exploring the idea of becoming a Catholic, I asked the priest if being a convert made you a sort of less-than Catholic. He said something like,

'On the contrary; the Archbishop of Paris is a convert.'

September 22, 2013

A View from the Roof of the Hospital

“I see clearly,” the pope continues, “that the thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds.... And you have to start from the ground up.
I've always loved that image of the Church as a hospital and so I was delighted to see it in our Holy Father Francis's instantly-famous 'interview.' As an image I think it makes some sense of the tension we see and feel between a salvation we know to have been fully accomplished, a Kingdom of God we know to be in some sense arrived, and our experience of feeling still broken, still being sinners in a world that still suffers and which seems to insist on its suffering. As a baptized person, I know that I have become free from original sin. And yet, the wounds left by sin still fester in me, sometimes even so badly that it might be hard to believe I had truly received that freedom in Christ.

September 21, 2013

Some Jargony Fun and Encouragement

Yesterday life conspired to give me a little encouragement to maybe feel less bad about myself, which was certainly a welcome thing given the experience from earlier in the week recounted in the previous post, when one of my Franciscan brothers refused me entrance to a party to which I had been invited.

The first thing was that I realized it was already the second anniversary of that crazy day when my Provincial Minister called me in the morning to make a phone appointment for later in the day, saying that we needed to talk about something important. Of course I spent the rest of the morning freaking out; I was a new guardian at the time and, sorry to say, it wasn't going very well. What was up? Was I being removed? Was one of the brothers in the house in trouble? It turned out to be the rather stunning news that the General Minister had asked for me to be summoned into service at our General Curia.

So, two years later, as part of that assignment, one of my little jobs yesterday was to prepare the decree to authorize the Provincial Minister of Great Britain to convoke their next Provincial Chapter. To do this I had to look up the dates of their last one. In so doing I noticed that it was on September 6, 2011 that my predecessor in this assignment had been elected Second Definitor of the Province of Great Britain.

Now, if my Provincial Minister called me more or less first thing in the morning on September 20, 2011 to tell me that the General Minister had asked for me to come to Rome, that means that our General Councilor must have called him the day before at the very latest.

That means that if it was the election of my predecessor to his Provincial Definitory that precipitated the search for a successor, it was only thirteen days, at most, between that precipitation and my being thought of for the job. That's not a lot of time for many friars to have been asked and then to consult with their superiors and spiritual directors, etc., before having to say that they couldn't say yes at that moment, so therefore I conclude that I wasn't that far down the list of preference when candidates for my current assignment were being considered. So in that conjecture I guess I'm invited to a little recovery of self-confidence after recent events.

September 17, 2013

Perfect Joy

The good Lord knows our hearts and our struggles, and he consoles us, though not to make us complacent, but just enough to help us go on and spur us to take up our cross and follow him for another day. He knows that after almost twenty years on this journey of seeking the footprints of St. Francis, there are times when I doubt, when my heart is full of worry about whether what has become of me as a friar carries any Franciscan meaning, whether I am about the Franciscan vocation that the Lord himself once gave me the grace to set out upon in a simpler, easier time.

September 16, 2013


"Whatever we make of our life, whatever truly Christian content we give it, is still has something of the stamp of the 'me generation' on it, and we have to be humble enough to see this. This is where we begin." (Seraphim Rose)

September 15, 2013

Sweeping Woman and Atheist Kid

Sitting a little with the Sunday gospel we have today, Luke's parables of the lost things--the lost sheep, the lost coin, the two lost brothers--I got to thinking on various things. The first was 'seeking.' In Lumen fidei our holy fathers Francis and Benedict spoke a lot about those who 'seek God.' I remember that in the days before I decided to declare myself a 'catechumen'--what vainglorious ignorance to think it worked like that!--one of the labels I learned and which I applied to myself was 'spiritual seeker.' I guess it meant that you were looking for something, though you weren't yet sure what it was.

September 14, 2013

On the Way with the Empress

This blog has been pretty quiet lately. The truth is that I had something of a rough landing back here in Rome; as soon as I got back I caught a cold. Combined with the jet lag, it made for some miserable days. For three nights I was up at midnight, no longer able to sleep and troubled by one of various, persevarating fever/anxiety dreams. If Martin Luther said that Romans were 'polished deceivers,' I have found this to be quite true regarding Roman colds. At the beginning you think, 'O.k., I have a cold, but this one doesn't seem like it will be so bad.' But then, on day three or so, it gets quite yucky.

Fortunately, things here are still more or less in a mode of summer quiet. In these days we have been observing the orario super-estivo, the 'super summer schedule.' This means, among other things, that instead of the regular observance of Morning Prayer at 6:30, a period of meditation following, and then Mass at 7:15, we just have Mauds* at 7:15.

In the celebration of Mauds, the psalmody of Morning Prayer replaces the Penitential Act of the Mass. Thus, the presider has to manage somehow the somewhat awkward liturgical seam between the greeting after the Sign of the Cross, The Lord be with you... and the beginning of the psalmody. Being attentive to such things, I'm always observing how the various priests do this, thinking on what might be the best way, given that that neither the Missal nor the Liturgy of the Hours (as far as I can tell) gives any direction. When it was my turn to be principal celebrant last Sunday, I kept it simple and only said something like, 'Dear brothers, let us begin our Sunday celebration, praising God with the psalmody.' I don't know I feel about that, though. It's the sort of liturgical line that reminds one that he is offering Mass without the deacon that ought be there to give such liturgical monitiones.

In any case, the friar who ended up as presiding celebrant for the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross today has won this little challenge as far as I'm concerned. After the Sign of the Cross and the greeting, he said something like this:

'Dear brothers, we celebrate today the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. With the Empress Helena we are on pilgrimage to the Holy Land; she to the earthly Jerusalem, we to the heavenly one by means of praying the psalms.'

*Since the Roman rite seems to have no proper name for it, 'Mauds' is the name I give to the liturgy that results when Mass is combined with Morning Prayer, a portmanteau of 'Mass' and 'Lauds.' For more information, see my post, "On the Various Forms of Prass.'

September 5, 2013

Socks, Kittens, and the Spiral Staircase

Years back I had this idea that I could save time and annoyance by always buying exactly the same kind of socks. That way I wouldn't have to worry about matching them, because they would all match each other, I thought. But this turned out to make matching even more difficult because I had to match the socks according to age, by how worn out they were, more or less. I then realized that to make the plan work I would have to change all my socks at once and then be careful to wear them in an exact rotation so that they would all wear out at the same rate. Feeling that I had reached the point of diminishing returns on my plan, I gave up.

I thought of that today on my little visit to the local colony of semi-feral cats, which seems quite lively upon my return to Rome and full of medium-sized kittens from the explosion of births that seemed to happen right at the end of spring.

Fleshly Religion vs. Christianity

There is an idea of religion that is preached by the flesh, and it says--among other things--that religion is a sort of binary project, a choice between being a saint or a sinner. 'Saint' in this case means somebody 'holy'--given an idea of holiness as something that is accomplished or possessed, a sort of spiritual capital analogous to social, cultural, or political capital. Being a 'sinner' in this scheme is then the opposite: being impure, dirty, unacceptable, without value.

The God of this fleshly religion is at best a sort of cosmic landlord, a deity that allows us to live in the fleshly security and comfort of something like a 'state of grace,' so long as we pay the dues of our successful efforts to be 'holy.' Those who succeed in this holiness may approach their god with the rotten satisfaction of being his favorites, the children he likes best, knowing that they are better than the lazy, unholy remainder of humanity whom they imagine their god despising as much as they do.

Christianity liberates us from the tyrannical binary of this fleshly religion, revealing that holiness isn't like that at all. For the choice given to the Christian isn't whether to be a 'saint' (that is, according to some pre-conceived idea of sanctity we have woven out of our vanities) or a 'sinner,' but a choice that clusters around what sort of sinner we want to be. We have all sinned, and we continue to be sinners. Our choice is whether to be the sort of sinner for whom the misery and suffering of sin hardens the heart and spirit, or the sort of person for whom the experience of sin becomes a path to humility and gentleness.

We live in a world broken by sin, a world scarred by all of us who have taken the easy path of allowing suffering and violence to reproduce in ourselves, responding to hurt with more hurt. And this continues to happen because this broken world is inhabited by all of us broken-hearted people, folks whose ability to make good choices has been injured by the legacy of brutality to which we are heirs.

But the good news is that Jesus Christ, in his Passion and Resurrection, has taken all of the misery and suffering that we insist on for ourselves, all that we are at worst, disregarding, torturing, and killing each other, and has given nothing back but blessing and new life. In this Mystery he has blazed a new path for the humanity he borrowed from us through the consent of our Blessed Mother. This is the path of letting our broken hearts break open instead of closed, of allowing our experience of ourselves as broken and sinners to teach us the humility and gentleness of the Kingdom of God rather than the bitterness and disregard of the world and its culture of death.

September 2, 2013

St. Teresa On How To Live In Community

As I end my little vacation today, here's the last little section of Teresa's The Way of Perfection--my blessed vacation reading--that I wanted to post. In the last chapter there is some plain and wonderful advice for living in community in a way that serves and is integrated with prayer and holiness, as well as an honest account of some of the very basic temptations that try to rob of us of the blessedness of common life.
Another source of harm is this: we may judge others unfavourably, though they may be holier than ourselves, because they do not walk as we do... You think such people are imperfect; and if they are good and yet at the same time of a lively disposition, you think them dissolute....It is very wrong to think that everyone who does not follow in your own timorous footsteps has something the matter with her... 
Try, then, sisters, to be as pleasant as you can, without offending God, and to get on as well as you can with those you have to deal with, so that they may like talking to you and want to follow your way of life and conversation, and not be frightened and put off by virtue. This is very important for nuns: the holier they are, the more sociable they should be with their sisters. Although you may be very sorry if all your sisters’ conversation is not just as you would like it to be, never keep aloof from them if you wish to help them and to have their love. We must try hard to be pleasant, and to humour the people we deal with and make them like us, especially our sisters. 
So try, my daughters, to bear in mind that God does not pay great attention to all the trifling matters which occupy you, and do not allow these things to make your spirit quail and your courage fade, for if you do that you may lose many blessings. As I have said, let your intention be upright and your will determined not to offend God. But do not let your soul dwell in seclusion, or, instead of acquiring holiness, you will develop many imperfections, which the devil will implant in you in other ways, in which case, as I have said, you will not do the good that you might, either to yourselves or to others.