December 31, 2014

The Glorious Exchange

They recommended it to us when we were students, but I've rarely preached on one of the orations for a Mass. But I did on Monday (December 29) so taken I was with the Prayer over the Gifts (is that what it's called in English?):
Receive, Lord, our gifts,
which exercise a glorious exchange,
that, offering what you have given, we may win you yourself.
That's my translation. Maybe someone can post how the English really goes (I don't have an English missal here) and we can see how close I got.

That 'glorious exchange' is the joy of Christmas. We who have so little to give receive a gift greater than we can contain or comprehend: God himself. In the mystery of the Incarnation, God abandons his divinity into our humanity, lifting it into the mysterious inner life of the Blessed Trinity himself. This is the gift of which St. John speaks in the Gospel of Christmas Day: "But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave the power to become children of God; who were born not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God." (John 1:12-13) Our rebirth in God becomes available through the birth of the Word of God as one of us.

When we realize the depth and greatness of the gift we have received in Jesus Christ, no response makes sense but to give ourselves totally to him. Our giving of ourselves to God remains a gift ever meager and poor; God's gift of himself to us remains ever greater than we can think or imagine. As St. Francis puts it in the Letter to the Entire Order, "Hold back nothing of yourselves for yourselves, that He Who gives Himself totally to you may receive you totally."

December 25, 2014


Today, the twenty–fifth day of December,
unknown ages from the time when God created the heavens and the earth
 and then formed man and woman in his own image.

Several thousand years after the flood,
when God made the rainbow shine forth
 as a sign of the covenant.

Twenty–one centuries from the time of Abraham and Sarah;
thirteen centuries after Moses led the people of Israel
 out of Egypt.
Eleven hundred years from the time of Ruth and the Judges;
one thousand years from the anointing of David as king;
in the sixty–fifth week according to the prophecy of Daniel.

In the one hundred and ninety–fourth Olympiad;
the seven hundred and fifty–second year from the foundation
 of the city of Rome.

The forty–second year of the reign of Octavian Augustus;
the whole world being at peace,
Jesus Christ, eternal God and Son of the eternal Father,
desiring to sanctify the world by his most merciful coming,
being conceived by the Holy Spirit,
and nine months having passed since his conception,
was born in Bethlehem of Judea of the Virgin Mary.

Today is the nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh.

December 24, 2014

Christmas Eve

"The LORD also reveals to you that he will establish a house for you," announces the prophet Nathan to David. (2 Samuel 7:11b)

This house is born for us in the divine humanity of Jesus Christ. This humanity will grow and teach and heal and suffer and finally die on the Cross, drawing into himself all the suffering we have brought upon ourselves and each other with our sins.

But by the power of his divinity this sacred humanity is raised from the dead, raised into the sacraments that make a people into a Church, into the mystical Body of the Risen Christ.

"and, like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ." (1 Peter, 2:5)

Baptized into the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ and becoming his Body and Blood that we receive in the holy Eucharist, we are the spiritual house God promised to David in an everlasting covenant.

As the Body of Christ, as Church, we become the presence of Jesus, teaching, healing, reconciling, and finally accepting the Cross with the faith that the divine humanity of Christ has blazed a trail through our suffering to the new life of the Resurrection.

So his birth is our rebirth as the resurrected humanity that is his mystical Body.

December 15, 2014

Love of God

William of St-Thierry is wonderful in the Office of Readings today:
O Lord, salvation is your gift and your blessing is upon your people; what else is your salvation but receiving from you the gift of loving you or being loved by you?
The beginning of the love of God is the awareness of having been loved by God, loved into existence by the will of God and preserved in being from moment to moment by the love of God. In truth, God's love for us and our love of God end up being the same thing, for our love of God is the work of the Holy Spirit within us. The whole process is just that; the procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father and the Son as it comes to live in us by baptism and faith.

Loving God is the beginning of the awareness of the love God has for us. This awareness bears further fruit in the continuing realization that we ourselves and everybody else and indeed the whole of creation is, in a sense, made out of love, coming into existence as it all does through the Word that is the Beloved proceeding from the Love that is the Source of all that is.

Realizing this love as the innermost identity of every creature, we begin to see our neighbor and the creation around us as not only lovable, but as something that demands love if it is to be truly appreciated and understood. This is how the love of God turns into the love of neighbor; when we realize that our neighbor has a demand on our love--if we are to truly love the love with which God creates--especially our neighbor for whom the awareness of the love of God may be obscured by the suffering and poverty that are the fruit of human sin.

December 10, 2014

Sweet Obedience

The other week I was translating for a meeting and one of the things I got to enjoy was a presentation on the Lower Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi. The presenter spent some good time on the allegories of obedience, poverty, and chastity that surround the scene of the glorified Francis above the altar. I confess that even though these allegories--in black and white reproduction--adorned the walls outside of my room when I was in post-novitiate formation, I guess I never studied them in much detail.

When I came upon today's gospel,
Jesus said to the crowds:
“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened,
and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,
for I am meek and humble of heart;
and you will find rest for yourselves.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
right away I thought back to the allegory of obedience:

You can see the yoke descending on Francis's shoulders right from the hands of God. (click the picture to enlarge it.)

The Greek chrestos which the New American Bible gives as "easy," the Italian lectionary translates as dolce, 'sweet.' This of course made me think of the beginning of Francis's Testament:
The Lord gave me, Brother Francis, thus to begin doing penance in this way: for when I was in sin, it seemed too bitter for me to see lepers. And the Lord Himself led me among them and I showed mercy to them. And when I left them, what had seemed bitter to me was turned into sweetness of soul and body. And afterwards I lingered a little and left the world. (1-3)

December 8, 2014

Immaculate Conception

The new creation was growing and gathering strength within the old creation long before it was definitively inaugurated at the beginning of these last days in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

It was the power of this new creation that brought forth the patriarch Isaac from Abraham and Sarah, even though Abraham's body was "as good as dead" and Sarah was barren. (Romans 4:19) In them we begin to see the first light of the Resurrection.

That first light of the dawn that will be the Resurrection of Christ on the first day of the new creation is fully revealed in the conception of Mary. Her conception without original sin is a break with the past, a blessed discontinuity with the heritage of selfishness and sin in which we are all born and know all too well. As the Immaculate Conception she is prepared to be the mother of the new human being and the new creation, a creation far more glorious even than that of the first in the state of original blessing. "The gift is not like the trespass." (Romans 5:15)

December 4, 2014

Race in America

As I sat down in chapel this morning I found myself praying for the United States. Praying for the wisdom to know the paths toward justice and reconciliation, and for the courage to follow them. What other strong statement can I make about our current events? Each one that I think of seems infected by a, 'yes, but also this...' And this from someone who grew up acutely aware of our issues of race; in fact, the first time I found myself in a majority white environment was when I went away to college, and this was such a culture shock that I only managed to resolve it by ending up a Catholic at the end of it all.

But the frustration and not knowing what to say--from my position of white privilege (and also white guilt)--is nothing new to me. It's akin to the frustration that also left me, at the end of college, wanting to be a Franciscan. It first came most strongly when the euphoria of having done good in some work of charity gave way to the realization that even this was tainted by the superiority of my social position.

To me, to become a Franciscan meant that at least in my own person, I could undo the systems of power and privilege that gave some people in society access to resources and others not. That made some rich and kept others poor. That led to me enjoying a hedonistic college campus while certain of my contemporaries had to go die in Iraq. (Such was the historical moment of my conversion-crisis). St. Francis showed me a way to opt out of the system from which came so much hurt and injustice.

Has it worked out? Has my Franciscan journey done this for me? That's another post, I think. God grant me the courage to write it if the inspiration comes.

December 1, 2014


I've come to love Advent more and more. Especially the beginning when the readings and prayers make it clear that we're not yet 'preparing for Christmas' but looking forward in hope to the coming of the Lord in glory. Advent invites us to contemplate the in-between-ness of our existence, living as we do after the first coming of Jesus Christ and before the second.

But we don't push this dichotomy too far, for in our spiritual life, our mystical life, the incarnation of the Word and the parousia of Jesus Christ turn out to coincide; the Bridegroom of our souls is always arriving by grace.

That's why Jesus in the Gospel we have this year for the first Sunday of Advent exhorts us to "Be watchful! Be alert!"  (Mark 13:33) By quiet prayer we cultivate a watchfulness, a mindfulness in our minds and hearts, so that we may notice the graces our daily lives present to us, the graces that Providence puts in our path at each moment.

November 20, 2014

Golden Bowls

...the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and with golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. (Revelation 5:8)

This week it's my turn to offer Mass in the mornings with the Capuchin Sisters of Mother Rubatto. Today I landed on the image above to preach on, the golden bowls of the citizens of heaven, filled with the prayers of the saints.

When prayer becomes difficult, or when we feel we are losing our taste for it, when our devotion goes dry and our meditation desolate, it is good to remember that the prayers of God's holy ones are held precious in heaven.

November 6, 2014

Blessed Andrés de Palazuelo and Companions, Martyrs

This morning the brethren entered the chapel to find at their places a holy card of Blessed Andrés de Palazuelo and Companions, those Capuchins among the most recently beatified martyrs of the Spanish Civil War. I didn't make the connection that today is their feast day (it had not been previously announced on the little paper of the week's liturgical directives) and so as first acolyte I was left scrambling to find the Common of Several Martyrs so I could intone the invitatory antiphon.

These are people who were killed simply for professing the faith, and they are recent enough to be our grandparents. May our prayers be with the persecuted of our time, and may God's strength be with us when the persecution comes to us.

The holy card offered this prayer, in Spanish:

Oh Dios omnipotente y eterno que has dado a los Beatos Andrés y Compañeros mártires la gracia de unirse a la pasión de Cristo con el sacrificio de su propia vida, ven en ayuda de nuestra debilidad y concédenos, por su intercesión, la gracia de ser fuertes, como ellos, para poder también nosotros confesar sin temor alguno tu nombre. Por Nuestro Señor Jesucristo. Amén

November 5, 2014

Some Fraternal Correction from Charles Borromeo

As it does every year on his feast, there came yesterday in the Office of Readings some fraternal correction from St. Charles Borromeo:
One priest may wish to lead a good, holy life, as he knows he should. He may wish to be chaste and to reflect heavenly virtues in the way he lives. Yet he does not resolve to use suitable means, such as penance, prayer, the avoidance of evil discussions and harmful and dangerous friendships. Another priest complains that as soon as he comes into church to pray the office or to celebrate Mass, a thousand thoughts fill his mind and distract him from God. But what was he doing in the sacristy before he came out for the office or for Mass? How did he prepare? What means did he use to collect his thoughts and to remain recollected?
A spiritual life is incompatible with our tendency to compartmentalize. I can't live a spiritual life some of the time, only during the times I have piously decided to call 'prayer.' I will never learn to use well my distractions in prayer if I live distractedly the rest of the time. As Pope St. John XXIII put it, "My day must be one long prayer."

I may wish to be holy but if wishing doesn't turn into a practical willingness in the little things, then my wish is probably vainglory. What I mean is that as long as I only wish to be holy I risk admiring the holy self I imagine I want to become, and this instead of paying attention to the people and circumstances God has put in front of me on a particular day, and the graces that I'm invited to accept through them. It is surrendering to these graces that will make me holy, not just wishing to be so.

October 22, 2014

Pope St. John Paul II

Here in Rome, the Pope is our local bishop and therefore we celebrate the feast days of more beatified and canonized Popes than in other local churches.

Today we have the joy of celebrating the obligatory memorial of Pope St. John Paul II. His reading for the Office of Readings is taken from his homily at his papal inauguration, October 22, 1978, and ends with some vintage JP2:
So often today, man does not know that which is in him, in the depths of his mind and heart. So often he is uncertain about the meaning of his life on this earth. He is assailed by doubt, a doubt which turns into despair. We ask you, therefore, we beg you with humility and with trust, let Christ speak to man. He alone has words of life, yes, of life eternal.
Pope St. John Paul II, pray for us.

October 21, 2014

A Preaching Life

Msgr. Mongelluzzo, our dear preaching teacher, used to say that it was "a preaching life," by which I understood that preaching from the Sacred Scriptures wasn't to be just an activity of our lives but something woven into the whole fabric of our days. This was easy to understand when I was at the parish and preaching almost every day, often enough more than once. But in my current circumstances, in which I preach perhaps once a month, I sometimes wonder what Msgr.'s affirmation might mean.

Perhaps there is something like an answer in a grace that I have sometimes, of which today is a good example, when the Scriptures invite me to pray for particular people. Today's gospel:
"Blessed are those servants
whom the master finds vigilant on his arrival.
Amen, I say to you, he will gird himself,
have them recline at table, and proceed to wait on them.
And should he come in the second or third watch
and find them prepared in this way,
blessed are those servants.” (Luke 12:37-38)
That used to be on my go-to gospel passages for wakes. I would preach the great reversal--the master who waits on the servants--as our hope for our dead, that they might come to the heavenly rest, cared for and nourished by the Master who makes himself Servant.

So in the pause after the homily this morning, I was invited to pray again for all those deceased and their families with whom I had once prayed and preached this gospel. It's a preaching life.

October 14, 2014

beloved in the Beloved

"In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens opened and the Spirit descending upon him like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, 'You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.'" (Mark 1:9-11)

"Also the storm of persecutions beats on Christians. They will not fear, for they see the heavens open above them" (St. Cyprian in the Office of Readings for Pope St. Callistus I)

A Christian is someone baptized into the baptism of Jesus Christ. The heavens have opened above her, the Spirit has descended upon her, and the Father proclaims her beloved in the Beloved.

From embracing this knowledge comes the courage to face all the persecutions that come from the world, the flesh, and the devil, from within or without.

October 5, 2014

RIP: Fr. Benedict Groeschel

In  the quiet of the afternoon of the feast of St. Francis I got the news that Fr. Benedict Joseph Groeschel, CFR, had passed from this life.

I met Fr. Benedict a few times over the years: a couple of times at Capuchin events, once on the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe at the CFR novitiate in Newark, and once at a celebration of Confirmation at The Children's Village in Dobbs Ferry, New York, at which Cardinal Dolan presided.

As I prayed for Fr. Benedict's eternal rest last night, a couple bits of gratefulness came to mind in particular. The first was for a television series he had on EWTN in the early 90s. If I remember rightly, it was called The Truths of Salvation. I don't remember if I was watching it while still a 'seeker' or if I was already baptized, but that show provided a lot of my early catechesis. The other thing I thought of was Fr. Benedict's book, The Courage to be Chaste, which was a great help to me at one time.

Requiescat in pace.

September 9, 2014

Best Penance Ever

On my way home from an appointment this morning I stopped by the Lateran Basilica to visit the Italian-English-Irish confessor, a gentle old friar. (How many penitents does he get who confess in Irish?) I really appreciated the penance he gave me:

"Pray the Veni Creator Spiritus for yourself, five Hail Marys for the people of the parish, and few more for the person you hurt."

September 2, 2014

A Couple of Joys

It's been almost a month since the move to town, and I find myself just thanking God for some of the joys of the new situation. Here are a couple of them:

After lunch and supper we friars do the dishes. Maybe it doesn't seem like a big deal, but it's something plain and wholesome and honest that wasn't part of our life during my two years at the Collegio. Most days it has fallen to me to do the drying at the end of the pots and pans line. I enjoy the conversation or pray if there isn't any. I often think of St. Teresa: Mirad que entre los pucheros y las ollas anda Dios. "See that God walks among the pots and pans."

Another joy is that now that we are in town, I'm able to take some Masses outside of the house. This week I'm going to the Capuchin Sisters of Mother Rubatto. It's good to have to preach at daily Mass, even if it's with my very few words of Italian. It's also a nice walk to the sisters--through the Villa Borghese park and around the zoo, where I hear some of the animals getting up in the morning. It's also good to pray and be with women, even if Mother General gave me a translation project to do!

One other note about the sisters: Since I would be going all week, I left my alb at the convent. Sister Sacristan, perhaps regarding my paper-clip zipper pull as undignified or inadequate, replaced it with a loop of cord.

August 29, 2014


That's how old I am today. In the Lord, anyway. Twenty-two years ago this afternoon I walked up and out of the basement of Freeman dormitory and down to Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Quaker Hill, Connecticut, where I was baptized into the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. It was the most important moment of my life, and I had little idea of what I was getting into. And this was mercy on the Holy Spirit's part.

It's been quite a journey since then. If you had told me then that on the twenty-second anniversary of that day I would get up in Rome, pray Morning Prayer and Mass and then descend to the secret life of an office where I would translate news blurbs from Italian to English and prepare letters for bishops in Ethiopia and Eritrea, I don't know what I would have thought.

After twenty-two years, my greatest challenge is getting too comfortable. For better and for worse, I am fully socialized to religious life. I could live this life without devotion, without real prayer. I could do the assignment the Order has given me on natural talent alone. The few times I have to preach in my current circumstances I could manage on natural cleverness, though it would be a betrayal of the Church that has ordained me. The great danger is to get comfortable saying all my prayers and doing what I have to do, all without God.

In this regard I am fortunate that God permits me certain afflictions, angels of Satan to beat me and keep me from getting comfortable. (cf. 2 Corinthians 12:7) Though I have put on Christ in baptism, the old Adam still haunts me, carrying on because he doesn't realize that he's dead, drowned at the bottom of the Jordan.

But, though occasionally tempted, I don't despair. On the contrary, I have joy because God gives me the desire to pray each day, and I know that this is the Holy Spirit praying in me, if only I surrender to the grace. When I have to preach the same Holy Spirit gives me the words. And above all I know that God is faithful, and that if he has put into my heart the desire to be a 'convert' he will bring this grace to fulfillment, in this life or the next, and convert my heart to him.

August 6, 2014


A couple of months into my third year in Italy I have landed in my fourth--and presumably final--location. First was a month in Assisi as a student at the Accademia Lingua Italiana Assisi then three months in the Roman neighborhood of Garbatella while a student at the funnily named Torre di Babele (Tower of Babel) language school here in Rome. Then almost two years in the back section of the Collegio Internazionale San Lorenzo da Brindisi in the outskirts of Rome with the rest of the displaced fraternity of the General Curia, where it was staying while the Curia in town began renovations.

And now, even though the renovations aren't quite done, I've moved with the rest of the fraternity of the General Curia back to its proper home in the middle of Rome.

The new building is very nice. For the first time since I was parochial vicar in Yonkers, I have an office that isn't my room, which is a good boundary between work and life. I'm reminded a lot of the beginning of my post-novitiate formation, which was the last time I lived through a building renovation. One of the things that isn't done is the church, so we have been going around the corner in the morning to pray Morning Prayer and Mass with the Montfort Missionaries at their little church dedicated to Our Lady, Regina Cordium. (Queen of Hearts). I don't mind at all. Sometimes in religious life I have missed that feeling of 'going to church.'

Mostly I'm grateful for the landing.

July 10, 2014

Residency Permit Renewal, Part 3

The latest step in trying to renew my permesso di soggiorno went so well and smoothly that it felt strange. Having filled out the forms with the help of a model provided by the same helpful brother from the previous post, I set out with them after Mass this morning.

After the walk to the bus stop, I waited only a couple of minutes before two Franciscan nuns pulled up to the bus stop.

"Pace e bene," they greeted. "Where are you going?"

"Ahead to the Commercial Center," I responded. They said they would take me.

The sisters dropped me off right in front of a tabacchi, which is where you need to go to buy the 16 euro stamp that you have to stick on the top of form #1 before you hand it in at the post office. From there I went across the street to the post office. I pressed the appropriate button on the machine where you take a number. As soon as my number came out of the machine it came up at the Sportello Amico. That's the "friend window," because the Republic of Italy is your friend. No waiting at the Italian post office, that's a new one. I gave my kit to the man, who turned out to be very nice. He checked this, scanned that, typed into his computer, took my €158.50, and eventually provided me with the correct receipts and the sheet of paper that tells you when to show up at Via Del Mascherino 12.

In fact, the only thing that didn't go so well was the wait for the bus to take me home. But at that point I wasn't about to complain.

July 9, 2014

Residency Permit Renewal, Part 2

Returning from the morning described in the previous post, I mentioned my insuccess to those of the brothers that I ran into. One of them, much more experienced in such things, said that he would have opportunity to check for the kit in his travels, and would do so for me. A few days later, while I was waiting for the least hot day of the week to try again at new post offices, he said, "I have something that will make you happy," and delivered a kit to me.

So while it is unbecoming of a religious to whine or complain of the troubles and difficulties his vocation offers him--which are graces in which rather he should rejoice and give thanks to God--it can be good to share one's lament. Second, sometimes the Lord wishes to remind us that it is more blessed to depend on one's brother than on oneself.

July 4, 2014

Residency Permit Renewal, Part 1

So you realize, somewhat to your surprise, that you have been in Italy for two years. One of the effects of this is that your permesso di soggiorno, or residency permit, obtained not without difficulty and misadventure (see this post and this post) is getting ready to expire.

It's time to think about applying for a renewal of the residency permit.

The first step in this process, which would seem easy enough, is to collect the 'kit' (English: 'kit') alleged to be "available in all post offices."

So you are reminded that there is a nice-looking post office that you have passed in the course of your regular appointments, and decide to visit the next time you're there. Trying to execute this plan, you find that you have to regard yourself as a silly person for having presumed that a post office would be open as late as early afternoon on a weekday.

Then you admit to yourself that a dedicated trip is going to be necessary and, having checked your insight with a more experienced confrere, decide to visit a larger post office where you have had some good fortune in the past. You leave in the morning and ride the bus to the area of the post office. You take a number. You lend your almost-used-up WSOU pen to a random guy carrying all of his vital documents in his inverted motorcycle helmet. Your number comes up and you go to the window. No, we're out of the kit says the guy. Maybe try the post office near such-and-such subway stop.

So you get on the subway for a couple of stops. Thanks to Google Maps you have a guess as to what post office the guy was talking about. When you get there you have high hopes because the post office seems very fancy, having individual, double automatic doors like an airlock. But unfortunately you find that like many fancy things in Italy, it's fancy for no particular reason and they don't have the kit either. Do you have any advice, you ask the post office guy.

"You have to keep going to post offices." he offers, in a tone that suggests he is explaining something obvious.

By now it's starting to get pretty hot and you might decide to go home so as to be sure to be there for Midday Prayer and dinner, but you think that maybe you have time to try on more post office. Faithfulness is what you have to do with your freedom, you think. So back to Google Maps and a walk to the next closest post office, where your luck doesn't change.

So you turn to find your way home, having spent a morning making no progress on getting the Republic of Italy to allow you to live there another two years. You sit down on the bus and thank God for the gift of the smallest taste of the sufferings and frustrations of foreigners and displaced people, and you pray for all of them, for their strength and safety.

To be continued...

June 8, 2014

The Holy Spirit

I got caught up in the readings on the way up to Pentecost, especially Jesus' prayer at the Last Supper as it comes to us in John.

"I made known to them your name, and I will make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them." (John 17:26)

To me this is the heart of Christianity; that the love with which you have loved me may be in them. Our communion with the humanity of Jesus Christ draws us into the love of the Father and the Son. And this is what we call the Holy Spirit.

Jesus Christ reveals that 'God' is not a static 'supreme being' nor a philosopher's abstraction, but a relationship, a Lover and Beloved in the perfect unity of Love. That Love conceives the Beloved in time, within the creation, so that the human creature may also enjoy and be renovated by the creative relationship that is the Father and the Son. This historical event we call Jesus Christ.

As the Spirit conceives Jesus Christ through the loving consent of Mary, so the same Spirit conceives each Christian soul, made Christ-ian by communion with the humanity of Christ, empowered to confess that "Jesus is Lord." (1 Cor 12:3) Just as Christ is raised from the dead, so the Christian gains new life from the Spirit dwelling within, (Rom 8:11) enabling him or her to leave behind selfishness and fear and to "seek the things that are above." (Col 3:1)

The Spirit does all this precisely as the Love of the Father and the Son, drawing the person who consents into the very life of the Blessed Trinity, into the overflowingly creative love from which everything that has being has come.

Each of us is a unique and unrepeatable creation. Since, as we say, 'grace builds on nature,' this means that each of us has the potential of being the bearer of a unique and unrepeatable grace for the world. Indeed, God wills it. St. Paul says as much to the Corinthians: "To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good." (1 Cor 12:7) Let us then let go of anything that holds us back, and consent to be conceived as Christians, as members of the mystical Body of Christ, that we might become the particular grace God wills and delights for us to be for each other.

April 27, 2014

Pineapples and Full Circles

About five years ago, when this old blog was going strong and I was in the middle of my assignment as parochial vicar at Sacred Heart in Yonkers, my Provincial Minister came to me with some pamphlets and asked me if I might think about going to our International College in order to study in Rome.

April 20, 2014

Happy Easter

As sleepy as this old blog has become, I can't let it go without an Easter post to greet the kind visitors who still check in here as well as those who come by way of links and search traffic.

The Resurrection is the dawn of the new creation of which Our Lady's Immaculate Conception was the first light. It is the good news that the death of sin--earned for us by our first parents--has been defeated by the Son of God in the humanity he borrowed from us through her consent. As citizens of this new creation by baptism and conformed to the death and Resurrection of Christ by Holy Communion, we can begin to live in freedom from the works of death and "seek the things that are above" (Colossians 3:1)

I was fairly pleased with at least some of what I did for Lent; I think it left me more open, more willing, quieter. More and more I know--beyond just saying it--that this is what prayer is about: willingness, openness, consent, surrender. An acceptance of what God gives, the wonder at how his presence to you has always been broader than you knew or reflected upon in what you called your prayer or 'spiritual life', consent to letting go even of ideas about him and your ideas of what it meant to be faithful.

So to all the believers who come by this post, I wish a blessed celebration of Easter and the hopeful awareness of the new life that wills to be born in you.

April 16, 2014

Spy Wednesday

Today it was my turn to preside at the community Mass. It was my turn on Wednesday of Holy Week last year as well, and I think this was the first time I presided the second time on a liturgical day in Italian.

In thinking about what to say--for I thought it only right to preach, it being Holy Week--I took the brief and simple approach that the brothers seem to appreciate, noting the parallel between the words of Judas in Matthew 26:15 and that of the disciples in general in verse 17. The disciple-traitor asks how much he can get from men, while the faithful disciple asks the Lord what he can do for him.

That was the best I could do in Italian, challenging myself to preach in Italian without notes for the first time. Four phrases. Perhaps I ought to be more advanced than that as I start to approach two years in Italy.

But here in my own language, I confess that there's more to it. Judas intrigues to hand Jesus over to his trial, condemnation, and Passion. The disciples ask where they can prepare for him to "eat the Passover." But what does it mean for Jesus to "eat the Passover" but to enter into the mystery he will reveal in parallel at the Last Supper and on the Cross, becoming himself the Passover Sacrifice such that, as John Chrysostom will remind us in the Office of Readings on Friday, his blood on our lips saves us from death just as the blood of the Passover sacrifice on the doorposts of the Hebrews' homes saved them from the Tenth Plague, the death of the first-born?

It all enters into the mystery of how God means to save us: the betrayal of Judas, without whose treason the Spirit is not handed over to us from the Cross, and the solicitude of the disciples, without whose devout preparation of the Passover we do not have the living memorial of the Passion that is the Eucharist.

March 30, 2014


Some of the Pharisees who were with him heard this
and said to him, “Surely we are not also blind, are we?”
Jesus said to them,
“If you were blind, you would have no sin;
but now you are saying, ‘We see,’ so your sin remains.
(John 9:40-41)

Lord, I am blind.

I am blind to the gravity of my sins, for if I could see them in their ugliness before your goodness, how could I persist in them?

I am blind to the goodness of your grace working in me, for if I could see how blessed I am, how could I do anything but follow you unreservedly from this moment forward?

I am blind to your presence in the poor and suffering around me, for if I could see you in such hunger and need, how could I go in living for my own comfort?

Most High,
glorious God,
enlighten the darkness of my heart
and give me
truth faith,
certain hope,
and perfect charity,
sense and knowledge,
that I may carry out
Your holy and true command.

March 29, 2014

Back From Retreat Ramble

I'm back in Rome after the week in Assisi. The 'spiritual exercises' were good, just not what I would call a retreat. It's a nice time to be with the brothers, to hang out, to have some time away from work and the usual routine. And of course it's always a privilege to be able to visit Assisi, to pray at the tomb of Francis and before the relics of St. Clare.

March 16, 2014


This old blog continues to slow down. Maybe it's over after eight (!) years. It's never really had a plan; I just wrote things as they occurred to me and since the Holy Spirit let me know that he was using it for my salvation and occasionally for the salvation of others, I was happy to continue.

But since it has been a while since I last wrote, I thought I would post some updates.

It's also the Second Sunday of Lent, a day dear to me on a couple of levels. The readings today are so rich; there's a sense of the first light before the dawn of a glorious blessing. Divine blessing promised for all the families of the earth through God's call to one man, Abram. The brilliance of the glorified Body of the incarnate Son revealed to the inner circle within the inner circle of Jesus' disciples. It's all what Paul calls the "grace bestowed...before time began."

There's your homily for today, the short version I suspect.

Prayer is good. There is something new in it, but I'm not sure how to name it. Some new level or call or surrender to the action of grace, I'm not sure how to describe it. There's also a new sense of what my priesthood means for prayer now that I'm living a more hidden life, as I pray for people especially in their suffering.

Spiritual reading is good too. I have the good fortune at the current moment to live under the same roof as the Capuchin Central Library. I've been reading volumes of the Paulist Press Classics of Western Spirituality series that I've always wanted to get to but never have. So far I've read Meister Eckhart, Johannes Tauler, and Richard Rolle. I was especially grateful for Tauler; one of those books for spiritual reading that Providence sends just at the right time. There's something eerily modern about him in the way he speaks about prayer as a descent, a going deeper, a sinking into one's 'ground,' rather than solely as an ascent.

For Lent I'm doing a couple of simple things in the hopes that they will help me surrender to the grace of renewing my baptismal promises come Easter. One is a funny kind of non-standard fast that I have thought of before but never tried. It's going well so far. The other is a little adjustment in how I use the evening meditation period, something to keep me focused on the basics.

So that's what I'm up to and that's it for now. Thanks for your prayers, as I pray for you.

March 2, 2014

Communion of Saints

I received a note the other day from someone who said that this blog had helped him in his own discernment of a vocation to consecrated life. So I gave glory to God for having used this blog not only for various purposes for me over the years, but now and then to work some good in someone else as well.

February 28, 2014

Franciscan Obedience

Twice a week I take a little walk with one of the brothers so that he can practice his English. He wants to be able to teach and preach in English, and so he teaches me a little something on a Franciscan theme or document while I supply words and offer corrections.

February 27, 2014

I'm lovin' it

So I guess, the birthday of the American brother having come around, the brethren wondered what special thing they might do for him. The result was my finding this when I arrived at my place in the refectory for dinner:

And according to the holy Gospel, let it be licit to eat of all foods that are set before them. (Rule, III:14)

Not for nothing, but the other brethren had gnocchi and steak.

February 25, 2014

Corrected Prayers

Lord, may I be your servant today.

Lord, grant me the grace to be your servant today.

Lord, I know you give me the grace to be your servant today. Help me to welcome and accept it.

February 16, 2014

Cutting Off Your Right Hand

So we continue our series on Charles, free from responsibility to preach to the people of God on Sundays, being able to have as crazy and personal a reflection on the Sunday gospel as he could want.

And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body go into Gehenna. (Matthew 5:30)

February 9, 2014

Salty Ramble

Jesus said to his disciples: "You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned? It is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. (Matthew 5:13)
Two days before Christmas the fog lifted just enough to allow a single chopper to work its way up to us, a dangerous journey, squeezing beneath the cloud ceiling just a few feet above the jungle-covered ridges. Along with food, water, mail, and ammunition came the battalion chaplain. 
He had brought with him several bottles of Southern Comfort and some new dirty jokes. I accepted the Southern Comfort, thanked him, laughed at the jokes, and had a drink with him. Merry Christmas. 
Inside I was seething. I thought I'd gone a little nuts. How could I be angry with a guy who had just put his life at risk to cheer me up? And didn't the Southern Comfort feel good on that rain-raked mountaintop? Years later I understood. I was engaged in killing and maybe being killed. I felt responsible for the lives and deaths of my companions. I was struggling with a situation approaching the sacred in its terror and contact with the infinite, and he was trying to numb me to it. I needed help with the existential terror of my own death and responsibility for the death of others, enemies, and friends, not Southern Comfort. I needed a spiritual guide. (Karl Marlantes, What It Is Like To Go To War)

February 7, 2014

Meister Eckhart on Worry

Do not upset yourself, whatever form of life or devotion God may give to anyone. If I were so good and holy that they were to raise me to the altars with the saints, still people would be talking and worrying about whether this were grace or nature working in me, and puzzling themselves about it. They are all wrong in this. Leave God to work in you, let him do it, and do not be upset over whether he is working with nature or above nature; for nature and grace are both his. What has that to do with you, what it suits him to work with, or what he may work in you or in someone else? He must work how or where or in what way is fitting for him.

There was a man who would dearly have liked to make a stream flow through his garden, and he said, "If the water could be mine, I should not care what sort of channel brought it to me, iron or timber, bone or rusty metal, if only I could have the water." And so anyone is quite wrong who worries about the means through which God is working his works in you, whether it be nature or grace. Just let him work, and just be at peace.

(From the "Counsels on Discernment" in Meister Eckhart: The Essential Sermons, Commentaries, Treatises, and Defense, eds. Edmund Colledge, OSA and Bernard McGinn (Paulist, 1981), 284-5)

February 2, 2014

Presentation of the Lord

Thus says the Lord God:
Lo, I am sending my messenger
to prepare the way before me;
And suddenly there will come to the temple
the LORD whom you seek,
And the messenger of the covenant whom you desire.
Yes, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts.
But who will endure the day of his coming?
And who can stand when he appears?
For he is like the refiner’s fire,
or like the fuller’s lye.
He will sit refining and purifying silver,
and he will purify the sons of Levi,
Refining them like gold or like silver
that they may offer due sacrifice to the LORD.
Then the sacrifice of Judah and Jerusalem
will please the LORD,
as in the days of old, as in years gone by.
(Malachi 3:1-4)
I love the feast of the Presentation of the Lord. It's one of those days that just seems so mystical. Falling on the cross-quarter between the winter solstice and the vernal equinox, it recalls that the Light, born at Christmas and adored by the wise men, born away from any home, now arrives in his historical home, his Temple.

January 30, 2014

Hope from Hyacinth

Two years ago today I put up this post:
Today at the Poor Clares I offered the Mass of St. Hyacinth Mariscotti, about whom I know nothing. 
Sister sacristan gave me the following brief account of Hyacinth's life and holiness, from which I drew great encouragement. 
Here's what sister told me. I have not checked any of it, but I do try to capture sister's hilarious tone in telling the story: 
When Hyacinth was growing up, she went to a certain convent school. The sisters found her to be a difficult and conceited child. Everyone found her very trying and annoying, and the sisters were glad to be rid of her when she graduated. 
Having grown up, she wanted to marry some important man, but was spurned. Out of spite, she decided to become a nun. (I guess there were wider limits on what counted as a 'vocation story' in those days.) When she returned to the convent seeking entrance, the sisters were alarmed. Somehow or other she was admitted, and the sisters discovered that the difficult and conceited child had grown into an even more difficult and conceited woman. 
After some years of religious life, Hyacinth had some sort of illness, and had a conversion experience. She apologized to the sisters for all of the years she had been such a pain, started to do penance, and thereafter became an exemplary religious. 
I find this story very hopeful. May God grant me to accept such a grace of conversion!
Two years later I find myself in a very different sort of life, one aspect of which is praying the Divine Office from the Liturgia delle ore secondo il rito romano e il calendario serafico, i.e. the Italian version of the Roman-Franciscan Liturgy of the Hours, and it turns out to have a little blurb on good old Hyacinth. It seems she was an Orsini, which is no small thing, and was baptized Clarice.

A quote claims to be from a "little diary" in her own hand, in which Hyacinth describes the first fifteen years of her religious life, saying that it was "of many vanities and stupidities in which I have lived in sacred religion."

Depending on how you count, I'm up to either twelve and a half or thirteen years of religious life, so there's still hope that I might accept the grace of conversion from a life of vanity and stupidity!

January 26, 2014

Fishy Ramble

Today it was my turn to be principal celebrant at Mass. I've come to hold such days precious in my current circumstances. When I was in the parish I would preside at Mass once a day at least; here, in a community of many priests without an external ministry, my turn only comes around once or twice a month. I treasure it even more when it falls on a Sunday. After all, Sunday is, as the Office of Readings reminds us today in the passage from the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, "the first and greatest festival...the foundation and the kernel of the whole liturgical year."

On a Sunday, of course I also get to preach. (I tend to give a homily here only on days when the brethren have a right to one, namely on Sundays, other solemnities, and feasts. I sense that the brethren appreciate this discretion.) The gospel for today is Matthew 4:12-23, Jesus' move from Nazareth to Capernaum and the call of Peter and Andrew, James and John. Because of the limits of my Italian, I have to preach very simply, though I did play a little bit on 'fishers,' pescatori, and 'fished,' pescati. Pity I didn't think to mix peccatori and peccati, 'sinners' and 'sins,' into my Italian word salad.

I think the forced simplicity is a good thing spiritually; it makes me pay attention to what is essential, to what is the simple good news of the Scripture and how it can be communicated simply. But this also leaves my own personal reflection free of any demand that it be pointed toward the pastoral or even the communicable.

"I will make you fishers of men," says Jesus to Peter and Andrew. I think about myself in that context, as someone fished out of the world by the apostolic preaching, that is, by the New Testament and Sacred Tradition. Ever since I was little I've had a mysterious attraction to Jesus Christ and him crucified, and for this I stand in grateful awe before God in my prayer because I firmly believe what our Seraphic Doctor St. Bonaventure teaches us, that there is no way except through the burning love of the crucified. But at the time of my exterior conversion, it was the apostolic preaching that hooked me. I read the New Testament and decided that I wanted to be a Christian. I studied, thought--and finally prayed--to know which sort of Christian I ought to become. I finally decided that it had to be one of the apostolic Churches, which for me at the time meant Catholic or Eastern Orthodox. Considering myself a Westerner, "rehearsed in the rigors of Western thought" as we used to think of ourselves back in college (in our vainglory) I decided to become a Roman Catholic.

And what of me, as one thus fished? What happens to a fish when it comes to be fished? It struggles, it flops around in the hopes of returning to the sea, it dies, and is turned into food.

When you convert, at first it seems like a smooth and glorious thing to be thus fished, to be "saved from immersion in the sea of lies and passions which is called 'the world'" (Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation) But soon you struggle because the worldliness and the lies within begin to have trouble breathing. So in their panic they make us flop about, here falling into doubt, there slipping into sin. But eventually they die, buried in baptism, and you find yourself free to be turned into food, into nourishment for your sister and brother sinners. In this regard I think of an ordination homily I once heard from Seán O'Malley. The Cardinal remarked that each day, when a priest consecrates the offered bread saying, for this is my body, which will be given up for you, he is also talking about himself, his own body, his own life, united to the sacrifice of Christ, handed over to be broken in the nourishment of the People of God and the world.

Struggle, death, nourishment for others. So our being fished offers us a description of stages of the spiritual life, not unlike many others. Purgative, illuminative, unitive. Selfishness to self-oblation. Death to life. When I was younger I used to read about such plans and stages of the spiritual life with great delight, and the more steps the better. I would imagine myself reaching the highest stages of prayer and contemplation, of sanctity and self-abnegation before too long, without a lot of effort, and along a bright and consoling path. But years later I realize that spiritual things are not conformed to the time we measure in the passing days and years. It is not a neat progression from one stage to another, such that the flesh might feel a sense of advancement through some set of grades or ranks. The truth is that I am always flailing around as the selfishness and attachment in me panics and suffocates, hoping to catch, just one more time, a couple nasty breaths of the dirty air of sin. I am always entering the peace that comes with the death of this person I thought was me but is unknown to the Creator. I am always discovering the delight that the very brokenness that results from this process leaves me broken open for others, for nourishing my fellow sufferers.

January 24, 2014

Devout and Depressed

A quote from St. Francis de Sales for his feast day today:
Be sure, my daughter, that if you seek to lead a devout life, you must not merely forsake sin; but you must further cleanse your heart from all affections pertaining to sin; for, to say nothing of the danger of a relapse, these wretched affections will perpetually enfeeble your mind, and clog it, so that you will be unable to be diligent, ready and frequent in good works, wherein nevertheless lies the very essence of all true devotion. Souls which, in spite of having forsaken sin, yet retain such likings and longings, remind us of those persons who, without being actually ill, are pale and sickly, languid in all they do, eating without appetite, sleeping without refreshment, laughing without mirth, dragging themselves about rather than walking briskly. (Introduction to the Devout Life)

January 22, 2014

Praying for the Unborn

Today here in Rome it's the feast of St. Vincent Pallotti, founder--you guessed it--of the Pallottines. His obligatory memorial creates the potentially confusing liturgical situation of suppressing the optional memorial of his namesake, St. Vincent, deacon and martyr.

But I can't forget that as folks wake up at home in the States, it's neither the feast of one Vincent nor the other, but the Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children. May I remember in prayer today first of all the unborn who find themselves in danger and for their parents. May I pray for all who by prayer, work, and witness seek to defend the right to life of our sisters and brothers not yet born.

May I pray for the grace of conversion for our culture and our Churches, that our hearts might be softened toward all human life from conception to natural death: the child, the elderly, the foreigner, the sick, the abused, the imprisoned, those suffering from the many forms of poverty, but especially for the unborn because they, unlike the others, enjoy no legal protection and even more, because the disposability of their lives has become--in our tragic confusion--something even to rejoice in.

In my time as a parish priest I received the occasional criticism. Most were easily dismissed either as someone's misunderstanding of Church teaching or my intentions, but some stuck with me. One of these latter is the lady who came up to me after Mass and said,

"You're a good priest, Father Charles, but you're not pro-life enough."

So just as it has become part of my ordinary intentions that the Lord would let me know what I can do in reparation for the crimes of my brother priests who have sexually abused children, today, as I join my prayers to everyone praying at home, I also pray the Lord that he would let me know how I can be more pro-life.

January 19, 2014

Blessed Maria Teresa Fasce

One of the reasons I appreciate learning about the saints is that often enough their lives didn't proceed in a straight line according to human standards, but had their share of confusions, setbacks, and moments of obscurity. This is a great encouragement to me when I think of my own life so far as a Christian, especially in its false starts (like my doctoral studies), my life as a Franciscan friar having begun well enough with the OFM but then rebooted a few years later with the Capuchins, and, more than anything else, finding myself firmly embarked on middle age and having often enough the thought (or the temptation!) that I have yet to make a solid beginning of anything in life.

January 10, 2014

Dipped in the Petrine Magisterium

Here in Rome the proper calendar includes several blessed and canonized popes that don't appear in the General Roman Calendar. The Pope, after all, is our local bishop. It's a town of Popes. I think of it each time I'm on the 881 bus and it announces, "next stop [the corner of] Gregory VII [and] Pius XI."

Yesterday and today in the liturgy we get two popes in row, yesterday having been the optional memorial of Pope Blessed Gregory X and today the obligatory memorial of Pope St. Agatho. Not knowing if there are proper readings for their Offices of Readings and not knowing anyway where to look for them if they did indeed exist, this led to me praying over the same second reading two days in a row, a passage from the sermons of that mainstay of the breviary, Pope St. Leo the Great, which the Liturgy of the Hours provides for popes in the Common of Pastors.

At the end Pope Leo provides a wonderful definition of Petrine primacy:
In universa namque Ecclesia, Tu es Christus, Filius Dei vivi, cotidie Petrus dicit, et omnis lingua, quae confitetur Dominum, magisterio huius vocis imbuitur. 
In the whole Church, Peter says each day, You are the Christ, the Son of the living God, and every tongue which confesses the Lord is dipped in the magisterium of his voice.

January 9, 2014

From My Confessor

I've taken to going to the Lateran basilica for confession. They're OFMs there and sometimes it's just easier to confess to a Franciscan in case I want to refer to our Rule or the Testament of St. Francis. Besides, Francis recommends that we confess to "priests of our religion." (Earlier Rule, XX:1) So here's a paraphrase of what a priest of our religion said to me last night:

In a certain sense it's a good thing for you to have an experience of sin, of being a sinner. There is so much suffering that comes to you as a priest in the sacrament of Reconciliation, and you must receive it with all gentleness and mercy, knowing yourself as a brother sinner who prays to God and celebrates his mercy together and in communion with his brother and sister sinners. Our Pope Francis has emphasized our role as confessors in this sacrament of mercy. You must know the suffering of sin, the frustration, the difficulty, the feeling of being trapped in precisely what you don't want to be and what you know is less than the person God creates. From this comes real compassion, the suffering-with that moves beyond superficial sorts of kindness.

On the other hand, this is not enough. As a priest you have an even greater responsibility to overcome sin, to be about all the means available to you to allow the Holy Spirit to defeat sin within you. Only with this will you be able to communicate real hope to those who come to you for confession; you must believe in the possibility of liberation from sin with a belief that comes from your own experience. You must know at least something of the rest and peace that comes from this freedom from sin--which is freedom for God--if you want your promise of its possibility to be genuine and confident.

So repent and be converted for God's sake, but also for the sake of your brother and sister sinners.

January 5, 2014

Second Sunday After Christmas

Journeying through my twenty-second Christmas season since my baptism, I find myself celebrating a liturgical day for the first time, namely the Second Sunday after Christmas. In the U.S.A. the second Sunday after Christmas is Epiphany, but here in Italy--so as not to offend the Befana, I'm sure, such that she brings you coal instead of candy--Epiphany remains on its traditional date of January 6. Last year, my first Christmas in Italy, January 6 fell on a Sunday.

So I was very curious to experience the Mass of this day which I had not known until now.