February 27, 2015

Fraternity and Sacrifice

So if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come back and offer your gift. (Matthew 5: 23-24)

Positively, we can say that it is living in a reconciled, fraternal way that makes us fit to offer sacrifice to God.

But the relation between the two things is even tighter than this. For what do we offer when we are at Mass but our own desire and efforts and loving our brothers and sisters and the sacrifices we make for them, uniting our own sacrifices to the one Sacrifice of the Lord?

In fact, everything that comes from the desire--itself a gift of grace--to be reconciled to our brother or sister is itself a sacrifice acceptable to God, an imitation of the Lord himself who allows himself to be tortured and killed that the world should be reconciled to God.

St. Francis is a model and pattern in this. For it is the same Francis who called the group that gathered around him a fraternitas as it was who adored Jesus Christ poor and crucified. His genius is the realization, in his life, that the two things must go together. Indeed, in communion with God in Christ, they become the same thing.

February 26, 2015

From My Confessor: Perfection

You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48)

"What, then, is the perfection the Lord asks of us? Does it mean that all of our intentions become utterly pure and that we should become totally free of temptation? No. We are to be perfect in our turning to God, in our reliance on his mercy."

February 23, 2015

Ash Sunday

Now far be it from me to be a liturgical innovator, but yesterday I celebrated the Mass of a liturgical day previously unknown in the tradition of the Roman Rite, the Mass of Ash Sunday.

Here's how it happened.

It was my turn to go and celebrate at the chapel of a certain group of sisters. I am very grateful for my turns when they come around. The folks who come to the Mass there are of a certain age, and it reminds me a little bit of when I used to go for Mass at Monastery Manor and Finian Sullivan Tower back in Yonkers.

While I was setting up for Mass, Sr. Sacristan asked me if I would be willing to impose ashes for anyone who had missed out on Ash Wednesday. Sister had saved a little bowl of ashes just for this possibility. Now back in the parish I would probably have said no to such irregularity, but at this place I'm a guest, I can see that some of the people (being of a certain age, as I said) have mobility issues, and I know how big a deal it can be for people to 'get their ashes.'

So I imagined that at the end of the Mass I would make an announcement, inviting anyone who had not received their ashes on Ash Wednesday to stick around a moment, whereupon I would go to the sacristy and put aside the chasuble so as to mark this extraordinary ash imposition as something apart from the Mass of the First Sunday of Lent.

It didn't happen that way.

As soon as the Liturgy of the Word was completed with the presidential prayer at the end of the Universal Prayer, Sr. Sacristan came up the aisle with the ashes in order to remind me of what I had agreed to do. So there it was. I turned to the assembly and said that if there was anyone who had not received ashes on Ash Wednesday, I could impose them now. One person got up, then a few more, and after another moment the whole assembly was in line for ashes (except for the two or three sisters.)

When I concluded the imposition of Ashes for Ash Sunday, I went to the sacristy and washed my hands (which is much easier with the dry ashes they use in Italy, as opposed to the ash and water paste commonly used in the States) and then went to the altar to continue with the offertory of what had been the First Sunday of Lent.

February 18, 2015

Ash Wednesday Confession

After Morning Prayer, Office of Readings, Mass, and hanging up some laundry on the roof to dry, I make it to the office and add an #ashtag column to my Tweetdeck, just for the day, so I can pray for everyone who uses it and share in the hope and promise of Ash Wednesday.

And as I start to see the faces with their ashes, it makes me think of the cross that Deacon Ron traced on my own forehead on the day of my baptism, and how necrotic I have let it become, Lord.

How little have I reached up to Heaven, entrusting myself to the prayers, protection, and example of Our Lady and the saints, knowing and taking courage from my membership in a sacred communion that overcomes the limits of time and space.

How little have I taken and still less have I sought the opportunities to be your own compassion to those who suffer because of my sins and the sins of the world, knowing that in charity and forgetfulness of self lies the freedom from the tyranny of this self that doesn't realize he was drowned in the Jordan.

How much of what I have called discipleship or a spiritual life has really been the work of a fleshly religion, an effort to make myself just and acceptable before God, as if our Father in Heaven were an earthly parent who love was conditional, as if I had not been baptized into your sacred humanity, Lord Jesus, a humanity with which the Father is "well pleased," (Mark 1:11), as if your Passion, death, and Resurrection had not delivered us from such a religion, from self-justification by works of the law, from wearing our human righteousness like a badge that marks as just and saved.

How little have I truly turned my life over to you Lord, preferring instead of rotten luxury of my own will. As long as my poverty is mine, I have not become poor, I have not followed in your footprint.

And yet you, Lord, have continued to hold me in your mercy, have continued to invite me to the salvation you are always working for me. Grant me the willingness to turn myself over to you, to find myself only in your love and your will. Grant me the surrender to sink into the grace of my baptism.

February 17, 2015

Pope Francis: Message for Lent 2015

In order to receive what God gives us and to make it bear abundant fruit, we need to press beyond the boundaries of the visible Church in two ways.

In the first place, by uniting ourselves in prayer with the Church in heaven. The prayers of the Church on earth establish a communion of mutual service and goodness which reaches up into the sight of God. Together with the saints who have found their fulfillment in God, we form part of that communion in which indifference is conquered by love. The Church in heaven is not triumphant because she has turned her back on the sufferings of the world and rejoices in splendid isolation. Rather, the saints already joyfully contemplate the fact that, through Jesus’ death and resurrection, they have triumphed once and for all over indifference, hardness of heart and hatred. Until this victory of love penetrates the whole world, the saints continue to accompany us on our pilgrim way.


In the second place, every Christian community is called to go out of itself and to be engaged in the life of the greater society of which it is a part, especially with the poor and those who are far away. The Church is missionary by her very nature; she is not self-enclosed but sent out to every nation and people.

Her mission is to bear patient witness to the One who desires to draw all creation and every man and woman to the Father. Her mission is to bring to all a love which cannot remain silent. The Church follows Jesus Christ along the paths that lead to every man and woman, to the very ends of the earth (cf. Acts 1:8). In each of our neighbours, then, we must see a brother or sister for whom Christ died and rose again. What we ourselves have received, we have received for them as well. Similarly, all that our brothers and sisters possess is a gift for the Church and for all humanity.

Read the whole message here.

February 13, 2015

Spiritual Life

Spiritual life is a funny business.

It's less about getting something than letting go of everything.

It's less about getting somewhere than awakening to the truth that you are arriving at blessedness in this very moment.

It's less about accomplishing anything than letting go of what you always took to be your agency and your individuality, the following of which has always led you into misery and isolation.

It's less about doing something than surrendering to Someone.

And there's always an invitation to a more profound and more complete surrender, new surrenderings that at first seem overwhelming, then become possible by the grace of willingness, and finally reveal themselves as who we always were, though we were asleep to it.

February 4, 2015

Why do Penance?

Brothers and sisters: in your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood. (Hebrews 12:4)

Nevertheless, we practice penance now, so that we might learn the fortitude that will serve us well should God some day judge us worthy of the opportunity.