May 29, 2015

Three Years In Italy Post

This morning I begin my fourth year here in Italy. It means I'm half done with my assignment here, at least as it appears on paper. But I probably shouldn't expect to pack up and go home on May 28, 2018. Sometime stuff happens that calls brothers back to their home provinces earlier than expected or on the other hand I could be asked to stay beyond the six years of my original obedience. A little later in that same year we will have a new Minister General, and who knows what that could bring.

There are certainly things that I miss at home, the friars of my Province, friends, CVS, dryers, larger cups of coffee. But Rome has its charms too; there's always a church to visit everywhere you go, you can go to confession any day, any time, the food is nice and so is the climate for about a month twice a year.

I appreciate the community life here too. It's much larger and more diverse than anything I had experienced before. It's also a much more 'regular' life than I ever experienced at home. Common prayers and formal meals are about twice as frequent here as they have been in my experience of religious life in the States. Sometimes I have to take a break from it all, but on the whole I appreciate it and I think it has been good for me. The brothers I have found here are worth appreciating as well. Here in the Curia everybody has his little (or big) job, and basically everybody does his own thing calmly.

Now that we are living in town I have the opportunity to celebrate Mass outside of the house sometimes, either on a Sunday for the Bethlemite Sisters or for a week of weekdays at the Capuchin Sisters of Mother Rubatto. I miss parish life very much in some ways, but in other ways not.

It's a quieter life I live now than any I knew before in my religious life. I discern that in this quiet the Holy Spirit is inviting me to a more contemplative practice and stance. I pray to accept it.

May 28, 2015

The Redefinition of Marriage

I've started versions of this post a couple times. I guess it's part rant, part examination of conscience, and part lament for the trials that await the Catholic faith in our time.

I remember one of the catechetical books I was given when I was taking 'convert instructions.' I don't remember what it was called but I do remember that it was blue. What I remember most from the content was the section on the Church's teaching on artificial contraception and how it had an extra little paragraph that basically apologized for the teaching.

For the world, sexual relationships and openness to the generation of new life are two different things. They are separate and separable. That's why something like same-sex marriage is a no-brainer for the world, and anyone who might be against it can only seem like a bigot. For the world, to use the terms of Humane vitae, the unitive and procreative aspects of sex are readily separable. Sex is something between two people, graced and beautiful, but without any necessary connection to the gift of procreation.

From what I understand--it was before my time--the pastors of the Church didn't do a very good job standing up for Humane vitae. And I put myself with them, in a sense. I've never preached a sermon on artificial contraception. In the context of marriage preparation, did I ever challenge a couple on their cohabitation? No. As a priest, I too have acquiesced to the redefinition of sexuality, the so-called sexual revolution.

When the Church didn't stand up for Humane vitae, that's when sexuality was redefined, not now with same-sex marriage. Same-sex marriage is only possible as an idea given the redefinition of marriage afforded by artificial contraception, that is the redefinition that takes the separation of the unitive and procreative graces as a given.

This is why, and I hate to say it, I don't have much pity for the leaders of our Church on these questions; for it seems to me that they already made the decision to tolerate the redefinition of sexuality a generation and a half ago.

May 25, 2015

The Loving Invitation

Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said to him,
“You are lacking in one thing.
Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor
and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”
At that statement, his face fell,
and he went away sad, for he had many possessions. (Mark 10:21-22)
Jesus loves the man in his desire to do what leads to life, not for what he will do, or not, with the invitation. God invites us to life because he loves us, not so that we may become lovable in his sight.

How many times we 'go away sad' because we did not--or found ourselves unwilling to--respond to a grace of a particular moment, a particular day, a particular struggle. But the invitation remains in the next moment or the next day or the next temptation, for God continues to love the soul that desires life. And we all desire life, however mistaken can be the ways in which we seek to grasp it.

Grace is the love of Jesus Christ formed into the particular contours of divine mercy for our unique and unrepeatable journey.

May 24, 2015

Begotten in the Only Begotten

I always appreciate when St. Irenaeus's Against Heresies comes up in the Office of Readings; it's one of a handful of books given me to read in theology that I think improved my understanding of Christianity in a basic way. The passage given for Pentecost begins this way:
When the Lord told his disciples to go and teach all nations and baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, he conferred on them the power of giving men new life in God.
Reflecting on that, I found myself, as I do sometimes, praying for all of those who have been my spiritual parents along the way.

May 18, 2015

Plenary Indulgence for the Feast of St. Felix of Cantalice

Today is the feast of St. Felix of Cantalice, the first Capuchin friar to be canonized. And this year it's an extra special occasion because we also celebrate the 500th anniversary of his birth. For the occasion, the Apostolic Penitentiary has granted the opportunity for a plenary indulgence, which may be had starting today until May 18, 2016.

The Apostolic Penitentiary, by mandate of our Holy Father Francis, kindly grants a plenary indulgence, under the normal conditions (sacramental confession, Eucharistic communion, and prayer for the intentions of the Supreme Pontiff), to all the faithful who are truly penitent and moved by charity, which may be gained once a day, and is applicable also in suffrage to the souls in Purgatory, each time that, in harmony with the spiritual ends of the Year of Consecrated Life, they participate devoutly at any sacred function or pious exercise in honor of St. Felix of Cantalice, or at least spend some time before his remains or before an image of him and recollect themselves in pious meditation, concluding with an Our Father, the Credo, and the invocation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, of St. Francis, and of St. Felix:

a. in all the churches of the Order and in all places, where pastoral care is entrusted to the Capuchin Order;

b. in the Church of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Rome.

(click to enlarge)

May 17, 2015

Cardinal Burke on Sinful Habits

I've been reading this book of retreat conferences for priests by Cardinal Burke. In one of the conferences on the sacrament of Reconciliation, the Cardinal speaks about certain special situations. The first is vocational discernment and the second is scruples. Here's the third:

"The third situation is that of the person enchained by a sinful habit. In this case the temptation is not the sin in itself, but the first and more fundamental temptation, the temptation to discouragement. Whereas as good pastors of souls we try to help the penitent to discover the roots of this habit and to heal them, we must first of all help him to not fall into discouragement. Once the penitent becomes discouraged, as Satan well knows, he will remain paralyzed and will no longer succeed in carrying on with his battle against sin. Acts of trust in Divine Providence, the intercession of Our Lady, Refugium Peccatorum [refuge of sinners], and recourse to patron saints are all every effective tools against discouragement." (p. 75)

This resonates with my own experience as a sinner and a confessor. If we are afflicted with sinful habit X, often 'stop doing X' is not the best strategy for our spiritual effort. Often it's better to look at the rest of our life apart from X, in order to (1) avoid the occasions of X, and (2) to find the function of X in our life so as to be able to heal the problem at the root.

As the Cardinal points out, the greatest temptation is the discouragement that makes us despair of ever healing our sinful habit. We give up whatever means are given to us to avoid the occasions of sin, we stop trying to let and abandon ourselves to God's Providence and the prayers of Our Lady and our saintly patrons. This is the danger that is usually much more grave than the acts of the sinful habit itself.

May 12, 2015

My Six

I read this morning a startling statistic announced by the Pew Research Center, that for every convert to the Catholic faith, six people abandon her.

I'm a convert to the faith, so apparently I am correlated to six people who have left.

So I decide I need to be praying for my six.

Certainly the Holy Spirit will give all of them occasions to return to the faith; marriage, the birth of a child, the need to bury a loved one, serious illness, etc. I should be there for them with my prayer when these occasions come.

How many of them left because of my bad example? How many because of the sins and crimes of religious and priests? If, having left because they were scandalized by one of us priests, they then commit any sin in malformed conscience, surely God will make us priests accountable for the guilt of such sin. Have we taken seriously the Lord's warning that scandalizing the innocent can result in our damnation? Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. (Mark 9:42) Do we believe in hell?

As a priest, I must pray the Holy Spirit to teach me not only how to begin to do penance for my own sins, but also for the sins any of my six commit because they have abandoned the truth.

How many of my six will one day return as strong and joyful reverts? For this I entrust them to the prayers of Blessed Anthony Neyrot.

May I pray as though God has entrusted to me the spiritual care of my six. Amen.

May 9, 2015

Overeating and Spaciousness

A number of things have come together in the reflection that this post represents: a recent post by long-time internet acquaintance The Crescat, the inspiration from retreat to reread Gerald May's Addiction and Grace, and the potential side effects of a new medication.

As I have written before on this old blog, since about third grade I have had a weight problem. It has been with me to one degree or another ever since.

Recently, with the new medication I mentioned, I am trying to find a new energy to address my overeating. I have also become more and more convinced, especially since I have been here in Italy, that it is a kind of spiritual block for me.

Gerald May suggests, more or less, that the answer to addiction is contemplation. In refusing the addicted behavior, one must accept the emptiness--or 'spaciousness,' in his language--that is left. It is into this spaciousness that contemplation is born. This resonates with me; I think I learned to overeat as a strategy to fill a certain emptiness which was unbearable at the time. But now that I am adult--and even more now that God has granted me the grace of baptism--I believe the Holy Spirit wills to make this spaciousness into contemplation, if only I would try to stop filling it with food.

So I pray that the Lord bless this new inspiration he has conceived in me.

inquietum est cor nostrum, donec requiescat in te.
our heart is restless until it rests in you.
(St. Augustine)

May 3, 2015

Being a Branch

I find today's gospel, that of the vine and the branches from St. John's Last Supper Discourses, so beautiful and encouraging.

I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower. (John 15:1)

Who is the Father? He is one who grows something, someone who cultivates. He plants and cultivates a vine in his creation, the Vine Jesus Christ.

I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing. (John 15:5)

Branches are part of the vine, but one can still make a distinction between the vine and the branches. So it is with us who are baptized into Christ and who renew our union with him in Holy Communion. We remain at the same time the free and discrete beings we were created and members of the mystical Body of Christ.

Branches draw their growth and nourishment from the vine; they grow from the life of the vine. So it is with us in our prayer and our participation in the sacraments. While the vine is the life of the branches, on the other hand the branches are the flourishing of the vine; it is from the branches that the leaves and the fruit come. This is what we branches are called to be--the flourishing of the vine:

By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples. (John 15:8)

The glory of God is our bearing of fruit, through our humanity joined to the sacred humanity of Christ. The fruits of the Holy Spirit are where the glorification of God and human flourishing intersect: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23)

But this is not without its challenges:

He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and everyone that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit. (John 15:2)

If we set out on the journey of letting ourselves to be a branch of the Vine Jesus Christ, we can expect to be pruned. When God finds a soul willing to work, he puts her to work. This pruning is a letting go. A letting go of sins, attachments, and ideas, even ideas of God. The pruning can feel painful because we have become attached to material things and our ways of thinking in disordered ways. This is to say that we try to love them outside of the love of God.The pruning can seem to take away even the person we thought we were, but it has the purpose of revealing the true person that God has created and that God wills to flourish in his her humanity. Our pruning comes first of all through an attentive and prayerful listening to the Word of God, a listening that is ready to be challenged to action and to change:

You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to you. (John 15:3)

It is the Word proclaimed in the assembled Church that prunes us believers, as well as the Word pronounced by Father and breathed out by the Holy Spirit in the interior place of our prayer, that breath that conceives us in the Word, as Christians, members of the Body of Christ.

May 2, 2015

Cantalamessa on Athanasius

Today we had Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa for the conventual Mass. He summed up St. Athanasius's contribution to the faith in three lines:

"The problem wasn't whether Jesus Christ was God; this everyone conceded. Athanasius's contribution was to say that Jesus Christ was not God 'in some sense' but in the strongest and fullest sense that 'God' has in every culture."