June 28, 2015

Laudato Si': My Ranty Examination of Conscience

Here is the part of Laudato si' which has hit me the hardest:
This [lack of "awareness of problems which especially affect the excluded"] is due partly to the fact that many professionals, opinion makers, communications media and centres of power, being located in affluent urban areas, are far removed from the poor, with little direct contact with their problems. They live and reason from the comfortable position of a high level of development and a quality of life well beyond the reach of the majority of the world’s population. (49)
Is this me? Is this us as religious? Is my 'holy poverty' as a religious such that it shields me from contact with the poor? Do I 'live and reason'--and pray--from a 'comfortable position' and live 'a quality of life well beyond the reach of the majority of the world's population'?

Sometimes I'm afraid I have to say yes. And if I have to say yes, my Franciscan vocation, as I am living it now, has become meaningless.

It's not supposed to be that way. A few quotes from our Capuchin Constitutions:
Poverty, chosen in order to follow Christ, makes us sharers in his filial relation towards the Father and in his state as brother and servant in the midst of people, and leads us to solidarity with the littlest of this world. (61,2) 
Those friars are to be praised who in particular situations, living with the poor and sharing in their conditions and aspirations, encourage them in social and cultural progress and in the hope of eternal goods. (63,2) 
Called the gospel path of poverty, let us accustom ourselves to suffering privations after the example of Christ and the memory of St. Francis, who wanted thus to be poor and to entrust himself, having abandoned all things and free from bonds of the heart, to the Father who cares for us. (77,1) 
And let us not be numbered among those false poor, who love to be poor on the condition that they lack nothing. (77,2)
Do I put myself in a place where I share the aspirations of the poor? Do I have to suffer any privations for the love of Christ and his poor? Do I love to be poor in such a way as to lack nothing? Laudato si' has brought me the torment of these questions. But I have to trust it as a good, a graced torment.

The hungry he has filled with good things; the rich he has sent away empty. (Luke 1:53) I pray that line every evening in Our Lady's Magnificat. And I worry that I am the rich, not the hungry. And if so, how do I dare to hope for any grace from God?

In one of the presentations this past week at the New Provincials' Workshop, one of our General Councilors spoke on the embourgeoisement of religious obedience. I will agree to do this or that, I will take up this or that life, so long as it serves my goals of self-realization, of amassing my own moral capital within the organization, etc.

Has religious life as I have found it served to help me to become one of God's poor or has it served my embourgeoisement? I worry that the answer may be the latter.

So what do I do? I pray. I pray you Lord, for the courage to go where my consecration leads me. I pray for the grace of giving you permission to do what you have to do to make me the poor man I have professed to be before you, the Church, and the world. 

June 25, 2015

Pause: Misery and Surrender

I have another quote or two from Laudato si'  to blog on, but I've saved the ones that struck me most for last and I'm not ready to post on them yet. They challenge me, especially as a religious, a Franciscan, and a Capuchin, and I need some more time with my thoughts on them.

Today--and not unrelated to my reflection on Laudato si'--I'm just thinking about surrender. I'm thinking about how a spiritual life is an ongoing surrender to the will of God, a daily turning of things over to God.

When you begin you feel as if you have turned over your life to God, have surrendered to his will, and you have the energy of a first fervor. But time goes by. And God, finding you willing to work, puts you to work. He invites you a deeper level, revealing to you parts of yourself, aspects of your thinking or behavior for example, that you have not surrendered. And even though these attachments--these little reserves of your own will, where you say in this case or that case, or when this or that happens, I reserve the right to do it my way--give you nothing but misery, it can be very hard to let go of them.

And so you struggle. You have moments of surrender and the peace and serenity that goes with it, and moments of failure in which you taste the fruit of your own will, ever more rotten. And yet God is always there, always inviting, asking you, 'Will you let go of this, will you let your own will be crucified with me so that I may draw you into the new life of resurrection?'

June 23, 2015

Laudato Si': An Admonition to the Online

Furthermore, when media and the digital world become omnipresent, their influence can stop people from learning how to live wisely, to think deeply and to love generously. In this context, the great sages of the past run the risk of going unheard amid the noise and distractions of an information overload. Efforts need to be made to help these media become sources of new cultural progress for humanity and not a threat to our deepest riches. True wisdom, as the fruit of self-examination, dialogue and generous encounter between persons, is not acquired by a mere accumulation of data which eventually leads to overload and confusion, a sort of mental pollution. Real relationships with others, with all the challenges they entail, now tend to be replaced by a type of internet communication which enables us to choose or eliminate relationships at whim, thus giving rise to a new type of contrived emotion which has more to do with devices and displays than with other people and with nature. Today’s media do enable us to communicate and to share our knowledge and affections. Yet at times they also shield us from direct contact with the pain, the fears and the joys of others and the complexity of their personal experiences. For this reason, we should be concerned that, alongside the exciting possibilities offered by these media, a deep and melancholic dissatisfaction with interpersonal relations, or a harmful sense of isolation, can also arise. (47)

June 22, 2015

Laudato Si': Mindfulness

To be serenely present to each reality, however small it may be, opens us to much greater horizons of understanding and personal fulfillment. Christian spirituality proposes a growth marked by moderation and the capacity to be happy with little. It is a return to that simplicity which allows us to stop and appreciate the small things, to be grateful for the opportunities which life affords us, to be spiritually detached from what we possess, and not to succumb to sadness for what we lack. This implies avoiding the dynamic of dominion and the mere accumulation of pleasures. (222)

June 21, 2015

Laudato Si': Progress

There is also the fact that people no longer seem to believe in a happy future; they no longer have blind trust in a better tomorrow based on the present state of the world and our technical abilities. There is a growing awareness that scientific and technological progress cannot be equated with the progress of humanity and history, a growing sense that the way to a better future lies elsewhere. (113)
As the variously attributed quote goes, 'God is dead, Marx is dead, and I don't feel so well myself.'

The Holy Father says a lot regarding the aimlessness of our modern culture. In days past it threw off the eschatology of Christianity and replaced it with other, more worldly eschatologies: communism, eugenics, technocracy, better living through chemistry.

The twentieth century is the age of the crumbling of these human ideas of progress, each of which come to nothing after they had given birth to their rotten fruit for the world. (Although we have to say that abortion, as a child of the eugenics movement, is still with us.)

Thus the current 'post-modern' moment represents an opportunity that the Holy Father recommends to us, a moment to make friends again with ourselves and with our own dignity, to learn to love chastely our sister mother earth, to believe in something better that is beyond the hubris of our own ideas of progress, but is hidden in the little mustard seeds of chaste love that are the Kingdom of God planted among us.

A better future does lie 'beyond ourselves' as the Pope says, but it is a 'beyond ourselves' who has identified himself with our joy and struggles in Jesus Christ. His divine humanity is the Kingdom of God, and it is ours to find our own humanity in it.

June 19, 2015

Laudato Si': The Sanctity of Human Life

A sense of deep communion with the rest of nature cannot be real if our hearts lack tenderness, compassion and concern for our fellow human beings. It is clearly inconsistent to combat trafficking in endangered species while remaining completely indifferent to human trafficking, unconcerned about the poor, or undertaking to destroy another human being deemed unwanted.
Since everything is interrelated, concern for the protection of nature is also incompatible with the justification of abortion. How can we genuinely teach the importance of concern for other vulnerable beings, however troublesome or inconvenient they may be, if we fail to protect a human embryo, even when its presence is uncomfortable and creates difficulties? (120)
On the other hand, it is troubling that, when some ecological movements defend the integrity of the environment, rightly demanding that certain limits be imposed on scientific research, they sometimes fail to apply those same principles to human life. There is a tendency to justify transgressing all boundaries when experimentation is carried out on living human embryos. We forget that the inalienable worth of a human being transcends his or her degree of development. (136)

June 18, 2015

Laudato Si': Holy Poverty

I was fortunate today to have cleared my desk of work by noon, so as to start to read Laudato si' as it was published. I read it quickly and will have to go back and read it again. It's quite a marvelous document. I thought of making a post of my favorite quotes, but now I realize it will take more post than one.

Right at the beginning is the beautiful and clear intuition of St. Francis that is the root of Franciscan sine proprio and holy poverty:
The poverty and austerity of Saint Francis were no mere veneer of asceticism, but something much more radical: a refusal to turn reality into an object simply to be used and controlled. (11) 
 That is Franciscanism. It is the admission that nothing, not a thing or a place or a person or even your own self belongs to you alone. It is a confession that you yourself are not god, are not the center of the universe, and that other persons and things have ends and purposes and joys that are apart from your use or enjoyment of them.

In human relationships, this holy poverty is called chastity. Pope Francis is helping us to see that we need to find together a new chastity toward our sister mother earth.

June 14, 2015

Priestly Ramble

Yesterday was ordination day in my Province at home. Bishop John Corriveau, former General Minister of the Order and now Bishop of Nelson, Canada, was the ordaining prelate. Three brothers were ordained priests. I've been praying for them, that they may be faithful priests of Jesus Christ, configured to the head of his body, the Church, and conformed to his death and Resurrection for the sake of the Church and the world.

June 6, 2015

Why Franciscan?

The other day someone put the question to me: 'why did you become a Franciscan?' I was caught a little off guard. There's no short answer. Indeed, there is an array of 'answers.'

There is grace. The Holy Spirit judged that being a Franciscan friar was the best way to work my salvation and make use of me for the salvation of others. This I believe.

There are moments. There's when I met St. Francis in a history class. There's the week I spent alone in Assisi in 1993. There's the day I came home from a disastrous interview with my diocese and read St. Francis's Testament.

Though there is a lot more to it, I think at the root of my wish to be a Franciscan is that St. Francis provided me with a compelling way to respond to the experience of finding myself a privileged person in a violent world.

I don't think St. Francis was what we would call a pacifist; his response to the violence of his society was more radical. He just decided to have nothing to defend, neither material wealth nor personal capital. He simply opted out of the systems of wealth, power, and privilege. With nothing left to defend, he became free from any temptation of violence or retaliation. This is why a Franciscan, if he is given some kind of capital--the spiritual and sacramental capital of priesthood, for example--he must exercise this power in a very detached fashion, or, as I have suggested elsewhere, in an ironic fashion, that is in such a way as to undermine the systems of worldly domination and subordination. A Franciscan who is attached to any form of prestige has forgotten who he is.

I had some of 'Job's friends' way back when I was struggling with all this. 'Have a normal life and help the poor one weekend a month' someone said. But to me, 'helping the poor' from a position of power and the control of resources was never an answer. Francis didn't help the lepers from the position of his privilege; he 'went among them' and served them. Like Jesus the Servant who washed the feet of his disciples, he set himself below those he served. Helping from above wasn't enough for me; it seemed to me that serving from below was the only way to step outside of, to renounce cooperation with the systems that had left some people poor and other people privileged.

Have I succeeded in living these dreams by being a brother of the Friars Minor Capuchin? Maybe that's another post, and a harder one.