October 31, 2015


Catherine of Siena is beautiful in the Office of Readings today:
The eternal Father, indescribably kind and tender, turned his eye to this soul and spoke to her thus: 
‘O dearest daughter, I have determined to show my mercy and loving kindness to the world, and I choose to provide for mankind all that is good. But man, ignorant, turns into a death-giving thing what I gave in order to give him life. Not only ignorant, but cruel: cruel to himself. But still I go on providing. For this reason I want you to know: whatever I give to man, I do it out of my great providence.
That's the whole story of misery and sin; we twist the good gifts God has given us into a sort of violence towards ourselves, We grasp at what is freely given to all and try to hoard it for ourselves. We cling to miserable little consolations rather than risk opening ourselves up to the Consoler who is the Spouse of the soul.
The moral theology of the devil starts out with the principle: "Pleasure is sin." Then he goes on to work it the other way: "All sin is pleasure." 
After that he points out that pleasure is practically unavoidable and that we have a natural tendency to do things that please us, from which he reasons that all our natural tendencies are evil and that our nature is evil in itself. And he leads us to the conclusion that no one can possibly avoid sin, since pleasure is inescapable. 
After that, to make sure no one will try to escape or avoid sin, he adds that was unavoidable cannot be a sin. Then the whole concept of sin is thrown out the window as irrelevant, and people decide that there is nothing left but to live for pleasure, and in that way pleasures that are naturally good become evil by de-ordination and lives are thrown away in unhappiness and sin. (Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation, 93)

October 30, 2015

Hemo the Magnificent

As a child I was interested in religion and I experienced some attraction to Jesus. But since I had no formal religious upbringing, where did I get these ideas? Various places, I suppose, but one that I've been reminded of recently is the film Hemo the Magnificent--on blood and the circulatory system--which I saw at least once in elementary school. Watching it now, it's amazing that something with so much explicit Christianity was shown in a public school. I'm sure it wouldn't fly nowadays.

The film begins with Leviticus - "the life of the flesh is in the blood" (17:11) and ends with St. Paul.

October 28, 2015

Finding a Spiritual Director

I also wanted to share some good news. After some adventures and awkward moments--including asking a Cardinal of the Roman Church, true story--I think I have found a spiritual director here in Rome. When the time was right I had the inspiration to send an email in a certain direction, and right away I was led to someone who seems good.

We had a first meeting, which seemed to go well. He recommended that I no longer use the meditation period between Morning Prayer and Mass to pray the Office of Readings, but that I use it for meditation in the strict sense, what in the Capuchin tradition we call mental prayer.

He also recommended that I reread Thoughts Matter by Sr. Mary Margaret Funk. Also a very good idea. She writes:
This book is intended for a person who is looking seriously for the right path on the spiritual journey. According to John Cassian, a fourth-century monk, renunciations are required of us if we are on that journey. First, we must renounce our former way of life and move closer to our heart's desire, toward the interior life. Second, we must do the inner work (of asceticism) by renouncing our mindless thoughts. This renunciation is particularly difficult because we have little control over our thoughts. Third, we must renounce our own images of God so that we enter into contemplation of God as God.

October 27, 2015


Lately things have been coming together to try to shake me out of my denial regarding my weight problem. Not that it's anything new; I've had a weight problem, sometimes worse, sometimes better, for about thirty-five years.

But lately, what I think what has always been an emotional difficulty, namely my overeating, seems to me also a spiritual block. And I'm hoping that this realization is the Providence that will help me to do something about it. Not that I haven't tried to do anything before; I have had periods of regular exercise as an adult, as well as some interesting nutritional experiments in the late 90s and early 00s. Nevertheless, especially since entering the Capuchins, the weight gain has been steady. I estimate that since I entered the Capuchins fifteen years ago, I have gained fifty pounds. And I wasn't so thin when I entered either.

He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent empty away. (Luke 1:53)

I pray those words every single day during Evening Prayer, in Mary's Magnificat. If on account of my overeating I never experience hunger, how can I hope for the grace that Mary sings? If I am never hungry, how can I identify with, pray well for, or hope to serve the poor with whom I have supposedly united myself by my vow of poverty?

The hegumen of a monastery asked Abba Poemen, “How can I acquire the fear of God?” Abba Poemen said to him, “How can we acquire the fear of God when our belly is full of cheese and preserved foods?”

Indeed. And yet one of the graces of my current situation is that living with the friars in Italy is generally a better nutritional situation than living with the friars in the States. So I pray to take advantage of that.

So I ask your prayers in responding to the graces I have described, that I might finally address, gently and well, the physical issue and spiritual block of my weight problem. I thought of starting a whole new blog about it, but maybe not. This blog has been about all sorts of different things, so why not this? I would appreciate your thoughts on the question of a new blog or not.

October 26, 2015

The Synod and the Internal Forum

Well, the Synod is over and maybe we can all relax a little bit. The whole business brings to mind something from my early days in the Church. When I was taking 'convert instructions' one of the books I was given for my catechesis was called The Question Box, or something like that, by a Fr. John Dietzen. It was a kind of question-and-answer book, like a compilation of questions addressed to a newspaper column.

I remember that two of the big issues in the book were whether the Eucharist was a meal or a sacrifice (both of course, with each transforming the other and the result being more than the sum of its parts) and the internal forum solution for the divorced and civilly remarried. That was over twenty years ago when I read the book, and it must have been published before that. So what the Synod has said on this is hardly new.

Is such an internal forum solution subject to abuse? Certainly. But so is the whole of the sacramental economy. How many Masses are offered each day by priests in mortal sin? On the other hand, are there folks out there who could surely benefit from such an internal forum solution but do not receive it because they never approach a pastor or because their pastor is unapproachable, because the Church has not given them with the 'accompaniment' and 'discernment' of which the Synod speaks? Also certainly yes.

October 22, 2015

In Christ

The memorial of Pope St. John Paul II, optional in most places, is obligatory here in Rome. The popes are our local bishops, after all. The proper reading for the Office of Readings comes from his homily for the inauguration of his pontificate.
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.
So much of the early genesis of my own conversion is in that. What is this consciousness that finds itself existing? Does finding myself to be a human existence impose on me a responsibility? Why bother continuing to exist? What's it all for?

The creation, and the individual creature in it, exists so that God might be incarnate in it, that the Origin and Source we clumsily call 'God' might overflow not only in love for the Beloved who is God, but into another, sharing the blessedness that is deity.

Because of our sin this incarnate Beloved reveals himself from the Cross, not only showing but blazing for our humanity a path from the death of sin to the blessed life God has always willed for the creation, the path that for us takes the shape of an immolation of self for the sake of the other. This we call Resurrection.

I discover my true self in this created humanity of Christ, for he is both the firstborn of all creatures (Colossians 1:15) and the Word through whom all things were made (John 1:3). The breath of life that made the first human being a living soul (Genesis 2:7) has wound its way down to me. What will I do with it? Always there is a choice; the self-will that the cluster of passions that Christian tradition calls the 'world' teaches, or the obedience of the Cross that is my liberation from sin and the helping of my neighbor toward this same liberation.

October 6, 2015

A Martyr's Prayer

Today I am working on translating a letter from the Minister General for the occasion of the next beatification of martyrs of the Spanish Civil War (November 21, 2015 in Barcelona), which will include twenty-six Catalan Capuchins. One of them, a certain Fr. Modest of Mieres, composed this prayer for the friars to recite together while they were on the run:
In this moment and certainly in the hour of death, if I should find myself in the right circumstance, with the help of the divine grace that I humbly trust you will grant me, I accept, O my God, willingly, in a way that is pleasing, humbly and with whole heart, the death that you wish to send to me. Whatever it should be, I unite my death to the most holy death of our Lord Jesus Christ, that in this moment is being renewed in the holy sacrifice of the Mass, and so united I offer my death to you, O my God, beseeching you humbly that you would condescend to accept it kindly, despite my wretchedness and misery, joined as it is to the death of our Lord Jesus Christ, for the remission of all my faults and sins, and of the faults and sins of all people.

Read the whole letter here (PDF).

October 4, 2015

Feast of St. Francis Post

Today is the feast of St. Francis. As the Roman-Seraphic Liturgy of the Hours puts it, 'St. Francis of Assisi, Deacon, Founder of the Three Orders.' So happy feast day to all the friars of the First Order, all the nuns of the Second Order, and to all the brothers and sisters of the Third Order, Secular and Regular.

Last night we had the Transitus--the prayer service that commemorates Francis's passing from this life on the evening of October 3, 1226. It was simple by the standard of what I'm used to with the friars in the States, but still beautiful. Our Father Guardian gave an encouraging homily, beginning from the Testament of Siena. It's a short enough text to post in its entirety:
Write that I bless all my brothers, those who are in religion and those who will be until the end of the world. Since because of the weakness and pain of illness I cannot speak to them, I reveal my will for my brothers in these three statements, namely: that as a sign and remembrance of my blessing and my testament, they love one another, that they love and observe our holy Lady Poverty, and that they always be faithful and subject to the prelates and all clerics of holy Mother Church.
So today I'm just praying for willingness and faithfulness regarding these three admonitions of our Seraphic Father.

I pray to love the brothers God has given me in my vocation to be a Franciscan friar, to always speak and act toward them with charity. To love my brother whether I find him helpful or not, whether I agree with him or not, whether I am edified by his visible behavior or if I endure the temptation of the flesh to consider him a bad religious or priest.  And in the same way I pray that God and my brothers would look past all the ways I give scandal and bad example by my laxity and disregard for what I have promised to them.

I pray for the grace to always nourish my love for my spouse Lady Poverty, and that the Lord would show me how to love her more completely in the circumstances in which I find myself by holy obedience. I pray to be able to notice, take, and thank God for the opportunities I am given to share in the suffering of his poor, as I pray to know and take the opportunities to make myself subject to them for his sake and for the sake of his Kingdom.

I pray that I might love the Church as the mother who has received me into her care, offering me a chance to be free of the misery that this world insists on for itself with its errors and selfishness. May I love her and surrender to her embrace always and in all things, even when she seems confusing or even unholy in some ways, because Christ himself loved her and gave himself up to make her holy. (Ephesians 5:24-25)