December 24, 2020

Dwelling Richly

(Reflection prepared for our vocation department's social media)

In the first reading for the Mass of Christmas Eve morning we hear how God takes the opportunity of David’s plans to build the house of God, the Temple, to turn the discernment around: it is God, rather, who will establish a house for David. (2 Samuel 7:11)

At Christmas we see this prophecy begin to come to its final fulfillment. Mary, in bearing the Lord in her womb, becomes the first tabernacle and the exemplar of the Church to come. She is, as St. Francis of Assisi puts it, the Virgin made Church. (A Salutation of the Blessed Virgin Mary)

Jesus Christ, who was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary, invites us into Holy Communion with him, that we, as the Church, might become a dwelling place for God in the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:22) In this way, the great feast of Pentecost, at which we recall and celebrate the Spirit as the abiding presence of Christ in his Church, peeks out even now at Christmas. Indeed, Pentecost is the fulfillment of the prophecy given to David; God builds for us a house in which he himself will dwell among us, our home and mother the Church.

As Blessed Isaac of Stella writes: “Christ dwelt for nine months in the tabernacle of Mary’s womb. He dwells until the end of the ages in the tabernacle of the Church’s faith. He will dwell for ever in the knowledge and love of each faithful soul.” (Office of Readings for Saturday of the 2nd week of Advent)

When you, faithful soul, discover the unique and unrepeatable way that Christ desires to dwell in you richly (Colossians 3:16), you have discerned your vocation.

December 6, 2020

Heralds of the Great King

(Reflection prepared for our vocation department's social media)

Each year the 2nd Sunday of Advent recalls the preaching of St. John the Baptist, the Forerunner of the Lord, sent to prepare his way and announce his coming. In this way John is one of the principal characters of the Advent season, which has the “twofold character” of a time to “prepare for Christmas when Christ's first coming to us is remembered [and] as a season when that remembrance directs the mind and heart to await Christ's Second Coming at the end of time.” (General Norms for the Liturgical Year)

Between the first and final comings of the Lord there is a third—his quiet and hidden arrival in the hearts and lives of those who find the willingness to surrender to grace. This “middle coming is like a road that leads from the first coming to the last.” (St. Bernard, Office of Readings for Wednesday of the 1st Week of Advent). This is where we are in the Advent season, recalling with joy the Nativity of the Lord, looking forward with devout expectation to his final advent at the end of time, and witnessing to his desire to be born anew, here and now, in our own lives.

Francis of Assisi, while still experimenting and figuring out his own vocation, once fell prey to bandits in the woods. While attacking him they asked who he was. He answered, “‘I am the herald of the great King!’” (Thomas of Celano, First Life of St. Francis, chapter 7) Considering not his own misfortune, he saw in his attackers the suffering of being trapped by evil and sin, and announced to them the good news of God’s Kingdom. Like John the Baptist, Francis found his vocation in announcing the God who desires to arrive in our lives anew in each moment.

How am I being called to witness to God’s desire to come and dwell in the hearts of the men and women of our time? How will I be a forerunner of the Lord and a herald of the great King?

September 1, 2020

New Assignment

The provincial minister, with the consent of his council, shall appoint a provincial secretary from among the brothers in perpetual vows ... The provincial secretary is accountable only to the provincial minister.
(Constitutions of the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin, 135, 1-2)

Not much of a job description, but here we go. A little less than a year later, I'm a secretary again.

August 9, 2020

Command That I Come To You On The Water

 Matthew 14:22-33

“Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 

That's how our consent to the journey begins; we wish to recognize God as truly God, we invite him into our lives, offering our wills, offering ourselves and asking to be commanded.

He said, “Come.” Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus.

And so our journey to the Lord begins. There is the joy and energy of a first fervor and we set out, walking on the unsure foundation of all our mixed motivations, past traumas, and disordered attachments.

But when he saw how [strong] the wind was he became frightened; and, beginning to sink.

Soon we realize that it is beyond us to approach and much less arrive at the presence of God. We sink in our sins, confusions, wrong ideas about religion and God, and much else besides.

he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?

What happens next, if we persevere at this point, becomes the real beginning of a spiritual life. We let our experience of our misery, our inability to even approach God, become compunction. Pierced to the heart, sinking and afraid, looking at our own death by drowning squarely in the face, we cry out in desperation. "Lord, save me!" 

We have realized that even to take a single step in our journey to the Lord, we need him to stretch out his hand and catch us. That outstretched hand is the Holy Spirit. And just as that Spirit stretched forth from the Godhead to conceive the Word of God as the human life of Jesus Christ, so now the same Spirit (if we allow it!) conceives us as Christ-ians.

With that new experience of faith comes the final realization, that the issues and difficulties in our spiritual journey arise from failing to see clearly that it isn't our journey at all, but the journey of the Son of God in and through our humanity, folding us, gently and mercifully, into the infinitely blessed, happy, and creative reality we call the Holy Trinity.

So let us invite the Lord, again for the first time, to command that we come to him on the water.

June 12, 2020

Traddy Subversion

It is often noted that traddy types are more observant than regular Catholics, but some time ago I heard an anecdote about an exception. (Since the context is the individual's funeral, I delayed posting it for a few years.)

The gentleman was no longer interested in going to church after all of the changes in the latter part of the last century, and this was distressing for his wife. An account of how this tension was resolved was presented at the funeral.
One of [the] granddaughters made a beautiful eulogy, at one point explaining that her grandpa didn't like to go to church, but her grandma wanted him to. So when grandma took grandpa to church, he translated all readings and hymns into Latin on the spot and read/sang them loudly that way, which caused grandma not to make him go to church anymore.
Being traddy in order to get out of going to church. That's a new one!

May 30, 2020

Pornography, Confession, and Amendment of Life

Recently I saw online a video of a priest preaching about folks who go to confession over and over with the same sin—in this case, pornography—and how they may be 'abusing' God's mercy.

Certainly pornography is a serious issue. Any priest who hears confessions knows that it has become a serious public health crisis. It has the potential to deform imaginations and consciences and to weaken and even destroy real relationships.

And it’s true enough, to go to confession without any contrition or willingness to ‘amend my life’ (as we say in a common version of the Act of Contrition), would be something sacrilegious and a sin of presumption on God’s mercy.

But is that what is going on when people come to confession over and over, especially in the case of this particular problem? In my estimation, no. Or at least it must be rare. I think what is usually the case is that someone wants to make a change, to find freedom from the emptiness and ennui of this problem, but doesn’t know how to begin to succeed.

They want to make amendment of life, but fail. Why?

May 12, 2020

Kneeling Crucified

Today is the feast of St. Leopold Mandić, OFM Cap., (1866-1942), a Croatian who ended up as a noted confessor in Padua. I was reading Pope St. John Paul II's homily for his canonization, and came across this striking paragraph:
What remained for St. Leopold? Whom or for what did his life serve? He was for his brothers and sisters who had lost God, love, hope. Impoverished human beings, in need of God, who called out, imploring his forgiveness, his consolation, his peace and serenity. St. Leopold gave his life to these ‘poor’, offering his own sufferings and prayer for them, above all in celebrating the sacrament of Reconciliation. It was there that he lived his charism and there that his heroic virtues expressed themselves. He celebrated the sacrament of Reconciliation, carrying out his ministry as if in the shadow of Christ crucified. His gaze was set on the crucifix, hanging on the penitent’s kneeler. The Crucified was always the protagonist. ‘It is he who forgives, he who absolves!’ He who is the shepherd of the flock ...
Italian doesn't make a distinction between the noun crucifix and the adjective (or nominalized adjective, as in this case) crucified. I decided to translate both ways in different instances according to what seemed to me the simplest sense of the text. But I can't help but think that John Paul II meant to indicate a connection between a crucifix displayed in the confessional and the crucified humanity of Christ 'hanging' on the kneeler in the person of the penitent.

As a priest it's one of the things that strikes you with awe and your own unworthiness, becoming a witness to the suffering Christ in the penitents who come to you.

I had a wonderful spiritual director right before I entered the Capuchin Order. One time I asked him where God was when I was committing a sin. He looked at me like I didn't know anything.

"He's suffering with you on the Cross."

Full text of the homily (in Italian) here.

April 10, 2020

The Way of the Cross

A cross is first of all an intersection. The Cross of Jesus Christ reveals several: the intersection of deity and humanity, of heaven and earth, and of love and suffering. When love and suffering are joined, they become a sacrifice, a ‘sacer-facere’, a making of something holy. Discernment is the discovery, each day, of what will be the sacrifice I make of my own life, how I will follow in the Lord’s footsteps in suffering love. “I urge you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship.” (Romans 12:1)

In loving prayer and attentive discernment we discover the particular, individual ‘way of the Cross’ to which God invites us. This ‘way’ comes to be revealed not only in the ‘big picture’ of our ‘vocation’ but also in the activities, relationships, and struggles of daily life, which, in the light of the Cross, take shape as opportunities for charity and holiness. Let us seek this ‘narrow gate’ (Matthew 7:13) of our salvation. In the words of St. Bonaventure, the great Franciscan Doctor of the Church, “There is no way except through the most burning love of the Crucified.” (The Soul’s Journey into God, prologue)

(reflection for Good Friday prepared for our vocation department's social media)

April 2, 2020

RIP: Fr. Christopher Dietrich, OFM Cap.

Fr. Christopher Dietrich, OFM Cap.
Fr. Chris was one of those friars who kept to himself and did his own thing, so I probably would never have gotten to know him at all except that he was parochial vicar at Sacred Heart in Yonkers when I was sent there for my first assignment. I became the second parochial vicar, the 'junior' one I suppose you could say. He was very attentive to me when I was new, taking me on walks around the parish boundaries and telling me about the history of the neighborhood (he was a native), introducing me to different parks in the area that were good for walks (he was a great walker), and so on.

As a new priest with a head full of theory and theology but very little sense of what the sacred ministry looked like in day-to-day practice, I was careful to observe the priests around me in those days. I noticed that Fr. Chris was very much appreciated by the people as a confessor and preacher. He had a gift for the sort of folksy preaching that has long been associated with Franciscans.

Having gone to Fordham for college (where he came under the influence of Avery Dulles), Paul -- as he was known in the world -- entered the Order when he was twenty-two, making him a 'late vocation' by the standards of his time. I always got the feeling that this left him with a hint of alienation with regard to the brothers, as if he were an irregular member. It was something I began to identify with in my developing understanding of the particulars of my own vocation to consecrated life.

He was one of the few friars of my province who kept his religious name after permission (and encouragement, I suspect) was given to return to use of one's baptismal name. He liked to joke about how his patron saint had been removed from the general calendar, and disputed the allegation of non-existence by producing a relic of St. Christopher that was in his possession.

Fr. Christopher was also an ordination classmate of the late Fr. Benedict Groeschel, something I didn't realize until we had a celebration for Chris's fiftieth of priesthood and Benedict showed up.

Perhaps in your charity you could offer a prayer for the eternal rest of this friar and priest, my first colleague in the sacred ministry.

Requiescat in pace.

March 31, 2020

Friars vs. State of Israel

(Original post, May 22, 2009)

Riffing on the case of Dr. Tim Whatley, who was accused of converting to Judaism "just for the jokes," one of my classmates in the Order once mocked me with the accusation that I entered religious life "just for the bizarre stories."

The story of the Capuchin friary in Jerusalem is one such story.

Back in the 1930s, responding to the beginning of the twentieth-century flowering of Biblical studies, someone in the Order decided we ought to have a house of studies in Jerusalem, where brothers could live while they studied Sacred Scripture or patristics at the local institutes and universities. Ten years or so later, it was all ready to go.

But in 1947, before any friars actually studied there, it was commandeered by the British as a military headquarters as the British Mandate was coming to an end. Then, during the 1948 war, the Israelis took it over in the same way. Once independence was established, instead of returning our new house of studies to us, the Israelis turned it into a psychiatric hospital.

This continued for about fifty years. Israel paid a small rent to the Order for the use of our building, but did not raise it once the whole time.

However, in order not to lose the property through adverse possession, the Venice province of the Order kept a couple of friars assigned there the whole time, staying in small, adjacent building where the custodian and his mother lived as well!

At some point in the 1990s, someone decided that enough was enough and the Order hired a Jewish lawyer and sued the government of Israel. The judge not only returned the property to the friars, but awarded all the back rent, adjusted for time and inflation, back to 1948.

It will now be renovated and turned into a guest house for Capuchins and folks with them on pilgrimage to the Holy Places.

UPDATE: Fr. Kevin, the guardian, introduces the house:

March 29, 2020

The Resurrection and the Life

Jesus said to her,
“Your brother will rise.” 
Martha said to him,
“I know he will rise,
in the resurrection on the last day.” 
Jesus told her,
“I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die." 
(John 11: 23-25)
I am the resurrection and the life. A final hope, a theological concept, is revealed in person. Eschaton made flesh.

That's the sacramental mystery at the heart of Christianity.

March 7, 2020


With Lent comes the Lord’s invitation: to let ourselves be led up the high mountain where we become our deepest and truest selves. The mountain is prayer. It is there that we discover the call that is God himself. In prayer we get to know God and ourselves, for our true identity is nothing more than who we are in God’s desire for us. This divine desire—or will of God—is revealed in how the call takes shape in our particular circumstances, and so becomes our vocation.

If we consent to remain on this high mountain of prayer we will have glimpses, visions of Resurrection glory, of the Christ who transfigures creation. These moments will be short and obscure for they are only a touching of the hem of his garment, but they will also be beautiful beyond our own imagining and desire. They may also be frightening, for they call us to a new boldness and single-mindedness in following Jesus. But the vocation is not to be feared, for wherever it leads us, the call is only to him, to Jesus Christ, and to the life of the new creation that dawns in his Resurrection.

(Reflection prepared for our vocation office to post on its social media for the 2nd Sunday of Lent)