Wednesday, November 30, 2011

On Minority

To end the month, no words of my own, but a quotation from a Spanish Capuchin Franciscan scholar, Lazaro Iriarte (d. 1989), on the charism of minority. May these words guide my reflections on religious life throughout Advent and Christmas. May they also pierce through all my pretensions.

For the Order, minority has been the least appreciated part of the inheritance bequeathed to it by its Founder, and the first to be discarded, despite being fairly easy to understand and the least open to juridical complications....The whole complex set of problems about poverty that arose in the fraternity after the death of the saint, all the internal squabbles and external complications which were hardly inspired by the gospel ... arose from the impossible attempt by the sons of St. Francis to continue to "be poor" without having the courage to continue being "lowly."

Tuesday, November 29, 2011


It is worth keeping in mind that the Catholic Church, though gathered by Jesus Christ and guided by the Holy Spirit, is also a human organization, as are its many religious institutes. As such, it aims to follow the best practices of organizations as it manages its mission. Among these practices are those that assess the gifts and talents, skills, behavior and attitude, and performance of its members.

It is fitting and appropriate for the Capuchins as a religious organization to assess the progress its brothers are making as they discern their call into religious life and grow as friars. Therefore, there are formal moments of evaluation during initial formation.

There are two formal moments of evaluation in postulancy. The first is in December, near the midpoint of the program, and again in April as postulants decide whether to continue on to novitiate. These times of evaluation are designed to help the postulant and fraternity discern together. As the postulant reflects on his growth in community life, spiritual life, and personal life, the fraternity offers its impressions on how the postulant has developed and provides feedback.

According to the province, "The evaluation process is to be a tool for growth. It should recognize and reinforce those ways the postulant has successfully integrated and lived out the values of the Capuchin life. It should clarify any questions that the postulant has about this form of life or the fraternity has about the behavior of the postulant. It should identify the edges of growth where conscious, ongoing effort will be needed to more fully live the Capuchin life. The evaluation will serve as a reference point for the formation process as it progresses."

The evaluation process itself moves in three steps. First, there is peer evaluation. The postulants will prepare short written evaluations about each of their fellow postulants concerning development in community life, personal life, and spiritual life. The postulants receive a series of questions to guide the preparation of these evaluations. These will be submitted to each postulant and the postulancy co-directors. These brief reports are meant to be affirming and challenging evaluations that create an environment of openness and transparency within the fraternity. Second, there is the self-evaluation. Drawing on the peer evaluations, as well as the series of stimulus questions, each postulant will write a self-report. The self-evaluations are submitted to the postulancy co-directors. Finally, the postulancy co-directors prepare their own evaluations drawing on the peer evaluations, self-evaluations, and feedback from ministry site supervisors and others who have observed the postulant in discernment. Each postulant will meet in a conference with the co-directors to discuss their evaluation, which will become part of his formation file.

I look forward to an affirming, challenging, and enlightening evaluation process. May the Spirit of holy wisdom guide our reflections and touch them with compassion.

Monday, November 28, 2011

100 Days

Amid the various arisings within and among the brothers at St. Michael Friary, let me pause here to note that this evening begins the hundredth day of postulancy.

One hundred days on the journey into religious life! For me, and surely my brother postulants would agree, it feels like we have come so far already. But it also feels like we have a long, long way to go. And, canonically speaking, we have not yet even officially entered the order. The residential postulancy program is a part of initial formation, but this year does not "count" toward the actual length of religious life. Technically, the clock starts running on the day a brother enters the novitiate and receives his habit in a rite called investiture.

But this is a trifle. The friars address the postulants as "brother." The postulants strive daily to live according to the rule and life of Francis of Assisi. We seek to become fully initiated into religious life by thinking, speaking, and acting as if we already professed our vows.

God, for whom a thousand years are like a day, speed us, the postulants of the Capuchin Province of St. Mary, through this year of formation, and bring us through our joys and sorrows into the novitiate and forward into the fullness of religious life.

Brooklyn Bound

Returning to St. Michael Friary in a little while. It's time to get back to where I belong.

I'm feeling a little unwell this morning. Some bug has gotten into my stomach and intestines. I was nauseated during the night and have had a bout of diarrhea since yesterday afternoon. It's probably food sickness, though not from Thanksgiving leftovers. I think it was the omelet I ate -- must have been undercooked. Oh well -- I'm still glad my parents took me and the family out to breakfast after church.

Prayers for my nephew Jesse, who is also feeling ill. He has had a fever since Friday evening and is still run down.

I've been reading some theological essays sent to me by one of the brothers from Good Shepherd Parish in upper Manhattan. One essay in particular on Franciscan evangelical poverty is causing various arisings in thought. It is a blessing to have brothers who are keen to support my intellectual development so as to deepen my identity as a Capuchin friar.

Finally, prayers for the Catholic Church in the United States and all the English speaking countries where the Revised Roman Missal became operative in the liturgy this weekend. There were a few missteps and mild confusion at the liturgy I attended in my hometown parish. The pastor devoted his entire homily to explaining the changes in the missal, which to me was a shame. This is the time the people of God should be hearing how the joyful mysteries of God-become-human, God made immanent, compel us to renewed conversion.

It is of course, too soon to hope for a reform of the revision, and it is uncharitable to demand a reform of the missal at the outset of implementation. Let us find out how the faithful will pray with the new missal before we conclude that we can or cannot pray with the missal. And let us continue to pray for the clergy who must implement the liturgical changes with their bishops. If there is to be a reform, it will have to begin with the priests. Their voice matters the most here. The faithful have several new prayers to learn, true, but the priests have hundreds of new prayers. They also must teach the faithful how to pray the Mass. Their protest, should they be compelled by the Spirit to protest, will need to be couched in concerns as pastoral as they are liturgical. They will need to demonstrate to the bishops that their sheep are lost and confused. They, on behalf of the faithful, must prove that the letter of the liturgy is stifling its spirit.

All right -- time to pray for hope and healing. Happy Advent to all my sisters and brothers in Christ, and to all people of good will, I wish you peace and all goodness.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Dear Mom

My mother, Mary, is 59 years old today. This note is for her.

Dear Mom,

Your birthday is here, and I can little afford the usual gifts it is fitting to offer you. What can I do?

I can give myself to you. That is what I will do. I will do it in thanks for the life you gave me.

I will make myself poor, but only so I can give myself to you.

I will make myself chaste, but only so I can give myself to you.

I will make myself obedient to God's will, but only so I can give myself to you.

You will know I have given myself to you when I feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, tend to the sick, visit the stranger and prisoner, and comfort the afflicted.

You might not believe me. You will think I am not really doing this for you. You will think I am doing this for everyone but you. You will think I am doing this for a God who does not exist. You will think I am dreaming delusions.

But I am not dreaming, and you must believe me, because God is real. I am giving myself to God so that I can give myself to you. You will know that I honor you and offer myself to you in the works I do for others.

So I will say it again: You will know I have given myself to you when I feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, tend to the sick, visit the stranger and prisoner, and comfort the afflicted.

Because you did these things for me, more times than anyone can count.

You are blessed because you blessed me with more grace and mercy than you ever knew was flowing through you.

I know of the grace and mercy I have received. Now I will give it all away. It is all I can do. I can do it because of the life you gave me. I can do it because you gave me.

Thank you for what you have given me. Thank you for giving me. May the Spirit of God bless you and fill you with grace as she once blessed Mary the mother of Jesus.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Cult and Culture

Spending the day gently in the company of Jennifer and Nicholas, my sister and brother, getting some cult and culture into our souls. How good it is for just the three of us to be together once again.

This morning we visited the Nassau County Museum of Art in Roslyn, N.Y., which features early modern and contemporary art. Here, we viewed exhibits of prints by Francisco Goya and mixed media by Rimer Cardillo, a Uruguayan-American. We also walked the still-green rolling fields and lawns surrounding the two main buildings, delighting in the fresh air, expressing amusement and puzzlement at the sculptures and installations we met on the way around the campus. The Goya prints, of a series titled Los Caprichos, were too caustic, too savage for my liking. (For sheer pessimism concerning human nature, the Calvinists had nothing on the Enlightenment rationalists.) The Cardillo works hinted at the richness beneath the surface of everyday life and spoke of hope in spite of history's heaviness.

Jennifer will be parting company in a little while; it is her husband's 31st birthday today. But we will reunite tomorrow to celebrate our mother's 59th birthday at her favorite Italian restaurant in Babylon Village. Of course, we were all together on Thanksgiving. And maybe Nicholas and I will stop over at Jen's house on Sunday for an afternoon with her and the baby. Who would have thought I would be seeing my siblings more often, not less, once I began initial formation into religious life?

This evening, my brother and I will take in a concert in Tribeca. First, we will worship at St. John the Baptist, the Capuchin church on West 31st Street. Usually when in Manhattan, the two of us go to the Cathedral of St. Patrick. But now I am becoming a Capuchin friar, after all, and should I not worship in my brothers' house?

Thursday, November 24, 2011


When we come to Christ in the Eucharist, we do not “eat him up, we love him so.” Christ is not diminished or weakened or hurt when we receive his body and his blood. When Christ shares his body and his blood, life awakens. Life increases. Life flourishes. Life grows. Life, and more life, like a baby growing daily in the womb, eyes opening, limbs moving, heart beating. We do not “eat him up”; rather, we share in Christ’s life. Like a child linked to her mother by the live and pulsing, nourishing and sustaining umbilical cord, we are linked to Christ. In Christ, as a child in his womb, we live and move and have our being.

Melissa Musick Nussbaum, National Catholic Reporter, Nov. 15, 2011

Eucharist, the word that Christians use to name the sacrament of the body and blood of Jesus Christ, is derived from the Greek word eucharistia. This term can be translated as "thankfulness" or "the giving of thanks." It is a both a condition and an action. When believers gather at the table of the Lord's Supper, they are at once expressing gratitude for the gift of God's life within them, and they are handing on the life of God to one another. When they partake in the ritual meal they acknowledge with thanks their very being, which is a pure gift, and they render back to God what God has given them.

How different from the practices that pass for thanksgiving in the world we have made. How often do we as a people mouth platitudinous words of thanks for things that were not given to us, but that we have taken by force? How often do those pious-sounding expressions of thanks conceal anxious sentiments of relief that we have held on to our ill-gotten gains for one more year? That we have protected our unmerited privileges without being caught? That no one has yet been bold enough to call us out for our greed or demand confiscation and just redistribution? While, on the other hand, the very things that come to all as absolute gift -- air, water, warmth from the sun, food and medicine from the earth -- these things no longer summon from us a spirit of humble gratitude.

Think also of how we act upon the people, places, and things for which we are "thankful," or which we are relieved are ours, or at our disposal. We contain them. We display them carefully beyond reach. Or we consume them. We exhaust them. We "use them up." Is this the "giving of thanks," or the taking of thanks?

When Christians celebrate the Eucharist, they are bidden to keep in mind that what they offer and share is not of their own making and not for the taking, but only for the asking in great humility. When Christians receive the body and blood of Christ in the form of bread and wine, the food and drink are consumed. But the gift that they receive of God in Jesus Christ is not in any way diminished. It is enlarged and enriched.

We gain many goods, through and in and with the gifts of the God who creates, sustains, and redeems us. But of these goods we genuinely receive but a few of them as God's gifts. For God's gifts cannot be ultimately contained by any one. The body of Christ, blessed, broken, and given for all, is the ultimate and eternal thank-offering to God. It is a sign for the world of how we are to be disposed to the goods of the very-good creation, to the good of one another, and to the all-good Giver of being itself.

We can truly receive only what we give. Let us learn to see what has been given freely. Then let us become free givers of thanks.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

What Kind of Feast?

Just a quick note to prayerfully bid you, friendly and constant readers, safe travels today, and likewise for your loved ones, as you journey homeward for Thanksgiving celebrations.

And just a quick suggestion to look over today's Scripture reading from the book of Daniel, about Belshazzar's feast and "the handwriting on the wall." It is hard not to hear this deeply revelatory and dramatic story in light of the American Thanksgiving feast in its gilded grandeur. What to some is an unreservedly good and holy tradition of thanks for the bounty of our rich land, is for others a blasphemy -- a benign symptom, at best, of the myopic excesses of the American imperium; and at worst, a sacralization of plunder and a criminal forgetting of the violence done to many peoples and to the earth.

A clergy friend of mine from Brockton, Mass., writes the following on his Facebook wall:

I am in between thorns at this time, when everyone expects people of good conscience to not run to buy a turkey to celebrate a colonial Thanksgiving. I am a Christian man, and I believe that every second of our lives deserve a thanksgiving celebration. But the point I am trying to make to you all who are running to get a turkey for Thanksgiving Day is the following: Do you know the real meaning of this day for the Native Americans, owners of this Blessed Land? It is a DAY OF MOURNING, a day they remember their loved ones who were killed, raped, abused and lost all their belongings .... in the name of so-called Religious Freedom. This is what happened in reality to Native Americans by those first Europeans who arrived to the shore of Native American Soil. In the Name of Christian Justice, I no longer celebrate Thanksgiving but a day of mourning and sadness.

Will our Thanksgiving meals be an image of the Eucharist, and in their own way be a conduit to the grace offered supremely in the ritual meal that incorporates us into the body of Christ? Or will these ritual meals incorporate us into the body of Caesar? We can revel with King Belshazzar of Babylon and profane the precious vessels stolen from the Temple. Or we can learn table fellowship with the Prince of Peace.

What kind of feast shall we have?

Do not let my heart incline to evil,
to perform deeds in wickedness.
On the delicacies of evildoers
let me not feast.

Psalms 141:4

Monday, November 21, 2011

Many Voices, One Goal

My heart soared this morning when my eye caught sight of this headline in The New York Times: Archdiocese to Speak Out at Rally Urging Council to Pass Bill on Wages.

My ministry site, the soup kitchen Neighbors Together, has worked with a citywide coalition of religious leaders, labor leaders, and community activists to promote the Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act. This bill, introduced by two members of the City Council, would require developers who receive at least $1 million in subsidies from the city to pay a wage of $10 with benefits (or $11.50 without benefits) to their employees. This would greatly benefit retail and service employees, most of whom currently live at or below the poverty level. The folks we serve at Neighbors Together are the ones who would be uplifted by this legislation, for living wage jobs are the jobs they need.

The message from our coalition is clear: developers who do business in New York City have a moral obligation to our community. They must provide compensation that guarantees workers a decent standard of living, befitting the dignity of their labor. It is only fair that big businesses who take taxpayer money as an incentive to create jobs provide the residents of our city a living wage.

Tonight, the staff, volunteers, and members of Neighbors Together will swell the chorus of voices calling for a living wage at Riverside Church. My friends from the New York affiliate of Interfaith Worker Justice will be there in the crowds. And, thanks be to God, the Archdiocese of New York will be represented by Msgr. Kevin Sullivan, the executive director of Catholic Charities, who will read a statement by Archbishop Timothy Dolan. While the archbishop's statement cannot be construed as an outright endorsement of this particular living wage bill, it is a ringing affirmation of the social principles this bill aims to realize in policy.

I am gratified that the Catholic Church in New York is willing to stand in solidarity with workers alongside other religious authorities and the more secular communities of civil rights activists. The name of the rally is apropos: "Many Voices, One Goal." It is good for the Church to lend its powerful voice to the choir. Often the Church is perceived as going it alone when it preaches God's justice in the public arena; it participates only fitfully in ecumenical or interfaith coalitions for social change. Indeed, in my three years as an organizer working with faith-based communities, I found it most challenging to mobilize Catholic parishes from the grass roots. There are several reasons for this, which I hope one day to explore at greater length on the blog.

For now let me offer a prayer to all Catholic clergy that, whatever their opinion about how a Christian practices faithful citizenship, they will not be afraid to use the pulpit to teach the faithful about the perils of quietism. Christian disciples do not shrink from forming the polis and shaping the marketplace. Like Archbishop Dolan, I pray that pastors will preach about poverty and unemployment. To be a Christian is to herald and practice a certain kind of economics, predicated on a theology of divine abundance, ordered by the logic of the Resurrection, and modeled by our celebration of the Eucharist.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Points of Light

We are back in Brooklyn after two nights and two days away in upstate New York along the scenic Hudson River with the Capuchins and the candidates. God bless the Dominican Sisters of Sparkill for their hospitality to the brothers.

Though we were met with chilly weather, the air was clear and the stars were bright on Friday. And they tell me that there was a meteor shower this weekend. Indeed, we felt as if a thousand million points of light were stitching the sky, and a million more points were streaking as if to chart our course.

Three points of light I would like to share with you:

1. The setting for our weekend, St. Joseph Villa in Saugerties, was most fitting for the purposes of our gathering. We were being invited, in the words of the Capuchin vocation director, to "come away and rest for a while with the Lord of love." The way to Jesus for us as Capuchins goes through Francis. The candidates are invited firstly to "come and see" the friars and their way of life and, secondly, be challenged to discern whether they recognize, in our imaging of Francis, the face of Jesus. Meeting the brothers and observing their manner of work and prayer usually makes for a strenuous itinerary. There is actually little time during these weekends to reflect upon the meaning of your encounters. The assimilation happens later. And from the signs given during these weekends, the finding of a direction happens much later. There is nothing wrong with this. However, many candidates have felt they were missing the contemplative element of our fraternities. Accordingly, the candidates have challenged the friars and brothers in formation to share the spirituality of the Capuchin order in a setting more contemplative than ministerial. The place we chose for this discernment weekend was the right space for fulfilling the desires of the candidates and friars. The "come and see" was at the same time a retreat.

2. The presenter for the discernment weekend, Fr. James Gavin, spoke about how God in Christ spoke to Francis through the Scriptures then, and how God so speaks to us today. God bless Brother Jim -- his presentations were not mere presentations. They were sustained praises of the divine, acting through the Word of God. From the moment he opened his lips to the end when he said his final Amen, he was preaching and teaching. His speech was sacred, always and at all times, even during ordinary meals. From his homilies at daily Mass to the lectures in the conference room, there was no perceptible difference in his oratory. Everything he spoke sounded like the Scriptures, even if he was quoting something other than the Scriptures. And he didn't just speak about the Scriptures -- he spoke the Scriptures. He spoke the Scriptures as if he had no time to lose -- as if God was about to cut him down. He spoke the Scriptures as if our lives depended on it. He spoke like a copper kettle coming to boil. If only all pastors had a fifth of the enthusiasm for preaching the Word of God. Brother Jim said the high point of the weekend was the celebration of the liturgy on Saturday morning. When liturgy was over, the brothers ascended to the plateau; the rest of the weekend would be a graceful downhill slope. This may be true, but I say the liturgy never stopped. For as long as Brother Jim was speaking, our worship went on.

3. Brother Jim is not the only one who spoke the Word of God to me. I felt God's words speaking in the joyful fellowship of our friars and in a meditative walk along a river trail. At the mid-point of my labyrinthine walk, I paused at the bend of a brook falling over a small height of rocks, babbling words of peace and welcome. There were two log benches under a post and lintel of the same timbers. There I sat with the river behind and below me and the living water splashing down before me. I do not remember my baptism, but whenever I walk along waters running loudly, I feel the power of the sacrament coursing within like the blood that runs in my veins. And the message I heard from God's silent Spirit was clear. Keep going. Keep running. Keep flowing. The current of the baptismal waters is carrying you where you will go. Keep going, that you may speak and live and deliver the divine praises with your brothers, as a brother, and for all your brothers and sisters in the world. This is the message I heard, and I hope the candidates who came away with us to see the Lord of love heard something like it, too.

Friday, November 18, 2011


A little note before departing for Saugerties, N.Y., and the candidate discernment weekend:

Our postulant director preached a fine homily this morning on the feast of the dedication of the Basilica of Saint Peter and the Basilica of Saint Paul in Rome, drawing from the day's readings on the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem. The people of Judea restored and rededicated their Temple after a period of profanation by the Greek rulers of the Seleucid Empire. Jesus cleared the Temple precincts of the money changers. As our ancestors in faith have done, and as Jesus has done, so we as Church and as members of the body of Christ must purify and rededicate our temples of the Spirit, our bodies and houses of worship, for God-centered living.

The candidate discernment weekend is a good occasion to commit ourselves once more, as people being formed into consecrated religious life, to the spiritual works of prayer, so that we may faithfully perform in this world the works of mercy and justice that witness to and enact the reign of God. Let us do so in a spirit of joyful devotion.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Assorted Deepenings

Looking back on the busy day from the quiet repose of the evening, I feel peace of soul. I feel alive.

This afternoon I received a promotion of sorts at Neighbors Together. My supervisor, the staff community organizer, has asked me to create and facilitate weekly training sessions to develop leadership skills in our members. This includes teaching members the fundamentals of community organizing, outreach and networking, and storytelling. We will examine the infrastructure of government, the press, and social media. We will also develop basic interpersonal skills on which organization-building efforts depend, like active listening and conflict management. Basically, we will be learning together how to be engaged and effective citizens. Of course, for me the ultimate motivation for practicing good citizenship in this world is keeping faith in the coming city of God.

I call this a promotion because this work is a step up in complexity from outreach. Lately I have been making rounds through the cafe late during lunch and early during dinner to invite members to go with us to Riverside Church in Harlem on the 21st for a mass meeting in support of a citywide living wage campaign. Our soup kitchen is also concerned about the state of funding for food stamps and emergency food programs. So, I have asked our members to draft letters on paper plates to mail to our representatives in Congress. Last week, a few of our members visited Rep. Ed Towns' district office to discuss hunger issues with his staff, and although I did not attend, I helped prepare our members.

My voice is being granted greater authority, too. I conferred with my supervisor about the Occupy Wall Street marches that took place today, and we decided not to go. The occupation movement in New York City will not falter tomorrow for Neighbors Together's absence today. We feel that, now that the encampments are breaking up, the movement needs to figure out how to claim public (and private) space in more provocative and more empowering ways. Personally, I feel that, unless the occupiers begin to bring their disobedience directly into the spaces where the 1 percent are served (New York Stock Exchange, the banks, the Federal Reserve) and where the 99 percent are being assaulted (our state houses, our courts, our foreclosed homes), nothing more will be gained. But this is only one stage of the evolution that must occur. The other is that the movement must discover how to make its invitation to risky direct action more compelling to the great moderate middle of the 99 percent they claim to represent.

Receiving greater responsibilities is, to me, an affirmation of my talents and a validation of my ministry. I am thankful to Neighbors Together for keeping these opportunities for direct action open to our members. I am also humbled. Until now, I have organized privileged religious leaders who desire, in charity and justice, to empower the poor. Now, I will be organizing directly with the poor.


Today I felt deeply at home with the fraternity. This morning was the final class in a three-day series on the spirituality of the Gospels and Psalms. For two hours today we peered into two chambers of the penitential heart of the Bible, Psalm 51 and, in Luke 15, the parable of the prodigal son. This evening two of our friars from Manhattan visited for evening prayer and dinner. I am learning to savor these hours of gentle and quietly delightful company. By them, unbreakable bonds of fraternity are being welded. At our dining room table and around our hearth, I am learning how holy hospitality flows from and into prayer and praise.

Tomorrow afternoon we travel to Saugerties, N.Y., for a discernment weekend with 15 prospective candidates for the postulancy. Once again, our postulant class, the post-novices, and our professed friars will put on the best face of the Capuchins and make their best case for religious life with our Franciscan fraternity. Our setting, a villa on the Hudson River, is run by the Dominican Sisters of Sparkill. The weather will be cool in the day and cold to freezing at night, but it will be clear and bright.

I may be offline until Sunday or Monday. Please keep our friars, brothers in formation, and candidates in your prayers. Our religious life is a gift from God, but it must be presented anew in every generation by its unworthy recipients.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


This morning I shared an obituary of Capuchin Fr. Joseph McCarthy, who died last Friday, Nov. 11. Next year, when the anniversary of his entrance into eternity arrives, the friars of this province will mark the occasion by reading his obituary, which by then will be rewritten and entered into the local necrology.

I have been meaning to tell you about this important little tradition of ours. As my fellow friars and I remember Brother Jose, now is a good time!

The Roman Catholic Church maintains a general calendar with the universally recognized saints. These holy men and women are remembered worldwide in the prayers of the Church every year on their feast days, usually the anniversary of their death or martyrdom. Of course, Catholics hope and believe that the communion of saints is much, much larger than just the number of officially canonized persons. And so we rightly remember the holy women and men in our own lives who witnessed to the reign of God and built up the local Christian community.

In religious communities, and perhaps among the fraternities of priests who serve as diocesan clergy, we remember our saintly friends and partners in ministry through the necrology, which is a list of recently deceased members. "Recently deceased" is a relative term. Among the Capuchins who minister in North America and the Pacific, they remember in common daily the friars who have died in the last century, and even going back to the late 19th century. For any given date in the calendar, the Capuchin Franciscan necrology lists the names of lay brothers and priests, the province they were from, and the year they died. Brothers who died in formation are included, as well as tertiaries who served alongside the Capuchin friars of the First Order.

Within each North American and Pacific province, the general calendar is supplemented by a volume of biographies for every friar who lived in that local province. Every province appoints a friar to maintain its local necrology, so that when brothers pass on, their biographies are added to the list.

Here in the Province of St. Mary, we are fortunate that our custodian of the necrology is so gifted. Our volume of biographies is well written, with colorful character sketches that reveal the personality of the friars. Each page, simply and tastefully designed, includes a photograph of the friar as he looked at or near the age he died.

There is more than one way for a fraternity to use the necrology. In the Midwest province, for example, it is the custom to read the necrology in chapel before commencing morning prayer. The prayer leader reads the obituaries for the friars of their own province who died on that day, and he asks his brothers to offer personal stories of their acquaintance with the departed. Here, in New York and New England, we read the necrology at the end of dinner. The prayer leader reads the biographies for the friars whose anniversary is the following day, and we close our meal with a benediction for the repose of their souls.

We all look forward to our turn, as prayer leaders for the day, to read the necrology. For all of us, it is a beautiful way to perform the spiritual work of mercy of praying for the dead. It is, for the elder brothers, an opportunity to look back with gratitude for the lives of their friends and mentors in the faith. For the brothers in formation, it is an opportunity to learn the history of our order, honor our predecessors who ran the race until the end, discover the great talents that profited our religious life, and gain inspiration to live as nobly as they did, like Francis for God in Christ.

Brother Jose, RIP

This morning the postulants are joining many of the friars for the funeral of another of our own, Fr. Joseph McCarthy, who died on Nov. 11 at St. Clare Friary in Yonkers. He was known affectionately as Brother Jose because of his great love for Spanish-speaking peoples, whom he served in ministry for 50 years.

Many senior friars reside at St. Clare Friary, and while I cannot remember all their faces and names, I am certain I first met Brother Jose there last fall. He moved into St. Clare last November, but I distinctly recall meeting him in late September when I visited Yonkers on the eve of a discernment weekend. In our short conversation I was impressed by his compassion for the poor, his understanding of the lives of ordinary people in Latin America, and his affection for Archbishop Oscar Romero. I wish we had more time in this life to get acquainted.

In lieu of personal anecdotes of this great and good soul, of which I have none, let me share instead an obituary from the Capuchins' provincial office of communications. In doing so, you may glimpse the full cycle of religious life and see in microcosm the Capuchin universe.

Father Joseph McCarthy, O.F.M. Cap.

EARLY YEARS: Joseph Patrick McCarthy, Jr. was born to Joseph Patrick and Muriel Margaret Ursula Gonsalves-McCarthy on May 9, 1934 in Woodside, N.Y. His two sisters, Suzanne and Muriel, completed  the family of five who worshipped at St. Teresa the Little Flower Church, also in Woodside. Joseph attended the parish school from 1940 to 1948; Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School, 1948-49; and Glenclyffe High School in Garrison, N.Y., where he graduated in 1952.

FORMATION: As a member of the first class of the newly established Province of St. Mary, Joseph was invested at the Capuchin novitiate of Saint Lawrence in Milton, Mass., on 31 August 1952 receiving the name Francis. One year later he pronounced his first vows in Milton on 01 September 1953.

Francis began his philosophical studies first at Mary Immaculate Friary in Garrison (1953-56), then at the new St. Anthony Friary, Hudson, N.H. (1956-57). He was perpetually professed at St. Anthony Friary on September 1, 1956. Francis studied theology at Mary Immaculate from 1957 to 1961. He was ordained by Auxiliary Bishop James Griffiths on June 25, 1960 at Sacred Heart Church in Yonkers, N.Y., along with Jerome McHugh, Dominic Silvestro, Mark Frazier, and Barry McMahon.

LOWER EAST SIDE: Following his pastoral year at Sacred Heart (1961-62), our brother Joseph has dedicated almost 50 years of his ministerial life in the service of Spanish-speaking peoples. Joseph had ministered at Our Lady of Sorrows in lower Manhattan as a parochial assistant on three occasions: 1962-1968, 1978-1980, and 2001-2002. During his earliest years at Our Lady of Sorrows and while continuing his studies in the Spanish language, he would best be remembered for establishing one of the largest Schools of Religious Education in the Archdiocese of New York. Acknowledging his hard work and great accomplishments, in 1965, Joseph was appointed Regional Director for the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine for the entire lower Manhattan region by the then Auxiliary Bishop-Elect, Terence J. Cooke.

During his second assignment at Our Lady of Sorrows, Joseph would continue to collaboratively develop innumerable programs and resources for the Spanish-speaking parishioners, including sacramental preparation programs, counseling and spiritual directions services, youth spiritual and recreation opportunities, as well as societies and parochial organizations. Given his avid interest in the liturgical life of the parish, Joseph edited and published the first comprehensive Spanish hymnal utilized in that setting for many years to follow.

From 1969 to 1972, while residing with the friar community of Our Lady Queen of Angels in East Harlem, Joseph was the Archdiocesan Coordinator of Hispanic Youth Programs.

MISSIONARY: In addition to his short ministerial experiences in El Salvador and Honduras, Joseph would devote twenty-seven years as a missionary in Puerto Rico. From 1972 to 1978 he resided with the Province of St. Augustine friar community of San Miguel in Utuado. He first served as a religion teacher in a local high school as well as the parochial coordinator of religious education. His ministry would later develop into what he would term "campo priest" responsible for parish work in four outlying districts of Utuado; distribution and sacramental development; home visitations; counseling; and maintenance of facilities and administration of funds.

In 1980 Joseph once again returned to Puerto Rico to serve as a parochial assistant at San Miguel in Utuado. During the Vice Province Chapter gathering of 1981, Joe was elected second counselor. At the following Chapter of 1984, he was elected Vice Provincial and served in that position until 1990.

Following his term as vice provincial, Joseph remained in Puerto Rico offering assistance to the new vice provincial and serving in parochial ministry.

OUTREACH MINISTRY: Returning to the Province in 2001 and after spending a year at Our Lady of Sorrows, Joseph was ask to develop a Hispanic outreach ministry in connection with Capuchin Youth and Family Ministries in Garrison, N.Y., while residing with the newly-established friar community of St. Joachim in Beacon, N.Y. Joseph served in this ministry until 2006.

MINISTRY IN MANCHESTER: In 2006, Joe joined the fraternity of Saint Anne-Saint Augustin in Manchester, N.H., assisting in the pastoral care of the parish community. Although Joseph suffered several health-related setbacks, Joe continued to be a vital member of the parochial staff, offering his time and energy in the service of this multi-cultural worshipping community.

COMMUNITY OF SAINT CLARE: Joseph was welcomed by the senior friar community of St. Clare in Yonkers on November 1, 2010, where he peacefully passed away on November 11, 2011. He was survived by two sisters: Suzanne Harries from Lawrenceville, Ga.; and Muriel Gilleran from St. James, N.Y.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Spitting Out the Pork

Do you know the story of the scribe Eleazar, from the Second Book of Maccabees

Treated like a prisoner in his own country, Judea, ruled by foreign occupiers, Eleazar was put to death by the state because he refused to eat ritually unclean meat. His ultimate sacrifice for the sake of his faith helped spark a movement that eventually reclaimed Judea for the people of God.

Until this morning, when I read the account of his martyrdom at church, I did not know about Eleazar or his sacrifice. I knew only the broad outlines of the Maccabean revolt, led by pious, orthodox Jews of Judea nearly 200 years before Jesus Christ. Against great odds, they threw off the imperial powers of the Greek-influenced Seleucid Empire of Syria and rebuffed the intrigues of privileged Judeans who wanted to relax traditional Jewish religious practice and adopt the customs of their pagan occupiers. During a period of intense persecution, the Jewish religion was outlawed, and dissenters were killed who refused to adopt Greek customs, like eating meat sacrificed on altars dedicated to the Greek gods. When the Seleucids and their Jewish allies were finally driven from Judea, the Temple in Jerusalem was liberated and rededicated. The eight-day festival of Hanukkah commemorates these events.

The radical witness Eleazar gave to his faith gave me pause today. He did not equivocate; he did not compromise. Rather than swallow the food of unrighteousness, he spit out the pork. He could have saved his life by pretending to eat the sacrifical meat, but Eleazar refused all pretense of accommodation to his oppressors.

I think of the heroic integrity of Eleazar and the Maccabees, and I am drawn unavoidably to an examination of my own conscience, as well as a scrutiny of the Church.

Do I accept the unlawful food when I preach social justice but continue to leverage all of my unmerited privilege in a racist and sexist society? Or when I agitate for economic democracy while obeying every law of consumer capitalism?

Do Franciscans eat the sacrificial meat when they make vows to poverty but resist corporate austerity? Were they led astray in the 14th century when they accepted a relaxation of the restriction on property?

Did the Church swallow the pork after Constantine's dubious conversion, when it accepted the patronage of his Roman Empire? Does it swallow the pork today whenever it trades off Gospel imperatives for institutional prerogatives?

I have been thinking about the occupation movement, which has taken a hit this week with police raids breaking up the encampments in New York City, Oakland, and St. Louis. The protesters are being told to pack it in, to fold up their tents, to rejoin the conventional dialogues of our so-called democracy and work within the system that has reproved them. But they are spitting out the meat. They are sick of being defiled by a world whose rules pain the many and profit the mighty few. Rather than submit to a suffering not of their own choosing, they elect to live and die according to principles and values that lead to true life for all.

The faith of the martyrs endows them with a disturbing presence. It is also a quickening presence. As the Spirit of God filled Moses and the prophets, the scribe Eleazar and the Maccabees, and Jesus, so let it fill us. When it fills us completely and perfectly, then nothing defiling can enter us, and we can offer and receive nothing profane.


Postscript: Neighbors Together is considering a return to Occupy Wall Street on Thursday to join its two-month anniversary demonstration. Our soup kitchen has the zeal of the Maccabees, but I do not know if I will join our group. Must one spit out the sacrificial meat in public to keep faith? The protesters have been evaluated harshly of late because of their seeming ineffectuality. This analysis ignores their invincible faith. I will say this: The 1 percent do not want to be disturbed, but they will be disturbed, because 99 percent are not going away. "Who among you having a hundred sheep and losing one of them would not leave the ninety-nine in the desert and go after the lost one until he finds it?" (Luke 15:4) Well, now. The 99 percenters have the spirit of a shepherd -- no, a hound of heaven -- dwelling in their souls, and they are going after the lost one percenters themselves.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Not Our Own Word

I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now.
But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth. He will not speak on his own, but he will speak what he hears, and will declare to you the things that are coming.

John 16:12-13

And for this reason we too give thanks to God unceasingly, that, in receiving the word of God from hearing us, you received not a human word but, as it truly is, the word of God, which is now at work in you who believe.

1 Thessalonians 2:13

I used to be a copy editor, and I think a competent one, but the job egotized me. To an extent I saw the copy of the writers I managed as the unworked media of my art, clay in my potter's hands. As a consequence I became possessive of writers' work and thought little of rewriting at will to make it right. I became very particular about what words should be used and how they should be arranged. After all, I was the editor; I knew better. And I wasn't about to let the writers embarrass themselves, or me, in print with their errors, obscurity, or poor style.

Being an editor also made me a more surly subject when it was my turn, as a writer, to submit to the prerogatives of other editors. You want to see me at my most human, all-too-human moments? Return my writing to me with (unwanted) emendations. What have you done? You've butchered my words! That's not what I meant at all! Ah, but turnabout is fair play.

God is like many things, but thank goodness God is not like some misunderstood genius, autocratic copy editor, or aggrieved writer. I say this in relief, because if any persons were entitled to a grievance for being taken out of context; if any persons were justified in reproving us for using their words unwisely; if any persons were permitted righteous indignation for getting their story wrong, it is the triune God.

Yet the Word of God continues to be entrusted to the Church through its custody of the Scriptures. God suffers this Word to be incarnated in the flesh of human language. Through our own mortal words -- language is born, lives, changes, and dies -- the Word of eternal life is spoken. This Word is not of our own creation; rather, we are created by it. We are not the Author who manipulates the Word; we are the medium through which the Word speaks. We are the medium, in spite of ourselves.

The Word that speaks through us is not our own, and so we must be on our guard not to act as if the Church "owns" the Word. The Church does "own" the Scriptures in the sense that the Bible belongs to the assembly of God's people who believe in its power to reveal the Word. But believers' birthright does not entitle the Church to "copyright" the Scriptures or "trademark" the Word.

The Word is free, disarmingly so. It is so free that God risks its distortion, moment by moment. God speaks the Word and lets it go. It pleases God to leave it to us, and to the Church, to the get the Word across. No matter how many times we end up speaking on our own and not purely what we would hear, could we hear the Word without the interference of bias. The Word is left vulnerable. It comes to us broken, and it echoes from heart to heavy heart, chamber to stony chamber, in broken language.

God, we praise you for your mercy. Forgive us for mangling your Word. Give us your Spirit so that we may hear what you say. Let your Word resound more truly, more clearly and more beautifully. Amen.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Slow Writing

This post is being written in haste, ironically, in praise of slow writing.

Most of the time I do fast writing, using the media of electronic mail, social networks (Facebook), and this web log to communicate quickly, even instantly. What I write is episodic, sometimes epigrammatic, but mostly telegraphic: terse and in abbreviation. How I write: sporadically, in a spurt, in constant edit, and usually in lazy reliance on set pieces and easy algorithms.

How different it felt, then, when I sat down this afternoon to mark my words with a pencil, not a keyboard; to leave my words on the grainy surface of our friary's cream-colored stationery, not the pane of a virtual window; seal them with my saliva, not the Save function; and send them with a stamp, not the Enter key. How aware I had become of the sacramentality of every word, every little letter, when I had to stop and consider before physically erasing them from the paper. Though I must be mindful of it when I tap the Backspace key, I am surely less mindful of it.

O my friends who will receive my notes in a few days, know of the great love I hold for each of you when you break open the words fixed slowly and care-fully in their lines. Through them and with them and in them may you see beyond them to the Word that has been inscribed hopefully in you and me.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Being With God

In prayer it is most common to ask God to be with us. In the Liturgy of the Hours we begin our morning prayer and evening prayer by asking God to "come to our assistance" and "make haste to help us."

This evening, in prayer alone in our chapel at St. Michael Friary, I was filled with a desire that turned the direction of petition around. For every prayer to God to be with the people, I asked the Holy One to help us be with God. Let the people more boldly offer companionship to God; to come to the assistance of the one who assists us; and to make haste to help the one who lives forever to help us.

This prayer arose from a felt experience of gratitude for the day of rest I had with my brother, Nicholas. We met shortly after noon at the friary and departed for Manhattan at one o'clock. We walked for an hour in Central Park, wandered the galleries of the Metropolitan Museum of Art for two, and shuttled across town for dinner at an Italian restaurant near Lincoln Center and gelato on the way to Columbus Circle. A perfect afternoon and evening of fresh air, fresh views, and fresh food, sealed into sacramentality by the bonds of brotherly love.

In those several hours together, Nicholas and I shared with each other, in faith, the merest derivative of what we imagine, by belief, that the Father, Son, and Spirit share in pure infinitude through their mutually indwelling love. And whereas the life our persons generate we tend to conserve between us, their Life the divine Persons give graciously from their overabundance to all creatures.

How God had been with us today! But that is not enough. Would that the selfless ones my brother and I become in our exclusive fraternity be made manifest wherever the lowly, most beloved of God, go begging for brothers! To be with God is not only to be filled with God, but also to be the vessel poured out. Would that my formation into religious life will shape me into a channel for divine love, not a cistern.

My experiences with Nicholas of trinitarian delight -- clean, cheerful, creative, and joyful -- lead me to seek all the more the author of this delight, who has already autographed my very person. If ever again I encounter the author, I pray this giver of the Word will do more than this, for the imprint, once given, is indelible. No, let the author fashion me into a type of the Word itself, that the imprint left upon me may imprint itself on others.

Pray that it will be done according to the holy will, and not my own.

Francis and Martin

Francis of Assisi, a failed soldier and prisoner of war, experienced conversion after his traumatic experiences in battle. Ultimately he realized his call to glory came from God, not the fighting class, and it would be fulfilled through serving Christ, not the king, emperor, or the nobility. Later on, when he established the Third Order for men and women who sought to emulate his radical new way of life in Christ without taking religious vows or joining his communities, he forbade the tertiaries from possessing arms of any kind.

Francis is not the only canonized saint to have been transformed from warrior to pacifist. Friday the Catholic Church celebrated the memory of Martin of Tours, a fourth-century bishop who renounced his military vocation for Christianity.

It is, to me, more than a blessed coincidence that the memorial of this French saint, who is revered for laying down his sword, coincides with Armistice Day. Of course, Armistice Day has long since been usurped by Veterans Day in the United States and Remembrance Day around the world. This is regrettable, although I do not mean by that to imply that is not fitting to mourn the many who died in military service or cherish the living who bear the wounds of war. Rather, it is tragic that the remembering reinscribes the narrative of redemptive violence and consecrates war into perpetuity. I cannot abide a remembering that forgets the millions of souls who have been sent to their doom in the frenzy of pandemic belligerence. It is my hope that the meaning of Armistice Day, to commemorate the end of war and honor peace, will be restored, through the prayers of Martin.

In this world, Martin and Francis became veterans for peace. From heaven, they pray for us to take up the weapons of the Spirit. God, send us prophets and saints whose words and deeds will disarm the nations. Martin and Francis, pray for us.


Capuchin Fr. William Hugo, who has studied the early documents of the life and works of Francis of Assisi, has written that the hagiography, or "holy writing," concerning Francis was influenced by, and superseded, the stories of earlier saints, including possibly Martin.

Pressure to portray a holy person within a predefined model or role also created strings of saints whose lives seemed strikingly similar. Sometimes two saints might only have shared a particular event in common; at other times, their entire lives may have appeared as reruns. Through this phenomenon, saints tended to replace one another in the history of hagiography.

Many of these similarities can be seen in the lives of Martin of Tours (c. 316-c. 397) and Francis of Assisi. A significant event in Martin's conversion was meeting a beggar; Francis' conversion included an important meeting with a leper. Both men thought of military careers, only to choose something else. Robbers plundered the two of them. Francis sought advice from Bishop Guido of Assisi (c. 1204-1228); Martin, from Bishop Hilary of Poitiers (d. 367). When their parents fumed about their choices in life, both took refuge in churches. Martin displayed his growing conviction by splitting his cloak and giving half to the poor; Francis gave all his clothes back to his father. Each man's legend includes a story of struggle with a devil. And, of course, both saints changed other people by their example.

I do not mean to suggest that none of these events occurred in Francis' life simply because parallels can be found in Martin's life. Many of these stories are natural parts of people's lives. However, if the stories about Martin had any resemblance to those about Francis, a good hagiographer would be sure to exploit the resemblance to forward his goal of proving Francis' holiness. The story might be cast in such a way that the medieval person would be sure to make the connection. The later saint might go just a step further than the earlier saint, showing the newer subject to be holier than the older saint.

William Hugo, Studying the Life of Francis of Assisi: A Beginner's Workbook (2nd edition)

Friday, November 11, 2011

Fraternity Day

In former times, the Capuchin brothers used to gather frequently for the celebration of fellow friars' anniversaries of their profession of vows or their ordination. They also gathered to celebrate a brother's name day. (When a person entered religious life, it was the tradition to take on a new name, customarily one of the saints. Many Capuchins who took on names in religion reverted to their baptismal names after the Second Vatican Council. Our friars do not take on a religious name today.) Imagine a large extended family making a feast every month or even every other week to fete this wedding anniversary or that birthday, and you get the idea of what the Capuchins did.

As time went on, it became more difficult to gather the brothers of the growing, then aging and declining, Province of St. Mary for such "family" parties. Sensing that the bonds of brotherhood needed some reinforcement, the province established an annual day of gathering for all the brothers. For the last 15 or so years, the brothers have assembled to bless their religious jubilarians and priesthood jubilarians. In recent years, Fraternity Day has been scheduled on Nov. 11, Veterans Day, and held at St. Pius X Parish in Middletown, Conn., to make it relatively easy for friars from both New York and New England to join.

The Capuchins are nothing if not a eucharistic community. A Mass of thanksgiving for the brothers preceded a typically sumptuous meal. Capuchins show you how much they love you with food; the more they share and the better the food, the greater the love. If your heart ever doubts the sincerity of a friar's compassion, at least your stomach will have no arguments!

With a few dozen friars in assembly, the province did tend to some business, including a sobering review of revenues and expenses. Friars got their flu shots -- at least those who, unlike me, were not squeamish over needles or afraid of ill effects from inoculation. And the postulants visited the tailor shop, where our front, shoulders, head, and neck were measured for the garment that will define us for the rest of our lives.

We also learned the sad news that our brother Joseph McCarthy, a Capuchin for 59 years and a priest for 51, died today at age 77. His wake will be next Tuesday, and his funeral on Wednesday, both in Yonkers. It will be another day of gathering for the brothers -- another fraternity day, this one more sorrowful than joyful. But for those who love Jesus Christ as Francis did; and who love others like Christ, as Francis also did; then every day, be it joyful, luminous, sorrowful, or glorious, is truly fraternity day. And I suppose this is the summary and mystery of religious life.

Thursday, November 10, 2011


From today's lectionary readings. This is a rich word from God indeed. I think it is quintessential for Capuchin contemplation. When I read this Scripture, I was reminded of all the praises that came from the mouth of Francis. This little brother was not one of the heralds of revelation as canonized in Scripture, but he was most certainly a relayer of the one Word that God has fully spoken and is still speaking fully from eternity into the present moment.

In Wisdom is a spirit
intelligent, holy, unique,
Manifold, subtle, agile,
clear, unstained, certain,
Not baneful, loving the good, keen,
unhampered, beneficent, kindly,
Firm, secure, tranquil,
all-powerful, all-seeing,
And pervading all spirits,
though they be intelligent, pure and very subtle.
For Wisdom is mobile beyond all motion,
and she penetrates and pervades all things by reason of her purity.
For she is an aura of the might of God
and a pure effusion of the glory of the Almighty;
therefore nought that is sullied enters into her.
For she is the refulgence of eternal light,
the spotless mirror of the power of God,
the image of his goodness.
And she, who is one, can do all things,
and renews everything while herself perduring;
And passing into holy souls from age to age,
she produces friends of God and prophets.
For there is nought God loves, be it not one who dwells with Wisdom.
For she is fairer than the sun
and surpasses every constellation of the stars.
Compared to light, she takes precedence;
for that, indeed, night supplants,
but wickedness prevails not over Wisdom.

Indeed, she reaches from end to end mightily
and governs all things well.

Wisdom 7:22b-8:1


For we the Church to better proclaim the kingdom of heaven, we need to become better conscious of our history and development. I hope we can learn. I hope we can recover. I hope we can change, constantly.

I believe God is in control of history and is present in every moment of history. But God does not bless everything that happens in history.

Does God cause everything that happens in history? I believe with Julian of Norwich that God causes human freedom and in this sense causes human choice. I believe also that God endures with humans in the consequences of human choice. In this sense, and only in this sense, is sin, suffering, and evil part of God's plan for creation.

The kingdom of heaven is the destination of history. If the kingdom of heaven is among us, then where is the Church? And is it where it should be?

Jesus Christ is the beginning and the end. If Jesus Christ is the end of history, then when is the Church? And is it when it should be?

Jesus Christ is the reign of God in person. He proposes it, he proposes himself, to us. Who is the Church? If the bridegroom, then the Church must increase. If the best man, then the Church must decrease. If the bride, then the Church must get ready to do both.

I believe there are souls who fall on the wrong side of church history but are in truth no less obedient than the saints.

Let us look upon the sin of the Church in times long past and times present with sorrow and contrition, but without malice toward its multitudes of sinners, and with charity and justice for the many more multitudes, within and without the Church, who were sinned against and suffered. Let us try to understand, as we understand ourselves, all the souls who have gone before, whose thoughts, words, and deeds, though seeming ever so scrupulous to themselves, appear to us as unconscionable and are in truth unacceptable.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Ever on the Way

Sunday was the quiet day I had hoped for.

Morning Mass at St. Michael with my fellow postulants, followed by breakfast while meditating over the newspaper. There was a little physical exercise on a stationary bicycle in our basement early in the afternoon. This was followed later in the afternoon with a couple of spiritual exercises: reciting evening prayer while riding the L train to Union Square in Manhattan; and, once there, taking in a little faith in film. And the theme of the film was perfectly appropriate after our nine-day journey to the Midwest.

The Way, playing at a small cinema on East 12th Street, features Martin Sheen as a father who walks the pilgrimage trail to Santiago de Compostela in memory of his son, who died while beginning the camino in the Pyrenees Mountains. This film was a family affair, in that it was produced and directed by Sheen's son Emilio Estevez. It was also clearly a labor of love for Sheen, who as a devout Catholic has previously played Catholic Worker co-founder Peter Maurin in Entertaining Angels: The Dorothy Day Story. For a thoughtful review of the film, I recommend this article in National Catholic Reporter; and for a profile of Sheen as a real-life pilgrim, read this NCR interview.

We are ever on the way. Let us, you and I, resolve to remain on the way and help each other stay on the pilgrim path. This week your diarist continues his pilgrimage in the more conventional settings of New York and Connecticut. This week we learn about the early history of the Capuchin order from a brother, John Tokaz, who knows it well. Our resident art scholar, Brother John will take the postulants on a special guided tour of the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Wednesday. On Friday, the brothers will meet in Middletown, Conn., for an annual get-together called Fraternity Day. We will worship and then share food and fellowship until late in the afternoon. I have been told that the postulants may be measured for their habits during this gathering. All this will happen around the usual pattern of prayer, chores, and ministry, and the usual interruptions in routine (I have spiritual direction on Tuesday evening).

Buen camino, my sisters and brothers.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Brooklyn Again

We are home safely at St. Michael Friary. Another great day for travel greeted us gently in Villa Maria, Pa. We traveled I-80 east through Pennsylvania with no incident at all, and we slowed only a little once we were in New Jersey. Not even tri-state traffic could keep us from cruising home.

Unpacked and now doing laundry, I will go gently into the evening and Sunday, which will be an off day the whole day for the postulants. That means we have no fraternal obligations -- no evening prayer or dinner as a household. We will resume our common schedule Monday morning.

As we debriefed on our trip during the ride home, our postulant director remarked at how well we the postulants get along with each other and how close we are as a group. This is a very good sign for the progress of our religious formation. As our director said, we are the primary agents of our own formation; as I would put it, we are the captains of our spiritual destiny. And it makes a great difference when each of us can shape our growth in the steady embrace of brothers who really love you warmly from the heart and support you unconditionally. Guided by the Spirit in Christ Jesus, we are the captains of our destiny; fortified by the Spirit of compassion we can feel pouring out from our brothers, we will grow in wisdom and favor and reach the end of our travels safely.

Amen, and let it be done.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Final Stage

Good evening from Villa Maria Education and Spirituality Center, near the Ohio-Pennsylvania state line. The Sisters of the Humility of Mary are hosting the postulants this evening, the last of our nine-day journey to the Midwest.

We left St. Conrad Friary in Milwaukee at 5 a.m., making it to Indiana in remarkably good time by beating the rush-hour traffic to Chicago. Though at departure our sleep-starved bodies were sagging, spirits soared steadily as the sun rose. One of the postulants thought it would be a good idea to go to Mass at the University of Notre Dame, and none but our postulant director had ever been there before, so we all agreed. To South Bend we went. Arriving shortly before 9:30, we learned there would be no Mass at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart for another two hours. However, our resourceful postulant director found the sacristan, a Holy Cross sister, who arranged to let us use a chapel in the lower level to celebrate the Eucharist. Together we offered a blessing for the priests, brothers, and sisters of the Congregation of Holy Cross, who founded Notre Dame, and for all who work and study at this quintessentially Catholic institution.

We overestimated the duration of our journey because we erroneously factored in a visit back to the Capuchins in Detroit, which we never made. So we crossed the Ohio-Pennsylvania border four hours early! This was perfect, because we had plenty of time to unpack, do our evening prayer, and have a leisurely dinner at a lively Italian restaurant in Youngstown, Ohio.

With about 400 miles to go and no reason to hurry, we will reach New York City tomorrow in the late afternoon to early evening, traffic, weather, and God willing. I am eager to be back in Brooklyn. One always rests a little more soundly in one's own bed after a time apart from home.

Our sojourn in the Midwest has done us all kinds of good. Here I name two goods:

We are blessed to have studied with Fr. Bill Cieslak, who knows and loves the liturgy like few other souls I have met. From him I have gained a theological thinking to give a sure voice to what my heart longs for when it longs, often in vain, for the presence of God in the very temples the Church has built for Christ. Brother Bill speaks to Catholics' frustration when they feel that their liturgy shrinks God the Father, makes Jesus look ugly, obscures the Holy Spirit, and draws a velvet rope between them and Christ. I feel like my prayer life has been enriched, for it has been given both new direction and fresh intention. Thank you, Brother Bill.

It is very good that we met the five postulants of the Province of St. Joseph, because we will be living with them, and with all the Capuchin postulant classes in North America and the Pacific, during our combined novitiate next year in California. Our two-month pre-novitiate program next summer in Victoria, Kan., with all the postulants across the continent, is meant to bond us before we begin our year of retreat, but every prior opportunity to get acquainted with our brothers is beneficial. I pray we will become better brothers to each other through the grace of Jesus.

Our week of pilgrimages draws to a close. In the final stage of this journey home, I have been reminded of the homeless, who live a life of involuntary pilgrimage. A friend of mine shared a story of several homeless women and men of remarkable faith who have consecrated their pilgrimage -- who have made it a holy sacrifice. They remind us that we have no fixed home in this world but within God's incarnate love, and God has no fixed home but within these temples of flesh and blood. The path has no end in this life; its end is in the eternal newness of life.

Be on your journeys. May they be good; step by little step, may they set you free.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Just a Little More on Liturgy

Just a few more points from Brother Bill's presentations on Eucharist that put me in thoughtful places, here concerning beauty.

1. In the Franciscan tradition, beauty is a fundamental way of seeing the divine in our life. Without prejudice to the philosophical claims of traditional theism that God is one, all good, all powerful, and all knowing, we can say that God is Beauty, the beauty beyond every lovely and beautiful thing. The act of creation is an act of divine beauty, and everything that is created participates in the beauty of God.

2. Communion with God is intimate friendship in the beauty and love of God. The beautiful is a conduit to the holy because what is beautiful resonates with the harmony of God. As we recognize the beautiful in every person and respond to it in our life with love, we become holy. And we affirm everything that lives as holy, for what we behold as beautiful, we also reverence. This speaks to the quality of delight, that is, the divine pleasure in creation, of who we are and who we are becoming.

3. It is becoming for our liturgies, especially our celebration of Eucharist, to be beautiful, if we wish for the faithful in Christ to worship with reverence and live sacramental lives. If the people of God are to acknowledge the holy and make holy in themselves and their world, we must begin to respect the beauty of holiness abiding already in them.

4. What is needed in the liturgy of the Eucharist is a heightened sense of the real presence of Jesus Christ, not only in the bread and wine, but also and especially in the Word of God, the ministers, and the rest of the assembly! Rather than apologetics for the mystery of Christ's substance under the accidents of bread and wine, we need an unapologetic affirmation of the presence of God's beautiful Jesus in the prayer, speech, and song of the people; the prophetic proclamation of the Word; and the healing pastoral touch of the ministers who serve humbly. When every person baptized into the body of Christ is fully, consciously, and actively present through, in, and with Christ at the celebration of Eucharist, then they can receive the ultimate presence of God in Jesus' simple gifts of bread and wine.

After this we learned about liturgical laws regulating the celebration of Eucharist, and we examined the new English translation of the Roman Missal, which contains all the prayers for Mass for the church's seasons and special occasions. We also beheld the beauty of the liturgy in a special Mass through which Brother Bill illuminated the origin and significance of the elements of divine worship. I will not relate any more of what we heard and discussed, interesting though it is, because I think beauty is the right note on which to end.

Now, off to meditation and evening prayer.

More on Eucharist

Still backtracking on Brother Bill's excellent presentations on Eucharist from yesterday afternoon and this morning. Here are a few more of his theses that hit me like a spiritual bullet, making their mark but causing no pain, only enlightenment.

1. The Catholic Church is presently undertaking a recovery of the meaning of the Eucharist as sacrifice. This is leading the Church into choppy waters, but it can be an opportunity to gain something of value. Sacrifice may lose something of its disturbing edge and gain more of a luminous character if it is imagined not so much as an action that confers holiness as an action that acknowledges holiness. Sacrifice, literally "make holy" or "holy making," has to do with things becoming sacred or holy. Something "becomes" holy if it takes you back to God. That is sacrifice at its simplest.

2. Many things are sacrifices, that is, they become holy things. When people are led back to God, they become holy, and so they become sacrifices.

3. How do humans become holy? Through a radical dependence on God -- through a doing and being that relies totally on God for its beginning, its progress, and its completion.

4. Jesus is a mirror of God in the world. As the Gospels testify, especially in John, Jesus' life is radical dependence on God. He does everything only because God does it in him. The life of Jesus Christ is radical dependence on God; his life is holy, and therefore it is a sacrifice in its basic meaning.

5. Today, the followers of Jesus Christ believe the totality of Jesus, his life and death, is a sacrifice because it is a radical dependence on God, done not of his own will, but God's. Followers of Jesus Christ, from the days of the apostles to ours, also believe that we are to become holy as Christ is holy, and that means to live in sacrifice -- to be a holy offering, a holy making that shows others the presence of the living God and all that is holy.

6. There is a distinction between real personal sacrifice, an offering of ourselves, made by ourselves; and ritual sacrifice, a holy making that is offered by a priest on behalf of others. Both are done in acknowledgment of a radical dependence on God. The intrinsic connection between radical dependence on God and sacrifice may not severed without a loss of meaning or participation in the sanctification.

7. What is the relationship between the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and the sacrifice of the Church in the celebration of the Lord's Supper? Jesus Christ is the real priest and the real sacrifice. What he did was a real action and not ritual. What the Church does in its celebration of the Eucharist is not a new real personal sacrifice, but a ritual sacrifice that is the sacrament, or symbol, of the once-for-all real personal sacrifice of Jesus Christ. The sacrifice offered at the Mass has power because it points to and has a share in the sacrifice of Christ. The sacrifice of Jesus Christ, which is believed to have real redemptive power, is available sacramentally, symbolically, in the ritual sacrifice of the Mass.

8. Why is the language of sacrifice valuable? It speaks to God's promise of who we are to become and the invitation to do as Jesus has done. If we are called to communion, then we share from the holy making of Christ and become empowered personally to also make holy. As Christ offers a real and personal sacrifice in his life, we who follow Jesus bring our personal life to God. In the ritual context of the Eucharist, our real and personal offerings are taken up to God by Christ, as an offering of praise, which is made holy by God in Christ. The ritual sacrifice of the Eucharist creates a mighty awareness that enables the Church, the people of God, to enter into their own adventure of making holy.

Okay, time to go to Eucharist for Brother Bill's teaching Mass.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011


Continuing our study of liturgical theology and the Eucharist, here are several more insights that flooded my mind with light and warmed my heart, the seat of my faith.

1. In Christian worship, and especially the celebration of the sacraments, it is first of all Christ who shares with us, not we who share with God. We can offer only what we have received first from God in Christ. Through its celebration of the Eucharist, the Church does what Jesus did, but it must be kept in mind that Jesus Christ has done and is doing the work of God before any human initiative.

2. From the account of the Last Supper in the Gospel of Matthew, which is an elaboration and development of the account in Mark's Gospel, we learn that early Christian communities recognized the Eucharist as itself the principal sacrament of the forgiveness of sins. The Church knew and affirmed this before there even was a distinct sacrament of reconciliation. In truth, all the sacraments of the Church contain God's power of forgiveness, because all the sacraments convey grace.

3. In the beginning of the Church, Eucharist was not celebrated daily in the morning. Rather, it was celebrated on the evening of the first day of the week, the day of Resurrection: the Lord's Day, that is, Sunday. This was in accordance with Scripture accounts of the appearances of the risen Christ. Also, these celebrations were held in believers' households, as at this time there were no special buildings to gather assemblies for public worship.

4. The presiders at these ancient eucharistic celebrations were the apostles and first disciples themselves, as well as missionary preachers and travelling prophets. But mainly the heads of households were themselves the presiders, and they were both men and women. There were no cultic priests at this time. Jesus Christ was seen as the sole "high priest" of believers' worship, because he had offered himself as the once-for-all sacrifice. Furthermore, the Christian community itself was identified as a priestly people, that is to say, a holy people set apart to inherit the kingdom of heaven promised by God and inaugurated by Jesus.

5. Only later, as a concern for order brought about the hierarchical church and the charismatic church faded away, did the offices of bishop, presbyter, and deacon evolve and the cultic priesthood emerge. Over time, the office of bishop became spiritualized. Drawing upon the ancient Israelite cultic priesthood of service and sacrifice under the covenants God made with Abraham, Moses, and David, these leaders figured themselves as priests of the New Covenant sealed by the blood of Jesus Christ.

6. As the cultic priesthood developed, the meaning of Eucharist evolved from that of gift to offering, then oblation, and ultimately sacrifice. By analogy, the table of fellowship became the altar, and bread and wine became the real presence of the body and blood of Christ. The bishop-priest saw himself as offering the sacrifice of the high priest Jesus. And, along the way, the people stopped taking communion; rather, they attended the sacrifice of the Mass. Adoration of Christ present in the reserved sacrament superseded the act of receiving Christ in the bread and wine. Eucharist had ceased to be an interactive and transformative encounter with the living God.

7. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, biblical scholarship on the historical Jesus revealed the history of the early Church and awakened a desire among Catholics to have Eucharist as the early Church had done. The liturgical movement was born, leading to a reform of the entire sacramental system, beginning with Easter and Holy Week celebrations. By mid-century and the Second Vatican Council, the Church came to understand that worship is the central act of Christian life and that because of this, the liturgy had to be renewed. More than this, however, the renewal had to restore to all the baptized faithful their proper role in worship.

8. Baptism is the sacrament that both grounds and leavens liturgical practice. The renewal of the Eucharist would flow from a baptismal warrant for the full, active, and conscious participation of all the faithful, all the people of God.

9. As the theology of the Mass had changed, so would the identity and function of its ministers. The priest leads worship, not for the people, but with the people. The priest is not the sole minister at Eucharist; all the faithful in Christ, are ministers. The priest-presider brings together the assembly of the baptized, not by any special virtue of his office of priest, but by virtue of his own baptism. And as the priest offers the sacrifice of the Mass, it is an offering with the people who learn to offer themselves as they participate with devotion and full involvement.

10. What is the meaning of all the disputes over real presence and transubstantiation? It has to do with the belief that God is with us through Christ in the Eucharist. The basis for this claim is Jesus' own words at the Last Supper, which Christians interpret as God's promise to them that Christ will be there in the bread and wine offered and received in his memory. The desire to understand how the historical Jesus is connected to the Christ of the Eucharist prompted centuries of reflection, and no little controversy, on the mystery of real presence. The doctrine of transubstantiation emerged as a way around difficulties that surrendered the Eucharist into the traps of magical and literalist thinking. By moving all understanding of Christ's presence in the Eucharist from the physical to the metaphysical, the Church preserved the Eucharist as a symbol and, therefore, as a most deeply real encounter of God.

Okay, that is enough for now. Tomorrow I hope to do some backtracking and follow up with highlights of the lessons of the day.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Studying Liturgy

Peace and all good things from St. Lawrence Friary, perched on a hilltop overlooking Mt. Calvary, Wis.

We arrived in the afternoon Monday after an hour's journey from Milwaukee, with a pilgrimage on the way to Kopp's, a local favorite for fans of frozen custard. We met some of the friars last evening and shared a meal with them after evening prayer.

We are staying at a guest house on the campus of St. Lawrence Seminary High School, which the friars have been operating for over 150 years. This morning we celebrated Eucharist with the 250 students of this boys' academy in their wonderful chapel, built in 1969, built in the round, and which resembles in spirit the Italian caves where Francis of Assisi retreated to contemplate the glorious presence of God. It is one of the most beautiful sanctuaries built in a modern architectural style that I have ever seen. (Last night I spent an hour reposing in God's soft, invisible caress in the chapel darkness. What sweetness.)

In between our lessons today we toured the academic buildings and dormitories. The students who attend this school are blessed indeed with the best that a Catholic education can offer, in both spiritual and intellectual development.

Today, the second day of our study of ritual and liturgy under Capuchin Fr. Bill Cieslak, we turned to Eucharist, the summit of Christian worship and source of Christian life. Yesterday we had preliminary lessons on symbol, ritual, and sacrament so as to enter into a deeper understanding of what we experience when we celebrate the Eucharist at Mass. I have taken many notes, more than I expected. Brother Bill is a gifted teacher, and his love of liturgy is completely clear. He has done much to awaken in the postulants a more profound appreciation of what goes on in the sacraments of the Church. In me he has awakened a sense of wonder at the invitation God makes to all of us, both in the official sacraments of the Church and (just as graciously) in the sacramental presence of the divine in all of creation and human life.

I have come away from these two days of lessons determined to worship with a fuller consciousness of what God is giving and how I am responding.

There are many things I could share with you from our class sessions. Before I go to meditation and evening prayer, here let me point out only a few of the ideas that shine most brightly for me at this moment:

1. The language of theology, especially the theology of Christian liturgy, is symbolic, not literal. This is its strength, not its weakness. If something is real, it is deeply symbolic. Therefore, God's self-communication to us in the gift of the Eucharist is a deep symbol and utterly real.

2. Ritual is not always logical. In fact, its patterns and actions can be contradictory. But ritual is beautiful. And it is powerful, even if illogical.

3. A sacrament both points to a reality and contains a share of that reality. A Christian sacrament both points to Christ and contains Christ, who points to and contains God. If we receive Christ in the sacraments of the Church, then even we, too, point to and contain God.

4. We human beings are what we are, and we are more than what we are, because we are creation and therefore point to the Creator. Thus, we are sacraments of God, even as Christ is the ultimate sacrament of God.

5. A sacrament is a sacrament for someone of some reality. There is no such thing as a purely objective sacrament. A sacrament does not work like magic. A sacrament offers the presence of God, and the presence of God is always there in the sacrament, but a person needs the senses of faith to perceive that presence. Without the senses of faith, there is no sacrament, even though the presence of God remains in it and remains immediately before us.

6. Brother Bill defines Holy Eucharist as "the table fellowship (table of the Lord's Word and table of the Lord's body and blood) of believing disciples of Christ, gathered by God through baptism, and fed by God, so that we, in turn, might be transformed into that which we hear, eat, drink and share."

7. The Eucharist, the gift of God's very life in the body and blood Jesus Christ, is primarily to be received, not adored. Communion, not consecration, is the central ritual element of the eucharistic celebration.

Okay, enough for now. Surely more of the good things I am learning will emerge on the public diary by and by.