Saturday, December 17, 2011


A return to familiar habits today, as I've spent Saturday quietly in my room reading and making preparations for my presentation to the postulants on sin and grace. Don't be disappointed! Today was the first time in a long while that I worked like the graduate student I used to be. In spite of the familiarity, there were, for me, a couple of discoveries, or recoveries, I should say.

First was the return to a schedule of intense reading and outlining, such as I have not done for some time, punctuated only by breaks for prayer, meals, a call to my sister, and exercise (the latter being a new wrinkle). My mind feels ripped.

Second, I found myself returning to class papers from my Boston University days, and delighted by what I had written, firstly in its concern for the mystery of faith and secondly for the clarity and urgency of thought. With this delight came a mild wistfulness: I was a good theological writer. These days I feel my writer's muscles have grown flabby, at least the ones that flex theological. Oh, well -- you write what you are given to write according to the situation and preferably under inspiration only.

I have always and everywhere written a little bit daily, but rarely do I write daily a little bit of everything. God seems to give me a certain kind of writing to do over a period of time -- a few kinds, at most -- and then after that period gives me some other kind(s). It's like turning off one tap and turning on another. From 1997 to 2001, I wrote and edited journalism, and I kept a private journal from 1999 to 2003. From 1997 to 2003, I wrote a good deal of poetry. For two years, from 2003 to 2005, I did little to no writing. Then the taps turned on again. The academic theological writing I did from 2005 to 2008 gave way to sermons, songs, poems, and prayers from 2008 to 2011. Now I am writing a public diary.

The friars have been encouraging me to keep up the blog, and at least one brother has exhorted me to make writing a constitutive element of my ministry. God knows that I agree, but God only knows what I must write. Necessity is a good goad, but spontaneity is better, or else what needs to be said lacks the irresistible character of a gift. My very best work is driven by passion. My voice is most clear when it is critical, that is, responding to wounded or wounding words: receiving distorted signals of the Word in the world, isolating the traces from the noise, and amplifying them through the soundboard of my soul. But I am now wondering if I can acquire another approach to writing, one predicated on praise, whose virtue is gratuity. Why?

In the life of fraternal religious, at least as lived by Capuchins, the charism of contemplation precedes the charism of justice-seeking, the mystical giving direction to the ethical or prophetic. Capuchin ministries manifest in tandem with the brothers' prophetic gifts, but they gain their traction from contemplation. Whatever I do in service of the Church as a friar, I want my works to witness both a thankful love for God and neighbor and a burning desire that all will know and love likewise. Only a grateful person can be truly just and call others to conversion. As I would do, so must I speak. A prophet must be a lover. A lover must be a prophet. Shall I be a brother who writes? Let my words of burning concern be first, last, and always gifted words of praise.

As I say, it has been a day of discovery with recovery, each dwelling in the other.

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