Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Poor Clares

Clare, you bid us follow
This Jesus of yours --
Ageless in the Universe
Yet standing firmly on our shores.

This Jesus you love totally
because He has loved us totally.
This Jesus full of such beauty
and comeliness
That the hosts of heaven adore
and acclaim Him Lord of all!

Yet, this Jesus suffered,
His beauty cruelly stripped from Him.
You tell us: "Look upon Him
made contemptible for you.
Please do not hesitate
to become contemptible, too!"....

You ask us: "Gaze upon,
consider, and contemplate"
each phase of Jesus' life.
It is a wonder that draws us
to new heights....

Sr. Mary Cecilia Keyser, "Jesus, Clare and Us"

Sister Mary Cecilia, of Wappingers Falls, N.Y., is a member of the Poor Clares, a descendant of the Poor Ladies, the first community of Franciscan women religious, founded by Clare of Assisi in the 13th century. Her poem is in a little pamphlet about Clare, given to me and the postulant brothers today in our visit to the sisters of the Monastery of Saint Clare in Chesterfield, N.J.

What lovely ladies, the Poor Clares we met today. There are ten sisters and two novices in the convent we visited. Living a cloistered life has not coddled them one bit. They are not cocooned. They are not wispish women. From all appearances, they are earthy, grounded, and spiritually poised. They are clever, witty, and cheerful. They laugh together. I do not doubt they radiate such good mental and physical health because of their embrace of simplicity, personified by Francis and Clare as Sister Poverty, and their life of deep and continuous prayer. [The eldest of their sisters, who is 94 years old and a religious for 67 of those years, plays the organ in chapel on Sunday and is as sharp as anyone half her age.]

The sisters show a kindly regard for each other. They are genteel in manner, and gentle. As we interacted with them today, I was struck by just how gentle they were with us. I hope this makes sense to you when I say that they are powerfully gentle: their gentleness has a firmness, a solidity whose foundation is their grace-filled love for the poor and crucified Jesus.

Community in solitude has taught the sisters how to listen. They listen to God, with God, for God. They recite their prayers slowly, deliberately, "listening" each other into a unified voice of praise. They pray so well they make others around them pray better. During Mass with the sisters, I could feel myself lifted into step with them. While receiving Eucharist, I thought about all the consecrated women religious worldwide who, like these Poor Clares, were lifting their prayers right now to the beaten but risen Christ. From convent chapels like theirs. Listening, praying, singing, keeping silence. Remembering the whole world into Christ. I imagined them thus, lifting the whole world onto their shoulders and offering it to God. The sisters listen, and they pray the world into God's hands. That's how I want to pray.

The sisters listen. They were more interested in our stories than their own. They asked me and the postulants to tell our vocation stories and applauded when we finished. They were a generous and supportive audience. They had a way of waiting on our words that made me want to share freely with them.

We had no time to hear the sisters' tales one by one. We caught snippets over a lunch of home-cooked Filipino cuisine. But the sisters did not leave us wanting for history about the origin of their mission in the United States. From a prayer card the sisters pressed into our hands this afternoon:

"Countess Annetta Bentivoglio was born of a noble family in Rome, July 29, 1834. In 1864 her sister, Constance, entered the Poor Clares of San Lorenzo in Rome and Annetta followed her and was given the name Mother Mary Magdalen.

"In 1875, in obedience to Pope Pius IX, Mother Mary Magdalen and her sister Constance came to America to establish the Poor Clares of the Primitive Rule of St. Clare.

"Mother Mary Magdalen founded the monasteries of Omaha (Neb.), New Orleans, and Evansville (Ind.).

"Mother died at Evansville Aug. 18, 1905. After her death the Boston monastery was founded in 1906. Our Bordentown monastery was founded from Boston in 1909. Today there are about 26 monasteries in America which follow the Primitive Rule of St. Clare."

For more information about their way of life today, you can visit these Poor Clares on the web. For a virtual window opening onto their cloister, the sisters also have a blog called Monastery Happenings, which is worth a quick click. In fact, they have beat me to the blogosphere: their photo slide show of our visit has already been online for several hours!

When we arrived at the convent in the late morning, it had been raining for a half hour, and I was feeling melancholy since the end of morning prayer. When we left after three-thirty, I was in much higher spirits, gray and foggy mists be damned. Thank you, sisters of Clare.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012


A few desires, pious and otherwise, at the front end of Lent and the tail end of a quadrennially fat February:

1. Once again, to have more company at St. Michael Friary. This remains my strongest desire. I can hear the sound of children romping upstairs, the little cousins of one of my postulant brothers. We had a Thanksgiving-in-February meal, with turkey and London broil, and with many delicious sides. You can fast and abstain all you want, but when sisters and brothers in the Spirit come to your house, make a feast with your finest foods. My contribution was a Betty Crocker cake and an apple crumb dessert from scratch. Everybody was contented. Friends of mine, make your way to St. Michael before May 9!

2. To speak prophetic truth to power at least one more time in the public arena, be it the statehouse or the marketplace. I am travelling to Albany with a delegation from Neighbors Together next Wednesday to lobby for a budget bill that serves the common good; a long-overdue increase to the New York State minimum wage; and other legislation that will support good jobs and housing. I may get my wish vis-a-vis the polis; as it concerns the oikos, well, let's wait and see how the Occupy movement rises.

3. To get more sleep. Another long-sought desire, often deferred. This could mean hard choices. Will I love my bed more than my blog?

4. To read more about the Second Vatican Council. I do not mean only the 16 conciliar documents, but also the history of the council, the insider and outsider stories about how and why what happened, happened.

5. To write more about celibate sexuality. You know you want to read about it....

6. To visit the Brooklyn Museum. (To tour that museum with Jennifer, my sister, who is an art teacher and has a master of fine arts degree.) To see the renascent New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden. (Also with aforementioned sister, and perhaps my brother Nicholas.) To walk the Williamsburg Bridge when the weather gets about ten degrees warmer. To walk through any of the local parks when the first treebuds burst. To dine one more time at Junior's in downtown Brooklyn. To go to any cheap diner in Queens. To go to the movies once or twice more with the brothers at the tiny neighborhood multiplexes for $9 or less.

7. To memorize the hymns we sing during Eucharistic adoration, as well as the Salve Regina, which we sing at night prayer. To learn how to swing an incenser properly. To memorize the New Testament canticles that recur in the psalter we follow for evening prayer. To be simply present to God during morning meditation.

8. To think, speak, and act in such a way as to leave my brothers or my neighbors no doubt how I love them. To think, speak, and act in such a way as never to deceive myself or them into believing I love the brothers or my neighbors when my thoughts, words, and deeds prove the contrary. When my love fails, at least let truth prevail.

9. To be comfortable enough in my personhood to do something that seems to be completely out of character but is actually the confirmation of a successful process of development.

10. To trust my deepest desires. To entrust my brothers with those deepest desires. To trust my brothers a little more to hold my deepest desires carefully in their hearts.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Laden Lenten Weekdays

Got a busy week coming up.

Tomorrow evening we have as many as nine guests coming to St. Michael Friary: Br. Ray Frias is returning to stay overnight, and the family of one of our postulant brothers is coming to dinner. I'm thinking of making some desserts after night prayer.

Brother Ray is driving the postulants to New Jersey on Wednesday. We are meeting a group of Franciscan sisters known as the Poor Clares, who live a contemplative life marked by prayer, penance, and solitude. They are not ministerial religious, like many of the more contemporary orders of Franciscan women. Their vocation does not play out in the midst of society. Like their founder, Clare of Assisi, they live in a monastery and offer their prayers for the Church and world. That is their great work. We will celebrate Mass with them and share a midday meal with them.

Come Friday the postulants will visit a Catholic grade school in Port Washington on Long Island. We have been invited to a vocation day to talk about the option of religious life. We will present along with a priest, a deacon, and religious sisters, and perhaps some lay secular ministers, too. We made a similar visit to a Catholic high school in Brooklyn last fall and enjoyed very much the opportunity to open young minds and hearts to the Capuchin way of life. Our formators will confer with us on Thursday about our presentation. I hope we can get something beautiful, something memorable about the way of Francis across to the children.

Finally, on Saturday the postulant brothers from the Province of St. Augustine will be arriving from Philadelphia for a Lenten day of recollection at St. Michael Friary. Fr. Jim Gavin, our province's resident Scripture scholar, will lead the recollection and preside at Eucharist. In the afternoon we will adjourn and head to Manhattan for an evening of conviviality.

In the midst of all this we will continue intensifying our prayer practices. We will pray the Stations of the Cross tomorrow evening during the hour reserved usually for spiritual reading; I hope to blog about this traditional devotion of the Catholic Church sometime during Lent. On Thursday evening we will have our hour of Eucharistic adoration. On Friday evening I will lead an hour of Taize prayer. These spiritual practices, too, I hope to describe for you in the days ahead. But then, I've promised all kinds of posts, haven't I? (Still hoping to blog about humor in the Capuchin fraternities, celibacy and vocation, and other things submerged in my subconscious.)

Sunday, February 26, 2012

From My Friends

Been working my way slowly through a backlog of e-mails. Everyone who takes the time and care to write deserves a response.

My friends are wise, witty, and compassionate. Today I'd like to yield some of my bandwidth to them. (Friends, I hope you don't mind. I will respect your anonymity.)

From one correspondent in Boston:

How lovely it is to hear your news. I reciprocate your wishes to me.

There are some twists to our modern, isolated, ersatz-narcissistic society which make it a challenge to be compassionate. We need people as yourself to make it right again by example, not by insistence....

Most people pretend the poor and downtrodden are invisible -- mostly out of guilt of not doing anything akin to the Golden Rule or Good Samaritan. "Get a job" or "Pick yourself up" one hears, if one hears anything at all. Others say the homeless, for example, are "rampant drug addicts or mentally ill useless people in society" and leave it at that, turning on their TVs to "American Idol". So, such malignant indifference is only conquered by silent but demonstrable example to the contrary of such views.

From a friend in Virginia:

I am intrigued by your blog post on celibacy. In my last year of seminary I had a lot of interest in this subject as well.... I had been intentional in my decision not to date. This gave me such freedom to allow myself to develop very emotionally intimate friendships with many people. Some I could go months without speaking and then pick up immediately where we'd left off. Last year in the fall, right before I got engaged, I spent a few days with a good friend who I see about two times a year. I wondered aloud with her if my gift for deep friendship came as a result of my decision not to date. I had noticed a shift in my availability in time, attention, and emotional energy when it came to my friendships after dating N________ for six months. Now that I'm married I do find it to be very true that my time, attention, and emotional energy for friendships is greatly diminished. I realize that not all of that is directly related to celibacy, but I do find myself thinking and wondering about the shifts in my own life. Do I still have that potential for maintaining the deeply intimate friendships with so many who are both near and far or am I shifting to only having that depth of friendship with just a few people because the primary human relationship is now my husband? Very different from the questions you are now pondering, but I have to admit your blog post did have me yearning for just a moment for the fond memories and positive relationships in my non-dating celibate life. (I don't want to make it seem like I've forsaken all my friends!! But, I guess what I'm trying to say is that I'm excited for you and the positive benefits of choosing celibacy as part of God's calling on your life.)

A dispatch from a friend who works in the trenches for economic justice:

Last weekend I went to Washington D.C. for a one-day workshop sponsored by the Catholic Labor Network. It was a group of about 30 people from various unions or labor organizations. CLN has supported us by keeping our case on their website including a link to the paper I presented in Chicago. A couple of observations were made by some of the participants. One is the unequal attention and financial resources that the U.S. bishops are spending on abortion, same-sex marriages and the current contraception debate versus labor/economic issues. The response to the labor issues has been inconsistent, especially when one works within a Catholic insitution dealing with economic/labor disputes.

A telling comment made was that we would not see a document like "Economic Justice for All" again, because of the current bishops we have today. One participant made the comment of how a document of that nature is needed more than ever to be rewritten for the current situation, even as it continues to speak to our current situation. It was a comment and observation that was consistent with my own observation of the Church becoming more corporate and partisan. A response to the partisan bias of the current Church leadership was that the leadership is "issue" oriented not "partisan."  

Finally, some advice about Kansas, the site of the Capuchin pre-novitiate, from a native-born Kansan now living in Massachusetts:

You can count on it being HOT. 90's for many days in summer. The view is something else ... you can see forever and the truly half-dome sky is awesome ... the high plains, although flat, have a beauty all their own. You will no doubt miss trees (oh, yes, there are trees, but not like the East) but be prepared to just enjoy an entirely different landscape -- walk outside town and appreciate the immensity of the sky! Clouds and storms are amazing out there.

I'm proud to be a native Jayhawker, although I left Kansas politics way behind many years ago ... and wouldn't necessarily want to live there full time now.

And a postscript: old Kansas truism: "in case of tornado, get to SW corner of basement" : )

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Speaking of Bread

All those prayerful words yesterday about bread made me pull out one of the cookbooks in the friary kitchen today to try my hand at baking a handsome loaf.

I believe I have succeeded. It was basic white bread -- nothing fancy. Just flour, water, oil, milk, sugar, salt, and yeast ... and the work of human hands. I was quietly thrilled that everything that happened, happened according to the recipe. The dough stiffened as I folded in cup after cup of flour. It also gave way under the force of my hands, the bones of my knuckles, the meat of my palms, becoming soft and elastic. I was delighted when, an hour after setting to rise, the dough doubled in bulk. It rolled and shaped into a loaf with ease. After an hour in the oven's high heat, it had been transformed, given a golden brown crown, a firm crust, and a pleasing aroma.

It looked like bread, it felt like bread, it smelled like bread. This evening I cut and buttered two slices. It tasted better than any white bread I can remember.

We do not live on bread alone. But give me the Word of God and the two-pound loaf I baked today, and I could sustain through many hungers.


A gusty day in Brooklyn, and the wind is still whipping the trees tonight. I went out only to run an errand at the post office. Otherwise, I've been guarding the friary, baking, praying, exercising, and backtracking through correspondences. My sabbath day.

Only one irritating moment today. I could not concentrate at the hour I recited evening prayer: for some reason, the bells at St. Michael-St. Malachy next door sounded for twenty minutes, from five on the hour until twenty after. That's not a call to prayer; that's obnoxious. What a nuisance. I'm still miffed over it. Next time I see the pastor or church staff, I will ask why the bells were rung for so long.

Ah, well. If only overlong calls to prayer were the greatest of our problems. The world would be a much better place.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Bread of Prayer

Generous God,
You who satisfy the hungry heart,

Feed us with the bread of your Word.

Give us an appetite for the things that give taste to life.

Make us crave what makes our daily bread filling
and help us to thank You for providing our fulfillment.

Turn us into bread for each other.
Let there be no more breadwinners
as long as there are breadlosers.
Bread should be given for all,
never to be fought over.
Turn us into bread for each other.

Let us share our food.
Let us share our word.
Let us eat and speak like people soon to part
or a people newly joined.

Give our prayers your truth.
Give our prayers your Word.
Fill our mouths with your bread,
and what we take in
will not be consumed
but will consume us
until there is nothing left of us
except holy bread and life.

God beyond, with, and within us,
hear our prayer. Amen.

Vow of Correspondence

Feeling stronger now than at any time earlier this week. My head has cleared; the congestion is dripping away.

Unfortunately, two of my brothers are now feeling poorly, with symptoms similar to mine. I hope it is a coincidence, as I took pains to communicate only my fraternal love, not my germs!

I feel well enough to saddle upon the stationary bike this evening and pump my heart: time for some strenuous recreation. I look forward to the perspiration and the satisfying feeling of a body tired not from fatigue but from fresh exertion. A good way to go into the weekend and the sabbath.


I am bowled over by the kind words that poured into my e-mail this week as I announced my departure from Facebook. The notes, some short and some long, showed me how firm the mystic bonds of charity hold us together, you and I who are friends in faith and good will. I promise each of you to write back with the same affectionate regard that moved you. Consider this a vow of correspondence.

May your electronic mailboxes and mine be lit with graceful notes from the ether. (And a few letters inked onto paper would be nice, too!)


I have a new chore at St. Michael Friary. Last week I was made responsible for the upkeep of the sacristy, the room next to our chapel where we store liturgical items. The bread and wine for Eucharist, the eucharistic vessels, the candles, the liturgical books, the incense, the vestments and linens, and more -- everything a Catholic community needs for divine worship. It is my responsibility to make sure the sacristy is orderly and fully supplied, and to prepare the chapel for Eucharist and other celebrations.

This is not a chore heavy on manual labor, but it requires attention to detail and an appreciation of the materiality of worship. God who is Spirit is everywhere and neither needs nor desires a fixed abode, but the people of God, being flesh and spirit, need a house of prayer in order to dispose themselves to the presence of God. Any place can make do provided we make it, with God's help, into a place where it is known to all that we come here in the name of the Lord. Behind every sanctuary is a good sacristy.

I hope to become a good sacristan. To now I have been shy around sacred vessels and church furnishings because I do not feel called to priesthood or sacramental leadership of Christian communities. Let those who are called to preside at the altar learn how to "set the table," so to speak. Such has been my attitude. But as a religious brother I will be viewed as a public figure in the Church, one with authority on all things Christian, including worship. I will be seen as a custodian of the liturgical traditions of the Church. Whether I want so to be seen or not, it will be the reality. Moreover, as the Second Vatican Council has taught us, all of the faithful have a right and responsibility to full, active, and conscious participation in worship. This requires a minimum degree of competence in liturgy from all, and certainly more from those who, uniquely consecrated to Christ through the vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience, are known as people of prayer. More and more I feel aware of the opportunity I have to bring my sisters and brothers to an encounter with the living God in worship. There is no good reason for religious not to get comfortable with churchy things.

So I will keep the cruets of water and wine filled. I will make sure the sanctuary lamp that keeps vigil over the tabernacle keeps burning. I will practice swinging the censer, letting my prayers mingle and rise with the holy smoke. I will wash and iron the linens and polish the vessels. I will set the table and serve. And I hope the people of God will come and be fed.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Ash Wednesday

Feeling a little tired and hungry, as you might expect on this Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Lenten season of prayer, fasting, and penance. For some reason it is always difficult for me to fast on this day, although I fast regularly. Maybe it has to do with being an obligatory fast. It is much easier to fast when no one requires it of you, or so I have found. That which is chosen freely is virtuous and done gracefully.

Difficult as the Ash Wednesday fast is, I have avoided letting the observance become a gloomy affair, as Jesus warned against. I have at least taken care not to look like I am fasting: so as not to neglect my appearance, I got a haircut this morning.

Our fraternity went to Mass at Blessed Sacrament Parish in Cypress Hills to celebrate Eucharist and receive the ashes blessed by the priest. For the first time, I found myself uncomfortable receiving ashes. It was not because I deny my sinfulness and mortality or refuse the call to conversion, as the earthy anointing reminds us. Rather, it was because I feared looking like the hypocrites Jesus deplored. I am surprised that the irony never occurred to me before this year. How many times have I heard Jesus tell us not to make a show of our almsgiving, prayer, and fasting, only to get a big black smear on my forehead moments later? One of the formators told me that the ashes are meant primarily to be a sign for the assembly: together we acknowledge our sin and our desire for conversion. Together we take up our cross daily. Together we lose our worldly life so we may gain eternal life. The ashes are not meant to show others how humble, how pious, how generous, or how hungry we are! The ashes are not meant for show, period. If they say anything, they say how utterly lacking in humility, piety, and charity we are, and how sorry we are of the fact.

Unfortunately, that is not the message people who are disinclined to give Christians of any denomination the benefit of the doubt will receive. If the "plain sense" of Scripture is the sense in which we should understand Jesus' teaching, we should not be surprised by this.

Less than an hour after I got home from church, I was doing my house chore, cleaning the bathrooms. While I was polishing a porcelain surface, I saw little black flecks float down from nowhere and pepper the area. For a moment I was dumbfounded, until I scratched my forehead. Ridiculous. I took a wet washcloth to my forehead and rubbed it clean.

Lord, cross my heart and not only my forehead with a sign of penance. Let my conversion be interior and not only exterior.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Back to Babylon

Just a quick note today. Heading back to Babylon this afternoon to see my brother at his new apartment, to be joined a little later by my sister. The three of us will probably go to a diner for the evening, and maybe a cafe if we have the time. Sibling time is rare nowadays, what with the three of us grown up and leading so-called "adult" lives. May we all remain young at heart no matter how many years we are blessed to be given. If, God willing, I graduate from postulancy to the novitiate, it will be 14 months before I see again either Jen or Nicholas, or any of my relatives, for that matter.

My formators have given the postulants this day off from community prayer, instruction, and ministry. I'm grateful for this extended sabbath. Not only does my head have the chance to recover gently from nasal congestion, but my heart is being given more time to make ready for Lent. Ash Wednesday is less than 36 hours away. Prayer, fasting, penance, and almsgiving: I hope to engage in these age-old practices with fresh intention this season on the way to Easter. Being with the friars this year cannot help but inspire me to connect with these practices of faith as if I were an acolyte.

To all who have the privilege of time off from their labors, have a happy and restful Presidents' Day.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Coming Up

A quiet, gentle Sunday. I awoke this morning with some head congestion and a clammy, kind of sore throat, but I don't feel too poorly. Heard a good sermon at church that had to do with Christian optimism. It was an extended meditation on the Yes of God to humanity as understood in one of St. Paul's letters to the Corinthian church, as demonstrated in Jesus' healing of a paralytic, and celebrated solemnly in the paschal mystery of Jesus' suffering, death, and resurrection. The Yes of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane in the face of utter sin and death manifests the fullness of his humanity and his divinity for us.

Not feeling run down, I exercised on the treadmill this afternoon. I am slowly building my stamina on both the treadmill and stationary bicycle. It is my goal to jog and/or pedal three hours a week. I'm not trying to get toned; I just want to take care of my heart. I'm not about to go running marathons, half or full; I am simply trying to attain cardiovascular fitness for the long run.


The season of Lent is almost upon us, the time of the church year when Christians of all denominations prepare to celebrate the foundational mysteries of their faith: the life, ministry, passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Here at St. Michael Friary we will take on additional prayers and devotions to complement our normal routine of morning prayer, Mass, evening prayer, and night prayer. One of the postulant brothers and I are the subcommittee in charge of planning special Lenten community prayer activities in our fraternity. We have met and drawn up a list of ideas for prayers and devotions during the Lenten season. We have submitted our proposal to the brothers and await their comments and suggestions. Our collective liturgical experience and spiritual wisdom will surely make our Lenten prayer practices rich and deep, appealing to head and heart, conducive to contemplation, and open to grace.


I sent a message to all my friends on Facebook to inform them I am deactivating my account. I took this opportunity also to recommend the blog as the best way to stay in touch on a near-daily basis. Here is what I wrote.

Dear friends,

Peace be with you and all of your loved ones.

As some of you know, I am getting off the Facebook network. I have not renounced all social media, but I feel a need at this time to step back and reflect on how to use social media well. For me, stepping back requires cutting back.

Of course, I wish dearly to remain connected to all of you. So I am writing today to invite you to become a follower of my blog, From a Brother. It's my diary about religious life. As many of you know, I am becoming a Capuchin Franciscan friar, and I started the blog last August to chronicle my new adventures in faith. It's a good read, in my humble opinion, and you don't have to be a Catholic to enjoy it. In fact, I write the blog with an ecumenical, interfaith, and pluralist audience in mind. Check it out today! Go to

In general, I am feeling and doing well. I have been living in Brooklyn since last summer, and I will remain here until May 9. Then I will head to Kansas for nine weeks, followed by a year in California to continue religious formation.

You can reach me until May 9 at St. Michael Friary, 225 Jerome Street, Brooklyn, NY 11207-3209. (Come and visit!) My telephone number is 718-827-6990 ext. 18. My e-mail address is If, God willing, I continue on to Kansas and California, I will provide the new contact information at the proper time.

To you my friends, people of faith and good will, I wish every thing that is good and holy. Don't be a stranger -- send me a letter or e-mail, or give me a call! Know of my prayers for you, and kindly send your prayer and good wishes to me and my fellow friars.


Saturday, February 18, 2012

Family Day

A good day in the company of my brother Nicholas and also with Mom and Dad. As good a family day as any I have had in recent visits, if not one of the best.

Nicholas put me to work as I had hoped, and the work was easy. We re-assembled his mirrored chest-of-drawers. We stacked books on shelves. We unpacked and closeted his wardrobe. We went shopping for groceries and kitchen accessories. We said a prayer of blessing for his new home.

I like Nicholas' apartment. It feels like his kind of space. The kitchenette is small, the living room is large, and the bedroom is just the right size. This is a place where he can be still with himself and God, and, if he is willing, hear the voice speaking him into more abundant being.

We went to Mom and Dad's for dinner and dessert. No drama, just the quiet delights of home, my first true home. Somehow, setting up Nick's new place made me feel an uncommon attachment to the place of my upbringing this evening -- and to my parents, who have kept the home fires burning for these 33 years our family has lived in Babylon.

I feel I have rendered to Nicholas what is his, not that I was in his debt fraternally, but that I gave freely what only a brother could give to another. He was feeling anxious as the moving-in got underway on Friday. I hope that my being there today for some of the small stuff helped to relieve his stress over this big change in his life.

A day like today makes me want to spend more time with my kin before, God willing, I move to Kansas and then California. As it happens, the postulants have a free day on Monday, Presidents' Day. If it is convenient for Nicholas and my sister Jennifer, the three of us may get together in Babylon for the late afternoon and evening. Wouldn't that be nice!

Friday, February 17, 2012


In the morning I will ride the rails to Babylon to meet my brother Nicholas at his new apartment. The heavy lifting happened today, with the furniture and bed (and everything else my kid brother owns packed into cardboard boxes) moved into place. Tomorrow will be a time for unpacking and sorting and arranging. I am completely at my brother's disposal; whatever he tells me to do, I will do it. Open this box; move that box; put this here; put that there; pile these things; stack those things. His wish; my command.

Two years ago I wrote a prayer of blessing for a new home for a friend who moved to New Orleans. The prayer is particular for the person, the time, and the place, but I will offer this prayer for my brother, too, when I visit his place tomorrow.

I have long desired this day for my brother, the day when he could have his own housewarming. Now he is truly coming into his own. Nicholas has helped me move umpteen times all over the Northeast; the least I can do is offer him my prayer and labor, ora et labora, just once.

Oh, I will also bring him some oatmeal raisin cookies I baked tonight.

It is a joy to know that Capuchins can go anywhere around the world and find hospitality wherever their fellow friars can be found. Franciscans have no place to call their own in this world, but they have many "homes." Now that my brother by birth has his own place, I can say that I have another home away from my eternal home. And when the big and little brother get together tomorrow, this apartment will be a friary in its own right! A very special friary, indeed.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Four O'Clock Prayer

God of our longing,
Lord of our dreaming,

You are the brightness
that helps us know ourselves
and our shadow.

Send down your Spirit to stir us from emptiness.
By your light we will live.
Protect us from sinking without escape into our shadow.

Lift us high into the air,
that we may feel your breath pass through our flesh.

Give us your friends to fly close to us,
the speakers of truth,
the messengers of love,
and the children of all that is holy.

Despite our violence,
despite our defiance,
forgive our sin,
renew our being,
and save us from the darkness
that threatens to swallow us
at the lengthening of the day.

And when we have finished our prayer,
help us hear your response,
so we may do what is truly your will.

This we ask, in faith,
through and with the mind of Jesus Christ,
your son and our brother. Amen.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012


God just sacked me.

It happened just fifteen minutes ago. I was in my room, lying on my bed, doing some spiritual reading. Then God tackled me from behind. God caught me unaware. Brought me right to the ground of my soul.

God is saying, "I got you." God is doing a victory dance right now over my prostrate person.

God just sacked me, but God didn't hurt me. Indeed, God has just put something great into my heart. An idea, a vision, a mystery. A deepening of my vocation.

I guess I was ready, though I did not know it. Now I know something. Wow. Everything is the same, but everything has changed.

I can't say what this is yet. I have got to pray about it. Oh, God, speak, for your servant is listening.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Social, Sexual, Spiritual

One more week of ordinary time until Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. Until then, it is an ordinary week at St. Michael Friary.

We have resumed our study of Catholic social thought, today taking in the historical context of the present period, beginning with around 1959 with Pope John XXIII. The postulants are presenting their assigned documents in chronological order. I will give my presentation on Economic Justice for All on Thursday.

Last Wednesday the postulants had their most recent conference in occasional series on celibacy. Our formator gave us several articles to read at our leisure about celibate sexuality, its centrality to our identity as religious, its place in the Church, and its value in building intimacy and community. I am treating these articles as spiritual reading, because as one of the authors argues, sexuality is at the heart of our spirituality, and the spiritual life is at the heart of authentic celibate chastity. A good thought for aspiring celibates on Valentine's Day!

The older I get, the more I want to talk about celibacy. I interpret this as a good sign -- I am growing more and more comfortable with my expression of sexuality. At this moment I feel as good as I ever have about this choice, which I make not only for my self-fulfillment, but also for God's sake, and for the sake of being a true brother in Christ to my neighbor. Up to now, I have opted not to speak about sexuality unless asked about it, because it would seem immodest and unseemly to do so. However, in the future, I would like to find ways to start conversations about celibate sexuality. I would like to become less shy about a way of life that, day by day, grows more rich and rewarding, peace-giving and spirit-filling. And, at bottom, creative, intimate, and love-filled.

Maybe writing more about celibacy as spirituality as well as sexuality would be a good start. Maybe I'll be so inspired this week! If not, rest assured this is not the last word I'll give on this subject.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Message to My Nephew

My nephew Jesse is two years old today. He is too young to read, so I did not send him a birthday card. He is not too young to be read to, so I bought him some books for my sister to read aloud to him.

Were my nephew able to understand what I want him to know, this is what I would say to him:

Dear Jesse,

It is your birthday. This is your day. We are all very proud of you. We love you. You did nothing to make us proud. You did nothing to make us love you. You just are, and that is reason enough to love you and be proud of you. May we love everyone as purely as we love you.

This is an exciting time for all of us who are watching you. With every day you are picking up new words. You are picking up new tricks. You are picking up new emotions, feelings, and sensations. The grey haze of infancy is lifting, and the bright light of childhood is dawning, bringing you into vivid sharpness. You are becoming a person, a funny little person. It is a delight to see you emerging.

Your world is changing, and quickly. That's all right, because you are changing quickly with it. Once you were all by yourself with your mom and dad. You were the only little person. Now you see other little persons every day. (Be good to them!) And you don't know it yet, but soon there will be another little person in your house. This little person is already here but not yet here, because this little person is inside your mom. Once you were inside your mom, too. That is where God put you when you came from nothing. That is where we all come from. We come from God and nothing. Then there is love, then a yes, and then we are.

Your world is changing. Now there is a young dog in your house. Once there was an old dog in your house. Then she had to leave this world, because everything that lives must die. She went back to God, but not back to nothing, because everything that comes to be is never lost.

Your world is changing, and forever. You came into the world, and you made my sister a mother. Now she is going to make you a brother. Once you become a brother, you will be a brother the rest of your life. Bless God for your mother. Bless God for you, Jesse, for you will be a brother for life. Your uncle, your big brother, is praying for you, because he wants you to be the best brother you can.

God be near you. God be with you. God be in you. I wish you the peace and goodness God showed us in his son and our brother, Jesus Christ.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Homework and Housework

A slightly snowy day in Brooklyn. I am hanging around the friary today, doing homework and housework.

The homework is to prepare a presentation on Economic Justice for All, the 1986 pastoral letter of the U.S. Catholic bishops. This landmark document applies the principles of Catholic social teaching to economic life in the United States. My assignment is to give a broad outline of the document and describe its main components; state the major themes of the letter; highlight a few striking passages and explain their significance; and offer general impressions of the letter.

My postulant brothers are reading other documents from the tradition, either papal encyclicals or bishops' letters. We will give our presentations this coming week, when Fr. Michael Marigliano returns to conclude our instruction in Catholic social thought.

I am relieved to have read Economic Justice for All at length, at last. With a little embarrassment I must admit that until now I had not read the entire letter, neither while I studied social ethics at Boston University nor subsequently when I was lead organizer for the Massachusetts Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice! I knew it only through secondary sources and in fragments. A great lacuna in my continuing education has been closed.

The housework is to finish my laundry, exercise my body, and pray. With Fr. Senan Taylor's lesson on aging sinking in, I remain mindful that I must take care of this house of flesh and blood, this temple of the Holy Spirit, so that I may fulfill my religious vocation for as long as God wills me to live.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Ministry to the Aging

The Capuchins take seriously their foundational charism of fraternity. They have always prided themselves on taking care of their senior friars from within the fraternity, so that their elders may live their religious vocation to the end of their days with dignity.

This morning the postulant brothers were privileged to receive a history lesson on the pastoral care of our senior friars. Fr. Senan Taylor, who has an advanced degree in gerontology, also dispelled whatever false myths and stereotypes we may have had concerning the elderly in the 21st-century United States.

To start off, we were wowed by reality. Did you know the fastest growing age group in the U.S. today is the octagenarians? And the second-fastest growing cohort is the centenarians! Brother Senan said we are in the middle of a "longevity revolution": not only are people living longer, but they are living in better health, relatively speaking, than elders of yesteryear. The New York/New England province of Capuchin Franciscans reflects society as well as any other community. The largest cohort in our province is the seniors, the brothers age 70 and 80 and over. God willing, our eldest friar, Fr. Walter O'Brien, will become our first centenarian when he turns 100 in October.

Contrary to the postulants' estimates, a very small percentage of seniors reside in nursing homes, only about 4 percent. Of the remainder, 20 percent live with multiple chronic conditions in their own homes. And the majority, 75 percent, live in good health and are active outside their household. As it is in society, so it is with the Capuchins: 75 percent of our brothers live active lives. The elderly are not by and large decrepit and demented. The reasons for this are simple: antibiotics and improved medical science, and wellness education.

Like many other groups in society, the Capuchins have learned how to support their elders so that they may grow old with grace and good health. In Brother Senan's account, the friars have adjusted to the longevity revolution with a combination of common sense, good luck, providence.

In former days, the elderly friars were sent to live at the houses of formation and study and supported by the novices. Senior care as we know it today was nonexistent, but the younger friars did what they could to treat their elders with compassion, and in return they received from the more healthy seniors a source of spiritual support for what was then a rather austere monastic life.

Then, as the longevity revolution started, the number of senior friars increased while the number of young friars fell sharply following the Second Vatican Council. The large houses of formation closed, and the senior friars were consolidated. But they were left without one-on-one support from either young friars, who now commuted to various colleges for their studies, or middle-aged friars, who went off-site to ministry. Another problem was that the friaries where the elders resided were not senior-friendly, basically being barracks best suited for young men entering the spiritual boot camp that was novitiate. To remedy this situation, the Capuchins developed their first-ever senior friar residence in Yonkers, N.Y., acquiring a parochial school building vacated by a group of Christian Brothers and converting it into bedrooms with easy accessibility to a chapel, bathrooms, recreation room, and refectory. With the hiring of a cook and housekeeper, the senior friars could now safely continue to live independently and do all the so-called "activities of daily living" (e.g., bathing, dressing, eating) on their own.

Once the province reconciled itself to the idea of an age-segregated fraternity -- a concept that, in the opinion of some, went against Franciscan values -- the new community, known as the St. Clare Senior Friar Residence, proved to be a blessing from God. For this living arrangement allowed the men to have a religious life. They would not feel like they were being a burden to anyone. They would retain their sense of self-worth. And by living with their cohorts, the brothers, many of whom entered the order together or within five to ten years of one another, had a common history and culture and shared experiences to bind them. By sharing their stories, their personalities would remain intact. With their physical health assured and a positive attitude, these friars were able to continue their Capuchin life.

Over the years, the fraternity at St. Clare has diversified, and so have the needs. As the seniors aged, some of them began to need assistance with simple activities like showering and dressing. And as time wore on, some began to need more intensive care. The Capuchins adjusted by completely renovating one of their properties on the campus of Sacred Heart Parish in Yonkers and building it to meet nursing home code. Now the province has the capacity to house every brother over the age of 70, if need be, and the facilities to allow them to "age in place" -- that is, to function in independence to assisted living to care, until the age of 100 and beyond. And thanks to Medicare and Medicaid entitlements, the province can employ four home health aides to assist Father Senan and Fr. Michael Connolly to provide round-the-clock care for all the seniors.

God willing, St. Clare Friary will never reach full capacity, because our province got religion on wellness about 30 years ago. There was a time when friars were habitual smokers; they enjoyed a few good drinks, some brothers more than a few; and they tended toward workaholism. Realizing that preventive and proactive care was in the long run the best senior care and the most cost-efficient, the province resolved that its brothers had to reform their personal habits. By the 1990s, alcoholism was no longer tolerated; smoking was prohibited inside the friaries; diet began to improve; and exercise machines were introduced in the friaries. It used to be that friars in formation put on weight after they entered; we postulants are striving to be fitter than we are today when we take our vows! We want to be good to Brother Body.

With good physical health, sufficient wealth to meet basic needs and receive medical care, and a positive attitude toward getting older -- as well as a safe, clean, friendly environment for aging in place -- Father Senan says every Capuchin can age successfully and live out his vocation to the fullest. Amen -- may it be so!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Whose Bread?

The woman was a Greek, a Syrophoenician by birth,
and she begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter.
He said to her, "Let the children be fed first.
For it is not right to take the food of the children
and throw it to the dogs."
She replied and said to him,
"Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children's scraps."
Then he said to her, "For saying this, you may go.
The demon has gone out of your daughter."

Mark 7:24-30

Last Saturday I went to Manhattan to buy some books for my two-year-old nephew and go to church. I took some of my day-off money with me, first to supplement the gift card I had for a Catholic bookstore; and second to put in the collection basket at St. John the Baptist on West 31st Street, the Capuchins' church.

This being a good hour to conduct an examination of conscience, let me confess that I was hoping not to encounter any needy persons on the street. I was completely focused on using the money for gifts and a tithe. I had a mission from which I would not be swerved.

As it turned out, I was not tested that day. I did not meet anyone who asked me for help. I did not, to my knowledge, go out of my way to avoid people. Still, my thoughts betrayed a lack of charity. For this I feel the need to show contrition.

What would I have done if a woman or man called out to me for spare change, fare for the bus or subway, a dollar for coffee or a hot meal, anything? I can think of the stock responses I was rehearsing: "No, not today"; "No, I can't"; "I don't have any change"; "I don't have any money for you." All of these would be true to the letter but false to the spirit. Yes, it is true you could not give today, even though you have money on you, because you had no intention of helping out today. Yes, you cannot give, despite the cash in your wallet, because you are unwilling to help a needy soul. Yes, you do not have change because you are carrying a twenty-dollar bill that you refuse to break and share. Yes, you don't have any money for anyone, and the amount you have on you is irrelevant, because whatever it is in your pocket, you don't want anyone else to have a part of it. How true, all of your excuses, and how wrong.

Lighten up, says my superego. You had a purpose for the money -- your nephew and your church. Intentions are to be followed through. You very well couldn't deny your blood kin and spiritual kin.

Then comes the voice from deeper than my psyche. That's what Jesus said to the Syrophoenician woman. And I had to correct my own Son through her.

Of course, it makes no earthly sense to interrupt the good you are doing for one people, especially your people, to do good for others, especially strangers. That's worldly wisdom. It's not the wisdom of God.

I love my nephew, but one day I must teach him that I will love him better when I love the neighbors nobody loves. I will love him better when I love them to the point of preferring them to him. I will love him better even when I deprive him of good things so they who have none may have a few good things, too. As for the Church and all its faithful, she needs no lessons in charity from me. She is gathered from all the nations, an assembly of Gentiles, a house of Syrophoenicians. We are all dogs scrambling for crumbs under the table that bears the bread of life. For the price of a mustard seed's worth of faith, we have all received grace beyond measure.

The bread I have is mine only as much as I am able to give it, open-handed and without distinction. Lord, send me to the foreign places where I will learn to give faithfully, so that I may take and eat my daily bread with greater joy.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012


A little over a year ago at this time, I had three cell phones (one for personal calls, two for business) always on my person. I had three active e-mail accounts (one for personal, two for business) teeming with messages. I lurked on Facebook for more hours than I care to admit.

Today I have no cell phone of my own; I rarely use the cell phones available for the brothers' common use at St. Michael Friary. I am down to one e-mail account, and I have unsubscribed from most of the mailing lists I was on. My combined inboxes daily used to deliver several dozen messages. Now if I am lucky I get about ten messages a day.

My time spent on Facebook has declined sharply since the discernment retreat. After one week off the social grid, I found out that I did not miss it. My participation is much reduced: I update my profile less often, even omitting the daily status update that used to be a constant; and I comment far less on my friends' content.

Around the new year I resolved to leave Facebook, and I am preparing to jump off the social network by weaning myself from it, as I have weaned myself from electronic media more generally. (The big exception is this blog.)

One of my friends, who would be sad to see me go, asked me if this is as a permanent move or a limited measure of detachment for Lent.

This is a good question for discernment because I want to make choices, great and small, for the good of my initial formation. For the moment let's say both/and. Facebook is no longer the most appropriate platform for the kind of social networking I want to do. I'd have left by now except for a few dear friends whose profiles I continue to read regularly; and because occasionally I do learn significant things about my brothers and sisters in spirit. But the way Facebook works now is not the way it worked five years ago, and the joy of connecting this way is gone. Furthermore, I am appalled that Facebook is going to capitalize to the tune of $100 billion because it "owns" our personal information. It has collectivized, commodified, and monopolized the act of socializing. And it has devalued the desire for solitude. That's a big negative in my book. (I recommend this essay in Sunday's New York Times.) If I had firmness of conviction, I would have deactivated the account already, as some of my seminary friends have done.

There was a time when Facebook enhanced the quality of my friendships. It doesn't anymore. It's time to find other, better ways to build up those important relationships. It will take more work, but I know it will be worth it! I will make use of any medium that benefits my vocation and discard the others. Those of you who are religious and/or social media-savvy, I welcome your advice. And I promise you, my intimate acquaintances, that our friendship will prosper because of it. For I am weaning myself from social media, these particular extensions of humanity, for a time, to better know myself; I will never wean myself from the love of God that invigorates us and unites us one to another.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Stable Body, Wandering Spirit

The world feels weighty lately. The state makes war, sins against our bodies and the earth, and ruins the souls of nations. Society ceases to build up community; it divides the peoples, diminishes the loaves and fishes, and turns the hungry against each other. Culture sickens our bodies, pollutes our souls, and starves both. The Church tyrannizes love with truth and forgets that sin, not error, is what separates us from God, and it becomes worse than a useless servant.

These problems are not above me, because I am a part of them all, but they sure do feel beyond me.

Not too long ago, I would be compelled to take action, any action, immediately. Now something is changing. No, that's not right. Not changing, because I still want to act immediately. But something else, another inclination, is arising in tandem.

While meditating in chapel today, it became clear to me that I want to pray better. I've never truly prayed for the end of war. How do you do that? I've never really prayed for survivors of sexual abuse. How do you pray for them? I've never confronted sin, evil, and its attendant violence with the weapons of the spirit. But for a few rare moments in my life, I've never worshipped God with anything like awe and wonder. I want to pray like I have never prayed before. Indeed, I haven't even begun to pray.

While walking home from Neighbors Together, it occurred to me that I had just spent three and a half hours in ministry without any deep awareness of God. I was conscious of other things. I was mindful of other things. My gut reaction to this point of seeing was, "I'd rather stay at home and contemplate poverty than show up at the soup kitchen without my soul. I could do more good that way."

Really? Yes. Today it became very clear to me that my body wants to stay put in the friary, but my spirit wants to travel.

Injustice has not ceased to irritate me. Indeed, I want it to bother me more. More than ever, I want to smash sinful structures and destroy the weapons of our self-destruction.

Ministry is fine, and the work continues to interest me, pose challenges, and present queries for discernment.

However, the desire to pray about the condition of the world; to offer petitions for the world in its sorrow and suffering; and to meditate on how I am to respond is swelling inside. This desire now matches my desire to do something merciful and just. In short, I want to spend a lot more time out of the world. I want to fuel the spirit of prayer and devotion that will fire the action I take when, God willing, I profess my vows for the world.

My body yearns to be still, but my spirit yearns to explore. This is not a contradiction. This is a new feeling. Perhaps it is a sign that I am becoming ready for novitiate?

Monday, February 6, 2012

For Grandma

Adele Zuba, my paternal grandmother, stole away from this world at this hour one year ago tonight. She was eighty-four years old.

At her funeral Mass, I delivered some words of remembrance after Communion. Here, for you and for her, are those words.


It is a work of mercy to bury the dead, the Church teaches us. It is a work of love to remember the dead, the Christian philosopher Soren Kierkegaard tells us. These are the highest things a human being can do. The rest we leave to God, whose mercy brings an end to the suffering of our dying loved ones, and whose love remembers them into new life. When one of the dying thieves who was crucified together with Jesus begged him to “remember me when you come into your kingdom,” Jesus said, “Today, you will be with me in paradise.” Jesus said this because God remembers us, and God’s memory is powerful enough to bring our bodies, lost to this world, into the undying life of heaven.

We are here to remember Grandma because we will continue to love her as we did when she was in this world. I pray that if we truly did love her, that we may remain steadfast in our love. If our love for her was ever lost, I pray that we may renew our love for her and know her once again as if for the first time. I ask God to be merciful to us and show us how to love, for God is love and is always the one who loved us first.

We are here to ask this loving God, through the risen Christ, to bring Grandma into life everlasting. God has already been merciful to her and given her release from the struggle of earthly life. The last four years of her life were a struggle, sad, lonely, and anxious. They were sad years because she lost so many things that go to make up a life—her home and her community in Flushing, her friends, her mobility, her independence. They were lonely years because she could not make new connections to replace the ones she lost. She longed for heaven; she longed for my Granddad. And they were anxious years because she knew her mind was dissolving and there was nothing she or we could do about it.

In this world she felt like a lodger who had long overstayed her welcome. We did not want her to feel this way, but none of us could satisfy the deepest longing of her heart. Only God could do that. Nevertheless, God bless my father and mother and brother for doing so much and sacrificing so much to keep her healthy and happy.

And as I have said, God has been merciful. Grandma has been spared years of a living limbo. Now we ask God through the remembering love of Jesus to carry her over the void of eternal death. In spite of the sin that causes most of our emotional and spiritual suffering; in spite of the physical evil of sickness and irreversible decay, the God of Jesus Christ holds all of creation together in himself, and nothing that was made in God’s love which remains in God’s love is ever lost.

Over the years Grandma frequently prayed for me that God would show me the way, and as the fatigue in her mind and body became permanent, she would make this prayer for herself, too. This is a very good prayer. And I know she prayed it well. This way is our true happiness. She meant for God to show us the way into the true life of God, the way into eternity. She was right to ask God to show us this way because we cannot find this way ourselves. We can’t find this way through our own skill or by luck. Only God can reveal this way, and having revealed it, give us the courage to follow it wherever it leads. We are all pilgrims on the way to eternity. We also call eternity the kingdom of God, the new Jerusalem, or just plain old heaven. But this world is the only place where we can start the journey. This time is the only time we have been given to make our way toward the timeless. And it is in this time and place that our destination begins ever so faintly to become visible. It takes faith to sharpen our senses to see it. It takes hope to believe that it will become clearer and nearer. And it takes love to leap forward into that new age. So today, in this place, let us make our pilgrimage to the city of God, taking Grandma’s prayer as our compass.

What I will remember of Grandma, what I will carry with me into eternity, or to put it better, what will carry me through this day and every moment into eternity, is her gentleness toward all; her cheerfulness toward both neighbors and strangers; her appreciation of beauty and her own eye for it; her generosity of affection toward me and Jennifer and Nicholas, as well as her delight in our gifts and talents; and above all her simplicity of spirit and purity of heart. The Grandma I knew held no hate in her heart against any other human being. I am in awe of her because of this. I saw her get angry only once in my life, and that was when Jen and I were romping around her house making a ruckus. It was the only time she ever hollered at us, and when she began to yell at us, Jen and I froze. We were mortified, because it was so out of character for Grandma to raise her voice to anybody. She was a lamb, truly a lamb, with not a trace of wolf in her.

We come to remember Grandma the real person. The real and less-than-perfect but faithful daughter, sister, wife, mother, aunt, grandmother, and great-grandmother: this is the person who will be saved. We know the ways she missed the mark of holiness or fell short of the measure of loving-kindness in her most important relationships. We know she did not live as fully as God intended her to live—so it may be said of all of us. But let us praise her virtues. It is easier to hate than to love, and as I have said already, Grandma, as far as I know, chose not to hate anyone. It takes a strong person to fulfill such a resolution. She was confident enough in God’s love that she could resist the temptation to anger and resentment and avoid violence not only in her words and actions but also in her private thoughts. And by her love, our sins against her and each other were covered, not out of willful ignorance of wrongdoing or prudishness in the face of ugly human indecency, but out of a deep desire for peace and reconciliation, and a clear-eyed hope for a better way of relating to one another. I hope that Grandma will continue to pray for us, first for peace within ourselves and in all our families and then, reconciled to each other, that we may be instruments of peace in our troubled world, bearing the invincible love of God to everyone we see.

For a final word, with the help of the Holy Spirit who joins us in love’s peaceful bond to the communion of saints, I want to speak directly to Grandma. Grandma, I pray that your presence remains with us on earth even as we trust that you will now dwell in heaven. I pray that you are aware in a mysterious way of everything that we are saying and doing, although we will never be able to know this except in the blessing of dreams and visions. I call on you to ask God to guide us by that divine love whose law is a lamp for our feet and a light for our path. Watch over us as we enter love’s narrow gate and follow that bending path, that rounding road, with the rising sun to brighten that most perfect way. And may we have the courage to follow where you have gone, to follow in passion to the cross and even beyond the crucifixion to the other side of death. I say this because you have loved me, Grandma, and I love you, too, from the beginning and now and always. We believe in this love, Grandma—it is the way, and with God’s help it will be our way.

Jesus, we trust in your loving power. We trust in the kingdom God has given to you. Now remember Grandma in your love, and we will remember her in ours.

Given at Our Lady of Grace Parish, West Babylon, N.Y., on Thursday, Feb. 10, 2011.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Eleventh-Hour Prayer

Holy God,
who numbers our days and hours,
horizon of history
and abyss of eternity,

Teach us not to count the time
and keep us free from every temptation
to purchase a fare to the hereafter.

As our age runs into the ages
show us how to play
and not to compete,
to complement
and not to contrast.

Help us rise in the morning,
rise until evening,
rise to the night,
and rise to our name on the last day,
when the game of life is done.

Until that day and hour,
make us see more brightly
what you have revealed in Jesus,
that the game is over and done with forever.
Let peace put paid to living by winning,
and we will live by dying daily to our greed.

For the only ones with whom we must contend
are ourselves and the Evil One.
The rest will be overcome.

Now guard our sleep,
watch our waking,
and help us play well,
for with you there is nothing to fear
and nothing to lose.

We ask this through the timeless name of Jesus the Christ,
who is the beginning and the end,
who is beyond all time
and in all time. Amen.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

An Anecdote

I went to a bookstore in midtown Manhattan run by the Daughters of St. Paul to purchase books fit to show and read to my nephew, Jesse, who will be two years old next Sunday.

The sister working as cashier was an amiable and talkative person. I was feeling shy, as I usually do when I go into my hermit mode on weekends. But I knew I would have to make polite conversation.

She saw me standing by the cash register and said I could come forward. I gave her the books and said, "Here you go," as cheerfully as I could.

Then came the question I expected. She asked me if the books were for my children. Inside, I tensed. Children ... did she say children, not child?

I had to resist ignoring the question. I did not want to tell the sister I do not have children. I did not want to tell the sister that I have no intention of having children. I did not want to tell her that I don't have the least imagination for being a parent, much less a husband or a loving life partner. But I also didn't want to tell her that I am committing to lifelong celibacy or that I am in religious formation. Part of this was shyness, but part of it was a desire not to put the focus on me. The question wasn't about me, anyway.

While my mind was circling the wagons around my heart, I told the sister that the books were for my nephew, who is turning two years old, and I thought these books were appropriate because he is at the age where he will sit and be read to -- and quite happily, too. She agreed and then commented to the effect that he must really be getting around now, hard to keep up with, and so on. I agreed with her. I paid for the books, shoved them into my tote bag, and shoving my pride deep into my guts, I thanked the sister and went off to church for meditation and Mass.

I think I handled the situation well. I kept the focus on my nephew, not my insecurities. If I was not outwardly cheerful, then at least I was polite. But the question made me defensive, I confess. When my father was the age I am now, he was well on the way to becoming a dad for the third time.

Sometimes I also think about my elder brothers in religion, who began consecrated life ten to fifteen years earlier than I did. I am learning about the things they have done and the experiences they had by the time they were my age, and I feel like I am so far behind in my own personal becoming. I know this is not so, and it is silly, of course, to let myself be tempted into making comparisons with other souls. We are all being made into saints in God's time, not ours. Yet when time feels so ordinary, it can be difficult to remember we come from eternity and are made for living out of the eternal and into the forever.

I will not give rise to children born of my blood. And it may be that I have no spiritual children, either -- that depends on the grace of God and my cooperation. But let it please the Spirit that I seek to become a child of God. May She mother me and bring me to maturity as a disciple of Christ.

Last of all, as to one born abnormally, he appeared to me. For I am the least of the apostles, not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me has not been ineffective.

1 Corinthians 15:8-10

The Medium Is the Message

It is a great consolation in spiritual reading when you encounter the work of wise people whose thoughts clarify and confirm the truths you have been fumbling toward.

Today, in the Franciscan calendar of saints, the Capuchins honor one of their own, a priest known as Joseph of Leonessa (1556-1612). This ancestor in faith, a missionary to Turkey, became a famous preacher in his native land. In chapel this morning I meditated on one of his sermons, printed in my breviary. Here is a part of it:

The Gospel and the good news of our Lord's coming into the world through the Virgin Mary is not a matter for recording primarily on writing materials but in our hearts and souls. This is the difference between the written law and the law of grace. The former is called written because it was engraved on tablets of stone; the latter is called the law of grace because it is imprinted on the hearts of men through the infusion of grace by the Holy Spirit. This is what was promised by the Lord according to Jeremiah: I will make a covenant with you not like the covenant I made with your fathers. Concerning this new covenant Scripture adds: I will place my law within them, and write it upon their hearts.

Every Christian, then, must be a living book wherein one can read the teaching of the Gospel. This is what Saint Paul says to the Corinthians: Clearly you are a letter of Christ which I have delivered, a letter written not with ink, but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh in the heart. Our heart is the parchment; through my ministry the Holy Spirit is the writer because my tongue is nimble as the pen of a skillful scribe.

Would indeed that the preacher's tongue were moved by the Holy Spirit, dipped in the blood of the spotless Lamb and writing skillfully on your hearts today. But how can one writing be written over another writing? Without erasing the first the second cannot be written. But avarice, pride, wantonness and the rest of the vices have been written on your hearts. How will we write humility, uprightness and the rest of the virtues unless the previous vices are erased? If men had such writing on themselves each one, as we said, would be a book and his life would teach others by example. For this reason Paul adds: You are my letter, known and read by all....


All I can say is, Wow. A living book of the Gospel. A letter of Christ. This is what I have been trying to say for some time now. Love it or not, I am how God is speaking. I do want to be the word God is speaking. I am but a poor stereotype of the Word of God, a word straining to be heard as a faithful echo of the Word. And by grace I am re-writing myself, constantly, so that I am better what God is speaking me to be. One continuous draft and re-draft of the music and lyrics to the song of myself God has authored: that is religious life.

Marshall McLuhan, media theorist and prophet for our age of mass communication, proclaimed that "the medium is the message." This convert to Catholicism was speaking of technology as an extension of ourselves. Through our media, our senses and our consciousness are projected onto reality, organizing and re-organizing reality. The media we use reflect the way we think and perceive and thus affect the world we construct. When we adopt a new medium, it alters the way we construct the world. Our culture, our society, therefore, is how we speak it. The medium is the message.

McLuhan was studying human media. The alphabet, movable type, radio, television, the Internet: these are human media. Four centuries before McLuhan, Joseph of Leonissa was studying media, too, except he was speaking of divine media and the divine message. And Joseph, restating what Jeremiah and Paul said many centuries before him, announced that we, human beings, are living books of the Gospel. No longer is the divine message engraved on tablets of stone alone; it is written on tablets of flesh in the human heart.

Human beings are themselves divine media! We are how God is speaking! How great a destiny! How could this be?

God, the ultimate reality, the author of our total environment, has spoken through all ages, communicating life and grace in many ways, extending the divine power and consciousness into creation, nurturing it through countless changes. God did this through many "media," from physical to chemical to biological nature. God readied the world for the definitive projection of this power and consciousness, which would forever transform reality and change the way it changes. In the mystery of salvation history, God chose a human being to be the ultimate medium of grace. For those who believe, Jesus Christ is the perfect self-communication of God. "And the Word was made flesh." The medium is the message. By the creating and saving power of this Word, all human beings could become sharers in and bearers of the message of eternal life.

Love it or not, I am how God is speaking. Jesus Christ is God speaking. Like Francis in imitation of Christ, I yearn to be more truly what God is speaking and become fully who I am. May the medium be the message. For this fond hope, Joseph of Leonessa, pray for us.

Friday, February 3, 2012

A Prayer

God of surpassing power, God the most good,
make us, your poor children,
useful to your service.

Give us the work we can do
to show forth your good in our lives.
Help us to see the meaning in our existence,
most especially during times of dullness, pain, and sorrow.

Let us remember how you have changed our lives,
and give us courage to show others what you have done.

Keep our neighbors ever in our sight. Keep us poor in spirit.

When we fail to act faithfully, forgive us our sins, we pray.
When we fail to act effectively, show us the better way,
and shield us from crippling doubt and guilt.

When we fail to speak and do the right and the good,
send us your truth to dispel our ignorance
and your love to make our words live in deeds.

And if, after we have prayed,
we remain stuck in our uselessness,
and all appears to be hopeless,
be merciful and grant us
the consolation of your Spirit.

At every dark hour,
And at our last hour,
Hold us in the Light we cannot see,
And speak the Word we cannot hear,
Until we awaken to your Presence
In the world beyond all worlds.

Hear our prayer,
Righteous Father,
Faithful Son,
Loving Spirit,

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

All the Days of Our Life

Praise the LORD, my soul;
I will praise the LORD all my life,
sing praise to my God while I live.

A phrase leapt off the pages of my breviary and into my heart at morning prayer. The antiphon for Psalm 146: "I will praise my God all the days of my life." From Psalm 146: "I will praise the Lord all my days." The responsory: I will bless the Lord all my life long." The antiphon for the Canticle of Zechariah: "Let us serve the Lord in holiness all the days of our life."

How many times have I recited these lines year in and year out, and why suddenly today do these particular words shine like gold? Do it enough times, and lectio divina sneaks up on you without your being aware of it. All the days of my life.

These words have really got a hold on me this day. Think about it. Feel about it. Intuit it. Praise, bless, and serve God, in holiness, all the days of your life. Can you do it? Can I do it? There it is, a promise as simple as the waters of baptism. A promise so profound that I intend to make three vows just to be sure I live up to it.

Today is the first of February. How many of you are keeping your resolutions for the new year? How many of you even remember your resolutions?

Most of the promises we make are limited in time and place. Few if any of them are for a lifetime and universal. The marriage commitment is one of them. Any others?

We live in a world governed more by contract than covenant. In the United States we seek above all not to be constrained. Not only does freedom mean freedom from involuntary obligation, but also the minimization of voluntary obligation. No contract, social, political, or economic, is inviolable. Every oath or affirmation is temporary. Every promise is conditional. No promise cannot be broken.

But with these words of prayer, everything changes.

Today in the chapel I was feeling a little grumpy, as usually I do at quarter to eight in the morning. My throat is clammy, and I can't sing or recite the prayers the way I would like. I get distracted when one brother yawns and another reads slowly and another sings off key. And then I turn the focus away from God and back to myself: I can't pray like this. Not in these conditions.

The reply from my superego: Yes, you can. Yes, you must. Yes, you will. Suck it up, you self-absorbed prig!

Then comes a more gentle response, from a place deeper than my psyche: I will praise my God all the days of my life. I will bless the Lord all my life long. Let us serve the Lord in holiness all the days of our life.

And a calm took over. Morning prayer ended, and though my brothers probably couldn't tell the difference, I felt more peace than when I entered the chapel.

You see, I realized, like I never did before, that I am not just praying to become a better disciple tomorrow. I am praying as a disciple today, right here and now. When I pray, "I will praise the Lord all my days," I am not making a pledge whose fulfillment begins tomorrow. "All my days" includes today and always begins now. My word to God is a bond not yet redeemed in full, but it has value today.

This day, and no other, is the day to praise, bless, and serve God (and all people in God's name). It doesn't matter if I feel tired and lousy. It doesn't matter if the sky is gray and the temperature is falling. It doesn't matter if it's 7:45 a.m. It doesn't matter if my brothers can't sing or sit still. It doesn't matter, because these conditions, and more adverse ones besides, will be there every day until the end of my life. In good times and bad, for better and worse, I have vowed in baptism to do these things, in spite of all conditions -- in fact, because of them. Lord, help me to love with a ready heart, always and every day.