Saturday, March 31, 2012

Pilgrim on the Way

This passage from the Gospel of John, an alternative reading for the procession of palms that begins the Passion Sunday (Palm Sunday) services in Catholic parishes everywhere tomorrow, could inspire hours of meditation for me during Holy Week.

When the great crowd that had come to the feast heard
that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem,
they took palm branches and went out to meet him, and cried out:
"Hosanna!
"Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,
the king of Israel."
Jesus found an ass and sat upon it, as is written:
Fear no more, O daughter Zion;
see, your king comes, seated upon an ass's colt.
His disciples did not understand this at first,
but when Jesus had been glorified
they remembered that these things were written about him
and that they had done this for him.


Friday, March 30, 2012

Week's End

Going to bed momentarily. We concluded our two-day class on ecclesiology with Brother Jack, in whose company it is always a pleasure to be. A good afternoon at Neighbors Together, and another quality class in our leadership development program. Evening prayer and dinner followed, with the customary conviviality. I led our third and final Taize prayer of Lent in the chapel, and the brothers came and went during the hour, giving and receiving silence while offering wordless prayers to Christ, our peace and reconciliation. With the last candles extinguished, I hastened to the kitchen to commence some serious cookie-baking. Three dozen cookies, chocolate chip and double-chocolate chocolate chip, are coming with me to Babylon, a birthday offering for Dad. The nuclear family is gathering at his favorite Italian restaurant in Babylon Village. Of course, we'll be sampling tiramisu and gelato at dessert, but I hope he feels like dipping just one cookie into his coffee!

Now, at week's end, to bed, and tomorrow, in the company of my family, to go gracefully into Holy Week.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Good Company

A good evening with good company at St. Michael Friary. It was a family affair. Nicholas, my brother, visited for evening prayer, dinner, and Eucharistic adoration with night prayer. One of my postulant brothers had his parents and brother over, too. Brother Jack, who arrived this morning for the first of two days of instruction on ecclesiology, also joined us in the chapel and at the dinner table. Mothers, fathers, and brothers all -- each in their own way trying to do the will of God, each related to one another in the Spirit.

Now I'm finishing my homework assignment. Just read the first chapter of Models of the Church, by the late Cardinal Avery Dulles. It is one of the most influential contemporary works on theology of the Church, written by one of the most influential theologians of the late 20th century. If one day I have the time, I will read the book complete. Before I go to bed I must also create a diagram to illustrate my own working model of Church; identify the strengths and weaknesses of my model; consider how to make it more robust; and evaluate how this model affects my effort to live the Capuchin life. A good little mental exercise, and I recommend it to the faithful. In the meantime, for busy Christians who would like to better know their own working model of Church but don't have the time for theological reflection, take this fun little quiz.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

An Evening Prayer

God of heaven and earth,

Make me real
so you will be known in person
by a perfect little word
a sound on your breath
make me hold your silence
a sacred vessel of your wine

O God my God
and our God
teach me how to say your name
show me how to call you
and speak to you
and help me bring the people
into my heart
where you dwell

You love me, Lord
I love your loving
make me loving
make me spirit
with the Holy Spirit
being in the space
between the lover and beloved

You are beyond
and you are near
and you are here
within me
a trace in flesh of grace

Be always in your temple,
O divine mercy

O God my God our God
You are making me true
I thank you
thank you

I pray in your name
in your Son's name
in the name of the Spirit
I pray.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Remember the Sabbath Day

The following are notes for my presentation on the Third Commandment, as interpreted by the Catechism of the Catholic Church, to the postulants.

The Third Commandment
(Part Three, Sect. Two, Chap. One, Art. 3)

Remember the sabbath day—keep it holy. Six days you may labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the Lord your God. You shall not do any work, either you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your work animal, or the resident alien within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them; but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the Lord has blessed the sabbath day and made it holy. Exodus 20:8-11 (New American Bible Revised Edition)

Outline

Article 3: The Third Commandment

I.                     The Sabbath Day
II.                   The Lord’s Day
A.    The day of the Resurrection: the new creation
B.    Sunday – fulfillment of the sabbath
C.    The Sunday Eucharist
D.    The Sunday obligation
E.     A day of grace and rest from work

Summary

1. The sabbath is a day of solemn rest, holy to the Lord.
By it we recall the mysteries of creation and liberation from bondage.
We keep the sabbath as the sign of God’s covenant with us.

2. For Christians, Sunday replaces the sabbath and fulfills its spiritual truth.
The sabbath represents the first creation, completed on the seventh day.
Sunday recalls the new creation, inaugurated by the resurrection of Christ.
Sunday, the first day, is the “eighth day,” the Lord’s Day. In the spirit of the sabbath, we celebrate our Creator and Redeemer on this day.

3. To observe the commandment, the Church decrees: “On Sundays and other holy days of obligation the faithful are bound to participate in the Mass. 
According to canon law, “Sunday … is to be observed as the foremost holy day of obligation in the universal Church.”
On Sunday the faithful rest from their labors in order to worship God, to rejoice in the Lord’s Day, to perform works of mercy, and to relax in mind and body.

4. “Every Christian should avoid making unnecessary demands on others that would hinder them from observing the Lord’s Day” (para. 2187).
The people of God must work together to sanctify Sundays and holy days.
Christians should urge employers and public officials to recognize the faithful’s right to observe the Lord’s Day and have their rest. 

Questions and Reflections

The Sabbath Day

What hit me hardest? The sabbath is “a day of protest against the servitude of work and the worship of money” (para. 2172). I like the image of sabbath as a day of protest! In Exodus 5 we have Moses and Aaron petition Pharaoh to release the Israelites from their labors so they can have a feast for God. When Pharaoh refuses, the Israelites go on permanent strike! In the prophets we have many admonitions on true and false worship, with implications for good sabbath-keeping. I like Isaiah 58, which condemns the fasting of those who “drive all your laborers” and teaches that true fasting is doing works of justice and mercy for the poor. In my days as a community organizer I worked with congregations whose worship suffered because many of their members could not attend on Sunday because of work obligations. For a time, the Massachusetts Council of Churches mounted a public awareness campaign called “Take Back Your Time.”

What was most challenging? “If God ‘rested and was refreshed’ on the seventh day, man too ought to ‘rest’ and should let others, especially the poor, ‘be refreshed’ ” (para. 2172). People don’t want to hear this. That goes against the grain of the American Dream, where you are supposed to work harder than everybody else to get ahead and be blessed. If you are poor, it’s because you are lazy and don’t want to work. You don’t deserve a break because you do nothing and are nothing!

What would be most difficult to explain? “Scripture also reveals in the Lord’s day a memorial of Israel’s liberation from bondage in Egypt” (para. 2170). Creation was completed on the seventh day; therefore the sabbath is on the seventh day. The relation between the Exodus and sabbath is less obvious. You have to show how God saved Israel in order to free Israel to praise God and God’s work of creation. The sabbath is a “sign of the irrevocable covenant” (para. 2171). The sabbath is about being God’s faithful people. In our individualistic society it is hard to sell the idea that this solemn day of rest isn’t just about taking your personal ease.

How does world need to hear this?
Through education and example. By their behavior, Christians must subvert the “work hard, play hard” mentality of our culture.

What situations need this as good news?
In any place where workers suffer from oppressive labors and work schedules that prevent them from practicing their faith, pursuing education, raising their family, and contributing to community life. In workplaces where there is an unhealthy culture of workaholism. In societies where a culture of vain pleasure-seeking substitutes for genuine leisure. In dysfunctional households where inattention, ingratitude, and lukewarmness betray a life centered in things other than God.

The Lord’s Day

What hit me hardest? “The faithful should see to it that legitimate excuses do not lead to habits prejudicial to religion, family life, and health” (para. 2185). The pursuit of good things can and often does usurp the pursuit of great things. This is especially true in the United States. We pursue lesser goods with an inordinate appetite and fall into vice. Thus our leisure becomes wanton pleasure; rest becomes sloth; relaxation becomes idleness; enjoyment becomes hedonism; mercy becomes self-indulgence; and worship becomes self-worship. Scripture lifts up the sabbath as a release from the compulsions of work; our rest should also be free of compulsions and embody a dimension of real freedom. Tradition promotes Sunday as a whole day of rest. We can learn from Jewish sabbath practices how to take our time—to connect deeply with the Spirit and our community of faith. We must become more intentional about cultivating good sabbath-keeping practices, and not only in the cultic aspects. “Every Christian should avoid making unnecessary demands on others that would hinder them from observing the Lord’s Day” (para. 2187). See the last two questions, below.

What was most challenging? “You cannot pray at home as at church … where there is something more” (St. John Chrysostom, quoted in para. 2179). What exactly is the “something more”? This requires a defense of the parish as the normative and authoritative location of Christian community. It requires both a sound theology of the Church and the good example of parishes everywhere as vibrant communities of Jesus’ disciples. “[T]he faithful are bound to participate in the Mass” (para. 2180). “Those who deliberately fail in this obligation commit a grave sin” (para. 2181). What about those who have been abused by ministers of the Church or traumatized by their experiences in Christian communities? What about persons who have turned away from Church because of poor liturgies? These are practical and pastoral concerns. On a theological level, how do we justify the connection between the commandment, which is divine law written by the finger of God, and the letter of canon law, church law written by humans? I pose the question in the interest of those who accept the spirit of the sabbath but challenge the letter of the Sunday obligation.

What would be most difficult to explain? Sunday replaces the sabbath and fulfills the truth of the Jewish sabbath (para. 2175). I think it is difficult to explain how the Lord’s Day is fulfillment of the sabbath when it is not the sabbath itself. Didn’t the first followers of Jesus observe both the sabbath day and the Lord’s Day? This teaching can pose a stumbling block to interreligious dialogue between Jews and Christians. Is the Church saying the Jewish sabbath is inferior, even obsolete?

How does world need to hear this?
Through an ecumenical and interfaith effort; “Sanctifying Sundays and holy days requires a common effort” (para. 2187). Not only Christians, but also Jews and Muslims as well as communities of faith from the Eastern traditions must collaborate for a common cause. It is not a given that a pluralistic society will necessarily be a society that is tolerant or accepting of the liberties of religious communities. Good citizenship in a postmodern democratic society requires religious literacy, which will foster an appreciation of the contributions of religious groups to the common good, and a greater respect for the traditions of those communities.

What situations need this as good news?
Employer-employee relations, followed by public authority-citizen relations. Business leaders and political leaders have a moral obligation to respect the dignity of the person whose freedom to worship takes precedence over their claims upon him or her as a worker or a citizen.

Dear Dad

My father, Leonard, is 62 years old today. This note is for him.

Dear Dad,

Hope, health, and happiness are the first of many treasures of the heart I wish for you. I am kind of a dreamer, so I have many more wishes for you. It would be tedious to number them all, and there is not room enough in this note. However, I can sum them all in one dream, one wish: God.

I wish that you may know and feel in your heart, in a way you never experienced before, how God touches your life.

I wish you could know, with the spiritual sense beyond our bodily senses, how real, how present, how near God is to ourselves.

There is nothing greater I could hope for you. There is nothing else in comparison to this I could offer to your heart. Neither now nor at any time in my life have I had anything of my own that would make a fitting return to you for the life you and Mom consented with God to give me. Therefore I give you on your birthday my most fervent prayers that God, the giver of dreams, will come to you in your nights and show you traces of grace in all your days.

Have a happy birthday, Dad. May Jesus, God's very Son, add a blessing to these words from your poor son.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Decalogue

We're having two classes on the meaning of the Ten Commandments and their application to the Christian life, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Visiting us to guide our studies is Fr. Martin Curtin, who is a pastor at St. Joseph the Worker Parish in East Patchogue and lives in fraternity there two other Capuchins. I met Brother Marty either in late 2009 or early in 2010 through his work with the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization. Another friar, Fr. Jack Rathschmidt, was introduced to me in the spring of 2008 by labor organizers. For at least two generations the Capuchins have activated their charism of justice, peace, and integrity of creation by participating in faith-based community organizing, in Brooklyn and Boston. I'm proud to say that when I met friars like Brother Marty and Brother Jack, I knew them first as organizers. In retrospect, given my current station in life, I believe that making their acquaintance when I did was providential.

Now I know Brother Marty and Brother Jack as veteran formators, the first having recently been director of the post-novices, and the second as prefect of formation. They are also mentors and instructors. Brother Jack is coming later this week to introduce the postulants to ecclesiology, or theology about the Church. Brother Marty, as I have said, is already here to teach the postulants about the Ten Commandments. The commandments are also known as the Decalogue -- the "ten words" written by the finger of God and given as law to Moses for the Israelites for the making of the covenant.

Tomorrow I have a presentation on the Third Commandment, which has to do with the keeping the sabbath day holy. It is the last commandment concerning the people's conduct toward God. The first three (or four, depending on the Christian tradition) commandments are precepts concerning God, and the final seven (or six) are precepts concerning treatment of neighbor. My presentation examines the Catholic Church's interpretation of the commandment. In addition to summarizing main points, I am to reflect on lines in the catechism that hit me hard and struck me as challenging or difficult to explain. Then I am to name situations where the teaching is pertinent as good news for today and how the world can be made to hear it. I will embargo my notes until tomorrow, then post them here, so keep on the lookout!

For the text of the catechism on this commandment, click the namesake hyperlink above, or just click here, then here and here.

I've been in hermit mode since returning from Massachusetts, both to decompress and to finish my presentation. I always get a little crabby when I have a homework assignment hanging over my head, and more so when a presentation is involved. But now it's all done, so 1) I can sleep soundly; and 2) I hope to be less of a bear to my brothers!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

At Rest

Back from a good weekend in Massachusetts with the friars and candidates. I'm ready to crash after all the social time and spiritual reflection.

A few spot impressions before going early to bed:

1. No personal epiphanies on this discernment weekend. Only a pause in my journey. That's only fitting -- for me, this weekend was all about the applicants to postulancy and affirming their intention to go forward. Last April, I came away from the spring discernment weekend feeling really eager to press on to what, God willing, would lie ahead. It seemed last spring that the brothers began to treat the applicants like they already were postulants. Indeed, this time around, the candidates who have applied are starting to look like postulants to me.

2. While I feel no different than I did before the weekend, I note that it did seem like the current postulants were being treated differently, too. Much of the time we spoke of how quickly the year went and how little time is left for us. It was almost as if the postulants had gotten everything they could out of the program, and there was nothing new left to assay. Question for further personal reflection: do the brothers regard the postulants like they are already novices?

3. A few mind-opening moments in the presentations on the vows. Consider this one jewel of intuition: Celibacy is chaste promiscuity. Discuss.

4. A fine homily this morning from one of the presenters, Fr. David Couturier. The mission of Christians, and Franciscans in particular, can be boiled down to four words: We preach Christ crucified. Again, discuss.

5. With our return to Brooklyn, we postulants have concluded our final long-distance trip of this program. I wonder how many miles we have travelled since setting forth in formation last August. I've said it many times before, and I'll say it many more times before this life is done: faith takes you places. And the faith of a friar takes him to many, many places. Thank God, there are at occasions for bodily rest!

Of course, the heart of a religious brother is never at rest spiritually. Because of this, he is led by the Spirit through city and country into crowded places, yet also into desert after desert, sometimes both simultaneously. He is led daily; he is led without relent; he is led into forever. Spiritually, there is little rest in this life. Perhaps there is no rest in the new life, either, or at least what rest may come is incommensurable with our earthbound imagination. For the moment, however, I am happy to embrace my earthiness, and it feels very good to be physically at rest.

Friday, March 23, 2012

To Duxbury

Got my alarm clock, clothing, and toiletries packed. Got my rosary and little green leather New Testament in my jacket pocket. Got some light reading for the weekend: the Catechism of the Catholic Church. (The postulants are making class presentations on the Ten Commandments next week.) I've said my prayers, celebrated Eucharist, done my house chores. Yes, I am ready for the candidate discernment weekend.

This come-and-see weekend will be a little smaller than the previous three in this academic year. All but one of the six candidates who are applying to next year's formation class will be with us, plus four candidates who are still in the stage of inquiring. They will be joined by the friars in formation here in Brooklyn and in Boston, and by a few of the professed friars. Small but mighty, we are thinking to ourselves this day.

We are staying at the Miramar Retreat Center in Duxbury, Mass., operated by the Divine Word Missionaries, a congregation of 6,000 Catholic priests and brothers who serve the poor in 60 countries. Sunday morning we will check out of Miramar and head north to Jamaica Plain to visit our two friaries, where the post-novices and recently professed brothers live.

The friars and candidates last stayed at Miramar a year ago near this time. Duxbury was beautiful, and Miramar was picture-perfect beautiful. Walking the property was like walking in a Zen garden. Every tree, shrub, and plant, indeed every blade of grass, seemed to be placed perfectly and personally by the hand of God. Everything was arranged in such a way as to induce contemplation. On that Saturday afternoon last April, many of us walked off the retreat grounds down a country road through a field to a point where the treeline comes very close to the water and the shore is narrow. I could have stayed for days. The recent hot spell over Boston and the Cape area is lifting, so it should be quite comfortable this evening and tomorrow, but a little cool come Sunday.

The subject of the weekend is the vows as the Capuchins attempt to live them, with presentations from Fr. Michael Banks, the formator of the post-novices, and Fr. David Couturier, whose works on celibacy and conversion I have alluded to on the blog.

I am looking forward to this gathering for the contemplative moments it offers and the easygoing lovingkindness of fraternity.

As I have asked before, so again I ask your prayers for travelling mercies on all of us. On this weekend may all of us, wherever we are on the pilgrimage to God, come to know better our vocation in our desire to know Christ.

Jesus cried out in the temple area as he was teaching and said,
"You know me and also know where I am from.
Yet I did not come on my own,
but the one who sent me, whom you do not know, is true.
I know him, because I am from him, and he sent me."


John 7:28-29

Thursday, March 22, 2012

'Jesus Is Water'

There was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
Now there is in Jerusalem at the Sheep Gate
a pool called in Hebrew Bethesda, with five porticoes.
In these lay a large number of ill, blind, lame, and crippled.
One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years.
When Jesus saw him lying there
and knew that he had been ill for a long time, he said to him,
"Do you want to be well?"
The sick man answered him,
"Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool
when the water is stirred up;
while I am on my way, someone else gets down there before me."
Jesus said to him, "Rise, take up your mat, and walk."
Immediately the man became well, took up his mat, and walked.


John 5:1-9

For us who follow him, as for the sick man at the pool of Bethesda, Jesus is our source of healing, for he is God's very life. When we cannot get into the pool of Bethesda, Jesus is our water.

Jesus is water. This was the simple and powerful message from Fr. Michael Lasky, director of the Americas program of Franciscans International. There are today millions of women, children, and men like the sick man at the pool of Bethesda who cannot get into the living waters. They and their communities have been denied access to clean, affordable water and sanitation. Will we who claim to follow Christ show forth the healing power of Jesus, so merciful and just, in our actions to build a world where all who are thirsty may come to the water? Like Francis, who praised God for Sister Water, will we feel the thirst of the poor as our own?

With Brother Michael's homily at Eucharist commenced a full day with Franciscans International in and around the United Nations in observation of World Water Day 2012.

Franciscans International is one of the oldest religious non-governmental organizations affiliated with the UN. Its mission is to be a voice at the UN on issues of poverty, peace, and environmental protection. Its vision: "A global community built on Franciscan values, in which the dignity of every person is respected; resources are shared equitably; the environment is sustained; and nations and peoples live in peace."

Franciscans International is the only ministry shared by the entire Franciscan family worldwide. All three branches of the Franciscan movement -- the First Order (Order of Friars Minor, Conventual Franciscans, Capuchin Franciscans), Second Order (Poor Clares), and Third Order (Secular Franciscans and Third Order Regulars) -- participate.

In the company of friars, sisters, and students, I learned about the challenges of establishing internationally the human right to water and sanitation. Over two very rich presentations, I was scribbling notes furiously. I felt like I was back in graduate school. For the first time in four years, I felt the strong desire to sit in a college classroom, or hit a university library.

The first presentation had to do with legal and political perspectives on securing the human right to water. As member nations prepare draft resolutions for the UN Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro this June, a few powerful countries, including the United States, seek to delete language that would declare the human right to water with legally binding effect. What measures can civil society take to resolve international conflicts over fresh water; build an international consensus on accessibility and affordability; and enshrine such a human right, when consensus is achieved, in the constitutional law of sovereign states?

The second presentation had to do with the Franciscan perspective on environmental sustainability. Why go green? What good reason do Franciscans propose? In a post-modern world, what are the ethical and spiritual foundations that can support an environmental activist for the long run? Brother Michael gave a dazzling lecture, drawing on the theological framework of the early Franciscan John Duns Scotus. In the end, going green is justified by the centrality of beauty, the intrinsic value of creation, and the limitless love of God in Christ, the human in perfection. Beauty has its own integrity, which must never be assaulted. And creation is beautiful. Every creature is unique and unrepeatable, blessed with an immanent dignity, gifted with an incomprehensible sanctity. All of God's creatures shine with an inner light, and each one sings a distinctive note in the cosmic symphony. If God is the artist, creation is God's performance, and humanity is both a performer and an audience. Human beings are called both to appreciate God's beautiful performance and to sing their part in it. In protecting the planet we let all creatures sound their note in the cosmic symphony. We make this choice also to save our integrity. We do good so we can be who we are. The self-gift of God in Jesus to us shows us how to love the world and thus respond well to God's loving, creative acts.

There's much more to the conversations of today than I can organize into a single blog post. If you would like to read more about how the Franciscan family is addressing issues of water access, check out this manual from Franciscans International. I intend to follow up with their New York office on specific advocacy activities that can influence the draft resolutions for the Rio conference.

What stimulating discussions! I'm so glad our formation director brought us to Franciscans International's event. Let no one doubt that the windows of Franciscan friaries open wide to let in the world; nor let anyone doubt that the friars spend much of their time out of doors.

Working for justice, peace, and the integrity of creation is the calling of every Franciscan. It is a gift and responsibility. We who are in religious formation with the Franciscans are learning how to open up this charism. We are moving from intuition to intention, from understanding to action. To separate recyclables from trash is to get ankle-deep into the water. To make a donation to an environmental cause is to get knee-deep. To begin conversations about just care of creation is to get waist-deep. But to get involved, vulnerably, in reforming unjust structures of power that destroy natural resources, putting whole peoples at risk -- now you are swimming in the river of life.

The angel brought me, Ezekiel,
back to the entrance of the temple of the LORD,
and I saw water flowing out
from beneath the threshold of the temple toward the east,
for the fa├žade of the temple was toward the east;
the water flowed down from the right side of the temple,
south of the altar....

He said to me,
"This water flows into the eastern district down upon the Arabah,
and empties into the sea, the salt waters, which it makes fresh.
Wherever the river flows,
every sort of living creature that can multiply shall live,
and there shall be abundant fish,
for wherever this water comes the sea shall be made fresh.
Along both banks of the river, fruit trees of every kind shall grow;
their leaves shall not fade, nor their fruit fail.
Every month they shall bear fresh fruit,
for they shall be watered by the flow from the sanctuary.
Their fruit shall serve for food, and their leaves for medicine."


See Ezekiel 47:1-12

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Questions for Readers

Dear followers of the blog, I submit to you the following questions:

1. Are there subjects concerning religious life and the process of initial formation that you would like to see addressed? This question is aimed particularly toward my Christian friends who are not part of Catholic communities.

2. Another question for those readers who are not familiar with the traditions of Catholicism: does the blog adequately explain Catholic things? Am I using a public language that makes sense of tradition-specific vocabulary, rhetoric, patterns of thought, etc.? Are you coming across too much jargon? Are the occasional hyperlinks helpful? Do I give you enough context to understand the meaning as well as experience of Catholic religious community?

3. Do you get the feeling that you are getting a good enough glimpse inside the friary? That is, have I welcomed you into the world that I inhabit with my brothers well enough that you feel like a guest in this space? Or have I unwittingly kept too many curtains drawn or doors closed? There are some things I cannot and will not write about in this public diary because they would violate internal forum. My community is a religious family, and like any family, deserves its healthy share of privacy. Of course, you have come to the wrong forum if you are looking for juicy gossip! Rather, I am asking you if your brother has thus far given you a generous and helpful guide to religious fraternity.

4. A gut-reaction question: What do you like about the blog? What is it that keeps you coming back to read the public diary?

5. The blog is purposely low-tech. No blogroll (at the moment), no photos, no videos. A plain old Google Blogger template. No bells and whistles. A lot of text. And an opportunity to comment. How does this grab you?

That's all for now. I look forward to your input!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Look Cheerful

Let us find clean and cheerful friends.
Robert Fripp

***

Every Christian who votes and pays taxes (me included) has already agreed to pay for our wars, for the deaths of small children caused by our drones, for the continuation of the injustice of Guantanamo, for the "rendition" of suspected terrorists to countries where they are tortured, sometimes to death, and -- depending on what state you live in -- for the salary of the person who will kill someone condemned to death. I don't remember one episcopal peep about any of this. The talk about religious liberty and what we can tolerate here amounts to drawing a little line in the sand -- about six inches long -- as we stand with our back to a sea full of blood.

John Garvey, "We Are Complicit," Commonweal, March 23, 2012

***

Once [Francis] saw a companion with a sad and depressed face and, not taking it kindly, said to him: "It is not right for a servant of God to show himself to others sad and upset, but always pleasant. Deal with your offenses in your room, and weep and moan before your God. But when you come back to your brothers, put away your sorrow and conform to the others." A little later he added: "Those who envy the salvation of humankind bear a grudge against me, and when they cannot disturb me, they try to do it among my companions."

He so loved the man filled with spiritual joy, that at one chapter he had these words written down as a general admonition: "Let them be careful not to appear outwardly as sad and gloomy hypocrites but show themselves joyful, cheerful, and consistently gracious in the Lord."

Thomas of Celano, The Remembrance of the Desire of a Soul, Second Book, Chapter XCI (1247)

***

I do not expect to hear talk on the campaign trail about safety net policies -- like an expanded unemployment insurance program or a cash-for-work job-creation program -- that would meaningfully address the current plight of the poor. Perhaps we should count ourselves lucky if the candidates refrain from demonizing the programs that remain robust, like Food Stamps. But I continue to believe that the moral measure of a society is the way it cares for its poor and vulnerable. By that measure, we should all be ashamed.

Mary Jo Bane, "Who Will Speak of the Poor?" Commonweal, March 23, 2012

***

Two decades from now, when my sons are in their twenties, carbon dioxide levels are projected to reach 450 parts per million. At that point the Southwestern United States, Southern Europe, Northern Africa, Southern Africa, and Western Australia could be dustbowls. Social stability will be rocked by refugees from Mexico and Central America, fleeing drought conditions and sharp reductions in crop yields -- reductions that will extend across the tropics and subtropics, where most of the world's poor live. When my sons enter their thirties in the 2040s, the destruction of the world's coral reefs from warmer and more acidic oceans caused by carbon dioxide absorption will be well underway....The collapse of coral reefs ... may exert a domino effect, triggering a mass extinction of ocean ecosystems.


When my boys enter their forties -- perhaps by now with children of their own -- carbon dioxide levels will likely have reached 560 ppm. The global water crisis will contribute to a global food crisis, with insufficient fresh water for irrigating crops....The shrinkage of the Sierra Nevada snowpack will have greatly impaired California's agriculture, which today produces nearly half of U.S.-grown fruits and vegetables. Corn and soy yields in the United States, currently a major contributor to world markets, will experience drastic declines. Forest throughout the western United States will burn, with California losing 50 to 70 percent of its forests. The Amazon rainforest will suffer devastating drought-driven fires. Seas worldwide will have risen one foot, and coastal cities will enter the first phase of their destruction.


By the 2060s, if carbon-cycle feedbacks prove to be strong, the world could be 4 degrees Celsius warmer, and 40 to 70 percent of assessed species could be headed irreversibly toward extinction. And by the end of the century, my grandchildren and great grandchildren will live in a world where sea levels could be between three and seventeen feet higher than they are now. The abandonment of the world's great cities will be well underway. Food markets could see an 80 percent reduction in U.S. corn and soy yields and the collapse of California agriculture. Half the forests in the American West could be gone, destroyed by fire.


Richard W. Miller, " 'Global Suicide Pact,' " Commonweal, March 23, 2012

***

Keep your mind in hell and do not despair.
St. Silouan the Athonite

***

This was exactly the way Mother Teresa learned to deal with her trial of faith: by converting her feeling of abandonment by God into an act of abandonment to God. It would be her Gethsemane, she came to believe, and her participation in the thirst Jesus suffered on the Cross. And it gave her access to the deepest poverty of the modern world: the poverty of meaninglessness and loneliness. To endure this trial of faith would be to bear witness to the fidelity for which the world is starving. “Keep smiling,” Mother Teresa used to tell her community and guests, and somehow, coming from her, it doesn’t seem trite. For when she kept smiling during her night of faith, it was not a cover-up but a manifestation of her loving resolve to be “an apostle of joy.”

Carol Zaleski, "The Dark Night of Mother Teresa," First Things, May 2003

***

It is not necessary to be cheerful.
It is not necessary to feel cheerful.
But look cheerful.
Robert Fripp

Monday, March 19, 2012

Carried Along

We are closing in on the final fifty days of postulancy. Every day, at least once, one of the postulants notes with wonder how quickly the time is moving. Indeed, with an early spring upon us -- the tree in the courtyard outside my bedroom window is budding -- we feel carried along briskly on the wings of the Spirit dove.

Today the Catholic Church celebrates Joseph, the husband of Mary and the foster-father of Jesus. In the Catholic hierarchy of holy days, this day ranks among the highest, being a solemnity. Which means, in short, no fasting today! Make a feast! This evening I was savoring the meal, chicken parmesan, and a cream-filled zeppole for dessert. Ordinarily I eat more slowly than the other brothers, and this evening especially I took my time with the fine food, in part so not to overeat, but also to linger in the moment.

And why not? This phase of formation is passing rapidly. The end is much nearer than the beginning, and thus so is the next beginning (God willing). My supervisors at Neighbors Together are already feeling down about my departure: so many ideas for future organizing projects, so little time!

How did we get here already? How good God has been ... too good. Carried along as swiftly as we have been, from experience to experience, I worry that I may have missed some meaningful encounters with the holy along the way. Keep moving, we must, for we are pilgrims, of course. But help me notice more of what you would have me attend to, Lord. Help me savor them. And help me share these noticings, big and little, here in the public diary, so others may taste and see your goodness. Help me start here and now, with little more than fifty days in Brooklyn.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Vespers

A delightful and edifying evening at St. John the Baptist in Manhattan with the friars: vespers for the Fourth Sunday of Lent, followed by a social hour and dinner.

Vespers is done beautifully at the church. The Capuchins do liturgy well, with reverence and taste, and always with the common touch. No element was out of place; no element was lacking. There was neither austerity nor ostentation. Everybody, from the cantor to the handbell ringer, as well as the people in the pews, chanted, prayed, and sang with feeling for the liturgical forms, in harmony with the Holy Spirit. A congregation that participates as fully and actively as its ministers is blessed indeed. The Capuchins deserve many merits for leading worship with excellence, an ability not to be undervalued in today's listing Church.

And I cannot say enough good things about the preacher, Fr. Jim Gavin, who gave a reflection on the story of Jesus raising Lazarus, found in the eleventh chapter of John's Gospel. I could listen to Father Jim every day of the week and twice on Sundays. He is a fan of classical music, but he preaches like a jazz musician. He is a gifted improviser.

Here are some of the morsels from his reflection, melting smoothly into my soul.

In the middle of Lent, in the middle of our preparation for Easter, each of us must ask: Have I changed my vision of dying because of Jesus' Word? Or am I still just numb, and do I fear what is inevitable?

Does Jesus' Word make a difference and give us the strength and power to live despite the inevitability of death?

When you experience love, divine love, in your heart, you can do anything. When you feel the love that is eternal, you can do anything. You can even forgive your enemies.

Do we believe this?

Ask yourself: Do I know I am a disciple of Jesus and share his power, the power of God available to us in baptism and Eucharist? Will I stand with Jesus, and weep with Jesus, and die with Jesus?

Can we pray from our depths as Martha of Bethany, the sister of Lazarus, prayed, or confess, as she did, faith in Jesus as the Son of God, the one who makes God present and gives God to us as pure gift?

Jesus is the incarnate Sophia/Wisdom of God, the power of God made human. Even he grows perturbed and deeply troubled at the weeping of Lazarus' sister Mary and all the people. Picture the scene. Even he groans and shudders at the tomb of Lazarus. And in his anger, in his distress, he weeps, too, for at the tomb of Lazarus he sees his own tomb. Jesus shudders. So do we at our own tombs.

Nevertheless, in faith Jesus confronted the tomb at Bethany that presaged his fate. Will we come back to Jesus and stand up, despite the specter of our own tombs? Will we choose to live in joy today, in the light, in motion, with hospitality, with generosity, with high expectations for ourselves, with beauty, with savor, with passion and gratitude and love?

Do not fear death, because Jesus Christ is the presence of God. This is our faith. Do we believe this?

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Homing Into Solitude

For many years, I have pursued holy solitude in every place except home.

On long and lonesome weekends at Cornell University, when I first began to hunger for it, I would retreat to libraries, the campus art museum, or, strangely, the campus book store. Sometimes I could find it in my dormitory room, but usually I ended up feeling only isolated and withdrawn. As I ventured more into downtown Ithaca, I could begin to taste it on the Commons.

As I began to follow my faith I learned that you cannot practice solitude without community. Once I began to care about my neighbors, I found I could find holy solitude in the sacred spaces the neighbors in my Christian community shared. And so church became a haven for me, beginning with the sanctuary and parish complex of Our Lady of Grace in my hometown. I could also find solitude on long walks around the small town parks or public school grounds, either by myself or with my kid brother.

The more I let other people into my heart, as God was enabling me to do, the more space opened within me for God to dwell alone in secret. As I came to understand this, I resolved to spend less time at home, meaning not only my parents' house, where I was living, but also the town in which I grew up. So I left Babylon and New York for Baltimore, where I lived for two years in the quest to live a more perfect solitude, widening the heart in community. The story of those years is full of sadness and regrets, of maturity won the hard way; it is a story of solitude lost early and recovered late.

I returned to New York for a year and felt like a stranger to my native land, because I knew now where I had to go, and I was determined to get there. When I got to Boston, every door opened, and I knew the place as my own. The important thing to understand is that the city itself was my sanctuary and not any of the particular places I lay my head. I moved nine times over my six-year sojourn in Boston, with some of the places I lived more conducive to solitude-in-community than others. But that magic feeling never felt as strong at home as it did on Boston Common, either celebrating Eucharist with Ecclesia Ministries or just walking through the park; on the downtown streets, marching with immigrants and workers and pacifists; in the classrooms of the Boston seminaries and theological schools; and in the chapels, sanctuaries, and temples of a hundred communities of the faithful, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Unitarian Universalist, Sikh. Even my office at the Massachusetts Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice, a swarm during the day, could become a hermitage in the evening.

However, the places where I lay my head were increasingly becoming arid and oppressive. They were no-places. And I rarely wanted others to see where I stayed, much less invited them. A place where you do not care to rest your body and soul, or let others rest, is a place God does not care to be, either. Things had to change in a way more radical than a change of address could accomplish.

Flash forward to the present, nearly seven months into postulancy. Things are changing. I am beginning to discover how to practice solitude at home by finding comfort in practicing community at the household level.

On many free days like this Saturday, instead of venturing into Manhattan or downtown Brooklyn, as would be easy and preferable for me to do, I have remained at St. Michael Friary, reading, writing, exercising, or, more recently, baking. Having a chapel down the hallway and newly ingrained habits of community prayer make it possible at long last to pray well at home, and pray often, even when we do not have to gather as a fraternity. And though I do hide away in my room at times, I also let myself be present in the common areas of the house, such as the kitchen, and be available for conversation with the brothers.

I have commented on this before, but to me it needs repeating. This feels like an important development in my formation. This feels like a good thing, and a right thing. And a timely emergence, with the intentional stability of novitiate sharpening into view from the shimmering horizon.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Various

A quiet morning at St. Michael Friary on a gray, misty day in Brooklyn. Chores after morning prayer and Eucharist, instead of class. Salmon for dinner; it's Lent, which means fish on Friday. Leading Taize prayer in our house chapel this evening. A friar and a candidate are staying overnight with us.

Tomorrow is a free day. I will observe the feast of St. Patrick by baking some Irish soda bread. If it turns out all right, I will share it with the Capuchin friars at St. John the Baptist in Manhattan on Sunday. We're going to Lenten vespers, with the Gospel reflection led by Fr. Jim Gavin. We will head over to the friary for dinner after evening prayer. Let's break some real bread when we break bread with the brothers!

Heading out to Neighbors Together in a little while for ministry; it's Friday, which means our leadership development class. We are in the middle of an exercise in creating a strategy for a campaign on three-quarter housing, one of the issues of burning concern to our members. You can read about the three-quarter housing phenomenon here and understand why Neighbors Together has developed an organizing project around this issue.

Next week is kind of a short week. On Thursday we are going to the United Nations to participate with Franciscans International in a day of reflection and action around World Water Day 2012. Come Friday we will be en route to Miramar Retreat Center in Duxbury, Mass., for the final vocation discernment weekend of the year with our candidates and applicants for postulancy. Pray for our candidates, and pray for safe travels for all the brothers attending.

One of my recently spoken desires was gratified last evening: my mother called. Hooray! And another wish will be granted next month: a Boston friend is coming to visit for a couple of days. Hip hip hooray!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

For Restful Sleep

God of the Sabbath,
God of peace,
grant us rest this night
until the dawn.

Send sleep to strengthen us,
and quiet to calm us.

Ring us with your Spirit
so nothing within or without
will disturb us.

Help us to rise gently but surely
to take up your work,
to take up our crosses,
to take crosses off others,
and live by your love that remains,
even when life ends,
and leads us to the life beyond.

Help us know our rest this night
as a preparation for the rest that waits for all.

Help us know our rising tomorrow
as a gift to foreshadow the rising that rules our hopes.

We call on you,
we hope for you,
and our cares rest upon you,
Almighty God,
with your Christ and the Holy Spirit,
forever One,
from this world to the world eternally waking.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

On Initiation

Continuing our studies of Christian initiation. We have been instructed by Fr. Mark Joseph Costello, who lives in Chicago with the friars of the Province of St. Joseph. He's a good guy and great fun to talk to about liturgy, ritual, and church architecture. Today with Brother Mark Joseph and one of our formators as our guide, we visited two Jesuit-run Catholic churches in Manhattan to study their architecture, especially the baptismal fonts. They were St. Ignatius Loyola Parish on the Upper East Side, and St. Francis Xavier Parish near Union Square. These churches were built in the late 19th century in the Baroque style associated with the Counter-Reformation and in vogue with the Jesuits long into modernity. They were quite exquisite, let me tell you -- almost too beautiful, too rich, if you know what I mean! At least too rich for the Franciscan sensibility. But, goodness, how breathtaking they are, how steeped in symbol, how blessed with the finest of Christian art and architecture.

It has been a pleasure to revisit the subject of Christian initiation. It takes me back to the often-contentious and always-lively worship class I took at Boston University School of Theology. Of course, it also brings me back to my own experience of the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA), in 1999-2000, when I was confirmed into the Catholic Church. I should describe for you my experience of confirmation. I have preserved two first-person accounts, first from a spiritual journal I kept through the initiation process, and a theological reflection written over five years later. But I think I will hold off on sharing those accounts until Pentecost.

I should also write a reflection to compare and contrast the experience of initiation twelve years ago with my experience of formation today. Alas, the hour is late, and inspiration is fleeting. Another good idea to be stored in the mental file cabinet until such a time as ready to be broken open.

Our study of initiation, ritual, and liturgy reminds me: I've been looking around, albeit half-heartedly, for a free concert of sacred music in Manhattan or Brooklyn. My only free time is the weekends, which limits when I can go out on do things on my own. I asked the brothers if they'd like to go with me somewhere. Perhaps a couple will take the bait, if I offer something to delight! I might wait until after Easter to venture; part of me is fatigued with Passion music. I'd like to hear some good liturgical or sacred music on the theme of Resurrection.

Now, to finish this post, then return to reading for next week's classes on Francis. Coming up: the development of the Rule in the first generation of Franciscan friars.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Celibacy: Conversion, Conversation

It's been a month since I promised to write more about celibacy. I reminded myself of this today while preparing to share an experience of conversion during morning instruction.

The theme of our classes this week is Christian initiation, and among other things, we have explored patterns of conversion from an anthropological perspective, along with some premises about religious conversion. Each of the postulants was asked to single out an event or experience that signalled a crisis and a transition, a form of passage into a new set of relationships with God, the world, and ourselves.

I chose to talk about my "conversion," over a year and half in 2009 and 2010, to celibacy -- that is, my acceptance of celibacy, long the fact of my life, as the law and Gospel of my life, after a lifetime of struggle to achieve true intimacy with others, especially women. Looking backward, we named our strongly held feelings; we described the questions that came from this experience and the related feelings; we named the people we turned to, to deal with our feelings; we identified figures in Scripture who felt and questioned as we have; and we talked about what we have done about the way we felt or the questions that were raised.

Looking back at those tumultuous times, I can say that choosing celibacy and accepting it as God's way for me to live has made me healthier, holier, and, most of all (I hope), more loving. Life ought to be a celebration of love that sets free; of love that makes and does not take; of love that draws near but does not draw and quarter; of love that draws others into itself without destroying them; of love that delights in its freedom, and delights in the love others find.

It would better for me to leave the intimate things I shared this morning between me and the brothers. However, I have left a record of my spiritual struggles with God's love and human love on the dormant blog, Letters Along the Way. Peruse the poems, prayers, and songs I wrote in 2009 and 2010, if you wish.

In the interest of keeping the conversation about celibacy going, I will let you in on the more general conversation I have carried on with my friends. I see any opportunity to talk about celibacy as evangelization: a way of connecting the Gospel story with our own stories.

From an e-mail of a few weeks ago to a pastor friend and seminary classmate:

Peace be with you and with all the people of God you serve and who serve you.

You touch my mind and heart with your own thoughts about celibacy and friendship. I may be wrong, but the fact is, everybody is far more experienced in the extensive love of celibacy than the intensive love that characterizes relationships with sexual activity. Celibacy is the de facto condition of our embodied sexual humanity and its most common expression. In that light, it is far easier to remain what one is by default -- easier, too, to ratify that state as chosen and definitive -- than to assay the intensive love experienced between two partners committed to a mutual, equal, fruitful, but exclusive relationship. This is not to say that couples in committed long-term partnerships are less capable of extensive intimacy with many people, any more than it is to say that a celibate person is less capable of the intimate love for one alone which he or she has categorically forsworn. It is a matter of priority, not potentiality. The potentialities are always there because they come from God. We must determine the priorities, guided by our discernment of God's will.

To be a sexual human is to be endowed with the ability to know and to practice each of the two loves. To be a Christian is to recognize the way God has made you, you personally, most fit to love, and to go and do accordingly....


As one of my very intelligent and well-educated Capuchin brothers would describe it, if love is the axis of the reign of God, then intensive love is found at the "already" pole while extensive love is found at the "not yet" pole. Married persons are a sacramental sign of God's love fruitful here and now in the world, in creation, and in families. It is a love that neither dominates nor deprives but gives life. Celibate persons love widely and generously, without possessiveness, with availability, and with vulnerability. They point out the places where love does not yet rule and spend themselves in passion for the increase of God's love in our world. Married persons and celibate persons are each uniquely consecrated for the love they are meant to show. Together they work and witness to the reign of God breaking into our world, and drawing us into the everlasting love of God....

From a recent e-mail to a friend now living in the Midwest:

Greetings on this quiet Saturday night in Brooklyn. Peace and all good things to you, your husband, your friends, and your family. Congratulations on all the good things that you speak of -- your job, your plans for continuing education, and your rootedness in family and community. In these ordinary things we can be good and do good. And when we put love into these things, there we find mystery, wonder, and even greatness....

As you are growing into the habits that make for a healthy marriage, so I am growing into the habits that make for healthy celibacy in community. I remember our conversations about relationships now with a positive feeling. You were correct, indeed, that we do not enter relationships, romantic or otherwise, to complete one another or fill an emptiness. Rather, we enter relationships, as friends, colleagues, or life partners, to share intimacy. With this intimacy we help one another discover the work each of us must do to achieve personal wholeness. This is true for celibates and for married persons. We all need intimacy. I pray each of us has taken the turn most fulfilling for ourselves and most pleasing to God.

Thank you for your kind words about my vocation and the blog. I hope you stop by the diary from time to time. I confess that I do miss the connections Facebook makes, but on the whole I am glad to be off the network, because it no longer serves well enough as a vehicle for community. So let us keep writing each other from time to time, as people used to do ... and will keep doing as long as they seek the "something more" that reveals itself when heart speaks to heart. 

Monday, March 12, 2012

40-Hour Fast

Peace be with you, friends. You who are constant readers of the blog will recall that I visited Albany last Wednesday with members of Neighbors Together and numerous community organizations statewide to lobby our state legislators for a budget that serves the common good and other measures to improve the lives of poor people. Primary among our policy objectives were to close corporate tax loopholes and increase the minimum wage.

Now, from about two hours ago until noon on Wednesday, I am fasting with the Labor-Religion Coalition of New York State to call for a fair economy today. The fast coincides with the 100th anniversary of the Bread and Roses Strike in Lawrence, Mass., a landmark event in labor history (and U.S. history in general). As we commemorate the textile workers who risked their lives for higher wages and respect, we renew our dedication to the eradication of income and wealth inequalities caused by greed, made normative within unjust economic structures, and sanctioned by unfair rules.

You can read about the fast here: http://www.labor-religion.org/fast-main.htm. My fellow New Yorkers, I invite you to pray, reflect, and act with me. During the fast I will call and/or e-mail my local state legislators to let them know why I am fasting and what I want. Having seen them last week, they just might remember my name, in whose name I speak, and the people I serve!

I'll break the fast to have dinner with the friars tomorrow, but otherwise I will refrain from eating. Don't worry about me -- no discomfort I may feel can compare to the hunger pangs of today's working poor. Such a hunger as theirs is felt both in the body and the soul. Often I have said that the economic crisis is a spiritual crisis. The scandalous disparity in standard of living between rich and poor is but the outward manifestation of a interior desolation afflicting both the sinners -- those who impoverish others -- and the suffering. Such wretchedness is a denial of the Gospel and a rejection of the kingdom of God.

Enough. Let us sin no more against the poor. Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. Please join me and numerous New Yorkers in the following interfaith prayer:

March 12-14, 2012

All: God of love and compassion, let us pray:

Leader: For the textile workers of the Great Lawrence Strike, who one hundred years ago demonstrated that David can slay Goliath and that working class solidarity can win both bread and roses;  

All: God of love and compassion, let us pray:

Leader: For women and men to follow the call of the prophet to “act justly, love tenderly and walk humbly with God”;

All: God of love and compassion, let us pray:

Leader: For working people to afford the basic necessities through an increase this year in New York’s minimum wage;

All: God of love and compassion, let us pray:

Leader: For elected officials as they deliberate about ways to close the income and wealth gaps that divide far too many New Yorkers;

All: God of love and compassion, let us pray:

Leader: For workers in communities across the state who struggle with low wages or are unable to find employment, who have no health insurance or can no longer pay their mortgage or rent;

All: God of love and compassion, let us pray:

Leader: For the moral vision to see that the great wealth gap of our time is not inevitable, surely not the will of God and can be changed by people who put economic justice for all ahead of greed and selfishness;  

All: God of love and compassion, let us pray:

Leader: For passage of a fair budget that prioritizes the people of New York State and requires corporations to pay their share.

All: God of love and compassion, let us do your will. Amen.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Good and Tired

Feeling good and tired after a day of workouts, spiritual, mental, and physical.

First, of course, was the spiritual: Sunday Mass next door at St. Michael-St. Malachy. Today during worship I tried to keep in mind the spirit of two ecumenical councils seven centuries apart, the Fourth Lateran Council and the Second Vatican Council. From the Fourth Lateran Council, the faithful have learned to attend Mass regularly and devoutly, and to show reverence for the liturgy and its ministers. From the Second Vatican Council, the faithful have learned to seek full, active, and conscious participation in the liturgy, especially at Mass on Sundays. They have learned to seek the presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the Word proclaimed in Scripture, the ministers, and in themselves as ecclesia, the faithful assembled for divine worship.

This morning, the liturgy suffered from awkward stage management: the collection and the offertory (the bringing of bread and wine to the altar) happened simultaneously; and from technical difficulties: ear-splitting feedback from the microphones, and a malfunctioning organ. Still, these things cannot prevent God from meeting those who come in the name of the Lord. In spite of the liturgical obstacles, I prayed that our contemplation of the presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the Word of God, the ministers of the Church, and all the faithful would prepare us to humbly receive that presence offered so graciously to us, and to bear that presence to others.

At midday, it was time for a high-intensity burn on the treadmill. If I can get on the stationary bike and/or treadmill for an hour or more, two to three times a week, I am happy. I am striving to make physical exercise as habitual as spiritual exercise. Both are necessary for the long-term maintenance of my person, body-soul-and-spirit.

Through the afternoon I combined mental and physical labor in the kitchen as I cooked the Sunday meal for the brothers. This day, I outdid myself. I made cocktail meatballs (with ground turkey) for an appetizer; Spanish chicken and rice for the main meal; and sides of cornbread and spinach. There was also a raisin cake for dessert, but I baked it last night. I'm pretty proud of the outcome, as much for how the good food boosted our conviviality as for how good the food itself was. And I enjoyed the flow of working slowly and meditatively throughout the warm, sunny afternoon in the bright kitchen around the pleasant odors of bread, spices, and cooking meats.

Now, as I finish pecking at this blog, my whole being feels used up in a positive way. Prayer and work, work in prayer, and prayer in work. May God grant to me (and my brothers) the blessing of many years to pray and work; to make of my body a temple for the Spirit; and to dwell devoutly within my temple, praying and fasting, and laboring to witness to the reign of God already come and yet to come. Then, like the prophetess Anna, I will come forward at the end of my days and give thanks to God for the One who redeems us. And like Simeon, I will come in the Spirit into God's house to behold Jesus, embrace him, and say:

Lord, now you let your servant go in peace;
your word has been fulfilled:

my own eyes have seen the salvation
which you have prepared in the sight of every people:

a light to reveal you to the nations
and the glory of your people Israel.

Luke 2:29-32

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Status Updates

(With no apologies to Facebook.)

Anthony Zuba ...

is back from a visit to the dentist in Ridgewood and pleased the dentist was happy with his gums.

is feeling invigorated after 75 minutes on the exercise bike.

is washing, drying, and ironing the purificators, the linens used to clean the vessels used during Eucharist.

is looking forward to baking a raisin cake tonight.

is preparing himself to be friendly, cheerful, and social for the five friars coming down from Maryknoll, N.Y., and staying overnight.

is ahead of many of you, because he's already set his clocks forward one hour.

is going to the 9 o'clock Mass at St. Michael-St. Malachy Parish next door, where he is a liturgical minister. Tomorrow morning he is the commentator, meaning that he officially welcomes the congregation and reads the intercessory prayers. The following Sunday he will be the lector, meaning he will read from the Hebrew Bible and Christian epistles.

is making dinner for the brothers tomorrow.

is looking forward to a quiet half-hour in the chapel this evening.

is reading spiritual writings by Bro. Roger Schutz, founder of the Taize community.

is seeing his family in Babylon, L.I., on the 31st to celebrate his dad's birthday, and is returning to them the following weekend for the Easter triduum.

is wishing his parents would call more often.

is hoping his brother and sister will visit him in Brooklyn at least once this spring.

is hoping at least three of his friends will come to St. Michael Friary for prayer and dinner before postulancy is over.

is hoping to love a little more like Jesus. He is learning to love the art of loving like Jesus. This kind of love is life.

is praying a lot for the six men who have applied to join the next formation class.

is still wondering what it is like for those who cannot hear to pray. For that matter, he wonders what prayer is like for those in whom any of their senses are impaired.

is proud to have memorized the Angelus prayer.

is not missing Facebook at all. He is looking for community more than connection.

is four weeks from Easter, sixty days from the end of postulancy, and, God willing, eleven weeks and 1,456 miles from Pentecost in Victoria, Kansas.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Prayer for Better Prayer

Resolving to ask God to make me a better pray-er in the morning. Consulting my body, consulting its experience, here are three observations from morning prayer and Eucharist today.

1. The sounds of the city encroach on our chapel: the whistle of the crossing guard, the bark of the dog, the roar of the elevated train. Usually I can tune them out or bring them into tune with prayer, but not this morning. I especially dislike the sound of sirens. They were ever-present this morning. Rather than bracing the prayers, they intruded on them and undermined them. For me, their noise interfered with the signal of the Word. If only I could not hear them! But I cannot help it. For the first time I am wondering what prayer is like for those who cannot hear.

2. It is hard to speak well early in the morning. When I recite the psalms or proclaim Scripture, my voice is sandy and full of clams. I can feel how constricted my throat is; it is not yet relaxed, as it is by the evening. The nasal drip doesn't help, either. Strangely enough, it feels easier to sing the hymns than to recite the psalms. For some reason, when I sing, my voice is clear and produces a clean tone. Why is this? What say you, choirmasters?

3. Being responsible for the sacristy has made me more aware of the condition of the chapel. The spots of wax on the carpet around the altar. How much holy water is in the font; how clean is the font. Now I find myself distracted by the menial tasks that come to mind unbidden. It's time to change the altar candles; it's time to clean the candlesticks. The sanctuary lamp needs a new candle. The linens for Eucharist, the purificators and corporals, have to be cleaned and ironed. The Eucharistic vessels need to be polished. There is no more sacramental wine in the sacristy!

God, help me focus on you. Tune my body to the frequency of your Word. Let our prayer space and the sacred things we use for worship draw us closer to you. Amen.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Presence and a Presenting

Just finished our hour of Eucharistic adoration in chapel. The brothers put themselves in the presence of Christ, who Catholics believe by faith is present really and most fully to us in the Eucharist.

I am fine with participating in this traditional devotion, provided that it increases my desire to attain communion with God in the celebration of the Eucharist. Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament is not a substitute for communion, much less a superior form of worship than the celebration of the Eucharist in the Mass. I am making an effort to dispose myself to the gifts of God, whatever the limitations of my perception, and not to let my theological biases get in the way.

We are studying the writings of Francis of Assisi on Eucharist this week. Tomorrow we will discuss the theology of Francis as revealed in his letters and draw principles and practices from his own words. A closer look at his occasional statements, situated in the context of pronouncements by popes and an ecumenical council of the Church, will be informative.

One thing I hope to gain from studying Francis and his religious movement is a better understanding of the sacramental imagination of the friars. I hope to discover anew my own potential for seeing the mystery of God in the world. And -- I cannot emphasize this enough -- making God's presence known to others.

It is not like I have no sacramental imagination at all. Indeed, I can say that for a long time I have adored Christ as really and truly present in the Word of God made known in the proclamation of Scripture and preaching of the Gospel. I venerate Scripture and revere the words of Jesus as the words of spirit and life. Indeed, for me hearing the authentic Word of God is a sacramental moment. In my heart I have bowed down in adoration when Christ comes into my presence from the pulpit as much as from the altar.

In time, through solid formation and continued celebration of the Eucharist, I know I will gain the same feeling of adoration for the presence of Christ in his gifts of bread and wine.

At this hour, let it be affirmed that I am drawn irresistibly to the presence of Christ in his word; that I acknowledge this attraction and accept its graceful power over me; and that I interpret this attraction as the sign of a call to be a minister of the word. To preach -- that is what my heart wants to do.

And my heart is clear. To preach -- no more and no less. I do not feel called to the altar. But I am drawn to the pulpit. What can this mean?

The Word of God has seized my soul. Now I am seized with questions. A new beginning in an ongoing discernment: an inquiry is presenting.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Albany

A good day in the state capital.

Lovely weather in Albany, which is a remarkable thing to say, considering what you would expect at this time of year -- temperatures well below freezing, ice and snow everywhere, cutting winds. Instead, we arrived under a flood of sunshine, and enough warmth to thaw the ground and coax the crocuses to life.

By ten this morning, the various community groups who coalesced under the banner of the Empire State Economic Security Campaign, including the members of the Hunger Action Network, of which Neighbors Together is a part, filled Westminster Presbyterian Church, within walking distance of the Capitol complex. We rehearsed our policy positions on the budget, education, employment, wages, and welfare, and we received directions for our media action and legislative appointments.

After an early bag lunch we marched to the Capitol. There, after clearing security, we formed a human chain from the Senate chamber doors down a couple flights of stairs to the governor's office, and in the manner of the Occupy movement, became a human megaphone sounding off on all the ordinary outrages against the poor of New York State. The Senate, being in session, and the governor on the premises, could not fail to hear what we had to say. And we said our peace quickly and departed before anyone could challenge our constitutional rights, for we had lawmakers to visit.

Between members of Neighbors Together and another Brooklyn soup kitchen, St. John's Bread & Life, we formed six delegations, each team with its own roster of legislator appointments. My team visited the offices of Senate minority leader John Sampson, Sen. Velmanette Montgomery, and Assemb. Vito Lopez, who chairs the Assembly housing committee. We spoke for 35 minutes to Sampson's budget analyst, about 45 minutes with one of Montgomery's policy liaisons, and for 40 minutes with Lopez himself. Each legislator received information about the policy recommendations of the Empire State Economic Security Campaign, as well as additional material from Neighbors Together regarding our members' big concerns: regulation of three-quarter housing and equal opportunity employment for ex-offenders.

Lobbying concluded by 4 p.m. Back on the bus we shared sandwiches, snacks, and water, and we were home in Brooklyn by seven in the evening.

In Albany, most interest groups ply public officials on Tuesdays because the legislature is usually in session all day on Wednesday, and it's more likely that you'll get to see a representative in person. However, the whole world swarms the Capitol on Tuesdays, meaning that those legislators, while available, are also likely to be less patient with supplicants. Whereas today, we had plenty of time to state our positions before the legislators and their staff, and they were attentive, courteous, curious about our issues, inquisitive, and even forthcoming with information about their own priorities and the realities of the political situation. I've done lobbying at the Massachusetts State House, and I never had the kind of reception from legislators and staff that we got today. This is in large part because we had appointments -- mostly I've done walk-in delegations -- but it is also because we had plenty of time. These meetings were relaxed. And because of this, the Spirit spoke through and with the good spirits in our delegation.

Our people know that only so much will be accomplished because of our once-a-year visit. We don't expect the corporate tax loopholes that deprive the state of the means to provide for the common good to close tomorrow. We don't expect a sudden surge of concern for fair wages codified into a modernized minimum wage law. The rich will share with the poor only when compelled to do so, when they concede after a struggle. But we are prepared to carry the struggle forward, step by step, day by day, from now until the coming of the kingdom, the power, and the glory. A paraphrase of Jeremiah in a hymn from my breviary jumped off the page and into my soul this morning:

Deep within their being I will implant my law; I will write it in their hearts.

And from the intercessions for evening prayer, taken from the proper of Lent, came this petition, which gleamed like gold:

Lord, guide the minds and hearts of peoples and all in public office;
--may they always seek the common good.

Amen!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

State of the Soul

Heading into my monthly formation conference in a few moments. I have moved from acceptance to appreciation of these opportunities to check in with my formators on the condition of my religious development. There is no lack of words, no want for inspiration when we hold these conversations. It is good that we are having at least one such meeting during Lent; if memory serves, we will have our next formation conference during Holy Week.

I have my next meeting for spiritual direction on Thursday in Manhattan. This will likely be my only meeting during Lent. The following meeting will probably take place after Easter. It may well be the final appointment of that kind during the postulancy program.

In between these oasis hours come the final preparations for the lobby day in Albany with Neighbors Together and the journey itself. This afternoon our membership meeting will be devoted to a review of the discussion points for our legislator meetings, a series of role plays to simulate our conversations with the legislators, and general instructions on the itinerary for Wednesday.

In chapel I have prayed for our delegations travelling to the capital seeking relief from poverty, hunger, and poor housing. I have asked for the power that will make our petitions to the state effective. But I also want our band of Brooklynites to be faithful. We come in a spirit of peace seeking mercy and compassion for ourselves and our sisters and brothers. We do not seek to condemn anyone for their failure to serve the common good. We take a high road. We come to seek power, not for its own sake, but for the sake of justice, for the purpose of building a better world.

Therefore we approach the state for the needs of our bodies for the sake of our souls. We want to make clear that what God has granted us, let no one in authority take away. What God has granted us that we may live, let no one in society take away. Let the state be mindful of its obligation to promote the general welfare and find ways to do so more effectively. Let the state hear our call to order society rightly so that all may live simply and simply live.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Prayers

Saying prayers, at this moment, in no particular order,

For peace and reconciliation in the Church, the world, our nation, our neighborhoods, our families, and ourselves.
For my postulant brother who with his family buried his grandfather today.
For all the people in these Brooklyn neighborhoods who are dealing with unhealthy and uncontrollable anger over helpless situations.
For a safe journey to Albany and back with Neighbors Together, and for legislator meetings that have a positive impact on our people.
For a daily renewal of my intention to act fraternally toward my brothers, neighbors, and enemies.
For a friend who faces eviction.
For my Boston friends, that we might remain close in spirit.
For ministerial women religious in the United States who show us the changing face of religious life.
For my Catholic siblings who struggle with the "institutional church." For all Christians who look on with hope, fear, and anxiety at what the clerical leaders of the Catholic Church say and do.
For all who are entering the Church. For all who are leaving the Church.
For all who are about to be born. For all who are about to die.
For undocumented immigrants facing persecution at the hands of neighbors, employers, and the state.
For refugees worldwide. Today I am thinking of men, women, and children fleeing from Syria into Lebanon.
For workers suffering from impoverishing wages, unsafe conditions, and demeaning treatment. Today I am thinking about car wash employees.
For the people I promised to pray for but whose intentions I have forgotten. For the people I have forgotten to commend to God's providential care.
For the wisdom to ask rightly for the things God knows I need. For the good sense to recognize and be thankful for the gifts given and about to be given.
For resistance when we face our tempters, first of all ourselves. For deliverance from evil, first of all the evil we bring upon ourselves.
For the grace to forgive whatever I cannot yet forgive or cannot yet even see must be forgiven.
For imagination, invention, and industry. For vision and the virtue to project the vision from soul into soul and from life into life.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

In the Kitchen

That's where I was for most of today. This must be a new world record for me, because except for church, chapel, and exercise, I was hanging out all day in the kitchen, either eating or baking and cooking. And it wasn't even my turn to cook for the house -- that's next Sunday. With the day and evening free, I decided to stick around St. Michael Friary, and I made the kitchen my home within the home.

What did I do all day? Well, I made chocolate chip cookies from scratch. One of the friars asked twice over the last few weeks if I might rustle up a batch, so I made a batch and a half. And they are great. Then, using up most of the week's leftovers, I stirred up some servings of Spanish rice. As I type this, there is a loaf of whole wheat bread rising in the oven.

The only things keeping me from making more food are the lateness of the hour and a lack of ingredients.

Maybe it is the influence of volunteering at a place where they cook for hundreds of people every day and make it look easy. Maybe it is the desire to show my brothers I care for them by means other than words. Maybe it is because I am at last appreciating the sacramentality of food. Maybe I feel that, after the thousands of times I have been fed over thirty-four-and-a-half years, it is long past time that I fed others a few times. It could be all of these things. I hope it is.

More than once now I have told my formators how glad I am to have become comfortable with cooking. The kitchen space itself has much to do with this development. It is easy to navigate; it has a powerful double oven and range; it has ample storage space for the pantry and spices; it is well stocked with utensils, arranged in an orderly manner; and its food preparation area is out of the way of the dining area, where traffic is the highest. Even the shyest chef apprentice can come out of his eggshell in here.

Next Sunday is going to be a tour de force. I would like to prepare both dinner and a dessert. Who knows, maybe an appetizer as well. Whatever I prepare for the brothers, there will be bread. We are a fraternity with a Eucharistic spirit. That spirit is stirring me.

Have a good night, friends. Got to go check on the bread.