Thursday, May 31, 2012

No Money, No Problem

Let us suppose that you are a married person with children. If you are relatively happy with your life, if you enjoy spending time with your children, playing with them and talking to them; if you like nature, if you enjoy sitting in your yard on your front steps, if your sexual life is relatively happy, if you have a peaceful sense of who you are and are stabilized in your relationships, if you like to pray in solitude, if you just like talking to people, visiting them, spending time in conversation with them, if you enjoy living simply, if you sense no need to compete with your friends or neighbors--what good are you economically in terms of our system? You haven't spent a nickel yet....

For there is an economics of intimacy and happiness: covenanted love is not very profitable. There is an economics of the vows: poverty, chastity, and obedience are not very helpful to economic growth. There is an economics to prayer and solitude: they are financially worthless.

John F. Kavanaugh, Following Christ in a Consumer Society

The Capuchin interprovincial postulancy program is the right challenge for the brothers at the right time. It is the right challenge for me, right now. It is so hard to treat persons like persons, and things like things, each according to their nature, raising neither kind above or below its nature. How hard for young religious to break off the idolatries of a capitalist consumerism worldview -- to strive to live humanly, to live like persons, not to live according to the ways of a world centered in things, not in God.

Thank goodness we have this program, and the novitiate program to follow, to set us free from unhealthy, mindless material preoccupations. With trust in the generosity of our provinces, we rely on the use of common resources to obtain our daily bread. With no material or financial concerns to speak of, and nothing to want, we are left with few anxieties and fewer distractions from fraternal interactions. Indeed, what can keep us from learning to love persons above all things?

Money? Why would we need it now? Granted, each brother gets a little petty cash for personal material and social needs. But what do we really need money for now?

We may not use personal money. We may not draw from our personal bank accounts, assets, or investments. We may not possess personal credit cards. We may not possess personal checkbooks. Amen and alleluia. What a relief not to have to manage these things or be worried by them.

The divestment goes beyond means of exchange. We may not possess cell phones, personal computers, personal music players, or personal electronic devices. Fine by me. No one has a personal vehicle for transportation. So what? Welcome to the fraternal economy.

Indeed, welcome to the economy of grace, the economy of abundance, the economy of gratitude. There is no profit motive here, only prophetic enterprise. We value free persons, not a free market. We trade in compassion, not commodities. We do not compete; we cooperate. With God's help, we grow in strength and wisdom and favor among people. We do not concern ourselves with growth in employment and production and consumption. We do not look for magical help from an illusive hidden hand.

Pray for me and my brothers that we strive always to put persons above things and never to revere things as persons. Let us settle our "account" before God alone, through Jesus Christ, with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, guided by the example of Francis and Clare.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012


Quick postscript: we have a great little theology library at St. Fidelis Friary. It still operates on the Dewey Decimal System and -- remember this? -- a card catalog. But who cares? Theology books are theology books, and I behold a feast. There is also some biography and fiction.

On my list of intended reading:

Albert Camus, The Plague, trans. Stuart Gilbert (New York: Vintage, 1972)
John Dear, Disarming the Heart: Toward a Vow of Nonviolence (Mahwah, N.J.: Paulist Press, 1987)
Avery Dulles, Models of the Church (New York: Image, 1978)
John F. Kavanaugh, Following Christ in a Consumer Society: The Spirituality of Cultural Resistance (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis, 1981)

This is just for starters.

Thanks be to God, we have plenty of unstructured personal time, time enough for both physical exercise (there is a treadmill and there are two stationary bikes) and mental exercise. By the end of the interprovincial postulancy, I will be more than in shape for novitiate studies. I'll be ready for graduate-level scholarship again.

More Orientation

Continuing our orientation, getting to know more about the program and housekeeping.

Been reading our novitiate preparation manual, which spells out the program philosophy, formation goals, program components, and practical matters concerning life in the program. We talk about these things during our morning and evening orientation meetings. Just a few items of note:

1. This is a formation program unto itself. It is not the postlude of our provincial postulancy program just completed, and it is not a prelude to the canonical novitiate. We are neither postulants nor novices, but it is also inaccurate and misleading to call us post-postulants or pre-novices. We are moving into closer affiliation with the international fraternity of Capuchins; in other words, we are entering our first formational experience of living as a brother within the global Capuchin community. Therefore we are now being addressed simply as "brother" or "new brother."

2. Our formation goals in this program are threefold in nature: they are human, they are Catholic/ecclesial, and they are Franciscan. Within each goal we have categorical subgoals concerning knowledge, attitudes, and skills, with objectives for growth in each area.

3. Each brother will be assigned a formation advisor, a friar from the three-person formation team. We will meet individually with our formation advisor regularly, much as we did in our postulancy formation conferences, to talk about how we are doing in the program. Spiritual direction, which is different in nature from formation advisory meetings, will resume in novitiate.

4. Classes are three days a week, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, in the morning. We will reflect as a group on methods of prayer, meditation, and contemplation; liturgical rubrics; Franciscan spirituality; novitiate guidelines; human interaction; and public speaking. From time to time, we will participate in workshops with our formators and with guest speakers on topics such as community living skills; personality profiles (e.g. Myers-Briggs, enneagram); problem solving and conflict transformation; stress management; leadership; identity issues facing ministers as public representatives of the Church; intercultural issues; and sexuality.

5. Fraternal interaction is key to our experience of formation during these two months in Kansas. Every evening is devoted to "scheduled, informal times of fraternal recreation." This is not private time or personal time. We will spend our time together, as a group. Twice a week the brothers will take turns sharing their vocation stories in "fraternal conversations." Once a week the brothers will take turns sharing personal reflections on their experiences of ministry within the program. Once a week the brothers will meet, as in house chapter, to discuss "common problems or concerns evolving within the fraternity or within the program." These evenings will always end with socializing in our community room, just talking, playing games, having snacks, and so forth. On Saturday nights we will have "planned group recreation." The brothers will be given some spending money and use of the common cars and urged to do something together in town or in the neighboring towns. The point is to get the brothers bonding over activities outside of the friary. Staying home is not an option!

6. We are not being formally evaluated at the end of the interprovincial postulancy. We are not auditioning again for novitiate. We have all been accepted into novitiate; we are ready for novitiate. The goal of this program is simply to join together all the brothers who have been accepted to novitiate in a common community and teach us additional skills to enhance our participation in the next phase of formation. So there's really no pressure to "perform," and every incentive just to "be" and live into the experiences awaiting us.

7. For all the time spent in fraternal interaction, there is also ample periods of unstructured time. This is personal time to be devoted quietly to spiritual readings, journaling (or blogging!), private prayer, liturgical preparation, fraternal service (i.e., house chores), manual labor, recreation, and so forth. Personal time is conducive to reflection and service to others. We can come and go as we please from friary during fraternal time without asking permission, but as a courtesy it is good to inform a brother of our whereabouts, and to invite others to join us as appropriate.

Time to wind up this post. Next time I'll elaborate on fraternal service and how we take care of the friary. And maybe I'll say a word about money and the things we hold in common!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Not in New York Anymore

Extending my computing time some more for a dateline post.

This is Victoria, Kansas, not New York, New York. A few signs of the times and the place we are in now:

Hot, dry, and flat.
The sun goes down after nine o'clock and comes up after six. We're thisclose to the Mountain time zone.
You can walk from one end of this town to the other in an hour.
Nevertheless, nobody walks; everyone drives.
The entire population of Victoria could fit in one city block of New York.
For that matter, the entire population of Victoria could fit in one New York City public housing project.
Everybody knows everybody. Everybody is related to everybody. The names on the tombstones of St. Fidelis Cemetery are the same names on the mailboxes and doorposts.
I kid you not: yesterday, my first day in Kansas, I met a woman named Dorothy.
The business district is a bank, a couple of insurance companies, a funeral parlor, a fuel company, and a construction firm. There's a post office and a city hall. And that's about it.
People do their shopping in Hays, a ten-minute drive to the west. The brothers went on a run for toiletries and other personal necessities. There is a local grocery and pharmacy, but there's really only one retailer, and that's Wal-Mart. Sigh....
Saw a Nobama bumper sticker. Sigh, again....
The Salina Journal is what we read in the morning. No New York Times. No Kansas City Star. Not even USA Today. Triple sigh....
St. Fidelis Church, nicknamed "The Cathedral of the Plains," is one of the Eight Wonders of Kansas, but it would blend in with any of the hundreds of Catholic churches in the five boroughs of New York built with the nickels, dimes, and dollars of immigrant families.
In these parts, it's "pop," not "soda." It's "braut," not "sausage."
Victoria Knights: five-time state champions from 1981 to the present. Next to God and country, high school varsity football.
For Memorial Day, its primary fundraiser for the year, the parish held a German-style wedding luncheon and a barbecue at dinner. It's all beef and all pork, all the time. The green beans are cooked with pork; the vegetable soup is made in a beef broth. Yesterday I asked the men doing the grilling if they had any veggie burgers or at least some turkey burgers. They looked like they never heard of such things. Sigh, once more ... I don't mean to alarm anybody, but I could be a few pounds lighter by the time I get to California.

Brother, I don't think we're in New York anymore!


Trying to budget my time on the computer. Practicing frugality while using the Internet is hard! My aim is to bring my usage down to 20 minutes a day, for starters. Then, 15 minutes a day. Then, to cut out computing entirely for one day a week, a sabbath from cyberspace. This will prepare me for the austerity of novitiate.

Our proper orientation to the interprovincial postulancy program began today.

We have been on a special schedule since arrival because of Memorial Day and orientation. We will move into our regular horarium soon enough. Today's schedule at St. Fidelis Friary:

7:00 Meditation
7:15 Morning Prayer
7:30 Eucharist
8:00 Breakfast
9:30 Orientation
11:45 Midday Prayer
12:00 Lunch
Free Afternoon
5:15 Meditation
5:30 Evening Prayer
6:00 Dinner
7:30 Night Prayer
7:45 Orientation

When postulancy began last summer, we met for common prayer twice a day, in the morning and the evening, plus Eucharist. By Advent we introduced a third hour of common prayer, compline, or night prayer. Now we are one step to closer to novitiate, and we have added a fourth hour, midday prayer. The addition is logical and feels natural: prayers before every meal. There is a lot more besides, but when it comes down to it, pray and eat, pray and eat: that's what friars do! Or, to put it more sacramentally: give thanks and be nourished.

Previously I alluded to the practical reasons the Capuchins of North America do the novitiate program collectively: conservation of material resources and development of a common culture. Today we have been given a philosophical foundation for interprovincial postulancy. Day One of novitiate is too late to begin forming fraternity among the novice brothers. It is better to integrate the community of novices while the brothers are still postulants. Continuing the work of human development within a fraternity larger than St. Michael Friary dovetails with my own efforts to accept a conversion of my interpersonal relationships toward Christ. For love of Christ Jesus, the image of the invisible God, I welcome the challenge to change and keep being transformed after the example of Francis of Assisi. May this program, a mere fifty days on the lifelong road of religious life, bring me closer to God, closer to my neighbors, closer to my brothers, and closer to the brother I am to be.

PS -- This post took more than thirty minutes to draft! Too long. The mind is racing around my head, desperate to pick up every iota of information, eager to tell you all. I must slow down and let go. More I could write to you, but suffice it to say I will remember you, friendly readers, with loving thoughts. What I cannot show you in words I will speak with charity to my brothers. And I trust you to begin imagining this religious life, in spite of the parsimony of pictures.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Carry On, My Wayward Son

I am in Kansas. Arrived at quarter to ten local time last night after travelling the most miles I had ever crossed in one day. Three flights: New York to Milwaukee to Denver to Hays, Kansas, the final flight a bit frightening as we passed through shearing winds and tall, thick thunderclouds. Would that we could have avoided such interesting weather! Nevertheless, we pray, "Lightnings and clouds, bless the Lord."

Long travel takes everything out of me. By the third and final touchdown, I was ready to sleep standing up. Even now, feeling lightheaded and less than coherent -- my body has traveled so far, so fast ... the spirit is still catching up. As I expected, I have a sore throat after sitting for hours breathing stale cockpit air. This, too, shall pass, except I worry about losing my voice. I know I'll need to meet and greet a lot of people today, and not only my brothers. The novices-to-be are going to be introduced to the whole town, basically, at a Memorial Day Mass this morning. (Population of Victoria, Kansas: approx. 1,000).

Had a look at the friars' chapel this morning: simple, clean, naturally bright, and beautiful. Spent a half hour in meditation and morning prayer. Picked up breakfast and a newspaper, The Salina Journal, as brothers came and went.

This doesn't feel real yet. When my spirit arrives, then it will. I know that it will; the Spirit carries me with her.

Now, to let my folks know I am here safely and gently arriving into my new surroundings. Spirit of Christ, call me here; plant me firmly on this ground; make me really present to you and to my brothers.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Flight Fright

The weather forecast in western Kansas for Sunday evening does not look very promising. There is a good chance of severe thunderstorms in Hays at 10 p.m, when our flight is scheduled to arrive. In fact, there is a chance of thunderstorms most of the day, from three in the afternoon until midnight and later. Not the news I was hoping to get.

Honestly, I would not mind being delayed for hours in Denver, stranded even, all night, if that was necessary to ensure a safe flight to Kansas.

Pray for all the Capuchin novices-to-be who are flying tomorrow, that they may reach their destination safely, with or without inconvenience. I will be in transit all day Sunday, but I promise to post to confirm my arrival as soon as I am able.

Peace be with you, friends, and to my brothers and sisters in the Spirit of Christ, I bid you a joyous Pentecost.

Into the Night, Into the Air

Lord of the water, Lord of the air,
God of light,

Be my defender through the night;
speed me safely toward daylight.

It is night.
I must go into the night
over the thundering air
to reach the dawn.

The light is good.
The light is life.
But life rises in the darkness.
The Spirit is our friend
when we are in the darkness
and we are separated
from everything that is light
and love.

With you, Spirit of love,
I am never truly separated
from the light.
I am only parted from the day
for a while.

Where I am going,
no one can follow me,
no one but my brothers,
no one but my sisters.

Brothers, will you be there?
Sisters, will you be there?
Will you follow?
Are you going into the night
and into the air?

Will you be there
when I return?

Will I begin, and will I be alive to beginning?

Let me live long enough
to make the journey into the night.
Grant me an eternal year, O God,
and an hour stolen from death.
Make the storms of destruction pass by
but leave me undisturbed
prepared to part from day
for the good night to come.

Good night, dark night.
The darkness will be as day
as I fly through the billowing blowing air.

As I sing, so I pray.
Holy Spirit, come.
Holy God, come.
Your child stands apart.
Holy Spirit, come.

Final Bulletins

Backtracking on the bulletins from Babylon....

Thursday: Sojourning in Babylon Village, NY, at San Niccolo Friary. Arose at twenty to eight; brief meditation and morning prayer at my brothers' dining table facing east, looking at a gray sky heavy with moisture. Nine o'clock Mass at Our Lady of Grace in the Marian chapel with about twenty-five people of the parish. Light breakfast at San Niccolo with my brother while viewing the proceedings of the House of Representatives on C-SPAN. Left the apartment around noon for the multiplex in Deer Park to see The Hunger Games, which has been all the conversation among many of my young theologian friends. It took some convincing to get Nicholas to see it with me, but he went, and he was glad he did. You'll be glad to have gone, too. For a perspective from one of my thoughtful theologian colleagues, read this. I posted this link earlier in the context of Holy Week and the Easter season, but it bears re-posting.

Made a pit stop at San Niccolo before visiting Jennifer, Jesse, and little Jesse at their home in East Northport. Chinese take-out and Pictionary and looking at our lives together in heart-to-heart talk: this is how I spent the evening with my sister, our last together until next August. When we see each other again, little Jesse will be three and a half years old, and her second child, who doesn't have a name yet, will be eleven months old.

Friday: Sojourning at San Niccolo Friary. Arose at seven-thirty; brief meditation and morning prayer at my brothers' table. Nine o'clock Mass at Our Lady of Grace in the Marian chapel. Surprised to see more than fifty parishioners there. Every Mass at Our Lady of Grace is offered for one of the deceased members of the parish; apparently many relatives had come for this commemorative Mass. A couple of the relatives brought the gifts of bread and wine to the altar. After dismissal, said goodbyes to a few of my longtime friends from the parish.

Light breakfast at San Niccolo while viewing the Senate proceedings on C-SPAN 2. Before long Nicholas and I were on an express train to Jamaica, then the J train to Manhattan and the Lower East Side. Got tickets for a late afternoon tour of the Tenement Museum -- it was the exhibit on sweatshop labor. Looked at the photo gallery and saw a film about immigration and life in the Lower East Side at the turn of the 20th century. With two hours before our tour, we strode out and crisscrossed the neighborhood, stopping first at Our Lady of Sorrows Parish. The church was closed as we passed by, but providentially, Fr. Tom Faiola, the pastor, walked up as we were peering into the locked church. He was on the way to pastoral visit, but he graciously let Nicholas and me into the sanctuary and left us to do a self-guided tour of the church and friary. Thank you, Father Tom! A little more walking, then an hour of taking our time at Teany, a vegan teahouse on Rivington Street. For me, a banana and a scoop of vanilla ice cream made with cashew milk; for Nicholas, a slice of German chocolate cake and a bottle of green tea with ginseng. Back to the museum for the tour, which let out around five o'clock. Dinner at a pizza shop -- a slice of mushroom and a thick-crust slice of spinach and fresh riccotta. If I miss nothing else about New York City, I'll miss its pizza.

Back at San Niccolo around eight; on C-SPAN we watched Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker debate his challenger in the recall election, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. A good final day alone with my first and forever brother.

Today: Sojourning at my parents' house in West Babylon. Arose at San Niccolo Friary at six-thirty; washing up and packing up. Morning prayer in my customary spot at my brothers' table. Chocolate chip pancake breakfast over The New York Times. Helped my brother with his laundry, then left for my parents' house to do my laundry, where you don't get charged $1.75 to use the washer! Took a walk around the muggy neighborhood with my mother, water bottles in hand. Hooray -- we got one last stroll together. Now, computing and corresponding. Later this afternoon: confession at Our Lady of Grace, then the vigil Mass for the solemnity of Pentecost. Dinner this evening with the family at our favorite Chinese-Japanese restaurant. Hopefully, a restful night ahead, my last in the Northeast for fourteen months. When I next lay my body to sleep, it will be in a bed 1,500 miles from here.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Forty Hours

Forty more hours in New York. Forty hours with my family in the place where I grew up. Time to leave Babylon -- all in one, my personal Nazareth, Jerusalem, and, yes, Babylon -- again, this time to go to a far country.

Kansas and California. Kansas and California. These names, on my lips, like the names of fraternal twins. Surely these places could not be more unlike each other, but they are entwined by providential destiny in my journey of faith.

Let time roll. Let time stop. It is all as one to me now. All I want to do is listen to the Holy Spirit. All I want to do is appear, say "Here I am," and cooperate with the Spirit of God. That is discipleship. That is brotherhood in Jesus Christ.

Reflections are rising slowly to the surface of the streams of consciousness. I hope to show them to you before I climb the skies on Sunday.

Bulletins from Babylon, with backtracking, to resume tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

To 'The End'

Sojourning in Babylon Village, NY, at San Niccolo Friary.

Arose at twenty after seven; morning prayer at my brother's dining table facing east, with the sound of the locomotives lurching, bringing Long Island's breadwinners into the city. No Mass today; Nicholas and I made an early start for Montauk Point and the lighthouse. A two-hours' drive over 85 miles to the end of the south fork of Long Island. We calculated correctly: to our delight, although it was overcast where we set off, where we arrived the front edge of the rainclouds was far behind us, and it was mostly clear. We arrived just after the museum opened; spent over an hour and a half browsing the rooms of what used to be the residence of the lighthouse keepers. By the time we climbed the 137 metal steps of the tower, we could see without obstruction as far as the naked eye would see. A unblemished sky and a bright blue sea. I could have sat in the tower for hours. Before leaving, we walked around the edge of the bluffs, reinforced by a low stony seawall and terracing to stem erosion. Standing on the boulders staring at the ocean, you could see into infinity. I could have sat there for days in meditation.

Lunch at Anthony's Pancake House on Main Street of the town; raisin pancakes for yours truly. There was another such place across the street, Mr. John's Pancake House. Well, we had to visit the namesake, didn't we? Then, a short drive west to an overlook giving entry to three scenic trails for Hither Hills State Park. Nicholas and I walked one of them for about a half hour, minding the tall grass and watching out for deer ticks!

Now, to computing. Later, after evening prayer and dinner, one more visit to the Small Christian Community at Our Lady of Grace for faith sharing around the Scripture readings for the solemnity of Pentecost. It will be a final leave-taking with these, my suburban sisters and brothers in the spirit. Among them is one dear brother, Deacon Peter DiGiuseppe, who, as leader of the parish RCIA program in 1999-2000, welcomed me into my first Christian community and helped me take the decisive steps into the Church. May God bless you, Deacon Peter, and always send you the Holy Spirit speedily when you need Her.

This afternoon at Montauk Point, surveying the sea from a bandstand at the lighthouse museum, the strains of Psalm 98 came to my brother: "All the ends of the earth have seen the power of God." From one end, at least, God had witnesses today.

Don't Forget to Write

Another reminder of my forwarding addresses:

From May 27 to July 17:

St. Fidelis Friary
900 Cathedral Avenue
Victoria, KS 67671

From July 22:

San Lorenzo Friary
PO Box 247
(1802 Sky Drive if sending mail via FedEx or UPS)
Santa Ynez, CA 93460

Please send me your mailing address, too, so I can correspond with you. You should send me your address even if you think I already have it. This is because I have packed away many papers, and I may have inadvertently misplaced your address or put it beyond immediate reach. You can e-mail the information to, which will continue to be my address, though I will be checking it more sporadically from novitiate forward.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

San Niccolo Friary

Sojourning in Babylon Village, NY, at my brother Nicholas' apartment, to be known henceforth as San Niccolo Friary.

Slept well in the living room on my brother's air mattress and underneath the whirring breeze of the ceiling fan. Arose at six-thirty; meditation and morning prayer at my brother's meal table in the cool gray light of a new day. Mass at eight o'clock at Our Lady of Grace with about thirty parishioners assembled behind the sanctuary's main altar in the Marian chapel. Frozen pancake breakfast back at San Niccolo Friary while brother guardian is at work in the Town of Babylon. Reading the Sunday Times and thinking about the day trips Nicholas and I will be taking Wednesday through Friday. On our itinerary: Manhattan, namely the Lower East Side and the Tenement Museum; and Montauk, L.I., namely the Montauk Point Lighthouse Museum. We'll figure out when to go where as we study the weather. Now computing and corresponding, waiting for brother guardian to come home for lunch. Later, a haircut and stroll around the village; a look-see through a chapter or two of Nicholas' copy of The Passage of Power, Robert Caro's latest volume in The Years of Lyndon Johnson; and evening prayer and dinner in the village with brother guardian.

I have nothing that I have to do, only to listen to the Spirit and respond. I am free to be, free to pray, free to love.

There is nothing more I need to do to make ready for Kansas and California. Everything is ready. If I could, I would get on the airplanes tomorrow. Being with my first and forever brother: this alone keeps me from leaving now.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Leaving Boston

Backtracking on the bulletins from Boston....

Yesterday: Sojourning at San Lorenzo Friary, Jamaica Plain. Arose at twenty to seven; meditation and morning prayer in the sunroom next to the library. Breakfast at eight with The Boston Globe. Orange Line and Red Line to South Boston and St. Monica-St. Augustine Parish in time for the 10:30 a.m. Mass. An encouraging conversation with Fr. Robert Kennedy; all too brief, but a joy to talk of gardens, unions, and humble service in the dying-rising Church. We parted so he could make ready to celebrate the confirmation of sixteen persons from the growing Latino congregation with the auxiliary bishop, Most Rev. Robert Hennessey.

Red Line to Green Line to Boston University for pad thai lunch at Noodle Street, then a leisurely rest at Espresso Royale Cafe for a cookie and scone while reading and re-reading Models of the Church by Avery Dulles. Used the time mindfully before crossing Commonwealth Avenue to Marsh Chapel for the Boston University School of Theology senior convocation, the hooding and diploma ceremony. Robing, then a half-hour rehearsal with the Seminary Singers, then line-up in the narthex of the chapel. At four the procession began. There's no place more sonorous than Marsh Chapel when there is a great congregation and all the people sing full throated. Yesterday the faithful lifted the roof. Single-handedly, so did the homilist, Rev. Dr. William B. McClain, STH Class of 1962, who met our greatest alumnus, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, in Montgomery, Ala., and later became pastor of the historic Union United Methodist Church in Boston. His sermon, based on John 9, was titled "But Now I See!" I sat up, leaned forward, and took notes. His adages will remain with me for quite some time:

We need priests to stand with the people, and we need prophets to stand against the people.

What the Church needs today is priests who preach like prophets, and prophets who serve like priests.

Listening to Reverend McClain makes me want more than ever to receive the faculties of a permanent deacon so I can preach at all times in all places. If it please God and the brothers, I will pursue this. The Catholic Church needs heralds. With Reverend McClain and my brothers and sisters of the School of the Prophets I dare to pray:

O crucified and risen Lord
Give me tongues of fire to preach thy word.

We celebrated the 85 students receiving degrees in the following programs: Master of Divinity, Master of Theological Studies, Master of Sacred Music, Master of Sacred Theology, Doctor of Ministry, Doctor of Philosophy in Practical Theology, and Doctor of Theology.

Meeting my friends and mentors from the faculty and staff on Marsh Plaza after the convocation was like walking into the heavenly banquet of which Jesus spoke. My cup was full to overflowing; my heart was full. Dinner afterward in Cambridge with my dear friend Carolyn, then Red Line to Orange Line to San Lorenzo.

Today: Sojourning at San Lorenzo Friary, Jamaica Plain. Arose at twenty after seven; morning prayer at eight, with Eucharist following immediately. Breakfast with Rev. Terry Burke, minister of the Unitarian Universalist church on Centre Street at Eliot, not too far from our friary. Kitchen conversation with the guardian, a fellow friar, and one of the postulant brothers, who came on the weekend to celebrate commencements at Suffolk University, Tufts, and Boston College. Now, doing laundry and packing for the return to New York by Greyhound. By ten this evening, will be sleeping on an air mattress at Nicholas' apartment.

I am leaving Boston. God willing, the next time I set foot on these streets, it will be as a temporarily professed friar and a permanent resident once more.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Gracious Space

Sojourning at San Lorenzo Friary, Jamaica Plain in Boston. Arose at quarter after seven; nowadays that's considered sleeping in. Meditation and morning prayer in private; sat in the sunroom, an annex to the library on the second floor. Breakfast taken in the dining room with The Boston Globe as sole conversation partner. Eating slowly, reading slowly: how much more nourishing these activities become when undertaken in silence with stillness.

One of my friar hosts observes that this house of formation provides an oasis of serenity during the summer season, when the brothers are away. How true, and how grateful I am to the brothers -- not for leaving, but for how they have left. Even in their absence, they are felt to be kindly near because their hospitality has consecrated the space. Their manner of departure has left a gracious space in which guests can enter to meet the presence of the Holy Spirit. May each of us enter our places in God's name, and when we leave them, leave them whole, holy, and habitable.

A little computing and corresponding now. A gentle, hopeful morning.

The day ahead: lunch with two of my Boston University friends at the Bella Luna Restaurant and Milky Way Lounge, a favorite of the graduate student crowd and most of my Jamaica Plain pals. Perhaps an afternoon of walking in the neighborhood, time permitting. Later in the afternoon, a journey to Cambridge to distribute sandwiches with Harvard Epworth United Methodist Church to the women and men who beg around Central Square. Then, dinner with one of my friends from the congregation. Friendship and fellowship in the Spirit awaits!

An insight from one of my Unitarian Universalist friends: there is all about us a mystery we cannot fully understand. When we accept it, somehow it moves us into where we are meant to be, and it inspires us to be who we are meant to be. My friend says you can affirm this mystery even if you call yourself an atheist. (Maybe this affirmation makes it irrelevant to call yourself an atheist.) You can use the language of God, or you can call it something else. But it is difficult to deny the reality -- and the incomprehensibility -- of the mystery. Whatever you call it, it is the acceptance that matters. Blessed be, my friend.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Deeply Refreshed

Backtracking on the bulletins from Boston....

Yesterday: Sojourning at San Lorenzo Friary, Jamaica Plain in Boston. Arose at seven; meditation, then morning prayer in the friars' chapel. No Mass today; we celebrated the Eucharist the evening before at our vigil Mass for the Ascension of Jesus. Breakfast and conversation with one of the brothers, as we talked about the stand-up comic we saw the night before at The Burren, an Irish pub in Davis Square, Somerville.

Left the friary at nine to catch the Orange Line to downtown Boston. Participated in a strategy session with the board and new lead organizer of the Massachusetts Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice. The new director is a good guy, a graduate from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He succeeds my immediate successor, a fellow classmate from Boston University School of Theology, who will move on to a ministerial internship at a Unitarian Universalist congregation as he pursues ordination. Blessings on them both. At lunchtime our IWJ friends picketed Dunkin' Donuts for flexing its corporate muscles to pin down in defeat a bill that would mandate paid sick leave for all Massachusetts workers. We chose a Dunkin' shop on Beacon Street across the street from the Massachusetts State House. We wanted the state legislators to notice.

After lunch over wraps and salads at a Greek deli on Beacon Street, gave parting words of wisdom to the new Mass IWJ organizer, then walked to City Hall to deliver my absentee ballot application. I intend to vote as a Massachusetts resident in the fall elections.

Took the Green Line from Government Center to Lechmere in East Cambridge. Met a Quaker friend with whom I lived for two years at Beacon Hill Friends House. A sister in the Spirit with the heart of a woman religious. Our conversation was rich, deeply nourishing, and all too brief.

Walked to Kendall Square and boarded the Red Line for Harvard Square. A quick stride through John F. Kennedy Park to the monastery of the Society of St. John the Evangelist, an Episcopal monastic community, for evening prayer with their fraternity. With several Boston University seminarians I have had the privilege of attending silent reading retreats here. Almost the entire divine office is sung in plainchant. The chapel is huge and gorgeous. The liturgy is majestic and very much kindred to the Liturgy of the Hours used in the Catholic Church. A year of common prayer with the Capuchins made it very easy for me to follow both the order and the pace of the Episcopal monks' prayer. Most fitting to celebrate the high feast of Ascension with our Anglican brethren.

After savoring, in slow motion, the silence and music of evening prayer, hoofed it to the Red Line to make it by seven to Central Square to meet three of my female seminary friends from Boston University. Over quesadillas, brown rice and beans, and fresh fruit and sparkling flavored water, we talked long into the night about Church and society. They are, indeed, my own Marys of Magdala.

A full day and a fulfilling day.

Today: Sojourning at San Lorenzo Friary, Jamaica Plain in Boston. Arose at seven; morning prayer at eight and Eucharist immediately following, in the friars' chapel. The brothers have departed for retreats and summer assignments. It was one of the priest friars and I alone. "Where two or three are gathered...." Breakfasted over The Boston Globe. Now computing and corresponding.

Planning today to help a dear friend from Harvard Divinity School pack her life into boxes and clean house. Need also to visit City Hall to get my voter registration information in order. The Boston address I put on my absentee ballot application did not match where I was most recently registered to vote. Oops!

This evening: dinner with friends in Harvard Square; we don't know where just yet. The Indian restaurant we wanted to patronize is closed. Let the Spirit show us where to go!

Feeling deeply refreshed as this week of reunions and partings continues.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Eve of Ascension

Sojourning at San Lorenzo Friary, Jamaica Plain in Boston. Arose at six; morning prayer, meditation, and Eucharist in the friars' chapel with the post-novices. Picked up breakfast in the kitchen and took it into the dining room to chat with one of the brothers. Left the friary at ten to nine and took a ride on the Orange Line to Downtown Crossing in the company of another friar on his way to pastoral visits.

More moving with the movement. Mid-morning, joined a picket of the annual shareholders' meeting of State Street over its avoidance of corporate taxes, investment in for-profit prisons, and destruction of jobs and pensions. Viewed some street theater, which was more like a sidewalk sideshow. A shame it was not more visible to motorists and pedestrians. Later in the morning, at the front steps of the Massachusetts State House, attended the kickoff of a statewide grassroots campaign to rescue public transit in the Commonwealth from the clutches of austerity.

Being present at such actions is how I profess my faith in public. It is how I seek and show the face of Jesus. It is where I find the Spirit who formed my being, who forms me for discipleship, and who also gathers the Church for worship and service.

Lunch at noon at the Black Seed Grill on Tremont Street with two good friends involved closely with Interfaith Worker Justice. I rejoiced over the conjoining of past, present, and future in the present moment.

Returned around two to San Lorenzo; computing and correspondence since then. Evening prayer is at 5:15, followed by a vigil Mass at five-thirty for the solemnity of the Ascension of Jesus. The fraternity is observing the solemnity tonight because several of the brothers are leaving tomorrow for vacation or to begin their summer assignments: clinical pastoral education, Spanish language immersion, and so forth. Might walk across the corner after dinner to hang out at St. Francis of Assisi Friary, where the new perpetually professed friars live while preparing for priestly ordination.

It is the eve of Ascension. With ten days until Pentecost and Kansas, I can feel my soul ascending.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Waiting and Moving

Sojourning at San Lorenzo Friary, Jamaica Plain in Boston. Arose at six; meditation, morning prayer, and Eucharist in the friars' chapel with the post-novices. Picked up breakfast in the kitchen, half-reading The Boston Globe and half-hearing the brothers' conversations. Cloudy though it is, there were enough spaces in the sky for the sun to shine through and streak the chapel with gentle light. Rain will come later today, but it is dry now; thanks be to God for both the sun and the water.

The agenda for today and this week: waiting for the kin(g)dom, the power, and the glory, but also moving with the movement. Going to Downtown Crossing to picket the Massachusetts Democratic Party offices later this morning because of the Obama Administration's destructive immigration policies. In the afternoon, meeting a Christian activist friend for lunch who lives near the Cambridge/Somerville line off Davis Square. Then going to Central Square, Cambridge, to sit in for a while on one of the working groups of Occupy Boston. This is the Nonviolence Working Group. It is coordinated by a good friend, a Friend in fact -- she and I were housemates for two years at Beacon Hill Friends House. Will have to leave early to return to San Lorenzo Friary in time for meditation and evening prayer and dinner. Considering a visit tonight to the Occupy Boston General Assembly on Boston Common, but it's going to rain, I'm a little out of the loop, and I would defer to the voices of the people who live here permanently and are more wholly committed to the mission and vision of the Occupy movement than I am at the moment. Perhaps it will be an early evening, dedicated to reading, reflecting, and listening. Waiting and moving, waiting and moving.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Boston, Here We Come

Sojourning in West Babylon, N.Y., at my parents' house. Brief morning meditation and morning prayer sitting in the rocking chair facing the east window of the guest room. Eight o'clock Mass at Our Lady of Grace among just over thirty parishioners in the Marian chapel behind the sanctuary's main altar. Following Eucharist, walked to a stationery shop to buy The New York Times, and read the front page stories over breakfast at a Dunkin' Donuts down the street. Under heavy gray and perspiring skies, walked to the West Babylon Public Library. Spent an hour reading; pulled out Robert Caro and The Years of Lyndon Johnson from the shelves again. Walked home and arrived to the laborers' general dentistry already in progress. Now computing and reading correspondence above the knocking, thudding, and drilling while waiting for Mom to return from work at John F. Kennedy Elementary School. Probably won't get a chance to take a walk with her around the block; we need to get to the train station for the 1:10 p.m. local train to Penn Station. Going to the Port Authority Bus Terminal for the four o'clock Greyhound express to Boston South Station. Evening meditation and prayer will be on the coach. Dinner will be early in one of the Port Authority food courts.

Mom asked me to say a prayer for her this morning. I asked her to say one for me and all our neighbors, known and unknown, recognized and unrecognized. Had a strong intuition, just before Mass and immediately after while walking, that this was not just Mom's sentimental desire, but this request for prayer was truly from the Spirit. Mom, you will know, and you can depend on, my prayers.

Expect to arrive at South Station around eight-thirty tonight, and San Lorenzo Friary in Jamaica Plain around nine-thirty or so. Boston, here we come.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Pure Land

One more post before going to bed and embarking on a week of gatherings and partings in Boston.

I've been meaning to share an excerpt from Living Buddha, Living Christ by Thich Nhat Hanh. His depiction of the Pure Land resonates uncannily with my experience of initial formation in general, and it describes my hopes for life in the novitiate in the particular.

Is Francis of Assisi a bodhisattva, and is Santa Ynez, Calif., a Pure Land? Let others judge:

I became a monk at the age of sixteen in the tradition of Zen, but we also practiced Pure Land Buddhism in our temple. Pure Land Buddhism, which is very popular throughout East Asia, teaches people that if they practice well now, they will be reborn in the Western Paradise of the Buddha Amida, the Land of Wondrous Joy of the Buddha Aksobhya, or the Heaven of Gratitude of the Buddha Maitreya. A Pure Land is a land, perhaps in space and time, perhaps in our consciousness, where violence, hatred, craving, and discrimination have been reduced to a minimum because many people are practicing understanding and loving-kindness under the guidance of a Buddha and several bodhisattvas. Every practitioner of Buddha's way is, sooner or later, motivated by the desire to set up a Pure Land where he or she and share his or her joy, happiness, and practice with others. I myself have tried several times to set up a small Pure Land to share the practice of joy and peace with friends and students. In Vietnam it was Phuong Boi in the central highlands, and in France it is our Plum Village practice center. An ashram, such as the Community of the Arch in France, is also a Pure Land. A Great Enlightened Being should be able to establish a great Pure Land. Others of us make the effort to begin a mini-Pure Land. This is only a natural tendency to share happiness.

A Pure Land is an ideal place for you to go to practice until you get fully enlightened. Many people in Asia practice recollection of the Buddha (Buddhanusmrti), reflecting on the qualities of the Buddha -- visualizing him or invoking his name -- in order to be reborn in his Pure Land. During the time of practice, they dwell in a kind of refuge in that Buddha. They are close to him, and they also water the seed of Buddhahood in themselves. But Pure Lands are impermanent. In Christianity, the Kingdom of God is where you will go for eternity. But in Buddhism, the pure land is a kind of university where you practice with a teacher for a while, graduate, and then come back here to continue. Eventually, you discover that the Pure Land is in your own heart, that you do not need to go to a faraway place. You can set up your own mini-Pure Land, a Sangha of practice, right here, right now. But many people need to go away before they realize they do not have to go anywhere.

Mother's Day, Brother's Day

Happy Mother's Day, mothers, mothers-in-law, and to all grandmothers and great-grandmothers. Sons and daughters, I hope you got to have a good conversation with your mother(s) and female role models today. May God through the Son of Mary bless all the maternal figures who have shaped our lives. May we honor our parents in flesh and parents in spirit by the quality of our lives.

Backtracking on the bulletins from Babylon....

Today: Sojourning at my parents' house in West Babylon, N.Y. Morning prayer in the guest room facing the east window, and an abbreviated meditation before being picked up by Nicholas for church. There, we both practiced sitting in silence amidst the dull racket of the gathering congregation. Eight o'clock Mass at Our Lady of Grace in a full church. Immediately after, visited St. Charles Cemetery in Pinelawn, north of Babylon, to pay respects to our late grandmother, Adele Zuba. Went to Nicholas' apartment to spend the day. Made blueberry pancakes and read The New York Times together over breakfast. Watched the Sunday morning news programs, then took a walk around Argyle Lake and the fine old family homes surrounding. Watched the Mets blow their lead twice against the Marlins while preparing Mother's Day dinner for our parents. Sat to roast chicken, asparagus, and wild rice early in the evening, and cheesecake for dessert afterward. Returned to parents' house after nine to pack for seven nights and seven days in Boston.

We would have done this meal at my parents' house, but my Mom and Dad have no kitchen right now because of their home renovations! My brother Nicholas managed most of the dinner preparations on his own, with only a little assistance from me. My brother acquitted himself very well as host. I was very proud of him. Without a doubt, so was our mother.

Yesterday: Sojourning at my parents' house in West Babylon, N.Y. Morning meditation in the guest room, facing the east window. A ride from my parents to the Babylon train station to catch the 8:23 local train to Jamaica. Said morning prayer en route. From Jamaica boarded a bus in lieu of the J train to East New York. Arrived at St. Michael Friary near ten-thirty. A quick breakfast, followed by a two-hour car trip to St. Joseph Parish in New Paltz, N.Y. There, at two-thirty, the Capuchin Franciscans of the Province of St. Mary celebrated the perpetual profession of Bro. Michael Ramos.

Brother Michael took the solemn vows, which are the vows for life. It was his wedding day, as we would put it! The most beautiful part of the liturgy took place after Provincial Minister Fr. Francis Gasparik, accepting Brother Michael's vows, received him into the order. Then all the friars come forward to embrace the solemnly professed brother. It is a moving experience, to see a new brother-for-life be hugged by one friar after another. Truly, every day in the life of religious men is Brother's Day, but none more so than those days when brothers take vows.

A reception followed downstairs for the dozens of friars assembled. Stole off a little while for a conversation with Bro. Salvatore Patriccola, who is only one of fifteen Capuchin friars worldwide to be a permanent deacon. As the rules stand presently, once a man begins initial formation with the Capuchins, he may remain a lay person or seek ordination to priesthood, but he may not pursue ordination to the permanent deaconate. But Brother Sal was a permanent deacon before he became a Capuchin, and that is the only way one can be a permanent deacon and a brother. Canonical obstacles notwithstanding, we talked about my discernment of a call to the preaching ministry and examined the question of whether I was being called within that call to an ecclesial ministry of word, liturgy, and service in the holy order of the permanent deaconate. Good conversations arose, and are arising, around the following queries: how would ordination to the order of deacon make me a better brother? Could I fulfill a calling to preaching ministry without holy orders? These are queries for the long retreat of novitiate....

Friday, May 11, 2012

Sacramental Nutrition

Sojourning in West Babylon, N.Y., at my parents' house. The tears of rain have given way to the smile of sun and the cheery breeze of the Spirit.

Morning meditation and prayer facing the east window of the guest room. Eight o'clock Mass at Our Lady of Grace with a few more than forty parishioners in the Mary chapel. Walked home and returned to the scene of debris, drilling, and the rough voices of the laborers doing their dentistry on the kitchen and dining room. Closed myself in the family room and made breakfast and tea. Was able to eat and read the newspaper in relative serenity.

Going to spend the day at the West Babylon Public Library; intend to finish Thich Nhat Hanh's Living Buddha, Living Christ, which I have borrowed from the library of St. Michael Friary; eager to pull Robert Caro's biography The Years of Lyndon Johnson from the shelves again. Then, to evening meditation and prayer, perhaps outdoors: a walking meditation and prayer in the park nearby. Having dinner at Jennifer's house with Nicholas. Hooray! A home-cooked meal tonight, the first since Monday evening and the end of postulancy.

In the year before postulancy, I took my meals alone, and almost none of them were at home; during postulancy, I took almost every meal at home in the company of others. Now, I cannot conceive going more than three days without a home-cooked meal at table with my brothers and sisters. To do so would deprive the food and drink I take of their sacramental nutrition. If it is true that we are what we eat, it is then more sublimely true that we are how we eat. Eucharist is sacred not only because of what we take and eat, but how we take and eat what we receive.

If only every meal could be made in the image of the Eucharistic meal. If only I could remember to taste and see the goodness of the Lord in everything I consume: my food and my drink, and the things I put into my mind -- what I read, what I watch, what I hear.

Got to go. Time to get out of the dentists' way.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Bulletin From Babylon

Hoping to wean myself from the computer and Internet during this vacation, in anticipation of the limits I'm going to live within come Kansas and California. Still, I intend to give you glimpses of a day in the life of a religious brother on the way.

Herewith follows the first of daily bulletins from a brother on vacation.

Sojourning in West Babylon, N.Y., at my parents' house. Morning meditation and prayer sitting in a rocking chair facing the east window of the guest room. Eight o'clock Mass at Our Lady of Grace among about forty parishioners in the Mary chapel behind the sanctuary's main altar. Following Eucharist, walked the newly built labyrinth in the meditation garden, landscaped afresh to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the parish. Walked to the West Babylon Public Library and spent an hour and a half reading; pulled an earlier volume of Robert Caro's biography The Years of Lyndon Johnson from the shelves. Walked home and waited for my old friend Jon Link, my high school English teacher, to pick me up. Jon and I meet up like this once or twice a year. We had brunch at Glen's Dinette, our usual hangout in Babylon Village. Jon asked all kinds of questions about religious life, and I did a lot of talking. We connect deeply and intimately; Jon is a brother in spirit. Back home after brunch, I met my mother, back from her job as a paraprofessional at John F. Kennedy Elementary School, where she works one-on-one with a special needs child. Together we took a walk around our neighborhood blocks and talked a bit. Computing and correspondence through the afternoon; completed a survey for religious from the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, Georgetown University. Now, to evening meditation and prayer in the guest room, then dinner out with my parents and Nicholas. There will be no home-cooked meals here for several weeks; the kitchen and dining room renovations have begun!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012


Postulancy is done. Our eighteen-day recess from initial formation has begun.

I moved out of St. Michael Friary this afternoon, and I already miss the place. Life seems just a little less magical, a little less beautiful or hopeful outside the friary. Or maybe it's because the skies are gray and the air is watery.

But I have little cause to linger in sadness, because I have many happy reunions on the way. Let rejoicing in the Lord, and in those who come in God's name, be my strength.

For the next six days I am making camp at my parents' house in Babylon. I have set up in one of their newly refurbished bedrooms, now a guest room. Nicholas, my kid brother, and I shared this room for nearly twelve years. In more recent times, Nicholas occupied this room alone until he moved out permanently this winter. Over those twenty years, the room changed color three times; the carpeting, too, has changed, twice over; the furniture has been entirely replaced, with old and new and borrowed pieces; the televisions and air conditioners have become sleeker, more powerful, and more sophisticated. But the room remains, and so do the memories of so much growing up.

This old house remains, though it bears less and less a physical resemblance to the home I knew. Last year, the bathrooms and bedrooms were renovated. This week begins another round of renovations, this time the kitchen, living room, and dining room. The ground floor is going to become a construction zone. The family room now functions as a makeshift kitchen and dining room. Needless to say, I'll be spending a lot of time out of doors and in the neighborhood!

This evening I will be going to Our Lady of Grace, my hometown parish, for faith sharing with the Small Christian Community group I used to attend before moving to Boston in 2005. Tomorrow I'm meeting my old high school English teacher for lunch in Babylon Village. On Friday, Nicholas and I will have dinner with our sister Jennifer at her house. On Sunday, Nicholas is cooking a Mother's Day dinner for the immediate family.

Next week, I go to Boston through the 21st. Ah, it will be so good to breathe New England air again and walk the streets of Boston and Cambridge.

When I return to Babylon, it will be Nicholas' turn to host me. I will stay at his apartment through the 26th, returning to my parents' house for the last night before I fly to Kansas on Pentecost.

May God add a blessing to every visit I make and lighten every step I take with the Holy Spirit's peace.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

What Comes Next

Holy Spirit,
healing Spirit,
make us yours,
set us free.

Give me breath,
be my breath,
speak my life,
remain in spite of death.

Wind the way,
eternalize the day,
the first and eighth,

and lead us where
you are, beyond context
and what comes next.

With you
I walk in Him
with Him
as Him
for Him.

With you
I chase
the sound
the word
you made me
me, a name
you made
you saved
you will raise

on the day beyond what comes next.

Oh, let me go
to soar with you
to watch with you
to vivify
the sin-sick soul
the comatose of heart
the morbid-minded

to breathe the breath
that smothers death.

From east to west
I will follow you
beyond the day
and what comes next.

Holy Spirit,
healing Spirit,
make us yours,
set us free.

Monday, May 7, 2012


This post begins with a timely reminder of my forwarding addresses:

From May 27 to July 17:

St. Fidelis Friary
900 Cathedral Avenue
Victoria, KS  67671

From July 22:

San Lorenzo Friary
PO Box 247
(1802 Sky Drive if sending mail via FedEx or UPS)
Santa Ynez, CA 93460

Remember: my e-mail,, will remain the same, but I will have only 90 minutes of Internet time every week. Snail mail is a good way to go. For this novice-to-be, being far from home and with limited electronic communication, receiving little handwritten notes on nice stationery will mean a lot in the months ahead.

I promise to write to anyone who writes to me, even if it takes a while to respond. And I pledge to keep up with the blog in a modified format so you can keep up with my religious journey.


Life is still moving along at St. Michael Friary. Spent most of the day looking at windows. The postulants were doing house chores when they were not packing their worldly possessions and sealing shipping boxes. My chore was to clean the windows of the friary, both inside and outside panels. So I grabbed a week's worth of The New York Times from our living room, a bottle of Windex, a sponge, a bucket, and Murphy's Oil Soap, and got moving.

Speaking of moving, most of my property now rests inside two suitcases and fifteen boxes. Twelve of these boxes are destined for a storage room my parents have rented for their home furnishings while they do renovations to their kitchen and dining room. (I am thankful they will let me share their space.) Of these twelve, five are packed with my theology library; one is filled with CDs; three contain personal papers; two hold winter clothing and bedsheets; and one has a couple of picture frames. The three other boxes are going west: two to California, one to Kansas. Bibles, breviaries, and books about Francis of Assisi are bound for Santa Ynez. Construction boots and miscellaneous hygiene items are going to Victoria.

I am bequeathing a few other items to my parents: my boombox, my seven-year-old laptop, a few suit jackets, and my winter coat.

I am thankful that everything I have fits in one room, or in one vehicle. It gives me gladness knowing that at this point in my life, I am decreasing my possessions. I hope that one day soon, I will be unburdened of the majority of the things I have just inventoried for you. Anybody can move, but many move slowly and with great stress because of the things that anchor them. I want to move when the Spirit says, "Move" -- and move freely, promptly, without restraint.

What a relief it will be when, come Wednesday afternoon, I will be living out of two suitcases and two cloth handbags. Free to move.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Program Evaluation

We've done the peer evaluations. We've done the self-evaluations. We've received the ministry evaluations and the staff evaluations. We've been put in the balance, and we measured up.

Now we are doing one more exercise, an evaluation of the postulancy program. After dinner this evening we will sit down with the formation directors to examine the following:

Classes and special events
Mid-year and final evaluation process

We have been asked to evaluate the program in terms of our understanding of what it means to be a Capuchin. We are also asked to consider how well the program has prepared us to enter the integration period of interprovincial postulancy and the novitiate. Finally, we are asked to describe what was most helpful about postulancy; what was not helpful; and what elements of the program were helpful, but could be improved.

For those of you interested in a recap of our classes, here is our 2011-12 curriculum, with approximate number of classroom hours devoted to each subject:

Life of Francis of Assisi (30 hours)
Catechism (30 hours)
Methods of prayer; meditation; contemplation (8 hours)
Liturgy of the Hours (8 hours)
Liturgy and ritual (4 hours)
Sacraments of initiation (8 hours)
Eucharist (12 hours)
Understanding the Psalms (6 hours)
Gospel spirituality (4 hours)
Catholic social teaching (16 hours)
Jesus of history (8 hours)
Early Capuchin history (6 hours)
Early history of the Franciscan order (6 hours)
Saint Clare of Assisi (4 hours)
Franciscan prayer (4 hours)
Sex and celibacy (6 hours)
Charisms of the Capuchin order (2 hours)
Ecclesiology (2 hours)
Liturgical music practicum (4 hours)
Spirituality of Alcoholics Anonymous (4 hours)

There were two subjects we did not get to during the year: social analysis (8 hours), and models of conversion (4 hours). Of the above subjects, we surpassed the allotted hours for sex and celibacy. (Through the year, we must have devoted 18 hours to the subject.) We also had a few one-off classes, including presentations on the Secular Franciscan/Third Order movement, gerontology and the Capuchins' ministry to its senior friars, and the ministry of permanent deacon.

We have postponed twice a group conversation on the postulancy program, owing to schedule changes. You would expect that by now I have prepared many observations to share, but I've been remiss to reflect on the program. It's not like me to avoid reflection! Perhaps it has to do with being focused on ending well, making a good goodbye to the program.

It also has to do with the truth, which is that I have always been very comfortable with the structure of the program, and not once have I ever second-guessed the schedule or the process. From the beginning I have had complete trust in both the formation philosophy and my formators. I came wanting to be formed; I believed I was formable and reformable in this program; and in practice, I was changed, willingly and for the better. Whatever misgivings may have been, they were internal and never related to the program itself.

Intellectually, I found myself always stimulated by the classes, if not challenged academically. Most of the content I encountered was for me a repetition of what I already acquired on my own and in my formal theological education. What was new was the perspective and the learning circle: seeing what we know and understand through the eyes of Francis of Assisi, and studying these subjects with his followers. This made for new experiences with the form and substance of our faith and practice every day. I was made aware constantly of my methodological biases, my theological leanings, and my ideological slants. In some subjects, I was head and shoulders ahead of my younger postulant brothers, but in others, like the life of Francis of Assisi, we were all beginning on the ground level. Overall, I appreciated the breadth of our curriculum and the variety of assigned readings. To my delight, we had the occasional field trip, too (for a little art history, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Cloisters, and a few Jesuit churches in Manhattan). I am impressed by and grateful for the collective knowledge and wisdom of our Capuchin brothers, who came in to give guest lectures and workshops throughout the year.

Some people dread having their life ordered week by week, down to the hour every day. It is a difficult adjustment for many men and women entering religious life to submit to a schedule of formation not of their own choosing. They say it is more difficult for older adults who have lived independently for several years to surrender their time. This never seriously troubled me, despite living on my own with a flexible schedule all of my own making for the last three years prior to postulancy. The schedule worked for me because it safeguarded time for solitude within what has been a thoroughly communitarian itinerary. There has always been enough time for our various lives -- in worship, fraternity, ministry, and society. Ours has been the schedule I would have drafted for myself had I the experience and wisdom to plan it and follow it. Lacking such discernment, of course, this is why I joined a religious community!

As it concerns my readiness to enter the integration period and novitiate, our postulancy program is an unqualified success. I can conceive of being in Kansas and California. I have the imagination for living the life of a Capuchin Franciscan in those places. The prospect of leaving home and living thousands of miles away from everyone and everything I have ever known; with two dozen men who are casting all their cares on the God of Jesus Christ; for the purpose of renouncing wealth, power, and sex in order to live completely in the hope of salvation, like Francis of Assisi, through the risen Christ: this does not freak me out. I am thrilled by the prospect: an experiment with the way, the truth, and the life. A great adventure awaits. God awaits. I want to begin the journey now.

As it concerns helpful, unhelpful, and perfectible aspects of the postulancy program, those are perhaps best addressed in the internal forum of our conversation with the formators.

There are more thoughts arising, suitable for the external forum of the public diary, but I will save them for the conversation with the formators this evening. Time to prepare for evening prayer. Let the thoughts season; when they have matured, I will post some more. The question of our formation program and what it means to me now to be a Capuchin is a good one.

Novitiate FAQ

You are aware that when I move to California, I will be limited to 90 minutes of Internet usage every week. You may be wondering what other sorts of restrictions I will be living with during the next fourteen months. Well, so are the novices-to-be, their family, and their friends. Accordingly, we have received some advance notices from one of the novice directors in California. I present them here so you may get a sense of what is coming.

Are novices permitted to listen to their own music? May they bring their digital listening devices, compact discs, etc.?

You are free to listen to music, and the novices have CDs (no personal players) that they listen to mostly while traveling to ministry/spiritual direction (van CD players) or exercising (community boombox in the room). Your question made me realize that we should invest in another one to place in one of the gathering spaces. My only concern is the amount you choose to travel with. A large box full of CDs would seem excessive to me. Please do not bring your iTouch with you.

Are novices permitted to have cameras?

Cameras are permitted. Your year with us is worth personally documenting, and we are surrounded by the beauty and grandeur of God’s creation. The present novitiate set up a web photo share site for themselves that can be deeded over to you, although your class may want to create a new one.

Are novices allowed to have visits from family and friends?

More will need to be said about this, but the basic points to make at this time are a) if there will be any visits they are not to happen until after mid-October – this includes those family/friends in the local California area; b) before your family sets a date to visit make certain your Formation Advisor is aware of the plans – they might decide to drop in during a week we are away on retreat; c) plans for a visit should not include a major specific holiday (e.g., “Son, we will join you on Thanksgiving Day/Christmas Day”); d) length of visits should be kept short (more so for friends stopping by) – a couple of days as opposed to a full week or more; e) they should not expect you to be free every moment of their visit to be with them – you have responsibilities to maintain (once given the dates of their time with us, your Formation Advisor will work out the details as to when you would be available).

This brings up a related issue. Are novices given leave to attend weddings, anniversaries, and funerals?

Attendance at weddings, anniversaries and deaths are limited to immediate family. If a friend is asking you to be the best man at his wedding, you most likely will not be available for the occasion. Not only do you need to remain focused on what is happening spiritually to you during novitiate, but also canon law requires a certain number of days in the novitiate which we must not only respect but also abide by. One is always free to make a request; but one never should assume the answer will be yes, especially when it comes to you having a canonically valid novitiate. If your Provincial has already given you permission to attend a particular event, I ask that you hold on to that information until we meet with you in June, and inform us at that time. (Note: the length for any time away is made by the team in consultation with your Provincial; therefore, do not make travel arrangements without first speaking with us.)

This novice director writes, "Thank you for not hesitating to ask questions, which in turn helps us all to understand and clarify the expectations of the novitiate year." Friends and frequent readers, do you have any questions you would like me to ask the novice directors?

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Thoughts and Beats

The mind makes thoughts. The heart, the seat of feeling, produces beats. Before what I hope is a restful night, a few final thoughts and beats for the day:

Funny how we are so impatient for God to arrive when it is we who are running late. Funny how we mourn and rage when God hides or seemingly refuses to appear when it is we who deny our presence and refuse to show ourselves. Whose real presence is at issue, anyway?

Who is going to make peace for us? Who is going to apologize? Who is going to make a holy renunciation? Who is going to sacrifice? Blessed are they who answer the question; more blessed are they who are their answer.

Most Capuchin Franciscans are seriously joyful; it is the first impression you get from them, and it is quite often an accurate impression. Fewer in number among them are those who are joyfully serious. They are a mystery. These brothers interest me, and I would like to get to know them better.

How near, every day, God draws to us. How near, but how quickly we draw back from the edge to mere reality. If only we would slow down, we would catch on to what the Creator is about in this moment.

Did we stop? Did we savor? Did we not only rise to the occasion, but did we also rise with the occasion?

If you remembered someone today -- if you noticed someone -- genuinely, compassionately, then maybe it was not only your own doing. Maybe you were an answered prayer. If you neglected someone today -- if you ignored someone -- deliberately or mindlessly, then you forgot to pray. And God heard what you forgot to pray, and responded anyway. For God always responds.

Be here. Not there. You will never get over there unless you begin fully here. Do not wonder how to get there. Do not wonder where at all. You will only wander. Trust first that you are going, and believe that here begins the way to there.

Do not worry what is there, but trust there is someone who waits there, and someone trusts you to make the way from here to there. Who is there makes what is there real and trustworthy. Where we are going is there, and where we are going is how we get there because of one who has come from there over here and back again.

But we come from here, and we have to go. We cannot wait to be brought over. We can be led, and we can even be lifted, but we cannot expect to be carried. We must choose to go in order to be guided and sped along.

Observe, reflect, act. To do these is to be holy, right, and just. Be seen, be judged, and let it be done to you. To consent to these is to made holy, right, and just.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Full of Celebration

Celebrations, all day and continuing into tomorrow.

Celebrations at Neighbors Together today for the members who realized our leadership development program, and for a Capuchin postulant concluding his eight months of ministry there. The heart is full after an afternoon such as this.

Would that everyone could be soaked in the simple, multiple kindnesses poured out today by staff, volunteers, and members. A picnic in the scruffy community garden down the street from the soup kitchen; awarding of certificates to show our appreciation; a few brief and uplifting words from our budding leaders. Happy tears, as opposed to the usual tears of rage or sorrow. And the conviction that we will all meet again, in the ways of providence, and the place we meet will be changed for the better for the work we have done.

This is why celebrations are so important. With them you can go on for another day, another month, another year in the struggle for a more just and merciful world. With them you can rejuvenate hope. This is why the Church has to do its celebrations well, especially every Sunday, when we celebrate the resurrection, the greatest affirmation of all.

The celebrations began before Neighbors Together and continued after ministry.

This morning at St. Patrick's Cathedral there was the celebration of the life of a major philanthropist for the Catholic Church who died on April 24. The Capuchins of the New York/New England province benefited from her generosity and were represented by our provincial minister, vicar provincial, our formation director, and the postulants. I would have liked to have known the woman whose life we remembered today in light of Jesus' resurrection and his resurrection promises. Hers is a household name in the Catholic institution and among its prelates. I was at a disadvantage because her family, friends, and fellow dignitaries had a familiarity with the person, whereas she was just a name for me. I wish the rituals we observed could have scoped out the humanity of the deceased and her identity in the risen Christ a little better, for it is the person who will be saved, not the name engraved on all the buildings she built, preserved, and restored.

This evening at St. Michael Friary we celebrated evening prayer and shared a meal with the site supervisors for two of the postulant brothers. We have become practiced at the art of being at table together -- we, this formation class, we, this iteration of the fraternity at St. Michael. We have precious few moments left at this table, two or three at best.

The celebrations go on in the morning and early afternoon in Yonkers, first at the Mass of thanksgiving at a pediatric hospital named for St. Elizabeth Seton, then at St. Clare Friary for the Cinco de Mayo luncheon, the postulants' official farewell. Then I go back to downtown Brooklyn for a personal celebration with my sister and brother, Jennifer and Nicholas.

The goodbyes are growing longer, and pretty soon the leaving will become real. The celebrations are critical. They will pull me and my postulant brothers through what could be a jarring transition. So let us rejoice and be glad. Truly, celebration is our duty and our salvation.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Looking for ...

... a day of uninterrupted sunshine.
... the sameness that changes. Unchanging sameness does not exist.
... health for the two brothers ill with respiratory and throat problems at St. Michael Friary.
... a little more motivation now that everything is finished in Brooklyn but for the program evaluation and celebration.
... courage to do something true yet out of character with who I am today but in the spirit of who I want to be.
... perseverance to do what is true and in character, but which I have neglected to do.
... greater willingness to meet the people, places, and situations I am afraid of or anxious about.
... the ability to live a full day in the present moment.
... an opportunity to preach penance to those at the tipping point of conversion.
... the humility to preach first to myself.
... reunions in Babylon and Boston before I move west to live farther than ever from the places I grew up and spent the best years of my adulthood.
... a restful night and a peaceful death.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

An End Is Near

St. Michael Friary is my home for seven more days. The postulants' moving out day is next Wednesday, but signs of this endtime are appearing. The packing supplies have come out.

I've been putting books in boxes; these will go into storage here in New York. Only a select few books, including my breviaries and a few Bibles, are flying off to novitiate in California. I am separating my clothing into three groups, with some apparel going directly to California; some items, like my sweaters, winter coat, and sports coats, going into storage; and most of the rest into two suitcases to follow me on the flight to Kansas. Bedsheets and blankets are going into storage.

My 21-year-old boombox, is not coming to Kansas or California. Neither are my dozens of compact discs. They are going into storage.

Personal papers are staying in New York. Devotional items will be shipped to California. All electronics are staying here except for a clock radio. Some office supplies will go west. And so it goes on.

It is a week of finals. We have concluded our classes on Francis, catechism, and the rest. We are saying goodbye to our ministries. My supervisors from Neighbors Together had dinner at our friary last night. They could not believe how much space we have here. We are saying goodbye to friars on Saturday at the Cinco de Mayo luncheon in Yonkers. As if to drive the point home that this is a season of transition, this morning in Howard Beach we attended the funeral for immediate family of one of our friars, Bro. Carmine Funaro, whose elder brother died. On Friday we will attend the funeral of a major benefactor of the Capuchins. It's being held at St. Patrick's Cathedral in Manhattan, and Cardinal Timothy Dolan is presiding. That's how significant a person the benefactor is.

In these waning days of postulancy I am trying to become more mindful of the place I am leaving. Reading Living Buddha, Living Christ by Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh, I am aiming simply to sit well during meditation, pray well at worship, eat well at our common meals, speak well in our fraternal conversation, and act well for my own good and the good of others. This is nothing more and nothing less than what I have been after all year long ... only perhaps I would add another term to Thich's title: Living Francis.

There is rising within me a great desire to be still and alone, to pay attention to being itself. In a few more days, when I go on vacation, I will have that time alone. But I can practice being still right now, in the present moment, where beginning and end are both instantiated and transcended.

There is another arising: the felt experience of shortness. Good as the postulancy year has been, it has been too short. And I feel a slight regret: having gained a vision for what kind of brother I want to be, I realize the brother I am is not he who I want to be. This is an admission of sin, yes, but it is not just an admission of sin. It is a confession of mystery. Good as I am, I am not all good, and I am not yet in my being the highest good that I can be. But I can dream of this omni-beneficence, this ultra-goodness. What other creature has the capacity to see that it is to surpass itself, who it is becoming, and how?

After roughly fifteen years on this procession toward salvation, God has indeed made me know the shortness of my years. I hope God through the Holy Spirit will grant within my living years the happiness of waking to the dream while on the journey.

I still want to be a brother, your brother. Forgive me for being less than brotherly to you; I'm still practicing how to be. This time of training is ending, but another time is already upon me because it is dawning within me.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

May Day

You didn't think this community organizer would let this day pass without an acknowledgement of the memorial of Joseph the Worker and International Workers' Day, the real Labor Day, did you? For me, this is a high holy day.

For me, there is no insuperable conflict, no irreconcilable contradiction, between my Catholic faith and May Day. The principle of solidarity is the same in church and union.

Thanks be to God for the Catholic Worker movement, inaugurated on this day in 1933. Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin, pray for us.

Thanks be to God for the Catholic labor priests and labor schools of the 20th century. I am thinking fondly of the Labor Guild in the Archdiocese of Boston. Fr. Edward Boyle, pray for us.

Thanks be to God for Interfaith Worker Justice, which taught me so much about the links between faith, work, vocation, and of course, justice.

Thanks be to God for the Catholic-Labor Network and Catholic Scholars for Worker Justice. Thanks be to God for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development, whose statements on labor, employment, and economic justice are well worth reading.


Joseph, patron saint of workers,
Blending skill with charity,
Silent carpenter, we praise you!
Joining work with honesty,
You taught Christ with joy to labor
Sharing his nobility.

Joseph, close to Christ and Mary,
Lived with them in poverty,
Shared with them their home and labor,
Worked with noble dignity.
May we seek God's will as you did,
Leader of his family!

Joseph, workmen's inspiration,
Man of faith and charity,
Makes us honest, humble, faithful,
Strong with Christ's true liberty,
Make our labor and our leisure
Fruitful to eternity!


"We need to change the system. We need to overthrow, not the government, as the authorities are always accusing the Communists of conspiring to teach to do, but this rotten, decadent, putrid industrial capitalist system which breeds such suffering in the whited sepulcher of New York."

Dorothy Day, Catholic Worker, 1956. A popular but inaccurate (and less cutting) rendering of this quotation, often seen nowadays in the Occupy movement, is “Our problems stem from our acceptance of this filthy, rotten system.”


Jesus Christ was a man who traveled through the land
A hard-working man and brave
He said to the rich, "Give your money to the poor,"
But they laid Jesus Christ in His grave

Jesus was a man, a carpenter by hand
His followers true and brave
One dirty little coward called Judas Iscariot
Has laid Jesus Christ in His Grave

He went to the preacher, He went to the sheriff
He told them all the same
"Sell all of your jewelry and give it to the poor,"
And they laid Jesus Christ in His grave.

When Jesus come to town, all the working folks around
Believed what he did say
But the bankers and the preachers, they nailed Him on the cross,
And they laid Jesus Christ in his grave.

And the people held their breath when they heard about his death
Everybody wondered why
It was the big landlord and the soldiers that they hired
To nail Jesus Christ in the sky

This song was written in New York City
Of rich man, preacher, and slave
If Jesus was to preach what He preached in Galilee,
They would lay poor Jesus in His grave.

Woody Guthrie, "Jesus Christ"


"Those who neither make after others' goods nor bestow their own are to be admonished to take it well to heart that the earth they come from is common to all and brings forth nurture for all alike. Idly then do men hold themselves innocent when they monopolize for themselves the common gift of God. In not giving what they have received they work their neighbors' death; every day they destroy all the starving poor whose means to relief they store at home. When we furnish the destitute with any necessity we render them what is theirs, not bestow on them what is ours; we pay the debt of justice rather than perform the works of mercy....Of Dives in the Gospel we do not read that he snatched the goods of others but that he used his own unfruitfully; and avenging hell received him at death not because he did anything unlawful but because he gave himself up utterly and inordinately to the enjoyment of what was lawful."

St. Gregory the Great


In our hands is placed a power greater than their hoarded gold,
Greater than the might of armies, magnified a thousand-fold.
We can bring to birth a new world from the ashes of the old
For the union makes us strong.
Solidarity forever,
Solidarity forever,
Solidarity forever,
For the union makes us strong.

"Solidarity Forever"