Monday, August 26, 2013

Reticent

Been mum on the blog lately. I don't know why I feel inclined to silence, especially as life is getting interesting. Where it concerns this chronicle of religious life, is my creative muse urging me to expressions of a different form?

To review the days recently past:

Concluded our study of the Capuchin Constitutions on Thursday. The revisions to our charter document await approval from a department of the Vatican called the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life. We hope to see an English edition of the revised Constitutions late next year.

Mostly house chores on Friday: cleaning the bathrooms, receiving a fellow who inspected the fire extinguishers in our house. Some conceptualizing of ministry. Some reading and resting, too. Also watched a new documentary on the Second Vatican Council that I found online. God willing, I will be studying the council this fall with Richard Gaillardetz, the Boston College professor much-featured in this documentary.

On Saturday I traveled with a couple of brothers to Yonkers for the funeral of Bro. Robert Maher, for many years a missionary in Guam and Hawaii. The high points of the liturgy were the homily, in which Bob's best friend in the order recited original poetry; and the communion hymn, which was based on a Hawaiian melody. Verse and chorus swelled in volume, each wave succeeded by a grander wave, with warm voices surfing high but deep within a sea of sound provided by the organ's orchestra.

On Sunday I worshipped at Saint Mary of the Angels Parish, located in Roxbury on the border of Jamaica Plain. For years I had heard good things about this Christian community, a multi-ethnic, multiracial congregation long committed to peace and social justice in an impoverished, violent neighborhood. Several workers and union organizers of my acquaintance belong to this church. Oh, why did I never come here before? I was welcomed by no fewer than a dozen parishioners who spoke brightly of their relationship with the Capuchins and eagerly sought me to become a part of their life together. Their neighborliness, in the Good Samaritan sense, made a fast impression on me. I will definitely be returning for worship and participating in their fellowship.

Later that afternoon I shuttled uptown to the North End for the great street festival in honor of Saint Anthony of Padua. Although Anthony's feast day is June 13, and he already had a festival late this spring, this festival is special. It was organized a century ago by immigrants from a Neapolitan town called Montefalcione in Avellino. The town survived a severe earthquake in the 17th century when numerous surrounding villages fell, and the people attributed their safety to the protection of Anthony of Padua, who they believed had interceded on their behalf. The citizens sought to name Anthony their patron, and they successfully petitioned Rome to permit them a feast in August to commemorate his miraculous intervention on their behalf. When the sons of daughters of Montefalcione immigrated to Boston, they took their annual observance with them, and it became the pre-eminent street festival.

I arrived just before noon, in time to see the beginning of Anthony's grand procession around the narrow streets. The statue was already robed with all kinds of jewelry: rings, bracelets, chains, watches. In little time he was draped with several layers of U.S. and Italian currency. My gut reaction: Ack! Why? What is the meaning of this custom, which on the face of it is ironic to the extreme, since friars in his time were forbidden to touch money? First of all, the practice is an expression of gratitude to this friend of God whose advocacy preserved the people of Montefalcione and helps them and their descendants still. Second, the practice is charitable: the money collected on Anthony's person goes to support non-profit organizations serving the citizens of the North End. (The society that organizes the festival, San Antonio di Padova da Montefalcione Inc., began as a mutual aid society for Italian-American immigrants, helping families pay for burials and providing insurance for its members.) So it is at once an act of devotion and solidarity. Seen from a modern sensibility, the gesture appears terribly gauche, but the symbolism is sound: Anthony, who was poor in material things, is rich in heavenly things, the things that matter to God. And the people of God in Montefalcione, and later Boston, would show the world just where they intended to put their treasures -- not in luxuries and vanities, but in community, in one another, in neighborliness.

This friar got a real taste of that neighborliness when browsing the vendors. From one I ordered an arepa, a delicious corn fritter with mozzarella inside; it cost five dollars, but the woman insisted that I pay only three. Next, I visited a bakery booth where a bin of anisette biscotti caught my eyes and nose. I told the man I would like a half-pound, which cost six dollars, but when he saw me reach for my wallet, he said "Please," and he gave me the biscotti for nothing. Then I went to a vendor selling caramel apples and chocolate-covered fruit. I listened to the vendors tell other people it was five dollars for an apple. I came forward and asked how much, and the lady told me just to take any apple I wanted. I protested, saying I had money. She asked me only for a blessing, because she had been unable to attend Mass that morning because of the business of setting up the stand. So I read a psalm and gave a blessing. Then I promptly found a donation basket where the procession had started and dropped a five-dollar bill.

I am not comfortable with such unmerited privilege, but I try to remember what another Capuchin has told me: it is not you they are reverencing, but Christ in you. So let them adore Christ; as for you, aim to give away the gifts others give to you to the people who never get any gifts.

Today, more chores: excursions to the supermarket (Stop & Shop) and hardware store (Home Depot). We cleared everything out of a large room in the basement so that our maintenance man can paint the dirty dusty floor. Only rain and the threat of more rain kept us from cutting up our yard waste. This evening, we will have our first house chapter of the year to review housekeeping and other fraternal matters.

Okay, back to silence, or to expressing myself by other means.

3 comments:

  1. So blessed to read your blog Anthony. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences here. Sometime I'd love to share you with my congregation....but first I need to finish my dissertation - aiming for 2014 graduation. Blessings!

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  2. Peace be with you and your family and congregation, Sarah. I am grateful for your blessing, and I like how you put your invitation: "to share you with my congregation." Yes! That is what I want, to be shared with all the people of God. Let us make it so, whenever you wish.

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