Sunday, April 29, 2012

Final Full Week

A return to routine today after yesterday's sensation of being plugged up: baking and biking and blogging. I am still standing, alert, on Saturday's point of seeing. My prayer is that God will give me the ears to hear the new words being spoken for me. I know God is saying something whose freshness will sock me (maybe shock me, too) once I can hear and decode the message. Something tells me the hearing will not happen here. I must go to where the signal is stronger. I must go to Kansas and California.

In the meantime, we turn the corner yet again, and we begin one more full lap of postulancy, the final week under our ordinary schedule of prayer, instruction, and ministry. One more day of catechism; one more day of Franciscan studies; then program evaluation. My last day at Neighbors Together is Friday; my site supervisors are guests at dinner on Tuesday at St. Michael Friary. In between these activities, there are a couple a few one-off events. We will work in one more vocation talk, this one on Monday evening in our neighborhood. We will attend the funeral of a major benefactor of the Province of St. Mary, much beloved by the friars, on Friday morning at St. Patrick's Cathedral in Manhattan. At week's end, on Saturday morning, we are heading to Yonkers for two items on the social calendar. First, a Mass of thanksgiving for a new children's hospital with Fr. Francis Gasparik, the provincial minister, who visited our friary last Thursday. Second, a Cinco de Mayo luncheon at Sacred Heart Friary in honor of the intrepid young postulants moving on to novitiate. It's an occasion for the professed friars to say their farewells to us, because they won't be seeing us for another fourteen months! Much as I do not wish to shortchange any brother who wants to bid me godspeed, I'll be excusing myself a little early from the luncheon. I'm meeting Jennifer and Nicholas at Junior's Restaurant in downtown Brooklyn in the mid-afternoon for an early dinner, followed by an excursion to the Brooklyn Museum for the free-admission arts and entertainment programs held on the first Saturday of the month.

Come next week, we'll be cleaning up, packing up, and moving out. Ten days and counting.

Healthy Sexual Integration

Sexuality suggests God's design for us as life-giving, relational beings. Managing this energy well is a challenge for all people, whether celibate or not. As with most things in life, each of these dimensions calls for us to develop a balance between attending to it and not getting preoccupied with it.

Kathy Galleher, Ph.D., April 19, 2012

Although I have wanted to talk more about celibate sexuality in recent times, sexuality has not been on my mind that much, to be truthful. The energy of sexuality, sublime though it is, has not gripped my body, and it has not jarred my heart. Using Kathy Galleher's standard of measure for healthy sexual integration, the thing-in-itself occupies me just enough, and without a trace of equivocation I can say it preoccupies me not at all. This has been the state of things since the beginning of initial formation last August.

I firmly believe that living within the environs of Capuchin fraternities has allowed me to establish the level of attention most fitting for a healthy maintenance of celibate sexuality in its primary, affective, and genital dimensions. Without reservation I can say I place neither too much nor too little focus on these dimensions. I am comfortable with my sex, gender, body, and orientation (the primary dimension); I can manage my desire to relate to others and show a capacity for warmth (the affective dimension); I can deal with my sexual and romantic feelings, fantasies, desires, and behaviors (the genital dimension). Nature determines our sexual identity, but nurture has much to say about the quality of our sexual health. Let me say again that I am so grateful for my new surroundings.

Let me also be clear: I have not renounced my sexuality. I have only renounced genital expression of my sexuality. I have renounced the emotional exclusivity of a life-lasting monogamous sexual relationship. I have not renounced loving others. I have chosen, as Dr. Galleher puts it, to love "in an emotionally inclusive way ... in the service of God's work and as a model of God's love." My sexual energy is being channeled in ways different from people who do engage in genital sexual behavior. I aspire to an integrated commission of my sexual energy, used positively for "emotional intimacy in life and ministry"; for the cultivation of solitude; and for the protection of the personhood of all, especially women.

Formation thus far has helped me improve the relationship with self in terms of awareness and acceptance; with others; and with God. And of course, formation should deepen an already demonstrated capacity for sexual abstinence. This, too, formation has accomplished within me, as I have discovered means for attaining more perfect chastity not only in behavior but also in word and thought.

Dr. Galleher commended the postulants repeatedly for their willingness to talk about their sexuality -- not to talk around it or talk at it, but to speak directly to their sexual thoughts, feelings, and experiences. We did this in guided reflections on gender and sexuality, and the messages we received early in life from family, culture, and spiritual authorities; in reflecting on key experiences in our sexual development; and in discussing ministerial boundaries and the challenge of attractions. Few if any of the brothers needed to be drawn out and drawn in to the general conversation. None of the brothers monopolized the conversation. This in itself is a marker of healthy sexual integration: a comfort with our urges, desires, and reactions that realizes itself in open speech.

Listening to and responding to our sexual feelings is not a sinful thing; indeed, it is the best way to thwart actually sinful words and deeds. It prevents the cycle of shame and non-acceptance that spirals into the unfreedom of compulsive, addictive actions. And it demystifies -- and disarms -- our sexuality. Sexuality is powerful, but all too often we ascribe too much power to it. What appear to be purely sexual longings may in fact mask other, deeper longings that are not sexual and need just as much care and attention.

In the course of eight months of instruction, the postulants have discussed celibacy a few times, but the conversations about celibacy as celibate sexuality would come only at the end of the year. It was well worth the wait. I strongly recommend that Kathy Galleher be invited back to St. Michael Friary next spring to address the New York/New England and Midwest postulants.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Plugged Up

Been feeling plugged up today. Not plugged up as in nasally, but spiritually. I don't know why for sure, though I have some ideas.

Until Thursday, before I knew I was moving on to interprovincial postulancy and novitiate, it was easy to stay in the present moment. When you are mindful and heartful, it is easy not to want to know what tomorrow will bring, when in fact you do not know what tomorrow will bring. Now, I do want to know what tomorrow will bring, and how it will be brought, because I do know my tomorrow. And suddenly I find it difficult to be in the present moment.

I showed good hospitality to the brothers gathered at St. Michael Friary today for the formation council, but inside I felt distracted and unable to banter the way I would have liked. I tried to read a little bit of theology today to exercise my mind, but that did not work. I tried to do a little spiritual reading, and I only fell asleep. No motivation to do physical exercise, either. I could pray a little, but what I want most to do -- to fall on my knees in the chapel and remain in rapt attention for hours -- I do not do.

Could the disciples have felt like this between their witness of the risen Christ and the descent of the Holy Spirit? They got a glimpse of glory, but then they ran and hid? It's only human to do that, I guess, but it's not fully human; that is, it's what the human who is still a being less than fully human does.

To look at the day more positively, this restless state of mind and heart may be merely the sign that my soul acknowledges and accepts the finality of postulancy and is ready to move on. Now, to be accepting while remaining receptive to the Spirit in the place one dwells for a little longer ... that is the aim. After all, we are nearly halfway through the season of Easter. Having left the tomb, we journey on to the upper room, a far better place to be, yet still only a waystation. What's the final destination?

A temple of a priestly nation. This body, only risen.

This body is and will be the temple of the Spirit of God, which blows wherever she will. The Spirit doesn't like being plugged up. She doesn't like us being plugged up. She doesn't like at all. She loves. She is in love. She is, in love. She plugs us in and turns us on. So I say to myself: Be not a tomb! Don't stall in the upper room! Say your prayers, then zoom! To the kin(g)dom, the power, and the glory.

Sons and daughters of Francis and Clare, pray for me ... pray for all of us.

Interprovincial Postulancy

How do you get twenty-six young men religious, none of whom has met all the other men, who come from all over North America, Puerto Rico, Guam, and Great Britain, to live together for a year in a place none of them has ever been before?

The answer: make them live together for two months in another place none of them has ever seen before.

To paraphrase the mother of all reality shows:

"This is the true story ... of twenty-six brothers ... picked to live in a house ... work and pray together and have their lives consecrated ... to find out what happens ... when people stop being secular ... and start getting religious...."

The Friar World.

Before beginning novitiate in California, all the Capuchin postulants are going to Kansas to participate in a program known by turns as pre-novitiate and post-postulancy. It is known officially the Interprovincial Postulancy Program.

According to the North American and Pacific Capuchin Conference, the purpose of the program is to give the brothers the "time and structure" to

"a. meet and interact with their peers from other provinces who will comprise their novitiate class;
"b. experience and refine their interpersonal skills as they seek to form a common fraternity with brothers who have had different formational training and experiences in their own province;
"c. deepen their personal and communal spiritual life in further preparation for their novitiate;
"d. develop a personal sense of having a new, public 'Capuchin ministerial identity' which is experienced in their service to the poor."

With 26 friars in this year's formation class from the provinces and vice provinces of the North American and Pacific Capuchin Conference, and perhaps more brothers next year, achieving these outcomes becomes ever more critical. That's why there is a program before the novitiate program.

But why Kansas? (Aside from having enough space to house the friars, that is.)

It has to do with tradition, basically. St. Fidelis Friary and Center for Spiritual Life is in Victoria, in a part of the country with a strongly Catholic identity. I am told the Capuchins founded many churches and institutions in that area of the heartland over a century ago. St. Fidelis Church is a state historical landmark and one of the so-called "8 Wonders of Kansas."

It probably also has to do with detachment. The program manual states, "To enter more fully into the experience of living a simple, common life and to be freed of material preoccupations that could interfere with this unique period of time set aside for their spiritual development, it is essential that the Brothers are no longer involved with and/or preoccupied by any material or financial concerns." I have already noted the restriction on Internet usage. We are also to let go of possessions like credit cards, money, checks, cell phones, computers, PDAs, and other consumer electronics. Not that these things do not exist in Kansas, but perhaps it may be easier for us to first practice detachment from these material things in a rural environment.

One of the formators in novitiate has written the following to the postulants: "We cannot stress enough the need for you to give of yourself totally to the novitiate formation program and discernment process. We realize this may be for some a major struggle after years of independence in all matters especially concerning financial and personal freedoms." The journey into novitiate is a migration both physical and spiritual, and it requires a real surrender. The interprovincial postulancy is structured to help the novices-to-be make the transition into a new kind of spiritual space, one that will "allow the novice to become completely attentive to the whisper of God in his heart."

Going to Kansas, where few if any of the brothers have been, sounds like a good way of gently leaving life as you have known it and arriving to life as it will be, especially when you're making this pilgrimage with a big group of people.

90 Minutes a Week

That is how much time online a Capuchin novice is permitted at San Lorenzo Friary in California.

This is going to put a crimp on communication. I would like to know whether telephone usage will also be rationed.

Of necessity, the way I keep this public diary will have to change. It may become more like a log, with posts of a telegraphic nature. Sketches and expository posts will be published more sporadically. I will need to find other literary forms both feasible and fitting for showing you what religious life is like in novitiate.

Meanwhile, I may take to a private journal once more to keep a fuller record of the way I go and how it goes with my soul. An advantage is that I can make disclosures that it would not be possible to do online; nothing preserves the sanctity of one's inner space like the creamy ruled pages of a little hardcover notebook. A disadvantage is that I lose many listening partners.

Logging off of Facebook permanently when I did looks more and more like a wise choice every day. For that decision, my weaning from digital and social media will be less sudden and less forced. (I presume the weaning will begin at St. Fidelis Friary in Kansas.)

If we who are friends in Christ, friends of God, friends of the good, treasure what the love in our friendship has made, then we will take up pen and paper and continue to pour love into each other.

Take note of these addresses:

From May 27 to July 17:

St. Fidelis Friary
900 Cathedral Avenue
Victoria, KS  67671

From July 22:

San Lorenzo Friary
P.O. Box 247
Santa Ynez, CA  93460

I will repeat these addresses a few more times in the next few weeks before departing for Kansas. Take note, my friends, and take up pen and paper.

Thursday, April 26, 2012


With the good news given at the outset of the day -- Fr. Francis Gasparik made the announcement in chapel at the conclusion of Mass -- the brothers of St. Michael Friary can turn now to the fraternal business of the visitation.

According to the Constitutions of the Capuchin Order, the provincial minister is to make a visit to each of the fraternities once every three years. Among other things, the purpose of the visit is to give the brothers an opportunity to speak freely about the state of religious life within both the local and broader community of friars, and to ask the provincial questions about any subjects on their mind.

In our province, not only the professed friars, but also the friars in formation get an audience with the provincial. Visitation is the perfect occasion for Father Francis simply to get to know the friars in formation a little better. I consider this audience a privilege and a sign of fraternal respect, that despite our shortness of experience in religious life, the provincial seeks our voice.

The formation directors have encouraged the postulants to talk to Father Francis about anything on their mind. No topic should be perceived to be off limits.

To make the best use of this one-on-one meeting, the directors recommended that I speak to Fr. Francis about my continuing discernment to particular ministries and studies. So I will bring up the subject of preaching ministry and the question of the diaconate. I will ask about our theological studies in post-novitiate and explore what is possible according to the opportunities before us and the resources given to us.

Drawn as I am to the Capuchin charism of justice, peace, and ecology, I would like to see the province, as a province, become more outspoken in its advocacy for the poor, the worker, and the immigrant. I would like to know more about the governance and administration of the province, especially its councils concerned with social justice ministry. I would like to know how the province can lead the fraternities into a more profound witness to the mercy and justice of God revealed in Christ.

Later this evening, after dinner, during a special house chapter, Father Francis will give a report to the fraternity.

Got to go. My turn to speak is coming up.


From Fr. Francis Gasparik, provincial minister for the Capuchin Franciscans, Province of St. Mary:

"Dear Anthony,

"May the Risen Lord give you peace!

"After careful review of the results of your recent final evaluation, highly supported by the postulancy formation teams' recommendations, I am personally grateful for your desire and courage to continue your vocation discernment journey with us.

"With the consent of the Provincial Council at its April 23, 2012 meeting, we support your participation in the Interprovincial Postulancy Program held at St. Fidelis Friary in Victoria, Kansas beginning on May 27, 2012 and approve your request to begin your novitiate year at San Lorenzo Friary in Santa Ynez, California on July 22, 2012.

"Anthony, please be assured of our fraternal support and personal prayers as you continue to seek God's will, journeying in the footsteps of our Holy Father Francis of Assisi.


Father Francis Gasparik, O.F.M. Cap.
Provincial Minister"

Wednesday, April 25, 2012


Been reticent, and reluctant to post before knowing the province's decision on admission into the novitiate program. All will be revealed soon. The provincial minister is visiting tomorrow.

In the meantime, I've been keeping busy at home and at ministry.

Today the postulants and friars worked outside, improving the courtyard gardens. We worked under the supervision of Fr. Thomas McNamara, associate pastor at Our Lady of Sorrows and proud alumnus of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell University. Our friar has a degree in horticulture and has put it to good use around the province, greening every place he has been assigned. A couple of times this year he has come to St. Michael Friary, consulting with us and getting all of us to dig into the dirt!

This evening I did some homework-slash-spiritual reading on Francis of Assisi. I also baked a fruit cobbler in advance of the provincial minister's visit. It's safe for every friar: no butter, no sugar, and spice-free on one half of the cobbler.

That's the homefront: little fraternal things. Abroad, as ministry winds up, we're having some adventures at Neighbors Together:

On Monday I traveled to Harlem for a public hearing on the state minimum wage bill. Our executive director and one of our members gave favorable testimony for the bill, which would increase the New York State minimum wage to $8.50 an hour immediately and index subsequent annual increases to the cost of living.

We've been making phone calls to Congress, specifically the members of the Senate Agriculture Committee, to ask those lawmakers to prevent cuts to food stamps. The House Agriculture Committee, tasked with cutting $33 billion from the farm appropriations bill, decided that the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program alone would take the hit. This would knock two million people off the food stamp rolls and decrease already-meager benefits to 44 million people. Deplorable. Outrageous. Unconscionable. Sinful. Uncatholic. The Senate version of the agriculture proposal would cut $4 billion from food stamps, unless certain amendments get approved. We are trying to stave off any cuts.

On Friday, State Assemb. William Boyland Jr. is visiting Neighbors Together for what we hope is a productive accountability meeting. Anyone who reads the newspapers knows that Boyland has fallen short of honoring the public trust, but for better and worse he represents the neighborhoods that Neighbors Together serves. We have to work with him to win better jobs, better wages, better housing, and better lives for our sisters and brothers in the community.

I have been remiss to post about our learning on celibate sexuality from last week, as well as other things that slip past when fatigue sets in and inspiration sails off. Like I said at the beginning: I've been reticent because I want to deliver the big news when it comes.

Monday, April 23, 2012

You Shall Not Steal

Fr. Marty Curtin is returning to St. Michael Friary tomorrow to resume our instruction on the Ten Commandments. We have finished half the Decalogue; now we turn to the commands forbidding adultery and theft.

Here is a preview of my presentation on the Seventh Commandment, as interpreted by the Catechism of the Catholic Church, to the postulants. Please excuse the rough quality of these notes.

The Seventh Commandment
(Part Three, Sect. Two, Chap. Two, Art. 7)

You shall not steal. Exodus 20:15; Deuteronomy 5:19; Matthew 19:18 (New American Bible Revised Edition)
Thesis: We are to share the goods of the earth and the work of human hands with justice and charity.


Article 7: The Seventh Commandment

I.                     The Universal Destination and the Private Ownership of Goods
II.                   Respect for Persons and Their Goods
A.    Respect for the goods of others
B.       Respect for the integrity of creation
III.                 The Social Doctrine of the Church
IV.                 Economic Activity and Social Justice
V.                   Justice and Solidarity Among Nations
VI.                 Love for the Poor


1. “The goods of creation are destined for the whole human race” (para. 2402).
The freedom and dignity of persons, and the need for material security, justify the right to private property. But this right is not absolute. It must be exercised faithfully with a respect for the common good. What we own we must use for the benefit of others. The state can and must regulate property rights to ensure the universal destination of goods.

2. Theft, the usurping of another person’s property against that person’s reasonable will, is forbidden.
Theft includes fraud, paying unjust wages, and price gouging; speculation and profiteering; tax evasion and forgery; waste and vandalism; violation of contracts; and above all slavery.
Reparation for the unjust taking and use of property ordinarily requires the restitution of stolen goods (cf. Luke 19:8).
The commandment “enjoins respect for the integrity of creation,” for the use of mineral, vegetable, and animal resources entails moral obligations to our neighbors and posterity.

3. The Church has authority to make pronouncements on economic and social matters when salvation and the rights of persons are at stake. 
The social doctrine of the Church is the fruit of more than a century of reflection on the development of modern industrial society. At its heart is a concern that social relationships be ordered in ways that accord with human dignity, and not determined solely by economic factors or profit maximization.

4. Men and women are to ensure that the fruits of God’s creation find their way to everyone in justice and charity. How to do this is the “social question.”
Humans participate in creation and redemption through their labor. Labor is inherently meaningful, for it enables us to provide for ourselves and others and to serve the community.
From economic life arise the rights and duties of businesses, unions, and the state. From the dignity of labor arise the right to employment, a just wage, union representation, and the strike.

5. Nations grown rich at the expense of poor countries have an obligation to support their development through direct aid and reform of institutions.

6. Christ will recognize his own by what they did for the poor (Matthew 25:31-36). Giving alms to the poor is a work of mercy and an act of justice.

Questions and Reflections

The Universal Destination and the Private Ownership of Goods; Respect for Persons and Their Goods

What hit me hardest? “Even if it does not contradict the provisions of civil law, any form of unjustly taking and keeping the property of others is against the seventh commandment” (para. 2409). The righteousness of Jesus’ disciples as economic actors must meet a higher bar than Caesar sets. The institutions in which they participate must be ordered in such a way as to make it easier for persons to make moral economic choices. Legislation and regulation provide a useful restraint, but in their absence, followers of Jesus are not excused from doing the right thing.

What was most challenging? For a Franciscan, who renounces private ownership of property, it is this statement: “The appropriation of property is legitimate for guaranteeing the freedom and dignity of persons and for helping each of them to meet his basic needs and the needs of those in his charge” (para. 2402). Francis of Assisi would disagree. The appropriation of property is the primordial cause of all violence and wars. How do Franciscans today square the Catechism with their pledge to live sine proprio? They may not necessarily repudiate private ownership of property but in their renunciation of it they have definitely decided there is a more perfect way to abundant economic life.

What would be most difficult to explain? The Catechism cites Gaudium et Spes: “In his use of things man should regard the external goods he legitimately owns not merely as exclusive to himself but common to others also, in the sense that they can benefit others as well as himself” (para. 2404). In the United States, many if not most people believe that ownership of private property accords the owner the privilege of exclusive use, an inviolable precept.

How does world need to hear what the Church is teaching?
The good of the whole takes priority over the good of the individual when the two are in conflict. In the United States there needs to be a cultural sea-change before the universal destination of goods regains its proper place in public discourse about economic life.

What situations need this as good news?
Wherever the rights of property trump the rights of persons. Wherever persons are treated like property. Wherever fundamental trust among individual parties or between institutions (public and private) and the people has been violated. In business and economics courses!

Social Doctrine; Economic Activity and Social Justice; Justice and Solidarity Among Nations

What hit me hardest? “The Church makes a moral judgment about social and economic matters, ‘when the fundamental rights of the person or the salvation of souls requires it’ ” (para. 2420, quoting Gaudium et Spes). The Catechism continues: “the Church is concerned with the temporal aspects of the common good because they are ordered to the sovereign Good, our ultimate end.” That’s brilliant. This teaching reinforces my conviction that behind every social and economic crisis, there is a spiritual crisis.

What was most challenging? “Economic activity, conducted according to its own proper methods, is to be exercised within the limits of the moral order, in keeping with social justice so as to correspond to God’s plan for man” (para. 2426).  So many Christians lament the absence of God from our civic and social institutions, but nowhere is the banishment of God from our world more total than in the marketplace. And there is scarcely a peep about this. How are disciples of Jesus to make a compelling case for the role of religion in public life when they demur from making any moral claims on economic life?

What would be most difficult to explain? “It is not the role of the Pastors of the Church to intervene directly in the political structuring and organization of social life” (para. 2442). Ask political leaders who support the social doctrine of the Church, and they will tell you that they wish religious leaders would in fact take the same kind of direct action they apparently have no trouble mustering when it comes to defending life ethics through legal and legislative means.

How does world need to hear what the Church is teaching?
As a matter of life and death. The world needs to hear what the Church is teaching the way Dorothy Day expressed it in 1956: “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.” Lives are at stake! Souls are at stake!

What situations need this as good news?
Labor disputes and employer-employee conflicts; debates among candidates for political office; public hearings on wage and hour bills and innumerable other legislative and regulatory items concerning economic policy; corporate boardrooms and shareholder meetings; plenaries of international political and economic authorities, governmental and non-governmental.

Love for the Poor

What hit me hardest? “Not to enable the poor to share in our goods is to steal from them and deprive them of life. The goods we possess are not ours, but theirs” (St. John Chrysostom, quoted in para. 2446). In his eloquence Chrysostom mirrors the wisdom of the Talmud, which says that whoever withholds the wages of an employee is considered as if he took his life from him. One might say that the poor in our times are the victims of serial theft, ambushed, abused, and exploited by employer, neighbor, and public authorities.

What was most challenging? “[T]hose who are oppressed by poverty are the object of a preferential love on the part of the Church” (para. 2448). Without faith that God in Jesus Christ took the misery of material poverty, unjust oppression, sickness, and death upon himself for the salvation of the world, this teaching makes no sense. The world ascribes fault to the poor themselves. The Church, on the other hand, acknowledges the sin that all people share: we have all sinned, we have all been sinned against, we all suffer. But the Church knows that some have been sinned against and suffer more than others. These are the poor. The Church, far from blaming the poor, shows them the compassion of Christ. Folly and weakness, says the world! The wisdom and power of God, says the Church … and the justice of God.

What would be most difficult to explain? Church members’ desire to help the needy “extends not only to material poverty but also to the many forms of cultural and religious poverty (para. 2444). I do not fully understand what the Catechism means by cultural and religious poverty and would like further clarification.

How does world need to hear what the Church is teaching?
In the words of St. Rose of Lima, quoted in the Catechism: “When we serve the poor and the sick, we serve Jesus. We must not fail to help our neighbors, because in them we serve Jesus” (para. 2449).

What situations need this as good news?
Banks and businesses with budgets for philanthropy and charitable giving; suburban and affluent urban congregations grown complacent and distant from poor communities; city/town planners, public authorities, and citizens reviewing plans for economic development and renewal in their neighborhoods; families evaluating how to allot their limited resources; individuals blessed with disposable income wondering how to make a difference. Every place where the starving Lazarus begs at the gate.

Sunday, April 22, 2012


One more thing before I go to bed. (This is my final post of the day, honest.) This week the postulant brothers and I will find out if we are going on to novitiate. The formation directors will have a conference with each of us to present their evaluation and declare their recommendation. They will ask us to approve their statements, which they will then forward to the provincial minister. The final approval comes down to him. He will inform us personally of his decision when he makes his visitation to St. Michael Friary.

I hope to share some good news with you before Friday. Until then, keep me and the postulants in your thoughts. We have tried to speak and act as well as we have heard, so please pray for our vocation, to which we have tried to remain true.

More Theses on Jesus

Still backtracking on Jesus with Fr. Michael Marigliano. Let's get right to it:

1. The parables of Jesus defy the conventional wisdom of every age. Those who first heard his parables were infuriated by them. They always upturned every expectation about the reign of God.

2. Consider the parable of the lost sheep. In the kingdoms of the world, when it comes to their defense, there is always breakage, there are always acceptable losses. But when the reign of God comes, nothing is expendable, nothing is to be wasted, and everyone counts. The owner of ninety-nine sheep will go after the one lost sheep, no matter how foolish it is to abandon such a rich portfolio of livestock. The cost doesn't count anymore; the worldly calculations no longer compute in the mathematics of the new heaven and earth.

3. Consider the parable of the leaven. In the Jewish law leaven was an unclean substance. Leaven breaks down membranes and lets things grow. Think of what Jesus is saying: God is like a woman(!) working leaven into the dough, secretly. This is an image of the reign of God?

4. Consider the parable of the mustard seed. Why was this a scandal to Jesus' hearers? It was against the Jewish law to sow unlike kinds of plants in the same field. When the mustard tree would grow, it would crowd out all other plants and attract birds, unwelcome guests wherever you are trying to raise crops. The reign of God is like this, like the unruly mustard plant and its avian dwellers? Like the very things you would chase away?

5. The parables, the sayings, the hard teachings: What does all this say about Jesus? The Gospel writers had to make decisions. They drew on the oral traditions and fashioned what the author of the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles called an "orderly account" of Jesus.

6. How did the Gospel writers do? Their accounts, by the consensus of Church tradition, succeed, in their completeness, in inspiring faith in the revelation of Jesus Christ. Their accounts awaken faith in Christ. The same cannot be said of other texts on Jesus excluded from the canon of the New Testament, though they share with the canonical Gospels a historical knowledge of Jesus.

7. The shocking nature of faith in Christ is too often lost on believers today. The horror eludes most contemporary Christians. Think about it: the first disciples gathered around the broken, mutilated corpse of a criminal executed by the state and declared that this person revealed the power of God in its fullness. The crucifix has become the pre-eminent symbol of Catholic faith. Are Catholics so far inside the symbol as not to grasp the original horror, or the sheer folly and scandal of it all? There is a profound mystery here, one that Christians do well to remember.

8. The first disciples reflected on the death of resurrection of Christ by connecting those events with the life of Jesus. With Saul of Tarsus/Paul the Apostle, who never knew the historical Jesus, the theological development from Jesus of Nazareth to the Christ of faith is inaugurated. Paul, in his mission to the Gentiles -- that is, beyond the covenant people of Israel to the nations -- reflected on the mystery of Christ's death and resurrection in dialogue with Greek modes of philosophy. And Paul was not alone in doing this. The breadth and imagination and vocabulary of Christianity would change as it migrated from the thought-forms of Jewish culture to Greek culture, from the first and second centuries forward.

9. While the claim that Jesus was the Messiah and Son of God caused divisions within the Jewish community, another kind of question disturbed Greek believers. If there is only one God, then how is God at work in Jesus Christ? How is God reconciling the world in Jesus Christ? Is Jesus a gifted human being appointed by God to be an instrument of salvation? Or is Jesus Christ literally God? Skilled thinkers would articulate and reconcile the Christian message and mystery in terms of Greek thought-forms. They included Tertullian, Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nazianzen, Augustine, and Jerome. They included the leaders of the first ecumenical councils of the Church. Their collective response, the Church's response, would be the doctrines of the incarnation and the Trinity, and these responses would emerge interdependently.

10. We cannot understand how the Church came to speak about Jesus Christ without keeping in mind the ascendance of Greek thought-forms in the Christian tradition. In the Jewish memory, God is at work through signs and wonders; through anointed figures like judges, kings, and messiahs; through messengers like angels and prophets; through visions and trances; and through God's very Spirit. Jesus encompasses these figures and motifs in his person. Through him, God is known as a dynamic force. Hebraic language and thought-forms capture this understanding of God in the Jewish tradition. But when Greek followers of Jesus appropriated the Jewish traditions, they essentialized them, focusing on God's being instead of God's action. With this turn, contradictions become paradoxes. If God is the Father and Jesus is the Son, how are the two related? Is Jesus equal with the Father? How are the humanity of Jesus and the divinity of God married together? Because of the way they think, the Greeks have to work out these and a thousand similar questions. The Church has had to work out these questions ever since.

11. Language about Christ -- christology -- cannot capture the mystery of God, but it attempts to define a space in which the follower of Jesus can encounter the mystery. Contrary to conventional wisdom, even among Catholics, the Church does not say "say this, say that" about Jesus Christ. Rather, it is "do not say this," not so much as to forbid discussion, but so as to foster responsible speech about God in Christ, and a common ground for conversation. Of course, it doesn't always work out this way. Some teachers of the faith are like baseball purists who believe any change to the rules will change the game itself beyond recognition. And they see any and all new language about Christ as game changers.

12. Of course, the biggest game change happened when the Greek philosophical language of ontology and being, alien to the first followers of Jesus, became the definitive lens for viewing Christ and the dynamic God of Scripture.

13. In the fourth and fifth centuries, in the time of the ecumenical councils, the council elders invented vocabulary to describe and delimit the mystery of God's being so as to speak rightly about Christ. After various controversies, it came to pass that God the Father and God the Son were of the same substance (homoousios, in Greek) and one in being (consubstantial), while the Father had priority as the begetter of the Son. To say this affirmed the full divinity of Jesus Christ as the Son of God. Later controversies required the council elders to affirm that Jesus Christ, the divine Logos or Word of God, indeed had a human mind and soul. Eventually, after still more controversies, council elders arrived at a grand synthesis, declaring Jesus Christ was true God and true man, possessing both the divine and human natures without confusion.

It's gettting late, and I have barely shared all that I hoped I would share, but this gives you a taste of what our well-educated and engaging vicar provincial handed on to us last week. I'll get to the good stuff on sexuality on another day.


Before returning to some theses on Jesus, let me backtrack to the postulants' excursion to Broadway on Wednesday afternoon:

Our formation directors treated us to matinees, purchasing tickets at the 40 and 50 percent discount rate available on the day of the performance from the TKTS booth on Broadway at 47th Street. Many of the brothers opted for musicals; I opted for a play. The revival of Death of a Salesman, my first preference, was not available. Instead I opted for a pre-opening night performance of A Streetcar Named Desire, playing at the Broadhurst Theatre on West 44th Street. When you purchase from TKTS, you are automatically given the best seat left available. Wouldn't you know it, but I got a front-row seat in the orchestra section. I could touch the floorboards of the stage, could grab the foot microphones, could grab the actors by their ankles if I wanted to. I was so close I could smell the herbal cigarettes the performers were smoking, could see the spittle flying from their lips. It was better than a 3-D movie, better than an IMAX "experience."

After our respective matinees, the brothers gathered at an Irish-style pub and diner, Emmett O'Lunney's, at Broadway and West 50th Street.

Does it seem like an extravagance or a scandal to you, that men in formation to become Franciscan friars would attend Broadway shows and dine at a fine Irish pub? What does it say, if anything, about our aspiration to evangelical poverty? Is a day trip like this compatible with or expressive of our charism of minority?

Perhaps those are not fair questions. They are being asked in a loaded way. They can be answered only in narrow, polar ways. Let me try to ask them more constructively. How would a friar in formation, shown the hospitality of a treat to the theater and fine dining, receive such a gift in a spirit of minority? How does someone aspiring to the station of evangelical poverty bear witness to this way of life when given a cup flowing over? Does the Lamb of God lie down on Broadway?

I thought and prayed over this at St. Malachy's Church, known as the Actors' Chapel for its century-old mission to all who are employed in the Big Apple's little cottage industry along the Great White Way. I stopped there twice in the afternoon, first around one o'clock, after receiving my matinee ticket, and then around five o'clock, after the show, to say evening prayer quietly. Few insights came to mind either earlier or later in the afternoon. Some vague traces of thought about the comedy and drama of the human condition, and how God, the author of our stories, brings an end to all tragedies through the cosmic drama of Jesus Christ, who came to enact redemption and perform reconciliation on the world stage. In a vaguely Tolstoyan way I thought about the function of art as a moral mirror, and, with Dostoevsky, of beauty as the bearer of saving truth, but that was all.

Looking back on that day, I think of the camaraderie that was built up with the postulant brothers from the Midwest and the good of fraternity. But I'm still struggling to see how our charism of minority was built up or shone forth. Oh well ... to be poor is to receive every good gift in a spirit of humility, even when the gifts are high and fine. Let me reflect on that.

Theses on Jesus

Backtracking to last Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, when the postulants listened to Fr. Michael Marigliano speak about the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith.

We were challenged to explore with greater scrutiny our personal "portraits" of Jesus as received from our religion and culture. Over our three days of instruction we unpacked the contents of our Christian imagination and investigated the origin and meaning of our christological vocabulary, the better to understand the images of Jesus we know and claim as our own. We traced the steps of Jesus' followers and pored over their markings, from the eyewitnesses to the Gospel writers to the Church fathers and mothers to the leaders of the ecumenical councils.

If Jesus is water, and the communion of faithful a cloud of witnesses descending into history from the apostolic age to the present (and ascending to before creation and beyond to its fulfillment), then our witness to Jesus Christ today is but a vapor, the faintest of mists falling from that cloud. We who thirst for the living water and claim to have sipped from its wellspring cannot separate ourselves, or our witness, from its sources.

As we describe our memory, analyze our understanding, and examine our will, we must ask ourselves: Is what we drink truly the living water? What is its color? What is its flavor? What does it do to us in our mind and body? Do what we drink, we drink in the Spirit? That is, the Spirit of the One who sent the Christ and raised Jesus? Is what we offer no less and no other than Jesus the Christ as fully as we have received him?

With that, let me pour for you some shots of the strong spirits of learning and wisdom that Father Michael, our brother and teacher, shared with us.

1. For Christians, their image of Jesus Christ is grounded by Scripture, namely the New Testament, but they must understand that there is a multiplicity of images in Scriptures and that this multiplicity is conditioned by tradition.

2. An encounter with Scripture can provoke an encounter with the living God, revealed in Christ, by faith. The encounter with God in Scripture is mediated by the community of believers, the Sunday assembly, the Church, gathered in by God's grace and power.

3. Christians approach Scripture today with a historical consciousness exercised in service of the faith. There is a world in front of the text, a world embedded in the text itself, and an experience that sits behind the text. Every time disciples come to the Scripture, they must sort carefully through these dimensions. They must keep in mind that every act of communication, and every act of translation, is an interpretation. This is true of secular texts, and it is true also of the works of the Bible. What followers receive of the revelation of Jesus Christ is filtered through interpretation.

4. This by no means denies the claim that the written testimonies of Jesus are inspired by God. Like Jesus Christ, the Word of God in Scripture is human and divine. As the work of human authors, the Bible is the product of a process of development from oral tradition to written record, and as such it may be subjected gainfully to modern methods of textual, historical, and literary analysis. If it is true that Jesus Christ may not be known apart from the tradition(s) of the Church, then the use of historical-critical methods to uncover the layers of tradition that mediate our awareness of Jesus becomes all the more imperative.

5. The Gospels offer powerful interpretive lenses through which to see Jesus Christ. Look through Matthew, and you see Jesus is like a new Moses, and the Church is like a new Israel. Look through Luke, and you see that the power of the Spirit of the God of Israel, perfectly present in Jesus Christ, is present in the Church and especially its Gentile communities of believers. The Spirit borne by Peter and the Twelve throughout Jerusalem was carried by Paul and his fellowship to the ends of the earth.

6. To know Jesus you must also know his times. Imagine first century Palestine, Jerusalem, and its people, living under Roman occupation. How do the Jewish people keep faith in the presence of foreign soldiers and a tax to their Caesar? In the midst of tumult appears an itinerant preacher and woodworker, who speaks of God's kingdom. Kingdom? The Jews knew plenty about worldly kingdoms and suffered plenty under them. What good could come from kingdom? But the carpenter who speaks of God's kingdom speaks with power and persuasion. And he brings healing to many. He brings hope for change ... in a message from God to the people to change. Many slam the door on him, but a few outcasts -- the brother fishermen, the landless tenant farmer, the notorious scribe -- take up the message and follow him. These are real people facing real challenges in twisted real-life situations.

7. Jesus is and is not like the religious, political leaders who responded in different ways to the crisis of Roman occupation. He made pilgrimages to Jerusalem and the Temple, and he kept the precepts of Torah, the Jewish law. But he was not one of the Sadducees, the urban, conservative Jewish aristocracy who made their peace with the occupying forces so long as they could keep control of the Temple. Jesus resisted the rule of Caesar and even admitted revolutionaries like Simon and Judas into his company, but he never advocated the violence of holy war, for he was neither a Zealot, a rural guerilla, nor one of the Sicarii, an urban terrorist. Jesus heard the apocalyptic message of the prophet-preacher John the Baptist and took up the message of repentance after John was arrested. But he was not a separatist like John or the desert community of Essenes, and he did not believe God would destroy this world to bring about the new age of the kingdom. Jesus preached in the synagogues and the countryside like the Pharisees, and he expounded on the Jewish law like the Pharisees, but he was rejected by the Pharisees because of the claims he made about himself, the fulfillment of Torah, and the hopes of Israel.

8. Look through Mark, the oldest and shortest of the Gospels, and you will see in its Jesus an end-times figure for a people living in the shadow of unspeakable trauma, the defeat and dispersion of the Jewish people after their revolt against the Roman authorities and the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. This Jesus comes to challenge the codes of culture, society, economy, and politics. He does this in his message and his manner. He does this despite the overwhelming power arrayed against him and his disciples.

9. The Gospels follow Jesus all the way, from his life to his death. They follow him to the Passover, to the twin spectacles of Jesus' mock-triumphal procession and street theater in the Temple, and the fearsome procession of Caesar's brigades come to carry Jesus to Calvary. We follow Jesus to his arrest, sentencing, torture, and execution; and the disciples, themselves the cause of their disillusion, to their betrayal, denial, and humiliation. End of story? The women and Peter and John find the body is not there in the tomb. What is to be believed? Without understanding, John knows only that it's not over ... something is here. The disciples, who ran for their lives, find Jesus suddenly there. He is still their companion. Slowly, the community gathers again, because something is present -- the peace of God, the last word. Someone is present -- Jesus, alive beyond destruction. A broken community gathers around God's peace in the risen Jesus, receives strength, and goes forth with a message ... resurrection.

10. The Gospels about Jesus are not biographies or journalism, but stories with a bias telegraphed by its authors and meant to inspire faith because they are presented as God's inspiration affecting the world. By Jesus, something essential in the believer is grabbed and linked to the hope of Israel, its deepest hopes. Something deep within is moved. Through the words and works of Jesus, the life of Israel, the life of every follower, is revived and brought to the edge of fulfillment.

All right ... time to take a break. More to come later.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

To Your Country

Holy One,

See your children crowded in the cities of the earth
and hear what they say in prayer
to you

Take us to your country
out of the city
every city we know
is not like your land

We have tried
we have built these cities
we have made them big
now they are too big
and we have no room in them
for you
for us
we cannot breathe
we cannot eat
we cannot sing
without stealing the space
the food
the song
from one another

We have no space
we have no place here
but we keep looking here
for ourselves

We are not ourselves
in a place where we can only make ourselves
we can never be begotten
like your Son
we can never be born from above
if we are trying to birth ourselves
by ourselves

We are longing for a better world
help us long for your world
a country
not a city
no more cities
let us look for the greater place
that cannot be discovered
that can only be revealed
that cannot be built
that can only be given
that cannot be founded
that can only be found

Lead us to your country
and lead us
to tell our brothers
and sisters
and others
to break their babble
and tell them
it's time to travel

Lead us to your country, Lord
and we will be your people. Amen.

Thursday, April 19, 2012


Been busy accompanying the postulants from Wisconsin in class and on sightseeing. I hope to backtrack a little bit later today or on the weekend.

Just a brief note before we begin two days of seminars on celibate sexuality with Dr. Kathleen Galleher, a psychologist and a consultant who has worked with priests and religious who have sexually abused children and adolescents. Among other institutions she has worked at Saint Luke Institute in Silver Spring, Md.

This morning in the kitchen, just as I was about to pour the milk into my cereal, I was interrupted by my formation director. The friar who tailors our Capuchin habits had arrived with our habits, and it was time to try on mine.

I didn't want to put it on. It felt too soon. But I did try it on, and the friar showed me how you wear it.

I did not look at myself in a mirror. Call me superstitious, but to me that would be a little like the bride and groom seeing each other before their wedding.

Novitiate is really close.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Jesus the Christ

God from above, send down your Christ.
God from below, raise up your Jesus.

Show us the one they first called your Son.
Make us one with the One you greatly exalted.

May our love of Jesus humanize us. May the love of Christ sanctify us.

Take us to beyond before. Take us to forever after.
Take all of this, all of us, to the place out of time and space.
But reveal it here. Begin it, end it here.

Be our vision.
Help our Christ meet Jesus. Help our Jesus meet Christ.
Help us meet you, One and never only, in the event and being.

One and holy, never only, we call with tongues of humans.
We pray for flesh of spirit.
Give us this day. Show us the way to the day of the Lord.

Through your Spirit we ask for faith in Christ.
Grant us the faith of Jesus to receive it.

Gracious God, you give your Word.
Let us be people of our word and be an image of your Word.
In this hour and in the final hour,
Let us keep in mind, let us have as our mind, Jesus the Christ.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Searching for Jesus

No, by the title of this post I do not mean that I am reverting to a seeker status, only just beginning a path toward belief. We have begun a two-day seminar on the historical Jesus of Nazareth, facilitated by the estimable Fr. Michael Marigliano, our vicar provincial. I hope to post some of the good stuff he has shared with us when I have some more time.

We journeyed to the Lower East Side, where I have spent a good deal of time recently, to get a formal tour of Our Lady of Sorrows, the first parish founded by the Capuchins in the United States when they came to stay in the mid-19th century. The founding missioners, two Swiss priests, followed German-speaking immigrants to America, putting down roots in what is now Mt. Calvary, Wisc., and Manhattan. Our Capuchin brothers have remained ever since to welcome the waves of immigrants who followed the Germans: the Italians, the Slavic-speaking peoples, the Puerto Ricans, the Dominicans, and now the Mexicans and Latinos of all nationalities. This evening after prayer and a sit-down dinner with the friars who reside at Sorrows, we walked about the neighborhood, pausing for gelato.

The five postulant brothers from Wisconsin have not been to New York before, much less the Northeast. Two of them reside in the Capuchins' Canadian province and will return there upon solemn profession of vows. All of them are searching for New York and eager to know the place up close and personal. On Friday they may return to lower Manhattan to visit the 9/11 Memorial. From this excursion I may have to beg off, for reasons that friends and close readers of the blog may be able to guess. I am not searching for New York, its joys, it sorrows, or its glories. I am searching for Jesus and his joys, sorrows, and glories. Much, much more I could say about this, and I will, but I haven't the time now.

Because now, it's off to rejoin all the postulants for some trivia games. Yes, trivia games. Believe it or not -- and I do wonder about it myself -- this is my holy work for the evening. If we are to live together as novices for one year, as brothers in Christ, we need to do some serious intentional bonding. And with the Capuchins, the more serious they are about something, the more playful they get. A paradox? A contradiction? So be it. Time to connect over a game of Cranium. No time but the present moment to make those connections.

Sunday, April 15, 2012


Fairly dribbling, my brain is right now. Being a host is 99 percent physical and 110 percent mental. Surely it is a spiritual labor, too, because my soul is ready for two good nights' sleep! I have done much hosting in the last three days. But I have much more hospitality to show in the next five days.

From Thursday until Saturday I was hosting my good friend Carolyn, with whom I explored the Lower East Side on Friday evening and Saturday afternoon. We took one of the tours at the Tenement Museum, in which we learned about two of the thousands of families who poured their lives, their fortune, and their sacred honor into sweatshop labor for the garment industry. We left no community garden or playground in our path unexamined. We dined on fish and chips and fried chicken strips at an Irish pub not too far from Our Lady of Sorrows, the Capuchin friary and parish. We browsed chocolateries and tea rooms, Italian cafes and Swedish espresso bars, and even a mac-and-cheese vendor. Throughout our one-on-one time, including an afternoon at Neighbors Together, we caught up on the old days at Boston University School of Theology, talked the kind of God-talk that theology nerds live for, and looked longingly toward our hoped-for future in ministry with eschatological joy fitting for Easter. Back at St. Michael Friary, the brothers served Carolyn at table, tickled her funny bone, offered her their prayers, and treated her with gentlemanly respect.

This evening the postulants being formed in the Province of St. Joseph arrived in time to join us for evening prayer and dinner. To make ready for their week of studies and sightseeing with us, I spent the last twenty-four hours in the kitchen baking a mess of good things to eat. Last night I rustled up some oatmeal raisin cookies and gave rise to a large loaf of Irish soda bread. This morning I quickly cooked up some chocolate pudding, then got to work on a two-pound loaf of white bread. In spare moments I cobbled together crispy rice treats and cornbread. The masterpiece, however, is my mother's babka, a Polish sweet bread, crammed with brandy-soaked raisins and glazed on the bottom with a sugary egg white mixture.

Perhaps I overdid it in the kitchen! I am pooped, and now I am decompressing, striving to catch up on the blog, while our guests are playing cards and otherwise recreating. I ought to be joining them and making them feel as relaxed as they can after driving from Detroit at quarter after four this morning. Well, thank God I have a little help from my brothers, who are feeling fresh enough to build up some evening bonhomie.

Our days are packed this week, with two or even three class sessions every day. The subjects are the historical Jesus from Monday to Wednesday and sexuality on Thursday and Friday, with a focus on celibacy. We are visiting Our Lady of Sorrows and hanging out in the Lower East Side tomorrow (my recent excursions with Carolyn will make me an ace guide), and we are being treated by our formators to Broadway and Off-Broadway matinees on Wednesday afternoon. It's going to be a lot of time together with five of our potential novice brothers-to-be.

God of grace and God of plenty, make me an able attendant. Give me a spirit of  good cheer, with amenability and dependability, to respond with alacrity and compassion to my brothers' needs, throughout this week and forward into the fraternity we will make together in Kansas and California. For this is the holy work you give me now. By your Spirit, may I nurture a diaconal spirit. Amen.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Goings On

A few things going on in and around St. Michael Friary.

Learning about alcoholism, addiction, co-dependency, and the spirituality of recovery with two Capuchin friars: Fr. Michael Connolly, a licensed social worker and alcohol and substance abuse counselor; and Bro. John Koelle, the treasurer of the province. I have not studied alcoholism and alcohol abuse since my high school health class and driver's education. I am glad that we are. It's a necessary component of our development as pastoral ministers. It is inevitable that we will encounter persons struggling with alcoholism in our ministry; about one out of every ten Americans are alcoholic, and one out of every four Americans are affected by someone who is struggling with alcoholism. We who are in religious life are no different from the rest of humanity; sooner or later, we will encounter in our own communities friars who are dealing with addiction. Currently we are studying the disease model of alcoholism and its progressive effects on spiritual, emotional, and physical health. We are also learning about Alcoholics Anonymous and its program of twelve-step spirituality, which evolved from a Christian movement called the Oxford Group.

After class, I'll be making a guest bedroom ready, changing the sheets and putting out a fresh set of towels. A dear friend is coming down from Massachusetts this evening and staying until Saturday! She is a candidate for ordination in the United Methodist Church. The two of us studied theology together at Boston University. You can read her blog, containing "Methodist musings on life and faith," here. I look forward to welcoming her to the friary and introducing her to the brothers. And I am eager to see what kind of ecumenical exchanges take place around the dinner table as we share the fruits of our common Christian discipleship in their Catholic and Methodist varieties.

This afternoon at Neighbors Together I will be helping our members make phone calls to Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles Schumer, exhorting them not to allow Congress to pass a budget bill that eviscerates the federal food stamp program. The House recently approved a budget bill that would end the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program as we know it by slashing its funding by billions of dollars and converting it from an entitlement program into a block grant program with severe and inflexible funding caps and the delegation of benefit-granting authority to the states. For an explanation of why this legislative move is unconscionable, read this analysis by Bread for the World.

Now, off to class, and to submit the peer evaluations to my postulant brothers.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012


With four weeks of postulancy left, here, near the head of the Great Fifty Days of Easter, are my desires for these times.

1. To be accepted into novitiate. To live these next two weeks in hopeful anticipation, good cheer, and trust that God's will shall be done, come what may. A little Advent within the Easter season?

2. To find ways, in all the little things, with all the people near me, and through all the immediate situations, to proclaim the resurrection of Jesus. Within twenty-four hours of the beginning of the Easter season, I discovered how hard it is to proclaim the resurrection in a crucified, crucifying world. O God who raised Jesus from the dead and has forgiven us for crucifying him, help us forgive those who inflict the pains that are completing the suffering of the body of Christ; help us heal those who fill up in their body what was lacking in the suffering of Jesus; and help us see that these persons are one and the same, sinners and sufferers alike. Show us the way from Good Friday through Holy Saturday to Easter Sunday, to the Sunday everlasting.

3. To seek for my soul a discipleship that integrates the many levels of conversion: personal, interpersonal, ecclesial, and structural. Christ wants me not to compartmentalize my discipleship. The public disciple is also a disciple in private. The political Christian is also a personal Christian. The social follower of Jesus is an individual follower of Jesus.

4. This desire is related to the last one. This year I have turned to Christ mainly by turning to him at home. However my journey of faith continues, hopefully in novitiate, I suspect that in the year to come it will involve a turn to Christ through a renewal of personal conversion, that is, my relationship with God within a psychologically and spiritually integrated self. How will I carry the work I have done to bring conversion to my interpersonal relationships into the anticipated work of personal conversion?

5. To write more prayers and poems. It will become more challenging to maintain the public diary during novitiate, because my time using online media will be much more restricted. And while I wish to keep a chronicle going forward, I begin to wonder how edifying it will be for you, my frequent and occasional readers, to keep reading variations on the novice brothers' quasi-monastic routine of prayer and study. What you will be really interested in, I sense, is what a cloistered experience like novitiate is doing to my interior life. A chronicle can certainly help ground that exploration in the externals, and I ought to consider posting lengthier sketches as opposed to daily bulletins. But something tells me that picking up the habit of poetry and prayer-writing would be more in harmony with my mode of expression. So we shall see.

6. To send thoughtful and prayerful Easter greetings to many of my friends and partners in ministry. The only folks who have received such greetings thus far are my relatives. Thank goodness Easter is fifty days. Here's hoping I get some letters out sooner than later, certainly well before Pentecost!

7. To reunite with old friends in Boston the week after postulancy ends, and to celebrate one more commencement at Boston University with the graduates of the School of Theology.

8. To bake good things for the visiting postulant brothers from the Province of St. Joseph.

9. To laugh with the brothers at St. Michael Friary as much as I can. To let myself be drawn into virtuous mirth.

10. To recall good and holy desires unfulfilled and ask God for the favor of granting them.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Into the Loop

Happy Easter, brothers and sisters in Christ. Happy Passover, my elder sisters and brothers in Abraham and Sarah. May the Spirit of the God who liberated Israel from Egypt, who ransoms us from every captivity, set all humanity free. May the God who raised Jesus from eternal darkness be our light. May this God who is love and more than love, come to us and empty all of our tombs.

May this God who spoke to Francis through Christ speak to us and speak us into everlasting life.

Easter triduum and a three-day visit to my family have filled my heart to overflowing. Now it is good to be back in Brooklyn to pour out life, love, and good will onto the world.

This week the postulants are writing their final evaluations for the formators and provincial minister. The purpose is the same as it was in December: to give the brothers in formation an opportunity to assess their growth in Capuchin life, with attention on the areas of community life, personal development, and spirituality. The process is the same as in December. Each of us will draft peer evaluations, one for each postulant, the content of which we are required to incorporate into our self-evaluations. Our ministry supervisors will submit their own reports to the formators, too. The peer evaluations are due to the respective postulant brothers on Thursday, and the self-evaluations are due on Saturday. The formators will take both the peer evaluations and self-evaluation as well as the supervisors' evaluation into consideration as they prepare their staff evaluation for each postulant's permanent file.

In our self-evaluations we are to make our formal request for admission into the novitiate. At our final formation conferences during the week of April 22, the formators will inform us of their recommendation to the provincial minister. On Thursday, April 26, the provincial minister will visit St. Michael Friary, meet with each postulant for an hour, and announce his final decision.

With a polished first draft of the peer evaluations and a sketch of the self-evaluation, I am well on the way. Composing these reports has put me in a reflective mood and an empathetic disposition toward my fellow postulant brothers. Let us be kind, affirming, and challenging in our words. These words have power to bless, anoint, and judge. Let our words be love.

It is good to be in a reflective mood this day, because I am going to Washington Square Park this evening for my final meeting for spiritual direction. My director has asked me to review my spiritual growth over the year of postulancy, looking back through the lens of conversion. How have I turned to Christ? How is Christ leading me? These good grounding questions have helped me sketch my self-evaluation. My director also asked me to examine my experience of spiritual direction. What were its strengths? How could the process be improved? How has it influenced my experience of formation in postulancy?

This appointment will be after ministry at Neighbors Together. It has been a week since being at the soup kitchen. Time to throw off the inertia. No more time to linger at the empty tomb. Time to go back to Galilee.

Show Me

They said you're not here, therefore
do not fear

How am I to hear this news
And what am I to lose if I refuse it

Help me not to look, but to see
Help me not to touch, but to feel
Help me not to test, but to taste
Help me not to listen, but to hear

In your mercy, turn me in the
right direction from the grave
of stone and cave

In your loving kindness
show me something
greater than what you have done
with Jesus
Show me what you are doing to who I am

Show me who is standing in the strong wind
Show me who walks through the city
and kneels in the asphalt fields
Show me who bakes bread, who
wonders why it means the world

Show me how to say what you have spoken
how to be what you say
to be your speech
to live
to be

Show me

And I will praise you

Show me the eternal daylight
Turn the shadows in me inside out
Empty my tomb

And I will praise you

Show me
make me more than I am

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Snared in Time

Got my necessities packed for the next few days. I am staying in Manhattan at Our Lady of Sorrows Friary this evening after attending the Holy Thursday service with the parish. Tomorrow morning I am walking the Way of the Cross with Pax Christi Metro New York, gathering with my fellow sojourners at Dag Hammarskjold Plaza by the United Nations and proceeding to the West Side via 42nd Street. I will return to Our Lady of Sorrows at midday for the parish's memorial of the Seven Last Words of Jesus, followed by their own Good Friday procession. In the mid-afternoon I will travel to Babylon and meet up with my brother Nicholas and join him at Our Lady of Grace Parish, where he will be a lector for the commemoration of the Lord's Passion. Holy Saturday will be spent in what I hope is pensive silence, to be broken wide open by the alleluias of the Easter Vigil at Our Lady of Grace. On Easter Sunday I will relax with my family and aim to feast well in both body and spirit.

What all these services and devotions have in common is a re-enactment, a re-presentation, a re-membering of the suffering and death of Jesus of Nazareth and a meditation on its significance in the economy of salvation. After all, disciples believe that all of Jesus' words and works, his total being and doing, have accomplished the salvation, redemption, and reconciliation of the human race with God and one another. We are not saved by the Cross alone -- given that the Jesus' crucifixion came from the sin of the world, one might say we are saved despite the Cross, or in spite of it -- but neither are we saved without it. This is the supreme paradox of faith, the aching aspect of the paschal mystery, and one with which every disciple must struggle.

What do the rituals of Easter teach Christians about how to live as followers of the risen Jesus? Do we ever stop to consider what the rituals themselves are "doing" to disciples who seek earnestly to live a life like that of the one confessed to be so fully human that he is also fully divine, a son of God? Do our Easter celebrations free us to live as persons transformed in Christ to be holy priests, prophets, and servants of the reign of God? Or do they unintentionally leave us frozen in our broken, unjust times and useless violent ways, destined unwittingly to repeat the cycle of sin and suffering that Jesus came to shatter forever? For one thoughtful, culturally engaged opinion, I recommend this essay from a friend studying ecclesiology at Boston University School of Theology.


It is unlikely I will be posting tomorrow, Good Friday, or on Holy Saturday. Perhaps on Easter Sunday. Until then, let me share one more piece from The Pilgrim, which I think is appropriate for both the day of the Lord's Passion as well as the middle day between Cross and Resurrection.

In the Liturgy of the Hours during Lent, the responsory following the Scripture reading at morning prayer is "God himself will set me free, from the hunter's snare." I have often thought about what the hunter's snare is. Here is one possibility, which Kevin Walker describes below.


by Kevin Walker

The state of homelessness makes planning virtually impossible as time is simply suspended. What exists is the immediate present -- and nothing else. Tonight I have to find a new place to sleep, but that's tonight -- might as well be a million years away. Today I'll be lugging a 30-lb. backpack from the Boston Public Library to Harvard Square and back again, and anything can happen, bad or good, at any moment. Run-ins, confrontations and accostments are the norm for the homeless. Something as simple as going for a meal might turn into a traumatic event for you or your property. You try to survive on a minute-by-minute basis in the "now."

And as you drift and survive your homelessness, and time becomes suspended and hangs in mid-air, the days become compartmentalized -- individual time boxes totally separated from one another and without relevance. That's the reason homelessness lasts so long: you fall into a time trap. A whole month has passed. Then two months, three months, then guess what? A whole year, and there's been no change in your situation. Can you remember last year? You can't remember yesterday. The homeless dimension is a space/time continuum that would have stumped Von Planck, Lord Rutherford and Al Einstein: none of these ever contemplated time as a non-moving entity. In the homeless universe it moves neither forward nor backward, but there is plenty of entropy. Like Sisyphus rolling the boulder uphill only to have it roll back down again for him to repeat the process, there is plenty of room in homelessness for negative things to happen but no sense of time to correct the problem.

The time trap of homelessness extends into days, weeks, months, then years as you are totally oblivious to anything beyond your immediate concerns, your immediate survival -- now and not fifteen minutes from now. And since time will not allow you to be in two places at once, you can't simultaneously be standing in line for food and attending a job interview. You must make a choice: eat or look for a job.

So I begin my day when I can pack my bag undetected at 5 o'clock in the morning, and get out onto the sidewalk still in the moonlight. It's now 5:30 a.m., pitch black, freezing cold, and nothing opens until 9 a.m. Four hours. The day has just begun and already you have nowhere to go, nothing to do, and no money to do it with. Time to kill before you go somewhere to kill more time -- meal program, drop-in shelter or employment agency. You realize that tomorrow might be the same as today, but tomorrow is far away. There's only today: dark and frozen, hanging in space.


From noon onward, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And about three o’clock Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” -- which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Matthew 27:45-46

There were many women there, looking on from a distance, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to him. Among them were Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee. When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea named Joseph, who was himself a disciple of Jesus.He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus; then Pilate ordered it to be handed over. Taking the body, Joseph wrapped it in clean linen and laid it in his new tomb that he had hewn in the rock. Then he rolled a huge stone across the entrance to the tomb and departed. But Mary Magdalene and the other Mary remained sitting there, facing the tomb.

Matthew 27:55-61

A Luminous Letter

Continuing a chronicle of pilgrimage with the homeless and recently housed contributors to The Pilgrim, published by the Cathedral Church of St. Paul. To my brothers and sisters in Christ, as we come to the cusp of the Easter Triduum, I greet you with wishes for a blessed Holy Thursday. May you celebrate the feast of the Lord's Supper with great anticipation of the divine promises that have already been and are yet to be fulfilled by the God who raised Jesus.

Here follows a luminous letter.

The Brayne of Jayne

by Jayne Eisan

I'm sitting here writing with a black gel pen on yellow lined paper. If you could see this rough draft I'm writing, you'd agree. Not many -- except the colorblind -- would dispute that this paper is indeed yellow, there are lines on it, and the ink is black. Right? The paper is yellow; that's what we believe, that's what we were taught when we were small. But what if we're wrong? What if we have accepted as fact a totally flawed logic that says "If most people agree it must be a fact" -- when what I perceive as yellow my fiancee perceives as blue, only he calls it yellow because that's what HE was taught ... I don't know exactly where I'm going with this except to say I see the world the only was I can -- through MY eyes -- and I believe what I believe, but others have different eyes and believe different things. It might just be true that in order to experience the true beauty of this world we have to see it instinctively through other people's eyes, creating a multi-levelled seven-billion-dimensional panorama of richness and awe-inspiring glory. When we can do that we will know what God looks like.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

A Glorious Letter

One more letter today from The PilgrimA short, disturbing, and sacred story.

The Day I Held Hands With God

by Brenda Green

On the 21st of January, 2011, I was at my apartment with my boyfriend watching a movie and spending time with him. He came from Egypt. He was bad news: telling me what to do, calling me a liar. He watched me on Facebook. Then on the 21st of January he tried to kill me with a knife and a bag over my head. I fought him for about two hours, then I talked to him to try to make him stop. He would not put up with that. Then I tried to get away. It was not happening: he held me down on the rug. I tried to kill him back. It didn't work: I didn't have it in my heart to do it. I got away from him, ran upstairs to my friends' apartment, went to the ER. I died at the ER, I'd lost so much blood. I did see God and he held my hand. I saw my Mom and Dad; it was hard for me to let go. I saw my son's father and I really wanted to stay. God would not let me do that. He was very great, letting me see my Mom and Dad and my son's father. There is a God. God bless God.

A Sorrowful Letter

A sorrowful letter from The Pilgrim, published by the Monday lunch program of the Cathedral Church of St. Paul in Boston.

My Father

by Phil Wright

For me my life was over before I was born. I can't blame my mother -- she had no way of knowing she was marrying a monster who would destroy her only son's life. My father was the worst kind of monster. If you knew him socially you would never think him capable of doing the things he did. Only a very few people  knew what he was. Looking back, I believe the people who knew he was a monster were monsters themselves or had monsters in their lives.

My father sexually abused me for the first fourteen years of my life. Even though it did destroy my life I can never thank God enough that I did not become my father. My life sucks enough as it is. There is no middle ground for monsters. If you are one, you can never stop. If, like me, you are not, you spend a lot of time coming up with ways to kill them.

I thank God for all his blessings. He has been very good to me. I was homeless for about four years and I now have my own place. But for the most part I hate the way I live my life. The loneliness is killing me. I can't let people into my life. My father took away my ability to trust anyone. It's really hard to live your life forever paying dues for something you never did wrong.