Sunday, September 15, 2013

Seeking the Sheep and the Coin

The following is an abridged version of a sermon I gave this morning at First Church in Winthrop, United Methodist.

Let us reflect on today’s Gospel, in which Jesus teaches us how to welcome others who want to enter the kingdom of God: “Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep. Rejoice with me because I have found the coin that I lost.”

Last Saturday I went to Chelmsford to help a young Walmart worker named David Coulombe. Organizers alleged that David’s manager illegally retaliated against him for going on strike to protest Walmart’s unfair treatment of workers. So we held a demonstration outside the store in the parking lot. Almost a hundred people were there. Let’s say it was 99. Then we sent a group to the store to ask the manager to remove the disciplinary action from David’s record.

I was part of the delegation, and before we headed off, I asked the demonstrators, what is the name of the manager? People shook their heads. Nobody knew. One fellow said, “I don’t know his name. We’ll call him ‘Mister Manager.’ ” I didn’t like this answer. I thought it dehumanized the manager and demonized him, making him inferior to us, making him a monster.

Finally, we asked David Coulombe, and he told us. [Out of respect for the manager’s privacy, I will keep his name offline.]

And I said to myself: Everybody knows David. They know what a great guy he is. They know his story, his struggle, his hopes. They shook his hand, talked to him, prayed with him. They met his mother, who was also at the rally. They passed around a bucket and collected $400 for him to make up for the hours of work he lost. They loved David. He was a saint. And they hated the manager. He was a sinner.

At the rally the people compared David Coulombe to King David of Israel, taking up his slingshot to fight Goliath, Walmart. I wonder what the manager was thinking. Did he think that he himself was Goliath, and we were out to destroy him? I said to myself, it would hurt our cause to make the manager the enemy. Walmart was the problem, not the manager. The manager was a soul who could be won over. It would do David no good to surround him with 99 allies if we could not persuade his one opponent to cross the divide between them. What if, instead of awakening a feeling of compassion for David, our presence turned the manager away, the one person who could change David’s situation with the right decision, the one person we came to make peace with through the work of justice?

We would lose, and David would lose, if we lost sight of the manager’s humanity, and his capacity for good. If we lost him, we would lose David. And we would lose ourselves.

Fortunately, the delegation was a success. We left the group of 99 on the edge of the parking lot and crossed over the lot to the other side, to the sidewalk of the store. There, the manager was waiting for us. He had been watching the demonstration the whole time. We introduced ourselves and stated our concerns. I handed a letter from the community to the manager. Now the manager and David came face to face and spoke to each other. The manager said he had an open-door policy, and the next time David was at work he could meet with him to discuss the disciplinary action. This was what we were looking for. David agreed to see the manager the next day.

At that moment, salvation became possible. The manager acknowledged David’s grievance and David met his employer as an equal.

When we crossed back over to the side where the 99 were standing and told them the good news, the cheers went up. I know the cheers were only for David Coulombe, but in my heart I said a prayer for his manager, too. For although they were not yet one in brotherhood, the manager took a step closer to David and his supporters.

Jesus says, “Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep. Rejoice with me because I have found the coin that I lost.”

The story of David and his manager is not an “Amazing Grace” story. It’s not about God saving you and me; it’s about God telling us to seek salvation for our neighbors. To sweep every corner for every lost coin and go the extra mile to bring every sheep home. Our sinning neighbors and our suffering neighbors.

The kingdom of heaven is good because every person God has made has a place in it. The tax collectors and the Pharisees. The guilty and the innocent. The murderers and the martyrs. The manager and David. They all belong, and they all belong together, and they all belong to each other.

We refuse to let any person, the sinner or the victim, be “lost.” We will shine the light and bring them to light, out of the earth, up from the dirt and the shadows. We value the lost coins, the David Coulombes in our community. We will allow no one to treat them as worthless. But we must also value the lost sheep, like David’s manager. We should not rest until all hundred sheep are back in the fold. Because when one sheep goes astray, the 99 suffer.

And so we pray for David Coulombe and his manager. And we pray our church will rejoice and be glad when they come into the kingdom. Amen.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Preacher and Scholar

With fraternal life, prayer, ministry, and school, the occasions for blogging are narrowing. Posts will be coming intermittently, I fear. 

But I continue to do writing, now of other kinds. I am preparing to preach penance using the parables of the lost coin and lost sheep at a United Methodist church this Sunday. I am writing reading responses and reflection papers for my courses on the Second Vatican Council and feminist theology.

If you will pardon the self-indulgence, I will share some of these works, homiletic and theological, with you in the months to come.

I will begin this occasional series with a paper I submitted for my feminist theology class. The exercise was to do a mapping of the world of feminist theologies. The following is an excerpt, with citations omitted.

It is with hesitation that I venture to make a map of feminist theologies. I hesitate, not because I have been forbidden to enter this terrain, although I confess I have disinvited myself simply for being a male, among other rationalizations. It bears constant repeating that feminist theology is not “women doing theology,” as Rosemary Radford Ruether points out. Men may join this enterprise, and they do not need to join a guild or obtain a license to begin. Yet it does feel exceptional for this male religious to be “doing” feminist theology, and so it makes me feel self-conscious, even lonely....I would be interested in hearing more about women shaping men shaping theology, and the males these pioneers have welcomed into their hermeneutic community.

I also hesitate, not because I cannot see as my feminist sisters have seen, although I confess that I have missed many things on the paths they have marked, or have purposely hidden some things from my sight. I hesitate because I have too little practiced seeing and speaking with women doing theology in a feminist form, too little practiced their methods of naming and judging reality. I am loath to make my own map of places in which I have not dwelled.

Could these equivocations be the manifestation of the masculine need for competence, for a preference of mastery over and against the lure of mystery? Must the descriptions a map shows us be taken as literally definitive? I sense that people doing feminist theology are concerned to practice a more limited kind of cartography: God-talk as an indicator of the Spirit.

If I were to introduce someone to the complex of feminist theologies, I would ask them to imagine a constellation or constellations of stars. Each star shines with an inconceivable brightness, with its own unique color and magnitude. Each star illumines the sky and provides an orientation for the beholder. But each star is also known in relation to the stars neighboring it. Seen in such relation, the stars form a constellation; the constellation presents itself to the beholder as an image or as a plurality of images. By the interplay of these bodies of light in their presence and absence, their nearness or distance; in the ways these bodies travel toward or away from each other; in the regularity and irregularity of their movements; and in the traces they leave in their courses, we discover other stars and other constellations and come to see more of the cosmos.

And so I recognize the universe as illuminated by the “leading lights” of feminist theologies: Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Buddhist, pagan, secular; assembled, either constructively or systematically, into constellations; and viewed as meaningful images through the lenses of gender, race, class, ethnicity, nation, and sexuality, among others. We use many instruments to obtain a better sight of what we perceive: theory from the disciplines of biology, economics, history, philosophy, politics, psychology, sociology, and others. Theologians working in a feminist framework are like astronomers of grace, and they have heralded transformations of perspective through a succession, or concurrence, of Copernican revolutions. Kwok Pui-lan, for instance, shows us that feminist theologies did not emerge, like the planets of a solar system, from a single star, but coalesced from common nebulae (i.e., cultures), all of them stars in their own right, all of them sharing in the process and substance of formation. No single body is merely single; no single body is stable, immutable for all time. There are many, many bodies in this universe. No single body of theology is the center of the universe. The universe itself is expanding continually, and it is a lot older than we thought! (Who is the first Christian feminist theologian, after all? Mary Daly? Ruether? Was it not Mary, who “named” Jesus? Or Mary of Magdala, who “named” the risen Christ?) Thus these theologians are also astrophysicists.

The authors we read document the influence of the academy as a space where communities of learners could train their visions, challenge one another to sharper visions, and hand their (in)sights on to new generations. To extend the astronomy metaphor, the seminaries and universities where feminist theologians worked became their observatories. From their place on faculties they could mentor younger seekers “with stars in their eyes.” The observatory where I learned to see by the light of my sisters, seeing what they see and how they see, is Boston University School of Theology. There, the stars of alumnae Anna Howard Shaw and Georgia Harkness give off bursts of light of comparable magnitude to their fellow luminary, Martin Luther King Jr.... [My] mentors and friends destabilized my given perceptions of God, Bible, and vocation, but they also enlarged my powers of perception with high-magnification lenses and sophisticated tools of analysis.

Perhaps it is in this appreciation that we find true cause for my reluctance to map feminist theologies. My sister theologians, vanguards of an apophatic tradition, have helped me see by revealing my “not-seeing.” The question is, do I dare to have confidence in my not-seeing?

Another Day

Yesterday was Sept. 11, 2013. God has given me at least twelve more years since that day, which could have been my last day. 

Yesterday's Sept. 11 felt like the most ordinary of all the anniversaries yet. Curious, since last year and the year before were painful anniversaries. I was anticipating a difficult day because of precedent and because I've had some intense and vivid dreams lately. But, thank God, it was a serene day.

Pausing for a while in the chapel at the School of Theology Ministry building at Boston College, I thought of the Gospel of John and Jesus, the Good Shepherd, who said of his life, "No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own. I have the power to lay it down, and the power to take it up again."

And a feeling of consolation, with great conviction, came over me. For those who have faith, who trust in God's Word, no one can take their lives from them, no matter what others do to our bodies. For those who have faith, they will, like their Messiah, give their lives freely, and by the power of the God who raised Jesus, they will take up their lives again, because they will be raised up by God.

This is what God showed to me on Sept. 11, 2001, although I did not understand it then. This is what I am receiving today from the event that was Sept. 11. I am receiving the faith to lay down my life willingly. Today is another day, but that day, the day I lay down my life with Jesus Christ, is still coming.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

... and for Syria

One of my novice brothers, a friar of the province of Central Canada, is a native of Syria. How his heart must be breaking every day over the awful events.

His brothers in Boston answered the pope's call for prayer and fasting today. We recited the Office for the Dead this afternoon. We also went to various Masses and prayer services for the people of Syria living through this nightmare. I joined a service of solemn vespers held at the Paulist Center in downtown Boston. We sang an arrangement of the Magnificat, the sublime prayer of Mary, the mother of Jesus, the Prince of Peace, that we often sang in the novitiate. I remembered the tenor harmony and let it float on top of the choir's stately and gentle performance.  

I pray this nation will listen to what the Church says and do only good things that will stop the violence, start peace, and let justice reign. I pray this nation acts generously to aid the wounded, the sick, and the refugees. I pray especially for the Congress, which must now consider what the president has asked of it, to authorize unspeakable force. Thirty percent of the members of Congress are Catholic. Do they know the just war doctrine of the Church? Do they know the doctrine of pacifism that preceded the development of the just war theory?

Do any of those Catholics really believe that adding more destructive force to the typhoon of destructive powers swirling mercilessly over the people is going to destroy the violence? 

National self-interests aside, have these lawmakers considered that to confess Jesus as Lord and to be a Christian precludes forever the use of unjust means to achieve just ends? Have they considered that the means of war may be one of those means which in our age can no longer be even remotely considered just? 

Have they considered, as the ancient apologist Tertullian did, that when Jesus Christ told Peter to sheathe his sword in the garden of Gethsemane, he effectively sheathed the sword of all who would be warriors, now and through the end of time?

May God show us, each one of us, the wisdom to speak the words of Christ and do his works of mercy and justice.

Prayer for David and Goliath

The following is a non-denominational prayer I offered this morning for the 80 Walmart workers nationwide who say they were illegally retaliated against for going on strike this summer against the corporation for better pay and working conditions and more dignified treatment. It was given outside the Walmart store in Chelmsford, Mass., and dedicated to David Coulombe, a Walmart employee there who was given a reprimand and a cut in hours for his participation in the strike.

Before I offer this prayer, let me speak the truth to power. Walmart is not God. Walmart is acting like Goliath. We do not want to be like Goliath. We want to be like David. Today we are with David. Today we are all David. And like the ancient hero of Israel, we face Goliath without heavy armor, without powerful weapons. We do not have money or great wealth. We have each other, and we have the power of love.

We do not seek anything for ourselves. We seek peace. We did not seek this conflict, but we do not fear it, either. We have not come to curse anyone. We come to offer a blessing.

Let us join together in a spirit of prayer.

We gather as persons of many faiths and of no faith, but however we believe, we gather as one people.

And whatever our beliefs, whatever our religion, we know there is something sacred about this assembly today.

Whether we believe in one God who is all good, or we believe in no God at all, we remain united in our work for the common good.

And whatever our belief about God, we know this much: greed is not our God. Injustice is not our God. Walmart is not our God.

In many of our churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples, we call one another sister and brother. In our union halls and worker centers, we call one another sister and brother. Today, in this assembly, we call David Coulombe and the Walmart 80 our brothers and sisters.

And today, with the hope of God's blessing, we ask the manager of this Walmart to recognize David as a brother. We ask the manager of this Walmart: Treat David as your brother, treat him as you would want to be treated. He has done you no wrong. Take back the punishment you illegally and unfairly imposed on him.

And to every Walmart manager we say: Pay all your workers fairly. Give all of them a living wage and the chance to work full-time. End the intimidation and the silencing. End the retaliation, for it is not holy.

And we call out to the executives and board members and shareholders of Walmart: Change, change your ways today. It is time to do business differently. It is time to do business generously. It is time for a new Walmart.

Finally, we ask Walmart to stop saying that we the people who speak out have no connection to Walmart. This is our community! You are in our community! Your workers are our brothers and sisters! Your business is our business. And for God’s sake we will not be silent about this business, and we will not keep still until we see the vindication of our beloved community.

And so today we call out to God—to a God who is present in the cry of the poor—and we call out to the absence of God—for where there is no justice, there is no God. Spirit of God, be upon us and anoint us to preach the good news to the poor. Empower us to do your justice, love your kindness, and walk humbly with you. Gladden the hearts of David and the Walmart workers and unharden the hearts of their managers. Help us stand with David through these trials until the seeds we sow here in peace are harvested in justice.

We ask for this in the name of all that is holy. And I ask for this in the name of the God of Israel, the God of Jesus, the God who casts down the mighty and lifts up the lowly, who fills the hungry and sends the rich away empty, who brought down Goliath and raised up David.


Friday, September 6, 2013


Wondering, at the moment, how to get the blogging done, when there are many other things to get done! Priorities, priorities, you know.

Those priorities are as follows:

Praying: always vital, and never more vital than today with a more activist ministry and more challenging intellectual formation thanks to Boston College. Liturgy of the Hours -- morning prayer, evening prayer, night prayer, every day. Mental prayer, every day. Eucharist, every day. Prayer with others, whenever opportunities arise. Prayer on my own, whenever and wherever I am.

Reading: in all my spare moments, and in the moments I cannot spare, too. I will be reading more and reading faster than I have been doing these last two years. Will lectio divina disappear from my practice? Heaven forbid it! I will share with you some of the titles on my syllabuses as the year unfolds and as the pages turn.

Organizing: Renewing relationships, making new relationships, gathering people and resources in a way that will build a horizontal power among religious activists, a power that can be put at the service of low-wage workers. Yes, we who have privilege are gathering our powers in order to give them away. And by this example of being and doing, we hope to call the vertically powerful who order our economic life and our society to do likewise. At least that is the aim as this young Franciscan frames it, at Mass. Interfaith Worker Justice and the Boston New Sanctuary Movement.

Agitating: it's more fun than organizing, but without good organizing, there is no agitating. In truth, most of my time at Mass. Interfaith Worker Justice and the Boston New Sanctuary Movement will be hidden from the public eye, making connections and strengthening communities that are committed to personal and corporate transformation in the world.

Cooking: it's my turn this afternoon. Here comes salmon, brown rice, Asian slaw, salad, and cookies.

Meditating: now, on the parables of the lost coin and lost sheep for a visit I will be making to the United Methodist congregation in Winthrop, Mass., next Sunday.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013


Life is a railway, and my train just got a little longer, and my locomotive is moving faster now. Time to feel the acceleration!

This morning: a meeting of one of my province's internal committees. I am the newest member of the New York/New England Capuchins' Justice, Peace, and Ecology Commission. This group of friars meets three times a year to discuss our efforts as a provincial fraternity to promote our charism of peace-building through social and economic justice and care of creation. We heard updates on two groups with whom we are affiliated, Franciscan Action Network and Franciscans International; learned more about our province's continuing efforts to be socially responsible investors; and got a report on our efforts in global solidarity with brothers in developing regions. We also took a look at internal practices and policies of the province and considered an opportunity to train our friars in ecological stewardship.

Then, for the first time in five years, I went to school. Attended my first class on the Second Vatican Council with Prof. Richard Gaillardetz. It is a lecture and seminar, so we must come as ready to voice our questions and reflections as to listen. I'll be back on campus tomorrow for my first class on feminist theologies and theory with Sr. Mary Ann Hinsdale of the order of Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

Labor Day? It was just like old times on Monday in Cambridge, with speechifying from janitors and security officers and elected officials and labor leaders. We romped through Harvard Yard to call the university to account for daring to consider layoffs of janitors at the Medical School. On the way to Harvard we stopped at another school, Cambridge College, to assert that their security officers will not be denied a union, and they must be bargained with in good faith.

Just made it home in time for evening prayer! It took an hour and twenty minutes on the subway from Boston College to Jamaica Plain. Rush hour is either the most inapt or most Orwellian turn of phrase, depending on your degree of cynicism. I pledge to keep my balance as this locomotive careens on sharp curves -- school, ministry, and family life. But it's not really the curves that are sharp; it is the velocity at which I go that makes them dangerous. Let us accelerate with care!

Sunday, September 1, 2013


Labor Day weekend is high holy days for Interfaith Worker Justice, my once and future ministry. The organization and its network of affiliated interfaith groups celebrates Labor Day at hundreds of congregations nationwide through its annual worship program, Labor in the Pulpits/on the Bimah/in the Minbar. Local IWJ groups coordinate with ministers to plan liturgies with themes on faith, work, and justice; bring workers to the congregations to speak about their struggles for dignity and their human needs; and invite people of faith to get involved in this religious movement for economic justice for all workers.

In the Greater Boston area, Mass. Interfaith Worker Justice extends Labor in the Pulpits into the fall. Your humble friar helped kick off our 2013 season of Labor in the Pulpits by speaking at the Masses celebrated this weekend at Immaculate Conception Parish in Everett. I spoke after communion about a campaign to raise the minimum wage and achieve sick days for low-wage workers. The people of the parish were welcoming, gracious, and most receptive to my appeal and call to action. It only stands to reason: Everett is very much a working-class city, and the parishioners understand the economic and moral reasons for treating workers fairly. It's a matter of common sense; it's a matter of faith. What a privilege it was to address them and to be nourished through them with the body and blood of Christ. I know they will serve, as Christ, their working neighbors as they serve one another. I hope to find many other Catholic communities like this in my travels with Mass IWJ this year.

Shortly, to meditation and evening prayer with the brothers. Perhaps some baking this evening as a kind of leisure. Tomorrow, a little more delayed gratification, as I postpone rest and continue Labor Day activities with Mass IWJ. Namely, we will join the janitors and security officers of SEIU Local 32BJ, District 615, in their annual Labor Day march for good jobs. Then, I'll have earned the right to veg out, gastronomically speaking, at our friars' cookout!

May the liberating God of Jesus, son of a carpenter, bless and protect all workers. May this gracious God bless all our labors and help us to make God's work our own on this earth. May we become co-workers in Christ, aided by all the saints, from Joseph of Nazareth to Dorothy Day.

Saturday, August 31, 2013


A full day yesterday at Boston College School of Theology and Ministry. New students, lay and ordained, secular and religious, got acquainted over a continental breakfast. The school introduced us to every member of the faculty not on sabbatical; each professor said hello and summarized his field of study, her research, his course offerings. The administrative staff took us briskly and virtually through the institution so we would know what we needed to know now. The riches of the Boston Theological Institute, the consortium of the ten Boston-area divinity schools, seminaries, and schools of theology, were revealed to the uninitiated. And returning students returned to greet us and pull us out of the bog of our first-day perplexities.

At one o'clock I paused for the celebration of the Eucharist at the chapel in the School of Theology and Ministry building. In the afternoon I met the director of the Master of Theology program and my own faculty advisor to confer over first-semester courses. Happily, I have registered for the courses I most wanted: the one on the Second Vatican Council and the other on feminist theologies.

A quick stop at the university's office of student services to grin for the camera, then obtain my student identification card; and the day was done.

Classes begin on Tuesday. Boston College, here we come.

Thursday, August 29, 2013


Meetings this afternoon with the lead organizer and board members of Massachusetts Interfaith Worker Justice, where I served in various capacities from 2006 to 2011. In between those meetings, there will be an opportunity to meet some of the hundreds of workers from Boston fast food restaurants who are on strike today for better wages.

I have been a volunteer, a paid intern, and full-time lead organizer with Mass IWJ. I remained active with the group until I left Boston in July 2011 to begin initial formation with the Capuchins. Now I aim to renew my service with Mass IWJ. I discussed this with the lead organizer this spring and met with him earlier this month to review Mass IWJ’s campaign priorities; to inventory its base of constituents and resources; and to discuss its strategy and tactics for achieving its objectives.

I have been waiting for this moment for a long time. I am eager to share my gifts and talents with the beloved community, the people of God in Boston. I have an extensive network of contacts with activist Christian ministers, both lay and ordained, Catholic as well as Protestant, students and professionals, in the Greater Boston area. Being a Capuchin does raise my profile as a public figure in the Roman Catholic Church and may help open more doors for Mass IWJ in the Archdiocese of Boston. I offer my talents for communication as an editor, writer, and public speaker. Mass IWJ needs religious activists who are good public speakers, who can preach, give presentations and workshops, prepare documents, and design publications. They need leaders who can mix with members of labor organizations as well as congregations. They need leaders who are comfortable with the lexicon of labor and the language of theology. They need people of faith who can translate between the two tongues, just as they can bring together peoples from the worlds of labor and religion.

It will, of course, take some time for these talents to bear fruit again. I have been away from the Greater Boston area for two years and have to learn again the existential realities facing workers in the region. It will take some time to be educated on current campaigns and the strategy and tactics being applied. I have to invest time and labor in re-establishing social capital. Relationships need to be renewed. This requires slow and respectful effort. Furthermore, my connections to labor are less robust than my ties to faith communities. And my network with people from faiths other than Christianity is in need of rebuilding. Finally, while my knowledge of organizing is good, I am out of practice!

As I integrate being a religious brother with the doing of ministry, I must now balance fraternal life with the Capuchins and studies at Boston College. These are significant new life commitments. I must be careful not to take on too much, or make promises I cannot fulfill. While Mass IWJ is my primary ministry commitment, it is not my only activity. For instance, I have agreed to serve on the steering committee of the Boston New Sanctuary Movement, attend the group’s monthly meetings and major events, and support its education and advocacy efforts in service to immigrant families. And I would like to be involved in one of the local parishes serving the communities of Jamaica Plain and Roxbury. 

Each brother in simple vows must find ways to integrate ministry and work for justice and peace within the Capuchin way of life, grounding these charisms within the fundamental charism of fraternity, as practiced in the setting of contemplative minority. Now it is my turn to discover how to be, how to do as a follower of Jesus in the manner of Francis.

Monday, August 26, 2013


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.

Friday, August 23, 2013


Distant motors roar
Behind the crickets' whistles
I strain to hear more

A shadow passes
Along the moony street, fresh
From Hopper's limbos

The air does not touch
I bring my hands to my lips
I breathe; I recall:

Tonight, I am the wind. I am the light.
I am the world tonight.
The world is not enough.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Four O'Clock Prayer

God ever ancient and ever new,

Make me new again,
Before I get old once.

You who read me and know my story,
Whose life is life itself and the light of glory,

Feed me the pith of the marrow of the bone in the meat of the flesh.
Spare me the dust of the rind of the rotten and scrawny fruit.

Make me stride upon a hard road.
It is no kindness to wander softly through sand-blown gardens.

You who give the word that I cannot make,
Make me know the words I know how to spell.

You who bid me to breathe your love into me,
Deliver me from these gasps
Of suffocated poetry

Inflate this sagging sac
(If only it would burst!)

Give form to this triumph of deformity
And conform it to you
To reform me

Until I know nothing better
Than to relive your life
So to live this life
Once and for all
In me.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Seventh to Heaven

Bro. Robert Maher, a Capuchin who served for years in the missions of Guam and Hawaii, died yesterday after falling and suffering a severe brain hemorrhage. He was 66 years old.

His funeral is on Saturday at our province's motherhouse in Yonkers, N.Y. Here comes another day trip, another day of brotherhood intensified by a rite of passage observed with intimacy and solemnity.

From our province, Brother Bob is the third friar to die this month, the fourth in two months, the sixth this year, the seventh in the last twelve months.

The older friars tell me this has happened before, where the deaths of brothers occur in clusters. Talk about doing everything in fraternity and never only on our own: our brothers do everything, even dying, together.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Ramping Up

Both friaries, San Lorenzo and Saint Francis of Assisi, are at capacity with the formators and student friars and guests who are here for the workshops on the Capuchin Constitutions. The first session begins this afternoon. We will be meeting in the San Lorenzo dining room-cum-conference room with our presenter, Bro. Regis Armstrong.

This week we will have meditation, prayer, and Eucharist mid-morning. This evening and for the remainder of the week, after meditation and prayer, dinner for up to 25 friars.

It feels good to have this many brothers around. Last evening's rite of renewal of vows and festive meal were very good. A full chapel and full table give me cause for rejoicing.

This morning, a few chores and errands. Conferred with the formation director about my fall class schedule (pending registration), formation meetings, and the selection of a new spiritual director while I reside in Boston.

At the moment it feels like we are going gradually, very gradually, on the way. It is like driving at 5 miles per hour onto the on-ramp, or taxiing lightly on the tarmac toward the runway. We are approaching the takeoff point slowly, casually, even. But in two weeks, after Labor Day, look out! I will have all the work I can handle: physical, mental, and spiritual labor.

It's not like me to do anything in half-measures. But this year the aim is to integrate part-time study and part-time ministry with full-time fraternity in a spirit of prayer and minority. A compromise with the works of mercy and justice? A cutting of corners instead of total commitment? Or common sense, good self-care?

Formerly I carried on the work God gave me without grounding it in the depth of my being. Now I look to take up that work again, but "with all my heart." This is not a platitude; this is a new resolution. To work with full devotion means to let the work proceed from the very life God has given me. This life has to be nourished in prayer and worship. This life has to be nourished in the communion that comes from participation in life of the body of Christ. This communion must be lived from within the soul; it must be lived at the most local level, in the household, in one's family. This I must do with my religious family, the Capuchins; my extended spiritual family in Christ, all my sisters and brothers who follow Jesus; and all my neighbors, everyone God gives me to love in this neighborhood, this city, this country, this world.

My studies, my ministries, my works: these were never my life. These could never give me life. God is the source of my life. Let me continue to live God's life, and let the labors, mental and spiritual, rise up gradually from it. It is better now to ramp up than to leap off and risk leaving behind the being that God bids me to bring to the work of proclaiming and living the kin(g)dom of heaven.

Sunday, August 18, 2013


We are almost a full household -- still waiting for the return of one more of our student friars. We are just about a full friary, what with our guests here and across the corner at Saint Francis of Assisi Friary. After Mass today -- I'll be attending at a parish where our Capuchin brother, Cardinal Sean O'Malley, is presiding -- I'll be in the kitchen baking and cooking for our evening meal. It's a special occasion this evening, in that two returning student friars are renewing their simple vows for one more year.

Tomorrow, we begin our week of workshops on the Capuchin Constitutions. Fitting that this week of reflection and renewal of our Franciscan mind begins with a witness to the renewal of our two brothers' commitment to consecrated life.

Okay, off to worship. I hope the week to come provokes holy conversation, meditation, prayer, and contemplation. Maybe some of the fruits of our listening and consideration will surface here. Maybe!

Friday, August 16, 2013

There and Back Again

Over eight hours on the road to New Paltz, N.Y., and back, for the three hours we stayed at Saint Joseph Parish to celebrate the life of Bro. Barnabas Keck, who died on Tuesday. Here is a biography of our brother, who would have marked the 70th anniversary of his joining the order on Aug. 31. Beautiful to see the church filled with the people of the parish, whom Brother Barnabas served as priest for the last sixteen years of his life. Plenty of friars were there, too, as well as dignitaries of the Knights of Columbus and an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of New York. But we alone would not have been able to fill the church; only the faithful of the parish could do that. Splendid music, too, from the people of the parish who swelled the ranks of their choir.

But for all the positive notes sounded this day, I am feeling wiped out again, not from the liturgy and the reception, but from the traveling. I hate riding in automobiles. Never mind driving; I don't even want to ride as a passenger. I deeply dislike going places in cars. It's not simple.

Ah, to bed now and to make a new start of it tomorrow. We are preparing for the arrival of our two housemates who are already in simple vows and returning from vacation and summer pastoral assignments. They will renew their vows for one more year on Sunday evening. We are also getting ready to host the brothers who are staying with us for the week-long workshop on the Capuchin Constitutions. We will be getting our house and grounds in good order for the week to come. All hands will be helping with the meals; surely yours truly will be busy baking some good things.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Friends at a Former Home

Backtracking from yesterday....

Some light chores around the house during the day: cleaning the bathrooms and showers on my floor, cleaning the exterior of the basement-level windows, weeding the landscaping on the front property of San Lorenzo Friary.

In the evening, I visited Beacon Hill Friends House, my home for two years, for a presentation by an alumna of the house, now a Unitarian Universalist minister in Bedford, on children's books and their role in bereavement and healing. I had a few motivations for attending. First, as an uncle with a young nephew and younger niece, I would like to explore how to talk simply and humanly about death and dying with them as they grow up. Second, I admire the genius of the authors and illustrators of children's literature. It takes an uncommon creativity to communicate with love and with truth to our youngest persons. (Once, for a final exam, a theology professor of my acquaintance assigned her students to write a sermon for a six-year-old. Would that I had been in that class! I envied those students.) Third, with the deaths of six Capuchin friars, three recently, I desire to grieve and mourn well.

Finally and hope-fully, I returned to Beacon Hill Friends House in anticipation of reunions, both expected and unexpected. I did see a friend I expected to see, and I was delighted to encounter other former housemates. It was good to be back in the old parlor with my Quaker sisters and brothers. The event last night reminded me of the charm of this intentional community and of the good moments over the two years I lived at the Quaker meeting-house.

Those years were also challenging times for me personally. Now, I have been living in a religious community for two years and concentrating primarily on "domestic discipleship," being "Church at home," practicing hospitality with my brothers. It's hard work! I can better appreciate how special the intentional community at Beacon Hill Friends House is ... and how much effort it takes to create and sustain a household of light, joy, and peace. I realize now what I took for granted then.

Today, to continue the weeding for a little while this morning and afternoon. Then, to the walking tour of downtown Boston, an activity we postponed from Tuesday because of inclement weather.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Another Brother in the New Creation

Zachary Grant,
Walter O'Brien,
Ephrem Karwowski,
Darius DeVito,
Christopher Varley ...

... and now Bro. Barnabas Keck, who left this life this morning at the age of eighty-nine. The sixth of our Capuchin brothers to go back to God in the last twelve months.

Our brothers are zealous to be born into the new creation. Look how they hasten. May the eternal rest we ask of God for them be nothing less than the enjoyment of the life that can never die.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Brother Dell

This is being written from the new computer the guardian has provided for my use. Thank you, Brother Guardian; thank you, Brother Dell. Spent the evening doing setup and installation. Now we're supposedly secure and up to date. I am online, which is the main thing! And I am navigating the applications I need, though I am a little befuddled and a little more bemused by the way many things about desktop computers have changed!

Down to Yonkers and back to Boston today for the funeral of Bro. Christopher Varley. It was very good to be there, having missed the previous four funerals of the last twelve months. But now I am wiped spiritually. A lot of travel, and a lot of fraternity, for one day: it enervates me.

Tomorrow morning, some shopping for basic home and office supplies. Then, in the afternoon, time to play tour guide for my post-novice brothers as we head to downtown Boston to explore and dine out for dinner.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Full Days

A full day today:

Mass at nine o'clock this morning with the community of Poor Clare sisters in Jamaica Plain, where, instead of observing the Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, they were permitted to celebrate the feast of their founder, Saint Clare of Assisi, the first Franciscan woman religious. Normally, Sunday trumps whatever saint's feast day may coincide, but exceptions can be made for religious communities whose patron or founder is that saint. So today we joined our sisters in rejoicing over the radical Gospel witness of Clare.

Then, from Jamaica Plain to Cambridge via the Orange Line and Red Line to catch up with some of my BU seminary friends just as the worship at Harvard-Epworth United Methodist Church was concluding. We had lunch at a vegetarian-vegan friendly breakfast-and-sandwich shop in Harvard Square. And eco-friendly, too: they compost everything, including the plastic cups and cutlery! Hooray for civilization. We all proceeded to a neighborhood playground off of Central Square for an hour of ping-pong on concrete table tennis tables (yours truly emerged undefeated) before returning to my friends' house to learn how to play euchre (I learned fast and enjoyed beginners' luck).

Back at San Lorenzo Friary in time for meditation and evening prayer, then a pasta dinner. A good heart-to-heart conversation with my brother later in the evening, and now an early rest for tomorrow's full day. Our fraternity will be travelling to Yonkers and back for the funeral of one of our friars, Bro. Christopher Varley. After Bros. Zachary Grant, Walter O'Brien, Ephrem Karwowski, and Darius DeVito, he is the fifth brother to depart this life in the last twelve months. Here is a remembrance of him from the Province of Saint Mary. Pray for a safe journey for all the brothers coming to Yonkers to pay their respects. As we send our prayers up to the angels carrying Christopher speedily to the world to come, may those same angels speed us safely to our brother and back to our respective friaries.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Brother Ally

In the fall of 2009 I helped to organize a Boston-area chapter of the New Sanctuary Movement, an interfaith coalition of activists and congregations committed to supporting immigrants in the U.S. who are suffering because of unjust treatment from the state, from employers, and from their neighbors. The Boston New Sanctuary Movement aims to ally itself with immigrant families and organizations that advocate on their behalf for just and humane immigration policies, fair treatment from employers, and an end to discrimination. Through our own efforts at education, we seek to recruit and train lay and ordained religious leaders to speak from the values of their tradition for the dignity and well-being of our immigrant sisters and brothers. Through our efforts at advocacy, speaking truth to power and taking direct action in the corridors of political and economic power, we hope to bring about positive social change for immigrant families.

Before I joined the Capuchins I was a member of the steering committee for our chapter. Now that I have returned to Boston I have been brought back on to the steering committee.

This morning I went to First Parish in Brookline, a Unitarian Universalist congregation, to attend an antiracism workshop our steering committee organized. The purpose was to make us conscious of racism on the internal, interpersonal, institutional, and structural levels; and then to reflect on what it means to be an ally to marginalized peoples -- to name ourselves as such and make this identity a key to working faithfully and effectively for more just communities.

For me, at this moment, being an ally has to do with putting my privileges (or gifts and talents, if you will) at the service of my suffering neighbor; and doing so in a way that allows them to decide how those privileges, those gifts, those talents, are to be used, not me. Just as I must put my innate abilities and acquired skills at the disposal of my province and the brothers, so would I do for the least among us. And thus is my obedience made complete.

In thanking the women who organized and conducted this workshop, I lifted up in gratitude their courage and commitment to diversity and equity in the Boston New Sanctuary Movement. I am a better person for knowing these women, more mindful of the things I carry in my "knapsack of privilege." As Franciscans living the vow of poverty know, material poverty is the easy part. Spiritual poverty, or minority, or solidarity with the poor, is the hard part. Even when you have given away your material things, you still hold on to other forms of privilege: social capital, cultural hegemony, the theological values of your group enshrined in secular policy, etc. But in the company of my friends in the New Sanctuary Movement, Interfaith Worker Justice, I can learn how to give away even these "sticky" spiritual and social gifts for the common good, for all peoples. Without their knowing it, these sisters hold me accountable to my vow of poverty!

As I take up ministry of service to low-wage workers and to immigrants through Interfaith Worker Justice and the New Sanctuary Movement, I look forward to learning from my fellow aspiring allies of the disinherited how to be a better lesser brother with the poor.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Food for the Body and Soul

Feeling really good about the meal I served to the brothers this evening. This is the first full-course meal I prepared solo for the brothers since postulancy in Brooklyn. I made a quinoa and vegetable pilaf, roasted sweet potatoes with pepper and onion, and roasted cod. For dessert, it was an orange-almond polenta cake dusted with confectioners' sugar. It was an enjoyable afternoon, learning where the cooking utensils were, discovering our appliances and seeing how they work, making the recipes come to life. Even the grocery shopping -- accomplished in spite of pouring rain, lumbering four soggy cloth bags from Stop & Shop to the subway to our house -- was a satisfying experience. The following cookbook is my new best friend, my most trusted kitchen helper:

The Moosewood Collective. Moosewood Restaurant Simple Suppers. New York: Clarkson Potter, 2005.

Way to go, brothers, for bringing a taste of Ithaca, N.Y., to Jamaica Plain!

While we're on the subject of vegetarian meals, this cookbook will also see much use in the years to come:

The Vegetarian Resource Group. Vegan Handbook (Debra Wasserman and Reed Mangels, eds.) Baltimore, Md.: The Vegetarian Resource Group.

Moving associationally along from food for the body to food for the soul, the following books, found here at the friary, are on my reading list:

Arendt, Hannah. Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. New York: Penguin, 1991.

Freud, Sigmund. Civilization and Its Discontents (trans. and ed. by James Strachey). New York: W.W. Norton, 1961.

It must be the feast of Saint Edith Stein that has me in the mood for readings in philosophy and psychology from the stormy mid-20th century.

Also the following from the friary:

Kennedy, Eugene. The Now and Future Church. Garden City, N.Y.: Image, 1985. This one is subtitled "The Psychology of Being an American Catholic." Tell me more....

Finally, from my own collection of theological texts, arrived this week after one year in storage:

Cone, James. Martin & Malcolm & America: A Dream or a Nightmare. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis, 1991.

Again, something about the mid-20th century is attracting me, bidding me go back to a time before I was born. Something is telling me to listen and understand, before the hard-won wisdom of those difficult decades is lost and we condemn ourselves to times even harder than our parents and grandparents endured.

So much to read! Then there are the Catholic periodicals which beckon me: America, Commonweal, National Catholic Reporter. When my studies begin, will there be any time for leisure reading, or to follow my own intellectual pursuits outside insurmountable syllabuses?

Bring the Water!

Morning prayer with the brothers in our chapel, but no Mass, because none of our priest friars are available to celebrate the Eucharist. So I will head downtown to Saint Anthony Shrine, where the Franciscan Friars live and serve the women and men who work in the business district, and the women and men who have nowhere to go and no work to do.

Running some errands, too: first, to purchase CharlieCards from the MBTA so my brothers who are new to Boston can get around by subway and bus. Then, to the supermarket for the groceries I need to prepare dinner this evening.

At some point I will sit down with my formation director to discuss the shape of the ministries I will be doing.

Been meditating this week on life in "Israel" and life in "Egypt," faith and fear, and selflessness and selfishness. The grumbling of the Israelites; the faith of the Canaanite woman; the reluctance of Moses: these stories convict me. How hard it is to de-center yourself! How hard it is to remember that God is the center of your life, your very existence! For the rest of my life I will be doing penance for being a usurper of privilege, or so I assure myself in chapel every morning. But where am I at the end of the day? Back on the golden throne I carved for myself? Should I not instead have no seat of my own but only sore knees and dirty, aching feet?

The Scripture shows that God was displeased with Moses because he was unwilling to satisfy the needs of the thirsting people and thus reveal the tender compassion of God. Granted, they were ungrateful for being freed from the oppression of Egypt, but they were thirsting nonetheless. Why the roughness with his people? Why the exclamation, “Listen to me, you rebels! Are we to bring water for you out of this rock?”

On the other hand, is not God unnecessarily rough on Moses? God's punishment on Moses -- being denied entry into the Promised Land -- seems exceedingly harsh; after all, Moses, albeit grudgingly, did strike the rock to release the life-giving water. But Moses' behavior at that moment of crisis in Massah and Meribah shows that even he still had too much of Egypt in him. Instead of giving God's gifts generously and graciously, he lorded it over the unhappy Israelites, taunting them, calling them rebels, performing the miracle out of spite and the desire to assert his authority over them.

In today's Gospel reading Jesus teaches us to learn from Moses' pride. We cannot serve God and continue going about making ourselves the master of our selves, much less the master of others. God is determined to free us from the suffering we bear because of other people's selfishness. But this is not so we can turn the tables on our oppressors and become their masters. God is also determined to free others, both the just and unjust, from the suffering they bear because of our own selfishness.

Will I let go of myself? Will I stop hugging the rock that bears the life-giving water, clinging to it for myself alone? Will I bring the water to others?

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Praying ...

... for people who have too little work or no work at all, and for people who have too much work to do; and for both peoples, who cannot afford food, shelter, or medicine.
... that we Capuchins may be closer brothers to people who work dreadfully hard to produce the food we eat, the clothing we wear, and all the conveniences we enjoy.
... for people who struggle in the clutches of addiction and mental illness.
... that we Capuchins may know speak words and do good works of healing for them, even if we do not know how to cure their ills.
... for the poor who wander the streets of our neighborhood, hungry and homeless and in emotional and physical pain.
... that we Capuchins may always meet them open-hearted and open-handed, never turning them away with nothing, never giving them anything that will harm, but filling them with good things.
... for our neighbors on Shepton Street in Dorchester, who were jarred by a shootout between police and suspects on Wednesday. (I lived on Shepton Street from August 2010 to July 2011. Today's newspaper described an altercation between undercover officers and suspects leading to gunfire, including an alleged drive-by shooting from a vehicle that turned onto Shepton from Dorchester Avenue.) Unspeakable.
... that we Capuchins may have the courage to remain when violence breaks out in our midst.
... for our sick friends and relatives, especially a friend in Cambridge who is suffering from cancer and severe back pain.
... that we Capuchins may care for the bodily needs of all our sisters and brothers, each of us according to the gifts and talents we have been given, without counting the cost.
... for ourselves, when we are too afraid to reach out when others in need come to us at inconvenient times asking for our help.
... that we Capuchins may show the faith of true Israelites when challenged by the surpassing faith of a Gentile.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Statement of Purpose

In September I will begin the Master of Theology program at Boston College School of Theology and Ministry. Yesterday I was considering my plan of study, reviewing the course catalogs for the School of Theology and Ministry and the Department of Theology in the College of Arts and Sciences. My orientation will be on Aug. 29 and 30. 

Over the next year and two I hope to blog a bit about my experiences at Boston College and how my intellectual formation is influenced by and shapes my identity as a Capuchin friar. Meanwhile, as I ponder my return to formal theological studies, I post for your consideration the personal statement I submitted to the School of Theology and Ministry board of admissions in May.

In the course of my wanderings all I have wanted is to be a person, a Christian, a follower of Jesus, one who loves God and all people. I have been an editor in New York, a teacher in Baltimore, and a community organizer in Boston. Now I am a brother on pilgrimage with the Capuchin Franciscans. Over the last two years I have migrated from New York to Kansas to California with the friars. In a little while I will return to Boston as a vowed religious.
The path of initial formation with the Capuchins brings me to Boston College School of Theology and Ministry for continuing education. I earned a Master of Divinity degree five years ago. By learning theology, I learned how I wanted to live—by the Gospel. By resuming theological studies, I seek to live the Gospel better.
My spiritual awakening began at Cornell University, where I learned how to think and to see the world with my own senses. I collided with different realities, and in the cracking of my worldview I came to realize how desperate I was to believe. My soul yearned for the spirit of God. And God began to whisper a new word and a new story to teach me living truth. God whispered to me that there are things more important than work, family, nation, and self. God whispered doubts about the American Dream my parents and educators told me about and gave me a new story—the story of the people of God.
God did this not so I would condemn my elders, who never told me about the Gospel, but to love them more in their spiritual poverty and mine. God did this not so I would turn my back on a world that seems built to thwart all possibility of an encounter with the living God, but to be in the world more and love in it so that God’s presence might shine more brightly. My spiritual awakening was an awakening into relationship and into community.
By the time I began theological studies at Boston University in 2005, I had long shaken my stupor. I was confirmed in the Catholic faith on Pentecost in 2000. I believe my felt experience of the sacrament of confirmation was a Spirit-filled encounter with the God of Jesus Christ. I felt free; I felt loved. I moved to Boston to learn better how to love this God who loved me and set me free. (Because of this love, I previously spent two years grinding through the privations of urban mission in Baltimore, including one year teaching grammar and math at a GED center and one year teaching religion to inner-city youth at a Catholic school.) God began to show me what to do. If I wanted to know and love this God, I would work for the transformation of broken relationships. What began as an intellectual assent to the truth of Catholic social teaching became a personal concern for workers and the employers who do them wrong; immigrants and their hostile U.S. neighbors; prisoners and a scorning society; and the homeless and the housed who shun them. The God who rescued me from isolation shattered my indifference to others.
For three years I practiced public discipleship, working for the conversion of society as an organizer mobilizing churches. Then in 2011, I joined the Capuchins to renew my own conversion, on the level of my personal relationship with God and my interpersonal relationships. As novitiate ends and post-novitiate draws near, I am eager to integrate being and doing and practice the Gospel on both personal and social levels.
Why theological studies now? The people of God in the United States today live among neighbors who classify themselves as “spiritual, not religious” and, increasingly, “neither spiritual nor religious.” Many in the Church neither desire nor know how to speak to them. In our own house, we live with sisters and brothers who have faith in Jesus but no confidence in the Church of Christ. We struggle to live the Gospel together. Conversely, among Church loyalists, both lay and clerical, I sense a strain of anti-elitism: a distrust of well-educated laypersons who are exploring and expanding the Catholic intellectual tradition in its breadth, depth, plurality, and ambiguity. If a “spiritual, not religious” Christian imperils a living, life-giving tradition by severing the person of Christ from the community of believers, then an “intellectual, not academic” believer does the same by taking the name of Jesus but not the language our most thoughtful Christians use to approach him. Among Catholics, the “spiritual, not religious” and “intellectual, not academic” are falling into opposite camps, with the lay “renegades” in the former and the loyalists in the latter.
I wish to bridge the divide between these groups. I wish to study the nature of the Church, understanding the much-contested Second Vatican Council; the nature of Christ, understood from mainstream (magisterial) and marginal (liberation and feminist) perspectives; our social doctrine in its theological and philosophical foundations; and the prophetic tradition, woven like a golden thread into Scripture from the Hebrew prophets to the Gospels. I would do this as a Franciscan developing a vernacular theology, a practical personalism leading to a program of social action in covenant with all Catholics, all Christians, people of all faiths, and people of good will.
As a Capuchin, I am called to a life of continual transformation, conforming myself to the life of Jesus Christ by living the Gospel after the example of Francis of Assisi. As a lay religious minister, it is my work to make a space where the justice and compassion of Christ becomes real. Those who can name reality make reality. I want to speak and act in Christ in such a way as to encompass different realities: not to annihilate them or assimilate them into my own, but to describe them, criticize them, and draw them closer together, within the ultimate reality of God, into a new shared reality. This is the project I bring to the School of Theology and Ministry.