Sunday, February 21, 2010

A Rebellious Saint

At a time when those seen as “rebels” within the Church are being to called to either repent or leave; the Holy Spirit inspires the Church to canonize a “rebellious” sister. There has been news of the Pope Benedict XVI intention to canonize Sister Mary MacKillop of Australia. She will become the first Australian saint.

She was the foundress of a teaching congregation, the Sisters of Saint Joseph of the Sacred Heart, in 1866. They established schools, as well as orphanages, and women’s shelters. However, Sister Mary ran into conflict with Laurence Sheil, the Bishop of Brisbane over the congregations’ rule of life. Frustrated over Sister Mary’s apparent disobedience, he excommunicated her. He would later change his mind, and lifted the excommunication after six months. She would eventually gain papal approval of her congregation in 1888.

In the years leading up to that approval, she continued to run afoul of church hierarchy. After serving as Superior General of the congregation for ten years, she was removed by Patrick Francis Moran, Archbishop of Sydney. In 1899, her sisters returned her to the office. She died in 1909. Her canonization will take place in October 2010.

Friday, February 19, 2010

A Reflection on Ash Wednesday

Every Ash Wednesday, the Franciscan church I attend, begins its annual fundraising appeal. So I was standing in the rear of one of the chapels, passing out appeal envelopes to people as they were leaving the church. As I stood there, I was observing the people coming in to receive their ashes. I saw men and women coming in dressed in business suits; street people in their worn coats. I saw young women coming in with their children; elderly slowly making their way forward. There were white and black; Asian and Hispanic. Some were blessed with easy lives, while others have struggled. Yet, all of them heard the same admonition: “Remember, thou art dust, and to dust you shall return.”

I was reminded of something St. Francis of Assisi wrote in his Fifth Admonition: “What have you to be proud of? If you were so clever and learned that you knew everything and could speak every language, so that the things of heaven were an open book to you, still you could not boast of that. Any of the devils knew more about the things of heaven, and knows more about the things of earth, than any human being, even one who might have received from God a special revelation of the highest wisdom. If you were the most handsome and the richest man in the world, and could work wonders and drive out devils, all that would be something extrinsic to you; it would not belong to you and you could not boast of it. But there is one thing of which we can boast; we can boast of our humiliations (cf.2 Cor. 12: 15) and in taking up daily the holy cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

"Fruits of Penance," My February Fraternity Newsletter Column

“All who love the Lord with their whole heart, with their whole soul and mind, with all their strength (cf. MK 12:30), and love their neighbors as themselves (cf. Mt 22:39) and hate their bodies with their vices and sins, and receive the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, and produce worthy fruits of penance.” (Exhortation of St. Francis to the Brothers and Sisters of Penance, Chap. 1)

“United by their vocation as
brothers and sisters of penance
, and motivated by the dynamic power of the gospel, let them conform their thoughts and deeds to those of Christ by means of that radical interior change which the gospel itself calls conversion. Human frailty makes it necessary that this conversion be carried out daily.” (Art. 7a, SFO Rule)

Saint Francis was constantly reminding his followers that they could never be satisfied with the level of progress they may have made trying to live the Gospel life. He is quoted as saying in the later years of his life,” Brothers, let us begin again, because up until now we have done nothing.” He recognized that the spiritual journey is never over, that we will be traveling it every day.

We all can become complacent about where we are in our relationship with God. The upcoming season of Lent provides us with an opportunity to do a reality check on that relationship, an opportunity to deepen that relationship. The Church calls us to intensify our practice of the spiritual disciplines of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Lent gives us the inspiration, the nudge, to spend more time in solitude, reading and reflecting on Scripture, letting the Holy Spirit speak to our hearts. We then can see if we are making a relationship with God a priority for us; if we are letting the Spirit inspire us to greater acts of charity; if we are really letting the Gospel of Christ guide us in our daily lives.

Our Rule and this season of Lent both remind us that the process of conversion is never finished, never over, no matter how long we have been professed. Each day we must answer anew the call of Jesus to pick up our cross and follow Him.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The New Missal is Coming! (Eventually)

“The clerics should celebrate the liturgy, praying for the living and the dead, like the clerics of the Roman Curia.” (From Chapter 3, the Earlier Rule of the Order of Friars Minor Regula non bullatta).

A few days ago the National Catholic Reporter, on their website, posted two stories from the Catholic News Service, concerning the release of the new Missal, wit new translations of the liturgical prayers. One speculated on the possible date for the release of the missal in the U. S. The other story was on plans to prepare the clergy and laity for the release.

Now I consider myself a center leftist amateur liturgist. I grew up with both the pre Vatican II Mass with the Latin; and the post Vatican II Mass in English. While I agree with goal expressed by a U S bishops’ expert, of installing a more intense sense of reverence, the language must also speak to people. I have seen some of the examples on the USCCB website; some of the words used in the translations are either too academic; or too formal.

I think what we are seeing is the constant tension between the need for uniformity in liturgy and liturgy that speaks to a people of a certain culture or time. It has been a conflict that has existed since the early days of the Church, when each region and nation had its own unique liturgy. As papal authority became more established, the Roman liturgy became the norm in Europe.

Because we are a universal Church, our liturgy needs to be celebrated with the same format and words. But because our Church is made up of diverse cultures, our liturgy needs to be flexible enough to incorporate signs, symbols and language of a particular people, so that it will touch their minds and their hearts.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

"A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words"

There is an old saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” This cliché came to mind when I saw the picture of Franc Cardinal Rode on the website, Ad Dominum. Cardinal Rode oversees the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, and is responsible for initiating the Apostolic Visitation of America’s congregations of religious sisters. He has also been commenting on the state of religious brotherhoods. If I was to judge by the picture of him in all the splendor of the cardinal robes and court, I would get the impression that he wants to turn back the clock; back to a time when Vatican cardinals ruled and clergy and laity obeyed.

I would like to contrast that picture with the one of Boston’s Cardinal Archbishop, Sean O’Malley OFM Cap. Ever since he came to Boston, he has continued to wear his Capuchin habit during his work days, even after he was made a Cardinal. To help with the Archdiocese’s financial crisis, he sold the mansion that was the Cardinal’s Residence; and has lived in the rectory of Holy Cross Cathedral. The only time you see him wearing the scarlet is when protocol requires it.

Now Cardinal Sean and Cardinal Rode may share similar views on many issues. But when you compare the two styles, which attracts more to the Gospel life?

Monday, February 1, 2010


“This holy man (Francis of Assisi) insisted that spiritual joy was an infallible remedy against a thousand snares and tricks of the enemy. He used to say: ‘The devil is most delighted when he can steal the joy of spirit from a servant of God. He carries dust which he tries to throw into the tiniest openings of the conscience, to dirty a clear mind and a clean life. But if spiritual joy fills the heart; the serpent casts its poison in vain. The devils cannot harm a servant of Christ when they see him filled with holy cheerfulness. But when the spirit is teary-eyed, feeling abandoned and sad, it will easily be swallowed up in sorrow, or else be carried away toward empty enjoyment.’ The saint therefore always strove to keep a joyful heart, to preserve the anointing of the spirit and the oil of gladness.

He avoided very carefully the dangerous disease of acedia, so that when he felt even a little of it slipping into his heart, he quickly rushed to prayer. For he used to say: ‘When a servant of God gets disturbed about something, as often happens, he must get up at once to pray and remain before the most High Father until he gives back to him the joy of his salvation. But if he delays, staying in sadness, that Babylonian sickness will grow and, unless scrubbed with tears, it will produce in the heart permanent
rust.’” (Chap. LXXXVIII, The Remembrance of the Desire of a Soul by Thomas of Celano)

When I read the above, it was as if it had been addressed to me. Sometimes the trials, stresses, and tribulations of life can get to be too much. One can find prayer dry and unfulfilling. A person can lose focus; find it difficult to read, to write, to blog. I saw myself definitely suffering the symptoms of Acedia.

I found a definition of Acedia as “a type of spiritual discouragement that saddens the soul, it causes a loss of interest in the spiritual life,” (P.329, Francis of Assisi, The Founder). Think of it as spiritual depression. Early Christian spiritual fathers and mothers knew about, wrote about, and how to fight it. Spiritual author Kathleen Norris wrote a book on Acedia, and how it affected her. (I will have to read that one.)

In dealing with Acedia, I think religious have an advantage over lay people, in that, they can fall back on the community’s discipline of prayer and work. This structure gives them the chance to reconnect with God. For us laity, this is harder, because it can be so easy to give up a practice of prayer, of spiritual reading; of closing one’s heart; and at least superficially, feel no lost. It is now that I should listen to the words of Francis, turn to prayer, open myself to the Father, ask for His help, for His light; and trust that He will be there for me.