November 19, 2016

Priestly Vocations Ramble/Rant

That tweet is from the other day. Given responses, it seems to have hit some particular nail on the head. In thinking about it I decided it needed some follow-up for fairness sake.

First the context. It was an early evening and the lady had come to the parish office to ask to schedule a Mass intention. But she couldn't have the day she wanted because it was taken. So she was getting frustrated and got loud and a little rude with the poor high school student who was working reception that night. So I either overheard or was called--I don't remember how it happened--but I intervened. Mostly I was strong with the lady to check her rudeness with the kid. I had told the kids who worked reception in the late afternoons and evenings that if anyone ever came in and gave them a hard time or made them uncomfortable to call me right away and I would come and fix them good. In those days I had a very special interest in defending the dignity of those kids who worked in the parish office, and for very particular and bitter reasons which maybe someday I'll have a chance to share with you dear readers.

But the truth was also that the whole question of Mass intentions and their calendaring was a difficult thing for me when I was in the parish. On the theological level, I found the whole situation confused. At funerals--and we did a lot of them--everyone spoke and prayed, and expected you to speak and pray, with the happy presumption that the deceased had already safely arrived in the blessed rest of heaven. But then there was also a huge demand for Masses for the same deceased persons. Why? I thought, if you are so sure that they have concluded their journey to God and are at happy peace in his presence?

So then I realized that the Masses scheduled for the dead were not to pray for them on their journey toward the fullness of salvation, but to commemorate their memory. Now there's nothing bad about commemorating the dead. Indeed, it's a good and noble thing. But you don't need a Mass intention to do it. There are lots of other ways. So as people were fighting over the relatively few scheduled Mass intentions we had--few in comparison with the dead to be remembered anyway--I wished there was a way to privilege those folks who saw this as a way to pray for the dead and not just to honor their memory. It's not to say that a Mass for a deceased can't be both/and, but you see my point.

Anyway, enough context. On to the content. Priestly vocations and the parent who never would have thought of one her sons being a priest.

Yes, I chided the lady for considering unimaginable the thought of one of her sons entering the priesthood despite the fact that she had clear expectations of what priestly services ought to be available to her on demand. That being said, parental encouragement does not make a vocation. It might support one, but it doesn't make one. In fact, men who enter the priesthood to please parents--usually mothers--often end badly. Sometimes the priesthood is a solution for a young Catholic man enmeshed with his mother; it lets him maintain the family system. But this isn't a good thing either. A priest once bragged to me that he had the vestments for his first Mass made to incorporate the material from his mother's wedding dress. I said that's nice but I was a little creeped out.

In fact, the lives of the saints are full of people who entered religious life or priesthood over the objections of family. St. Francis's father locked him up in the basement. St. Clare ran away from home at night and was pursued by her relatives. And milder versions of such situations are nothing unusual for priests and religious, even those from Catholic families. Perhaps them especially.

But this doesn't mean that the Church doesn't have the obligation to help to recognize, nurture, and support vocations to the priesthood. And the family forms part of this. Here perhaps it's better to speak of family in a larger sense; the extended family, the parish family.

This goes with some of my basic faith about vocations to the priesthood and religious life. I believe God gives the Church all the vocations to priesthood that she needs.

To get at what I mean, I'll share a sort of counter-example that might be startling. When I was in theology studies I had a woman classmate who found herself in a rather angst-ridden situation because she thought she had a vocation to be a Catholic priest. One of our professors said, and quite flatly I might add, that she did not. How was this professor so sure? Because, he said, God is not so unkind as to put someone in an 'existentially impossible' situation.

Now that statement has all kinds of theological and ecclesiological beliefs underneath it, and we could tease them out and make them explicit. Any I bet if we did they would illustrate for us the weakness of some of our faith in the Holy Spirit.

So, it's my belief that God is not so unkind as to put his churches in the impossible situation of needing sacred ministry and pastoral care but not furnishing the vocations to the priesthood that provide it.

So if there seems to be a shortage of priests--and I'm not sure there is in every sense that such a thing is sometimes asserted--then either we are making poor use of the priest manpower we have, e.g. staffing (and heating!) several churches that are only partially full on a Sunday--or there are graces of the vocation to priesthood that are going unrecognized and do not receive whatever support they need to come to fruition.

So let's keep praying for vocations. But not in the sense that the vocations to the priesthood that the Church needs have to be squeezed out of a stingy deity. Rather, let us thank God for the abundance of graces he pours out on his Church through the Holy Spirit which animates her life. Thank him for the vocations he gives to his people, to marriage, to all different kinds of consecration, and to sacred ministry and other forms of spiritual paternity and maternity. And let's pray for the wisdom and spiritual insight to recognize, encourage, and nurture these vocations in ourselves and each other.

November 7, 2016

All Franciscan Souls Ramble

On Saturday, in the Mass I celebrated with the Capuchin Sisters of Mother Rubatto and in the Liturgy of the Hours here at home, we had the Commemoration of all the Franciscan Faithful Departed, or All Franciscan or All Seraphic Souls.

Sister Death presides over the friars' cemetery, Yonkers, New York

I like how we Franciscans have our own All Souls Day. It's like a family thing; just as in a family folks might take care to have Masses celebrated for their dear departed, so we Franciscans have a liturgical day for ours. I forget how we do it at home in the USA, but here in Italy this day always gets scheduled for the first totally free liturgical day after November 2. So this year, having duly celebrated the days for Martin de Porres and Charles Borromeo, it was this past Saturday.

The gospel for the Mass was from St. John.

November 1, 2016


The feast of All Saints today and the commemoration of All Souls tomorrow are perfect opportunities to recall to ourselves the catholicity of the Church. We are members of the Catholic Church, practitioners of Catholic Christianity. Catholic is a Greek word that simply means general or universal. The Church is ‘universal’ or ‘general’ in many ways. In one sense the Church is universal because it extends over the whole earth. There’s even a Catholic chapel in Antarctica; it’s dedicated to St. Francis by the way. The moon, it’s already been decided, is part of the diocese of Rome, in case you were thinking of making a visit and were wondering who your bishop might be. The Church is also universal because it extends until the end of time. But most of all, the Church is universal and catholic because it passes beyond the boundaries of time and space to include both heaven and earth.

This teaching on the catholicity of the church comes to us in the classic language of the Church Triumphant, the Church Militant, and the Church Suffering or Expectant. The Church Triumphant is the Church we honor today on All Saints’ Day: those Christians who have completed their journey and enjoy the vision of God in heaven. We who make up the Church on earth are classically called the Church Militant; “militant” in the sense that we are in the midst of the struggle with sin and the work of ushering in the fullness of the Kingdom of God.

October 31, 2016

Vatican II Speaks To The Election

Maybe like a lot of people, I find the choices for the next president of the USA disappointing. Even if I had bothered to ask for an absentee ballot--I'm registered at home in a very blue state and so I didn't think it mattered much--I don't know if I could vote for either of them.

October 27, 2016

The Dashboard Clock Changing Difficulty

This weekend the clocks turn back here in Italy. Here they call Standard Time and Daylight Savings Time ora solare and ora legale, respectively. 'Solar time' and 'legal time.' The change in the fall is a week before that in the USA. Not that this affects me much, but I do notice that regularly expected emails start to arrive at different times, and I have to remember the difference when tuning into radio programs from home. In the spring the difference is two weeks.

So I was reminded of a cute story. One of the senior friars would go through some stress twice a year because he could never remember how to change the time on his watch. It was of the inexpensive, digital variety. Brethren were consulted, manuals were searched for online, etc., and eventually the biannual crisis would be resolved.

So one time I suggested to him, given that his watch was of a very inexpensive kind, why didn't he just get another one. He could set one to EST and the other to DST, and then twice a year he would only have to switch watches.

The friar seemed to appreciate the solution. But then he raised the following objection:

"But next I will need two cars."

October 15, 2016

Lazy Capuchin Friars

One of the brethren brought to my attention this excerpt from William Dean Howells's Venetian Life.
The islands near Venice are all small, except the Giudecca (which is properly a part of the city), the Lido, and Murano. The Giudecca, from being anciently the bounds in which certain factious nobles were confined, was later laid out in pleasure-gardens, and built up with summer-palaces. The gardens still remain to some extent; but they are now chiefly turned to practical account in raising vegetables and fruits for the Venetian market, and the palaces have been converted into warehouses and factories. This island produces a variety of beggar, the most truculent and tenacious in all Venice, and it has a convent of lazy Capuchin friars, who are likewise beggars. To them belongs the church of the Redentore, which only the Madonnas of Bellini in the sacristy make worthy to be seen.

October 14, 2016

The Beard From Head To Heart

Recently I was in an email conversation about an occasional topic on this blog, Capuchin beards and Capuchin beard-growing.

One of the participants offered a link to an interesting Jewish take on the spiritual meaning of beard-growing. Rabbi Aron Moss writes:
One of the greatest struggles in life is to live up to our ideals. ... Between theory and practice there is a huge gulf. It is one thing to have good intentions, but that is far from actually doing good. ... This is what the beard represents. The beard is hair that grows down from the head to the rest of the body. It is the bridge between mind and heart, thoughts and actions, theory and practice, good intentions and good deeds.
Read the whole thing here.

When I was a kid the Chabad-Lubavitchers had a van that they would park in town in order to attract unobservant Jews and therein convert them. People called it the 'Mitzvah Tank.'