"Stay A While!" (A Priest's Invitation During Mass)

One of the things that people find annoying at Mass is the people who leave early...usually right after receiving Communion. I understand that the church is packed, parking is a pain, and the game (whichever sport that may be) starts 20 minutes after Mass; but going to Mass is a committment of one's faith not an extra that is squeezed between a night out and a day of vegging out. It's disrespectful to God, the presider, and the gathered parish community.

So I was pleasantly surprised when I attended a recent Mass and heard the presider say:

"Out of respect for our Lord and for the Lord's people gathered here today, I ask you all to stay until the Mass is finished."

I found his statement to be thought-filled, respectful, and in keeping with the spirit of the Liturgy. People leaving early is something all parish priests have to deal with. As I am still discerning a calling towards the priesthood along with my vocation to the Capuchin Franciscans, innovative and respectful priests such as the one who presided on this occassion inspire me to continue considering a life as a priest.

After the blessing, he pleaded again. "Before you go," he called to the people trying to sneak out, "Stay a while! Grab a hymnal...and join the rest of us in song for the Christmas Season." Unfortunately we were sitting too far up front to see how many people were trying to leave early.

It was a respectful and challenging attempt to reach out to parishioners...definitely something for me to remember for later days.

A Poetic Christmas Homily from a Capuchin

My provincial minister, John Celichowski OFM Cap. wrote a wonderful homily for Christmas. Since he has posted his homily on our website: www.thecapuchins.org, I decided to include it here. If you choose to you all or part of this homily in your worship or own homily, I humbly ask that you give recognition to my provincial.

Peace and God Bless this Christmas season. -Br. Vito Martinez, OFM Cap.

Twas the night before Christmas
Two Thousand and Nine.
Not a creature was stirring.
I was standing in line.

I’m a last-minute shopper,
And so there I was
In the check-out at Wal-Mart
When I felt a great buzz…

My cell phone, now hung
By my belt with some care,
Urgently asked me
To answer it there.

The line wasn’t moving,
So I picked up the phone.
My wife called and said,
“Well, I’m here all alone.”

“The children are sleeping,
All tucked in their beds,
While visions of Zhu Zhu pets
Dance in their heads.”

Since I was still out
My wife wasn’t shy
To add to our list
Of stuff we should buy.

So with a chuckle and sigh
I finished more shopping,
Checked out and drove home
Without even stopping.

I got just in the house
When I heard such a clatter,
I ran to the front door
To see what was the matter!

Away down the porch stairs
I flew like a flash,
But I slipped on the ice
And fell down with a crash!
When what to my wondering
Eyes did appear
But a miniature sleigh and
Eight tiny reindeer!

They were scrunched in the back
Of a small SUV,
And Santa in front
With a small Christmas tree.

It was perched on the dashboard
And made quite a sight
With ornaments, garland,
And plenty of lights.

Santa pulled to the curb
And got out of the truck.
He noticed my stare
And said, “I had some good luck.”

“The old sleigh was too heavy
And became quite a junker
So I traded it in
When they had ‘Cash for Clunkers.’”

“Can you give me a hand?”
He asked as he gathered our stuff
“I’ve got a large sack
But it won’t be enough.”

So I helped the saint out
And we brought the gifts in.
To be blessed with so many
Almost felt like a sin.

As he dragged in our gifts
With a grimace and frown,
He saw our old loveseat
And asked to sit down.

His tired expression
Then started to change
When he saw some fresh cookies
Cooling off on our range.

So I went to the kitchen
And fixed him a plate
With a nice glass of milk.
He said, “This is great!”

Santa ate the whole platter
With barely a word,
Then he sat back in his chair.
The man barely stirred.

He went strangely silent,
The jolly old elf.
His eyes tightly closed,
He went into himself.

It seemed like forever,
But the silence soon broke.
His eyes then grew misty,
And Santa Claus spoke:

“I don’t get it,” he said
As he looked ‘round the room,
“While folks should be happy,
It’s all gloom and doom.”

“Folks losing their houses….
Can’t find any work….
To say, “Merry Christmas!’
Makes me fell like a jerk.”

Barack got the Peace Prize
While expanding a war
And Congress’ fighting
Makes everyone sore.

The nations of the world
All argue and bicker
While the oceans are rising
Ever quicker and quicker.

“But what worries me most”
Santa then said to me,
“Is what I see here…”
And he glanced toward our tree.

“Does it look fake to you?”
I asked with concern.
“We wanted a real one
But feared it might burn.”

“Is it the garland,” I asked,
“Too little or too much?
“Or the ‘Transformers’ Santa
That sits in our hutch?”

Santa then shook his head.
“No, look over there.”
Then he pointed his finger
Toward the back of a chair.

And there, in a corner,
Near some gifts for our pet,
Stood an old family heirloom:
Our Nativity Set.

It was still in the box,
Like some garbage we’d tossed.
An old Christmas orphan
Forgotten and lost.

“So often I see that,”
He said with some sadness.
“And Jesus gets lost
In this gift-giving madness.”

The stores now gear up
For the holiday scene
Within only a day
After we have Halloween.

“What is Christmas?” he asked.
He then went on to say,
“It’s a time to give thanks for
God’s loving way.”

“Long, long ago,
In a land poor and cold
Our Savior was born,
The One promised of old.”

“Emmanuel came,
A child fragile and poor.
He was laid in a manger
In a world so unsure.”

“His mother and father
Were amazed when they saw
The shepherds and magi
Approach him with awe.”

“The angels had told them,
‘God’s with you, don’t fear!’
But they’d almost forgotten
When the found themselves here.”

“The Light of the World
Thus came to our earth,
To bring us new life
Through a new kind of birth.”

“He reached out to sinners,
The sick and the lost.
His mission was short.
He paid quite a cost.”

“He challenged injustice.
He made the lame walk.
He fed the five thousand.
He made the mute talk.

“He taught his disciples
There’s victory through loss,
And then…he showed them:
He died on the cross.”

“That wasn’t the end, though.
Christ rose from the grave!
The world that destroyed him
Was the world he would save.”

“That,” Santa said,
As he rose from his seat,
“Is the true meaning of Christmas
The gift that’s most sweet.”

Then he reached ‘round that chair
And opened the box,
That stood there behind it
Right next to the socks.

He took out the statues,
The straw and the stable,
And laid them all out
On our living room table.

He finished and stepped back.
Then he knelt down to pray.
Santa slowly got up
And went on his way.

But I heard him exclaim
As he drove out of sight,
“Merry Christmas to all,
And to all a good night!”

Apologies to Clement Clark Moore -John Celichowski, OFM Cap.

A Technical Writer's Night Before Christmas

Sent to me by one of the friars. Enjoy!

'Twas the nocturnal segment of the diurnal period preceding the
annual Yuletide celebration, and throughout our place of residence,
kinetic activity was not in evidence among the possessors of this
potential, including that species of domestic rodent known as Mus
musculus. Hosiery was meticulously suspended from the forward edge of the
wood burning caloric apparatus, pursuant to our anticipatory pleasure
regarding an imminent visitation from an eccentric philanthropist among
whose folkloric appellations is the honorific title of St. Nicholas.

The prepubescent siblings, comfortably ensconced in their respective
accommodations of repose, were experiencing subconscious visual
hallucinations of variegated fruit confections moving rhythmically through
their cerebrums. My conjugal partner and I, attired in our nocturnal head
coverings, were about to take slumberous advantage of the hibernal darkness
when upon the avenaceous exterior portion of the grounds there ascended
such a cacophony of dissonance that I felt compelled to arise with alacrity
from my place of repose for the purpose of ascertaining the precise source

Hastening to the casement, I forthwith opened the barriers sealing
this fenestration, noting thereupon that the lunar brilliance
without, reflected as it was on the surface of a recent crystalline
precipitation, might be said to rival that of the solar meridian
itself - thus permitting my incredulous optical sensory organs to
behold a miniature airborne runnered conveyance drawn by eight
diminutive specimens of the genus Rangifer, piloted by a minuscule,
aged chauffeur so ebullient and nimble that it became instantly
apparent to me that he was indeed our anticipated caller. With his
ungulate motive power travelling at what may possibly have been more
vertiginous velocity than patriotic alar predators, he vociferated
loudly, expelled breath musically through contracted labia, and
addressed each of the octet by his or her respective cognomen - "Now
Dasher, now Dancer..." et al. - guiding them to the uppermost exterior
level of our abode, through which structure I could readily distinguish the
concatenations of each of the 32 cloven pedal extremities.

As I retracted my cranium from its erstwhile location, and was performing a
180-degree pivot, our distinguished visitant achieved - with utmost
celerity and via a downward leap - entry by way of the smoke passage. He
was clad entirely in animal pelts soiled by the ebony residue from
oxidations of carboniferous fuels which had accumulated on the walls
thereof. His resemblance to a street vendor I attributed largely to the
plethora of assorted playthings which he bore dorsally in a commodious
cloth receptacle.

His orbs were scintillant with reflected luminosity, while his submaxillary
dermal indentations gave every evidence of engaging amiability. The
capillaries of his malar regions and nasal appurtenance were engorged with
blood which suffused the subcutaneous layers, the former approximating the
coloration of Albion's floral emblem, the latter that of the Prunus avium,
or sweet cherry. His amusing sub- and supralabials resembled nothing so
much as a common loop knot, and their ambient hirsute facial adornment
appeared like small, tabular and columnar crystals of frozen water.

Clenched firmly between his incisors was a smoking piece whose grey
fumes, forming a tenuous ellipse about his occiput, were suggestive
of a decorative seasonal circlet of holly. His visage was wider than it was
high, and when he waxed audibly mirthful, his corpulent abdominal region
undulated in the manner of impectinated fruit syrup in a hemispherical
container. He was, in short, neither more nor less than an obese, jocund,
multigenarian gnome, the optical perception of whom rendered me visibly
frolicsome despite every effort to refrain from so being. By rapidly
lowering and then elevating one eyelid and rotating his head slightly to
one side, he indicated that trepidation on my part was groundless.

Without utterance and with dispatch, he commenced filling the
aforementioned appended hosiery with various of the aforementioned
articles of merchandise extracted from his aforementioned previously
dorsally transported cloth receptacle. Upon completion of this task,
he executed an abrupt about-face, placed a single manual digit in
lateral juxtaposition to his olfactory organ, inclined his cranium
forward in a gesture of leave-taking, and forthwith effected his
egress by renegotiating (in reverse) the smoke passage. He then
propelled himself in a short vector onto his conveyance, directed a
musical expulsion of air through his contracted oral sphincter to the
antlered quadrupeds of burden, and proceeded to soar aloft in a
movement hitherto observable chiefly among the seed-bearing portions
of a common weed. But I overheard his parting exclamation, audible
immediately prior to his vehiculation beyond the limits of
visibility: "Ecstatic Yuletide to the planetary constituency, and to
that self same assemblage, my sincerest wishes for a salubriously
beneficial and gratifyingly pleasurable period between sunset and

Christmas At Novitiate

My presence has been light on the internet these days as we prepare for Christmas this Advent. For all of us, spending time away from home can be a tough challenge, and so we've learned to adapt to this holiday this year.

The Australian novices have had a wonderful time here in the states with the recent snow here in Pittsburgh. The first big snow was a wonderful time - a change from someone like me who's so used to snow, that I only see it as a nuisance. Having the Australians here allows us to reconnect with our own sense of wonder, whether its the snow or a large display of The Chipmunks when we went to see Avatar.

(left to right) Nate, Quan, John, and myself

Christmas can be a tough time, especially for some of the guys here who've never spent the holidays away from family before. An ex-car salesman like me has spent plenty of holidays doing things instead of being with family. Some of the guys haven't been away from home for extended periods of time, and sometimes you can see it on their face. Please keep these guys in your prayers.

For the most part it has been a joyous Advent as we prepare for Christmas. While there were won't be a liturgy of Eucharist here, I am doing the music for Mass at the local retirement community I minister to on Fridays. I'm not the best singer, nor do I claim to be the best Music Director, but the Pastoral Director there is excited about having music for the Feast of the Nativity.

Christmas Day I will have the Homily from my provincial, John Celichowski, posted online.

From our Novitiate house to yours, may you all have a wonderful holiday season.


Novice Br. Rich Rienhardt viewing a light display in Hardwood Acres.

Week 4 Advent Reflection

This week's homily was added without credit to the presider, after consultation. While I had not originally planned to add a random homily, I was so taken with the relevancy and the message of his homily, I knew I had to share it with everyone.

Enjoy, and remember that you haven't lived until you've seen a vested priest do a cart-wheel in his homily!

The theology of today's reading comes from the Second book of Samuel. The idea of John the Baptist (still in the womb) leaping for joy at the coming of Christ goes back to scripture about David - bringing the Ark of the Covenant to Jeruselem:
When it was reported to King David that the LORD had blessed the family of Obed-edom and all that belonged to him, David went to bring up the ark of God from the house of Obed-edom into the City of David amid festivities. As soon as the bearers of the ark of the LORD had advanced six steps, he sacrificed an ox and a fatling. Then David, girt with a linen apron, came dancing before the LORD with abandon, as he and all the Israelites were bringing up the ark of the LORD with shouts of joy and to the sound of the horn. 2Sam 6:12-15
The ark of the LORD was brought in and set in its place within the tent David had pitched for it. Then David offered holocausts and peace offerings before the LORD. When he finished making these offerings, he blessed the people in the name of the LORD of hosts. 2Sam 6:18-19

Mary. Elizabeth. Jesus. John the Baptist. God. David.

Luke addist this comparison to his Gospel as a reminder that God-is-with-you is an occasion for joy - David danced for God.

When you came into church this morning, did you kneel, hands clasped in prayer, and look stoicly forward? Or did you feel like you were visiting an old friend, excited and happy?

When you got to your pew did you genuflect, or did you do this:

(the presider runs down from the sanctuary and does a successful cartwheel in the aisle...to the applause of some and the horror of others.

By a show of hands, how many were shocked by that?

This one's a rhetorical question: How many of you were shocked by the impiety?

This Christmas, we will be joyous for many reasons. We will be joyful for Santa Claus, we'll be joyful for spending time with family and friends, we'll be excited about getting presents. But we must include Christ in our joyous Christmas. Because without Christ there is no Santa, no family and friends, no presents. There is no spirit which makes this time joyful over the rest of the year.

There is a time to be humble and reverent to our God. And there is a time to REJOICE in the God amoung us.

John the baptist leaped for joy in Elizabeth's womb when Mary visited.

David danced as the Ark of the Covenant was brought to Jeruselem.

The Lord is coming. Be joyous this week.

Do a cartwheel. Or a back-flip, if you're agile enough. Do something to remember that Christ is the cause of our joy.

(Trying to Sing) for Christmas

Tonight we hopped in the van and gave a small performance for the residents of the Vicentian home in Allison Park. While many of us are not singers (present author included), there is something traditional and fun about having young friars singing badly to retired residents.

For the past few months, Fr. Gerard had us practicing carols such as: The First Noel, What Sweeter Music, and Mozart's Ave Verum.

In spite of what I thought, we received great applause from the residents at the Vicentian home and they thanked us for taking the time to visit. After our "concert," we took time to talk with the different residents; a ministry I've become quite accustomed to talking with retired.

Although there was one resident that kept saying after every song we sang: "Are they done yet?"

Merry Christmas, everyone.

Week 3 Advent Reflection

One day, an old professor was asked to speak at a business school on the efficient planning of time. Rising slowly from his chair, he held up a large empty glass cylinder before the students. After placing it on the table next to him, he took a dozen large stones the size of tennis balls and delicately placed them one by one in the glass until it was full. When no more stones could be added, he asked the students, “Do you think the glass is full?”

They all answered "Yes!"

He bent down and brought out a flask filled with crushed stones which he slowly and gently poured over the large stones, moving the glass so that the crushed stones could infiltrate between the large stones to the bottom. “Is the glass full this time?” he asked.

Realizing their previous error, the students responded with some hesitation, “Perhaps not yet.”

And thus the professor continued…adding sand and then finally water. Each time he was able to put something more into the glass. He then addressed the class again: “What great truth does this experiment show us?”

The boldest members of the class answered, “This demonstrates that even when our agenda is completely full, with a bit of good will, we can always add some new endeavor, something else to do.”

"No,” answered the professor. “What the experiment shows is that if one does not put the large stones first in the glass, one will never succeed in making them go in afterward.”

In today’s gospel reading John the Baptist asks us to attend to our “large stones,” those behaviors and areas in our lives that we most need to face with God’s grace. As part of his ministry to prepare the way for Jesus, John had been proclaiming a message of repentance and the advent of the reign of God. When people started coming to him for baptism to signify their renewal and commitment, John challenged them in very strong terms:
“You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce good fruits as evidence of your repentance; and do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God can raise up Children to Abraham from these stones. Even now the ax lies at the root of the trees. Therefore every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire” (Luke 3:7-9).
This reflected not only John’s fiery preaching style but even more the urgency of his message and ministry. He realized that his time was short, and he wanted to make sure that as many people as possible would be ready for the one who was mightier than he and whose sandals he felt unworthy to unfasten.

People from all walks of life were very moved by what John said, and one after the other they came to him asking, “What are we to do?” John’s advice was quite practical, and it forced them to get to “the heart of the matter.” Those people who had two cloaks (a luxury at that time) were urged to give one to those in need. The tax collectors and soldiers who were using the power of their offices to exploit others and benefit themselves were admonished to turn away from corruption. In short, John commanded them all to be more just.

It seems a little too obvious to state, but if we truly want to change our lives then…we actually have to change out lives! If we want to lose weight we have to eat less and be more physically active. If we want to get better grades, we have to study more and spend less time watching TV or playing video games. If we want to avoid going into deeper debt—whether in our government or in our homes—we will have to spend less. If we want our Church to be a stronger instrument of evangelization then everyone who is part of the body of Christ—clergy and laity, young and old, men and women—has to commit to being an evangelist in whatever way God has called them and with the gifts God has given them.

So what are some of the “large stones” that you need moved in your life? I asked myself that question, and I found that one of them is addressed in today’s scripture readings: anxiety. I worry a lot, and I worry about a lot of things. Some days I feel like coming to Morning and Evening Prayer and even Mass with my Capuchin brothers is a waste of time because my mind is so preoccupied with this situation or that task—with what “I” have to do—that I am deaf to God’s word. If it registers at all, it goes in one ear and out the other.
  • In our first reading: "Fear not, O Zion, be not discouraged! The Lord, your God, is in your midst, a mighty savior."
  • In our responsorial: "God indeed is my savior; I am confident and unafraid. My strength and my courage is the Lord."
  • In our second reading: "The Lord is near. Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God."
I then realize that so much of my anxiety is tied up in the delusion that it’s all up to me! Of course, it is not. I need to repent of my pride and my need to be “on top of everything.” That’s God’s job. If I asked John the Baptist, “What should I do?” he might simply reply, “Heed the scripture that says, ‘Be still before the Lord; wait for God’” (Psalm 37:7). So I’ve started to come to community prayers and Mass a few minutes earlier—to simply be still. It’s not easy. Repentance rarely is. The largest stones, after all, are the hardest to lift.

Reflection from Fr. John Celichowski, OFM Cap. : Provincial Minister.

Confession Without the Screen Door

Today at our ministry I participated in a Penance Service, held for the residents of the nursing home. As I waited outside the chapel as Father heard the confessions of the residents, a wonderful lady in a wheelchair looked up at me with a fearful look on her face:

"Is this 'face-to-face'?"

It took me a minute to understand exactly what she was talking about. You see, ever since I'd given my first confession years ago, I'd always sat in front of my confessor. As an "up front and direct" individual, I always found it better to address my sins and seek absolution directly, rather than behind a screen or lattice. The personal feel of it gives me a sense that we (the priest and I) together are asking God for this sacrament. It has also allowed me to sit and have good discussions with priests (some new and some old) about life, faith, and even the next NFL game.

But what scared this poor lady was that she was used to the confidentiality of the screen in the confessional.

In my usual, joking way I tried to make this wonderful woman feel more at ease about giving her confession. "I always gave my confession face-to-face," I said smiling, "because my priest would know it was me either way!"

She smiled, and said she was a little scared. "Then he'll know it's me saying all these bad sins!"

I understood her concern, because it was one I've heard often enough from non-Catholics. "Why do I have to confess my sins to another person? God forgives, not a priest."

There are many fine liturgists and theologians that can answer these arguements a lot better than I ever could. Being a lowly Novice and ex-car salesman, I've still got a lot to do to catch up to with brothers like Sean and Charles.

But since it was just me, I did the best I could:

"You know, he's not there to judge you or tell you that you're a horrible person. It's a celebration of the gift we've been given from Christ's perpetual love for us. It's just hard because we're willing to hold onto our mistakes a lot longer than God ever will. Even I still get nervous before going." (I don't think that was exactly what I said, but that was the jist of it)

She felt confident as I wheeled her into the chapel in the nursing home. And as I walked out and closed the door behind me, I felt something had worked through me...if only for an instant. I know a Spiritual Director could have given better advice...but sometimes we need to be present to each other, even if we think we're under-qualified for the task.

As the priest wheeled her out of the chapel, I could tell she'd been crying. But the expression on her face told me they were good tears. I took her down to the lobby where everyone else was eating cookies and talking.

I don't know if anything great happened today. Perhaps I just saw someone in need and did the best I could to provide comfort. Yet it was one of those times that I felt that something, some sense encouragement from a power greater than myself. I won't jump to conclusions, but if that was how Francis felt each day he spent with the lepers...I understand why his story has perservered all these years.

Franciscan Prayer, Part 2

Fr. Bill Hugo OFM Cap. continues his series on Franciscan Prayer.

When you discover God, you discover others and yourself.

Like all communication, prayer is not a one-way street. In prayer, we are not the only ones talking; God also talks. Both God and we both speak and listen. In Franciscan prayer, there is also a third group sitting on the stage of prayer: the rest of creation. Creation also listens and talks. This is because we are sisters and brothers with all creation; all have our origin in the same Father-Creator.
Since prayer is such a family affair, when we learn about God in prayerful conversation,we also learn about our sister and brother creatures. And when we learn about God, our brothers, and our sisters, we can’t help but learn about ourselves. Consider these examples:
  • When we learn that God created us out of His intense desire, we learn that we did not earn our existence.
  • If God creates all creatures out of equal desire, than no creature is more important than the other.
  • Since God created all creatures, we are in relationship with all creatures through a common source.
  • The respect God shows me is the respect he shows all creatures. So, I have cause to respect other creatures as I myself hope to be respected.
  • If the God who creates me is humble, how can I possibly think of myself as haughty.
Since conversation with God will ultimately lead us to examine ourselves, prayer requires honesty and humility. The story of Francis unexpectedly meeting a leper forcefully illustrates this. Francis was understandably petrified of lepers. But their existence bothered him. Most of us ask “Why me?” when confronted by difficulty. When Francis saw a leper, he asked “Why them?”

As Francis’ deepening prayer was leading him to realize that the leper and he came from the same creator, Francis could no longer tolerate their separation. When Francis learned about God in prayer, he learned about the leper. When he learned about the leper, he learned about himself. So, in this story, Francis would finally embrace the leper. They were brothers and sisters. They were the same. His prayer had changed is life!

(William Hugo is the Provincial Director of Formation as well as director of Postulancy at St. Conrad Friary in Milwaukee, WI. He lectures on Franciscan spirituality and history and has an M.A. in Franciscan Studies from St. Bonaventure University in Western New York. He authored Studying the Life of Francis of Assisi: A Beginner’s Workbook, Franciscan Press, 1996.)

*Artwork on page 1 by Michael Gaffney, O.F.M. Capuchin.

The Vatican Playlist & 2pac on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception

The big news last week was the release of the Vatican Myspace Playlist which included the Changes by Tupac Shakur, a suprise to many people. Many of  Tupac's lyrics exemplified a living situation that many poor minorities were able to relate to...a stark contrast from the Hip-Hop scene of today that talks primarily about the aquisition of money, status, and women.

That's not to say that Tupac didn't have his share of gratuitous violence, language, and imagery. And perhaps that's what has some people concerned about his inclusion in the Vatican collection of songs, entitled Alma Mater. However after his death, Tupac's mother used her son's talent and drive for social resolutions to make Tupac more than just "another rapper," but (in the words of Harvard University's Symposium) "a modern folk hero."

As a poor kid growing up, part of me already identified to much of what his later recordings would speak to: living poor, violence and racism, a sense of helplessness, and much more. An example from Keep Ya Head Up
I wonder why we take from our women,
Why we rape our women
Do we hate our women?

I think it's time to kill for our women
time to heal our women,
be real to our women.

And if we don't, we'll have a race of babies
that will hate the ladies
and make the babies.

And since a man can't make one
he has no right to tell a woman
when and were to create one.
So with this decision by Vatican's artistic director Fr. Guilio Neroni, I thought it would only be fitting to add a Tupac video for reflection on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. If our love of our mother is a model for how we interact with our faith, then this video definitely seems appropriate.


Week 2 Advent Reflection

This week's homily comes from my provincial minister, John Celichowski OFM Cap. (John C. for short) I failed to ask whether this beginning story was a true event or is a metaphor for many for living the Gospel in the midst of Christmas Consumerism. As soon as I get an answer, I'll update this post. Peace. -V

Headline: Santa in Slammer
Santa Involved in Mall Melee
by Mike Byline, Briarwood Bee Staff Writer

Santa Claus, beloved gift-bearer to countless generations of children throughout the world, found himself in the County Jail last night after he was arrested by Briarwood Police after a disturbance at the Mammon Mall. A copy of the complaint obtained by the Bee indicated that Mr. Claus, AKA “St. Nicholas” and “St. Nick,” was charged with disorderly conduct and disturbing the peace.

According to mall officials, nothing seemed out of the ordinary for a Tuesday evening at the mall until about 7:15 PM. That was when Mr. Claus, after speaking with his last little visitor to the “X-treme North Pole” display, reportedly shed his traditional red coat and pants and changed into an outfit that appeared to be made out camel’s hair. He then allegedly climbed to the roof of the gingerbread house, rang a bell, and unfurled a banner reading: Every shopping aisle shall be filled in, and every sale bin made low. The winding lines shall be made straight; and the rain checks and layaways shall be no more/ And all flesh shall see that salvation is not wrapped and under the tree.

Witnesses reported that upon unrolling the banner, Mr. Claus continued to ring the bell and used the display’s PA system to proclaim the message. A few shoppers were apparently so displeased by the demonstration that they began screaming and cursing at “St. Nick.” Mall security was alerted to the situation, and they in turn called police when some patrons began pelting Mr. Claus with the free Christmas cookies that were available at the mall’s Hospitality Center.

“I was expecting Elvis and Blue Christmas,” said Elizabeth Crocker, who was trying to track down some more Zhu Zhu Pets for her grandchildren. “Instead, we had to listen to….this man’s ranting. It certainly didn’t put me in the holiday spirit.” Mall Manager Bill Cash added, “We expect all of our employees and vendors to do what they can to enhance the shopping experience, and this was clearly not up to our standards. We apologize to anyone who was offended.”

A preliminary hearing is scheduled for Friday at the County Courthouse.

The word Advent comes from two Latin words, ad + venire, which together literally mean “to come to” someone or something. Most Catholics know that this is the season in which we prepare to celebrate God’s coming to us, particularly in the person of Jesus our Christ, whose birth we recall and celebrate at Christmas. Thus we heard St. Luke recall the work of John the Baptist and the words of Isaiah: ”Prepare a way for the Lord, make straight his paths.” But Advent is much more than getting ready to commemorate a past event.

The great medieval abbot, St. Bernard, reflected in one of his sermons that in this season we actually celebrate three comings of Christ: In his first coming our Lord came in our flesh and in our weakness; in this middle coming he comes in spirit and in power; in the final coming he will be seen in glory and majesty.

In celebrating Advent we too often focus on what Bernard called the first and final comings of Christ; but we sometimes neglect the middle. Yet don’t we proclaim in our Memorial Acclamation: “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Chris will come again?” In Advent we remember with gratitude the first coming of Christ; we live in hope for the third; but live in the middle coming, here and now.

That middle can be the toughest place to live, especially these days. I began writing this homily on the eve that President Obama announced his plans to devote another 30,000 troops and tens of billions of dollars to what has become a protracted war in Afghanistan. At the same time, so many people are out of work, looking for more work, and wondering how they are going to manage their mortgage payments, utility and food bills, much less their Christmas gift lists.

I recently saw a report that said that while Christmas shoppers spent an average of $412 in 2008, they are expected to spend an average of “only” $390 this year. More notably, however, 22% of those surveyed said that they will spend less than $100 this year. That news may not be good for the retailers or for our economy, but it could be a blessing in disguise for Advent and Christmas; for it might invite more of us to ask an essential question of this season: For what or whom are we really preparing? Can we, like the early church of Philippi for whom St. Paul prayed, learn “to discern what is of value?”

Advent is not only a time to reflect on Christ’s coming to us—yesterday, tomorrow, and today—it also calls us to reflect on our coming to Christ, here and now! When John began his ministry near the Jordan, St. Luke recalls, he went about “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” Forgiveness was something that God would do; but it could not be effective without a response. People not only had to be cleansed outwardly by immersing themselves in the waters of baptism but also cleansed inwardly through repentance.

What are the crooked paths in our lives that need to be straightened? What are the valleys of depression, despair and division that could be filled in? What are the mountains of pride, denial or even delusion that need to be leveled? What are the rough ways—particularly in how we sometimes treat those closest to us—that need to be smoothed by kindness, compassion, and justice?

May God, who has begun this good work of Advent in us bring it to completion in Christ Jesus our Lord, in spirit and in power.

Death of A Pope

Before you go running to Whispers in the Loggia or your copy of NCR, I will ease your fears: Pope Benedict 16 is still alive and well. There is no period of mourning, nor will we be watching CNN in anticipation of white smoke from the conclave.

However, if you are a member of the True Catholic Church, then this a public notice that Pope Pius XIII reportedly received his final reward on November 30, 2009.

If you're still a little confused, let me tell you a little story about an infamous former friar from my province: Lucian Pulvermacher.

Pope Pius XIII was born Earl Pulvermacher on April 20, 1918. He professed solemn vows with the Order of Friars Minor, Capuchin in 1946, taking the name Lucian. He served for a short time as an assistant priest at St. Francis Parish in Milwaukee, WI before going to the Ryuku Islands in 1948. In 1955 he was transferred to Okinawa. After spending much time in Japan and surrounding islands, he moved to Australia in 1970 as a missionary. It was in 1976 that he left Australia and cut himself off from the Catholic Church and the Capuchin Order.

He and three other friars left Australia, claiming issue with the reforms of Vatican II; afterwhich they spent time with Traditionalist groups, specifically the Lefebrve group in Milwaukee. His desire was with the tradition of the Latin Mass and opposition to the many new changes that he saw as leading people astray.

Finding dismay even with this group, stating "that they were not truly Catholic,"(1) he broke off on his own. In his own words:

Father Hector Bolduc (Society of St. Pius X) even kicked me out of the area that was served by the Society. Why? I refused to give the sacraments to the Novus Ordo Catholics. That made me bad in their sight. I just could not understand why they, who called themselves Catholics, could give the sacraments to people who regularly went to the Novus Ordo churches for the sacraments.(2)

Breaking from the Order and the SSPX he was on his own again, until he met a German priest; they got together to discuss the election of a new Pope. Finding fault with this priest, he again separated, and with a group of conclavist Catholic separatists (for lack of a better term) set up the means by which a new pope could be elected.

Seeing Pope Pius XII as the last true pope, saying the following popes: " have usurped the name of the Catholic Church from which they of their own free will departed,"(3) Pulvermacher chose the name Pius XIII. Many of his encyclical writings can be found on his site http://www.truecatholic.us/ on such topics as the Invalidity of Vatican 2, how Catholics can marry without a pastor present, and the "False Beatification of JPII."

Yeah. Wow.

Karl Keating wrote about Pulvermacher years ago in an eletter:
You wonder what happened to the Fr. Pulvermacher of three decades ago. What made him leave not just Australia and the Capuchins but the real Catholic Church? What propelled him, in just a few months, clear past the Traditionalist movement and into a church of his own making?(4)
And Karl has a point. We can joke about how far Pulvermacher "slingshot" from being a part of the Church and the Order to making his own Church and papal office. Perhaps this is God's great joke to the rest of us: "When I said you have to love all of My children, I meant guys like this, too!"

But what happened to this man that caused him to leave everything?

When we in the Order learned of Lucian's passing on the 30th of November (as we often keep in contact with friars who have left us), there was a sense of loss mixed with the occasional joke. I find it admirable that during his time of searching, the Order chose not to force Br. Lucian out. Rather, they valued his fraternity in the community and hoped that he just needed time to work through some personal things. But by taking the title of "Pope" his break from the Capuchins was complete.

And so today, as I ate lunch with Regis ArmstrongJim Peterson, and other friars of my Order, we lovingly joked and remembered our former brother. And in spite of everything Br. Pulvermacher did, these guys still talked of him in the same way they lovingly talked of other friars who have passed. Regardless of it all, these guys still saw him as their brother - making me proud to be a Capuchin.

So please keep the passing of P13 in your prayers. He may have been a little crazy, but he was my brother...if not in faith, at least in Christ.

1-3 www.truecatholic.us: History, Encyclicals, and General Letters
4 I Get A Letter From the Pope by Karl Keating April 2004, catholicanswers.com
Discussions with friars from St. Mary's & St. Joseph Province of Capuchin Franciscans

Franciscan Prayer

For those not familiar with the Capuchin Franciscans, especially for those considering a religious vocation, one must wonder: "What makes them different than others?" In my provincial vocations newsletter Vocations Update, Fr. William Hugo OFM Cap. publishes a series of articles explaining the grand topic of Franciscan Prayer.

This first issue focuses on the pattern of Franciscan prayer. The assumption that this pattern comes from Francis of Assisi is only half true. Certainly his experience, recorded in numerous medieval legends, tells the story of Francis’ prayer in action. But, oddly, his writings do not systematize his pattern of prayer. Instead, it is Clare of Assisi, Francis’ partner in defining the Franciscan way of life, who gives us the four-part Franciscan approach to prayer in her second letter to Agnes of Prague: to gaze, to consider, to contemplate, and to imitate (20-21).

Francis and Clare sought a gospel way of life that would be different from that of monks. Yet, in fact, Clare’s prayer method included three steps that characterized monastic prayer before the Franciscan period, though she used her distinctive words. To gaze was akin to the monastic reading of Christ’s life from a gospel or a different scripture to get the story. Clare’s term to consider was much like the monastic meaning of meditation, i.e., imagining that one is on the scene of the scripture with all its smells, sounds, sights, tastes, feelings and movements. This second step was the work of imagination. Clare’s idea of contemplation even used the word of many monastic methods. It was the prayer of being with God and all the intimacies of conversation and presence after sharing the biblical experience through meditation.

However, Franciscan prayer stands out as different when Clare lists her fourth component as imitation. Monks typically did not include anything like imitation in their definitions or descriptions of prayer. By
highlighting imitation of Christ and God who is our partner in prayer, Franciscans clearly announce that prayer changes their lives. The goal does not end in union with God during prayer, but a transformation of
life brought about through the influence of prayer. Thus, Franciscan prayer and life become closely intertwined. Fashioning your own prayer according to this four-fold pattern, spending 5-10 minutes on each
step, can be a great way to deepen your prayer.

Future Updates will look at other characteristics of Franciscan prayer. But for now, a good way to begin an appreciation of the Franciscan style of prayer is to ask how your own prayer changes the rest of your life.

(William Hugo is Director of Postulancy and teaches Franciscan spirituality and history. He authored Studying the Life of Francis of Assisi: A Beginner’s Workbook, Franciscan Press, 1996.)

Week 1 Advent Reflection

This week's homily comes from Fr. Gerard O'Dempsey OFM Cap. who happily contributed his words for the week. Enjoy.

Advent 1st Sunday 2009 Year “C”

Scripture scholars have long discussed the content of today’s gospel passage in regard to the momentous event Jesus is speaking of. Is it the physical end of the world? Some of the language certainly sounds like the end-times language of the book of Revelation. But many scholars are agreed that these words depict the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. That event happened in AD 70 - some forty years after Christ’s death and resurrection, during the lifetime of many of those who were Christ’s original followers. The Jews rose up against their Roman occupiers but were mercilessly crushed. The Jewish people were scattered around the world – Jerusalem and the Temple were laid waste…and the repercussions of that event are still felt in today’s troubled Middle East.

Jesus describes this traumatic event in language that was meant to have a dramatic effect on his listeners and to lodge in their memories. But it isn’t just a warning about the destruction of the Temple. What is important for us today is that Jesus offers his followers a way to approach his second coming and the end times. Jesus warns his followers not to lapse or to be distracted from their prayers or from their confidence in him. Then, no matter happens: earthquake, flood, war, famine and so on, the followers of Jesus can be sure that they will have eternal salvation – this, far from being a dire prediction of disaster – is really a promise of liberation for all who follow Christ.

St. Paul gives similar advice to the people of Thessalonika in his letter, part of which we heard as our 2nd reading this morning. And Paul’s advice is as sound for us as it was for these early Christians. Our lives as Christians will not be well lived unless we keep continue to progress by striving to love one another more and to become more Christ-like each day. Using Christ’s language, we are called to “stay awake”…to be “attentive”.

Now, all this talk about desperate times may seem a bit odd at the beginning of Advent – when the rest of society is busily putting up decorations and telling us to spend on money on this, that and the other thing…shopping malls with eternal loops of Christmas Carols assaulting our ears…Why, when we are beginning our preparations for Christmas, has the Church decided to give us such a gloom laden gospel reading?

Well, the Advent season has always had a dual focus – we prepare for Christmas, the celebration of Christ’s first coming among us. But we also think about the 2nd coming of Christ, when God’s kingdom will finally be fulfilled and God’s plan of salvation for the whole of creation reaches its ultimate completion. So for the first two weeks of Advent the scripture readings and the Mass prayers point us toward this 2nd coming – we are to wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Saviour Jesus Christ. And I guess – waiting is not something we do very happily – in the queue at the checkout, to get onto an aeroplane, waiting for a friend to call us, waiting for the children to come home from a date…we don’t ‘wait’ all that well at the best of times – and yet NOW – we are to wait in joyful hope for this Saviour to come. And our waiting is to be coloured by prayer, attentiveness, and patience.

Today’s gospel reminds us how much we need a savior – someone who can turn the most desolate of situations into victory. Someone who can help us survive any worst-case scenario. Someone who can provide salvation when we most need it. Even the prophet Jeremiah speaking some 600 years before the birth of Jesus, recognized that this savior would come. So we commence Advent aware of this need for a savior and look forward to his coming in glory.

Advent card courtesy of Ben Bell.

Preparing for Advent

While preparing for the Advent season, a time of intense discernment and preparation, I reflect and contemplate on the words of Archbishop Oscar Romero:
We must not seek the child Jesus in the pretty figures of our Christmas cribs. We must seek him among the undernourished children who have gone to bed at night with nothing to eat, among the poor newsboys who will sleep covered with newspapers in doorways. Oscar Romero, December 24, 1979
How will you spend this Advent season?

(The four Sundays in Advent will feature homilies/reflections from different Capuchin friars who have kindly contributed their words to spread. They may offer ideas and challenges for all of us during this season.)

Franciscan Nuns Robbed in San Fernando

While surfing the net on my day off and running across A Nun's Life (a blog run by sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I came upon an interesting story this week.

In San Fernando, two elderly Franciscan nuns were robbed after buying groceries. The incident is caught on camera and a manhunt is now taking place for the suspect.

The interesting aspect of this article, in my opinion, is while the nuns seem to understand the grace of forgiveness others (something I'm still learning), the police and all other people involved appear quite vigilant in wanting to apprehend this individual, already assigning his "free trip to Hell."

The broadcast can be seen here.

Sister Julie writes more about it here.

Technocrati Stuff


Novitiate Update - 11/25

With Thanksgiving approaching, it's been six months since I left Chicago as a Postulant. While I wasn't invested as a Novice until the end of July, the guys here try to forget sometimes forget the two months of preparation spent in Victoria, Kansas.

For the most part I've settled into the routine. Our usual schedule looks like this:

6:30 - Morning Prayer & Meditation
7:20 - Eucharist
8:00 - Breakfast
9:30 - Class
11:30 - Midday Prayer
11:45 - Lunch
1:00-3:00 - Work Projects
4:00 - Rest/Exercise/Recreation
4:45 - Evening Prayer & Meditation
5:30 - Office of Readings
5:50 - Dinner
7:30 - Prayerful Silence
8:45 - Night Prayer
9:00 - Community Recreation
Even the occasional variations for ministry, Days of Recollection, birthdays, etc. don't phase me anymore. For better or worse, the weeks blend together - so much so that I can forget what day of the week it is. While I don't like it when time moves so fast, I realize that if the days were dragging it would be a sign that I hated it here.

I pass the time with a lot of reading. Currently I'm trying to finish several books: Death of the Messiah by Raymond Brown, Thy Will Be Done by Michael Crosby, The Medallin Documents of 1968, Woman and the Word by Heather Hitchcock, Women and the Word by Sandra Schnieder, and a book of sudoku puzzles to keep my mind sharp. I realize that trying to read all these books at the same time is an exercise in futility, but I guess there are worse compulsions than hoarding books.

For the most part I'm doing well here in Novitiate. My recent evaluation was great, although there is concern of this blog taking up too much of my thoughts and prayer time. I find I'm sleepy a lot lately, but otherwise I'm taking full advantage of this Novitiate year.

Perhaps it will ease my mind that my mother has returned to work. There's still no guarantee that she'll keep her job with Michigan's economy the way it is, but her shoulder is healing and she says she's able to do her job. Thank you for all your prayers.

Have a great Thanksgiving. I will be taking some time away from the blog for the holiday. However several friars have agreed to contribute for the 4 Sundays of Advent. So if you're looking for reflections for this Advent season, stay tuned.


Br. Vito

3 Gimme's of Franciscan Spirituality: Perfect Charity

My apologies for not finishing this series sooner. Between a headache, a few house jobs, and my time in prayer here at Novitiate I've gotten behind with some of my blogging. While my first and foremost priority is being a Novice (as my formators will agree resoundingly) I will attempt to keep up with the blogs as is available. If I drop off the face of the earth, you can assume I'm either praying or doing something to get in trouble!

This last article finishes the talk given by Fr. Charlie Polifka about the "Three Gimme's" as stated in Francis' prayer: true faith, certain hope, and perfect charity. If you haven't read either of the two previous articles, you can find them here: true faith and certain hope.

Out of the three things Francis asks of God in his Prayer before the Crucifix, one of the ones that we can easily identify with is the concept of charity. Yet just the same as we did with faith and hope, we need to identify exactly what we mean when we use these terms.

A great view on charity comes from Pope Benedict XVI's letter: Caritas in Veritate. In his letter he describes charity: "Charity is love received and given."(3) As God shines his love onto us, it's our role as Christians to share God's love with others in a genuine fashion.

The challenge, as Pope Benedict goes on to discuss, is to recognize this expression of God's love in a rapidly globalizing world. While Francis' world was much smaller, our inter-dependent world puts us in contact with people we don't know and our actions affect people in other countries for which we may never meet. How does one love a group of people one has never met?

The understanding of perfect charity is at the heart of the Franciscan charism: the ability to see Christ in the poor. In a recent article, I talk about the Francis' love of the poor in his conversion...with specifics to the Encounter with the Leper. His drive was not just that he saw Christ in the leper (the lowest of low in his time and culture), but that he recognizes that he sees all of creation as his brothers and sisters in Christ.

For us as followers of Francis, the challenge before us is to learn how to love all of God's creation, and to share that love that has been shown to us. It is a lovely idea and Francis' life is filled with examples of how he is able to accomplish this (not least of all, how he learns to deal with a growing community of brothers!). But in our technological era and in an individualistic society, we are presented with different challenges in order to attain this perfect charity.

How then do we go about this? First and foremost, we have to let go of the things we cannot do. For goal-oriented people like me, there is a great desire to "save the world," "cure world hunger," or "end poverty." We are but human beings given gifts from God. Oscar Romero puts it best: We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own.

Too often our desire is to solve. But in doing that, we run the risk of doing charity for selfish reasons. I have friends who are homeless, yet I am not capable of solving the homeless problem myself. If the root of charity is God's love, than my main focus is living that love and not seeing people as a means to achieve a temporal goal. When the poor become statistics, their humanity is taken away.
Second, Francis give us a great example when he is presented with his own community who want to share in his lifestyle:
And when God gave me brothers, no one showed me what I should do, but the Most high revealed to me that I should live according to the form of the holy gospel. I had it written in few words and simply, and the lord pope confirmed it for me. And those who came to receive life gave all that they had to the poor and were content with one tunic patched inside and out, with a cord and trousers. And we did not wish to have more.
Our witness should be to this new way of living, this new kind of community where we focus on the needs of the poor and marginalized.

Third, and perhaps most important, is that we must not only educate ourselves of the poor and needy in this world, but as former OFM Provinial Fr. Joseph Chinnici writes: "We must enter into the experience of the poor." PCO6 Letter #16. It is there that we understand and begin to know the poor that we can truly spread God's love. It is the Sense and knowledge that follows Francis' request for perfect charity.

What then, is God's holy and true command? Again, it is that we "die on earth," and willingly choose to live the Kingdom of God here on Earth. It is a monumental challenge for each of us friars, yet it is the example that has been set before us by our founder Francis. And even he realized he needed help along the way.

This is the third and final article of the series. If you found these articles helpful, insightful, or informative, be sure to share them with someone you know. Peace. -V
<1> <2> <3>

Elf Yourself

Post Novice David Alan Hirt was nice enough to include me and the other Novices from the Mid-West province in a lovely video that is becoming big.


Be sure to grab some pics of your friends and share in the Office Max fun

Elf Yourself

Disqus Update to the Site

Out of a necessity to deal with continual ad spam, as well as making the blog easier to share, Disqus is being imported into the site.

All of the comments have been temporarily removed as Disqus converts them into its format and I can re-integrate them into the site.

We've recently had an issue with one of our provincial websites, and it was the tipping point for me to inact this change. Hopefully it will not be any impediment to either the reading or the ability to respond with what you read here.

Peace and take care.

Three Gimme's of Franciscan Spirituality: Certain Hope

Continuing with Fr. Charlie Polifka's talk on the three "Give Me's" of Francis of Assisi as seen through his prayer before the San Damiano crucifix, we move to Certain Hope. If you missed the first article on True Faith you can find it here.

For many of us, hope is often articulated in a temporal sense. We hope for ourselves and our families in this world. If someone young is struck down, we hear: "He/she had such high hopes." Even in my own life I have hopes for my future as a friar, I hope and pray for the well-being of my family, my fellow Novices, and for the people I meet each day.

While there is nothing wrong with these hopes (in fact I think we could use a little more hope in the world!), if they remain solely temporal then it is inevitable that our hopes will become dashed.

I'm reminded of a movie I recently watched called Sin Nombre. It's a movie about a girl and her family that leave Honduras in an attempt to come to the United States. In her attempt to go north, she crosses paths with El Casper, a gang member from Southern Mexico who is marked by his own clicke for breaking away. They cross paths and they accompany each other in hopes of reaching the US.

I won't spoil the movie for you (as I think it something everyone should see), but there is a lot of sadness in the movie. The realization of people hoping for a better life, and the discussion in the movie that: "Half of these people won't make it to to America," left me with a sense of hopelessness for those struggling in poverty.

If hope for things in this life are destined to be dashed, what then is certain hope? Is it completely futile to hope and desire for things in this life, be they as benevolent as safety, security, and good will towards your neighbor if these hopes are fleeting? I don't think that's what Fr. Charlie was getting at. Rather, he used a personal experience to describe his interpretation of certain hope. For this article, I borrowed a story from a fellow Novice. It's a story that may resonate with a personal experience of your own:

Years ago as a hospital chaplain, I remember visiting a very sick woman. She was being eaten alive by cancer, and it was expected that she'd live only a few more days. She had no family (at least none that ever visited) and she was in a great deal of pain.

When I first went into her room, I felt like I was the wrong guy for the job. "This woman needs a priest!" I thought, "not some schmuck with a Bible." But she greeted me, and I introduced myself, and we started talking.

We talked about her life, the church she'd gone to, her battle with cancer, the weather...I thought: "If I keep her talking, maybe she won't feel as bad about dying."

During our talk, a nurse came in with a needle. My experience as a hospital chaplain told me there was no medicine for what was ailing this woman; the nurse could only give her something for the pain. Not only did my time at the hospital tell me this, but I could read it on the expression of the nurse's face.

Very politely, the dying woman says to the nurse before she can even say a word: "Oh no, but thank you, dear. That stuff will put me to sleep. I'm dying, and I want to be awake when the Lord comes for me."

The nurse tried to reason with her, telling her that it would relieve the pain.

"The pain's not so bad," she responded. "And this nice young man and I are talking. Thank you dear, but I'll be all better soon enough."

I could see the nurse trembling slightly, doing her best not to burst into tears. She left the room as those tears formed in the corners of her eyes.

"Poor thing," the woman said to me as the nurse left. With a concern look she said: "Perhaps you should talk to her for a bit."

I was breathless. "Why would I need to see her?" I asked in response. "You're the one who's dying. My job is to be with you during this time."

She smiled at me and gave me a dismissive wave. "Dear, I already know where I'm headed. But that young lady," she said, referring to the nurse, "She needs some hope right now."

Certain hope is more than just our desires or our dreams. It is a reality we choose to accept and incorporate into our lives. As Pope Benedict writes in Spe Salvi: "Eternal, in fact, suggests to us the idea of something interminable, and this frightens us; life makes us think of the life that we know and love and do not want to lose, even though very often it brings more toil than satisfaction, so that while on the one hand we desire it, on the other hand we do not want it." (12)

Our challenge to live certain hope is to look at the eternal life and accept that as a reality for us as Catholic Christians. Even in the life of Francis, as he prepares to die in the Portiuncula, he recognizes that "Eternal life is." And the sooner we can come to this certain hope here on Earth, how much better followers of Christs could we be!

Certain hope is our preparation for the eternal life, a divesting of self as preparation for a new life with Christ. Again, it can be seen as a form of "death on Earth" as our path leads us to be followers of Christ.

This is the 2nd article in a three part series.
<1> <2> <3>

Three Gimme's of Franciscan Spirituality: True Faith

This week, we were lucky to have Fr. Charles Polifka, Capuchin come speak at Novitiate during our Day of Recollection this November. The theme of his talks was "The Three Gimme's of Francis." The note of his talk have been reprinted here with his permission. Please enjoy! -V

Most people don't associate the term "franciscan spirituality" and the words: "Give me..." We've developed a great sense of self-emptying and poverty, that many people who view us don't see us people who ask, but people who give. Yet in his prayer before the crucifix at San Damiano, Francis asked for three specific things:

Most High
Glorious God
Enlighten the darkness of my heart
and give me
True* Faith
Certain Hope
and Perfect Charity;
sense and knowledge
that I may carry out
Your holy and true command.

(*sometimes correct faith in some translations)

To start off, What is faith? Most often when people talk about their faith they speak in labels: I am Catholic, I'm Christian, I'm Muslim, etc. In actuality this is not our faith, rather they are a set of histories, traditions, and doctrines that help to guide us in our faith. We must look at faith as the destination, and the other traditions and doctrines as the roadmap to how we get there.

What then is faith? Faith is our desire to encounter the God that has been revealed to us. Faith is not built from the fear of death or the promise of rewards. It is the desire to enter into relationship with God, a relationship that penetrates all aspects of our being.

Perhaps the best example is to look at the story of the rich, young rule that encounters Jesus:

A certain ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.’”

“All these I have kept since I was a boy,” he said.

When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was very wealthy.  -Luke 18:18-23
Often our view is focused on the lesson of the rich being hard-pressed to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. Yet let's take a look at this man. He's lived the commandments of Jesus since he was a boy. Most likely, he continued to live that life at meeting Jesus. And at the time of his death, the command was fulfilled, since none of us can take our worldly belongings with us after we die. It is in his eventual death, as well as ours, that he is free from his worldly possessions to follow Jesus.

What Jesus asked of the rich, young ruler was "to die on this earth," to completely sever his old life and live entirely for Christ in all ways. It's a challenge that is continuously put before us as Capuchins and as Christians.

And much like the rich, young ruler...faith is a labor. As Catholic Christians, we must accept that our faith is a struggle. For if faith is akin to a relationship with the revealed God, our faith will struggle as all relationships are capable of hardship. And much like Francis' faith, our faith develops into different stages until we're able to come to a place where we can truly die in this life.

The stages of faith development look similar to this: (from the perspective of a Cradle Catholic)

1. Early Stage In the beginning of our faith when we're young, we can only learn and process so much. We learn words like Jesus, Heaven, God, and begin to associate those terms to something bigger than our parents.

2. Stories The use of stories to teach lessons is pervasive in the Gospels, and it is a teaching tool that is often used in our own catechesis. Stories of the Bible are used to explain lessons, doctrines, virtues, and many other important lessons that help us develop a relationship to God.

3. Expectations In our growth, we understand certain expectations put upon us to follow the road to faith. We attend church, we say our prayers, we engage in acts of charity. In essence we are doing what we have been told will lead us to faith.

Fr. Polifka talks about how too many Catholics today struggle in this stage. A good example he gave was how many people left the Catholic Church when the Tridentine Mass was changed to the Novus Ordo (from the Latin Mass to the English Mass in rudimentary terms). The issue comes not in way people experience God in the Old Mass, rather the belief that the Tridentine Mass is better because it is right. He warns that a faith based on legalistic terms such as correct/incorrect leads to a selfish understanding of faith: "If I do X, God gives me Y." If faith is about entering into a relationship with God, it must be more than just what I can get from God, rather what we're willing to give each other.

4. Self-Conflict The deeper we're willing to enter into our own faith journey, the more visible the struggle to connect with God becomes. We ask questions about the "Preferential Option of the Poor" and see the wealth of the Vatican and wonder...as one example. The struggle to find a faith within the context of an organized faith can be tough for a lot of people, yet the grace is to continue to seek that relationship with God in one's faith community. I touch on this a little in my discussion on Conversion, and how we as people striving for faith have to reorganize our world views to further encounter God.

5. Death in Life The best example of this can be seen in the meeting with Francis, his father, and the Bishop of Assisi. In a display of his true faith he undresses himself and places his needs and desires on the Father who art in Heaven, and not the man who gave him birth. The bishop welcomes Francis into his arms, and from that point after, Francis views the world in a much different way. His love, dependence, and total being are in relation to God...as was asked of the rich young ruler we looked at earlier.

In this is Francis' prayer for true faith answered, and the challenge for us continues as we live as Capuchins.

This is the first of a three-part series.

Byzantine Mass at Holy Ghost Church

Each Sunday a member from the Novitiate group chooses which parish we visit for Sunday Liturgy. This is done as a way to get out into the community and meet people who are attending Mass in the Pittsburgh area.

This week, Br. Kieran chose for us to go to Holy Ghost Church, a Byzantine church located in McKnees Rocks, PA. I was a little hesitatant about going; I've never been to a different Rite before, and when I hear the term "Eastern," it pretty much tells me I'll have the darkest skin color in the building!

Putting these thoughts aside, we attended Mass and received Eucharist after participating with a wonderful group of people. Entering the church was amazing; the artwork and the iconography were simply amazing! I wish I'd had brought my camera to take pictures of the inside of the church, if I thought I could get away with it.

After the Mass people were wonderful to see us and were willing to talk. There is something unique about a smaller faith community: the people seem to be closer-knit and more invested in the service taking place. Outside after the Mass, we talked with a number of people who wanted to know who we were and where we were from. I remember talking to a lady for whom I promised to pay for, as she is currently dealing with a brain tumor.

There were a few things that were new to me (the other way of signing the cross, the iconostatis, and the reception of the Eucharist) however I learned to adapt and enjoy the Mass...especially the singing. If you've never had the chance to attend a Byzantine mass, I'd highly encouragement.

If you're worried that you wouldn't know what to do at a Byzantine Mass, this guide might help the transition.