For Christopher...

Father Christopher Rengers, OFM Cap, died Monday at the Vincentian Home in Pittsburgh. He was 92.

Father Christopher was a noted confessor, spiritual mentor and author. His intense devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe and St. Joseph was legendary. Many regarded Father Christopher as a saintly Capuchin friar and priest.

He was born March 9, 1917, to Bernard and Elizabeth (Thinnes) Rengers in Pittsburgh. He was baptized at the St. Joseph Church in Bloomfield (Pittsburgh).

Father Christopher is survived by his brother, Gerard Rengers of Evans City. He also leaves many nephews and nieces to mourn his passing.

He entered St. Fidelis Seminary in Herman in 1930. Father Christopher entered the Capuchin Order in 1936 and professed his first vows as a friar on July 14, 1937. He made his solemn profession three years later. Father Christopher was ordained to the priesthood on May 28, 1942.

Father's advanced education included philosophy studies at the St. Fidelis Friary in Victoria, Kan.; theology at the Capuchin College in Washington, D.C.; and psychology at St. Louis University in St. Louis, Mo.

Father Christopher wrote numerous published works, including two Lenten books; a biography of Jacinto Marto, who was one of the three children who were blessed to encounter the Blessed Virgin Mary at Fatima; "The Stations of the Cross for the Elderly"; and a very popular book, "The Thirty-Three Doctors of the Church." He wrote many articles that appeared in various periodicals. Even until a few days before his death, Father Christopher worked on various scholarly and devotional projects.

His first priestly assignment was as chaplain at Visitation Academy in St. Louis, Mo., from 1943 to 1945. His next appointment was teaching at St. Joseph Military Academy in Hays, Kan., and serving as pastor of the St. Severin Church near Hays. Father Christopher was transferred to Herndon, Kan., as parochial vicar of St. Patrick Church in Tully, Kan., and chaplain for Atwood Hospital in Atwood, Kan.

In 1950, Father Christopher was assigned to St. Joseph Parish in Dover, Ohio, and in 1951 he became pastor of St. Patrick Church in Mineral City, Ohio. His ministry in Ohio ended in 1959.

For the next 16 years, Father Christopher labored at St. Charles Borromeo Church in St. Louis. He began his ministry in St. Louis as the Capuchin friars' promoter of vocations. In addition to his regular duties, Father Christopher helped the poor, elderly, immigrants and mentally disabled.

He founded The Capuchin Troupe, a group of amateur actors who performed Father Christopher's dramatic versions of the Passion of Christ and Our Lady of Guadalupe. The troupe performed in many parishes in Missouri and Illinois. In St. Louis, Father also began in earnest his ministry to promote devotion to St. Joseph, designing and promoting the St. Joseph Medal.

In 1975 Father Christopher was transferred to Capuchin College in Washington, D.C. In addition to his ongoing projects, in the nation's capital Father Christopher founded the Queen of the Americas Guild, dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe. Twice each year he headed a pilgrimage to Mexico City and the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Father Christopher was concerned about many social issues, including the right to life of the unborn. On Jan. 21, 1977, the night before the March for Life in Washington, D.C., he celebrated an evening Mass in the crypt church of the Basilica of the National Shrine. After Mass, Father Christopher and his small group of worshippers maintained a nightlong vigil. That unnoticed beginning has become a nationally televised Mass in the upper church of the Basilica, featuring Cardinals, bishops, priests, religious and an overflowing congregation. The all-night vigil is carried on by thousands of young people from around the country.

At the age of 87, Father Christopher's health necessitated close medical attention and he was assigned to St. Augustine Friary in Pittsburgh in 2004. Four years later, he took up residence at Vincentian Home, where he died.

RENGERS - Visitation and viewing for Father Christopher Rengers, OFM Cap, who died Monday, Jan. 25, 2010, will be from 2 to 4 and 6:30 to 9 p.m. Thursday at the St. Augustine Friary, 221 36th St., Pittsburgh. A wake service will be at 7:30 p.m.

The Mass of Christian Burial will take place at 10:30 a.m. Friday at Our Lady of the Angels Church, formerly known as St. Augustine Church, 200 37th St. Burial will follow at the St. Augustine Cemetery.

I had the pleasure and the grace to visit Christopher during my Novitiate. He complimented me when I read from the Breviary, blessed us all each time we visited, and gave me encouragement when I told about my Epilepsy. I keep his Guadalupe prayer card in my room, and my rosary that he blessed has been put away.

Franciscan Prayer: God's Method - be small

In the last Update on Franciscan prayer,we explored God’s passionate desire as a starting point for prayer. Francis and Clare started there, and they are now revered among the church’s greatest mystics. How did they do it?

To use Clare’s four-fold method, they began by gazing at God’s life. Very visible in Francis’ writings is his view of God creating. Perhaps at first blush, Francis’ focus seems a sentimental consideration of the various creatures. A deeper analysis uncovers Francis’ piercing stare at a God who can’t stand to hold everything in. So, Francis’ God bursts into an enormous act of creation.

Now Francis is going beyond a gaze to a meditation, or a consideration, to use Clare’s terminology. As Francis begins to consider this aspect of creation, he comes to know a selfless God who has no interest in holding anything back. God is not so big that he reserves what he has to himself. This God shares everything, including his existence. Francis senses the feelings displayed on this stage; God and his creation are tight!

Also notice that Francis’ consideration shows little concentration on the hierarchy of these creatures. Of course we can find those passages in his writings that ooze amazement at the human creature that is destined to be in the image and likeness of God. But instead of exploring all the different levels of creatures like Thomas Aquinas might, Francis intuits that all creatures are brothers and sisters, a metaphor that focuses on creaturely equality. Like human brothers and sisters, all creatures come from the same source.

Once we can appreciate this movement in Francis’ prayer, we begin to experience what was described in earlier Updates on Franciscan prayer: when you gaze and meditate upon God, you also learn about yourself and others. In this case, that all creatures are brothers and sisters. Actually, many of Francis’ surviving prayers seem to reflect Clare’s third stage of prayer, contemplation, during which the person praying basks in her relationship with God discovered during the gazing and considering stages. So, Francis left behind prayers that are nothing more than exclamatory names and adjectives for God.

If while reading this you feel even a twinge of desire to do something new or different because of this prayer experience, then you already have experienced the beginning of Clare’s 4th stage of prayer, imitation. Being in contact with this selfless, unassuming and small God typically leads us to desire to be the same.

Francis and Clare will gaze on more. So, stay tuned for future Updates.

10 Best Admonitions of 2009

Now that we're past the halfway point of our Canonical year, we've kinda gotten into a routine with chores, prayer, etc. Learning to get into those routines provided plenty of amusement for us (and plenty of headaches for the Novitiate formators). While no one's been kicked out (yet) for doing anything stupid, there's a good list of candidates already!

With the help of the other Novices, I compiled the top ten reasons we got yelled at in the first part of Novitiate. No one really yelled, but since I've heard many of these admonitions from my mother when I was a kid, the experience is easily paralleled.

Enjoy, and remember that 21 guys living together in community is a recipe for comedy trouble.

10. Be careful! Since we've been here, we've managed to break a lot of stuff. The tractor's been broke about 4 times, doors fall apart, tiles come off the floor, toilets stop working, and that's just the top of the list. Mysteriously, no one knows how anything got broke!

9. Clean up the bathroom. With 21 guys, you'd think the bathroom situation wouldn't require much attention. Yet there is a beautiful absurdity when you go into the restroom and see an empty roll of toilet paper on the roll but an economy size bundle of toilet paper sitting on the floor just under it.

8. Act civilized at the dinner table. Remember that scene from Doubt where the silent meal of the sisters is contrasted with the loud, crude, and boistrous meal the priests are having? Sometimes we are as loud as those priests...sans the drinks and smoking at the dinner table!

7. Finish everything off. Capuchins have a wonderful charism of leaving 2 drops of milk in a container and putting it back into the fridge
for another friar to find. But that charism also extends to leftovers (something we always have with so many mouths to feed). However while the leftovers are eaten, no one down-sizes the container. Sometimes we have a serving of chicken sitting in a large container made for an entire turkey.

6. Check the disposal. The description of this one is better than anything I could make up: "If the garbage disposal is making a really loud noise, turn off the disposal. Then, check to make sure that nothing that shouldn't be in there isn't."

5. Put stuff back where it belongs. We have a cook that makes the meals during the week. Because she knows where everything belongs (more than we ever will) she can get frustrated when we put stuff back in the wrong place. We've been told to just leave things out if we don't know where they go, but in our attempt to be helpful, we sometimes put things back in the wrong spot.

4. Make sure you Music Folder is in order. Before any concert or solemnity, Fr. Gerard tells the schola (repeately) to put their folders in order so there isn't a bunch of page-turning during Mass/Prayer. Inevitably, someone "forgets" to do this and they spend half the time searching for the next song they're supposed to sing.

3. Hang up your habits. Again, the description from the Formator is better than anything I can ever write: "I don't know what's happening; perhaps some novices are just spontaneously combusting. But whenever I go into the Rec Room, I see a habit sitting on the couch. And all I can think is: 'What happened to the novice that was sitting inside it? Surely he would have hung it up if he took it off.'" Sarcasm is quite abundant here in Allison Park.

2. Don't bug the librarian. We have a library under the house, and one of the Novices works as the librarian for books checked out. However with new books coming in, and in an attempt to switch from the Duey Decimal system to the New System, a librarian comes in sometimes to help with that conversion. It seems like a simple request, but when you're stuck in one place and have to see the same 20 faces everyday/all day, new fpeople can become swamped by questions.

1. Take down the lights.Trying to leave the lights up until later in the year, we tried to rename the "Christmas lights" as "Ordinary Time lights." While we thought this to be a great idea, the Formators weren't interested.

175 days to go! (even though I said I wasn't counting)

Rosaries as a Habit

So for the last few weeks, I've spent a lot of time making rosaries. It's no small task, and with so much time to spend on prayer and personal reflection, I've certainly had plenty of time to make a lot of them!

Taking the time to actually learn how to make rosaries can be time-consuming, but like I said: when you got plenty of time, you can learn just about anything! Since the beginning of the year I've spent a lot of my "free time" (that is, time that isn't scheduled for any specific task) learning and perfecting the skill of rosary making.
I first got inspired to return a favor.

When I joined, I asked a friar in Peru about a side rosary. I wanted something wooden and that looked "ethnic." Thankfully Br. Hugo Mejia asked a sister in South America to make me a corona. (Traditional 7-decade rosary) Inspired by that sister's gift, I decided that I wanted to learn that skill as a way to help out the novices coming next year.

The first real rosary I made wasn't actually a rosary. I've been working with the chotki as well as a devotion to the Divine Names of God. Using this traditional prayer method with a meditation on the Names of God, I decided to first make a side rosary to allow me to pray the names while walking. I am still writing down everything for this specific chaplet, since it's more complicated than most other chaplets. I should have that information posted soon.

Happy with my work, I decided to venture into making other rosaries. Above is a picture of a seraphic rosary or corona. The process required a lot of work, and there were times learning when I think I broke more wires and beads. But eventually I was creating rosaries! Since I started I've gotten some other novices started on making rosaries as well. Even as I write this blog, one of the other novices is looking for beads online.

Have I gotten too into this? Well, I did spent my last stipend entirely on rosary parts! However I feel good in entering a skill that allows me to reach a prayerful experience as I work, and I like being able to give away what I make to people who like it. I've even had a friar approach me about making 2 habit rosaries for him!

So if you don't see me online, you can probably find me in my room making more rosaries.


Reflections on The Wedding at Cana or "Don't tell me what to do!"

Jacopo Robusti Tintoretto - Wedding at Cana

Growing up as a shy kid, I wasn't as eager to "show off" my talents as I am today. In fact, I can remember specific incidents where I felt pushed into doing something because my specific gift or talent was needed. I remember being at a family gathering around 16 when someone asked if I played guitar. I'd been playing for only a year, and without any instruction. In my mind I sounded like Carlos Santana, but in reality I sounded like a dying alpaca. Not wanting to embarrass myself, I quickly shook my head and found another conversation to join.

Almost immediately, my mom came up to me: "They want to hear you play the guitar. Why don't you want to play? You play at the house all the time?"

At age 16 a boy doesn't often articulate his feelings well, and my only argument was: "Because I don't want to!" It started a brief argument(which I quickly lost), and I ended up pouting as I strummed through a few songs.

Similar incidents have happened in my life since, most prominent of them being my discernment of religious life. Often times, just describing the difference between a friar and a monk can take 20 minutes. Explaining the depths of my vocation can be an hour long conversation...usually followed by the exact same talk with another person 10 minutes afterwards.

So when I had a chance to reflect on the Gospel this Sunday about the Wedding at Cana, I tried to look at this Gospel through a different lens than usual:

Jesus and his disciples are there at a celebration, having a good time. And in the midst of everything, Mary comes up to him and asks him to do something. He resists at first (for reasons he can only articulate in metaphor), but Mary knows her Son. Eventually he has the servers fill the jars, and the glory of God is shown in His first sign...after being pushed into it by his Mother.

Praying and reflecting on this image, I came up with two big points for personal reflection and challenge this week:

1. Sometimes I need a swift kick in the butt to get on the proper track. If you ask any of the novices or formators here, they'll tell you my favorite line is: "Don't tell me what to do!" (a sarcastic statement I use as we learn Obedience) It can be an issue of pride when someone corrects or tells me what I should be doing, but I've found that, like Jesus, Moms tend to be right. And if this story presents a model of Mary encouraging her Son, than it also provides a model for me to be humble and listen to those around me.

2. I don't always know what my gifts and talents are, or sometimes I want to be selfish or shy about them. Earlier I stated that discussing my vocation story can seem like a chore, but with reflecting and understanding I see that I'm not doing anything...rather The Spirit is working in others through me. So while I may be challenged to continue to talk about myself and my life conversion, the challenge is to remember that it's not about me! Perhaps something I say or write will challenge someone, or give another person the insiration to do something...things I could never know. I may not like being pushed into doing things, but my challenge is to remember there are more important things than my pride.

I think I need to go call my mom now. Peace!

A Prayer for Haiti

This simple prayer was written by the Pastoral Director of my ministry. It is reprinted here for all to use (with permission, of course!) Please keep those affected by earthquake in your prayers.

Prayer for the Victims of the Earthquake in Haiti

Dear God,
We ask you to give comfort and strength to the people of Haiti. May they know of your love and care thorugh the actions and prayers of the world community. We pray that they may receive spiritual and material help through the generosity of the world community.

We pray also for those who ahve died, may they rest in the peace of your Heavenly Kingdom. May their families and friends find solace through their prayers and the prayers of others.


Halfway There!

With the Christmas Season finished and the first week of Ordinary Time underway, we've reached the halfway point of our Canonical Year. To see the difference of summer from when we first arrived is a start reality of how much time I've been here. With all the land that we have here at the Novitiate to plow and shovel, the frigid cold and the burden of snow is a stark reminder that our time here is not all fun and games.

For some, there is the desire to start marking off the days until Novitiate is done...similar to how someone might count the days until they're released from prison. Perhaps there exists some level of anxiety that parallels these two experiences. For me, there are times I just want to get home.

What is unique and telling about my life in discernment and formation is that "home" means something very different. For me, "going home" is about getting back to my province in the Mid-West, getting settled into the post-novitiate house in Chicago, and starting work on studies and specific ministries. The experience of working in the car business - spending long hours at work, putting in extra time to complete a task, etc. - is an example of who I am. I'm excited about working again (be it school work or ministry); I think I've started to find the balance from my old "Work Hard, Play Hard" mentality.

I certainly don't want to diminish the growth and prayerful experience I've had in these first six months (8, if you count the two months spent in Victoria, KS). I've read more about prayer, theology, spirituality, papal documents, Canon Law, etc. than I ever thought I would. The benefit of having the time to process all these different things as well as having the support and feedback of numerous friars is an experience that I can't truly convey in a single post. Six months into this life, and I realize that I will never have another year like this in my life.

So while I had a "Countdown Till Postulancy" years ago on my blog, I won't be counting the days until First Profession. I realize that this time is precious (even if I miss being away from my family, friends, and my province) and the best thing I can do as an aspiring friar is to soak in everything, learn all I possibly can, and keep praying for my and my brothers' vocations.

And in the meantime, we'll find new ways to deal with all the snow.

Prayers: A Franciscan Benediction

While there is no historical basis that this prayer came from Francis, it's easy to see that it exists in the Franciscan tradition and is based on the teachings and life of Francis of Assisi. I've seen this prayer in different forms - I've posted it for reflection and for inspiration as we look at our own baptismal calls and how we will live them out after experiencing the celebration of God's incarnation and self-emptying love to live as one of us.

May God bless you with discomfort
At easy answers, half truths, and superficial relationships,
So that you may live deep within your heart.

May God bless you with anger
At injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people,
So that you may work for justice, freedom, and peace.

May God bless you with tears
To shed for those who suffer pain, rejection, hunger, and war,
So that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and to turn their pain to joy.

And may God bless you with enough foolishness
To believe that you can make a difference in the world,

So that you can do what others claim cannot be done,
To bring justice and kindness to all our children and the poor.

Franciscan Prayer Part 3: God's Insatiable Desire

I've been meaning to continue this Series of articles written by Fr. William Hugo OFM Cap. (formator, Franciscan scholar, friar, and a good friend). But with the many visitors we've had since Christmas I haven't had a chance to write as much as I'd like. My apologies to those who've been interested in this series on Franciscan Prayer.

Many people approach me with the question, “What should I do to pray?” The question might suggest that they think prayer starts with them. Instead, I imagine Francis and Clare of Assisi starting with God, and, in particular, with God’s desire. Since it is obvious that we can desire all kinds of things that lead us away from God, it is important to examine our desire. But when we start by considering God’s desire, I find that questions about our desire fall into place.

When Francis and Clare gaze at God, they see big desire. First, God expresses so much desire that the result is creation. God wants to share himself by creating others. But then, for reasons we might describe as sin or limitation, creation becomes separated from God, and God absolutely hates that! Ever since the breach between God and creatures, God has desired to heal it, and every moment of God’s existence is filled with God’s work to accomplish this. Now that’s desire!

Perhaps you are wondering why I refer to God’s desire rather than God’s will. I’m fairly convinced that, when most people hear God’s will, they begin to wonder what concrete things God wants them to do. This often seems to be about what’s in God’s head. Francis and Clare seem to focus less on what God wants done and more on whom God wants. God wants his creation back. This spiritual intuition is more concerned with God’s heart than his head. It’s full of passion that seems akin to sexual passion. Well, it should, and that is why I prefer to talk of God’s desire over his will.

The relationship of two people in love is never simply about scant looks back and forth. That is more akin to infatuation. A love relationship begins when people interact on a personal level, and the responses of one grow out of the actions of the other. Our relationship with God is similar. It’s about passion for a person, and it begins with God’s behavior of creating us and then a host of other actions to which we get to respond. Our choices become clearer once we’ve experienced God’s desire.

The next article on Franciscan prayer will focus on how Francis and Clare increasingly understand God as they experience his desire. How does God express it? What is God like? What is he willing to do to be successful in passionate pursuit of us?

(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.)

Previous articles can be found here.

The Canticle of Francis

Most people are familiar with Francis of Assisi's Canticle of the Creatures. In Italy this song is still used as means of learning the language. The words and depth of this canticle about "Brother Sun" and "Sister Moon" have lasted through the centuries.

Last Transitus I adapted Francis' canticle to be used for a procession to for the vigil. I've heard "All Creatures of Our God and King" and "Canticle of the Creatures" enough times at this point that I wanted something new. So I decided to write my own version.

Unfortunately I've not done anything with it since. I decided to share this version to either be read, sung, or chanted. I've included the tone changes and, should anyone be interested, I can share the music I used originally when writing it.


The Canticle of Francis
Francis of Assisi
adapted by Br. Vito Martinez, OFM Cap.

Unto you Lord, Most High, your praise we sing
You reveal your glor-y in all things

To you alone all blessings do belong
None of us worthy to speak your Holy name

Praise be to You, My Lord, through Brother Sun
Bringer of day, he greets us with the dawn

VĂ­-brant and warm his rays of light
And bears likeness to you, O God on high

Praise be to you, my Lord, through Sister Moon
And through the stars that gleam and light the sky

Praise be to you, my Lord, through Brother Wind
He brushes our face, then races through the trees

Praise for the air, both cloud-y and serene
Breathes in life to all creatures of our King

Praise be to you, my Lord, through Sister Water*
Useful, humble, precious, a-nd pure

Praise be to you, My Lord, through Brother Fire
Illumines the night as he guides us on our way

Beautiful, playful, ro - bust, and strong
Giver of warmth, he dances for us all

Praised be to you, through Sister, Mother Earth
The off’ring of bread and wine, she grants to us first

Sustainer and the gov'ness of our lives
Abundance and beauty we see in all she provides*

Praised be to you, my Lord, through Sister Death
From her hand no mortal can escape.

* While the last part of each line is a three-note interval, some strophes have a 4-syllable ending. In those instances I've either shortened "fire" to one syllable or shortened the length of the note: "all she.."