Monday, February 26, 2007


My niece, Emma Elaine was born this past February 22nd. Babies have a way of bringing people together. Indeed, birth is something that everyone can relate to -- not because we remember our birth but because we experience being born many times. Indeed we experience birth and death many times in life, both often coming with tears. This too is the genius of baptism. As we die with Christ we become born anew in Christ.

I am thinking now of John the Baptist. I imagine his feelings when Jesus wanted him to baptize him -- a grain of sand standing in front of the vast infinity of God. God, that divine and infinite being who IS without a past or a future, took on finitude and mortality. He got bloody, bruised and beaten. He lost. He died.

John as fetus leapt in Elizabeth's womb as a sign of recognition of Jesus. It is that same recognition that caused John to take pause when Jesus wanted John to baptize him in the Jordan. However, by baptizing Jesus John took part in the relationship of the Trinity. It is that participation in the Trinity that helps us to understand relationship. It helps us to grasp the concept of love. It also helps us to see why God allowed himself to die -- love. However, it also because of that love that all creation could become anew. His resurrection conquered sin, just as baptism conquers that original sin.

And I think of all of this in that instant before the baby enters the world and cries.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

lent 2007

Fr. Carrozzo's homily for this Ash Wednesday was spot on at St. Francis Church on 31st Street. In it, he said the greatest danger of Lent for us is that we become selfish, self-centered. We might be inclined to use this time to focus on ourselves so that we can become better people. But, that is not the point of repentance. The point is to turn back to God so that we can be ambassadors of the Gospel (cf. 2 Cor. 5:20-62). The idea is that instead of focusing on ourselves, we need to focus on making the world a better place during this season of Lent. We might think of Bonaventure who tells us that the best way to make a better place is to make it more beautiful.

Friday, February 9, 2007

semper ubi sub ubi

I talked yesterday about wanting violins and getting Nero. Although full of Monty Python like folly, I did not get Nero exactly in last night's Latin class.

I studied Latin my senior year in high school. I took it as an elective. Yes, of all the electives I could have taken, I took Latin. I felt it was the mark of erudite education. I was 17. I went to Le Moyne to pursue a Jesuit education and continued with Latin. Magister Flavius had a passion for the language and for Wheelock's Latin. He was a tough grader but his enthusiasm was contagious. Full of myself at 19, I decided to shake the dust off of my feet and I headed to Cornell to be a Classics major.

Cornell was an experience like dropping yourself in the middle of an unknown island (perhaps the Bermuda Triangle) and trying to ascertain how to get back home. My first Latin class was with Professor Mick (he looked like a much more attractive Mick Jagger), who had a habit of rolling his own cigarettes and then consuming the butt in its entirety (not exactly attractive when I think of it). With an arrogance he could only have developed at Oxford, he asked me in my first day how I could not understand something as simple as the second declension. I got emotional and defensive. He had the look of utter confusion. I stayed on with the semester and eventually took an intermediate Latin class with him, but I lost all hope of becoming a classicist. That was a singularly bright move.

I did take a Latin reading group class at Cornell. I want to say we read Ockham. That was a delight because the Latin was easier. Medieval Latin is easier in one sense to be sure. The translating becomes less of a problem and the content becomes more of the issue. How many angels would fit on the head of a pin? It is this kind of a question that eludes my feeble brain.

I buried Latin at Cornell. Or so I thought. When I began looking at Bonaventure in translation, I noticed that all the good ones incorporated Latin in the footnotes. I realized quickly that I needed a refresher course. Fortunately, I got a hold of one such class.

I went in expecting something as serious as Professor Mick's class. Because I am a hopeless case, I did not anticipate roll call taking half of the class. I did not expect a commentary on the difference between an "authoritarian" and a "democratic" language. Nor did I expect to be told that word order matters completely not -- it easy without dictionary keep help the (see word order DOES matter). Nor did I anticipate just breezing through the actual Latin grammar with no explanation. But perhaps my favorite line summarizes the folly: when the good professor explained that "cogito ergo sum" meant "I think therefore I am", she commented that she guessed someone thought that was smart.

10 years later, I am still pursuing this folly. ME SERVA!

Thursday, February 8, 2007


On Monday, February 5th, I was received into the fraternity of St. Benedict the Moor. Our typical meeting involves Mass with Evening Prayer woven in and then a business review and on-going formation. In the context of the Mass, I made my public request to enter the Secular Franciscan Order and into the St. Benedict the Moor fraternity. They received and armed me with our habit, known as the tau cross, and a rule book. I will now begin Candidacy and the hope is that by the end, I will make my permanent comittment to the Secular Franciscan Order. All of this was a moment of initiative.

In Deacon Luke's homily, he spoke of the grace of initiative. He said:

The gift of Initiative allows me to sing in utmost confidence with the Psalmist,
"You, O Lord, are my lamp, my God who lightens my darkness. With you I can break through any barrier, with my God I can scale any wall."

I have no issue with the concept of initiative. Indeed I often feel the Holy Spirit prompting me to it. However, my tendency to take on a sense of grave responsibility sometimes chokes the initiative. For example, I came up with a document that discussed a holistic plan to live out what I am learning in formation. There is nothing wrong with the concept, but perhaps having everyone call it a "manifesto" is a sign of it being overly-ambitious. I just have to be careful not to confuse initiative with taking on more than I can chew. It's a constant theme for me really--wanting something glorious, lofty and encountering folly so as to humble my pride. I am reminded of a line from an unreleased U2 song "Mercy":

You wanted violins, and you got Nero

I take the violins to to be about harmony, while Nero used an instrument of harmony to make folly. I know that I want harmony but instead get folly of my own making.

In sum, if I can merely let the Holy Spirit guide me with Initiative instead of having to shape its fruits into my own vision, I can mitigate much of the folly I create. Then I can be free to give back to God in steadfast love. Indeed, "mercy" has sometimes been interpreted as that in Scripture -- steadfast love. Steadfast love found in God lends itself to being able to hold steadfast in love with the world around us. Then, like the Psalmist, with God I can break through any barrier, scale any wall.