Sunday, March 30, 2008


At the 12 noon Mass on Sundays, the youth choir sings a rousing version of the Sanctus.
Güiro. Bongos. Cowbell. Conga line. Ritmo, muchachos, ritmo.

Nothing you’d find in the Liber Usualis.

The Hosanna chorus is the apex of the song’s enthusiasm. The stained-glass windows rattle. Folks clap and sway. Even Doña Clorinda in the front row by the sagrario gets momentarily distracted from her end-of-days rosary marathon.

One little guy, maybe four years old, wears eyeglasses, who’s always there with his mom actually anticipates the moment with a dance-like motion in his pew. He knows it’s coming. He stays with me through the Preface, arms extended like mine, his head trying to stay focused but his body slowly getting the better of him. He virtually explodes with holy power as the guitars and keyboard lead into the first “Santo, Santo, Santo!”

It is a weekly display of unfettered delight and religious innocence that I do not tire of watching. I muse nostalgically that the Almighty must revel in this shorty’s ecstasy as He did when David danced before the Ark of the Covenant.

Today, however, I discovered that our tiny dancer’s fervor is slightly misplaced.

He gets stuck on Hosanna, so it’s not unusual to hear him during communion or as we exit at the end of Mass, waving and smiling... and shouting the favorite word of his favorite song.

His mom says to me in the door of the church as they leave, “You know, Padre, Nico gets up early every Sunday and wakes me up with the same question.”

“Really, what’s that?”

“Mami, are we going to see Hosanna today?”

“To sing Hosanna?”, I ventured hopefully.

“No, No. To SEE Hosanna. You’re Hosanna and every Sunday we go to a fiesta at your house...”


A note to the mothers of our parish:

Speak to your children. Tell them who Jesus is. Convince them that God exists.
Explain to them the Holy Mass. Set them on the road of orthodoxy and warn them to look neither to their right nor their left lest they stray.

And in the meantime, just call me Hosanna...

Saturday, March 29, 2008

sight unseen

I have four Masses tomorrow. One in English. So that’s two homilies to prepare. It’s got little to do with the words, really. The same Gospel on the same Sunday is simply not preached the same way to the different communities.

I imagine that it would seem obvious, but I also know how long it took me to figure it out.

I’m an exorcist, not a Rhodes Scholar.

The liturgy of Easter season opens a photo album of the early Christian community. The snapshots reveal restlessness, eagerness, anticipation. Who among them suspected that the time of creation’s travail would go on for at least another two millennia? Acts, Peter and Paul all exude and aire of expectancy, of imminence. The dumbfounding truth about our destiny and the transformation of all reality that exploded from the tomb on the third day made waiting for His return nearly an insufferable task...

Peter was there when Christ said it to Thomas. Peter repeats it in his letter to the early community: “...your faith (is) more precious than gold... although you have not seen him, you love him; even though you do not see him now yet believe in him.”

To think that it was always His intention that the incalculable majority of believers would become so having not seen... that the unending chorus of martyrs would surrender their lives for a love unconfirmed by their senses... is finally to understand the importance of testimony. Our faith is born from the testimony of those who go before us for we, too, believe without having seen.

Thomas doubted, but he knew what sign to ask for.

The nail marks, the wounds, the scars. “When you have lifted up the Son of man then you will know that I am He.”

Would that in our hour of doubt we ask for so unequivocal a sign...

charism (IV)

If you ask an LC, especially a fresh, out-of-the-can LC, what the charism of the Legion is he will say, “Charity!”

This is a conditioned response. Not necessarily a bad one, but one that requires a harder look. My response to the question would be different. I might easily be wrong, but I have certainly had plenty of time to think about it.

The first problem with the programmed answer is that no religious order can describe its charism in a one word sound byte. All religious are committed to charity... heroic charity, of the type Christ taught us. Charity, understood as selfless love of neighbor, will be present wherever the Spirit has truly bestowed any of His gifts upon us.

The more specific problem with the typical LC buzzword in my mind is that the practice of charity as a virtue within the LC has been legislated to pieces... pieces that often leave it unrecognizable and confused. The practice of charity outside the walls of the LC house, in our apostolic work, is heavily conditioned by our methodology and its quantifiable goals. That, too, at times sullies and coerces the virtue and the gift.

The vast majority of LCs are extremely decent, charitable and compassionate. I have often been put to shame by the unthinking goodness of my brothers in the Legion and the guilelessness with which they live this most basic of Christian traits. And as far as our spiritual formation is concerned there is no lack of discourse on the ‘queen of virtues’.

But what I’m saying is different: as charism, as the living, breathing heart and soul of the Congregation, charity loses its freedom, its force and its unbridled creativity – whether we’re aware of it or not – because of some of the institutional baggage we carry... elements of a system perhaps not at all essential to our true charism.

On the inside, human relationships – the scenario in which all charity is exercised – can become so minutely regulated by rules and norms that deference to the superiors, topics of conversation, the way we think and express ourselves, the way we work together, the way we enjoy ourselves and relax together make one wonder if it is all really charity or just self-preservation in an setting where uniformity is by far the safest option. By the same token, true friendship, open dialogue, candor and caring for the guy in the cassock next to you are suspect. At times, no matter how many smiling faces surround you, a Legionary community can be an extremely lonely place, indeed.

On the outside, the LCs are primed to cultivate leaders, recruit people for specific works or needs of the Congregation, implement a methodology regardless of the reality they confront, put efficiency above all else and pile up numbers.

There is inarguable merit to our intensity, our focus, our organizational prowess, our method, our work ethic and our insistence on fruitful results. I do not advocate a less demanding apostolate. But, again, charity is often the unnoticed casualty of the campaign.

Who among us has never overlooked souls placed in our path because we were too intent upon catching the ‘bigger fish’? Are the works we ostensibly dedicate to helping the poor ends in themselves or means to other goals? Have none of us ever observed the stampede of LCs that want to be present at the ‘important’ wedding, funeral, baptism or whatever... while finding time for confessions or spiritual direction or hospital visits to the ‘less notable’ is a real chore? Do we worry as much about the people (the people!) we serve through our apostolates as we do about the work itself or the image we project? Do we stick our necks out for our people, take the necessary risks for them... or drop them like hot tamales as soon as we perceive some inconvenience or shadow of disfavor? Is charity always the unadulterated finality of our pastoral efforts or are we out there trying to impress the superiors, hold on to our place or our job, make a name for ourselves because that is what the system expects of us...?

OK. Enough. But I insist that I be correctly understood: the LCs do and have done incalculable good to thousands upon thousands of people. The spirit of outreach, enthusiasm and sacrifice that characterizes our Congregation has been an injection of life and hope for the Church wherever the LC is present.

What I’m saying specifically regards the definition of our charism. I would not glibly and bluntly respond “Charity!” to the question I began this post with. There is pressure exerted by institutional aspects of LC life on the virtue of charity that merits reflection and analysis. We should not fear this task. The Holy See has already given us a push in this direction. In the end, charity will and must be the most vivid and lasting expression of all we are as priests and not simply a shiny veneer held in place by rules and norms.

(to be continued...)

Thursday, March 27, 2008

charism (III)

I wrote to Pope Benedict last September in an attempt to get some answers to the many vital questions that have haunted LC consciences since Fr. Maciel’s obliged retirement. I asked the Holy Father about the changes that have been made (private vow, etc.) and the ones that are still to be revealed.

With gratitude I can say that the letter I received in reply, from the desk of the Prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life was thoughtful, clear and helpful toward sorting things out a bit better in my own head. Other LCs have written Pope Benedict and also received responses. I can only encourage the rest of my brothers who have grappled long and hard with these issues that touch the very heart of who we are to do the same. Light and truth are always good things for the soul, even when you have to go the extra mile to get them.

Regarding the suspension of the first private vow and the other changes that are generally known about, Cardinal Rode said something that – obvious as it may seem to an outsider – truly struck me:

“... For peace of soul, both for you and your confreres united in the disturbance caused by the events of this particular moment in the Institute’s (LC) history, it is necessary to point out that the charism of the Legionaries of Christ has not been touched by the suppression of certain articles by the Holy See...”

I had an epiphany, of sorts.

To think that a vital part of our lives as LCs, obsessed over and insisted upon with singular emphasis by the Founder, matter for confession and litmus test for true ‘integration’... something that our Founder considered one of the outstanding graces given by God to the Legion... something that no LC superior or General Chapter would ever consider tampering with, even when the Founder was no longer among us... would eventually prove to be something other than an intrinsically necessary part of our charism... something non-essential for an LC... something that would disappear with less of a roar than a whimper...

Nothing less than an LC mind-blower, folks.
I confess that I had to break out the Knob Creek and read that over quite a few times.

Certainly, I refer here to one specific aspect of LC life. But the broader point could hardly be missed by any of us: that something held so dear to the Founder’s heart and so explicitly mandated in his writings and even the Constitution of the Congregation need to be distinguished from the true charism of the Legion.

In what, then, does our charism truly consist?

The Legion, like other orders and movements in the Church, is the living incarnation of a particular charism inspired by God through its Founder as a gift and a promise at a specific point in salvation history.

Like all gifts of the Spirit, charism is complex, multi-faceted, made up of intangibles, ultimately inscrutable, perhaps... and yet it can be grasped, lived, made manifest in us, purified and passed on from one generation to the next.

This, then, is the urgent task. To allow the Spirit to illuminate His gift through the Legion in this new stage of our history. To honestly, transparently and confidently seek an ever clearer knowledge of who we are and what we have received... because that – and nothing else - is what we are expected to give. To undertake without fear the potentially painful task of purifying the Legion’s charism from that which obscures it... to not be afraid to distinguish, with the help of the Spirit, between that which is essential and that which is purely accidental or ornamental.

I think the Holy See, whether we like it or not, has given us the first invaluable nudge toward the lengthy task of purifying our charism. Think about all that has happened: the person of the Founder forced to the background, the toning down of the shriller aspects of our self-promotion, the intervention that quietly removed structural elements that seemed (unthinkably, to us!) to threaten freedom of conscience and true charity within the Congregation...

We just may look back some day and discover that these trying times were indeed providential for the Legion.

(to be continued...)

Wednesday, March 26, 2008


Holy Week has come and gone, unleashing its drama and intensity on the communities I minister to and, hopefully, making their lives a little less fearful, a bit more intense, slightly more capable of experiencing the routine shattering brilliance of it all...

It is the turning, the transition, the Pasch... The crucified One, as this turning, is the Word which the Father addresses to the world. At this moment, the Word cannot hear itself. It collapses into its scream for the lost God. And it will really be an interpretation of his heavenly meaning, as it were, of the voice of the Father and the Spirit in the Son when the evangelists write the words, ‘Forgive them...’, ‘Today you will be with me in paradise...’ ‘It is finished.’ We should receive such words as spoken to us by the Father through the Spirit in the suffering of the Son...”

Hans. Who else?

To accentuate our meditation during the Triduum, I put a full color print of Grunewald’s Crucifixion on the parish bulletin.

Sometimes subtlety is not an option.

I am kind of on my own pastorally with the three parishes right now. The priest assigned to the Haitian community is a good man, but he’s pretty limited in what he can do to help with the Hispanic, Afro-American and Caribbean communities that constitute the greater part of the church in the North End. The deacons are excellent, but work their own jobs and look after their families during the week.

One VERY positive development of late has been the hiring of a lay financial manager for the churches. He has taken on the cluster’s challenges with uncommon zeal and I have gone back to being a priest. My new mantra: Talk to Jim ... instead of having to deal directly with the banks, the insurance guys, the vendors, technicians, exterminators, creditors, pay-roll people, snowplow dude, etc...

Easter season has begun with listening, basically. Listening in spiritual direction, listening while they scream, while they cry, while they stutter, listening at the hospital, listening at the jail, listening on the phone and in the confessional. Listening, mostly. Speaking, some.

Praying... well, it’s never enough now, is it.


Tuesday, March 04, 2008

charism (II)

I really hate those blogs that simply run endless quotations from books and poems and song lyrics. But the following quote from my idol in the world of theology, Hans Urs von Balthasar, is key to my reflections following Fr. Maciel’s death. Please bear with me.

The most important thing about great saints is their mission, a new charism bestowed on the Church by the Holy Spirit. The person who possesses it and bears it, is only the servant of the Spirit, a servant who is weak and unprofitable even to the point of the most sublime achievements in whom the luminous quality is not the person, but the testimony, the task, the office: ‘He himself was not the Light, but he came into the world only to bear witness to the Light.’

All saints, especially they, realize the deficiency in their service to the mission, and one should believe them in what they say so urgently. The chief thing about them is not the heroic personal achievement, but the resolute obedience with which they have given themselves over to being slaves to a mission and understand their entire existence only as a function of and protective covering for this mission.

One should place in the limelight what they themselves want and have to put in the limelight: their mission, their interpretation of Christ and of the Holy Scripture. One should leave in the dark what they themselves want to and must leave in the dark: their paltry personalties. One should attempt, therefore, through their saintly existence, to read and to understand the mission of God to the church. One should try, just as far as one can, to distinguish the salutary and wholesome mission from its deficient realizations. Not in the sense of a separation, since this mission is indeed incarnated precisely in the life, in the deeds and sufferings of the saints, as well as in their persons, history and psychology, and in all the little anecdotes and circumstances which accompany and surround the life of a saint.

Hence, we must distinguish the mission not in an abstraction from what is living, in a conceptualization of what is concrete, in a depersonalization of the uniquely personal, but rather, after the pattern of the phenomenological method which studies the essence, the gestalt, the intelligibile in sensibili, as far as this is humanly attainable. Only here the intelligibile is something supernatural, and its envisioning presupposes a faith, yes, a sharing in the life of holiness.
(from Sisters in Spirit: Theresa de Lisieux and Elizabeth von Dijon, 1970, pp. 20-23)

The Legion of Christ must now, in the opinion of one humble exorcist, thoughtfully and intentionally deepen its own understanding of the charism it has received. The Founder has passed on, but what we were given through him remains. This is not a rejection of the figure of the Founder. It is the ultimate realization of what he himself would have wanted... even when it would have been largely impossible while he lived and breathed among us.

(To be continued...)