Archive for January, 2013

Happy 98th Birthday to Thomas Merton!

Posted in Thomas Merton with tags , , , on January 31, 2013 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

Today marks the 98th birthday of the late Trappist monk and spiritual writer, Thomas Merton.

This is the beginning of the entry in Merton’s journal from January 31, 1968, the last birthday he would celebrate on this earth.

Clear, thin new moon appearing and disappearing between slow slate blue clouds – and the living black skeletons of the trees against the evening sky. More artillery than usual whumping at [Fort] Knox. It is my fifty-third birthday.

He spent the day, admittedly not working, but enjoying the unusual springlike afternoon around the monastery and near the pond. How will you celebrate Merton’s Birthday?

Photo: Merton Legacy Trust

‘Franciscan’ Before Francis of Assisi

Posted in Franciscan Spirituality, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on January 30, 2013 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

basil_of_caesareaIn a way that I found pleasantly surprising, Basil of Caesarea’s Sermon IX on creation bears an eerie resemblance to some of the writings of Francis of Assisi on the same subject. What’s particularly interesting is placing Basil’s text alongside some of his contemporaries (such as Gregory of Nyssa) only to discover that Basil’s particular insights in this homily seem pretty unique. The most striking similarity comes in two parts where Basil is talking about humanity and the rest of the created order. There is a sense in which Basil appears to say that the rest of creation intuitively and correctly praises or serves God by virtue of those things simply being themselves. In one part he says:

“Let the earth bring forth living creatures.” This command remains in the earth and the earth does not cease serving the Creator (no. 2).

The reflection on the line from Genesis 1:24 serves as the antiphonal thread that ties each of the subthemes of his reflection. In this case there appears to be an acknowledgement of the earth’s complicity in serving God in and through the exercise of the command God gave in the creative act.

What can, in some ways, appear like Basil’s granting a kind of agency to the earth reminds me of the general presupposition of Francis of Assisi’s famous Canticle of the Creatures in which elements of the created order are identified for their inherent “serving” (to use Basil’s term) or “praising” of God in and through the exercise of the Divine command to be what it is they were created to be (Sun to give light, fire to give warmth, etc.).

When it comes to human persons, Francis of Assisi follows the same pattern he outlines for the rest of the created order:

All praise be yours, my Lord, through those who grant pardon for love of you;
through those who endure sickness and trial.
Happy are those who endure in peace,
By You, Most High, they will be crowned.

Just as the wind blows and the fire warms, human persons give glory and praise to God by granting pardon, enduring trial patiently, and persisting in (and promoting) peace.

However, unlike the rest of the created order, human persons often do not do these things and therefore do not live out who and what they were created to be. In his Admonition V, Francis picks this theme up again in a more explicit way, exhorting his brothers to look at the rest of creation as a model for how to live rightly as intended by God.

And all creatures under heaven serve, know, and obey their Creator, each according to its own nature, better than you.

This sentiment, it seems to me, reflects what Basil writes a little later in Sermon IX when he similarly points to the rest of creation and the way in which it follows God’s command in right relationship far better than his listeners are likely to be living.

If we consider how much care, natural and inborn, these brute beasts take of their lives, either we shall be roused to watch over ourselves and to have forethought for the salvation of our souls, or we shall be absolutely condemned, when we are found to be failing even in the imitation of irrational animals (no. 3).

These similarities are wonderful. It’s unclear to me whether or not Francis could have been directly or indirectly influenced by this Cappadocian thought, but regardless of the actual formation of a clear connection, the insight both great thinkers offer is well worth reflection.

How is it that we live out God’s command to be in right relationship with ourselves, with other human persons, with the rest of creation, and with God? Do we ever stop to think about the so-called “natural” order and consider how authentically different parts of the created world praise God simply by being themselves?  What is it that we need to do to fit in with the rest of creation, to “be ourselves,” and therefore praise and serve God?

Photo: File

10 Ways to Misunderstand Vatican II

Posted in America Magazine, Uncategorized, Vatican II with tags , , , , , on January 29, 2013 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

MEETING DURING SECOND VATICAN COUNCIL FILE PHOTOThe current issue of America magazine includes an article by the eminent church historian John O’Malley, SJ, a professor at Georgetown University and author of many important books. O’Malley’s piece, simply titled “Misdirections,” is a commentary on ten ways he understands people to commonly misinterpret the Second Vatican Council, its mission, its documents, and its historical impact. It’s an important list given all the talk these days from various vantage points about the enduring legacy of the Council, which has recently marked the fiftieth anniversary of its beginning. O’Malley’s point is that far too often simplifications and post facto rationalizations have led to the misconstruing of the Council and its texts. He explains:

It is not easy to interpret any great event, so it is not surprising that today there is disagreement about how to interpret the Second Vatican Council. Here, I want to turn the issue around to indicate how not to interpret it. (Of course, astute readers will see that this is just a sneaky way of making positive points.) Some of these principles are, in fact, of direct concern only to historians or theologians. The issues that underlie them, however, should be of concern to all Catholics who cherish the heritage of the council. These 10 negative principles are simply a backhanded way of reminding ourselves of what is at stake in the controversies over the council’s interpretation.

The list of “ways not to interpret” Vatican II are as follows:

  1. Insist Vatican II was only a pastoral council.
  2. Insist it was an occurrence in the life of the church, not an event.
  3. Banish the expression “spirit of the council.”
  4. Study the documents individually, without considering them part of an integral corpus.
  5. Study the final 16 documents in the order of hierarchical authority, not in the chronological order in which they were approved in the council.
  6. Pay no attention to the documents’ literary form.
  7. Stick to the final 16 documents and pay no attention to the historical context, the history of the texts or the controversies concerning them during the council.
  8. Outlaw the use of any “unofficial” sources, such as the diaries or correspondence of participants.
  9. Interpret the documents as expressions of continuity with the Catholic tradition.
  10. Make your assessment of the council into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

To read his explanation of each of these points, check out the full article: “Misdirections” over at America‘s website.

Photo: File

Theology and the Priority of Prayer

Posted in Franciscan Spirituality, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on January 28, 2013 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

st anthony apparition of st francisThere are times when theology can just be work.

Toward the end of Francis of Assisi’s life there was an increasing need among the early brothers for some sort of formal education. The friars were preaching and responding to the pastoral needs of people throughout Europe, a ministry that required some grounding in the theology of the church. Anthony of Padua, a learned man and well-known preacher, was invited by some of his brother friars to help instruct them in doctrine, scripture, canon law, and theology.

Anthony knew that Francis was not generally a fan of what we might anachronistically call “higher education” for the brothers. His concern was that education was often a means for distinction, a sense of superiority, and a means toward lording over others. Sometime after 1223 Anthony wrote to Francis to seek his blessing to accept the task that his brother friars had placed upon him. And Francis, it seems, changed his mind. The Poverello wrote to Anthony:

Brother Francis sends greetings to Brother Anthony, my Bishop. I am pleased that you teach sacred theology to the brothers providing that, as is contained in the Rule, you “do not extinguish the Spirit of prayer and devotion” during study of this kind.

On one hand it could seem as though Francis did indeed change his mind, now granting an exception for the study of theology within the community. Yet, it might also be seen as Francis’s simple return to the Rule itself, which he cites in this note. In the Rule Francis talks about how the brothers are to work, provided what they do is not intrinsically sinful (no friar should be an assassin, for example) and that whatever the brothers do does not “extinguish the Spirit of prayer and devotion.”

In other words, Francis ultimately recognized the validity of study in general and of theology more specifically as a form of work compatible with what had become the “Franciscan way of life.” But, just as was true for those friars primarily engaged in ordained sacramental ministry or those friars who worked in leper hospices, friars who were students and professors of theology were to always keep prayer their priority.

There is a great lesson for us today in the wisdom of a brief eight-hundred-year-old letter from one of the world’s most famous Christians to another of the world’s most famous Christians: whatever we do should take second place to how we live. If we find that our work is interfering with the priority of prayer and the spirit of devotion, perhaps we need to reevaluate what it is we are doing, or at least how we are going about doing it.

Do we consider the relationship between our work and our spiritual lives? Do we recognize that we are all called to prioritize the “Spirit of prayer and devotion?”

An interesting thing about the mendicant orders, especially the Franciscans, is that their way of life is modeled in such a way as to foster life with and among ordinary people. Perhaps this is why the Franciscans have remained so popular, even to this day. The wisdom of not letting one’s work or one’s ambition or one’s personal desires or even one’s will to do good for others get in the way of recalling that all things come from and should return to God is a message not only for women and men in professed religious life, but for all Christians and all people of good will.

What if we lived in such a way that our prayer was our priority, that we allowed our whole lives to reflect a spirit of prayer and devotion?

Returning to Francis’s blessing and caution to Anthony, I am grateful for what these two brothers of mine in religious life and faith have passed on to us. As someone who studies theology and whose work is often of an academic nature, the reminder to maintain my spirit of prayer and devotion as priority is key. My attitude toward this work of theology can also, however, reflect that spirit of prayer and devotion. And that is what St. Bonaventure meant in his understanding of the discipline of theology, an understanding captured succinctly in the title of Greg LaNave’s book about the nature of Bonaventure’s theology: “Through Holiness to Wisdom.”

There are times when theology can just be work. And there are other times when theology, like all work, can be the path towards holiness and wisdom.

Photo: File

When Style Trumps Spirit: Ministry and Clothing

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on January 27, 2013 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

cassocksThere is a very interesting and lengthy piece of commentary recently published in the National Catholic Reporter by the well-known theologian Thomas O’Meara, OP, a dominican friar and emeritus professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame. His piece “calls out” some ecclesiastical leaders of the church who appear more interested in Baroque finery of centuries past than the contemporary concerns of pastoral ministry. His almost-humorous (it would be funny if it weren’t so true) lambaste of younger clerics and religious is, in my opinion, spot-on. Here’s an excerpt:

New religious groups in the United States, along with some young members of older orders seem eager to wear a religious habit in public, not just on the grounds around a school but at airports or on the subway. What does a monastic habit or a cassock in public say to Americans at the beginning of the 21st century? It is not at all evident that the general public knows who this strangely dressed person is or even connects the clothes to religion. The symbolism is not clear and a message is not evident. The person does stand out, but as a kind of public oddity. Eccentric clothes instill separation. While some argue that odd clothes attract people, the fact is that more often than not they repel. Normal people are not attracted by the antique or bizarre costume, and ordinary Christians are not drawn to those whose special costume implies that others are inferior. Sometimes wearing clothes seems to be a substitute for real ministry.

It is not clear how men wearing dresses and capes proclaim God’s transcendence or the Gospel’s love. A man’s identity is something complex; the search for it lasts a lifetime. A celibate cleric gives up things that form male identity, like being a husband and a father. One cannot overlook possible links between unusual clothes and celibacy. Does the celibate male have a neutral or third sexuality that can put on unusual clothes? Are special clothes a protection of celibacy? Or are they a neutralization of maleness? Why would a man want to wear a long dress or a cape in public? Are spiritual reasons the true motivation?

I have often had conversations around this precise subject with a variety of people about my own clothing — when I will or won’t wear my Franciscan habit; when I will or won’t wear a roman collar; when I will or won’t wear ordinary and appropriate clothes of our age.

6a00e551f8c13088330148c73568c4970cOne of the things that O’Meara points out well is that, although not necessarily causal, there is a correlative relationship between those whose ministerial/personal identities are more likely to emphasize distinctness, cultic clericalism, and an over-against relationship and those who are more likely to wear a full cassock to Trader Joe’s to pick up some groceries. 

This is a continuing debate among members of religious orders of all stripes. I believe, as O’Meara — a fellow friar, although a Dominican not a Franciscan — seems to suggest, that there are indeed times when wearing one’s religious habit is appropriate, even necessary or expected.

For example, engaging in active pastoral ministry or presiding over the Eucharistic liturgy are times when one might expect a Franciscan or Benedictine or Dominican to wear his habit. This was the case when I taught at Siena College in the department of religious studies. When I was in the classroom, the environment of my day-to-day pastoral ministry, I — along with the other friars on campus in similar contexts — wore my habit. However, when I was not scheduled to teach or attend a public campus event, such as during my office hours or when I was researching and writing in the library or grading papers at a campus cafe, I would wear normal clothes. I did not, nor do I now, feel that I need to wear my habit to feel distinct or different, a frequent consequence (or desired effect by some) of such apparel in odd contexts.

I remind people, including other friars, that the origin of our habit was Francis’s effort to be in solidarity with the poor and “working-class” of his day. The son of a medieval cloth merchant, Francis knew a lot about high fashion and clothing in his time. The rough un-dyed wool and practical cord (in contrast to the relatively luxurious leather belts of other religious orders) was a deliberate statement against looking different, of being set apart, of pretentious self-identity. If Francis were born in the late 1900s and started his Order in our time, chances are it would consist of friars wearing T-Shirts and bluejeans.

There is a valuable corporate identity that is presented when the brothers are in habit together, and an institutional memory and association with our eight-hundred-year history continues. However, women and men in religious life or diocesan priesthood and formation for such should really ask themselves the questions O’Meara raises in his article: are you dressing this way to be close to people, to relate and serve them? or, are you dressing this way for yourself, to feel special, distinct, different, and important?

It’s very important to remember: Habitus non facit friar!

To read the full-text of O’Meara’s piece, go to: “What’s the Message on the Runway for Baroque Fasions?

Photo: Wire

Great NYT Article about Sr. Rose Pacatte, the Movie Critic

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on January 26, 2013 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

NYT Rose PacatteThere is a great article in today’s New York Times about Sr. Rose Pacatte, a member of the congregation of the Daughters of St. Paul, a women’s religious community well known for its media ministry and book publishing. This article highlights how Sr. Rose has participated in this year’s Sundance Film Festival and mentions a few of her regular “gigs,” including the high-circulation Franciscan magazine St. Anthony Messenger Magazine and National Catholic Reporter. Sr. Rose also has a blog channel at Patheos in the “movie channel” category.

Here are some highlights from the New York Times piece:

On the day before she entered a Catholic boarding school in August 1967, as a 15-year-old who felt the call to be a nun, Rose Pacatte indulged in a final fling with the secular world. She went to the local drive-in to see “The Dirty Dozen.” …

Yet this past week, Sister Rose of the Daughters of St. Paul moved through Park City’s starry firmament as Sister Rose of Sundance, a veteran film critic participating in this year’s edition of the renowned indie festival. By the time Sundance ends on Sunday, she will have seen upward of 20 films, blogging and reviewing most of them for TheNational Catholic Reporter and joining in panel discussions for students from religious colleges and seminaries.

In all those ways, Sister Rose was serving not as a sentry protecting religious belief from cinematic product, but rather as a mediator helping to explain one to the other …

What is undeniable is Sister Rose’s significant role at the crossroads of faith and film. Besides writing for The National Catholic Reporter’s online edition, she reviews for The St. Anthony Messenger, a monthly magazine for Catholic families with a circulation of about 300,000. She has presented talks on topics like “Meeting Jesus at the Movies” and “Media and the Moral Imagination” from Toronto to Oxford to Johannesburg. She has sat on Catholic or ecumenical juries at the Venice and Berlin International Film Festivals, among others.

Her trajectory into film criticism, far from being impeded by her religious vocation, was propelled by it. From its founding in 1915, the Daughters of St. Paul embraced mass media, starting with newspapers and books, and progressing into electronic and digital forms. Just two weeks into her residency at the order’s high school, the teenage Rose Pacatte found herself among sisters celebrating the Feast of the Assumption in part by watching a movie from the convent’s collection …

To read the full story, go to: “Acting as a mediator at the Crossroads of Faith and Film.”

Photo: NYT

The ‘March for Life’ and My Enduring Incredulity

Posted in Social Justice, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 25, 2013 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

march for lifeLast year on the day of the annual “March for Life” in Washington, DC, I wrote a blog post titled, “Why I do not support the (so-called) March for Life.” It received a lot of attention, including an article in the National Catholic Reporter that same day, “On this March for Life day, a reasoned discussion on abortion,” which generously praised my essay for its “reasonable and calmly articulated approach to an issue which has sometimes led to divisive intra-church arguments.”

On this website alone (, the post elicited 139 comments that express a variety of opinions. This week I have been asked by a number of people whether I would write another post today on the same theme, but have decided not to do so. There are several reasons for this decision; the first of which is that I do not have much more to say on the subject, at least at this point. I still struggle to make sense of the resources, time, and energy that go into this particular event each year, while other equally pressing issues go unaddressed, unacknowledged, or unfunded. As I say in the introduction to this essay, I am not suggesting that there is anything inherently wrong with taking a public stance against abortion as women and men of faith, but I do continue to have questions about the manner and means by which this effort is currently executed. Here’s what I say in the essay, now published in the book, Franciscan Spirituality for the 21st Century: Selected Reflections from the Dating God Blog and Other Essays:

To begin, I have no problem with people of faith taking a public stance against abortion. You will never find me supporting abortion legislation nor encouraging those with and for whom I minister as a Roman Catholic cleric to support abortion. I believe it is a legitimate issue against which, as a Christian and Roman Catholic, I feel should be a thematic feature of social transformation. However, it is not, at all, the most important issue, nor is it the single issue upon which Catholics – or anyone – should focus their attention s in an exclusive manner.

Abortion belongs to a series of social sins of a systemic degree that include capital punishment, war and violence, limitation of social services for the least among us, economic inequality, abject poverty, and other threats to the dignity of human persons in our culture and globalized world (72-73).

As you can tell, I recognize very overtly the ostensible impetus for the “March for Life” and affirm the place it has among those social and individual sins that are in need of address. However, I’m not at all willing to subordinate the rest of the seamless garment of the consistent ethic of life in order to elevate one issue. It can be misleading, which is why I suggest in this essay that there are many reasons why one can be sympathetic to the cause but withhold support for the event.

Among the various reasons one might chose to omit him or herself from participation, I wish to highlight three: (a) the event’s moniker is incomplete at best and disingenuous at worst; (b) the mode of protest has proven ineffective; and, following the second point, (c) the ‘march’ and its related events are a self-serving exercise in self-righteousness, self-congratulatory grandstanding (72).

Today, while many gather in the United States capital for Masses and marching, perhaps it is worth considering what it is we’re really doing, what purposes and people are served by what we’re doing, and whether or not we should consider other ways to do something more constructively, more open to a consistent ethic of life, and more humbly.

The full text of “Why I do not Support the (so-called) March for Life” is available in the book Franciscan Spirituality for the 21st Century: Selected Reflections from the Dating God Blog and Other Essayswhich can also be found for the Kindle and at Barnes and Noble.

Photo: File
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