20 March 2009

Questions about habits (Updated)

[NB. Thank you all for the great comments on this post! I believe that my initial assertion--habit-wearing can stir conversation and controversy!--has proven to be true. I remember one thing my novice master told us the first time we met in a novice chapter, "Brothers, we can wear the habit as a weapon--to intimidate, to segregate, to hide. We can also refuse to wear the habit, and this too can be a weapon--to intimidate, to segregate, to hide. The habit can be made into a costume to hide who you are. It can be an outfit to accessorize. It can be a symbol of power and authority you do not rightfully have. It can also be a sign of your preaching." In my mind, "to wear or not to wear" is not the question. The question is: what is the Dominican habit to a Dominican?]

If you want to start an argument among Dominican friars you could not do it more quickly than to ask: "So, why don't you guys wear your habits all the time?" The next sound you will hear is the room exploding.

My first argument as a Dominican--during the pre-novitiate retreat, no less!--was about when and how often we should wear the habit. My first yelling match in the novitiate was over the habit. My first challenge to authority in the Order was about wearing the habit to class at our Dominican owned and operated school of theology (that's right, we were forbidden to wear our habit at our own school!). I've turned down teaching opportunities at Catholic schools where wearing the habit would be discouraged.

You might think then that I am almost never out of the habit. You'd be wrong. I spend most of my day in shorts and a tee-shirt. I go out shopping in street clothes. I travel in civvies. Generally speaking, I wear the habit here in Rome on three occasions: to class, to ministry, to liturgical celebrations (and when you consider that I am almost always doing one of these or all three, I'm in-habited more often than not). I have worn it to show visitors around town. And to dinner if someone is treating me.

Religious habits in Rome are like cats in the forum--many and variously colored. The white Dominican habit is very striking. Add the black cappa and you have what we like to call "The Cadillac of Habits." I'm told that we Dominicans must always wear the black part of our habit when walking around in Rome. Apparently, only the Holy Father may wear white in urbe. I've never seen this written down anywhere, but some of the friars insist on it and others dismiss it. The Norbetines and one other male religious group in Rome have habits almost identical to ours. Some of the African sisters' groups have bright pink habits. Some have a deep indigo. Others a pale yellow. The strangest habit I've ever seen belongs to the Heralds of the Gospel. These guys look like knights w/o their armor!

So, why not wear the habit all the time? There are many practical reasons: 1) it's white, so it gets very dirty, very quickly; 2) it's not the most utilitarian garb--lots of flowing material makes working in libraries, etc. difficult; 3) it's hot, sometimes very hot depending on the material. None of these alone nor all of them together are perfect reasons not to wear the habit all the time. More like a list of excuses, really. Sometimes wearing the habit draws the wrong kind of attention--anti-clerical types, religious nuts (and I mean the dangerous, mentally unstable types), people wanting to convert you, people demanding apologies for the abuse heaped upon them by Sr. Mary of the Five Wounds when they were in third grade, etc. However, you also get positive attention as well--kind comments about being a priest, requests for blessings and prayers, sometimes a quick confession, often simple questions about something Catholic in the news.

For the OP's there are no hard and fast rules for wearing the habit. I've noticed that among some of the European friars, the habit is pretty much dead. Here at the Angelicum, OP students and profs wear them to class. We wear them to meals and prayer. I often see the younger friars leaving the university in habit. Sometimes I will see a friar in the cloister hallway wearing just the tunic and belt, indicating to me that he's in habit while in his room. I've even seen friars coming out of the bathroom in full kit! That's dedication right there.

Some wear the habit as a sign of consecration. Others because it is a way to maintain poverty. Many because they need the reminder that they are religious. And even a few as a form of obedience. There may be one or two in the Order who wear it for all these reasons. There are some who refuse to wear the habit because they see it as a medieval garb inappropriate for the 21st century. The habit is a sign of male authority. The habit encourages clericalism. The habit is weapon, a shield, a barrier, a mask, an obstacle. It's too monastic. I've heard otherwise perfectly sane and highly intelligent OP's say all of these things. Fortunately, these friars are in a tiny, tiny (and shrinking) minority.

Now, watch the combox fill up with OP arguments!

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19 March 2009

Seminarians: do NOT be bullied! (Updated)

[NB. Mar 30: Again, thanks so much for the informative comments in the combox. I am delighted to hear that the CPE has not always been an odious task for seminarians. I still maintain that our American bishops need to re-evaluate and reform the CPE process for Catholic seminarians so that the unique character of the priestly charism is honored and developed. Though CPE programs have tempered their more abusive practices in recent years, the focus is still too narrowly placed on the therapeutic restructuring of the student's fundamental belief system to accord with mainstream-liberal Protestant norms for counts as ministry to the sick. IOW, too often Catholic seminarians are pressured to hold and practice an essentially anti-sacramental view of ministry to the sick and dying. Why? Because the Catholic sacramental system requires ordained priests to be licit and valid and mainstream-liberal Protestant theology/eccesial politics (both deeply committed to secular-feminist ideology) abhor the all-male, celibate Catholic priesthood.]

NB. Mar 20: Re-reading this post I am a little nervous about the tone. . .I wrote it under the influence of Polaramine--an Italian OTC version of Benadryl--and a nasty head cold. However, I'm not going to change it. What's said needed to be said. I would encourage those who have had good CPE experiences to leave comments. A little balance to my negative experience couldn't hurt!]


This post is intended to incite a rebellion.

I want to encourage and embolden any seminarian--diocesan or religious--who is being forced to complete a course in Clinical Pastoral Education to decide here and now to resist the indoctrination and ideological brainwashing that the Liberal Prot CPE process encourages.

You will be required to complete one summer of this ridiculous zombification. You have no choice. Go in fighting. Wear your habit. Wear your clerical garb. Insist on being authentically, fully, faithfully Catholic. Don't let the moonbat sisters or the Prot "ministers" or the "social justice" priests warp your dedication to the Church's mission to teach and preach the gospel.

During my horrific summer of CPE I was told many times by hospital chaplains that hospital chaplains are the "misfit toys" of the Church. They are the rejects of their denominations. This doesn't mean that they are bad people or bad Christians. But it does mean that they are unfit to form the hearts and minds of Catholic seminarians.

Let's be absolutely clear here: Clinical Pastoral Education is nothing more than a systematic "weeding out" of orthodox seminarians through a process of enforced radical leftist indoctrination. I survived b/c I was 37 years old and had years of working in mental health institutions under my belt. I was able to manipulate the system using the rhetoric and strategy of victimization that seemed to garner the attention of the administration. In other words, I knew how to position myself as the underdog in a system dominated by radical leftist queer/liberationists supervisors. They didn't dare push me into a corner. I knew the system too well. In fact, at the end of my ordeal, I received an apology from the director of chaplaincy services and a glowing CPE report. Anything less would have resulted in a lengthy and detailed report from me to Archbishop Rigali.

To the seminarians who are embarking on CPE: do NOT let these people intimidate you or in any way dissuade you from being fully, authentically Catholic. Listen. Learn. Take what you will. But DEMAND that your Catholic identity be respected. DEMAND that your understanding of your priestly vocation be respected. Do NOT let these people bully you. If they try, call them out. Tell them to stop bullying you. Report them to your bishop. Keep detailed records. Names, dates, times, quotes. I wish I had done this. Do not hesitate to bring bullying incidents to your supervisor and your bishop.

These people have power over you and they will use it to derail your vocation if you dare to oppose them. Document, document, document!

Can you learn something from CPE? You better believe it! I did. But I learned in spite of the goofy new-agey bullshit that passed for Catholic pastoral care at SLUH. I learned from the patients and their families. I learned from the nurses and doctors. I also learned from the chaplains. . .I learned exactly how NOT to be a Catholic minister.

Go in confident. Assured. Eager to learn. Open to being wrong. But go in with a clear sense of being Roman Catholic. And don't be duped by lefty Prot religious psychologies and purely political ideologies.

Write to me if you have any problems. . .I will gladly advise and assist any seminarian who is approaching this gauntlet. No names. Leave a comment with contact info, and I will contact you privately. We will assume the seal!

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Many questions. . .

1). How was the Greece trip?

Wonderful! We had a few problems with running late. . .some of the students got very sick. . .the boat was tossed around on the sea rather dramatically. . .two students got pick-pocketed. . .a strike kept us off the Acropolis. . .I was verbally assaulted in Athens for being an American. . .we had to deal with several large groups of loud, obnoxious Italian tourists at various sites. . .the food was good but predictable. . .HOWEVER, the students were fantastic. . .smart, funny, wise beyond their years, compassionate with one another. . .the profs did an excellent job in their presentations. . .the R.A.'s were both professional and caring with the students. . .all the sites were fascinating, especially Delphi and Olympia. . .I would move to Greece tomorrow and never look back.

2). The Pope spoke the truth on condom use in Africa! Now he's in trouble.

Yea, what's new? Never for a second believe that the media are pressing the Church to allow the use of condoms b/c they believe that condoms prevent the transmission of STD's. The media and our dissidents are pressuring the Church to change her teaching on artiufical contraception so that they can then point to this change as a precedent for changing other so-called "unchangeable" teachings, i.e. women's ordination, same-sex marriage, etc. Like petulant teenagers for generations, the media and our ecclesial whiners are testing limits.

Also, dissidents constantly point to the fact that very few Catholics actually follow the Church's teaching on artifical birth-control. If this is the case, why push so hard for a change in the teaching? Simple: the point of the push is to see a change for the sake of change so that more change will be easier down the line.

3). The Pope's letter to his fellow bishops on the SSPX controversy?

A truly classy move. The letter is magnificent in its sense of truly catholic collegiality and shows our Holy Father at his humble-best. This man impresses more and more every day. Of course, the "controversy" is media-made and the hysterical bluster among E.U. bishops is more about reacting so as not to look complicit in the eyes of their "betters." Holocaust denial is plainly stupid, bordering on the freakish; but it isn't a sin. Nor is it a theological error. We do not excommunicate Catholics (or refuse to un-excommunicate them) because they hold stupid opinions about historical events. Williamson's readmission into communion with the Church did not establish him as a Catholic bishop in good-standing. He wasn't given a diocese and put in charge of souls. His Holocaust denial shows him to be imprudent in the extreme, possibly incapable of making sound judgments, and should prevent him from ever serving in the Church as a sitting bishop. However, none of that should prevent him being a Catholic.

4). The new Mass translations being "accidentally" used in South Africa?

Yea, right. Sorry. I don't believe for a second that these new (and unapproved) translations were accidentally used. Yes, it's possible and charity requires that we assume that this was an accident until proven otherwise, but my stipend won't be on the line in that bet! Here's my guess: an opponent of the new translation, possessed by the Spook of Vatican 2, intentionally released the new translations to parishes where the language would be rejected rather dramatically. The controversy that followed was intended to be a "preview" for the Pope of how people more broadly will react to this attempt "to turn back the clock on Vatican Two" (what a tiresome phrase!). This was a staged usurpation. Am I willing to be convinced differently? Yes, of course.

I also find it highly amusing that the every people who shoved the abysmally clunky and trite langauage of the 1970 missal down the Church's throat are the same ones now screaming that the new translation will be unfamiliar to the average Catholic. Where was this concern for average Catholics when these same Liturgical Revolutionaries were wrecking churches and trashing missals, vessels, and vestments in the 70's? Irony, uh?

More later!

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17 March 2009

Podcast question...

Anyone else having trouble getting the podcasts on "Roman Homilies" to play?

"Texas Homilies" seems to be working just fine. . .

Podcasts & Texts for Kenrick Conferences (updated)

Fr. Thomas McDermott, OP, director of spiritual direction at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary in St Louis, MO, invited me to be the speaker at the seminary's day of recollection in April 2008. I was tremendously honored to be invited. Kenrick is one of the church's fast-growing seminaries. It is one of the very, very few semimaries in the U.S. that is expanding its physical plant to accommodate an upsurge in priestly vocations!

My two talks are based on the post-synodal exhortation, Sacramentum caritatis, written and issued by Pope Benedict XVI. This exhortation comes from the Synod of Bishops held in Rome in October of 2005. The document was issued in March of 2007.

I believe that this document is greatly underappreciated by theologians and lay folks alike. It could easily serve as the text for an adult faith formation class or the series of parochial talks. It is, quite simple, a brilliant piece of historical and theological reflection.

One: "figura transit in veritatem: Jesus' radical novum

Two: "Penetrating the hearts of all things": Eucharist as Moral Fission (partial)

Recollection Day homily

Complete text for Conference One

Complete text for Conference Two

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Suffering from the Grudges

3rd Week of Lent (T): Dan 3.25, 34-43; Matt 18.21-35
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Convento SS. Domenico e Sisto, Roma

[NB. Also podcasted. . .right sidebar under "Roman Homilies."]

Why is it so difficult to forgive those who have sinned against us? Perhaps you are one of the lucky ones who find forgiving others to be an effortless joy, a pleasant boon to be given away like peppermints at Christmas or chocolates at Easter. Perhaps you are willing and able to toss pardons at your enemies like paraders toss beads at Mardi Gras. Your reward will be great in Heaven. The rest of us, however, suffer from the Grudges, that obstinate refusal to release anger, hurt, annoyance; that inordinate love of nursing a wound, or spending time petting the devil of vengeance. Our prayer is: “You will pay.” For us—unlike the angels among us—for us, the commandment to love is absolutely necessary; we need the admonition to forgive and the threat of eternal pain and darkness to pry open our pouting hearts to forgiveness. Once those creaky, rusting hinges grind open, the light of God’s mercy sears the grudging fungus of offense, and we are able to see a bit more clearly the way out of our hellish labyrinth. But getting in there, parting those corroded doors can be a life’s labor. Why? Why is forgiveness so difficult? And why is Jesus so insistent that forgiveness be a bottomless cup of infinite mercy?

First, forgiveness is difficult because to forgive a sin seems to suggest that the sin was of no consequence, meaningless or harmless. In my grudge, I say, “No! Your sin hurt me!” To forgive it minimizes my pain.

Second, forgiveness is difficult because to forgive a sin seems to imply that we are OK with being sinned against again. Wouldn’t forgiving a sin imply that that sin could easily be repeated because it caused no real harm in the first place?

Third, forgiveness is difficult because to forgive a sin seems to imply that I must forget your sin, never bring it up again, not dwell on it, or let it influence my view of you or our relationship. How can I forget a sin?

There are many other reasons that forgiveness is difficult, but these three are the most common. They make up the unholy trinity that rusts the hinges of our heart and keeps the doors of mercy corroded and closed. Now, I suppose, you expect me to give you a tidy way of dispelling each one of these corrupting ghosts. What’s the magic pill that will wipe my memory clean? Make me never worry about consequences again? Leave me free from anxiety about being offended in the future? No such thing. Jesus never once promises that forgiving others their sins against us will magically erase our doubts about the wisdom of that forgiveness. Like his commandment to love God, neighbor, and self, we are told to forgive. Ordered to do it, in fact. We have no option. Practice makes a habit and habits ordered to love quickly become virtues. And who among us can’t make us of a virtue?

If you have difficulty forgiving others, think on this: forgiveness is impossible for those who have no sense of their own sinfulness. Holding a grudge, refusing to forgive, is very often our way of refusing to confess our sins, a self-righteous cover for our own transgressions. If I can delude myself into thinking that my hurt, my anger, my annoyance is righteous, then my own sins seem somehow less immediate, less important. Eventually, I may even find a way to turn my sins into virtues while seeking justice for my hurts. Unfortunately, while I am chasing self-righteous justice, God’s mercy goes uncollected and I go unforgiven.

Fine. What I will not allow the light of Christ to illuminate, the fires of Gehenna will burn eternally.

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15 March 2009

We're Back!

We are back from Greece!

Lots of waves, bumps, pickpockets, rude Italians, loud teenagers, a strike. . .

Also, lots of great food, wonderful sights, good friends, and lots to learn!

Thank you for your prayers and your good wishes.

Now. . .back to work. . .(bleech). . .

OH! And thanks for the WISH LIST activity while I was away. . .