The Assumption of Mary

Much of our religious consciousness is affected by art; we have inherited specific images that are more artistic than biblical.  For example, we always imagine St. Paul being knocked from a horse on the Damascus Road.  There is no mention of the horse in scripture.  Is that a bid deal? Perhaps not.  But when Caravaggio placed Paul on the horse, a sign of privilege or royalty, he removed Paul from the midst of Corinth, the hard-scrabbled sea port town, from among the drunks, slackards, ner-do-wells, and people who sorely needed salvation. Continue reading

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St. Anthony of Padua – part 2

tn_anthony-padua1Before He Was Anthony of Padua.  Anthony of Padua was born Fernando Martins de Bulhões on August 15, 1195 in Lisbon, Portugal. His was in a very rich family of the nobility who wanted him to become educated, and they arranged for him to be instructed at the local cathedral school. Against the wishes of his family, however, at the age of 15 he entered the community of Canons Regular at the Abbey of St. Vincent on the outskirts of Lisbon. Monastery life was hardly peaceful for young Fernando, nor conducive to prayer and study, as his old friends came to visit frequently and engaged in vehement political discussions. Continue reading

St. Bonaventure of Bagnoregio

St. Bonaventure holding the tree of the redemp...

Today, July 15th is the Feast Day of St. Bonaventure of Bagnoregio. He was a Franciscan theologian and philosopher, held a Master’s Chair at the University of Paris, was elected Minister General of the Franciscan Order in one of its most contentious times, wrote many spiritual texts, compiled a biography (legenda) of St. Francis at the request of the friars, and many more things. His work Itinerarium mentis in Deum (Journey of the Soul to God) is considered a masterpiece of medieval spiritual practice. You can read more about the saint here.  Happy Feast Day to all Franciscans.

Tales from the barbershop

barber-shopThere was a barber in a small town. One day he’s sitting in his barbershop and a man walks in wearing a pair of sandals, and a long brown robe with a hood. The man sits down in the barber’s chair. “Excuse me,” says the barber. “I was wondering: why are you dressed like that?”

“Well,” says the man. “I’m a Franciscan friar. I’m here to help my brother Franciscans start a soup kitchen in town.”

And the barber says, “The Franciscans? Oh, I love the Franciscans! I love the story of St. Francis of Assisi, and I so love all the work you do for the poor, and for peace, and for the environment. And it’s just great that the Franciscans live so simply! You guys are wonderful! This haircut is free!” Continue reading

Bl. John Duns Scotus

Duns Scotus1November 8th is the feast day of Blessed John Duns Scotus, a Franciscan friar from Scotland noted for his theological and philosophical work in the high-middle ages (late 13th and early 14th centuries). Scotus’ work was in the generation that followed Thomas of Aquinas and Bonaventure. His work was complex and nuanced, and he is generally considered to be one of the three most important philosopher-theologians of his time. He was given the medieval accolade Doctor Subtilis (Subtle Doctor) for his penetrating and subtle manner of thought. Continue reading

Pentecost Sunday

ImageThe description of the first Pentecost in the Acts of the Apostles tells us that when devout Jews from many different nations heard the Spirit-inspired proclamation of the gospel by the disciples, “each one heard them speaking in his own language.” The outpouring of the Spirit of God united this very diverse group of people in a powerful moment of God’s self-revelation.  Such is the power of Spirit. Continue reading

Joseph of Cupertino

English: "S. Giuseppe da Copertino si ele...

Joseph of Cupertino was a Conventual Franciscan Friar (OFM Conv.) and is recognized and honored as a Christian mystic and saint. He is the patron saint of aviation, astronauts, mental handicaps, test taking, and students.

His Life. Joseph was born in the village of Cupertino in Italy in 1603 in a none-too-auspicious beginning. Ill fortune seemed to have set its seal on Joseph before he was born. His father, a carpenter by trade, was a good enough man in his way, but he was a poor hand at dealing with money; what little he earned seemed to slip at once through his fingers. At the very moment when his son came into the world his house was in the hands of bailiffs, and his effects were being sold up. Joseph was born in a shed at the back of the house, where his mother had hid herself out of shame. With such a beginning Joseph had very poor prospects.

By all descriptions Joseph was not a good student. He was described by his early teachers as easily being the dullest child in the village. He was absent-minded, awkward, and nervous; a sudden noise, such as the ringing of a church bell, would make him drop whatever he had in his hands. If ever a child began life with nothing in his favor it was Joseph; he had only one hopeful and saving quality—that he knew it.

The family, beset by its own problems, sought any means by which to give Joseph a trade. He was apprenticed to several tradesmen.  His year as a shoemaker’s apprentice ended and he had not learned to make even simple repairs. Each trade endeavor ended with Joseph being dismissed. He was easily distracted, not always of good disposition, and was given to wandering off.

First Meeting the Friars. When he was 17, a Franciscan friar came into the village begging. His parents thought that if Joseph could not be a student or learn a trade, at least he could be a friar. His parents approached family members who were already Franciscans, but their local houses were unwilling to entertain the idea of Joseph sharing their life.  After knocking on many friary doors, Joseph was accepted by the OFM Capuchins.

The brothers found that Joseph was a true test of their patience. Not only was he very dull and difficult to teach, but his fits of piety and abstraction were troublesome. He had a way of suddenly standing still in the midst of some task and forgetting everything. He would go down on his knees in the most unlikely places, utterly oblivious of everything around him. On one occasion, while carrying food into the dining hall, he suddenly dropped everything in a great crash. In the hope of curing him, bits of the broken plates were fastened to his habit, and he carried them about, as a penance, and as a reminder of his task of service. His stay with the Capuchins ended, as had all his apprenticeships.

Round Two with the Friars. His mother was not at all pleased to have the 18-yr. old Joseph back home again, so she finally got him accepted as a simple servant at the Franciscan monastery. His primary task was working in the stables and taking care of the horses. Slowly, Joseph began to change. He grew more humble and gentle, more careful and successful at his work. He also began to practice penance. After several years of work he had impressed the local friars with his simplicity, lightheartedness, and devotions, and was admitted to the Franciscan Order, eventually being ordained a priest.

Patron of test takers.  You may wonder how someone who was seemingly ungifted intellectually would be able to study and pass his tests in seminary, passing courses in philosophy, theology, liturgy, scripture, and more.  Perhaps there is a clue contained in the traditional prayer:

O Saint Joseph of Cupertino, who by your prayer, obtained from God the blessing to be asked at your examination only the questions you knew: Grant that we may, like you, succeed in the exams.

His Visions. Joseph had experienced ecstatic visions as a child. What later came to be understood as a wonderful gift of seeing God and the supernatural in all things was seen first as an oddity and burden. Now when he was a friar, and a priest besides, the visions grew stronger; it seemed easier for him to see God indwelling in His creation. Joseph could spend whole days lost in wonder and ecstatic prayer.

Patron of Aviators and Astronauts. One might also wonder how this 17th-century saint became the patron of aviation and astronauts. In the midst of some of his ecstatic moments, Joseph would rise from the ground, and move about in the air. Within a church or friary chapel he was seen to fly towards the altar or over it.  The moments were not limited to church, but occurred in the friary dining hall and even outside when suddenly he would fly into a tree. The patronage of flying things was perhaps a natural.

The Trials. But his levitation had a downside. In the 17th century, this special gift of God was also seen as being connected to witchcraft. This led some friars to denounce him. His Franciscan superiors transferred Joseph to another friary for close observation and scrutiny. As one might expect some brothers believed, some did not. The opinions were that he was a saint or a fraudulent troublemaker – there was no in between. He eventually was called to appear before the Inquisition in Naples.

The inquisitors examined him; after close testing they were unable to convict him of anything. Still they would not dismiss him; his case was at least doubtful, and they sent him for further examination to the Minister General of the Franciscan Conv. Order in Rome. Father General saw his humility; he began to doubt whether all was true that was said against him. In the end the lack of any clear consensus about Joseph lead to an agreement between the Inquisition and the Franciscans that Joseph was to be confined and kept in seclusion. And so he remained for 25 years. He died on September 18, 1663. He was just sixty years of age.

Franciscans in China

Ideograms for Rabban Bar Sauma

Servant of God – John of Montecorvino
Franciscan and first Bishop of Beijing

In today’s Twitter feed came the tweet that today is a day in which we Franciscans remember John of Montecorvino. To which most people – even most Franciscans – will say “who?” Brother John was the first Catholic missionary to China, centuries before the efforts of other Catholic religious orders. It is a compelling story.  If you would like to read an interesting and accessible account of the travel within the context of an art historian comparing 13th century Italian and Chinese art, read Lauren Arnold’s: Princely Gifts & Papal Treasures: The Franciscan Mission to China & Its Influence on the Art of the West, 1250-1350 – fascinating book.

Beginning with the pontificate of Innocent IV (1243–1254), the popes and Mongol khans began to communicate and exchange gifts in a diplomatic effort to see if there was a basis upon which to effectively bind and subdue their common enemy, the Muslim Empire.  The two most famous envoys were the Franciscans John of Plano Carpini and William of Rubruck. Their journeys, remarkable and daring, were not specifically missionary but were more as political emissaries. Carpini traveled in the years 1245–1247 while Rubruck’s mission was 1253–1255. Although Rubruck was sent by Louis XI of France to enlist the aid of the khan against Islam, Rubruck also attempted to convert the Mongols (also known as Tartars) by converting the Great Khan.  William’s Itinera is a masterful travel account  that also includes observations about the Saracens and Nestorian Christians found in the Mongol territories. On Pentecost 1255 William met with the Great Khan who received William but nothing more came of the meeting. Continue reading

Admonition Eighteen

Who among us wants to be considered condescending? Merriam-Webster defines “condescending” as showing or characterized by a patronizing or superior attitude toward others. I suspect no one is soon volunteering.  In the Franciscan tradition it is a good thing to be condescending or at least condescendere.  St. Bonaventure wrote about the condescendere of God in the Incarnation of Jesus who “stepped down” from his divinity, took on our humanity, took off his cloak and put on a servant’s apron and washed our feet.  It is from that “condescending” position we are called to reach up to our neighbors and serve them.  Such is the posture of compassion.

Admonition Eighteen: Compassion for a Neighbor

1 Blessed in the person who supports his neighbor in his weakness as he would want to be supported were he in a similar situation.

2 Blessed is the servant who returns every good to the Lord God because whoever holds onto something for himself hides the money of his Lord God within himself, and what things he has will be taken away from him.

Why the Incarnation?

Duns Scotus1On November 8th the Church and the Franciscan world celebrates the feast of Blessed John Duns Scotus, a friar and medieval theologian/philosopher.  Not a household name, Scotus is best known for his philosophical writings, but it is his theological perspective that has left the most impact.  His theological writings on Mary form the basis for how we understand the Feast of the Immaculate Conception and his writings on the preeminence of Christ are the basis for the celebration of the Solemnity of Christ the King.

But it is also his reflection on the primacy of Christ that led to his asking about the Incarnation, or more specifically, why did the Word of God, the second Person of the Holy Trinity, become flesh.  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… and the Word became flesh and lived among us and we have seen his glory.”  (John 1:1,14)  Certainly those verses and others, e.g. Phil 2:5-7, clearly speak to Jesus taking on our humanity, becoming one with us.  But it doesn’t necessarily answer why. Continue reading