Monday, October 7, 2013

Recollections on a Rainy Day

             It is raining outside, a dreadful pour that blocks the streets. I hear carriages trot past but cannot see them and can't help but wonder if the roses are being well-watered. Unfortunately, the cold weather and my plentiful duties have long kept me from the garden. How I should love to walk there!
Folding my hands, I pretend ever so successfully that the thunder doesn't frighten me. My mind recalls a storm this bad, many years ago, when I was only nineteen years old, an ambitious seminarian, completing my 2nd year. I had been staring out a cloister window, fascinated by heavy rain that beat upon the bottled glass. Glass back then was made from cheap, green bottles. From behind came Renaldo, who quickly shoved past me to peer out. Catching sight of a couple fleeing the waterlogged road, he pointed and laughed:
“Look how that pitiful man must go back for his wife! I’d maybe go back for my breviary…”
Soon, some four young men gathered there, pushing and shoving. They longed to see the couple but grey clouded everything. Leonardo, the oldest, straightened up and rather predictably, intoned a sharp C in his deep, tenor voice. Catching on, the others joined their eager youthful voices.  Between old, stone cloisters, rang a new song, trying to sound ancient- but altogether silly: the chant of the seminarians. That year, it went like this:

           When I was a young man, I dreamt my wedding day...
            But there was no bride in white.
            and it would last forever!
            Oh my beloved is Chastity!
She won’t nag or ask for things.
            nor drag me from place to place!
         I’m a seminarian- soon to be ordained…
            Thomas Aquin my best man,
Blest Mary bears the ring.

            Poor Clare supplieth roses,
            and good Joseph, the rod breaks.
            On the day I’ll say forever!

            Oh, sweet chastity, she is my bride.
            Oh, sweet chastity, so free! 
            Celibacy but a small price to pay.

            Yes, a woman’s tempting, very nice.
            Her eyes and lips all made up nice,
            But on that day, I’ll swear forever.
            Of Latin our tongues are burdened,
              all day long: Amo, amas, amat.
              In principio Verbum erat!

               The Matin bells we ring,
              over the mountains, Te Deum sing,
            early, early, to the choir scurry!

            In cassock and surplice, 
             shew yourselves clean, alert
            and ready, like angels on the wing.

                In deep philosophy, our minds swim,
             at morn we ponder, St Ambrose
               and Augustin.
                 And at eventide, theology runs a race,
                  like hounds of heaven,
                 corrected over and over.

              Joy makes no dull boy,
            our tongues shall let loose:
            O sweet chastity, shall be my bride!
            Say, I’ll be a priest.
            Death comes for wives and children
but the altar’s always there…

Introibo ad altare Dei,
Io, io! ~the rest you know!

Now that I think back on it, this was a very frivolous song, made up by frivolous youth and "perfected" over the years- but perhaps containing several grains of truth? I am not sure. I must watch the rain a little longer and decide... 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Recent Happenings

I have noticed my relative scarcity of updates on this blog and I apologize. Let me tell you what has been going on in my life...oh yes... and at the cathedral.
We recently acquired a new priest, Father Bertone. He is native to Florence and used to more hustle and bustle than what Lucca offers. Though musically-inclined, he butts heads with Deacon Gregorius, who has more traditional tastes. During his third Mass, poor Father Bertone only needed hasten the tempo of "Aquae Babylonis" to get Gregorius in a ruffle!
A woman, named Priscilla, held her husband's funeral at the cathedral. After the requiem, I sat with her and offered condolences. In turn, she asked me permission to upkeep and straiten the sacristy, which has been rather disorganized of late. Last Sunday, maniples of all colors were laying around- except green ones. I admit it, we have trouble finding things... so I gave permission. Priscilla is very good at organizing. She makes sure that the correct maniple can always be found...even ensures they match my chasuble. However, the altar boys are uneasy around her.  Giuseppe, our oldest server, has developed a liking to her and follows her around, causing a ruckus among the other boys.
On August 15, I met with various clergy and discussed many things. After two hours of serious discourse, Dina served us the most-delicious, pepperoni calzone and red Moscatto wine. I'm ashamed to admit, we drank too much... Monsignor Barolo ended up singing the full overture from "Don Giovanni" while Father Simone fell asleep on the couch. Of course, this was where I wished to sleep. It didn't go over well... Arguments about who got there first, who had the biggest shoes and who took vows of obedience ensued. I'm not proud of this...

Next summer, I will be ordaining seven priests and three deacons. Very exciting! We also will be accepting four new seminarians. Please pray for our young men who seek priesthood- it's very important. Joyfully, I write this... not only does Giuseppe promise to become a priest (that is, if Priscilla doesn't marry him) but Dina's own adopted son, Gianni, has expressed wishes to enter seminary. How splendid!!

My, my, it has grown rather late. I suppose I shall write more when the proper time comes. Please know that everything is good here. The cathedral is vibrant as ever. Our boys' choir will be preparing for the season of Advent and three, young women are soon entering St. Martha's convent. There is really nothing more to say. I conclude with thanksgiving for the Lord's goodness! May He be praised forever, who has set the stars into place. May He be exalted above all, who has divided the sea. May glory be forever unto Him who has sent His Only Son for man's salvation!!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

A Note on Celibacy

            Yesterday at the local bakery, while waiting for a loaf of baguette, a woman approached me and asked where my wife was. She meant well and was rather flustered, perhaps overly concerned with my apparent loneliness. Very quietly, I told her “We clergymen don’t take wives. I am celibate.” My verbiage left this woman rather confused! Poor dear, scratching at her hair, she answered, “So then, what do you celebrate?”
              Since my baguette was taking longer than I expected, I figured to explain: “No madam, I said celibate, it means that someone does not marry and chooses to remain chaste for their lifetime.” At last, she understood. In horror, the poor dear cried out, “Oh, how unfortunate!”
          After I received my baguette, while walking home, I realized that this woman’s attitude resembled most everyone else’s. And when dinner was finished, I decided to write something on this matter so others may be taught:

           Do we not hear the Gospel and how Jesus passed the devious tests of the Pharisees? While the Jews concerned themselves with earthly things, who shall earn the wife of many deceased husbands, Our Lord drew towards heavenly matters: “For when they shall rise again from the dead, they shall neither marry, nor be married, but are as the angels in heaven (1)”.  He does speak here of earthly unions, saying death shall dissolve the marriage bond… yet this does not dissolve the sanctity of marriage but beholds a new reality. In eternity, our human souls become espoused to none but the Lord God who crafted them.  From His time in Eden, God had crafted holy matrimony for the blessing of humanity made in His image. He had sealed the marital bond with His charity and bestowed the gift of family, generations beyond, who will glorify His name.
                Yet despite this great good, and let us declare it such great good, not all need belong to a husband or wife in this earthly stay. Hear the apostle: “The married man is anxious with pleasing his wife while a virgin is anxious with pleasing the Lord.” Think ye of such holy examples who undertook this: Mary Magdala who fled from impurity, John the Beloved, virgin and celibate, Joseph, Father of Christ, who lived out of godly fear, in marital continence. John the Messiah’s Forerunner and the prophet Jeremiah also pledged their flesh to God. This, the burnt-offering of the Levites prefigures: all is consumed, the whole body turned to ashes. Thus, Lord Jesus hath said: “He who loses his life shall gain life.” Many deem it gravest misfortune to be made a eunuch or mutilated, yet the one who who injures self for sake of the Kingdom is instead blessed, called “As the angels in heaven.”
                May we say, “He that can take, let him take it (2).” True oblation is never forced. Duty cannot selflessly give, thus the error of the Pharisees who bound up sacrifice with law.  The cross of Christ was never duty, no, Calvary’s offering was always love. Likewise, the man who forgoes marriage and creation of young does so from love. With a burning passion, he lays himself on the altar of chastity, ever hoping to consummate that supernatural union in heaven. In heaven, no marriage is known beside that with the Lord. A consecrated soul alone becomes as the bride of Solomon, choice, whitened, a heady wine, a hidden chord of sublime music, clad in gold, sweet as the lily, fair like the dove. Know, every brother, who delights in psalms rather than children’s’ laughter, is full of God’s delight. Know, every sister who gives not suck, goes out weeping yet returneth rejoicing, singing songs of joy. Know, every father who belongs to none, raises up by word of the Gospel, numberless descendants!
Blessed are the barren trees of Our Lord’s garden! By bowing down, they shed good seed and tend the saplings. They go to the sheep, made food for life anew. By restraining the flesh, they show us the angels. They mirror eternity, forever beloved and wedded to God, melded like wax beneath a burning flame, to Love Itself.

(1)    Mark 12:25
(2)    Matthew 19:12

Tuesday, July 16, 2013


Finally left to himself, Cardinal Fratelli falls silent. He kneels, turns eyes towards an old, wooden crucifix, and prays aloud: “Have mercy on me, Oh Lord, according to the greatness of your mercy. In your compassion, blot out my sins…”
Admitting wrong deeds done and right deeds undone is difficult- especially for a cardinal who is supposed to be holy. Knowing he had been proud, slothful, selfish… intemperate… concupiscent, Fratelli dared not stare too intently at that hallowed representation of Christ. Indeed, the cross seemingly loomed over him, its painful curves and rugged lines almost crying out for justice. Yet, the Savior’s death didn’t bring well-deserved justice but mercy. The blood of the cross pleaded for pardon rather than condemnation.   

Sacrifices do not delight you, but a contrite heart you will not spurn,” the cardinal said, “Hear me, Oh Lord, and be pleased with my sorrow.”

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Cardinal Fratelli's talk for Altar-Servers.

The Mass is a very special occasion- like a wedding. Now we are always on our best behavior at weddings aren't we? Don't we say: “please” “Thank you” “Yes sir” and “Yes ma'am” ?

            -Do we dress sloppy for weddings? No we don’t. We comb our hair, wash our faces and clean our hands. There shall be no gummy ears, runny noses or dirty fingernails. It is very important we are presentable.

            -Long, un-groomed hair isn't befitting of an altar server. Don’t even try to tell me its okay because Jesus had long hair. The only thing more insufferable than messy hair is a sassy mouth!

            - There is no excuse for ruffled surplices and cassocks. If your parents have not time to wash them, wash them yourselves. I will have no more mud-stains: stop playing in the dirt! Neither will any of you wear scruffy shoes. If your shoes are worn out or you can’t afford new ones, come and see me.

- Any one of you who smells like grass or cigar-smoke, shall be made to wait outside the sanctuary. “My poppa smokes” you say- but you are the one with stale breath! If you don’t have enough respect to keep from your vices on Sunday morning, you do not deserve the respect of the sanctuary.

-One of you brought a frog to Mass last Sunday. No one here is the next Francis of Assisi. This will not happen again!

-I know some of you are sleepy, having woken early and walked all the way to church. That is fine and I am pleased to allow you time to liven up. However, tiredness is no excuse for inattention and sloppy form. By now, you should be able to fold hands in your sleep and lift your head at the smell of incense.

- For those of you with too much energy; please run around outside before coming to Mass. Stretch your legs- but do not fidget or dare pinch the younger boys! Even worse should I ever catch you fighting… Servants of Christ are not rabble-rousers... Your mothers taught you better. We stand as equals before God and shame on you for claiming any kind of rank!

- Some of you are clumsy and cannot help it. It is best for you to kneel and ring the bells. Take nothing beyond your ability.

- Stop holding hands. This is a nuisance.

    -Yes, we have heard over and over again that Paolo has a girlfriend. Not every altar-server is called to be a priest. Stop picking on him.

- Slurred Latin is shameful. “Escum spirtu tu” is NOT an acceptable response! If you don’t have enough discipline to practice your responses at home, you should not have the privilege to stand up here and say them!

- If you have anything in your mouth, spit it out at home! I am tired of finding crumbs and discarded gum in the sacristy!

- This is the last time I tell you not to clang the sacred vessels and patens together. If you would not dare do this with your mother’s best china, you shouldn't dare do it here.

- Stop talking after Mass. The sanctuary is not a boys-club. When you have changed back into your regular clothes and left the church, you may resume conversation.

-I know it is fun swinging the thurible and watch smoke come out however this is no grounds to make loops and spill coals everywhere. You are to be offering prayers to God, not showing off!

- Anyone caught smoking on the church steps will not be allowed to serve that day. The same with swearing. Dirty mouths are for heathens!

We know at the Mass, Jesus and all the saints are present. Mother Mary is there; your guardian angels and all the angels are there. So it is best we show utmost respect!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Story-time with Cardinal Fratelli, part 5

The cardinal finished speaking. Six, wide-eyed boys peered up at him. Fresh in their minds were images of the grey, grinning gargoyle, the two brothers carrying home treasure, the donkey trotting amidst palm branches and of course, the white-fanged wolf who seemed less scary now. When the cardinal brushed dirt off his red robes, ready to depart, little Paolo begged: “Please tell us one more…please?”
The priest-attendant stopped to examine the sky, minding it was late and shook his head. Cardinal Fratelli strode towards him, inciting many groans of disappointment. Paolo’s small finger dug into the train of his garment and he couldn’t bear to turn away.
“Alright then, I shall tell only one more story,” the cardinal said.
The boys cheered and resumed their places at his feet, Antonio standing, behind Stefano who squatted down, Paolo fidgeting beside them. Wasting not a moment, Cardinal Fratelli began his next tale:

“Two large stones once sat on a tall hilltop. They longed to see what lie on the hill’s other side but could not move themselves. Seeing a mouse, they asked him, “Please go to the hill’s other side and tell us what is there.”
Returning, the mouse said, “Tall grass is on the other side; towering mushrooms and lofty mountains. The creatures there are gigantic.”
No doubt, the rocks were surprised. So, when an eagle perched nearby, they asked her “Please go to the hill’s other side and tell us what is there.”
Returning, the eagle said, “There’s short grass, tiny flowers and small pebbles. The creatures there are itsy-bitsy.”
Then, a man came along, dragging a huge log and the rocks asked him, “The hill’s other side is a wondrous world that we’ve never seen, please carry us there!”
The man obliged. He tied both stones together and lugged them to the other side of the hill. Once there, the stones peered about eagerly. However, they found that this side of the hill looked exactly like the other… So do not be ungrateful for what you have my children."

Monday, May 13, 2013

Story-time with Cardinal Fratelli, part 4

“I am not leaving until I hear the story about the wicked wolf,” Antonio pouted.
He stood man-like, hands clenched into fists, arms crossing his chest. Stefano glanced back at him, somewhat fearful that he would hiss or pinch again. Paolo glued his eyes on the scarlet-clad cardinal.
“It is growing late, near time for Vespers, but I shall tell one last tale,” Cardinal Fratelli decided aloud.
Ceasing his anger, Antonio sat down inches from the cardinal’s feet. Fratelli eyed him, this impetuous, mean-spirited youth and sighed. Slowly, he collected his thoughts and spoke in a voice that commanded attention:

“Oh, the wicked wolf, the wicked, wicked wolf… Everybody knows how scary he was- how wild and fierce! But do you know the way he was tamed? I will tell you then. You see, the wicked wolf prowled at night, growling and snatching away helpless people. Many people in the small village of Cocalo disappeared and they knew the wolf had gotten them. Now, outside this village lived a hermit monk. His name was Ferdo. His hair was dirty, full of clay from the river, his frame was thin from fasting and penance and his clothes hung in rags.
The wicked wolf raised such an outcry that parties began gathering to hunt and kill him. Surely this foul beast was no good, only fit to be slain! When the hunters marched out, Ferdo met them. In kindly voice, he implored, “Spare the wolf, he is just a beast and doesn’t understand. He doesn’t need to die. At least, let me talk to him before you go forth.”
Thinking Ferdo to be a madman, they laughed at him and said: “Sure, go talk to your wolf friend. But be warned, we will use our swords should we see him!”
Thus, Ferdo ventured out into the dark woods, went to meet the wicked wolf. As Ferdo sat in a glade praying, the sound of clawed feet came forth. It was the wolf, staring with bright yellow eyes, bearing his knife-like fangs.
Ferdo hid his fear and stood. Holding out his wooden staff, he spoke:
Brother wolf, you have gotten yourself in some trouble. I know you are hungry and need flesh to live but why eat the villagers? Why take lives that do nothing to harm you? The man are angry and they come to slay you but listen brother wolf, we can help you-if you only promise never to kill again.”
Bewildered, for men always came at him with sword, axe and club, the wolf shook his head. Bowing down, he replied:
            “I am sorry, my brother. Truly I am hungry and need flesh to live. If you help me, feed me, and raise not swords against me, I shall promise never to kill again.”
Right before the huntsmen, Fredo appeared, leading the wicked wolf by his scruff as if he were a tame dog. He reiterated their words, the promise made between them and instead of slaying the wolf; the villagers laid out for him a whole chicken. He ate it timidly and went away. No more people were snatched away in the night. Peace came. From now, they remembered Fredo, remembered not to make the beasts into enemies. For with kind words and understanding, war will cease.”