Moral Reasoning Through the Complexity of Homosexuality

This is a very complex issue. It’s not as simple as people on both sides of the aisle want to make it. There are some basic principles that do help us understand what is right and wrong. Many people are not educated in these principles.

First: God reveals himself. He discloses himself to man through Sacred Scripture, also through sacred tradition, the baseball_throwingMagisterium of the Church, natural law, and logic.

We can’t just throw a bible verse at something and pretend we have it all figured out. All of these pieces must work together. They are all good, because they all come from the same divine origin.

Second: Faith enlightens reason. We must reason through these questions and let our faith inform us whether or not our reasoning is consistent with what God has revealed about his nature and the nature of man.

Third: People have to distinguish between the action and the person. They are not the same. When a five-year old kills his little brother with his father’s gun during a game of “cops and comicrobbers,” the action is contrary to the commandment, “Thou shall not kill.” However, the five-year old is not a murderer, because he neither intended to actually kill his sibling, nor is he knowledgeable of the commandment. The action remains evil; but the child is not culpable. We can condemn behaviors, but we have to be very careful not to judge people. That would be playing God.

Fourth: Juangel_appears_to_st_josephdging another person involves walking through his or her mind and conscience. One’s thoughts on any issue and one’s moral conscience are part of what is known as the “internal forum”. This is an area of human existence that no human being may trespass or attempt to read without an invitation from the individual who is the lawful guardian of his mind and conscience. We can explain why a certain action or behavior is wrong, but we may not pass judgment on the individual’s moral reasoning unless that person invites us to examine it with him, thus inviting us into the internal forum.

Fifth: There is a big difference between homosexual acts and homosexuality. A person with same sex attraction does not wake up one morning and decide to be gay. As he develops and goes through different life experiences, he becomes aware of his feelings in this area. On the other hand, people freely choose to engage in sexual behavior with a person of the same sex. Choosing to be attracted to the same sex is very rare. That which man does not choose can be neither a sin nor a virtue.


Sixth: Homosexual acts, like heterosexual acts, are freely chosen by the parties involved (except in cases of violent force). The person(s) must use reason to determine whether an act is right or wrong. If the person is a man or woman of faith, that faith should confirm the correctness of his conclusion or point to its moral error.

right and wrongSeventh: Acting on faith and basing our actions on what God has disclosed to us about him, about us and about the relationship between the divine and the human is not the same as playing God. It is using that which makes us in the image and likeness of God to make right choices, that being knowledge of right and wrong.

Eighth: Standing in judgment of an action does not constitute godliness. It’s part of human reason and part of living in society. On the other hand, standing in judgment of the person involved in the action that we reject, IS playing God. No one has the right to judge the conscience of another human being, unless the other person opens up his heart and shares what is on his conscience.

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St. Pius X – our “Brother Giuseppe”

We are celebrating today the feast of a Franciscan saint, Pope Pius X. Born Giuseppe Sarto, he entered seminary at 15, was ordained at 23 and became pastor of Salzano (province of Venice) at age 32, where he remained for the following eight years.


It is during his residence in Salzano where he became a professed member of the “Ordo Franciscanum Saecularis”. Originally known as the Brothers and Sisters of Penance, this was the third order founded by St. Francis after that of the Friars Minor (the Franciscans) and of the Poor Ladies (the Poor Clares). It welcomed those who wished to follow the life of the Gospel but could not join the “regular” orders – this included married men and women, diocesan clergy, and also those who were single but discerning the call to marriage.

“Brother Giuseppe” was known for his kindness to the poor. He restored the Church of Salzano, enlarged the hospital, and was known during his years as bishop of Mantua to give copies of texts of dogmatic and moral theology to poor seminarians.

Upon election as bishop of Rome, with the name of Pius X, he followed his spiritual father St. Francis in promoting devotion to the Holy Eucharist, even when this meant breaking with long-established customs in the Latin Church.

He encouraged the faithful to receive Holy Communion daily in a time in which frequent communion was far from being the customary practice. He also dispensed the sick from the pre-communion fast, which at the time was due from midnight of the previous day. Furthermore, he strongly promoted giving First Communion to children as soon as they manifested sufficient discretion, lowering the “age of reason” from 12 to 7 years old. Finally, he urged the frequent reception of the Sacrament of Reconciliation in order to worthily receive Holy Communion.

Intending to “restore everything in Christ”, he began a series of extensive reforms of the liturgy.


The Porziuncula, a simple church where the first Franciscans praised and glorified God

The first step he took in this direction was to affirm the primacy of Gregorian chant in the Latin churches, but not for the reasons that some today wish to attribute it… He did so because it represented a much simpler musical style than the theatrical style that was predominant at the time, namely Classical and Baroque compositions. His intent was all-encompassing: by restoring the chanting by the people, he wished to restore the active participation of the faithful in the liturgy. In this he would be echoed by his successor to the Chair of Peter, who insisted that chant had to be restored to the use of the people since “it is very necessary that the faithful attend the sacred ceremonies not as if they were outsiders or mute onlookers“.

Insisting in the importance of the participation of the lay faithful in the life of the Church, St. Pius mandated that catechism classes be established in every parish in the world, and redacted a Catechism known for its “simplicity of exposition and depth of content”, which found its worthy successor in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, not StPiusXatDeskaimed to the use of the clergy but to the entire People of God.
His most encompassing reforms were of the Code of Canon Law and of the Divine Office. The former received a universal structure. The latter was a major revision: he abolished and forbade the Breviary established by St. Pius V, promulgating a revision that rearranged the psalms, dividing them when too long, and significantly reducing the individual Hours. The changes also made necessary a reform of the Roman Missal, which was completed in the 1920 typical edition by his successor to the Apostolic See. This was the fourth revision of the so-called “Tridentine Mass” since the day that St. Pius V established it as the norm for most diocesan clergy of the Latin Rite.

During his pontificate, St Pius X was very close to the people in times of natural disasters – we recall the earthquake of Calabria and the eruption of Mount Vesuvio – and showed his paternal care towards the Secular Franciscan Order by asking the Franciscan friars to take spiritual care of them (see the Latin document here). The Franciscan spirit which permeated his life and pontificate could be summarized by his words concerning the Catholic attitude towards the Holy Father:

“How must the Pope be loved? Not in word, nor in tongue, but in deed, and in truth. When a person is loved, one tries to adhere in everything to his thoughts, to execute his will, to interpret his desires. When we love the Pope, we make no arguments around what he disposes or demands, or about how far obedience must go, and in what things one must obey; we do not say that he has not spoken clearly enough…we do not place his orders in doubt…we do not limit the scope in which he can and should exercise his authority; we do not set above the authority of the Pope that of other people no matter how learned who dissent from the Pope, who may be learned but are not holy, because he who is holy cannot dissent from the Pope.

This is the cry of a hurting heart, that with deep bitterness I express, not for your sake, beloved brothers, but with you in order to deplore the conduct of many priests, who not only dare to debate and criticize the wishes of the Pope, but are not ashamed to reach impudent and shameless disobedience, with much scandal for the good and with so much ruin of souls. (Discorso 18-XI-1912)”

In this he echoes the words of the Seraphic Father who writes:

“Brother Francis, and whoever may be at the head of this religion, promises obedience and reverence to our Lord Pope Innocent and to his successors. And the other brothers shall be bound to obey Brother Francis and his successors. […] Let all the brothers be Catholics, and live and speak in a Catholic manner. Let none of the brothers preach contrary to the form and institution of the holy Roman Church. (Rule)

The Lord gave me and still gives me such faith in priests who live according to the manner of the holy Roman Church because of their order, that if they were to persecute me, I would still have recourse to them. And if I possessed as much wisdom as Solomon had and I came upon pitiful priests of this world, I would not preach contrary to their will in the parishes in which they live. And I desire to fear, love, and honor them and all others as my masters. And I do not wish to consider sin in them because I discern the Son of God in them and they are my masters.”  (Testament)

St Pius was known to have said: “I was born poor, I lived poor, and I wish to die poor.” Falling ill on the feast of the Assumption, also weighed down by the distress of the First World War that he had tried so difficultly to prevent, he expressively prohibited the embalming of his remains and was buried in a simple, unadorned tomb in the crypt of St Peter’s Basilica.


To him the Lord entrusted the Church at a very difficult time – when the world was transitioning into the Great Wars that would forever change its face and usher a new era for civilization in terms of destruction and reconstruction. We are all indebted to him for the courage and simplicity with which he embraced the task of laying the foundations for a comprehensive renewal of the Church.

For those who wish to read some of his writings, you may visit the page dedicated to him on the website of the Holy See, here.



“Never Forget to Love”

St. Maximilian, Pray for us.

St. Maximilian,
Pray for us.

On Friday, 14 August, the Church celebrates the feast of Saint Maximilian Maria Kolbe.  Many know that Saint Maximilian Kolbe was a Conventual Franciscan friar who gave his life, in a concentration camp, to save the life of a young man who was a husband and father.  More here

Maximillian, along with the Immaculate and Saint John Paul II, is patron of the Franciscans of Life.  Maximilian also founded the Knights of the Immaculate, movement to promote devotion to the Mother of God, devotion that allows her to point to Christ as she did at Cana.  This he did after he consecrated his life to the Immaculate.    The Church has named Maximilian the Patron Saint of those who work for the Gospel of Life.

In honor of Saint Maximilian, the Franciscans of Life will gather for a festive supper and solemn vespers on the evening of August 14th.  There will be food, music, pictures, games and a great deal of fraternal spirit.  Please keep the Franciscans of Life in your prayers this day.

Man is called to a fullness of life which far exceeds the dimensions of his earthly existence, because it consists in sharing the very life of God. The loftiness of this supernatural vocation reveals the greatness and the inestimable value of human life . . .” (Evangelium Vitae).

“To be held as precious”

Today the Latin Church celebrates the solemnity of Corpus Christi to commemorate the institution of the Eucharist.


Although the Seraphic Father never experienced this feast, he and his brothers certainly had a special devotion to the Holy Eucharist during his lifetime. In fact, St. Francis focused his first Admonition on the Holy Eucharist, professing that

the Sacrament of the Body of Christ which is sanctified by the word of the Lord upon the altar by the hands of the priest in the form of bread and wine […] is really the most holy Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.

St. Francis emphasized that the Holy Eucharist shows the Lord’s great humility and simplicity, the same that He showed in the Incarnation:

Behold daily He humbles Himself as when from His “royal throne” He came into the womb of the Virgin; daily He Himself comes to us with like humility; daily He descends from the bosom of His Father upon the altar in the hands of the priest.

eucharist in creche

The awe inspired by the great love of the Word made Flesh, united to the awareness that in this world we can see nothing corporally of Christ except the Holy Eucharist (Testament) moves us to revere the Real Presence and, by association to show respect for “the chalices, corporals, ornaments of the altar, and all that pertain to the Sacrifice“. These, Francis reminds, us, must be held as precious (Letter to all the Custodes).

In the Latin Church, such reverence was expressed in ways that were typically European, according to the circumstances. Customary gestures arose, some of which acquired meaning, and others to which meaning began to be attributed.

The latter revealed a weakness: the meaning of reverence appeared from the outside in. One had to ask “Why?” in order to be told “it is a sign of reverence“.

Other customary gestures, however, allowed the action to speak for itself. Consider for instance the elevation after the consecration, a late medieval introduction intended to show the consecrated host to the people. When St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, prior to her conversion from Anglicanism, witnessed this for the first time, she was well aware of what was being done (since it existed in the Anglican rite), but the awe that accompanied it was what she perceived, an awe sparked by the Catholic belief in the Real Presence. This, and not the gesture per se, would eventually lead her to the Eucharist. Reverence, then, can be experienced or defined.


The Church, rather than rigidly defining reverence, mediates its experience by pointing to the value of that which is sacred. This she does in a twofold manner: expressing dismay when that which is sacred is treated carelessly, and showing forth the different degrees of reverence due to the sacred.

As an example of the former, the Church states that “sacred objects, which are designated for divine worship by dedication or blessing…are not to be employed for profane or inappropriate use” (CIC 1171), and that they be made of materials “truly noble in the common estimation within a given region, [being] reprobated…any practice of using…common vessels…or which are mere containers” (RS 117).

As an example of showing the different degrees of reverence that are due, consider the chalice. The minor clerics handled the empty chalice. The subdeacon handed the filled chalice to the deacon before consecration. The priest handled the consecrated chalice.

When for practical reasons laymen replaced the ministry of the minor orders and subdiaconate, the lay ministers handled the empty chalice, the deacon poured wine into the chalice and handed it to the priest, and the priest consecrated.

When order is restored, confusion disappears and once more reverence becomes visible.

If, however, we do not let reverence speak for itself, but rather focus on rigidly defining it, we risk embracing two imperfect mindsets.

In the first of these, we may apply gestures that express reverence in situations that do not call for it, which leads to an over-generalization or over-use of such gestures, so that eventually they lose their reverent meaning and become “common”.

An example of this is the practice of genuflection. In the Latin Church, genuflection became a common sign of reverence towards the Blessed Sacrament. Eventually, genuflections became common throughout the liturgy even when the Blessed Sacrament is neither present on the altar, nor reserved in the Tabernacle. This begs the question: “Why genuflect?” To which the answer comes: “As a sign of reverence“. This led to confusion, as the distinction between reverence due to the Blessed Sacrament and respect due to a sacred object (namely, the altar) became unclear. This of course can lead to such gestures being eventually discarded because they are no longer associated with the original context and thus  perceived as superfluous repetition.

The second of these mindsets, one may begin to perceive the absence of certain gestures as a “lack of reverence”, or the presence of certain gestures as a “need”, given our sinfulness or even “uncleanliness”.

Consider, for instance, the usage of gloves by altar servers. When the law of the Latin Church reserved, so to speak, the handling of the sacred vessels to the minor clerics, this came neither from divine revelation nor because of an intrinsic spiritual meaning. Certainly it was not the Church’s mindset that the laity was “unworthy because unholy”. It was done for very practical reasons. Furthermore, laymen and religious often functioned as sacristan. At times they handled the vessels with a piece of cloth, because it was fairly easy to transfer grease and dirt from their hands to the vessels.


Yet by the 19th Century we read that if the sacristan is a layman rather than a minor cleric, “it is at least becoming that a veil be used in handling the chalice and the paten” (Collectio Rerum Liturgicarum). Statements such as these were understood in the negative, as implying that the gesture of a lay man or woman handling the chalice with bare hands is a lack of reverence, because the laity are somewhat “unclean”, hence the need to “restrict” them outside of the sacristy and to grant clerics alone the “privilege”of handling the sacred vessels. This, of course, confuses the way the Church intended to bring order and distorts the meaning of reverence. Even the previous Code of Canon Law stated that the sacred vessels could be handled by either the clerics or those who had their custody, including laity and religious (CIC/1917 1306), where the word “laity” made no distinction between male and female .


St. Therese of Lisieux as sacristan

As for the honor due to the clergy, the Seraphic Father reminds us that it is “on account of their office and administration of the most holy Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, which they sacrifice on the altar and receive and administer to others” (Letter to all the Faithful). That is to say: we honor them because they are the ministers of the Eucharist; they are not the ministers of the Eucharist because of their holiness.

In brief: this mindset, which focuses on our sinfulness alone, fails to acknowledge the Incarnation. Yet, it can still be found today, even when minor orders are no longer present in the Latin Church (with a few exceptions) and their functions are performed by the laity.

To avoid the two slippery slopes that we have described, we should bear in mind that the Church does not rigidly define reverence, but rather orders roles and gestures according to the need. Again, when order is restored, confusion disappears and once more reverence becomes visible.

Consequently, the focus shifts from our sinfulness and unworthiness to the Incarnation. At that moment, the Word becomes Flesh and the Second Person of the Holy Trinity assumes our nature, breaking into human history and beginning the journey towards our redemption.

True reverence has its roots in the Incarnation and naturally returns to it. We reverence Our Lord Jesus Christ when we acknowledge Him as true God and true man, hence becoming aware of who He is, our very brother, and of who we are in relationship to Him, children of the Most High.



Br. Bernardo di Carmine

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Empowering or redefining women?

These days there are many discussions inside and outside of Church circles that boil down to sex.  When we speak of empowering women in the Church, what exactly are we looking for if not Holy Orders.?  In the mind of many people the only way to empower women is to assign them roles that are reserved for males, such as deacons, priests and bishops.

“Go tell my brothers that I will meet them in Galilee.”

This example begs the question.  Do we really understand the difference between empowering and commissioning?  There is a difference between someone having the power to consecrate the Eucharist and being sent to do so.  When you ordain a class of ten males, they receive certain sacramental powers that they can exercise only with the authority from the bishop, not only because they are males. From here comes the term “to grant faculties.”  Only a bishop can grant you a license to legally celebrate the Eucharist. You have the sacramental powers, but you lack the legal authority to use those powers.   Without the bishop’s permission, you cannot exercise those faculties be you male or female.

Let’s look at the exercise of authority.  “Go tell my brothers to go up to Galilee where they will see me.”  But to whom does Jesus commend this great message?

Who else was in the garden on that first morning of the week:  the angel, Peter, John and three Mary’s. However it is Mary is commissioned to deliver the message “The tomb is empty and I have seen the Master.”

We have all known our fair share of deacons, priests and bishop unable to deliver message as  did Mary, with the power that comes only from Truth. 

Published in: on April 21, 2015 at 9:43 PM  Leave a Comment  

True and charitable obedience — pleasing to God and neighbor

Pope Francis and Franciscans of the Immaculate

Pope Francis and Franciscans of the Immaculate

It seems that these days everyone wants to gripe and whine about the pope, bishops, and the synod on the family, the Traditional Latin Mass (TLM) or the Mass of Paul VI (Novus Ordo).  Then there are such subjects as abortion, same-sex marriage, contraception, divorce, remarriage and Holy Communion and women’s ordination.

Yesterday, I saw another article claiming that Pope Francis has done great harm to Summorum Pontificum, the document written by Pope Benedict clarifying that the Tridentine form of the mass for the Roman Rite was changed a bit by Pope St. John XXIII, but never abrogated.  The gist of this complaint is that allegedly Pope Francis told the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate that they may not celebrate the Tridentine Form without asking for specific permission to do so.  To some people, this is a form oppression and a violation of law.

To get past this point, let’s clarify that the Franciscans of the Immaculate were never founded to be a Traditional Latin Mass (TLM) community.  When they were founded, the Mass of Paul VI or Novus Ordo was the ordinary form of the mass for the Latin Church.  Secondly, Summorum Pontificum clearly states that the superior general alone can make rules about who and when the TLM is celebrated in public or in community, but he must make these rules in keeping with the proper laws of his institute.  This means that he must look at the constitutions of his institute and see what they say about the older rite and the newer rite, if they say anything at all.  In most cases the constitutions do not speak to this point, because they were written before this became a hot question.  Therefore, there is nothing in proper law that allows a superior permission to make the Extraordinary Form of the mass (TLM) to become the norm for his community.  The question needs to be put on the table to the community to vote on.  Once the community votes on it, the Holy See must approve the change that is to be made to the constitutions.

Let’s remember that the Franciscans of the Immaculate, like any other religious community owe obedience to the Holy Father.  At the end of the day, the Holy Father is the legitimate superior general of every institute in the Catholic Church, because he alone exercises universal jurisdiction.    Therefore, we cannot accuse the pope of overstepping his boundaries or of abusing power.  If you have the power to do something or to prohibit something and you make use of it, how can it be an abuse?

Some will argue that the pope cannot use his power to do harm.  This is true.  No one can use power to do harm.  Power is given to us for the common good.  There are times when we use power with the intention of doing something good and somewhere in the process something goes wrong and the end result hurts more than it helps.  This was not the intention of the person exercising the power.  This was the result of many random acts that were against the idea in the first place.    In this case, one can say that the end result was that the lay faithful who were benefiting from the TLM celebrated by the priests of the Franciscans of the Immaculate no longer had that benefit.  Obviously, they were hurt by Pope Francis’ decision to stop the TLM among the Franciscans of the Immaculate.  Did the Pope intend to hurt these folks?  I don’t think so.  He intended to put out a fire within the Franciscans of the Immaculate.

This does not mean that the TLM is prohibited or that the Franciscans of the Immaculate are being suppressed.  It means that people who had come to depend on the Franciscans of the Immaculate to provide a TLM mass have to look elsewhere, which is an inconvenience.    In fairness to the Pope and to the friars, this congregation was never founded for the explicit purpose of celebrating the mass in the Extraordinary Form (TLM Form).  The congregation’s mission is to walk the Gospel in the footsteps of St. Maximilian Kolbe and St. Francis of Assisi under the protection and patronage of the Immaculate.

Did something go wrong?  Yes.  I don’t know what went wrong.  I’m not a member of that community.  I can see what’s going wrong outside of the community.  Pope Benedict XVI started an investigation into the Franciscans of the Immaculate, not Pope Francis.  Pope Francis inherited it, but almost everyone blames Pope Francis for it.  Like most popes, Pope Francis is not too enthusiastic about people using the mass for their political battles.  Therefore he restricts the permission to use the Tridentine Form to those who have specific permission to use it.  He never said that it could not be used.  He said that one must ask first.

Whatever Summorum Pontificum says about what priest can celebrate the Extraordinary Form of the mass, we cannot forget that the Motu Proprio does not bind the pope, including the one who wrote it, much less the pope who succeeds him.  He is free to abrogate it, edit it and interpret it.  It is not up to us to tell the pope what he can or cannot do with law.

Boniface VIII in “Constit.” reminds us that the sovereign pontiff is the most fruitful source of . . . law; he can abrogate . . . legislate to the whole Church or part thereof, a country, or a given body of individuals . . . he is not legally obliged to obtain the consent of any other persons and his power is limited only by Divine law.

Another important point here is that this is a situation between a pope and a religious community of Pontifical Right.  Meaning . . . that the pope is the highest ranking superior, above whom there is no appeal and who has absolute authority over the religious community.  He need not speak ex cathedra to be obeyed.  If we look at the writings of St. Francis, he promises obedience to the Bishop of Rome, commands that all the brothers obey him and his canonically elected successors for all time.  In essence, Francis binds everyone to obey the pope, regardless of the matter involved, except sin.  To put it more bluntly, it’s not for any of us, outside of the Franciscans of the Immaculate, to demand to know what happens within the community or to speak as if we had the authority to make a judgment on a situation that does not fall under our jurisdiction.

We must not lose sight of the fact that the good brothers have not asked us for our help, comments, opinions and interventions.  These are well educated men, free to ask for help if they need it, and who have a good understanding of how the legal system in the Church works, should they choose to make use of it.  Instead, it seems that they have chosen to apply one of our Seraphic Father’s admonitions.

The Lord says in the Gospel: he “that doth not renounce all that he possesses cannot be” a “disciple “and “he that will save his life, shall lose it.”  That man leaves all he possesses and loses his body and his soul who abandons himself wholly to obedience in the hands of his superior, and whatever he does and says—provided he himself knows that what he does is good and not contrary to his [the superior’s] will—is true obedience. And if at times a subject sees things which would be better or more useful to his soul than those which the superior commands him, let him sacrifice his will to God, let him strive to fulfil the work enjoined by the superior. This is true and charitable obedience which is pleasing to God and to one’s neighbor.


Upon this “quarry” I will build my Church?

Since the closing of the extraordinary synod there has been a great deal of commentary on the blogosphere about the reception of Holy Communion by Catholics who are divorced and invalidly remarried.  The question is not so much as to whether the first marriage was valid and the second is not or the other way around.  The question on everyone’s mind seems to be whether or not Pope JPII W EUCHARISTFrancis is pushing for a relaxation of the law that currently exists, which says that people who are conscious of grave sin should not receive Holy Communion.  Living with someone as if he or she were your spouse when the person is not, would be one of those occasions when objectively one is culpable a grave sin.

I wouldn’t have written this article, if I thought that this is the only issue on the table.  After all, Pope Francis has not said anything that indicates that he is trying to persuade the bishops to change the law or keep the law.  What we seem to be hearing from the Holy Father is that he wants every voice to be heard.  Sometimes, when one opens the door to every voice one finds discordant voices.  Whether it’s prudent to open the door to every voice is an important question.  However, in the case of the extraordinary synod on the family, it’s a moot question, because the horse has already left the starting gate.

We have seen cardinals, bishops, theologians, religious and laymen speak on the synod and the documents that were published after.  The points that concern most people are whether or not these men and women in invalid marriages should bride & groombe allowed to receive Holy Communion; whether or not same-sex couples have something positive to contribute to the Church; and whether or not we can find any good in situations where people who are not spouses live as if they were.  I certainly can’t claim to have the answers to these questions, because they are above my paygrade.  Even if I thought I had the answer, the Holy See is not really interested in my opinion, because it’s not my place in the Church to speak as an authority of matters of faith and morals.  That authority is reserved for the local bishop.  I can only speak as an authority in my home and in my community with the Franciscans of Life.  Even there, I can only repeat what the Church teaches; I cannot teach anything that is outside of Church teaching as if it were the “official” Catholic position.

Here is precisely where we’re having problems today.  The blogosphere is overpopulated with voices that not only have something to say about these questions, but want to speak and be heard as if they had the BOOKS ON HEADauthority to make pronouncements to the rest of the Church.  When they speak they sound intelligent, because they can use big words, throw around some citations from previous popes, councils and older catechisms and there are times when their arguments have some logic.  To the average layman (not as in non-ordained, but as in newbie to Church politics) these voices can be very impressive and persuasive, to the point that these readers become talking boxes for the bloggers.  You hear them repeat, verbatim, what a blogger has written.  This is an interesting development, because the blogosphere seems to be giving birth to its own oral tradition within the Catholic Church and some people are beginning to take this tradition seriously.

At the risk of sounding like these voices, I have to state that bloggers are just that and no more.  St. Francis of Assisi held that a man is what he is before God, san francisconothing else.  This has been part of Franciscan tradition and culture for 800 years.  Why?  Because it works.  Why does it work?  Because it’s true.

When we read what someone puts out there, be he a cardinal, bishop, religious, concerned Catholic layman we must keep this person in his or her proper context.  He or she is what God sees, not how he presents himself.  When God looks at a cardinal, he sees a bishop who has a specific place in the Church, with a specific assignment, specific role and mission.  He does not see another Peter, because there can only be one Peter.  The Church is built upon the faith of one rock, not an entire quarry.

The same applies to lay writers, who are often very impressive.  Nonetheless, they are not Peter.  All of these people are commenting on what Peter has said, failed to say, should say, will never say and that’s fine and dandy.  They are commentators.  We have to take them as such.  I do not take the commentator at clerics playinga Super Bowl show and credit him with the same authority that I credit the referee.  At the end of the day, the person who makes the call whether the ball is in or out of bounds is the ref, not the guy at the microphone.  The guy at the microphone can call the shot anyway he likes it, but his call is not going to determine the outcome of the game.

Listening to and reading what every blogger in town has to say about divorce, remarriage, Holy Communion, same-sex marriage, homosexuality, cohabitation, the family, sex, and many other topics that fall under the umbrella of “family” can be very interesting and very enlightening.  I certainly like knowing what other GOD IS HIDDEN WITHINpeople are thinking.  But I have to remind myself that what I’m reading are the talking points and opinions of others like the sportscaster at the Super Bowl.  These are not the officials who call the shots that shape the outcome of the game.  The only person who can call those shots is Peter.

So far, in this entire discussion on the family, Pope Francis has only said that a synod of bishops has no authority to make or change rules, much less dogma and that the pope calls a synod under his pope franciswatchful eye and under his authority.  Therefore, he and only he can decide what to keep or throw out from what comes from the synod.

Those people who are saying that the Church is going to do A, B, and C, because the synod fathers said something in favor of A, B, and C can be very mistaken.  The Church is going to do whatever Peter decides.  It may be A, B, and C or D, E, and F.

Do not take these bloggers too seriously, nor reporters for that matter or people doing interviews.  Remember St. Francis of Assisi.  A man is what he is before God, nothing else.  None of these men is Peter.  They have strong opinions and are often very rational.  Other times they have very strong opinions and are very illogical.  I don’t pledge my support to the former, because as logical as his opinion may be, he lacks the authority to speak for the Church.  I listen to his opinion and like Mary; I hold these in my heart.  On the flip side, I don’t pledge my allegiance to the latter either, because his opinions are illogical.

Saint Pius XUntil the Church tells me that what appears illogical to me must be obeyed and held, I have no duty to do so.  The key here is “to me”.  Just because something seems right or wrong to me, does not make it so.  Just because I think I understand what the Church has traditionally said on a specific subject does not mean that I do.

We are very proud of what we think, to the point that we throw our ideas out there as if they were revealed truths and we’re willing to insult, hurt, and ignore others who do not agree with our understanding of the faith, morality or Catholic tradition. Which leads me to ask whether at the end of the day, all of these interviews that people are giving, all of these opinions that people are posting on blogs concerning the Church, the family and the pope, and all of these sound bites are just another temptation to pride and disobedience.

How much of all that is said is about love of God and man and how much is about love of one’s opinion and one’s idea of what “is” means?

“Good night, son!”

“Pax et bonum”! I am very happy to wish you a blessed new year and to share with you the highlights of my first week of postulancy in residence at the Franciscans of Life motherhouse. I hope you like it!

It has been great to begin my residency during the Christmas season.

In retrospective, I can see I experienced both the great solemnity of the Nativity and the secular “holiday” of New Year as times of “glad tidings”, of a new beginning, as well as a reminder that Christ lives. “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and act on it”, says the Lord. And St. Paul, who was no “forgetful listener”, would say: “I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me”.

In short: this first week was for me the time to welcome the birth of Christ in my heart and embrace Him in my brothers.

Nativity and Christmas tree

Arriving to the motherhouse was not a new experience, but this time it took a whole new aspect. I wasn’t just visiting. I was at home, now.

After settling in, I was invited to go to evening mass at the nearby parish of St Boniface. It felt great to begin this way. As Brother Jay always reminds us, “everything begins at the beginning”. I was very happy to attend this mass with my brothers and to pray Vespers with them afterwards, before the Blessed Sacrament.

This would be the first “in residence” taste of the fraternal liturgical life. Little did I know (I say this with great joy!) that this would become the “heart and soul”of my daily life of love!

The life in fraternity is “in common” in many ways. We strive to serve one another and to meet each other’s needs. We all seek to love and be loved, and in the life of the regular brothers we are always attentive to each other’s needs for spiritual support, safety, and affection.

The common life is also very practical. Our community embraces early Franciscan poverty in which the brothers did not just share common property. We simply have what is strictly necessary.  For this purpose, Father Superior worked right away on the motherhouse weekly schedule to meet the needs of a postulant student brother and assure that I can continue my formation while pursuing my first doctoral degree – all the while living the peaceful and joyful life of penance of the Franciscans of Life.


My days begin at the “cella” (pronounced like “shell”), where I sleep “at a pillow’s distance” from Father Superior. It is always a joyful experience, as we encounter one another in awakening and, shortly afterwards, our Lord in the prayer of Lauds.

Due to the diminute size of the “cella”, the brothers must take turns; one brother takes care of the beds while the other lights the candles at our little prayer table, before the icon of the Immaculate and the crucifix of San Damiano. It is here that we keep the prayer intentions entrusted to us.  On one day in which my turn came around for the latter and I was particularly sleepy, I recalled the words of an earlier liturgical reading: “Awake, sleeper!”. For a moment, I thought I could feel the Lord’s eyes on me…but when I turned around, I realized it was Father’s glance! “Are you done waking up, or do you need a hand?” 🙂


Having warmed up the soul with prayer, we take care of the rest with breakfast (and, not uncommonly, some laughter!) On more than one occasion I “showcased my cooking skills” by preparing some awesome toasts with coffee (although I ought to admit that the greater merit goes to the new toaster oven that we recently received from a kind benefactor).


What happens in the mornings depends on the daily schedule.

Most weekdays we coordinate our schedules for academics and apostolate, and we often share the community car by planning our daily trip accordingly. Several days, however, the morning begins with a formation class in topics such as spiritual theology, sacred liturgy, and Franciscan studies.

Saturday is dedicated in a particular way to prayer and to taking care of the motherhouse. Once a month, we dedicate it to a full day of prayer and recollection. This week, however, was my opportunity to “brush up” my broom and mop skills 😉


Sunday is our family day. Usually, we begin the day by going to the nearby parish of St. Maximilian Kolbe to attend mass.

Once a month, however, we also travel to Miami, to the mission of Sts. Francis and Clare, where I serve as acolyte for the local Latin Mass Community. While we worship in community in the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite, Father Superior and the brothers know that I have been an E.F. altar server for several years with great joy and to my spiritual benefit. They have kindly accommodated for me to be able to continue to do so without turning the extraordinary into the norm.

The weekday afternoon usually includes some free time for spiritual reading, private prayer, a walk around the lake, and (for me, in a special way) time for homework. This doesn’t mean I am “off the hook” for an afternoon formation class, however! 🙂

Saturday afternoon is often the occasion to buy the necessary groceries for the week and take care of the needs of our lovely companions Max and Tasha.


On Family Day, it is not uncommon to spend the afternoon at a nearby park, alternating times of prayerful contemplation to times of joy and fun.


The evening is usually marked by attending daily Mass followed by Vespers, in turn followed by supper.

Something beautiful happens on Monday evenings, as the regular and secular brothers gather for the weekly “chapter”. This is one of my favorite experiences of our fraternity life – to welcome all the brothers and be welcomed with a warm embrace, and then pray Vespers together, receive formation, plan our joint efforts in our common service to the voiceless, and also share weekly experiences.

It is written: “How good and how pleasant it is, when brothers dwell together as one!” This is exactly what I experience at our “family meetings”, as the secular brothers, who are husbands and fathers, enrich us with the experience of a Catholic family life, and at the same time allow us to share with them the fruits of peace and good that we find in the celibate life in community.


At the end, Father Superior sends the secular brothers back to their families with a warm embrace. This is a very moving moment, but it is also a reminder that I must retreat to the “cella”, for this evening is the time for the regular brothers to have the Chapter of Faults. The regular brothers recollect, as Father Superior enters the cell and sits quietly. One by one, we “come into the light, that our deeds may be manifested”.


When my turn comes, I kneel before Father Superior, entrusting myself to his justice and mercy, and opening myself to my brothers, as I accuse myself of my faults against the Holy Rule and our Constitutions. After receiving Father Superior’s firm but gentle correction, I prostrate before the Crucified Lord and, arms outstretched, I recite my Confiteor. As I hear Father’s words “Arise, in the name of the Lord”, and I sit down amidst my brothers, I have the unshakable certainty that despite my limitations, my Superior and my brothers still love me. As Brother Leo steps forward, I glance at the eyes of the Crucified. Those eyes, and the peace in my heart, are enough to make me wish to leap for joy. But I remain recollected, as I recall the words of our Holy Father St. Francis: “Let us begin, for up to now we have done nothing.”

The night finishes with a visit to His Majesty, who in the Blessed Sacrament awaits for us at the St. Francis chapel of a nearby parish.

Before walking into the chapel, Father Superior guides us through a review of our day. This is one of the most meaningful times of the day for me, as I can rejoice at the good experiences of the day and analyze missed opportunities to encounter and serve Christ, in order to see what got in the way and what can I do better.

After a time of adoration, we lift our cowls and we let the words of Compline echo silently before His face: “Lord, now you let your servant go in peace…”.


We return to the motherhouse and retreat into our “cella”, our beloved cloister. Lights go off. I lay down in bed “and sleep comes at once”. It’s been a good day, I tell myself. The night is silent. I thank God for the present moment, for the love, and for the gift of a life of penance in service to the voiceless.

And just as I am about to fall asleep, a pillow hits me. “Good night, son!”

Br. Bernardo, FFV

[How to Help]

“Walk in my presence . . . ,” Brother begins his journey

The journey of a consecrated brother in the Franciscans of Life has several steps.  At the beginning they seem to move very quickly and then they slowly settle down.  That’s because the early steps are short.  As the child learns to walk, he takes wider steps.

Let’s follow the journey of Br. Bernardo.  It began at Baptism when his parents and godparents promised to raise him in the Catholic faith and he was washed clean of Original Sin by the waters of Baptism and initiated into the Catholic Church.  He would later make his First Holy Communion and then be confirmed, concluding his initiation into the faith.

But God does not stop working with us on the day of our Confirmation.  On that day, He is finished with the initial part of the process.  Then began the next step.  Like any other man, Bernardo had to find his place in the Church.  After a few years involved in campus ministry and debating Traditionalist points on Catholic Answers Forums, he met the Franciscans of Life.  This dialogue/debate between Bernardo and Br. Jay went from 2012 to the September 2013.  It was almost one year.

Br. Jay invited Bernardo to attend a workshop on the Church’s teachings on the life issues with an introduction to Project Joseph.

This is the young man who entered the door on June 14, 2013 at 9:00 AM.  He was very friendly, but reserved and very guarded.  Almost wondering, “What’s a nice boy like me doing in a place like this?”

That didn’t last very long.  Bernardo can’t keep quiet more than 20 minutes at a time and remaining distant is against his nature.  This is a man who is naturally oriented toward others.  This became obvious very quickly, especially as he and Brother Christopher Thomas enjoyed some coffee and donut.

But God was not finished.  Later, Brother Jay would ask Bernardo to visit a family meeting with the Franciscans of Life.  When the meeting ended, he was excited and happy, like a kid who has just been told that he got an A on a math exam.  He continued to attend the family meetings.WP_20140825_066

On August 23, 2014, Brother Jay decided to risk it and invited Bernardo to enter the aspirancy program.  Brother still had reservations.  But he put it all in the hands of the Immaculate.   On the 24th of August, Bernardo accepted the invitation and was received as an aspirant on August 25, 2014.

The aspirants receive a white shirt and a Tau pin that they wear on their collar

WP_20140825_081On October 27, 2014, Brother Jay found himself at prayer in front of the Immaculate.  As usual, he prayed for all of his brothers, secular and consecrated; aspirants, postulants, novices and professed.  He was very tired and his eyes started to close.  As if in  a state between asleep and awake he clearly saw Bernardo’s face.

“Is that whom you want me to call for you,” Brother Jay asked the Immaculate.  “But Mother, there are some complications, because he’s a doctoral student and I don’t yet know his family,” Brother Jay told the Immaculate.  “Please give me a sign that I’m understanding you correctly.”

Suddenly, the sleepiness vanished and Brother Jay started to laugh.  He was not sure what was going to happen next, but he was sure of one thing.  He had a message to deliver for the Immaculate.  It didn’t make a difference whether Bernardo believed it or not.  Brother never promised the Immaculate and she never demanded that Bernardo would believe the message.  He was to deliver the invitation to enter the Franciscans of Life.  The  Immaculate had already placed a strategy in Brother Jay’s mind how Bernardo would be a postulant and finish his degree.  On October 29, 2014, Brother Jay delivered the message and the plan that the Immaculate had put into his mind.  In less than 24 hours, Bernardo accepted the invitation.

After consulting with the brothers, the date was set.  Bernardo would be invested in the seraphic robe on November 17, 2014 the Feast of St. Elizabeth of Hungary, patroness of the Brothers and Sisters of Penance, whose rule the Franciscans of Life follow.  Brothers have to be invested in the name they received at baptism, when they become novices, a new name is assigned to them.  That evening, he became a Student Brother, in the FFV.  Assisting in the investiture was Mrs. Angela,  Bernardo’s mother and Brother Christopher Thomas, whom Bernardo had chosen as his sponsor and witness.

The habit and all the pieces come in a plastic bag.  Brother Chris was holding the bag, handing Mrs. Torres one piece at a time.  When he handed her the Seraphic Tunic she said, “Que emoción,” which Spanish means “I’m 009so moved.”  

There is no such thing as an investiture without comic relief.  We had to take off Bernardo’s shirt to throw the tunic over his head.  But Bernardo just stood there as his mother and one of us fiddled with the tiny buttons on his shirt.  Finally, Brother Jay said, “Oh for goodness sake.  You can help us, you know.”  The buttons were tiny.

But all worked out well.  At the end of the investiture, Brother, his mother, the brothers and some of his friends who attended took pictures and offered Brother their best wishes.

One thing that the new postulant has to be able to do, besides dress himself is to explain each piece of his habit.  The grey was chosen because it was the original color worn by St. Francis and the early brothers.  The tunic stops at midcalf, because that how many Italian peasants wore them in the 13th century.  The cowl (hood) was worn for warmth and the scapular of Our  Lady we have added over the years in honor of the Immaculate who appeared to St. Simon Stock wearing the clothes of a peasant woman, undyed brown wool for her tunic and apron (scapular) and undyed white wool for the mantle.

The postulant’s habit is held together by a leather belt as a reminder that St. Francis also started his journey wearing a leather belt, before he gave it up for a piece of rope.  The cord is received when one enters the novitiate.

Over the heart, every Franciscan of Life wears the Tau just as St. Francis drew it on his habit when he first learned of its meaning.  Postulants and novices wear a wooden Tau, while professed wear a bronze Tau.  The red cord that holds the Tau in place reminds us of the Passion of Christ to which we have a special devotion.  Finally, there are things to do around the house.  This postulant’s first assignment was to learn how to cook.

Each step is recorded in our family’s chronicles and witnessed by two people other than the superior.  Bernardo had chosen Brother Chris as one of his witnesses, Brother Jay chose Bernardo’s mother to be her son’s second witness, something that does not happen too often. The journey of a new Franciscan of Life only begins here.  There is still much to learn and many steps to be walked.  There is a one year novitiate and at least three years of temporary vows.

You too can walk this path.  Think about it.014

Enjoy the pictures.

Let's see if the oven is ready.

Let’s see if the oven is ready.


Making Mom’s sauce — “Where is she when I need her?”

Figuring out how to cook a precooked lasagna

Figuring out how to cook a precooked lasagna

Getting the lasgna ready for the oven.

Getting the lasgna ready for the oven.

What’s the IQ required to enter heaven?

The great feast of All Saints is just around the corner. I use to think that All Saints was a catch all day that the Church created to cover herself in case those non-canonized saints got upset.  I don’t know at what point in time it dawned on me that the Feast of All Saints is really not about the saints themselves, but about the universal call to sanctity.Francis and lepers

There are only 365 days in a calendar year.  There is no way that we can venerate every canonized saint in one year’s time, much less learn very much about all of them.  But then again, it about more than veneration.  It’s about imitation.  Over the centuries thousands of men and women have lived lives of heroic virtue.  They have gone over and beyond what is usual and customary in the spiritual life.  We’re talking about the practice of charity, prayer, penance, humility, docility to the Holy Spirit, desire for God, detachment from the things of this world, service to voiceless, forgiveness, purity and many other virtues that I can’t list here, because we just don’t have the luxury to do so.  But you get the picture.

Last Monday, I was leading the discussion at our weekly formation class.   I mentioned that St. Thomas Aquinas grappled with the Immaculate Conception.  One of our brothers had a knee-jerk reaction.  “How could a saint grapple with a dogma?  Especially Aquinas?”

It’s impoHow-The-Human-Nervous-System-Worksrtant to remember that the saints grapple with the same questions about human existence, the meaning of life and the nature of God as the rest of us.  For some of them, these become lifelong areas of study and reflection, such as Aquinas and Bonaventure.  Others don’t even know the question, much less the answer and they’re not particularly interested.  They know God is very real and that their vocation is to reach out to Him through the practice of virtue, someone like Mother Teresa.

In fact, the Feast of All Saints should help us to see the simplicity of God and God’s love for us.  Among the saints we find geniuses and fools, very charismaticMother Teresa people and others who were more distant, some very blunt and some very diplomatic, some clowns and others who were almost too intense.  It was how they used the few or the many gifts that they had to practice perfect charity that got them to heaven.  Genius is not a prerequisite for heaven.  If that were the case, Peter would never have become Prince of the Apostles and would still be sitting on some dock on the Sea of Galilee.

As much as some people want to admire St. Paul for being a no-nonsense preacher and teacher, I’m not so sure that he was as harsh as people paint him out to be.  He may have been a straight shooter.  We see this in his exchange with Peter, but he was also a respectful marksman.  During his entire discourse he refers to Peter as Cephas (Rock).  He never fails to acknowledge Simon’s office in the College of the Apostles.  This is not so typical of one who is allegedly a tough guy.  The tough guy as we understand it is the one who is in your face.  That certainly was not Paul.  He was frank, but he sincerely loved Peter and respected him.  What we see in the story is an event about love, not rebellion.  Love is the highest of the virtues.  Paul love Peter, love the Gentiles and loved the universal Church.  He sets out to protect what he loves by pointing to what he sees as wrong.  But he does so with great respect.

The febaby dohast of all Saints calls us to remember that we have been created for love, nothing more is needed.  You can convert a wise man into a saint and you may never convert a saint into a wise man.  But that’s OK.  The vocation to sanctity is a call to the perfection of love.  That’s what we celebrate November 1.  The God who created us out of love, calls us to share in His love for all eternity.  We can begin today.  You don’t need a high IQ to love.

Published in: on October 29, 2014 at 12:39 AM  Leave a Comment