25 March 2010

The Central Mystery

Apart from Christmas and the Triduum it is today that is my favorite celebration in the Liturgical cycle.  The collects, prayers, antiphons and readings for the day are, in my estimation, simply the most beautifully written and most theologically profound.  If you missed it, today is the Solemnity of the Annunciation.  It is the Most Solemn Feast of the Incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Often times the error is made that Christmas is the feast of the Incarnation, this is not true.  Rather, it is today, nine months prior to Christmas, that the Word of God, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity willed to be made Incarnate in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary thus changing the course of human history for all eternity.  Today is the day that the Church was born in both the womb and person of the Immaculate Mary.  Today is the day that, my patron, the Archangel Gabriel, was given the singular honor of conveying the message of this most inconceivable mystery to a poor teenage girl nearly 2000 years ago.  On this most amazing of days I want to share with everyone a quote from Pope, Saint Leo the Great found in the Office of Readings today:
He took the nature of a servant without stain of sin, enlarging our humanity without diminishing his divinity. He emptied himself; though invisible he made himself visible, though Creator and Lord of all things he chose to be one of us mortal men. Yet this was the condescension of compassion, not the loss of omnipotence. So he who in the nature of God had created man, became in the nature of a servant, man himself.
  Thus the Son of God enters this lowly world. He comes down from the throne of heaven, yet does not separate himself from the Father’s glory. He is born in a new condition, by a new birth.
  He was born in a new condition, for, invisible in his own nature, he became visible in ours. Beyond our grasp, he chose to come within our grasp. Existing before time began, he began to exist at a moment in time. Lord of the universe, he hid his infinite glory and took the nature of a servant. Incapable of suffering as God, he did not refuse to be a man, capable of suffering. Immortal, he chose to be subject to the laws of death.  He who is true God is also true man.
V.  Et Verbum caro factum est.
R.  Et habitavit in nobis.

In the presence of such a mystery only in tears of joy and humble silence are found an adequate human response.

20 March 2010

1 year Anniversary: Fr. Robert Stanion, CFR, RIP

It has been about one year since the death of my dear friend Fr/Br. Robert Stanion, CFR (3/23/09).  In these last few days his memory has been weighing heavily upon my mind and so I felt that other than praying for the repose of his soul I would write a little story about him so that I could share my experience of this man with others.  For those of you who do not know who he is I could never fully communicate the nature of the man.  However, in short, I think that he would like to be commemorated as a little brother who followed St. Francis as best as he could.  He was an OFM(cap) Brother until around the time he became one of the "founders" of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal.  He loved to cook and he loved to sing (both of which he did to varying levels of success).  His life was lived for the sake of unity especially manifesting itself with his constant affection for the Orthodox and wayward priests.  He talked more than most, listened more than most, was impossible to live with but a delight to be near.  Eccentricity does not begin to describe the basic disposition of Fr. Robert.  Rather, holiness is the word that hits the mark most near.  Those of us who knew him well consider ourselves blessed and all around better for having been gifted with the experience.

I'll never forget the first time I met Fr. Robert.  I was in NY visiting the CFRs with my classmate from the seminary and friend Fr. Michael Kmiotek, CFR about 8 or 9 years ago.  I was in the kitchen and he was arriving through the back door of the friary and I noticed that instead of a Rosary at his side he had a chotki.  Being familiar with the Byzantine traditions I decided to greet him with the traditional seasonal greeting.  This was my first mistake.  From that point on I could not get rid of Fr. Robert.  So, each time I visited the friars I always made time to see him - or he made time for me.

That year, on account of his illnesses, he was advised to move to a warmer and dry climate.  While a temporary fix was conceived the eventual intent of his community was to find a more lasting solution.  At that time I was a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Santa Fe.  The twelve of us from the Archdiocese suggested to Fr. Michael the possibility of his community opening a convent in NM.  Reflecting on the situation it was providential that Fr. Michael had been sent to Holy Apostles to study that year (their usual seminary was St. Joseph's in NY) as a test case.  If he had not attended school with us that year it would have been unlikely that what is now known as San Juan Diego Friary in Albuquerque would have ever been opened.  But God's providence brought Fr. Robert to my home and to my people.  This became an epic love affair about which I will leave others to tell.  However, what I will note here is that my people loved him and he them.  He loved my home as if it were his own.  He was enchanted by the mystery that is the Tierra Encantado.  We, in turn, were enchanted by him.

In my years in and out of New Mexico I would make sure to visit Fr. Robert any chance given to me.  One morning I stopped by to have my confession heard and I caught him coming out from celebrating daily Mass wearing red Byzantine vestments.  Of course, I arched my eyebrow at him and he knew he was caught.  But, characteristically he just smiled a mischievous smile and said, "What?  Their nice!"  I just shook my head and laughed.  He was always showing me a new icon or some new weed he had found to use for cooking, treating each with equal reverence.  He decorated the friary at St. Francis Xavier Parish (at that point just a 'house') in what he was sure was authentic Southwestern style.  Of course, I hadn't the heart to tell him that what he thought was our tradition was really a contemporary fusion of non-New Mexican Southwest and California styles.  But, no matter, he went about his business getting people to make furniture and paint walls in vibrant hues.  If you got anywhere near Fr. Robert you were eventually caught up into some project of his or another.  The man lived life as a mad-genious chef with every pot on a high boil tossing everything into the soup to form a culinary masterpiece layered with the seasoning of the lives of everyone he met.  Everything and everybody went into his soup!

Everyone has different stories about Fr. Robert but I want to recount one that touched me personally.  I believe that God gave Fr. Robert many gifts.  I don't simply mean the ordinary gifts that God gives to each person at the service of His kingdom.  Rather, what I mean is that I believe that God gifted Fr. Robert with particular charismatic gifts for the sake of building up the Church.  On one occasion I personally experienced one of the most frightening of those gifts.

One summer while I was a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Santa Fe I had one of those epic and not uncommon vocational crisis moments.  It just so happened that my friend Fr. Michael was in NM visiting the community that had been established there (this was when the house was at San Jose Parish).  Fr. Michael and I were discussing this problem that I was having in my car, parked in front of the parish office.  As we were discussing this issue another car drove up and in it was Fr. Robert and Fr. Terry Messer, CFR.  Fr. Terry went to the passenger side to talk to Fr. Michael and Fr. Robert came to my side to visit.  So, we chatted for a bit and in mid-sentence Fr. Robert stopped speaking, became very grave, pointed at me and said, "Stay on the path, don't deviate, this is where God wants you."  He then nearly shook himself, refocused on me and continued where he left off as if nothing had happened.  Needless to say, I was a little startled.  I don't know how long I stayed there slack-jawed but I do remember that I was convicted in my heart and confirmed in my vocation.  Things became more complicated later on in my vocational life yet I always remembered what Fr. Robert said in that prophetic utterance.  I will never forget him knowing my struggle without me telling him.  In that moment I believe that God granted him the gift of reading what was on my soul and in my heart.  It was not a comfortable experience but in the end it has brought me great comfort, consolation and a confidence in my vocation that I would otherwise doubt at least every other day.  Fr. Robert in both an ordinary and an extraordinary way was a honed tool ready to be used for the Lord's purposes.

I last saw Fr. Robert, in the flesh, the January before his death while I was staying with the CFR community during my home visit.  I remember waiving to him as he was being driven to the airport to fly for a necessary surgery that would be the cause of the complications from which he would not recover.  He gave me his blessing and I prayed for his safe travel then my friend left and I didn't see him anymore.  I think of him often and I pray both to him and for him.  When I do so I can't help thinking of my other priest friends who have died over the years and so I pay for them (and to a couple).  This last January on my home visit one of the first things that I did was to visit Fr. Robert's grave.  I have mixed emotions about his grave being in Albuquerque.  On the one hand I would like to see him (as any religious would want) buried with the rest of his brothers at their cemetery.  However, I and the others who make pilgrimage to his grave would not have that opportunity if his remains were not in New Mexico.  Perhaps one day he will be found among his brothers, but for now he is in the bosom of a land that has drunk the blood of so many Franciscan martyrs.  It is indeed a fitting and sanctified soil to mingle with the remains of a precious and holy friar.  I miss my friend dearly and this pilgrimage through this life lacks a certain explosive joy now that he has completed the procession.  Yet, I can't help but smile when I think of him enriching the recipes of San Pasquel, giving dirty looks to St. Bonaventure, singing with the Oriental Patriarchs, working for St. Anthony of Padua and resting in the Divine Mystery with his Holy Father Francis.  Yes, I believe that this man is a Saint and I pray for the day that he is elevated to the Altar because I have never met anyone more authentically human nor anyone more obviously holy.

11 March 2010

Luminous Mysteries

I don't know if this has come to mind yet.  However, today I was praying the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary that JPII gave to the Church and I decided to spend time meditating on the name itself.  I have always disliked the name because it has always sounded to Gnostic to me.  The problem of the New Age movements has pushed me to be wary against any imagery that could be used against the doctrine of the Incarnation - especially in peoples spiritual lives.  However, today I gained a greater appreciation for these mysteries and their purpose.

What hit me was that each of the Mysteries are a Theophany in ways that the other mysteries are not.  Fittingly, I became aware of this while I was praying the mystery dedicated to the Transfiguration.  This is the linking thread weaving each of the Luminous Mysteries together.  As I continue to reflect on this I am sure that I will find some insights into God's self revelation that I had not previously considered.

Each mystery exemplifies Theophany in at least the following way:

1. Baptism in the Jordan: The Revelation of the Trinity
2. The Wedding Feat at Cana: The Revelation of Jesus as God
3. The Preaching of the Kingdom and the Call to Conversion:  The Revelation of the Gospel Message
4. The Transfiguration: The Revelation of Jesus as God
5. The Institution of the Eucharist: The Revelation of the Eucharist

Each of these are different modes of Jesus as God revealing himself to us.  The first is the revelation of Jesus as the Son of the Father and a member of the Blessed Trinity.  The second is the revelation of the power Jesus has over creation harkening back to the first moment of creation.  The third is the proclamation of the Gospel, the Word which is a mode of Jesus as the Wisdom and Word of the Father.  The fourth is the Transfiguration which is the manifestation of the Glory of God in the flesh of Jesus.  His flesh is the new veil, his body is the new Temple.  The fifth is the revelation of the Eucharist as the True body and blood of Jesus himself.

Now, this is just the first rough notions that have come to mind concerning this scheme of the Luminous Mysteries but I am sure that more refinement will come with time.  It is my hope that this little insight will help people gain a deeper devotion to Christ through the mediation of this devotion.