Thursday, September 6, 2012


Well, now I am back in harness! It was a miserable Summer weather wise. At least I had the privilege of travelling to Assisi with two of my confreres for two and a half weeks in August. We went from the wettest Irish Summer on record to the hottest Italian Summer on record. In Assisi it averaged about 35 Celsius each day. Still despite the heat (even the Italians were complaining) it was a great chance to recharge our batteries. Unlike many Orders Franciscans have a particular attachment to the town of our founders birth, life and death. So many places are marked by his extraordinary life and going there for me was a time to reconnect with his vision. Not that I am living it very faithfully but at least I reminded myself how high that standard is.

Non-Franciscans sometimes accuse us of idolising Francis but in truth he is not an idol but a model - the forma minorum - the man who lived the Gospel wholeheartedly and without reserve and therefore serves as the measuring stick for all Franciscans.

Teaching morality to sixth year students today I also felt the more fundamental challenge of Christ's own teaching that we should turn the other cheek, give to all who ask and do not seek back what we have lent. Here is the standard of the Incarnate Word who asks that I give all and not count the cost, that I love without return, that I be willing to join Him on the Cross.

I still struggle to make the time for prayer. I made my retreat in our house in Ards. Co. Donegal at the end of June and it was very refreshing but breaking deep-seated habits is not easy. I find I waste so much time on unimportant things (such as this computer). I did discover that it is transitions that I dislike: the 'getting out of' or 'getting into bed' rather than being in or out of bed! I know it must be difficult to believe but after all these years as a friar and priest I'm still struggling with the basics.

Going to Assisi, like teaching the faith, was a reminder of priorities and an encounter with my own limits. It reminded me again that I can nothing without the grace of God but that unless I co-operate the grace of God will do nothing.

Speaking of the grace of God, once we knew we would have to spend a day or two in Rome on the way back we began to plan our shopping spree (for books of course). Thanks to my reasonably good memory for places we went back to the Leonina bookshop (Via dei Corridori) where I spent a few euro on books. One of those, Aidan Hart's book on icons Techniques of Icon and Wall Painting which, surely by the hand of God, was practically put into my hands. I was standing, browsing, not about to buy anything when the proprietor asked a fellow friar to put this very book back on the shelf for him. He turned to me as I turned to look at the book. I thanked God heartily for such a gift and went on to buy another three books (one of them was in another shop)! Hart's book is the most comprehensive book ever on this topic and far outstrips Ramos-Poqui's book from some years back.

Those other books were The Resurrection and the Icon by Michel Quenot, John Anthony McGuckin's The Orthodox Church: An Introduction to Its History, Doctrine, and Spiritual Culture, and a new translation of Sergei Bulgakov's Icons and the Name of God which has me blown away. I already had Aidan Nichols' book on Bulgakov but actually reading his work is an entirely different experience. I had laid Nichol's book aside having only gone a few chapters into it but now I am using it as a guide through this extraordinary mind's theological vision.

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