Sunday, November 9, 2014

Back into the Swing

Well, my friends, here we are again..  It's just like riding a bike: once you know, you always know.  This phrase is how I would describe my first few months back here in bella Roma.  I flew into good ol' Leonardo Da Vinci Airport at the beginning of September and have been chugging nicely along ever since.  I will say that my summer home in 'Merica was excellent by all accounts, and also that it FLEW by (although I kinda expected that).  As soon as I was in the taxi riding back here to the College, it all just seemed so familiar, like I hadn't really left (which, interestingly, is the same feeling I had when I arrived home back in the U.S. at the beginning of summer).  I got back to the NAC with backpack loaded and two luggage bags in tow, said hi to my good buddy Paul who lives on my hall and we remarked to each other, "Huh.  Well that just felt like one long travel weekend."  So goes the speed of time, I s'pose.

Lemme give you a rundown of some of the major things that have been / are / will be part of my third year as an ex-pat:


As you may know, our semesters here begin a month later than y'alls at home.  So September was filled with two weeks of in-house conferences and preaching practicums, followed by my yearly silent retreat, followed by the diaconate ordinations for the class ahead of me.  Along with two men ordained transitional deacons in Lansing this past May, our diocese also ordained a third man here in Rome.  It was great to see my diocesan brother Zach take the plunge, especially considering that it will be me next year!

This year is my third and final year of what's called my 'first cycle' program, which means I'll be finishing the European quasi-equivalent of my Master's degree in Theology next spring.  Then, next fall as a fourth year student, I will choose and initiate a more specialized 'second cycle' program, something like moral theology, fundamental theology, spirituality, Patristics, or Biblical theology etc.  I have a few ideas for second cycle programs, but that will all be TBD until I do a bit more research and get a thumbs up from the good bishop.

Also this year I am beginning a new apostolate.  As part of priestly formation we all participate every year in some form of out-of-house volunteer service.  Could be hospital ministry, prison ministry, evangelization on the street, working with the poor, giving tours of St. Peters etc... My apostolate in my first two years involved working with the Missionaries of Charity here in Rome (St. [Mother] Theresa of Calcutta's sisters) to feed homeless men a dinner meal once a week.  As third year students we are now exposed to more teaching/evangelizing-related apostolates.  Mine will be with the U.S. Navy base in Naples.  This is a very cool apostolate that involves seminarians traveling to Naples each weekend to minister to the Catholic community of American servicemen and servicewomen and their families stationed at our Navy base there.
Basically, we spend time with the families, eat meals with them, serve at the weekend Masses, and teach some of the CCD classes on Sunday morning.  I did my first weekend two weeks ago, and will do a few more weekends each semester.  I taught 6th grade CCD and it was awesome.  We started talking about the communion of saints, and then the conversation moved to the subjects of death, angels, and such questions as "do our pets go to heaven?" and "how old are we when we're in heaven?".  I thoroughly enjoyed myself and the kiddos were quite interested and engaged.


I found out a few weeks ago (be it the Lord's will) what will be my priestly ordination date.  It is scheduled to be at St. Mary's Cathedral in Lansing at 7:00pm on Friday, the 10th of June, 2016.  I was stoked to see something official on the diocesan calendar, it brings a different perspective when you know where the end of the tunnel is!  Please keep praying for me, or I will certainly not make it there..

More immediately, I also found out this past Thursday the tentative date of my diaconate ordination here in Rome.  This day will be ratified in the coming month or so.  It is penciled-in at St. Peter's Basilica at 9:30am on Thursday, October the One, 2015...  And by 'One' I mean 1st.  Also exciting!  Please keep praying hard for me, or I will certainly not make it to this one either..

On a related note, here in the house my class this year has started our baptism and marriage practicums, since these are sacraments that deacons can do.  How neat!  I got to baptize a baby girl doll name Mary lol.  I got water in her eye, so I apologized to her.  Thankfully she didn't cry.

I have a few more bucket list items to check off this year, and am pumped for what's in store.  The big fish will be a Christmas pilgrimage to the Holy Land!  Please keep in prayer the 30-ish of us who will be making this trip to the land where Jesus lived and died.  Everyone I've talked with who has already taken the trip says how much it changes their relationship with the Lord, and especially how it changes the way they read the Scriptures.  I am very much looking forward to spending time with God in Jerusalem and in Galilee.  At some point in the next month or so, I will be posting a Google doc of the places and/or churches we plan to visit.  Then you can take a look if you want and write your name next to a given place or church, and I will pray for you and your intentions when I'm at that place.

In October I went with my good friend Steve from Little Rock, Arkansas to visit St. Therese of Lisieux in northern France.  She is a fantastic saint to get to know.  We had a grand weekend, and were also able to make it to the American cemetery at Omaha Beach in Normandy (beautiful! and very peaceful), as well as a famous miniature islet called Mont Saint-Michel. Have a gander at some of the sights:

I took my week-long silent retreat in this location before the start of the school year.  Yes, it was all shades of excellent.

This here is the Basilica of St. Therese in Lisieux, France.  It's huge and beautiful.  And since we visited it within the octave of her feast day (which is, coincidentally, October the One) we also got to see her relics, which were temporarily transferred to the basilica from their usual place at the Carmel (Carmelite convent) down the street.

This is Lisieux's cathedral.  Also a big and beautiful church.  Steve and I went to Mass here in the small chapel at the way way back, behind the main altar which you see in the picture.

The cemetery for fallen WWII American military at Omaha Beach in Normandy.  9,238 headstones fill about 175 acres of land on the bluffs above the beach.

Omaha Beach.

We were walking along Omaha as a storm came through, so we made for the hills and got rained in for about 20 minutes while we hunkered down in an old German bunker.

This is Mont Saint-Michel.  During high tide it is an island!  During low tide you can walk to it on dry ground.  The huge abbey which covers the top was originally built in the 8th century, and then rebuilt in the 11th and 12th centuries, with additions and fortifications coming in the intervening centuries.  In ancient times it was known as Mont Tombe but was renamed after the Archangel Michael in 708 after he appeared in vision to St. Aubert, the bishop of Avranches.  Michael instructed the saint to build a church here on the small island, and so atop the central spire of the abbey is a gilded statue of the archangel.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Wednesday of Holy Week: The Mighty Seven Church Walk

Yeehaw!  Hey we did it!  Today's seven church pilgrimage walk was a massive success, thanks a ton for all the prayers.  Our weather today was sunny in the mid 60s with a cool breeze; it could not have been any better.  Certainly a fitting way to end Lent, and after all of it I am quite tuckered out... but after six weeks of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, here we are on the eve of the Triduum, the holiest three days of the year.  It's time for us to step back now and let God do what He does best.

In lieu of a bunch of pictures, I decided to post another video of everything.  Sorry for the length ahead of time, it's almost 9 minutes in length, but I had to fit in seven churches!  Hopefully you'll at least stay entertained with the tunes I included.  Not soundtrack music this time around, but I figured I wouldn't go wrong with a little O.A.R. and some Mumford and Sons.  So here you have it, the Lenten seven church pilgrimage of Rome:

A final and big thank you again for all your prayers over the Lenten season.  I said at the beginning I would need them to persevere in my resolutions, and -- would you look at that -- I almost can't believe that I actually wrote on my blog five days a week for the past month and a half, and made it to every weekday station church liturgy.  Well except once, but I get a pass on that because there was a papal audience going on.  But the point is this: over the past six weeks we all just witnessed prayer make the impossible happen.  And for that you have my gratitude.  God is good.

So I'm signing off now for a bit to spend the next 10 or so days resting, praying, and witnessing the glory of saving grace.  Thursday evening we watch and pray, Friday we weep, Saturday we wait, and Sunday I pray we rejoice with all our might.  Come Lord Jesus and save us...

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Tuesday of Holy Week: Santa Prisca

We are so close now!  Today is the last day of the normal station churches.  Tomorrow we cowboy up for a 14-mile walk to Rome's 'big seven' in prep for the Easter Triduum.  I will be offering the day's journey for your prayer intentions, so be sure to bring something to mind tomorrow morning when you think of it -- I'll be currently en route!

Santa Prisca

Today's final station, fittingly it seems, is just down the street from our first station, Santa Sabina, which we saw nearly six weeks ago on Ash Wednesday.  The St. Prisca whose name adorns this church is the Prisca of Paul's time (sometimes also called by the name Priscilla); she and her husband Aquila are mentioned several times in the NT because of the help they rendered to Paul on his missionary journeys (Acts 18:2; Rm 16:3; 1 Cor 16:19; 2 Tim 4:19).

This church's structure, particularly on the sanctuary end of it, incorporates some ancient Roman structures dating as far back as the second century after Christ.  The first mention of a titulis church here comes from the fifth century, by which time it already bore the name of Prisca, but we don't know much else about its development in the first millennium.  In 1104 Bishop Walo of Paris sponsored the building of a larger structure to replace the original church, and in 1455 Pope Callistus III repaired this church after a fire necessitated the replacement of an entire wall.  The current facade was built in the early 1600s, and the interior was renovated a century later in the contemporary style of the day.

Excavations done in 1938 beneath the church revealed that it was built over a second century Mithraic temple.  This was not an uncommon practice in the ancient Church, as a sign of Christ's victory over the pagans gods who could not save.  We saw another example of this in the basilica of St. Clement, which also sits over a Mithraic temple.
Before I finish, let me post a final map of the station churches we've seen over of the course of our Lenten journey.  The dark green lines are the ancient Aurelian walls of Rome built between 271 and 275 AD to protect the city.  The dark blue X marker toward the upper left is the North American College.  The dark gray lines are the walking routes which lead to the light blue markers, churches we've seen.  The medium blue markers are the weekend station churches I did not see during Lent, and the bright red markers with the crimson red lines are the seven basilicas and walking route I'll be taking tomorrow.

The route starts at the NAC and goes due east to Santa Maria Maggiore, then further east up to St. Lawrence Outside the Walls, then south to Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, with a jaunt west to St. John Lateran.  Then we go south to St. Sebastian (way) Outside the Walls, west to St. Paul Outside the Walls, then north and northwest along the Tiber river up to St. Peter's, where we will finish.  A good walk; please pray for me and for everyone who will be making the pilgrimage tomorrow!


Monday, April 14, 2014

Monday of Holy Week: Santa Prassede

Welcome to Holy Week!  We are in the most exciting liturgical week of the year..  and I'll tell you what, I am sure ready for Resurrection Sunday.  These Lenten station churches have been the best prep for Easter that I've ever done; I hope they have been as rewarding for you as they have for me!  Like I wrote on Friday, I'll be updating you today and tomorrow, and finishing Wednesday with the Seven Church walk, and then I'll be off the blog for the Triduum celebrations and for Easter week when I go on retreat to Ars.

Santa Prassede
You would almost surely miss this church if you weren't looking for it, and you might very well miss it even if you were looking for it but didn't know what to expect.  From what I was able to see, the outer walls of this church seem to be encased by apartments or a religious house or something, because it is almost completely camouflaged next to the other buildings around it.  The entrance to St. Praxedes is from the side of the church on a nondescript wall and, besides a title sign, the lintel isn't exactly the most flashy, church-y architecture you've ever seen.  The facade retains an arch over the door, which is gated and inaccessible, but otherwise the rest of it looks like an apartment building from the front.
But when you walk inside the whole thing seems to open right up.  I was surprised by the size of it judging from the outside.  Rome still has a few tricks up her sleeve, I guess...  Well St. Praxedes is traditionally held to be the sister of St. Pudenziana, and together the two of them used to gather the mortal remains of the Christian martyrs.  We know that a church in her honor has existed at least from the late fifth century.  It was located in a nearby apartment block, but in the ninth century Pope Paschal I replaced it with this current church in order to provide a better place of worship.

Continuing the devotion of the patroness Praxedes, Paschal brought the relics of some 2,300 martyrs from the catacombs around Rome to be laid to rest here.  The three large arches in the nave were added in the fourteenth century to mitigate some of the building's structural problems due to age, and Pope Nicholas IV undertook a major renovation the following century.

St. Charles Borromeo, who is the patron saint of seminarians, was the titular cardinal of this church in the sixteenth century; his successor, Cardinal Alessandro Medici, later become Pope Leo XI and commissioned all the frescoes on the walls which you can see below.

One of the chapels along the right wall, dedicated to St. Zeno, was built by Paschal as a place of rest for his mother Theodora, and its mosaic wall art is arguably one of the most stunning works of the medieval period to be found in Rome.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Friday of Fifth Week: Santo Stefano in Monte Celio

IT IS HERE.  Well, for me anyways... Easter break is here!  During Holy Week and Easter Week all the universities in Rome are closed.  So we have a bit of space now to lay low, rest, and pray.  When we go back to class in two weeks it's going to be a mad dash all the way to June 13 when I step foot on that Delta flight headed for America.  I can't wait for that day, but I also can't wait to chill out in this holy time and recharge the tanks.  Next week we will have station churches on Monday and Tuesday and then will finish off our journey together with Wednesday's Seven Church walk.

The Seven Church walk was made popular by St. Philip Neri (+1595) as a preparation for the principal Christian feasts of the year (Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost) and consists in making a pilgrimage to all of Rome's major churches in the same day.  The Holy Week walk in particular has remained popular due to its easy association with Lenten sacrifice and as a way to walk the difficult road with Jesus carrying his Cross.

Our Wednesday will begin with 7am Mass at the day's station, Santa Maria Maggiore (which we've already seen), and continues on a walking journey to the four major basilicas (Maria Maggiore, John Lateran, Peter, Paul Outside the Walls) and three minor basilicas (Lawrence Outside the Walls, Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, Sebastian Outside the Walls).  The whole thing takes about half a day, so we should finish at St. Peter's sometime in the late afternoon.

In the meantime, let's talk a bit about today's church:

Santo Stephano in Monte Celio

Walking into St. Stephen on the Caelian Hill, you'll see what makes it immediately unique: this church was built in the round; in fact it is one of three remaining ancient round churches in Rome.  The vast majority of Christian churches are built as a long nave and sanctuary, or otherwise in the shape of a cross.

The church takes its name from St. Stephen (whose relics remain in Jerusalem), the first Christian martyr who is mentioned in the seventh chapter of the Acts of the Apostles.  It was built on the site of an old Roman military camp during the pontificate of Pope Simplicius I (+483), then was subsequently restored in the eighth century, again in the twelfth century, and again in the fifteenth century by Pope Nicholas V (+1455).  In the following century Pope Gregory XIII (+1585) commissioned all the frescoes around the entire outer wall which depict the variety of martyrdoms suffered by the early saints of Rome (appropriate for a church dedicated to our proto-martyr).  Gregory also constructed the octagonal chancel screen that now surrounds the central altar.
I also swung by yesterday's station church, Sant' Apollinare, on my way home from school.  St. Apollinaris was a martyr and founding bishop of Ravenna, an ancient city about 200 miles north of Rome on the eastern coast of Italy.  His church in Rome is quite beautiful, and also happens to be the university chapel of Santa Croce, which is one of the three universities we at the NAC attend for our theology studies (along with my school, the Gregorian, and the University of Thomas Aquinas, also called the Angelicum).  Take a look, and enjoy the weekend!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Thursday of Fifth Week: Papal Audience?

Well today's station church post is not in fact about a station church, because I did not attend the stational Mass this morning.  Instead today was a special day off of class for all the students and faculty who attend the Pontifical Gregorian University (which included me -- the Greg is where I go to school in the city to take my theology classes).  In place of classes, we had an audience with the Holy Father in the Paul VI Audience Hall, which is located just south of St. Peter's basilica.

Sweet!  Also present at this audience were the students and faculty from the Pontifical Biblical Institute (the Biblicum) and the Pontifical Oriental Institute.  These three institutions were grouped together in a Consortium by Pope Pius XI in 1928 and are all Jesuit-owned-and-operated; which helps because Pope Francis himself is a Jesuit.

We all packed in to welcome Francis, whose purpose was to exhort us about the purpose of theological study and the unique opportunity of working and studying at the heart of the Church in Rome.  The things that I took away most from his speech were the pointed references he made to study and prayer.  The pope said--like many have said before him--that theological study is only fruitful when done with a mind open to God on one's knees.  And that's a simple truth that always bears reminding.  Theology is ultimately not the study of an inert thing which we put under a microscope, but of a personal divine Being who we encounter.  And real knowledge of any personal being--whether human, angelic, or divine--only ever comes by way of relationship. 

So there you have it.  If we wanna be knowledgeable in the ways of God, if we wanna know who He is and what He's up to these days, we simply gotta spend some time with Him.  It's great timing to hear this as we're about to enter Passiontide, the holiest week of our entire year!  Let's get ready.

If I can manage it, I'll catch us up tomorrow at least with a few pictures of the Thursday church; it's basically on the walk to school.  If not, then I'll just continue like normal and proceed with the Friday church tomorrow.
Looking toward the back of the hall as everyone is streaming in
Not a horrible view, I'd say!
I took this shot on super digital zoom, so not totally clear, but hey it's still the pope.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Wednesday of Fifth Week: San Marcello

Today's stational church takes us, happily, across the street and north about 30 yards from yesterday's church.  Which is really funny because for the life of me I have never noticed that a church was there.  Although in my defense it is set back from the road somewhat and blocked from view by the building to its right, so I never see it on my walk to school.  But I guess you learn new things about your city every day!

San Marcello

The church of San Marcello is named after Pope Marcellus, the 30th in the line of St. Peter who shepherded the Church between 308 and 309.  These were the years which immediately preceded the legalization of Christianity, and so there were questions about how to treat those who apostatized from the faith in order to avoid persecution.  Many apostates banded together and insisted that they be able to re-enter the Church without performing the prescribed penance for their guilt.  The pope said, that's a no-no, you'll need to truly amend your lives and do penance like everyone else.  So the leader of the group, Maxentius, had the pope arrested and sent into exile.  He died shortly thereafter and his remains were brought back to Rome.

A church on this site was first built in the late fourth and early fifth centuries as part of a program to replace house churches with larger structures.  A fifth century baptismal font was also built onsite sometime soon after, which is significant because the ordinary place of baptism at this time would have been the Lateran basilica.  So we know this church was of some importance very early on.  Pope Adrian I undertook renovations in the eighth century, but the church was demolished in the twelfth century to build a new one.

In 1519 this church was almost completely destroyed by fire with the notable exception of a life-size wooden crucifix, which has been especially venerated ever since.  It was this crucifix which was processed through the city of Rome before the opening of the Second Vatican Council and also before the opening of the Great Jubilee year of 2000.  The burned church underwent reconstruction for the next 70 years, during which time its orientation was reversed so that the entrance faced the Via del Corso.  The end of the 1600s saw some final modifications, including the facade designed by Carlo Fontana, and another restoration in the 1860s brings us to its current appearance.
Besides St. Marcellus, there are relics of several other saints in here as well, including Ss. Degna and Merita, John, Blaise, Diogenes, and Longinus, Cosmas, Damien, and Felicity and her children.  The chapel with the fifteenth century crucifix is in that side chapel on the right, second from the front; a reliquary in this chapel also contains a fragment of the True Cross.