Sunday, July 29, 2012

A little bit of Oldtown Rome

Reliving 20 July

We visited another basilica today, the Basilica of San Clemente!  St. Clement was the 4th pope, he was martyred at the end of the 1st century.  As it has gone throughout Rome's history, what you basically do is build on top of whatever you don't want anymore.  This is why construction projects take so long here, because you can't dig down 20 feet without stumbling upon some ruins that now render it an excavation site.

The Basilica of St. Clement is no different.  It is an 11th century church built upon a 4th century church, built upon a 1st century home of a Roman nobleman (which served in the 2nd century as a mithraeum temple), a home that was itself converted from a previous governmental building that had burned to the ground in 64 A.D.  I managed to get one photo inside of the current basilica before being told that photos were not allowed.  Blast.

St. Clement is buried right underneath the main altar.  At one point he hung out with the body of St. Cyril of Alexandria, although St. Cyril has since been moved (a bone fragment remains in the basilica, however).  This basilica was allegedly one JP II's favorite places to pray.  We were able to have Mass at the main sanctuary and afterwards we got a tour of the basilica and the two levels of excavations beneath it from an Irish Dominican priest, which must have been divinely planned because there are no regular tours given of this basilica.  We just happened to find him there when we arrived and he agreed.  His order maintains St. Clement and a few other properties around Rome.

(I wish I remembered all the cool things he said about the architecture and the history of it, but all this Italian I am currently learning in Assisi has really hindered my short term memory of these details.  Go figure.)

The Basilica of St. Clement is just down the street from the Colosseum, the Forum, and the rest of ancient Rome, so on our way back to the college one of the second year men gave us a short tour of the buildings that were there.

The Colosseum's proper name is the Flavian Amphitheatre.  I like Colosseum.  That name is alleged to have come from a massive statue of Nero that stood outside the stadium, modeled after the Colossus of Rhodes.  It is enormous, I am dumbfounded as to how this was built without modern machinery.  Construction began around 70 A.D. and the entire structure, including later modifications, was completed in 20 years.  What??!

These are the barracks where the gladiators would train and be housed.  The Colosseum is to the left of this photo and about 100 yards away.

Impressive monument to the engineering capabilities of Romans.
The holes that you see along the walls and columns originally housed bronze clamps.  Over the centuries, pieces of the Colosseum were continually pillaged and repurposed and this metal was ripped off to be used for military weaponry when it became harder to come by.  It is incredible to me being here in Rome and seeing how much the Romans built things to last.  2000 years later, no big deal.  We can't go ten years anymore without replacing the washing machine.

Site of the Roman Forum.

The Arch of Septimius Severus.  Built to commemorate a major military victory of the Emperor Severus in 200 A.D.  It is pretty impressive to look at! 

The Palatine Hill.  One of the seven original hills of Rome.  This one is often considered the "birth place" of Rome because the community here eventually took over the other six.

This evening we had a barbecue cookout down by the soccer field and played some futbol afterward.  It was good to put the cleats on again and run around.  Unfortunately the field does not have lights, so we played until we couldn't see anymore.  Tomorrow we are off to the town of Orvieto, north of Rome and the site of a 13th century Eucharistic miracle.  Should be another fun day!

A day at the Italian beach

Reliving 19 July

Today we had a little change of pace from the busy daily schedule.  It was a day off from mandatory group stuff, but there was an optional day trip to the city of Bracchiano, about an hour's train ride north of Rome.  It is a medieval city with a castle overlooking the big lake of Sabatino.

So I went along with most of the class to enjoy a day outside of Rome and in the water.  We got there at about 11 and all went our separate ways in small groups.  I went with my buddies Clark and Stephen, two upstanding gents from the diocese of Houston, to walk around the old part of town and take some pics.

The castle here in Bracchiano is one of the most famous examples of Renaissance military architecture
The streets are quaint.  Cobblestone streets everywhere.

This car almost ran us over as we walked out onto this "street".  Apparently this car believes it's a street.  How do they turn around anyway?

See?  Walkable.  Not drivable.

The cathedral of Bracchiano
For lunch we checked out a small pizzeria just adjacent to the main piazza.  It was the equivalent of $1 a slice, I got two pieces and a beer for 3,20 .  The pizza in Italy does not use a lot of sauce.  I don't know the name of the tomatoes they used (they probably have every kind known to man), if I saw them in America I would call them grape tomatoes.  They just slice them in half and cook 'em on the pizza with fresh mozzarella and whatever else is the ingredient of the day.  Right now I think it's the season for basil.

After lunch we took the long hike down the hill to the lake.  The water was fresh and cool, a MUCH NEEDED break from the continuous puddles of sweat that I've been leaving all over Rome.  The only less-than-stellar aspect was the rocky, dirty sand beach.  Lake Michigan is a real spoiler it turns out.  In the water the bottom was all rocks, making it hard to walk in the shallow parts!

Volcanic lake of Sabatino.  Below kinda to the right you can see an orchard (?) of olive trees growing.  These of course are everywhere in Italy.  Also known as the first Olive Garden.  *fist pump* Yes.  Can't take credit for that joke tho.

No Grand Haven or Sleeping Bear Dunes.  But I will take "Cool Water" for 200, Alex.

Nevertheless, I can't really complain, it was a nice afternoon of relaxing and spending some time with my classmates.  I even took an hour nap under the shade of a tree after getting tired out from swimming.  Got back this evening and chilled out, finished organizing the room and getting rid of trash.  I'll have another load arriving by the time I get back from Assisi next month, so I better enjoy my clean bedroom while I can!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Living with the Saints

Reliving 18 July

Oh yeah.  The heat continues.  Good times though.  Today was probably my favorite activity yet.  We took a bus ride across the city this morning for a tour and Mass in the catacombs of Priscilla.  Let me say first of all that the temperature down there was a balmy 70 degrees, talk about glorious splendid-ity.

Don't quote me, but if I remember correctly these are the oldest and/or largest catacombs in Rome.  Used in the 2nd thru 4th centuries.  And they are EXPANSIVE.  I mean, really really big.  Get this, three levels deep, over ten miles of underground tunnels, and over 40,000 tombs line the walls.  Whoa!!  The experience was like a real life Indiana Jones movie.  The bummer for y'all is that we weren't allowed to take pictures inside the catacombs, so I can't show you the sweetness.  But if you ever make your way to Rome, this would DEFINITELY be something to put on your to-do list.

We walked down a flight of stairs and entered a carved out tunnel of rock, looked like a smooth-walled mine shaft.  It was tall and wide enough for maybe two people to walk closely side by side.  The way slanted downward and we just kept going lower and lower until eventually we hit a crossroads where the catacombs began.  I would estimate that the first level was somewhere between 40 and 50 feet below grade.  I dunno, Rome is pretty hilly, though; probably shallower at other parts.  The type of rock in Priscilla's catacombs  is very common around Rome, the Romans loved it and had been using it for centuries.  What makes it so special is that the rock is relatively soft when mined out, but becomes hard as it is exposed to the air, hence why these catacombs are so stable and have remained intact for 18 centuries.

The tombs themselves were just crevices dug out of the wall, about five or six feet long, maybe 18 inches tall and two feet deep.  People must have been smaller back then.  Tombs were stacked four or five high before reaching the ceiling.  Bodies were wrapped in linen and placed in a tomb, then they were closed in with stucco.  Usually a piece of marble with their name went over the stucco, or it was painted like canvas.  So back in the day, the catacombs would have been very colorful.

The catacombs were important in early Christianity not only because they provided a safe meeting place to celebrate Mass together, but because even in death the community wanted to remain a community.  All were buried together, the rich and the poor, the saint and sinner.  We know from the excavations and records that Priscilla's catacombs were the burial place of at least 350 martyrs, over 100 canonized Saints, and five popes.  These tombs also contain the earliest dated fresco of Jesus under the title Good Shepherd and the earliest depiction of Mary, who is nursing the Infant Jesus.

The coolest part for me was being able to suddenly walk right by the tomb of St. Philomena.  It really struck me that she was just one slot along the wall among thousands of others.  How beautiful to think about the hiddenness of an ordinary poor girl being buried in the midst of all others, who then became a Saint because God showed the world her pure interior love for Him.  She is like that sleeper car you try to race at the stoplight because you have all the flashy gadgets and tune-ups, and then get smoked off the line because the engine under her hood is twice as large as yours.  The sleeper Saint... that might be the greatest way to become one I think.

This afternoon we took two city busses out of town to take a tour of St. Lawrence Outside the Walls Basilica and the adjoining cemetery.  Another splendid church.  It was actually bombed during WWII, but has since been restored.  What makes this church so extremely awesome is that it houses the bodies of three of our oldest martyr Saints:  St. Ignatius of Antioch (107 A.D.), St. Justin Martyr (165 A.D.), and St. Lawrence (257 A.D.).  If that's not cool, I don't really know what is.

Ignatius was martyred in Rome by being thrown to wild animals (probably in Circus Maximus?).  Justin Martyr was killed by Marcus Aurelius (I don't know how), and Lawrence was killed by Emperor Valerian.  He has a pretty cool story.

As it goes, the Roman officials demanded that he bring all the treasures of the Church and hand them over to the Emperor immediately.  Lawrence acquiesced and asked for just a short time to prepare everything.  He then proceeded to gather up the sick, the poor, and the downtrodden of Rome and brought them all to the Forum saying, "Here, this is the treasure of the Church".

What a great truth to reflect on.  Needless to say, however, Valerian was not amused, so he had Lawrence grilled.  Quick with his wit to the very end, on his death bed being burned alive he yelled out to the Roman guards, "Turn me over, I'm done on this side".

In one of the pictures below you can see the marble table that his body was laid upon after they pulled him off the grill.  The stain you see is Lawrence's own blood.

Crypt under the main altar.  Under the red covering are the bodies of our three brothers.  You are able to go in and pray right next to them (oh yes I did).

Hey I got it to work!  The blood of a martyr, folks.

Below and behind the altar. Entirely a mosaic, floor to ceiling all the way around.

Blessed Pope Pius IX is buried here, too.  Americans should love him, he officially established and gave the land for the North American College.  His generosity is one big reason we Americans have a place to study here in Rome.

The cemetery was also incredible.  Biggest and EASILY the most beautiful cemetery I've ever been in, (for those of you who know how big the one is in Ann Arbor where I used to live on Geddes, right there by the Arboretum, this one is probably four or five times that size).  And talk about the credentials you must need to get in here!  I'll just let the pictures speak for themselves.

A modest tombstone.
A little better...
May as well give yourself a roof.
Now we're talkin'.  I mean, why not add a bust?
You could just buy yourself your own mausoleum.  Add some walls to that roof!
So this is what the NAC did.  I think someone donated it to the College?
We get to be right next to the Vatican mausoleum.

At this point, I am ever sore from all the hills and walking (but getting in shape!) and still suffering from the heat.  But I loved spending time today with some of the great brothers and sisters who have gone before us from the beginning and witnessed to Christ with their lives.  What an opportunity to live in the city of the Saints, the ones who we say have consecrated the ground of Rome by their blood.

New Day, New Sights

Reliving 17 July

The first thing I noticed when I woke up this morning is that it appears our bedrooms will double as a sauna.  We don't have central air, so living with warmer temperatures in the summer will have to be something I get used to!  I walked out of my bedroom for the showers and the hallway was about 15 degrees cooler, no joke.  I suppose I should have known about the sweltering weather, since our rooms on the first day included two complementary 1.5 L bottles of l'acqua (water!).  The perspiration continued all day today, we'll see if my suspicions of no-relief-from-the-heat continue to be confirmed.

Today we toured the first of the four major basilicas in Rome, St. John Lateran.  The other three are St. Mary Major, St. Paul Outside the Walls, and St. Peter's.  St. John Lateran is beautiful (over and above the already beautiful city).  It is the first Christian church built in history and has been around in one form or another on that spot since before 313 A.D.  It was given to the bishop of Rome by Roman emperor Constantine after he was converted to Christianity and decreed for the first time that the faith would no longer be persecuted in the Roman Empire.

As the story goes (this is the approximate story, I can't remember it exactly) he received a vision of the Cross before going into a major battle and was promised that it would bring him victory.  So he put that symbol on the shields of his army and ended up routing his foe.  He then converted to the God who granted him this victory and afterwards allowed Christianity to be freely practiced.  It eventually became the official religion of the Roman empire.

We actually were given the tour of the basilica by an English-speaking Scottish nun in a green habit named Sister Manuela.  Apparently this was her third year doing the tour for the College, and I soon found out why they want her to keep coming back.  She was so knowledgeable and filled with joy about telling the story not only of the basilica (probably for the thousandth time) but of the Faith upon which that basilica was dedicated and built.  I wish I took a picture with her; luckily I got one of her back by accident.

So apparently, basilicas in ancient times were the place of the local king, specifically the place of his throne, where you would go if you had business with him.  Especially early on, Christianity used familiar images and terms like these from the local culture and "Christianized" them as a means of evangelization to bring people into a relationship with Christ and the Church.  So, St. John Lateran in like fashion was dubbed a basilica, in order that pilgrims might know this was the meeting place not with the local king, but with the King of Kings.

You'll notice if you do a little research that there is no such Saint as St. John Lateran.  The basilica itself is dedicated to Sts. John the Baptist and John the Evangelist.  It was the Lateran family who gave the land to build our first church, so it seems their generosity would be continually remembered throughout the ages even unto today.
How do you get these things to be upright?

Sister Manuela to the right!

The current facade seen here was designed in 1735 by Alessandro Galilei
I'm bummed, looking at my camera I see that I didn't take any pictures of the inside.  I will get back there at some point and post them for you.  Inside, among many other works of art, are massive sculptures of the Twelve Apostles (the Eleven plus St. Paul), six on each side which line the main nave all the way up to the high altar.  Each of them are holding their weapon or means of martyrdom (every one of them was martyred for the Church except St. John the Evangelist, who died of old age).  Above them are twelve, imagine sculpted paintings that hang on the wall.  Six depictions of Old Testament stories on one side, and on their corresponding opposite the six New Testament moments in Christ's life that fulfilled or made clear these Old Testament symbols.  The idea was (and still is) to show the unity and inseparability of the Old Testament and the New Testament in Christian faith and life.  How the Old foreshadows the New by means of symbol, and how the New illuminates the meaning of the Old by means of fulfillment.

Above the main altar of the basilica in the baldacchino (it's that four legged dome structure you see covering the altar or the tabernacle in really old churches) are some of the skull relics of Sts. Peter and Paul themselves (you can't actually see them as they are hidden in reliquaries).  But man was it cool to be so near to the bones of two men who saw Christ Himself.

We had Mass in the chapel of the ancient baptistery.  As you can guess, the baptistery was where soon-to-be Christians were baptized.  It is actually a separate structure next to the basilica.  Early Christians were very protective of the faith (especially because it was so new and historically so persecuted), so you couldn't just walk into St. John Lateran if you weren't Christian or weren't seriously interested in becoming Christian.  The idea of a baptistery outside the church building was to make more concrete this reality of being once outside of communion with God's family, and then dying and being born to a new life of grace by the waters of baptism, so that subsequently you could come into the basilica and enjoy the heavenly wedding banquet (the Mass) with your new family and the Kings of Kings.

The dome above the baptistery itself is octagonal, symbolizing the seven days of creation plus the Resurrection day of Christ, a recapitulation or rebirth, a new beginning of a redeemed creation.  In Genesis we read that on the seventh day God rested, and this was the Sabbath, the completion of creation.  Fast forward to the Gospels where we read that Jesus died the day before Sabbath and was hastily buried, but rose again on the morning following the Sabbath.  Hence the eighth day.  Beautiful expression of Christian faith using art?  Yup.

The sculpture in the middle is obviously not original, but you can see how big the entire font is.  I am zoomed in from the other side.  The water would have been up to that wooden door.  Full immersion baptism.
 After Mass, we went across the street to what used to be the place where all the popes lived.  At the moment I don't remember the name of the building.  St. Peter's Basilica (the complex where the pope now lives) is relatively newer in the scheme of Church history, so for many centuries the popes lived at St. John Lateran.  Still to this day the pope is the "official pastor" of the Lateran.  At any rate, we got to see his private chapel, in which there is a triptych (a hinged, three sided type of religious art) reputedly painted by St. Luke the Evangelist (and as pious tradition holds, was finished by the angels).

St. Helena, the mother of Constantine the Great, flexed the royal muscle and had the steps of the Roman praetorium in Jerusalem transplanted from there back to Rome, where they eventually found their way to the pope's house across from the Lateran.  These are the Scala Sancta, the Holy Steps Jesus walked up to be condemned to death by Pilate.  Pilgrims come to these steps daily to kneel all the way up to the top (you are not allowed to walk up them).  At the top of the steps is the pope's private chapel.  It was pretty awesome, take a look.

Non est in toto sanctior orbe locus.  Roughly translated, there is no holier place in all the world.

Tile mosaic above the altar and triptych

Sideways view (grrr) of the Scala Sancta.  They are now covered with wood for protection. You can  see the original marble through the slats.  The pope's chapel is on the other side of that grated window at the top.

 This evening we walked into the city for a gelato run at this place called the Frigidarium (famous amongst the seminarians here).  Rome is a different city at night.  All the small winding streets are lit up and people are sitting outside restaurants enjoying their cena ('cheh-na', dinner).  We walked through this big open piazza along the way, take a look below, this is at sunset when things just start to get going.

Overall an awesome day, but exhausting once more.  I am super sore from so much walking!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Two Days for the Price of One

Alright, I've decided to go ahead and attempt a synopsis of my first week on a day-by-day basis.  Below begins my first official day in Rome!

Reliving 16 July

Well, my first day away from home was one long day.  Good day, hard day, but it thoroughly burned both ends of my match.  This morning, I left my family at 8:30 a.m. at Detroit Metro and boarded a United flight into Newark, NJ.  All the seminarians from the States who will be at Early Orientation (about 50 of us in a class of 65-ish I think) connected in Newark and then flew altogether from there into Rome.  I happened to get into Newark just before noon.  Since the Rome connection was scheduled to fly out at 5:20 p.m., I had all day to celebrate a long layover.

I will say this, flying into Newark was the first time I've ever seen the Statue of Liberty, so that was pretty cool, even if only from a distance.  And it looks like what I think is the still-under-construction Freedom Tower on New York's skyline is already the tallest building in the city.

In my plethora of free hours I managed to walk up and down the airport several times.  Luckily, my mom packed me an awesome lunch (as moms always do), so I sat down in their cafeteria after an hour to chow down on not one but two homemade egg mcmuffins, a peeled orange, a sliced apple, dried cranberries, baby carrots, two zip-lock baggies of honey roasted peanuts, and two types of Meijer cookies.  It definitely took some bite off of leaving my family.

Afterwards, I found a random departure gate and spent a few hours finishing my thank-you cards from my going away party.  As it turns out, there is no available outgoing postal box accessible to flyers at Newark airport (or at least in my meandering up and down I never found it. The security person I talked to said that there wasn't one), thus all my thank-you's did not find their way to their respective homes.  So if you are annoyed with me that you were biffed a "Hey thanks, man": duly note the unfortunate accidentalness of your feelings and accept my apology, as your card is in Italy at the moment.

The Rome flight was about 40 minutes behind schedule, so we touched off at about 6 p.m.  It was my first time in a 400-passenger Boeing 767. Big plane!  But for an 8-hour flight the seats were pretty comfortable and it seemed to go quite smoothly.  I slept on and off (I mean who really sleeps sitting up anyway) for about 4 or 5 hours, and when we touched down it was 8 a.m. Monday morning.  That's 2 a.m. on the east coast.  We were picked up by the College right there at the airport and took a bus straight back to the House.  For those who have never had jet lag, it's kinda like that feeling you have after you pull an all-nighter.  A second wind, a little wiry, a little loopy, you're not sure how you have energy but you do.  But then if you sit down for too long, dude it's all over.

So they kept us busy all day to fight against the lag.  They also weren't kidding, we really are a stone's throw from St. Peter's basilica!  Right after lunch (which, by the way, Italian cuisine really is excellent.  It was also my first taste of real Italian gelato.  Bingo.) we walked into St. Peter's Square to take in the heartbeat of the Church.  It was an awesome sight to behold.

Alright, at this point I am definitely noticing several things.  First, the city is beautiful and I could take pictures for days of all the incredible history and architecture.  A very close second, it is HOT here.  The sun is pretty intense and I've been sweating whenever I'm in the open air.  July and August are the hottest months of the year in Rome (great time to arrive, right).  Many Italians close up shop during the entire month of August and get out of the cities to vacation in the mountains or at the various lakes or seashore.  What a good idea.

After stopping by the "electronics store" (too bad for us lazy Americans.  No big box Walmarts anywhere in sight, every store is specialized) to pick up a fan, a clock, and some plug converters, we made our way back the College to get settled in.  I shipped 200 lbs of clothing and textbooks to Rome two weeks ago, so I have three big boxes sitting in my room waiting to be opened and organized.  I've been up for about 36 hours and am beat.  It's time for bed!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Welcome to the blog!

Well, I finally got this up and running!  Considering that I am a veritable cornucopia of punctuality, I am actually a little surprised at how quickly I was able to actually start this thing.  I only spent about two hours staring at my computer trying to procure the all-important title.  It finally came to me in a vision of God (well, almost) at about 1 a.m., and I celebrated the moment by promptly making my way to bed.

At any rate, this is my blog that I will be writing as I begin my theology studies here in Rome.  Wow, what an opportunity and what a grace.  I have never written a blog before, so I don't have too many expectations as to how this will go.  I am sure that some entries will be more religious or thoughtful in nature and others full of personal anecdotes that begin with, "Well you won't believe what happened today".  But in my officially first post ever in my life, I'd like to share a few of the reasons that I've decided to do something so crazy as to spill my guts in a public domain.

Frankly, writing a blog about my experiences is a convenient way to keep in touch with the world back at home.

This will provide me an opportunity to be lazy, so that I don't have to retell the same story 15 times.  It's easier to be Schid tha Schloth (note the reference to Sid the Sloth from Ice Age) than it is to be Tony the Tiger.  It just won't be a prudent use of my time to get in touch with everyone individually (at least generally speaking) as opposed to making this experience available to all at once.  I love you guys.  But let's be honest, I need all the help I can get in the prudence and temperance departments.

And those pesky mass Email chains are always bound to forget someone, or to forget to add someone later on.  A blog invites those who are interested to stay in touch, and allows those who aren't to be saved the bane of everlasting unwanted Email.

Blogging will help me to remember everything that happens while it's still fresh in my mind.  And then I can come back to it later to reminisce about ye olden days.

I know, surprising as this is, my mind is not always a steel trap.  Blogging kind of serves two purposes, since I can both communicate to the world and have a running, shall we say, public journal for myself.  I never really journaled growing up, but started to do so on and off before I entered seminary.  This blog won't be full of my deepest, darkest secrets, but hopefully it will help me call to mind and relive my own inner experience of a certain time and place after it has long past.

Ultimately, writing a blog will hopefully continue to remind me that this whole shebang is not about me.

Believe me, I would love to be the center of the universe.  At least half the time I still think it's true.  And on a practical level, it is much simpler and takes much less energy for me to just hide away over here in Europe and keep this adventure all to myself.  But that's not what life is about.  It is meant to be shared, and beyond my selfish and lazy genes I really do want you to share in this journey with me.  One of my prayers in this time has been for the grace to grow closer with those I love and remain involved in their lives particularly while I am physically separated from them.

God has prepared for me some unique opportunities, graces, and lessons over the next four years, and I hope this blog will be one way that those opportunities, graces, and lessons can bear fruit not only in my life, but in the lives of everyone He has given to me.  That would be y'all.

What I hope for this blog most of all is that it serves as a story.  Not of how lucky or deserving I am of any of this (because I know that I am not), nor as a way to flaunt an opportunity to live and learn in Italy for four years.  But that it may be seen and read as a story of God's generous love for His people, precisely in the here and now.

I am convinced this is one reason why God gives us the Rockstars.  Or as Holy Mother Church calls them, the Saints.  That we would recognize His work not only in the times of the Bible, but always in the present moment, especially in the lives of those who allow Him to work.  When I read the stories of the Saints I often initially respond with, well, jealousy.  The thought usually goes like this: "Wow, look at how much God loved them, how close He brought them to Himself!  God I wish you loved me like that.  How come You don't?"

Eventually I remember (for the millionth time) it isn't that "God don't" but that "I don't".  The crazy nature of love is that it can only ever be free.  Not merited, not deserved, not paid for, not taken, only given for free and received for free.  My "I-wish-God-loved-me-more" desire is not a limitation or decision of His, but always a limitation and decision of mine.

So the power of their stories is ultimately in their reminder to me that folks like Peter, Augustine, Francis and Clare, John of the Cross, and Teresa of Calcutta were all flesh and bone just as I am flesh and bone.  Precisely in their "flesh-liness" and limitations, precisely in their personal moment in history, did they let God come close.  I am spurred, then, not to despair that I'll never be where they are, but to hope that my own flesh and limitations are not a hindrance to holiness if only I choose to ask for more grace and cooperate with it.  If my story of God's love for me spurs you to pursue more deeply God's love for you, then this blog will have served its purpose.

Final thoughts.

Since this is my first time across the Atlantic, a lot of the brand-new-and-exciting will be front loaded, especially since I have more free(ish) time.  I'll probably (hopefully) be posting more often now than in October-and-following after classes begin.  At that time, I'll most likely be freaking out about not understanding a lick of my Italian theology courses after two months of language learning.

My first week has been crazy filled with lots of stuff.  I started writing this post yesterday (7/22) and finished today, but now I've already arrived in Assisi, spent my first night here, and had my first day of Italian classes (a slice of humble pie, for those who wanted to know).  Ideally, I would try to play catch-up and write one post for each day of my first week (since there is plenty enough material for each day!).  Not sure yet if that will happen or not.  But on the off-chance a miracle occurs, this inaugural entry would have coincided with the day I arrived in Italy (7/16) or a few days prior.

Woohoo!  Thanks be to God for the blessing of a successful first post.  Do stay tuned for more action and heroic stories.  You won't believe how many tombs of awesome Saints I've visited in one week.  I'll leave you with a pic of the evening sunset from the roof of the North American College.  Also known as the best vista in Rome.