Saturday, September 22, 2012

Rome Sweet Home Part 3

Papal Gardens, Castel Gandolfo, and Pope Benedict XVI

One of the very special opportunities we had during our orientation was being able to visit the pope at his summer residence outside of Rome.  Summers in Rome, as I discovered when I first arrived here, are especially known for being.. unreasonably warm.  So every year the pope takes a jog about 15 miles southeast of the city up where it's cooler in the mountains to stay at Castel Gandolfo.  This small town is located on the edge of a big mountain lake called Lake Albano, and it has been around since Roman times.  The site of the pope's residence was at first the site of the Roman Emperor's summer villa, I believe as early as Domitian in the first century AD.  Neat!

We arrived at Castel Gandolfo early to receive a private tour of the papal gardens from the Prefect of the papal household, Archbishop James Harvey.  Archbishop Harvey is originally from Milwaukee, Wisconsin (USA! USA!) and he was a very generous host.  The gardens are quite large, about 75 acres or so, take a look at some of the pics:

Lots of men in black. Where's Agent J?
Arriving at the gardens

Archbishop Harvey!

Photo op of the Lansing men!

We walked around for about an hour or so listening to all the stories from Archbishop Harvey about this piece of history and that.  I forget most of them, but the one I do remember is that the papal residence was used as a refugee shelter for the locals, and especially for Jewish families while Rome was occupied by Nazi Germany during the Second World War.

At the end, we thanked Bishop Harvey and got back on the bus to take the short trip over to the pope's house where he was to give the Sunday Angelus at noon.  We were able to walk in the back way and get spots right up front as close to the Holy Father as possible.  This is a special grace and gift given to the new man class each year at the NAC.  It was the first time I've ever seen the pope in person, and I was about 30 yards away!  Take a look:

The secret backdoor staircase

At this moment we're walking through several doorways into an inner courtyard to the pope's balcony. 

Lots of people from around the world love the pope.

We waited about 20 minutes or so before he came out.

Ecco il papa!

Praying the Angelus so close to Pope Benedict was one of the coolest things I've probably ever done.  He gave a short homily on the Sunday's readings, then we prayed the Angelus, and then he welcomed all the pilgrims who came.  To give you an idea of just how smart this man is, in the course of about ten minutes he spoke Latin, Italian, German, English, French, Spanish, and Polish.  Nothin' like having a genius as the shepherd of the universal Church.

I actually managed to get most of it on video.  Below you can check out two short clips, the pope's blessing and his shout out to the new seminarians of the North American College.  Woohoo!  You'll notice that I recorded nearly whole thing 90 degrees sideways.  That's because I'm an idiot.  So anyway, in lieu of making you turn your heads as if you were looking at art, I switched the settings so it could be viewed upright.  Thumbs up for technology!

Yes, yes we did sing for the pope, but I decided to spare you the bulk of it.  Undoubtedly it would have sounded so beautiful to your ears that you might have died of joy.  And I'd like to see you all again when I get home, so.. no dying today.

After being blessed by the pope and listening to his exhortation, we finished the trip by eating pranzo at a nearby restaurant with a spectacular view of Lake Albano; we sat on the lower level terrace which had an unobstructed vista.  The food was delicious, and wow was there certainly much to be grateful for as we shared a meal together.  It was quite cloudy out and there was a chance of afternoon rain, but thanks be to God for His wonderful gifts, we only got a few minutes' worth while we ate, so we were spared even though we ate outdoors!

All in all, this was definitely one of my favorite days of orientation.  There was something about being with the pope that just makes you love him.  You can see and appreciate more deeply how effectively he can tangibly bring about unity in the body of Christ like no one else can.  A thousand perfect strangers became a community in those moments simply because they wanted to see him and Christ through him.  And this makes the pope especially attractive as a spiritual father.  Why?  Because he engenders unity, and unity attracts.  Even among two or three, unity begins to fulfill Jesus' prayer at the Last Supper, that we would all be one with each other as He is one with the Father.  So we should always pray for the pope, because in doing so we ultimately pray for the fulfillment of Jesus' desire, our unity with each other and with Him.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Rome Sweet Home Part 2

St. Paul Outside the Walls

I can't remember if I've said this before.  So, St. Paul Outside the Walls constitutes one of the four major basilicas of Rome, along with St. Peter, St. John Lateran, and St. Mary Major.  Yes, this basilica is actually outside the walls of the city, but luckily we took a bus that got us there in great time!  We had the pleasure of receiving this tour from Sr. Manuela again, the green-clad nun from the Missionaries of Divine Revelation.  I got a pic this time!  She gave us the tour of St. John Lateran during my early orientation.  I was actually even more excited about this tour because I was psyched for the "late men" to experience this divinely inspired force.  The body of St. Paul is buried here!

Couldn't get this in one shot, but it sure was a beaut.  This front half here behind these columns is a 'garden' of sorts, and the church building proper takes up the latter half.

This photo reminds me of two great childhood books: I Spy, and Where's Waldo
This is the interior courtyard.  It would have been more garden-y back in the day, but its purpose was to resemble the Garden of Eden. This garden reminded Christians that the Mass is a participation in this world of the heavenly Eden in the next.

Facade of St. Paul's, which as you can see looks very much like a Roman building.  More about this later.

The garden-y statue of St. Paul, with his New Testament letters and the Sword of the Spirit.

Couldn't decide which one I liked more.  So you get both!

Front mosaic. Note at the top, Peter on Jesus' right and Paul on His left

The outer vestibule, before entering the basilica.

Sanctuary and high altar

St. Paul is buried right here under the altar
Ecco St. Paul's tomb.

St. Paul's chains.  He was placed under strict house arrest in Rome for a few years before being martyred.

The walls of St. Paul's record the unbroken succession of popes from Peter (farthest left) all the way to Benedict XVI today. That would be 265 portraits and counting!

This is a close up of the apse, located behind the main altar and above the celebrant's chair.  One of the more famous depictions of Christ on his throne.  This is just gorgeous in person.  You can see the IC XC to the left and right of his face, a traditional abbreviation of the Greek word for Jesus Christ, ΙΗΣΟΥΣ ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ.

In the right transept is the Assumption altar with the copy of an original mosaic of the coronation of Mary, spoken about in the Book of Revelation.  It was done in 1492 by the artist Giulio Romano.  The disciples are together looking for Mary at her tomb but she has been assumed body and soul into heaven and crowned by Christ with the crown of 12 stars.

Sr. Manuela at, I can't remember if this is the baptismal font or just a holy water font.  She used it to remind us of how something as simple as signing the Cross upon ourselves with holy water causes the enemy to flee, because he cannot stand to be near anything that is holy or sacred.

My classmate Paul.  He is from the archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis in Minnesota, and his home parish is the cathedral of St. Paul.  Who wouldn't love taking pics with Paul from St. Paul in St. Paul, at the basilica of St. Paul?

Alright, pics are good.  But so is a vid.  Since I was still disgruntled about loading one right onto Blogger, Google showed me how to post it on YouTube and simply embed it here:

Some notes about the pictures:

You'll note that the basilica looks quite rectangular and Romanesque on the inside.  That's because the general structure has been almost unchanged since it was first built in the 4th century.  Well, the very first church was built by Constantine in 324, but it was rebuilt into this much larger basilica and completed in 394 by Emperor Honorius.  As you know, the Romans were all about doing things in the Roman style.  Over the centuries it has been continually restored, including a major restoration in 1823 after a fire in the roof nearly ruined the entire church, but it looks much the same today as it did 16 centuries ago.  Wowzers that is cool.

In the apse, Jesus is holding open the Scriptures to the verse that reads, "Venite Benedicti Patris Mei, Percipite Regnum Q V P A O M".  The letters are short for "Quod Vobis Paratum est Ab Origine Mundi".  This is Matthew 25:34, "Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world."  Standing next to him are St. Paul and St. Luke to his near and far right, and St. Peter and St. Andrew to his near and far left.

The Christian art buffs out there will note something striking here!  In the entire historical tradition of Christian art, when Jesus, Peter, and Paul are shown together you will almost never see Paul on Jesus' right and Peter on his left, but always the opposite.  It stems from the reality of apostolic tradition, that by giving Peter the keys of the kingdom of heaven and the power of binding and loosing (Matthew 16:18-19), Christ named the office by which his power would continue to be concretely distributed in his Church after he ascended to heaven.

It's why one of the pope's titles is Vicar of Christ, because the vicar is the person who rules temporally and temporarily in the absence of the king.  So just as Jesus stands at his Father's right hand to communicate the Father's love and power, so too in Christian art does the office of Peter (and usually Peter in particular) stand at Christ's right hand to communicate Christ's love and power on earth.  Thus, Peter always at Jesus' right.

So why are they switched here?  Buona domanda! (Italian for, good question).  I would imagine because this is St. Paul's church and the place of his burial, so in this spot he gets the honor of being the "right hand man".

St. Paul's scroll reads, "In Nomine Iesu Omne Genu Flectatur Caelestium Terrestium et Infernorum", which is from Philippians 2:10, "At the name of Jesus every knee will bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth".

St. Luke's scroll appears to be written in Greek? and I don't know what it says.

St. Peter's scroll reads, "Tu Es X P Filius Dei Vivi" where X P is Chi Rho, the first two Greek Letters of "Christ".  It is Peter's confession in Matthew 16:16 "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God".

St. Andrew's scroll reads, "Beatus Andreas DV Penderet In Cruce Deprecabatur D(*)V Iesu Crst", which is partially abbreviated.  I don't know what the (*) character is, but it reads "Saint Andrew, when he hangs on the cross will pray to the Lord Jesus Christ".  Recall that St. Andrew was martyred for the faith by crucifixion on an X-shaped cross.

I am not a Latin expert, by the way, because Sr. Manuela told us what they said.  But what I really loved about St. Paul's is that it seemed like a place that you could actually have some silence and pray.  Perhaps that it is less-traveled outside the city walls of Rome helps this cause, and also that we went first thing in the morning.  St. Peter's was like this too, the morning we had Mass there at 7 am.  When no one is in there, it's just a whole different experience.  But with the popular churches there are tons of pilgrims and travelers who are usually walking around and taking pics and getting tours, what have you.  It was nice to feel like we were actually in a church, where there is time and space and silence to pray.  And obviously, being near St. Paul was pretty incredible, too. This will be one place that I'd like to revisit on my own and spend more time.

I am continually amazed at just how much history of our faith can be found in this city.  What a grace for us that it has been protected and passed on for thousands of years so that we can encounter in our own day evidence of God's concrete providence through time.  To be able to see the witness of people who gave everything for what they believed really encourages me to do the same with my own life!

This makes nothing but sense, considering that our very lives are utterly gratuitous; we don't exist by any kind of absolute universal or logical necessity.  That means we can't lay claim to anything, as we have been literally gifted into existence by God.  We are totally gift (or as they say in philosophy, gift-ness), and gifts by their very nature fulfill their purpose by being given.  You don't buy a birthday present and then bury it in the ground.  You give it to the one you love.  So at every moment of our lives, it will always be the case that our happiness and fulfillment depends on the extent to which we personally choose to give ourselves for the ones we love.

That was slam dunk number one.  Number two goes thus: God has made clear for us who are "the ones we love".  Not only Him and our brothers and sisters, but also the poor, the difficult, the suffering, the outcast, and even our enemy.

We can be a gift given, or a gift wasted.  And that decision is on us.  Let's make the right choice!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Rome Sweet Home Part 1

Well it has been a long and busy two and a half weeks of orientation, but I made it through!  I came back to Rome on August 22nd after a month in Assisi, and just now am able to catch my first breath of air to write down as much as I can remember.  In order to help myself out, I'm going to hit four of the main highlights for you in a four-part post.  We'll begin with where the orientation began:

St. Peter's Basilica

The day after I got back, the rest of my class--about a dozen or so men--arrived to Rome for the official start of regular orientation.  These men did their Italian studies back in the States and joined us early-orientation guys as the school calendar really starts to get rolling.  My classmate from Sacred Heart, Dave Tomaszycki, was among this small group.  Great to finally get him out here!  The first thing we all did as an entire class was pray morning prayer together, which I thought was really cool.  They showed up and got off the bus and we literally left all the baggage right there on the ground to head for the chapel.  The whole thing was like a slow motion movie clip of a verse from the 6th chapter of 2nd Corinthians:

For he says, "At the acceptable time I have listened to you, and helped you on the day of salvation."  Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.

I suppose I was just kind of reminded in that experience of the right-now-ness, if you will, of our salvation, insofar as it is a choice that we can't save until the last minute of our lives, but is one that we make at every moment of every day.  I think God exhorted me to remember to "pray always", even when that means allowing my normal course of daily events to be interrupted.

After pranzo (la parola Italiana for "lunch") we when ahead and just got at it: walked over to the Vatican to take a tour of St. Peter's Basilica.  A few pictorials would help to better explain the wow-face I'm making right now.  Come on, let's all make it together:

Alright, this picture doesn't really illustrate the enormity of this place.  Look up in the dome and notice the word CAELORVM in that band of gold.  I would fit entirely inside that teeny tiny letter O.  Those letters are six feet tall!

St. Peter's baldacchino, designed and built by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, made entirely of bronze.  Talk about heavy!  The columns are 66 feet tall, those angels on the top are about 12 feet tall.  All in all, just under 100 feet to the top of the cross.

The Cathedra of St. Peter, also in bronze by Bernini.  The dove of the Holy Spirit is not actually in stained glass but alabaster.  Four of the early Church Fathers are holding up the throne: St. Ambrose and St. Augustine from the Latin church, and St. Athanasius and St. John Chrysostom from the Greek church.  You'll see that the text on the wall above the cathedra is also written in both Greek and Latin to symbolize the wholeness of the Catholic Church in its Eastern and Western parts.
The high altar.  St. Peter is buried about 20 feet below this spot.

This dome is tall enough to fit two space shuttles stacked on top of each other.  The gold ring around the bottom says, "TV ES PETRVS ET SVPER HANC PETRVM AEDIFICABO ECCLESIAM MEAM TIBI DABO CLAVES REGNI CAELORVM".  This is, in Latin, Matthew 16:18-19 "You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church...I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven"

Typical arched and domed ceiling detail. Mamma mia!

Behind the high altar looking at the nave toward the front entrance.  From where I am standing, that front wall is roughly two football fields away from me.

I just liked this picture.

The official monument to Pope Pius VII.  Those mysterious set of doors are actually a broom closet.  I think we can safely say, world's most elaborate broom closet.

One of the many beautiful mosaics in this basilica, depicting the miracle of St. Gregory the Great.

The Pieta, by Michelangelo.  Hard to get a decent photo because the lighting was so low.  But many would argue (me included!) that this is the greatest masterpiece of marblework ever sculpted.

Tomb of Blessed John Paul II!  Lot of folks praying here.  I also came back here after the tour to pray.

One of the four sculptures at the bases of the main dome's supporting corners.  These sculptures all face the baldachinno, and this one is St. Andrew the Apostle, my Confirmation patron saint.  He was crucified on an X-shaped cross.
Down by the bottom right you can see the small statue of Peter taken from the first basilica, which was built by Constantine in the early 4th century.

St. Peter's Square from the steps of the basilica.

Wouldn't be complete without a shot of the Swiss Guard.

I know I've said this before of other churches, but friends, St. Peter's is unequivocally the most beautiful and awe-inspiring church I've ever seen.  It was Johnny-No-Joke breathtaking.  I kept wondering to myself how something so grand could be built by human hands, honestly this is something really to be personally experienced.

There are books that could be written about this basilica and everything/everyone in it, including the more than 90 popes buried here.  A few very brief things.  St. Peter's is the largest Catholic church in the world, and with room to spare.  The reason that its appearance on the inside doesn't completely overwhelm you with its sheer enormity (and it is gigantic) is because the architects (mostly, Michelangelo) designed it that way.  Everything was built in perspective, in the architectural sense of that word.  For example, the statues along the bottom of the nave are about double life size, whereas along the top of the nave, they are about triple life size.  From anyone's view on the ground, these statues all appear to be as large as each other, giving the illusion that the ceiling is not as high up there as it really is.  Same with the lettering placed high along the walls, whose large size actually works to create an illusion that they are smaller and closer than they really are.  Take another look at the baldacchino: that structure is a 10-story building, but you would never guess it from the photos.

The "painted" art in this basilica is not actually painted at all, but everything was done in tiled mosaic, so as to make it much more difficult to steal than a simple fresco.  Talk about ingenuity!  This is also why you can take pictures here, because the flash won't destroy the artwork.

The morning after our tour, we got up early and had Mass in the crypt at the tomb of St. Peter.  It was really powerful.  But even more powerful was the personal experience of taking the Scavi Tour underneath the crypt.  I can't give away any details on this one because it is that worth it to experience it for yourself, but I will say that this tour would probably be the one thing not to miss if you ever came to Rome.

The biggest impression that this beautiful basilica made upon me was to really appreciate the historical and apostolic tradition of our Catholic faith.  You begin to realize more concretely that people haven't been doing this thing or practicing Christianity only since you've been around, that the Church isn't only in the United States in the local community where you live.  But we follow in the flesh-and-blood lineage of 20 centuries' worth of human souls across the world who have made the same journey we are making now on earth.  It is a lineage that connects us spiritually, to be sure, but perhaps even more striking is the incredibly tactile, see-it-with-my-eyes-touch-it-with-my-hands nature of this lineage.

I mean, step back for a moment and think about it.  Of all places in the world, why is the heart and wellspring of Christianity in Rome?  From the beginning of the Church 20 centuries ago it has been here.  I'm specifically here and not elsewhere studying to become a priest.  But even a cursory glance should tell us that Jerusalem ought to hold that place of honor, right?  It was the location of Jesus' passion, death, and resurrection after all!  He was born and lived and preached all around there; Jesus worked His miracles there and converted souls there.  Never in His whole earthly life was Jesus within 1400 miles of Rome, and yet His followers would call this city "home", the heart of the faith. Doesn't that seem strange?

Of course it does!  But then we remember the historical reality, the fleshly-ness of the Church as it has been continuously incarnated in humanity since the beginning, and it all begins to make sense.  Jesus wasn't an abstract person out there a long time ago who was nice and kind of mythical.  He was real flesh and blood, and so were his followers, beginning with His mother and the Twelve Apostles.  Jesus appointed these men as the leaders of His Church, a Church which would be not only spiritual but temporal, and He appointed Peter as chief among them.  After Pentecost the Book of Acts tells us they went out with divine power to makes disciples of all the nations.

And Peter, for his part, became the first bishop of Rome.  He led the Church from here, and was martyred here, and was buried here.  Most of his 264 successors have lived and are buried here.  He has the biggest, most beautiful church in all the world built over his body.  And centuries of Christians since his time who would become martyrs and saints have flocked to this city for the sake of being close to Peter and his successors.  To pray for his intercession at his tomb, to get a glimpse of his successor, to receive a papal blessing.  To walk in his footsteps on sacred ground.  In a real way, I flew 4500 miles across the ocean and am here to spend the next four years of my life in this city because an obscure Galilean 2000 years ago said yes to God with his life.  So I hope that shows us the significance and sublime dignity of an individual human soul, the difference that just one person makes.  The difference that one ordinary, broken fisherman made.  Peter is the reason that we say, "Rome Sweet Home".