Thursday, August 22, 2013

Those Lingering Missing Links

A small update before getting started.  The infamous European-Summer-Palooza has been flying by (per usual) and I am currently finishing up my pastoral assignment in Cagliari, Sardinia.  At this point I am fairly convinced that the world is saved from premature extinction despite the man's best efforts only because there are still those faithful souls (we have the feisty little old Italian ladies here) who sit in the local parish all day and pray the rosary in front of the Blessed Sacrament.  It is a theme I have been learning a lot about over the past year, that God seems to enjoy accomplishing the extraordinary in the most ordinary of ways.  Hmmm, perhaps that will be a homily theme one day!

In this post I will divulge everything in my first year of semi-expatriation which has not yet been put up.  All the missing links, as they say.  These are the wonderful experiences that God's generosity has provided through the generosity of many good people who know me, pray for me, and sacrifice for me.  It's about time all that goodness be shared back!  After all.  Our beloved St. Thomas Aquinas reminds us in his Summa Theologiae that goodness, of its own nature, diffuses itself.  Therefore, please do the kind favor of enjoying the following self-diffusion of the good things that God and good people have made possible in a young man's life.

Please let me specifically thank the fabulous Knights of Columbus councils who --- among many other worthy endeavors --- offer themselves to the Church as a significant rank of invisible soldiers for Her priests and priests-to-be.  Including this dude.  So when you think of it, do say a prayer of thanksgiving for them =).

Back to the beginning it is, then!  Yes, here we are.


This happened after I returned from my first month in Assisi and before beginning the official start of academic theological studies.  We were back in Rome for another month-ish of Italian lessons at the NAC, but took a week off to attend our annual canonical retreat.  It was outside of a little town called Greccio, north of Rome, and included both beautiful vistas for day dreaming and mountainous landscapes for exploring.

This is a night view looking out my bedroom window.  I just thought it looked neat, so I took a long-shutter snapshot.

I really enjoyed the chapel next to the retreat house.  It was simple, of arched and sturdy stone, and was very tranquil.  Did more than one holy hour in here for sure!

I've never seen a Marian statue like that before.  I thought it was beautiful.

Another long-shutter snapshot looking out into the valley.

We always take our retreats before the beginning of the school year.  They are one-week silent retreats, so there is zero talking (except liturgical responses), even during meals, and no watching TV, no computer, no cell phone, no Internet, no iPad, iPod, YouTube, WeThis, or TheyThat.  We are totally unplugged!  It is a time to be silent and give over the year to God, to listen to him and be alone with him.  Yet it is no nightmare having zero access to the outside world.  In fact, I compare that feeling to the scene at the end of Free Willy when the Orca finally jumps over the rock wall in slow motion.  Except now also add the Braveheart version of Mel Gibson yelling "Freeeeeedoomm!!!!!".

All things considered, it was a wonderful retreat.  I had been out of the States for just over two months at that point, and not only needed some real down time for reflection, but some real down time for rest and recuperation.  In fact, if I remember correctly, in the first three days I slept about 34 hours altogether.  It was a good lesson which has been continuously repeated throughout this interesting Roman adventure.  St. Paul says it well.  He speaks in several of his letters about the analogy of running and winning the race which leads to eternal life.  It is the Christian life of faith, and for many, it is no dash but a marathon (or several!).

Enter stage left, my learning curve.  One of the demands of prudence, it turns out, is a proper share of zealousness for times of rest and time away with Jesus.  Otherwise one slowly becomes a not-so-zealous worker in his vineyard.  We cannot give what we do not have, and thus we can't pretend that we can give Christ to others if we don't first receive him.  So it is necessary to take dedicated time each day to go away and be with him.  Periodically, this includes taking longer amounts of time to rest and refill the spiritual and physical gas tank.  Such a program makes us like the wise virgin or the master builder who prepare and work in measured fashion, in order that we may be able, like Christ, to do all things well (cf. Mk 7:37).


This nice little Tuscan town was a place I visited with two of my classmates last October.  It has some pretty deep roots.  It was established by the ancient Etruscan peoples and was later taken over by the Romans in the 4th century BC.  There are several historical and religious gems in this city if one knows where to look.  And on a side note, I just recently learned that one of its sister cities is Mount Pleasant, MI.  Imagine that!

The weekend we were there must have corresponded to some malfunction in the heavenly floodgates, because it sure did rain much more than any rational Joe would consider 'a fair share'.  But bad weather aside, Chris, Garrett, and I enjoyed some good time with the town's local seminarians (we stayed at their seminary) and made sure that we sampled some of the local Tuscan wine.  No complaints here!

Arezzo is the birthplace of one of music's most helpful men, the legendary Guido Monaco.  Who is this mysterious character, you ask?  Guido was a Benedictine monk who lived at the beginning of the 11th century.  He is the one who invented modern musical staff notation, which would replace the neumatic notation of Gregorian chant to become the standard way of dictating music on paper.  The  Do - Re - Mi - Fa - So - La - Ti - Do moniker we all know comes from Guido (whose original musical model was Ut - Re - Mi - Fa - Sol - La). 

This is the cathedral of Arezzo.  Beautiful and Gothic on the inside, although I didn't capture many good pictures of it because unfortunately it was not lit very well at the time.

Arezzo in the evening.  That tower on the left up there is the bell tower of Santa Maria della Pieve.

This is the main square of the city.  Famous for its role as a backdrop of the film "La vita é bella", a very popular Italian drama comedy which won several Academy Awards in 1997.  The movie cost $20 million to produce and grossed $230 million worldwide at the box office.  Holy cow, Batman!  What do you even do with that kind of money?!

That sign says, "Here was born and lived GUIDO MONACO".

This made me chuckle.  Well played, young Clever-Road-Sign-Sticker-Graffitti Person.

This is the inside of the Church of St. Dominic.  This otherwise fairly nondescript church is famous for that big crucifix up there over the altar.

This sanctuary crucifix was constructed in 1256 by the Florentine painter Bencivieni di Pepo; he is also known more simply as Cimabue (your guess is as good as mine!).  It is a very well-known work of his and is particularly noted for the way it shows the artistic and theological development of the time.  It is most often compared with its progenitor, the Crucifix of San Damiano, now located in the Basilica of Saint Clare in Assisi.  This is the famous crucifix that St. Francis was praying before when he received the call from Jesus to "rebuild my Church".  Take a look:

The Crucifix of San Damiano was constructed in the Byzantine iconographic style right around 1100 (unknown artist).  So this is a century and a half before Cimabue.  Notice the immediate differences.  Jesus is victoriously standing straight up, his eyes open wide, and while it's hard to notice at this resolution, his facial expression is calm, almost warm.  He is consoled by people on all sides, and little angels are collecting the blood that drips from his sacred wounds into chalices.  Intentionally, his body position bisects the crucifix precisely in half, as it leads the eyes vertically (Jesus as mediator between heaven and earth) and visually depicts Christ as the center of all things.  His symmetry and tranquility are symbolic of his divine perfection, which is evident even during the agony of the Cross.

Move forward 150 years, and we have Jesus depicted quite differently.  Now he slouches over to the side, slain with eyes closed and bitter facial expression.  He is bereft of all earthly and heavenly consolation save for the presence of John the beloved disciple and Mary at his left and right, who mourn for him.  Jesus' blood flows freely from his wounds and spills off the crucifix with no one to receive it, as if forgotten and worthless.  The position of Christ's body is meant to display the gravity of this event, when all of creation weighs heavily out of harmony and sags under the weight of the Crucifixion.  Whereas San Damiano's Christ clearly emphasizes the divine, Cimabue's Jesus is very human, the one who understands human suffering.

In fact, this work of Cimabue is one of the first of its kind to make some distinct breaks from the Byzantine style, and it would prove to be a huge turning point in Italian art.  His pupil, the great Giotto di Bondone -- who followed him to became the great father of the Florentine school of art -- would greatly contribute to the beginnings of the Italian Renaissance.


Oh my.  What a shame for me.  It's even well past Christmas-in-July, and I haven't finished putting up these photos yet.  Ah well.  All's well that ends well, so here they are!


Recall that way back yonder, we left off our Christmas adventure in Florence (which was our first stop after the post-Christmas exodus from Rome).  The time in Florence was fun, to be sure, but a bit rainy.  David, Danielle, and I were looking forward to move on to a more Germanic landscape by the time the sun finally showed its face the morning we packed and walked to the train station.

The train ride north from Florence to Salzburg was straight out of a movie.  It was like Steve Irwin the Crocodile Hunter always used to say: "Aw yeah that's just beyuuuutifulll, just gohhhgeous".  The Apennine landscape began to ever-so-gracefully don increasing layers of shimmering white snow, which was a welcome sight to this lover of white Christmases (I still pity all those whose more tropical childhood was ever-impoverished by lack of snow on such an important day).

Northern Italy.  Winding through the mountains was a sight to behold.  It all just looked so trek-able!

I barely got out my camera in time to snap a quick shot of the Italian - Austrian border.

Welcome to Austria.  Wow was this country beautiful!

We arrived in Salzburg in the evening as the sun was setting.  We didn't have much of an idea where our hotel was, other than that we knew the physical address.  So we stopped to buy a city map at the station and walked the 15 minutes or so from there to the first piece of 'little America' that I had known since leaving the States -- a Holiday Inn hotel.  When we got there, we discovered that it was no ordinary big box hotel, but such a hotel in all its Austro-Germanic glory.  Everything was brand new, the floors were *spotless*, there was an automatic shoe shiner at the entrance, and door handles were cleverly designed contraptions which invoked that certain feeling of sophistication.  The lobby hostesses were dressed in the traditional Bavarian dirndl (the blouse, bodice, skirt, and apron thing) and were very cordial.  When we got to our room, we stuck our card into a reader on the wall which turned on all the lights.  Our entire-wall-window had a set of automatic exterior blinds.  It was certainly the nicest Holiday Inn I've ever been in!

We walked toward the historic downtown area for some food and ended up walking into a kebab place along the way which was a bit of a hole in the wall, but nonetheless with delicious food and EXCELLENT beer.  Now I have had German before, but tasting it local and fresh from the tap was simply exquisite.  David can attest.

The next day we explored a little bit of the historic city center and in the afternoon got on a bus which took us just inside the German border for a tour of the salt mines.  Unfortunately we couldn't take any pictures during the tour, but it was nonetheless quite excellent and informative.  The whole time I was thinking of my dad, because I just knew that this would be precisely the kind of tour we would take if we were young kids on our family vacation.

On our ride to the salt mines, we got a brief glimpse at the Eagle's Nest!  This is one of the most well known hideout fortresses of Adolf Hitler during his tenure of power.

Before beginning the tour we were made to put on this full body suit thing.  Sweet!

Since they routinely have an international crowd, everyone put on headsets and listened to the tour in their own native language.  What a fun tour!  Good enough to be recommendable by me.  Afterward, we stopped by the local village called Berchtesgadener to have a quick look around and enjoy some eats from the food stands before returning to Salzburg for the night.

We meandered through the outdoor Christmas market and did some window shopping.  It was a bit chilly...

... but then we found the hot food and hot drink.  Nom nom nom.  It was delish.

This is the first time I saw a sign for the legendary "lederhosen" of the Germanic people.  Had to take a photo.  Unfortunately for me (actually, it was probably fortunate) authentic lederhosen aren't on the cheap side.  Ah well, I would probably never have worn them anyway.

All in all, I absolutely loved loved loved Salzburg.  I would love to go back, and I would highly recommend it to anyone.  It is a welcoming city surrounded by Austrian mountains with a beautiful and clear river running through it, fresh air, friendly locals, and the historic old town has an especially quaint ambiance.  Some neat things to see as well.  There is the birthplace and residence of Mozart, St. Peter's Abbey, the Hohensalzburg Castle, the Salzburg Cathedral and Salzburg Residenz (historical home of the archbishop-princes), the Residenzgalerie (art museum).  Of course, it is also quite famous for its role in the filming of "The Sound of Music", which means there are about 20,000ish tours of the various set locations.  Lots of these things we didn't get a chance to see because we only stayed for two nights.  When we left we decided that it would have been nice to have another full day. 

OK, before stuffing more in, it is time to acquiesce to the eager mouse arrow which is hovering around the "Publish" button.  It appears that when I wrote " *all* the missing links " at the beginning of this post, I must have meant that in an artistic, metaphorical, hyperbolic sense.  I need to push this out now for my own good, so I can feel like I'm making progress!  I'll put up the next set of missing links in the following post.  To be continued!

Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Epic Finale of the Papal Files

Well well well.  We meet again.  Only this time, I'm finished with all my finals.  haHA!  What I propose, then, is that we finish this story and move on to all the other ones you didn't hear about yet.  Although this is a great story, so still read it.

So.  In our last episode, we were just about to gather in St. Peter's Square at the conclusion of the second day of the conclave to view the results of the fifth round of balloting.  I had been there around 5:30ish to see if the 4th ballot would produce any white smoke.  It did not, so I hustled back to the College for evening prayer and hustled right back down afterwards amidst a mass exodus of Americans.  Had there have been a Red Sea between us and the Vatican, we may not have parted the waters, but we would have at least called the Marines to fly in some motorized dinghies.  Needless to say, people weren't entirely convinced we would see a new pope tonight, but they were darn sure they weren't going to miss anything just in case.  This is approximately 6:45 pm Rome time, which in March means that it was already dark.  As I may have stated before, though I can't remember: dealing with all the rain had its own advantages.  The principal advantage being that all the people were squeezed into the Square at umbrella-radius distances from each other.  Those latecomers such as myself, therefore, who had no propensity to melt in the rain like the Wicked Witch, could bob and weave underneath the maze of semi-wet rain jackets and still make our way fairly close to the Loggia. 

So here we are.  Role the eerie music as we duly note some similar circumstances:

There are still many people, with many umbrellas.  It is still raining.

The basilica is STILL THERE.
The new pope is still supposed to come out of that window when he is elected.
But this, good friends, is where everything went CRAZY.  Because the smoke came.  There was about a five second delay as the chimney puffed out a sort of grayish-white, but when everyone realized that the suspiciously light color was not darkening, the mob began to surge forward and squeeze up against the barriers in front of the basilica.  It was wild!!

It was most definitely white. Then the bells started ringing, and the whole city quickly bore down upon St. Peter's.

Mysteriously, several hundred flags came out of nowhere and started waving in the air.

Including American flags, no worries. But what makes me most proud of this picture is that other person who also had the great idea to take a picture of the American flags. lol!

This is the "I was really there" photo.

The perspective makes it hard to see, but this is about 30 feet back from the front barricade.  The Swiss guard is the regiment up there on the left, and the branches of the Italian military are up there on the right.

We waited over an hour between the white smoke and the pope's first appearance.  But no matter, the place was electric, and thanks to the Holy Spirit the drizzly rain stopped drizzling.  Eventually, the new pontiff was announced and he came out give everyone his first papal air high five!  You'll briefly see the cardinals come out at the adjoining windows, and you'll also see just how many people had their cameras at the ready!

It is hard to describe what it felt like in that moment.  I was so excited to have a new holy father, and what a sincere moment of grace it was to be able to witness it in person.  What most impressed me was the reality of history being made before my eyes.  Not because it was a noteworthy blip in the happenings of historical man, but because it was a concrete moment of divine history when the Holy Spirit breathed upon us in a special way to say, "This is my new Peter."  It was a moment of understanding more deeply just how much Jesus loves his Bride.

This is why we as Catholics make such a big deal about the pope!  Because Jesus did.  The papacy was instituted by divine command, from the lips of Jesus himself who said, "You are Peter".  In the good pleasure of his divine wisdom, Jesus built his Church by the power of the Holy Spirit upon the Rock of Peter; this, among other reasons, in order to show that as we are both bodily and spiritual creatures, so also his Church, his Bride, his Body, would not merely be a spiritual reality but a concrete, visible, historical reality.  That in the Church built upon Peter would be found the Church of Christ, that in the Church built upon Peter would be found the very keys to the Father's kingdom, that in the Church built upon Peter the gates of Hell would not prevail.  I mean, these are sublime truths to behold.  We call it Christ's Church because it is, but Jesus nonetheless willed that Peter and his successors should wield his own authority and power to teach, sanctify, and govern the Church Universal until Jesus returns on the last day.  How very important it is, then, for every follower of Christ, and especially every Catholic, to be united to Jesus in Peter.

Anyway, I love the pope.  I love the Catholic Church.  I could talk about these things all stinkin day.  But let's look at some more pictures first.

First photo of the new pope!

Afterward, about half the square was vacated, and half the crowd stuck around to celebrate and take it all in.

Me and my diocesan brother Dan

When we finally got back to the College, all the American cardinals were returning from the basilica as well, the camera crews and reporters were everywhere, and many of them had "post-conclave" interviews.  So we welcomed them back and were able to watch them meet the press.

This is our auditorium, Cardinal Dolan had his interview here.

Cardinal Dolan spoke for about 15 minutes or so.  I got to sneak in and watch the master in action.  It was pretty neat to be able listen to someone's firsthand account of everything.  You can see about a minutes' worth of it below:

It was a late night at the College, to be sure!  I don't think I got bed before 2 in the morning.  Couldn't miss all the action on such a momentous occasion.

Picture I took from the College right before going to bed.

The cherry upon the new papal cake was being able to be present for Pope Francis' installation Mass.  We were privileged enough to participate in the Mass as Communion distributor helper.. people.  Basically, we helped the several hundred priests distribute Holy Communion throughout the Square by following them around with umbrellas.  So the people knew where the priests were, and in order to keep things organized... That was such a cool thing to be a part of!! I will show you some pictures of the Mass with a few explanations along the way.

Leaving the College for Mass.  That's Paul Solomon sticking his tongue out.  He and I had our apostolate together this year at a homeless shelter of sorts run by the Missionaries of Charity.

Our official cards that say we are Communion Companions/Accompanists/Conductors

Walking into the Square from the side, we would sit there in that corner block of chairs until the Gospel reading.

Not a bad view!

The Mass booklet and official Pope Francis rookie card.

This is me taking a picture of Andy Mattingly taking a picture.

He thought it was funny.  He also wears an excellent beard.

The flags returned in force.

So about 45 minutes before Mass, the pope came out on his pope-mobile to greet the crowd!! Time for an explanation.

What I would like you all to note is the current position of my spot.  The pope is coming toward us, and what I decided to do, much like Pope Benedict's last Wednesday audience, was to film him passing by as opposed to take snapshots.  I specifically did this because I knew I would be sharing it with you on my blog.  I wanted you to see Francis in his close-up reel!  You will also note from the perspective of this photo that the geometry suggests his eventual passage to be within about 10 feet of my camera.  Indeed it was.  I took this one snapshot and then quickly switched it over to movie mode.  I was up on a chair and took a stand-by video of his passing that was... guys it was nothing short of poetry.  No flailing arms or cameras in the shot, no shaky hands.  Pure smooth close up of Francis' face, and he was even looking in our direction!

I was SO FRUSTRATED to discover after returning from Easter that I had inadvertently deleted this video in order to make room on my memory card for my Easter travels.  Nooo!  Blast!  Alas, it wasn't meant to be.  So use your imagination at this point and watch him mentally pass by RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU.

Now I'll share some photos I took of the Mass itself.  Generally I am of the opinion that photos shouldn't be taken after Mass begins.  But clearly, I was breaking my own rule for this one.  It was a very special occasion and I knew I would want to share this experience with you on the blog, so please forgive me any unintended offense!

At the start of Mass, he came out from inside the basilica.  The pope begins at St. Peter's Confessio, it's a little crypt just underneath the high altar and directly above St. Peter's bones.  There he prays with the Cardinals for himself and for the Church before being installed as the next successor of St. Peter

Pope Francis incensing the altar

Stopping by the statue of the Madonna and Child.

It was during the reading of the Gospel that we were marched up along the side of the Square behind the basilica, to receive instructions about how we were going to help with communion.

Ok so through that little tunnel there is looking back toward St. Peter's Square.  We are taking the back side stairs in order to get up into the narthex.  It is that outside vestibule place that is sort of like the "front porch" of a church.  We would stand there until the Eucharistic prayer.

Behind me. I am in the narthex looking inside the basilica toward the high altar.  You can see the baldacchino way up there on the left with the cross on top and the white high altar at the bottom.  St. Peter's Confessio is just beneath that altar.  You step down into it beneath this main level.

To my right.  Where we were walking from, so those stairs two pictures previous are in that direction.

In front of me.  Look at all the people!  That guard is looking in the direction of the pope, who is off to my right about 30 feet on the other side of that big pilaster / column.  I can't see him from here, but he is currently giving his first papal homily.  So cool!


The guys to my left.

They moved us down to the right side of the basilica while we waited with our yellow-and-white Communion umbrellas.

Several hundred priests stood in front of the outdoor altar and held individual ciboria filled with hundreds of thousands of hosts to be consecrated.  Whoa!

After Mass, we were herded out into the Square through the big walkways between the barricades.  The flags continue.

We were supposed to jet across to the left but got stuck.  This is the "we are stuck here" photo.

So we had to turn around and find another way.

All in all, the entire shebang was a smash hit.  The night of the election may have been the most memorable night of my life, one that will surely continue to shape my relationship with Christ and his Church.  I'm so happy that you FINALLY get to see all these photos and videos as well!  I have been trying forever to get these up here.  I appreciate all the patience and prayers as I worked through the final months of my first year here in Rome.

As we look forward to summer, hopefully I can continue to catch you up on the highlights of my year.  I'll be doing some pastoral work in Rome, Germany, and Sardinia between now and August, and will be doing some traveling as well.  Please keep praying for me!  And pray that I keep this blog updated as well!  God bless.