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.
1ST YEAR RETREAT
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!
|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.|
|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.|
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!