Well, my friends, here we are again.. It's just like riding a bike: once you know, you always know. This phrase is how I would describe my first few months back here in bella Roma. I flew into good ol' Leonardo Da Vinci Airport at the beginning of September and have been chugging nicely along ever since. I will say that my summer home in 'Merica was excellent by all accounts, and also that it FLEW by (although I kinda expected that). As soon as I was in the taxi riding back here to the College, it all just seemed so familiar, like I hadn't really left (which, interestingly, is the same feeling I had when I arrived home back in the U.S. at the beginning of summer). I got back to the NAC with backpack loaded and two luggage bags in tow, said hi to my good buddy Paul who lives on my hall and we remarked to each other, "Huh. Well that just felt like one long travel weekend." So goes the speed of time, I s'pose.
Lemme give you a rundown of some of the major things that have been / are / will be part of my third year as an ex-pat:
SCHOOL RELATED STUFF
As you may know, our semesters here begin a month later than y'alls at home. So September was filled with two weeks of in-house conferences and preaching practicums, followed by my yearly silent retreat, followed by the diaconate ordinations for the class ahead of me. Along with two men ordained transitional deacons in Lansing this past May, our diocese also ordained a third man here in Rome. It was great to see my diocesan brother Zach take the plunge, especially considering that it will be me next year!
This year is my third and final year of what's called my 'first cycle' program, which means I'll be finishing the European quasi-equivalent of my Master's degree in Theology next spring. Then, next fall as a fourth year student, I will choose and initiate a more specialized 'second cycle' program, something like moral theology, fundamental theology, spirituality, Patristics, or Biblical theology etc. I have a few ideas for second cycle programs, but that will all be TBD until I do a bit more research and get a thumbs up from the good bishop.
Also this year I am beginning a new apostolate. As part of priestly formation we all participate every year in some form of out-of-house volunteer service. Could be hospital ministry, prison ministry, evangelization on the street, working with the poor, giving tours of St. Peters etc... My apostolate in my first two years involved working with the Missionaries of Charity here in Rome (St. [Mother] Theresa of Calcutta's sisters) to feed homeless men a dinner meal once a week. As third year students we are now exposed to more teaching/evangelizing-related apostolates. Mine will be with the U.S. Navy base in Naples. This is a very cool apostolate that involves seminarians traveling to Naples each weekend to minister to the Catholic community of American servicemen and servicewomen and their families stationed at our Navy base there.
Basically, we spend time with the families, eat meals with them, serve at the weekend Masses, and teach some of the CCD classes on Sunday morning. I did my first weekend two weeks ago, and will do a few more weekends each semester. I taught 6th grade CCD and it was awesome. We started talking about the communion of saints, and then the conversation moved to the subjects of death, angels, and such questions as "do our pets go to heaven?" and "how old are we when we're in heaven?". I thoroughly enjoyed myself and the kiddos were quite interested and engaged.
PRIEST RELATED STUFF
I found out a few weeks ago (be it the Lord's will) what will be my priestly ordination date. It is scheduled to be at St. Mary's Cathedral in Lansing at 7:00pm on Friday, the 10th of June, 2016. I was stoked to see something official on the diocesan calendar, it brings a different perspective when you know where the end of the tunnel is! Please keep praying for me, or I will certainly not make it there..
More immediately, I also found out this past Thursday the tentative date of my diaconate ordination here in Rome. This day will be ratified in the coming month or so. It is penciled-in at St. Peter's Basilica at 9:30am on Thursday, October the One, 2015... And by 'One' I mean 1st. Also exciting! Please keep praying hard for me, or I will certainly not make it to this one either..
On a related note, here in the house my class this year has started our baptism and marriage practicums, since these are sacraments that deacons can do. How neat! I got to baptize a baby girl doll name Mary lol. I got water in her eye, so I apologized to her. Thankfully she didn't cry.
TRAVEL RELATED STUFF
I have a few more bucket list items to check off this year, and am
pumped for what's in store. The big fish will be a Christmas pilgrimage
to the Holy Land! Please keep in prayer the 30-ish of us who will be making this
trip to the land where Jesus lived and died. Everyone I've talked with who has already taken the trip says how much it changes their
relationship with the Lord, and especially how it changes the way they
read the Scriptures. I am very much looking forward to spending time
with God in Jerusalem and in Galilee. At some point in the next month
or so, I will be posting a Google doc of the places and/or churches we
plan to visit. Then you can take a look if you want and write your name
next to a given place or church, and I will pray for you and your
intentions when I'm at that place.
In October I went with my good
friend Steve from Little Rock, Arkansas to visit St. Therese of Lisieux
in northern France. She is a fantastic saint to get to know. We had a
grand weekend, and were also able to make it to the American cemetery
at Omaha Beach in Normandy (beautiful! and very peaceful), as well as a
famous miniature islet called Mont Saint-Michel. Have a gander at some
of the sights:
I took my week-long silent retreat in this location before the start of the school year. Yes, it was all shades of excellent.
This here is the Basilica of St. Therese in Lisieux, France. It's huge and beautiful. And since we visited it within the octave of her feast day (which is, coincidentally, October the One) we also got to see her relics, which were temporarily transferred to the basilica from their usual place at the Carmel (Carmelite convent) down the street.
This is Lisieux's cathedral. Also a big and beautiful church. Steve and I went to Mass here in the small chapel at the way way back, behind the main altar which you see in the picture.
The cemetery for fallen WWII American military at Omaha Beach in Normandy. 9,238 headstones fill about 175 acres of land on the bluffs above the beach.
We were walking along Omaha as a storm came through, so we made for the hills and got rained in for about 20 minutes while we hunkered down in an old German bunker.
This is Mont Saint-Michel. During high tide it is an island! During low tide you can walk to it on dry ground. The huge abbey which covers the top was originally built in the 8th century, and then rebuilt in the 11th and 12th centuries, with additions and fortifications coming in the intervening centuries. In ancient times it was known as Mont Tombe but was renamed after the Archangel Michael in 708 after he appeared in vision to St. Aubert, the bishop of Avranches. Michael instructed the saint to build a church here on the small island, and so atop the central spire of the abbey is a gilded statue of the archangel.