Thursday, November 24, 2016

Thanksgiving (s)

First, Happy Thanksgiving to all!  It's just a "normal" day here in Rome - although we do have a break from classes - they know that the Americans simply don't show up today.  I went to be with the American priests living here in Rome for Mass and Thanksgiving dinner.

Boy - it was the best bird I've ever seen!

But there have been a lot of thanksgivings these past few days.  Thanksgivings to God for all His goodness to us - and in particular for the example and witness of the Saints.

One of the things that a good friend of mine said was, "The day that living in Rome becomes nothing special is the day you need to come home."  And there is a saying here that goes something like, "Don't let your education get in the way of your life in Rome."

I've been trying to make sure that I take advantage of every blessed opportunity while being here in Rome - and this Blog is a means of sharing those opportunities with you.  I sometimes am concerned that it's more pride or "look what I got to do" - and I do NOT want it to be that.  Rather, I desire to share with you my experiences and blessings - hoping that you can experience them along with me.

One of the ways I'm trying to be mindful of living in Rome is to make a little pilgrimage to the relics of saints on their feast day.  This week, I did that twice: Tuesday the Church remembered Saint Cecilia - and Wednesday Saint Clement.  So I visited both their churches this week.

Tuesday, St. Cecilia, was my long day at school (till 4:30pm).  I had discovered that the Basilica of St. Cecilia is in Trastevere - which is a neighborhood not too far from where I live - and that the remains of St. Cecilia are buried there.

Here is a video telling the story of St. Cecilia:

I also learned that they were having Vespers at the Church - so after school I jumped on the tram and went to the Basilica of St. Cecilia in Trastevere.
This is the Basilica in Trastevere
This is the very famous image of her beneath the main altar
Just to prove I was here...
The Sanctuary
The actual tomb of St. Cecilia in the crypt beneath the high altar.
Then on Wednesday the Church remember St. Clement I, Pope.  His remains are also here in Rome in one of the oldest sections of the old city.  In fact, many traditions say that the basilica that houses his relics is built upon his house.  Regardless of that fact (or fiction), the basilica is incredibly old - built on top of an oder basilica which itself was built on top of Roman ruins.  Here's a LINK to a fascinating video about the Basilica of San Clemente.  The video is on the basilica's official website - so there's not way to actually embed it here.
And you are not allowed to take pictures inside the Basilica - so here are a few I found online - and a selfie - again to prove I was actually there.

This morning there was a 5-K run up at the NAC (North American College).  Had a good time - 27:50 (but we didn't have chips in our numbers, so I'm sure I ran faster than that).  It was a good morning.  I like what they put on their shirts:

Sunday, November 20, 2016

End of the Jubilee Year of Mercy

It has certainly been a busy weekend here Rome - as Pope Francis brings to a conclusion the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy.  And I tried to take advantage of these last days of the Jubilee.

The Basilica of St. Peter was all prepared for Sunday's big Mass - including the Year of Mercy banner and also tapestries of St. Michael and St. Joseph.  We contemplated why these two tapestries - my thought is that both of them protect the Church - Michael as the leader of the Heavenly Host - and St. Joseph - as the patron of the Universal Church.

Friday I made my last trip through the Holy Door at St. Peter's Basilica - as I knew that Pope Francis would close the door on Sunday morning at the Mass.  So I forged my way over to the Basilica - with many other people - to go through the Door and celebrate the Sacrament of Penance (Confession) in order to be able to receive the Plenary Indulgence.

The Holy Door from the inside
And it appeared that I was not the only one with that idea - as LOTS of people were in line for Confession.  I waited with everyone else and, eventually, had my opportunity to go to Confession, say my penance, and offer prayers for our Holy Father in order to fulfill the conditions for receiving a Plenary Indulgence.  (Those conditions are, to be free of all attachment to sin, even venial sin; to make the pilgrimage through the Holy Door, receive Holy Communion, celebrate Confession, and offer prayers for the Holy Father.)

It also happened to be the Feast of the Dedication of the Basilicas of St. Peter and St. Paul Outside the Walls.  I took note that the dedication candles were lit in the basilica.  I also noted the mural of the Gospel for the day - Jesus calling Peter to step out of the boat and walk on the water.  When he senses how strong the wind is, he doubts and falters.  This leads the Lord to ask, "Oh, ye of little faith.  Why did you falter?"  So many things to ponder in those few words...

Saturday was also a big day - with the Consistory which bestowed the "red hat" on a group of new Cardinals: including the Archbishop of Chicago - who was my rector when I was in seminary at the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus.  

There was also an awesome story about another of the new Cardinals - a priest from Albania who had been jailed by the Communists, sentenced to death, but survived the Communist era.  The Holy Father met him on a recent pastoral trip and decided to bestow the "red hat" on him in acknowledgement of his tremendous sacrifice and witness to Jesus Christ.  Here's a story that Rome Reports did on this new Cardinal.

After the Consistory, which I did not attend since Cardinal O'Brien is away in the States for various Investitures - including in New York where Bishop Gainer was invested as a Knight of the Holy Sepulchre (I hope they didn't talk about me too much), I was fortunate to attend a reception in honor of the 3 new U.S. Cardinals.  I had the opportunity to greet each of them, offer them my congratulations, and extend to them the best wishes of Cardinal O'Brien.

Today, Sunday, was the big Mass closing the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy.  I was surprised to see the LONG LINE of people waiting to get into St. Peter's Square.  Fortunately I had obtained my ticket to concelebrate the Mass seated in the Sacrato - up on the same level as the Papal altar in front of St. Peter's Basilica.  When I arrived in the Braccio di Constantino, where the priests vest for Mass, I ran into some other priests I know from Rome - one who works at the Vatican, another who attends school at the Angelicum with me.

We headed out toward the Mass - and it just seemed a great photo...

On arrival in our seats, I had the opportunity to snap some photos of the Basilica facade and the tremendous crows gathering for the Mass.  

 I don't think I've ever had the opportunity to walk up those central "stairs" that lead up to St. Peter's.


As always, we prayed the Rosary as immediate preparation for the Mass.  And here are the vessels prepared for Mass.

As the Bishops and Cardinals entered the Square, I reflected a bit on the universality of the Church - as we can see it displayed in the various vestments warn by bishops of the Eastern Churches.

Just at the beginning of Mass, Pope Francis closed the Holy Door.  No, this is not my video...

Of course, this closing of the Holy Year occurs on the great Solemnity of Christ the King.  My prayer today has been on making Christ the King of our lives - and that only happens when we allow Him to reign in our lives: not our own desires or our own bodies.  That means that penance and self-sacrifice is an important way in which we allow Christ to be the King of our lives.

During Mass, I did snap some photos.

In his homily, the Holy Father said:
“Even if the Holy Door closes, the true door of mercy, which is the heart of Christ, always remains open for us,” Pope Francis said Sunday in a Mass marking the formal close of his jubilee Year of Mercy. “God has no memory of sin, but only of us, of each of us, we who are his beloved children.”

Just before the final blessing, Pope Francis did several things:  First he blessed any religious items people had brought for that purpose.  A friend from home asked if I could purchase some rosaries for him to give to members of his family as Christmas gifts - so I brought them along with me for the Pope's blessing.

Then, Pope Francis signed his newest Apostolic Letter marking the closing of the Holy Year of Mercy,

As Mass ended, we had the opportunity to take some photos - including a photo of the Holy Father greeting some of the Cardinals.

I also took the chance to snap one last photo of the tremendous crowd gathered for the Mass closing the Extraordinary Year of Mercy.

As we walked to where we unvested, we walked past the now closed Holy Door...

It has been an incredible Year of Mercy - one that has brought me somewhere I NEVER thought I'd be - but God's plans are so often surprises to us.  We have only to follow His Will - another way He reigns as King of our hearts.

Happy Feast of Christ the King!

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Feast of the Dedication of St. John Lateran

I know it has been a while - it's been incredibly busy.  My classes started at the Angelicum University on October 3 - and holding a full-time job and being a full-time student has proven to be VERY time consuming.

None-the-less, today is an important day here in Rome and throughout the Church: the Feast of the Dedication of St. John Lateran Basilica - the Pope's Cathedral.

The Lateran Basilica is called “mother and head of all the churches of the city and the world.” In fact, this basilica was the first to be built after Emperor Constantine’s edict, in 313, granted Christians freedom to practice their religion.  The emperor himself gave Pope Miltiades the ancient palace of the Laterani family, and the basilica, the baptistery, and the patriarchate, that is, the Bishop of Rome’s residence — where the Popes lived until the Avignon period — were all built there. The basilica’s dedication was celebrated by Pope Sylvester around 324 and was named Most Holy Savior; only after the 6th century were the names of St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist added, and now is typically denominated by these latter.

Initially the observance of the feast of the dedication of the church was confined to the city of Rome; then, beginning in 1565, it was extended to all the Churches of the Roman rite. The honoring of this sacred edifice was a way of expressing love and veneration for the Roman Church, which, as St. Ignatius of Antioch says, “presides in charity” over the whole Catholic communion (Letter to the Romans, 1:1).  As we gather in this church, we are reminded of an essential truth: the temple of stones is a symbol of the living Church, the Christian community, which in their letters the Apostles Peter and Paul already understood as a “spiritual edifice,” built by God with “living stones,” namely, Christians themselves, upon the one foundation of Jesus Christ, who is called the “cornerstone” (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:9-11, 16-17; 1 Peter 2:4-8; Ephesians 2:20-22). “Brothers, you are God’s building,” St. Paul wrote, and added: “holy is God’s temple, which you are” (1 Corinthians 3:9c, 17).

The beauty and harmony of the churches, destined to give praise to God, also draws us human beings, limited and sinful, to convert to form a “cosmos,” a well-ordered structure, in intimate communion with Jesus, who is the true Saint of saints. This happens in a culminating way in the Eucharistic liturgy, in which the “ecclesia,” that is, the community of the baptized, come together in a unified way to listen to the Word of God and nourish themselves with the Body and Blood of Christ. From these two tables the Church of living stones is built up in truth and charity and is internally formed by the Holy Spirit transforming herself into what she receives, conforming herself more and more to the Lord Jesus Christ. She herself, if she lives in sincere and fraternal unity, in this way becomes the spiritual sacrifice pleasing to God.  Our visit celebrates a mystery that is always relevant: God’s desire to build a spiritual temple in the world, a community that worships him in spirit and truth (cf. John 4:23-24). But this observance also reminds us of the importance of the material buildings in which the community gathers to celebrate the praises of God. Every community therefore has the duty to take special care of its own sacred buildings, which are a precious religious and historical patrimony. For this we call upon the intercession of Mary Most Holy, that she help us to become,
like her, the “house of God,” living temple of his love.

— Benedict XVI, Angelus Address, November 9, 2008Church of Saint John Lateran

Prayer: O God, who from living and chosen stones prepare an eternal dwelling for your majesty, increase in your Church the spirit of grace you have bestowed, so that by new growth your faithful people may build up the heavenly Jerusalem. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Jerusalem! Jerusalem!

It has been an awe-inspiring, faith-filled several days...

On Tuesday (still getting over some jet lag from our Asia trip) we traveled to Jerusalem for a very important event.  The Patriarch of Jerusalem, Archbishop Fouad Twal, reached the retirement age of 75.  His replacement is Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the former Franciscan Custos of the Holy Land.  But he was not named Patriarch, but rather, Apostolic Administrator.  Regardless, he is now the Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Jerusalem (which includes Israel, Palestine, Jordan and Cyprus).  This was the reason for our quick trip to Jerusalem.

Our flight from Rome to Tel Aviv was a typical flight - except that I was reflecting the entire journey about where we were going: Jerusalem.  I thought of Saints Peter and Paul, both of whom made the same trip (albeit in the opposite direction) - but their journey was much more difficult and didn't include in-flight food service.  They both journeyed from Jerusalem to Rome - where both were martyred for the Faith.  Then, once we arrived and were met by our driver, we made the fairly quick 1-hour trip to Jerusalem.  As we approached Jerusalem, Cardinal O'Brien said to me, "My ears just popped.  We must be pretty high."  Yes, Jerusalem is "up."  "Up to Jerusalem..." the familiar song goes - a song my family would often sing... "Up to Jerusalem, the Lord goes to die... but he will rise again!  He will rise again!  On the third day rejoice!  Be glad!"  And my brother and I would jump on our beds with excitement as we sang of the resurrection.

Jerusalem - Mother Church - the place of the many, MANY significant events in the life of Christ, of the Apostles, and of the infant Church.  It is also the place of the Holy Sepulchre... and I reflected on my new role - working with the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre.  This Tomb is the entire reason for the Order - to protect the tomb (originally) and to protect all those whose faith comes from what happened at that tomb.

As we drove into the city, I reflected on how many times Jesus had made this journey from Galilee to Jerusalem - how many times he had come for the Passover, had taught in the Temple, how His parents had brought Him to the Temple for circumcision - and lost Him there when He was a young boy (only to find Him teaching the elders).  So many thoughts as we entered into the Holy City.

The official ceremonies didn't begin until Wednesday afternoon, so our Tuesday evening arrival gave us some time in Jerusalem - and began our first day with Mass at the altar of Calvary.

Sorry - the camera strap is in the way of the photo...

Oh my...  We were standing just FEET away from the very spot - preserved for centuries - where Jesus gave His life for us - where His blood poured onto the ground - where He entrusted Mary to John; and John to Mary.  Even that thought was significant for me - as I am now renewing my Marian consecration of St. Louis de Montfort (and in fact, drawing close to the end).  Jesus entrusted Mary to John - and I, John, in this consecration, am entrusting myself to Mary... the parallels were overwhelming...

Here at this altar, as we celebrated Mass, we said, "This is my body, given for you" - at the very spot where it all happened.  We offered His Precious Blood - the same blood that had spilled upon the rocks - that came gushing out of His side as the soldier pierced it with the lance...  There, as we received Holy Communion, we ate His very Body and Blood - in the spot where it was first offered.  The non-bloody re-presentation of this Mystery at the very place where it happened.

After Mass and after un-vesting, we returned to the top of Calvary to the very place of the Crucifixion - where we could literally crawl under an altar, reach into a hole, and touch the stone of calvary where the Lord's Cross once stood.  And this just after holding in my hand the Body of Him who died upon that cross...

That's my feet sticking out as I reach down to touch the stones of Calvary
After Mass we returned to the hotel for breakfast, then I had the entire morning and early afternoon to explore.  I took advantage of every minute and walked to Zion's gate; to the Upper Room (the traditional place of the Last Supper), David's Tomb, to the Western Wall, to the Chapel of St. Veronica; the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (the chapels of Adam (directly underneath Calvary), of St. Helena and I entered the Tomb and spent some time in prayer), ending at a part of the Via Dolorosa.

The Upper Room
King David's Tomb
Views of the Temple Mount

And with the Western Wall

The tiny streets of Jerusalem

St. Veronica's Church

The Chapel of Adam
Chapel of St. Helena

The Holy Tomb

The Anointing Stone
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre
I also discovered a tour of the excavations within the Western Wall (which have been a source of great controversy in the never-ending political conflict of the region).  I decided to take the tour - along an ancient bridge which led from the Old City of Jerusalem to the gate of the Temple mount - to the very base of the temple walls - built by Herod (the stone revealing the signature "Herodian" markings) - and along the Wall to an ancient cistern built by the Romans.  It was really a fascinating tour.  The guide shared why this place is so sacred - Mount Moriah is here - the place that tradition holds, was the very first thing God created on earth - THE spot of creation's beginning.  This is why the Temple stood on top of this mount - because it was the first spark of God's creation - and the Temple stood right on top of it.  Many significant events of Jewish history happened here: most significantly the Sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham.  (By the way, this is why Jews use the shofar - the ram's horn - Isaac being replaced by the ram with its horns caught in a thorn bush.)  It was a fascinating tour!

What the suspect the Temple looked like.  Note the long bridge - this is where our journey begin -
then turned left at the wall of the Temple.

Then, in the afternoon, we went to the Latin Patriarchate for the grand entry of the new Archbishop into his city.  "Hosanna, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord" was sung as Archbishop Pizzaballa stepped out of his car and begin his walk from the Jaffa gate to the Patriarchate and the co-Cathedral of Jerusalem.  A great crowd had gathered.  Some waved olive branches as we walked and sang.  I don't think Palm Sunday will ever be the same for me...

Here is a VIDEO of the entry...

And some photos:

Then Evening Prayer in the co-Cathedral, where the new Archbishop officially took his place at the Cathedra - and a reception in his honor.

As if that had not been a high-light, the next morning we again celebrated Mass at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, but this time RIGHT OVER THE TOMB OF JESUS!  I was speechless as we were led from the sacristy, toward the tomb, INTO the tomb - where a wooden altar had been placed just a foot over the stone on which the Lord lay and rose.  YIKES!

The Mass celebrated there is ALWAYS the Mass of Easter Sunday.  So the readings were those of Sunday.  I was handed the book to read the Gospel - from St. John - the two disciples (John and Peter) run to the tomb... but the text says, "ran to THIS tomb..."  GULP!  As I read, I had to pause a moment because I was being overwhelmed with emotion... tears welling n my eyes.  I managed to regain my composure and continue with the reading...  "He stooped down and entered THIS tomb..."  Again... I needed a moment.

Cardinal O'Brien with Sr. Monica and Sr. Naomi who helped coordinate our visit to the Holy Sepulchre.
Here at this Mass, I remembered so many... my family, my brother priests, my friends, my former parishes and her people, the Order (who are centered around this very place)... so many were in my thoughts and prayers at that Mass.

Following Mass we had a moment to pause - I placed my head on the marble slab from which the body of Jesus Rose - and prayed: Lord, as this was the place of your resurrection by which you give us new life, so may I begin a new life... serving you alone, loving you alone, following you alone."  It was a profound moment.

Then I had the chance to walk the entire Via Dolorosa and pray the Stations before heading back to the hotel to prepare for our flight to France for an Investiture.

But a few final thoughts.  The Holy Tomb.  A place that for 2 millennium has been held sacred.  It was destroyed by Muslim forces in order to eliminate all traces of Christ - but Christian memory runs long - and the place was never forgotten.  Church built on church - chapel within church - until we have the Holy Sepulchre Church of today.  It was an amazing 2 days in Jerusalem.

If you can ever make a pilgrimage there - DO IT!  Don't be afraid of all the talk of security and danger.  The Old City itself is very safe.  And the journey there will change your life!