Rome Experience – A Roman Weekend (June 8 & 9)

Truly there is no greater city in the world than holy Rome! There are more beautiful cities, more powerful cities, cleaner cities but none greater. Where else has the genius of humanity intersected with the glory of the Divine for so long and with such brilliance and vigor?

Here is my little taste of it.

Saturday morning we had the regular time of Lauds at 6:45, 30 minutes of mental prayer and then the celebration of Mass followed by a leisurely breakfast. At 9:30 we walked down to the offices of the Congregation for the Clergy and had a wonderful 2-hour visit. First we were greeted by the Secretary, Archbishop Celso Morga who spoke with us briefly and gave us his blessing. Then we had a presentation and Q&A with two officials, Msgr. Kevin Gillespie and Fr. Ed Losey. In short, let me tell you how up-lifting it is two know that there are men of such quality as Msgr. Gillespie and Fr. Losey in the Roman Curia. They do hard and thankless work, but work of great importance and benefit to many, many souls.

At the end of our time we all together prayed the consecration to Mary that was offered by Benedict XVI when he went to Fatima during the Year for Priests. Also, I was given a copy of the new Directory for the Life and Ministry for Priests in Italian. The English translation is not out yet and it will help me to practice the language.

Both Msgr. Gillespie and Fr. Losey were very kind and encouraging when they heard about my impending move to Rome. It is good to meet priests who, while they clearly love and miss their homelands, do not suffer from the small-minded parochialism that I find in a lot of clerics. Speaking with Msgr. Gillespie and Fr. Losey was a great benefit to the calmness of my mind.

After lunch I prepared myself for a decent hike from CIAM to San Anselmo (the place where I will study) which are about 2.5 miles apart. It was a beautiful day and I had a little over a mile walking along the banks of the Tiber river. The river is a pale green but was moving fast and had the gentle sound of a fast-moving river. There is not much more peaceful than strolling in the shade as you follow the sound of the water.

Eventually I crossed the river on the Ponte Palatino and came to the foot of the Avventine Hill. What joys awaited! The road up the hill was very steep and so I had a decent sweat, especially since this part was in the sun but it was more than worth it. The first sight was a beautiful park across the street from the Camaldolese monastery; it was beautifully manicured and cared for with flowers, shade trees, nice pathways, benches and a view of the Circus Maximus and all of downtown Rome.

A short walk up the street and I got to San Sabina, the great Dominican church in Rome. Of course, not before I passed another park, less well cared for and shaded, but with a tremendous view over the Tiber looking at St. Peter’s! I made a brief visit to the church, which was not in very good shape in my opinions. The Blessed Sacrament chapel is a baroque beauty but the rest was in-impressive.

Nearly next door was San Alessio, a falling apart baroque wonder with all sorts of little treasures that were less than well taken care of. Here I might note that every church I visited on Saturday was preparing for or celebrating a wedding and, oh my, the Romans do it up. Beautiful in terms of decoration but that’s where it ends.

Then around the corner to San Anselmo, the Benedictine monastery and home to the Pontifical Athaneum of the same name, at which I will study. I was a treasure – leave the street through a small doorway and center a larger gravel covered area which leads to another small door. This takes you into a lovely courtyard. On the left, the entrance to the university, straight ahead, the church. I was taken aback at the simplicity of the university entrance – a single door with a little brass sign that had the name of the school on it.

I went to the church to do my mental prayer. The church of San Anselmo is very clean and well cared-for. It is not a wonder of art or architecture but is clean, simple, and lovely. I went to the chapel of the Blessed Sacrament prayed. Now, I saw that there was a set-up for a wedding, but only when my prayer just finished did I realize that the church had received guest, including the bride, who was coming down the isle as I was heading out – quite a visit!

A sidebar on weddings in Rome: they look great but are totally un-impressive. There is tons of commotion, noise, distraction, the priests looked completely lost and a general hodge-podge of irreverence and silliness.

I stepped into the bookstore, which was a pleasant combination of academics, liquors and every lovely things that monks have made. I enjoyed it immensely and, in a great act of detachment, bought nothing.

On the way home I stopped at the Basilica of San Bartolomeo alla Isola, where the relics of St. Bartholomew are kept and also Cardinal George’s titular church. It was a nightmare of wedding helter-shelter during which I tried to pray the Rosary and get away from that insanity. I think I venerated St. Bartholomew’s relics but can’t really be sure.

I went home, showered, prayed and went out for a fabulous dinner with Frs. Kime and Mahar in th Trastevere district. It was a beautiful night and we enjoyed ourselves immensely.

On Sunday it was a quite morning of prayer and silence with a few cups of strong coffee while staring at St. Peter’s on a cool morning. I left CIAM in the middle of the Holy Father’s Angelus address in order to get to Piazza Navona to meet Fr. John Putzer.

On the way to Navonna I stopped to pray at Santa Agnese in Agone – I could to get to the relic of her head, but prayed while the congregation was celebrating Mass. Again, the liturgical life of your average Roman parish is a mess and totally in-inspiring.

Lunch with Fr. Putzer was at a little place a few blocks of the Piazza Navonna. We had three courses and then dessert (first time since I have been in Rome that I had dessert) and ended with a little limoncello. It was delicious and the waitress was as pleasant as could be. I was most grateful for Fr. Putzer’s kind demeanor, help with questions and willingness to talk spiritual things. As some of you know, Fr. Putzer is studying to become a member of the papal diplomatic corps and has all sorts of neat stories to share. I think we are both looking forward to being in Rome together.

When the 2 hour lunch ended I came back to CIAM, read, showered (it got rather hot today) and then had a Holy Hour with solemn Adoration with higher men. We are back on schedule and looking forward to a great day tomorrow.

I love you all like Jesus!

Rome Experience – Day VII (June 6)

So many ways to begin a Roman morning, especially when the humidity is picking up and there is no laundry in the house.

A little analogy for the spiritual life I suppose – we are looking at and walking towards glory but sometimes need to clean our clothes before we get there. Never let your troubles or sins get you down. Repent – yes, shame, depressed, sad – no.

But in the afternoon a little more towards the glory. . .

We visited the Cathedral of Rome, the Patriarchal Archbasilica of Christ our Savior and Saints John in the Lateran. First a visit to The Lord of the house present in the Blessed Sacrament, prayed for the Pope at the confessio and then had a tour. After the tour there was a half-hour of mental prayer.

There is very little as moving as 35 men singing the Tantum Ergo in the Presence of the Sacrament and it was a little bit of apostolate to those visiting the Basilica.

After we saw the great church of San Clemente and prayed before the beautiful mosaic above the sanctuary and the relics of Ss. Cyril & Methodius. The men were free until dinner after which was a great get-together and off to bed after a little work and some time on Skype.

Thanks those who chatted with me, hearing your voices and seeing your faces was a great joy.

Rome Experience – Day II

So it begins.

The seminarians of the Rome Experience arrived today but not before a bit of adventure.

The morning was greeted with a gray sky and a chill in the air. So I prayed, drank some strong coffee and was ready for the day. You know, coffee has and will always taste better in Rome. Perhaps it’s the roast, perhaps the beans, perhaps the water, perhaps the brew but most likely the place. Everything, the good and the bad, can be found in Rome, the city where the living God chose to plant the heart of His bride the Church to beat until the end of time. Thus, for centuries, all the best of the divine has intersected with the best and worst of humanity. So, it makes sense that all things human would taste better in Rome (except beer and hamburgers.)

So out the door. The mission, buy month-long bus tickets. In short, there were closed stores, kiosks that did not sell the monthly ticket, stores that didn’t sell the tickets even though the sign said they did and finally the places that did sell, but only to find out that they only accepted cash payment. Of course, my happy debit card has a €500 limit for withdrawals per day and so the €1225 was not going to be covered.

Then it started to rain, I mean really rain. So, with a little defeat in my heart I walked back to CIAM soaking wet. The house greeted me warmly and I hung clothes out to dry and changed before Fr. Socias arrived and we chatted all things Church and apostolate. In short it was very enjoyable

Which as good since the seminarians arrived about three hours earlier than I thought! Thanks to the good sisters we put some food in them and got them oriented. After that a short walk down to St. Peter’s I let the seminarians run off to gelato and whatever little ecclesiastical adventure they might have in in hours. All were back for dinner, a short get-together and off to a Roman sleep.

Here’s my view as I do my night prayers before bed. As I said, O felix Roma!


Rome – Day I

It’s particularly nice to wake up and make your morning offering while looking at the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica. It was a beautiful Roman morning with cool weather all the day long.

There’s something to be said for praying in a city filled with domes and steeples dedicated to the glory of the one God and His only Son, Jesus Christ. There is no loneliness in prayer here. Granted, the jet-lag hit hard and I was very tired in the morning.

Today was a day of scouting – laundromats, gelaterias, bus routes, pharmacies, etc. so that the men will be on good footing. The sun was high and the air was cool. I bumped into the newly ordained Fr. John Paul Mitchell on the way down the Janiculum hill and was pleased to learn that he will be at the Casa Santa Maria next year as well.

I took the long route to the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross (Santa Croce) and was able to enjoy the lovely business of Campo Fiori. The flowers were indeed beautiful and it makes for a nice walk up to the famous Piazza Navona.

Most go to Navona for touristic nonsense or to see the Bernini fountain. I go to see St. Agnes. In the center of the square is the beautiful church built over the site of her martyrdom. I went in, greeted Our Lord Jesus in the Sacrament and then said my Rosary. After I paid a visit to the place where her skull is kept and prayed for purity of heart and was blessedly joined joy a couple of sisters.

The rest of the morning was a bit disappointing. The was a mis-communication and I was not able to make contact with Fr. Socias at Santa Croce. When I left the university it started to rain and I got a bit wet on the way to see St. Catherine of Siena, whose body is in the church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva. (I will study Italian in Siena in August & September.)

After this visit I did a bit of clerical window shopping – my parents gave me a generous gift certificate to my favorite Roman clerical shop, Barbiconi. Alas, I have not yet printed it out and do must visit later. On a side note, the Italians are way behind when it comes to the style of vestments. A perpetual reminder to them, gaudy is always out. Thank the good God for the English who are leading the charge in this field.

Wearily I walked back towards the Vatican, up the Borgo Pio and ate lunch at one of my favorite places, Taverna Roger – the foods is fine, the decor excellent, it always has clerics in attendance and you never hear English.

Certainly I hoped to visit St. Peter’s, but the line was so immense that my spirits were dampened. I thought to visit the bookstore and the Swiss Guardsmen were most polite and helpful in letting me in the backdoor. I love that store, everything wonderful, helpful and clerically nerdy can be found there. Well, almost everything.

Finally, back to CIAM where I downloaded two apps for doing Italian language drills (thanks Abby N.) and spent the next hour doing drills. Suddenly I became excited to go back to school. Study gave way to prayer as I went to the chapel for evening mental prayer, Mass and them Vespers.

After Vespers I wrote a couple of letters and started to miss home. Next year will be beautiful and hard and is especially hard to think about. But I had little time to dwell on it as I was going up to the NAC for dinner with Gabi Lopez and Scott Emerson, which was delightful and ended with a drink and some lengthier conversation. It was very nice to spend time with those good men.

After a few failed FaceTime attempts (I love you and miss you) it was time to write. Perhaps more introspection in the future, but for now, a record.

Buona notte from the the greatest city in the world.

Biblical Foundations of the Church

Here are the scripture citations I was going to give at the Alpha/Omega event on May 9th.  (Thanks for a great night everyone!)

I.  John 21:24-25

– Many things Jesus said and did were not written down

 II.  Acts 1:1-3

– Speaks about the kingdom of God which is not written down but kept by the Apostles, shows that the Church teaches the full truth.

 III.  Matthew 16:17-20

– Confession of Simon’s faith is the foundation of the Church, Simon is renamed Peter (because that faith is not from him but from God) and he (Peter) is given the power to bind and loose.

IV.  John 16:12-13

– There is more teaching to come (after the Passion) which will be taught to the Apostles (foundations of the Church) and will be ‘all truth.’

V.  Luke 22:31-34

– During the Last Supper, Jesus grants protection to Peter’s FAITH – the guarantee of the power given in Matthew 16.  Note, Jesus does not guarantee that Peter will remain morally upright, thus the Pope will always be protected to teach the right faith even if there is failure in his moral life.

VI.  John 21:15-19

– Jesus confirms the love of Peter and His love for Peter and prophecies the future of Peter and of the Popes.

VII.  Acts 2:42-43

– The teaching of the Apostles is a key part of the worship of Christian because they, 1) have the power of the Holy Spirit to teach and 2) were with Jesus after the Resurrection.

VIII.  1 Corinthian 15:9

– Saul (Paul) persecuted the Church of God, meaning that the Church was alive, up and running before the Bible came into existence.

IX.  1 Timothy 3:14-15

– The church is the pillar and foundation of the truth.

X.  Acts 15:1-29

– Representatives of the Apostles are sent to teach the truth from ‘the Holy Spirit and us.’

XI.   Revelation 21:10-23

– The heavenly Jerusalem has the Apostles as its foundation.

What Alabama’s National Championship taught me.

Perhaps you occasioned to watch the University of Alabama’s football team defeat the University of Notre Dame’s football team last Monday night to win the college football national championship for the second year in a row and for the third time in the last four years.  It was not much of a game as Alabama had things in hand by the end of the first quarter and by the first drive of the second half it was all over.  The dynastic dominance of Alabama and their head coach, Nick Saban, was firmly established.

As a Catholic priest I am obliged to root for Notre Dame and as a son of the mid-west and chaplain at a Big Ten school I am bound to have a healthy animus against the football-crazed south.  Therefore I was all exited to disdain Alabama and let my angst at their victory show itself by detracting from what certainly must be a lame university and a vice-ridden and over-zealous football culture.  But then I did a little investigation and was quite turned around.

Regardless of what one thinks about major college football – there is a gaudy amount of money and a clear over-importance placed on this game – there is a lesson to be learned about what makes for a successful and virtuous person and team.

First is the coach, Nick Saban.  Mr. Saban is a practicing Catholic (which certainly endears him to me) and, by all accounts, a virtuous man.  He is good to his family and straight with his players.  He has a reputation for tireless work and a solid routine.  Further, while he is very demanding of his assistant coaches he treats them fairly – assigning a clear task with clear expectation.  He is no harder on his players than he is on himself and his players seem to all report a great respect for him.

Second is a clean football program.  The University of Alabama football team has been the least penalized team in college football the last five years running.  The team has a graduation rate of 77%, which is higher than the student body of most major American universities.  Lastly, the football program has not had even a whiff of NCAA violations.

Third is that it’s not all born talent.  Alabama, under Nick Saban, had never had the number one recruiting class in the country.  Certainly talented players come to Alabama but they also grow a lot in their skill.  Running back Eddie Lacy, a superstar last season and a Heisman trophy candidate for next year, was the 13th highest rated running back coming out of high school and the 116th rated recruit overall.  At Alabama they seem to know how to work, how to sacrifice and how to get better, how to become the best.

Last, they succeed.  Only the jealous could argue.  My point is this: don’t hate success, try to emulate it.

Of course there are plenty of instances where the successful have cheated, worked the system, brutalize others to succeed, prevented others for succeeding.  All the more reason to highlight success when it is done the right way.

Set clear goals.  Learn from others who achieved those goals.  Hold yourself and others accountable.  Avoid mistakes and pitfalls.  Keep bad influences away.  Work hard.  Sacrifice  for your goal.  Get the most out of what you have.  You will succeed.

These are all Christian ideas and translate so easily to the spiritual life

I am not canonizing Alabama football or Nick Saban.  Nor am I saying that football is life or even should be.  What I am saying is that it is very encouraging to see success, the achievement of goals, done in the right way.  Who knows if it will continue, but for the moment I will learn a lesson – don’t hate the Saints, don’t put them on unreachable pedestals, don’t watch them like characters in a movie –  BE LIKE THEM.