Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Happy New Year

Sunday marked the beginning of the new liturgical year. May the year of grace 2012 bring health and goodness to you all.

It doesn't feel like Advent yet. I don't know why. Perhaps because it is still warm enough in the afternoon that I don't need a jacket. I saw on the news that there was snow in Michigan the other day...

Advent is a great season, but perhaps the most forgotten and under utilized. I think because we are so busy running around doing so many things. I encourage you (and me) to take some extra time this advent to truly prepare for the coming of the Lord. The proximate preparation for Christmas liturgically isn't until Dec. 17. Before then the advent liturgies focus on our preparation for the second coming of Jesus Christ. The collect for Mass on Sunday made this same point:

Grant your faithful, we pray, almighty God,
the resolve to run forth to meet your Christ
with righteous deeds at his coming,
so that, gathered at his right hand,
they may be worthy to possess the heavenly kingdom.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy
one God, for ever and ever.

What a beautiful image for us today: running forth to meet Christ. So much of modern day advent is characterized by running here and there making preparations for the holidays. This is not all bad, yet we ought to stay focused on He to whom we should be running towards.

Just a few thoughts on advent...

Spagetti Bowl Sunday

What would Thanksgiving be without football? Thanksgiving weekend ends with an epic game of American Football.

The tradition is that the New Men play a game of flag football against the Old Men. The New Men haven't won in something like 12 years. The pressure was on us since we're the biggest New Men class since the 1960's. It was made known to us that many alumni were placing their hopes and aspirations in our chances to beat the Old Men.

The game started out good for us. The first half was an offensive battle. The Old Men came out of half-time ready to play and we simply weren't able to make key stops on the defense. It was a great game, but the Old Men were victorious once again.

Afterwards I felt exhausted. Not because of the game, but because the whole weekend was so intense. From Turkey Trot to Spaghetti Bowl with lots of eating inbetween, it was a busy weekend. As a whole it was a wonderful experience of brotherhood. As the psalmist puts it, "how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity!" (Ps 133:1)

Catholic New Service did a great article on the game.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Rest in Peace

"So we are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God." II Cor 5:20

Msgr. William Lyons a priest of the Archdiocese of St. Louis for over 55 years and Spiritual Director at the North American College for the past 8 years passed away on Monday. He is a beloved priest and spiritual father for the seminarians at the college. His health failed him very quickly in the last week. He died at the end of Mass celebrated at the foot of his bed by his longtime friend, Cardinal Law.

Msgr Lyons was my own spiritual director these last few months. He really is a holy and humble priest. He helped me so much these last few months make the transition to life at the college so far away from home. My fellow new men got to know Msgr. when he led our silent retreat in September.

As a sign of his love and fidelity to his priestly ministry, Msgr Lyons never stopped administering the sacraments. For three weeks with what was probably a broken hip from the cancer in his bones, he stayed at the college hearing confessions and keeping up with his spiritual directees. I had gone to him for confession and spiritual direction only two weeks before he passed away. Even from his hospital bed he heard confessions and gave spiritual direction. Archbishop Dolan told us that his last words to him on the phone was that he was so happy to be going to the Little Sisters of the Poor (nursing home) because from there he could hear confessions and give spiritual direction.

Msgr. Lyons' funeral was celebrated today by Archbishop Carlson of St. Louis. Msgr. loved the college and her seminarians very much. So much so that his final wishes were to remain here in Rome to be buried and remain close to the college. He will be buried along side other American seminarians who in previous years before the invention of airplane passed away and were buried here.

This week I lost an awesome spiritual director and priest mentor, but now with faith and hope I've gained a powerful intercessor in heaven. Rest in peace Fr. Bill.

Vergine Immacolata: Aiutateci!

Lots To Be Thankful For

You might be wondering how the seminarians and priests of the North American College celebrated Thanksgiving thousands of miles away from the United States. Well for us, we celebrated Thanksgiving in typical NAC style...BIG. Thanksgiving is obviously not a holiday in Italy, but all of us take the day off of classes in order to celebrate Thanksgiving all together.

The day began with the second annual turkey trot 5k race around the Vatican. After the race we all gathered in our respective hallways for breakfast. Everyone pitches in and helps to cook breakfast, which we try to make as American as possible. My hallway also has the tradition of watching Charlie Brown's Thanksgiving.

At noon we all gathered in the main chapel for Mass celebrated by Cardinal George, Archbishop of Chicago. Archbishop Dolan of New York preached the homily. He reminded us all of the many things that we have to be thankful for. If you've ever heard Archbishop Dolan preach before you'd know that it was not only a really good homily, but really funny too. Eucharist mean thanksgiving in Greek. For us, the Eucharist is the central act of thanksgiving to God everyday.

Next came the big feast. Over 300 people filled the refectory to enjoy an American style thanksgiving. Everything tasted great. It wasn't as good as my Granny's and Grandma's turkey and dressing, but for Italians it was pretty good. And of course, they served us some pasta too. Another tradition is that the 5th year priests bake the pumpkin pies. This year the priests baked over 100 pies with another 20 being donated by the Americans at the naval base in Naples. After dinner I needed a nap!

After dinner some of us got together to watch some football. Just like back home, I watched the Lions lose to the Packers...again.

All in all it was a blessed day. At the end of the day I realized just how much I have to be thankful for...

Corso dei Tacchini

Thanksgiving at the NAC is full of rich traditions. One of those new traditions is a 5k race Thanksgiving morning. 60 seminarians and priests woke up early to run 5 kilometers at 6 in the morning around the entire Vatican City State. So I'm pretty confident in saying that this my first experience of running a race AROUND an entire sovereign nation. We had to run the race so early so as to avoid traffic. Along with the race there was also a costume contest.

This picture isn't the best since my head is cut off, but you get the point. You can see St. Peter's dome in the background.

After a brisk run in the morning we all were ready to put away lots of turkey at Thanksgiving day dinner.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Pilgrims on a Journey

Last week over 53 pilgrims from the Diocese of Gaylord made an eight day pilgrimage around Italy, ending in Rome. I was last week...forgive me for not posting for so long.

It was a wonderful visit. It was good to see so many people from home. Even though I didn't necessarily know everyone, it was great to have people around that knew where Tawas (my hometown) is. Two moments of the trip were especially poignant for me: First thing was when Matt saw his mom again after almost a year and half. I don't think there was a dry eye in the house. Second thing was meeting with Bishop again. Since he has experienced everything about living in Rome it was great to hear his advice and encouragement.

The other memorable aspect of the visit was attending Mass with the group at St. Mary Major and St. Peter's Basilica. Bishop celebrated Mass for us in the crypt near the bones of St. Peter. It was so powerful to be there with a sucessor of the Apostles, and not only any sucessor to the Apostles, but OUR sucessor, our tangible link to the Apostles.

Finally, the trip wouldn't have been complete without lots of tours and LOTS of food. Italians know how to enjoy life. Though after a week of feasting, I've come to realize that I need to run even more to try to stay fit. So luckily one of the pilgrims was kind enough to bring me new running shoes. Thanks!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

A New Year

The Holy Father celebrated Vespers (Evening Prayer) on Friday evening for the beginning of the new academic year for all the Pontifical Universities. All the students and faculties of the various Pontifical Universities were invited to St. Peters to pray in Vigil for the current academic year. During Vespers, the Holy Father delivered a moving homily on the importance of study in the life of seminarians, young religious and lay men and women. Also he reminded us that each vocational calling from the Lord must also entail a foundational encounter with the person of Jesus Christ. In his homily, he also mentioned the 60th anniversary of Serra International which was found in the US to promote vocations and to assist seminarians financially around the world.

Friday also was the liturgical memorial of St. Charles Borremeo. St. Charles is the patron saint of seminaries and seminarians.

Friday, November 4, 2011

To the East

This past weekend I had the chance to travel around a bit. Since All Saints day this year fell on a Tuesday, Monday and Tuesday classes were suspended. One of the opportunities while studying in Rome is to travel abroad. So I went with three other guys to Romania for five days.

Rather than give a blow by blow summary I'd rather share with you some of my impressions. I was most impressed by how kind and patient the Romanian people are. Even though none of us spoke a word of Romanian the people we encountered were extremely understanding and patient. A trait that I find that I myself don't always have with other Americans let alone foreigners. After spending sometime in a foreign country it doesn't take long to sympathize with those who come to the US form other parts of the world. Patience is key.

I was also impressed by our Jesuit hosts. For a few nights we stayed with a few Jesuits at their retreat house in Cluj-Napoca. I was especially impressed by a 94 year old brother who I saw still faithfully living out his vocation as a Jesuit. His first words of advice to us was to be sure to study hard and to learn languages (something Romanians are really good at...). Also, just as another brother was taking him to bed he pulled out his rosary and said, "I can't go to sleep yet, I haven't prayed my rosary. Push me to the chapel." The other brothers laughed and took him to the chapel. What a witness of a life of pray and dedication at age 94. We also learned that he had spent most of his life as a Jesuit in prison for his faith. Inspirational...

We also had the chance to go to Mass in Romanian and Hungarian. Since most of the Roman-Rite Catholics in Romania are Hungarian almost all the Masses available were in Hungarian. Hungarian is a completely foreign language to my ears. I didn't catch a word, but it didn't matter since we were still praying and participating in the Mass. Romanian has Latin roots so it was easier to follow along. Most of the country is Romanian Orthodox. It is a fascinating mix of western and eastern cultures throughout Transylvania.

Finally, the weekend was an opportunity to drive through the country side and take in some beautiful sites. The fall colors were amazing. It reminded me of Michigan. When I was back home it was easy to take for granted the natural beauty of Michigan... And of course, we got to visit the castle that is attributed to Vald the Impaler or as he is better known, Dracula.

All in all, it was a great weekend of exploration and learning. I'm in awe of just how big the world is...and yet each person is loved and known by God.