Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Verso l'alto

Verso l'alto (To the heights) -- Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati

This past Saturday I went 'to the heights' of a nearby mountain, Monte Gennaro (1271 mt.), which is about an hour drive from Rome.

The day trip began with Mass celebrated by a priest-professor from Santa Croce University. What a powerful way to begin not only a day of outdoor activity but really a retreat to the beauty of God's creation. Father Juan drove the three of us seminarians out to the mountain. One of the seminarians (on the left) is from the Spanish college, while the seminarian next to me is from the NAC.

The weather was perfect. In fact I was over prepared for cold weather. I hiked to the top with a backpack full of winter gear that I never needed. Even though the top of the mountain was covered in snow the air was warm enough to wear long sleeve shirts. I even got a sun burn! What a wonderful day, a chance to stretch out and breath some fresh air. I've never really actually hiked to the top of a mountain before. Ever since learning about Bl. Frassati and venerating his relics at World Youth Day 2008 I've had a devotion to him. He is an Italian 20th century blessed whose spirituality is grounded in the beauty of God's creation. I never quite understood his great devotion to mountain climbing and hiking as a form of prayer. After Saturday I think I understand a little bit better. We made time for personal prayer, communal prayer and even songs while we were hiking. But for me the most powerful moment was simply walking. The only care in the world was where to put my next footstep. So simple yet so profound. Everything else sort of melts away into the distance while God's presence becomes so much more real as I move through the wilderness up the mountain one step at a time. Little by little I make my way towards God, or better to say he comes down into the valley to bring us to the heights. One step at a time...

On a related note: I recently found out that in our own diocese a Frassati society has sprung up in the Traverse City Area. That of course is really good news for young adults in the TC area looking for some solid Catholic community.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Breakfast in Rome

Catholic News Service ran a story recently about the 50th anniversary of an important document promulgated by Bl Pope John XXIII about the importance of Latin in the life of the Church. The diocese of Gaylord's very own Msgr Gallagher was featured in the video article. He teaches a informal Latin conversation class over breakfast on Saturday mornings at a local coffee bar. I've gone a few times hoping that I won't forget all the Latin I've learned...

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

For the least of my brethren...

Today was not only the beginning of Lent, but also I started my work at my apostolate for this semester. I've been asked to work with the Missionaries of Charity. The Missionaries of Charity as you probably know were founded by Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Her order has spread throughout the world. I'll be helping out at the Sister's house near the Vatican called Dono di Maria. I believe Blessed John Paul II gave Blessed Teresa this house in order to begin ministering to the poor of the city of Rome.

I'll be helping the sisters prepare a hot meal for 60 to 70 men each Wednesday. I'm not the only volunteer on Wednesdays. Other seminarians from the NAC and from the Opus Dei seminary in addition to other Italian lay men and women who volunteer with the sisters on a regular basis. It was a lot of fun tonight interacting with the whole group of volunteers while we worked to prepare the meal. It will also be good way for me to practice speaking Italian.

One of the sisters told me that I'll have to be on my best behavior because all the sisters there know Bishop Hebda well. While he worked in Rome he celebrated the morning Mass for them once a week. Wednesday is Gaylord day for the sisters because Msgr. Gallagher (a priest of the diocese of Gaylord working in Rome) celebrates the Holy Mass for them in the morning and I'm there to work the men's dinner in the evening.

Needless to say I'm really looking forward to getting to know the other volunteers and the sisters, but more importantly to spread the love and joy of Christ through the small way that I've been called to minister to the poor.

Ashes to Ashes

"Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return"

Today begins the holy season of Lent, which is a time of preparation for the celebration of the Easter mysteries. Originally Lent was 40 day period of preparation for baptism that was eventually extended to all the faithful as an intensive time of prayer, fasting and almsgiving.

In Rome there is an ancient tradition called 'Station Churches'. Basically each day of Lent is assigned a different church where the 'stational' Mass is celebrated. In former times, the Pope would personally preside at a pilgrimage walk and celebrate the Holy Mass with the people of Rome at each station church during Lent. The tradition is quite ancient, perhaps from the around the 5th century. The North American in the last few decades has spearheaded a renewed interest in this tradition. You can go to the NAC website for more information. I honestly don't know much about the tradition, but I'm planning on making as many of the station churches as I can.

Some impressions from Ash Wednesday ...

I woke up early this morning for the pilgrimage walk to the first station church. Ash Wednesday is always celebrated at Santa Sabina on the Aventine hill. I checked the weather hoping that I wouldn't have to take my umbrella. Sure enough there wasn't any rain. I had to be sure to pack everything I needed for class since I'd be going from the church straight to the Angelicum. During the silent brisk morning march to Santa Sabina I was struck by several things. First that for more than a thousand years Christians have done exactly what I was doing in order to begin Lent. I felt surrounded not only by my brother seminarians, but also the numerous saints who had gone before. Second, I was surprised to find out that Santa Sabina is the burial place of several saints, but most famously of St. Thomas Aquinas. Aquinas is one of the greatest doctors of the church who has left us with a monumental work of theology that still guides theology today.

During Mass I was confronted by the intense mystery of the communion of saints. There is something special about actually being in the location where for centuries Christians have started the annual observance of fasting, prayer and almsgiving. Walking away from Santa Sabina I was left with a mark both physically on my forehead with ashes and spiritually by the fellowship with all those holy men and women of old and of today. And fundamentally I was marked or more accurately transformed by my encounter with the living God in the Eucharist. What a blessing... What a grace...

Hopefully as time allows I can share with you some of my impressions as we journey through the different station churches through the season of Lent towards to the great feast of the Paschal Lamb of God.

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Chair

The feast of the Chair of St. Peter is celebrated by the Universal Church on February 22nd. But this year that days is Ash Wednesday. So for almost the whole church this year the feast of the Chair of St. Peter is not celebrated. St. Peter's basilica since it houses the actual chair transferred the feast to Sunday.

The feast celebrates the primacy of Peter and his successors' the Pope. The great sculpture (see left) of the chair of St. Peter houses the wood fragments of a chair believed to be St. Peter's. The chair seems to float in midair supported by four great doctors of the Church, Sts Augustine and Ambrose of the West and Sts. Athanasius and John Chrysostom of the East. On this feast day the chair is covered in hundreds of candles. If you click on the photo you might be able to see them.

The other tradition for today's feast is the statue of St. Peter within the basilica is dressed in regal vestments. The interesting feature of this particular statue is that his foot is almost worn away by the number of pilgrims who rub it each day.

My First Consistory

This past weekend was everything but uneventful. Pope Benedict XVI created 22 new Cardinals in a ceremony called a Consistory on Saturday at St. Peter's Basilica. Two of the new Cardinals are American. Both Cardinal Dolan, Archbishop of New York and Cardinal O'Brien Archbishop Emeritus of Balitmore are former rectors of the North American College. It goes without saying that it was an especially important day for the college.

You can imagine how many people were trying to gain entrance into the Basilica on Saturday morning. I didn't have any luck getting in, but I returned to the college to watch the ceremony on TV. At first we couldn't find a channel that was showing the consistory. So I went and asked Paolo, one of the Italian workers. I figured he might know what channel to try. He smiled and said told me it would be on Rai 1. That's like someone saying, "Try NBC".

After the Consistory it was all hands on deck for the reception. We hosted close to 1500 guests at the college for a reception of the two new American Cardinals. My job title was 'runner' which consisted of literally running to keep all the food and drinks stocked in the courtyard. Luckily the weather cooperated and it was warm enough (sunny and 60 degrees) to host a lot of the guests in the courtyard. It was a great pleasure to meet some of the guests who had come thousands of miles to support their beloved bishops. I felt like I was in New York City with so many people speaking in a thick New York accent. During the clean up I was on the service elevator moving water to the kitchen, when Cardinal Dolan with his entire entourage comes into the kitchen to use the service elevator. It was great to see him interact with some of the Italian workers who had worked at the college since Cardinal Dolan was the rector. A fairly humorous way to meet a new Cardinal for the first time...

Early that evening on Saturday, there is a tradition of opening up the Apostolic Palace and Paul VI hall to the public so that the general public may have a chance to greet the new Cardinals. I waited in line to enter the Paul VI hall first. I waited in a line (more like a mob) of people to see Cardinal Coccopalmerio (top picture), who is the president of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts. Bishop Hebda had worked in that office under Cardinal Coccopalmerio before becoming the our bishop. I nervously spoke to the Cardinal in Italian and told him that my bishop is Bernard Hebda. His face lit up and we talked for a few moments. I also met Cardinal Collins of the Archdiocese of Toronto. I even knew where Gaylord is in Michigan. After touring the Paul VI hall I still had time to go into the Apostolic Palace. The rooms they had open are typically not open to the public. It was a real treat to see them.

Overall, it was a really fantastic weekend. It was busy, but it was a great pleasure to meet so many good people. It seemed like the whole city of Rome was a buzz with activity and everyone seemed so excited, so happy to have 22 new cardinals.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

A fresh start

With the end of exams at the Angelicum last Friday, the second semester began on Monday. After more than 10 days off after I finished my exams I was ready to make the 3k trek across Rome once again to commence a new semester. I'm really excited about this semester for a few reasons: 1) I think that I'm going to really like my classes this semester. 2) With my first semester in a new system under my belt, I feel less anxious and prepared to study more effectively. 3) Its just a great privilege to be studying what I've wanted to study since high school: Theology.

Here are a few of my classes this semester:
  • Introduction to Christian Worship: I have a great love or the Liturgy so this class should be one of my favorites.
  • World's Religions: A quick survey of the beliefs of the world's great religions - especially New Age Spirituality which is especially popular these days as an alternative to "organized" religion.
  • Synoptic Gospels: A indepth study of the Gospels according to Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Obviously the Gospels are at the heart of the Christian life so this class should be especially insightful
  • Fundamental Moral Theology: I heard that this class will blow me out of the water with its depth and richness. It is taught by a theologian that the Holy Father has appointed as his personal theological adviser.
  • Acts of the Apostles: Same method as the Synoptics class...
  • Christian Archaeology: Most of this class will be spent exploring the ancient churches of Rome and learning about ancient Christianity through archaeology.
  • Patriology: This class will focus on the early Church Father's and their seminal writings
  • Eschatology: This is the study of "last things". Specifically concerning the theology of heaven, hell, purgatory and the second coming of Christ. Should be fascinating.
A pretty full semester, but one that I pray will be full of grace.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Prayers for the Cause of Bishop Baraga...Today!

Tomorrow, Feb 7th, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints will be reviewing the life and work of Bishop Baraga. They will be deciding if Bishop Baraga can be declared Venerable. This is an important step towards his possible beatification and canonization. Bishop Sample, Bishop of Marquette, has asked for a day of prayer and fasting. You can read more here.

Ever since I've learned of the life and work of Bishop Baraga, I've always been inspired by him. What a great model of priestly zeal and evangelical spirit.

Let us pray that tomorrow's meeting will go well!

Over the Weekend

I haven't had a chance to post lately, but there has been a lot of excitement in Rome this past weekend. From a monster snowstorm to the Super Bowl to everything in between.

First, I took some pictures of the Ad Limina Mass on Friday at the tomb of Bl. John Paul II. I know for many of the bishops that Bl. John Paul II was very important during the ministry as priests and bishops. Bishop Blair of Toledo celebrated the Mass and also blessed all of our throats since it was the feast of St. Blaise.

On Friday it began to snow and did it ever snow. By Michigan standards it wasn't much of a storm, but for a city without plows, shovels or salt, it was a major snow storm. It was fun to walk around and see everyone revert to child like behavior. Snow ball fights even broke out in St. Peter's square! Here are a few pictures I took. St. Peter's looked prw etty amazing in the snow.
I can't believe how long the snow has been lasting. Today is Monday and the ground is still covered. The snow storm started when the Michigan bishops had their audience with the Holy Father. Some gift to the Pope huh!

These are the orange trees in the courtyard at the NAC. You don't see orange trees covered in snow very often...

Later on Friday, We managed to venture out for some dinner. Msgr Gallagher and Fr. Mariano (the Pastor at St. Philip Neri in Empire) joined Matt, Bishop and I for dinner. What a treat to have dinner with the bishop, two priests and a seminarian from the diocese. It was really great evening. Msgr Gallagher was able to pick up his car from the Vatican parking lot and drive us up the hill so we didn't have to walk so far in the snow.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

More Ad Limina...

Early this morning, I joined the other Bishop of Michigan and Ohio for the celebration of Holy Mass at the tomb of St. Peter in the crypt of St. Peter's Basilica. Archbishop Schnurr of the Cincinnati was the main celebrant for the Votive Mass of Sts. Peter and Paul. I'm always struck to the core when I hear chapter eight of the Gospel of St. Mark proclaimed when Peter makes his confession of faith: "You are the Christ, the son of the living God." There, right in front of me, are the earthly remains of St. Peter surrounded by numerous other successors of St. Peter. The Holy Mass this morning was a powerful time of prayer and thanksgiving for all the good gifts of God which He has bestowed on the diocese of Gaylord. My prayer was especially for an increase of vocations so that like St. Peter others may hear the call and drop their nets to follow Christ.

I also took a moment to pray at the tomb of Pope Paul VI who guided the church through part of the 1960's and 70's. Sometimes he gets lost in the shuffle of the other great popes of the 20th century. Nevertheless his great letter, Dignitatis Humanae, on the dignity of Human life was prophetic. I look around at so many of my peers and I want to just run up to them and say: "God has made you for so much more than cheap and meaningless love. Freedom isn't endless options, but True Freedom is a gift from God. God isn't simply a lawgiver from afar, but a loving tri-personal God who chose to lift us out of the dirt of our own abuse of freedom to give us true love in true freedom. I know from bishop's letter on the HHS ruling about Conscience protection that he planned to pray for these very issues. The Cardinal Archbishop of Chicago has been quoted saying, "I plan on dying in my bed, my successor he will die in jail and his successor will die as a martyr in the public square." How I pray that it won't come to a general persecution anywhere in the world, but surrounded by the early martyrs of Rome, I can't help but pray that I will have the courage to stay steadfast in the faith.

I also made it to the Pope's Wednesday audience today. I sneaked into back just before it started. The Holy Father taught today on the importance of praying like Jesus did in the Garden on Holy Thursday. We must abandon ourselves to the will of God.

Oh. Wish me luck, only one more exam!

More Ad Limina updates forthcoming.