Sunday, June 30, 2013

NAC, Angelus, the Heart of Rome

Today we began with mass at the Pontifical North American College, or NAC, where fellow Diocese of Cheyenne seminarian Bob Rodgers attends seminary. The NAC is a college operated by the bishops of North America to give American seminarians the opportunity to study in the heart of the Church. The NAC is not technically in the Vatican like I thought, but is an "Extraterritorial Vatican Property" as I found out today. In any case, it has an excellent view of St. Peter's dome from the roof. Here is a picture of the chapel and the view from the roof.



After mass at the NAC, we attended the Holy Father's weekly Angelus. The Angelus is a short prayer that commemorates Mary's "yes" and Christ's Incarnation, and the Pope also gives a short reflection on the Sunday's readings, blesses those present, and greets pilgrims. Today he talked about the importance of conscience and how conscience comes from listening to God and not from just doing what I want. He cited Pope Benedict as an example of a man who followed his conscience. It was beautiful to see how much the Italians especially have come to love Pope Francis. Here is the window as we wait for the Pope, and then just after he appears. What a holy presence!



There is a spot on either side of the St. Peter's square where the curving columns, which are four rows deep, all disappear behind the first row, because they are aligned just perfectly. Take a step forwards or backwards and the additional rows reappear, but stand right here and you can't tell there are four rows. How did they build this in the 17th century?


Then we started the "Heart of Rome" tour, described in a guidebook we had. We saw various fountains, plazas, churches, and markets, and we enjoyed the wine, coffee, food and street performers on the way. This tour really made me feel like I was in Rome. What a great day!

Some street performers:



The Church of St. Agnes:



Wine!


The Pantheon:


The Trevi Fountain at night:



Apparently it's good luck to throw a coin over your shoulder into the fountain...


And the Spanish Steps, the last sight on this self-guided tour.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Assisi!

Today we visited Assisi, where Saint Francis and Saint Claire lived and worked in the 13th century. Most of Assisi is built on a hill and is full of narrow, winding streets and hills. It was truly a beautiful spot, and one day only scratches the surface of what this town has to offer. Assisi is about three hours north of Rome, so we also got to enjoy they Italian countryside on the way there. This is a view of Assisi and the surrounding countryside:


St. Francis was a worldly man from a rich family, and had a good life ahead of him when God appeared to him in a vision and gave him a new mission. God appeared to him and said, "Francis, rebuild my Church." The first church we visited in Assisi was the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli. This basilica contains within it the original parish church that Francis rebuilt when he heard God's command. Eventually, Francis realized that God meant more than just the parish church and went on to reform the whole Church. In response, Francis founded a religious order recommitted to the counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience. The basilica also contains the site of Francis's death, and a garden of thornless roses. The legend is that one time Francis rolled in the rosh bushes as a penance when he was tempted to sin, and the roses out of sympathy dropped all their thorns. The church within the basilica:


Then we moved to the actual Basilica of St. Francis, where Francis is buried today. Before anything else, we celebrated mass at a side altar of the lower church. The first thing we did here was celebrate mass at a side altar of the lower church. This basilica contains three churches: the upper church, the lower church, and then below the lower church is a small crypt chapel where you can actually see and pray in front of Francis's tomb itself. In the crypt chapel the altar is in front of Francis's tomb, and the altars in both the upper and lower church are situated directly above Francis's tomb. The upper and lower churches are filled with frescoes that depict the life of Francis. Unfortunately, pictures weren't allowed inside any part of this basilica, so you'll have to visit it for yourself. Instead here are some shots of the exterior:



We stopped briefly at a church built over the sight where legend says that Francis lived with his family before his conversion. Since the family was rich, this church is in the center of town. This church contains a small room where supposedly Francis was locked by his father to try to dissuade him from answering his call from God. Here is the room:


Then we visited the Basilica of St. Claire. Claire was a young noblewoman who was impressed by Francis's work, so she gave up her rich lifestyle and joined him to found a counterpart female religious order. The highlights of this basilica are, of course, St. Claire's tomb, and the San Damiano Cross, the cross Francis in front of which Francis was praying when he heard the call from God to "Rebuild my Church." Same no-photo rule, so the exterior view:


After St. Claire's we had a bit of time to wander, so I climbed as high as time allowed in Assisi to see the view from below. I found some residential areas, where someone had a 10 ft yard, but it looked out on Assisi and the countryside below:


Then we enjoyed a wonderful meal, served one course at a time over about two and half hours before hitting the road back to Rome. Overall, a wonderful day!

Friday, June 28, 2013

Roma!

After a day of great travel, we finally arrived in Rome on Friday afternoon! Perhaps the highlight of our arrival is that we finally connected with Bob Rodgers, our seminarian Wyoming who is studying in Rome. 

Our hotel is about a fifteen minute walk from St. Peter's, and from certain points you can see the dome of St. Peter's from our hotel. The room is cozy, but is more than I need. The hotel will be serving us about one meal a day during this trip, and because it's Italy, the hotel has two chapels in it so we also celebrated mass.


At this point, after a full day of travels, we were all exhausted and the sensible ones went to bed. But about twenty five of us couldn't resist the chance to see St. Peter's Square at night, so we made the hike over. The Square is huge, and had lots of visitors even at 11 pm. St. Peter's is beautiful at night. After a quick visit to the Square, some went for gelato but I went to bed after a very full day. 



Layover History


Only one picture needs to be posted from our four hour layover in Frankfurt, Germany. As I left the Lufthansa plane, I noticed this sign. The plane was named for the German state of Hessen, which is where my ancestors come from and is where my surname comes from. I discovered family connections just passing through the airport! Onward to Rome!

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Local Preparations

When we all gathered in Cheyenne on Wednesday evening, the first thing we did was pray Night Prayer and have confessions. We're starting this trip off right. On Thursday morning we began with Morning Prayer and then we had a catechesis from Bishop Etienne. Prayer and catechesis, learning and growing in our faith, will be pillars of this trip. As the kids fundraised for the past year and a half, it was drilled into them that this is not a vacation, that they will be tired every day. A pilgrimage is a time to grow closer to God, and that doesn't happen without challenges.

After the catechesis we moved to the Cathedral, the heart of our own diocese, for an initial mass before we travel to Rome, the heart of the whole Church. This was actually Bishop Etienne's 21st anniversary of priestly ordination, and he gave a moving reflection on his time as a priest. After a quick lunch, we loaded up the charter busses to take us to Denver International Airport.

On the bus, no surprise here, more prayer, as we prayed a rosary to start our time on the road.


Our plane leaves at about 5:30 this evening for an eight hour flight to Frankfurt. Pray for safe travels for us, the next post should be from Europe!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Rome-bound

In a short time, I will be leaving my summer assignment at St. Matthew's in Gillette, Wyoming to join the Diocese of Cheyenne for a youth pilgrimage to Rome, the site of the martyrdom of Saints Peter and Paul and countless others. If Internet connections are easy to come by over there, and I'm told they are, then I hope to update this blog daily with pictures and stories. Stay tuned!

This is my first trip to Rome, so I am truly excited, but I am even more excited for the 100 plus youth from the diocese to see the physical center of our Faith (because the real center is always Christ) and to experience just how ancient our Catholic Church is. As an added bonus, we get to travel with our bishop, who actually did some of his seminary work in Rome. These kids have been fundraising for well over a year, and it will all pay off soon. Please pray for safe travels for all of us, and please pray that each of us may experience Christ's presence in His Church in new and profound ways. 

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Wide and Narrow Roads

“Enter through the narrow gate;
   for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction,
   and those who enter through it are many.
How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life.
And those who find it are few.”

These are the tough words that Jesus gives us in today's gospel. Jesus isn't vague about the reality or the possibility of hell. I told the folks at Mass this morning that we have to take seriously the reality of hell, because Jesus takes it seriously too. I think we should always be aware of the reality of hell, but the beauty of heaven far outshines any horror that hell can offer, so the bulk of our attention should be occupied by our God in heaven. When we try to make up for our sins out of a fear of hell, the Church calls that imperfect contrition. When we make up for our sins (which we inevitably commit) out of a love of God, rather than a fear of hell, the Church calls that perfect contrition. The love of God should motivate us to do the good works of the Christian life, not the fear of hell. The roads to heaven and hell are both available, one is narrow and one is wide. We want the narrow road! Luckily, Jesus also gives us a roadmap in today's gospel for finding the narrow road:
Do to others whatever you would have them do to you.
This is the Law and the Prophets.
We love God by loving others, the people he created and sustains in love. Do this, and you will find the narrow road!

Monday, June 24, 2013

Belonging and Suffering

This weekend, I was privileged to give the homily at three different parish churches: St. Matthew's in Gillette and its missions of St. Patrick's in Moorcroft and Blessed Sacrament in Wright. The Sunday readings were all about belonging, but you've got to look hard to find it. We all want to belong, we may not be able to identify it, or we may deny it (like I did when I was a teenager), but we all want to belong to some group, whether it's a family or church or social group. I want to explore this idea of belonging in the readings today, but stick with me because we'll have to look hard to find it.

To start looking at the idea of belonging, I actually want to start with the second reading. The second reading, from St. Paul's letter to the Galatians, we can see the the theme of belonging starting to emerge. Before Paul wrote his letter to Galatia, he had already visited In Galatia, Paul had already established the Church there, and after he left, problems arose and this required him to write his letter to them. In Galatia, there were Jewish Christian missionaries who had come in after Paul left and started telling the Galatian Church that they had to follow all the Jewish laws if they wanted to follow Jesus Christ. Paul, throughout all his writings, insisted to the Gentile converts that they did not have to follow all of the Jewish laws to follow Christ and be saved. They would be saved only through faith in Jesus Christ. Through faith in Jesus, they too could belong to the people to whom God had promised so much. That group is the Church, it's us. Paul wanted to tell the Galatians, and he wants to tell us, that through faith, we become heirs of God's promises, we belong to this group of God's chosen people. 

Then, if we back up to the first reading, the theme of belonging seems to disappear, and instead we hear a prophesy about Jesus, "him who they have pierced," and we hear about how this pierced side will be a fountain to purify us from our sins. This pierced side, this crucified Jesus, actually unites us into one common people.

In the Gospel, we see Peter declare that Jesus is the Christ, the promised one of God. In this reading, immediately after Peter declares who Jesus is, "You are the Christ of God," Jesus says that to follow him, to belong to this group, you have to carry a cross and even lose your life in order to follow him.

So let's imagine ourselves for a minute as one of Jesus apostles, as one of the Twelve that follow him around. In Luke's story, a lot of cool things have happened so far. It all started with that huge catch of fish, we've seen Jesus healing the sick and crippled, and he even raised a person from the dead. He's been telling the Pharisees off and making them look dumb, and we especially like that because we don't really like them anyway. And then we fed 5,000 people with only a couple of leaves and fish. Add all of this together, and we know we are where we want to be. We definitely want to on Jesus's side, because he is going places. Now, Peter has his great confession, he declared exactly who Jesus is! He figured it out! Can life get any better?

But then, Jesus talks about suffering. It's easy to understand that the apostles did not see this coming. Look at all the cool things were doing, we don't want to think about suffering and crosses. It's easy to imagine the apostles trying to hush him up when he says this, because so far they've only been wandering around, helping people and having a good time. You can imagine them saying, "Sometimes, Jesus says crazy things. Normally he's a great guy, but sometimes he says these off-the-wall things. We just ignore him when he says things like this."

Also, imagine how shocking it is to hear Jesus talk about a cross. The cross is an instrument of humiliation and execution, brought in by the Roman powers that are occupying Israel. To those who heard him, the cross could not be a path to holiness, and to talk about it like everyone needs to get themselves one of these tools of execution could not win him any friends. 

But if we believe him when he commands us to forgive our neighbor, if we believe him when he tells us how much the Father loves us, then we have to believe him when he tells us that we too must suffer. We have to believe him when tells us that following him requires carrying a cross.

I think sometimes we lose sight of the value of suffering. Sometimes, we forget how suffering, how undergoing trials and difficulties in our life, actually brings us closer to God. The saints all throughout our history, from the earliest martyrs to the saints of our own time, testify to the importance of suffering. But what sort of suffering am I talking about? It depends on the person, I think. Some people are invited to physically Jesus's pain on the Cross. For most of us, joyfully accepting the sufferings of daily life is all The Lord asks of us. St. Terese of Lisieux, one of my favorite saints, talked about the Little Way to holiness. She emphasized how much God loves us, and how we could love him in return simply by accepting joyfully the little things that come along with our daily life. She talked about the importance of fulfilling the duties God puts before you, duties to your family and your work, and fulfilling them well. 

This suffering that was predicted for Jesus, this suffering that is necessary for us, is how we belong to him, it's a necessary part of belonging to this group of Jesus's followers. It's necessary because Jesus suffered, and so we must suffer with him. Paul tells us that baptism and faith in Jesus is a necessary part of belonging to this group, and Jesus tells us that suffering is another component that is inseparable from the Christian journey.

It's never a fun thing to preach about suffering, but if Jesus talks about it then I have to also. We know, however, that suffering is temporary, but if we belong to this group of Christians, this group of sufferers, and if we endure through it, then the joy of heaven follows. So whatever sufferings your life entails, and I'm in a tough position because I don't know most of you well enough to know what your particular suffering is, accept it joyfully. By this suffering, you are being purified. By this suffering, you are growing closer to Jesus. So accept it and live it joyfully, because one day all sufferings will indeed end in heaven.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

St. Barnabas

Whenever we hear Jesus say in the Gospel that "You are the salt of the earth" and "You are the light of the world, the city set on the mountain," the danger for me at least is that I can get pretty full of myself, thinking "Yeah, I'm a pretty important guy, the world really needs me." Then I started thinking about this in the context of today's feast, that of the martyr St. Barnabas. As Christians, we really are that city on a hill, and when we live the Christian life, it is plain for everyone to see, both those who are attracted to it and those who are repelled by it. The danger of being like a city on a hill is that your enemies can easily find you and attack you. When we believe what the Church believes all the tough social issues today, abortion, homosexual marriage, contraception, and a host of other issues, we set ourselves up as targets because the world isn't even questioning the rightness of these things anymore, and that could lead us in the direction of St. Barnabas.

St. Barnabas was an early Christian, and a traveling companion of St. Paul. He owned land, but he sold it all and gave all the money to the young Church. He travelled far and wide, preaching Christ and truly becoming that city on a hill. But being a city on a hill eventually led to his enemies and the enemies of the Church finding him, and it led to his martyrdom.

Nonetheless, we are called to imitate St. Barnabas, and to be that city on a hill, to be the light in a dark world. It may lead to our martyrdom, no use mincing words there, but if we imitate his witness we will certainly imitate his joy in heave.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Miracles of All Sorts

Here is the homily I gave for the 10th Sunday of Ordinary Time. I gave this homily at my summer assignment,  St. Matthew's Parish, in Gillette, WY. Enjoy!

A great prophet has arisen in our midst! God has visited his people! Each of the readings today, put God's power on display for us to see. Along with his power, his special love for the outcast is evident. His power and love were present in the Old Testament, they were present in the person of Jesus, and they are present to us today, and our readings show this.

The widow in the first reading is the same widow that baked Elijah bread with the last of her flour. If you remember your Bible stories from Sunday School class, Elijah was sent to this widow by God, and Elijah asked her for bread. She said she had only enough ingredients to bake a bit for her and her son, and then they planned to die. But she fed him first, and then her jar of flour never ran out. She was blessed because she trusted the prophet of God.

But immediately after that episode, we have this story, where her son, her only thing worth living for, dies. Again, God comes through, with power and love, and rescues this widow. Already, God's special love for the poor and the outcast is evident.

Then we see Jesus doing the exact same thing, we see that Jesus has a special place in his heart for the poor and the outcast, and he shows them his power and his love by raising another widow's son from the dead. There's a lot going on in a miracle like this. The first and biggest thing, is his obvious love, and his ability to meet people where they're at and help them. He still does that for us today.

When Jesus raises someone like the widow's son from the dead, it also inserts him firmly into the Jewish tradition of prophets. In my bible classes at seminary, the one thing that has been drilled into me more than anything else is that you have to understand Jesus in the Jewish context he came out of. When Jesus raised a person from the dead, the Jewish people, who were steeped in their history, couldn't help but think of stories like Elijah in the first reading, where one of the prophets from their history also raised someone from the dead.

The Jewish people of Jesus's day were on the lookout for a savior sent from God to liberate them from the Romans who were occupying their land. This savior had to be strong, he had to be a ruler to lead Israel back to it's rightful place as God's chosen people. This poor carpenter from Galilee certainly didn't fit the bill, or so they thought, so he spent three years trying to demonstrate who he was and what he was doing.

The primary reason he raised the widow's sone from the dead was because of love. But it was also a lesson. He raised people from the dead to prepare the world for his own resurrection. After his death and resurrection, when rumors started to spread that this miracle-worker from Galilee had risen from the dead, people would naturally think about these other miraculous raisings that he had already accomplished. These other "lesser" resurrections prepared for the greatest resurrection. I only dare to call the resurrection of the widow's son today a "lesser" resurrection because he still had to die again. Only Jesus' resurrection paved the way for a new kind of life in which there would be no death.

What must it have been like to be around Jesus during his time on earth? When you see him raise someone from the dead, you know this isn't any ordinary man. God worked in powerful and visible ways when he was on earth with us. 

Meditate on what it would've been like to be this man raised from the dead, to receive a favor like this from this great man. And then what is it like to have received these favors when this man appears to be a criminal? Are you popular with the community? Are you condemned by the community. Perhaps people aren't sure how to take you. You're supposed to be dead. The Pharisees plotted to put Lazarus to death after Jesus raised him, because it was causing more people to follow Jesus. Are there similar threats to your own life? Perhaps people are afraid of you. Perhaps they need to poke you to see if you're real. What if you were the mother? You would love this man Jesus no matter what he appeared to be. 

It's important to really enter into these stories. Sometimes we have a danger of disregarding the stories like we hear in our readings today, because these are things that happen in "Bible world," and "Bible world" is something clearly different than the world we live in. Our world is filled with jobs and bills and deadlines, but it isn't filled with people rising from the dead. That's just strange, and that's not how things operate in our world, so we disregard these stories, or hold them at arm's length and don't really engage them. We must remember that the world Jesus lived in is essentially the same world we live in, although now we've added airplanes and Facebook. The world is the same, but God's way of interacting with it has changed.

Paul shows us how God interacts with the world today. Compared to what Jesus did in Paul's life, raising people from the dead is nothing. In the reading today, Paul recalls how God called him from his way of life in Judaism, from persecuting the Church, to actually preaching it and becoming its biggest promoter. God turned Paul's heart from hatred to love, and that is a far more impressive miracle than raising someone from the dead. This miracle, far more the miraculous resurrections of the other readings, show God's power and his love.

But here's what's interesting about what Paul says here. He says that the work he has done, the great things he has done, God set him apart for this from before he was born. Paul recognizes clearly that God has worked powerfully in him and through him. Paul recognizes that God wants to do great things in the world, and he wants to use people to do it. God's power and his love is manifested through us, in the love we have for those around us.

Sometimes we think God is absent from the world because we don't see miraculous resurrections like in the Gospel today. But miracles of all sorts still happen today. Every time a baby is born, you think that's not a miracle? Every anniversary a couple celebrates, you think that's not a miracle? These things don't happen without God's divine assistance. But even on the explicitly supernatural level, before the Church declares someone a saint, we expect and require two miracles as proof that this person is in heaven. And when have a healing or something that looks miraculous, we send the best doctors and experts around to try to prove it false. In the Catholic Church we still expect miracles as signs of God's power and love.

The Eucharist we celebrate is the greatest manifestation of God's power and love for us. In power and love, God becomes food for us to eat, so that his love might be made manifest through us. This is the greatest miracle of all! So approach this Eucharist with confidence, because through it, whatever miracles we read hear about in the readings today will be far surpassed in you, as Christ's power and love come alive in you.