Taking up the Cross

As I continue to prepare for diaconate there are many new beginnings, but also some endings too.

Today was one that started off with such an ending. For the last time I served Mass.

I remember distinctly one of the first times after I started attending Mass regularly, I turned to my mother and pointing to the altar server carrying the Cross, noted that I wanted to do just that, serve Mass and carry the Cross.

For the next few years I waited with eager anticipation for the day I would be able to serve. I remember getting asked to serve for the first time. I served when the priest asked me because the trained kids didn’t show up. I was nervous because I had no clue what to do.

Then we moved to New Jersey and I was formally trained. For the first few years all I wanted was to be the biggest and strongest kid on our “team” so I could carry the Cross.

Finally I got to that point and I kept on serving through high school and into college.

Obviously in a seminary we have Mass everyday and there’s an over abundance of overly qualified servers floating around. At the NAC, those of us who are acolytes take turns three at a time each day. There is one who helps with the Missal, one with the bells, and the third with the Cross.

Today was the last time I will be on the schedule as a server. The next time, please God, I will be a deacon.

Quite fittingly today I was slotted into the third spot, Cross bearer.

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. -Matthew 16:24-25

Last day of first cycle classes

Today was a big day for many of my classmates and I, we finished our classes for the so-called “first cycle” of theology which grants one a pontifical degree known as the S.T.B. Next year I will begin another degree for “second cycle,” which leads to an S.T.L.

Many of my classmates who came here from over 40 countries will not be returning. Many of them will be returning to their home countries or sent out on mission to begin new apostolates and ministries, sharing what they’ve learned here in Rome. Today was the day to say our goodbyes. We might run into each other during exams, but today was our last day all together after three years.

Of course, I have a theory, that for those who give their lives in service to the Church, there is no such thing as “goodbye,” only “see you later.” I don’t know when I’ll see some of my classmates again, but with all of the events that take place in the Church, you never know when you might just run into someone again. Even if it’s 30 years from now, it’s still, “later.”

That still didn’t make certain parts of today somewhat sad and difficult in saying “see you later,” to so many good friends whom I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know these past few years. When people ask me what I like most about studying in Rome, my first response is always my classmates at the university and the seminary.

Here’s a photo of the group of us after one of our classes this morning.

Many of my classmates gathered together for a photo on our last day of classes.
Many of my classmates gathered together for a photo on our last day of classes.

Reflection on Fr. Augustine Tolton and the Priesthood

As I mentioned in a previous post, I am now in the summer exam period. Unlike the United States, here exam period is not one week, but three. Our exams are all comprehensive and all 10 minute oral exams.

This semester we had a professor who threw my classmates at the Gregorian and I for a little bit of a twist. The course is on the Sacraments of: Ordination, Matrimony, Anointing and Reconciliation. We had to do a unique assignment that would turn into a great opportunity to share our cultures.

The assignment was to compose a short simple reflection on the life a person who has lived in our country in the last 150 years. The reflections were to be no more than one page and were to tie a quote from the figure to some of the theological themes we have discussed in class. We then had to get together in pre-determined groups of three to share and discuss our persons of interest. The groups were set up by the professor so that each of the three students came from different cultures. I was in a group with a young Italian lay woman and a Croatian seminarian. We had a great discussion.

I chose Fr. Augustine Tolton, the first African-American priest, who was baptized in my diocese.

I thought I’d share my reflection here too.

Introduction

Servant of God, Fr. Augustine Tolton was born as a slave on April 1, 1854 in Brush Creek, Missouri. His slave owners were Catholic and allowed him to be baptized. In 1862, after the death of his father, Fr. Tolton escaped slavery along with his mother and siblings. They resettled on the other side of the Mississippi river in Quincy, Illinois. Young Augustine worked in factories, but loved Mass, eventually he got a job in the rectory so he could study under the priests. He himself wanted to be a priest, but was rejected by every U.S. seminary and many religious orders. Finally, he was accepted by the Propaganda Fidei, getting ordained in 1886. He believed that he would be sent to Africa to minister and evangelize. In a surprising move he was then sent back to Illinois to serve black Catholics until he died of heat exhaustion while visiting the sick in 1897. He was the first African-American priest.

Quotation

The Catholic Church deplores a double slavery – that of the mind and that of the body. She endeavors to free us of both. I was a poor slave boy but the priests of the Church did not disdain me. It was through the influence of one of them that I became what I am tonight. I must now give praise to that son of the Emerald Isle, Father Peter McGirr, pastor of St. Peter’s Church in Quincy, who promised me that I would be educated and who kept his word. It was the priests of the Church who taught me to pray and to forgive my persecutors… it was through the direction of a Sister of Notre Dame, Sister Herlinde, that I learned to interpret the Ten Commandments; and then I also beheld for the first time the glimmering light of truth and the majesty of the Church. In this Church we do not have to fight for our rights because we are black. She had colored saints – Augustine, Benedict the Moor, Monica. The Church is broad and liberal. She is the Church for our people.” [1]

Theological Reflection

The circumstances of the death of Fr. Tolton are a powerful expression of the sacrificial priesthood, a total giving of self for others. He died bringing the Eucharist, anointing and confession to the sick and dying. This makes it quote easy to see the intimate connection between the priesthood and the Eucharist, Christ gave up his life man, Fr. Tolton gave up his life for his parishioners. He also speaks of the importance of the Church. In the above quote one can find the vocational aspect of the priesthood, that is that God frees us from slavery of sin, but calls us to do his will. This is seen in the life of Fr. Tolton, a freed slave who makes a promise of obedience to the Church. A man who thought he would be sent to Africa, but was sent back home to a much more hostile environment, and by obedience, he went. This is the great paradox of this man’s life. In this way he unites himself with Christ who is God, who humbles himself not only to become man, but, “taking the form of a slave…becoming obedient to death, death on a cross.” (Phil 2:7-8). Fr. Tolton demonstrates how one can find true freedom by following the will of God, and obediently serving his Church. It is obvious in this text that the has a great respect for the Church, in which demonstrates the closeness of the priest with the Church, with the people of God, the mystical body of Christ. His reverence shows the priest is always united to the Church, through prayer and sacrament. The text also expresses the importance of the priest’s role of teaching. Fr. Tolton was grateful for the teaching of an academic subjects that he received from priests. However, this also another kind of teaching referenced, not an instruction of academics, but rather an instruction of the heart. He notes that it is from the priest that he learned to pray and forgive his persecutors, who were many in his time. Thus the priesthood is also an instructing the faithful in how to grow in their relationship with God through prayer and the forgiveness of their persecutors.

Here is the prayer we can all pray for Fr. Tolton’s Cause for Canonization.

O God, * we give you thanks for your servant and priest, Father Augustus Tolton, * who labored among us in times of contradiction,* times that were both beautiful and paradoxical. * His ministry helped lay the foundation for a truly Catholic gathering in faith in our time.* We stand in the shadow of his ministry.* May his life continue to inspire us * and imbue us with that confidence and hope * that will forge a new evangelization for the Church we love.

Father in Heaven, * Father Tolton’s suffering service sheds light upon our sorrows; * we see them through the prism of your Son’s passion and death.* If it be your Will, O God,* glorify your servant, Father Tolton, * by granting the favor I now request through his intercession * (mention your request) * so that all may know the goodness of this priest * whose memory looms large in the Church he loved.

Complete what you have begun in us * that we might work for the fulfillment of your kingdom.* Not to us the glory,* but glory to you O God, through Jesus Christ, your Son* and our Lord; * Father, Son and Holy Spirit,* you are our God, living and reigning forever and ever. Amen

Prayer found on http://www.toltoncanonization.org

1. The quote can be found on pg. 22 of the Biography found here.

Expressions of Catholicity

Over the last two years I have been blessed to attend many Papal Masses. These Masses are always attending by thousands and thousands of Catholics all over the world. For me seeing the people from all over the world become powerful and palpable expressions of the Catholicity of the Church.

As I was going through some old writings the other day. I came across an old article which expresses this same truth.

Reading the old article found below, along with some of the articles from the last few months, I think it is pretty easy to see the common experiences expressed. In fact, I would go so so far as to say that these articles themselves express the Catholicity of the Catholic Church.

Mass at the Shrine

February 1, 2010 by Geoffrey A. Brooke Jr.
After spending 22 hours on a bus from Jefferson City, Mo. to Washington D.C. and unloading our bags at our gracious host parish we headed to Mass at the National Shrine. We arrived around 4 pm for Mass that was scheduled to begin at 6:30 pm. When we arrived two and a half hours early, the entire Basilica was packed. I’m not sure there were any seats left in the main upper church, I know that many of our pilgrims got seats in the crypt church below where they were able to watch the Mass on a television screen.

All of the seminarians were told to vest and gather in one particular area of the crypt church. It was really wonderful to meet some new seminarians from all over the country as well as catch up with old friends who now study at different seminaries.

Eventually we formed a line and then began the procession, the seminarians alone took 21 minutes to process, the overall procession time was around 45 minutes. As one of the first seminarians seated, I was afforded the luxury of watching all of the other seminarians, deacons, priests, bishops and cardinals process in to participate in the Mass. What a beautiful testament of faith to watch as all these men of faith approached the altar.

As mentioned, the Shrine was packed which made for a very intense experience of the Mass. Every time there was a song to sing there were so many people joining the already amazing choir which led to the entire Shrine being filled with a very powerful sense of spirit and worship. The Mass was celebrated by Cardinal DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, I really enjoyed his homily as it touched on the important issues of Life while still being coherent and enjoyable to such a young crowd. While I may be biased, I particularly enjoyed his baseball analogies.

During the Mass I remember looking around, amazed at all the people, just like on NCYC, these people, both young and young at heart, from the East Coast, West Coast, North, South, City, Country were all united as ONE that evening. United in worship of the real presence of Jesus Christ in the Mass, united and preparing to fight for something they believe, the right to Life!

Another reflection I had on the Mass was that it was the perfect way to start the activities in Washington D.C. Here were somewhere between 10,000 to 20,000 people celebrating and recognizing that Jesus Christ, our Lord, gave up HIS LIFE for OUR LIVES… How beautiful was it that we, as the Body of Christ were preparing to stand up and March for the Right to Life that next morning. Just as Jesus instituted the Eucharist at the Last Supper the night before he was Crucified on the Cross for our sins, we participated in this meal before we marched for those who have unjustly lost their lives.

Do we have any other choice than to stand up for the lives of others? From conception to natural death we have no choice but to stand up because if we want to honor our baptismal call to be a part of the Body of Christ, we must act as Christ acted.

Moments of gratitude

Yesterday I had to give an hour long presentation on Matthew 9:1-8 for my seminar class at the Gregorian University.

Before class I was in the computer lab printing off some handouts for the presentation, when amidst the stress, I was filled with awe and gratitude. I just found myself in awe of the places God has taken me since saying Yes to his will. Places and situations which a few years ago I would have never imagined remotely possible. I felt this becaue there I was sitting in a computer lab which was not unlike any computer lab at Mizzou or in high school, but this time I was sitting amongst students from all over the world in a place far away from home. This was reinforced when I then went to my seminar where the 14 students come from 8 different countries. A place and situation I would have never imagined, but there it was, a total gift.

Then in the evening as I prayed and reflected some more I began to recall so many of these gifts and other moments in which I was able to stop and realize how I was in a place I never would have imagined, such as Albania.

Furthering that reflection I was going through some old writings when I came across a piece found below from my first semester of seminary, in which one sees the same reaction of awe. Now nearly four years later some things haven’t changed. Going through some of these writings for the no longer active Jeff City Seminarians Blog was interesting to see parrallels with my current situation. I’ll try to post some more with updated reflections in the next few days and weeks.

A trip to the Nelson-Atkins

December 7, 2009 by Geoffrey A. Brooke Jr.
This semester I am taking a class in basic design, sometimes known as art class. It’s actually a rather enjoyable class. This past Saturday we had a “field trip” to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City. Due to a variety of understandable reasons the trip ended up being a rather small group. I went along with a fellow transfer junior from Wichita and our instructor, Fr. Pachomius Meade OSB, who is originally from Palmyra, Mo.

I really had a wonderful time. It was nice that the group was so small because we could actually see what we wanted to see and not follow some big group around in a rushed manner.

We primarily looked at two types of art, the first being Baroque religious art, the second being 20th century contemporary art. I think the religious art is for obvious reasons, the contemporary art was focused towards our final project for the class.

When I was younger my parents used to always take me to museums, most of the time I failed to appreciate the art. However, as I have gotten older, and perhaps wiser, I have come to appreciate the art much more. My main source of appreciation comes from a source of amazement. I find myself amazed at what some people can do with a paintbrush. Art is not one of the gifts I received from God, however, I can see it and respect it in the work of others who do have that gift, while being grateful for the many gifts I have received from God.

At one point I couldn’t help but think about the path I’ve taken the past 15 months or so to lead me to where I was on Saturday. Last fall, I would have found it hard, although not impossible, but hard to believe that 15 months later I would be in an art museum with someone who went to KU for two years and a monk. I couldn’t help but smile and be grateful for all the blessings I have been able to receive in the past several months, one of those being this fun, and educational trip to the art museum.

Adventures in Albania

On February 7th I wrote the first post on this site in over four years. I mentioned that in addition to new posts, during the break I would try to write a few “catch-up” pieces from different experiences over the last couple of years. To that I end I wrote two pieces on my pilgrimage to the Holy Land this past Christmas; one with general thoughts, and another post recounting two specific stories.

Of course on February 7th I had no idea what was coming on February 11th and the seven weeks between then and now. So most of the postings since then have been focused on my experiences during those historic days.

Now that I have another break for Easter, I’d like to do a little more “catching up,” in particular I’d like to share some reflections on my time in Albania last summer.

After our first academic year in Rome, we were not permitted to return home. We were however given the freedom, with diocesan and seminary approval to be adventurous and look for different opportunities. As a result 67 men in my class were spread out all over the world. To my knowledge we had guys in at least (I’m sure I’ll forget some) the following countries, England, Ireland, France, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Italy, Poland, Israel (Holy Land), Ukraine, Taiwan, Tanzania, India, Hong Kong, and of course Albania. This all led to some amazing table conversations when we all got back.

For the sake of time what I’ve done below is cut and past different parts of various reflections, reports, e-mails etc. that I wrote when I returned to Rome. Thus it won’t flow as a single narrative, but hopefully it paints a picture of my life in Albania and the lessons I learned.

Ringing the bell to let everyone know we had arrived.
Ringing the bell to let everyone know we had arrived.

A quick overview: When I was in the flatlands, I helped in the health clinic, primarily relying on my experience working at a pharmacy when I was in high school. In the mountains we were assigned three “villages” or sides of mountain ridges. We rotated between the three doing Catechesis Mon.-Sat. On Sundays we celebrated Mass at all three. Due to the lack of quality or lack altogether of roads we would take a jeep as far as we could go and then hike the rest of the way before ringing a bell to let everyone know we’d arrived. Then everyone on that ridge would make their way to the field where we met.

In response to a question asking for a description of our living situation, I wrote the following:

Dajç as viewed from my bedroom window.
Dajç as viewed from my bedroom window.

Dajç, Lezha, Albania: This was a rural farming community where I stayed with the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. I was here upon arrival in Albania before heading to the mountains for the missionary experience as well as after the mountain experience for another week. I stayed in the convent, in the guest wing. Both times I stayed at the convent there were four sisters present, though there was a change with two of the sisters between the first and second time I stayed with them.

The mountain ridge of Qibik, Albania.
The mountain ridge of Qibik, Albania.

Qibik, Albania: This is where I stayed during the missionary experience in the mountains. Here we stayed in a restaurant-hotel run by a family who also lived in the same structure. Our community was comprised of myself, two Albanian junior sisters of the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus who study at the Pontifical Lateran University, an Albanian seminarian in 4th theology studying at the national seminary in Albania, and an Albanian priest, ordained in 2002.

This hotel had part-time running water and part-time electricity, both would come on and off throughout the day and night. For showering and washing our clothes we had two trash buckets which we slowly filled with water, when it was running. We had one common room where we prayed, ate, and spent our community time. There were also separate rooms for the seminarians, nuns, and priest. These living quarters proved to be very formative for me, as it was a good opportunity to learn simplicity and poverty through actually living simplicity and poverty.

All five of us together.
All five of us together.

As for our community we were separated by a maximum of 13 years in age. I felt that we were able to establish a great community attitude and strong morale. With two nuns, two seminarians, and a priest we were well balanced. Our community time, whether it be at meals, traveling by foot or in the car, or during our time together in the evenings was one filled with a healthy balance of serious reflection and joy. There was certainly a great amount of laughter amongst us, particularly in the evenings as we relaxed after a long days work. In fact we would laugh so hard that one time one of the patrons in the restaurant below our rooms asked the waitress what was going on up above, to which she responded, “oh those are just some really joyful people laughing.” In addition to our obvious joy, we also took time in the car or afternoon to reflect on how the days activities had gone, and what could be done to improve. We also did a good job motivating each other to keep working as the work was very tiring. Given that four of us are students there were also several intellectually stimulating conversations about various theological topics and our experiences in our respective universities. All of these experience contributed to a very positive sense of community.

When asked, “What did you learn about the people and about the nature of diocesan ministry?” I responded:

Though my work was with a diocesan priest and seminarian, the nature of our ministry was missionary. That being said there were certain aspects of the experience that could be found in a diocesan setting.

One such example took place when we were sitting in our community on a Friday evening when we were called downstairs to the restaurant because there was a man who wanted to see us, his father was dying and he wanted the priest to come and perform last rites. We immediately prepared the necessary items and took off down the mountain to his house. In this experience I had to learn to comfort and aid the family as they were suffering a great loss.

Later, when it came time for the funeral of this same man I learned to be more adaptable. We planned on celebrating a funeral Mass for this same man, however when we arrived at the cemetery chapel, we saw that not only had the people removed the pews to create more room for everyone to stand, they had also removed the altar. Since we could not celebrate Mass we had to quickly change plans and celebrate a burial outside of Mass.

The most profound lesson I learned about diocesan ministry is the role of the priest amongst his people, his flock. The people in the mountains do not have a resident priest, which is why we went for the month of July. This meant that when we did show up, many were very happy to see us, they also had a very heathy respect for us and especially our words. The lesson that I drew out of this reaction, which is somewhat different than the reaction of people to priests in the United States is the importance of the priest to be amongst his people. We drove 3.5 hours into the mountains so that we could be among the people. This experience taught me, even with a different language and culture, it is important to amongst the people.

Another diocesan type of experience that I learned took place during the blessing of homes in the evenings. When we went to people’s homes to bless them, they were extremely generous. Many of the people on this mountain practiced sustenance farming, they grew what they needed, yet when we came to visit, they took from their own supply to give to us. They would offer fresh fruits and vegetables as well as homemade sausages, cheeses, and honey. They had nothing yet gave so much. At times I even felt uncomfortable taking food from them, however as the time went on I came to realize that I must learn to receive. I think I went in with the mindset of, “we are here to give this blessing” but failed to realize our need to be open to receiving. Another aspect of this receiving was to receive graciously and lovingly. In all charity, some of the people we met were better at making cheese, honey etc. than others, therefore some of the foods were not exactly tasty, enjoyable or pleasant to consume. What helped me to learn to receive graciously was the reflection on the fact that the people who had made these foods had done so with the best of their ability, and they were very proud of their work, they poured much energy and time into the making of those foods, and in many ways they poured themselves into these items. Thus what seemed like bad food became something beautiful, and if I didn’t enjoy a particular item I could offer my own minor suffering and desires as personal sacrifices, personal gifts, just has these people had given of themselves. For me eating these appetizers before the blessings of homes was a very humbling experience, which taught me that while I might want to go around and give, go around and do, sometimes God is calling us to give of ourselves through receiving from others.

Both of my experiences in the mountains as well as at the clinic helped me to understand that fundamentally ministry cannot be separated from prayer and the action of ministry cannot merely be seen on a human, material level, but rather must be seen, with “the eyes of faith,” such ministerial work must be seen also on a spiritual level. In the mountains this was felt through the realization that catechesis was not merely the act of teaching, but rather a passing down of the faith, an entering into the tradition of the Church as passed down to me and working to make that faith come alive in others who were younger, so that they might the same to others after them. This lens of faith and prayer as it comes to ministry also applies to the aforementioned description of eating food in the families of others, it became not just the act of eating but rather an entering into communion with these families. The experience of cold showers with no running water became a way of accepting a little suffering or discomfort for Christ and a way of entering into a solidarity with those to whom we were ministering.

This was by far the most profound and memorable experience of the summer. In my mind, there has not been a day yet when I have not been back to this man’s house. These words are very inadequate and most certainly don’t do the experience justice.

The most powerful individual experience of the summer was when one of the sisters and I were asked to go to a house to help a man in his early 30’s who had been severely burned. In an accident he became tangled with an electrical wire and suffered from both internal and external burning. The majority of his front side (arms, chest, stomach, legs, and feet) was covered in third degree burns, parts of his skin were charred. In particular there was a deep wound on his right side. For the most part I sat and watched as the sister began taking off his bandages and providing treatment to his wounds. As the sister cleaned his wounds with various creams, medicined etc., I could see the man writhing in pain, yet little to no noise was coming out of his mouth because his vocal chords were damaged, he was only able to speak in a very soft tone of voice. While all of this is going on, his mother was sitting in a chair at the foot of the bed. The mother was extremely distraught, emotional, and sad as she gazed upon her suffering son. In between her tears she would cry out a few phrases in Albanian, which translate to, “O Lord!” or “Thanks be to God.” I sat next to her and attempted to console her in her own pain and suffering. This lasted for an hour and a half. As I sat there soaking in this scene I found myself drawn to the scene of Christ’s crucifixion. I came to see this man as Christ suffering silently on the the Cross, and the mother, as Mary, weeping at the feet of her son. Furthermore, the man had this large gash in his side, just as the side of Christ was pierced. I was watching this sister, called an Apostle of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, clean, and repair this man’s pierced side, additionally as she cured him physically, she spoke to the man about understanding his suffering in relation to the suffering of Christ, her willingness to aid this man and bring him closer to Christ was to me a great act of reparation to the Sacred Heart.

Lastly, I was asked, “WHERE WAS GOD AT WORK in this experience: in you, in other people, and in the church?” My response was as follows:

The principle means through which I saw God at work was through the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. I have known these sisters for a long time, but before this experience my interactions with them were primarily either joining them in prayer or recreation. This was my first opportunity to live with and minister alongside the sisters.

A photo with the Apostles living in Dajç.
A photo with the Apostles living in Dajç.

Going into the experience, I had asked the sisters to work with them, they told me enough about the program that I felt it was something I would like to do. However, at the same time there were a certain number of unknowns with entering into a new culture, and going someplace I had never been before, and my first time in a place where I did not speak the primary language for an extended period of time. Yet, without ever meeting these individual sisters beforehand, I felt I was able to trust in them, much like I strive to trust in God. Furthermore, when incidents came up, for instance, getting my hand filled with thorns, I knew that the sisters would take care of me. These are two ways they personally helped me to grow in the way that I try to trust in God.

The clinic run by the sisters was free for patients, yet many felt the need to bring what little they had to give, mainly vegetables, milk and animals from their property. The food that the sisters received from those whom they served in the clinic was the food they ate, in other words, they relied on their work to sustain them, physically as well as spiritually. This reliance was to me a powerful witness of their assumption of poverty and solidarity with those in the village, just as Christ chose to become man among us.

Lastly, I saw God at work in this experience through the sisters by the very fact that God has given us this Church, and each of us a vocation in this Church. I was so grateful to God that he has brought me to this worldwide congregation. There is no doubt that I could see how God has worked in my relationship with this order that I was able to just show up in a foreign land with sisters I’d never met and was able to joyously and fairly seamlessly enter myself into their community because they share a common charism with all of their sisters whom I have met and know all over the world.

I hope that explains a little of my experience in Albania, if you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment. I have become quite fond of this country so often misunderstood or just not known to so many others throughout the world.

Sometimes it really is a small world after all

Last Saturday I attended the Easter Vigil Mass celebrated by Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Basilica. I’ve already shared about the experience in relation to the last several weeks.

I’d like to add a little more, this time focusing on the experience of waiting in line. Given that this Mass is such a “hot ticket” every year I went down to the square six hours before Mass. I was fortunate enough to attend with two other NAC seminarians who were also journalists before entering seminary.

When you must wait in line that long it’s always good to make friends with those around you.

Behind us was a very nice man who a professor from Providence College and is here teaching in Rome for the semester, he was joined by two of his children. They sat with us for the Mass as well. We parted ways and my parting thought was simply that it had been a pleasure to meet such a nice family.

The next day when I arrived in the square, it was packed. So I made my way into the closest open section and then looked for American college students studying abroad as I thought I’d be able to help them understand everything that was going on.

After Mass people started shuffling around to get close to the Pope as he drove by in the Popemobile. As this was winding down I ended up chatting with a family from Philadelphia. Then I saw on the screen the Holy Father embracing a special needs child. The family then noted that this child was on the other side of our section.

As for the many thousands who were then there, and the millions who have now seen on tv, I was exceptionally moved by Pope Francis’ embrace of this child.

Today I came across this beautiful blog post by the father of that child, as I was reading the post something clicked, I knew this man. I had met him just the night before. I had gone to the Easter Vigil with him and two of his other children.

Sometimes it really is a small world. You meet people, and seemingly life goes on, you just never know what grace the Holy Spirit will pour forth next.

Pondering on the Papal Transition of 2013 from Rome

On February 11, 2013 I woke up at my aunt’s house in London, I was to fly back to Rome that night after having spent a few days there relaxing after finals. In the morning I went to Mass and then thought I’d swing by the English language Catholic book store to see if they had any of the books I’d need for second semester.

Then everything changed. I was in the bookstore when I overheard a customer tell an employee he just heard on the radio the Pope is resigning. I froze in shock, did a double take, listened closer. There was a part of me that doubted him, but another part, deeper in my heart that felt this was true. So I quickly made my purchase and rushed back to my aunt’s house to turn on the news.

The emotions of those first few hours and days were so varied and intense. In particular I remember that Ash Wednesday, February 13th, about which I have already shared my reflections on this blog and in the diocesan newspaper.

Those first few days were just “Phase 1” of these past seven weeks. This is what I think of as the “announcement phase.

Phase 2: The waiting game

After Ash Wednesday, there were the final two Sunday Angelus prayers of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. Those experiences very similar to the first few days in that they were intense, but they were just serving as the bridge to the final hours of Pope Benedict’s papacy. Overall these two weeks were some what of a down time. It was the calm before the storm. This was the time for the significance and reality of everything to begin to sink into our minds and hearts.

Phase 3: Saying Goodbye

After the few weeks of preparation it was time to actually say goodbye. This goodbye would take roughly 36 hours. It began on the morning of Wednesday February 27 when I got up to attend Pope Benedict’s final public appearance, his last Wednesday General Audience.

I am joined by Msgr. Cox and Dcn. Doke at the last General Audience of Pope Benedict XVI
I am joined by Msgr. Cox and Dcn. Doke at the last General Audience of Pope Benedict XVI

I was very fortunate at the time to have my pastor, Msgr. David Cox in town for a sabbatical program. Therefore, we were able to go together along with Deacon Jason Doke. Being able to attend such an important event with two great men from my diocese made the day all the more special.

In particular, what I reflected on at the time, and still remember is the experience of the universality of the Church. Certainly, every Sunday at the Angelus or any other Papal event, this is on full display and always most noticeable through the dozens of different flags seen in the square. However, on this occasion, that universality was all the more palpable, perhaps it was just the heightened emotions brought on by the significance of the event, or perhaps the beautiful ecclesiological discourse given by Pope Benedict.

The universities cancelled classes that morning, but it’s pretty safe to say that we still learned quite a lot.

The next day, Thursday was the last of Pope Benedict’s nearly eight year pontificate. In general I recall a somewhat somber mood that day. We had the full slate of classes in the morning but my mind was more focused on the moment.

In the afternoon it was time for the final goodbye. We are blessed with a location very close to the Vatican and just happens to be in the flight path between the Vatican and Castel Gandolfo. In fact in the past the we had seen the Pope fly overhead on his way to and from Castel Gandolfo. Obviously, this time was different.

Waving goodbye to Pope Benedict XVI
Waving goodbye to Pope Benedict XVI

There must have been over 200 of us who all gathered on our rooftop terrace, all armed with cameras, flags and signs. In some sense it was a very simple moment, a bunch of people on the roof and a helicopter flying overhead. Though, however simple it might have been, it was definitely a somber and memorable moment.

Every Thursday evening at 8:00 PM, we have something called “Formation Night.” On that particular evening we were learning about the Ministry of Acolyte, which we received the following Sunday.

8:00 PM Rome time was also the official begining of the Sede Vacante. So the talk that evening began with prayer as usual, but it had a different tone and a different realty began to hit when we prayed for the Holy Spirit to guide the Cardinals in the election of a new Supreme Pontiff.

Phase 4: The General Congregations

This is when things very quickly shifted from somber to exciting. During this time all of the American cardinals stayed with us and it seemed as if there was a constant shuffling about. We were still going to our classes, but there was definitely a buzz or excitement in the air.

It was during this period that all of the nearly 6,000 accredited journalists arrived to cover these historic times.

Given my past work in journalism, I offered to help the College’s Media Relations Director, Msgr. Jeffrey Burrill. I helped facilitate different interviews etc. It was also during this time that I myself was interviewed by CBS Evening News along with two others from the College.

Participating in that interview was an experience all by itself. They followed us around for a few days filming different aspects of our lives, and then finally the interview aired the night before the beginning of the Conclave.

It was also during this time that I had the opportunity to meet up with a few former colleagues. I really appreciated the opportunity to both catch up personally, but also to hear about their thoughts and perspectives on all that was going on at the time and the state of the Church in general. I believe that it is very good for me as a seminarian to listen to and understand how it is that others see the Church and the world, so that I might be able to present the Church to the world in an even more effective manner.

The excitement of these times made me fondly remember my time working as a journalist. I was quite excited and there was definitely a part of me that wanted to be filing reports etc.

However, there was also a great sense of peace, that now, four years after entering seminary, I am where I’m supposed to be and doing what I’m supposed to be doing.

Though my vocation story was not included in the final cut, let me share what I told the reporter.

“It came to a point where I had to ask myself, was I running for a successful career in religion journalism? Or was I running from God, from the priesthood?”

Obviously, I came to a realization it was more the later than the former.

Now I can say what a great joy it is when one runs to God instead of from God.

What a great joy it is to use those same gifts not for the building up of my own self, my own career, but rather for God and the Church.

Phase 5: Conclave

This was it, it was finally time to elect a new Pope. It ended up being much shorter than so many predicted, but it was definitely an intense 36 hours or so.

It began with the early morning “clap-out” for the Cardinals. Then we were off to the Mass of the Holy Spirit for the beginning of the Conclave. Though not always the case for Papal events, this time a majority of the NAC seminarians were all able to sit together underneath the statue of St. Veronica very close to the Baldacchino.

With Mass over, it was time to start watching smoke, snd yes, for those wondering, I did make a few jokes about not using our BBQ Smoker during the Conclave.

There are three distinct things I remember about the smoke watching experience.

1) There was a great anticipation in the air, it was as if anticipation was no longer a verb, no longer an action, but rather it was now a state of being, it was an emotion, and one that was certainly shared by all.

2) It was raining, a lot.

3) Even though it was raining, there were a ton of people. You had to get to the square early not because they might burn the ballots earlier than announced, but just to get a space in the square.

At one point a reporter asked me why I thought there were so many people gathered in there in the Square.

I responded, “because this is very place St. Peter gave his life for the faith, the same faith that we share, and so we’ve come to see the election of his successor. For the Pope is not only the Universal Pastor of the Church, the leader of Catholics all over the world, the Bishop of Rome, but he is also the successor of Peter.”

Phase 6: Habemus Papam

The morning of March 13th I had my annual faculty evaluation. After it went well, I asked one of my closest friends if he wanted to go out for dinner to celebrate. The plan was to go down to the square for the black smoke at 7:00 PM and then go grab a bite to eat.

At 7:05 PM white smoke happened.

Waiting for the big announcement
Waiting for the big announcement

Everyone started screaming and running forward, somehow what felt like a Square full of people all squeezed forward, moving from what Americans might call a reasonable concept of, “personal space,” to a much more Italian mindset in which the former is at best a vague notion and generally non-existent.

Thus we all remained packed in “like a can of Sardines,” as some people say, until 8:12 PM when Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, came out onto the Loggia and said,

Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum;
habemus Papam:

Eminentissimum ac Reverendissimum Dominum,
Dominum Georgium Marium
Sanctae Romanae Ecclesiae Cardinalem Bergoglio
qui sibi nomen imposuit Franciscum

Then Pope Francis came out and greeted us with his now somewhat trademark, “Buona Sera.”

The most powerful moment that from the many I’ve talked to was somewhat if not completely lost on television was the moment when Pope Francis asked us to pray for him in silence. The square had only been getting louder and louder as many people came from all over town once there was white smoke. Then, at the very instant he asked for quiet, it got exceptionally quiet. A very moving experience of silent prayer with a couple hundred thousand others.

I thought, what a great continuity of humility. Pope Benedict ended his papacy by stepping aside was a great act of humility, and now, Pope Francis was beginning his papacy with a great act of humility in asking for our prayers.

After Pope Francis’ first blessing I ran back up the hill in order to greet all the journalists who came to interview the Cardinals. After the Cardinals had dinner with Pope Francis, they arrived up on the hill around 11:30 PM and began press conferences and interviews right away. They stayed until 1:30 AM when I was finally able to go to bed. Thankfully, the Rector moved our community Mass to the evening the next day.

One of the more joyous events of the evening was when my fellow seminariwns spontanously formed a “clap-in” for the Cardinals when they returned.

Beyond the moment of prayer, the big picture take away from the evening was just realizing I had been present for the announcement. This was something that I had seen replayed in countless videos and photos of past elections. However, this time I didn’t see it through some other medium, but I was actually present myself, what a blessing.

Phase 7: Papal Installation

March 19th is the Solemnity of St. Joseph, Spouse of Mary and Patron of the Universal Church. What a beautiful occasion to hold the Mass of Installation of Petrine Ministry for Pope Francis.

Monday afternoon, we received a phone call asking for all the non-ordained seminarians to help with the Mass by serving as communion ushers. 10 of us volunteerred to be the “capi.” Given my work as the capo of the St. Peter’s Apostolate, I became the leader of our group. So we went to a meeting with the Papal MC’s and got all the instructions. I then designed a system to help get us all down there, and in position to help.

The next morning the weather was beautiful, and the Mass even more so. We were fortunate to have very nice seats for the parts when we weren’t helping. Most especially I was very grateful that we all had the opportunity to participate in this historic event, even if only in some small way.

Check out some great photos from the Mass on the PNAC Flickr page.

Phase 8: Triduum

I feel as if no reflection on these weeks would be complete without including the Triduum. After a few days of reflection and recovery in Pontoise at the Carmel, I returned to Rome for the Triduum.

On Holy Thursday I attended the Chrism Mass in the morning, the great thing about this Mass is watching the 1,600 priests process into the Basilica, as it’s the only Papal Mass all year any and every Priest is allowed to concelebrate. It’s an inspiring sight to behold, especially for one striving for the priesthood such as myself.

In the evening, Pope Francis celebrated Mass in a prison, so I went with a classmate to a local celebration of the Last Supper.

Both Friday and Saturday I worked at the Visitor’s Office in the morning, always an exciting and moving ministry.

Friday afternoon was primarily spent with my good friends, the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. First I attended the Service of the Lord’s Passion at the Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem, an old Roman basilica where the relics of the true Cross are kept. The Basilica was standing room only.

The most powerful part of the Liturgy took place during the procession with the Cross, and the Priest chanted, “Behold the Wood of the Cross on which hung the Salvation of the World.”

After the celebration the junior professed sisters and I went over to the Colosseum for the Via Crucis. This year the reflections were prepared by some Lebanese youth, they were very well done.

Saturday and Sunday I attended the Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday Masses with Pope Francis. Both were impressive and solemn celebrations.

The reason why I felt it was important to include the Triduum in this reflection is that the Triduum has helped to serve as my introduction to Pope Francis. These have been great opportunities to learn from him through his homilies. Allowing him to help form me to become a better priest through his humble example of words and deeds.

Now it is time to move on, always filled with gratitude and joy.

Gratitude for the papacy of Pope Benedict XVI.

Gratitude for the gift of Pope Francis

The Joy of Easter, that Christ is Risen!

The joy of knowing that the Holy Spirit will continue to guide the Church.

Amen.

Retreat in Pontoise

Holy Week at the NAC rotates off an on every year between “in-house” and “travel period.” When it is “in-house” as it was last year, we have all of the Triduum liturgies at the NAC as a community. I remember those celebrations last year quite fondly as they were both very reverent but helped us to grow closer to one another spiritually as we grew closer to Christ through the liturgies given to us by the Church to recall his passion, death and resurrection.

This year we were free to go where we wanted for Holy Week. Many men choose to spend the time in Benedictine Monasteries in Italy. Given that I was blessed to have had the opportunity to participate in two beautiful Triduum celebrations during my time at Conception Seminary College, I opted for a different approach.

My current apostolate assignment is to serve as the Capo of the seminarians who give tours of St. Peter’s and work at the US Bishops’ Office for Visitors to the Vatican. Given my role at the office, and the fact that I so much enjoy being able to greet pilgrims from all over the United States, I chose to be in Rome for the Triduum, so I could assist pilgrims and attend the celebrations with the Holy Father.

As for the Triduum itself, look for more in a forthcoming entry. Now, I’d like to briefly share some thoughts and photos from my retreat earlier in the week.

In January I had been able to arrange to make a private retreat at a small Carmelite convent in Pontoise, France, where my grandmother’s aunt entered the Carmel in 1923. She is the only other nun, brother, monk, priest or seminarian besides myself in my immediate family in the past hundred years or so.

Since my birth I have had a Crucififex that this same aunt gave to my grandmother. Since entering seminary I have also carried with me holy cards recalling her birth, profession, and death in all my breviaries.

When the Bishop asked me to come to Rome, this was definitely on my radar of things to do during my time here. I wanted to make a retreat in Pontoise.

After finishing classes on Friday, I left Saturday morning before Palm Sunday and returned Wednesday evening, in time for the Triduum.

As for my time there I don’t have much to say, as I was in silence. I stayed in a small house that dated back to the 1500’s as the Carmel was established in 1605.

I was able to sit in the Chapel while the sisters prayed from the side, while I don’t speak French it was most beautiful to hear them chanting. It was nice to hear what it might have sounded like when my aunt was still alive. As I told one of the sisters, “when I hear you all chanting, I hear her chanting.”

I was really blessed that one day when I went to meet with one of the sisters in the visiting room, the one sister who spoke Spanish brought me a bunch of the archives, books and records to see.

There was a photo album from her profession which was beautiful to see. Also, many other beautifully hand written accounts of the life and history of the Carmel, in which my aunt was mentioned in a few paragraphs.

The quiet and simplicity of the time was much needed after a very blessed, exciting, and eventful six weeks (another post forthcoming on that later). [Found HERE]

One of the ways this simplicity was expressed outside of the silence that comes with any retreat, was with the meals. While I stayed in the guest house, I would have to walk across the courtyard to a small room where there was a cabinet with a “lazy susan” so they could pass me my meal in a picnic basket.

I am very glad I was able to take this time away, even if only for a few short days to rest, recuperate, reflect and pray. To learn a little more about my family history and to know better my aunt who spent her life dedicated to the Lord in prayer and contemplation.

Please pray for the sisters who continue this beautiful life of important work of prayer for the Church and the whole world, that they may be blessed with more young women open to serving and loving the Lord through a life of prayer and contemplation continuing their long and storied history.

Now for some photos:

Here’s the little house where I stayed, as well as the two doors, which both required rather large keys.

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The eating experience. First the little room where I’d pick up my food, the basket, and the dining room.

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Now for the really interesting stuff, the photos and books.

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Lastly a quick look at the Chapel, from my window, the Chapel where I sat, and lastly the glass doors leading to where the sisters prayed.

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Reaction to the Resignation of Pope Benedict XVI

By now everyone should have received the Catholic Missourian dated March 1, 2013. In that issue there is an article containing the reaction from Rev. Mr. Jason Doke and myself to Pope Benedict XVI’s decision to resign.

I was asked by the editor of the paper to e-mail some of my gut reactions to the announcement. When he wrote the e-mail I was traveling during our break after finals. Nonetheless, I wanted to send in some thoughts. The editor then worked my some of my comments into a wonderful piece about the reactions of both myself, and Rev. Mr. Doke. Below you can read the entirety of my reaction.

By no means was this a complete set of thoughts, nor do I feel that they fully expressed my emotions at the time. Please excuse any grammatical errors or incompleteness, as I mentioned these were sent in a somewhat rushed fashion.

Ever since the Holy Father announced his resignation last Monday I have constantly been reflecting and praying about my own emotions and reactions to such news, as well as those emotions and reactions of the whole Church. Obviously, the emotions have been many and varied. But in short I can summarize them with two words, sadness, yes, but also gratitude and hope.

Ever since arriving here in Rome in July 2011, I have attended many Papal Masses, audiences, Angelus’ etc. I remember most especially during our orientation when we attended an Angelus at Castel Gandolfo, and the Holy Father spoke directly to us, the New Men at the Pontifical North American College in the middle of his address.

The past few weeks have been our “exam period” and this past week I was done with exams and enjoying a little bit of a break. Thus, I was able to attend both the Wednesday Audience and Ash Wednesday Mass. The audience was the Holy Father’s first public appearance after the announcement of his intention to resign. The Mass, later in the evening, was his last public Mass.

At the audience when the Holy Father entered the Paul VI Audience Hall, everyone erupted with applause. Later when he began to speak we all began to clap once again, to thank him for his many years of love and service to the Church. Hearing him speak of his resignation from his own mouth really solidified the reality of what was undoubtedly a somewhat surprising announcement.

Later in the day, I attended Mass for Ash Wednesday. The Mass was moved to St. Peter’s Basilica to accommodate the crowds. I arrived even earlier than usual, the line was much longer than usual. Thankfully, I was able to get in and get a seat. As I waited in line I reflected a lot on all the other times I had waited in line for other events, and now, this was the last one. I felt a certain amount of sadness, but also gratitude that I would have the opportunity to see him celebrate Mass one last time. At the end of Mass, Cardinal Bertone got up to thank the Holy Father on behalf of the College of Cardinals and the whole Church. After his words, everyone broke out in applause. An applause that seemed to last forever, the moment was one again, of sadness and gratitude. After Mass, after a long day I ran into some nuns who are my friends and we all just kind of stood there. They asked how I was and I just kind of smiled without saying many words, when I asked them, they did the same. We didn’t have a lot to say because it had been such a powerful, emotional day, yet we were able to smile because of our gratitude and our hope that the Church continues under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

This is just the first week of what will undoubtedly be a strange few weeks, first there will be the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, then the excitement of the Conclave, followed by the joy and gratitude of a new Holy Father. Whoever the new Pope will be I look forward to getting to “know” him by going to many more Masses and prayers with him. Though I will never forget the impact of Pope Benedict XVI on these first two years of my time in Rome. While many priests of the last few decades might refer to themselves as “JPII Priests,” I am a part of an even younger generation. While active in the faith my whole life, it was not until after JPII that I began to really get more into my faith. Thus for the entirety of my more mature faith life, Pope Benedict has been the leader of the Church, and as a student of theology, he is a man whom I admire quite a bit. It is for this reason I feel more sadness now, but I also have gratitude for his gift to the Church and great hope in the future of the Church, a hope which he has embodied and taught me as well.

Original text composed on February 16, 2013