Saturday, December 26, 2009

Merry Christmas

Buon Natale a tutti! I have much on which to catch up on this here blog- these last two months have been quite busy. We had Thanksgiving and our New Man weekend, which was awesome and exhausting- a wonderful experience I'm glad I will never have to endure again. We sang Christmas carols around Rome and at our university. In house, we celebrated our college's 150th anniversary on December 8th and had our annual Christmas party. We new men got assigned to our apostolic outreaches for next semester. Last but certainly not least, we celebrated Christmas itself, at Midnight Mass with the Pope for many of us. I would put pictures up and tell you all about the going-ons over here now, but I leave shortly for the airport to catch a flight to Vienna with a few of my friends. We will be staying at a monastery on the outskirts of Vienna for a few days, then we will spend a day in Linz and a couple days in Munich. Once I return, I will do my darnedest to get caught up a little on the blog, assuming I accomplish all the other work I have to do to survive over here. I pray you all had a very Merry Christmas and continue to do so as the octave progresses. More later. Praise God!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Happy All Souls' Day!

Hello all! This last weekend was a college travel weekend, and most of the house scattered to the four corners of the continent. I was originally planning to travel to Venice this weekend with my DBs (Diocesan Brothers- I'm slowly picking up proper "seminarian lingo" over here), but our plans fell through, so I spent a quiet weekend here, which was ok, since I got a fair bit done and got some good fellowship in with the other guys who stayed behind.
For All Saints' Day, I went to a High Pontifical Mass celebrated by the Prefect for the Congregation for Divine Worship, Cardinal Antonio Canizares Llovera, which was quite an experience. I had only been to four or so extraordinary form Masses before this, too, so it was a relatively new experience for me still. It was very beautiful- the singing was very well done. They had all their relics pulled out on display for veneration. I didn't end up taking pictures, which I am always a little hesitant to do during liturgies, but if you really want some good shots the blog is a good place to look. It's difficult to quite gather how beautiful the church was from most of the shots, but some of them are really quite excellent.
This morning I and a number of the men from the house went to celebrate Mass and pay our respects at the College Mausoleum at Campo Verano. It was a simply enormous graveyard- so big it had map stations and, apparently, guided tours and bus lanes through it! The resting place for our deceased college brethren is one of the simpler plots there, but it's still very nice. I'll get the pictures up from this morning when I can. Obviously nowadays a seminarian would be sent home to be buried if he died over here, but in the past that simply wasn't very feasible, or so I gathered- that long ride on a boat was perhaps too much for the body. Many of them were younger than I am now- the ages were also posted on their marble plaques in the mausoleum, with many of them being 22 or younger! It was very humbling on this Feast of All Souls' to think that all these young men, all these intercessors, had already made the greatest leap of faith- that great leap from life through death to life everlasting. It's encouraging, in a way; even though they were not martyrs, there is a certain example of courage in a Christian death, I think. It calls us all on to live our faiths, for we do not know the hour or the day when Christ will come again for us individually.
Other than that, not too much to report. We ended up missing our first hour of classes because of the trip this morning, but we were able to catch breakfast at the cafe in our university, which is really quite excellent. Their prices are really reasonable, too- even translated back into dollars (which is almost heartbreaking some days with the current conversion rate), the prices were no worse than they would be in a coffee shop back in the states. I ended up paying 2.60 euro for breakfast of a blood orange Fanta and an apple pastry. That was really good, too, especially considering the fact that pop is a LOT more expensive over here than it is back in the states. I also made my deposit for a retreat I'm planning on taking after Easter with 44 other guys from the college and the head of spiritual direction here at the North American College. We are going to Ars, the town where the patron of this Year of the Priest, St. John Vianney, spent his days hearing confessions and ministering to his people in superabundant charity. May John Vianney intercede for all of us seminarians and help us to become priests like he was, priests in the likeness of Our Lord.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Beginning of Week Three

Once again, it's been much too long since my last post. I have simply been too swamped with school to be able to post anything of significance. Thankfully, there hasn't been quite as much excitement around here to report. Friday we had our Halloween Party/Costume Contest/Oktoberfest all rolled into one here at the NAC. That was a ridiculous amount of fun. The second-years hosted for us and they put on quite a presentation- they will be big shoes to fill. They even set up a haunted house, of all things! They did a really nice job with it, too! I was thoroughly impressed, from the mad doctor operating on his "patient" to the Exorcist-like possession of one of the second-year men on his shaking and moving bed. Quite frankly, I think the empty corridors and the backstage area they set up for the haunted house are scary enough in the dark without any additional help. The costume party goes utterly beyond description, so you'll just have to ask me in person sometime if you really want to know what seminarians do for a Halloween costume party. If it's any clue it was hosted by the crew from the movie Anchorman with a North American martyr, a flower child, and the physical embodiment of the vice of Entitlement as guest judges. We had a statue, a mime, a dinosaur-impersonator, a Mexican wrestler, a NASCAR chaplain, and a number of buddhist monks in the contest, among other things.

What else? Tuesday the guys in my class from Franciscan went again to Sant'Onofrio to visit the rector there, who is a friend of the head of the pre-theologate program at Franciscan, Fr. Ken. That was pretty nice. He gave us a tour and we got to talk for a little while. I took a couple pictures of the event, but sadly technical difficulties have resulted in their mysterious deletion. I suppose it's just as well that I didn't take pictures of the festivities Friday, either, then. *sigh*

Other than that, things are really just business as usual around here. The first two weeks of class have been good, insofar as they can be. I still feel the need to slam my face into my desk repeatedly every morning, but that urge is occurring less frequently and becoming easier to resist. Taking classes in a foreign language is a very good way to develop virtue, I've discovered. We have about 19 credit hours of class this semester, but there isn't as much homework as there would be in the states. Homework really becomes independent study over here- we get out what we put in. The professors don't check to see if we've done the reading; all that matters is whether or not we can pass the test at the end of the semester. I'm trying, so we'll see how it goes.

Ah, and everyone over here seems to be catching some sort of cold or flu; I heard back home there's been a lot of swine flu going around, so maybe we've caught it here, as well. Amazingly, I'm still in good health, so praise God! I would write more, but I have to get back to work. I'm going to make a real effort to get a post up on Sundays, maybe, from here on out. Now that things are much calmer, maybe I'll get some pictures of random sights from around town or the college posted. I hope all is well back home. Remember to feel free to leave prayer intentions if you think of it; believe me, we spend enough time in prayer to be able to offer everyone up at some point, so please don't hesitate to ask. May the grace of God be with you all.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Monte Cassino

Ok, so Saturday I took a day trip with one of the third-years I knew from Franciscan. He was looking for someone to go with him and I would have just spent my day back at the college, so I was happy to go along. Montecassino is an old* monastery founded by Saint Benedict himself (his first and most important, if I remember correctly, though I could be mistaken on that). "Old" is used rather loosely, as the place has been destroyed and rebuilt roughly five times since it was first founded, most recently at the Battle of Monte Cassino during WWII (where sadly we Americans bombed it to smithereens, but that's how it goes sometimes- I heard from another guy there that one of the bombs that fell immediately next to the high altar and down into the crypt with the bodies of Saints Benedict and Scholastica did not explode and is still there to this day- praise God for that). It was a beautiful example of how nice modern art and architecture can appear, when we so desire. The place was stunningly beautiful. We took a 110 minute train to Cassino, a small to mid-sized Italian town at the foot of the mountains. From there we took a bus up the mountain to Montecassino. The morning was beautiful in its solitude and quiet- there was a heavy, low-lying layer of clouds which hung around the base of the mountain, so that, by the time we got to the monastery, we could not see anything- the noise and distractions of the city were hidden from view and quickly forgotten. Saints Benedict and Scholastica are both entombed in Montecassino, so we prayed at their tombs for a few quiet moments. The chapel there was stunning- I'll let most of the pictures do the talking and comment only where necessary. I've very glad Riley invited me to go with him- it was a perfect day trip and a good end to our time of orientation and acclimation.

Ok, I couldn't help putting this picture in my post- the juxtaposition was
too beautiful to resist. If you look very carefully, you can see Monte Cassino through the graffiti-covered window of the train just above the "I", partially covered by the train line outside.

Again, I couldn't help it. Welcome to Europe, everyone!

Here's a better view from just outside the train station.

And we arrived here...

The solitude on the hill I mentioned- this is actually quite a good shot- that's
really how shrouded we were in the clouds.

Ok, notice the statues of Benedict and Scholastica. When you see the picture of Our Lady, that's the rear of the main altar, the spot in the main chapel where Sts. Benedict and Scholastica are venerated. Also, the very golden chapel is the crypt church underneath the main church. It's where the bodies of Sts. Benedict and Scholastica are. I tried to get shots of them, too, but they weren't great. It was a good thing another tour group got down into there to pray- it appeared that the lower chapel was not always open. Notice the incredible marble work on the altars and walls, especially the Blessed Sacrament altar (the first one you see in the set of pictures right before the main altar). It's incredible what we can do with modern technology. The final shot is of the Polish graveyard from the war down the mountain a little from Monte Cassino.

Ok, here begins my commentary silence. Enjoy!

The Diaconate Ordinations

Ok, so after the last post I realized that I had not updated you on the ordinations. It was an awe-inspiring experience getting to sing in the choir at St. Peter's. The ceremony was very beautiful and I'm sure the families and friends of the ordinandi were most appreciative for all that everyone did for them- the lectors, MCs, hospitality crew, and everyone else involved. We had any number of receptions and events going on around the house and, as enjoyable as it was, I think the whole house breathed a collective sigh of relief and thanksgiving when the post-ordination reception was over. That really, in a way, marked the end of the chaos and the quiet before the storm, err, school year. Half the house was probably napping after that reception. [:) Here are some pictures from the event. NOTE: All pictures were taken well before the start or end of Mass, so none of these were particularly irreverent (despite how they might look).

Here we are, mulling about in the choir area almost an hour before Mass.
Since I can't bilocate, I had one of the organists take this picture so you could see where I was sitting/standing in the mix.

If you look carefully, you can figure out exactly where we were located in the Basilica- notice the column of the baldachino. Mass was actually held at the altar of the chair, not the altar in the center.

Here are the new deacons with Archbishop Carlson, among others, taking
their group photo after the Mass.

This was from the reception afterward. It was held in our courtyard
at the college. Most of the students were required to perform some service at the reception- I poured drinks until they closed our station. Notice that this picture was taken as I was leaving, so at the peak there were probably six times this many people socializing and celebrating.

Canonization and First Day of Classes

So we all survived our first day of classes! Yesterday began "ordinary time" at the college, so to speak. We have finally begun our school year schedule, which comes as almost a sort of relief after the craziness of the last six or so weeks. We begin each day with 6:15 Morning Prayer, followed by Mass and breakfast, then the half-hour walk to make it to class on time. Classes generally run from 8:30 to 12:30, after which we walk back to the college for optional class rosary and then lunch at 1:15. The afternoons differ from day to day- we have a seminar Tuesday afternoons and a house formation night Thursday evenings, I believe, but other than that we generally don't have anything regularly scheduled until 6:45 Evening Prayer, so the afternoons are our time to really get in some studying, praying, working out, and maybe a little napping, too. Today our two morning classes were cancelled, which is why I am able to write this post at this moment.

Sunday was the big canonization Mass of five new saints of the Church. The best known of them for Americans was most certainly Saint Damian of Molokai, the apostle to the leper colony in Hawaii. I arrived with a couple classmates about 90 minutes before the event began, and it took us every bit of an hour to get to our seats. The place was jam-packed. It really was very moving seeing so many turn out in honor of these holy souls and the God Whom they served. I heard that we even had some lepers turn out for the ceremony!

Yep, that's how far back we were a solid twenty minutes into our wait in line.

Not a great seat- we certainly weren't inside- but not a bad seat, either.
At least we got seats.

Here's a closer up at the portraits they had of each saint. The close-ups follow.

After the Mass, the Pope prayed the Angelus with the pilgrims. Here he is.

Here are some of us, having just arrived back at the college.

A handful of our men from the college got the chance to serve for the Pope at this Mass, which must have been an amazing experience. One of Kalamazoo's own, Francis Marotti, even got to be candle-bearer and got to wash the Pope's hands during the Mass. He said he was shaking like a little girl (well, maybe he didn't put it exactly that way, but I know I probably would have been shaking like a little girl, so...). It really was a moving experience getting to be there on this momentous occasion. At the end of the canonization proper, the prefect of the congregation for the cause of the saints came up, along with other representatives, and personally thanked the Pope on behalf of the Church for this great gift. The program stated that he was going to give the Pope a hug, though I think he simply kissed the Pope's hands. What a remarkable statement, what a touching show on behalf of all of us!

It really made me think about the significance of this pronouncement. How beautiful it is that we have five new, officially declared, older brothers and sisters in Christ as role models and intercessors! I would encourage everyone, if you have a bit of time, to look up their stories- they are a varied group, an appropriate selection of new patrons. They are a reminder that, young or old, no matter what our call, God meets us where we are and holiness is found in living out our lives for Him whatever our vocation happens to be. All five were religious or ordained of some sort, I think, but they ended up in very different circumstances through their calls, ones which they probably would not have chosen if they had known when they first started. Holiness is not simply for those who live out their days in a cell in some obscure cloister. One of the newly canonized, Raphael Arnaiz Baron, was only 27 when he died, and, if I recall correctly, he didn't even succeed in becoming a full Trappist friar because he was sick so often and had to constantly leave to receive medical care. How difficult that must have been and what a good example to us all when everything seems to be falling apart around us. He did not achieve his will, even his desires in God's service, but he united his will to God's and was greatly exalted by God for his child-like trust. He was known for his mystical spiritual writings and his joy and friendship offered to all. Saint Damian definitely wound up in unusual circumstances, exiling himself to the leper colony of Molokai to be their pastor, administering the sacraments and offering hope to those otherwise abandoned by most of the world. He contracted the disease himself and died a brother leper for all those whom he served in life.

Other than that, things are finally starting to slow down around here, just as school is picking up. I'll try to get another post up later today or tomorrow, maybe, to tell you about my trip to Montecassino Saturday. I don't remember putting pictures up after the diaconate ordination Mass, either, so I'll try to get those up, as well. For future reference, I'll try to get a post up once a week to keep you updated on things around here. May God richly bless you all.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Prayer Intentions

Ok, I wanted to start a post for prayer intentions for which people might want me or anyone else who visits this sight to pray. I hope this works- we'll see how it goes for now. Feel free to leave them as comments to this post- just give a first name and a general idea of for what we are praying- even if you cannot give a name for whatever reason, please do not just put "special intention"- I like to have some vague direction in which to go with my prayer. I'll take anything from

"Please pray for me for a big test tomorrow. -Joe"
"My mother, Mary, is going in for a triple-bypass surgery tomorrow."
"Please pray for my wife. She's going through a very tough time right now. -Anon"
or anything else appropriate

There is a link to this post on the side of the blog so people can make it to this post directly. Also, please keep me/us updated on the status of the person(s) for whom we are praying, whether they have gotten over their grave illness or passed away or passed the test or whatever the intention happens to be.

Thanks for all your prayers- I'll try to check this every day or two or three to keep you all more specifically in mine! Please pray for each other, as well. God bless.


This morning I and the other three men in the first-year class from Franciscan decided to pay a visit to the old stomping grounds of our Pre-theologate director in Steubenville, Father Ken Cienik. We arrived at this small church almost literally next door to our college and prayed for a while. Then we admired the art work and took pictures. We asked the lady working the information desk if we could speak with the friars there, and she checked for us, but the rector was in Assisi for the week and the others were not available, so we'll have to go back and introduce ourselves at some point in the future. It really was a nice, peaceful place to pray and I think I will have to pay them some visits in the future. Here are some of the pictures I snapped while we were wandering the place.

Here's Dan in my shot of the sanctuary of the church

This is from the chapel of Sant'Onofrio. I wish it had turned out a little better, but so it is. To be honest, none of us really knew much about his story. He was an early Church ascetic, perhaps like an eastern desert father or something of the sort. I'll look him up and maybe fill in a few of the details at some point.

This is from the inner courtyard, next to the Church in the residence of the friars (at least we were pretty sure that was what this area was)