Saturday, September 26, 2009

I'm Back... and Then I'm Off Again

So, first things first- I offer my heartfelt thanks to all for your prayers. Things have gone really well lately. I'm finally almost finished moving into my room, having unpacked my trunks and rearranged my furniture and all such things. I think I may have caught a cold, but then again that could just be my allergies rebelling against the fact that I actually took the time to dust my room this week.

My Italian test... oh, my Italian test. Only God and a small handful of Italians know how that went, and judging from the fact that the test was Monday, there were only thirty of us taking it, they had our scores before we left the building, and we still do not know how we did, this is likely a small handful of highly bureaucratic Italians who know how the test went. [:) I'll let you know when I know, but, again, only God knows when that will be. The written part of the examination definitely went well enough; I'm not at all worried about the results of that half. The oral part was a little rougher. I do not think that I represented my Italian abilities as well as I could have, and I do not know if I could have as well as I should have. (NB: To be fair and in all seriousness and charity, they were truly lovely people who administered our test, but things do tend to take, well, significantly more time over here than they did in the states. It's just part of the Italian culture, I suppose.)

I have had my first meetings with my formation advisor and spiritual director since last I wrote. These are two important elements of seminary life; a seminarian is not expected simply to study theology, but also to become formed into a better person so that he might more ably serve God and His people. The formation advisor calls the seminarian on in the area of human formation, helping him to overcome perceived character flaws and challenging him to grow through various apostolates and endeavors which force him both to step outside his comfort zone and to grow in his ability to take on difficult tasks. The spiritual director helps the seminarian to discern the voice of God in the seminarian's life. The director helps him to take a closer look at his prayer life and even his day-to-day life, since our spiritual life cannot be compartmentalized but deeply influences our whole person, and see where God is leading him and where he needs to work to grow in holiness. The spiritual director also becomes a spiritual mentor of sorts, sharing his experience in spiritual warfare with the younger man. Formation direction is what is referred to as part of the external forum, while spiritual direction falls under the heading of internal forum. Essentially, external forum discussions are public domain- the formator can bring whatever he discusses with you to the rector or others involved in your formation. Internal forum, on the other hand, is shared with no one. Seminarians are thus encouraged to be totally honest with both parties, but to be willing to be brutally honest with their spiritual directors. A spiritual director cannot help you discern the movements of your soul, how our Lord and the Adversary are trying to work in you, if you are not sharing the movements of your soul with him. There are whole books that could be written on this subject and I considered finding a couple nice passages from a bishops' conference document to help explain, but I imagine this is more than plenty.

If you had not noticed, I just now made an executive decision to color code my paragraphs, especially if they start getting rather lengthy. Black sentences are simply my commentary on how things have gone since my last post. Light blue paragraphs are passages in which I have strayed from my normal commentary to explain something of importance, whether it's in the life of a seminarian or in the workings of the Vatican or in how Italians cross the street. Finally, I think I will color paragraphs in which I wax theological or philosophical red, or whatever color doesn't contrast too badly with the background, if such a thing ever does happen. [:) So we'll see how the system works.

I don't have any especially impressive pictures at the moment, though I do intend to take pictures of the grounds here in due time and get them up. The first-year men are leaving for retreat tomorrow, though, so I will not be able to post again until next weekend. We are drawing much closer to the diaconate ordinations in early October. All of the fourth-year men who were not ordained deacons back in their home dioceses will be ordained by a visiting American archbishop at Saint Peter's, at least I'm pretty sure that's how it works, having yet to attend one. I will be singing in the choir for that Mass, too, which is pretty neat- there aren't too many people that can say they got to sing in a Mass at the main altar in Saint Peter's. Choir has been a grueling and humbling experience, much like Italian. In a way, they really are very much alike, both being languages rather foreign to me. I was a little lost during our first practice when the choir director starting telling us to "add a breath to the beginning of the third note in measure 35" and then to "make sure to remember the crescendoes!" and other foreign concepts. I've been picking it up quickly enough, though, and things have really been smoothing out. Once the deaconate ordinations are completed, I'm pretty sure we will have one week off and then classes finally start. I'll write more once the time comes. Thank you again for all your prayers. Please pray for us while we are on retreat; I will be remembering all of you in my prayers. May God richly bless you all.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Italian Test, Your Prayers, and My Future Posts

I think I'm finally down to being only one post behind. I will try to get that one up here soon, but then I'm going incommunicado for at least the next week. A week from today we have our Italian language proficiency test, which is more than a little worrisome. We essentially need to prove the equivalent of somewhere between three and four good college semesters' worth of knowledge and ability in Italian- proving our "independence" with the language, if not our fluency. Since I have now had only 10 good days of it here and 12 good lessons back home, I predict that I have a bit of a challenging week of studying ahead of me. Worst case scenario, I have to retake it in December, but please pray for me and for all of us first-years, especially those of us who are not particularly gifted linguistically *cough* *cough*. I will let you know how that went when I know something... May God bless and keep you all. Be assured of my prayers.

Comments on My Blog

Hello all. So, it has been brought to my attention that it was inordinately difficult to make comments on my blog posts. I have looked into it and significantly streamlined the process... I think. Feel free to post now and let me know if it's still not working. As always, rules of common sense and common decency apply- if a post is obscene, irrelevant (read as "spam"), or just plain mean, it will be given as much attention as it deserves, which is none. I will simply delete it with no further ado. That being said, write away. May God bless you all.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

NAC Orientation Part VI - The Swiss Guard Barracks

So I know these pictures have been long in coming, but they are finally here. Last week on Tuesday we took an excursion to the Swiss Guard Barracks in Vatican City. We weren't allowed to see too much of the place, but they did let us in the main cortile (courtyard) and their armory. You can look up all the finer details on the Swiss Guard yourself, since I would probably have to look up most of the information again to tell you about them here, anyway. [:) In short, though, they are actual Swiss men who are serving in the Swiss armed forces. They generally serve two year stints, though some stay on as officers for significantly more than that. There are, I believe, only 110 in Vatican City right now, according to the officer who was leading our tour, though I could be wrong on that. I'll comment more as I move through the pictures.

This was in the central courtyard. The place is very obviously Swiss. It is directly abutting the wall of Vatican City, I believe, likely the same wall through which the original swiss mercenaries led the Pope to safety in that historic slaughter. Like I said, feel free to look the story up- it actually makes for a rather exciting tale.

Here we are, gathering around our guide to hear some of their history and get split into groups for the armory tour. As you can see, it was casual dress, but some of us still wore our clerics anyway. The funny thing is, the Swiss Guard salute priests as they walk by, and a couple of us have actually gotten mistaken for being priests by the Swiss Guard one time and gotten saluted. That didn't happen this time- it was pretty obvious we were seminarians.

Here are the Swiss Mannequins in the entrance to the armory.

This is the main lobby of the armory. Here they hang their uniforms and store some of their other accessories. Notice the name tags on the uniforms. The armor is not used quite so often anymore...

Here's a better look at the armor and the officers helmets.

Behold the Swiss Guard Halberds... and Father Belsole translating from German into English and back again for us with one of the guard who doesn't speak English very well.

This is what the officer uniforms used to look like, if I remember correctly. For a while, the uniforms used to change with each Pope, adding the main color from the papal crest to the uniform. They did away with that some decades ago, though.

Here is what you see upon entering the weapon room in the armory. Most of these are not used anymore, but they were at one point. The weapons range from ancient to quite modern, with modern rifles amongst the older guns in that section. Notice my personal favorite- the spiked club- in one of the pictures. They even had crossbows and claymores.

These are their dress swords which they actually wear and still use.

I found this to be an interesting shot. After their first year, the Swiss Guard are permitted to get married, so we actually saw a couple women and their kids in the courtyard. The solitary kickball and the little girl in the Swiss Guard Barracks was just too poetic a juxtaposition for me to pass up without a picture.

Finally, here we are leaving the complex. I took this shot mostly to give a better impression of the height of the place. It did not appear to be an unusually large barracks, but it was rather tall.

So that was the Swiss Guard Barracks. We then had to hurry back for holy hour and evening prayer, since the day was scheduled a little tightly, but it was definitely worth it. Praise God.

NAC Orientation Closing Remarks

I know that I still have one or two more posts from orientation that need to find their way onto my blog, but today marked the official end of orientation. All the old men were due back by 11:30 PM last night, so we celebrated Sunday Mass this morning with the full house, which was really rather beautiful. After Mass we had Sunday brunch and the closing remarks from the second-year orientation head, as well as the opening remarks from the rector. It was nice to get to catch up with some old friends from Steubenville among the upperclassmen. On that note, Ted Martin got back a week ago today. We went out to dinner as a diocese- Ted, Francis, and I. As funny as it sounds, we actually went out for German food! It was quite good, though.

It has been very good to get to spend some time with both of them. I only knew them so well back in Kalamazoo, so I look forward to getting to know them better over my time here, especially since, God, bishop, and formator willing, I will be serving the diocese with them as my brother priests.

I'll write more when I can and fill you all in on some of the more interesting and bizarre elements of my first few weeks here, especially about the excitement over my room. [:) For now, I am going to get some work done and settle into a more regular schedule of Italian classes and prayer. May God bless you all.

NAC Orientation Part V - The Labor Day Extravaganza

On Monday of last week, we celebrated Labor Day. Yes, sadly, we still had Italian classes- no rest for the wicked (and no rest from labor on Labor Day here), but after our morning classes we had a cookout and the dress code was relaxed so that we could wear more American backyard cookout/tailgating clothes. A lot of guys wore baseball caps and their baseball team shirts and such things. We had hamburgers, brats, and many of the other game day standards that are harder to come by in Italy. It was really kinda nice to have that taste of home after a little time acclimating to our new home.

After the cookout, we had a new men vs the second-year men softball game. I didn't end up playing but I very much enjoyed watching our team utterly dismantle the second-year men. The final score was something like 14-3. There was even at least one inning, I think, where we had three up and three down- not one man from the other team got to base. Our outfield was really rather exceptional. The game was made all the more enjoyable by the second-year color commentating that they had going from one of the lower walkout terraces on the NAC. We also had a foot race during our fifth inning stretch. One of the second-year men considered himself to be "the fastest seminarian alive." This, however, was put to rest by two of the incoming men, one of whom had been running competitively since he was about five. Further, he had a few inches of stride on the second-year man, which helped him to pull off a win. It was quite a race, though, and it was definitely a close finish for all the men involved. We all had a lot of fun; the celebrations were a welcome diversion from the studies and the orientation conferences.

One of our monsignors was exercising his role as father in our community and cooking the hamburgers and brats for us. One of the second-year guys was helping him out.

Here, of course, like at any good American baseball game we sang the national anthem, with our color commentators and their friends holding the flag for us. We also had the rector offer our opening prayer.
"Play ball!"

Here are some of the men stretching and preparing
themselves for the softball game.

Here we see a handful of the spectators. There were a fair number behind me, too, but I couldn't capture all of us in the picture. Besides, I was trying to watch the game, too. That's why you won't be seeing any pictures from the game. Sorry.

Here are the four men participating in the foot race (along with the "official"). I tried to get a shot of the finish, but there were too many people in the way and it happened a little too quickly.

After the game, both teams shook hands. Our players might just look a bit more satisfied with the results of the game. Just maybe. After that, everyone, including the spectators, dropped a knee in prayer of thanksgiving to Our Lord around home plate.

May we keep that in mind- that all our endeavors, whether apparently successful or not, ought to end in prayer and thanksgiving to God, from whom all good things come.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Nac Orientation Part IV - A Day at The Beach

So, I know that I still have a couple posts of past events that need to find their way onto my blog, but I just got back from the beach and figured I might as well take care of current events and fill in the gaps as I can. All the first-years, a handful of the older men, and a large portion of the monsignors and priests of the faculty went to the beach today. I thought this was especially post worthy, since I think some can forget that priests and seminarians are people, too. [:) We left for the beach at 9:30 this morning (3:30 AM back in Kalamazoo) and spent most of the day there, lounging in the sun, swimming, reading, talking, and playing frisbee, football, and volleyball. It was a lot of fun, though I was probably ready to come back to the college two hours before we finally did. I'm so used to Lake Michigan that the salt water of the Mediterranean was a bit of a surprise, though I was told by my Aussie friends that it's good for your skin. Go figure. So that's really about it. We ate cold cuts for lunch and really enjoyed ourselves. A couple of my friends are definitely going to be feeling their sunburn tomorrow. Thankfully, one of the other Franciscan guys thought to bring sunscreen to Europe so he let me use some of his. Here are the few pictures I took from our adventure today. I would have taken more, but it's difficult to take pictures when you're in the water or eating lunch.

Here are most of the guys swimming and throwing a football, beach ball, and a couple tennis balls and frisbees around. I had just gotten out of the water at this point.

Here are most of the rest of the guys reading, sunbathing, or napping.

Most people make sandcastles when they go to the beach. Seminarians make Sand St. Peter's Basilicas. He even represented the fountains in the plaza. [:)

Finally, just as I was posting this, I heard a crash of thunder, which has been so uncommon around here that it confused me until I looked out the window and noticed that it had started to rain rather hard. Just for the sheer heck of it, here's what it looks like out my window right now.

That's it for now. Please remember to pray for me and know that I am praying for everyone back in Kalamazoo and many who aren't (as best I can, anyway). [:) God bless.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

NAC Orientation Part III - Assisi, The Scavi, and My Random Musings

Alright, I managed to get another set of pictures to load today, as well. Last week all the new men were required to go on a tour of the excavations beneath St. Peter's Basilica. I had already done this once before, but it was just as incredible the second time. One gets to see the tombs of early Christians, culminating in the tomb of Saint Peter himself, which is a mind-blowing experience. Understandably, they did not allow pictures of anything down there, so you'll just have to acquire tickets and go on the tour yourself to see it, which I would highly recommend. Other than that, we had a lot of Italian studying and numerous conferences to attend in preparation for the school year.

Assisi was a wonderful break after a long week. We got a chance to do a lot of praying, reading, and socializing during our time there. On Saturday, we walked up to the hermitage where St. Francis and his friars spent some of their time in prayer. Last time I was in Assisi I had walked up the road- the "easy" route, being only probably 50 minutes of somewhat gradual uphill. This time I opted to try for the nature trail, which, unbeknownst to me, was tantamount to mountain climbing. We had an incredibly steep climb which ascended much more directly toward the hermitage- there was no real meandering to this trail. It was, admittedly, an awful lot of fun. I was hiking up part of the way with one of the Monsignors from the College, which was an impetus to keep going, lest I get schooled by someone twice my age. We made it just fine and, thankfully, my asthma did not rear its ugly head, so the walk was quite pleasant. I sweat through three shirts in the course of the hike, but it was a lot of fun.

One of the evenings we were there, there was the equivalent of a Miss Italy pageant or some sort of girls' talent show going on in the middle of Assisi of all places. Suffice it to say I did not watch to see who won, but it was hard to even think, let alone pray or try to fall asleep during much of the show, what with the square being so crammed full of people and the music being so loud. It was actually kinda funny, hearing American music resounding through the town being sung by girls who probably had no idea what the words they were singing even meant. Anyway, it wasn't exactly the ideal outing for a group of seminarians, so I spent my night trying to pray, talking with some of the other guys, and just catching up on my sleep.

Here's a picture of the Basilica of St. Francis I took the night of the pageant while I was trying desperately to find a quiet place in the town to pray by myself. The frustrating thing which only complicated matters was that most of the churches closed rather early, and the only church which was still definitely open at that hour was literally RIGHT in the square with the talent show, and was probably closed anyway because of the show.

Here's where we had Mass at the hermitage of Saint Francis at the end of the long hike up the hill. It was really a beautiful, peaceful place. I could definitely see why they chose it.

A view of the hermitage from the top of the hiking trail just as it met the road in the final stretch.

Here's a few pictures showing the nice view from the place close to the top where the trail finally levels off a bit and opens up so you can look down at the countryside. It was stunningly beautiful- the picture does not do it justice.

Finally, I took a shot of the sunset over Assisi. I know sunset pictures never turn out on film, but this one actually did alright. The whole valley just glowed and shimmered with the light of the dying day. A few of us just stood there and quietly (well, kinda sorta quietly) watched the sun go down over Assisi.

Assisi is truly a beautiful town and the time for prayer and fellowship was most welcome during the chaos of these opening days. It was really good for forming those relationships amongst the men of our class which will be so helpful and encouraging in upcoming days. I really have been very blessed in a number of ways, but the great realization of that first week and a half was the caliber of so many of the men here.
Perhaps it's due in significant part to the "big fish in a small pond" syndrome with which so many of us can be afflicted, especially in a relatively small town with a relatively small high school, but it has been humbling being surrounded by so many talented, devoted individuals. The great diversity in our class is also quickly apparent- contrary to what one might think at first, we really do boast the full spectrum of individuals, from serious jocks to math nerds to artistics types to really any other stereotype in existence. This isn't to make it sound like these are actually adequate descriptions, though. This is merely to describe the surface appearance and impression a person makes. Here it seems that really every man breaks out of his particular stereotype and expresses a much greater fullness of the human person. Many men are talented leaders, athletes, singers, engineers or historians or [fill in the field of study], possessing a great store of knowledge on Church history and devotions, all at the same time. It is, in a way, much akin to my time at Franciscan University. You just don't realize that people like that exist in any number. It's encouraging to realize that there really are a great number of individuals your age who are trying to live out their faith, both in their spiritual lives and in their interactions with others. It is a prayerful, charitable community, knit together in our shared faith and dedication to our Lord and our shared status as resident aliens, "strangers in a strange land", so to speak. We certainly possess our flaws, which will no doubt become much more apparent and better known as time goes on, but my class, as well as the other men here, does fill me with hope for the future of the Church. Only time will tell... Vergine Immacolata, Aiutateci!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

NAC Orientation Part II (b) - The Photos

Ok, so here are the pictures from the Gandolfo Gardens and Papal Angelus that wouldn't post last time.

Here's a decent view of the lake near Castel Gandolfo. One of the priests at the NAC told a story of how, when he was a student, they snuck down to the lake to go sailing and swimming. They ended up using their cassocks as sails to get out into the lake. They started to go swimming and noticed a number of pairs of eyes all turn to watch them- the lake was full of snakes! Suffice it to say that they made it back to dry land in record time.

Here I am standing on the restaurant patio overlooking the lake.

Here's a shot down the road in the Castel Gandolfo gardens. I tried to give an impression of the dimensions of the place in this and the following pictures. Enjoy.

Here's my friend Jason sitting under what must be a tree as ancient as the Roman ruins scattered around it.

Speaking of Roman ruins, here are the ruins of the tunnel the Roman Emperor would use to get around these gardens in the rain or in heavy sunlight.

This was a tranquil little Marian grotto in which Pope John Paul II would end his prayer walk through the gardens. Pope Benedict often uses this grotto for prayer, as well.

These are the Pope's fish, which live in the pool in the Marian grotto. According to Archbishop Harvey, they are so used to being fed by the Pope, they instinctively draw near to the edge of the pool whenever anyone wearing all white stands nearby. We tried to get the sisters traveling with us to test this statement, but they were rather reluctant. It was actually rather funny- the Pope keeps his fish bread in the ruins of a wall where a rock has fallen out- a rather humble storage place for the Pope's fish bread. I suppose you would have had to have seen it to fully appreciate it.

Here we are, gathered around the pool. Shortly thereafter we all prayed the Salve Regina in honor of Our Lady and the Holy Father. Note my Australian friend wearing a baseball cap with his dress clerics. [:)

Behold the Papal swimming pool! It's actually impossible to see in this picture, but that's where it is, anyway- that building past the fence and the foliage... as I said before, it used to be an outdoor pool, but it had to be covered to protect the Pope from the papparazzi.

Now for a few pictures of the Castel Gandolfo farmland. They had various produce, olive trees, greenhouses, and even some cows, as you'll see in one of the pictures. There is also a helipad in one of the shots, which is rather self-explanatory.

Finally, we took a nice group picture with the Archbishop. Afterwards, Francis and I got a shot with the Archbishop as the seminarians from Kalamazoo. He actually remembered Father Fleckenstein from his time at the NAC, which was highly impressive.

Well, that's it for now. More to come soon. Stay tuned for pictures of our Labor Day First Year vs Second Year Softball game, as well as my trip to the Swiss Guard Barracks and anything else that comes up between now and then. May God bless you all.