Saturday, September 26, 2009
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
Sunday, September 13, 2009
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.
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.
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.
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
Thursday, September 10, 2009
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.
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.
Wednesday, September 9, 2009
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.