Monday, August 16, 2010

The End of Year One in Rome: Part II: My Reflection

I think I can say, along with probably all of my classmates, that this was a year of great growth for me, spiritually and humanly (if such a word exists- if it didn't before, it does now, so there). Rome, for better or for worse, is an extremely formative city, and I say 'for better or for worse' quite deliberately. Rome will form you or deform you, depending upon what you do with it. You can grow in holiness, virtue, people skills, intellectual breadth, and more, but you can also grow in bitterness, complacency, feelings of entitlement, and other very negative traits all too easily if you do not watch yourself and stay honest with your spiritual director.

I've certainly felt homesick at times and Italian sick (as in, sick of the language and the cultural... eccentricities and being a stranger in a strange land) at others. I've had days where I have been extremely frustrated with a couple of my classes, both in form and content. I've wanted to bang my head into my desk until I blacked out more than a couple times. Seminary life itself is a remarkable and artificial thing, designed to test and stress as it forms.

The lack of families, our own and others, as well as the lack of women and, of all things, the lack of parish life wears on all of us after a while. It brings us great delight to see our choir director have to run off after his toddler as she attempts to escape his grasp at college banquets or other events, ducking under tables and running off down the corridor. There is something beautiful and messy at the same time- something real, I suppose, to such an interaction that some of our formation can lack. It is not really a complaint so much as a statement of fact- I do not know if seminary life could be other than it is and still do its job. It's why the college tries so hard to have us organize social events in house- sporting events and parties and talent shows to name a few. They also strongly urge us to get out and travel when we get a chance, even requiring us to travel during Christmas and Easter and summer breaks.

What's more, the uphills in the spiritual life only get steeper the higher you climb. That being so, your legs get stronger and God's assistance grows even stronger, so that a man on his way to the priesthood can be assured of two things: he does not possess the strength in himself to persist, and that God will be all the strength He needs and far more than he can ever imagine. For every hour of frustration and exhaustion this year I enjoyed five of joy. For all the difficulties in seminary, there are so very many joys and extraordinary experiences. I have made close friends that I pray I will keep for the rest of my life. I have seen and done things I never would have dreamed of doing only a year ago. As tough as this year has been, the graces have far outweighed the trials- the fruits of the harvest have been well worth the sweat of the sowing- and it has, praise God, by His grace been making me into the man He calls me to be. May it please God that it continue to do so and I continue to do so.

I feel myself being drawn even more strongly toward pastoral ministry, toward fatherhood in a spiritual sense, desiring ever more to lead the people of God home to Him. As I have spent time abroad, my vision of the people of God has grown, having born witness both to the unique trials and the great strength of heart of the Churches in other countries, from the Latin rite Italians to the Coptic rite Egyptians, from the Netherlands to the Pyrenees. I have grown in my concern for all of them, though at the same time I have grown ever more desirous of being with my people back in little ol' Kalamazoo. My travels have been incredible and I do not take them for granted for a moment, but I still feel my heart drawn back to my own diocese.

In all this and in all my studies in Rome, it has been so edifying for me seeing my brethren exhibit that pull- that divine draw to save souls- back to their own people, especially when they go back to far greater problems and crosses than I can even imagine in my time thus far at home, yet they go willingly, longingly, and purposefully, to give their lives as lights in a dark place, to offer the Truth and Love that is our Lord Jesus Christ to those who, whether they know it or not, long and yearn for Him with all that is within them.

May I ever grow in zeal for God's will and love for all whom I will serve. To end, I wanted to post a short paragraph from Edmund Campion, an English Jesuit martyred by Elizabeth, that I read last week which really clarified our reason for being over here, at least for me. He was writing an apologia for himself and for the seminarians who would return as priests to certain death in the violently Protestant British Isles of the 16th century. We may not share the exact same circumstances, but we might yet share the same drive and sentiment as those who have gone before.

"I doubt not but you, her Highness' Council, being of such wisdom and discreet in cases most important, when you shall have heard these questions of religion opened faithfully, which many times by our adversaries are huddled up and confounded, will see upon what substantial grounds our Catholic Faith is built, how feeble that side is which by sway of the time prevails against us, and so at last for your own souls, and for many thousand souls that depend upon your governance, will discountenance error when it is [uncovered], and hearken to those who would spend their best blood in their bodies for your salvation. Many innocent hands are lifted up to Heaven for you daily by those English students, whose posterity shall never die, which beyond seas, gathering virtue and sufficient knowledge for the purpose, are determined never to give you over, but either to win you Heaven, or to die upon your pikes."

The End of Year One in Rome: Part I: The Events

There is so very much about which I could write here at the end of my first year in bella Roma. This was certainly a difficult experience, one of the most difficult to date, but also, as such things go, one of the most rewarding. I had a whole month of late nights at the end of the semester for various reasons. I had numerous guests in town, on at least four occasions I can recall, including the visit of our beloved Bishop Bradley, Father John, and a few of my seminarians brothers from Kalamazoo. It is wonderful welcoming guests and being able to show what humble hospitality we can, but hospitality is a very time consuming act.

I also had a large paper to write and an exam to pass for my acceptance as a Scavi tour guide. I spent one extremely late night on that one, but it turned out just fine. I do have to brush up on the material again after a summer away and give a couple tours with another guide before I am officially commissioned, I think, which is very exciting. What an incredible apostolate, to be able to lead pilgrims to the resting place of the Fisherman!

Finally, of course, I had to prepare for exams. Normally, we are given one reading week and four weeks of exams in the spring semester, but I had to condense it to three reading days and 8 days of exams, which was brutal, but I came out of it in fairly good shape, all things considered. I'll break this up into two posts to make it a little more readable, so TO BE CONTINUED...

The Holy Cure of Ars

During the Easter octave, the men in our house were offered, on a first come, first serve basis, the opportunity to go on a retreat in Ars as the Year of the Priest was closing. It was a little pricey but I jumped at the opportunity. I approached the trip with a little skepticism and trepidation, for I feared that Ars would be thoroughly commercialized- a tourist trap for pilgrims. The quiet, peaceful French country town was a far cry from what I had been expecting. Truly the Holy Cure even in death still intercedes for and offers a good witness to this small town, for the strong faith life there was evident. Afternoon adoration was extremely well attended, and a nun with a simply angelic voice led children in hymns for a portion of the time. Young and old, lay and religious were all present in adoration every afternoon.

I was able to spend some good time in prayer with Our Lord and the Holy Cure there, and was truly inspired and humbled by what I saw and experienced there. The retreat was very good in a number of ways. It was sufficiently prayerful while still leaving plenty of time for fellowship, which was much appreciated. Our retreat leader saw it as a sort of 'retreat lite', a far cry from the seven day silent retreat of the fall. It's one thing to socialize at the college, but it's quite another to do so on our off-time. I got to spend some really good time with some of the guys with whom I did not regularly cross paths. Two of them taught me cribbage one night, and I naturally dominated on my first attempt. The last night we had a bonfire behind the French seminary, and we stood around, shared our stories and waxed philosophical (and theological) as some of us, quite naturally when waxing philosophical, partook of some spirits and cigars.

The trip was great in just providing some time for much needed rest, as well as both for reinvigorating us individually in our drive for sanctity and the pursuit of our call, as well as building us up fraternally as men encouraging one another in their desire to serve as priests of the Most High. It was wonderful to be able to get to Ars before the end of the Year of the Priest. I prayed most fervently for our bishop and priests, as well as for all our seminarians and those considering the priestly or religious life. I took numerous pictures during my time there, so I hope you enjoy them.

Here is the seminary where we stayed.

This is St. John Vianney's bedroom. Notice the large collection of books in the next picture- he may have been poor, but he considered study to be of great importance.

Here is the entrance to the Church. This part was built by St. John Vianney, while the dome in the back was a later addition.

On the left is the confessional in which Vianney heard confessions.

Here is the man himself, and us praying (or getting our pictures taken) with him.

Here is a statue commemorating John Vianney's famous arrival in Lourdes. It was a foggy day and he got a bit lost. Seeing a young shepherd boy, he told him, "if you show me the way to Ars, I will show you the way to heaven."

Finally, here we are, gathered around our bonfire behind the seminary at dusk.

We took a day trip to Paray-le-Monial, the site of the apparition of the Sacred Heart to St. Mary Margaret Alacoque. Here we are, approaching the small town, along with a picture of her tomb and one of the mosaics of the Sacred Heart in town.

Tom's Triumphant Return

So I have, at long last, returned from my summer apostolates. I finished up my exams very early- more than two weeks early, so that I could leave in mid-June to teach English in Cairo, Egypt to two dozen Coptic Catholic seminarians. After 4.5 weeks, I went home with one of the seminarians and spend a fews days in his village, after which John Lovitsch, the other seminarian with whom I was traveling, and I went and climbed Mount Sinai and saw the burning bush! We then returned to participate in early orientation for the newly-arrived first-year seminarians. After that concluded, I departed for Lourdes, France for two weeks, from which I returned late, late Tuesday night of last week. It was an incredible experience, to say the least.

I apologize, as I seem to have to do regularly, for being gone for so long. The serious amount of work I had to do to be able to depart so early in conjunction with the business of the summer has kept me blog-free for quite some time. Now, though, I finally have a few weeks off in which I can kick up my feet and catch up on blog posts. I will be gone until Saturday, but after that I'll be near my computer. Unfortunately, my camera bit the dust- almost literally- right at the end of my time in Egypt- I think the excessive quantities of dust and grit in conjunction with the incredible heat destroyed the mechanism for opening and closing the shutter and lens. Thus, I have no pictures from Lourdes or our trip to Mount Sinai, though my friend John will get me pictures from Sinai when he can. Be assured of all my prayers- I prayed fervently for all my friends, family, those entrusted to my prayers, and those in need of my prayers during this summer, especially in Lourdes and on Mount Sinai.