The Cross, and the Face of Christ, In Calcutta

A group of young guys we visited on the way to Mother Theresa's Center for Lepers
I’m starting to write this listening to the rain pour down on the roof outside.  Scratch that, I’m writing this as Niagra Falls apparently has relocated to the skies above me; the amount of water that has precipitated from the heavens during the past five minutes seems borderline impossible.  I should note that I haven’t seen any cats or dogs falling along with the rain drops, but there are plenty of those outside wondering the streets as well, along with goats, and chickens, and cows.   I’m in Calcutta (in India), it’s monsoon season, and I’m spending 3 and a half weeks working with the Missionaries of Charity, at the place where Bl. Mother Theresa started them 65+ years ago.  

Not that I ever expected to be here - almost exactly on the opposite side of the world as home, and nearly as far from Rome as Rome is from the mid-west - but ever since the middle of last semester it became evident that coming here was an option, and quickly something I was very interested in doing.  Unfortunately, I thought of the experience very abstractly, very idealistically.  “it’ll be beautiful”, I’d think, “to help the poor of India, to see the places where Theresa of Calcutta walked and worked, and to experience a culture very different than my own.”  And so it is, but the beauty took a while for me to find it.  

The thing was, Calcutta is anything but abstract.  The torrential rain; the mangy cats and dogs, and cows and goats; the gazillion-percent humidity; the throngs of people - some selling street food, clothes, or hindu offerings, others carrying buckets of water, kids, chickens, or whatever, some swathed in eastern-garments, others in jeans and t-shirts, others in not much at all; the ancient busses, taxis, motorcycles, auto-rickshaws (and person-powered rickshaws), bicycles, and carts of all kinds; the grime on, and surrounding, so many buildings (somehow still there after even the most powerful deluge), the garbage and sewage on the streets, and everything else.  Calcutta is an eye-opening experience like no other, and I was unprepared to be confronted by it when I got here.  I told people that this would be quite the experience, but where I was ready to see the city, help the sisters, see if I could handle the food (answer: sort of) I wasn’t ready to see 3rd-world destitution first hand.

The convent where we got lodging is a 15-minute walk from the Mother-House of the MC’s, through a pretty poor area of the city.  It’s not quite people living in cardboard houses, but it’s close.  The buildings are poor, many very dilapidated, people bathe in the streets, along with all the trash, chicken-butchering, and food-cooking, and only recently have I realized that this isn’t the slum, it’s not far off from the way the average person lives here.  The MC’s immediately assigned me to Nirmala Hriday each morning - Mother Theresa’s first center in Calcutta (after the Mother-House itself), - a home for very sick, and dying, men and women.  It’s right next to a Hindu temple (Kalighat), and entails a 30 minute ride on the Calcutta bus system (an experience all its own, with the old, now heavily decorated busses, and loads of people), and then a walk through the market up to the Hindu temple (some days absolutely jammed with people, as in, the densest crowd I’ve ever been in).  But, of course, that is just the beginning.  After arriving, I was confronted by the site of 50+ men, of all ages, slowly moving (sometimes crawling) from their cots to the main room, being washed, fed, bandaged, medicated, and otherwise cared for.  I had never seen anything like it, and I didn’t really know what to do.  So I helped where I saw a need - washing clothes, trying to talk with the men, spoon-feeding some of them, mopping up, scooting them around on chairs, holding their hands and just smiling at them.  It was exhausting work, a bit terrifying, sometimes revolting.  

After Kalighat, we usually try to find something to eat, whether that be bread and peanut-butter from a grocery store or some food at a cafe (there’s a couple that other volunteers have pointed us to that are sanitary), but after lunch we have ended up doing a variety of different things.  We’re officially assigned to Daya Dan, another MC center, this one for young men/boys who are disabled in one way or another.  Some are blind, some very emaciated, some with mental problems or learning disabilities, others just under-developed.  It’s hard work all the same, again it’s just very draining to try and figure out how best to help these guys, especially when I don’t know the language or how capable they are.  The other day I was trying to help teach one of them who is blind how to climb the stairs.  He did make it up eventually, but I was frustrated by his inability to really do it on his own.  He just didn’t seem to ever pick up the rhythm of stepping, pulling, stepping, pulling…  Another one of the boys I tried to feed a snack the other day, but I didn’t know how to tell him to swallow, and he didn’t seem to understand that rather important stage of the process, so we ended up with most of the snack, and a good bit of added saliva, still in the bowl afterwards.

So, basically, on the face of things, the days have been filled with a lot of challenges.  It’s frustrating because everything is so different, disgusting because so much of the city is so squalid (not the MC centers, I must emphasize), distressing because these men, and so many of the people I see, are in such dire straights, and disconcerting because I am so unprepared to cope with, and respond to, what I’ve been seeing.  I just finished spending 3 weeks studying Catholic social teaching, but we had mainly discussed bringing the faith back to a western world, that is ignoring, rejecting, or persecuting it.  I have spent a year studying theology, but we’ve stuck mainly with Scripture (reading and interpreting it), the Trinity, the Church (theologically, historically, currently), and doctrines of the faith (understanding and explaining them).  I’ve spent 3 years in seminary, gradually growing in my ability to pray, study, think, reflect, and trust in God. I thought I was doing pretty well all-in-all, and then I got here and I found myself at a loss as to what I could do in the face of so many struggling people, and my person discomfort in the face of, and living amidst, all of that.

Thankfully, God’s grace has been abundantly active over these past couple of weeks!  During all those moments of frustration, or disgust, He’s given me glimpses of beauty and love.  So often on the walk back each evening - when I might be lost thinking about the smells or grime - some of the kids who live there chase after us calling out “hello!”, “good night!”.  Their laughter and friendliness is just beautiful.  At Kalighat, the guys are so grateful simply for our presence.  One of them, Thomas, has a condition where all his muscles are locked up, so he can barely move and is kind of curled in on himself.  So, myself and some of the other volunteers will usually try to spend some time each day trying to stretch those muscles and loosen him up a little.  He will say “more” to tell us to keep pushing/pulling, “volunteer tea time” when our break-time comes each morning, and will break into the most beautiful, single-tooth, grin when we’re working with him.  Just the moments of grace that come each evening during our Holy Hours (either with the Missionaries of Charity at their motherhouse or sometimes the MC Fathers at their rectory) are awesome.  Our Lord is so generous in His consolations after my pitiful attempts to be a glimpse of His love to those I work with each day!  

In the end, I’ve been forced nearer than ever to the cross, mainly in the sufferings of those that live here and in my own pitiful attempts to help them.  It’s a daily struggle to be here - when I work, I don’t know what I’m doing, when I sleep, I sweat, when I eat, I mostly want things I can’t get here (a salad would be absolutely amazing!), when I move around, I am repulsed by the roads, crushed by the crowds, or ripped-off by the taxi drivers.  Yet all these things, as I said, I’ve realized are a chance to draw close to the heart of Christ.  When Peter rebuked Jesus for thinking about going to Jerusalem to die, Christ had tough words for him.  Why?  Because the cross is the heart of who Jesus is.  It is only on the cross that Our Lord allows “king of the Jews” to be written (before He had always avoided that title) - not because He wasn’t king before, but because the cross shows Him to be the king of love, the king who suffers for us, the king who takes our sins upon Himself.  So yeah, Calcutta isn’t much fun, but it has been an amazing experience nonetheless because of that great grace that it is to stand for a while nearer to the cross.  Pray for me that I will accept that grace without complaint, asking Our Lady to help me (she's the first and closest one to the cross) and learn to love a bit more like Jesus because of it.

Water, on the roads (in a bus on the way to Kalighat)
Random side note: it’s now a couple days after I started this post and now it’s sunny and hot outside…  BUT, between now and then, there were also times when a foot of water was covering about half of the roads in Calcutta…  

Less random side note: I also have now experienced the so called “kiss of Calcutta”, otherwise described as being miserably sick for 3 days with a high fever and not being able to keep anything down - thankfully, now I’m just about back to 100%.
Final note: because I wasn't able to get to the internet over the past week or so, I'm actually now back in Rome having spent the last couple days in Chennai (further South in India, still on the East coast) seeing the city and especially the tomb of the Apostle St. Thomas.  

Evangelize with Love

Part of the struggle of bringing Catholic social doctrine to the public sphere (to a great extent, what the Tertio program that I just returned from, was looking at) is the fact that our world is much less receptive to rational, nature-based, arguments than ever before.  Pope Benedict called this the dictatorship of relativism, but quite simply (if tragically) this is the "anything goes" mentality which rejects any objective, unchanging, everybody-can-figure-it-out, truth for a world based on "your truth" and "my truth".  Well, it's pretty simple, if you don't have an objective truth to mutually rely on, you really can't have a discussion: if you don't have any common ground, you can't have a conversation.  So what do we do when rational discussion breaks down?  How do we bring Christ's truth to the world?

I was discussing this with one of the Sisters of Life who were also attending the seminar, and she grinned when I brought up this question, and said "we just have to be martyrs!"  It was an answer I should have known, but it was one that led to a lot of thinking, and praying about, over the following weeks.  We talked about the exact same thing in our small-group discussions; how do we bring the truth of the Gospel to our modern, anti-Gospel, world?  The answer was hanging above our heads, where the crucifix showed us how Christ brought the Gospel to His anti-Gospel world; He didn't argue that God is love, He showed it.

We, of course, have to do the same thing.  And folks, these times where the anti-Gospel is so rampant, allow us to do just that - to proclaim with our lives, with our witness [martyras/μάρτυρας in the Greek], the truth of the Gospel.  People aren't convinced anymore by rational argument - fine - show them that the Gospel is true because your life is evidence for it.  Show them that following the truth of Christ isn't bondage, but freedom, not oppression  but joy.  And here's the key point that I wanted to make in this post: this is exactly the approach we need to take in the (so attacked today) realm of respect for life.  We must show the world that every human person deserves our respect and love by giving that respect and love to every human person.  It's easy to rally in support of the unborn - they're defenseless, yet we mercilessly, pointlessly, atrociously, murder them, that is an injustice that drives us to act.  It's "easy", in this sense, to show our love for the unborn (even if not socially beneficial nowadays), but what about when love is hard?  Our Lord calls us to "love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" - when was the last time you showed your love publicly for an enemy? Do we go out of our way to show love for those in Planned Parenthood who were recently exposed for selling the body parts of aborted babies?  What they did was unthinkable (though the logical, utilitarian, conclusion from legalized abortion), but how much time have you spent praying for them?  What about the ISIS-attacker, who recently assaulted (and nearly murdered) a tourist at the Colosseum?  What about the gay-marriage activists who have recently won the federal right for two men or women to marry each other?  We may be similarly repulsed by these evils, but does it drive us to love or hatred towards the persons committing them?  

Not for one instant am I saying that what these individuals have done is morally right.  Abortion is wrong because it is the destruction of human life (and selling body parts from that is tantamount to cannibalism), ISIS-executions are wrong for the same reasons (and so many others), and "gay"-marriage is wrong because it not only hurts any children that couple would raise, but destroys the fundamental element, purpose, and structure of society, and goes against one of God's first commands, to "be fruitful and multiply" (besides going against His creation itself: they're called "reproductive" organs for a reason).  What we should realize though is that all these terrible actions are rooted in a fundamental misunderstanding, or ignoring, of human dignity.  Murder and homosexual actions are wrong because human life is sacred, and we cannot destroy, or redefine, what God has created in His image.  But, here's the big point, we must not forget that innate sacredness, that made-in-God's-image, that ability to give and receive love, that is ours as human persons, in our outrage at rejections of that dignity.  Our reaction to sins against the human person must not lead us to commit sins against different human persons (the perpetrators of the original evils).  

John Paul II forgiving his would-be assassin
To hatred, we must respond with love.  To a rejection of God, we must respond with prayer.  To oppression, we must respond with solidarity.  To terrorism, we must respond with charity.  This is as much of a challenge for me as it is for any of you I suppose.  The difficulty lies in hating sin, but loving the sinner, in making reparation for evil, but interceding for evil-doers.  It has nothing to do with being push-overs, but if we take Christ as our model, we see that love must be our answer, to those who love us, and those who don't.  Not a weak, "luv", but the greatest love: of laying down one's life for another (and his eternal life).  Only this kind of love will convert hearts to Christ because only this kind of love truly mirrors to the world the love of Christ. 

Kolbe holds a crucifix for good reason
Story: It is the end of July, 1941, in Auschwitz, and the Nazi's choose 10 individuals at random to die as a punishment for the escape of three of their fellow prisoners.  Fr. Maximilian Kolbe steps forwards and offers to go in place of another man who had cried out upon being chosen for this terrible death (starvation and dehydration in an underground cell).  The shocked Nazi official authorizes the swap, and the 10 men march off to their deaths.  Two weeks later, having sung hymns or knelt in prayer for most of that horrendous time, Fr. Kolbe is still alive and is killed with an injection of carbolic acid.  The guards place his body in a coffin and cremate it.  St. Maximilian Kolbe is an amazing example of love, but not only for the man who's place he took, but also for the guards who he prayed for, and surrendered to, even after they had tortured him, and then sent him to this excruciating death.  That love had an effect!  Not only did Franciszek Gajowniczek (the one whose place was taken by Kolbe) get to return to his family after WWII, but even the Nazi guards, seeing that incredible witness of Christ-like love, were moved to place his body in a coffin and respectfully carry it to the cremating ovens.  That was the only time in Auschwitz that we know of a "respectful" burial, and those guards did that because they saw something different in Kolbe, they saw love in the midst of hatred, grace in the midst of hell, a saint in the midst of sin.  

We're called to that same witness, that same courageous love, which doesn't attack evil with evil, but displaces it with the greater power of charity.  We may not convince the world with our arguments, but we will with our Christ-driven, and given, love.  In a world of great sin, saints are all the more visible.  

"By this all men will know that you are My disciples, 
if you have love for one another." 
- John 13:35 - 

Weakness, the Starting Point of the Greatest Saints

I don't know about you, but I often have grandoise, or at least ambitious, plans to do these great things and change myself, the world, or whatever, for the better.  For instance, I was a bit disapointed in myself this past semester because I got really busy with a lot of (great) things and didn't have as much time as I wanted for other (greater) things, like reading those books outside of class, or visiting those churches around Rome that I haven't seen yet, or creating videos around the Eternal City, etc.  So, I've been thinking about next semester and trying to plan on making room for those things.  I want to spend 2 or 3 hours each afternoon reading/studying, at least an hour praying, and, more specifically concerned with this blog, I want to spend more time blogging, like, 30 minutes every day or something.  Problem: I didn't have that much time last semester, and I don't think I'll suddenly have an extra couple hours each day to devote to these, and other, projects, this semester.  It's disheartening!  I want to do so much and then I not only don't get those things done, but I fall down in so many other ways as well!  

So right now I'm actually in Krakow, Poland for something called the Tertio Millennia Seminar, where myself and about 34 (ok, exactly 34) other students from around the US and Eastern Europe are studying the history behind, life of, writings/teachings of, and impact of St. John Paul II.  It's absolutly amazing, not only to be studying in such a cool place, under such great professors (George Weigel, the guy who wrote that thousand-page biography of JPII, is one of them), and in a program instigated by JPII, but all those factors combined with the lucidity, power, applicability, and impactfulness of the teachings of our late, great, pope, and the fact that he's one of my personal favorite saints, is just amazing.  

Long story short, that actually has to do with my complaint in the first paragraph.  Something I've realized over the past year is that I have a streak of a perfectionism, or maybe just over-achieverism (is that a word?  yeah, probably not...) in me, and so when I see a great saint I want to be like them.  Now, obviously, I know that we're all called to a specific time and place, with specific talents, abilities, graces, and history, all of which God directs at an individual vocation, but I still want to be a saint (that's kind of the whole point of being created in the first point).  And so, when I hear that JPII prayed for 6 hours a day (and brought down Soviet communism), or John Vianney lived on a potato a day (and spent 18 hours in the confessional), or Mother Theresa was an absolute beacon of joy while in the midst of great interior darkness (and opened like 500 centers during her life time to care for the poor/ill), I want to be like that.  Saints are just super inspirational, and I get all fired up to live the faith like they did ... and then I fail to even get close.  I don't get even my holy hour in every day, I struggle to pass up one invitation to go get ice cream, and when I get distracted in prayer I give up so quickly and don't even try to give my attention to God.  

Thankfully, there's an answer in our greatest model, Jesus Christ.  Now wait, you say, He is God and man, absolutely perfect, absolute love, how could He possibly be a easier example to follow?  Isn't following Him shooting even higher and doomed to even greater failure?  You think JPII prayed, look at the example that Christ gives in the Agony (and so many other times)!  You think that the Cure of Ars sacrificed, look at calvary (or just Our Lord's life in general)!  You think Mother Theresa's prayer life was dry, listen to the cry of anguish on the cross - "My God, My God, why have you abandoned me" - as Our Lord is burdened beneath the wretchedness of all our sins.  And this is a valid complaint, there is no way we can "match" Christ in his generosity, mercy, humility, obedience, sacrificial love, prayer, or anything.  Yet He still tells us to "be perfect as Your heavenly Father is perfect."  Aren't we doomed to failure?  

No, we're not!  Look to Christ, look to those saints, what did they do?  They were perfect, just as God is, in giving their all.  JPII had the grace to be able to pray for long periods of time, inspire people with his words, and not sleep much, and so He gave that time and ability to God.  Vianney was given the physical endurance to fast constantly, yet minister so completely to so many penitents who flocked to them.  Bl. Theresa of Calcutta was given the strength to carry on, in joy, in the midst of great trial and distress.  All these saints though - and this is the big point - weren't completely, divinely, perfect, they were perfect in as much as they gave everything - their weakness and their strengths - totally back to God, totally in His service.  Saints aren't people who don't have weaknesses, they are those who allow God to fill their weaknesses with His grace.  

These thoughts were running through my head as I knelt in Adoration in the Church of St. Florian here in Krakow (Fr. Wojtyla's first parish after his ordination), and I was very grateful to Our Lord for inspiring me as I gazed at the crucifix, not only with this idea of the weakness of the saints, but also of the weakness of Himself on calvary.  Jesus must have wanted to give so much more on the cross, yet He couldn't, He was physically limited in how much torture he could endure.  Why was He "only" on the cross for 6 hours or so - Pilate himself was surprised when he found out that Our Lord had died so quickly - couldn't he have shown His love in an even more astounding way by even greater sufferings?  Now, don't think I'm saying that Our Lord's sacrifice was inadequate, or that it wasn't one of the most brutal, painful, deaths in the history of the world, His incarnation alone was more than enough to save all of us, but, Christ is all love, and He chose the passion to show that love to us in a most raw and amazing way, and yet He falls on the way to calvary, He cries out in the midst of that anguish, He dies after "only" several hours (some crucified persons suffered for days).  Why?  He was willing to be weak before God, and before us.  He was "humble to the point of death, death on a cross."

This is the essence of sanctity, not to be good enough to do incredible things, but to be humble enough to let God do those incredible things.  JPII, John Vianney, Mother Theresa - these weren't super-humans, they were supernaturalized-humans.  It isn't as if really strong people can live on a potato a day, or shear determination could get somebody through a holy-six-hours, or if you were tough enough then total darkness in the spiritual life doesn't effect you.  No!  It was precisely, and only, in the fact that they relied on God completely, not themselves, that they could do those amazing things, and the same is true of us.  God calls us to give Him everything, and let Him do the rest.  That's true humility, and that is what transforms the world and our own lives.  It was humble, loving, obedience that was asked of Adam and Eve, and they failed, and it was through humble, loving, obedience that Christ came into the world and then saved the world.  We are called to that same perfection, that same awesome vocation, that same fired-up, passionate, sanctity, that same completely self-giving humility, absolute abandonment to love, and filial obedience that we see in the saints (always modeled on Christ Himself) and we, like them, are given the specific graces needed in our lives, our situations, our vocations, to live up to that.  

Don't be discouraged by great examples of holiness: Fall down? Get back up.  Feel weak? Give that to the Lord.  Think you can't change the world?  Take a glance at the coal miner oppressed under the soviet regime (Karol Wojtyla), or the seminarian who couldn't understand theological terminology (John Vianney), or the tiny sister from Albania who is shocked at the poverty of Calcutta (Sr. Theresa).  These individuals didn't expect to change the world, but they were willing to let God do that through them, and so He did.  He wants to do the same through you!

Adoration at St. Florian's

God Wants to Transform Every Evil with His Love

Recently in our Moral Theology class we have  been studying the problem of evil and how we can go about explaining how/why a good God could allow evil to exist in His creation.  In my Trinity Seminar we have been considering (guess what) the mystery of the Trinity.  In both these cases we have been able to make some headway into answering this mystery: for instance, when speaking about the problem of evil, logically, we can see how in our free-will we often choose the bad, we choose to hurt others, ourselves, or otherwise put something else as "god" in our lives, and thus, necessarily find ourselves incomplete.  In a similar way, we can come to some understanding of the Trinity: moving from the revealed truth of Jesus as the Son of the Father, who together promise to send the Spirit.  From here we are able to delve deeper into this mystery - God is one in substance and nature (this is what God is: perfect, eternal, infinite, etc.  The three persons are consubstantial in that they all have this same divine nature in its completeness), and, at the same time, God is three persons (this is, sort of, who God is: the three differentiated, not by differences in essence, but in relations of origin.  In other words, the persons are only differentiated by the relationships of love that they have with one another - the Father in giving Himself completely to the Son (perfect Father), the Son in totally loving and obeying the Father (perfect Son), and the Holy Spirit in being passively spirated by both of them (perfect Spirit)).  Obviously, both of these answers are unsatisfactory: "why doesn't God just eliminate evil?",  "but how are there 3 "parts" (so it seems) in one, perfect, unity?"
What I have realized this past week is that, though these mysteries remain because of our own weakness and limitations, it is into these very mysteries that God wants to enter and illuminate.  The trigger for this realization was a picture I saw on Facebook this past week.  The Sacristan at a church a couple hours north of my home-town found a host on the floor, and, as he should have, carefully preserved the host and notified the deacon, who placed it in a container of water.  This way, if the host was consecrated, it would dissolve, and could thereby be disposed of properly (and if it wasn't consecrated, no harm done).  However, when the Deacon came back a couple days later, assuming the host would have disintegrated completely, he found instead a mass of blood in the midst of the water. Eucharistic miracles aren't just medieval happenings, the result of over-active (or naive) imaginations of people "back then"!  

So, what do all these points have in common?  All these "things" - the presence of evil, God, and the Eucharist - are mysteries, they are beyond our limited understanding, but, in all of them, God wants to enter that mystery and drive away all that lacks His presence.  

Into evil God wishes to enter and transform with His love.  In the suffering of someone who has lost a loved one, God desires to fill their heart with the peace of His promise of eternal life to those who love Him.  To the person who has fallen into sin, God wishes to forgive that sin and "resuscitate" that soul, reinvigorating them with His joy and love once more.  To the hill of Calvary, where evil seemed to have its "greatest" victory, where the greatest physical pain, the greatest injustice, and the greatest abandonment came together: God is present, He became man just to enter that moment and prove once and for all the abundance, and omnipotence, of His love.  

What about the unknowns that we have about God?  He becomes man to bring us to that Truth, to Himself.  Why?  Because we are made in the image of God, we are meant  to become more like Him.  Our categories, our rational ways of explaining the Trinity, our analogies, aren't so much us getting closer to the truth regarding God - every analogy, falls hopefully short of the true grandure and awesomeness of God - but these thoughts aren't pointless.  Our drawing closer to God leads to our own fulfillment, our intellectual working towards the Trinity does get us to a closer idea of what we are supposed to be.  God shows Himself, as Father, Son, and Spirit, as perfect love in mutual, completely generous, relationships.  We are supposed to be that way too!  Augustine in his De Trinitate ("On the Trinity") looks inside of ourselves to catch of the glimpse of the Trinity, as it is in Itself.  He moves from (but retains) the "economic" idea of the Trinity that we find evident in the Scriptures (of the Father as creator, the Son as redeemer, and the Spirit as sanctifier), to a more metaphysical [read: essential] understanding of God.  He shows that just as our mind has memory, intellect, and will, and goes in that order: we remember something, think about it, and then decide to act in some way regarding it, so the Trinity has Father, Son, and Spirit.  Both sets of 3 work in an order (the Father eternally begets the Son, and from both of them the Holy Spirit proceeds), but the first "part" doesn't exist without the other; as soon as we remember something we think about it and act on it, as "soon" (eternally) as the Father exists, so does the Son and the Spirit.  So, this exercise does reveal something about God because He has revealed that we are images of Him, but our mental capacity is still limited, so we'll never understand the Trinity completely.  (We are always stuck, so to speak, looking at God from one "direction", either we see Him as one, perfect unity, or three, in the three persons, we can't quite wrap our head around the mystery completely).  End of story?  No!  Where God sees a lack of goodness (in this case, knowledge of Him), He wants to fill that lack with Himself, with His truth, with His love.  We are imperfect images of God, so, Christ comes as our savior and redeemer, to save and redeem us.  To reform us back into more perfect images of Him (and the entire Trinity).  Jesus not only directly reveals to us the truths of God, He also tells us to "love one another as I have loved you" (John 13:34).  This isn't just a moral commandment, this is a map to our true end, God Himself.  In Jesus' loving death for us, He redeems us, and in His calling us to the same sacrificial-love, He pulls us closer to God.  Recap: In our weakness itself, in our lack of imaging God, God wants to forgive us and make us again in His image.  In our lack of knowledge, Jesus comes to reveal more about God!

Finally, in the third situation, that of the Eucharistic miracle, God aids our all-too-often weak faith with a miracle making His presence obvious.  This is the case with all Our Lord's miracles: He not only heals the sick, and forgives the sinner (mystery 1: destroying evil), but He also does them to make obvious to us His divinity (mystery 2: revealing God) and showing His true, complete, incredible, presence in His sacraments, priests, and Church (mystery 3: Eucharist).  God is so good!  In the Eucharist miracle at Orvietto (which is a couple-hour train ride from Rome, and I will see for the second time at Corpus Christi), the priest was suffering from doubts about Our Lord's presence in the Eucharist.  Sometimes we have the same doubts!  "Lord, are you really there?  I can't see you."  Yes He is!  In that miracle, as in the one that took place a couple days ago in Illinois, the host - for all appearances a piece of bread - began to bleed!  He is truly there!

Jesus looks at us poor doubting sinners with the same eyes of love that gazed on His apostles "O ye of little faith".  He wants to fill every place of evil, sin, doubt, or fear with Himself!  Trust Him, love Him, let Him!  Let our words be those of the centurion: "Lord, I believe, help my unbelief!"  Lord, we believe, but we fall, we doubt, we don't live up to your call - help us, transform us, have mercy on us! (And He does!)

Legion of Mary, in St. Peter's Square!

In your second semester at the NAC you get assigned an apostolate, which usually involves some kind of work in the fields of evangelization or charitable work.  Options are as varied as working with the Missionaries of Charity to feed the poor, to teaching students catechism, to giving tours of St. Peters, to - and this is the one I am blessed to be a part of - evangelizing pilgrims in St. Peter's square as part of the Legion of Mary.  Lets just say, it's an amazing apostolate!

Like any other Legion group (it is a worldwide organization, with "Legions" of Mary at Parishes all over the place), the 10 or so of us meet once a week and pray the rosary, read out of the hand-book (both devotional, speaking about the beauty of emulating and following Our Lady, and practical, as in, how to do that out in the world when trying to evangelize), and go through the reports of what all the members did over the past week.  In our case, the work we do doing during the week is always evangelizing down in St. Peter's Square.  We go out in pairs, for about 2 hours, and just make ourselves available to whoever wants to talk with us during the time.  So, I've been out a handful of times now (I started at the beginning of this semester), with a couple of different guys, and it has had a profound effect on my approach to evangelization, my confidence in approaching and conversing with strangers, and my excitement for the priesthood.  

Regarding evangelization, two factors have made this apostolate a fantastic chance to learn how to take the Gospel out to the world.  Firstly, the other guys that I've been going down there with are great examples - they're zealous, loving, excited, patient, knowledgable, and approachable - and they've taught me a lot about how to jump into a conversation with a random pilgrim in the Square.  I found myself prone to sort of dismiss those who just wanted directions to the Vatican Museum or the times for Masses in St. Peter's; it was easy just to give them the info and send them on their way.  But, as the other guys showed me, evangelization often begins with the most humble of openings - just ask them how they liked St. Peters, or how long they've been in Rome, or where they are from, and boom, things happen.  Like the lady we encountered asking where to buy rosaries - simple, I thought, head down the Borgo Pio and you're set - but instead we started to talk with her, and she started talking about her kids, the trip she was currently taking with her husband, and asking about our vocations and what we were doing in Rome.  We ended up inviting her to the NAC for Evening Prayer, went out for dinner afterwards, and it turned into a profound conversion experience for her and her husband who hadn't been to church in years!  Factor number two: a lot more people have questions about the Church and the faith, than I would have thought.  I guess I figured that most people wandering in and around St. Peters would be Catholics, or at least Christians, coming to the center of Christ's church here on earth.  But, that is not the case at all.  Sure, there are many, many pilgrims who don't have questions about the faith, but an awful lot do!  Is Pope Francis changing the Church's teaching on marriage, abortion, etc? (answer: nope - Jesus taught otherwise.)  Will we have female priests? (answer: nope - Jesus chose otherwise.)  Why are the churches so lavish, yet there are poor people all around? (answer: love of the poor has to be integrated with love of God, beautiful churches aren't antithetical to caring for the poor), Why is Peter this important? (answer: Christ chose him to lead His church, as He chooses every Pope to continue being his vicar until His return).  

The Fountains are Flowing Again!
(they are especially beautiful at night, lit up from below)
Obviously, conversations have gotten a lot deeper than that, and I don't want to leave you with the wrong emphasis by my summary of conversations that we've had.  I've learned that above all it's important to not go into a situation with the idea to argue the person out from their error to the truth.  Yes, apologetics plays a role in the conversations - that's part of proclaiming the truth - but, possibly just as important, is exuding the joy and excitement that comes from following Christ.  People don't like an argument, even if it's convincing, they do like happiness.  Christ offers both: truth and joy, and they do go together, but a glum, argumentative, seminarian doesn't change anybody's life, whereas a person who is excited about the truth does!  (Obviously, with God's help.  That example I gave above truly made me realize this.  I said very little during the multi-hour conversation, yet, somehow, God was able to work through our presence to bring Himself to this couple.)  Being "confident" doesn't mean being macho, and off-putting, it means being willing to share the faith, the relationship with Christ, that I have been blessed to have.  It means showing just how amazing life is when you give it over to Him.  Yep, there are crosses - classes are hard, I don't have enough time to do everything I want (hmmm. maybe it's not all about me...), I'm not perfect, I'm far from home - the cross is part of following Our Lord, but there are so many more blessings!  The chance to be 5 minutes from the Vatican, to play soccer in sight of the dome of St. Peters, to travel around Europe, to delve into the mysteries of the faith, to walk past a dozen beautiful, ancient, saint-filled, churches on the way to class every morning, to start every day with Mass, and spend a couple hours talking with God every day - it's awesome!  Does following Christ automatically mean fun travels and great classes? No. But it does mean fulfillment, the peace of knowing that every moment - good, bad, easy, hard, boring, or busy - is a gift from Him, a gentle reminder to turn to Him and be thankful for His love.  It is challenging, but it is rewarding, and the world doesn't know that those things can go together (they can!)  Evangelization isn't faux-confident, overbearing, pounding-in-the-truths-of-the-faith, arguments; no, it's about living ones life according to Christ and thereby showing just how amazing that is.  This is what the early Christians did (above all in their willingness to die for their faith, confident in Christ and peaceful in knowing that eternal life awaited those who turned their lives over to Him), and they transformed the world!

Last point: Being down there, in the collar, bringing the faith to those traveling through Rome, has made me ever more excited to one day, God willing, be a priest.  Gosh, ordination could be only 3 years away at this point - that's crazy (as in, time is flying by), but it's also exciting!  I can't wait to get back to my diocese and minister to the people there, bringing them the faith that I've experienced here in Rome, the sacraments, an amazing opportunity to encounter our all-loving God, and the inspiration of so many faithful that I've encountered here (that's something that I didn't even talk about in this post, as well as devotion to Mary...  Ah well, it can't be a dissertation.)

So yeah, it's an amazing apostolate and I am so glad that it was the one chosen for me!  So much to learn, so much to see, so much to do - all from, and for, Christ!

Pope Francis Visits the NAC!

Today Pope Francis, in his first visit to a seminary to Rome, came and celebrated Mass here at the NAC!  [now Saint] John Paul II would sometimes visit a country's seminarians here in Rome before going on an Apostolic visit to that country, and Francis is doing the same thing before his trip to the United States in September.  The entire morning focussed on Bl. Junipero Serra, who Pope Francis will canonize during his trip to the U.S., and who is a tremendous example to all of us priests-in-training.  I was in the choir, so the only time I saw Pope Francis up close was as he drove away after the Mass, but it still was an amazing gift, and certainly inspired me to recommit myself to all those things that made Bl. Junipero Serra such an amazing priest.  
Quote from Fr. Harmon: "the Pope has left the premises"!
(What a day!)
Our Stained-Glass Window of Bl. Junipero Serra
Junipero Serra was born in the early 1700s, became a Franciscan (taking the name Junipero), came to the Americas (at first he was in Mexico city), became famous for his preaching and missions, and then traveled up the Pacific coast of North America, founding missions and evangelizing the Native Americans living in those areas.  Key point: He truly loved the Indians, protecting them from the abuses rampant in the Spanish army (this was all territory of Spain at this point), and calling for forgiveness, not vengeance, even after a group of the natives burned the mission and killed at least one of the friars.  His missionary zeal and fatherly love for the people was unabated by lack of food, hundreds of miles of walking between the missions (on an injured leg), dangerous circumstances, and everything else, and he confirmed thousands who converted throughout the many missions he founded.  

Pope Francis Meeting His (lucky!) Servers
Pope Francis made 3 further points about this intrepid, indefatigable, insatiable missionary to the Americas during his homily (which was given in Italian, and during which I was very grateful for my time at the Gregorian which has helped my command of that language immensely - translation here).  First, he was absolutely on-fire with missionary zeal for the saving of souls and the transmitting of the Gospel message of Jesus Christ. This man left home, family, everything, and went to a far away, and little-known, new continent to bring Christ there!  
"Like Paul and Barnabas, like the disciples in Antioch and in all of Judea, he was filled with joy and the Holy Spirit in spreading the word of the Lord. Such zeal excites us, it challenges us! ... But I wonder if today we are able to respond with the same generosity and courage to the call of God, who invites us to leave everything in order to worship him, to follow him, to rediscover him in the face of the poor, to proclaim him to those who have not known Christ and, therefore, have not experienced the embrace of his mercy."
Us waiting for Pope Francis After Mass
Point #2: He entrusted his entire life and work to Our Blessed Lady! He put an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, now patroness of the Americas, in all of His missions.  Just as Mary opened her heart so completely to God's will, Junipero asked that she would open the hearts of those he was preaching to (and didn't she!)  Our job, do the same, entrusting our lives, and our efforts at evangelization to her:

"today's mission to the continent is entrusted to her, [who is] the first, holy missionary disciple, [and] a constant presence and companion, our source of comfort and hope.  For she always hears and protects her American children."

Pope Francis Waving/Laughing at the Crowd of Us!
Finally, the Pope emphasized just how saintly Junipero Serra was, just how totally he trusted and followed and preached and lived Our Lord Jesus' call and example.  But it gets better: there are tons of awesome saints from the Americas who we should emulate too.  Pope Francis's list: contemplatives like Rose of Lima, Mariana of Quito and Teresita de los Andes; pastors who bear the scent of Christ and of his sheep, such as Toribio de Mogrovejo, Francois de Laval, and Rafael Guizar Valencia; humble workers in the vineyard of the Lord, like Juan Diego and Kateri Tekakwitha; servants of the suffering and the marginalized, like Peter Claver, Martín de Porres, Damian of Molokai, Alberto Hurtado and Rose Philippine Duchesne; founders of communities consecrated to the service of God and of the poorest, like Frances Cabrini, Elizabeth Ann Seton and Katharine Drexel; tireless missionaries, such as Friar Francisco Solano, José de Anchieta, Alonso de Barzana, Maria Antonia de Paz y Figueroa and Jose Gabriel del Rosario Brochero; and martyrs like Roque Gonzalez, Miguel Pro and Oscar Arnulfo Romero.
 "May a powerful gust of holiness sweep through all the Americas during the coming Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy!  Confident in Jesus’ promise, which we heard today in the Gospel, we ask God for this special outpouring of the Holy Spirit.  We ask the Risen Jesus, Lord of all ages, that the life of our American continent may be rooted ever more deeply in the Gospel it has received; that Christ may be ever more present in the lives of individuals, families, peoples and nations, for the greater glory of God.  We pray too that this glory may be manifested in the culture of life, brotherhood, solidarity, peace and justice, with a preferential and concrete love for the poor, through the witness of Christians of various confessions and communities, together with believers of other religious traditions, and people of upright conscience and good will. Lord Jesus, we are merely your missionary disciples, your humble co-workers so that your Kingdom may come!"
"This is my Body"
Something that struck me powerfully today was the holiness so present in Pope Francis.  He celebrated a beautiful, reverent, intimate Mass for all of us, completely absorbed by the prayers yet showing a love and excitement for us, waving and grinning as he drove off.  It's a side of the Pope that we never here in news articles, but it's the "side" of our Holy Father that truly showed me his holiness and fatherliness!  It was beautiful, awesome, fun, and another one of those amazing experiences that I've been blessed with over here!  

Let's go convert the world!


"Peace be with you" - 3rd Sunday of Easter

Today we celebrate the 3rd Sunday of Easter, Christ is risen!  During his homily today, Father (Hanley) made a point that really resonated with me.  Coming from the Gospel we had today - about Christ's appearance to the Apostles after His resurrection - Father reminded us of the story of the Passion, specifically from the perspective of the Apostles.  Though it is certain that they would have been overjoyed at that news that was filtering back that Our Lord was risen, would not they also have perhaps considered their failure over the past few days to stand by their Lord and Messiah?  Despite their long friendship with Jesus - listening to Him, asking Him questions, eating with Him, laughing with Him - all (but one), in His moment of need fled.  

I hate to say it, but I often see myself do the same thing.  I look back at Lent and I'm disappointed at the lack of progress, or thinking about the past week, I become frustrated at my slothfulness in studies, lack of generosity to those around me, distractedness in prayer, or whatever.  Gosh, I want to be a great saint, but at the end of the day I'm so often like "Sorry, Lord ... again."  Think about the apostles, waiting in the upper room, hearing the news of the resurrection, and then Jesus appears in their midst - surely they hung their heads in shame.  "Sorry, Lord..."  They, Our Lord's closest friends, were wimps.  I know the feeling!   I know what I should do, and then I don't do it - "the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak" [Matthew 26:40].  

But, what are Christ's first words to the Apostles?  They weren't "Where were you guys?, didn't you remember that bit about 'pick up your cross and follow me'?"  No, He says "peace be with you".  Peace - not "the peace that the world gives" [John 14:27], not the peace of no worries - no, He gives the deeper, the better, the truer peace of His friendship and forgiveness, again.  Christ shows them His hands and feet, not only to prove that He is actually Jesus - Crucified and risen - but to show them that He took upon Himself their own failures, our own failures.  He looks at them with mercy, with tenderness, with love; He looks at us the same way!  He invites us back to the same friendship!  This is the mystery, and awesomeness of Easter, not only that Jesus is alive again, but that He still loves us and wants us!

"While they were still incredulous for joy and were amazed, he asked them, "Have you anything here to eat?"  Again, I don't want to trivialize the moment, but Jesus doesn't just eat with them to prove He's not a ghost, He wants to show that He's back, He's alive, He still counts them as His brothers, His band of followers!  He extends the same offer to us: in His mercy He is willing (and has) taken upon Himself all our sins, all our continuous failures, all our misery and weakness and wimpiness, and says "my peace I give you ... why are you troubled?"  Folks, this is the miracle of Easter: forgiveness of our sins, friendship with God, fearlessness of our weakness!  Of course, we can't stay where we're at: Jesus' resurrection calls us to try again, to unite ourselves with Him again, to repent and follow Him again!  "And he said to them, 'Thus it is written that the Christ would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.  You are witnesses of these things.'"  Despite our incessant failures, Jesus still wants us as His witnesses!

Thanks Fr. Hanley, that is exactly what I needed to hear today!

Christology - The Facts Lead us to a Relationship with Christ!

A couple of weeks ago our formation conference for the week was on Lectio Divina and the priest who was giving the talk at one point spoke about how sometimes even the distractions we find ourselves occupied with when we're trying to pray can be a trigger for prayer, or can be brought into prayer - and thus we not only return our mind/heart to God, but also bring to Him those things which are bugging/concerning us.  Usually I haven't been particularly successful in turning my distractions over to God in this way - it's hard to go from thinking about the pancakes that are on the menu and somehow turn that into prayer, for instance... - but today was different.  Today I spent like 6 hours studying for my Christology final which is tomorrow, and my brain was pretty well past the bursting point when I got into the chapel for my Holy Hour.  So, of course, my mind was filled with the medley of different facts that I had been trying to memorize/organize all day, and I wasn't getting very far in the whole considering God, Who was present before me, and conversion of heart and growing in love and everything...
Previously though, the teacher of the Christology recap class (in English!) had mentioned a couple of times that it was important to take the material we were learning to prayer.  We wouldn't learn about Christ unless we were speaking with Him!  Now, I had sat in the chapel a couple of times and reviewed notes - you know, highlighting about half of the stuff on all 40 pages, and writing comments in the margins, and then dozing off (not very productive in other words) - but today I actually took all the stuff to prayer, and boom, it was amazing.  I was meditating on the sorrowful mysteries while saying the rosary and all of them absolutely came alive with the information and insights that I had been working on today, it was great!  (And that is what this post is about!):
For the Agony in the Garden, my mind was brought to the focus this passage puts on the humanity of Christ - on His intense suffering, on His emotions, on the crushing weight of our sins, on the sweating of blood - but it is in precisely this moment, when the soldiers come to arrest Him, that Christ responds to their demand with "I AM"  Wham!  They hit the ground!  Why?  Because Jesus just spoke the name of God - the Tetragrammaton (we learned about that in Hebrew class!) - and not only that (which was blasphemous in itself) but used it to refer to Himself.  This moment in which we see Christ's intense suffering and weakness is also one that reveals His divinity.  This is where the Church will later be able to come to deeper and deeper knowledge about this very mystery - the hypostatic union, the humanity and divinity of Christ.  The council of Nicea (rejecting Arianism) will be able to say that Christ was fully human and fully divine - not just almost divine (homoiousia, similar in being with the Father), but actually fully divine (homoousia, one in being with the Father).  Why?  Because if Christ isn't fully human and fully divine He can't redeem us (more on that later).  But that's not all!  The council of Constantinople III was also able to affirm that Christ had both a human and divine will.  Why?  Because the hypostatic union - gradually discerned at previous councils - meant that the hypostases (Person) of the Logos, originally solely having a divine nature (as it is with the Father and Spirit) assumed - in time - a human physis (nature) as well, which meant that He had both human body and soul, with all our powers/abilities (otherwise He couldn't redeem body and soul), all the while retaining the Divine will as well.  This is obvious from this text in the double movement of Christ begging the Father to "let this cup pass from me" (His human will), but then immediately follows with "but not my will but thine be done" (His human and divine will are always in harmony with each other).  
For the Scourging at the Pillar I was considering the incredible humiliation and pain Our Lord underwent for our sake.  He accepts the greatest sufferings to be united to our own suffering which we caused by our own sins!  He accepts the greatest humiliations to further unite us to the shame caused by our selfishness and disobedience!  But "by His stripes we are healed"; He chooses to suffer in our place, He takes upon Himself not only our nature but also the punishment we deserve. 
For the crowning of thorns I was considering the titles that Christ had been given throughout His ministry but only accepts them in this moment.  Here (during His passion), unlike many other places in the Gospel, Jesus allows Himself to be called Christ, King, and Son of God.  Why?  Because this is the moment when they finally receive their full meaning.  Messiah or Christ, as well as King, are titles that the people expected to give to a victorious political savior - somebody who will kick the Romans out and bring on God's kingdom.  Of course, here is Christ, under Roman power, beaten, spit upon, silent.  Here, Christ gives the true image of the messiah and king - one who will be the suffering servant foretold by Isaiah, one who will bring God's true kingdom, which is not of this world.  Here, we see that the Son of God spoken of by Daniel and Ezekiel isn't just an angel, or prince, or something, but the God-man, who doesn't come down from the cross, but stays there for us.  Only in the light of the passion do these titles receive their true meaning, only here, bloody, condemned to die, does Our Lord accept them, knowing that there is no risk that they will be misinterpreted to think He is a political, temporal messiah.
The carrying of the cross: Our Lord falls, uniting Himself to our own falls.  Our Lord lifts the heavy cross, uniting Himself to us, who too must carry crosses.  Here the king of the universe, the Lord of lords, Him through whom all was created, needs help to carry His own cross up to Golgotha.  One can see the church - Christ's mystical body - battered and assaulted as all its members (us) struggle on towards Christ - falling sometimes under sin, battered by the powers and hate of the world, humiliated by the weakness of us who make it up... Of course, this is an imperfect analogy, but it is one that deeply shows us the union we have - through the church - not only of Christ's victory over death (a point that Paul emphasizes) but also with His cross. 
And then we reach the crucifixion.  Here everything comes together.  The scandal of Christianity - the paradox of God-made-man, who suffers for us, which every heretic has tried to explain away, but we must accept in faith (Paul again!) - is made obvious with the placard nailed above Our Lord: "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews"  Jesus can't be the messiah, can't be our king, can't be our Lord, can't be God - not only is He nailed to the cross ("crushed by our offences"), but He came from Nazareth.  Yet in His weakness, in His seeming-abandonment by everyone and even God ("My God, My God, why have you abandoned me?").  In this lowest, most crushing, most overwhelming, most painful moment He is called King of the Jews.  Who is the King of the Jews?  God Himself.  He cries out "I thirst" - isn't this another moment of weakness?  No.  He begs that we respond to Him in trust and faith.  He cannot force us, He is nailed to the cross, yet those nails don't hold Him, His infinite love does.  He beseeches us to come to Him, to come to His cross, to embrace Him, bloodied and broken for us.  Aquinas explains how Christ can save us in several ways.  Through merit - He is the head of the church, through which the merits and glory He gains by His obedience to the Father is passed to us (opposite the death and concupiscence passed onto us by the first Adam).  Through satisfaction - He makes up for our sinfulness through His super-abundant love, His charity makes up for our lack of charity, even our actions which nailed Him to the cross.  Through sacrifice - He is the perfect priest, offering the perfect victim (Himself) to God the Father, for us (we can't offer a satisfactory victim to make up for the injustice we have made through our sins, but Jesus can).  Through redemption - He pays the price to God for our freedom, that instead of being slaves to sin and the devil (a punishment we chose for ourselves through sinning), we might be bound to God through love.  But the main reason, and the most profound one, is that Jesus Himself is the agent (efficient cause) of our salvation.  Again, this isn't only in His divinity (though it is principally God who saves us), but also in His humanity (instrumentally - it's only a man that can fully redeem men).  He goes to the full extent of human suffering to save us from eternal suffering separated from Him! 

Jesus cries out "it is finished".  What is finished?  The soteriological [salvific] mystery that He began the night before - when He made Himself our slave, washing the apostles feet and showed Himself God, by instituting the new covenant in His blood with the gift of Himself in the Eucharist (again, we see Jesus showing Himself divine in the moment when He is most humble).  But that mystery  had already began years before in His first kenosis [self-emptying] that took place in His incarnation, when He took upon Himself our nature.  It's incredible, the Logos, the Son from all eternity, of the same substance as the Father and Spirit, became man.  His divinity didn't consume or overwhelm the flesh that He took, not being fully man (Docetism), He actually assumed a human nature (as Cyril affirms)!  As Jesus dies and the world goes dark, it seems as if death and sin have triumphed.  Yet, Christ is the "light [that] shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it". 
My rosary was finishing: "Oh my Jesus ... save us from the fires of hell, lead all souls to heaven".  As Christ died - as the second person of the Trinity died (the natures cannot be split) - He went as far as He could go out of love for us, to take upon Himself the penalty of sin.  And yet, in this moment - the worst moment of the entire passion - Christ's divinity again is made manifest.  For He triumphantly rises, the tomb is found empty, the Apostles come to faith, and then go to take that faith out to the world!  Death is overcome, sin is conquered, love destroys hate. 
And there you have it!  Distractions aren't always bad, Christology isn't quite as impossible as I thought (and I can remember a bit of it!), and knowing about Christ can lead to greater love for Him.  Gosh, there are so many other details I could have thought about, so many other teachings by councils that could be traced back to these moments, so many different meanings that could be brought to light in meditating on the passion!  Now, if only I could remember all of that for tomorrow!  Off to study, hope this wasn't completely confusing!  Please send a prayer or two my way!

Serving for the Pope II - God's Generosity

This is a write-up I did for the Quincy Herald Whig about a month ago (they surprised me by requesting a reflection on my opportunity to serve for the Pope, so I wrote this up for them).  They published it back then in part, but here is the entire reflection (kind of a different angle than my previous post about the Mass).  In other news, I finished my oral final in Fundamental Theology, which went really well - as far as I could tell - even though I ended up taking it in Italian, as well as the one in Hebrew, which also went well (good to be done with a couple more!)  Christology is tomorrow, and is said to be one of the harder ones, so I'll be studying a good bit today and praying tomorrow!
The patience of God” – God’s immense love and generosity towards us – was a point that Pope Francis returned to again and again during his homily for Christmas. It was also the idea that was running through my mind as I knelt there – in Rome, in St. Peter’s Basilica, in the first row of chairs behind Bernini’s immense baldacchino, serving Christmas Mass for the pope,– as the Holy Father pronounced the words of consecration, “This is my body… This is my blood…”, repeating the words that Our Lord pronounced so long ago, transforming, as Jesus promised, the host into Our Lord’s body, and the wine into His blood. It was an incredible moment!

Before my eyes flashed past the last several years of my life. My moving from being homeschooled, to attending community college in Quincy, to finally getting up the gumption to enter seminary and follow His “call”, discerning whether the desire in my heart to become a priest was also God’s will. I entered Bishop Bruté College Seminary in Indianapolis, studying for the diocese of Springfield, IL, in August of 2012, and Our Lord immediately made that patient, generous, love immensely evident to me. He graced me with tremendous growth in prayer, and my personal relationship with Him, with a sincere enjoyment of, and progress in, my philosophy studies, with the friendships, and fun, of being surrounded by dozens of other excellent, joyous, and eager seminarians, as well as so many other moments of excitement and happiness (sports, youth-rallies, skydiving, bar-b-quing, and so much more). God, though, has continued to amaze and astound me with His generosity because now I have been given the marvelous opportunity to study theology in Rome, here at the North American College. It’s as if Our Lord has “upped the ante”, drawing me into even deeper prayer through the magnificent churches, beautiful art, and proximity to the saints that one finds here, putting me in phenomenal, interesting, and edifying classes, surrounding me with another outstanding group of friends, classmates, and brothers, and – like this past evening – filling my days with once-in-a-lifetime opportunities of all sorts.

Washing the Pope's Hands!

At the end of the ceremony, as the choir triumphantly sang “Adeste Fidelis” during the procession out of the packed basilica, and the Pope carried the statue of the Baby Jesus to the crèche, my mind was distracted with the growing fatigue of my arms. Those processional candles were beautiful alright, but they were also heavy, and not being the tallest of the group, I had to hold mine at an uncomfortably high position, further hastening the buildup of lactic acid in my muscles... But then I glanced around and realized for the umpteenth time during that Mass that I was in St. Peter’s Basilica, mere feet from the Pope, Christ’s vicar, and celebrating the beautiful and awesome feast of Our Lord’s birth. It was a situation that reminded me, again, of everything that had happened over the last several years. It hasn’t always been easy – those philosophy classes were tough, and the theology ones in Italian are even more difficult, prayer hasn’t always felt fruitful, and so often I’m too tired to truly raise my mind to God, sometimes those other guys got on my nerves, and saying goodbye to come over to Rome certainly wasn’t easy – but in every moment, fun and stressful, easy and hard, exciting and exhausting, I can see God’s providence constantly guiding me down the way He wants me to take, making me the individual He wants me to be. Getting drawn closer to Jesus, and His joy, means being drawn closer to the cross, and further away from my own selfishness, laziness, fears, and desires. Those shepherds got to meet Christ their savior, but only after getting over there fears and trekking down into town, out of their way, to find Him. I got to serve Mass for the Pope, but only if I sweated a bit and carried around that heavy candle. As Pope Francis emphasized, God is immensely patient: this is what Christmas is all about! God humbly, innocently, without coercion, becomes one of us, to show us His love and draw us to Himself. All those incredible blessings, and difficult struggles, that I have experienced, have been His gifts – sometimes humble, sometimes frightening, sometimes small, sometimes big – and through them, God continues, ever so gently, to direct me towards his will. As it turns out, life as a seminarian here in Rome is very much like that Mass: an incredible, awesome, fun, and life-changing experience, but requiring a little soreness and trepidation as part of the process.

Not only was it incredible to be there – serving Mass for the Pope – but it was even more incredible to realize God’s love present constantly in my life. Every year, billions of people celebrate Christmas – the coming of Christ, as a man, into the world, 2000 years ago – but we forget that He wants to enter our lives at all times, not just on December 25th. So often I get distracted by the problems and struggles of life, and forget to step back and notice how much He gives me, not only in the overtly blessed, exciting and joyful moments, but also in those times of weariness, fear, and difficulty, when He desires that I return and trust in Him. So many times I forget to thank Him, or forget to have faith in Him. Yet He continues to give Himself to me, and to all of us, humbly lying there in the manger, in the Sacraments, in the Scriptures, in the encounters of daily life, patiently awaiting our approach and acceptance of Him.

“The patience of God” – it’s something God has generously shown me time and again in my own life, and it’s a gift that He gives all of us. The extraordinary, unlikely, and wonderful experience of serving Christmas Mass at St. Peter’s, for Pope Francis, has reminded me yet again of the profound truth in the saying “God will not be outdone in generosity”. You don’t, though, need to serve in a Papal Mass to see that: at Christmas we celebrate the even more extraordinary, unlikely, and wonderful event of God becoming man, of Jesus being born. That event, the coming of Christ into our world, also requires a bit of sacrifice on our part (to open ourselves up to Him), but it, even more than Mass with Pope Francis, or living in Rome, is totally worth it! 

I have ordered some "official" pictures of the Mass so hopefully in the coming weeks I can get those up here - they're a lot better than a screen-grab from the YouTube video...  Still, the experience is more important than the pictures, so I wanted to get this post up here.