Friday, September 17, 2010

On Retreat....

In my room I have an icon of St. Ignatius that was painted by William McNichols. In the Icon St. Ignatius has one finger up to his lips, and the other near his heart. The finger up to his lips is in the typical gesture to remind us to be quiet, and boy do I need that reminder right now.

Rome is noisy. I live over Piazza Venezia, and not a moment goes by without a motorino passing under my window. My life is noisy. I have two soundtracks, one in English, one in Italian, running in my head at all times. My heart right now… a little noisy. So I am headed north, and east, into the mountains for a week to be quiet and pray.

Those of us who are Jesuits have the privilege of doing this every year, of renewing our life in the spirit by just being quiet and being with the One who makes our vocations both possible and meaningful. It’s the time to listen to that still small voice, and the time focus all of our thoughts and all of our intentions one the one who loves us.

Augustine once said that prayer is like breathing for the soul. Imagine your first breath after coming up from a prolonged stretch under water… that is what retreat can be like for your soul. This is why I am so excited to come up for air.

Ignatius lived in this house, and I can picture him being here at the cross roads of Rome knowing just what I am talking about, that he needed to be quiet and pray. So do I.

So I am off to the mountains to pray, and this blog will lay dormant for a week or so. Pray for me and know that I will be praying for you. 

Descending into St. Peter's Prison Cell.

Sometimes the simplest places are the ones that can fill us with awe. Today I visited a cave that was turned into a prison in about 500 B.C.  It was in that prison that St. Peter was held before his death. Below is the video, enjoy.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

A Visit to the rooms of St. Ignatius of Loyola.

I am fortunate to live in the same house that a couple of Saints lived in, most notably among them St. Ignatius of Loyola. Here is a visit to where he lived.


Friday, September 03, 2010

The Capella Clementina and the Communion of Saints.

5:00am. I know that for many religious this is midmorning, but for this nocturnal son of St. Ignatius, 5:00am is an ungodly hour. Why did I get up at 5am today? The answer is in a conversation that I had with a fellow Jesuit last month in Florence, when a good friend of mine invited me to a mass that he was celebrating in the Capella Clementina, at 7 am this morning.

St. Peter's Basilica at 6:45 in the morning.. just barely after sunrise.
For those of you who don’t know, the Capella Clementina is the Chapel closest to the tomb of St. Peter. It is the oldest part of St. Peter’s Basilica, and it is here that, under the altar you can see the remains of the “Old” St. Peter’s, namely the basilica of Constantine. If you go up to the altar and look down through the grate you can, in fact, see the actual tomb of Peter, where it was rediscovered during the archeological digs under St. Peter’s. People have worshiped in this space since the martyrdom of Peter in about 64 AD. The chapel was rebuilt by Pope Clement VIII in about 1592, and adorned with marble and gold. Clement left his mark, literally, on the chapel and all around it you can see the 8 pointed stars that are a part of his coat of arms. (You can also see these stars worked into the floor of St. Peter’s Basilica around the papal altar)

The interior of the Capella Clementina, it is only able to hold about 6 people. 
So today we went to pray literally at the tomb of St. Peter, two other Jesuits and I woke up very early and took the bus across town and were actually the first people to pass through security at St. Peter’s Basilica this morning. At the tomb of Peter this morning I prayed for everyone in the path of the Hurricane back in the states. I figured the tomb that we were praying at was the tomb of a man who had seen the Lord rebuke a storm, and who had asked the Lord to rebuke a storm in scripture, so why not. After mass we went by the tomb of John Paul II, and I prayed there for a relative that was recently diagnosed with Parkinson’s because it just seemed to make sense. A few weeks back, when I first got to Rome I stumbled upon the Church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, which is literally a block away. The body of St. Catherine of Siena is buried there, and so I prayed for a friend of mine who, like St. Catherine, is a woman who both loves her faith and Church, but who also passionately works for justice in it. In Venice I prayed for my friends who teach scripture at the tomb of St. Mark.  In Assisi I prayed for a Jesuit friend of mine who keeps finding himself on TV at the tomb of St. Claire, since she is the patroness of TV. Then there are the rooms of St. Ignatius, where I go to pray each day. In those rooms I have prayed for BC High, where I just completed three happy years, and I have prayed for many Jesuit friends of mine there as well.

A great cloud of witnesses indeed, as the writer of Hebrews says, surrounds us. These great saints not only serve to inspire us and intercede for us, but they also serve to connect us to those around us, because the communion of saints doesn’t just include them, but all of us who are living and still on pilgrimage. These saints have served, all too often, to connect me with the people that I care about most back home, even as the journeys to these places have served to bring me closer to the people I live with here in Rome. This morning in the Capella Clementinum, as I prayed for everyone in the path of the hurricane which now seems to be weakening, I didn’t feel quite so far from home. Maybe that is really in the end what the communion of Saints is all about. 

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Gearing Down to Understand Gearing Up.

In Jesuit communities in the U.S. there is almost always some dessert option after dinner. If you are as lucky as I have been in the past three years, you are blessed to live in a community where the cook is particularly talented with cakes and desserts. So when I came to Rome, I was sad to hear that we wouldn't have that everyday here.  Now don't get me wrong, I certainly don't need dessert. In fact, truth be told, I am better off without it, but it seemed like it just might be one more annoying cultural adjustment that I would have to make, then I strangely realized that I kind of liked it. 

The view from my desk as I write this. 
In addition to losing a little weight, this arrangement is made all the more enjoyable by the fact that we have a fairly simple way to mark special days here in Rome. For example, today was the feast of St. Augustine, and so after lunch we had cake. Tomorrow is a Sunday, and Gelato will be served. On regular days though, its just fruit, and that's increasingly becoming something that I kind of strangely enjoy. For example, this past week, on the feast of St. Bernard I sat down with a piece of cake, and jokingly said: "Thank you St. Bernard for your life of austerity and poverty, for this we will enjoy cake."  Now irony aside, I didn't know it was a feast day before I walked into the dining room, in fact I quickly pulled out my Ipod to see which feast it was, and read a little about St. Bernard. The thing is, in the US I am not sure that I would have looked up which feast it was had we not been celebrating, and the fact that we even do something so simple to mark those days is a very cool thing. 

St. John of the Cross in his famous Dark Night of the Soul points more eloquently to the reality that I am getting at. He says that sometimes in our spiritual lives God allows us to go through dark, dry, dessert periods so that we can really appreciate what it is to feel God's presence. I like that thought, and I think that those of us who live in the US could stand to learn something from it. 

The simple reality is that when we become too contented, when everyday is a feast day, we lose sight of what it is to celebrate. When everything is too pleasant, we become dulled to life around us. I think there is a way in which an American lifestyle sometimes can lull us into a spiritual coma, if only by simple always giving us access to everything that we want. Maybe the best thing that we can do is save some of those pleasurable everyday things for special occasions, and to do some critical self reflection about what we can really do without, so that when we do enjoy those little things in life they are really a cause for celebration. 

Sunday, August 15, 2010

There's No Place Like Rome.

Here it is: a very quick view of where I live. The video is sped up to get you through what is a 10 minute walk in 3 minutes or so, but you can catch glimpses of the important stuff. More detailed videos of different things in the house to follow. 


Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Random thoughts from Rome.

Rome unfolding from the top of St. Peter's

1.     Apparently the bar across the street is where the Swiss Guard go to hang out… this should be interesting.
2.     I went to a Wal-Mart like store named Panaramo in the suburbs today via the Metro. I had to walk back with a laundry basket full of stuff through the Forum. Tourists were still annoying.
3.     Tourists in the forum have this habit of randomly stopping in front of you to the point where a single walk through the forum yields an average of 3.2 collisions.
4.     I can see a tower designed by Michelangelo from my bed as I fall asleep. What can you see?
5.      I went to La Storta this weekend for the first time. After we prayed in the chapel of the vision for an hour I went to get an espresso, when I emerged everyone was gone.  (So I just went to the train station…)
6.     Went to watch the Sox Game tonight at the ex-pat bar nearby,  they were playing trivia, I could have won on my own. (Come on, seriously, which Muppet lived in a trash can, as a question????)
7.     I bought a bottle of Coke today. The label, which was from before the world cup, advertised over a thousand free vuvuzelas in a give away…. Strange that Coke knew what a big deal they would be this time around in advance of the cup….
8.     I am actually beginning to have conversations with Italians fairly confidently, and they seem to be tolerating my horrible Italian.  I am told that Ignatius spoke horrible Italian too, so much so that little kids would correct him. I take consolation in this.
9.     I have learned that 30 Celsius is the upper threshold of gross sweatiness.
10.  The walls were paper thin at the little hotel that we were studying at in Verona, not a huge fan of not being able to talk to anyone after 10:30pm Verona time.  This isn’t be such a huge deal in Rome (where our walls are 400 years old and about a foot thick.)
11.  I realized today that horsemeat is a Veronese specialty, and that without knowing it I have probably eaten it. I have my suspicions about which mystery meat it was, but don’t ask how I liked it.
12.  I have begun to be recognized by the barista at the café across the street from my language school. This morning he had my espresso ready for me before I even asked.
13.  It cracks me up when Americans are clearly lost in my neighborhood, particularly trying to find the Pantheon, and I ask if they need help and I get something like “nope got it,” and then they wander off in the wrong direction anyway.
14.  I have learned that if you just stare down taxi cabs while you are in a crosswalk they will stop, the same cannot be said for moto-scooters.
            15.  Taking a walk like most Romans do at night for a little exercise is a good thing, the             positive  effects of which are negated when you merely walk to the Trevi Fountain for Gelato. 

Saturday, August 07, 2010

A Letter which echoes back..

If Christ is for us.. who can be against us???

I had this thought tonight as I was standing atop a newly discovered terrace in our house here in Rome. If Christ is for us then who can be against us? If you look to the west, you see the Capitoline hill. Here they crowned new emperors; behind it lay the ruins in stone and brick of what was once the most powerful place on earth. If you look east, you see a hill on what was once the outskirts of that powerful city where the executed a man who was old and likely illiterate from a backwater town in a backwater country.

If Christ is for us…. Who can be against us???

On that hill today stands the most prominent point in the eternal city, the dome of St. Peter’s. The empire is in ruins, and yet the place where an impotent (in the classical sense of the word) fisherman was executed upside down is revered.

If Christ is for us…. Who can be against us???

If you look to the north you can see the space where nine college friends lived for a few years while they waited to figure out what they should do since their original plans were going to be delayed by war in the middle east. If you look immediately down, you can see where one of them died years later as one of the more influential men in Europe and in the Church. If you look down you can see where the letters that captured the imagination of an entire continent arrived from one of those men who went to India. If you walk down the stairs you can walk where their followers walked, like the son of the most notoriously violent family in Spain, and you can stand in the spaces where one of the wealthiest men in the world at the time decided to turn in his wealth for a life of poverty….

If Christ is for us…. Who can be against us???

I am not saying that St. Peter or St. Ignatius would be thrilled with the churches built in their names, in fact I suspect that they might be perplexed by them, but faith has overcome empire, and the indecision of the quarter-life crisis shared by Ignatius, Faber, and Xavier was transformed into the Society of Jesus.

So I ask, looking at Rome, boldy and bravely…

If Christ is for us… who can be against us.

I daresay that there is still even more to it than this, and that these symbols of the in-breaking of the kingdom of God are only half measures. We need to be as bold as St. Peter, and embrace what the world sees as futility in coming to Rome, a place where they were executing Christians.

We need to be as bold as Ignatius, Xavier, and Faber, to look with hope to the future even if/when our plans fall apart.

Now is not a time to be practical, but to embrace a holy boldness. We need to look at the world as it is and continue to pray that God’s kingdom come ON EARTH as it is in heaven, and believe it can happen….

If Christ is for us… who can be against us?????

Friday, July 30, 2010

Scenes from my first month in Italy.

So this is video from my first month in Italy. It is more a montage than anything else. In the future I plan to be more in depth with details about what you are looking at, here is just a nice little video showign you what I have been up to. Enjoy!


Tuesday, July 27, 2010

A quick note on the new background.

So you may have noticed a pretty radical change in look, if this makes it harder to view this blog, or makes it unnecessarily slow, let me know via comment and I will try to fix it. I chose this background, however, because if you look in the bottom left hand corner, just below the Vittorio Emanuele monument, you can see the facade of a Church. That, dear readers, is the Gesu. That is where I now live, and where these posts will (mostly) be coming from. So I figured it was as good a reason as any to put it up there. Any comments on the new design are welcome!
In Christ,

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

From the Opera....

The First Video I will post up here is a simple one,  most will be far more edited and have far more information, I just don't have the bandwith to upload those from Verona. This is the aria Nessun Dorma from the Verona Opera Festival.  Every year the city of Verona hosts an Opera Festival in its famed Ancient Roman Arena. For the low price of 23 Euros you too can sit on solid granite for three hours where people have sat for thousands of years... 

This Aria is at the beginning of the third act of Puccini's final opera, Turandot. Far and away my favorite Aria, Marco Berti did a great job. This is the Encore, I just sat, listened, experienced, and welled up a little the first time he sang it. The shear beauty of this moment can only conjure gratitude to God. 

In this song, Calaf, the deposed prince of the Tartars is singing about his plan to win the love of Turandot, the princess of China. Turandot to this point has been the original ice princess, Calaf actually calls her as much in the previous act, but this bold young prince has a plan to win her heart. The words (in Italian and English) are below, this is really just the end of the encore though, there was no way I was going to ruin this moment by taping it the first time through. 

Nessun dorma! Nessun dorma!
Tu pure, o, Principessa,
nella tua fredda stanza,
guardi le stelle
che fremono d’amore
e di speranza.
Ma il mio mistero e chiuso in me,
il nome mio nessun sapra!
No, no, sulla tua bocca lo diro
quando la luce splendera!
Ed il mio bacio sciogliera il silenzio
che ti fa mia!
(Il nome suo nessun sapra!…
e noi dovrem, ahime, morir!)
Dilegua, o notte!
Tramontate, stelle!
Tramontate, stelle!
All’alba vincero!
vincero, vincero!
 English Version
None must sleep! None must sleep!
And you, too, Princess,
in your cold room,
gaze at the stars
which tremble with love
and hope!
But my mystery is locked within me,
no-one shall know my name!
No, no, I shall say it as my mouth
meets yours when the dawn is breaking!
And my kiss will break the silence
which makes you mine!
(No-one shall know his name,
and we, alas, shall die!)
Vanish, o night!
Fade, stars!
At dawn I shall win

(It's so much better in Italian...) 

Monday, July 19, 2010

More Random Thoughts From Verona.

A Disclaimer first. This will turn into more of a video blog as soon as I am back in Rome. The internet is simply too slow where I am to upload video in Verona.

Without further ado...
More Random Thoughts From Verona.
(The Winged Lion of Venice, a reference to St. Mark, or a Character from the Chronicles of Narnia? You be the judge....)

1)    I really value a language that puts such a heavy emphasis on the verb “to nap.”
2)    Washcloths could be America’s next great gift to the world, I anxiously await a shipment of them from the states thanks to my Mom.
3)    Venice has it right with all the canals, but the flooding of the streets at High tide has to be a constant reminder that the city is sinking.
4)    I am not sure how well a city can venerate the remains of a saint that were stolen from another city during the crusades (The remains of St. Mark were stolen by Venetians and brought back to Venice)
5)    The Lion with wings all around Venice looks like something out of Narnia.
6)    “How you like me now” by the heavy is a song that everyone should have in their I-Tunes Library, if only for it inherent ability to build self esteem, despite its poor grammar.
7)    The good people of the tourist industry will do everything they can to rip you off. For example, it was 104 degrees (40 Celsius) in the Dogge’s Palace in Venice on Sunday, we emerged looking for water in Piazza San Marco, and found a 2 liter bottle for 4 euro, which we though was a bargain until we saw it on sale for 50 Euro cents in the supermarket down the street.
8)    Once you know Italian, going to the Opera is like going to a broadway show, only the lyrics and music are better. The Turandot in the Arena di Verona makes Les Miserables (my favorite broadway show) look campy.
9)    That being said, it is easy to write poetry and lyrics in a langue where almost every word ends in a vowel.
10) Romeo and Juliet really loses its zip in Italian.
11) Itunes movie rentals are an important part of any expat’s sanity diet.
12)  A sanity diet are those little things that you do to feel a little bit more at home during a transition.
13) Everyone here seems to assume that: I play basketball well, I can throw a baseball well, I know George Bush/Barack Obama, and that all I really want is a cheeseburger simply because I am American.  Only one of these is really true, guess which one.
14) I responded to an email in Italian for the first time to an Italian Jesuit today. It was probably a hot mess, but I am still proud of myself.
I am glad that I got out of town before the Sox started to tank. 

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Random Thoughts from Verona.

     1)    Dental floss cost me € 4.50, that is like $5.60. The same amount costs much less in the states.

2)    Not everything costs more, and it all depends on where you get it, going to the outskirts of town makes things much much cheaper.
3)    Nuns are pretty awesome and we don’t treat them nearly well enough, the sisters here are pretty spectacular.
4)    Verona is extremely beautiful, now that I know how to get in an out of the town center.
5)    When one is going into the town center, one should remember to put batteries into one’s camera.
6)    Its hard to believe I have been here a week, it seems much shorter.
7)    No matter how beastly hot it is, I can find Gatorade nowhere.
8)    I was sitting in class today learning how to say we are afraid of something, when asked what they were afraid of, my classmates said “Tigers” and “Lions” one even said “An Elephant stampede” Then I realized that they were all from Africa and India and had, in fact, encountered these things.
9)    I love Pasta, but wow people, just wow.
10) I played basketball today with a bunch of people from Africa and India. I was picked first because I am American. In about three minutes the team captain realized his mistake.
11) Juliet’s balcony is easily seen from the street, unless you are taking pictures I can’t imagine why you would pay to get into the courtyard. That said, how Romeo could have gotten himself in there past the gate and over the three story walls is beyond me. (and yes I know its just a scene from a play, and that that house likely has nothing to do with it.)
12) I like that Verona is both cooler and quieter than Rome, I also love the air conditioning in my room. I have it set at 20 Celsius, though the cleaning lady keeps turning it back up to 24 (which is like 75, and is reasonable enough)
13)  I ate dinner with some guys who were speaking a Slavic language last night (rather than the Italian that we are all supposed to be speaking) I asked an Oblate of Mary Immaculate that I was sitting with f they were Russian, he told me they were, I asked them where they were from in Russia (In Italian of course) they all stared me down and told me they were from Poland…. Oops..
14) I am beginning to really like it here. 

A Few new ones...

-       I realized that my family is essentially from the West Virginia of Italy while watching TV tonight. I will be much more careful about making redneck jokes in the future. (there you have it John Brown, Kevin Dyer, Carrie McGrath, Megan James, and anyone else I would consider to be from “the South outside of New Orleans”)
-       I still want to go down to Calabria to see where my great grandparents were born, and I am still proud of my heritage, particularly if it is as bad as northern Italians say it is my grand father and mother are proof that there really is an American dream.
-       Went to a pizzeria in the piazza of a little Italian village with a nun from Burma, an Oblate of Mary Immaculate from Texas, a white father from Nigeria, and a seminarian from Cameroon who recounted his tale of staving off a lion.
-       I was shocked by how similar an Itaian supermarket is to an American one, found Powerade, it didn’t taste the same.
-       Can’t find Old Spice in Italy, they do have Gillette though. Something nice about switching to a brand with it’s “World Shaving Headquarters’ in South Boston.
-       6 words. Turandot in an ancient Roman Arena. Nessun Dorma… Nessun Dorma.
           -      I plan to go read Romeo and Juliet at a sidewalk café outside of Juliet’s house, what are you doing with your Saturday afternoon?

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

A new look for an old blog.

For the past three years I have been teaching High School in Boston, MA, and this blog has been dormant. Now, however, I have moved to Rome and there may be need for a creative outlet again, so back to the Blog.

It is going to be different this time though, while I may still be posting some reflections, a bigger part of this blog will be dedicated to pictures and videos of my time here. I am going to try to focus on those things that the casual tourist might not see in Rome, and of course when interesting things happen over the course of my time in Rome, I may do some guerilla journalism as well to give you a sense of what the event was like on the ground. The first video will sum up the past three years, and the next will be a post from Verona, where I am studying Italian.