Sunday, September 04, 2011

Two days following St. Ignatius.

Truth be told, I am too tired to write right now after two long days of tourism at Montserrat and then Manresa, following in the footsteps of St. Ignatius in northern Spain. Here, however, are some photos to share of our visit to these places.

I hope that you enjoy them!

Monserrat, The Shrine of our Lady, where St. Ignatius laid down the sword of a knight:

Manresa, where he wrote the Spiritual Exercises:

(Disclaimer, I only friend people that I actually have met in person on Facebook for a measure of security and privacy. I am glad to share these two albums from Facebook with everyone, but please don't be offended if I don't respond to friend requests if we haven't met in person. )

Thursday, September 01, 2011

The Road in Reverse.

In front of the Barcelona Skyline.

The road from LaStorta was a journey that began for Ignatius in the foothills of northern Spain, near the town of Azpetia. Eventually, after journeys through Spain, the Holy Land, and France, Ignatius ended up at LaStorta praying in a small chapel by the side of the road in sight of the walls of he eternal city. Today I have arrived in Spain, along with the rest of my classmates at the Gesù to being to trace the Spanish part of that journey in reverse. We landed in Barcelona, are staying in Manresa, and eventually will make our way towards Loyola for our retreat and a mass with Fr. General. In these days we are retracing our steps, to find where the road began. Even as we, like Ignatius, approach the final moments leading up to the end of one journey, the journey towards ordination. This seems to be a constant theme of my summer, going back to the foundations of my family, going back to the foundations of my Order, and going back to the foundations of my vocation. That's a picture of me with Barcelona behind me, I have come to Spain for the "Arrupe Month," amidst the Jesuit pilgrimage sites. This time in Spain isn't just a pilgrimage, it is a time which the Society of Jesus sets apart to think and pray about what it is to be a priest. Heading towards ordination, it seems to be a blessed time to get back to basics.

I was talking to my spiritual director the other day and his advice was that we find God at the foundation of ourselves, and when we can genuinely appropriate God's presence there, when we can admit to the wonderful and fearful fact that God dwells and operates in each of us, we can finally come to the fullest realization of ourselves. To do that, though, we sometimes need to retrace our steps.

For St. Ignatius, just like for so many of us, there were wrong turns. I write this from the house built over the cave where it is said that he was in such despair that he contemplated suicide. He was also, even after his conversion, thrown into prison and because of stubbornness, threatened with excommunication. Somehow, he is a saint. I would suspect that his sanctity is born out of precisely this sort of moment, a moment of going back to the roots of who he was, and where his journey began. Once in his life he even went home after he had resolved to leave the world behind to set things right in Azpetia. I am sure that the incredible work that he did on the Spiritual Exercises, which he began in the house I am typing this from and finished in the house that I normally live in, were a recounting of those experience of God's trust and care in his life. As it is, he always reminds us to go back to earlier graces received when he writes about prayer.

The Bridge over the River Cardiner.. taken from my window.

So often things get confusing. There can be a million and one desires which flood our hearts, a billion worries and little cares. That's precisely when we need to follow the breadcrumbs back and take the road in reverse. That is when we need to get back to basics, and to the most basic thing, which is of course our relationship with God. This is not to get back to it in the hustle and bustle of daily life, sometimes we just need to get back to where it all began, drink it in, and be grateful for it. When we can do that, we can loudly proclaim with Mary that "The almighty has done great things for me, from this day forth, all generations will call me blessed," because then we can be bold enough to proclaim that God is actually working through us, and all of the other things, no matter how lost we may have been, in light of God's forgiveness and love, don't seem to matter much. So here I am on the road in reverse, and I have been going backwards all summer, to find my family, my order, my vocation, and hopefully along with Mary be able to really understands what it means to have my soul magnify the Lord.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Go raibh maith agaibh.

Dear Ireland,

Thank you.

Thank you for taking me in in a moment when I had gotten lost in the immensity of all that has happened in the past year and helping me get back to basics. Thank you for that reminder in your devotion to the Sacred Heart, and the need in that novena to rename what I want most, namely, to be a priest. Thank you for that moment in the Church of the Sacred Heart in Cork when in the middle of the novena when I could listen to the deepest desire of my own heart in the most profound of ways and say simply that I wanted to be a priest and asking the Lord to make that the case, so well aware of how much of God's grace would have to make that possible.

Thank you for your soft days, for the rain so gentle that you often wouldn't think of using a hood or an umbrella against it and ending up drenched as a result. Thank you for giving me a reminder of what God's grace is often like.

Thank you for helping me to see beyond Rome, and the small devout and pious circles that I run in. Thank you for reminding me that there is so much work to do and the answers which seem so easy sometimes need more work in a world which wants to believe but finds it so hard to sometimes.

Thank you for showing me that I am not really meant to live outside of Jesuit community, and making me grateful for it by my absence from it. In those two months living in Cork, faithful to my vocation while living apart from a regular community, reminding me why I need to be among the blessing of brothers who both support me and challenge me to become the person that God created me to be.

Thank you for my family, for the O'Connors, Rynns, McCarthys, Rogers, and most of all Hanleys. Thank you for reminding me through them that my vocation is no accident, that our family has for years had men and women who have dedicated their lives to God and his people. Thank you for reminding me that I am blessed to embody some of the best qualities of those people, and that I also share in some of their struggles in my own path. Thank you for overwhelming me with the generosity of Mary, Kathleen, Francis, and P.J. Glennon, who welcomed me, a stranger in all but name, into their homes. Thank you for these cousins who showed me the home of my family, and allowed me to rediscover Kilteevan, county Roscommon, as home. Thank you for their helping me to experience the deep faith of our family at Knock and Clonmanoise. Thank you for helping me to remember, through their example, the truth of the old saying "Hospes Venit, Christus Venit" (and thank you for helping me to learn how to read that in Latin.)
Thank you for that insane tour, for seeing things I had only dreamed of seeing since I was a kid. The Giant's causeway that I once saw in picture books, or the Cliffs of Moher from the Princess Bride movie. Thank you for a few quiet moments along the coast of the Dingle peninsula, and the moments of prayer on the North Coast. Thanks for letting me randomly meet one of my favorite Rock Bands and allowing me to hang out with them and talk about the things that matter most with them, like openess to God, poverty, and the search for meaning. Ireland. Thank You.
Slán go fóill.

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Five Pound Note and the Long Way Home

Many of us Americans wonder just exactly made our families come to the United States. For those of us who are just a couple of generations removed from the realities of immigration we might even be able to find out, and thanks to the immense generosity of my cousins in Ireland, I know now too. The answer is 5 pounds.

The Hanley Homestead
In Ireland in the 1800's the landlord, if they were going to evict you, might offer you 5 pounds to leave before they had to pay the sheriff to do it for them. It was a way for them to save money. This is what happened in the village of Kilteevan to my great great grandmother, Sara Hanley, and her family. Her dad took the 5 pounds, and they left for Providence, Rhode Island. Within a generation, that same family,who before would have had little more than a grade school education had college grads and doctors and college professors among them. They took the 5 pounds, went to Cobh, boarded a boat for the U.S, and never looked back. They didn't ever abandon their friends or family back in county Roscommon, they just kept moving forward. So often in our lives we look at desperate situations and think that there is no way out, but we are almost always wrong to think so. The truth is that forward through what seems to be a storm is often the way in which God's dreams for us are realized. Losing everything and having to move to another continent didn't seem like a joyful thing, but the truth was that my 4th great grandfather, John Hanley, accepted that 5 pound note and left, and in doing so accepted a new life that lead to mine. There was much to fear, I am sure, but the gift of courage that we receive from the Holy Spirit is the assurance that in God's love and providence, all will be well. So many of us sons and daughters of immigrant families are proof of that.

When I arrived in Roscommon, and to the town of Oran where some of the Glennons, my cousins in Ireland, live now they said "welcome home!" and that is, in the end, the truth of it. It we can just rely on God enough for courage we can know that even when we take that 5 pound note and leave the past behind, it doesn't mean the end of the things that matter most. The Hanley home is still there, as are the Hanleys, as is the promise. We would do well to mind the most common admonition in the Gospels, and not to be afraid.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Our Home is the Road....

One of the original companions of St. Ignatius once said that the home of the Jesuit is properly not the houses we live in, not the high gates of a benedictine monastery, or the secluded fields of a trappist abbey, but in the streets, mobile, and ready to go serve the Church and Gospel wherever we're needed.

While I will confess that most of my upcoming travel, of which there will be a great deal over the next month and a half or so, is focused around attending to myself and those closest to me, there is something soothing about getting back on the road for me. Cork, Roscommon, Dublin, Belfast, Galway, Dingle, Kerry, Dublin, Rome, Barcelona, Manresa, Pamplona, Javier, Loyola, Bilbao, Boston, Worcester, Rome... all of this between now and October 10. One of the people who knows me best once told me that I am so content never really settling down for good that I must have Gypsy soul, and this was before the recent Zac Brown Band song which uses that line.

The truth is, though, that I do have roots, and a home. It's not a place though, its the people in my life.  I am blessed to have those people, both Jesuits and non-Jesuits, all over the world.  More and more though, I think its just time to admit that I find that I am undeniably become more and more a Jesuit, more and more a man who is at home on the road.

I leave Cork tomorrow for a crazy amount of traveling, and I will be posting through the marvels of an iPad and free WiFi, but its time to get back on the Road. I am more than a little excited. Tomorrow, onto Roscommon...

Until then... Take it away Allman Brothers:

Monday, August 15, 2011

This Our Exile.

Our Lady of Coomatloukane, in Co. Kerry, Ireland. 
Today in the Church we celebrate Mary going home. The Assumption is something which I think we all understand deep down, particularly in this day and age, because it is about that longing for home. No matter who you are or what your beliefs are, I think we all understand that longing for home. 
So much of my decision to come to Ireland this summer, beyond the course in Latin that I am taking, was a decision to come home. To trace my family’s roots and hope to understand not just history, but who I am a little bit better. I have had a year in Italy to understand that part of my history and I think I understand myself more in light of that wonderful whirring existence. Here in Ireland too, the more time I spend the more I get why I react to different things in different ways. I have stood in the graveyard where generations of my mom’s family are buried, and I walked the streets that other O’Connors have before me in Abbeyfeale. This weekend I will go to Roscommon and there meet my cousins on my Dad’s side. There was something in this journey about a longing for home, and Ireland, and my family here, have been so incredibly gracious in providing that for me. 
There is a strange feeling though, being in these places which have defined my family, I still feel oddly not at home. This is not to say that I am ungrateful for these experiences, or that I am not content with my life. I very much am content, there have been so many blessings, so many new friends, so much life. Still though, I feel that exile. It definitely has something to do with not being in the United States in 1 year, 1 month, and 2 weeks. Truth be told, though, there was an itchiness to leave the US there to find something more that set me on this path in the first place. If I didn’t already feel the desire to learn something more in this way, I may have never asked to move to Europe. 
Which brings me to my point. In our world today, regardless of how much the internet, the media, and all of that other stuff connects us there are still so many of us that feel disconnected, so many of us looking for home. Today is our feast day. 
Today is our feast day because we can have a belief that there is a home to which we are headed, and that Christ has already opened it to us, because another human being like us is already there. 
Today is our feast because, for as much as the thought of home or talking to someone there is nice we know that it is never replaced by physically being there, as Mary is. 
Today is our feast because we know one of us who went before us, and still advocates for us. 
St. Augustine of Hippo once famously said in his confessions that “Our Hearts are restless until they rest in you oh God.” That’s home, the place where our hearts find rest and our exile is at an end. It would be wrong to make the Assumption a day where we make Mary seem kind-of-almost-like Jesus, but not quite. The fact that Mary is a human being like any of us gives us all hope. The fact that she is assumed to heaven body and soul affirms the goodness of our earthly body, and illustrates what we already know about going home and being physically present. That Mary is conceived without sin and plays such an pivotal  role in the history of salvation is why she goes before us, but in going before us, she is a sign of hope, that someday this exile will end for us too, because it already has for her. 
In 45 days, 22 hours, and 30 minutes I will touch down on an AirIberia flight from Madrid and be home in the US for the first time in well over a year. That exile will end, if only for 10 days. The truth is though that for those ten nights, like every night, I will pray “and after this our exile show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb Jesus,” because even in the city I once waxed romantic over, as the video I am reposting below displays, I still felt enough of that same exile there to keep searching. 
Mary, Queen of Heaven and Earth, pray for those of us who here in exile hope to follow you home someday. 

(A true story about this video. I had intended to make something like this anyway, but I definitely made it when I was at my most homesick last summer. I repost it here because I think, despite its overt cheesiness, that it gets at the sense of longing that I am talking about in the post above.) 

Friday, August 12, 2011

Relearning one of the beatitudes...

Why am I doing this? Why am I spending my summer struggling over Latin? Why do I need to learn another language? 
       There are just certain things that you need to do. You don’t particularly want to, they may not seem incredibly useful, but you just need to do them. Every academic subject has its thing. For pre-med i remember my Holy Cross friends fretting over organic chem.  In philosophy it was logic, we philosophers have never had much use for logic anyway. In theology studies a good number point to Canon Law as the beast to get past, and I may well discover that to be true in the coming year in Rome. Right now, however, it is Latin. 
University College, Cork. Where I am plugging away at
It is not that I don’t have a facility for languages, I speak or read 6 at least in part, and have some conversational ability in 3 of those,  but Latin just seems so peripheral to everything that I want to do or accomplish. Especially now, reading the Satyricon, which makes trashy reality TV like the Jersey Shore look like Sesame Street, I feel so far removed from anything useful. Even still, when I think about it I realize that the ways in which I will use Latin, even if I go onto study more in Theology after ordination, will not require excessive knowledge of the obscure 1st century idioms I am learning right now. 
Somewhere on the Ring of Kerry, in one of my thankfully
less studious moments. 
At this point, the study seems useless, except for one thing. The truth is that all too often it is easy today to see something that looks too difficult, too intense, and turn away. Sometimes the discipline of getting through it is unto itself its own reward, however. Sometimes when we can force ourselves pass the peripheral, less important, desires that we have it helps us to focus on what we really want. Many saints have called it the practice of mortification, and they had many sundry and often medieval ways of doing this.  (Many of which I don’t recommend.) The truth is though, that sometimes sticking with something which is unpleasant is precisely the sort of thing that makes us better able to understand just what we desire most. 
Case in point. I am here, in Ireland, for the summer. I would much rather go find a pub and listen to good traditional music just about every night rather than study Latin. I would much rather go out hurling (the traditional Irish sport that I have taken up in the past couple of months, not the gastronomic feat) every afternoon than translate from Petronious. Truth is, I would much rather do just about anything, including writing on this blog, than study Latin. It has  been a struggle not to write, or hurl, or go to the pub as often as I would like. Latin is sometimes, as it was tonight, a sheer endurance test. The truth is, though, that sometimes having to suppress those momentary desires for a much more profound one helps us to remember who we are. I find myself here in Ireland much more focused on the reality of what will happen in my life over the course of the next two years, and realizing just how deep that desire flows in me. With the peripherals stripped away, or forced to the background, the most true thing comes to the fore, which for me is the desire to be  priest. I am doing this because I wan to fulfill the University’s requirements, which will help me to become a priest. So I can’t go to the pub when I have class the next day, which is 6 days a week here. I can’t go hurling every afternoon. I have to do this and stick it out, even if it is a struggle to. Being forced to sit and struggle, or endure something unpleasant, for the sake of a greater desire can often make it clear to us just how much we want something. For St. Ignatius, when we can get in touch with that deepest desire we can also be sure we have been in touch with what God wants for us, who else would have placed such a desire on our hearts?
So sure, I am convinced that God smiles at my feeble attempts a picking up a new sport at 30, and he likely delights in the songs at the pub and a pint shared among friends. More importantly, putting these legitimate little joys aside, having to say no to them more often than I would like, and realizing the struggle that can be, has helped me, and I think can help all of us, get closer to what we want most, and understand how much we want it.  In rediscovering it we find a kind of joy that the pure of heart have always known for so long, they can put aside the other desires in their heart for the most profound of all, and that is likely why they see God. 

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Happy Feast Day!

Today, July 31st, is the feast of St. Ignatius. To Celebrate, I thought I would repost an oldy, but a goody. A tour of the Rooms of St. Ignatius in Rome, inside my house, that I made last year. I post it with a promise that there will be a new one of the family home of St. Ignatius at the end of September. Anyhow, enjoy!

And Happy Feast! 

Friday, July 29, 2011

From the Emerald of the Sea.

At Blarney Castle... The famous stone is
behind the arch right above and behind me. 
The Road from LaStorta is a two way street. Just as easily as it can take one into Rome, as it bore St. Ignatius and the early companions, It can lead us out to the world beyond Rome. The truth is that for me Rome is a wonderful place, full of beauty, love, and joy. There for the last year I have prayed by the tombs of saints and sat at the feet of scholars. For the last year I have listened to the Pope in St. Peter's and talked with the poor on the Ponte Sisto. I love Rome, and I miss it, and I will be back to it for a new year soon enough. My life there, in no small part due to the friends that I have, is nothing short of blessing.

Rome isn't the whole of the world though, sometimes its grandest illusion is that because it is so large and so metropolitan that the entire world comes there to you. The truth is that it can be a much smaller world, particularly in Church circles, than one would think. So when the summer plans came up, I knew that I had to get out. There was a chance to learn Latin, of all things, here in Cork, Ireland, so I took up the chance to come to this town, where my paternal Grandmother's family was from, to learn the ancient language of the city that I normally live in on the other side of the continent. It seems a little strange that one who lives in sight of the Forum would come to Ireland to learn how to translate the speeches Cicero delivered 200 yards from his house, but the course is excellent and taught in English, so here I am. 
There were, of course, other reasons for wanting to come to Ireland. I am proudly Italian American, but I am also Irish American. For the past year I have learned Italy's language, been through its towns, learned its history, and of course eaten its food. Now in Ireland, I am seeing where the rest of my family came from, meeting distant cousins, taking up Hurling (a bit), and learning its history.  It seems clear to me, though, that somehow my soul, my being, is Irish, Italian, and American. Somehow I am the result of so much more than randomness, and that's true for each of us. If this great great grandparent had more money and never had to leave home, if someone missed a boat, if someone died in a war, or from famine, somehow I don't exist.
 More than just being the result of those moments which I call providential, but which someone else could dismiss as luck, we are the product of love. Leaving Ireland and leaving Italy wasn't a choice against home. I feel so at home here and so alive in Italy because, in so many ways, the old ways of being survived from the old countries. The food in my mother's kitchen is Italian, the ways in which we communicate on my father's side of the family are clearly Irish. As kids we marched in the St. Patrick's day parade in March and heard about La Befana at Christmas. My brother and I know both as many Italian Opera Arias as we do Irish Folk Songs (though admittedly he knows more on both counts.) 

Leaving home was, in many respects love for lives that didn't exist, leaving home was for the promise of something better not just for them, but for their children and their children's children, down to those of us in the present generation.  So here I am in Ireland, after a year in Italy, and the thing that is most apparent to me is simply this, we are loved into being long before we are ever born by people that we will never meet in this life, and that existence is one of the greatest gifts of all. 

We hold their traditions and keep the memories of their pasts out of gratitude, respect, and even love, but more, being here now and living in Italy, we can love them and be more grateful knowing what beauty they left behind... 

Take it away Mr. Cash: 

Monday, July 04, 2011

Remembering a legend.

“So, do you know Fr. Sheehan?” I once asked of my students from South Boston when I was a teacher at Boston College High School. “Yes,” he replied, “whenever my mom makes me go to confession I hope that I always get him.” Living in Boston for the three years before I moved to Rome, I was blessed to live close to my cousin, Fr. Dan Sheehan. The man was something of a legend in Southie, everyone seemed to know him and love him. If, however, I ever mentioned that to him he would almost always use some colorful language to tell me to shut up.
Fr. Dan, Ready for St. Patrick's day.
Picture taken by my brother, Fran
 Meanwhile, among a good number of the priests in the Archdiocese of Boston, I would mention that he and I were cousins and I would almost invariably get a somewhat different reaction. “Really, you’re related to HIM??” they would ask. The exception to this rule was usually the men that he lived with at St. Brigid’s rectory and among his friends. When his name came up, particularly among those who were, or at least thought they were, important in the Archdiocese there would be a slight roll of the eyes, or maybe a little bit of a sigh. They would never say a bad word about him, mind you, but it was always a the same reaction.
            The truth is that this all made sense. Fr. Dan was more at home with a Hot Dog at Sully’s Restaurant on Castle Island than at an important dinner table in the Chancery. He would have much rather preferred a walk down the Sugar Bowl causeway at Castle Island to a walk down the aisle at the cathedral. He much preferred a good joke to some lofty theological discourse. The truth is that I always had the sense that to him that the other stuff didn’t matter much. The high and lofty could be cast down from their thrones, for all he cared, he was just there with the people. There wasn’t ideology or some sort of statement behind it, it was just who he was. This way of being had become so fully a part of him that when he preached it often seemed that it could have just as easily been anyone else from South Boston preaching. He knew and loved the people and became, even in his retirement, one of them.
            One of the things that made him most beloved was the sense that he didn’t care much about judging people, and he loved people where they were and for who they were.  He knew enough about those people who surrounded him, first in the missions of Peru, and then among his working class parish in Peabody and eventually in retirement in Southie, that he knew not to judge them for the things that they had done or situations that they found themselves in. You knew that he had listened to them well when he could preach and mirror back to them the Gospel in their own context, and show them a God who was full of love, mercy, and compassion who often times in Fr Dan’s preaching seemed to have their face and walk with them on  East Broadway or Day Boulevard. He knew enough not to demand that anyone change as a precondition of his caring for you, and he was wise enough to know when certain individuals were incorrigible. He just loved them anyway, and as best he could he rejoiced in their joys and shared in their sorrows. He didn’t have time to judge, he was too busy loving people in the genuine and deep way that made him one of them.
            I can think of only one group of people that he didn’t have much time for, those who loved all but themselves too little. He didn’t have time for those who would put themselves in a place of superiority, and he didn’t have much time for you if that was who you were. It was the place where the genuine nature of his love was actually most manifest. When the abuse crisis broke in the US he was one of the ones brave enough in his own Archdiocese to say publicly that there was a crisis of leadership and that those responsible needed to hold themselves accountable. When he knew people who seemed to be campaigning for positions of authority in the Church rather than being pastors to the people of God, he wasn’t afraid to call them on it. When he felt that the institutional Church wasn’t meeting some need of the people of God, he wasn’t afraid to write what I have heard both from him and others were numerous letters. He didn’t care that it made him unpopular sometimes, or that it could have led to some sort of sanction, he just followed his conscience and didn’t let pride get in the way of doing what was right.
            When I was young, I remember calling Fr. Dan “Fr. Clown,” because he was always making us laugh, even as kids. He lived with a joy that was contagious, and he didn’t care if it was at times even bordering on the mildly goofy. On St. Patrick’s Day in South Boston, he would wear a green clerical shirt, green pants, and a green fleece. Where he got that color of a green clerical shirt, I will never know. There he would be though, outside the parish with the rest of the city watching the parade pass by. He was the first priest I knew and and I never knew him to be somber, downcast, or overly serious. We never felt distant from him and we never felt like he was set apart from us, even as kids. I suppose now, looking back that that image of priesthood helped me to begin to form my own attitudes towards it, and made me think first and foremost about the possibility that this could be a life filled with joy.
            Fr. Dan passed away this past Saturday, and I was awoken to a call via skype at 5:00 in the morning here in Ireland with the news. Of all the places I could be to get this news its seems somehow strangely right to be here in Ireland. His last words addressed to me were to go to find the places where our family came from. So I will go to Abbeyfeale this weekend, and I will pray for him and for all of the Sheehans, and Rynns, and O’Connors. More than anything else, I will remember that far more than the great and grand holy sites of Rome, or even Knock here in Ireland, this place where we came from would be a pilgrimage for him. To him it would be ground holier than St. Peter’s because it is the ground where we came from, because it is the ground of the real world, and that is after all where he found life, joy, and God.  

Friday, May 20, 2011

A Peak Into Where I Live

I am consistently impressed by the talent of the guys that I live with. Pawel Kowalski, a Polish Jesuit in my year here at the College, put together a great website for us. I thought I would share that link with you!  The International College of the Gesu'

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

NJN Exclusive: Jesuit Shares his Experience of Pope John Paul II’s Beatification

NJN Exclusive: Jesuit Shares his Experience of Pope John Paul II’s Beatification

So this is likely the last thing that I will write on the beatification, but here is a little reflection after the fact on the whole event on the National Jesuit News Blog.

Monday, May 09, 2011

A week later and...

A video to give you some idea of how the basilica feels in the aftermath of the beatification.

The tomb itself, with some flowers left by it. 

The area immediately surrounding the tomb of Bl. John Paul II is still brimming with people, such that at St. Peter's they have actually set up a special set of barriers to channel people through and not block people wanting to go up the other aisles. It is interesting to me that when you enter the basilica there are now very few people in front of Michelangelo's pieta, which had until now been the principle attraction upon immediately entering the basilica, and huge crowds in front of the altar of St. Sebastian. The word that I hear from some friends who have tried is also that booking a morning mass in the chapel of St. Sebastian has now become more difficult than booking a morning mass in the Clementine Chapel, the closest to the tomb of St. Peter himself. 

The crowd gathered around the tomb..
The placement itself is also interesting in that the tomb is in the chapel between the Pieta and the Blessed Sacrament chapel, and the closest chapel that one could be buried in to the holy door where the new Blessed inaugurated the Jubilee of 2000, which he held to be a high point of his pontificate. From there, as well, you can look across the nave of the basilica to the tomb of St. Pius X and up the side aisle to the tomb of Bl. John XIII. It's interesting too that Bl. Innocent XI was moved from this altar to the altar of the Transfiguration, much closer to the main altar. I noticed there today that Innocent seemed to have more people stopping by his tomb. 
JPII's grade school report card. (click on picture to expand.. the grades
are legible.)
       On the left of the main Basilica, in a space usually occupied by a bookstore, is the exhibit commissioned by Pope Benedict to mark the event of the beatification. I saw a fair number of things which made me think, but as the semester here in Rome begins to press down on me in the final weeks before exams one thing struck me in particular.  One of the most interesting things that I saw Bl. JPII's grade school report card, and I thought it might bring some solace to those approaching the end of an academic semester or those preparing for exams that even JPII didn't get straight A's, though he was obviously no slouch. So, corraggio to all of my fellow students out there, we don't need to be perfect to be blessed...

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Bl. JPII and the Lesson of the Mammertine Prison.

Not too far from my house there is an ancient Roman spring which bubbles up in a cave underneath the Capitoline Hill, which I can see across Piazza Venezia from my bedroom windows as I write this. That cave became the Mamertine prison, in which Rome held all of its most notorious prisoners and enemies of the state before their often grisly and always public executions. Vercingetorix, chief of the Gauls, Jugurtha, the King of Numidia, and the Catilinarian conspirators, who tried to overthrow the Republic, were held there.  This was where the Romans held captured enemies of the state before paraded them through the streets and strangled them publicly. 

One of the Cells of the Prison. 
       The spectacle likely made people feel better, or made them feel safer, or made them feel like Roma was in charge, and that no one dare defy or run from its might. The truth is, though, that for every enemy leader they killed and every conspirator that was executed, the barbarians were still at the gate and the people of Rome were still afraid. They had forged the peace of Rome by the sword.  The problem is that the sword always demanded the use of the sword again and again, until the wars were too costly to fight and the land to large to govern. Of course the empire collapsed and today from my bedroom window I can see its ruins.
      For a day the spectacle of victory over a sworn enemy made the Romans feel good, because their fears were relieved. The question has to be asked, though; Why did they feel the need to be afraid in the first place? 
The Entrance to the maximum security cell. 

One of the constant themes of this weekend here in Rome was a phrase continually echoed by Bl. John Paul II, "Do not be afraid." In light of the events of the past week, both the beatification and the death of Osama Bin Laden, maybe we need to keep asking ourselves, why are we afraid, and what do we have to fear? Maybe we've lost the imagination that the world could be other than it is, that it could be better than it is. Maybe we've lost our sense that an educated person is much less likely to fall for the ideology of a mad man. Maybe we've forgotten that the ability to provide for one's family brings a dignity that stops someone from following the perversion of a religion. Maybe we've forgotten that fortitude is a gift of the Holy Spirit, and that if we really lived in the light of God's love, we'd have nothing to be afraid of. 

If the billions that were spent on war were spent building schools, ideologies would become almost irrelevant. If the millions that we spent on a bomber went to irrigating fields or teaching people how to grow crops in a way that would allow them to provide sustenance for their families, maybe fewer people would feel the need to produce drugs. Maybe if we built bulldozers instead of tanks to help build levees, the poorest parts  of our own cities in the US wouldn't flood.  
I am not suggesting that we stop fighting the reign of terror and fear. I am suggesting that we beat it in the one way that it can never return, by making it irrelevant. The good feelings that so many felt on Monday at the death of our own Vercingetorix were reported almost immediately with a sense of foreboding, we asked the question.. who's next?

The irony of the Mamertine Prison is that it is said that eventually the man to whom Jesus once said "those who live by the sword die by it," spent his last days there. This is where  St. Peter, first pope and bishop of Rome was held prisoner.  His successor, some 2000 years later, constantly reminded us not to be afraid. He was a man who used the power of faith in Christ, of love and brotherhood, not bombs, guns, or special forces, to help to take down not just one man, but an entire oppressive ideology in Eastern Europe. Today, and in the days ahead, maybe we can ask the intercession of Bl. JPII that we too can have that kind of courage.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

The Aftermath of a Glorious Day.

Off to the beatification. 

The day began early, too early, 5:00am early. Now for those hundreds of thousands who slept on the Lungotevere Vaticano or in a piazza or a church I know that my waking up in a warm and comfortable bed at 5:00 doesn't seem like much of a stretch but it was still a moment of mortification for me. In any event, we all grabbed whatever we could find in a kitchen where it was too early for breakfast and put on cassocks and headed for the area surrounding St. Peter's Square. At a little before 6:30, we saw the crowds already forming and were able to use a pass that we had been given to slip past a security checkpoint and onto the Borgia Santo Spirito.
Me on the quick walk up to the Piazza. 
                                                                                We waited outside the Jesuit Curia and across the Street from Santo Spirito for instructions, some of us wandered up to the Piazza to see the scene there and take in the crowd as they began to file into the piazza. The things that struck me most was the way in which millions of people gathered in one place could be so full of a genuine joy and celebration. As someone who went to the Inauguration of President Obama, I have often commented on how well everyone treated everyone else, how genuinely nice people were, but there was a different and even better spirit hovering over this moment. It was a moment of real jubilation, a moment of real joy, so much so that I saw more than a few tears on the via and walking into the square. There was a sense in pride in the great and rich diversity of people that were there from all over the world, each feeling joy in celebrating who they were and where they were from without doing it to the detriment of others. I remember that at the inauguration there was a sense of hope, but also a lingering sense of that this could all go wrong hanging over the whole thing. Today, at the beatification it was a time to celebrate instead the "well done, good and faithful servant.." 
Vocation Poster?? Jesuits at the
    We went to the Church of Santa Maria in Transpontina to have a mass to consecrate most of the hosts that were distributed to the pilgrims on the Via Conciliazione. This is a church of the Carmelites, and sitting there, right next to the statue of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel during the beatification mass for JPII, I couldn't help but think of a good friend and mentor back at home who was, himself, just diagnosed with Parkinson's. I couldn't help but take the confluence of the moment of the beatification and the place in front of the statue of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, to whom my hometown of Westerly, RI has a great devotion, as sign of providence and assurance. 
That is what 60,000 hosts look like. 
      At the moment of the consecration in the main mass we were each given a Ciborium and led into the via to bring communion to the masses. I can't described the feeling of the intense presence of Christ in that moment, holding the bread which I believe had become his body, and being ready to bring him literally to people from all the ends of the earth. I was overwhelmed and silenced. We proceeded into the via, and as I looked to my right I saw the great dome of St. Peters, I could hear the swell of the music, and I almost caught myself welling up a little. This image is one which will be forever ingrained on my mind. It is perhaps a moment only paralleled in my life in its intensity by the experience of being at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, now so many years ago. A deep and abiding sense that I was where I was always supposed to be at the moment came over me. I walked up and down a small center aisle that they had made in the midst of the crowd and gave out communion to as many people as I could get to. 
      In the midst of this moment of extreme consolation, though, I also encountered something interesting. First, as Pope Benedict XVI said in our most recent general congregation, we Jesuits are called to go to the frontiers of the Church, and here we were, 10 Jesuit seminarians from the Gesu on the frontiers of this mass. Not among the wealthy and elite up front, but among so many who had given so much of what they had to come. The people I was giving communion to were not up close. Many weren't young and strong enough to fight the crowds or to wait on line from 3 in the morning. Many didn't speak Italian or English well enough to know how to navigate this city and get there early enough for good seats. There we were, on the frontiers. Right where we were supposed to be. 

A friend took this from about where I was distributing
    The other realization was this: The truth is that there is no way that we could have communicated 1.5 million people. We maybe only got to 60,000 or so along the Via. Many people were too far from us, and we couldn't get into the crowds. There also simply wasn't enough time.  I think that this is where there is a lesson for everyone. Even when we are both personally and corporately right where we are supposed to be, there is no chance that we'll ever be able to do all of God's work that is out there to do. What we can do is try to do what we can, and what we are supposed to, in the best way possible knowing that God blesses those efforts and doesn't ask the impossible from us. Even the work of Bl. John Paul II remains to be completed. In the media there has been a great deal of talk trying to detract from JPII, and it would be unfair to him to try to defend him as if he was perfect. He wasn't Christ, he pointed us to Christ. Like any worker, the job wasn't always perfect and there was still work to be done. Being a saint doesn't mean that one is perfect it means just that, relying on the mercy of God, one is in heaven. That is all that we can hope for ourselves, knowing that our work will remain undone. There is liberty and joy in that, because the horizon of the great work of God, which seems to always retreat from us in this life, is none other than the destination that we can be sure that the man whom we beatified today found, eternal life. 

Live from the Vigil

Fr. Matt Monnig, S.J., and I on the Circus Maximus for the Vigil 

Tonight I went with my good friend, Fr. Matt Monnig, S.J. and 6 students from Loyola University Chicago's John Felice Rome center to the Vigil for the beatification of JPII. About 200,000 people filled the Ancient Circus Maximus to overflowing in front of an Icon of Mary, help of the Roman People. People were genuinely happy to be there, singing, dancing, and celebrating. Not just from Poland either, but from Spain, Portugal, France, Germany, Lebanon, Mexico, The US, Angola, and from many other places whose flags I didn't recognize. We prayed the rosary with 5 other marian shrines from around the world, including the Shrines at Fatima and Guadalupe. I am really to wiped out to write much more now, and I need to be up early, but I will just add one thing. The spirit of joy is palpable in this town right now, and that is a sure sign of sanctity.  

4:30 am wake up call for communion! To bed with me

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Tweeting from the Beatification...

So here goes nothing. In the next couple of days I will be at the beatification of JPII. I have added a twitter feed to the right because I know that I won't have time to write much, but some people asked that I send updates, as possible from the vatican during this time... here goes.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Happy Easter!!!

St. Ignatius of Loyola says in the Spiritual Exercises that Jesus appeared to Mary his mother first on the morning of Easter... Here is what I imagine he said.

Happy Easter everyone!

After a Post-30 day 30ish posts hiatus, I will be back to publishing more in the days ahead.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Gates: 30 years, 30 Days, 30 Stories. Day 25 out of 30

Lambert Airport, desolate in the early morning. 

It was early in the morning, and the runways of Lambert Field were still dark and a song about going home was blaring on my iPod headphones. I was sitting there by the gate, wearing my Red Sox jersey. I had a cup of Starbucks in my hand as the coffee caused the acid in my stomach to swell up into my esophagus. My heart was in my throat. I was exhausted, broken hearted, and just wanted to get to Boston, and the Red Sox game on the other side of this flight.

It was early in the morning, the sun was rising over Boston Harbor. I sat by the gates wearing the collared shirt that they had given me as a tennis coach at BC High. I was exhausted from a long night of grading, but I was excited. Louis Armstrong was blaring in my IPod headphones singing the St. Louis blues, the school year had just ended, and I was going to St. Louis for the wedding of two good friends. The Dunkin' Donuts coffee in my hand was waking me up, and the Boston cream donut was giving me a sugar high. I couldn't wait to get to the golf course in forest park.

Fenway Park, my destination that day. 
I landed in Boston, after having been kicked repeatedly by the child in the seat behind me I was even more tired from lack of sleep. There, on the way up the jetway, I could smell the salt air coming off the water. As I cross the gate I saw the sign that said "Welcome to Boston," and I was back where I began. I made my way down to baggage claim, and my father and brother were waiting there. We grabbed my overstuffed suitcase, loaded it into my Dad's car, and took off for Fenway Park.
Dan and Matt on the Triple A course.

The plane landed in St. Louis, and not a moment too soon. I had slept the whole way, but began looking nervously at my watch. I had a half an hour to make it to the golf course for the round of golf the morning before my friends Dan and Sarah's wedding. I called Dan, grabbed a cab to Forest Park's "Triple A" course, and urged the cabby on to take shortcuts. The cabby understood that I knew where I was going, and rather than taking me for a ride he took me right there, I got out of the cab a few minutes before tee time and was excited to go.

Dan and Sarah get married. 
It was Monday afternoon. The wedding was amazing. After the wedding a trolley took the entire wedding party and ushers, and the acolyte (me) around the city. We went to the ballpark, Ted Drews, Tower Grove park, and Dan and Sarah's house. I saw alot of good friends, and I was ready, at last, to go home.  As I crossed through the gates and onto the plane, I was careful not to hake the dust from my feet. One last time I had walked on holy ground with friends, and I was finally ready to move on.
Boston from the Charlestown side. 

The plane landed in Boston, my brother picked me up at the airport, and finally, a year after moving back, I was home.

One of the greatest struggles in Jesuit life, particularly early on, can be the need to move on. Just at about the point that you feel like setting down roots somewhere, every three years or so, it is time to move on. It can be heartbreaking leaving people and places behind to move on into the future, even if you know that it is a future full of promise and hope. It is hard letting go and saying goodbye, and can be even harder learning how to land too. Sometimes the places that we go don't really become home, even when they really are home, for some time after.
Back home, teaching, and finally happy

What I found that weekend, a year after I moved back to Boston, was gratitude. There were some loose ends when I left the St. Louis. There were people and places that I just hadn't really said goodbye to yet, or that I hoped would still be a part of my life in the same way that they had been when that part of my life came to an end. When my life in St. Louis was stripped away, I spent a great deal of time focused on all of the things that I had lost rather than all of the things that I had returned to in Boston. Going back to St. Louis was saying goodbye. I had been back once in the interim, but I think that I still had hope that the somehow I could live both in my past in St. Louis and in my present in Boston. Rather than being grateful for the past and hopeful for the future, I was envious of what was behind and fearful of what was ahead. The fear was so great, in fact, that it threw a lot of things in doubt and question in my life and made me just want to be done with all of the moving around, and to settle down.

BC High. 
That weekend in St. Louis changed a lot of things though, the truth is that when I went back I realized that even in the past year so much had moved on and changed without me, and that moreover, I had changed. St. Louis was a place where I had been richly blessed, but that time had come and gone, and the present that I was living in in Boston and was finally full of just the sort of joy that God desires for each of us.

Some of the friends that made those three years
so blessed.
In each of our lives there are times that we pass through those gates, those things that mark the end of one time and the beginning of another. Like the people of Israel in the desert we may even want to return to Egypt. Familiar is comfortable, even if it is ultimately untenable. The future, devoid of trust in God, can be nothing short of terrifying to the point of paralysis. In other words, we can settle for the present and be afraid to have hope of something more. The good news is that God is better to us than to give up on us. If we can see the joy in our lives, if we can see God in the present, then that is reason enough to be grateful for the past and hopeful for the future. That is precisely what my friends in Boston, my life of prayer, and my joy in my new work gave me. I could return to St. Louis grateful for what it had meant, and hopeful finally for my future.

"For I know what I have planned for you,' says the LORD. 'I have plans to prosper you, not to harm you. I have plans to give you a future filled with hope." In the book of Jeremiah (29:11) God tells this to the people of Israel, even as they go off into exile. If even in that moment God wants to give them hope, then in each joyful moment we can have hope too. Now, just hours from 30, I know that I need to remember that. God knows the plans he has for us.. go ahead, go through that gate. 

The Flight: 30 years, 30 Days, 30 Stories. Day 24 out of 30

 (Disclaimer: I am not accusing anyone in any of the pictures below of what I say of myself in this post, those are good people and great friends, I am clearly only speaking for me.) 

When I lived in St. Louis I inevitably found myself back and forth between Boston and the midwest on a regular basis. At the end of one summer in particular, after some time at the Jesuit vaction house in Cohassett, MA, I boarded a plane to take off and begin the academic year in St. Louis.
            I was in Logan Airport when I looked down at my boarding pass… middle seat. I hate middle seats. I am not a small person, so middle seats are extra uncomfortable. I looked around me, it seemed like almost everyone at the gate was wearing camouflage. I was getting on a plane with members of the Army heading out to training in Missouri. Well, I thought, this should be interesting.
A collage of a protest at Ft. Benning, GA
            Just the summer before I had been in El Salvador and had seen what US military involvement in the world (and we were involved there) can do. I spent the better part of the next year protesting war, hanging out with like minded people, protesting at the gates of military installations, and feeling pretty good about myself in the process. At least, I thought, I was now on the right side of history.
            This all, of course, bred a certain arrogance in me, a certain self righteousness. I became, in many ways, the angry young man that Billy Joel imagined in the eponymous song. I was now on a plane with members of a military I had protested all year and that I was sure to protest when I got back to Missouri, particularly when I was among my like minded friends. On one side of me on the plane, a soldier from New Hampshire, on another side, a private who grew up in Roxbury, one of the poorer neighborhoods in Boston. I offered to switch seats with either of them so that they could sit next to each other and they declined. I put on my head phones and sunk, as best I could, into the seat.
            As take off neared I noticed something. That soldier from Roxbury, who was sitting next to the window, looked just as excited about take off as one of the little kids in the row ahead of us. I asked him “Is this your first flight?” “Yeah,” he replied “we don’t fly many places in my neighborhood.” We got to talking about his life, where he had gone to high school in Boston, what he wanted to do after he got out of the army. All of the sudden my judgments started to fall down, and I ended up really enjoying talking to this Army Private witting next to me. When he became a person, and not just a concept of militarism that I despised, things changed.
            Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk and sometimes peace activist, once wrote: "So, instead of loving what you think is peace, love others and love God above all. And, instead of hating the people You think are warmongers, hate the appetite and the disorder in your own soul, which are the causes of war. If you love peace, then hate injustice, hate tyranny, hate greed ~ But hate these things in yourself, not in another." How blind was I when I professed faith in a Jesus who said that those who live by the sword die by the sword, forgetting that at the same time he forgave even the soldiers who crucified him? The truth was, in my own way, I was making war on those who make war, just in a different way. I wasn’t making peace, I was substituting hate for hate, and that never really solves anything.
A group of SLU Students protesting the Death Penalty.
            In our world today there are so many voices, each seemingly louder than the next. Whether you scream on behalf of the Tea Party, or yell on behalf of Move On, whether your major insult is to call someone a facist, like they do here in Italy, or to call someone a Communist, like back home in the US, it doesn't matter. The truth is that Christ’s only enemy was that which keeps us away from God. Its even clear that he doesn’t even really view the Roman official who orders his death as a real enemy because Jesus seems clear that Pilate isn’t even close to his equal.
Me, with some students, at the Gates of the School of the
I know now that I had the same appetite for disorder in my own soul that produces war, and that my pride was a twisting of the good desire to help participate with God’s grace in building the kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven, as we pray in the Our Father. The truth is that that Soldier from Boston wasn't the enemy. He was just an 18 year old kid, right out of high school, caught up in a lot of the structures of sin and poverty that I wanted to fight against. As someone who was privileged enough to have the advantages of an education and the means to survive without joining the Army, who was I to judge him? I quickly found out that I was no one. 

At a protest in Georgia. 
I still hate war, militarism, poverty, and oppression. I still want to build a culture of life in the fullest sense of the word, but that needs to start in knowing that I don’t know and approaching others in humility more and more. I still want peace, but first it has to start in my own heart. I can't be the angry young man. Lord make me an instrument of your peace.