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