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.