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Burton

The Sun Has Set On Another Semester In Rome

Burton

It’s a funny thing, living in one place for several months, and then returning back to the place you know as home. Everything seems the same, and yet somehow it is different. As a (very) recent re-entrant into the US of A, I find myself looking about and asking, “Did I ever really leave?” Of course the answer is always in the affirmative, but still these first several days after my departure from Rome seem strange—as if I simply lived another life for several months, and now I must return to life as it was—the only problem is, life isn’t as it was before.

These strange first days back home will pass, and life will regain a sense of normalcy, but the experience of living, studying, eating and praying in Rome for a period of four months (yikes!) will remain a part of me. I was recently speaking to one my fellow Bernardians about this very topic, and we agreed that it is a tremendous challenge to hang onto, and bring back some part of the Rome experience to share with family and friends here in the U.S.  I think that the way one hangs onto such experiences is that they become integrated into the very fiber of one’s being. One might say that Rome has become, in a certain sense, a part of me, and now I must share that treasure with those around me by sharing myself.

So much has happened in these past four months. I’m still in disbelief that I had such a remarkable and life-changing opportunity. It will be the project of a lifetime to realize all the many blessings that I’ve received from living in Rome. I’m filled with gratitude for all those people who made it possible. Most of all, I’m grateful to God, who in His infinite generosity, saw fit to route my life’s journey through Rome and Europe for a short time. It is truly a gift undeserved—a grace. The challenges were many, the blessings were even greater in number, and the Rome experience has changed me—and consequently my life—forever.

Is there a better way to finish off a semester in Rome than by taking in a Roman sunset from the Dome of St. Peter’s? I think not. That’s what I call going out on top!

God Bless!
Burton

Burton

He’s Not the Pope, But He Gets Pretty Close

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Apparently, the Bernardi community has some friends in high places, and by high places I mean the Vatican. For one of our recent Wednesday community nights, we had the honor of hosting Monsignor Guido Marini, who is Pope Benedict’s personal Master of Ceremonies. That means, that whenever you see the Pope at any papal event, Msgr. Marini is the man standing right next to him (in the photo, Marini is the man in the red cassock directly behind the Pope).

Msgr. Marini is a delightful man. He is a clearly devout, humble, and holy priest. His love for the Liturgy is tremendous to behold, and it was a great privilege to have him take the time to answer our questions about what it is like to work so closely with the Pope, what it is like being around the Pope, and what he had learned from the Pope. His love and respect for the Holy Father is obvious, and it is an inspiration to me, precisely because he works so closely with the Pope, and still thinks so highly of him. Marini personally knows the very man himself—in his humanity—not just the larger than life figure that Benedict becomes as Pope. In all likelihood, meeting Msgr. Marini is as close as I’ll ever come to meeting the Pope himself, and where else would I have had the opportunity to meet him, visit with him, and dine with him, but at Bernardi? ‘Nuff said.

Ciao for now,

Burton

Burton

An Unexpected Weekend in Paris

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Sometimes, things happen that are completely unexpected and wonderful. We Christians often refer to them as “graces.” Whatever you call them, they are gifts, and the best response to a gift is pure, simple gratitude. This past weekend I received such a gift; I got to go to Paris. I wasn’t planning on going to Paris this semester, and it certainly wasn’t in my budget, but when a friend of mine had an unused plane ticket, and asked me if I would join him, how could I refuse? After all, it’s Paris!

Paris is wonderful. I know, you’re probably thinking to yourself, “This guy gushes about everything. Not everything can be that wonderful.” You’re right. Not everything can, and I do admit, I’m kind of enthusiastic with my descriptions sometimes, but this time I really mean it. Paris is wonderful—or remarkable, beautiful, romantic, astounding—pick your adjective. I love Paris. 48 hours is not enough time for Paris, so when you go, plan for more time.

I have now lived in Rome for almost four months, and in that time, I’ve come to appreciate—and despise—certain aspects of this city. It is a city of opposites. Juxtaposed against one another are the spiritual and the secular, the Church and the State—and it has been that way for over two thousand years! Romans have their strong points, but they aren’t anything like Minnesotans (which, by the way, can sometimes be good, and other times deeply jarring). One weekend, they are flocking to a papal event, and the next, they’ll be rioting in the streets, blowing up police cars (seriously, it happens). Whatever they do, they do loudly, and with much (apparent) aggression (or enthusiasm?). It has become clear to me that, in four months, one can only come to surface level understanding and appreciation of what makes Rome different from all the other cities in the world. So clearly then, I am not an expert on what makes Rome—well—Rome.

I am even less of an expert on Paris. I was only in Paris for approximately 48 hours, and so my sample size is quite small, but as a person who tends to be particularly tuned in to “gut feelings,” I was quickly aware of the fact that Paris agreed with my own personal constitution far more than Rome. I’m sure that, once you get to know it, Paris has many of the same problems as Rome, and certainly, one cannot properly understand Paris without first understanding Rome—it is the Eternal City, and I love it for that—but Paris just resonated with me somehow. It is like when you get to the end of a piece of music and the orchestra strikes a chord that just makes your heart leap—that’s the feeling I got in Paris.  Rome is fabulous, and it is a wonderful place to spend a semester studying the Catholic Faith, but I don’t think I could live here long-term. Paris now…well, it must suffice to say that I hope I can go back to Paris one day, if only to see if it is really as awesome as it seemed last weekend.

The photo is from inside the upper chapel of La Sainte-Chapelle, which was built to hold some of the relics of Christ’s Passion. The structure is a masterpiece in Gothic architecture, and the windows are simply astounding.

Ciao for now,

Burton

Burton

A Dream Come True

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When I was a small boy, I used to spend hours looking at pictures of the mountains–the Rockies, the Andes, the Himalayas, the Cascades, the Smokies, the Alps–all of them looked so beautiful to me, and all I wanted was a chance see them–to climb to the top of one of those majestic peaks and see the world. Perhaps my dream of climbing a mountain was a metaphor for my grander childhood dreams for life, or perhaps it was just one of my romantic ways of wishing that I could do something great. Does it matter? Do the dreams of little boys have to make sense, or can they simply be dreams, completely unimpeded by the heavy weight of reality? I think they can, and yet, somehow, this dream of mine has come true.

 This semester has been so full of awesome sights and glorious splendors that I feel almost guilty to add to the list, but I will. I am happy to say that I have now seen the mountains–the Swiss Alps, to be exact. I had the opportunity to visit them over Christmas break, and they did not disappoint me. It is a funny thing finally seeing something that you’ve dreamed about your whole life, but that you have only seen in pictures. I’m not even really sure what I expected. Something beautiful and majestic? Something that would raise my spirits and lift my mind and heart to God? Perhaps, and seeing the Alps was certainly all of that for me, but just being on those mountains ended up being something particular for me–another milestone, of sorts. Maybe it is superficial, but gone are the days of having to admit to people that I haven’t, actually, in person, seen any mountains. Whatever else I may be, I am now a person who has seen mountains, and I am a person for whom (at least some) dreams do come true.

Ciao for now,

 Burton

Burton

A Christmas Event to Remember

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December 24th had come once again. The day for the highly anticipated Midnight Mass in St. Peter’s with Benedict XVI finally had arrived (or rather, the “Mass of the Night” as it was called, because it started at 10:00pm). What will people go through to see the Pope? The phrase, “No pain, no gain” comes to mind. Then again, there is nothing quite like standing outside in the cold rain for four hours to make you appreciate something that you have been anticipating for some time. It’s like being tortured with the idea of opening your presents for a long time, only there is cold water being dumped on your head.

We were such eager beavers. Our group arrived at St. Peter’s square at 4:00pm, four-and-a-half hours before the doors were to open. It poured. And poured. And poured. Everyone, and everything on everyone, was completely saturated. It rained so hard that water started running through the umbrellas. By the time the gates opened, my feet were so wet and cold that I couldn’t feel them being stepped on by the mad stampede of eager Catholics, vying for a “prime” spot in the Basilica. Yes, I have to admit, I was one of those very same “eager Catholics,” and I wasn’t about to let myself get pushed aside by a surprisingly strong little Italian nun—not after standing in the rain for that long.

Perhaps you are not surprised that the Mass was amazing. The music was beautiful, and the liturgy was Roman Catholic at its finest. We had fabulous seats right on the center isle, more than halfway up the nave. The Pope walked by me twice, no more than three feet away. I could have reached out and touched him but for the fierce looking Swiss security guards. Maybe it was moisture and cold induced delirium, but St. Peter’s had never looked so beautiful to me, and Mass had never seemed quite that adventurous, as it did that night. I guess good things come to those who get wet.

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Photos are courtesy of Allison Koop.

Ciao,

Burton

Burton

A Crazy Quasi-Finals Week in Rome

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Well, there are some weeks that one just has to sit back when they’re over and say, “Wow, I’m still alive. I guess I made it through in one piece.” This past week seems to have been one of those weeks. A little of everything was thrown at us. We had finals for two of our classes, the major paper for our art history class was due, Italy almost experienced major political upheaval and riots ensued (which included Romans blowing up police vans, tearing down traffic lights, tearing up cobblestone streets, and damaging anything they could, and which some of us found ourselves accidentally in the middle of), and we had our Bernardi Advent/Christmas party (including Advent Angel presents for all), as it was the last week before our three week Christmas break. All in all, a pretty full week, I’d say.

I’m pretty sure that none of the academic work that I’ve done this week will be my finest, but I did what I could in a crazy environment with a lot less stability than I am used to for a finals week, and there is something to be said for perseverance under pressure. I guess sometimes you just have to push through and do the best you can. Perhaps the greatest lesson I will take from Rome is that you can’t always have things just the way that makes you most comfortable, and in such times, you have to pull it together and do your ‘darndest’ anyway. A valuable lesson, I think.

Now we all go our separate, merry ways for the duration of the break, and many of us will travel throughout various parts of Europe. Without a doubt, these past couple of months have been full of unexpected challenges and delights, and we are all in need of a bit of a breather. I am confident that we will come back in three weeks with renewed energy and excitement, so that we can fully appreciate the last weeks of our semester in Rome.

Merry Christmas!

Burton

Burton

Pompeii

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I’m pretty sure there are not many places in the world like Pompeii. Where else can you go to catch a glimpse of the life of our fellow human beings from two thousand years ago? At least, where else can you go where you can wander freely about an ancient city full of well-preserved ruins for an entire afternoon? But that’s what you can do at Pompeii, and that is what I did this past weekend with three of my friends. Its rather surreal, really, to be walking through ancient Roman cobblestone streets, exploring ancient Roman houses, public bathhouses, bakeries, restaurants, temples, theatres, stadiums, halls of justice, various other political buildings, and perhaps the most bizarre experience—an ancient Roman brothel (random fact: Pompeii supposedly had 30 brothels). Here we were, touching the same walls, walking the same streets, and looking at the same views as the Romans of so long ago (minus the 1000 foot chunk of Mount Vesuvius that blew off), and all the while I’m thinking, “These people were not so different from us. They had families, houses, gardens, dogs, cats…they went to out to dinner and theatres…they loved art, presumably music as well…they laughed, they cried, they prayed…and they died. Now, here I am, walking through the ruins of their city, frozen in time by a freakish natural disaster of epic proportion. Now it is two thousand years later, and I have my little moment in the same Roman sun. I wonder, in another two millennia, what will people go to see from our day? Will it be interesting to them?” Then I reenter the modern world, and hop back on a train for noisy Rome. “Ah yes, a wonderful, quiet day exploring a city of the ancient Roman Empire…no biggy…just another day in my life!”

Burton

A Thanksgiving Apart

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Thanksgiving, for me, is about family. Yes, I can wax eloquent about my many blessings, about living in a country that is “free,” about having food on the table, a roof over my head and numerous things and privileges that others don’t have; I could go on regarding the many talents I’ve been given and the opportunities to use them, but ultimately all that doesn’t hold water if I’m not surrounded by family. Thanksgiving, for me, begins with family, and everything else follows. Of course, I must be thankful to God above everything else, for He has given me the greatest gift of all—life—but God placed me in a family, and without my family I wouldn’t even know about God.

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Burton

A Brush With a Consistory

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When I signed up for the Catholic Studies semester abroad in Rome, there was no possible way that I could even have dreamed up the opportunities that I would have while I am here. For example, ­­­­within the first two weeks of being in Rome, a cardinal came to Bernardi to celebrate our community night Mass. In addition, we’ve had opportunities to go to a diaconate ordination, a canonization Mass, and now, a consistory—where all the Catholic cardinals in the world come together for a ceremony in which new cardinals are created. Needless to say, a consistory is kind of a big deal. The college of cardinals totals around 120, so when they’re all gathered together in one place, everybody sees red.

There are cardinals from all over the world, so one gets a real sense of the global nature of the Catholic Church—its universality. Where our group was sitting in St. Peter’s Basilica, we were surrounded by a group of people who had traveled from the Democratic Republic of Congo to see one of their bishops elevated to the iconic high ecclesial office that shares a name with my favorite North American songbird. Their expressions of jubilance at the occasion were distinctly foreign to me, and quite probably caused me to experience more culture shock than I have ever experienced before. I give them kudos for originality, though; I would never have thought to bring vuvuzelas and cowbells to a consistory.

After the consistory, we had the opportunity to go to a reception at the Pontifical North American College for the two new cardinals from the United States: Cardinal Raymond Burke and Cardinal Donald Wuerl. After waiting in line for a considerable amount of time, our group even had the opportunity to greet Cardinal Burke. As some members of our company have a personal acquaintance with Burke, this was a special moment.

All in all, after a long day standing in lines, going hungry, and getting pushed around by barely controlled crowds of Catholics numbering in the thousands, I was grateful to return to the (relative) calm of Bernardi. Welcome to a day in Rome, to St. Peter’s, and to the world of the Pope. I am beginning to understand why people say, “I love the Pope, but I hate his crowds.” Nonetheless, I will be back on quiet country roads before I know it, and I more than likely will never again be at a consistory of the Catholic Church. Besides, one must leave one’s comfort zone if one wants to see new things, right? I think the proper perspective helps.

Ciao for now,

Burton

Burton

The Gift of Silence

Lake Albano
Encounter. This word, in many ways, expresses the goal of spiritual retreat. In spiritual retreat, one has the opportunity to go into the silence, and for a little while, get away from the many distractions that fight for our attention every moment of our busy lives. Going into the silence has been often compared with going into the desert, and the use of this imagery is quite apt, for retreat often feels like a being in the desert. Nonetheless, there are such tremendous wonders awaiting us in the silence. There, in the quiet of our hearts, God’s voice is heard. In the stillness of prayer we can encounter our Creator and our Father, we can encounter our Savior and our King, and we can encounter the Living Spirit of Love moving within us. In the silence we can truly encounter God.

Every time I am able to go on retreat I try to remember how many people are not able to set apart the significant amount of time it takes to enter into silence, and spend time “apart” with the Lord in prayer. One of the tremendous opportunities that the Catholic Studies Rome Program offers is the chance to go on a weekend retreat. A retreat is a gift amidst the business of anyone’s life, but to be able to experience quiet was especially refreshing after the chaos and noise that is Rome.

Our retreat house was on a beautiful volcanic lake to the south of Rome (the same lake upon which the Pope spends his summers), and it was a truly beautiful setting. For a country boy like me, it was wonderful just to be able to sit outside and drink in the beauty of creation—to see the lake in all its serenity, to see the stars at night, and to hear the wind in the leaves instead of cars honking. For all the wondrous things that man has made, I still testify to the incalculable superiority of God’s creation. He still does it best.

Ciao for now,
Burton