In brief, the Eucharist is the sum and summary of our faith: “Our way of thinking is attuned to the Eucharist, and the Eucharist in turn confirms our way of thinking.” (The Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 1327)
Last weekend I went on a short pilgrimage led by Fr. Cozzens, who was here teaching a course to some of the St. Paul seminarians. It was a last minute excursion, seeking miracles and saints. Such are the adventures in the life of a Roman.
January has begun, and starting this past Wednesday our classes did too. It is wonderful to have everyone back from their travels and now the house is full again. Everything is buzzing as we prep for the last three weeks of the semester. Unfortunately, it’s hard to start up with classes since this means it is the final push of papers and tests as well. Everyone is really trying to soak up what they can from Rome these next few weeks. Visit what sites that they have foregone until this final stretch.
Rome is buzzing as well with a new swarm of St. Thomas students studying here for J-Term. The Theology 101 students were over on Tuesday for lunch, the Theology 300 students have been visiting Bernardi, and at different restaurants and on the street we have managed to see the emerging purple and grey sweatshirts from two business groups, an engineering group, and also supposedly there is an Art History group here as well. This is another great way to study abroad, to even just get a taste of what being abroad might be like.
I am so grateful to be here for the year and for me I cannot imagine going home right now, although others are quite ready to take on St. Paul again. All my time here has helped me to really get to know Rome as my home, which I’m really just beginning to discover. Living in the community of Bernardi, we have especially grown as a family. This Bernardi family is something great that past students had expressed to me, but was not really sure what to expect. I cannot believe that we only have three weeks left. The semester really flew by. I’m really trying to soak up as much as possible from the group before they have to leave!
The eve of Christmas found me outside of St. Peter’s Basilica waiting with thousands of pilgrims. Who can describe such an event? We were celebrating our Lord’s Incarnation with Peter’s successor. The Vicar of Christ. With this many people, it was quite a celebration.
We stood in line for anywhere from 4 to 6 hours praying the rosary, the liturgy of the Hours, and singing Christmas carols. All of this was done surrounded by huddles of other people from all over the world just waiting for the doors to open to “charge” St. Peter’s. My family was there, so I was feeling extra blessed.
I don’t know how one can accurately describe time spent in the presence of the Holy Father. There is such excitement that builds, and it becomes somewhat of a spectacle. With thousands of people packed into St. Peter’s, you start to feel a bit like a sardine and also so easily distracted by everyone shuffling around and pressing against the barriers when the Holy Father processes in down the main aisle. But then looking around, you realize, why shouldn’t it be such a spectacle? What a beautiful sight that people are oohing and gawking at the Vicar of Christ! Who else should they be so excited for, except for Christ Himself? This man was commissioned by Him, and is someone to be admired.
This weekend I traveled back to Norcia. It is a little medieval town in the valley surrounded by mountains. Fr. Carola took us there last week. I was really missing snow and needed some time to get out of the city before my family comes tomorrow. This was the perfect opportunity to rest up after a busy week of papers and tests, and before I start into tourist mode again!
I left Saturday afternoon, took a train and bus, and in just three hours I now look at an Italy much different from Rome! Norcia is perched just at the bottom of a valley surrounded by mountains with snow on the top! Being a Wisconsinite, I will admit I miss snow here (although the crazy snowstorms going on back at home I know I would not regret missing after being there for a few days).
My day was pretty relaxing. I stayed with the Benedictine nuns that are there. I got my very own “cell” to sleep in (convents call their rooms cells, which really aren’t creepy like you’d normally think of a cell. It just means it is your own little place to go to). They let me join them for their prayers, and otherwise I was on my own.
Saturday I started out on the big adventure of climbing a mountain. I set off about noon, bundled up because it was so cold in the valley. It took about an hour for me to get to the base, and I passed horses and beautiful little houses perched below the mountains. Then I started the great task of scaling up the mountains. Warning: I would not try this on your own. I am pretty sure Fr. Carola would not have approved. I started off on a path but eventually the path stopped…but I just kept scaling up. It was amazingly beautiful. I don’t even really like heights, but it was something about the freedom of being on the mountain and the beauty that surrounded me that kept me going up (and the fact that I wanted to beat the other people who had climbed it last week…which I’m pretty sure I did!).
Climbing that mountain reminded me of what Fr. Florian, a great priest here, said to me about following God’s will. You may not always see what is way ahead of you, but in order to climb you can only look at what is right in front of you. And this is very true, because every time I tried looking way ahead or even turning around, I really had to first focus on stopping and steadying myself in order to feel secure. Even so, at points I was in the thicket of trees I couldn’t see the top of the mountain, but I knew it was there. We just have to trust in God that He obviously knows what He is doing, and that we are just supposed to trust Him and move ahead in faith.
It was a beautiful climb, and honestly I’m quite amazed I got back. Going up is easier than going down for me. While going down is faster, it always kind of scares me, especially since it was so snowy up there.
I made it back for evening prayer with the monks, and a restful night of 11 hours of sleep. That day really wore me out! But it was a wonderful adventure to have and now I await my family to get here in a few hours!
Have a blessed Christmas and a Happy New Year!
Happy Incarnation in…2 days!
God love you!
Life here is moving pretty quickly. It’s been almost a month since my last update, and we only have about a month left of the semester!
December involved a lot of traveling for the group. The great thing about studying in Europe is that so much is all so close, and most air travel is very very cheap. The first weekend I had a friend who is studying in Winchester, England visit for the weekend. It was so much fun to show her around. Also, it made me re-realize how amazing this city is! It’s funny how things like the Trevi Fountain and the Colosseum become so trivial because we walk by them every day, but with a fresh pair of eyes, it caused me to slow down and really look and what was before me. This is history right before my eyes!
Other students had the privilege of traveling to various places: the Sound of Music tour in Austria, visiting parents working in London, Lourdes to visit St. Bernadette, Malta, Germany, and now over Christmas a group of the men even are able to be in Egypt! Also, for those not traveling out of the country, it has been a great time to explore the city more, in addition to various towns in Italy. Fr. Carola brought a group to see St. Maria Goretti’s house and last week brought us to Norcia, a medieval town in Italy in the valley of mountains. There is a Benedictine monastary there with a wonderful group of monks we were able to pray with.
It’s very exciting to hear everyone’s stories and how they survived their travels out of the country. God blesses us so much!
There has been a lot to give thanks for this week. It was funny being here and getting excited for Thanksgiving when it’s such an American holiday. We actually had class in the morning, but we got out of Italian class early so that we could be back at Bernardi for Mass at noon with Fr. Carola. This afternoon replaced our normal Wednesday community night. We had an immense Thanksgiving feast! There was a 35 pound turkey! It was quite amazing!
Also, Thanos emailed our parents and had them send us letters, so each of us got mail to read from our families, which was such a blessing to receive since it was such a big holiday to be away from home. I incorporated some of my family experience by sharing a song my mom teaches her preschoolers each year, which was quite hilarious because it is about a turkey named Albequerque, sung to the tune of “Clementine”. Everyone sang along, which was really funny because it’s such a kid song. We also sang God bless America and Louie sang an opera style song we learned in Italian because he has an amazing opera voice. We are quite the musical group!
Saturday evening marked the start of Advent, and we celebrated it by attending first Advent vespers at St. Peter’s with Pope Benedict! It was wonderful to be able to begin this liturgical season with our Holy Father.
On Sunday Kalynn and I again went to the Missionaries of Charity. It was such a blessing to be able to be there on a Sunday, especially on the first Sunday in Advent. We were able to attend Mass there, and it was such a blessing. The men really enjoy being at mass and living their faith by participating in the sacraments. It was a wonderful experience of community–of coming together with a common faith and giving time to praise the Lord for the blessings they have in their life.
I was getting so choked up because I was truly seeing the fruit of the sisters’ ministry and vocation. Yes, the sisters work to provide shelter and food and health for the men, but the TRUE fruit of their ministry is the seeds of faith they sow that grows into a true love of Jesus. The men here are brought to life not just physically, but spirituality. Here they have regular prayer and Mass, and from the nourishment of the sacraments they love and serve each other more. The joy they all had at being there was very evident, and reminded me of the simple yet profound love of Jesus and how I need to be reminded of this beautiful poverty. Especially at the start of Advent, this was a great reminder of how to better prepare for the coming of our Lord at Christmas!
May God bless your Advent season and may you see Him every day, especially by coming to Him in prayer and Thanksgiving for the many gifts He has given you, of life and love!
This weekend we went on a silent retreat as a community. Yes…silence. I had never been on a silent retreat before and was excited to have this quiet time. Being in such a busy city with so many amazing things going on, I wanted to have a weekend to be quiet and just be with the Lord. It was kind of funny because I’m definitely not a quiet person. A few of the others and myself were kind of nervous about how the retreat might go, and if we could keep silence through it. I was mostly thinking I would randomly break out in laughter at dinner or at some other point.
The retreat house is on a hill looking over a beautiful lake, and across the lake is the Pope’s retreat house. The hills were filled with shades of green, orange, red, and yellow leaves on the trees. I’m not really sure if there can ever be a “true fall” here, since the leaves don’t actually seem to be falling off the trees any time soon!
Right when arrived we had Mass, followed by dinner. We got all of the talking we could do out, and once we left the room, we began our 36 hours of silence.
The weekend was beautiful. Fr. Carola, our chaplain, led five of the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola. We had a lot of time to reflect on those readings from scripture, celebrate the sacraments, pray the Liturgy of the Hours, enjoy the outside, and listen to the Lord. It is quite an amazing experience to learn to step back from the busyness of life and just speak with the Lord and most importantly, to listen to Him speak to your heart. It was even kind of awkward emerging from silence on Sunday during lunch, because I was just getting used to it. But the awkwardness quickly lifted and the room roared with laughter and excitement as we all shared our experiences and joys from the weekend. Dr. Cavanaugh noticed that we were especially chatty at dinner that night, and joked about how we were trying to make up for our lack of talking all weekend.
The Lord really blesses the times when we make the decision to take time away to pray and listen to Him. I am so happy we were given this opportunity, and hope to do it again!
God love you!
During my experience here, especially in my classes, I am constantly struck by the universality of the Church. Three of the classes I am taking are with students from the Angelicum and there are students from all over the world. There are students from India, Africa, Poland, the United States, South America, Germany, and the list goes on! It’s so wonderful to see how the Church is so diverse in Her peoples, but immensely unified in Her Truth.
We are so diverse in our nationalities, but also in our vocations. While the majority of the students at the Angelicum are religious brothers, sisters, and priests, there are a number of laity as well. Some of them are married, some are single. Some have law backgrounds, and some interested in art. Even among the religious, their charisms and apostolates are varied. The thread that binds us and makes us whole is the Truth and love we find in Jesus Christ and the Church He founded. It is so inspiring to see the way the Lord calls each of us. He has a specific vocation for us all. The first is holiness. He wants us to be a part of His mission in life, so He calls us to Himself, to imitate Him in our striving to be holy in order to gain eternal fellowship with Him in Heaven.
Our second call is to our specific vocation as either a call to religious life, marriage, or the single life. God asks us to draw closer to Him by giving ourselves more to others…taking the holiness we’ve drawn from Him and give it back to Him by giving Him our lives to make them fruitful. While these vocations are all so different, they compliment each other so well.
And I think I can say the third call is even more specific, to the vocation each of us have in the mission given to us in Jesus Christ. For some it may mean going off to proclaim His Truth in foreign missions, some of us to stay at home and proclaim Him to those at home. It may be through teaching, being a doctor, a counselor, an artist…whatever gifts we have been given we are to use for the greater glory of God!
This is the most exciting thing I see about my time here—seeing the universality of the Church and Christ’s specific calling in each of our lives. May we always seek to strive for holiness and listen to His very specific calling in each of our lives, to “Come to the Father” and allow Him to lead us completely.
This past weekend we went to Assisi. It was wonderful to be able to get out of the city for once and see the countryside! We left on a bus from the Angelicum early Saturday morning. Fr. Benedict, one of the Domincan priests, was the leader of our bus. He is an extremely joyful Dominican from Colorado. He became fearless leader for the trip.
Right when we got there we attended Mass at St. Mary of the Angels. There were seven thousand pilgrims from Rome, and it was wonderful to see all the youth there. They led the music for Mass, and itt was the first time at a large Mass that I had heard guitars and more modern music. I enjoy the traditional music, but this was quite refreshing as well.
All the pilgrims were quite packed towards the front of the church. Behind us stood the little church where St. Clare had her hair cut off. It separated the church of St. Mary of the Angels in two. It looks quite cute and a bit comical stuck in there, but so precious that they wanted to persevere such a remarkable little chapel, especially the history of such great saints as St. Francis and St. Claire!
After Mass we started the pilgrimage up to the Basilica of St. Francis where his body lies. Fr. Benedict had the Angelicum flag wrapped around him like an Olympic champion. Bryant and him found some sticks and hung it high.
The hike and especially the view from the basilica was absolutely beautiful. The sunlight and the fog shining down on St. Mary of the Angels made it look just like Heaven…or about what I would imagine Heaven to be. It was so wonderful to be able to see the extensiveness of countryside. I really do miss that when I am in Rome.
All day they had adoration of the Blessed Sacrament in the basilica. Seven thousand youth, religious, laity were all gathered together in prayer right over the tomb of St. Francis. It was such a blessing to be able to visit St. Francis and see everyone else there also desiring to get close to this inspiring saint. I managed, in my time of prayer, to lose the rest of my group. I was kind of disappointed because I wanted to see the other churches of Assisi and did not know how to get to them on my own. This came as a blessing in disguise, because I was more free to also take in all the beautiful countryside of Assisi. I ventured off on my own and was able to soak up the Italy I truly enjoy—seeing the little houses perched on the hilltops and being chased down by a dalmation guarding his house. (Okay so I didn’t enjoy that too much, but it was quite amusing).
After a refreshing day of exploring the hills that St. Francis called home, we ended with a candlelight prayer vigil. We processed down the hill singing and praising God with the light of Christ guiding our way.
I cannot wait to go back and visit more of St. Francis’ home!
Last Friday Kalynn and I started serving at the Missionaries of Charity here in Rome. I have been very excited about starting to do some service here, especially being able to work with these sisters. They are working on the canonization of Blessed Mother Teresa, who has been such an influence on the world, and especially to me and in my seeking of my own vocation. Our first visit with Fr. Carola we were able to visit the room Mother stayed in while she was in Rome.
Friday morning we managed to use the metro, which was the first time I’ve really done it outside of being in our big group. It is pretty easy, but gets a little daunting when we have to switch lines at Termini, which is the busiest and most chaotic stop of all. Most of the time you are sandwiched in like a bunch of sardines. It is borderline ridiculous but also hilarious watching it all happen.
We made it to the sisters at 8:30 am on Friday, greeted by one of the men from the home. The sisters at this site run a house for men, most if not all who are immigrants and couldn’t go back to their homes. We quickly meet Sister Gabriella, a short Indian sister who is about a foot shorter than I am and was busy cutting up broccoli. Sister Gabriella orders us to both put on aprons and we dig into work right away. I have never served with the Missionaries of Charity before, but Kalynn has on many occasions and gave me the heads up of not knowing what to expect—every day is an adventure with these sisters! I put on my apron and awaited my mission for the morning.
I stayed with Sister Tobit and cut up vegetables and cantaloupe while Kalynn was sent off to do a variety of tasks—starting out with helping serve breakfast, cleaning windows, tidying up the men’s room, washing clothes by hand, and ending with helping serve lunch. I struck up conversation with Sister Tobit and kept her amused at my lack of cutlery skills. A good part of my cantaloupe slices lept into the garbage before I was able to grab them. Sister Gabriella came bustling back every once in a while to make sure everything was going okay, and shook her head at me and wondered why most of the food looked discarded. Sister Tobit stifled a laugh and muttered “God is merciful!” to help me feel better about my lack of talent in the kitchen. She also told me that no matter what I study or what I will do in the future, I must know how to cook and clean. These are the essentials of life.
Wow, do I have a lot to learn! It was beautiful morning and I look forward to all the Fridays to come that we are able to spend with the Sisters.