Monday, December 22, 2014

The 1st Annual Priest Bowl

December 13 was an amazing day. 35 of my Legionary brothers were ordained priests here in Rome at St. John Lateran (click here to see my post on the Lateran Basilica). Many of their family and friends traveled here for their big day, the vast majority of them arriving here from across oceans. Many came from across the Atlantic- USA, Mexico, and South America, while some even came from Australia and New Zealand as a native Aussie and two Kiwis were ordained.

The new priests processing out after Mass

For some this was a once in a lifetime trip, finally made after so many years of waiting for their son/brother/friend to make through the long period of formation and preparation. For others, it was a truly unique opportunity to participate in a Mass of priestly ordination. One group had a particularly good time, coming to dub this event the "priest bowl." As they got to know many other brothers while in Rome, they resolved that they would have to make the annual trip overseas to participate in the priest bowl for years to come.

A new priest's homily in his 1st Mass

The ordination Mass was beautiful, but I find it easy to say that the days immediately following were just as emotionally and spiritually intense as these new priests celebrated their first Masses for family and friends. I have shared the moment of consecration from some of these Masses on Vine (click here). Homilies were often interrupted by choked voices, swallows, moments of silence taken to reign in surging emotions. I was so proud of these men, my friends and brothers, who are now bringing the sacraments of Christ, and with them eternal life, to so many.

One of the new priests

It struck me in a particular way to hear them saying the words "this is my body" and "this is my blood." Of course, they say these words in persona Christi, but it struck me that, in a few years, I will be the one saying these words; and saying these words, how could I not, experiencing Christ's immense love for us when he comes to us in the Eucharist, want to repeat, imitate, make true in my own life the truth those words express? This can be our experience of Mass every day, every time we participate in the holy sacrifice of the Mass. This is the desire that has been in my heart in these days since seeing my brothers ordained: I want to offer my body and my blood for the glory of God the Father, following the example of these brothers of mine who are leading the way and for whose example I am so grateful, but above all following the example of our Lord Jesus Christ. Indeed, this is the hope and glory of Christmas: our savior is born, our Lord is come to save us. Alleluia!

Nativity scene recently unveiled in St. Peter's square

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Weezer and Biblical Contemplation of God

On their latest album Everything Will Be Alright in the End, the band Weezer, from a certain perspective, delves into the depths of the contemplation of God based on Sacred Scripture. On this album, the song "Da Vinci" spoke to me of the reality of sacred scripture and its divine inspiration

Caravaggio's "Inspiration of St. Matthew"

Simply put, we are unable on our own to comprehend and express the reality of God's love, mercy, and awesomeness. As Rivers Cuomo sings, "Even da Vinci couldn't paint you; Stephen Hawking can't explain you; Rosetta stone could not translate you, I'm at a loss for words." Our efforts to explain and understand the wonder that is God inevitably reach the point of words falling short, of slowly entering a state of silent admiration. This is not to say that God is not rational, but only that, without his having revealed himself to us in Sacred Scripture and in the person of Jesus Christ, we would fall far shorter than we actually do in our knowledge of his reality. What is actually contained in the Bible has been the source of endless study, writing, prayer and reflection through history. Rivers sings, "I tried to write it in a novel; I wrote a page but it was awful," and then, "I wish I could explain who you are, but when I try I never get far." That's why we turn back to the sacred page! "Now I just want to sing your gospel." Let's go back to the inspired word of God and get to know him as he reveals himself to us.

Given the general aims and messages of rock and roll, I deem it safe to say that this was not Weezer's intent. Nevertheless, I do see myself, by means of this interpretation, fitting into a long line of Christian tradition that has "baptized" pagan symbol after pagan symbol. I hardly want to label Weezer as pagan or opposed to religion. I simply accept that these themes are generally absent from their productions.

* All quotes from Weezer are based on my listening to the song and may not be the official lyrics. I have not taken the time to research that, but then, I really did not see the need to.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

St. John Lateran

Today is the feast of the dedication of Rome's first basilica, St. John Lateran. It is part of the Rome experience to actually be able to attend Mass there on the very feast of its dedication.

It was dedicated in the 320s (I have heard two dates), before St. Peter's or St. Paul outside the walls, with the name "Church of the Redeemer." So why is it called St. John and what does Lateran mean? Here's the deal. Some of the land there belonged to a wealthy Roman family of the time whose name was Laterano. Then, at different points in history, the church was named for St. John the Baptist and for St. John the Evangelist. Their names (as well as their statues on either side of Christ) can be seen in the facade.

The cathedral has, through history, succombed to fire, an earthquake, and invading hordes. Each time it was destroyed it was rebuilt and received new names in the process.

As you enter through the front facade you pass a Latin inscription which says "the holy Lateran church, mother and head of all churches in the city and world." Why does it say this? Two main reasons. One is that the Lateran was the Vatican until the 1300s. It was the official Papal residence until the Avignon period when, for about 70 years in the 1300s, the Popes transferred their residence to France. After that, as the Lateran structures had become inhabitable, the Popes took up residence in the Vatican, where they have remained to the present day. The second reason, very connected with the first, is that St. John Lateran is the cathedral of Rome: it is the see of the bishop of Rome (the Pope). In fact, it still houses the offices for the diocese of Rome. St. Peter's is a mamoth basilica in the Vatican city-state, but it is not the official see of the bishop of Rome. Lateran, 1 - St. Peter's, 0.

Inside is a beautiful artistic portrayal of salvation history, or of God's intervention through history aimed at man's salvation. There are three levels (see photo immediately above, right) of decoration in the main body of the Church. The top level is a series of 12 paintings of Old Testament prophets. Below these are 12 frieze sculptures depicting, on the left side, scenes from the Old Testament which prefigured some moment in the life of Christ, depicted in the corresponding place on the right side. The two following photos depict, from the Old Testament the angel staying Abraham's hand when he was about to sacrifice his son, Isaac, who carried the wood up the mountain, and from the New Testament, Christ carrying the cross.

This is a bridge from old to new. Below these are the 12 impressive sculptures of the apostles and St. Paul, each with some emblem indicative of what they are known for. They were present at the Church's foundation and were the first followers of Christ who set the Church on its course. But there is yet a fourth level. As our gaze descends from the prophets, to the friezes, to the apostles, it finally reaches the floor upon which we stand. The fourth level is us. We are the heirs of this great history, of God's presence and action in human history. The Church's continuity and the realization of her mission now depend on us.

Historically, St. John Lateran is monumental for its Christian significance. Structurally, it is a marvel. Spiritually, it is a testimony of salvation history and is a fitting symbol of the Catholic Church herself, which has survived so many upheavels and struggles through the centuries, while continuing to offer mankind the surest means by which to reach heaven.

Friday, November 7, 2014

A Particularly Large and Friendly Elephant

Series on "Wisdom and Innocence: a Life of G.K. Chesterton" by Joseph Pearce

Chapter 6 treats of another move and of the Chestertons' dealings with a family living near their new homestead. What it is really about, however, is G.K. Chesterton's dealings with children and his love for them.

A truly beautiful portrait is presented us in this chapter of profound happiness and content. It tells of a grown man who enjoyed the stories and the jokes he told as much as, if not more than, his young listeners. It tells of this man, having lost himself in the fun and games, needing to lock himself in his room at the last moment to write a column due that evening. It can sound so proud and stuck up to speak of someone else as being simple, but that is exactly the quality of Chesterton which this chapter brought me to admire. Life for him was so beautiful, and as a man he himself was so sincere with how he lived. These two qualities, which children, when they feel trusted, seem to possess and master so effortlessly, meant that he and children were made for each other.

He thrived in their company. He was truly himself with them and they loved him for it. As one author wrote, "he did not, like many grown-ups who are reputedly 'fond of children', exploit the simplicity of childhood for his own amusement. He entered, with tremendous gravity, into the tremendous gravity of the child." One of his young friends later shared this reflection: "It was not, as is sometimes cosily and fallaciously supposed, that he became like a small boy, but that he made small boys feel that they had become men."

This chapter highlights another quality. Chesterton was simple, yet brilliant, and he had an innate knack for putting into words what other people merely feel without the ability to describe. During a difficult period for his wife, and so for him, he wrote to Fr. O'Connor, their close friend. First, he shared why he wrote to him in particular, and not someone else, in this period of trial:
"I would not write this to anyone else, but you combine so unusually in your own single personality the characters of 1. priest, 2. human being, 3. man of the world, 4. man of the other world, 5. man of science, 6. old friend, 7. new friend, not to mention Irishman and picture dealer, that I don't mind suggesting the truth to you."

He then shared a reflection on his marriage:
"One of the mysteries of Marriage (which must be a Sacrament and an extraordinary one too) is that a man evidently useless like me can yet become at certain instants indispensable. And the further oddity (which I invite you to explain on mystical grounds) is that he never feels so small as when he knows that he is necessary."

This chapter is a showcase of what seem to me to be two of the qualities which make Chesterton Chesterton.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

What fills your heart?

Have you ever felt like you were let down by God? I was reading Genesis recently and, you know, if anyone could have felt let down by God, Abraham certainly could have. He received all these promises of great things and for years there was nothing to show for it. The promises were seemingly unfulfilled. Yet Abraham maintained faith and did not abandon God.

A similar case that came to mind was St. Faustina Kowalska. Jesus called her to found an order and she, despite serious illnesses did everything she could to realize his desire. She died before foundation took place. It looks, again, like a let down, almost like God was messing with her. Yet she, too, stayed strong in the faith until the end. Why?

I would propose that God is greater than his promises. For Abraham and St. Faustina, it was worth much more to have God than to have anything else. They believed and hoped that his promises and desires would be fulfilled, but those things were on a totally secondary level. All those things came after knowing and loving the Lord. With God theirs hearts were content. They were utterly satisfied by their relationship with God. Everything else, had or not had, failed to influenced the happiness and peace they found in God.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Towards a Solution to the Problem of Evil

I wanted to share in the first place this number from the Catechism of the Catholic Church- please humor me by giving it a read.

309 If God the Father almighty, the Creator of the ordered and good world, cares for all his creatures, why does evil exist? To this question, as pressing as it is unavoidable and as painful as it is mysterious, no quick answer will suffice. Only Christian faith as a whole constitutes the answer to this question: the goodness of creation, the drama of sin and the patient love of God who comes to meet man by his covenants, the redemptive Incarnation of his Son, his gift of the Spirit, his gathering of the Church, the power of the sacraments and his call to a blessed life to which free creatures are invited to consent in advance, but from which, by a terrible mystery, they can also turn away in advance. There is not a single aspect of the Christian message that is not in part an answer to the question of evil.

I read this whil I was studying this morning and it really struck me. And I did not add the italics- I read it like that in the Catechism. Why did this number strike me? Maybe for this reason: my integral, deep living of my faith furthers the solution to the problem of evil in the world, indeed, to all the bad we see and experience.

What does "live the faith," in the previous paragraph mean? It means treating God like a person, getting to know him, and growing in my relationship with him. Growing in this relationship makes the world a better place.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Formation: let me introduce you to the truth!

The other day I found myself wondering, "what is formation all about, anyway?" I was reflecting on my (yikes!) 9 years in the seminary, you know, where I was before entering (not yet 20), how I have progressed or not along the way, positive and negative elements... So when it comes down to it, what is formation all about?

I believe that the answer is, simply, TRUTH. Fundamentally, I think that formation is attempting to move the will by presenting it with the truth in all its goodness and beauty. I believe that formation is absolutely not getting someone to do something or getting them to behave within certain parameters but rather helping them to desire the true, the good, and the beautiful in all of their profundity. It is an empowering. This also means not settling for passing pleasures or superficial counterfeits instead of these transcendental realities. For more on this check out #89 of Pope Francis's recent publication Evangelii Gaudium.

Formation is ongoing introduction to / discovery of the truth and then the conforming of one's life to that reality.