Over the last 24 hours, I’ve been asked quite a bit what I think about the new Pope.
Honestly, I’ve been so busy with other things that writing these words are the first opportunity I’ve had to really process the election of Pope Francis.
So… what do I think?
On one level, I was surprised that the Cardinal Electors chose a Pope who is 78 years old. Pope Emeritus Benedict, upon his retirement, said that the job was best suited for a younger man with more energy to tackle the issues facing the church. I wondered if the electors would take that as a charge to elect a much younger man.
I was expecting the Cardinals to select a man who would be outspoken. After all, it seems a critical moment in the life of the church and of human history for that matter. Post modernism has done its work at eroding any sense of absolutes and, honestly, I think that many throughout the world are reeling from the disorientation that arises when you lose sight of “true north,” as it were.
However, this led me reflect on what I really expect in a Pope and, further, what God really expects of me as a Christian living my faith in the world. Are we called to be vocal opponents of secularism and moral relativism? Are we supposed to be on the front lines of philosophical and theological battles? Can we wrestle this world into heaven with the weight of our arguments and the effectiveness of our speech?
In contemplating these questions I realized the genius of the pick. A man who would choose the name Francis, in honor of St. Francis of Assisi, is making a statement about his own place in the world. St. Francis was a man committed to poverty and service. He was a man called by God to rebuild the church, and responded by doing so with his own hands, sweat, service and love.
Last fall I had the opportunity to visit Assisi. As I think of St. Francis and now Pope Francis, my mind is fixed on the image of the tiny unassuming church Portincula, Francis’s church which stands in the heart of the Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels.
At the heart of our own church now stands an unassuming servant ready to lead with humility and love. Perhaps he’ll be an outspoken critic of the world, but I doubt it. I suspect he’ll lead with the medicine of mercy and love that truly heals and transforms. I only hope that we, as Christians, can follow his lead.
With just over 30 hours left in our pilgrimage before heading to the airport, I plan for this to be the last update that I’ll provide from the road before coming home.
We returned from Assisi today, the details of which I’ll reserve for another time. It was moving and incredible experience walking in the footsteps of St. Francis and St. Claire, a fitting “end” to our trip before a final day in Rome tomorrow to catch some of the things we haven’t done yet.
I have spent much of the day contemplating the meaning of this trip. I know I have shared some thoughts along the way, but I am entering the broader range of self-reflection, aimed at what happens next and how God is calling me to carry this journey forward to the journey of faith in the everyday. To be sure, only time will tell how it has affected me practically and spiritually, but here are a few thoughts that have entered my mind thus far.
A few thoughts:
From the first Mass we celebrated in Dominic’s cell to reflecting on the central Catechesis of the Sistine Chapel, I have been reminded of the role I play in the church: to lead the “domestic church” of my family. Michelle and I have been so incredibly blessed and I am so thankful to have the house of love back home to return to. There will be many other opportunities to share the Gospel, but none more important than this.
Lord, help me to lead a house of saints towards you.
In Mass a few days ago, Father Jorge asked us to reflect, not on the ways that we are seeking God, but on how God is seeking us. Indeed, he is the shepherd who leaves the 99 to find the one. Everyday we have been here, we’ve had the opportunity to celebrate Mass. We’ve adored the body of Christ in many churches and received the sacrament of reconciliation. This trip has reminded me that God is not only available, he’s inviting. It’s my excuses and failures that lead me to resist the call, choosing instead to compromise with the world.
Lord, help me to answer the call of your voice back to your loving arms.
There is much more to write and be shared, but many thoughts are still in development.
Please pray for a safe voyage home and God bless!
Today was a day of coalescence. Our time in Italy is drawing to a close and, as it does, I think each man in our small band of pilgrims is reflecting on everything that we’ve seen and experienced.
This morning we celebrated Mass at the altar of St. Michael the archangel on the main level of St. Peter’s Basilica. These celebrations becomes more meaningful as we draw deeper into community with one another and share our time around the table of the Lord each day.
Following Mass, our experience here was taken to yet another level (figuratively and literally) as we stepped into the first century Necropolis excavated below St. Peter’s to visit the Apostle’s original burial site. We “walked the streets” of the ancient city of the dead, eventually seeing the bones of St. Peter and the memorial that Constantine built around the inconspicuous altar that was erected over Peter’s grave (only one pillar of which was excavated). Here we stood just 10 feet away from the Apostle, crucified upside down in the Circus of Nero and, likely, cut down from his cross by having his feet chopped off. There are no words to describe the feeling of this place.
Soon after we made our way back to the hotel to grab an overnight bag and catch a train to Assisi, home of Sts. Francis and Claire. Assisi sits high atop a hill in the Italian countryside, marked by three landmarks: a large Cathedral on the South end of town, the huge basilica of St. Francis on the north and the fortress atop the city which served as a refuge for the people of the town in times of attack. As a city, Assisi dates back to the Etruscans (pre-Romans). It is everything you think of when you imagine a small village in Italy. Cobblestones pave the narrow streets, which dart in every direction, up and down the hill. Small pathways lead to seemingly endless staircases that take you up and down each hill. The town is much as it was when Francis and Claire walked the streets and the connection to the history of this place is amazing.
As we arrived in the late afternoon, the town was bathed in the waning light of the day. It shone like gold as we approached from the valley below.
Soon after checking into our hotel for the night we visited the Basilica of St. Francis, seeing his tomb. In the chapel just above it, a single spotlight shines of the crucifix over the altar, casting as beautiful shadow on the frescoed nave, calling all attention back to Christ. This was a wonderful reminder that, as we remember the lives of the saints, we remember Christ, who they glorified with their lives. We study their lives, not out of worship, but as examples of those who sought Christ with reckless abandon. May we all have the passion of saints.
Everyday here makes me feel a deeper connection to the church. The people and places that populated my Church History textbooks are no longer an obscure collection of facts to be memorized. They are alive and memorialized all at the same time.
As we sat around the dinner table tonight, each of us reflected on what the trip has meant to us thus far. One word kept finding its way to each of our lips: home. It’s hard not to feel at home here where so much of our history is buried. It’s also hard not to long to get back to our own homes and families to share the passion that comes from our experiences and our renewed passion to serve the kingdom of God through His church.
We will spend all day in Assisi tomorrow before heading back to Rome for our final day on Saturday. Please pray for us as our journey continues and let us know how we may pray for you.
God bless you!
Today was a day of beauty.
I say that in part because it is the day we took in the masterpieces of the church via the Vatican museum and the Sistine Chapel. But, that was just the tip of the iceberg of a day filled with beauty.
This morning, as we approached St. Peter’s for our private Mass in the Chapel of Our Lady of Guadalupe, it was clear that something was different. The entrance we had used the day before was closed, as was all of the square, as the Vatican police prepared for the Pope’s Wednesday audience. We walked along the colonnade that runs along the left side of the square to an alternative entrance. Turning the final corner towards the security checkpoint, we found a crowd of hundreds of Polish pilgrims standing before us. The sight was overwhelming as they waved their flags and jumped up and down, laughing and singing in celebration and praise. On one level we just wanted to join them. On another level we wondered how on earth we were going to get through them and into the Vatican. Eventually a car parted the crowd so we chased it to the gates before we were enveloped by the crowd of pilgrims.
I was challenged by the joy of these people. I wish I could have photographed their faces, so filled with enthusiasm. It is like nothing I ever seen in the United States. We’re far too “cool” or cynical or something to be so filled with passion, to express our selves. These pilgrims were a reminder of how contagious joy really is. Beautiful.
Mass in the crypts of St. Peter’s was, of course, wonderful once again. I had the joy of proclaiming the word of God. After waking up to see the election results, I got this reminder from Paul’s letter to the Philippians:
Do everything without grumbling or questioning,
that you may be blameless and innocent,
children of God without blemish
in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation,
among whom you shine like lights in the world,
as you hold on to the word of life,
so that my boast for the day of Christ may be
that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.
There is too much beauty to begin to describe in the Vatican museums so I’ll just focus on one thing, the Creation of Adam in the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. We’ve all seen that image hundreds, if not thousands, of times. We focus on the outstretched finger of God and Adam with his oh so famous “front piece,” (sorry, obscure reference to the television show Arrested Development). Today I felt like my eyes were opened for the first time to the image I had never seen in the painting. Sure, God’s finger is outstretched to Adam, but under his other arm is Eve and his hand is laid upon a child. There, in the center of of the Pope’s personal chapel is the greatest teaching on marriage that the world has ever known: a man created with the gift of woman in store, just waiting to be shared. From the woman and through God come children, family, the domestic church. It reminded me that, though I am a pilgrim here in the city of Rome and I have been given the gift to see and pray and write, my central mission and vocation is the same which stands at the center of that chapel: to be a father and a husband. Beautiful.
Tomorrow we head to Assisi after Mass at St. Peter’s in the morning. Once again, don’t hesitate to email me special intentions for Mass. God bless you.
Other beautiful moments:
Ascending from the crypts of St. Peters to see the basilica alit for Mass while the Polish pilgrims filled the church with hymns of praise.
The booming sound of 200 seminarians reciting vespers at the Pontifical University of North America. Also, the view of Rome from the roof of the University.
There was some discussion on our tour as to whether or not Michelangelo might have been a homosexual. Waldo and I agreed he very well could of been because his work was…FABULOUS! And, yes, Waldo dared me to put this on the blog.
Today was a day of rest, relatively speaking. That is to say we actually got a much needed nap this afternoon to reenergize us for the second part of our Pilgrimage.
We woke up early and arrived at St. Peter’s Basilica just before 7:00a.m. Promptly on the hour the bells of St. Peters rang out as the doors swung open, permitting the entry of about one hundred pilgrims who arrived early for Mass.
We rushed inside, taking in the grandeur of St. Peter’s for the first time. I was struck by the image of Michelangelo’s Pieta, but as I slowed to take it in I was almost trampled by my fellow pilgrims who rushed to the first chapel on the right side of the church. Curiously, I followed, only to notice the altar of the chapel read “Johannes Pavlvvs II,” the tomb of Blessed Pope John Paul II.
Our party scanned from altar to altar, looking for a priest celebrating Mass in English. We ended up celebrating in Italian at the tomb of St. Gregory the Great, Pope and rebuilder of Rome. Afterwards, we walked back to the sacristy to ask if we could reserve a chapel for Fr. Jorge to celebrate Mass later in the week.
The master scheduler asked, “you want chapel right now? We looked at each other with a smile and were soon being led down into the crypts below St. Peter’s, many of which are used as chapels. Walking through the corridors, one after another, we took in the sounds of the liturgy being celebrated in many languages. Some were speaking, others singing and chanting, but all were united in a message of praise. There was no experience that could have proven it more clearly, this is the home of the church. It is where her people of every place, language and culture become one. And it is beautiful.
This is the unity I wrote about on the journey over, the unity I longed to experience. This is the visible sign on earth that the legacy of human disunity is conquered, like death, by Christ.
Other thoughts for the day:
Once again, Fr. Jorge led us in a beautiful Mass. He reminded us that the call to Holiness is not always comfortable, that sometimes its painful as we lay aside our own will to do the will of God. But, it is good. Such a beautiful reminder.
We shared many more laughs today in our various experiences today. My favorite… As we climbed the 200+ stairs to the top of the tower at St. Peter’s a sign marked the progress of having reached the top of St. Veronica’s column. Without hesitation Father bursts out, “you know, there used to be a towel here for people to wipe off the sweat from the climb” (if you don’t get it, Wikipedia St. Veronica). I would have laughed even harder if I was able to catch my breath from the climb.
I am going to miss Italian Cappuccinos when this trip is over. Starbucks is no longer an acceptable option.
As I walked out of the fortress of Sant’Angelo I saw two little kids running towards me that reminded me of Lincoln and Lorelei. All is well back home but I’m definitely missing my family.
Speaking of family: my wife informed me that the fountain in the picture from the Rome: Day 1 post makes me look like Yoda. Agree, I do. So awesome. Thanks again for that, Michelle. It’s been shared with all the guys in our party and I’ll not soon live it down!
We’ll be back at Saint Peter’s for Mass in the morning and I’m willing to bet we still don’t have an outcome to the election. I’m praying for unity back home. Please email me at email@example.com if you have other special intentions that I can keep in prayer.
Buena note and may God Bless all who are following along on this journey with me!
Today was the day of martyrs.
In the second century St. Tertullian wrote, “the blood of martyrs is the seed of the church.” I have always used this quote when teaching others the history of the early church to illustrate that as each martyr died, persecuted by the Roman Empire, many others would respond to their witness of faith with faith of their own. To this day the church grows most in areas where there is the greatest persecution, as men and women realize that a faith worth dying for must be worth living for.
As we made our way around Rome today, I saw first hand that Tertullian meant his statement in a far more playful way. He was watching the church literally spring up from the ground in the burial places of martyrs.
Today we visited St. Paul Outside the Wall, the church which holds the bones of St. Paul (with the exception of his head, which resides with the head of St. Peter in St. John Lateran Cathedral. As Waldo said, “if you get famous enough, everyone wants a piece of you”). Glass covers the original burial spot where first century Christians erected a small, inconspicuous recognition of Paul. Later, a bigger church, and then a bigger were built on the spot. Since Paul’s death this place has been a place of worship. To say that the present Basilica is breathtaking is a vast understatement.
And this is precisely what St. Tertullian meant. The early church sprung out of the ground like a sapling and today is an orchard of faith that covers the earth (and Rome, with its 600+ churches). The orchard is ripe for the picking if only we’ll answer the call, “take and eat.”
But, St. Paul was just one of the many martyrs that provided the seeds of faith. We climbed the Ampitheater of Flavius (the Colosseum), remembering the martyrs killed for sport.
We walked but a tiny fraction of the 11 miles of Catacombs, the burial place of untold thousands in its 150,000 crypts. Many of these were Christian martyrs whose names we shall never know but whose witness is eternal and unmistakeable in this place.
The word martyrs means “witness” and my prayer today was that, in all things, I might be a strong witness of the love of Christ. I asked for the prayers of the martyrs who bore witness with their deaths.
As the election dawns tomorrow, I pray that, no matter the outcome, people of faith will focus on being witnesses of Christ and not fueling the fires of disunity.
Jesus said to his apostles, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you and you will be my witnesses [martyrs] in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria and to all the ends of the earth.”
God bless all who are following along on the blog and the many new followers who have subscribed.
On to Mass in St. Peter’s Cathedral in the morning. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with any special intentions I can offer at Mass.
Other highlights of the day:
A great many laughs with my fellow pilgrims, as witty and loving a group of men as I have ever known.
Closing down St. Peter’s square this evening…but not before I asked Vatican police to give me five more minutes to finish my rosary before they kicked me out. They agreed.
Climbing the sacred steps on my knees thanking Christ for his love and suffering. The steps were brought to Rome from Jerusalem where they had led up to the home of Pontius Pilate. To climb them is to walk in the footsteps of Christ. What an amazing reminder of the sacrifice of Christ and a call to repentance.
We celebrated Mass in the Basilica of San Clemente, the final resting place of St. Clement and Ignatius of Antioch. The church is built on top of two structures, a church from the 4th Century and the 1st Century home of Clement’s family. Walking the rooms of the 1st Century home, entombed twenty to thirty feet below street level, you could imagine the Christian families of Clement celebrating Mass in secret.
When a day starts in St. Peter’s Square looking up at Pope Benedict addressing the crowd from his apartment window and ends with a private Mass for five in the cell of St. Dominic at Santa Sabina, how can I even begin to describe it?
Rather than run stop by stop through visits to the Pantheon and Santa Maria Sopraminerva, among others, I can only offer impressions gleaned over my first full day in Rome.
In the basilica of Santa Sabina (built around 430 on top of a first century church) a stone lays inlaid to on the floor, marking the original burial spot of St. Sabina and her servant who led her to faith in Christ. It’s said that St. Dominic would lay prostrate on the stone until all hours of the night praying and weeping for the poor, the oppressed and sinners. It’s hard not to envision that man of faith lying there pleading for the souls of others in tireless love. It’s harder still to imagine that he hasn’t assumed the same state in heaven, praying for the pilgrim church and for the souls of all.
“This stone,” said Father Brian, our guide through Santa Sabina, “has literally been soaked with his tears.”
The tears were all mine as we gathered in Saint Dominic’s tiny cell to celebrate Mass. The great, wide and universal church became so small and intimate as we sat in silence before Father Jorge began his short homily with the words, “It is said that in the silence, the Lord does his teaching.”
In the silence I prayed for my wife and each of our wonderful children one by one. “Help me to be the father of Saints, and to be to living image of God’s fatherly love,” was the prayer of my heart. I lifted up each of our Godchildren, Ellie, Deacon and Timothy, asking that they too may experience the love of Christ that their parents hold so dear.
Another image of parenthood permeated my day in different ways, via two statues of Mary, the mother of Jesus. The first, in what was formerly the Pantheon, was an image of Mary standing behind a four or five year old Christ. The second, a statue of Mary in the church of Santa Maria Sopraminerva with the infant Christ suckling at her breast. Both captured a simple reality of motherhood that struck me in a way I didn’t expect. It reminded me that, while we the Church look at Mary as such a prominent, almost inhuman example of faith, she was first and foremost the mother of Jesus. The images of Mary reminded me of all the ways I’ve watched Michelle be “mom” to our children and made me, once again, thankful to be reminded that our Church celebrates the subtleties of love and care that a mother has for her children by providing us a spiritual mother.
I am so thankful for this day, for my friends and family back home and for a wife that loves me enough to send me half way around the world to confront spiritual realities that should be apparent in the everyday.
There were so many laughs along the way today that cannot begin to be captured. My fellow pilgrims are all in good spirits and looking forward to another amazing day tomorrow. Until then, buena note!