30 July 2013

What is Assisi?

This morning I took with me to the tomb of Saint Francis the ever-helpful Pilgrim's Companion to Franciscan Places I received when I made a pilgrimage in college to Assisi, Florence, and Rome. Within it I found this profound statement of what Assisi is:
Should we try to enclose in the rigidity of a formula the victorious power of Assisi's charm? .... All the seduction of Assisi and the irresistible force of its appeal seem to arise only from an apparently violent opposition and a rough contrast, but they dissolve in a mysterious harmony.  Assisi, as we admire it today and still more as we love it, is nothing more than a tomb.  But tombs evoke mournful thoughts and ... the distant strains of the Dance of Death.  Yet here Assisi eludes that general rule, and from the Tomb of St. Francis ... only waves of joy flow over us and overwhelm us and snatch us from our habitual sorrows... Francis of Assisi, who during his pain-filled life radiated ineffable joy, willed that after his death this miracle should be continually renewed, and that from the dust of his bones should flow an unquenchable spring of joy for all among the children of men who may love him with a pure heart...
And because St. Francis was the apostle of joy, that joy which he had discovered in love of poverty, he gave his Tomb the faculty of performing this kind of perpetual miracle: of removing from our souls our usual anxieties and depressing thoughts, to make us thrill with enthusiasm and joy as soon as we catch sight of the enormous foundations of his Basilica... This is the revelation of the secret of Assisi, the Assisi of St. Francis, a material and mystical reliquary of the master of perfect joy.
 - Alexandre Masseron

27 July 2013

Money well spent

      Being something of a bibliophile – more than 1,400 books are waiting awaiting my return in Springfield – I’m always on the lookout for new books and find bookstores something of a danger.  I joked with some friends back home before leaving for Rome that I might have to keep a tally of the books I acquire in these next three years.  After almost two weeks in Italy, that tally is now at just four books, one of which is the text for my Italian classes.

      Thursday my fellow students and I were shown some of the ancient and important books in the library of the Sacro Convento here in Assisi.  Since it is attached to the Basilica of St. Francis, a couple of the seminarians and I decided to visit the bookstore (I had been staying away from bookstores as a caution).

The three books that I bought are: 
  1.  The Icon of the Christ of San Damiano by Marc Picard, O.F.M., Cap. (Assisi: Casa Editrice Francescana, 2012); 
  2. The Little Flowers of Saint Clare by Piero Bargellini (Assisi: Edizioni Porziuncola, 2011); and, 
  3. Assisi in the Footseps of Saint Francis by Theophile Desbonnets (Assisi: Edizioni Porziuncola, 2007).

I had a bit of free time yesterday afternoon and went to pray before the San Damiano Cross, which is presently housed in the Basilica of Saint Clare. 

 I took with me The Icon of the Christ of San Damiano and was struck by the following observation:

The border of the icon sets the tone immediately.  It is formed of a great number of shells.  Among the ancients, the seashell had become a symbol of the beauty and eternity of heaven because of its beauty and endurance.  So this border of seashells shows us that the icon is destined by its nature to reveal heavenly mystery.  However, the border is not fully complete.  It is not closed at the base but a space has been left to allow for an entry (14, emphasis mine).

To enter into the mystery of the Cross of Christ.  Was this not the very desire of Saint Francis of Assisi?  Is this not what he asked for on Mount LaVerna where he received the stigmata?  Is this not what each of us is also called to do, to enter into the mystery of the Lord’s Cross?

To enter into the Crucified Lord is to enter into eternity.  To enter into the Crucified Lord is to find true and lasting peace and joy.

Even so, too often we shy away from the Cross because we do not recognize the truth of what the writer of this sacred icon knew.  The wisdom of the Cross – by the world’s standard, the folly – is that only by entering into the Cross can the glory of the Lord be known; only by entering into his Passion can we share in his glory.

If we look at the figures depicted in the icon – Mary, John, the centurion, etc. – we see that they “are all bathed in the light” that comes from the glory of the Risen Lord (24).  What is more,

…the characters are exactly the same size.  This detail means that the most important thing is not the personal holiness of each one, but that Christ is “all in all” (Colossians 3:11)… [I]t is helpful for us to discover that the characters resemble one another, all having the same large eyes, small mouths, and oval shaped faces.  If we look at Jesus we find the same characteristics.  The words of St. Paul suddenly come to our hearts: “They are the ones he chose specially, long ago, and intended them to become true images of his Son” (Romans 8:29) (24).

Whether Francis understand these various meanings when this crucifix spoke to him is difficult to say, but in the end his life makes clear that the meanings are true.  By sharing in the Passion of the Lord – both spiritually and bodily – Francis truly became another Christ and manifested the Lord’s love in an attractive and unmistakable way.  So it is that we rightly call him a Saint.

By meditating on the image of Crucified Love, by entering into the mystery of the Cross, we, too, like Saint Francis, can become other Christ’s and manifest his love in an attractive and unmistakable way.  This why Saint Clare urges us to look upon the Cross:

Place your mind before the mirror of eternity!  Place your soul in the brilliance of glory!  Place your heart in the figure of the divine substance!  And transform your whole being into the image of the Godhead Itself through contemplation (The Third Letter to Blessed Agnes of Prague, 12-13)!

By daily praying the crucifix of San Damiano, Saint Clare truly understood its meaning and encouraged others to live it with her.

Whenever we look upon an image of the Crucified Lord, we cannot help but notice the titulus above him that declares him to be truly the King.  “Before this inscription there is no escape; one must opt either for or against Jesus.  To remain neutral is not possible” (36).

Buying that little book was money well spent and lead to fruitful prayer.  If only the same could said of every book!

24 July 2013

A quick photo from Assisi (and a fun video)

Life here in Assisi is going very well.  I don't have time at the moment for a real update, but I thought I'd share with you a picture I took this afternoon of the city from above:

As I wander through the medieval streets of Assisi, I cannot help but remember the great scene of the Battle for Goblin City in the movie Labyrinth:

It's random, I know, but that's how my mind works.

19 July 2013

Father Capello: Pray for Thomas Peters

Most of you who read other blogs will already know that Thomas Peters, the American Papist, suffered a serious accident while swimming a few days ago that left him in a very serious condition with a broken neck.

Considering the gravity of Thomas' condition, his father, the canonist Ed Peters, who blogs at In the Light of the Law, has asked our prayers, particularly through the intercession of the Servant of God Father Felix Maria Capello, S.J.

My professor of canon law, Father John Dolciamore, spoke often of Father Capello and sought his intercession for his students at the beginning of each class.

I did not know a great deal about him when I stumbled upon his tomb when Bishop Paprocki and I were in Rome for his ad limina.  When I saw Dr. Peters' request to seek Father Capello's intercession for his son, I knew I had to return to the church of St. Ignatius where he is entombed.

Father Capello was a much beloved priest in Rome and was affectionately called "the Confessor of Rome" because of his skill in counseling penitents.  Through these past many decades, the Romans have retained his confessional and decorated it with gifts given through favors obtained through the holy priest's intercession:

Notice the stole he wore when hearing confessions.
Father Capello's tomb is simple, but quite dignified:

Before I left for the church, I attempted to find the prayer for his beatification and canonization, but could not do so.  Thanks be to God, holy cards were available in the church.  I knelt down at his grave and asked him intercede on Thomas' behalf, for his full restoration to health and strength and prayed the canonization prayer in Italian and the Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be in English.

In Italian, the prayer is:
O Gesù che per il bene della Chiesa e il conforto dei fedeli, ricolmasti dei doni del tuo Spirito il tuo servo Felice Maria Capello e ne facesti un sacerdote pio e zelante, un religioso esemplare, un luminare di sapienza, un consigliere sicuro, un lavoratore indefesso, concedici la grazia di sperimentare l'efficacia della sua intercessione e di imitarne la pietà, l'umiltà, la pazienza e la benignità verso il tuo Divin Cuore e il Cuore Immacolato della tua Santissima Madre.  Amen.
Pater, Ave, Gloria.
O Signore, glorifica anche in terra il tuo servo fedele.
Dr. Peters, as I discovered a moment ago, provides a translation of the prayer:
O Jesus, for the welfare of the Church and the comfort of the faithful, you filled your servant Felice Maria Cappello with the gifts of your Spirit and made of him a pious and zealous priest, an exemplary religious, a luminary of learning, a reliable advisor, and an untiring worker, now grant the grace hoped for in evidence of his intercession and let us imitate his piety, humility, patience, and kindness before your Divine Heart and the Immaculate Heart of your Most Holy Mother
Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be.
O Lord, glorify your faithful servant on earth!
Please, join me in seeking Father Capello's intercession for Thomas' healing.

In the years to come, I will call often upon Father Capello's intercession in my studies of canon law, which he loved so dearly.

18 July 2013

My Room in Rome

While I study in Rome I will stay at the Casa Santa Maria, the American house for priests who are studying in the Eternal City.

Built in 1601 by the Orsini family as a Dominican convent, the Casa housed religious women until it was suppressed by Napoleon some 200 years after its founding.

Pope Pius IX gave the building to the American Bishops for the North American College (the U.S. seminary in Rome).  When the number of seminarians from the U.S. became too numerous for the building, the U.S. Bishops established the college on the Janicolo Hill in 1947.

Today, the Casa Santa Maria houses about 100 priests for the duration of their studies at the various Roman universities and provides simple, though sufficient, accomodations.

 Today I finished setting up my room:

With the lack of air conditioning, the fan is necessary in the warmth of July in Rome.

My room sits on the inside of the building and faces out toward one of the two courtyards, which provides a nice view:

It may not be much, but it's home for most of the next three years (though next year I think I'll have the opportunity to move into a larger room).

A new way of looking at things

Ever so slowly I am settling into my room here in the Eternal City, which entails not only putting things in what seems a good place in the room but also adjusting to another of getting things accomplished.

This clever video is a rather accurate description of some of the more notable differences between Europe (and in many ways also the United States) and Italy:

The primary task of today and tomorrow is applying tor a permesso di soggiorno, an extension of my visa beyond its one year expiration.

Before I concluded my assignment as Priest Secretary and Master of Ceremonies to the Bishop, His Excellency shared with me this sage advice: "If you set out to do four things in one day and accomplish one of them, it's a successful day."  I think I may need to increase the list of things to accomplish each day if I'm to have successful days.

More posts - and pictures - will be forthcoming.  Please continue to keep me in your prayers as you remain in mine.  On Saturday I will to Assisi where I study the Italian language for the six weeks before returning to Rome.

15 July 2013

On the way

As I make my way today (and tomorrow) from Quincy to St. Louis to Chicago to Rome, Rich Mullins' "I'll Carry On" has been very much on my mind:

I am grateful for the many prayers that have been offered on my behalf and promise to pray for all of you at the tombs of the Apostles Peter and Paul and of Francis and Clare.

11 July 2013

To Live Pono: Meeting Someone

This morning a line from J.R.R. Tolkien shared on Twitter by @TolkienProverbs reminded me of a post I've been meaning to write for a very long time.  The proverb was a bit of wisdom placed on the lips of Eomer, third marshal of the Riddermark:
The stranger should declare himself first.
This counsel seems obvious enough, but very few people seem to actually realize it's importance.

I cannot begin to fathom the number of times someone has shaken my hand and said, "It's nice to meet you," without ever telling me their name or asking mine (sometimes "Father" works, but knowing the proper form of address hardly suffices for "meeting" someone; if you meet someone, you should at least know his name).

Whenever I find myself in such a situation, it takes every ounce of restraint not to say, "But we haven't met at all.  All you've done is shake my hand on your way out the door or on the way to the buffet line."  Strangely, my saying something like this would be seen as rude, which is why I restrain myself, but a failure to introduce oneself and acknowledge another person is somehow not seen as rude.

My hunch is that people say, "It's nice to meet you," from a desire to be polite, or at least from a general understanding that they should pretend to be polite.  It seems a similar situation to the odd question, "How are you," when the one who asks the question doesn't actually want a response.  It is supposed to be polite to ask the question, but this is really only a false politeness, unless you actually want to know how someone is.

Please, the next time you say, "It's nice to meet you," or something very similar, please be sure to first introduce yourself and, at the very least, ask the other person's name.  It's to way to live pono, to live righteously.

09 July 2013

Father Tolton died 116 years ago today

On this day in 1897 two priests - along with many others - died as a consequence of a heat wave in the greater Chicago area: Father Otto Greenbaum, who died in his rectory, and the Servant of God Father Augustus Tolton, whose cause for Beatification and Canonization is presently underway.

Quincy's first citizen, to borrow a phrase from Bishop Perry, had just returned to Chicago from a retreat in Bourbonnais, Illinois and was about to make a few rounds in his parish when he collapsed at 36th Street and Ellis Avenue.  He was taken to Mercy Hospital where he died at 8:39 p.m. at the age of 46.

As was his known wish, his body was brought back to the Gem City and buried on July 13, 1897 in St. Peter's cemetery where it remains interred to this day.  Regrettably, I was unable to visit his grave today due to commitments out of town.

My thoughts have often turned to Father Gus throughout these past many days as I look ahead to my move to the Eternal City.  It is a move that the Servant of God also made from Quincy and he faced many of the same challenges - and many more besides - that I soon will face: two new languages (Italian and Latin), a new culture, moving away from family and friends, etc.

At present I am neither excited nor overwhelmed at the prospects of my appointment to graduate studies in canon law at the Pontifical Gregorian University, though once I arrive in Rome one week from this morning I am certain to experience both sentiments.

As I ponder the prospect of learning a new subject in a new language, I continually remind myself that others have done this before me and have survived quite well; if they can do it, so can I.

It is especially encouraging to know that I can call upon the intercession of this Servant of God whose life is bound with mine not only by virtue of the Priesthood of Jesus Christ, but also by a common city and a love of its citizens.

In a letter to a friend, Father Tolton once wrote:
Catholics will love and respect a priest regardless of nationality; at least that is the spirit of those people in the Gem City who knew me for twenty-nine years.  Never will they forget the happy hours spent in little St. Joseph church.  I wish them all the blessings that can be bestowed upon them, for that charitable spirit that they have always shown toward me and the colored children.
For my part, I will never forget the happy hours spent at St. John the Baptist Baptist, the chapel of Quincy University, and within the Great River TEC movement.  I, too, wish the citizens of Quincy all the blessings that can be bestowed upon them for the charitable spirit they have always shown me.

Please join me in praying for Father Tolton's beatification and canonization, and ask him to intercede for me in my coming studies.

02 July 2013

Homily - Mass in Thanksgiving for Great River Teens Encounter Christ

My dear brothers and sisters,

What does it mean to encounter Jesus Christ, to encounter the one who makes the bold claim, “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21)?  Those who encountered him in the synagogue “were amazed at the gracious words that came forth from his mouth,” but their amazement did not long last; only a short time later – just eight verses later - they “drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town had been built, to hurl him down headlong” (Luke 4:29).

There tend to be two responses to the encounter with Jesus Christ, though both generally begin with amazement.  One response ends, as we have just seen, with a rejection of the one who calls us to “the bond of perfection” (Colossians 3:14).  The other response ends with an embrace of the one who calls us to let his peace “dwell in you richly” (Colossians 3:16).  If it is an encounter with the same person, how can the responses be so very different, one to receive his love and one to reject it?

To encounter Jesus Christ is to be invited to a great challenge.  He invites those who meet him to do everything in his name, that is, to set aside their own personal agendas and desires to embrace his will as their own (cf. Colossians 3:17).  To live in the bond of perfection is to live a life of holiness, a life set apart for God; it is to live the life for which we have been created.  There are many people who recognize the beauty and the truth of such a life, and there are many people who do not.

It is the mission of Great River Teens Encounter Christ to lead young people toward such an encounter with the Lord who requires a decision be made.  We cannot make the decision for them, but we can help them understand what it means to live a life of faith, to strive to live under the bond of perfection.

Faith, as well as being a gift from God, “is choosing to stand with the Lord so as to live with him.”[1]  Jesus invites them – as he does each of us – to make this fundamental choice, to follow his example or to reject it.  He it is who is the true grain of wheat who falls to the ground and dies to produce much fruit for us (cf. John 12:24).  Will we, in turn, allow ourselves to die, will we set aside our own ambitions and self-centeredness to produce much fruit for God and for others?

Standing before Jesus Christ we stand before the gate for the sheep, through whom whoever enters will be saved and “will come in and go out and find pasture” (John 10:9).  At the beginning of this Year of Faith, the Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI reminded us that “to enter through that door is to set out on a journey that lasts a lifetime.”[2]  Each day we must ask if we have remained on that journey or if we strayed off on our own way; this journey of faith cannot be taken as though we were on autopilot, but must be done intentionally and with conviction (cf. Isaiah 53:6).

This journey begins, Benedict says, “with baptism, through which we can address God as Father, and it ends with the passage through death to eternal life, fruit of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, whose will it was, by the gift of the Holy Spirit, to draw those who believe in him into his own glory.”[3]  To set out on this journey of faith and to arrive at our true homeland, we must enter through the door of faith, through the door of Christ, and not seek to keep our feet on the path; we must be willing to allow ourselves to be swept up in his will.

Where the journey leads in between Baptism and death we cannot know, but we do know that the adventure is great and that the one who guides it “searches out the abyss and penetrates the heart; their innermost being he understands” (Sirach 42:18).  Yes, he knows our weaknesses and he knows our love; he alone knows the deepest yearnings of our hearts and he alone can satisfy them.  He invites us to pass through his gate, by entering into his holy wounds, to be healed, to receive forgiveness, and to have our love strengthened and our every desire fulfilled.

We have come here this evening because Great River TEC has helped us to encounter the person of Jesus Christ and has encouraged us to take up his Cross and follow in his way, striving always to enter through his narrow gate, to delve deeply into his open wounds.  As we think back over the years and the many people with whom we have prayed during our TEC weekends in this chapel and throughout this building, how can we not be filled with a joyful wonder?  The words of Sirach come streaming to mind: “Yet even God’s holy ones must fail in recounting the wonders of the Lord” (Sirach 42:17).  How can we adequately express what the Lord has done for us through the TEC movment?  Many have his graces been, “all of them differ, one from another, yet none of them has he made in vain” (Sirach 42:24).

As I think back over the twelve TEC weekends and the many Quests and Mini-TECs on which I was a candidate, a Wheatie, a resource, a member of the adult team, and the spiritual director, my heart swells with gratitude for the many blessings that have been given to me through this ecclesial movement: the reconciliation and healing, the insights and inspirations, the friendships and the laughter and the tears.  Each of us has received these same or similar blessings and together have come to express our gratitude to the Lord.  Truly, the wonders of the Lord are renewed every morning and we do well to bask in their warmth and to give him what thanks we can (cf. Lamentations 3:23).

For my part, I am grateful to each of you for the part that you have played in my own journey of faith.  TEC, in no small way, helped me to discern the will of the Lord for my life that now unexpectedly leads me to Rome to study canon law at the Pontifical Gregorian University.  I never quite knew why the Lord would call me to his service as a priest – nor do I now – but many of you helped me to realize that he was calling me; your prayers and encouragements helped me to accept his call.  For your many kindnesses to me I will be eternally in your debt; from the bottom of my heart, I thank you, and promise to remember you often at the tombs of the Apostles Peter and Paul and at the altar of the Lord.

But we have also come this evening to hold a “recruitment party,” to ask the Lord to help us discern whom among our family and friends, our neighbors, peers, and co-workers, we can invite to encounter Christ through the TEC movement.  In this effort, we cannot forget that “what the world is in particular need of today is the credible witness of people enlightened in mind and heart by the word of the Lord, and capable of opening the hearts and minds of many to the desire for God and for true life, life without end.”[4]

I urge you, then, with Saint Paul, to “let the peace of Christ control your hearts, the peace into which you were also called in one Body” (Colossians 3:15).  His Body is the Church and his Church is nourished with his Body, with the Eucharist.  Stay, then, always near his Body, both the Eucharist and the Church, and the words of the Psalmist will be fulfilled in you: “The poor shall eat and shall have their fill.  They shall praise the Lord, those who seek him” (Psalm 22:27)!

If you learn to think with the mind of the Church then Christ’s peace will always dwell in you and “in all wisdom you can teach and admonish one another, singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your heart to God” (Colossians 3:16).  Amen.

[1] Pope Benedict XVI, Porta Fidei, 10.
[2] Ibid., 1.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid., 14.