In today’s readings from Acts of the Apostles we once again here of their travels. As schools finish up the year around the country, a lot of us turn our attention towards planning our summer vacations.
Rest and relaxation are very important elements to a well balanced Catholic Christian life. However, it’s also important to remember that just because we are on vacation doesn’t mean we get a break from our vocation to holiness.
One thing that strikes me is that we will check a dozen web sites so we can end up saving $10 on a hotel room, but do we even bother to check one for Mass times?
We would never think of leaving the house without at least checking (and probably buying tickets) flight times, but we forget to look up Mass times.
I have found in my travels that attending Mass in a foreign country, language or culture can actually be a great grace and growth in our relationship with God thriugh the universality of the Church.
During this Jubilee Year of Mercy we too are encouraged to make pilgrimage. The tradition of the Jubilee year in the Church is originally focused on the four major basilicas of Rome, St. Peter’s, St. Paul Outside the Walls, St. Mary Major and St. John Lateran. Thankfully Pope Francis has recognized that most of us cannot afford to just get up and travel to Rome (as much as we might like to), therefore bishops around the world have set up holy doors in their own dioceses. In our Diocese of Jefferson City, Bishop John R. Gaydos has designated the following Churches to have a holy door:
The Cathedral of St. Joseph
The Church of St. Peter in Brush Creek (where Fr. Augustine Tolton was baptized, whose cause for canonization is in process)
The Church of St. Patrick in Laurie in honor of the National Shrine of Mary, Mother of the Church
The Shrine of Our Lady of Sorrows in Starkenburg
I encourage you all to make plans to visit at least one (or more) of these sites during the upcoming year. It could make for a lovely family day trip on a Saturday. Travel to the Church, pass through the door, then go out to lunch as a family. If you have any questions or need some tips about organizing such a day trip, don’t hesitate to call me, I’d be happy to help.
The point of pilgrimage and the point of passing through the doors in not a competition to see how many doors or how many times you can walk through a door. Rather, it is about intentionally seeking God’s help to open the doors of our hearts so that we may recognize, “God’s love has been poured out into our hearts” (Rom 5:5). We seek God’s mercy and forgiveness for the times we have failed to be Christ-like to others and ask for his strength to do so in the future.
After spending 6+ weeks in Sedalia, I finally returned to Rome to pack up my belongings. I had a wonderful two week visit, yes, I had to pack up my stuff, but I also got to say goodbye to so many great friends.
Here’s the pastor’s pen I submitted from afar…
Greetings from Rome! I am so sorry to be away from the parish for two weeks, especially at a time so full of important activities such as the Bazaar and homecoming. However, it was necessary that I come back, pack upand ship all of my belongings back to Sedalia.
When I first began my assignment in Sedalia, Fr. Mark and I agreed it was best for me come to the parish first, get to know all of you, and then later go back and get my stuff. I am so grateful for the warm and gracious welcome I have received from all of you during my first six weeks in Pettis county. Your overwhelming support has made my transition back to America much easier. My heart is filled with gratutidue for such a supportive welcome and with hope for our future together as we continue to journey to Christ as we make the kingdom of God present in our precious part of the world. I look forward to my return to Sedalia with great anticipation. While I’ve been here I’ve been offering all of my daily Masses for all of you.
In addition to packing up my things, the other big “task” I have here is saying goodbye to many great friends. When many of you have asked me, “What did I like about studying in Rome?” My answer has never been, “the pasta,” but rather, “all of my friends from all over the world.” I was privileged to share a classroom with men and women, lay and religious, from over 43 countries during my time here. Many of whom I may never see again, or at least not, for many years as we all return to our home countries to witness to the Gospel in service of the Church, each in our own unique way.
One of the many lessons I learned from my friends is just how far and universal our Catholic faith is spread throughout the world. This Sunday, the Church renews her commitment to the spread of the faith, the missions, through this World Mission Sunday. It is a chance for us to give thanks and celebrate the hard work work of our brothers and sisters in Christ who work so tirelessly on missions throughout the world. Furthermore it is a chance for us to support them as they continue mission of witnessing to Christ’s love for humanity.
There are over 250 seminarians at the North American College. It’s a great blessing, yet with so many guys it can be hard to get to know everyone. Within the 250 there are many smaller groups created which form more of a family environment. One of those groups is formed by the people you live with, your corridor or hall. There are four residential floors in the building, each floor divided into three wings or halls. For all three years I have lived in the same room on the hallway known officially as, “3rd Hospital” and affectionately as, “3rd Carnivore.”
Once a semester each of the individual the halls get together to have dinner. Tonight was that night for the men of 3rd Carnivore. Naturally, in order to fulfill and maintain our hall’s namesake, I fired up the smoker and cooked some chicken. Other guys helped contribute with homemade breads and desserts.
Before we all leave our home of 3rd Carnivore to return to our homes in the United States, Canada and Australia, it was nice to gather as a group and finish the year with a good meal and good company.
Last weekend I participated in a fraternity weekend with my classmates of 3rd Theology. A fraternity weekend is not a retreat, but rather a weekend in which all the members of a particular class all take a trip together. We all packed on a bus on Friday and headed for the beach. There we had a hotel more or less to ourselves right on the beach. The weekend had a pretty light schedule, we had Mass in the middle of the day, but the rest was free. It provided a great time to just relax and hang out with classmates. We’ve all been here for three years together at this point. The weekend provided two opportunities for me. The first was just to relax and chat with some of my better friends. The second was to continue to get to know some of my other classmates who maybe don’t study at the same university or share an apostolate with me.
Right now we are in the “home stretch,” next Thursday is the last day of classes. Then I have four exams before returning to the USA for the summer. So it was nice to get away and not worry about all of the various tasks that face one this time of year.
Yesterday I had the great opportunity to attend the perpetual profession of four sisters from the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of the Infant Jesus (Suore Francescane Missionarie di Gesù Bambino). Two of the four are classmates of mine at the Pontifical Gregorian University.
In order to support them on the most important day of their lives, we organized a group of classmates to attend the beautiful ceremony.
A bunch of us left early in the morning to make a full day trip out of the experience since some had never been to Assisi. Given that I spent a summer living in the small medieval town, and was not one of the Franciscans busy making vows, I became the default tour guide.
The morning group was composed of two Ecuadorians, a Brazilian, an Italian and myself. Later we met up with a Peruvian, a Portuguese and two other Italians.
We had a great time visiting many of the different Churches in the upper part of Assisi. We stopped in each to pray for the sisters who would be making their vows that afternoon.
Of course there was a necessary stop for pizza before heading down the hill to Basilica di Santa Maria deli Angeli, home to the famous Porziuncola. There is quite literally a small Chapel inside of the larger basilica.
There we joined hundreds of family and friends for a beautiful liturgy celebrated by the recently named Cardinal Bassetti from nearby Perugia. During the Mass, the sisters each professed perpetual vows of chastity, poverty and obedience to the mother general of their order.
Unfortunately we only had a few minutes at the reception as we had to catch the last train back to Rome so we weren’t able to get any photos with the sisters at the reception. They had many other guests waiting to congratulate them as well.
One of the many things that I enjoy about my experience here in Rome is my “apostolate.” An apostolate is an assignment we the seminarians receive out in the city, this comes from the word apostle, or one being sent.
At the NAC, we have quite a variety of apostolates, some work in schools, parishes, hospitals, soup kitchens, nursing homes, universities.
For the past two semesters I have also served as the “capo” or leader of this apostolate, which currently has 23 seminarians assigned. As I said above, it has been a great joy.
We offer free tours of St. Peter’s Basilica M-F at 2:15 P.M. during the school year. We also work at the Bishops’ Office for United States Visitors to the Vatican. There we help with the distribution of tickets for Papal audiences and Masses.
Whether it’s in St. Peter’s Square or at the office, we meet people from so many different backgrounds, perspectives and walks of life.
We try our best to meet the people wherever they may be on their journey, and then help them along the way.
Typically the tours are somewhat small, and so I try to listen and watch how everyone is reacting so I can learn where they are on their own personal journey, then go to meet them and bring them through the basilica.
These have led to many inspiring, intense and emotional spiritual experiences for many. There are so many beautiful and inspiring stories. Yet, it is we the guides too who are inspired and amazed. Inspired by the love and devotion of so many faithful Catholics who are so excited for the opportunity to be in Rome, and amazed at how the Holy Spirit works in the hearts of so many who come not expecting much, but who become moved and changed by the experiences.
It’s a great opportunity for me to learn how to listen, how to teach, and how to love. A way to learn how to become the Shepherd I believe God is calling me to be.
(Update: See my new post on the endorsement of our tours by the New York Post)
On February 7th I wrote the first post on this site in over four years. I mentioned that in addition to new posts, during the break I would try to write a few “catch-up” pieces from different experiences over the last couple of years. To that I end I wrote two pieces on my pilgrimage to the Holy Land this past Christmas; one with general thoughts, and another post recounting two specific stories.
Now that I have another break for Easter, I’d like to do a little more “catching up,” in particular I’d like to share some reflections on my time in Albania last summer.
After our first academic year in Rome, we were not permitted to return home. We were however given the freedom, with diocesan and seminary approval to be adventurous and look for different opportunities. As a result 67 men in my class were spread out all over the world. To my knowledge we had guys in at least (I’m sure I’ll forget some) the following countries, England, Ireland, France, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Italy, Poland, Israel (Holy Land), Ukraine, Taiwan, Tanzania, India, Hong Kong, and of course Albania. This all led to some amazing table conversations when we all got back.
For the sake of time what I’ve done below is cut and past different parts of various reflections, reports, e-mails etc. that I wrote when I returned to Rome. Thus it won’t flow as a single narrative, but hopefully it paints a picture of my life in Albania and the lessons I learned.
A quick overview: When I was in the flatlands, I helped in the health clinic, primarily relying on my experience working at a pharmacy when I was in high school. In the mountains we were assigned three “villages” or sides of mountain ridges. We rotated between the three doing Catechesis Mon.-Sat. On Sundays we celebrated Mass at all three. Due to the lack of quality or lack altogether of roads we would take a jeep as far as we could go and then hike the rest of the way before ringing a bell to let everyone know we’d arrived. Then everyone on that ridge would make their way to the field where we met.
In response to a question asking for a description of our living situation, I wrote the following:
Dajç, Lezha, Albania: This was a rural farming community where I stayed with the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. I was here upon arrival in Albania before heading to the mountains for the missionary experience as well as after the mountain experience for another week. I stayed in the convent, in the guest wing. Both times I stayed at the convent there were four sisters present, though there was a change with two of the sisters between the first and second time I stayed with them.
Qibik, Albania: This is where I stayed during the missionary experience in the mountains. Here we stayed in a restaurant-hotel run by a family who also lived in the same structure. Our community was comprised of myself, two Albanian junior sisters of the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus who study at the Pontifical Lateran University, an Albanian seminarian in 4th theology studying at the national seminary in Albania, and an Albanian priest, ordained in 2002.
This hotel had part-time running water and part-time electricity, both would come on and off throughout the day and night. For showering and washing our clothes we had two trash buckets which we slowly filled with water, when it was running. We had one common room where we prayed, ate, and spent our community time. There were also separate rooms for the seminarians, nuns, and priest. These living quarters proved to be very formative for me, as it was a good opportunity to learn simplicity and poverty through actually living simplicity and poverty.
As for our community we were separated by a maximum of 13 years in age. I felt that we were able to establish a great community attitude and strong morale. With two nuns, two seminarians, and a priest we were well balanced. Our community time, whether it be at meals, traveling by foot or in the car, or during our time together in the evenings was one filled with a healthy balance of serious reflection and joy. There was certainly a great amount of laughter amongst us, particularly in the evenings as we relaxed after a long days work. In fact we would laugh so hard that one time one of the patrons in the restaurant below our rooms asked the waitress what was going on up above, to which she responded, “oh those are just some really joyful people laughing.” In addition to our obvious joy, we also took time in the car or afternoon to reflect on how the days activities had gone, and what could be done to improve. We also did a good job motivating each other to keep working as the work was very tiring. Given that four of us are students there were also several intellectually stimulating conversations about various theological topics and our experiences in our respective universities. All of these experience contributed to a very positive sense of community.
When asked, “What did you learn about the people and about the nature of diocesan ministry?” I responded:
Though my work was with a diocesan priest and seminarian, the nature of our ministry was missionary. That being said there were certain aspects of the experience that could be found in a diocesan setting.
One such example took place when we were sitting in our community on a Friday evening when we were called downstairs to the restaurant because there was a man who wanted to see us, his father was dying and he wanted the priest to come and perform last rites. We immediately prepared the necessary items and took off down the mountain to his house. In this experience I had to learn to comfort and aid the family as they were suffering a great loss.
Later, when it came time for the funeral of this same man I learned to be more adaptable. We planned on celebrating a funeral Mass for this same man, however when we arrived at the cemetery chapel, we saw that not only had the people removed the pews to create more room for everyone to stand, they had also removed the altar. Since we could not celebrate Mass we had to quickly change plans and celebrate a burial outside of Mass.
The most profound lesson I learned about diocesan ministry is the role of the priest amongst his people, his flock. The people in the mountains do not have a resident priest, which is why we went for the month of July. This meant that when we did show up, many were very happy to see us, they also had a very heathy respect for us and especially our words. The lesson that I drew out of this reaction, which is somewhat different than the reaction of people to priests in the United States is the importance of the priest to be amongst his people. We drove 3.5 hours into the mountains so that we could be among the people. This experience taught me, even with a different language and culture, it is important to amongst the people.
Another diocesan type of experience that I learned took place during the blessing of homes in the evenings. When we went to people’s homes to bless them, they were extremely generous. Many of the people on this mountain practiced sustenance farming, they grew what they needed, yet when we came to visit, they took from their own supply to give to us. They would offer fresh fruits and vegetables as well as homemade sausages, cheeses, and honey. They had nothing yet gave so much. At times I even felt uncomfortable taking food from them, however as the time went on I came to realize that I must learn to receive. I think I went in with the mindset of, “we are here to give this blessing” but failed to realize our need to be open to receiving. Another aspect of this receiving was to receive graciously and lovingly. In all charity, some of the people we met were better at making cheese, honey etc. than others, therefore some of the foods were not exactly tasty, enjoyable or pleasant to consume. What helped me to learn to receive graciously was the reflection on the fact that the people who had made these foods had done so with the best of their ability, and they were very proud of their work, they poured much energy and time into the making of those foods, and in many ways they poured themselves into these items. Thus what seemed like bad food became something beautiful, and if I didn’t enjoy a particular item I could offer my own minor suffering and desires as personal sacrifices, personal gifts, just has these people had given of themselves. For me eating these appetizers before the blessings of homes was a very humbling experience, which taught me that while I might want to go around and give, go around and do, sometimes God is calling us to give of ourselves through receiving from others.
Both of my experiences in the mountains as well as at the clinic helped me to understand that fundamentally ministry cannot be separated from prayer and the action of ministry cannot merely be seen on a human, material level, but rather must be seen, with “the eyes of faith,” such ministerial work must be seen also on a spiritual level. In the mountains this was felt through the realization that catechesis was not merely the act of teaching, but rather a passing down of the faith, an entering into the tradition of the Church as passed down to me and working to make that faith come alive in others who were younger, so that they might the same to others after them. This lens of faith and prayer as it comes to ministry also applies to the aforementioned description of eating food in the families of others, it became not just the act of eating but rather an entering into communion with these families. The experience of cold showers with no running water became a way of accepting a little suffering or discomfort for Christ and a way of entering into a solidarity with those to whom we were ministering.
This was by far the most profound and memorable experience of the summer. In my mind, there has not been a day yet when I have not been back to this man’s house. These words are very inadequate and most certainly don’t do the experience justice.
The most powerful individual experience of the summer was when one of the sisters and I were asked to go to a house to help a man in his early 30’s who had been severely burned. In an accident he became tangled with an electrical wire and suffered from both internal and external burning. The majority of his front side (arms, chest, stomach, legs, and feet) was covered in third degree burns, parts of his skin were charred. In particular there was a deep wound on his right side. For the most part I sat and watched as the sister began taking off his bandages and providing treatment to his wounds. As the sister cleaned his wounds with various creams, medicined etc., I could see the man writhing in pain, yet little to no noise was coming out of his mouth because his vocal chords were damaged, he was only able to speak in a very soft tone of voice. While all of this is going on, his mother was sitting in a chair at the foot of the bed. The mother was extremely distraught, emotional, and sad as she gazed upon her suffering son. In between her tears she would cry out a few phrases in Albanian, which translate to, “O Lord!” or “Thanks be to God.” I sat next to her and attempted to console her in her own pain and suffering. This lasted for an hour and a half. As I sat there soaking in this scene I found myself drawn to the scene of Christ’s crucifixion. I came to see this man as Christ suffering silently on the the Cross, and the mother, as Mary, weeping at the feet of her son. Furthermore, the man had this large gash in his side, just as the side of Christ was pierced. I was watching this sister, called an Apostle of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, clean, and repair this man’s pierced side, additionally as she cured him physically, she spoke to the man about understanding his suffering in relation to the suffering of Christ, her willingness to aid this man and bring him closer to Christ was to me a great act of reparation to the Sacred Heart.
Lastly, I was asked, “WHERE WAS GOD AT WORK in this experience: in you, in other people, and in the church?” My response was as follows:
The principle means through which I saw God at work was through the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. I have known these sisters for a long time, but before this experience my interactions with them were primarily either joining them in prayer or recreation. This was my first opportunity to live with and minister alongside the sisters.
Going into the experience, I had asked the sisters to work with them, they told me enough about the program that I felt it was something I would like to do. However, at the same time there were a certain number of unknowns with entering into a new culture, and going someplace I had never been before, and my first time in a place where I did not speak the primary language for an extended period of time. Yet, without ever meeting these individual sisters beforehand, I felt I was able to trust in them, much like I strive to trust in God. Furthermore, when incidents came up, for instance, getting my hand filled with thorns, I knew that the sisters would take care of me. These are two ways they personally helped me to grow in the way that I try to trust in God.
The clinic run by the sisters was free for patients, yet many felt the need to bring what little they had to give, mainly vegetables, milk and animals from their property. The food that the sisters received from those whom they served in the clinic was the food they ate, in other words, they relied on their work to sustain them, physically as well as spiritually. This reliance was to me a powerful witness of their assumption of poverty and solidarity with those in the village, just as Christ chose to become man among us.
Lastly, I saw God at work in this experience through the sisters by the very fact that God has given us this Church, and each of us a vocation in this Church. I was so grateful to God that he has brought me to this worldwide congregation. There is no doubt that I could see how God has worked in my relationship with this order that I was able to just show up in a foreign land with sisters I’d never met and was able to joyously and fairly seamlessly enter myself into their community because they share a common charism with all of their sisters whom I have met and know all over the world.
I hope that explains a little of my experience in Albania, if you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment. I have become quite fond of this country so often misunderstood or just not known to so many others throughout the world.
Holy Week at the NAC rotates off an on every year between “in-house” and “travel period.” When it is “in-house” as it was last year, we have all of the Triduum liturgies at the NAC as a community. I remember those celebrations last year quite fondly as they were both very reverent but helped us to grow closer to one another spiritually as we grew closer to Christ through the liturgies given to us by the Church to recall his passion, death and resurrection.
This year we were free to go where we wanted for Holy Week. Many men choose to spend the time in Benedictine Monasteries in Italy. Given that I was blessed to have had the opportunity to participate in two beautiful Triduum celebrations during my time at Conception Seminary College, I opted for a different approach.
My current apostolate assignment is to serve as the Capo of the seminarians who give tours of St. Peter’s and work at the US Bishops’ Office for Visitors to the Vatican. Given my role at the office, and the fact that I so much enjoy being able to greet pilgrims from all over the United States, I chose to be in Rome for the Triduum, so I could assist pilgrims and attend the celebrations with the Holy Father.
As for the Triduum itself, look for more in a forthcoming entry. Now, I’d like to briefly share some thoughts and photos from my retreat earlier in the week.
In January I had been able to arrange to make a private retreat at a small Carmelite convent in Pontoise, France, where my grandmother’s aunt entered the Carmel in 1923. She is the only other nun, brother, monk, priest or seminarian besides myself in my immediate family in the past hundred years or so.
Since my birth I have had a Crucififex that this same aunt gave to my grandmother. Since entering seminary I have also carried with me holy cards recalling her birth, profession, and death in all my breviaries.
When the Bishop asked me to come to Rome, this was definitely on my radar of things to do during my time here. I wanted to make a retreat in Pontoise.
After finishing classes on Friday, I left Saturday morning before Palm Sunday and returned Wednesday evening, in time for the Triduum.
As for my time there I don’t have much to say, as I was in silence. I stayed in a small house that dated back to the 1500’s as the Carmel was established in 1605.
I was able to sit in the Chapel while the sisters prayed from the side, while I don’t speak French it was most beautiful to hear them chanting. It was nice to hear what it might have sounded like when my aunt was still alive. As I told one of the sisters, “when I hear you all chanting, I hear her chanting.”
I was really blessed that one day when I went to meet with one of the sisters in the visiting room, the one sister who spoke Spanish brought me a bunch of the archives, books and records to see.
There was a photo album from her profession which was beautiful to see. Also, many other beautifully hand written accounts of the life and history of the Carmel, in which my aunt was mentioned in a few paragraphs.
The quiet and simplicity of the time was much needed after a very blessed, exciting, and eventful six weeks (another post forthcoming on that later). [Found HERE]
One of the ways this simplicity was expressed outside of the silence that comes with any retreat, was with the meals. While I stayed in the guest house, I would have to walk across the courtyard to a small room where there was a cabinet with a “lazy susan” so they could pass me my meal in a picnic basket.
I am very glad I was able to take this time away, even if only for a few short days to rest, recuperate, reflect and pray. To learn a little more about my family history and to know better my aunt who spent her life dedicated to the Lord in prayer and contemplation.
Please pray for the sisters who continue this beautiful life of important work of prayer for the Church and the whole world, that they may be blessed with more young women open to serving and loving the Lord through a life of prayer and contemplation continuing their long and storied history.
Now for some photos:
Here’s the little house where I stayed, as well as the two doors, which both required rather large keys.
The eating experience. First the little room where I’d pick up my food, the basket, and the dining room.
Now for the really interesting stuff, the photos and books.
Lastly a quick look at the Chapel, from my window, the Chapel where I sat, and lastly the glass doors leading to where the sisters prayed.