23 April 2014

Big days ahead in Rome: Here comes everybody

James Joyce once wrote that being Catholic means "here comes everybody," a phrase which certainly applies well to the coming days in the Eternal City as pilgrims are now arriving in droves from every part of the world in attempt to witness something of the canonization Blessed Popes John XXIII and John Paul II.

The city of Rome is home to some 2.5 million people, no small number for a city that is 2,767 years old. Officials with the city of Rome are expecting an additional 1 million people will be in the city for the weekend's celebrations (in a city that can almost accommodate its usual population), though I expect that estimation to be very, very low and not near what the reality will be (Vatican Radio admits that no one really knows how many people to expect).

The city is already becoming difficult to navigate as roads around the Basilica of St. Peter are being barricading and streets and sidewalks repaired (you never what to accomplish a task too early in Italy) and the other streets are filled with people. The number of taxis in the area of the Vatican basilica has increased considerably, leading me to guess that taxis have either been brought in from other cities in Italy or parts of Rome will suffer a shortage of taxis over the never five or six days. This afternoon I witnessed a taxi traffic jam:

The logistical preparations alone for the canonizations are staggering:
"We are prepared to distribute almost 4 million plastic bottles of water, we have a massive plan to host almost 2,000 buses coming from all over Europe, and we will have shuttles moving back and forward in order not to have 2,000 huge buses circulating downtown in Rome," [Ignazio] Marino said [he is the mayor of Rome].

Some 2,000 police officers will be on the streets at any given time, says the mayor. More than 2,500 civil protection department volunteers will help with crowd control. Specially trained medical teams will staff 13 first aid stations. And a thousand chemical toilets have been set up near the Vatican and key tourist areas.

Rome's two subway lines and some buses will run nonstop, and 17 big screens will enable visitors to watch the ceremony throughout the city.
The total cost is estimated at $11 million, which will be partially covered by the national government. After all, the mayor says, this is not just a local Roman event.
"We are talking about an event I would classify as a global event," Marino said. "We will probably have 2 billion all over the planet who will watch Rome on that day through TV, radio and [the] Internet." 
But wait, there's more:
Over two and a half thousand volunteers will be working throughout the weekend to distribute four million free water bottles and hand out 150.000 free liturgical booklets. They’ll also be providing information about free access to the Mass, which will be from the river end of Via della Conciliazione, and disability assistance points, which will be located in three areas close to St Peter’s Square.
The entire zone around the Vatican will be closed to traffic but extra bus lines will be laid on from coach parking facilities and both the main Metro lines will be running non-stop from early on Saturday morning until after midnight on Sunday.
Being one who does not enjoy crowds (not even slightly), I had planned to join many Romans and flee the city this week to avoid the ensuing chaos - and watch the canonization online or on television - until my Bishop sent word that he is coming for the celebrations (I then thought it wise to stay in town).

Even so, I will more than likely still watch the canonization online in my room. Many weeks ago I requested a ticket and offered to assist with the distribution of Holy Communion, but have neither received a response or a ticket. This was just fine with me until I learned a few hours ago the His Holiness Benedict XVI will attend the canonization Mass (reports which seem to have vanished from both my Facebook and Twitter feeds).

News round up - April 23rd

The news you may have missed:

Thoughts on the selfie

There are many aspects of modernity which I simply do not - and maybe cannot - understand. Among these is the growing popularity of these things called "selfies," by which a person extends his hand and with his phone or camera takes a picture of - of all things - himself.

Even the Pope himself has given in to taking a selfie with people (which makes one wonder if it can still rightly be called a "selfie") leading groups to hold up banners in St. Peter's Square such as this one seen this morning:
A group "selfie" really just points out the irony of the modern age and of how little thought we often give to matters that may not seem, on the surface, very important but may really be.

To my mind, the prominence of the selfie indicates, in a way perhaps more clearly than any other, the great ego-centrism of our own day. It says: "Look at me! Why are you looking elsewhere?! Pay attention to me!" It is, I think, a consequence of the desire today to be famous; not for having actually done something worthwhile or important, but simply for the sake of being famous. The beautiful things all around me, whether of nature or of man, the other people around me, why would you want to look at any of that or at them?

At the same time, the selfie demonstrates the great disconnectedness of modern people. It was not that long ago that a person would easily stop a passerby and ask him or her to take a picture. Living now in a city filled with tourists - especially this week - lots of selfies are taken (even of groups) every day and when I offer to take a picture for a person or group so that the picture will actually be decent (if not good), people seem quite surprised that I would trouble myself with them. One wonders what happened to living in a society. Sometimes it seems we are all simply hermits wandering about each other.

Who knows? It may be that I simply think too much.

22 April 2014

News round up - April 22nd

Here are several news stories you may have missed:
  • Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood whom President Obama asked God to bless, called for "no more babies" because it is "more practical and more humane" for women not to have babies. And still people support Planned Parenthood.

Life in Italy: Dry cleaning

Yesterday being "little Easter" throughout Italy, most businesses - and even some cafes - were closed even if they were on Easter Sunday (don't look for logic here) as a way of taking a break after the business of Holy Week and the Paschal Triduum. It is an idea I find quite pleasing and in most of the western world it would not cause too many difficulties, but this is Italy.

Ordinarily, it takes four to five days to have a pair of pants dry cleaned; if Rome has anything like a same-day cleaning service, such as those in my hometown, I have yet to find it or hear of it. You can imagine that such a turn around time sometimes takes good planning, particularly if a cassock needs to be cleaned.

This morning I dropped off three pairs of pants for cleaning and was told they will be ready on Wednesday, the 30th of April, eight days from now. There must be quite a back load of work from yesterday and modern Italians are not known for their efficiency.

21 April 2014

A parade celebrating Rome's founding

Quite unbeknownst to me when I set out this afternoon to spend several hours at the beach reading a large commentary on the Code of Canon Law, today is the 2,767th anniversary of the foundation of the city of Rome (saying that always brings to mind my second favorite line of the Proclamation of the Date of Easter, the first being the one with the word "Olympiad" (it isn't every day you can use it]). So it was that I found myself caught in the midst of a wreath-laying ceremony at the statue of the Emperor Augustus, the first of Rome's emperors and perhaps her greatest, who ruled from 27 B.C. to A.D. 14.

In his chapter on the life of Augustus, Suetonius tells us that "whenever he had heard of anyone having passed away quickly and painlessly he used to pray, "May Heaven grant the same euthanasia [happy death] to me and mine (The Twelve Caesars, Divus Augustus, 99). He seems to have had his wish, for after kissing his wife he said to her, "Goodbye, Livia; remember our marriage!" and, says Suetonius, "died almost at once."

Here follow a few pictures of what I encountered today when I realized I was trapped in the crowd with no chance of escape (I really don't like crowds):

Once the wreath was laid the crowd was allowed to continue along the Via dei Fori Imperiali and I soon found myself ahead of the parade (Romans tend to move almost as slowly as tourists), which gave me a good position from which to take a few better pictures:

20 April 2014

May nothing inspire us more than his life

"Let us not flee from the resurrection of Jesus, let us never give up, come what will. May nothing inspire us than his life, which impels us onwards."

- Pope Francis, Evangelium Gaudium, 3

The power of the Resurrection

"Christ’s resurrection is not an event of the past; it contains a vital power which has permeated this world. Where all seems to be dead, signs of the resurrection suddenly spring up. It is an irresistible force. Often it seems that God does not exist: all around us we see persistent injustice, evil, indifference and cruelty. But it is also true that in the midst of darkness something new always springs to life and sooner or later produces fruit. On razed land life breaks through, stubbornly yet invincibly. However dark things are, goodness always re-emerges and spreads. Each day in our world beauty is born anew, it rises transformed through the storms of history. Values always tend to reappear under new guises, and human beings have arisen time after time from situations that seemed doomed. Such is the power of the resurrection, and all who evangelize are instruments of that power."

- Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, 276

19 April 2014

Queen of heaven, rejoice!

Queen of heaven, rejoice, alleluia!
for he whom you were worthy to be, alleluia!
has risen as he said, alleluia!
Pray for us to God, alleluia!

Having just returned from the celebration of the mother of all holy vigils in the Basilica of St. Peter with Pope Francis, I wanted to share with you the above picture and to wish all of you a very blessed and happy Easter!

I will have more pictures and reflections to share tomorrow, but first I must sleep before I return to the Vatican basilica in the morning for the Mass of Easter Day.

News round up - March 19th

Here are a few news stories you may have missed:

What tongue can tell, O blessed Virgin?

"What tongue can tell, what intellect grasp the heavy weight of your desolation, blessed Virgin? You were present at all these events, standing close by and participating in them in every way.

This blessed and most holy flesh - which you so chastely conceived, so sweetly nourished and fed with your milk, which you so often help on your lap, and kissed with your lips - you actually gazed upon with your bodily eyes now torn by the blows of the scourges, now pierced by the points of the thorns, now struck by the reed, now beaten by hands and fists, now pierced by nails and fixed to the wood of the cross, and torn by its own weight as it hung there, now mocked in every way, finally made to drink gall and vinegar.

But with the eye of your mind you saw that divine soul filled with the fall of every form of bitterness, now groaning in spirit, now quaking with fear, now wearied, now in agony, now in anxiety, now in confusion, now oppressed by sadness and sorrow, partly because of his most sensitive response to bodily pain, partly because of his most fervent zeal for the divine honor taken away by sin, partly because of his pity poured out upon wretched men, partly because of his compassion for you, his most sweet mother, as the sword pierced the depths of your heart, when with devoted eyes he looked upon you standing before him and spoke to you these loving words: 'Woman, behold your son,' in order to console in its trials your soul, which he knew had been more deeply pierced by a sword of compassion than if you had suffered in your own body.

- Saint Bonaventure

Let me gaze upon thee

"Jesus, whom I look at shrouded here below,
I beseech thee send me what I thirst for so,
some day to gaze on thee face to face in light
and be blest for ever with thy glory's sight."

- Saint Thomas Aquinas

Anointing the body of Christ

"Therefore anoint your Head, pouring out on him who is above whatever devotion or delight or affection you have. Anoint you Head, so that if there is any grace in you it may be ascribed to him, and you may not seek your own glory but his."

- Saint Bernard of Clairvaux

On the burial of Christ Jesus

"But the burial of Christ occurred to strengthen the faith of our resurrection, for from our belief that our head was raised up, we also believe that we will be raised up. And so, in order for his resurrection to be certain, he had to be buried honorably in a public place and also guarded by soldiers to remove any suspicion."

- Saint Bonaventure

18 April 2014

Images from Good Friday in Rome

This evening I attend the Liturgy of the Passion of the Lord in the Basilica of St. Peter in Rome. As one of many priests helping with the distribution of Holy Communion, I was seated behind the altar and so saw very little. Following the distribution of Holy Communion, however, I was able to take a couple of pictures:

Pope Francis, following the Prayer after Communion.
Pope Francis leaving the basilica, in rather a hurry.
The crucifix left for the veneration of the faithful.
As I exited the basilica, I was struck by the only Cardinal visiting with the faithful after the Liturgy, His Eminence Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke, Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura:

Cardinal Burke takes a lot of heat in the press and from Catholics, but he truly has a pastor's heart.

As history repeats itself...

There are troubling reports coming out of the city of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine that Jews are being required to "register" and declare their property or face expulsion and confiscation.

In light of this, this message is particularly needed at this time:

Who will be hardened?

Sweet Jesus,
who will be hardened
as not to groan and cry out in spirit
when he hears with his bodily ear
or considers with his mind
those horrible shouts:
Away with him! Away with him!
Crucify him (John 19:1-16)!

- Saint Bonaventure

17 April 2014

Pope: The littleness of the priest brings genuine joy

This is the first year since Archbishop Lucas imposed hands on my hand and ordained me a priest of Jesus Christ that I have not concelebrated or ministered at the Chrism Mass with the Bishop of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois. But it is also the first year that I have concelebrated the Chrism Mass with the Bishop of Rome.

Today the priests entered the Vatican Basilica through the famed Bronze Doors and vested in the long hallway just inside. As we were vested, someone came over a loudspeaker to announce that there was no need for us to jostle our way forward because a "bella posta," a beautiful spot, was prepared for each of us. At least for me and the priest I accompanied, the man could not know how true his words proved to be:

Taken from my chair before the beginning of the Chrism Mass
In his homily, His Holiness Pope Francis spoke of the "littleness" of the priest, a littleness which I have often experienced and am particularly feeling at this moment (I will try to post more on this later today or tomorrow morning) and priestly joy, the text of which follows, via Vatican Radio, with my emphases:
Dear Brother Priests,

In the eternal “today” of Holy Thursday, when Christ showed his love for us to the end (cf. Jn 13:1), we recall the happy day of the institution of the priesthood, as well as the day of our own priestly ordination. The Lord anointed us in Christ with the oil of gladness, and this anointing invites us to accept and appreciate this great gift: the gladness, the joy of being a priest. Priestly joy is a priceless treasure, not only for the priest himself but for the entire faithful people of God: that faithful people from which he is called to be anointed and which he, in turn, is sent to anoint.

Anointed with the oil of gladness so as to anoint others with the oil of gladness. Priestly joy has its source in the Father’s love, and the Lord wishes the joy of this Love to be “ours” and to be “complete” (Jn 15:11). I like to reflect on joy by contemplating Our Lady, for Mary, the “Mother of the living Gospel, is a wellspring of joy for God’s little ones” (Evangelii Gaudium, 288). I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that priest is very little indeed: the incomparable grandeur of the gift granted us for the ministry sets us among the least of men. The priest is the poorest of men unless Jesus enriches him by his poverty, the most useless of servants unless Jesus calls him his friend, the most ignorant of men unless Jesus patiently teaches him as he did Peter, the frailest of Christians unless the Good Shepherd strengthens him in the midst of the flock. No one is more “little” than a priest left to his own devices; and so our prayer of protection against every snare of the Evil One is the prayer of our Mother: I am a priest because he has regarded my littleness (cf. Lk 1:48). And in that littleness we find our joy.
At the conclusion of the Chrism Mass, Pope Francis prays the Ave, Regina caelorum.
For me, there are three significant features of our priestly joy. It is a joy which anoints us (not one which “greases” us, making us unctuous, sumptuous and presumptuous), it is a joy which is imperishable and it is a missionary joy which spreads and attracts, starting backwards – with those farthest away from us.
A joy which anoints us. In a word: it has penetrated deep within our hearts, it has shaped them and strengthened them sacramentally. The signs of the ordination liturgy speak to us of the Church’s maternal desire to pass on and share with others all that the Lord has given us: the laying on of hands, the anointing with sacred chrism, the clothing with sacred vestments, the first consecration which immediately follows… Grace fills us to the brim and overflows, fully, abundantly and entirely in each priest. We are anointed down to our very bones… and our joy, which wells up from deep within, is the echo of this anointing.
An imperishable joy. The fullness of the Gift, which no one can take away or increase, is an unfailing source of joy: an imperishable joy which the Lord has promised no one can take from us (Jn 16:22). It can lie dormant, or be clogged by sin or by life’s troubles, yet deep down it remains intact, like the embers of a burnt log beneath the ashes, and it can always be renewed. Paul’s exhortation to Timothy remains ever timely: I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands (cf. 2 Tim 1:6).
A missionary joy. I would like especially to share with you and to stress this third feature: priestly joy is deeply bound up with God’s holy and faithful people, for it is an eminently missionary joy. Our anointing is meant for anointing God’s holy and faithful people: for baptizing and confirming them, healing and sanctifying them, blessing, comforting and evangelizing them.
And since this joy is one which only springs up when the shepherd is in the midst of his flock (for even in the silence of his prayer, the shepherd who worships the Father is with his sheep), it is a “guarded joy”, watched over by the flock itself. Even in those gloomy moments when everything looks dark and a feeling of isolation takes hold of us, in those moments of listlessness and boredom which at times overcome us in our priestly life (and which I too have experienced), even in those moments God’s people are able to “guard” that joy; they are able to protect you, to embrace you and to help you open your heart to find renewed joy.
A “guarded joy”: one guarded by the flock but also guarded by three sisters who surround it, tend it and defend it: sister poverty, sister fidelity and sister obedience.
Priestly joy is a joy which is sister to poverty. The priest is poor in terms of purely human joy. He has given up so much! And because he is poor, he, who gives so much to others, has to seek his joy from the Lord and from God’s faithful people. He doesn’t need to try to create it for himself. We know that our people are very generous in thanking priests for their slightest blessing and especially for the sacraments. Many people, in speaking of the crisis of priestly identity, fail to realize that identity presupposes belonging. There is no identity – and consequently joy of life – without an active and unwavering sense of belonging to God’s faithful people (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 268). The priest who tries to find his priestly identity by soul-searching and introspection may well encounter nothing more than “exit” signs, signs that say: exit from yourself, exit to seek God in adoration, go out and give your people what was entrusted to you, for your people will make you feel and taste who you are, what your name is, what your identity is, and they will make you rejoice in that hundredfold which the Lord has promised to those who serve him. Unless you “exit” from yourself, the oil grows rancid and the anointing cannot be fruitful. Going out from ourselves presupposes self-denial; it means poverty.
Priestly joy is a joy which is sister to fidelity. Not primarily in the sense that we are all “immaculate” (would that by God’s grace we were!), for we are sinners, but in the sense of an ever renewed fidelity to the one Bride, to the Church. Here fruitfulness is key. The spiritual children which the Lord gives each priest, the children he has baptized, the families he has blessed and helped on their way, the sick he has comforted, the young people he catechizes and helps to grow, the poor he assists… all these are the “Bride” whom he rejoices to treat as his supreme and only love and to whom he is constantly faithful. It is the living Church, with a first name and a last name, which the priest shepherds in his parish or in the mission entrusted to him. That mission brings him joy whenever he is faithful to it, whenever he does all that he has to do and lets go of everything that he has to let go of, as long as he stands firm amid the flock which the Lord has entrusted to him: Feed my sheep (cf. Jn 21:16,17).
Priestly joy is a joy which is sister to obedience. An obedience to the Church in the hierarchy which gives us, as it were, not simply the external framework for our obedience: the parish to which I am sent, my ministerial assignments, my particular work … but also union with God the Father, the source of all fatherhood. It is likewise an obedience to the Church in service: in availability and readiness to serve everyone, always and as best I can, following the example of “Our Lady of Promptness” (cf. Lk 1:39, meta spoudes), who hastens to serve Elizabeth her kinswoman and is concerned for the kitchen of Cana when the wine runs out. The availability of her priests makes the Church a house with open doors, a refuge for sinners, a home for people living on the streets, a place of loving care for the sick, a camp for the young, a classroom for catechizing children about to make their First Communion… Wherever God’s people have desires or needs, there is the priest, who knows how to listen (ob-audire) and feels a loving mandate from Christ who sends him to relieve that need with mercy or to encourage those good desires with resourceful charity.
All who are called should know that genuine and complete joy does exist in this world: it is the joy of being taken from the people we love and then being sent back to them as dispensers of the gifts and counsels of Jesus, the one Good Shepherd who, with deep compassion for all the little ones and the outcasts of this earth, wearied and oppressed like sheep without a shepherd, wants to associate many others to his ministry, so as himself to remain with us and to work, in the person of his priests, for the good of his people.
On this priestly Thursday I ask the Lord Jesus to enable many young people to discover that burning zeal which joy kindles in our hearts as soon as we have the stroke of boldness needed to respond willingly to his call.
On this priestly Thursday I ask the Lord Jesus to preserve the joy sparkling in the eyes of the recently ordained who go forth to devour the world, to spend themselves fully in the midst of God's faithful people, rejoicing as they prepare their first homily, their first Mass, their first Baptism, their first confession… It is the joy of being able to share with wonder, and for the first time as God’s anointed, the treasure of the Gospel and to feel the faithful people anointing you again and in yet another way: by their requests, by bowing their heads for your blessing, by taking your hands, by bringing you their children, by pleading for their sick… Preserve, Lord, in your young priests the joy of going forth, of doing everything as if for the first time, the joy of spending their lives fully for you.
On this priestly Thursday I ask the Lord Jesus to confirm the priestly joy of those who have already ministered for some years. The joy which, without leaving their eyes, is also found on the shoulders of those who bear the burden of the ministry, those priests who, having experienced the labours of the apostolate, gather their strength and rearm themselves: “get a second wind”, as the athletes say. Lord, preserve the depth, wisdom and maturity of the joy felt by these older priests. May they be able to pray with Nehemiah: “the joy of the Lord is my strength” (cf. Neh 8:10).
Finally, on this priestly Thursday I ask the Lord Jesus to make better known the joy of elderly priests, whether healthy or infirm. It is the joy of the Cross, which springs from the knowledge that we possess an imperishable treasure in perishable earthen vessels. May these priests find happiness wherever they are; may they experience already, in the passage of the years, a taste of eternity (Guardini). May they know the joy of handing on the torch, the joy of seeing new generations of their spiritual children, and of hailing the promises from afar, smiling and at peace, in that hope which does not disappoint.
I was able to take another photograph of Pope Francis as he made his way back to the sacristy:

An odd feeling this Holy Week

As we enter today into the Sacred Triduum, my favorite time of the year, I feel a bit disconnected. This is the first year in at least two decades that I find myself without the work of any preparations for these days, whether it be practices with servers or preparing sacristies, cleaning churches or candlesticks, writing homilies or double-checking rubrics, or even the last minute fitting of the Easter Candle into its socket. None of these this year are mine and it feels very strange.

Each of these tasks, tedious as they sometimes maybe, I enjoy very much and find them life-giving. There is, ordinarily, something exhausting and frantic about them, but also something that gives structure and calm to these days, a sense of purpose.

This year I am a priest in Rome without any of these tasks, one who simply attends the various liturgical celebrations marking the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ and I feel a bit like a tiny row boat simply drifting on the waves. In years past, if you will, the tasks associated with Holy Week have always served as something of a rudder for my prayer, guiding me and leading me into these mysteries. Now I must simply yield and allow myself to be carried.