Thursday, January 30, 2014

To Assisi

Today we head off to Assisi for our canonical retreat.  Our time in the Eternal City is complete (except for having to fly out next week).  It will be a blessing to spend time in the peaceful city of St. Francis and St. Clare.

We are also blessed to have Bishop Andrew Cozzens as the director of our retreat.  He arrived to Rome last night.  He joined us for a nice meal and Mass.

This morning we had Mass one more time at St. Peter's Basilica.  We were in one of the crypt chapels.  Deacon Michael Barsness preached about how we must be grateful for all we have received here in the Eternal City and throughout our vocational journey.  This message is very true.  We are grateful for everything we have received from the bounty of our Lord.  We are grateful to our family and friends.  We are grateful for our benefactors.  We are grateful to every person who faithfully holds us in prayer.  We are grateful to our seminary staff and formation directors.  We are grateful to our holy bishops and priests that have been wonderful examples of how to live sacrificial lives in imitation of our Savior.  The list goes on . . .

We hope you have enjoyed this blog.  The blog is now complete.

Please pray for us during our retreat.  Pray that we may be holy priests of God.

Bishop Cozzens celebrating Mass for us at St. Peter's.

Goodbye to our lovely residence!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Surprise! Surprise!

Today our beloved rector, Monsignor Callaghan, and the Dean of Seminarians, Fr. Floeder, appeared at our residence and brought us out for a wonderful Italian meal.  We enjoyed the full Italian experience - it was a 3 hour plus affair.  It is a blessing to have this time with Monsignor as we approach ordination.

Tomorrow evening we will celebrate Mass with Monsignor and Fr. Floeder.  We will continue to pray for all who have made this trip possible and our various dioceses.

Besides for spending time with our rector, we will also be scrambling in our free time to see whatever else we strongly desire to see before we leave Rome - trust me, we're not going to be seeing everything! Our shopping endeavors will also be finishing up as we prepare for our canonical retreat in Assisi.

The much venerated statue of St. Peter in St. Peter's Basilica

Dominican Sisters at S. Sabina and S. Cecilia

We are now in our final week in Rome before heading to Assisi for our retreat for priestly ministry. We have concluded our academic portion of our trip, and now just have a few places to visit this week before heading to Assisi on Thursday.

Yesterday, we traveled to the Aventine Hill area of Rome to visit the Basilica of S. Sabina, where there is a group of Dominicans (OP) Sisters of S. Cecilia ("Nashville Dominicans") in residence. One of the sisters gave us a short tour of the outside of the Basilica, where there is a door that has one of the earliest depictions of the crucifixion that has survived to today.

The door to S. Sabina;
The crucifixion is in the
top, upper-left panel.
Then she gave us a tour of the inside of the Basilica, which looks a bit bleak but has all its dimensions based on one measurement found in the apse. It is very similar to our very own SPS chapel in S. Paul, Minn.

After this, we were able to celebrate Mass in the cell that S. Dominic used when he stayed in residence; it wasn't his personal cell per se, but he used it when he stayed there. It is a very small space, especially for a priest, 16 deacons, and three sisters. Dn. Kevin Manthey preached and did well; I'm going to attribute the quality of his preaching to Our Lord and S. Dominic, whose order (OP) was founded with preaching as one of its main charisms.

After Mass, we got a quick tour of some other notable items: a framed listing of some well-known Dominicans who have been in residence at S. Sabina, the room Pope S. Pius V, and the window the Dominicans used to sneak peeks at S. Dominic when he was at prayer in the main church nave.

After this, we descended the Aventine Hill to the Trastevere area of Rome to the Basilica of S. Cecilia (virgin, martyr), the patroness of this particular order of Dominican Sisters. Under the altar is a sculpture of how S. Cecilia's body was found in the 1600s after it was exhumed and found to be incorrupt (see below)

Sculpture of S. Cecilia's body
underneath the altar at S. Cecilia's Basilica.
Today we celebrated Mass at S. Peter's Basilica at the altar dedicated to S. Joseph.

Post by Dn. Grant Gerlach.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Quick Update

Yesterday we were able to pray Evening Prayer with the Holy Father and many other people in the packed St. Paul's Basilica outside the walls. Pope Francis is a pretty popular guy.

After Evening Prayer, Cardinal James Michael Harvey took us out for supper. His Eminence is originally from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. However, he has lived and worked in the Vatican most of his life. Among many other things, he was the Prefect for the Papal Household for both blessed John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

If taking us out for supper wasn't enough, he offered to give us a tour of the Apostolic Palace. We met him today at 3:30, and he showed us around for 2 1/2 hours. Nice tour. However, we still only saw a little bit of the Palace. It is huge! A lot of things happen in this establishment. We are very grateful to the Cardinal for his generosity.

Happy Sunday!

His Eminence giving us the grand tour.

Friday, January 24, 2014

A Place of Early Christian Witness -- the Catacombs

Today we made our way outside of the city wall of Rome to the Catacombs of S. Callisto (description also from Wikipedia), S. Callisto being Saint Callixtus. The catacombs (meaning "near the hollow," as in hollowed-out ground) are an ancient underground burial structure for early century Christians. Lost for centuries, they were re-discovered by Giovanni Battista de Rossi in the mid-1800s. There are many, many, many (now empty) tombs in these catacombs, along with miles of walking paths. I'm sure this would have been an impressive sight in its full glory. The tombs would have been sealed with stone slabs with engravings of the name (if known) of the deceased along with some other description, almost assuredly including a reference to the deceased's Christian faith. Along with air shafts (to remove dirt and provide a source of air), there would have been sweet-smelling oils to not only combat the stench of death but to remind the living visitors of the fragrant odor of Christ's victory over death.

We celebrated the Eucharist in one of the larger rooms with tombs. Dn. Marcus Milless preached on the stench of death -- palpable in the catacombs' heyday -- and paralleled that with the stench of sin, and the sweet-smelling oils and paralleled that with the fragrance of Christian charity rooted in the Trinitarian love revealed in the person of Jesus Christ.

No pictures are available of the catacombs, as photographs were not allowed, but you can find some online if you search for them.

Tomorrow we are privileged to pray Vespers (evening prayer) with the Pope! We will be at S. Paul's Outside-the-Walls, fitting, since we are far removed from the walls of S. Paul, Minn.

Post by Dn. Grant Gerlach.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Up, down, & around the Vatican

Time to showcase a few more photos, but first, a little info about our day.  Once again, we began our day with Mass at St. Peter's basilica.  This time we celebrated Mass at the Mater Ecclesiae altar (i.e. Mother of the Church).  Archbishop Jorge Patron Wong celebrated the Mass.  What a guy!  His joy is contagious.  He is the Archbishop whom we met the other day.  He heads the Congregation for Clergy.  After Mass, we enjoyed breakfast with him and two of his close collaborators.  These collaborators are originally from the United States.

A picture of the Archbishop which I took off the internet.  It beautifully captures his personality.
After lunch, we participated in the Scavi tour.  It is quite remarkable to see what was found in the excavation process under St. Peter's basilica- most prominently, of course, the bones of St. Peter.  Though seeing more closely the tomb of St. Peter was the main highlight, we also saw portions of ancient pagan burial sites.  Great tour but definitely not for people who are claustrophobic.  We prayed at St. Peter's tomb for the Pope, our dioceses, our families, our friends, and benefactors.

After the Scavi tour, we headed to the office for the Secretary of State.  The Secretary of State is basically the second in command at the Vatican.  He and his office handle diplomatic relations, among many other things.  For instance, the Secretary and his office will be assisting with President Obama's visit to the Vatican.  Though we did not meet with the Secretary, we were able to meet with one of the english-speaking officials.  We also met with the Monsignor who made possible the visit to the office.  The Monsignor is actually a friend of Monsignor Callaghan.  These officials answered many questions and gave us a wonderful tour, as you will see below.

Meeting at the office for the Secretary of State
This door leads to quarters where the Pope works during the day. (No, we did not try to get in.)
Nice panorama of St. Peter's Square from the terrace.
This Cardinal (whose name I forget - my apologies), shown in the middle of this photo, walked by to show another group the terrace.  We were told he was in charge of the last Conclave.  In other words, he was in charge of the process which elected Pope Francis.  Wow!  (For the reader's info, I imagined a conversation between me and the Cardinal, where he told me that he was in charge of the Conclave and I responded by saying, "I've been in charge of a concession stand at my high school hockey arena."  I am sure he would have been equally impressed - but in a different way.)
Fr. Juan Miguel looking over the terrace.  It appeared as though some group coming out of the basilica thought he was the Holy Father.  They were all of sudden gathering together and taking pictures in the vicinity of the terrace.  It was quite humorous.
This is simply a picture of your bloggers.  Deacon Grant, on the left, and me, Deacon Blake.
Hope you are also having an enjoyable day!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Mass with JP-II, Council for Laity, and Missionary Priests

We had another privilege to celebrate Mass this morning at the altar where a soon-to-be Saint is located. We were in S. Peter's Basilica at the altar where B. Pope John Paul II is buried. (I'm sure this space will look a bit different after April's official canonization occurs.) I had the assignment to preach at the Mass, and it proved to be difficult in some ways, but still a blessing to preach to my brother deacons and in the close proximity of such a recent witness to Christian holiness in B. Pope JP-II.

Some of the deacons venerating the altar and
B. Pope John Paul II's body, inside the altar.
After breakfast, we visited the Pontifical Council for the Laity (description also from their own Official Web site), where again we had some of their officials present to us some details of their dicastery and also fielded some questions we had for them. An interesting note was that the Council has four "sections": Associations & Movements (of the lay faithful), Youth, Women in the Church, and something called "Church and Sport," which I think threw most of us for a loop. (It was similar to finding out for the first time that the there is a Vatican Observatory.) However, the best piece of information was the reason for the dicastery's existence: to promote the apostolate of the lay faithfaul, which is rooted in the baptismal call to holiness in the Church and the mission to transform society by the Gospel.

In the evening we visited the Missionaries of Charity Fathers, a group of men being formed to be ordained priests within the charisms of the MCs. The various men of the house are at various stages of formation, but are addressed as "brothers," just as in any other religious order, except for those already ordained priest or deacon. We arrived, were welcomed (by two newly-ordained deacons), and then prayed with Our Lord in Eucharistic adoration followed by Vespers (evening prayer) for an hour. After prayer with MCs, they treated us to a fantastic meal (see picture below). They treated us to a delicious lasagna and even gave us ice cream bars for dessert. But the best part was conversing with the men from many places around the world being formed to be priests with a specific missionary charism. I spoke at dinner with one of the two newly-ordained deacons of the group, and he spoke of the path that led him to the MC Fathers -- it was a beautiful reflection of God's grace and his openness to be led by the Holy Spirit. Many of my brothers had similar good conversations.

Dining with the MCs. Dn. Sam (left) loves the camera.
During dinner, Fr. Betancourt had an unusual guest park itself on his scapular of the habit he wears.

The great "Magnifi-Cat" warming its feet,
and perhaps trying to pray the Rosary?
Apparently it was attracted to all the great conversations we were having at the dinner table...

Or maybe not...

Tomorrow we have Mass again in S. Peter's Basilica, and in the afternoon we tour the Scavi and meet with the Vatican Secretary of State.

Post by Dn. Grant Gerlach.