Saturday, February 4, 2017

Back Home

After a wonderful canonical retreat in Assisi, we have all made it safely back to St. Paul, MN.  

Thank you so much to all who followed us on our journey in the Eternal City and kept us in your prayers.  It was greatly appreciated. 

Please continue to pray for us as we start our last semester before priestly ordination.  

"To all God's beloved in Rome (and all over the world), who are called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." Romans 1: 7

God bless. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

January 25th

We had another early morning walk to St Peter's this morning, this time to celebrate Mass at the altar of the tomb of St Peter. The altar is underneath the main floor in the grottos, surrounded by the tombs of popes.

Behind the altar you can see an Icon of Christ. This is from St Peter's first tomb, called the Trophy, built in the year 160A.D. Just a few feet below rest the bones of a Galilean fisherman and friend of Jesus, St Peter.

We also attended Evening Prayer with Pope Francis for the week of Christian Unity. Christian leaders from around the world joined the Holy Father for dialogue and prayer. Evening prayer was held at the tomb of St Paul. Peter and Paul, who were martyred on the same day, are the ones who brought the Gospel to Rome. They gave it a new foundation, made it an eternal city.
Tomb of St Paul

Which is why today was there perfect way to spend our last full day in Rome. Tomorrow we'll travel to Assisi for a week long silent retreat in order to prepare for our upcoming Ordinations. The blog will go dark until at least February 2nd. Until then, thanks for reading and please pray that we be good and holy priests of Jesus Christ.

January 24th

We started our day by having mass with Cardinal Harvey at St. Paul's Outside the Walls where St. Paul is buried. 

After some breakfast with the Cardinal we visited the Secretariat of State within the walls of the Vatican. This congregation takes care of two things: first, internal helps for the Pope (translations, helping prepare various speeches, answering letters and organizing the visits of various heads of state) second, they organize the Church's diplomatic relations.

They took us up on a terrace to get a unique view of St. Peter's Basilica and Square.

At the Secretariat of State

In the evening, we visited the rooms of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits). We were able to celebrate Mass in the room where he died.

It is amazing to think about what one yes to Jesus can do.  Thanks to St. Ignatius's yes, the Jesuits evangelized the New World (including the America's). Many saints have come from the Jesuits and they have also given us our current Holy Father, Pope Francis.

Mass in St. Ignatius's Room

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Tuesday, January 24, 2017

January 23rd

We started and ended our day at St Peter's Basilica. It's amazing to visit St. Peter's in the early morning. It's almost empty and there are priests at almost every altar praying the Mass. We were at one of the altars in the grotto under the Church. This chapel was dedicated to the Polish Church and Our Lady of Czestochowa.

After breakfast we had another class discussion on the mission of the Church. We're all gearing up for our final paper and exam for this J-Term.
Then in the afternoon we had another with art historian, Dr. Lev. This time we toured the Vatican Museums which is the fourth largest museum in the world. Walking from room to room we watched the evolution of art all leading up to the Sistine Chapel.

Everyone has heard of the Sistine Chapel and its famous ceiling but for many who visit it each year, the beautiful fresco is too much to take in. It's overwhelming, but yesterday we learned to read it and it was astounding. If you're interested here is a small slice of our afternoon:

We ended in St. Peter's, a church Michelangelo helped finish, in the words of his contact, "for room and board, and for the salvation of my soul."

Saturday, January 21, 2017

January 19th-20th

We took a train on the 19th to Montefiascone, a town northwest of Rome.  We spent the night at a seminary belonging to the Institute of the Incarnate Word (IVE). This is an order of religious priests dedicated to the missions.  They go to the places that other priests may not want to go. After dinner (which started at 9:30 pm), they sang songs from different countries (there are seminarians there from Italy, Germany, France, Ukraine, Ireland, Scotland and other countries as well).  We sang "Country Roads" for them to give them a taste of America.

An IVE seminarian from Scotland shares his testimony

It was inspiring to speak with these men and to learn what motivated them to be missionaries.  Some of the problems we face seem small compared to their challenges.  For example, one priest who spent some years in Syria had to face the martyrdom of many of his parishioners.  One of the priests of the community told us that we need to be crucified priests, priests who always show forth the love of Jesus. 

We spent Thursday night at the seminary and on Friday they took us to see a Eucharistic miracle.  In the middle ages, a priest from Prague was doubting Christ's true presence in the Eucharist so he was going to Italy to speak with the Pope about it. He said Mass along the way in a Church near the IVE seminary and the Host started to bleed (this Church still has the pieces of the altar with blood stains).The priest went to show the Pope what had happened. The Pope was so moved he asked St. Thomas Aquinas to compose prayers for a liturgy dedicated to the Body and Blood of Jesus in the Eucharist.  This was the beginning of a feast that we celebrate every year, Corpus Christi.

We came back to Rome Friday night tired but joyful having encountered these men.

God bless you.

The SPS deacons along side some of the IVE seminarians

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Thursday, January 19, 2017

January 18th

We began this morning on a high note, a papal audience. We walked a few blocks to the Vatican and saved our seats (they go fast). A few hours later the crowd started cheering and Pope Francis walked to the front of the audience hall. He preached about the prophet Jonah and his Christ-like willingness to be thrown into the sea if it meant the others on the ship would survive. At the end the Pope blessed us and extended his blessing to all our friends and family've been blessed by the Pope!

Then we walked over to the North American College in Rome. We had pasta and fellowship with our brother seminarians who study here in Rome. Plus their rooftop terrace has the perfect view of St. Peter's for a group photo.

We split up after lunch. A few men were invited to an interview with Vatican radio about our month in Rome. Many others went shopping for liturgical goods we'll need after Ordination. Still others made various pilgrimages to Churches in the city.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

January 17th

From inside the Catacombs

In the morning, we made a pilgrimage to some of the ancient Christian catacombs.  These underground catacombs were used as a way to burry the dead when space above ground was not available (the largest of the catacombs had 500,000 graves).  They are important for us spiritually because the early Christian martyrs were first buried in these catacombs.  A few of their names might be familiar to you: St. Cecilia, St. Sebastian, St. Philomena.

In the afternoon, we visited the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.  This congregation works on doctrinal questions as well as on grave discipline issues in the Church (not an easy job!).  What impressed me most was hearing from two priests who work in this difficult department and witnessing their joy.  They told us to "keep our head against the tabernacle", in other words, to always stay close to Jesus in the Eucharist.  From Jesus comes all our joy even in the most difficult of assignments and situations.

In the evening, we visited the headquarters of Opus Dei.  We were able to have Mass in their chapel with the body of their founder, St. Jose Maria Escriva.  Opus Dei is dedicated to teaching the universal call to holiness, especially among lay people.  They stress that every situation can be sanctifying, whether that be family life or work life.  Holiness is never reserved for priests (or deacons)!  Holiness is for everyone.

God bless you.

A joke "secret passage way" at Opus Dei

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Monday, January 16, 2017

January 16th

At the Congregation for the Causes of Saints

This morning we visited the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.  We spoke with a priest that has worked in the Congregation for 35 years.  We learned about the process of canonization from the diocesan level all the way to the Pope's final decision.  We learned that men and women are canonized so that they can be imitated by us and so that we can take advantage of their intercessory power.  We also learned that sin in the life of the person does not disqualify them absolutely from being canonized; what is important is that the person repented of the sin and cooperated with God's grace to reach perfection before death.  Knowing that the worst of sinners can become the greatest of saints, with God's grace, should give all of us hope.  God is so good.

Our Lady of Confidence

We celebrated Mass at the Roman College at the Chapel of Our Lady of Confidence.  This title of Mary has special significance for the St. Paul Seminary.  Our rector went to the Roman College and developed a devotion to Our Lady of Confidence.  We now have a beautiful statue of Our Lady of Confidence in St. Mary's Chapel at SPS.  It was a wonderful opportunity to reminded (just months before our priesthood ordination) that our confidence does not lie in our own strength, abilities or talents, but rather in the mercy of God.  Mary shows us what complete and boundless confidence in God looks like.

In the evening we visited the Pontifical Council for Integral Human Development (a new council at the Vatican that combined four previously existing councils into one). This Pontifical Council has mediated the Church's outreach to the thousands and thousands of refugees that have had to flee the threat of terrorism and civil war.  The Christian is called to "welcome the stranger".  It was fitting to start our day talking about saints and to end it talking about seeing Jesus in those who are suffering, which has always been a disposition of the saints.

God bless you and may we all remember the call we have by our baptism to be saints.

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Saturday, January 14, 2017

January 13th

The morning was free but many of us went to the major basilica, St. John Lateran. This church is built on the site of the first legal Christian church, built by Constantine.

In the evening we met up with our new friends of the Emanuel Community to evangelize in St. Peters square. We were all pushed out of comfort zone a bit. Is not easy to walk up to a stranger not knowing if they even speak English, but overall it was a good experience. It was especially interesting to talk to non-Christians about their experience of St Peter's. Then we joined them for Holy Hour, Mass and a dance party...we didn't dance.

We have the weekend off but we'll see you again on Monday. Ciao!

Friday, January 13, 2017

January 12

We had the morning open for study and prayer. Before lunch we met for class to discuss the various visits we made this week.

After lunch we met with Fr. Sweeney, an aid at the Congregation of Bishops. His office coordinates the Ad Limina visits Bishop's are required to make every five years. We also got to learn about process the Vatican goes through to choose new Bishops. It was complicated and fascinating.

In the evening we climbed the famous Spanish Steps to visit the Emmanuel Community. They're a community focused on the work of the Holy Spirit in the Church today. It was a beautiful evening with our brothers and sisters in Christ. We celebrated Mass with the young community in a small chapel, famous for its image of Mary. St Therese of Lisieux prayed here before meeting with the Pope to request to become a Carmelite. This is our second encounter with her in Rome, which is so fitting because she's the patroness of missionaries.

St Therese of Lisieux, Pray for us!

Thursday, January 12, 2017

January 11th

Praying for the missions in front of St. Therese of Lisieux's habit

We started our day by visiting the Propaganda Fide (the Propagation of the Faith).  This congregation is responsible for the pastoral care of the mission territories in the world, those places where the Gospel of Christ has still not been fully proclaimed.  The collections that the Church takes up on World Missions Sunday goes to this congregation so that they can help support these missions.

The priest who spoke to us said that the goal of the Propaganda Fide is to run itself out of business; in other words, to help proclaim Jesus Christ to every corner of the world so that there is no longer any need for missions.

One of several archive rooms containing the documents from the missions

In the afternoon, we had the opportunity to go on the Scavi Tour.  This is the excavation that have taken place underneath St. Peter's Basilica and square.  There is an entire City of the Dead  (collection of large tombs) from Roman times underneath the Church.  In the midst of the tombs is the grave of St. Peter. We were able to pray just a few feet from St. Peter's bones.  As I prayed to St. Peter and thought about the mistakes he made in his life, with the massive St. Peter's Basilica above me, I appreciated how the Lord could build his Church on rocky foundations, how God can make saints out of sinners.

In the evening, we visited the Neocatechumenal Way.  They are an Ecclessial Movement in the Church dedicated to giving people a post-baptisimal catechumante.  In other words, to help adults already baptized, to go deeper into their faith and their commitment to Jesus Christ. We were inspired by their zeal and love for Jesus and the Church.

Listening to members of the Neocatechumanal Way

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Tuesday, January 10, 2017

January 10th

Last night we all returned to Rome and shared the stories and graces from our personal travel.

We started the day early with a Mass in St Peter's Basilica. Our Rector Mgsr. Callaghan celebrated Mass at the tomb of Pope St. John XXIII, who opened the Second Vatican Council. In his homily Monsignor encouraged us as we approach the priesthood this spring to be as open to the Holy Spirit as was the good Pope. He also reflected that it didn't seem very long ago that he was ordained a priest in that very Basilica.

After breakfast and an espresso we walked to the Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life.  Dicasteries are special offices in the Vatican (though not necessarily physically within the Vatican) which focus on particular areas of the Church's mission. After lunch we visited the Dicastery for the New Evangelization as well.

What struck me the most about these visits was seeing how these offices actually function. Too often we have this image of the Vatican as the huge, powerful, institution. And it's true that the Pope has the authority and the Fatherly duty to correct people who have fallen into theological error. However, the Vatican officials that we spoke to all stressed that it was not their job to force the Church to do this or that. Rather they are there to guide and facilitate the work God is already doing among his people. They couldn't point to any programs they were undertaking but they could tell us about the work men and women from around the world were doing to spread the Gospel. I think we all learned a lot.

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Monday, January 9, 2017

January 7th-9th

This past weekend was free for us to do personal travel.  Some traveled north to Milan.  Others went to Florence.  Others went to Naples.  And some remained in Rome.  We start back with another busy program in Rome tomorrow.

God bless.

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Friday, January 6, 2017

January 6th

Today we had the incredible opportunity to be ministers of Holy Communion at Holy Mass of the Epiphany at St. Peter's with Pope Francis.

Deacon Chris Weber shared some of his experiences:

We had been told we would be vesting as Deacons and distributing Holy Communion, but we did not have any details on how this would work.  When we arrived half of our group got split off and sent to the front of the Basilica while the rest of us were sent to a side area behind a curtain.  Eventually we were reunited and an American MC (Msgr. Cihak who works in the Congregation for Bishops) helped get us squared away. 
We were sent to the Blessed Sacrament chapel where we waited and wondered whether we would get to serve or if we would be forgotten and left to listen to the Mass from the side chapel.  Eventually they brought out Cottas (surplices) and stoles for us and lined us up for the procession to our seats.  A choir from Dallas was helping with the music, and as we processed in they sang “Carol of the Bells.”  As we turned the corner to go down the main aisle I heard “ding, dongey dong.” 

When we arrived at the front of the Basilica an MC ushered VanHoose, Froehle, and myself off to the right, while the rest of our classmates went up and to the left.  We didn’t know why we had been separated, but at least we had good seats. 

Then an MC from somewhere in Eastern Europe came up to the three of us and said, “you three will help with communion to cardinals and bishops. You will take chalice and ciborium to main altar at offertory.  After consecration you will take chalice and ciboria from main altar and bring to cardinals and priests.  You follow me.”  After he left I turned to Froehle and said “I’m not entirely sure how that’s going to work, since I can’t feel my legs.”

Deacon Chris Weber distributes Holy Communion

Chris and a few other deacons were able to give Communion to the Cardinals and Bishops.  The rest of us were able to give Communion to the lay faithful.

God is good.  May He bless you and reveal His love to you in a new way just as He revealed Himself to the Magi.

Here is a quote from Pope Francis from today's homily:

"The Magi were able to worship, because they had the courage to set out.  And as they fell to their knees before the small, poor and vulnerable Infant, the unexpected and unknown Child of Bethlehem, they discovered the glory of God."

And here is the link to a video of the Mass: 

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January 5th

Refreshed from our day of recollection, we hit the cobblestones running today. We visited two religious orders to learn how they participate in the mission of the Church.

In the morning we were welcomed by the Sisters of Peter Clavier. Their charism focuses on aiding, funding, and interceding for other missionary communities around the world. They said they like to think of themselves as "missionaries to the missionaries." 

In the evening we visited the Missionaries of Charity Father (the male counterpart of St Teresa of Calcutta's order). Rome was their first house, and their first mission: the poor on the outskirts of Rome. They showed the medieval aqueducts which so many of the poor used as makeshift homes. Now, they are mostly empty because the Fathers have helped them find more permanent homes. But, they warned us, the spiritual poverty can that comes with security is more dangerous. 
We all gathered together for a Holy Hour in their chapel and we ended the evening with Lasagna and ice cream to celebrate the vigil of the Epiphany. 
(PS-we'll have two posts today. This morning (Jan 6) was too exciting not to share!

Thursday, January 5, 2017

January 4th

We spent the morning at St. Mary Majors (one of the four major basilicas in the city of Rome) and had a morning of reflection.  Fr. Scott Carl spoke to us about the importance of being nourished by the Mother of God in our future priesthood.  We were then able to spend time in personal prayer around the beautiful basilica. Our morning finished with Mass celebrated at the altar of the crucifix.

Our afternoon, for most of us, consisted in reading the assigned reading for our first class discussion later that afternoon.  We had a beautiful time of sharing about the different saints we had encountered on our travels, and what we could learn from them as we approach priesthood.

In the evening, we were met by our eminent rector, Msgr. Callaghan.  We went out for a true Italian-style meal that lasted around 3 and 1/2 hours.

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Wednesday, January 4, 2017

January 3rd

Day two in Rome! Sorry this is late but our days activities went late into the night.

We started our morning touring the streets of Ancient Rome with Dr. Liz Lev, an art historian and expert in all things Rome. She gave a guided tour of the forum, the giant city market place at the center of the city. Not only was this the center of business and politics, but of religion. It was here that Julius Caesar was proclaimed a god and here that Peter and Paul came proclaiming God had become man in Jesus Christ.

We also toured the Colosseum, the ancient church of St. Clement,known for its mosaic depicting the cross as the tree of life.

Then in the evening we visited the Community of San Egidio. This is an international community of lay faithful which started almost 50 years ago with 5 high schoolers who decided to take their faith more seriously. They have 3 goals: Prayer, the Poor, and Peace. The members work and live in the world but make time to come together for prayer and service of the poor in Rome. In 1992, they facilitated a peaceful resolution to the civil war in Mozambique. We ended the night by joining them for Evening Prayer and grabbing some pizza on the way home.


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Monday, January 2, 2017

January 2nd

Ciao! All of the SPS deacons arrived today in Rome.  Some came from the US, some came from previous travel elsewhere in Europe, and some had already been in Rome for a few days.  Our first full day together will be tomorrow.

We are looking forward to being in the heart of the Church, close to the Holy Father, close to the saints.  The title of this blog comes from St. Paul's letter to the Roman's, "To all God's beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints."  We know, going forward this month, as we learn about the Church's mission, that the primary mission of the Church is to save souls.  That means for us, our primary mission on this earth is to be a saint, to do God's will in our life.  And the Lord has made it so simple: to love and to abandon ourselves to God, that is all that is necessary for sanctification.

God bless.

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