Weather here in Rome this past week has been nearly perfect. Around 70 each day, no rain, clear skies. Thank God for that. It’s amazing what weather can do for morale. I pray ya’ll have had a similar week weatherly.
This post, like others, is coming at you in two parts. First, I would like to reflect a bit about a Papal audience I attended this past Thursday. And secondly I’d like to share another “practice homily” I wrote this past week.
Thursday, Pope Benedict XVI invited all students, living in Rome and studying at any of the many Pontifical Universities in the city, to the Paul VI Auditorium (a large meeting hall, inside the Vatican City, used for various Papal Events) for an afternoon of prayer, reflection, and blessing. Traditionally, the Holy Father celebrates a special Mass in mid- October to kick off the new academic year for all Roman students. However, due to scheduling conflicts, Benedict was not able to do so this year. Still wanting to meet with his many students, Benedict specially organized this mid-morning program.
Starting at 10:30 AM, the gates were opened and hundreds of seminarians, priests, religious and lay men and women streamed by the Swiss Guards into the Vatican City, each flashing their student-ID. Walking to the Auditorium was a moment of realization for me---realizing that I have, indeed, lived in Rome for over a year now. What really spurred this realization was seeing so many people that I now know--from classes, from different ministries, soccer games, visiting other Colleges, friends of friends, etc. These people are from all over the world. And a year ago, I had no idea that they even existed. I guess I am kind of stating the obvious. But all that to say, I feel so blessed to have this opportunity--to know more deeply the human experience, the diversity of life, the creativity of God, and the richness of creation. Already after just a year, my vision...my understand of “Church”....of “humanity” is so radically different.
Once in the auditorium, we had about an hour before the Holy Father came to join us. A classmate of mine from our College, went with me to the Audience--David Tedesche of Rochester, NY. Before entering seminary, Dave was a high school teacher for several years. More than anyone else in our class, this guy has a real ZEAL for learning. His passion is inspiring and humbling to me at the same time. Just to give you an idea, Dave taught himself Greek in his spare time a couple years ago. Now he pretty much just reads the New Testament in Greek. It is a real blessing to have him in my Gospel of Mark Seminar, for example, since he can always shed some light on the more precise meaning of the original Greek text in comparison to whatever English translation we are considering.
You can see Dave below getting in a bit of reading between our reminiscing and the Pope’s entrance.
Also before Benedict arrived, the Roman Pontifical Student Choir sang a number of hymns and chants--really beautiful. In between the singing, a couple of spokesmen for the Pontifical University System in Rome gave some remarks. Largely they reflected on Wisdom...particularly Christian Wisdom...i.e. Jesus...the Second Person of the Trinity. Through this Wisdom all things came to be. By this Wisdom all things have their meaning...their purpose. For this Wisdom, we apply ourselves to study, prayer, and charity. With this Wisdom, we find the narrow, middle road leading to joy, peace, love, and ultimately our personal, eternal fulfillment in life.
These speakers stressed the Church’s belief that Christian Wisdom is, indeed, able to permeate ALL of Culture--of any time and place. This is the very way in which the Gospel is to transform the world---through relationships, art, language, music, literature, science, technology, media, food, sports, every facet of human living. This hope is firmly rooted in the Christian belief of the “Incarnation”--that God became Man and dwelt among us (John 1:14). This is such an intimate and personal knowledge--that God is not just some far off power, but rather in our midst...Personally desiring to fill our hearts, our time, our circumstances, our lives...our very flesh. Solid.
After these comments we prayed Daytime Prayer together, listened to another hymn, and then welcomed the Holy Father into the auditorium. Below I am trying a video for the first time. It is not the best quality or footage...but it gives you a sense of what the Paul VI Auditorium looks like and the crowd’s reaction.
As far as the Pope’s comments go, I am pasting an article posted by the VIS--Vatican Information Service--that sends me emails every day stating what went down at the Vatican (look at the LINKS section if you are interested).
VATICAN CITY, 19 NOV 2009 (VIS) - At midday today in the Vatican's Paul VI Hall, the Pope received professors and students of Roman pontifical universities, and participants in the general assembly of the International Federation of Catholic Universities (FIUC).
At the beginning of his address the Holy Father recalled how John Paul II's Apostolic Constitution "Sapientia christiana", the thirtieth anniversary of which falls this year, "underlines the urgent need, which still persists today, to overcome the separation between faith and culture, calling for a greater commitment to evangelisation in the firm conviction that Christian Revelation is a transforming power destined to permeate patterns of thought, standards of judgment and norms of behaviour. It is capable of illuminating, purifying and renewing man's conduct and his cultures, and must remain the focal point for teaching and research, as well as the horizon illuminating the nature and goals of all ecclesiastical faculties".
The underlying ideas of "Sapientia christiana", Benedict XVI went on, "still retain all their validity. Indeed, in modern society where knowledge is becoming ever more specialised and sectorial but is profoundly marked by relativism, it is even more necessary to open oneself to the wisdom which comes from the Gospel. Man, in fact, is incapable of gaining a full understanding of himself and the world without Jesus Christ; He alone illuminates man's true dignity, his vocation and ultimate destiny, and opens his heart to a firm and lasting hope".
Professors and students "must never lose sight of the goal to be pursued, that of becoming instruments for the announcement of the Gospel. ... At the same time, it is important to remember that the study of the sacred sciences must never be separated from prayer, from union with God, from contemplation, ... otherwise reflection on the divine Mysteries risks becoming an empty intellectual exercise".
Turning then to address participants in the general assembly of the FIUC, which this year celebrates the sixtieth anniversary of its canonical recognition, the Holy Father encouraged them to make "further efforts to renew your will to serve the Church. In this context, your motto also represents a programme for the future of the federation: 'Sciat ut serviat', to know in order to serve.
"In a culture which reveals a 'lack of wisdom and reflection, a lack of thinking capable of formulating a guiding synthesis'", he added in conclusion, "Catholic universities, faithful to an identity which makes a specific point of Christian inspiration, are called to promote a 'new humanistic synthesis', knowledge that is 'wisdom capable of directing man in the light of his first beginnings and his final ends', knowledge illuminated by faith".
My last thought, reflecting on Benedict’s address: What could we do that would bring upon us a greater dignity than welcoming the Living God to Dwell within us?...in communion with us? Than God Himself choosing to take on our very flesh?
Here are some pictures of the many different people in and around the event:
Vatican Police Force: Horse, Canine, & Foot Units
A Group of Tourists who decided to pose for me as I went for the "candid-pass-by-shot"
Link to the readings from this past Thursday on which this homily is based: READINGS
Please forgive the strange punctuation--helps me when I deliver it--- and sentence fragments--just because I can :) ---here and there.
In 1981, the movie Chariots of Fire won four Academy Awards including Best Picture. Dating back to the 1924 Olympics in Paris, it depicts the inspiring True Story behind Britain's famous team of sprinters. One of the main characters is a Scotsman named Eric Liddel. As the movie begins, we learn that Liddel is already a well-respected hero in Scotland. At once, Liddel is an all-star player on their national Rugby team and a Protestant minister, just coming back from a mission in China.
Due to a life-long friend, Liddel learns that England is doing their best to assemble the fastest group of sprinters in history to go up against the world-famous American Olympic Team. With a bit of prompting from his friend, Liddel decides to try out for the English squad and does, in fact, make it.
However, this decision did not come without its consequences. Feeling that Liddel has compromised his priorities, members of his very own Church community express their concern about this decision. More than anyone, however, Liddel has to confront the disappointment of fellow-missioner and girlfriend Jenny who just cannot understand this decision. “Do you believe in what we’re doing or not? I’m frightened for you...for what it all might do for you,” she says to him one day.
After some thought, Liddel takes her for a walk and tells her that he has decided, indeed, to go back to the mission in China.....after the Olympics are over. He explains himself saying, “I believe that God made me for a purpose...for China...BUT he also made me FAST...and when I run...I feel his pleasure. To give that up would be to hold him in contempt. You were right...its not just fun. To win is to honor him.”
With head down, Jenny thinks this over and then gives her support with a quick kiss on the cheek. For the next three years Liddel devotes himself fully to training...putting both “his rugby” and his formal ministry on hold.
Day after day, Liddel runs up and down the hilly terrain of his Scottish hometown....giving his all....to honor his God, his family, his friends, and his Country. Liddel dominates in the Olympic trials, impressing all in attendance by both the sheer force...and the untamed passion with which he runs. Finally, the Olympics come, Liddel joins his British mates, boards a ship, and sails to Paris.
Just upon boarding, Liddel learns from his lifelong friend...that his first heat is scheduled for that upcoming Sunday. Immediately, Liddel’s face drops. Three years of training....and it comes to this...running on the Sabbath! His friend reads this thought in his face and says, “It’s only a heat. Does it make all that difference?” Liddel responds with a sigh, “Yes. It does.”
It does not take long for Liddel to tell the British men on the Olympic planning committee that he will not run on the Sabbath. And as you can imagine, they are dumbfounded. Liddel is their star. He is their hope for victory against the Americans...and for HONOR for them and their country.
In a memorable scene, Liddel is called in by three English Noblemen and the Prince of Wales. They explain to Liddel that it would be a disgrace to England’s dignity to ask the FRENCH...to move his heat. After humoring him by lauding his principles and resolve...they inform him that he must be the one to compromise. To which Liddel responds firmly, “I will not run on the Sabbath and that’s final.” Still they try to persuade him.
One elderly Nobleman: “In my day it was King first, God after”
Another: “We are appealing to your BELIEFS---Your King, your Country”
Liddel responds, “God makes countries, God makes kings and the rules by which they govern and those rules say that the Sabbath is his...and I, for one, intend to keep it that way”
In a last ditch effort, the Prince of Wales appeals to Liddel citing the sacrifices men must make on behalf of their country. Suggesting that this was such a Necessary sacrifice.
Finally Liddel responds, “God knows I love my country..but I can’t make that sacrifice...”
In today’s Gospel, we encounter a scene that is strikingly similar. Here the king’s “noblemen,” humor Mattathias calling him a “leader, an honorable, and a noble man.” They promise him, his family, and his descendants the king’s friendship along with riches and gold.....all if he would just please the King...by sacrificing to his God. But Mattathias, like Liddel, is not seduced and responds with fortitude, “ We will not obey the words of the king nor depart from our religion in the slightest degree.”
Now, if everyone honored God the Father with such valor...such resolve, I imagine Jesus would not be weeping in the Gospel today as he looks out at Jerusalem. Looking at Jerusalem, Jesus sees a place that his Father had made sacred. A place where his Father asked the faithful to build a Temple, where they may honor him, keep HIS Sabbath, HIS commandments and thus usher in HIS kingdom of Peace and Love into their midst. How sad it was for Jesus to see...that the people of Jerusalem were just not THAT interested in his Father’s Love..his peace.
But, as we know, these tears were not those of self-pity or despair. As we know, Jesus Christ too, was a man of valor, principle, and resolve. In the face of all temptation, we know well Jesus’ decision...we are reminded of it every time we see a cross.
So today, We pray to you Jesus, that in the face of the pressures...the temptations in our lives to put anything before our Love and Honor of God, Our Father....we too may be given the Strength, Courage, and Faith of Liddel...of Mattathias...of You, our Lord. For, in faith, we know, that any sacrifice...no matter how small...made in YOUR name....united to Your Cross...will INDEED bring us the fruit of Your RESURRECTION!
THIS WEEK’S LINKS:
Since I have shared about my summer in China, I thought I would post some links to a letter that the Vatican (specifically Cardinal Bertone) wrote to the priests in China this past week.
Article summarizing the Letter: CLICK
The Letter itself: CLICK (just scroll down a bit)
Father Tocarz' BLOG: Just discovered this BLOG this past week. This is a Priest of the Archdiocese of Mobile. He too studied here in Rome and is now a pastor in Mobile, AL. Previously he spent several years at St. Bede's Parish in Montgomery, AL...my hometown.
Historical News Network (HNN): This link is a tribute to one of my best friends here--Alex Roche of Scranton, PA. Alex double majored in History and Philosophy at William & Mary before entering Seminary. So...if you are like him and enjoy reading dense, academic reflection-articles about nuanced historical view-points....then this should be a blast for you! Roche describes this site as his "favorite historical article center." Get pumped!
MUSTACHE SHOT OF THE WEEK:
NEXT SUNDAY’S GOSPEL:
Jesus said to his disciples:
“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars,
and on earth nations will be in dismay,
perplexed by the roaring of the sea and the waves.
People will die of fright
in anticipation of what is coming upon the world,
for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.
And then they will see the Son of Man
coming in a cloud with power and great glory.
But when these signs begin to happen,
stand erect and raise your heads
because your redemption is at hand.
“Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy
from carousing and drunkenness
and the anxieties of daily life,
and that day catch you by surprise like a trap.
For that day will assault everyone
who lives on the face of the earth.
Be vigilant at all times
and pray that you have the strength
to escape the tribulations that are imminent
and to stand before the Son of Man.”
Alright everyone. Have a great week! Just to let you know, I have started to pray for you and anyone else that may read this BLOG in any capacity. If you ever would like me and/or my seminary brothers to pray for something specific, just send me an email....we’d be happy to oblige.