June 9, 2014:
Back to the Ordinary!
It was quite appropriate that on Monday, June 9, as the universal Church returned to Ordinary Time, we here at The Rome Experience began our regular schedule of prayer and classes. After our retreat in Ars, arriving in Rome and getting settled in, and a long week running around Rome visiting the beautiful holy sites, it was good to ease into a smooth rhythm. Being a person who likes falling into habits (hopefully good ones!), it has been good to be able to establish my own little habits, within the plan of life that the program provides for us. This development of good habits (i.e. virtues) is part of what we have been taught during these past weeks. A good “Plan of Life” will help us live balanced lives.
A Sheep with a Shepherd
Part of the steady rhythm and balance, which I spoke of above, includes spiritual direction. At seminary, each seminarian is assigned a spiritual director. A struggle for me during the summers has always been “going at it alone” for almost three months without spiritual direction. I am grateful that, while only for three short meetings, The Rome Experience provides spiritual directors for us during our time in Rome. Last Monday was my first “official” meeting with my spiritual director. It was a blessing to get to share with him the ways in which the Holy Spirit has been moving in my heart during these past few weeks; my joys, my struggles, my dryness, my encounters with The Lord, etc.
June 14-15, 2014:
Weekend Pilgrimage Adventure
Along with all the awesome things which are provided for us by The Rome Experience (classes in Rome, visits to holy sites, meetings with cardinals and priests serving in Rome, etc.), we are also given some free time to do things on our own. This past week-end, three of the men and I travelled three hours south of Rome to visit a few places.
This trip was a race against time, because we wanted to visit four different cities in less than thirty hours. Knowing that this would be impossible through train and bus, we chose to rent a car. Most people would probably greatly advise you against driving in Italy, and this advice is well founded. Particularly dangerous about our trip was that Amalfi was part of our itinerary. This is where the fun really began! The road along the Costiera Amalfitana (Amalfi Coast) is narrow, windy, and has the steep mountain side to the East, and the Mediterranean Sea to the West; one slip of the wheel and you’re crashing either into the mountains or the sea. Graciously neither of these were our fate; St. Raphael and St. Christopher were guiding my driving. While I will admit that the night before I began getting really nervous (I even looked up videos on YouTube), I must say this drive was amazing! I couldn’t enjoy the views as much as my brothers did, but I sure enjoyed the driving!
It might sound surprising, but the reason for our trip was not simply to drive the Amalfi Coast. The planning of this trip actually began months ago when one of my seminary brothers, Matthew Gomez, told me that he wanted to visit the tomb of St. Matthew, the Evangelist, at the Salerno Cathedral; right away I began planning. Shortly after arriving in Rome, we told one of the other men on the program, Andrew Pacheco, about our plans. He immediately told us that St. Andrew’s tomb was in the Amalfi Cathedral and he wanted to go; another stop was added to the itinerary. Thus, our plans developed to visit these two great apostles. Each of these visits was uniquely special, and graced by the Lord. I pray that we may have St. Andrew’s spontaneity to “Come and see” (Jn. 1:39) where the Master is staying, and the courage of St. Matthew to always rise from whatever we are doing and follow Him (cf. Mt. 9:9).
Our last stop was in Mugnano del Cardinale, a small town, about thirty minutes south-east of Naples. Mugnano is little known, and perhaps it would be even less known if it wasn’t for its little saint, Philomena. St. Philomena’s story is too long to recount, but suffice it to say that she has been one of the few saints in the history of the Church to have been canonized solely due to the miracles which she worked. Prior to her canonization, almost nothing was known about her; even her name was unclear. She became greatly known after Pauline Jaricot was healed of a severe illness. It was she who introduced the little saint to the Curé d’Ars, who in turn became the greatest promoter of hers. Our visit to the Sanctuary of St. Philomena at the Church of Our Lady of Grace was particularly beautiful for me because, for almost three years, I have held her close to my heart. It was also a blessing to have Msgr. Giovanni Braschi, the rector of the sanctuary, give us a personal tour of the sanctuary and speak to us of the devotion to her (all in Italian, I must say!). After this visit, I think each of us felt the desire to grow in devotion to this little miracle worker, and to promote devotion to her in our own parishes.
The Sacramentality of Clerics
Our first stop on our weekend pilgrimage was to the excavations of Pompeii. While this visit was objectively the least religious (arguably not religious at all) of our visits, it was subjectively the most impactful; not only is our God never outdone in generosity, but He is also never outdone in wit. What impacted me was not necessarily the ruins we saw, but rather an encounter we had as we were leaving. As we walked through the exit, one of the vendors approached us and began speaking to us. My first impression was that he was trying to sell us something, and I began to dismiss him. We then noticed that he actually wanted to speak to us. He explained to us (four men dressed in clerics) that he was a sinner who struggled greatly, but he wanted to live a good life. He, Renato, then asked us to give him a “quadruple” blessing in hope that he could live a better life. After a hearty chuckle, we explained to him that we were seminarians, and unfortunately could not give him a blessing. Nevertheless, we continued to speak with him, we in our broken Italian, and he in his thickly-accented English. He shared with us his struggles to live life as a faithful Catholic, and we encouraged him to continue praying, and to go to Confession and Mass. As we walked away to continue on our journey, the thought hit me: This man would never have opened his heart to us, and we would have never been able to speak with him, if we had not been wearing clerics. In “civilian” clothes, we would have just been another group of tourists walking through Pompeii. Our Catholic faith is founded on sacramental realities: natural phenomena which transmit supernatural truths. While the Eucharist is the example of this par excellence, priestly clerics al-so participate in this sacramentality. They seek to point to the extraordinary presence within ordinary men, and reminding each priest that “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal. 2:20).
Seminarian for the Diocese of Palm Beach
Rome Experience Class of 2014