June 10, 2014
WEEK 3: THE HIGHLIGHTS
Monday, 2 June: This morning we attended Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican, followed by a tour of the basilica and the Vatican necropolis. We also had time to pray individually in the basilica, and I chose to do so in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel. As I knelt before the tabernacle to pray Lauds, the opening verse for the first psalm (Psalm 84) gave perfect expression to my thoughts: “How lovely is your dwelling place, Lord, God of hosts. My soul is longing and yearning, is yearning for the courts of the Lord.” Visiting the great churches and basilicas of Rome, one can easily fall into the role of the tourist, forgetting the spiritual significance of a site of pilgrimage. Here, in the presence of the Eucharistic Lord, surrounded by art and architecture by some of the greatest artists, such as Bernini, Borromini, and da Cortona, I was reminded before all else that this is the dwelling place of the Lord: Hic Domus Dei est et porta caeli (this is the House of God and gate of heaven). The magnificence and beauty of the art and architecture there serves this purpose: it is a noble space for the Sacred Liturgy and dwelling of the Lord, a fitting shrine for his saints (first and foremost in this great basilica, St. Peter the Apostle), and a testimony to our faith. This experience in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel shaped my travels to the numerous other basilicas and churches this week, reminding me of the primary spiritual purpose of these visits.
Tuesday, 3 June: Our schedule today included trips to the Catacombs of St. Callistus and the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls. The highlight for me was a short visit that I made to the Basilica of St. Sebastian, about a ten minute walk from the Catacombs of St. Callistus. Since we were given some time to walk around, I decided to take an old road surrounded by the Roman countryside that lead to the Basilica of St. Sebastian. I thought to myself that the view from that road of the quiet country was a view shared by the early Christians as well as countless pilgrims to Rome throughout the centuries before the great urban sprawl of the twentieth century swallowed up the majority of the open land surrounding the old city walls. The peaceful silence of that walk served as a prayerful preparation for my pilgrimage to the Basilica and shrine of St. Sebastian. As the bodies of the martyrs had been removed from the catacombs and placed in the churches of Rome, it was good to be able to pray before the tomb of one of those great martyrs that had once rested in ancient catacombs.
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June 26, 2013
A Summary of Week 5: June 16-22
Seminarian for the Diocese of Burlington
This past Sunday, many of us were blessed to be able to attend a Mass in St. Peter’s Square, celebrated by Pope Francis. One of our program’s spiritual directors, Fr. Christopher Mahar, was even able to concelebrate with the Holy Father and to speak with him after Mass. It was a very hot day in the square, dotted with parasols, fluttering makeshift fans, and officials distributing water bottles. Yet the 200,000 of the faithful seemed to forget the heat when Pope Francis entered the square on the Popemobile. As he made his way through the crowds, Francis seemed to greet every pilgrim personally. Indeed, he often stopped to individually bless the sick or disabled, vividly exemplifying pastoral charity as well as reminding us of the dignity of every human life as a gift of God. In his homily, our Holy Father preached on this theme explicitly, reminding us that God is the source of our life. “Following God’s way leads to life, while following idols leads to death,” he warned. When we set up rivals to God, we stifle our own lives in the process. However, this is not the final word of the story because “God, the Living One, is merciful.” To stress the importance of this point, Francis led the whole crowd in repeating it three times during one memorable moment. In forgiving our sins, the Pope concluded, God gives us His gift of life anew.
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June 11, 2013
BEAUTY AND SANCTITY
Seminarian for the Archdiocese of Kansas City
Pope Benedict XVI once said that, “art and the saints are the greatest apologetic for faith.” In other words, Benedict is saying that the beauty of sacred art and the lives of the saints can complement and deepen the traditional explanation and argumentation of apologetics. He further explains that it is the saints who show us a “great luminous trail on which God passed through history.” In regards to sacred art and architecture, the Pope Emeritus teaches that “they are all a luminous sign of God and therefore truly a manifestation, an epiphany of God.” Nowhere is the truth of Benedict’s teaching more apparent than in Rome. Rome is the place where thousands of saints have lived, worked, prayed and died. Rome is also the place where the beauty and grandeur of her sacred art and architecture makes for a city that is imbued with signs and symbols reminding us of, pointing us towards and manifesting to us the presence of God. If there is one thing I have taken away from my short time in Rome so far it is the need our modern age has for the transcendent beauty of Rome’s sacred art and architecture and the witness of the saints.
The modern world needs the witness of the saints because the saints show us by how they live their lives the Truth of the Gospel. St. Peter, for example, gives us an awesome example of courage and fortitude in the face of violent persecution. Tradition has it that St. Peter was martyred around the year 64. He was executed via crucifixion, however, because he did not think himself worthy to die as our Lord did, he request to be crucified upside down. The Romans obliged. There is a tradition in the Church that says when the persecutions of Nero broke out, St. Peter initially fled Rome. On his way out of Rome, He came across our Lord. St. Peter asked our Lord “Quo Vadis, Domine?” (Where are you going, Lord?) To which our Lord responded “to Rome to be crucified again.” It is as if our Lord were saying to Peter “I am going to do what you ought to be doing and are not.” Upon hearing this, Peter realized his mistake and returned to Rome to face martyrdom. When St. Peter returned to Rome he was martyred at Nero’s Circus. Now, despite its name, Nero’s Circus was like a large racetrack. In the center of the racetrack is where Nero ordered the executions of Christians, and that is where St. Peter was crucified.
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April 7, 2010
Tuesday, Day 2: Florence.
Dony MacManus did great, and everyone loved the tour of his studio. Mass at the seminary was very beautiful; it was a mistake that we did not record it. Our time there was very fruitful.
Artist Dony MacManus, teaching Rome Experience seminarians in his Florence studio
June 8, 2009
At Florence we visited the Duomo, which is the second largest church in Christendom, and we were given the privilege to celebrate mass at the side chapel of the Madonna. Fr. Eric Nielsen is distributing Holy Communion. Fr. John Baker (background) gave the first homily of our trip here in this chapel. The outside of the Duomo is covered in beautiful green, red, white, and yellow marble. The inside is more austere mostly granite. It was a practice of Cistercian monks to decorate their chapels sparsely so as not to distract one from prayer. The dome of this cathedral is very ornately painted with a scene of the Last Judgment with Heaven and Hell.
Our guide in Florence was an Irishman named Dony (short for Donnell) MacManus. He showed us his Beato Angelico art studio, which he founded in order to re-establish the making of sacred art for religious use. He focuses a lot on the masters such as Michaelangelo, Raphael and Bernini. We learned that the body has a language and great artists know how to use the body in art to convey a message. Beautiful art expresses the goodness of the human body and the greatness of God. We discussed how the current misunderstanding of the body and human sexuality (mostly due to the separation of the mind from the body) leads to a modern art that is formless or perverted.
-Photos and text submitted by seminarian Ryan O’Neill