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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May 23, 2014
WEEK 1: THE HIGHLIGHTS
On May 21st we arrived in Ars, France. We had the bus driver drop us of about a 45 minute walk outside of Ars so that we could walk the same path that St. John Vianney did when on his way to become the parish pastor. As the group of men prayed the Rosary it was hard not to think that the Cure was probably doing the same thing as he traveled on his way.
Many of us after arriving to Ars went into the town and visited the Basilica where St. John Vianney’s incorruptible body is in repose. Praying before the saint was a very powerful experience for a lot of men. We all understand, that when our journey at seminary is over we will (God willing) be priests and eventually pastors, to be kneeling before the patron saint of parish priests was a great blessing that God gave us and it helps us to understand the duty we are going to be entrusted with, that of the salvation of souls.
On May 22nd Fr. Eric took all of the men to the Church were Jesus revealed to St. Margaret Mary his Sacred Heart and told her of his mercy. Seeing the place of the apparition that started one of the greatest devotions in the Church inspired a sense of awe that lead everybody to prayer. We had the opportunity to attend Mass in the small church and afterwards Fr. Eric brought out a relic of St. Margaret Mary, her finger, and we all had the chance to venerate it.
Later on in the day we went to the Monastery of Cluny where in the middle ages was started one of the largest religious orders of all time. We had the opportunity to go on a tour of the ruins of the monastery and to see how these monks lived hundreds of years ago. It was really beautiful to be in a place that produced popes, cardinals and many holy monks throughout the time that the monastery was up and running.
On May 23rd we all went to Lyon France and visited the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourviere. This church was built in thanksgiving to the Blessed Virgin Mary for saving Lyon from a cholera epidemic. Then during the Franco –Prussian War the town was saved again by the intercession of the Blessed Virgin when the troops looking to invade Lyon retreated. This church is filled with mosaics and statues honoring Our Lady and many other saints. The architecture and art in this basilica are truly breathtaking and give appropriate glory to God.
Tomorrow we all go on silent retreat for a few days and we are all very excited to see how God is going to work through Fr. Chris our retreat director. Please keep us in prayer.
REFLECTION: One of the beautiful things about going to the church where Jesus revealed to St. Margaret Mary his Sacred Heart and celebrating Mass is that we are able to see that Jesus even now reveals himself to all of us in the Eucharist. No matter where we go to Mass Jesus is always revealing himself to us making known the mercy of his Sacred Heart.
Seminarian for the Diocese of Green Bay
Rome Experience Class of 2014
July 11, 2013
The Basilica of St. Lawrence, Patron Saint of Deacons
Seminarian for the Diocese of Lincoln
I will be entering third theology this year, and at the end of this year God willing I will be ordained a deacon. My ordination is less than one year away! For myself and the other members of The Rome Experience who will be ordained within a year, this can be a frightening thought. So it was with great joy that a classmate and I had the opportunity to go and pray at the Basilica of St. Lawrence, the Patron Saint of Deacons.
The remains of St. Lawrence are joined with Sts. Justin Martyr and Stephen, two other prominent deacons in the early church. The witness they gave in laying down their lives for the church is a striking example for any seminarian entering upon deaconate. Lawrence was grilled alive and upon entering the Basilica the first thing one will notice is a statue of St. Lawrence holding a grill. What a reminder of the radical call to follow Christ! And if that is not enough, the directly across from Lawrence is Stephen, himself holding a pile of large stone. Stephen was stoned to death and thus became the first martyr of the church. His dying prayer was that God would forgive those who were stoning him, one of whom was St. Paul. So before even walking past the pews, pilgrims are greeted with these two statues, setting the stage so to speak for the rest of the Basilica.
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November 12, 2010
June 1st, 2010 — from the Rome Experience journal of Jeffrey Gardner
Day Ten started with morning mental prayer in the house chapel at the Monastery di S. Antonio in Norcia, followed by breakfast that consisted of coffee, rolls/bread, jams, juices and the world’s best honey.
All Rome Experience days were special, but this was a bit more so because we were going to Assisi, Italy — St. Francis’ home town! The ride through the Italian mountain country was breathtaking! The roads are wide and comfortable – no real danger of going off the road – but in many places, the mountain ascends sharply on one side of the road, while descending quickly to a beautiful mountain stream on the other side. Interestingly, we drove through one mountain tunnel that was 4000 meters long, or approximately 3 miles.
Rome Experience seminarians in the mountain town of Assisi, June 2010
Once we got on the highway, the landscape opened up, and we could see beautiful mountains, lush green valleys and cities built along cliffs. The first stop was the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli (Our Lady of the Angels) that rests in the valley below the sparkling city of Assisi. The basilica is quite beautiful on its own, but the real beauty of is that it houses the little church in which St Francis died — the Porziuncola Chapel. The basilica is so big that it comfortably houses the chapel, which is about the size of a one-room schoolhouse. I think these two are the most beautiful of all the churches, other than St Peter’s, that I have seen in Italy.
After the stop at Our Lady of the Angels, we rode the bus the short distance to Assisi and immediately went into the Basilica of St Francis. You feel the real presence of St Francis in the basilica — even more so as you roam around Assisi! As you walk these narrow, brick-lined streets you get a sense of what the saint saw and how he lived. You can pray in churches where he prayed, eat lunch in the public meeting area called the Piazza Commune where Francis and his followers met, and tour Francis’ house and the room in which he was born. Assisi is a must for any Catholic visiting Italy.
June 26, 2010
Brendan Johnson’s journal, continued:
June 12, 2010, part 2
The afternoon outing with Fr. Baker took us to the Aventine Hill to see some churches – or so we thought. What we didn’t factor in was the time of year and time of day it was, so we stumbled into several weddings and really weren’t able to see much of the churches up there. However, all of this bad luck was made up for when we passed the church of St. Sixtus II (San Sisto All’Appia) – now a Dominican convent. It was a wonderful mishap!
Fr. Baker suggested I give the gate a push to see if we could get in, but it was locked. As we were walking away, a little old Dominican sister waved to us from the window, unlocked the gate and called us back to the convent. Sr. Maria Ernestina, 62 years in the convent, proceeded to give us a private tour — completely in Italian. Despite the language barrier, we were able to learn a lot about the convent, which was the first church Pope Honorius III gave St. Dominic when he arrived in Rome. It was also the site of several of St. Dominic’s miracles.
The sister showed us all around the chapel, and even through the older parts of the basilica, which date back to at least the third century and had frescoes from the same time period. She also showed us the refectory and the Chapter room where their foundress (whose cause is up for canonization) was buried after the Napoleonic occupation is. The Chapter room is also where St. Dominic worked several miracles. The sisters then gave us some books (in Italian of course) that explain the church/convent and contain some wonderful pictures to remember everything by. What a grace it was to stumble into this church — probably one of the best things that could have happened to us as we made our way around!
June 20, 2010
Brendan Johnson’s journal, June 6 2010:
After the (Corpus Christi) procession we had to quickly change out of our cassocks and surplices and move to the bus to make our way to Cascia to see St. Rita and the remnants of a Eucharistic miracle (very appropriate for the feast of Corpus Christi). St. Rita’s Basilica was a little modern and not terribly attractive, but it was wonderful to be able to pray before St. Rita’s tomb and even to see her a little bit. She wasn’t covered with wax as many of the saints are, but was out for all to see (not terribly well preserved, but it was neat to be able to see her body).
Tomb of St. Rita at Cascia
From Cascia we made the three-hour trip to Rome where we are staying (Fraterna Domus) and after a quick trip to our rooms to more or less settle in, we made our way over to St. Peter’s. Coming into St. Peter’s is pretty neat, but not as big as I had imagined it in my mind – not to say that it isn’t big, but I had a much more expansive view of St. Peter’s. Going into St. Peter’s was incredibly moving, though! We went to the central entrance to look at the altar over St. Peter’s tomb with the Holy Spirit window behind it – that was absolutely incredible! It was wonderfully ethereal in its look with the play of the lights, and just very beautiful and moving. In the short time that we were there, we were able to pray at the tombs of St. Peter, St. Pius X and Bl. John XXIII, and pray the Angelus in front of the Pieta. We had to leave very quickly but it was still very beautiful and a wonderfully apt way to begin our stay in Rome.
April 21, 2010
Tuesday, Day 9: Norcia/Assisi/Norcia
The trip to Assisi went great. We left at 9 after morning prayer, a 30-minute meditation and breakfast, but we could easily have left earlier, say 8:30, and had Mass closer to 11. It was raining when we left Norcia, but it was soon sunny. We had Mass at Santa Caterina at the Basilica di San Francesco, but perhaps it would have been better to have Mass in a smaller, more out-of-the-way church, if at all possible. Again, tour books ahead of time would have been very good. We did not really use the maps of Florence because we had a guide the whole time, but information on Assisi would have been helpful. We left Assisi at 6 PM sharp and walked back through the convent door at 7:25. After dinner, Fr. Cassian* came to visit us, and a number of guys went out for gelato.
Fr. Cassian Folsom