Saturday, October 1, 2016

Remembering Bro. Charlie

I am quickly learning a lesson.  The longer I am a Marianist, the more difficult funerals become.  My first few years, we would receive news of the death of a Brother, and he was someone I only knew in name, if even that.  Now, after some 10 years, the names are well-known, and in many cases I knew the Brother personally.

So, this morning, as we prepare for the funeral mass of Bro. Charlie Wanda, there is a pit in my stomach.  Sure, we knew it was coming.  I had visited him at hospice the evening before he passed into his eternal reward.  But, all the same, it's never easy.

Bro. Charlie (right) with Bro. Mark and Bro. Jean

Life can be funny.  Just last weekend, after hearing of the passing of Bro. Charlie, I was sitting on a plane going to St. Louis for the profession of perpetual vows of two of our brothers.  It's the big event.  The culmination of years of formation and the celebration of their decision to make a life-long commitment.  They are great guys, and the party was grand!  And I think it was even more poignant than normal.  As we celebrated their saying "Yes!" we also remember another "yes" that was made to the very end.  

Sitting here this morning, thinking about Bro. Charlie, two stories come to mind.  I think both remind us about saying yes and about our commitment to live Stability as Marianists.  

In early January, I traveled to Dayton to assist with a vocation retreat.  I got in the night before, and arranged to stay in a guestroom of the Novitiate Community where Charlie lived.  I didn't get there until about 11:00 that night.  I knew that the priest in the community was going to be out of town and I had meant to call ahead to see if the community wanted me to say mass the next morning.  Of course, in typical Bob fashion, I never called or emailed.  When I got to the house, I saw that the community message board said there would be mass in the morning.  Charlie heard me and came out to say hi.  I asked, "Oh, is someone coming in the morning for mass?"  Charlie looked at me, and as deadpan as he always was, drolly replied, "You're here.  Isn't that why we ordained you?"  Of course, a smile then broke out on his face, followed by, "No, seriously, you're saying mass.  After all you are a priest now."  

I smile now as I remember that night.  Bro. Charlie lived his life as the person he was.  I think I saw that vividly in these past several weeks as he accepted his illness with grace and peace.  He put his chemo-ridden bald head on Facebook as if to tell us all, "This is who God made me, this is who I am.  I'm going to live who I am until the end."  On that January evening, he called me to live who I was.  And he will always remind us all to be who God has made us to be, to continue to say "yes" to God in all moments of our lives.

Then, a few weeks ago, I stopped by the hospital on my way home from work to visit Charlie.  At that time, he was in a lot of pain, and the cancer was really taking its toll on him. While he was still waiting the results of tests, I think he somehow knew what the outcome would be and that it was coming faster than expected.  At the same time, there were two mutual friends of ours going through an excruciatingly painful family situation, having just lost a child.  In the midst of his weakness and pain, he asked about them.  He was so concerned about them, and was somewhat upset that he couldn't be present to them.

As I reflected on that visit with Charlie, it struck me that there he was, dying, and yet all he could do was think of others, wanting to "brother" this young couple in their hour of need - just as he had done his whole life.  At the time of perpetual profession, Marianists take a special vow of Stability.  I often struggle to explain it in words.  But it's one of those things you know when you see it.   For me, that moment with Charlie in the hospital room gives us a glimpse of what Stability means.  Charlie showed us what it means to be a Brother and love others to the very end, quite literally.  

Charlie was an artist, and one of my favorite pieces of his is the crucifixion, painted from the point of view of Jesus gazing from the cross upon his Mother and the Beloved Disciple.  "Woman, behold your son.  Behold your mother."  The phrase so dear to Blessed Chaminade, and the core of Marianist Stability.  As Jesus loved his own to the very end, and made sure that they would be taken care of, so did Charlie. 

In his life, in his dying, and still now, Bro. Charlie teaches us about living as a Marianist. For that, we should give thanks to our God.  

Brother Charlie, may the saints and angels lead you into Paradise.  May the holy martyrs welcome you into the New Jerusalem.  May Mary accompany you to your eternal reward.  May you rest in peace. 

Friday, March 25, 2016

Holy Thursday: Sharing Life

 Tonight we begin the Paschal Triduum, the great big liturgy that really begins tonight and only ends on the evening of Easter Sunday.  In it, we remember the greatest mysteries of our Christian faith.  And each liturgy is filled with rich symbolism and ritual that helps us enter into the mystery of Christ's suffering, death and resurrection.

We begin, of course, with the Mass of the Lord's Supper.  We remember when Christ gave us his body and blood.  We recall (and re-enact) Jesus washing the feet of his disciples as an act of humble service.  And then we "travel" with Jesus to Gethsemane where he asks us to watch and pray with him.  We are invited to spend time in the quiet church with the Lord, watching and praying.  This is one of my favorite parts.  Maybe it's because I like the dimmed lights and the last remnants of incense that still linger in the air.  Maybe it's because the liturgy gives me so much to ponder and contemplate.  Maybe it's because I just really need some more quiet in my life, and I let myself find it tonight.

Whatever the reason, that's what I did tonight.  I sat in the quiet of the church, watching and praying.  As I was doing this, a group of women came in together to do just the same.  In many places, it is a tradition to travel around to different churches and pray at their altar of repose.  I was first introduced to this when I was in Rome, and as I sat in the church tonight, my thoughts turned to two years ago.

Two years ago, myself and two Marianist seminarians decided to partake in the practice.  After going to mass at our parish, we began walking through our neighborhood, visiting several churches, stopping to say a few prayers at each one.  While the walking and the praying were good, what I remember most is just the fellowship we shared.  As we made our way from church to church, we talked, we laughed, and knowing us we probably yelled a little too (venting frustrations and disappointments.)  And I'm pretty sure we ended up going to the Roman equivalent of a dive - where the pizza was greasy (but oh so good) and the beer was cheap (and actually cold.)  But in doing all of this, we just shared life with each other.

And as I sat in the church tonight and recalled that evening two years ago, I realized that maybe this is one of the messages that Jesus tried to leave us at that last supper he shared with his friends.  At the Eucharist, we gather together around the altar, and we hear Jesus say, "This is my body and blood given to you."  It's as if he's saying, "Look, I am giving myself to you, I am sharing myself with you tonight."  In the Eucharist Jesus shares his life with us.  And then he tells us to do the same.  "Do this in memory of me."  It's as if Jesus is telling us, "Share your life with each other, just as I have done for you."  In the Eucharist we are called to share a apart of ourselves with each other. 

What I experienced two years ago with friends as we traveled on a Holy Thursday night, helped me glimpse what Eucharist is about.  Just as Jesus shares his life with us, we are called to share our lives with others.  We are called to walk with each other and just share life - maybe it involves laughing and talking, maybe even pizza and beer.  Maybe it just means that we understand that we are brothers and sisters, and we treat each other that way, or that we stoop and wash another's foot.  (As we look around the world today, it seems that we could use a little bit more of this, right?)  However we do it, though, we are invited to the table of life, and then we are invited to share this life, our life, with each other.  This is what it means to be Eucharist.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

La vita รจ bella

About three months ago, I packed my bags and returned to the United States. My studies were completed (I now have an STB - Baccalaurete of Sacred Theology - you have to be careful how you say that one) and it was time to return home and get to work. In case you are wondering, I'm now living in St. Louis, but more about that later.

It was a bittersweet departure since I looked forward to the luxuries I was used to (one-stop shopping at Target and good hamburgers) and looking forward to leaving the things that drove me crazy (hot buses with leaky roofs, almost weekly transportation strikes, okay, public transportation in general). But I also knew that there were many things I had come to enjoy and appreciate from Bella Roma. So as I reflect back on my three year soggiorno in Rome, here is my Top Ten List of things I miss from Rome. After all, some one has to keep up now that David Letterman is retired.

(In no particular order...except for number 1)

The top ten things I miss about Rome

10) Lasagna and gelato, okay real Italian food

I don't know what they did different, but the lasagna at our house was the best. Also, you would be hard pressed to find better gelato than at Willy's which happened to be two blocks from our house. And the owner knew me. After my first year I was sick of pasta, but now I kind of miss my primo piatto. And tiramisu - there's nothing like the original (except strawberry tiramisu.)
Marina's lasagna is the best!
Emanuela wins for tiramisu!

Giolitti's wasn't bad, either (that's "the one by the Pantheon")

9) Walking to school

For three years, almost every day, I walked to school with Bro. Dan. Every day we passed the Colosseum and it never got old (pun intended). But what I miss is the quiet side of Rome (before the tourists arrived) and my conversations with Dan - we shared stories, we complained, we argued, we discussed theology, we were sometimes soaking wet...but we laughed a lot!
Our last day going to school.

8) Sitting in a piazza people watching

Rome js known for its piazze - plazas. There's not much better than sitting in one while an accordion plays in the background and playing the game "american or not" - yeah we tend to stick out.
Where I would study sometimes.

Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere - always something going on here.

7) Surprising people by responding in Italian

So like I said in #8 it was obvious that I am an American. My tennis shoes and baseball cap usually gave it away. But every now and then I got quite surprised looks when I broke into Italian. I was often asked, but aren't you American? We don't have a very good reputation when it comes to languages other than 'merican. It once helped me get through a police blockade, trying to get out of  the way of a "manifestazione" - a political rally.

6) Papa Francesco

Pope Francis.  Need I say more?  I was there the night he was elected. And sometimes I would wander down to St. Peter Square on Sundays for his noon Angelus talk just because I could. I can't even guess how many pictures that I took of him. He just captivated me.  And he's my kind of Pope, even if I never got to meet him personally.
My picture from the night he was elected.
The best parts of his talks is when he put the prepared speech down and just started talking off the cuff.

The closest I ever got to him...about three feet away.

5) Laughing at Italy

Parking. Bureaucracy. Traffic. The escalator in Barberini station that was broken for over a year. I shook my head a lot. But they did add a level of amusement to my life.
Park wherever you can find a spot.
The day we received our immigration documents.  Never again!

4) Random events, things, etc.

Praying with the Orthodox Patriarch of Armenia.  Running into (literally) a heard of sheep.  Seeing all types of relics of saints.  Watching Benedict's helicopter fly away on the night of his resignation.  These things just don't happen in Fort Wayne!
That was Pope Benedict leaving the Vatican as he resigned.

St. Clare of Assisi's ball of yarn.  (You can't make these things up, folks.)
My usual jogging companions in the park near our house....and we lived in the city.

3) History

To walk in Rome is to walk through history. Ancient, medieval, baroque. Rome has it all, and it is everywhere. The park in which I would often run had aqueduct ruins and there were pagan tombs on our property. And after three years, there are churches I never saw. Most things in Rome are older than the USA itself.

There's just too many pictures to post here!

 2) A good Italian family meal

This is connected to #10 but at a whole different level. This was typical: wine, prosciutto and bread, wine, lasagna, wine, another pasta, wine, two types of meat, two vegetables, wine, salad (which no one ever ate) and cheese, wine, 2 desserts, champagne, limoncello, sleep. Dinner was an event that included enjoying each others' company like I never experienced. Why the double of some things? Usually the cook couldn't decide what to make or what the guests would like, so you might as well make it all. Olive Garden might say "here you're family" but they just don't understand what it really means!
That's what I'm talking about.

I'm drooling right now.

Jenny and Sean learned how to be Italian when they visited.

And finally, the number 1 thing I miss about Rome....

1) The People

Of all things I miss, it is the people. Friends that have changed my life. Friends that taught me many things. Friends that put up with my poor Italian.  Friends that taught me how to give a proper Italian greeting (it's not a handshake and involves kissing.)  Friends that loved me and welcomed me as family and guarantee that I always have a home in Italy. And then there are the friends that came and visited me and shared in this experience.  All I can say to all of you is Grazie!

I culled through all my photos, and put together a snapshot of my last three years in Rome, as told by the scores of people who came into my life there.  You can view it here.


Monday, June 22, 2015

Torino (Turin)

Q: What do I have in common with Pope Francis?

A: We both spent a day in Torino (that's Turin for you Americani) last week.

After I finished my exams, I took a little adventure to northern Italy (more on that later), and on my way home I spent a night in Torino.  Mainly, I went to see the Shroud of Turin, what some believe is the burial cloth of Jesus.

Of course, we couldn't take pictures, but here's an image from the official website of the Shroud.  Yes, it has it's own website.
I won't weigh in on its authenticity, but there were two things that made an impression on me.

First, maybe the more miraculous part of seeing the Shroud is the sense of mystery that it helps us recapture.  We were put into a group of about 75 people, and we were led into the Cathedral where the Shroud was on display.  We were given about 5 minutes of silence to look at it and pray before it.  Every day and every five minutes for about three months, a similar group of people stopped and stood in silence and prayed.  I think this hits our desire for silence and for mystery in our lives.  We are people who like to be in control and know what's going on.  But, with the Shroud, we don't know (and will probably never be certain) exactly what it is.  As one wise theology professor always reminded us, "We can say a lot of things about God, but at the end of the day all we can really do is bow before God's Mystery."  It think that's what our little group (and many others) tried to do for a brief five minutes.
"The greatest love"

Second, and at the risk of being a little irreverent, maybe the greater mystery was the fact that it was so well-organized.  And this is Italy!  Anyone who has read this blog knows that, in my experience, organization is not always Italy's cup of tea.  In fact, Italy is more like a jolting, jittering cup of espresso!  So to see something run so smoothly made me smile :)
They even had directional signs that didn't lead to a dead-end.  It warmed my heart a little!

Afterwards, I wandered around Torino and took in some of the sights.  I'll leave you with a sampling of what I saw. 

The tower of the Film Museum punctuates the skyline.

Torino is a city mixed with new and old.

When Italy was first united, Torino was the capital and residence of the king.  This is the Royal Piazza.

Outside of Cairo, Torino has the best Egyptian Museum in the world.  Are you looking for your mummy?

Sarcophagus fit for a king.

The ancient Egyptians didn't use pillows, but a head rest.  Seems like that would leave a crink in the neck.

The Sphinx.

I'm sure the audioguide said something interesting about this statue.

The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Consolation, patroness of Torino.  (Come on, I had to get at least one church in here.)
I ended the day with a "bicerin" - the official drink of Torino.  It's a layer of dark chocolate, then a shot of espresso, followed with heavy cream.  I was actually a little shaky after drinking it....but oooooooh, was it good!


Friday, April 17, 2015


Last week, before classes resumed after our Easter break, the community took a "gita" (trip) to explore Firenze (that's Florence for most of the readers of this blog.)  What a beautiful city!  It's not as chaotic as Rome, but there seems to be just as many tourists.  Florence was (and still is) at the heart of Italian art, and so we went to several museums, taking in the Florentine scene.  Here's some of the highlights.  Enjoy!

After a very early morning train ride and checking into our hotel, our first stop was the Convent of San Marco.  It was a Dominican Convent, best known for the frescos of Fra Angelico which he painted in the monks' cells.  My room seems kind of bare after seeing their rooms!

Since it's Easter, I'll show the Resurrection.

The Annunciation - probably one of the most famous frescos in San Marco.  It is at the top of a stairway and kind of takes your breath away when you first see it.

Close up of Mary.
Then we headed over to the center of the city, where there is the Duomo (Cathedral of St. Mary of the Flowers) and its detached Baptistry.

The outside of the Duomo is beautiful.

This picture is to make Sr. Gretchen and Sr. Nicole jealous.

The facade of the Duomo.

The dome of the duomo (say that three times fast)
The inside of the Baptistry has wonderful mosaics.

The Baptistry ceiling.

The tomb of Pope John XXIII - not of Vatican II fame, but the last Anti-Pope.  There was a little disagreement at the time about who the real Pope was, and just who could elect him.  Just goes to show that you can be an anti-Pope and still get some respect.
After lunch, we had some free time, so I headed to another museum at Piazza Pitti, the home of the Medici Family.  Now this is a house!  It was huge.  Those Medicis knew how to live it up.

Madonna and Child by Raffael

A four-floor staircase.

Along the way, we passed Piazza Signoria....

...and Holy Cross Church...

...and a little bit of dinner - amazing!

The next morning, we headed to the Ufizzi Museum.  It is probably the most famous collection of art in Florence.  We also had a wonderful guide who explained everything.

"The Birth of Venus" by Botticelli.

The Holy Family by Michelangelo.

"The Sacrifice of Isaac" by Caravaggio.

"Bacchus" by Caravaggio.
Afterwards, we had a traditional lunch of "bistecca fiorentina" (Florence steak.)  It was unbelievable, and cooked to perfection!  The restaurant was near the house of Dante, and the story is that Dante used to eat there.

After lunch.  I think we all gained weight from the meal.

But somehow Bro. Lester had room for gelato.
Our friend Dante.
The Ponte Vecchio (the old bridge, named after they had built a new bridge up river.)
Then, in the afternoon, I made a trip to the Academia - yes another museum.  I was pleased to find they had a musical instrument exhibit.  But, there was one piece I wanted to see, and it was well worth the trip.  (Attention:  Mom, you might want to cover your eyes.)
Just a Stradavari violin sitting around.

No joke - this is called a piano-guitar.

One of the first upright pianos.
And there it is:  David.

It really is a masterpiece.

As you get closer, the detail is amazing.

One more by Michelangelo - "The Prisoners" - which is a set of sculptures which were never finished.