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!

Ciao!

Friday, April 17, 2015

Firenze!

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.
Ciao!

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Holy Saturday: The Easter Vigil in the Holy Night

Two days ago, we began the celebration of the great Paschal Triduum - the celebration of the most central mysteries of our Christian faith. The Passion, death and resurrection of Christ. We follow with Jesus from the Last Supper to the Garden of Gethsemane. We journey the road to Calvary and wait at the sealed tomb. We greet the new morning of Resurrection and ponder the empty grave.


Tonight we begin in darkness and silence.  We gather together to hear the story of how God has worked throughout time and in all creation.  It is a story of hope, and yet we are also faced with our human limits and sinfulness.  God overcomes the chaos and creates all things as good, and we destroy this creation and forget our inherent dignity.  God leads us from slavery and towards the Promised Land, and like Israel we grumble against God.  The Prophets announce God's salvation and desires for the world, and we dismiss their messages so that we can follow our own designs.  We begin to question if there really is any hope for us...
 
...then an astounding thing happens - God happens.  Even when we destroy, God continues to create.  Even when we grumble, God continues to lead.  Even when we stray from the path, God continues to speak.  Even when we sin, God continues to forgive, and forgive, and forgive.  I will never forget the words that Pope Francis said at his first Sunday Angelus message: "Dio non si stanca mai di perdonarci" - "God never gets tired of forgiving us.  We might get tired of asking, but God never gets tired."  This is a message that Pope Francis continues to repeat over and over again, probably because we need to keep hearing it. 

This profound message of forgiveness and mercy and hope is repeated at tonight's liturgy.  A single flame enters, a flame that pierces the vast darkness and shows us the pathway.  A single word, "Glory!" is heard, a word that overcomes the great silence and announces our destiny.  A single drop of water touches us, water that sates our thirst and cleanses our woundedness.  A single loaf of bread is shared among us, bread that nourishes our spiritual hunger and makes us a community.



And the one flame grows into great brightness.  The one word becomes a whole chorus as bells join in the praise. The one drop turns into a pool of new life.  The one loaf urges us to go forward into the world. All reminding us that we are forgiven because Christ has won the victory for us.  He has conquered sin and death, and he has made us daughters and sons of the living God.  In the words of St. John Paul II we can now cry out, "We are an Easter people, and Alleluia is our song!"



The words from an ancient homily for Holy Saturday remind us of what Christ has done for us and why we rejoice on this most holy of nights:

For your sake I, your God, became your son; I, the Lord, took the form of a slave; I, whose home is above the heavens, descended to the earth and beneath the earth. For your sake, for the sake of humankind, I became like a human without help, free among the dead. For the sake of you, who left a garden, I was betrayed to the Jews in a garden, and I was crucified in a garden.

See on my face the spittle I received in order to restore to you the life I once breathed into you. See there the marks of the blows I received in order to refashion your warped nature in my image. On my back see the marks of the scourging I endured to remove the burden of sin that weighs upon your back. See my hands, nailed firmly to a tree, for you who once wickedly stretched out your hand to a tree.

I slept on the cross and a sword pierced my side for you who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side has healed the pain in yours. My sleep will rouse you from your sleep in hell. The sword that pierced me has sheathed the sword that was turned against you.

Rise, let us leave this place. The enemy led you out of the earthly paradise. I will not restore you to that paradise, but I will enthrone you in heaven. I forbade you the tree that was only a symbol of life, but see, I who am life itself am now one with you. I appointed cherubim to guard you as slaves are guarded, but now I make them worship you as God. The throne formed by cherubim awaits you, its bearers swift and eager. The bridal chamber is adorned, the banquet is ready, the eternal dwelling places are prepared, the treasure houses of all good things lie open. The kingdom of heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity.


May the blessings of the Risen Christ bring you peace and forgiveness and unbounded joy!

Happy Easter!  Alleluia, Alleluia!

Friday, April 3, 2015

Good Friday of the Passion of the Lord

Yesterday, we began the celebration of the great Paschal Triduum - the celebration of the most central mysteries of our Christian faith. The Passion, death and resurrection of Christ. We follow with Jesus from the Last Supper to the Garden of Gethsemane. We journey the road to Calvary and wait at the sealed tomb. We greet the new morning of Resurrection and ponder the empty grave.

 
Today is a difficult day.  We witness the hurried and unjust trial of Jesus.  It's almost unbearable to hear Simon Peter deny Jesus.  We cry out, "Crucify him!  Crucify him!"   Jesus is mocked and beaten and forced to carry his cross.  Jesus dies.  He is placed in a tomb...cold...silent...dark.  This, too, is probably how we feel - a chill goes through us, we are left in silence, darkness fills our heart.  It is almost unbearable and doesn't seem that it can get any worse, but...

...then we remember Jesus saying, "Father, forgive them, they know not what they do."  In the Gospel of Luke, it seems that Jesus directs this comment towards the soldiers that are hammering in the nails and jeering at him.  But, I wonder if it isn't directed towards us.  After all, Jesus died for our sins.  By his sacrifice we are healed.  Father, forgive us, for we know not what we do.  But even in our ignorance, even if we don't grasp the full importance of what is happening, we hear the words "Forgive them."  In that hour of most need, in that hour of pain and anguish, of chill and darkness, Jesus thinks of us and says "I forgive you."

While the crucifixion is horrible in itself, I am often haunted by the image of Jesus being stripped of his clothing.  It is an act of extreme humiliation.  (Just think of having that weird dream when you show up on the first day of school in only your 'birthday suit.')  It is an act that puts Jesus at his most vulnerable, his whole life literally bared naked before all to see.  He really empties himself because all - his clothing, his dignity in the eyes of the world, and ultimately his very life - is taken away. 



But it is exactly that emptiness, that humiliation, that vulnerability to which Jesus invites us by his simple utterance "Forgive them."  St. Basil writes, "Jesus dies on the cross so that we could be saved by imitation of him, and recover our original status as children of God by adoption.  To attain holiness, then, we must not only pattern our lives on Christ's by being gentle, humble and patient, we must also imitate him in his death."  Just as Jesus did while hanging on the cross, we too must say "I forgive you" to those who have hurt us, crucified us, stripped us, buried us.  If we want to follow Jesus, we need to follow him to the very end, emptying ourselves of pride and ego, and being willing to say "Father, forgive them."

Of course, this is never easy.  In fact, in my own life, I am having great difficulty saying "I forgive you" to someone.  Even in prayer, with only God and myself, it is extremely difficult to utter those three, short words.  But we are reminded that it is the path of discipleship, it is the path of Jesus, the path that we are called to walk.  Jesus never said it would be easy, but he did promise us that he would be with us all the way.  Yes, he is with us even on the cross.  He is looking down on us and giving us the greatest gift - that of freedom by forgiveness of our sins.

(This is a painting by Marianist Bro. Charles Wanda, SM.  I love the perspective - of Jesus looking down upon his Mother and the Beloved Disciple.  Can we see ourselves in the scene as Jesus saw us?)


Today we are confronted with a most difficult scene in the Paschal Mystery of Christ.  Maybe the most difficult part is to hear the words "I forgive you" knowing that we must also utter those words in our own lives.  Let us pray that we might follow the example of Jesus who has forgiven us.  That we too might cry out, "Father, forgive them," letting the beautiful and forgiving words of Jesus become our own.

Blessed Triduum, my friends.