Sunday, October 27, 2013

Sagrada Familia

Today in St. Peter's Square, Pope Francis celebrated mass for "The Day of the Family."  Now, in all transparency, I did not go.  I heard that they were expecting 150,000 people and I then heard that more than 200,000 actually attended.  I'm still recovering from all the people during the Pope's election!  However, thanks to the internet, we can all read his homily!  He spoke about three features of the family: prayer, faith and joy.  He ended by saying, "Dear families, always live in faith and simplicity, like the Holy Family of Nazareth!"
The Holy Family at Sagrada Familia in Barcelona.

In order to celebrate the Day of the Family, I would like to share some pictures of the Church of the Holy Family (Sagrada Familia) in Barcelona.  I was able to see it while I was in Spain this summer.  Construction began around 1882 under the architect Antoni Gaudi...and it is still not completed.  They think it will finally be done in the mid 2020's.  The only word that can describe it is breathtaking.  As I was choosing the pictures, I realized that they really do not do the church justice.  But, it will give you a taste of what it was like.  If you ever get to Barcelona, make sure to go and see it for yourself! 

What the completed church will eventually look like (from a poster)

Inside the Church.

The columns and ceiling were made to look like trees.

The ceiling

The front of the church at night.

There are several scenes all around the outside of the church.  Here we have the Marriage of Mary and Joseph.

The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple

In the daytime.
The Way of the Cross.

The Crucifixion

Each Apostle gets a statue and a column

Jesus in Gethsemane (This was one of my favorites)
The windows were spectacular and the light inside was always changing.

The front door with the "Our Father" in all different languages.

The columns and ceiling again

The Nativity

The Annunciation (wooops, out of order)

Jesus and Joseph

The pictures really don't let you know how big the place is


Really, this doesn't capture it

While in Barcelona, we stayed with the Marianist Sisters.  They spoke no English, and we spoke no Spanish.  Luckily one sister knew Italian, so we were able to get by.

Friday, October 18, 2013

70 years and 101 years

My time in Rome has taught me many things, especially about history.  The Europeans constantly remind me that many of the buildings around here are older than the United States.  To them 200 years is nothing.  And I guess they're right.  After all, I walk past a nearly 2000 year old building every day.  On the other hand, I was surprised when I learned that the present Italian Constitution is a mere 66 years old.  I have met people that even voted for Italy to write a Constitution in the first place.  For an American, this just seems crazy!

This past week, Rome remembered one of the darker moments in its long, complicated history.  Wednesday was the 70th Anniversary of the Deportation of the Jewish People from the city during World War II.  On October 16, 1943, more than 1100 Jews (including more than 200 children) were taken from their homes near the Tiber River, transported to Tiburtina Train Station, and then sent to concentration camps in Germany and Poland.  Only 16 would survive, none of them children. 

The Community of Sant'Egidio (a lay Catholic group that sponsors many social justice projects), along with the Hebrew Community of Rome, sponsored a peaceful remembrance of that dark day.  Starting in front of the Church of Santa Maria in Trastevere, we silently walked to the heart of the Jewish Ghetto, retracing in reverse the steps so many took 70 years ago.  On the banner that led the procession was written, "Non c'e` futuro senza memoria." - "There is no future without memory."  On this evening, we came to remember the past and hope for a future that would never see an atrocity such as this again. 

Santa Maria in Trastevere

Perhaps the most poignant moment was when one of the survivors, well into his 80's now, addressed the crowd.  It was poignant not only because he had survived and was among us that evening, but mostly because of what he said.  He didn't have harsh words against his captors.  He didn't recall the cruelty that he experienced as a young man.  Rather, he spoke of gratitude.  Gratitude that so many people had come to remember with him. Simple and yet powerful words! 

Pictures remember those who lost their lives.

In a strange coincidence, on the same day as the anniversary I received the news that my friend Attilia had died.  She was a resident of the retirement community where I volunteer each week.  She was 101 years old, just having celebrated her birthday a few weeks ago.  Like most of the folks there, I couldn't understand much of what she said, and she couldn't hear most of what I tried to say.  But I was able to learn from her that during the War, her family hid two Jews in their house - a testimony to the faith of the family and their stance against evil.  It struck me as odd that these two "events," both with connections to the Holocaust,  would happen on the same day.  Yes, both were about death; we can't deny that.  But at the same time, both were about hope, hope for new life and a world of great peace - one here and one above.  It was a day for remembrance, but also a day to look ahead.  It's funny how history can teach us many things.   Sister Nicole wrote about peace in a recent blog post.  She eloquently conveys some of what these events have brought to me mind.  You can read it here.
Several months ago, Pope Benedict XVI visited one of the retirement communities and was able to meet Attilia.  She commented to me that because she was 101, the Pope seemed kind of young!


Saturday, October 12, 2013

Our Lady of the Pillar

Today, October 12, is the celebration of Our Lady of the Pillar.  For those who have never heard this title of Mary, it's what it sounds like - it is a shrine in Zaragoza, Spain, with...well...Mary atop a Pillar.  I was able to visit the Shrine while I was in Spain this summer.

As the story goes, the apostle James was in Spain preaching the Gospel and things weren't going well.  Mary appeared to him (on top of a pillar) to encourage him in his endeavors.  Of course, Spain was eventually converted and the Spaniards continue to honor St. James.  In a weird twist, according to most chronologies, Mary was still alive when she appeared to James - meaning that she could bilocate.  Mary, as Our Lady of the Pillar, is venerated in Spain and many parts of Latin America.

The "dress" is changed every day.  On Fr. Chaminade's feast day, it has a Marianist cross on it.

For us Marianists, this is a big day, too.  (Woohoo Festa!)  On October 11, 1797 (the day before the feast), Marianist Founder Blessed William Joseph Chaminade arrived in Zaragoza.  He had just been exiled from his native France because of the ongoing persecutions of the French Revolution.  He would spend the next three years in Zaragoza, spending a great deal of time praying before the Shrine of Our Lady of the Pillar.  And during those three years, something happened.  Yes, something, because we don't really know what happened.  Fr. Chaminade wrote practically nothing about his time in Spain, and only mentioned it in passing.  However, he received some sort of inspiration or mission before Our Lady of the Pillar to return to France and "re-Christianize" the country devastated by the Revolution.
The Parish of St. Gil.  Many believe that this is where Fr. Chaminade stayed in Zaragoza, but there is no definitive record of his place of residence.

The road leading up to the Basilica.

The Basilica from across the river.

It's ready for a close up.
It was in Zaragoza that Fr. Chaminade began to develop a plan of bringing all types of people together into Sodalities (like faith sharing groups) as a means of evangelization.  Of course, this then led to the foundation of Marianist Lay Communities, The Daughters of Mary Immaculate (Marianist Sisters) and the Society of Mary (Marianist Brothers and Priests.)
This is a depiction of the Assumption of Mary above the main altar in the chapel of the Shrine. 

Our Lady of the Pillar.

To be honest, the Basilica and the Shrine itself aren't anything extraordinary.  Yes, the church is beautiful.  Yes, the architecture is stunning.  Yes, the shrine is important and a holy place.  But there was nothing that really stood out for me....except...It was very powerful and moving to be in a place where Fr. Chaminade prayed and spent much time.  As I sat before the shrine, it was somewhat overwhelming (in a good way) to think that Fr. Chaminade saw what I was looking at.  As corny as it sounds, it was also very cool to think I was walking where Fr. Chaminade had walked as well.  Also, I was struck by the constant line of pilgrims - folks of all different types coming to pray before the shrine.  Obviously, some brought deep concerns and challenges, just hoping to find some consolation in whatever form it would take.  To me, this was more extraordinary than any architecture or statue that I saw. 
The main altar of the Basilica.

The piazza outside the Basilica.

Fr. Chaminade is reported to have once said after the three Branches were founded: "As I saw you in Zaragoza, so I see you today."  We don't really know what he meant by this - a mystical experience, simple poetic license, or a memory of his exile - but we do know that during his time in Zaragoza, a seed was planted and started to germinate under the guidance and inspiration of Mary.  Marianists often joke that, even though Fr. Chaminade "saw us" so many years ago, he decided to go on with his plans anyways.  In conclusion, here's a few of the many Marianist influenced works that have grown out of that inspiration in Zaragoza. 
Some Marianists with "Chami."

Students at Our Lady of Nazareth in Nairobi, Kenya.

The Marianist Sisters' school in Barcelona.

The residents of Via Latina (my home) in Rome.

Worm Farm.  Yes, you read it correct.  This is from the Lay Marianist urban farm in Dayton.

And just one more....
One of the perks of being in Zaragoza was seeing my Jesuit friend Fr. Jaime who lives there.  We lived together in Boston.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Guardian Angels

Today the Church celebrates the Memorial of the Guardian Angels.  There are three things that this brings to mind.
From the Chapel of the Marianist Generalate in Rome

  1. Angel of God my God, my guardian dear, to whom God's love commits me here...(there is extra credit for whoever can finish the prayer.)
  2. The seemingly endless chapters that St. Thomas Aquinas penned in his "Summa Theologica" about angels, the types of angels, and of course the favorite question of myself, Bro. Daniel and our Medieval Philosophy professor: Just how many angels can fit on the head of a pin?
  3.  On this day in 1817, the first members of the Society of Mary declared their intentions to Fr. Chaminade about committing themselves to his new foundation.
These are all good (even if I still go into convulsions when I think of philosophy), but today conjures up another image for me, a more personal image.  On this day in 2010 I professed my perpetual vows as a Marianist Brother.  That day in St. Louis, I said that I would do this Marianist thing for the rest of my life, continuing this crazy adventure, that is, a crazy-good adventure.

I sometimes wonder what made me say "yes" for the rest of my life.  But I guess it's like asking someone how they knew that their spouse was the one they wanted to spend the rest of their life with.  In reality, we probably can't answer these questions fully or at least with clear rationality.  Instead, we rely on a hunch.  We listen to that sometimes big and sometimes small voice that we hear within us.  And in the end, we are reminded that it really is all grace.  It is the grace of God given to us.  If only we will embrace it and trust God.  These are two difficult tasks, but, they are also two very important tasks.  And we must remember that they will take a life-time to accomplish.

So, on this anniversary of my perpetual vows, and the Memorial of the Guardian Angels, there are three other things that come to my mind.
  1. Fr. Mike Lisbeth, one of our Marianist priests who died this past year, told me that on the anniversary of his ordination he prayed in thanksgiving for his vocation and also for forgiveness.  He prayed for forgiveness for those times when he might have hurt another person through his ministry.  It's a practice that I have taken up on my anniversaries of religious life.  And here again we return to God's grace.
  2. At our perpetual profession, Marianist Brothers take a fourth vow of Stability (along with chastity, poverty and obedience.)  To me, it's the hardest one to describe because it's unique to us and, quite frankly, I move around a lot - sometimes I don't feel too rooted in one place.  And yet, at the same time, I am rooted.  I am rooted in our Marianist life and our Marianist Family.  I am rooted in our common mission and vision for the Church.  I am rooted in Mary's service of bringing Christ into the world.  And for me, this is where I find Stability.
  3. While I usually don't give much thought to angels, I am reminded today of all the "angels" who are in my life.  Those who watch out for me, guide me, direct me, walk with me, love me, and are just downright good folks that I'm glad are a part of my life.  They are too numerous to mention (which is a good thing).  They are family and friends, Brothers and Sisters.  And they will know who they are (hint, if you're reading this, you're probably on the list!)
    From San Giovanni Rotondo, the town of Padre Pio.
Recently, I've had many people tell me that I seem to be happy.  Well, I think they are right.  I am happy.  There must be a Guardian Angel looking after me.