Sunday, November 17, 2013

How many priests does it take to dress a bishop?

How many priests does it take to dress a Bishop?  (keep reading for the answer)

It's funny how, in one weekend, many unrelated events can come together to you teach a lesson. 

Uno: Friday evening, several of us went to a talk on "What it means to be a priest with Pope Francis."  Now, I must admit that I didn't understand much - The Bishop who talked had a strong Roman accent and even Fr. Loris (an Italian and one of my Italian teachers) looked at me afterwards and said, "He used some really difficult words!"  But, I did take away a few things, namely that we must "go out of ourselves" and be with people in an attitude of sympathy.  We can't stay closed in within ourselves.  (Okay, good advice with any Pope and for non-priests as well!)
Not really a picture of the talk, but it was near Santa Maria in Trastevere.  So, here's where we were.

Due: Saturday morning, we celebrated a festive mass and lunch here in our house for the culmination of a weeklong conference for "New Leaders" of our Marianist Units.  Most of the leaders came from Africa, India and Asia.  Afterwards at dinner, we sang songs in all our different languages.  The face of the Society is definitely changing, and there is a richness that comes with this.

Mass with the New Leaders

Fr. Romolo leading us in an Italian song.

Tre: Saturday afternoon, the local parish in which we live consecrated its new church building.  It's not your typical Roman church in that it's quite simple (no frescoes or mosaics) and it was full of people and a lot of noisy kids!  As holy water was sprinkled, incense burned and chrism-oil smeared, it struck me that, yes, these things make the place holy.  But, maybe even more so, it is the people who make the place holy.  Those who come to pray, to celebrate the mysteries of life, to celebrate the daily dying and rising to new life. 

Quattro: Saturday evening, I had dinner with a friend who will be leaving Rome to go onto newer pursuits.  He often teases me about my blog, so I have to include him here.  So, as I was telling him about the Church dedication, he suggested that I start with the question posed at the beginning.  To consecrate an altar is messy business.  Chrism is spread over it and the Bishop rubs it all around.  So, he has to take off his cross and outer vestments.  It made me laugh when a swarm of priests surrounded him to do this.  So (spoiler alert) you're not going to like my answer to the question (keep reading), but it's a way to say goodbye to a friend.

Cinque: Also on Saturday evening, the Marianists in Dayton gathered to say goodbye to our Novitiate building.  Soon, it will be torn down and a new, smaller, more economically-feasible building erected.  There are many memories of this 100+ year building.  It's where many of us received our initial formation - there was a lot of laughing and some crying; there was a lot of praying and much frivolity; there were lessons learned, both in the classroom and out.  In an odd way, for those of us who lived there, I think it always felt like home, a place where we could return and be embraced.
The Novitiate

Sei: Sunday morning, we hear the following in our Gospel reading for mass:
While some people were speaking about the temple...Jesus said, "All that you see here--the days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down....But not a hair on your head will be destroyed.  By your perseverance you will secure your lives."

For those really paying attention, I left out the "gruesome" parts...impending persecution, hatred, earthquakes, destruction.  But, I think these passages quoted above, have helped bring some sense and order to all these seemingly random events of this weekend.  Things change.  Popes are elected and then move on (either to another world or a monastery in the Vatican.)  Directions change and we must go to new places.  Buildings are built and eventually will crumble.  Friends come and go.  We never know where this crazy adventure we call life will take us.  And yet, in the midst of all this, God is constant, watching even the hairs on our heads.  Stone upon stone will be thrown down, but our lives (and evidently our hair) are secure in the hands of God.  And it is here that we find our true security and stability. 

At the start of our mass on Saturday, we read a letter from our Superior General who is recuperating from cancer surgery and couldn't be with us.  The following words regarding his absence touched me:

We make plans as if we were the lord and master of our own time, but every now and then, God dismantles these plans in order that we may see that we are only "useless servants;" that God is the true and only Lord; and that our time, as with all things in life, is his.

Sette:  That's seven in Italian.  I'll say that's the answer to the question.  Seven priests to dress a Bishop.  I don't really know the answer, but the scene during the dedication just made me laugh :)  And in the midst of all this change, we sometimes just have to sit back and laugh and remember that God is in control.  And so I'll leave you with pictures of the Brothers enjoying pranzo together - smiling and laughing all the time.

And a little champagne never hurts, either.


Friday, November 1, 2013

All the Saints

I have a confession to make (that should get your attention.)
Picture inserted for dramatic pause.  Notice the visitor at mass today.

This feast of All Saints is one of my favorite Church celebrations during the year.  And it's not because here in Rome we get the day off of school (but it sure helps).  No, it is because today we pause to honor ALL the Saints, and this includes a whole bunch of folks we might not typically think about.  Anyone who has read this blog will know that I enjoy the likes of St. Francis of Assisi, Catherine of Siena, Anthony of Padua and even St. Thomas Aquinas.  Being in Rome, it's kind of fun to run around the city "looking" for them, and, also as readers of this blog will know, occasionally finding their arm, or head, or whole body.  These are the saints of whom we see pictures and know their stories.  And that's all fine and good.
Celebrating All Saints with St. Sebastian at the Catacombs.

But, today, we celebrate ALL the Saints.  It is a day to pause and celebrate all the saints, both known and UNKNOWN. There are many, many holy people out there who will never be formally canonized by the Church.  Most of them lived holy lives in very ordinary ways.  Most probably never had a mystical experience or wrote a theological dissertation, and they probably didn't found a religious order or do missionary work in foreign lands.  But, in their own ways, they lived the Gospel message of love and peace and charity whether they were bakers or teachers, musicians or engineers, or whatever they did in life.  And these are the folks whom we honor and remember today.  I would suspect that each of us could come up with our own list of saints (that would be good homework for you!  Maybe an extra credit project.)

This summer, as I was in Spain, I "met" one such saint.  Now, I should say that there is a process currently taking place to get him canonized formally.  But, what struck me about his life was that he seemed "normal" - he didn't try to do anything extraordinary but just tried to live what he thought was a good life, and he tried to pray the rosary when he could (also not a bad homework assignment for you and it will get you extra credit later on).

His name is Faustino Perez-Manglano.  He was a student at the Marianist high school in Valencia, Spain. He liked soccer, camping and just being with friends.  He lived from 1946 to 1963, just 17 short years.  But during those years, he decided to live with and for God in his own way.  This summer, we were able to meet with Marianist Father Jose Maria Salaverri who knew Faustino and is working on his cause for Beatification. 

Fr. Jose Maria Salaverri.  I'm not sure who will be canonzied first: him or Faustino.
From his talk, two things remain for me.  The first is that Faustino was, by most accounts, a normal kid.  Yes, he seemed to have a somewhat heightened sense of the sacred, especially in the writings of his diary.  But, at the same time, his diary contains a hodgepodge of soccer results, recess games, favorite television shows and when he prayed the Rosary.  The second impression was that Faustino said he wanted to be a missionary.  At an early age, he decided to join the Marianists.  However, Hodgkin's Disease would never allow this to happen.  But, as Fr. Salaverri told us, he is now a missionary, our missionary, in heaven.  And this is so true in that many groups and individuals have become inspired by Faustino's steadfast faith and trust in God.  You can read more (a lot more!) about Faustino here.

With Fr. Jose Maria and Faustino.

A close-up of Faustino's tomb which was transferred to Our Lady of the Pillar Marianist School in Valencia some years ago.

In the Preface to a book about Faustino, Marianist Father Jose Maria Salaverri sums up what today celebrates:
Can a person become a saint in barely 17 years?  The reply must be "yes."  If God wants everyone to reach holiness, God must give the means.  To be a saint is to love God and our neighbor to the best of our abilities.  A person who lives 17 years can achieve this in 17 years.  Each person achieves holiness according to his or her way of life, age, character, and daily affairs.
At least there's one saint in his picture.
From the class picture in the school.

Happy Feast of All the Saints!  May we celebrate the saints in our lives, and may we strive to become a people of saints ourselves!