Thursday, December 25, 2014

And silence filled the whole earth....

This little verse isn't to be found in the Bible, and I don't know where I once heard it.  Maybe I just made it up, or maybe it comes from a story I remember from my childhood - that on that first Christmas day, all the animals in the grotto bowed their heads in silent prayer.  Wherever it came from, it has been swirling in my head this year.  I imagine that when Jesus was born, there was a silence that filled the whole earth, a profound silence if for only a moment, a silence that united the whole earth together.  A silence that "spoke" the song which the angels would sing, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace to all people." 

Unfortunately, when we think of Christmas, silence may not be the first thing that comes to mind, especially in the days leading up to Christmas.  There is shopping to be done, gifts to wrap, cookies to bake, houses to clean.  All adding to the ordinary, daily stresses.  And then there is Christmas itself.  Opening gifts to the shrills of tiny (and sometimes even big) voices, preparing the meal, singing carols.  And yes, this is even true in our Seminary community.  Of course, all of these things are good and much fun, and honestly, it wouldn't be Christmas without them!  Also, I think we can all agree that our world these days isn't too silent.  Gunshots ring out, unrest is found all over the place, the poor cry out for help.

Yet, amidst all this noise, I am brought back to the verse "and silence filled the whole earth."  And in this silence, something wonderful happens.  From the silence comes a Word.  In the silence, the Word of God incarnate breaks in.  A Word spoken by God comes to us.  From the depths of silence, we hear this Word.  It is part of the strangely wonderful designs of God that we can't always understand - the great King comes as a tiny baby; the Savior enters the world helpless and cold; the Leader of nations is visited by lowly shepherds; the Giver of life will have to die; in silence comes a Word.  

During the days of Advent leading up to Christmas, we have been accompanied by those who lived in a sort of silence:  much of what we know about St. Joseph comes from his dreams; Zechariah (the father of John the Baptist) was struck mute; Mary pondered in her heart.  It is as if they are calling us to find some silence in our busy, hectic lives.  To make a space, even a small space, where we can listen to the silence that enveloped the whole world on that first Christmas day.  To let the Word ring forth and to bring Jesus to birth in our midst, even if for only a moment.  That one moment of silence 2000 years ago changed the world, and I think our own moment of silence can change us.

Christmas is busy.  We can't deny that.  But it is also an invitation into silence.  Let's all try to find a moment of silence today.  Pausing as a family before we revel in delicious food and good wine.  Simply taking a deep breadth once all the dishes are done.  Watching the silent snow fall.  Sitting in front of the Christmas tree glowing in the evening darkness.  Allowing a Word, the Word, to enter into the silence of our hearts, and hearing this Word speak to us of love, peace, joy.  Letting silence cover our whole selves, remembering that night long ago when silence filled the whole earth.

My dear friends, may silence fill your hearts, and may the Word of God make his dwelling within you this Christmas.  All of you will be in my prayers as we celebrate and rejoice in the birth of Jesus, Son of God become Son of Mary, for the salvation of the whole world.  Buon Natale!  Merry Christmas!
Mosaic by Marko Rupnik, SJ.

Much peace and love to you all,


Saturday, November 1, 2014

I have always liked All Saints Day.  I'm not really sure why, but it's one of my favorites.  Maybe it's because by November 1, autumn (my favorite season) is in full swing.  Or here in Rome, when the celebration is not on a Saturday, we don't have school (boo for this year.)  Or maybe I just like the Saints (which isn't a bad thing in itself!)  But, I always look forward to the day.

So, what do we celebrate today?  There's some easy answers.  In the early Church, there was a tradition of honoring the martyrs on the day of their martyrdom.  Of course, that number started to grow, and so common celebrations for groups started to become more practical.  Also, in the early seventh century, Pope Boniface IV rededicated the Pantheon in Rome (originally dedicated to all the Roman gods) to "Santa Maria ad Martyres" - St. Mary and the Martyrs - as a way to honor all the martyrs in one church.  Over time, the date got fixed to November 1.  Here in Rome, it is also a civic holiday.
The Pantheon - Now the Church of St. Mary and the Martyrs

Relics of the 20th Century Martyrs in the Church of St. Bartolomeo in Trastevere

Sure, the history is nice, but maybe there's something more to all this.  For me, it celebrates all the saints, those known but especially those unknown or those special saints close to us.  Now don't get me wrong, I am a big fan of the St. Francis-es and the St. Therese-es of the world.  And as you probably know, I like going on relic-hunts of the famous saints around the city of Rome. 

The body of St. Catherine of Siena in Rome (her head is in Siena)
But, today we get to pause and think about the lesser-known saints, those that don't get their own special day.  And especially, I think of those many saints in my own life - the ones that will never be formally recognized by the Church but that taught me what it means to grow in holiness, what it means to love, what it means to be an everyday saint.  I think of my dad, my Aunt Helen, my Uncle Jim, my friend Ali, many holy Marianists, the lists goes on and on.  We read Matthew's account of the Beatitudes today at mass.  We remember the many paths of blessedness - poor in spirit, meekness, hungering for justice, peacefulness, persecution.  Maybe we could also add those from our own special saints - quietness, patience, cheerfulness, stability, laughter, (and from Aunt Helen) always having a dessert to offer! 

St. Dad

St. Ali and friends
Today, we celebrate and remember these saints who continue to be with us, watch over us and prayer for us.  They are our special could of witnesses who surround us and love us in a very special way.  I encourage you to stop and think about those special saints who were and continue to be a part of your life, singing your own litany of thanksgiving for their presence in our lives.
The dome of the Baptistry in Padua.


Tuesday, October 28, 2014


A few weekends ago, it was time to party....Italian style! Over the past few years, I have gotten to know an Italian family who, in their own words, tell me that their house is always open! And I believe it! Last spring when my family was visiting, they had all of us over for dinner one evening. With other guests, we totaled 17...and we all fit around the table.

This year, Fabrizio and Emanuela are celebrating their 25th Wedding Anniversary. So I joined them and their family and about 200 other guests to celebrate! I was full after the antipasti (appetizers) but gathered all my strength to make it through the pasta course and onto the dolci (desserts - there were 5!) Of course, there was plenty of wine and prosecco to go around as well. The Italians might not be all that good at bureaucracy, but they sure know how to throw a good party!

With my Italian Mom and Dad

Fr. Antonio and Fr. Loris joined us as well  

The happy couple

From last year

The whole family

ALL the family

Friday, October 3, 2014

Community Gita

Well, it's that time of year again.  Classes start (finally) on Monday (yes, that would be October 6.)  Rome is on its own schedule!  So, as one last hurrah, the Seminary Community took a "gita" (like a field trip) to Monte Cassino and Casamari.  Now, some of you might be thinking, "Didn't Bob go to Monte Cassino already?"  The answer is "yes."  But it's always good for a refresher after a few years.  So, here goes...

Montecassino is the sight where St. Benedict founded a monastery around the year 529.  He is considered the Father of Western Monasticism, and his Rule of Life has been guiding religious orders for nearly 1500 years.  (Fr. Chaminade based the Marianist Rule of Life on Benedict's!)  Unfortunately, the site has had some problems...sacked by the Lombards, then the Saracens, destroyed by an earthquake, attacked by Napoleon, and bombed by the Allies during World War II (using bad information, they thought the German army had sought refuge there.  However, it was really the monks and townspeople.)  But after each catastrophe, the monks have rebuilt the abbey.  Today, it is a replication of what was there before WWII.  So, here's some pictures from the day.

The Basilica at the Monastery

The inside of the Basilica - very Baroque.  The tombs of St. Benedict and his sister St. Scholastica are in the main altar.

We had mass in a crypt chapel under the main altar, where the tombs of St. Benedict St. Scholastica were originally placed.

Inside of the Basilica

What is thought to be St. Benedict's room.  He probably finished writing his Rule of Life here.  I really like this room.

"Monte" means "mount."  As we were driving up, we got above the fog.

The view of the modern city of Cassino.

At the monastery garden.

Part of the cloister.

Heading up to the monastery and basilica.

Monastery in the background.

The Polish Cemetery from World War II.  Over 1000 Polish soldiers are buried here.

A statue commemorating the death of St. Benedict, probably in this spot.

St. Scholastica

The box that originally contained the bones of the two saints.

The present day tomb of St. Benedict and St. Scholastica

Then we headed off to Casamari to a Cistercian Abbey.  They are the same group that is found in Kentucky at Gethsemane Abbey.  Also, the don't talk much, and they pray at all hours of the day (including 3 in the morning!)  The foundation of this Abbey dates from the 11th century.  We listened to the monks chant "Nones" (prayer in the afternoon) and then had a tour from the Abbot.  Hope you enjoy these pictures.

The inside of the church - very different from Monte Cassino

The outside of the church.

You can find ruins everywhere.

The parish festival is this weekend, so the piazza was decorated.

Inside the cloister.

The monks' refectory (dining hall)

Doorway leading into the cloister.

The monastery library.

Bro. Armando trying out the monks' technology.
Window of St. Robert of Molesme, one of the Cistercian founders.


Thursday, October 2, 2014

Discipleship and Basketball

A reflection on the readings for Wednesday of the 26th Week of Ordinary Time
October 1, 2014, Memorial of St. Therese of the Child Jesus
Job 9: 1-12, 14-16; Ps 88; Lk 9:57-62

As many of you know, last year the University of Dayton Mens Basketball Team played very well in the NCAA Tournament, making it to the Elite Eight. For two weeks, it's all Sean and I talked about. Some placed signs (I 'heart' UD) by their doors. 

UD made national headlines. Fans traveled all over the country to watch them play. But, their tournament success didn't reflect the whole season. In the middle of the season, the team was losing. They were disorganized and not playing well. Fans were losing confidence and getting discouraged. But, then, something happened. The team had a change of attitude which was described in UD Magazine as a “'True Team' dedication, when starting pride took a backseat to an all-in enthusiasm and unwavering faith in one another.” In the end, this “all-in” attitude was important for their success. This all-in attitude helped to turn things around.

So, what does UD basketball have to do with the path of discipleship? In today's Gospel, we hear Jesus (our coach) invite us (the team) to this same dedication and “all-in” attitude. He says that disciples will have no place to rest, “Let the dead bury the dead,” and there is no time to say farewell to your family. Jesus isn't being mean or unrealistic. No. He is telling us what it means to be a disciple. It requires giving your whole self to the Reign of God. It means to make the Reign of God the sole focus of your life. It needs dedication and an “all-in” determination. There is no place for a half-disciple. (Fr. Chaminade liked to use this phrase when speaking about the religious of his foundation – there was was no place for a “half-religious.”) Jesus calls us to follow him with our whole hearts and minds and bodies – our whole self. We must be “all-in.” This is the path of discipleship.

We see this “all-in” attitude in the person of Job. All is taken away from him. His life is totally destroyed, but he doesn't give up. He remains totally dedicated to God. He acknowledges God as all-wise, all-powerful, always present. God is in control of Job's life because God is God. Job continues to trust in God against insurmountable odds. The journalist might describe Job as having “true dedication, when self interests took a backseat to an all-in enthusiasm and unwavering faith in God.” Job gave literally everything he had to God. Job was “all-in.”

We also see this in St. Theresa of Lisieux whom the church remembers today. At a young age, all she wanted to do was to dedicate her life to God as a Carmelite nun, going so far as to petition the Pope to let her join when she was only 15. Through her “little way” and with great simplicity, she trusted in God. Even in the midst of several dark nights, she remained faithful to God. At the end of her life, she offered her terrible sufferings from tuberculosis to God for the salvation of the world. She, like Job, was totally dedicated to her mission. She was “all-in.”

Dear friends, discipleship requires that we give our all, that we give all of our selves to the path and mission of Jesus, that we are “all-in”. It is not easy. It can be quite difficult. But it is what Jesus asks of us, and it is the path that will lead us to new life and freedom. And so today, you are left to answer for yourself: Will you follow Jesus with your whole heart and being? Will you be “all-in?”

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Blessed Martyrs of Ciudad Real

September, 1936. The Spanish civil war was spreading across the country, and the "red terror" (an anti-church campaign) saw many clergy killed by firing squad. Marianist brother Jesus Hita had recently been assigned to Ciudad Real. On the morning of 25 September, he was arrested at the boarding house in which he was staying. That evening, he was driven outside the city and shot in front of the walls of the cemetery. Later, his body was thrown into an abandoned well. One week earlier, a similar scene had been played out with the death of Bro. Carlos EraƱa. Three weeks later, it was repeated with Bro. Fidel Fuidio. Their crimes: being Religious.

Today we remember and celebrate our Brother-Martyrs from Ciudad Real. Jesus, Carlos, and Fidel, and others who, while not officially recognized by the Church, shared their same fate. As I read their biographies, I was struck by their "normal" lives. We could easily call them just regular Marianist Brothers. They were good teachers and community members. They were faithful to their vows and were doing the best they could. Perhaps, there was nothing extraordinary about them - no mystical visions or ascetic penances. I imagine that if they were seminarians they would fit in well, and we could relate to them. Carlos and Fidel had difficulty learning a new language. Jesus was anxious and serious, but always helpful. Fidel didn't like math, but loved jokes. Normal, simple, practical, ordinary Brothers.

But, in the end, when asked by God, they did something very un-ordinary, something extraordinary. Given the circumstances in Spain at the time, they must have known that death was just around the corner, but they didn't flee. They continued their educational work, basing their lives on complete trust and faith in God, living life in the Spirit. And it is for this faith of their whole hearts and lives that we remember them today.

The lives of our Brothers and their acts of faith are reflected in the mass readings given for their feast. St. Paul reminds us that "we have a treasure in earthen vessels so that the immensity of the power is God's and not our own" (2Cor 4:7). Pots made of clay are fragile and easily broken. Like them, we too are weak. We will struggle and not always be as strong as we would like. But at the same time, it is a reminder that God is ultimately in control, it is in God that we find our strength and victory. Our Blessed Martyrs show us that even when we are weak, God is strong. God has the power to give us new life even when others try to take it away. As we place more and more trust in the God who can save us, our life grows more abundant.

St. Matthew speaks of a time of great trial. But he also says that the Holy Spirit will come to the hearer's aid in how they should speak and act (cf Mt 10:19-20). It is told that just before Blessed Fidel was shot, he cried out, "Long live Christ the King!" Just as the Holy Spirit came to the aid of the Martyrs, she will come to our help. The Holy Spirit can increase our faith as we listen more closely to her gentle whispers. The Spirit gives us comfort and hope by helping us be people of faith in the Christ who is King.

Dear Friends, we have before us today our Blessed Martyrs: Carlos, Jesus and Fidel. Let us pray that we might heed their example, not as martyrs ourselves, but as witnesses to strong faith and life in the Spirit in our very ordinary experiences. Let us pray that Mary might help us on this journey so that we too might be counted among our beloved Blesseds.


Today, our Marianist communities also remember Bro. Miguel Angel Quiroga.  He was a young Marianist Brother from Columbia who was killed in 1998 by para-military forces while he was defending the rights of a group of peasants who were traveling to a festival.  May he, with our Blessed Martyrs, pray for us!