Wednesday, May 29, 2013

one month and counting...

My diaconate class with Archbishop Renato Boccardo
Dear Family and Friends,

Today the one month countdown till diaconate ordination starts. I can’t believe it! After so much time preparing for the priesthood, I guess the fact that all this is about to happen is taking me by surprise.

The Archbishop
On Sunday we traveled up to Norcia (where Saint Benedict was born) to have lunch with Archbishop Renato Boccardo, who will ordain me and 22 other brothers deacons on June 29th. I arrived a little late, and as a result got to sit at the Bishop’s table! He’s really young and really kind. Before becoming a bishop, he was in charge of organizing Pope John Paul’s travels. One of the brothers asked him if he had a favorite story about Pope John Paul II. He said that when the Pope went to Syria, it was around the turn of the millennium and he was getting very frail. He had to use a cane, but he still insisted on walking down the stairs off the plane. It took him a good while, but he finally made it to the tarmac, and, as if to show that he had done it, he jabbed his cane down onto the concrete, with which the cane promptly snapped in two. The guards had to go find a new cane, and it took them quite a while. From then on, they always brought two canes on the plane whenever the Pope traveled. Archbishop Boccardo said that this was how John Paul faced all his sufferings: he saw himself as united to the sufferings of Christ on the cross, and so he was going to carry on even though it hurt.
Saint Rita's Tomb

After lunch we took a group photo with the Archbishop, and then he told us we had to visit a neighboring town – Cascia – home of Saint Rita of Cascia. The scenery was beautiful along the way, with snow-capped mountains and rushing streams on all sides. We were given a guided tour of where Saint Rita lived, and I was quite impressed by how packed the place was. It seemed like people flocked there from all over Italy.
view of the mountains from Cascia

Yesterday Pope Francis gave a beautiful homily. His words are very pertinent for someone just about to become a priest. I leave them below if you’d like to read them.

In the meantime, keep me and my 22 companions in your prayers. There are 9 more who will be ordained deacons elsewhere, so we should be about 31 for the priestly ordination come December. And we all need all the help we can get!

God bless you abundantly,
Brother Kevin

If you follow Jesus as a cultural proposal, then you are using this road to get higher up, to have more power. And the history of the Church is full of this, starting with some emperors and then many rulers and many people, right? And even some - I will not say a lot, but some – priests and bishops, right? Some say that there are many ... but they are those who think that following Jesus is a career. That is not the spirit. You cannot remove the Cross from the path of Jesus, it is always there,"

"Think of Mother Teresa: what does the spirit of the world say of Mother Teresa? 'Ah, Blessed Teresa is a beautiful woman, she did a lot of good things for others'. The spirit of the world never says that Blessed Mother Teresa spent, every day, many hours, in adoration. Never! It reduces Christian activity to doing social good. As if Christian life was a gloss, a veneer of Christianity. The proclamation of Jesus is not a veneer: the proclamation of Jesus goes straight to the bones, heart, goes deep within and changes us. And the spirit of the world does not tolerate it, will not tolerate it, and therefore, there is persecution. "

"Following Jesus, is just that: going with Him out of love, behind Him: on the same journey, the same path. And the spirit of the world will not tolerate this and what will make us suffer, but suffering as Jesus did. Let us ask for this grace: to follow Jesus in the way that He has revealed to us and that He has taught us. This is beautiful, because he never leaves us alone. Never! He is always with us.”

Monday, May 27, 2013

lunch with a cardinal

Dear Family and Friends,

Today Cardinal Bertello came for lunch at my seminary. He’s president of Vatican City State and a member of Pope Francis’ special group of 8 cardinals.

At the end of lunch he asked us if we had any questions, and one popped into my head. I stuck my hand up, and asked “Cardinal, you’ve met Pope Francis. Is he the same in private as he is in public?”

Here’s more or less the Cardinal’s answer: I was with Pope Francis on Saturday. When you’re with him, you can perceive his goodness. Francis wants the truth. He’s very kind, but he knows what he wants. Pope John the 23rd wrote that “We have to be very kind with people, but we can’t let them trample on our feet.” I think Francis lives that. He has his program and he knows very clearly what he wants. He’s also very coherent. He lives what he demands of others. You can see it.

Another brother asked him about the conclave and he said: You know, God really guides his Church. That just became so clear to me. As soon as we started the meetings of the Cardinals before the conclave, a tremendous peace descended upon all of us. And this peace carried through the whole conclave. When the day came for choosing the next Pope, it was like the most natural thing in the world.

The last question was about Benedict. The cardinal said that it’s clear that Benedict is very old and his health is failing him, but Benedict’s attitude as he retired and now mainly prays is one of “I have finished the race” like Saint Paul talks about.

Wow! I was really amazed by the answer to the question about the conclave. I think there was that “tremendous peace” because the whole world – and hopefully many who read this – were praying and interceding for the Cardinals. We had them carpeted in prayers.

I also liked his reply to my question. It’s so good to get to know Francis a little more. His decisiveness is a great gift for a Pope to have.

Let’s thank God for our Holy Father and keep him blanketed in prayers!

God bless you,
Brother Kevin

Sunday, May 26, 2013

almost a deacon

Dear Family and Friends,

Sorry I haven’t written recently. My first exam – Pastoral Theology – was Wednesday, and it went miraculously well.

With all the studies it’s been harder to keep tabs on Pope Francis. Last Sunday he said mass for a packed crowd of 200,000, and the Sunday before that he made 802 new saints, the most ever in one ceremony. 800 of the saints were the martyrs of Otranto, in southern Italy, who gave their lives rather than deny their faith during a Turkish invasion. The other two saints were a Mexican and the first saint from Columbia. With all the Spanish speakers present, Francis broke down and spoke his native language again. Good for him! 802 saints is also a new world record for most saints ever.

If all goes well, I’ll be ordained a deacon on June 29th, the feast of Saints Peter and Paul. From now until then I will be preparing for final exams, taking care of last minute details, and going on an eight-day silent retreat in preparation for ordination. With studies over, I will be heading over to the US sometime between July and August to begin my assignment, first as a deacon, and later as a priest.

Looking in the window of the religious goods store where I got measured for my alb

I’d like to keep sending you cobblestones messages, but this time with a focus on becoming a deacon. It’s already pretty interesting. On Wednesday we had a class on what a deacon can and can’t do. We learned how to tie a “cincture”, the cord you wear around your waist. On Thursday I went over to “Barbiconi”, one of Rome’s myriad religious goods stores to be measured for my “alb”, the white garment you wear underneath the cincture. Tomorrow I’m going with my whole ordination class (about 30 guys) to Spoleto, near Assisi, to have lunch with Archbishop Renato Boccardo, who will be ordaining us deacons. I had said a special prayer a few weeks ago that we’d get to meet him before the ordination, and… God is good!

Last week my class went to visit Maria Goretti's house - it was beautiful!
If I don’t write, it means I’m studying theology (or playing soccer!). Please say a prayer for me and my fellow deacons-to-be as we approach this last month of preparation. It’s been 19 years, and everything seems to be converging on this one moment. I promise to keep you in my prayers.

God bless you,
Brother Kevin

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

a day at the North American College

Dear Family and Friends,
On Sunday my fellow seminarians and I went to the North American College for a day of fraternity and competition. It’s a tradition that goes back many years.
Before mass in the NAC Chapel
We started the day with mass together in the seminary chapel. When it came time for the entrance song, I opened my hymnal, and lo and behold, the ribbon was there on the right page. I thought “that’s got to be a fluke,” then I looked in a few more hymnals. Somebody had taken the time to put the ribbons in the right place in every single hymnal. These guys do details!
After the beautiful mass, complete with phenomenal singing by the NAC choir, we headed out to the sports fields for our 3 sport tournament: Ultimate Frisbee, Softball, and Basketball. As luck would have it, the rain started just as we kicked off the Frisbee. It was a grueling game, with each side taking the lead at different points, but the NAC ended up winning soundly 17-12. I did my best, but those guys sure know how to throw a Frisbee! On their jerseys they have a graphic of a priest diving for a catch – and that they knew how to do!

Consolation after our loss was the smorgasbord they cooked up. It’s always a BYOB event. (Bring your own brownies) The NAC guys come over to our seminary every 12th of December, we provide the food, and they provide the brownies. Every May, we go to their seminary, we bring the brownies, and they provide the food. And what food! I haven’t had a burger that big in a long time, not to mention the sausages and incredible toppings – it was a royal barbecue.
Softball - Brother Nathan scores
But the rain kept pouring. Softball started as the rest of us munched on our burgers. I got a chance to catch up with my grade-school friend Father Michael Houser, who lives in Rome. Our Softball team managed to beat the NAC 12-6, mainly on the strength of our captain’s incredible backwards-spin pitch. It was the first time since 1996 that we have managed to beat the NAC in Softball.
NAC Commentators
The NAC provided music and a running commentary on all the events, which kept things lively.
More Basketball
Just as Softball was finishing, the rain let up. Two NAC squeegee guys ran out and dried off the basketball court, and the game began. The NAC pulled ahead at the beginning, but our guys came back to tie it with 10 seconds left. In the end, they made a decisive free throw, and the NAC took the day with a 43-42 victory.
Basketball - we're in red
So overall that’s NAC 2, us 1. There’s always another day.
But more than the games and the great food, it was a blessing just to be able to spend this day with my brother seminarians from across America. We may have what look like different missions, but we’re certainly all united in our love for God and his Church, and all we want to do is serve God’s people and bring them to Him. Getting to know so many fine young men studying to be priests gives me a lot of hope for the future of our country.
Today is the feast of Our Lady of Luj├ín, patroness of Argentina. Here at my seminary it’s a feastday (better food, more celebration) in honor of our Argentinian seminarians, and I’d be willing to bet that Pope Francis is celebrating too. Feel free to join him – go ahead and have that cupcake!
God bless you all,
Brother Kevin

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Pope Francis on Mother's Day

Dear Family and Friends,

Yesterday was Mother’s Day here in Italy.

Pope Francis visited the Marian Basilica of Saint Mary Major’s for the rosary, and afterwards he gave a beautiful reflection on Mary and Mothers and how they help us to do three things: grow, face life and be free. It’s worth the read! Here’s the central part:

A mother helps her children to grow and wants them to grow well; for this she educates them not to fall into laziness – which derives from a certain well-being – not to settle into a comfortable life that contents itself only with having things. The mother cares for the children so that they grow more, they grow strong, able to take responsibility, to commit themselves in life, to pursue grand ideals. In the Gospel St. Luke tells us that, in the family of Nazareth, Jesus “grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him” (Luke 2:40). Our Lady does the same thing in us, she helps us to grow as human beings and in the faith, to be strong and not to give in to the temptation to be human and Christian in a superficial way, but to live with responsibility, to aim ever higher.

A mother also thinks of her children’s health when she educates them to face the problem of life. She does not educate them, she does not care for their health by allowing them to avoid problems, as life were a highway without obstacles. The mother helps her children to look upon life’s problems with realism and to not get lost in them, but to face them with courage, not to be weak, and to know how to overcome them with a sane balance that a mother “senses” between areas of safety and those of risk. And a mother knows how to do this! She does not always let her child take the easy, safe way because in this way the child cannot grow, but neither does she leave the child on the road of risk since it is dangerous. A mother knows how to balance things. A life without challenges does not exist, and a boy or girl who does not know how to deal with them is a boy or girl without a spine! Let us recall the parable of the good Samaritan. Jesus does not recommend the conduct of the priest or the Levite, who avoid helping the man who ran into robbers. He points to the Samaritan, who saw the man’s situation and deals with it in a concrete way and takes risks. Mary experienced many difficult moments in her life, from the birth of Jesus when there was “no room for them in the inn” (Luke 2:7), to Calvary (cf. 19:25). And like a good mother she is close to us so that we never lose courage in facing the adversity of life, in facing our weakness, our sins: she gives us strength, she indicates the path of her Son. From the cross Jesus says to Mary, referring to John: “Woman behold your son!” (Cf. John 19:26-27). That disciple represents all of us: the Lord entrusts us to the Mother’s hands, full of love and tenderness, so that we feel her support in dealing with and overcoming the problems along our human and Christian journey. Do not be afraid of difficulties, face them with the help of the mother.

A final aspect: a good mother does not only accompany her children as they grow, not avoiding the problems, the challenges of life; a good mother also helps us to make definitive decisions freely. This is not easy but a mother knows how to do it. But what is freedom? It is certainly not doing whatever you want, letting yourself be dominated by your passions, passing from one experience to the next without discernment, following the fashions of the time; freedom does not mean, so to speak, throwing everything you do not like out the window. No, that is not freedom! Freedom is given to us so that we know how to make good choices in life! Mary, like a good mother, teaches us to be, like her, capable of making definitive decisions, definitive decisions in this moment in which their reigns, so to say, the philosophy of the provisional. It is so difficult to commit oneself definitively in life. And she helps us to make definitive decisions with that complete freedom with which she answered “yes” to God’s plan for her life (cf. Luke 1:38).

Dear brothers and sisters, how hard it is in our time to make definitive decisions. The provisional seduces us. We are the victims of a tendency that drives us toward the temporary… as if we wished to remain adolescents. It is rather fashionable now to remain an adolescent, and to stay this way all one’s life! Let us not be afraid of definitive commitments, of commitments that involve and interest our whole life! In this way life will be fruitful! And this is freedom: to have the courage to make these decisions with greatness.

A Happy Italian Mother’s Day to all you mothers out there!

God bless you,
Brother Kevin

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Benedict is back at the Vatican

Pope Francis greets Benedict on his return to the Vatican Thursday

Dear Family and Friends,

At about 4:55pm today, Benedict returned to the Vatican for the first time since the election of Pope Francis. It was a beautiful day for his return. He is living now at the former Mater Ecclesiae Convent just behind the dome of Saint Peter’s. His transfer to the Vatican was kept very quiet – I have a friend who was there behind Saint Peter’s when Benedict arrived, and he said that everything suddenly shut down, Benedict zipped through in his car, and that was that.

beautiful weather today for Benedict's return - the view from my seminary
Benedict is 86, and he said “I wish to also devotedly serve the Holy Church of God in the future through a life dedicated to prayer.” I’d be willing to bet that’s just what he’ll do, and thus we won’t be seeing much of him.

Benedict's new house
Here are a few pictures of the building where he’s living now. It’s in the heart of the Vatican Gardens, with a  beautiful view of Saint Peter’s Basilica. I got lost in the gardens at night back in December, and happened to walk right by it, and I’d say it’s definitely one of the most quiet parts of Vatican City. Benedict loved to stroll and pray there as Pope, and now he gets his wish to live there as Pope Emeritus.

Benedict's new house from the front
Benedict's new house under renovation
Here’s a little diagram of Vatican City that explains things a bit. Next time you’re in Rome, your best chance to see Benedict will be by trekking to the top of the dome of Saint Peter’s Basilica and looking from there.

Vatican City diagram with Benedict's new house
Let’s say a prayer for Benedict today. His age is certainly weighing on him. From what I hear, he is partially blind in one eye. But he’s hanging in there, offering his life now for the Church and the world. What a great example! I sure hope he stays with us many more a year.

God bless you!
Brother Kevin