Thursday, December 23, 2010


There is a precious stillness that we are rarely able to enjoy. It is there behind all the commercials, the shopping, the travel and everything else that is representative of Christmastime. That precious stillness is there waiting to be savored. It won't call out in catchy tones, it won't have flashy lights and signs or seem special at all and yet it is exactly the absence of those things that makes it special. It is there for the enjoyment and all we have to do is pause a moment and we can have more than we need.

I don't know what the weather will be like on Christmas Day wherever you are. For most of us it won't be snow, but that's okay. The world doesn't need a quiet, white blanket to be beautiful. It is more beautiful than most of us ever take the time to notice and it will be especially so this Saturday the 25th.

I honor Christmas day as the day Christ was born and believe that He is the source of the beauty and precious stillness that I am talking about but even if you are wary of over-theologizing it and would prefer it to be just a day of joy and familial charity, that's fine. Still, take time to pause, look around and appreciate the world we have. I promise you that it's much better than we've been daily led to believe.

Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Prayer not Protest

In Louisville, KY there is a beautiful Cathedral, The Cathedral of the Assumption. A few blocks away there is an abortion clinic. This past Saturday morning I went with some other seminarians to pray inside of the former and outside the latter.

Mass started at 7:00am. After mass Adoration began in the main sanctuary. Some stayed to adore while the rest of us, approximately 40-50 people, rosaries in hand, processed from the Cathedral to a spot on the sidewalk across the street from the abortion clinic. On the way we prayed the Joyful Mysteries. While across from the clinic we prayed the Sorrowful Mysteries. Finishing those we processed back praying the Glorious Mysteries. Reentering the Cathedral we briefly rejoined Adoration and then concluded with Benediction.

While we were across the street from the clinic I had my eyes closed most of the time to avoid distraction and actually focus on prayer instead of the specific goings-on in front of the clinic. In the brief look that I did take I noticed several things.

What there was: People on the opposite side of the street, on the sidewalk in front of the clinic. Some of them were escorts hired by the clinic to see people inside. They were standing mostly in front of the door area. Along the length of the building were others, some standing, some kneeling, all praying.

What there was not: Arguments or vitriol toward or from either party, signs with graphic images or hateful slogans (The only imagery at all was a crucifix and a framed picture of Mary) or harassment of those entering.

The point: Yes there are some hypocritical people that show their disapproval of abortion in inappropriate ways but that is a very small minority. Don't be convinced that there are hateful anti-choice mobs in front of clinics. There aren't.

We've all seen that one individual in a group that gives a bad name to everyone else. It can happen to any group. The Pro-Life movement is no exception. So again, do not be convinced by one news report or one YouTube video that they're all just out to control women and make them feel bad. It simply isn't the case.

The one and only point is to protect life, both the life of the child in the womb and the life of the mother.

And the best way to accomplish that is prayer, to bring God into a situation trusting that He can take care of things better than we can. Therefore, we began with Mass, the highest prayer of the Church, and, strengthened by the presence of the Lord in the Eucharist went out, asking the intercession of the Mary, the example of all mothers, that she be with these mothers and their children.

"Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." - Romans 12:21

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Seminary Summary

Thanksgiving break starts in 11 days. Returning from that we only have 2 weeks of class before Christmas. The fact that it has taken me until now to write about what it's like here at St. Meinrad's School of Theology should be noted as part of the description itself.

I got here on the 26 of August, the Thursday before class started. I had visited back in March so I knew the grounds and the buildings a little bit. I wasn't showing up totally in the dark but pretty close. As the following weeks would illustrate, there is a lot to know about around here, way more than I could have absorbed in my weekend visit.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Hat

Sometime the significance of things strikes suddenly and unexpectedly and in a way you wouldn't quite have guessed. This evening I was doing laundry and running a load of jackets that required a gentle cycle. Since it had been maybe a year since I washed my hat and the gentle cycle would be not too much more trying than the usual hand washing I threw it with the jackets.

When I pulled it out after the wash cycle I was so struck by its different appearance that I exclaimed my surprise to the empty laundry room. Like I said, usually it's hand washed when it seems to be getting dingy but it has never come out this clean! Okay, so I have an unusually clean hat. Why is this worth the writing?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Fr. Larkin - "I am the luckiest man in the world to be a Catholic priest."

At our seminarian retreat in August at the Oklahoma City Pastoral Center we had the chance to hear from on Fr. Kirk Larkin. He has been recently diagnosed with a large inoperable brain tumor. He shared his story with us including the ways his life has changed since finding out he has cancer.

When he was younger he was a faithful Catholic but didn't think about the priesthood really. One day his pastor, Fr. Petusky had those at mass turn in pieces of paper with the names of people they thought would make good priests. Kirk of course put did this with everyone else and didn't think anything more of it.

Some time later Fr. Petusky asked to meet with him and told Kirk that he was the person that had been most suggested by the parishioners. This of course came as a surprise. Fr. Petusky said that he would support Kirk if he wanted to do it but wasn't going to force him.

For 5 years Kirk continued with his life through his late 20s but none of his relationships really seemed to work out. They didn't end badly, there was just that something that never seemed right. Finally he came back to Fr. Petusky and agreed to try it for one year. He did so well he skipped 2 years of Conception and went to 4 years of theology and was ordained.

After 6 years of priesthood he started to notice that he was very suddenly having trouble remembering things he had long ago memorized and even reading was difficult. Medical tests revealed a large inoperable brain tumor.

Now, I've not met many people with cancer, especially the kind as severe as Fr. Kirk Larkin's but I can still say that he is very unique among this group. He is so optimistic and joyful. His every word, through no intentional effort of his own, makes you feel that pure kind of happiness like when you see a newborn baby or a couple at their wedding. He truly speaks with the peace of Christ.

Where some people might despair and loose hope he has found all the hope in the world because he knows that God is with him. He said, after reflecting on his vocation, "I am the luckiest man in the world to be a Catholic priest." He understands the awesome gift and responsibility he has received to be able to be the hands and feet of Christ, to act 'in the person of Christ' as he delivers the sacraments to his people. To do the work of Christ is to truly know Him.

He said later, "I am really not afraid of death." He is looking forward to the everlasting life with the Father, for the place prepared for him (John 14:2) and he understands truly the nature of prayer and the intercession of the saints when he says, "I can do infinitely more in heaven than I can do here."

The other priests there had some words to and about Fr. Larkin. Fr. Scott said, "I imagine him holding a cup with me at the altar, connected through the Eucharist."

And Fr. Novak, commenting on the likely brief time of Kirk's priesthood relative to how well he has fulfilled his vocation said, "It doesn't matter how long we serve, but that we serve."

I only met him briefly but in that short time he made a huge impression on me and though I of course hope to not get brain cancer I now have a great example of how to live in the face of supreme challenge, with supreme trust in the promises of Christ. Thank you Fr. Larkin!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Stem Cells (and their Funding)

I have in the past written a paper on Stem Cells so I am familiar with the topic. The technology has surely advanced in the time period since but the moral implications of the branches of research has not. I am writing this now because of the recent discussion of stem cells related to the cessation of funding for embryonic stem cell research. This in not intended to be a technical report. Please forgive the lack of specific data cited. This argument is not predicated on technical facts only moral facts.

In short, as stem cell is a type of human cell that can differentiate into any necessary kind of cell. The benefit of this is that parts of the body that are not self-repairing can be repaired. Example: If you cut your skin it heals because it is self-repairing. If you cut you spinal cord it doesn't because it isn't self-healing; you're just paralyzed. (The reasons why different parts of our body do and don't heal, while interesting, isn't relevant to this discussion.) However, you could inject stem cells in the cut region of the spinal cord and those stem cell would turn into spinal cord cells and heal the cut.

As should be obvious, stem cells look like a massively important medical implement and as they can be acquired morally they are, however not all sources or Stem Cells are morally permissible.

Stem Cells come in two basic varieties, embryonic and non-embryonic. Both varieties, after acquisition are grown and kept in the same manner as any other kind of human tissue can be.

Embryonic stem cells are harvested from within a fertilized human embryo (egg and sperm). Because the cells of an embryo are differentiating into all the different kinds of cells necessary for a human body it is full of stem cells. In this process the embryo is destroyed.

The other kind are non-embryonic which are harvested from regions within living humans or from places like umbilical cord blood. Harvesting of this kind of cells leaves no damage to the donor.

The moral difference is this: At conception, a life begins. Therefore the destruction of an embryo to harvest its Stem Cells is a destruction of a human life. Non-embryonic cells require no such destruction of life.

Analogously, embryonic stem cell harvesting would be like taking a person, against their will and removing their internal organs to be used elsewhere leaving the 'donor' dead.


Some might argue that it embryonic stem cells should be pursued regardless because of their large benefits but they are committing a logical fallacy in their argument. They say that stem cells give someone suffering from some ailment a better life, which is true, but what they neglect is that the better life for one person comes at cost of total destruction for another life. They are quite literally arguing that 1 < style="font-style: italic;"> grow up? Being used to cure cancer or something is equally important."

Response: Who's to say that embryo's purpose in life is to be used for stem cells? Another human being is hardly at liberty to divine the purpose of a fellow human. An argument that the purpose of certain embryos is to be destroyed for research is analogous to an argument that certain Africans existed for the purpose of being slaves. In both cases a human being is destroyed against their will for the good of another. (I considered putting good from the previous sentence in quotes to show that I was using good ironically, but I decided against that. The benefits of embryonic stem cells are good just as the produce of slaves was good. The problem in both cases though is that the bad is worse that the good is good)

Maybe that embryo's purpose in life is to grow up and cure cancer as a doctor.

There's no way we can make proclamations about what a human being exists for and so we must give all humans the chance to be what they will be.


As for the funding part; if, as argued above, embryonic stem cell research constitutes a destruction of a human life then that would mean the government is funding destruction of human life, something most people would rather their tax money not support.

To repeat an important point: Only embryonic stem cell research is morally impermissible. There is nothing morally wrong with non-embryonic stem cell research.

*to those that get emails about this blog, the repost is b/c of fixing a typo. Apparently there's no way to edit a post without reposting it...If there is, let me know.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Christian Community Experienced

At the end of Totus Tuus I made a list of things to do and people to see before I headed off to school in Indiana. One thing on that list was the Matt Maher concert in Jenks on the Riverwalk. . I knew that many of my teammates from the summer would be there as well as many others from Tulsa. The ‘many others’ are friends I have come to know through various retreats and events in the Tulsa Diocese that I’ve been fortunate enough to attend because of Stillwater’s close proximity to the city and inclusion in the Diocese. [This led to the irony that until I went to the ‘Seminarian Days’ retreat for my own diocese I knew more about the Tulsa diocese for which I am not a seminarian.]

I met with Totus Tuus people for ice cream before the show and we reminisced about the summer. As start time for the concert got closer we strolled down to the Amphitheatre and found seats. As the general area began to fill I would look around occasionally and see someone new. First it was two other Totus Tuus girls, then some TEC people and even some priests.

The show starts and most people are standing. I'm sitting, but not out of disinterest. I sit down where I can't see just so that it's only the music I experience, at least until I get a good feel for it. I haven't listened to praise and worship music recently but I know Matt Maher is a good musician so I wanted to make sure and appreciate the music without getting distracted by what the band members looked like or how they had the sound equipment set up.

To my right was Fr. Kerry Wakulich, a recently ordained priest of the Diocese of Tulsa. In short, this guy is a good way. He has so much energy and is just all over the place, literally. During one of the livelier parts of the concert he was standing on the seat behind me singing jubilantly, jumping around and cheering. He's one of those people that it's not possible to be in a bad mood around. His joy is too contagious. He’s doing all this of course in his black clerics and traditional roman collar. An unusual (but awesome) sight for sure.

To my left is the lovely Miss Kelly the Greater (a nickname from the summer. I'm Kelly the Lesser); less jumping that Fr. Kerry, but just as much joy. I've rarely seen someone get so much out of Christian music. Yes a lot of people have experiences of God when they listen to praise and worship and yes I'm biased because of our friendship but with her I know her joy isn't just because of the musical experience but rather what is contained in the music, the Truth of God.

In between these two was a good place for me. I tend to fancy myself quite stoic. I like to pretend I'm a philosopher that needs to stay quiet to let the ideas develop. Sometimes this is true; most times it isn't. I need the reminder that sometimes I just need to relax and have fun. I’m not too good to clap and sing along. As the first few songs were played those around me were helped me to get into the spirit (Emotional and third member of the Trinity) and eventually I stood up.

Back before the concert, Kelly the Greater was talking about going to school at St. Gregory's University where she's majoring in Secondary English education with a minor in Catholic Theology. Fr. Brian O'Brien, the President of Bishop Kelly Catholic High school in Tulsa, hears this and leans over, business card in hand with directions to call him when she's about to graduate! It wasn’t a promise of a job but it was pretty close. I could tell he recognized in her the passion that we really need in our Catholic teachers, people that have a desire to educate kids especially in the faith, that aren’t just teachers because that seemed like a major they could handle. Even if it’s not there I know she’ll be a great teacher somewhere. This summer when we worked together I wasn’t a student but I learned a lot from her anyways, about what it means to have passion for the faith and how to incorporate that into daily life. The kind of teacher that teaches just by the way they live life, that's what we need!

After the concert the Catholics that had spotted each other before and during the show congregated over in an area of the amphitheatre. Someone suggested we do night prayer (part of Liturgy of the Hours) and so those that had them went and got their breviaries (prayer books); others pulled it up on iPhones. There were about 25 people in a circle for prayer. Many I knew personally but not all. Here that didn't matter. I got to be united with all of them in the common prayer of the Church. (Liturgy of the Hours is prayed by nearly all clergy and religious and many lay people) As Catholic Christians we can be united with each other even though we attend different churches in Oklahoma and even with fellow Catholics all over the world. That’s just incredible!

After we finished night prayer the line to meet Matt Maher had finally gone down and his crew was packing up the equipment. He probably thought he was done until 20 or more of us went over to the autograph area. He very easily could’ve said, “No, I’m sorry. I’m done for today.” But he didn’t do that. I could tell he was tired from the show but he never complained a word and did his best to smile and be grateful for the compliments. Someone lesser might’ve thought himself big for having so many people want to talk to him or might’ve thought he was too good to see a few more people but Matt stayed humble the whole time. It definitely showed me that he is a Christian first and a musician second.

After all this most people headed back home but a few of us stayed including me and two of my Totus Tuus teammates. We found some tables along the Riverwalk a little down from where the concert had been and sat and talked about life and religion but intentionally avoided trivial things. We in a really practical sense; what was wrong with the world but also what we as young Catholics could actually do about it.

As my two teammates were talking I overheard bits and pieces of the conversation of some guys a couple tables away. Words like “denomination”, “faith” and “belief” were drifting my way. I debated with myself for a couple minutes until my friends, realizing what I wanted to do, gave me ‘permission’ to go over and talk to these guys. I went over with the promise to myself that I would not try to analyze and fix whatever they were discussing. They were really nice guys and let me join their talk. They were sharing with each other the struggles they had been through in life and how their particular faith had helped them through and the things they had discovered along the way. One guy even went and got his guitar and played a song he had written about his challenges. He was actually a pretty good songwriter. After the second song I excused myself back to my friends happy to have met those guys and more well-rounded for the experience.

Soon my teammates and I were ready to head out. When we got out into the parking lot and prepared to part ways I confessed that I hadn’t really planned a place to stay that night in Tulsa and had sort-of forgotten to ask around earlier in the day. David offered me to stay at his place, an offer I was very grateful for especially on such short notice. I followed him back to his place and slept quite well on the soft new carpet. It was a good end to a great day.

Reflecting back I realized how the whole evening had been a huge illustration of the awesomeness the Christian community. All the people I saw that I knew reminded me how blessed I am by those around me. The charity of Fr. Brian to Kelly the Greater, Matt Maher staying to meet more fans after he thought he was done, those guys to me letting me join their conversation and David giving me a place to stay was inspiring.The joy of those around me at the show reminded me that it’s not all about saying wise things or writing well. Most of all though, the common prayer and praise of God through music demonstrated that the Christian community is not only possible but very beautiful and welcoming just as Christ intended.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Opportunity Perfected

I arrived at St. Meinrad's Seminary this afternoon. After everything was up to my room I spent some time starting to unpack. At 5pm was mass. I was grateful for this calming, centering sacrament after 8 1/2 hours on the road. After mass was dinner and then socialization with the other seminarians and the monks of St. Meinrad's Archabbey. Back in my room after some cookies and coffee I thought about reading or writing but neither of those felt right. Outside was calling me.

I put on chacos and my hat and headed out of the building. I was greeted at the door with something I've missed lately. Near silence, a bright moon, cool damp air and the faintest of breezes. In front of me just across a broad sidewalk were the stairs that lead down to the left of the library toward the cemetery and the gym. I almost went this way but instead decided to turn and stroll to the right as I had never been that way before.

There are few lights around campus but the brilliance of the moon made any that there were superfluous. I was able to walk without problem along the sidewalk, admire the large Celtic cross and even read its Latin inscription as if it were daylight. I turned and went past the library, my way lit by moonlight across the lawn, out to the road along the tree line taking moments to stop and look back at the monastery whose outline was clearly visible due to the black shape it cast in contrast to the light of the moon. The lights in the windows gave its looming form a gentle glow that softened the imposing nature such a large building on a hilltop might normally have.

Coming around toward the pond I could clearly see the trees in the semi-distance across the pond, and even better could see the reflection of the entire hillside in the water. Even the stars were shining back at me from the calm surface. I found a sloping seat under a willow tree where the roots and trunk converged and admired the view. The grassy bank curving gently away from me and the tendrils of willow branches hanging down from above framed perfectly the reflected hillside, trees and stars.

After some time, thinking of my morning obligations, I drew myself up from this new favorite place but not without first promising to myself that I would remember to come back here, to sit beneath the tree, beside the pond, and under the stars. I returned to my room more at peace than I've been in a while, the wonder of nature having been rekindled after a busyness induced absence. I can really say that this night out in the cool stillness was an opportunity quite perfected.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

A Blessed Opportunity

I was talking to my Grandpa the other night. He began by saying that he got to do something that 99.9% of Catholics never get to do. I was of course intrigued since as far as I know he spends every day running his grain drill company and or taking my grandma to the casino (she regularly does quite well). It turns out that the rare thing he got to do was to be present at the sealing of the documents to be sent to Rome as part of the canonization process for Fr. Stanley Rother, a priest from Oklahoma.

For those unfamiliar, canonization is the process in which the Church declares someone a Saint based on the obvious merits of their life and the occurrence of several miracles attributed to the intercession of that person. (This process has no effect on that person's presence in heaven but merely confirms for the public that said person is there.) Significant effort is made to ensure that no mistakes are made. Merely collecting and compiling the documentation has taken years. Many more years will be taken in the review process once the information arrives in Rome.

I liked Fr. Rother before because of the Oklahoma connection and had a lot of admiration for his story. Briefly, he served in a mission parish in Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala, was recalled to Oklahoma when the country became violent but soon he asked to return, saying, "My people need me, I can't stay away from them any longer." He returned and several months later was murdered in his rectory. Despite difficulties learning latin in seminary, in his time in Guatemala he mastered the local Tzutuhil language translated the mass and large parts of the Bible for his people.

Fr. Rother exemplified the missionary spirit and love for his people just like the shepherd of God's people he was called to be. Now, I don't think God is calling me to be a foreign missionary but I'm pretty sure he wouldn't mind if I was willing to do whatever was necessary for God's people like Fr. Rother was.

Since Christianity is rather new to North America, we have much fewer canonized Saints that Europe. The canonization of Fr. Rother would be especially significant because it would add to the small group of North American Saints but he would also be the first Oklahoma Saint. In my case though it's even more significant. As my grandpa elaborated, he grew up with Stanley Rother. In grade school in Okarche they had class together and would ride horses and bikes after school. The previously unknown connection to my grandpa has increased my hope that one day I'll get to see the canonization of an Oklahoma Saint!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Totus Tuus, Summer 2010, the Rest until the End

The first 10 days of training were very intense. See the last post. The schedule took some getting used to but time in college had prepared me for dealing with lack of sleep. [Later I would discover what really made it possible...] We finished training in Wichita and came back down to Stillwater where all four teams would be for our first week.

Stillwater is not big enough for four Totus Tuus teams. I don't mean that in some kind of 'we're awesome so we need an awesome town' kind of way but in that there was an amount of children that would have been appropriate for one team to handle. Had we all known what we were doing it would have been quite ridiculous for us to have all been there at once however, at this point there was only 4 experienced returners among the 16 of us. The 12 inexperienced people needed this week to be shown what to do and then slowly learn by doing. It was frustrating to have to watch while the experienced people did things but I knew it was good for me and that I would have my time to teach soon enough.

The slow start teaching also coincided with a slow moving away from comfortable surroundings. Knowing the pastors and atmosphere of the town during my first week after training made acclimation that much easier. The next week was at St. Benedict's Parish in Broken Arrow, OK. There were 160+ 1st-8th graders and twelve teachers. This was a good ratio because it meant each teacher had a usefully sized class that they taught by themselves. However, because the morning and evening programs still only took 2 teachers to run and there were 12 of us there was lot's of support for planning program.

Our first week that felt real was in Grove, OK at the Parish of St. Elizabeth. My team of four was finally on our own. Every teacher taught every period on their own and had several other jobs too. The jobs weren't necessarily hard but just took more time. Later in the summer the after we had become much more familiar everything it was easier to teach 4 classes and do music prep and plan a skit every day but this first real week it was definitely a challenge sometimes. (Especially because I was teaching 1st/2nd grade this week, something at which I'm not too good. See "Respect to the Teachers" post.)

Our fourth week was in Ponca City, OK. This was one of the best weeks of the summer in terms of team dynamic. We had just successfully finished our first week alone and were finally fully comfortable with each other and with our particular styles if teaching and doing things. At this point things just sort of seem to happen day to day. Not that we were on autopilot. In fact, it was quite the opposite. Because we had finally refined the process we could concentrate more on ministry to the kids. Once you learn how to confidently ride a bike you can really get somewhere.

The week of 4th of July we had off to go home and see family. It was good to see people and change pace a bit however I made too much of a shift. For the last 5 weeks I had had a solid amount of daily prayer but I got lax on it and just went back to only a rosary each day. A rosary each day is all well and good, but when you're used to 3 sessions of Liturgy of the Hours, Chaplet of Divine Mercy, 15 minuted of silent reflection daily mass and Rosary every day you definitely feel a difference. I was glad to meet back in Tulsa and have my team mates hold me accountable for the prayer I knew I needed to be doing.

After break we headed out from Tulsa to Atchison, KS to the parish of St. Benedict's right next to Benedictine University. The parish church is the old abbey church of the monks at the monastery of which the school is a part. The kids this week were really smart because many of them are home schooled by parents who teach at the college. It really challenged us to be better in our teaching.

From there we went to Norman, OK to the parish of St. Joseph's. Beautiful adoration chapel!

Our last parish for the summer was The Church of the Madalene in Tulsa. You might think we would be worn out by this time but that surprisingly was the case. The power of prayer is amazing. (See comments in Allright! Okay! post)

When the last week was finished, after we cleaned up from the water fight and pulled out of the parking lot I would've been fine had we been headed to another parish even after 8 weeks of the program but this time we weren't heading to a new parish. We were headed to the TU Newman center and then over to the parent's house of one of my teammates for an end of summer retreat/debriefing. It was good for us to be all back together, all 16 of us. We shared stories and laughed and decompressed from such an intense experience. We took time to share specifically with our teammates what they meant to us and how the summer went, to say the things we might not have had time for during the program itself. Everyone made sure they had addresses and phone numbers before the final mass on the 31st. After mass we gave last hugs and goodbyes and saw people off on their way home.

The mass, as the source and summit of our faith was a perfect sending off from a summer of teaching the faith. It was a good reminder that we will always be united through our Catholic Faith, through the common reception of Jesus: Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. "I'll meet you in the Eucharist."


Monday, August 2, 2010

Totus Tuus, Summer 2010, the Beginning

There was a time when I didn't know what Totus Tuus was. I had a vague conception formed by stories and descriptions from friends but stories were all I knew. Stories do not make a knowledge granting experience but merely an idea. Driving to Tulsa for training, all I knew was that I was going to be in churches across the state teaching children this summer. Beyond that it was just an adventure on the horizon.

The initial part of training was held at the wonderful new Catholic Charities campus in north Tulsa. Walking in that May 27th morning to a room full of people I mostly didn't know put me in an uncommon state of mind; quiet passivity. I'm used to, through the last several semesters' experience at the St. John's Newman Center being a leader, being in-the-know and being known at Catholic events. Here I was none of those things. It felt weird and uncomfortable at first, but I knew it was good for me. I knew that once I figured out what was going on I'd feel normal again. This, I discovered, was easier said than done.

We jumped right into training, getting to know each other by the same methods we'd be using this summer to get to know the kids. We also learned from previous teachers about how to and how not to teach. This was all well and good but it wasn't quite sticking yet. I didn't have an overall view/understanding of the program. It felt like trying to pack without a suitcase; you can kind of get stuff ready but can't do anything with it.

Also, I was making a deliberate effort to get to know the people on my team of 16. We would later be broken up into team of 4 so I wanted to get to know everyone so that no matter who was on my team I would be ready. I knew some of the other team members previously with varying degrees of familiarity; Beth and Yasmin from Stillwater and Pamela and Matt from Tulsa. I tried really hard to avoid gravitating to those I already knew without totally ignoring them. Certain things made this easier: Wayne had hired a lot of extroverts who didn't mind talking and opening up. Also they're all really into their faith which tons of common ground to from which to work. (Hooray for the universality of Catholicism!)By the middle of the second day I was becoming more comfortable with the people, even the introverts. Trying to get to know them forced me to be very purposeful with my interactions. It was difficult but I knew it was good for me.

After a few days in Tulsa we went to Wichita for the more official training with teams from all over the country. Here we began to learn the curriculum and more about how the program worked. I was finally getting a feel for what the weeks might be like. Looking back now I realize that had I paid better attention I would've been even more well informed. Training was structured just like the weeks in the parish were going to be. Oh, well. I got it eventually.

When we got our 4-person teams mid-week, I have to admit that I was disappointed, although not surprised. The people on my team were not those that I had connected best with in training so far. I wrote in my journal that evening, "It feels like my friends have been taken away against my will; I have been left with no one in which to confide." At the same time however, I knew I was being ridiculous. I would still be seeing other members of the group of 16 that weren't on my immediate team. Yes these weren't the people I wanted to be with but I couldn't argue that they were probably the people I needed to be with. After all, the boss-man had spent 2 hours in Eucharistic Adoration picking our teams. Work done in the sight of God is probably done right.

That night I decided to trust that things would work out despite that way I felt at the moment. I decided to put myself aside, my wants and desires, to trust that God had put me with these people for a reason. Seen in the light of the next day and the following weeks things did work out more beautifully than I could have imagined. I love my team now and wouldn't trade them for any other people. (Team Ciao' Bella!) How this came about I'll get into during the next post lest this one become a novel.

It was a trying first 10 days from meeting everyone in Tulsa to finishing training in Wichita but I learned a lot about myself and was looking forward to our first week in a parish.

Sunday, July 25, 2010


…And thus begins the morning; every weekday morning since June 7th. We yell “ALLRIGHT” and the room full of running and yelling 1st through 8th graders responds almost by magic, “OKAY”. Many of them cease their chaos and at least pretend to pay attention while some require a second dose, flipped around, “OKAY” with the more cohesive this time, “ALLRIGHT”. Attention acquired, we then ask them to come sit down in a general front area to begin morning program.

I said that this is the beginning of the day, and in a certain sense that is true because it’s when we begin to interact with the kids. It has a certain inaugural feel to it that makes the previous 2 hours feel like preparations. Our day with the kids as part of the Totus Tuus program begins at 9:00am but to prepare for them we start by getting up at 7.

I usually get out of bed around 7am and jump in the shower. If our host family made breakfast I have some. The trick is to eat enough so that your host’s didn’t waste their time cooking/preparing it but not so much that you just want to go back to bed. Every morning is like grandma’s house. She feeds you well whether you need (or want) it or not. Hopefully we’re out the door early enough to get to the church on time. I always dislike this part of the morning because I like being social and I feel bad leaving in a hurry, but I know if we don’t get to the church by 7:40 it will throw off the whole day.

At 7:40 we start in the church with 15 minutes of quiet reflection/meditation. Some churches have perpetual Eucharistic Adoration. If they do, we go there. This is one of the best, if not the best part of the day. It’s quiet and peaceful so we can relax and open our hearts and minds but because we’re in a church we can open our hearts and minds in the presence of God. It’s like having a divine reset button. After reflection/mediation we start Morning Prayer from the
Liturgy of the Hours and finish with a Rosary. At the beginning of the summer, this seemed like a lot, but after 6 weeks I understand that starting the day with this much prayer is the only way it’s possible to keep up the required intensity and passion all summer.

After prayer, there’s a short break that we use to make final preparations for skit, review the schedule for the day and sort out any other things we won’t have time for before the kids are dismissed at 3pm. With the prayer done, skit refined and silly songs selected we’re ready for the “ALLRIGHT! – OKAY!”. That first attention getting syllable is like the first thump of the charge that launches fireworks from their platform on the ground. It isn’t the show itself but rather the stepping off point for a time of ordered release of enthusiasm. We sing a song, perform a skit, teach about a mystery of the Rosary, explain a covenant, maybe have another song and before we even have time to wonder whether the kids remember anything we said it’s time to dismiss for the first class.

One teacher per class, one or two grades per class. First period. Snack break. Music Prep to learn songs for mass. Second Period. Mass Prep to make sure they know what the holy water is for and which knee to genuflect with. Lunch. Recess. Saint Skit. Second Period. Bathroom Break. Second Period. Closing Program to review what they learned for the day and get them all wound up before sending them home with parents.

Every morning it seems a daunting task and every afternoon it seems a miracle. After the kids leave we have a small break to do evening prayer and prepare for the high school program later in the evening, but we have to be done with both of these before dinner at 5:30 or 6:00. Because it’s different every night, the high school program requires lots of preparation. It can be coordinating with the priest for various liturgical things like Adoration and reconciliation, blocking out windows in rooms for candlelit meditations or setting up hoses and trash cans to fill water balloons for use with the little kids.

Dinner is delicious, filling and nap inducing but we’ve got no time for that. There’s social interaction with the high schoolers to be done, talks to give and then the use of whatever was setup earlier. They do night prayer with us and then are sent home. When they’re gone we plan for the next day and hope to make it back to our host family’s house by 11pm ready to start again the next day. I try to spend some time socializing with our hosts and also do some reading or writing before going to bed so I usually don’t make it under the covers until close to 1am. Normally this schedule wouldn’t work every day for months but all the prayer we get (and mass too!) makes it all possible. God really does provide for those that ask of Him.

Now that you know what I’ve been doing, next time I’ll share what I learned through all this beyond what I said at the end of the last paragraph. I didn’t know what to expect out of this summer but I knew it would be good. I haven’t been disappointed.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! (part 2)

This is coming 15 days after the events in question, but I've been really busy teaching Totus Tuus the last 2 weeks. It's been a lot of fun and adventure. My next post will be on that.

Continuing from the last post...

When the Diamond Rio song finished Brother Terry Rials was introduced and came on stage/the altar. Nice guy. Well spoken. Well dressed.

He began the message with Proverbs 14:34 - "Righteousness exalts a nation but sin is a disgrace to any people." Pretty straightforward I think. Then he had us repeat it, mentioning something about his Lutheran friend at whose church they would repeat the verse. He called it something I had never heard, but I think it's equivalent to the Responsorial Psalm we do at mass. (Historically that would make sense, but I'll not go into evolution of protestant practices from their roots in Catholicism.)

From here he began formulating an argument for the place of religion in the history of the foundation of America. His thesis was that the founding fathers did what they did for the sake of religion, that the victory over the British and the founding of America was a victory of God over evil. While it is true that the founding fathers were very much deists and many of them certainly Christian, I don't think it is fair to say that there actions were motivated by religion. (at least not to the extent that Brother Terry seemed to indicate.)

I am no historian so I can't say for sure, but I feel things were a bit different. Yes the founding fathers 'had religion' and they generally believed that God was on their side, but they weren't taking up the cross of founding a new nation for the sake of the cross, but rather for the sake of the new nation.

In the course of making this point, he said some good things and some interesting things. Here are some:

"Our history books say that puritans came to the new world. Puritans didn't come! Why would they?! Puritans purify, so why would they leave what it is they wanted to purify, the Church of England?" --Dear Brother Terry, wrong root word. Try the adjective 'purity' rather than the verb 'purify'. Puritans came to America to remove themselves from what they saw as impure, so that they themselves could remain pure.

"America is under judgment because of it's Godlessness."

At one point he was talking about the growing influence of Islam in Europe as an example of what happens when Christians don't practice their belief, when they don't stand up for what they believe is right. For comparison he cited the history of the moors in Spain and gave commendation to someone named Martin who apparently led an army against the invading moors and stopped them halfway through Spain. "You'll notice now that Spain is half Muslim and half (long pause) not Muslim. (longer pause) The other half is Catholic." He seemed to be weighing whether or not to admit that Catholics were part of his story, but I was glad he decided to go ahead and say it.

Thomas Jefferson got the idea of the legislative, judicial and executive branches of government from Isaiah 33: 22 not from anywhere else.

"It's a shame that we glorify sins." I agree, it is. As an example "TV shows that show a homosexual as a wonderful person." Now hold on... He didn't elaborate on this point but he didn't need to. He said without specifically saying, that being gay is wrong. In short, and excluding shades of gray exceptions that would be an entire other post to discuss, no. Being gay is not a sin. The misuse of God's gift of our human sexuality that homosexuality often leads to is the sinful part. Moving on.

On why America isn't seeming to be working out right, "We're doing something wrong! We need to repent." Sure.

"I'm not promoting removal of separation of church and state." He rather encouraged Christians to be active in the country, not to write God into the laws but to lead with a Christian conscience.

"Know your history! Vote!"

"If our relationship with God is right our nation will be right."

"It's gonna take more than the fish thing on the back of your car." True, all the crosses we wear, stickers on our cars and bible quotes at the end of our emails are all in vain if we don't live our lives as what we claim to be, as Christians.

Like I said before, not too bad. There were some 'interesting' things, but some pretty good things too. I would go with my grandpa again without any hesitation.

At the end of the service a girl got re-baptized because "she wanted to show us she was really changed."
1) Show us by your actions, by the way you live your life. The sacraments of the church are not for observation by the people in the pews. It's between the receiver and God, the people just happen to be present.
2) Being re-baptized doesn't make sense. Baptism (the first time) created an indelible mark on your soul, it permanently changes who you are in the eyes of God by washing away original sin. While getting 're-baptized' is a nice sentiment it is rooted in a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of Baptism. God's convenants don't 'wear off' as far as I remember... Don't take this as harsher than it is, but it seems like a religious group that believes in absolutes like once-saved-always-saved would be happy with once-baptized-always-baptized.*

*Obviously my understanding of the theology of re-baptism is limited. If anyone has spare time, could you fill me in. I am obviously skeptical but legitimately interested. Thanks

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! (part 1)

Several months ago I was supposed to go to church with my grandpa. However, on the say we were supposed to go, God gave us a foot of snow. Talking with him last week I remembered that I still owed him a church visit so we decided on the next Sunday I was in town, which in this case happened to be the 4th of July.

I went to 8am mass at St. Monica's in Edmond (can't be missing out on the Eucharist) and then headed down to Crestview Baptist Church at SE74th and Hiawassee rd for the 10:15am service. I met my grandpa in the entry area and was promptly introduced to many of his friends who I do not doubt have heard a lot about me from him. "Glad to finally meet you." was heard several times. He showed me into where he and Eva Nell, my step-grandma (what an awkward sounding term...) were sitting. They had saved their seats with a particular personal item that I realized immediately I had forgotten to bring in order to blend in. Without a bible in a carrying case, which I do own, everyone in their was sure to know I wasn't really protestant. Oh, well...

*Their meeting auditorium was the typical arrangement of of seats facing an elevated 'altar' from where the preacher preached and the choir sang. In the back wall behind the choir was a baptismal pool in which you could see the water behind a glass panel. The first time I was in a church with one of these I had no idea what it was until the preacher appeared in the window and dunked someone in the water. I just thought it was a stained glass window that was somehow still in progress. (I've obviously grown up very sheltered)

After some preliminary announcements we started in with prayer. Nothing caught my ear particularly until he got to the part about "Lord, turn the hearts of the Godless nation back to you." "That's a bit sweeping and general!" I thought to myself, followed immediately by "So, he either thinks he is Godless as well or that most everyone is Godless except those that agree with him." My indignation subsided however when I realized I was thinking it through probably way more than I ought. He just meant there's a lot of sinnin' going on! I can handle that. (although I still don't think he should've said it.)

Next came a pledge to the American flag, the Christian flag and the Bible each followed by an appropriate song to be elaborated on shortly. He prefaced these things by saying that they only do it once a year, but I wasn't sure if he meant the whole thing or just the American part. Maybe the pledge to the Christian flag and to the Bible every time. I forgot to ask. Either way, the pledge was followed by the National Anthem, both done while a member of the congregation held the American flag. Nothing unusual there. Next however, was the Christian flag. First of all, I didn't even know there was a 'Christian Flag' and it certainly never would have occurred to me to pledge to it. The Wikipedia page on the topic was quite helpful. Next, also new to me, was a pledge to the Bible followed by the B-I-B-L-E song.

Crestview Baptist takes its America seriously, so the pledges were followed by the standbys of patriotic songs: America the Beautiful, My Country 'Tis of Thee and the Battle Hymn of the Republic. I noticed that each song was completed through all verses, making sure to emphasize those last couple that actually mentioned God. I got the impression they regretted having to sing the first few to get to the explicitly Godly ones. The Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! part of the Battle Hymn was encouraged to be sung with special gusto to seemingly to emphasize the Glory of God tied with America.

Next was a video/slideshow set to a song by the country group Diamond Rio called "In God We Still Trust". The group had apparently difficulty getting the song on an album and on the radio because "the Devil was keeping it from the people". The song itself was pretty simple, basically listing where God shows up in American society, in the pledge and printed on money for example, and reaffirms that America does still trust in God just like it says next to the picture of Mr. Washington. The slideshow accompanying the song was the kind you get in email forwards, mostly stock photos of AMERICA stuff, your basic eagles, monuments, firefighters etc... The only real problem I had was that it made effort to equate flag burning with being anti-Christian. While America does have lots of Christians it is probably not true that someone burning and American flag is doing so to spite Christians.

After this follows the homily/message/preaching but this is already a long post so I'll stop here. Look for Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! (part 2) later today or tomorrow.

*As you I hope know, I am very Catholic. The things I point out here are mostly just thing I noticed. Of course I think Catholicism is better but for the most part, my view of Protestantism is not that their wrong but that their just missing things. For the most part they have good and holy intentions and so I try not to criticize too much. These are merely things I notice. Part 2, that includes the message/homily, will discuss the things I liked, which are more than you might expect.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Respect to the Teachers

I spent this past week teaching 1st and 2nd graders at St. Elizabeth's Catholic Church in Grove, OK. Every day this week after the morning pump-up with the whole group of 1-8th graders I would take my 1&2nd graders to the room down the hall, sit with them at the table built for them and attempt to teach them something about the faith.

Everyday I would try to cover the Luminous Mystery of the Rosary for that day of the week, something about prayer and something about the Our Father. The lessons were basically set for each day as well as materials like coloring sheets provided so I can't say that my class prep has too difficult. In fact, I think I was quite well taken care of in that respect.

My only real challenge, and it was a mighty one, was to get something across to these kids. After 5 days of trying I'm not sure I succeeded. What I did do though is develop a massive respect for teachers of young children. Five days about killed me. I can't imagine doing that for 30-40 years like some do. Tons of respect.

The thing that made it most difficult was the different maturity levels of the kids in the class. Some were clearly just out of kindergarten while some could done well in the 3/4th grade class. If I taught at a level that worked for some of the kids I would lose the others. Someone would ask a good question and while I responded to them the other kids would spontaneously start describing their puppy or where their family went for dinner last night or the circumstances of their grandmother's death last month, all with equal seriousness. (Deceased relatives and pets should go in the same run-on sentence. That's weird...)

It was frustrating , not because I couldn't really get anything taught but because they weren't doing it on purpose. If they were older kids that knew better but kept interrupting out of disrespect that would be one thing but they were legitimately sharing with me things they thought were important and had no concept that they were doing anything wrong. To a first grader, the colors of FruitLoops is as important as who was with Jesus at the Transfiguration.

I still think education is an easy major in college, but I guess that makes up for the rest of your life. Basically, if you're a teacher of young children, God bless you for doing that job so I don't have to. I don't have the intuition or the multi-tasking mind to be able to handle it for too long.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Little Lads and Lasses Love Learning least that's what I pray for every morning.

Since last time I've finished training, had an immersion week and am in the beginning of a 'normal' week, the second of 8 weeks of the program. The immersion week was the first one after training. All four teams were in Stillwater along with some people that had previously been Totus Tuus teachers. The 'returners' and previous staffers were the leaders that planned everything and basically held the hand of the new people through our first real Totus Tuus experience. Stillwater, even with serving 2 parishes is small enough to be handled by one, 4-person team. 16 people was overkill but it made the immersion process very low stress. We could observe and learn from example in stead of trial and error. By the end of the week we were teaching classes on our own.

Notes on teaching in Stillwater: It was weird to be in a place that feels so much like home but not really able to be 'home'. Obviously I wouldn't be going to the Lodge and I spent maybe 2 hours over at St. John's total for the whole week. (Normally I would exceed that several times over in any given normal day.) Also, I had to keep remembering that in parishes for the rest of the summer I won't know the priests/youth directors/parish customs etc as well as I do in Stillwater. I'll have to be more careful about asking before I don things or presuming things will work a certain way.

About the children: The style of the program is grades 1-8 in the morning and high school at night. I wasn't worried about teaching high school since they're old enough to mostly keep up with my style of explanation. It's the little kids that terrified me. I was really not looking forward to teaching a class of 1st and 2nd graders. That is totally out of my element. My general comfort at the idea of teaching increased with that group's age. I was wrong.

The 7/8th graders were obnoxious and generally hard to get things across to because they wouldn't stay focused unless you happened to hit upon a topic that were interested in that day. They weren't on the whole bad, but weren't as good as I hoped. 3/4th grade was a pleasant surprise. They were a bit hard to keep focused but sometimes they had some pretty good answers. 5/6th grade was awesome! Everyone loved these kids. A bunch of little theologians. They had trouble sitting still and quieting down if you let them get going, but they also had some of the most profound and deep answers to some pretty intense questions. They ruined my lesson a couple times by spouting out the 'thesis' of the lesson in the first 30 seconds of the class when I had planned on taking 20 minutes to work around to it. The total surprise was the 1st/2nd graders. I was worried that I wouldn't be able to keep their interest at all and would have to just resort to coloring to fill time. However, when I started talking about St. Francis while sitting in our little circle on the floor they all stopped talking and sat quiet and still and listened for 15 minutes. I hadn't even planned to talking that long, but since I had their attention I just kept going. It was great!

The high school program runs Sunday through Thursday night and grade school Monday through Friday daytime so after cleanup of Friday we were free until the before the Saturday evening mass at our next parish. I took my team to dinner at Joe's as none of them had ever been and we relaxed with some reading at a coffee shop later that night. Saturday morning I had breakfast with a friend at IHOP and then headed out for St. Benedict's in Broken Arrow, OK with my team after lunch.

At St. Benedict's there are only 3 teams instead of 4 and about 4 times as many kids. This is no time for figuring things out anymore. Each of us teaches 4 classes per day among other responsibilities like choosing kids to read and serve during mass, leading pump-up at the beginning of the day or managing lunch and recess. Sunday night I gave a 20 min talk to the High School kids on "What is Prayer" and today I taught 5th-8th grade classes various topics. Not too much adventure, but I'm still not quite as good as I need to be at managing a classroom by myself. I'm not worried though. They'll be plenty of time to improve my skills as the summer continues.

I get about 5 hours of sleep a night which works just fine for me. If it weren't for all the prayer it wouldn't work though. We start at 7:30am with morning prayer followed by a rosary, mass at noon, evening prayer followed by a chaplet of Divine Mercy. At the end of the high school program we close with night prayer. (morning prayer, evening prayer and night prayer as part of the Liturgy of the Hours) When you talk to God that many times a day I guess he tends to help you out a lot. I'm honestly surprised at what we get done in a day with how much little rest we get.

Speaking of rest, I still need to plan my lessons for tomorrow and get some rest before that alarm goes off at 6:30. There were some epic quotes from the children last week that I really want to share but I've already gone on too long tonight. Since I got the basics out of the way this time I'll give more interesting/funny details on my next post.

"Protect us Lord as we stay awake, watch over us as we sleep, that awake we may keep watch with Christ and asleep rest in his peace. Amen"

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Packing, Dining, Traveling, Training - The First Weeks of Summer

I returned from Italy, slept a bit and then proceeded to cram in as much socialization as I could while at the same time packing all my worldly posessions and getting ready for a summer of teaching Totus Tuus.

The socialization is was mostly successful at (as I usually am). I saw and spent at least some QT with almost everyone I wanted to. Obviously I would have liked to give more time to everyone. Those who I was least able to spend enough time with will be the first getting letters this summer.

All of my things did make it out of the Lodge before the lease expired, but there is an asterisk on that. Due to poor time management I wasb't able to contribute nearly as much as I ought to have to the cleanup of the house. Also, I conned Dave into taking a huge pile of stuff to good will for me. I owe you both a lot for that.

I skipped off for training for Totus Tuus on thursday morning the 27th. Totus Tuus is a Catholic catechetical program that travels to parishes around the state teaching Catholicism to kids grades 1st - 12th. I'll be doing this from now until the end of July with our only break being the week of the 4th of July. I'll basically be busy teaching kids, planning lessons, playing games, making announcements and bonding with the church communities from 7am til 11pm 6 days a week. This is definitely something outside of what i'm used to.

I've learned a lot about myself so far. Briefly(because I'm getting up in 4.5 hours): I'm really uncomfortable not being a leader. As someone who has never taught the program before I have to do lots of sitting and waiting for others to fill me in. It's not that I'm insulted by not being in charge, I'm just not used to it. For the last couple years I've gotten used to being 'in-the-know' on things and so it's really weird to be out of that position for so long (11 days so far). Again, I'm not jealous or insulted at my lack of responsibility, it's certainly appropriate that i'm not in charge, it's just weird that's all.

There's many other surprising things going on but I'll save those for another day. I still haven't quite refined my thought on them yet.

In other news, my mom is finally back from Italy! Welcome home. I'll see you in July!

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Duomo, Shround and Dinner - Italy, Day 8 to End

Due to lack of internet in Italy, lack of time in Stillwater and training in Tulsa I never finished telling you about the last few days in Italy. In the mean time other things to write about have come to mind, things I want to get written while they're still fresh in my mind. In light of that I'll cover days 8 to the End in a summary.

Leaving Assisi was sad. It was a beautiful place, and a place I feel we didn't get to fully experience. As we were waiting at the bus-stop at the bottom of the hill I realized I didn't have my camera in my pocket. Unfortunately there wasn't enough time to run back up to where we had been staying to look for it. If we missed the bus, we would miss our train to Milan. I decided to trust that the nuns we were staying with would get it back to me.

We took a nice train to Milan. I looked out the window shortly into the ride and saw the most perfect city on a lush hillside with a castle overlooking it. Tall trees filled in between the buildings. Quite beautiful. After this, I decided to sleep the rest of the way to avoid seeing anything that would spoil my good memory of the Italian countryside.

The Cathedral in Milan is ridiculous. St. Peter's is the largest church in Christendom and this is the most ornate in Christendom. I'm pretty sure the outside is actually a holographic projection because it seems impossible otherwise. (google images: Doumo Milan) Milan, despite being a fairly large city is much quieter and cleaner than Rome. Awesome. I was afraid of what a big city would feel like after being in Assisi.

The next day we visited the Shroud of Turin, the burial cloth of Jesus. Yes, there are theories refuting it's age, but also some pretty good reasons to believe it as well. I haven't the strength to worry about it. It was amazing to see and had it been toward the beginning of the trip it would've been more special, but honestly at this point I was nearly burned out on holy and awesome. There is unfortunately only so much a soul can absorb in a short time period.

In the afternoon we took a bus to to top of a nearby mountain to get a view of the Alps. Whoa... Simply whoa. Dave and I leaned against a wall that looked out over the valley to the mountains and marveled mused on life for a good 30 minutes. It was very humbling in the way nature often is. We had an adventure when the last bus run for the day failed to show up to take us off the mountain. We ended up getting rides down the mountain in the cars of strangers and then running to the train station to catch the last train of the day back to Milan (the shroud of Turin being in Turin) There's much more to this story, but you'll have to ask me in person. It's too long for right now.

One the last day we visited some smaller churches, my favorite being the one with the remains of St. Ambrose, the man whose preaching converted St. Augustine, which is you know anything about him is pretty impressive. The day ended with a 3 course meal at a fancy restaurant, the only real, high class meal we had the whole time. It was delicious. Thank you Fr. Stuart.

The travels from there back to Oklahoma were mostly uneventful. Back in Stillwater I began to joyful task of packing up and moving out of the Lodge. It was a good trip. I'll probably never see so many holy things as long as I live.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Hike to the Hermitage and Back to Baptism

Day 7

For this day in Assisi I was quite excited. Of course we were going to do plenty of walking today but it wasn't going to be just along city streets going from one church to another. Our walk on this day was up to the hermitage on the hills above Assisi where St. Francis and his followers would often go on retreat.

After breakfast and mass we headed of the hill out of town. We stopped first at the Cathedral of San Rufino that we had tried to visit yesterday but found it closed because we came too late in the day. This time there was mass going on. Not wanting to be wandering around inside the church during mass we decided to catch it on our way back down the hill.

Our last stop before actually getting out of town was at a grocery store to grab supplies for lunch. Dave and I got our traditional meat, bread, cheese and beer. Rations acquired we headed up the hill. Once out of Assisi, which we knew we were because we passed through a large stone archway, we tread upon a small gravel path beside the two lane road that ran up the mountain.

I had stopped right past the archway to change into my Chacos which let everyone else get ahead of me. This left me to hike alone which I quite enjoyed. Not that there's anything wrong with being around people, but there's something special about being by yourself on a walk. If you're not talking you take more time to notice the trees that give you shade and wind on your face. Despite being by a road I felt I was able to get a feel for why St. Francis enjoyed walking up here from Assisi.

We stopped of course at a scenic vista and took group pictures (rather, Heather forced us to take pictures) with the Italian countryside in the background. I pretended to fall over the railing. This was not appreciated by Heather.
At the gate of the hermitage we got out our lunches and had a picnic by the side of the road. (I'm going to miss doing that.) Past the gate was a shaded cobblestone path walled on the left with the mossy rock face of the hillside and on the right by a shoulder height stone wall. The hermitage itself, built after the time of St. Francis over the place where he and his followers would retreat to, is a small stone structure consisting of 5-6 rooms built into the hill. It covers the small cave that Francis would stay in while they were up here.
We strolled along the trails that ran through the woods. We found a bronze statue of Francis reclining on the ground, something I imagine he did quite often, several small outdoor chapels and plenty of mud, sticks, trees and rocks. I was especially fond of this second part. It was a nice reminder that God isn't only found within the clean and orderly settings of a church.

Coming down the mountain from the hermitage I had a good talk with Dave. It wasn't about anything particular or particularly important, just a good time. Back in Assisi we stopped again by the Cathedral of San Rufino. This time it was open and there was no mass going on so we went inside. The Cathedral of San Rufino is a nice church, old of course (construction began in 1140) and modestly decorated, but it's important because it's where St. Francis and St. Clare were baptized.

On the way back to our guest house we visited the Church of St. Clare again; a) To spend more time in front of her relics but also to see the original cross of San Damiano, the one that spoke to Francis and began him on his life's work. (See Day 6)

From the hike most people were pretty tired so we didn't do too much in the evening. Some people took naps, others did some shopping or went to the store to get more food for dinner. I did some writing, looked through pictures and savored the last hours in Assisi before the train ride to Milan in the morning.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Small Chapels, 'New' Churches and Penitential Roses

Internet was hard to find in Assisi and expensive when I did find it. (heather actually gets credit for finding the place with the computers) In Milan we were pretty busy and no internet cafĂ© presented itself so I wasn’t able to keep up daily posts. However on the plane ride home I finally have some time to type. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately depending on how much you like my writing style) it’s been 5 days since the following events happened so I’ve forgotten some of the details. Forgive me if I’m more dry and factual than previously as I’m working off notes taken in my journal. Also, I left my camera at the place we were staying in Assisi so pictures are dependent on what I can get from others.

Day 6

We began the day with mass in the Chapel at the convent guest house we were staying at. It was a small chapel with flaking frescoes and a plain brown floor. You might think this would be disappointing when not 24 hours earlier we had been in St. Peter’s Basilica, the largest church in Christendom, but fortunately that wasn’t the case. Rather than create disappointment it creates greater appreciation. Big churches are nice but in a small chapel you are able to have a much more intimate experience of the sacrament of the mass.

After mass we walked the couple blocks across town to the Chiesa Nuova, the New Church. Don’t let the title fool you however. This church isn’t new like the one they just built down the street from you. This one was built in the mid-1700s over the ruins of the house of St. Francis’s parents. It’s not what American’s would call new, but it’s the newest church in town.

Following a wide cobbled stone path down the hillside through acres of twisted yet stately looking olive trees is the church of San Damiano. This is the place where St. Francis had a vision of Christ telling him, “Rebuild my Church”. History Lesson: The young Francis first thought this meant to physically rebuild the church he was standing in so he ‘borrowed’ cloth from his father, an upper-class merchant and sold it to pay for building materials to restore the abandoned church. His father, being a businessman did not appreciate Francis’ efforts forced him to stop. Francis soon realized that Christ did not mean a physical reconstruction of a building but rather an ideological reconstruction of the ideals and social function of the church in his day. The life of St. Francis is his effort to follow Christ’s instruction to him.

Farther down in the floor of the valley outside Assisi (better accessed by city bus than walking) is the church of Santa Maria Degli Angeli. What is special about this church is that it has been built around a much smaller chapel that had been given to St. Francis and his followers by the local bishop when he first began forming his community.

In a garden outside this church is also the only place in the world where can be found a certain species of roses that grow without thorns. One day Francis was walking along when he (if I remember right) entertained a lustful or at least sinful thought for what he obviously thought was far too long. Seeking to do penance immediately for his sin he threw himself into some nearby brambles. His holiness was such that the brambles became thornless roses. I investigated the rose bushes closely. They are roses and there are no thorns!

Dinner consisted of meat, bread, cheese and beer bought at the local grocery store enjoyed out on the Piazza or on the steps of a the closest church. I like Italy.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

One More Visit then to the Hills.

I finally found a place with internet in Assisi, but it’s a bit expensive and I have to finish this and some shopping before things close up here, so you’re just getting day 5 right now. Happy Ascension Sunday though!

Day 5

We had decided the day before that we hadn’t got in quite enough time at St. Peter’s on Tuesday (see Day 2) and since we knew the doors were open at 7:00am we asked Fr. Stuart really nicely if we could get up early and spend a little more time there before our train left for Assisi. Of course he didn’t have a problem with this plan so we ordered our breakfast from the hotel to-go and were off the subway and in St. Peter’s square by 7:30am.
One thing I wanted to do but hadn’t had the chance for earlier was to go tour the Tomb of the Popes and especially to see the tomb of Pope JPII. However, that part didn’t open until 9:00am so I had to occupy myself until then. (What could there possibly be to do inside the largest church in Christedom?) I spent time admiring the details of the building in light of the now in-pouring sunshine we didn’t have the luxury of the first time. The view from behind the main altar facing east toward the front of the church is amazing.

Also, the sounds of people singing Tantum Ergo or Alleluia’s echoing through the floor grates from masses being held in the chapels below the main floor added to the experience of this holy place.

While I was waiting for 9:00, I found the chapel where they had the Blessed Sacrament reserved and thought that a good place as to spend time. While I was there I noticed a Japanese couple come in, genuflect, kneel etc… all the things a Catholic that knows what they’re doing and the real purpose of this place would do. This was important because one of the things that has been really tough for me for most of this trip is seeing people that come into these churches with very little to no understanding of the place they are. The come in and irreverently snap pictures of anything that seems to be artistic/important and then stroll on elsewhere as if they were in a museum or out on the street.
For perspective, I know why the church is there and try my best to treat it as such. It is a house of God and a place of worship that happens to contain beautiful things so religious affection should come first. Therefore, it was good for me to see the Japanese couple, as members of a group that personifies the stereotype that bothers me so much, defying the stereotype. It made me feel better and reminded me to not be so quick to judge.
When the Tombs of the Popes opened at 9:00am I went in and straight for JPII. I knelt and prayed a rosary and tried to ignore the voice of the poor guard that had to constantly remind people ‘no photo. No photo. No photo’. The rosary, I thought, was appropriately prayed there because JPII had a strong devotion to the Blessed Mother, and I must say, it was one of the best rosaries in awhile. Fr. Stuart finally peeled us away at 10:30 and we headed toward our final church in Rome.
The Basilica of Santa Prassede, aside from the resting place of St. Prassede and her cousin is where the post that Christ was chained to when Pilate had him scourged is kept. There, in a small side chapel in a glass case is the stone upon Jesus was whipped before he was crucified. Honestly it doesn’t quite register yet, but in the future I bet it will, probably next Lent the first time I do Stations of the Cross.

Finally it was back to our hotel to pick up our luggage, a quick trip to the grocery store for lunch and then to the train station to catch the 1:30pm train to Assisi. Like I said before, Rome was good to us with lots of things to see, but I was ready to get out of the huge city. The train was the quietest place I’d been in 4 days and so I fell promptly asleep before we even left the platform.
I woke up some time later to smoothly gliding along past green, gently rolling hills. What a welcome sight/sensation! I marveled out the window and then went to reading the book I had been given by Mike Pratt and the NAC on Tuesday. We arrived too soon at Assisi (I really liked riding in that train.)
A bus from the train station took us to the base of the town halfway up the hill. Our traveler’s house seemed to be the rest of the way up the hill. The roads and stairs we had to drag our luggage up were only worth it because they were surrounded by a beautiful medieval-style town. (Assisi was founded as a Roman town in the 3 century B.C.)

So as to not overdo the first day, the only church we visited in Assisi was the Basilica of St. Frances of Assisi. He body is there as well as those of St. Martin of Tours and St. Anthony of Padua; also some Giotto paintings. My two favorite things were the tattered patchwork robe of St. Frances and his tomb, both shown in the sketches below. The robe is at left. All those shapes are the patches on it. Actually, it’s hard to say really if the patches were on it or if it was made entirely of patches. The shapes seen are not arbitrarily drawn by me but are the real shapes, sizes etc of the patches. His tomb is in a chamber under the main altar that had been sealed off quite intentionally after he died to prevent people from disturbing his tomb and its exact location had been forgotten. Those alive presumed it was under the main altar as is traditionally done. Excavations in the last hundred years have rediscovered his tomb and shown it to be where it was always thought.

Another long day done, we had some dinner at a local restaurant and retired eager for a night’s sleep absent of busses, trash trucks and drunk people outside the window. I think I like Assisi more than I even expected to like it!