Friday, April 25, 2014

The Quarry

I was given this poem from John Paul II on our travel day by a friend, and I hope you appreciate it as much as I do:

The Quarry

He wasn't alone.
His muscles grew into the flesh of the crowd, energy their pulse,
As long as they held a hammer, as long as his feet felt the ground.
And a stone smashed his temples and cut through his heart's chamber.
They took his body and walked in a silent line.
Toil still lingered about him, a sense of wrong.
They wore gray blouses, boots ankle-deep in mud.
In this, they showed the end.
How violently his time halted: the pointers on the low voltage dials jerked, they dropped to zero again.
White stone now within him, eating into his being, taking over enough of him to turn him into stone.
Who will lift up that stone, unfurl his thoughts again under the cracked temples?
So plaster cracks on the wall.
They laid him down, his back on a sheet of gravel.
His wife came, worn out with worry; his son turned from school.
Should his anger now flow into the anger of others?
It  was maturing in him through his own truth and love.
Should he be used by those who came after, deprived of substance, unique and deeply his own?
The stones on the move again; a wagon bruising the flowers.
Again the electric current cuts deep into the walls.
But the man has taken with him the world's inner structure, where the greater the anger, the higher the explosion of love.

"It Is Good That We Are Here!"

We arrived a bit late to our accommodations at Maria Mater Ecclesiae. Such is the case of travel plans. However, we did arrive, thanks be to God. It was as though a weight was lifted or at the very least lofted about temporarily. Things are going to forgotten and items perhaps misplaced, lost, or even damaged, but it is truly a blessing after a day of traveling to be greeted to to the image of Our Lady under the bright blue skies of Rome with their puffy bright clouds.

The atrium further along the beautiful grounds leads one to prayer, even when busy—such as arriving for a special pilgrimage. Some rested and others went forth, but I feel a very special patronage of Our Lady that will put me, God willing, at ease for the hiccups to come along the way.

The weather remains a blessing: temperate with cool breezes that loft through the building, which likely date to the early 1960s. All of it contributes to the calming peace in the center of the busy city of Rome.

We even have this blessing here at the Seminary... A beautiful place to pray as pilgrims on the Way.

We will keep all of you in our prayers; Mass shall begin shortly. My thoughts and prayers are with you and all that we have met along the way. Sending a gentle breeze, a prayer, and a smile from Rome. All the best, friends!

The Eternal City!

We've made it! ROME!

After what felt like a puddle jump breeze of 2 hours, we've landed in Rome. For the fly in from Amsterdam, I began to read "John Paul II: The Story of My Life." I had to stop and pause at this section:

"The date set for Father Karol's departure for Rome was November 15, 1946. There he remained for nearly two years, deepening his theological studies.

When the date arrived, I boarded the train with great excitement. With me was Stanislaw Starowieysjki, a younger colleague who had been sent to take his whole course of theological studies in Rome. For the first time I was leaving the borders of my homeland."

Buòna sera, Roma! Grazie!

Goedenmorgen, Amsterdam!

It was a beautiful flight into Amsterdam this morning. The morning began so beautifully with the morning mist and the sun burning through over the runway as we exited our first plane. This was my first experience of Europe. It was as breathtaking as could be—a European morning.

Schiphol was, the longer I stayed more confounding. I found it to be a maze and putting me in circles even after speaking with the airlines, who sent me in the wrong non-"Schengen" section... to nearly end of the terminal. I must have walked it several times until with just minutes to spare, doing my best "Home Alone" in Europe impression, got through security for the Schengen area and to my gate. Along the way one older couple I presume to be on my flight—they too were looking in on the fishbowl of the downstairs gate—was lost, and, at present, I can only hope (though seriously doubt) they made it. I also had the fine chance to run stride for stride with a young Finnish woman as she was frantically attempting to make her earlier  flight in the maze that is Scihphol. Such is the case of international travel, but I made it. Thanks be to God!

Touchdown in Amsterdam

"Alleluia! Alleluia!
Hearts and voices heav’nward raise:
Sing to God a hymn of gladness,
Sing to God a hymn of praise.
He who on the cross a victim,
For the world’s salvation bled,
Jesus Christ, the King of glory,
Now is risen from the dead."
- Hymn for Office of Readings for the Friday in the Octave of Easter

This first leg of this pilgrimage is itself a foray into the secular, the worldly but at times divine. It was society in microcosm stuck on a pressurized, mile-high tin can in the sky. It being my first intercontential flight, thankfully the service and passengers were amicable, even friendly given one does the first move. I suppose it could be called a respectful European aloofness.

Given the mixed crowd, some of us with our bright yellow lanyards, others on return home, and still others returning to set things before a move to the States, I found much to pray for. So many states, so many varied backgrounds, and ultimately so many stories. Next to me for the duration of the flight sat a Muslim couple in the thrall of love, the two inseparable, almost uncomfortable my particular sensibilities. Then there were two Dutch traveling companions. One was younger, Lukas; the other an older, more distinguished gentleman, Cornelius, with a unique accent of northern Holland. Both were aboard for different reasons. The younger is, of all things, a dance instructor. The older is an international arbiter. Both were friendly and accommodating; both were seasoned travelers.

What struck me the most in the flight, one in which I could not sleep but a few winks, was the sheer ordinariness of it: ordinary in the destination and the passengers. I felt wrapped as though in a cocoon above the ocean, quickly hurdling to our Dutch—and then Roman—destination.

There were moments of reflection, laughter, and humor in the inane or little human foibles not spared or able be stripped from the ordinary, even the ordinary of an intercontinental flight. I took some time to read anew the opening of John Paul II's "Rise, Let Us Be on Our Way" and read the Office of Readings for the new day. It was for me an opening for the intercessory prayer and the intent of the trip—confidence in the providence of God.

This is why I was struck with one particular introductory conversation with Cornelius. It was an earnest interest for both, but the graciousness was one that had me at ease.

We exchanged pleasantries and introductions, and no sooner than mentioning final destinations and our travel plans, the conversation was struck with the "Francis" bug. It was delightful. Here was a Dutch Reformed Protestant speaking to me in the emergency exit space to a KLM flight somewhere over Montreal on the humility of Pope Francis. He spoke of a set of Belgian pilgrims who were received by Pope Francis, and Francis' response to them by asking earnest questions and, here, Cornelius did the same for me. He asked if I was planning to be a priest. I answered that it wasn't the direction I'm seeing Him call me, but also that He calls each of us to holiness. Not only did I have a chance to witness to the Universal Call to Holiness but to also to witness another do the same. We went on, but the heart of the conversation was just that.

That right there made the conversation and the flight. It was a universal connection, a sharing of the human condition... It was a teaching moment and a growing moment. We may all see things a little different, but there it is... The growth of the person towards the Truth.

He gave me a Dutch prayer which I can't remember, but the loose translation is: "Wherever you may be taken, may God be with you."

So it is, the beginning of my European travels... "May God be with you."

Deo gratias.

"He made the sea; it belongs to him, the dry land, too, for it was formed by his hands." - Psalm 95

Thursday, April 24, 2014

"Now Boarding..."

We're here! First step on the way to Rome... Houston! And things have moved along swimmingly! I'm in!

An then on for a quick American bite to eat with friends... And the plane is now in sight!

A few waiting for boarding at the gate are speaking Dutch... The first leg is to Amsterdam after all! As we wait to board, lanyards in tote and checked in, and cleared through security, I wonder what others are preparing for and praying for our other Rome pilgrims. We continue to say... "This is really happening!" ...And, indeed, it is. What a gift it has been thus far...

There are things to do and to plan for, but now we're boarding, and soon enough a nap to come to get ready for the 7 hour time jump! Arrivederci!

Remembering and Forgetting

So we're off! However, what would a trip be without a few hiccups? Planning went wonderful, but how is the oft-repeated line? "If want God to laugh, tell God your plans."

Well, packing wasn't as productive as I would have hoped, but it did get done. All the assortment of things to bring were remembered. I didn't feel pressured though behind schedule after being exhausted last night. Even when I missed the first ground shuttle in the morning and the second would arrive too late, why worry? I can't control the past and what is set ahead is set. Luckily some fellow travelers and friends had an open seat! Deo gratias!

Stress is less about control and more about understanding what can be control and leaving the little things to the One Who Is. En route and with friends! God provides!

"Rise, Let Us Be on Our Way"

These words strike me to the heart as the final preparations are under way for the pilgrimage. These are the opening paragraphs of John Paul II's "Rise, Let Us Be on Our Way."

"I set off in search of the source of my vocation. It is beating there . . . in the Upper Room in Jerusalem. I thank God that during the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000 I was able to pray—precisely there—in the Upper Room (Mark 14:15), where the Last Supper took place. I transport myself in thought to that memorable Thursday, when Christ, having loved his own to the end (cf. John 13:1), instituted the Apostles as priests of the New Covenant. I see Him bending down before each of us as successors of the Apostles, to wash our feet. I hear Him, as if He were speaking to me—to us—these words:"Do you realize what I have done for you? You call me 'Teacher' and 'Master,' and rightly so, for indeed I am. If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another's feet. I have given you an example to follow, so that as I have done for you, you also should do" (John 13:12-16).

Together with Peter, Andrew, James, and John . . . let us continue to listen: As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Remain in my love! If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be complete. This is my commandment: love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you" (John 15:9-14).

Is not the mysterium caritatis of our vocation contained in these sayings? These words of Christ... are at the root of every vocation in the Church. [...] Here we find what is most important, most valuable, and most sacred: the love of the Father and the love of Christ for us, His and our joy, and also our friendship and fidelity, which express themselves in the fulfillment of the commandments. These words also contain the goal and the meaning of our vocation: Go and bear fruit that will last" (John 15:16).
As we begin the trip, these words strike me: "Rise, let us be on our way!"

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Marking of a Remarkable Time

My thoughts turn to Europe... and how precarious and precious every connection is, turning us from an insularity to a global reach in our daily work—the calling of others to Christ and to see beyond ourselves. These things and their machinations do play great roles within our lives as individuals and as community.

Retracing thoughts and childhood, I can see clearly the markers our Lord has placed, and the desire for the travel to come kindles this appreciation even more. My thoughts and concerns stretch to this area, in its individuality of touchstones in my life. That of England, the Netherlands, Rome, and Germany—namely, Munich.

If one wishes to learn about history, start by investigating the stubs one has in one's life. Not only will it broaden horizons, but it will allow one to appreciate the culture of a place one hasn't yet experienced. It also makes for good writing and perhaps the beginnings of good storytelling.

Perhaps this blog of these most compelling times, for me at least, will help to give light to a world so troubled and to find further the Gaze of the One Who Is. I go on pilgrimage not expecting some mountaintop experience or awe-inspiring result, for in reality I am more anxious I might forget something. Rather, I go in search of His will. I go to search, to look in the small things where He has placed my heart.

I have put off travel to do good, though imperfectly. I go on pilgrimage to see where He is and to inform myself more of where He is back in the Ordinary, to see where He has placed my heart.

I am off in now just hours to pray for my spouse, my beloved, the one He is preparing for me and I for her. There is a great desire to pull away the layers that have grown over my heart these hectic three years but to not grow hesitant in the upcoming thirtieth. There is a ring, a fear that any delay is a resignation. It is not.

He is refining me... He is refining my heart for the furnace of His love... of the love I wish to give... but I cannot give what I do not have. That is why I go on pilgrimage... to find again the desire to love more purely.

Pray for me, and I will pray for you. Will you?

St. Peter's Square