Friday, July 22, 2011

Io Ho Arrivato

Praised be the Lord Jesus Christ that I have arrived safe and sound in Rome. Thank you to everyone who might have prayed for my safe travel. Your prayers were felt since I slept in peace while on the plane—something that is usually impossible for me to do. Upon my arrival, I quickly got settled into my room, which is on the fourth of five floors, and suffered through some paper work, trying to battle jetlag. Here is the view from my room. The dome behind the tree is St. Peter’s.

The first week has been a bit crazy with daily excursions throughout the city. Some of these visits were new for me and others I had visited during my time here in Rome two years ago, but I assure you all of them were absolutely wonderful. Here are some of the highlights.

The first day we went to St. John Lateran, the first residence of the Pope before St. Peter’s. We had a wonderful English nun lead us on quite a tour. The highlight of the trip was a visit to the baptistery that adjoins the Basilica. This is the oldest public baptistery in Christianity. After the persecutions ended with the Edict of Milan (313 a.d.) in which the Emperor Constantine legalized Christianity, the Church and Baptistery were built as a place as the first place for public and legal worship. This means that some of the first public celebrations of the Eucharist would have been celebrated here as well as the first “R.C.I.A.” classes. Okay, so they might not have called their catechesis R.C.I.A, but you get the point.

We began mass in the actual fount, renewing our baptismal promises on this the beginning of a new life in Rome. We finished mass in the chapel where this picture of Our Lady hung over the altar. I was taken by this painting for some reason. It is just so human the way Christ is touching the Blessed Mother’s face.

The second highlight includes many pictures and that is our day trip to the lake in Bracciano. It was a beautiful day and the water was wonderful. The town itself is about an hour outside of Rome and quite small. It hosts a cool castle which we were unable to visit and several nice Churches. Since no motorboats are allowed on the lake, the water was very clear. In fact, I could see the bottom past were I could touch. The first picture is of the castle, the second an over look of the lake and the last is a picture of the death of St. Joseph from a nice “little” Church I happened upon.

I must say that we have done quite a bit since arriving less than a week ago, much more than I can speak about here. I will continue to do what I can to keep posting. I will not, however, post for the next month or so. Sunday, I am off to Siena to learn Italian. I will return the last week of August in which time I will hopefully have time to post more pictures and such. Thanks again for all the prayers. Please know that I am keeping most of you in my own prayers. I will leave you with a parting shot of sunset from the roof. Ah, the Eternal City.

Friday, July 15, 2011

A Reflection on the Sacred Heart of Jesus

This is a reflection I gave this morning at Mass. It is somewhat of a reflection on the Heart of Christ through my own experience while on retreat this past month in Omaha, NE, attending the Institute for Priestly Formation at Creighton University. I hope this testimony is helpful to any and all.

Although I had planned on giving a reflection this morning over today’s Gospel, I was moved in a particular way by the Spirit to speak from my heart. In fact, the Spirit moved me to speak about the place from which my heart now speaks, that is, within the Heart of Christ. And since Friday is often reserved as a day to remember the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the subject of this short reflection seemed all but decided for me.

The past month and a half—since the end of May—I have been attending classes on diocesan spirituality, sexuality, and prayer at the Institute for Priestly Formation (IPF). In the second week of the program after a crash course in the basics of Ignatian spirituality, all seminarians go on a Jesuit style eight-day silent retreat. That’s right—eight-days! Seen as little more than torture to most, each day of the retreat consists of a prescribed four hours of prayer, three square meals, lots of sleep, and a one-hour meeting with a spiritual director. Now, I had been on several silent retreats before, but this was certainly the longest and most daunting to say the least. What was I going to do for eight-days? Pray? What am I going to pray about for eight-days?

The first evening and into the next morning were quite nice really, somewhat of a surprise really. I had related my anxieties and concerns to the Lord during my holy hours and was overwhelmed with consolation. The Lord was taking care of me. Then, it came time for my first spiritual direction meeting. Oh, how I looked forward to speaking with someone. After some casual introductions, the priest asked me what I wanted from this retreat, what I desired from God.

I sat back and thought about it for a while. I thought of the pain I felt just two weeks ago leaving my five best friends after graduating from college. I thought of the pain of having only two weeks with my family before I would have to leave them for two years. Finally, I thought of the pain of leaving home—my parish, my hometown, my seminarian brothers, my home state, my home country, and all that was good and familiar to me. I looked at my spiritual director and simply said, “Home. I desire a new sense of home.”

The next two days of retreat was if you will an “extreme makeover: home edition” in my soul. God began building in me a new home, except this time instead of a physical place or an earthly place He built for me a home in Him, in His Son Jesus Christ. As I splashed around in the waters of the Jordan with Jesus hearing those words of the Father: “You are my Beloved Son with whom I am well pleased,” I learned how to bask in the gaze of the Father. As I fell into the embrace of the loving Father welcoming his lost son home from his sinful ways, I learned to receive the love of the Father into my own heart. And lastly, as I was dressed with the ring and rob the father gave his prodigal son, I was reborn into the Glory of God, taking off my garments of sorrow and affliction, and putting on the robe of righteousness from God (Baruch 5: 1-2).

My new home was in the Heart of Christ, receiving the love of the Father through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. This was a place I would carry with me and continue to renew and reenter with every celebration of the Eucharist, adoration, and quiet prayer. This was a place that transcended time where through Christ I could join in communion with my family, friends, and the company of angels and saints to praise God in all His marvelous works. Finally, it is in this place, the Heart of Christ, that I can truly pray and speak to God from the depths of my own heart, placing my trust in Him who holds all things together in their being.

Yet, a strange thing began to happen as I “moved in” to this new home in the Heart of Christ. Things began to hurt, even ache. In some ways, I felt more pain than before. Old memories and past afflictions began to surface and to torture me. I did not realize that as I moved into the Heart of Christ, into His light, many wounds began to surface and to fester. Indeed, I began to see how the very wounds within Christ’s own heart—His pierced side—were due to my own sins. Only under the guidance of my spiritual director was I able to begin placing my wounds—disobedience, lust, unchastely living, perfectionism, judgment, and resentment—within the wounds of Christ, to give myself over into His love in an even deeper way, allowing Him to heal and to fill these wounds with His love. This was very hard to do. I had to make myself vulnerable and available to Christ and His mercy. In a reversal of roles, I had to allow the Good Samaritan, Christ Himself, to heal me, battered and broken lying naked on the street. And how beautiful it was.

This, however, was not the end of the road for me. Jesus had even more in store. After building this new house and healing many of my wounds, a most terrifying reality struck me. My wounds would always be with me. That just as with Jesus’ wounds, my wounds would remain even past the resurrection. Yet even more horrifying was that through my wounds would flow the healing power of Christ. My wounds a font of Christ’s compassion for sinners and an invitation for others to the resurrection! How could this be? I remembered Thomas, placing his hands in the side of Christ. Would I now allow others to put their hands in my side?

It was here that I met at the foot of the Cross the pierced heart of Mary. Through the eyes of John the Beloved Disciple, I looked helplessly upon her, innocent and undefiled, as she suffered the death of her son, the salvation of man. I learned through meditating on this passage to take Mary into my home, my new home in the Heart of Christ and love her purely and chastely. I then learned how to take up the Cross, and die with Christ only to rise again to new life, revealing the life giving power of the Cross.

Nothing is more practical than finding God,

i.e., than falling in love in a

quite absolute, final way.

What you are in love with,

what seizes your imagination, will

affect everything.

It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning,

what you will do with your evenings,

how you spend your weekends,

what you read,

who you know,

what breaks your heart,

and what amazes you with joy

and gratitude.

Fall in love, stay in love, and it will

decide everything.

--Fr. Pedro Arrupe, S.J.

And if I may add to Fr. Arrupe’s beautiful prayer, speak to the Heart of Christ from the depths of your own heart in prayer and you never know where He might take you.