Dear family, friends and readers,
It seems that my early ambitions to blog with some frequency were somewhat over zealous. I do intend to keep blogging, but I do not anticipate posting more than once every 3 or 4 weeks. Thanks for your patience. I have received many positive and encouraging remarks and I appreciate all of them.
It has been quite sometime since the last post, so here is an update on my life during the past month or so. After my return from a wonderful month in Siena studying Italian, I moved back into the college here in Rome and began a new set of Italian studies through the college in preparation for an Italian proficiency exam required for entrance into the Gregorian University where I will study. The classes were four hours every morning with a small group of 8 students. In the afternoon, the faculty began introducing us to the life here at the college with conferences on different areas of formation. Although it was a busy time, I had enough time to join the choir, which had rehearsals in the evenings after dinner.
After three weeks of studying Italian, learning the ins and outs of the formation program, singing in the choir, playing various sports with the guys, praying, and trying to get out into the city, I finally took the Italian exam, packed up and headed out to Greccio for a week long silent retreat. I was exhausted as you can imagine and in great need of some time to process all that had happened amidst the craziness of my new life in Rome.
The retreat was a wonderful and grace-filled week. The Lord was very good to me. Greccio is a little town on the side of a mountain on the outskirts of the Lazio region of Italy—Rome is the capital of Lazio. This little town is a very important Franciscan cite, for it is where St. Francis hosted the first ever crèche or nativity. Towards the end of his life during his stay in Greccio over Christmas, St. Francis invited the locals to adore a small statue of Jesus, which he displayed in a manger-esk rock. He invited them to even bring their animals and livestock, hoping to recreate something of a living Bethlehem and thus the birth of the tradition of mangers in the Church. I know that in my own family, the nativity is one of the truly Catholic traditions we carry out during Christmas time. I can remember placing the three wise men far away on the other side of the room and waiting to place Jesus in the manger until that faith filled day. I also remember being terrified of setting up the nativity scene since it was so fragile and beautiful. Thus we usually had two sets: one to play with and one to look at.
It was truly a blessing to pray in this storied place, particularly in the context of this story. As I prayed with the Lord in my own heart, I was always reminded of His love for me through His Son our Lord Jesus Christ who came so humbly into this world to die for our sins. The Christmas mystery was a great way to enter into that silence in which I tried to listen to the voice of God incarnate in my own heart through the gift of the Holy Spirit. As He came into the world, so He now comes into our hearts to be with us.
If I had to sum up my retreat, I would have to say that God introduced me to the kingly identity of the priesthood—the three identities of the priest are priest, prophet and king. While I was praying psalm 45 in the liturgy of the hours—a love song from the king to his queen traditionally interpreted as an expression of God’s love for His Church—I realized that I was the king speaking in the psalm or at least a prince aspiring to be that king. In the past, I had always been a bit uncomfortable with this psalm since, well, I am not a woman and the imagery is very strong. Yet, with the inspiration of Msgr. Lyons, our retreat leader, who had spoken about the nobility and royalty of Christ, I read the psalm anew. I read the psalm as an invitation from the Lord to enter into this identity of Christ and begin loving the Church, even desiring the Church as He does.
Msgr. Lyons talked about the priest’s love for the Church through a story of a seminarian who when asked why he was choosing celibacy, responded: “for the same reasons your mother and father chose to get married…I am in love with the Church.” Msgr. Lyons elaborated and even spoke about the exclusivity of the priests love for the Church, a love so great that he, the priest, is willing to lay down his life for her. With these thoughts in mind and my own desire and love for the Church brewing in my heart, the Lord gave me through this psalm an image to hold on to: that of a king who desires the beauty of his queen. The strength of this bond and the purity was and continues to be very attractive.
A most beautiful fruit of this gift is that back in Rome encountering the poor and hungry throughout the city, I now realize that in a very real way that they are part of that Church whom Christ loves and desires with His whole heart. Indeed, He desires it through my own heart, wishing to draw His people, His Church, through my heart into His own. In a miraculous way, this has given birth to a genuine desire to love and to serve the poor, hoping that by the love I share with them, Christ might be ever present to those whom He loves so dearly. "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” And rightly so, since they are part of that queen, the Church, whom Christ the King desire more than anything in the world. Furthermore, their mother Mary, Queen of Heaven, has wrapped them in her mantle of protection, for they are her children for whom she cares unceasingly.
Back from retreat, I have spent this week preparing for the Diaconate Ordination, which happens tomorrow (5th of October). As I mentioned, I started singing in the choir. Every afternoon we have been practicing vigorously for this grand event. The ordination is at the Altar of the Chair under the famous Holy Spirit window in St. Peter’s Basilica. The opportunity to sing in the church of all churches is at once a dream come true and an overwhelming honor. To make things even more exciting, I have been asked to sing in a sextuplet for one of the pieces: “Ave Maria” by Franz Biebl. It is a beautiful piece and I am humbled to sing this piece on such a wondrous occasion. Please pray for me that I may have the courage to sing out as David did to his Lord in the temple.
Lastly, I did in fact pass my Italian exam. Praise God for this. Now the real challenge begins on Monday when classes start. The thought of going to class in another language is daunting, but I have faith that it will be okay. Please continue to pray for me that I might listen and take notes well, not only for myself, but also for my brother seminarians. The Gregorian students here at the PNAC have a very complicated notes system in which we all work together to produce the best notes possible. I have been assigned to take notes in our New Testament class. Pray that I might do well for my brothers.
Please know that I am praying for all of you. Yours truly in Christ.