27 March 2016

Alleluia

Happy Easter!

After a very long Lent, I am so happy it's finally Easter, and also happy that I can now say alleluia. Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!


This morning at Mass we prayed for converts, and I realized that I was received into the Church three years ago. Sometimes it seems that I have been Catholic for much longer, while at other times I feel very much like an infant. I don't know that I'll ever get over that contradictory feeling, nor do I want to: I want to be thankful every year.

And I am thankful. I think with all the difficulties and sorrows of life, it is easy to get bogged down or to do things in a robotic way. It is easy to forget the joy. It is easy to forget the Easter that comes after Lent.

But I can't forget Easter. I can't forget the evening I so anticipated. I can't forget the evening I was confirmed while my sponsor had my back. I can't forget the evening I received the Eucharist for the first time and felt absolute peace, as if Jesus was steadying my heart because He was holding it close to His own. I can't forget His forgiveness, His grace or His goodness. "What return shall I render unto the Lord for all he has given me?"

May you never forget the goodness of the Lord, and may you and yours have a very happy Easter. If you were received this Easter, welcome home.

Alleluia!
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22 March 2016

Lent 2016: Week Six (Holy Week)


Six Weeks Down

Here we are in the last week of Lent, which just seems bizarre. Though the husband was gone from Thursday until early Monday morning, I did not have a quiet week. On Thursday, my women's group swapped items we no longer wanted (hello, baking pans and cute skirt), ate many snacks and talked about the pregnancies of multiple women in the department. On Friday, I went to a potluck and met some prospective students who visited the department for the weekend (I didn't meet all of them, though, so now I'm wondering whether the accepted list will be people I don't know. Woops.). I also got to meet a new priest, so booyah. On Saturday, I had a much needed lie-in (after the most insane dream), then went to a St. Patrick's Day party, which was hosted by very kind and fun woman. I'm still daydreaming about the scones, so I may need to make some soon.

All the delicious food I wish I could eat every day.

Strangely, I almost don't want Lent to be over. Holy Week, however, is like the countdown to the New Year: the anticipation is now much more felt. In addition, the sorrow is now much more felt after Palm Sunday. Every year without fail, when the congregation recites the lines of the crowd who called for Christ's crucifixion, I cringe. I almost steel myself, as if I can will the Lord's subsequent suffering not to happen because it's just too horrible. I am still stunned that God came to Earth and this is how we treated Him.

I'll be thinking on these things throughout this week, and hope I am drawn closer to the cross by it.

Even my body shall rest in safety. For you will not leave my soul
among the dead, nor let your beloved know decay.

Quotations

  • "Lift up thy face therefore unto Heaven; behold, I and all my saints with Me, who in this world had great conflict, do now rejoice, now are comforted, now secure, now at rest, and shall remain with Me everlastingly in the Kingdom of my Father." (IOC. 3. XLVII)
  • "And I the most miserable and poorest of men, how shall I receive Thee into my house, I that scarce know how to spend one half hour in true devotion? and would that I could even once spend something like one half hour worthily!" (IOC. 4. I)
  • "Jesus died outside the gate, to sanctify the people by his own blood. Let us go out to him outside the camp bearing the insult which he bore. From here we have no lasting city; we are seeking one which is to come. Through him let us continually offer God a sacrifice of praise, that is, the fruit of lips which acknowledge his name." (Hebrews 13:12-15)
  • "The Lord is the strength of his people, a fortress where his anointed find salvation. Save your people; bless Israel your heritage. Be their shepherd and carry them for ever." (Psalm 28:8-9)
  • "Ours were the sufferings he bore. Ours the weight of guilt he endured." (Midday Responsory)
Final Notes

Last week, an interview with Papa Benedict XVI came out like a surprise hug. You can read the full text here.
Prayer request: on Saturday evening, a relative died. Please keep Mary Jo and her family in your prayers.
Check your parish's schedule and go to a Tenebrae and/or Good Friday service this week.

15 March 2016

Lent 2016: Week Five (Passiontide)


Five Weeks Down

Passiontide is upon us. It's a bit of a shock to the system to walk into Mass and find the crucifixes covered with violet cloth (the weather was on board, though, because it poured all week). I usually spend a good deal of Mass looking at the crucifix, so to have that routine unavailable to me was like another small Lenten penance. Looking at the crucifix is a good practice, but it is good to give up even good things. Without the benefit of a visual aid, I had to focus in other ways. It made me think about the faith. We will not always feel so very close to God. We will not always have the luxuries (simple as they might be) we have now. We will need to stay on the right path anyway even when we don't feel like being holy, even when it feels difficult, even when we feel little consolation.

The Gospel reading on Sunday was about the death of Lazarus. Jesus goes back to Judea to see him, but he had already died. Martha says, "Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died. But now also I know that whatsoever thou wilt ask of God, God will give it thee." (John 11:21-22) Even in this seemingly impossible circumstance (Martha did not know what Jesus would do), Martha still has hope. She still believes that something good can come from the bad. We have all had bad circumstances in our lives, and we've probably heard people say, "What good can come from this?" I realized then that I haven't been asking that question with hope. Instead, I've asked it with worry. I've asked it without the assurance that Martha shows above. That's something I should change.

On a more delightful note, I have rediscovered the Catholic Stuff You Should Know podcast. A group of priests take turns in pairs hosting the show and they discuss topics from holy water to saints to artists to book passages to sacraments... Any Catholic thing you want to know about, they've probably talked about (or you could ask them to cover something particular, maybe). Some of them are in Rome presently, so I love when they talk about life in Italy. I used to listen to the podcast a lot while in college but somehow it went off my radar during my last semester (I think I thought they had stopped, which would have been a bummer). Now I have a good hundred shows to catch up on. Check them out. :)

Other highlights of the week included buying a coloring book (because I am secretly five) and taking a walk on Sunday evening to a point which gave us a great view of the river and surrounding towns. Now all the trees are very green and leafy, so it really feels like Spring (or Summer sometimes, to be honest). 

I obviously didn't give up childishness for Lent.

Quotations


  • "Thou shalt not long toil here, nor always be oppressed with griefs.  Wait a little while, and thou shalt see a speedy end of thine evils. There will come an hour when all labour and tumult shall cease. Poor and brief is all that which passeth away with time." (IOC 3. XLVII)
  • "Unto Thee I commend myself and all that is mine, to be corrected: better it is to be punished here, than hereafter." (IOC. 3. L)
  • "St. Joseph, Most Obedient, Pray for us!" (join the St. Joseph novena here)
  • "O Lord, my God, in you I take refuge." (Psalm 7:2)

Stay strong. Look for the good. Buy some crayons. Happy Lent. xx

11 March 2016

Italy Trip: Days 4-6

Here is part two of the Italy adventure! Again, these are excerpts from the journal I kept while in Italy. The first two days are in Venice, the third day back in Rome. Click here to read part one. :)

DAY FOUR

In the morning, we got ready, had breakfast and went back to S. Marco's Square, this time to visit the museums. The Correr Museum now takes up what were once the rooms of Elizabeth of Austria. When C went to Vienna in 2014, he got me a hair pin modeled after ones Elizabeth often wore. It was neat to now see her study, dressing room and bedchamber, which look out onto the water. A very pretty gray-blue is used in a lot of the decorative paint in these rooms. We continued to more rooms filled with sculpture of mythological figures and philosophers. Religious artwork, especially of the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus, filled the next rooms. The archaeological rooms had replicas of ships and coins dating back to the 1700s. My favorite rooms were the libraries: ceiling high bookshelves, three foot diameter globes, missals and books of mathematics on display and paintings of people reading, writing and studying astronomy....

Pretty Missal

Can I live here?

We made a short excursion to a shop on the lower level where C picked out some Venetian silk ties, most decorated with fleur de lis. We crossed the small square south of S. Marco to Doge's Palace, or Palazzo Ducale. This palace held council rooms large enough for more than the ten, twenty or forty members who would meet there. There was also a room which still had some of a fresco which had suffered damage from a fire. It depicted Paradise with Jesus and Mary, the Evangelists, saints and angels of different ranks. There was a contest to find out who would recreate the scene. The chosen man's work is in the same room. He was meant to do a large piece in the next grand room (53 x 25 meters, one of the largest rooms in all of Europe), but his son had to finish it. He added a Marian-focused spin. Jesus and Mary are seated in Heaven. St. Michael the Archangel holds out scales to Jesus. St. Gabriel holds out lilies to Mary, a nod at the Annunciation. They are surrounded by angels and saints, some 500 faces in total. The painting had to be done in stages and brought over piece by piece. The artist found it to be more of a privilege and service to the public and asked for a lower commission. It is amazing to think of such circumstances and imagine being a fly on the wall while such things were happening. The next room had a large wall painted as the Last Judgement. Christ welcomes saints into Heaven and sends others to Hell. The peace of the former and the despair of the latter are almost tangible.

We then went up S. Marco Campanile (Bell Tower) and had the most amazing view of the city. After being in the narrow, winding labyrinth-like streets, it was a great new perspective to see everything from above. Terra cotta roofs stretch across the island, broken only by the grayish white gleam of the Basilica and palace walls. We looked out to an endless, slightly hazy coast dotted with traghettos and broken occasionally by towering churches. The wind was cold and my fingers were nearly frozen, but it was absolutely worth it.


From here we left to the armory and prisons. We saw a ton of arrows, swords and daggers, as well as a rather terrifying looking chastity belt (though I suppose it is ore terrifying for the men than for the women). There was also a collection of guns and armor for horses. When we reached the prisons, it felt eerie. You descend half a dozen steps to a bridge called the bridge of Sighs, so called because this would be the last time prisoners would be able to set their eyes on the city through the grated windows. This path is maybe six feet high, so C had to stoop. More gate-like doors and wooden doors with severe looking locks bring you to the prisons themselves. There were maybe half a dozen prisons a bit bigger than a standard American bedroom with round holes in the walls, presumably to transfer food through. Some people must have managed to sneak in, because there was graffiti on some walls. I was relieved to step out of the prisons and get out of the building entirely after that damp and dreary experience.

We escaped to the hotel to get warm and decide on dinner plans. While I initially wanted to have a "nice" dinner in Venice, the truth is, that is easier said than done. So many restaurants are tourist traps with sub-par food, cover charges and gimmicks. The ones actual locals go to are more focused on chiccetti, similar to Spanish tapas. We attempted to go to a pizza place, but it must have closed because it was nowhere to be found. We went looking for a different place and stepped into...dun dun dun [not even joking. This is what my book says]...a tourist trap that smelled strongly of fish and had overpriced drinks. Two minutes and an interesting conversation between C and the waiter later and we left for the same place we had the previous night. We were welcomed with a "Nice to see you again" and no cover charge, so we were pleased. C got some gelato afterwards, but all I had on my mind was sleep, so we went back to the hotel and I passed out at 9.30 [anyone who knows me knows how ridiculous that is, night owl that I am].

DAY FIVE

I awoke at a bright and early 3.00 AM [really??] and stayed up eating chocolate, watching videos and conversing with family. I was able to sleep for another hour and a half, had a croissant breakfast and packed while C showered. We checked out at 10.00, but left our luggage behind to pick up later. We made our way through S. Marco's Square again past high end shops (Burberry coats are pretty, but 2000 euro) to the University district. On the way we ran into a man displaying paintings on the street. We only stopped to take a picture of the street (Calle S. Christopher) and when he approached us and pointed to the painting in his hand, C said no. The man said, "Oh, no. People think I come up to them to sell painting and say no. no, I just like to paint. It's a lot of work. Other people make prints and sell them for a big price. I give them to galleries I am an engineer and teach mathematics." "Did you get your Ph.D in Michigan?" C asked, pointing to the man's shirt. "Oh yeah. Michigan. I have family in New Jersey. I paint for a hobby. It is many layers on top of each other--magnifico!" He complimented my picture of C in front of the street sign. "--But if you want a painting I only charge twenty euro." [I'm still laughing.]



A few bridges later and we arrived at the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute, a large church at the water's edge. The Basilica (unlike my photograph of C) really was magnificent inside and out. There are too many statues to count, because I still find more in the pictures I took. The white stone and gray-green dome look beautiful by the sea. About twenty steps lead you up to large green double doors. Posted above the door was a notice saying absolutely not to give anyone money, because admission to the church was free. This didn't stop a woman inside from trying to get money from us and following me when I went into my purse for my glasses. The church is octagonal with many side altars that could be high altars on their own. Old fashioned confessionals are dotted throughout, which I hope are still regularly used. Titian did much of the artwork, a lot of which is Marian themed. THe main altar has a Byzantine style icon of Mary and the Infant Jesus. Another interesting feature is Pius X's chair, which is golden, flanked by statues and probably fifteen feet tall. We took our time enjoying the view outside. It was comparable only to St Peter's Basilica (smaller but more meaningful) and the view from the bell tower which we had the previous day. The sea seems to stretch out forever.



Of course, we became lost on the way back, but we were serenaded by a cheap gondola blasting dance music, so that's nice. We also found Cafe India, a decent sized restaurant with fair prices and a man who either whistled along with the 80s classic rock that was playing or modified the lyrics to make them tell his friend/coworker that he would love him every day/forever. I had to make C stop from joining in for fear that the three would form one boy band and make it big in Venice, which would mean I would be stuck in a land with almost no greenery for the rest of my life. C got a meat lover's pizza and I go a pancetta, egg and cheese sandwich. It was the best food I had in Venice hands down. No other tourists came in while we were there, but several locals did. We relaxed inside for a while, then returned to the streets. We were still lost but eventually realized we were close to our hotel. We went looking for a magnet for C's mom (her standard souvenir request) and I managed to track down the Kiko makeup shop I was looking for (where everything was 30-50% off. Score!).

We returned to the hotel to sit and warm up before Mass. We went out for Mass, but the doors were closed as we arrived and we could find no other door (!) [Thankfully, it was Saturday night, not Sunday night]. We wandered again and I ended up ducking into a shop and purchasing a black, long sleeve dress. We stole more time and phone-charging electricity at the hotel, then emerged for the final time to walk very misty, winding streets. When we came upon Ponte degli Scalzi (the bridge to the train station), the whole canal was covered in a dense fog, which was amusing because our friend Fr. W had just commented on a Facebook photo that it was very misty when he visited. We boarded our train to Verona [with neither time nor sunlight to adventure in Romeo and Juliet's city] where we waited for our second train [and an Italian woman tried to converse with me so I looked like a total idiot], which unfortunately was not as nice, since I was crammed in a car with four strangers. Gotta do what you gotta do.


DAY SIX
I woke on the train several times before it arrived in Rome (strangely on time). We took a bus to our hotel and only realized when we got there at 6.30 that we would be able to have breakfast in half an hour. We had doubted our train would make it on time and just ruled breakfast out. We were going to go to the Angelus, but C wanted to take advantage of having a bed, rather than a cramped train car, to sleep in, which means we snoozed and didn't start our day until the afternoon [sorry, not sorry. We were exhausted.].

Since we slept in, we had to find an evening Mass and we were lucky enough to find and English one. San Silvestro in Capite was sizeable and covered with art featuring various saints, including St. Francis. As we walked in, the choir and musicians were practicing. As we prayed before Mass, an older Irish priest came up to C and asked his life story [joking. Just what he was doing in Rome], then asked him to do the second reading during Mass. Of course my husband would be picked out. I joked about being put to work while on vacation. The celebrant was a visiting priest who had studied with a priest of that parish (I think they were from Nairobi). On top of this, the congregation was mostly Korean, so a lot of countries were representing that night. The Irish priest talked to us again at the end of Mass and, after taking a second look at C said, "You're very tall" and said he must have to stoop to look me in the face. I liked him. :)

photo by Husband

We then walked to Trinity College Pub which was full of Italians (I guess I was expecting Irish or tourists or Irish tourists). It was nice to be in a place where English was dominant, at least in written word. They also had free wifi, which is always a plus. During dinner, I was able to send a message to my mother telling her I was having Coke (after, I had to explain to her that European Coke is superior to the American variety and tastes similar to Pepsi) [and now I want European Coke...].


We walked up Corso, a very busy shopping street [if you are impatient, read: a nightmare], which was especially packed with last minute Christmas shoppers. On the way, we found a mall strung with lights. We walked down the strip, but most shops were closed or closing. We continued toward the Spanish Steps and came across a monument dedicated to the Immaculate Conception. The BVM stands at the top with a crown of stairs around her head and a wreath of flowers on her arm. At the base of the pillar, Moses, Isaiah, David and Ezekiel stand with Old Testament inscriptions below. The next square over is where the Spanish Steps are, but they were undergoing renovation and open during certain hours, so we got gelato [at a place with the best pistachio I had in Rome] and walked around looking at the shops. We were still tired from travel, so we turned in early.


That's days four through six! I'm tired just thinking about how tired I was on that last day. Stay tuned for day seven (we went to St Peter's, so I decided that's a bit much to squash into a post with two other days).

10 March 2016

How We Should Raise Our Sons and Daughters

"I just don't want a lot of daughters."
"Why not?"

"Because I don't want to have to beat up a lot of guys who are interested in them when they're older."



"It's not her I don't trust. It's any boy she likes that I don't trust."




"All teenage boys think about one thing. I know because I used to be one."



I have heard these lines and conversations pretty much word for word, some multiple times, in my fairly short lifetime (although, let's be real and point out that that last one is impossible). Most of the time they are uttered by fathers about or to their daughters. That teenage boys will at the least break a girl's heart and at the most push them to do immoral things is not treated as a question, but rather as a certainty. That is, unless the father manages to step in before too much damage has been done. Because this is such a recurring theme, I've thought on it enough to find three problematic views this trend perpetuates:

1. Boys are a danger to girls.
Whenever I hear the above sentences, they are uttered as absolute statements. In fact, they are stated similarly to the way that "Boys will be boys" is stated, as if there is nothing that anyone can do to change the way the male sex acts. This begs two questions.

The first: what kind of epidemic has to hit a society in such a way that we "know" how a whole group will behave? What factors combined to cause such a sure behavior? The second: why do we treat a whole group of human beings as if they cannot use the rational nature they were born with to act in a respectful manner?

As a bonus question, would we treat any other group in the same way? Would we adopt the phrase "Girls will be girls" if we saw that there had been a great increase of female-on-male assault? Would we tell Johnny that Susie likes him, that's why she pulled his hair at recess?

2. The only way that a boy will not be a danger to a girl is if another male presence is involved.
"No kissing boys" is the motto of my step-father, who began to recite the words when I was in middle school. As if I cared that boys existed. The majority of my middle school days were spent at sleepovers watching horror films and eating chocolate ice cream. Sure, I had friends who started to see boys as "cute," rather than "another student I need to beat at test scores." Nevertheless, I was cautioned from an early age to avoid messy situations...before I even knew what a messy situation could be.

I should feel bad for my step-father, considering he has only daughters and probably had miniature crises when my sister and I got to our teenage years. But a part of me doesn't want to feel bad. A part of me wants to demand that no father ever has to joke about getting his gun when a boy asks his daughter out. Some would say this is my overly positive idealism coming out. Some would say that isn't reality. It isn't realistic to expect boys to know how to respect girls. It isn't realistic to expect fathers not to have to stress themselves out protecting their daughters.

3. Sometimes, even (2) is not the case.
Sometimes, after the worry and stress spent over what could happen to a girl, we completely drop the ball. People figure, "It's going to happen anyway. Might as well have it happen with the least possible consequences." ("It" being a relationship, heartbreak, sex...) So now parents listen attentively to their ten year old girls talk about the boy they're dating. Now mothers put their daughters on birth control pills years before a sexual situation arises. Now fathers watch their daughters become withdrawn after boyfriends cheat on or break up with them. Instead of offering guidance and protection, families and society say that it is inevitable that girls will get hurt by boys, so we may as well just accept it now.

This is normal?

Why, when faced with this problem, do we choose to stand by and watch it unfold? If a fire starts in our house, do we not try to put it out before it can swallow our home? How much more precious are our families than our homes? Surely if they are more precious, they need our protection and care, too. If we would put out a fire, install smoke alarms and call firefighters, why wouldn't we take similar precautions with the people we love?

But we shouldn't just say that men are at fault. Women are capable of immoral acts and attitudes as well (hi, yes, I am female and I'm totally a crappy human being at times). I've seen and heard both sexes inappropriately gesture toward or comment on the opposite sex. To be honest, it gets a bit juvenile after a while. Perhaps a better way to put it is, it gets a bit base. This issue is about human kind.

So what do we do?

1. Raise our sons well.
Instead of accepting the bizarre present way of things, we ought to counteract it. Let's teach our sons the virtues. Let's teach them to be mindful and self-controlled when they interact with women. Let's teach them that women are not objects, amusements or conquests. Let's teach them chastity (and not just in regard to the physical, but the emotional as well). Let's teach them to be wise in their actions and courageous in the face of public opinion which would oppose them. We should raise our sons to see that "the dignity of the human person is rooted in the image and likeness of God." (CCC 1700)

2. Raise our daughters well.
Let's teach our daughters the virtues. Let's teach them to be mindful and self-controlled when they interact with men. Let's teach them that men are not objects, amusements or conquests. Let's teach them chastity, both physical and emotional. Let's teach them to be wise in their actions and courageous in the face of public opinion which would oppose them. We should raise our daughters to see that "the dignity of the human person is rooted in the image and likeness of God." (CCC 1700)

Let's not be content with "that's just the way it is," but instead change the way it is.

08 March 2016

Lent 2016: Week Four (The Rose Among Violets)


Four Weeks Down

Oh man. How was your week? Even though we've made it past the half-way point, I am really starting to feel Lent. Do you know what I mean? And it's not that I've taken up such difficult penances and religious practices or that I'm struggling to keep my life together. Rather, I have become more aware of how much of a wait Lent really is. Lent is six and a half weeks leading up to Easter, which sounds like a small amount of time from some contexts (a semester? a pregnancy?), but makes me think of how long of a wait it is until Eternal Rest. How many times will we know suffering in our own life or see it in another's? How many times will we ask, "Why?" or "When?" How many times will we flee temptation? How many times will we return sinful and sorrowful to our merciful God? (Perhaps I've been reading too many psalms of lament. I spent a lot of time alone this week, so that also makes me a bit morose.)

We cannot know the answers to these questions, nor can we know how many days we will be given until we face eternity. The latter should make us pause, examine ourselves and continue striving for sanctity. I'm hoping that each day of Lent guides me in that direction, in the direction of God and his goodness.

Appropriately, this Sunday (the fourth Sunday of Lent) was Laetare Sunday, so called for the Introit at Mass, which begins "Laetare Jerusalem," which means "Rejoice, O Jerusalem," taken from Isaiah. Advent sees a similar day on the third Sunday, Gaudete Sunday. On both Sundays, the priest wears rose vestments, which show us a glimpse of the light to come through the dark violet surroundings of Lent. It will not always be Lent. Easter will come. It will not always be suffering and difficulty. Joy will come.

Quotations

  • "Although thou shouldest possess all created good, yet couldest thou not be happy thereby nor blessed; but in God, who created all things, consisteth thy whole blessedness and felicity; not such as is seen and commended by the foolish lovers of the world, but such as the good and faithful servants of Christ wait for, and of which the spiritual and pure in heart, whose conversation is in Heaven, sometimes have a foretaste." (IOC. 3. XVI)
  • "And so my heart rejoices, my soul is glad; even my body shall rest in safety. For you will not leave my soul among the dead, nor let your beloved know decay." (Psalm 16:9)
  • "King of kings, yet born of Mary, / as of old on earth He stood, / Lord of lords, in human vesture, / in the body and the blood; / He will give to all the faithful / His own self for heavenly food." (Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence)
  • "Hail, Queen of Heaven; / hail, Mistress of the angels; / hail, root of Jesse; hail, the gate / through which the Light rose over the earth." (Ave, Regina Caelorum)

04 March 2016

Italy Trip: Days 1-3

Finally! The Rome trip! For those unaware, my husband and I went to Italy for two weeks over Christmas, three days in Venice and the rest in Rome, my new favorite city. I'll be sharing our adventures in five parts with excerpts from the journal I kept while we were there (and my present commentary), as well as photographs (of course!). I absolutely loved Italy and still feel so lucky to have been able to go. :)


DAY ONE

Christopher and I arrived in Rome yesterday morning after an eight hour flight with surprisingly good plane food (for some reason I was especially excited about that bit) [for real, guys. I love airplane food. I'm like a kid in a candy store when the attendants roll out their food carts. "Chicken or pasta?" Yes. Anything and everything, please.]. After landing, we took the FL1 train to our hotel. For much of this journey I was irritable, which I now blame on heat and hunger [story of my life]. Our hotel room is very European (i.e. small), but nice. We recuperated from the flight for a while, then headed out, taking the 60 bus to Santa Susanna, the church which held our free tickets to the Papal Audience for the next day. We took to walking around, ambling along small Italian streets that small Italian cars are still able to navigate. Many streets are done up with Christmas lights and some shops have garland and Christmas trees on display. Musicians play (or in one man's case, bring radios?) in open squares and larger streets. Waiters stand at restaurant doors, inviting people in for warmth and candlelit meals. Young people, mothers with strollers and (my favorite) priests walk along the dark cobblestones. It is all very idyllic. Still, I couldn't really grasp the fact that we were in Italy, finally, after waiting for such a long time.

As if the city knew I still held such reservations, if reservations they could be called, we turned a corner into the square which houses the Trevi Fountain. C was talking as we did so, but I would be hard pressed to remember what he was saying. The Fountain looms over you--I don't know how high--and if you aren't careful, you'll miss the details in the grand size of the piece. A flourish of sea flowers clings to the marble cliff. Each statue of the women has a unique character. The inscription at the top tells when and by whom and to what purpose the piece was constructed (which is all in shorthand, so you kind of have to know what it says already to know what it says). At night, it is lit up by lights throughout the square where people scrabble to get good angles for their pictures and vendors sell souvenirs and (the latest gimmick) selfie sticks. It seems to be a haunt for local teens, as well, who joke and shove each other on each stair level. Maybe it's my virginal Italian eyes or maybe it's that the Fountain was recently restored and cleaned, but it is a beautiful and stunning sight.

Imagine that you are only half as tall as the statues and you may have an idea of how large the Trevi is.

The Pantheon was a smaller, granted no less greater, surprise than the Trevi, at least as far as shock value is concerned. Still. Try not to be impressed by a building that has been standing for that many centuries. We entered about ten minutes before closing, which gave us enough time to see many paintings and sculptures. Maria e Gesu' Bambino was my favorite. Mary stands tall and strong with baby Jesus in her arms. The statue itself looks as smooth as realistic skin. I was pleasantly surprised to find Raphael's tomb beneath, who made many of the pieces there. On his tomb is written: “Here lies Raphael, by whom nature herself feared to be outdone while he lived, and when he died, feared that she herself would die.”

We took a north west path through lights and police motorbikes, headed for the Vatican. Somehow, I was more intent on making it to a particular street that the thought of the Vatican slipped my mind until C said if I looked carefully, I could see St. Peter's from our spot on Lungotevere in Marzio. I spied the cupola, the highest point in the city and started to feel a tingling of the thought “This is happening.”

We crossed Ponte S. Angelo to get to (what else?) Castel S. Angelo. The river is lined with statues of angels, some bearing staffs and ready to fight. The bridge is also a perfect place to watch cars pass on one side of the river and people pass on the other side. Lgt. Vaticano turns into Via della Conciliazione, a straight shot to the Basilica of St. Peter.


Ah, St. Peter's. What can I say that others have not? I Can only repeat the Basilica is beautiful but not only for the architecture. The Basilica is breathtaking, but not only for its size. The Basilica is magnificent but not only for its history. It is all of these things—art, enormity, history—as well as the anticipation I have ahd in waiting to see it and my religious history. Rome sweet Home was one of the first books I read about conversion and its cover had the Basilica of St Peter on it. “All roads lead to Rome” and the road of my life started in a very Protestant family and background Through circumstances of meeting people, being a naturally curious person, wanting to know the truth and having good examples of the faith, I became Catholic. I think it must be quite normal for converts to feel like weary, but immensely pleased pilgrims. For a time, they are on a journey of spiritual discovery and investigation; they must question beliefs they have long held; they must examine themselves. They must do all this in the face of opposition, whether that opposition comes from family, friends, or society. They must deny themselves and follow Christ where He leads them, He the good Shepherd who patiently bears his sheep and brings them truth, grace and mercy.


God has been with me on the journey of my life and on this journey to Rome, the seat of Peter, the stones where martyrs' blood has been spilt, the place where saints are buried, the city where walls, floors, ceilings and streets are covered in priceless art depicting scenes of the faith, the balconies where popes have greeted the people, the land where I expect to come away from changed, my home.



DAY TWO

Morning came a little too quickly. We wanted to be sure to get to the Basilica in good time to get decent seats for the Papal Audience. The buses were incredibly packed when we got on (60 by the hotel, 64 at Nazionale-Quirinale) and I worried a little when one bus seemed to break down [!!!]. It turned out alright, though. Finally, we got off the bus and queued up with others to go through a very easy security line. Even though we had visited only twelve hours ago, I was still surprised at the scale of the place. We did luck out in finding two seats in the sixth or so row. I could hear people speaking in French, Italian and Spanish as we waited for the Audience to begin. What a testament to the universality of the Catholic church to have so many different people gathered in one place.

Suddenly, the murmur of many voices broke into cheers as Pope Francis entered the square. He greeted thousands with a large grin and waves. It is surreal to see buildings you've only seen in photographs and it is likewise surreal to see people you've only seen in photographs. He stopped every so often to kiss babies and reach out to people. Many of us who were not close to the perimeters stood on chairs to get a better view of the Holy Father. Finally, he made his way up to the platform in front of the Basilica. Bishops from around the world took turns reading from the Gospel, in which Jesus says He is the way. The Gospel was spoken in multiple languages and then Pope Francis gave his address. He reminded us that the Jubilee for the Year of Mercy had begun and the Holy Door had been opened (this door is only opened for Jubilee years). Ur focus must be on the mercy of God, which Christ welcomes us to receive in love and the Sacrament of Reconciliation. He also said that mercy and grace come from God's love and our hearts, not from work we can do on our own. This statement elicited applause from the crowd. Following, the bishops extended prayers to Pope Francis, as well as happy birthday wishes (he would turn 79 on the 17th). Finally, they told us we could have our objects blessed at the closing benediction. He also blessed those in attendance, their families, and sick loved ones. At the end of the audience, one group sang Happy Birthday and a line of people met the Pope.

We followed the stream of people out of the square and turned onto Via di Porta Angelica to purchase religious items. A sizable shop had many things on display: rosaries, probably a hundred different kinds; key chains; mugs; sweatshirts; statues; decade bracelets; medals and more. I was tempted to purchase a statue of St. Therese of St. Christopher, but worried about something happening to it on the travel home. I picked up a box with Pope Benedict XVI on it which had a delicate looking blue rosary inside. While I liked it, I didn't think Benedict was involved so inherently. I asked the girl if the shop had more Benedict items (there were several Francis and JPII items) and they found a center piece I could attach to a rosary [but as I don't make rosaries, I nixed that option] and a key chain with Benedict on one side and the four Papal Basilicas on the other. I was more pleased when the girl found one with St. Christopher on the other side [score!]. I scooped the key chain up as well as a rose-scented rosary to be blessed at the Sunday Angelus.


We couldn't dawdle all day, though. We crossed a bridge into a thanklessly shaded road [it was nice and sunny in St. Peter's Square] and stopped first at Largo di Torre Argentina, where Caesar was murdered. The ruins are beautiful and almost haunting. It is amazing that such old sites have been preserved and stood through so much history. Of course, C had to insert a joke about posting a picture and saying, “Here is where I shanked Caesar.” Oof. A nearby fountain gave us some good water. The water from such fountains is known to be good and it is certainly much better than our hotel's, which is none too enjoyable.

After a good look into the past, we met a priest friend, Fr. M, outside of Santi Vincenzo e Anastasio, a church in the square where the Trevi Fountain is. We followed him down the street to a cafe. Along the way he pointed out the apartments where he and other studying priests live in Rome. We sat in a narrow cafe with espressos and hot chocolate and talked about his assignment. It sounds like a lot of work because they have eighteen hours of classes per week. It all sounds very interesting, so I hope it goes well for him.


We then headed to the Museo di Scultura Antica Giovanni Barracco, a (free!) museum which houses ancient Roman and Egyptian sculpture, vases and excavations. As I looked at the Roman artifacts, it hit me that these pieces did not have to travel far to be here. They did not come from some far away land. Instead, we had come to the far away land to encounter history and art for ourselves. We finished and ventured out for some dinner. I had carbonara (the best I had in Rome) and C has a tomato basil pasta.

Can't eat in Rome without Papa Benny's favorite soda.

Back at the hotel, I looked into how to get to Termini station that evening. We arrived in plenty of time and I used the hour for gelato and journaling. We boarded our train at around 10.15 and departed twenty minutes later. As it was an overnight train, we were in a sleeper car and shared it with two Italian boys. I can't remember their names, but one was friendly and going to Mestre to attend his girlfriend's graduation. He had spent a year in New York and Fordham studying law. After a while, we fell into quiet as we amused ourselves with writing, reading or music. At around 1 AM I finally fell asleep.

DAY THREE

I awoke at 7 AM in a panic because we were meant to get to Venice at 5.20. However, Italian travel is not often without some delay and we arrived at 8.30. We were also given breakfast. Mine included a giant honey croissant and a kiwi apple juice. We got off the train, declined the opportunity to pay money to use the toilet, and exited the station to what has easily been the most beautiful sunrise of my entire life. Venice is gorgeous and I am so happy we decided to come here. Buildings with arched windows, flanked by small alleyways and broken up by grand museums and basilicas are bathed in an early morning pink and golden hue. The air smells slightly sweet and the stone bridges and streets resound pleasantly with the clack of footsteps. I could never describe the scene well enough. We stumbled upon the Rialto market, a visual onslaught of colors and an olfactory overpowering of smells (for the former, mostly of vegetables and fruits; for the latter, mostly of fish. Fish smells great early in the morning. It was probably swimming that morning...). C managed to guide us to our hotel, a cute B+B with an older, traditional décor that I quite like: soft yellow diamond patterned wall paper and dark wood dressers and armoirs. Our bathroom is up a flight of stairs and designed in a nice mix of traditional and contemporary with porcelain and terra cotta.

New best friend?

On our way to San Marco's, we must have passed one hundred shops. Many shops are designed with tourists in mind. They show off a bit of Venetian character, as well. Elaborate glittery masks for carnival, lace tablecloths, knockoff purses in several shades and sizes, glassowrk (a Venetian specialty), beaded jewelry, scarves, gelaterias and pizzerias (neither of which are as agood as their Roman counterparts)... Tourist trap restaurants send out waiters who advertise their “very fresh food.” The closer you are to Rialto bridge, the crazier it is. The bridge is covered in young people, older tourist couples, mothers with strollers, and people with maps and selfie sticks. Shops line the bridge as well.

Just pretend the construction and red poles aren't there.

Emerging onto the Square is another momentous scene. The Basilica itself is enormous and in the Baroque style. Great gilded horses flank the terrace. There are hints at the Evangelist throughout, especially with lions: on the edifice, as statues guarding a twenty foot tall Christmas tree, at the top of a monument. The other three sides of the square are made up of the Correr Museum, Biblioteca Nazionale Marciano and archaeological museum. Beneath these grand levels of historical note are shops and cafes. For Christmas, lights are strung in the walkways. Out on the square, it is a mix of people taking photographs, vendor carts selling scarves and scammers trying to push roses into women's hands. There is a thick layer of pigeon over everything. Pigeons looking for food, pigeons dive bombing, pigeons landing on people's arms [!]. The light was running out, so I ducked into San Marco's while C spoke with his mother on the phone. The church is very pretty and adorned everywhere with lions. The crucifix above the high altar is simple but nice. I also liked the Marian side of the altar. As I left, the sunset cast another beautiful warm rosy glow over the square.

We had dinner at a takeaway pasta place (cacio e pepe for me, bolognese for C), then went to Tre Mercanti, a specialty grocery store which sells 25 flavors of tiramisu. I was pleased to discover that they also had macarons. Satisfied with our traditional tiramisu and passion fruit macaron, we continued our [misty and slightly creepy] night time stroll, ducked into a supermarket to buy some cookies and chips, and returned to our hotel.

That's the first three days of the trip! Stay tuned for days 4-6. :)