Saturday, September 27, 2008

On Retreat

Tomorrow the New Men leave for a week to go on retreat. We'll be at a Franciscan retreat center in Greccio, a small town in eastern Lazio. It's known for being the town in which St. Francis in 1223 designed the first nativity scene, a tradition that has since spread throughout the western world.

I know I promised the update on our trip to Assisi, but unfortunately I still haven't gotten around to it. Perhaps a trip back to the land that Francis frequented will remind me of something that I would have previously forgotten.

We'll spend the week in prayer, contemplation, and rest, and can surely use your prayers should you wish to send them. God bless!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Checking In

It's been nearly two weeks since I've written anything here, and now that September is swiftly passing us by, I wanted to check in with some updates and reassure any of you that may be worried I'd forgotten about this little Internet endeavor.

It's been a busy but fairly unremarkable last few weeks. The weather here has cooled down quite a bit, and the itch to play some fall sports has definitely hit. Archbishop Michael Sheehan of Santa Fe, on vacation for a few days and staying here at the NAC, blessed our beautiful, brand-new, state-of-the-art sports field this afternoon, which should be fully operational in just a few days. Which is good, because watching football on TV only goes so far!

Orientation wrapped up a week ago Monday, and with all of four of the seminarian classes now back in the house, the school year has officially begun. Our theology classes don't start for a few more weeks, though, so the month of September is generally reserved for workshops and training sessions for the Second, Third, and Fourth Year men, and more Italian for us New Men. After four weeks of one-on-one in Verbania, our classes here have been more traditional, with our class of 60 divided into groups of seven or eight. I tested into one of the higher groups and that has been good in pushing me to keep getting better.

The Gregorian is the only one of the three pontifical universities to require an Italian proficiency exam for its new students, and for those of us that will be attending that university, our Italian classes have been conducted with the intent of passing that exam as well as learning the language in general. That's because, apparently, one only gets three shots at the exam, with a failure to pass on the third attempt leaving the student no option but to change to a university offering classes in English. The proficiency test was originally scheduled for early November, so we all assumed we had plenty of time to prepare; needless to say, when we found out last week that the exam was going to be held yesterday, some six weeks earlier, many of us were scrambling, if not panicking. Fortunately, there were some good reasons that the exam was moved up, and thus nearly all of us did indeed take the test yesterday. I think I did alright -- could have been better but could have been worse -- but it sounds like we'll find out later this week, so I'll know soon enough whether I'll have the very great privilege of preparing for and taking the exam again.

UPDATE: Fortunately, I won't. I received word Friday that I and many of my classmates (though not all) passed. It's a little silly how relieved I am by that news. Perhaps it's because if I hadn't passed I would have to arrange some 40 hours with a personal tutor before being allowed to take it again. And that on my own dime. So, thanks be to God, that's one less headache to worry about!

Tomorrow, I'll embark on another Italian adventure as I and several of my classmates have to head to the questura (police office) to get fingerprinted for our soggiorno papers, which will allow us to effectively become 'permanent residents' of Italy and live here for the duration for our studies and travel Europe hassle-free. Some of the other guys that have already been have said it's quite a headache, but since I get out of Italian class and can bring a book, I'm not complaining.

Our class made a trip to Assisi a few weeks ago which I've yet to write on, so I'll try to do that later in the week. For now, buona sera.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Seven Years On

"God of peace, bring your peace to our violent world:
peace in the hearts of all men and women
and peace among the nations of the earth.
Turn to your way of love
those whose hearts and minds
are consumed with hatred.

"God of understanding,
overwhelmed by the magnitude of this tragedy,
we seek your light and guidance
as we confront such terrible events.
Grant that those whose lives were spared
may live so that the lives lost here
may not have been lost in vain.
Comfort and console us,
strengthen us in hope,
and give us the wisdom and courage
to work tirelessly for a world
where true peace and love reign
among nations and in the hearts of all."

- Pope Benedict XVI
Ground Zero, NY, April 20, 2008

Monday, September 8, 2008

The Birth of Mary

The Catholic Church today celebrates the feast of the Birth of Mary. While I know that not all who follow this blog share my Catholic faith, or perhaps its devotion to Mary, I think that September 8 is an important celebration for all Christians.

The Birth of Mary (1470) by the Master of the Life of the Virgin

Today's feast marks the birthday of she who is, in many ways, the dawn of our salvation. Indeed her Son's birth is called just that in the Proper of Saints today. Jesus Christ is, of course, the reality of the Christian life, the pinnacle of all history, the Word-made-flesh, the One whose divinity we ask to share in because he humbled himself to share in our humanity. And yet, it is with Mary that God first begins to fulfill his redemptive promise to mankind. Creating for himself a "house of gold" through which to enter our human world, God effects in Mary the perfection of humanity. Immaculately conceived and perfect in her response of Fiat to the invitation of God's love, Mary represents for us Christians both the model and the promise of our lives. She becomes for us the example and the guide by which we are to live out the words of her Son.

Mary, along with John the Baptist, also marks the transition from the Old Testament adherence to the Law to the New Testament conviction of the Spirit, he whose power overshadowed her to bring Christ into the world. She is, as St. Andrew of Crete writes in today's Office of Readings, the point at which "[d]arkness yields before the coming of light, and grace exchanges legalism for freedom.... [M]idway between the two stands today's mystery, at the frontier where types and symbols give way to reality, and the old is replaced by the new." That which had been foreshadowed, prophesied, and promised -- namely, the salvation of mankind in Christ -- now begins to dawn upon the world in the person of his mother Mary. Indeed, unlike all other saints, the Church celebrates the birthdays of Mary and John the Baptist, not their dates of death, because it is with their births that each gives witness to the saving action of Christ. Mary, then, should be for us not only an example and a guide in our Christian life but also a source of continuous joy for it is through her that Christ comes to us. This joy is a spiritual virtue, to be sure, but one that should animate us no matter what our current circumstance or difficulty, for as we know, "the world and its desire are passing away, but those who do the will of God live for ever" (1 John 2:17).
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With that said, certainly we cannot forget about the present circumstances in which we live. Thoughts and prayers to those being affected by the nasty weather, especially Aunt M in Louisiana. Mary, hope of Christians, pray for us!

Finally, for those interested, here is the full English translation of Pope Benedict XVI's address on the day that I and the other New Men at the NAC visited him at Castel Gandolfo.