Friday, October 31, 2008

Closing the Synod

Last Sunday I attended another Mass at Saint Peter's Basilica. As you might guess, it never gets old.

This Mass marked the close of the 12th ordinary general synod of bishops, which met for the last three weeks to discuss "The Word of God in the Life and Missin of the Church." Established at Vatican II by Christus Dominus, a synod of bishops is a gathering of bishops from around the world that acts as an advisory body to the pope on a particular matter. Unlike a full ecumenical council, where all bishops of the world attend, a synod is attended by only a few representative bishops from each nation. This year the U.S. had four representatives: Cardinal Francis George of Chicago; Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston; Archbishop Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C.; and Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tuscon. In total, some 250 bishops from 110+ countries attended the synod.

As you can see from the title of the synod above, the theme was quite broad. Specifically, the bishops met to discuss how the Church, some 40 years after Dei Verbum (Vatican II's great pronouncement on revelation and Scripture which called for a new attention to Scripture), was doing in its post-Vatican II efforts to help the faithful become more educated about Scripture, be inspired to actually read it, and view it as an essential means of encountering God in daily life. It was meant to be an honest appraisal of how the Church can be more effective in announcing the Gospel to all peoples, especially her own, and in bringing them to a new appreciation for its relevance in daily life.

The process for the synod began more than two years ago, when the Vatican sent out a lineamenta, a set of guidelines meant to establish the basic theme for the synod and to elicit input from the bishops around the world about which specific issues to address. The bishops responded over the next year with their own ideas and, earlier this year, the Vatican published the instrumentum laboris, or the working document which served as the text and framework for the synod. During the actual three week sessions, the bishops met to discuss various parts of the instrumentum and made certain propositions for the pope to consider. These were narrowed down by vote to 55 approved recommendations, which were then passed along to the Holy Father for his review. In the next year or so, Benedict will then write a document which that will be the instructive result of the synod, accepting or rejecting the bishops' proposals and calling for new measures or offering new insights on the synod's general theme.

The Pope loves babies, especially when they're held by nuns.

A myriad number of topics were reportedly touched on by the bishops at the synod, but certain key issues were continuously raised, including: a call for the Bible to be made more available in third world countries through accurate translations into minor languages; a call for a renewal of preaching, specifically that homilies be based more on the Scriptural readings of the day while not being neglectful of incorporating catechetical elements when possible; an appeal for efforts to be made at the diocesan and parish level to stress the importance of Scripture and its daily use by the faithful; a new appeal for the Word of God to be explicitly proclaimed by the Church through its service to others, especially the poor and underprivileged; and an interesting and controversial new proposal that women be formally instituted as lectors, i.e. readers of Scripture at Mass. Women already serve as lectors in many first world countries, including the U.S., but presently only men studying for the priesthood are formally instituted as lectors. You can find more information about the 55 propositions here. A summary of the final message of the synodal fathers is found here, and here is the Pope's homily at the closing Mass.

Nice threads!

The Mass itself was quite powerful to be present for. I was fortunate enough to be actually on the aisle -- it's not so important how far up you get as how close to the aisle you are -- so I had a full view as the two hundred plus bishops and cardinals processed in, followed by the Holy Father. The Mass was very international, as you might expect, with readings in all of the major languages of the West, as well as Russian, Greek, Hindi, and Arabic. I was able to follow along fairly well with the Pope's homily. As you might read in the link above, it is, like all of his work, at once learned and practical and I very much look forward to his more definitive statements when they come out next year.

On Sunday evening, the four synodal fathers of the U.S. Church gave the NAC student body a presentation on the synod and answered questions. It was great to hear their viewpoints on many of the issues I outlined above, as well as to hear their thoughts on what topics the eventual statement from the Holy Father might reflect. Each of the bishops stayed here at the NAC during their time here, and so it was great to see them in the hallways or at meals over the last month, and thus to feel, in some way, connected to the spirit of the synod. It was very gracious of them to take time out of their busy schedules to fill us in on what this great ecclesial event had been all about. Certainly the theme is most important to our lives as Christians.

* * *
Happy Halloween to all of you back in the States. It was always one of my favorite holidays as a kid, and even today I enjoy reading a little E.A. Poe this time of year or watching an old horror classic. This year, I had to content myself by watching online what has become a yearly Halloween tradition. However you spend it, hope you enjoy yourself!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Diaconate Ordination 2008

The North American College diaconate class of 2008 with Bishop William Callahan and other bishops

A couple of weeks ago the NAC community was privileged to celebrate probably its biggest week (in importance and in scope) of the year. On Thursday, Oct. 9, 25 men of the Fourth Year class were ordained deacons in Saint Peter's Basilica, including two from Arkansas, Dc. Edward D'Almeida and Dc. James Melnick. It was a great week, full of exciting and unique events, and I thought I'd fill everyone in, albeit a bit belatedly.

Diaconate week is the highlight of the NAC year. Visitors are, of course, always welcomed here, but between families, friends, and American pilgrims wanting to be present for the ordination, they come in droves in October especially. This year, for example, there were some 3000 guests that were present for some part of the week and attended the ordination Mass in Saint Peter's. The week kicks off with a Mass and reception here at the NAC for all visiting guests and continues with other events throughout the week as many families and guests use it as a chance to see Rome. The week culminates on Thursday with the ordination at Saint Peter's, and then the ordinands spend the weekends resting and visiting with their families.

Fresh off my retreat and having no real plans for the week, I volunteered to help the Diocese of Little Rock deacons-to-be with anything they needed help with. The first "job" was just spending a little face time with the many (over 100) people that had come in from Arkansas for the ordinations. On Monday evening I dined with a group of pilgrims from St. Joseph Church in Conway, and then on Tuesday evening I had dinner with another pilgrim group from Christ the King Church in Fort Smith. Both meals were very enjoyable and allowed me a nice chance to enjoy simultaneously fine Italian food and good Arkansan conversation. It was very evident how excited, if a bit overwhelmed, they all were to be in Rome and, at that, for the occasion of an ordination.

Pretty good seats, no?

On Wednesday I took a break from the diaconate activities and attended the papal audience in Saint Peter's square with my vocation director and a few friends from the Little Rock area. Thanks to Bishop Taylor, we procured some riparto speciale tickets, which are those that are on the same platform as the Holy Father. Arriving early to stake our claim in line, we were able to sit in the second row to hear Benedict deliver this reflection on how, in our personal relationship with the Lord, we can take as our example St. Paul who truly knew Christ, though they never met. Many of the deacons and their immediate families were also able to attend the audience -- a few even met the pope afterward -- and to them, the Pope said, "May the grace of Holy Orders enliven you to preach the Gospel of Christ with conviction and love." Although it was a warm day, and we were outside for quite a long time, it was great to get a little closer (physically and spiritually) to the Vicar of Christ.

I had a better one but it came out fuzzy! Argh.

On Thursday, the college hosted a nice luncheon for the student body, the deacon class, and their guests. After the banquet, we made our way to the basilica for the ordination itself, which took place at the Altar of the Chair, at the far end of the basilica behind the main altar. Bishop William Callahan, OFM Conv., the Auxiliary Bishop of Milwaukee and a former spiritual director at the college, presided at the Mass and ordained the new deacons. Even from my seat in the extreme rear, it was a very moving ceremony. Our New Man class and the Fourth Year men went on retreat the same week, and we were each given a member of the other class to keep in prayer for that week. Although I haven't yet gotten to know all of the Fourth Year men well, it was special to be present at the ordination of the men we'd been praying for just a week prior.

The ordinands processing to the Altar of the Chair.

Certainly, it was extra special for me to see two of my diocesan brother seminarians being ordained. If priesthood is the finish line we're all striving toward, diaconate perhaps marks the course's final turn. In many ways, it's all downhill from there, at least in terms of weighing one's options -- the promises of obedience, celibacy, and prayer are all made at the time of diaconate ordination. My friends' evident joy at giving their lives in service to the Church was inspiring. Just a step away now from priesthood, they are rightly clerics of the Catholic Church, capable of and responsible for imparting the faith to others, administering certain sacraments, ministering to the poor and underprivileged, and above all proclaiming and preaching the Word of God. It's always amazing to see and to participate in a ceremony where that kind of commitment is made, and indeed where an ontological change occurs -- that is, as in Baptism, a change in one's being, an indelible mark on the soul given by God at the time of ordination -- especially if one is preparing for such a change oneself!

Several of the priests of our diocese and our bishop were also able to make it to Rome for the ordinations, and so the happy occasions also gave me the chance to get to know them better as well. After the ordination ceremony, I attended a simple but lovely dinner held for Dc. James Melnick and hosted by the Little Sisters of the Lamb, who know him personally. The sisters live in very humble circumstances, in lodging provided gratis by the Vatican and connected with the Basilica of the Four Crowned Saints. They have few members, little money, are mostly foreigners (mainly French) and live hard lives teaching the Gospel and serving the poorest of the poor. Despite all of this, or perhaps because of it, they possess an irresistible charm and emanate with an infectious joy that is truly Christian in nature. I spent most of our dinner translating between the sisters and the American pilgrims, but I left very touched by these quiet, strong, prayerful women. I look forward to getting to know them better.

The next day was spent attending the Little Rock deacons' first Masses as deacons. James' was in the morning at the Altar of the Crib in the Basilica of St. Mary Major, while Eddie, as I mentioned before, had his in Assisi in the lower level of the Basilica of Saint Francis. It was a great week, full of blessings for all involved. Even in the few weeks since, the ministries of the new deacons have had a positive effect on the college, and I think we're all excited to know that these good men will soon be serving the people of their respective dioceses as priests back in the U.S. Please keep them in your prayers!

UPDATE: The fourth year men at my previous seminary, Saint Meinrad School of Theology in St. Meinrad, IN, were also ordained to the diaconate this past weekend. Included were several of my close friends from my time there. Congratulations to them and be sure to remember them in prayer as well!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Two Weeks Away

The big day swiftly approaches. Heck, my absentee ballot is already sitting here on my desk. I for one am glad, if for no other reason than the media coverage might, for a few months anyway, switch to a topic other than election politics. And this is in Europe, mind you -- I can't imagine what it must be like over there.

I'm sure most of us already have our minds made up. For those that don't, I doubt anything I can say would influence that. But, nonetheless, for those that may still be on-the-fence or looking for more things to consider when making election choices, I thought I'd pass along a few words from the USCCB's 2008 Voting Guide, "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship" that might be helpful. Take them for what they are -- not an endorsement of a particular candidate and not a sign of which candidate I will support but merely an aid in making good election day choices.

The document is intended for Catholics and contains some moral instruction incumbent on them. Indeed, part of the reason I felt compelled to pass this along was because you probably have heard lately a lot of conflicting opinions claiming to be from a Catholic viewpoint or, at least, from self-described Catholic individuals. This can be confusing for those of us looking for some guidance on what to consider when voting. Hopefully some words from the Catholic bishops' of the US might clarify things a bit. You can find the full text in PDF form here.

Despite being intended especially for a Catholic audience, I hope that our non-Catholic friends might also find this helpful and pertinent. I'd encourage anyone, Catholic or not, to read the whole document because it speaks to the relationship between faith and politics, not just in regards to this particular election. The document itself is intended to be read as a whole, and any attempt to look at only part of it will unavoidably give an incomplete picture of what the document actually states. Nevertheless, it is a bit long, so I've excerpted some of it below. As a reading assistance, I've highlighted certain key areas which, in my opinion (and mine alone - they are not highlighted by the bishops), are especially important to keep in mind as we head to the polling booths.

The Church equips its members to address political and social questions by helping them to develop a well-formed conscience. Catholics have a serious and lifelong obligation to form their consciences in accord with human reason and the teaching of the Church. Conscience is not something that allows us to justify doing whatever we want, nor is it a mere “feeling” about what we should or should not do. Rather, conscience is the voice of God resounding in the human heart, revealing the truth to us and calling us to do what is good while shunning what is evil. Conscience always requires serious attempts to make sound moral judgments based on the truths of our faith. As stated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “Conscience is a judgment of reason whereby the human person recognizes the moral quality of a concrete act that he is going to perform, is in the process of performing, or has already completed. In all he says and does, man is obliged to follow faithfully what he knows to be just and right” (no. 1778).

The formation of conscience includes several elements. First, there is a desire to embrace goodness and truth. For Catholics this begins with a willingness and openness to seek the truth and what is right by studying Sacred Scripture and the teaching of the Church as contained in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It is also important to examine the facts and background information about various choices. Finally, prayerful reflection is essential to discern the will of God. Catholics must also understand that if they fail to form their consciences they can make erroneous judgments.

The Church fosters well-formed consciences not only by teaching moral truth but also by encouraging its members to develop the virtue of prudence. Prudence enables us “to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1806). Prudence shapes and informs our ability to deliberate over available alternatives, to determine what is most fitting to a specific context, and to act decisively. Exercising this virtue often requires the courage to act in defense of moral principles when making decisions about how to build a society of justice and peace.

The Church’s teaching is clear that a good end does not justify an immoral means.... Catholics may choose different ways to respond to compelling social problems, but we cannot differ on our moral obligation to help build a more just and peaceful world through morally acceptable means, so that the weak and vulnerable are protected and human rights and dignity are defended.

There are some things we must never do, as individuals or as a society, because they are always incompatible with love of God and neighbor. Such actions are so deeply flawed that they are always opposed to the authentic good of persons. These are called “intrinsically evil” actions. They must always be rejected and opposed and must never be supported or condoned. A prime example is the intentional taking of innocent human life, as in abortion and euthanasia. In our nation, “abortion and euthanasia have become preeminent threats to human dignity because they directly attack life itself, the most fundamental human good and the condition for all others” (Living the Gospel of Life, no. 5). It is a mistake with grave moral consequences to treat the destruction of innocent human life merely as a matter of individual choice. A legal system that violates the basic right to life on the grounds of choice is fundamentally flawed.

Similarly, direct threats to the sanctity and dignity of human life, such as human cloning and destructive research on human embryos, are also intrinsically evil. These must always be opposed. Other direct assaults on innocent human life and violations of human dignity, such as genocide, torture, racism, and the targeting of noncombatants in acts of terror or war, can never be justified.

Two temptations in public life can distort the Church’s defense of human life and dignity. The first is a moral equivalence that makes no ethical distinctions between different kinds of issues involving human life and dignity. The direct and intentional destruction of innocent human life from the moment of conception until natural death is always wrong and is not just one issue among many. It must always be opposed. The second is the misuse of these necessary moral distinctions as a way of dismissing or ignoring other serious threats to human life and dignity. Racism and other unjust discrimination, the use of the death penalty, resorting to unjust war,
the use of torture, war crimes, the failure to respond to those who are suffering from hunger or a lack of health care, or an unjust immigration policy are all serious moral issues that challenge our consciences and require us to act. These are not optional concerns which can be dismissed. Catholics are urged to seriously consider Church teaching on these issues.

Decisions about political life are complex and require the exercise of a wellformed conscience aided by prudence. This exercise of conscience begins with outright opposition to laws and other policies that violate human life or weaken its protection. Those who knowingly, willingly, and directly support public policies or legislation that undermine fundamental moral principles cooperate with evil.

Sometimes morally flawed laws already exist. In this situation, the process of framing legislation to protect life is subject to prudential judgment and “the art of the possible.” At times this process may restore justice only partially or gradually.... Such incremental improvements in the law are acceptable as steps toward the full restoration of justice. However, Catholics must never abandon the moral requirement to seek full protection for all human life from the moment of conception until natural death.

The Church’s guidance on [specific and difficult policy issues] is an essential resource for Catholics as they determine whether their own moral judgments are consistent with the Gospel and with Catholic teaching. [It is] not just another political opinion or policy preference among many others.

Catholics often face difficult choices about how to vote. This is why it is so important to vote according to a well-formed conscience that perceives the proper relationship among moral goods. A Catholic cannot vote for a candidate who takes a position in favor of an intrinsic evil, such as abortion or racism, if the voter’s intent is to support that position. In such cases a Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in grave evil. At the same time, a voter should not use a candidate’s opposition to an intrinsic evil to justify indifference or inattentiveness to other important moral issues involving human life and dignity.

There may be times when a Catholic who rejects a candidate’s unacceptable position may decide to vote for that candidate for other morally grave reasons. Voting in this way would be permissible only for truly grave moral reasons, not to advance narrow interests or partisan preferences or to ignore a fundamental moral evil. When all candidates hold a position in favor of an intrinsic evil, the conscientious voter faces a dilemma. The voter may decide to take the extraordinary step of not voting for any candidate or, after careful deliberation, may decide to vote for the candidate deemed less likely to advance such a morally flawed position and more likely to pursue other authentic human goods.

In making these decisions, it is essential for Catholics to be guided by a well-formed conscience that recognizes that all issues do not carry the same moral weight and that the moral obligation to oppose intrinsically evil acts has a special claim on our consciences and our actions. These decisions should take into account a candidate’s commitments, character, integrity, and ability to influence a given issue.

It is important to be clear that the political choices faced by citizens not only have an impact on general peace and prosperity but also may affect the individual’s salvation. Similarly, the kinds of laws and policies supported by public officials affect their spiritual well-being.

And to close, the bishops tell us:

In light of these principles and the blessings we share as part of a free and democratic nation, we bishops vigorously repeat our call for a renewed kind of politics:

• Focused more on moral principles than on the latest polls
• Focused more on the needs of the weak than on benefits for the strong
• Focused more on the pursuit of the common good than on the demands of
narrow interests

God bless you in your decisions and God bless our country!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

In the Footsteps of Francis

Well, the retreat is over -- long over, in fact. Although we observed silence there, I didn't mean for my silence here to carry on for quite so long. Thanks for the thoughts and prayers you passed along while I was in ritiro; it was a great week and certainly much needed after all of the transitions of the first few months here. The hectic schedule quickly returned, but before filling you in all of the events of the past week, I wanted to finally detail some recent trips I was able to take in the footsteps of St. Francis.


As I'm sure you know, Assisi is the birthplace of Francis, the son of a wealthy cloth merchant who decided to reject the opulent life of the medieval upper class and instead live as a beggar. The friars minor that began following him soon became one of the world's largest religious orders (eventually several orders, in fact) and today the Franciscans remain perhaps Italy's most influential order. Certainly the devotion to Francis and to all things Franciscan is very high here (he's the patron saint of the country), especially in the region of Umbria where Francis spent most of his life. I was excited for the chance to visit Assisi, having heard of the medieval character and appearance that it still retains and knowing of the importance this small town had on the universal Church.

Originally a Roman settlement on the slopes of Mount Subasio, Assisi was an important medieval trade center as well as a later Ghibelline stronghold. It was in one of the battles against Guelphs from the nearby town of Perugia that Francis di Bernardone was taken captive and held for a year. Francis was never close to his father -- he was born around 1182, probably while his father was away on a business trip to France, his mother's native land. Tradition has it that his mother originally named John after the Baptist, in the hopes that he would be a religious figure of importance for Italy. His father, however, had no such aspirations for him (he was a Ghibelline himself) and as such renamed him Francesco, likely due to his infatuation with the hip culture of France.

Francis grew up wanting for little and was known as a lively and gregarious youth, yet he also displayed a distinctively charitable character at a young age, feeling compassion for the lepers of the city and showing charity to its beggars. After Francis' imprisonment in Perugia in 1205, he returned to Assisi but soon found himself disillusioned with his former life of excess and entered a period of soul-searching. His concern and care for the sick and the poor grew, and he retired to nature often to escape the pressures and the emptiness he found in merchant class society. He continued to work in his father's trade but the two often clashed as Francis did not display the work ethic and commitment to profit which his father possessed.

The path down the mountain to San Damiano

Around 1207, Francis was praying in the dilapidated church of San Damiano on the outskirts of Assisi when the cross displayed there spoke to him, "Francis, rebuild my church which as you see is falling in to ruin." Energized by this personal call, Francis used his personal funds to begin reconstructing San Damiano and several other dilapidated churches in the area. As his money begin to run out, however, Francis decided to sell precious cloth and other valuable items owned by his father to pay for the repairs. This, it seems, was the proverbial last straw with Francis' old man, who dragged Francis to an audience with the local bishop where he publicly accused him of insubordination, filial disobedience, and theft. Francis, realizing both his error and the brokenness of his relationship with his father, gave up his rights as heir to his father and gave him back on the spot all of his possessions, including, reportedly, his clothes. Soon after, while attending Mass, Francis prayed that he might be given to direction in his life and took as his answer the Gospel proclaimed that day, Matthew 10:6-10, in which Christ sends the Apostles out to preach without making provisions for the journey. Francis realized that he had misinterpreted the call he had heard in San Damiano: he was not to undertake a rebuilding campaign for church buildings but rather was called to renew the life of the Church as a whole.

The Porziuncola chapel where Francis died, at the foot of Mount Subasio

New orders, especially those espousing poverty and penitence, were not uncommon at the time (the Waldensians, for example, started similarly before becoming heretics), and many Church authorities saw them as a danger to the establishment and tradition of the Church itself. Francis worked quickly to outline a framework for his order and to attain approval for it from Rome. Soon, other orders started in imitation of the Friars Minor, most notably the Order of Poor Ladies, founded by Clare, a friend of Francis' and fellow resident of Assisi. Continuing to teach and lead the men who followed him, Francis also became involved in efforts to evangelize to the Muslims in the Holy Land in hopes of ending the violence there. He died in October 1226 at the age of 45. Even in death seeking to follow Christ, Francis was buried at his request on the "Hill of Hell" below the town, where criminals were executed and buried. He was canonized in Assisi less than two years later by Pope Gregory IX.

The Basilica of San Francesco in Assisi

The Basilica of San Francis, the cornerstone of which was laid by the same pope at the site of the saint's tomb, is an amazing and unique structure which I thoroughly enjoyed visiting. The architecture tends to blend various stylistic elements, most notably late Italian Romanesque and early Gothic, but it is the frescoes adorning the inner walls that are most impressive. The newer, upper basilica features a series of frescoes by Giotto of Francis' life, while the lower basilica parallels various events in Francis' life with the life of Christ, in frescoes by Giotto and Lorenzetti. Both were quite lovely, but I particularly enjoyed the dramatic beauty of the lower basilica. (In fact, I even purchased a print of Lorenzetti's "Madonna of the Sunset," named so because the afternoon sun shines on the fresco.) Assisi has a lot of great sights, including the Basilica of St. Clare, the Church of San Damiano, and more, but certainly the famous Basilica of Saint Francis is the jewel of the city.

The Hermitage of Prisons on Mount Subasio

On visiting Assisi, our group took a trip 4 km up Mount Subasio to the Hermitage of the Prisons, so named after a Benedictine hermitage on the site was given to the Franciscans who wanted to be "prisoners" of contemplation and prayer. Francis himself visited the site several times and built a grotto in the woods nearby; tradition has it that it was at this grotto that he gave his famous sermon to the birds. We were able to have Mass at this grotto and spend some time in prayer and reflection. As one who has always enjoyed nature, and found in it a medium for communing with God, it was moving for me to be where Francis himself had once prayed.

Our class was able to grow even closer to the Franciscan tradition in central Italy during our retreat in Greccio at a retreat center run by Franciscans. Greccio, about 100 km south of Assisi near Rieti, is a quiet mountain town in the Central Apennines, weather and country that felt very similar to Colorado. It was, in short, a great place for a retreat. As I mentioned before, it was in Greccio in 1223 that Francis decided to provide a new way of celebrating Christmas by reconstructing the nativity scene, known in Italy as a presepe, in a cave on Mount Sabini. From this original presepe, the worldwide tradition of the Christmas crib began.

The Sanctuary of Saint Francis in Greccio

Our retreat center was only a few minutes walk from the sanctuary and friary that developed around the cave, and I was able to spend several hours during the week praying in the chapel there and in the area. The views of the Rieti valley below were breathtaking and wandering around in the medieval chapel and the cells of the Franciscan sanctuary added a kind of timeless and mystical experience to the whole week. The sanctuary also had an extensive collection of various presepi, models of nativity scenes from around the world, each with their own unique cultural flair. It was interesting to see how this one event of Christ's birth affected and was adapted to each particular culture.

All of these somewhat disjointed experiences left me nonetheless with a new appreciation for the great figure of Francis and the imprint he left on both Italian and Catholic life. Too often he's mistaken as a kind of half-crazed hippie who challenged authority when instead he was much closer to the spirit of our Lord himself, preaching repentance, simple reliance on God, and a deep love for the poor. Through his faith and commitment, he and his friars did help to renew the Church in the Middle Ages and set the stage for greater renewal as well.

The Rieti valley, from the sanctuary on Mount Sabini in Greccio

Last week, the Fourth Year men here at the NAC were ordained to the transitional diaconate in St. Peter's Basilica, a ministry dedicated to preaching the Gospel and ministering to the poor and oppressed. The post on this is to come, but it was truly a great event, an uplifting witness of what the Lord can accomplish in those that respond to his call. On Friday, one of the new deacons for Little Rock journeyed to Assisi, with the pilgrims that had come for his ordination in tow, to celebrate his first Mass as a deacon in the Basilica of St. Francis. As I returned to the lower basilica which details the lives of Jesus and Francis, the one which I had enjoyed so much on my first visit, I reflected on how fitting it was that this place would be chosen for this man's Mass of Thanksgiving.

Francis, despite being one of the great saints and reformers of the Church, was himself not a priest but a deacon. Indeed, he very much embodied heart and soul the role of the deacon in the Church. Now, nearly 800 years later, a man from Arkansas will, at least for the next several months, serve the same Church in the same way. It was beautiful to witness the symbolism present as we celebrated his first Mass as a deacon: one man beginning his diaconate ministry in the basilica dedicated to another who had performed the same ministry so well. How wonderful it is that, even today, the witness of Francis and the tradition remains vibrantly alive in the Church today, present in new and ever more compelling ways.