Thank you for flying the Gospel of Matthew…

There’s an airline that boards people by group instead of by seat. This is extraordinarily interesting — particularly in the age of online check-ins.  Human behavior at its most curious.  And I am reminded of this by the gospel this past weekend.

There’s a king, a son, and a wedding feast. And 3 groups of invited guests.  Plus one.

The first group gets invited and doesn’t bother to come.

The second group gets invited and not only do they not bother to come — but they also kill the messengers/servants.

The third group gets invited and come to the wedding feast.

Then there’s the one guy who’s not dressed appropriately.

I read a pretty good commentary last week that broke it down pretty well:

Group #1: People who claim outward loyalty to the King, but whose inward actions are disloyal.

Group #2: People who claim outward loyalty, but inward and outward actions are disloyal. They take it a step further and actually offend the King directly by their treatment of his servants.

Group #3: People who claim outward loyalty and their inward actions reflect this in their showing up properly disposed and prepared. Although we are told they are “bad and good alike,” they do not seem to take issue with being the “3rd string.”

And then there’s *That Guy* — who shows up for the party — to eat, drink, and dance — but brings nothing to the table to give.

This could be applied to something as simple as going to Mass (although sometimes even that is not so simple…) or could be a challenge to evaluate our whole faith life and journey to see if we need a “rerouting.” Which group am I today?

And then there’s that airplane seating thing.

So when I am lucky enough to remember to check in online for my flight 24 hours in advance — I get to get on the plane and stow my carry-on luggage first. And naturally I choose either a window or aisle seat.  Then the next group gets on board.  They choose the other window and/or aisle seats.  Then there’s group C.  Poor group C.  They forgot to check in until they got the airport.  BOOOOO.  Middle seats and snarkey comments from flight attendants (“you’re not choosing furniture…”) and long-distance relationships with their carry-ons.

And then there’s That Guy. The Last Guy.  Maybe That Guy is a jerk — or maybe That Guy needs someone to help him.   I had a rather astute parent once claim it was the rest of the community’s responsibility to get That Guy a wedding garment.  I want to believe that That Guy needs to take responsibility for himself — but I would be wrong.  I teach others to give — by giving everything I have away and holding nothing back.

Although I think the wedding feast does have some correlations with how we actually get on the plane, I think how we treat the people getting on after us — regardless of which group we’re in — is perhaps more poignant. And I think that has something to do with how long ago our last conversion was.  Because faith formation is supposed to be lifelong, right?  Conversion–Formation–Evangelization is a never-ending process…isn’t it?  I’m always supposed to be in some version of one of those 3 stages…aren’t I?  We don’t use those 3 words very often…do we?

I think most of us start out as Group A in terms of God and church. We are the first on the plane so there’s nobody there but the flight attendants — who are welcoming and encouraging.  This is a little like our faith community should be.  Ready to welcome us — but we need to get it together, get seated, and be ready to give the same welcome to the next group.  Which only sort of happens.  By the time Groups B and C join us — on a plane or in our faith community…we have become a little less than enthusiastic.  Less eye contact.  More looking somewhere else.  Anywhere else than into someone’s eyes.  And…I like my space…my world…my understanding of things…of Jesus…God…faith…religion…my traditions.  New people or more people means the jig is up for me and my world.  If I have to let you sit in my row — my reality changes.  Has to get bigger.  Broader.  My groove is thrown off.  My stuff is challenged.

And so I think I will give you a dirty look instead.

Especially if you’re trying to take the middle seat.

We are called to do better than this. On a plane…but especially in our Catholic Church.  We are called by our baptism to Go. Make Disciples.  That’s it.  That’s all.  2 things.  I haven’t stretched myself far enough or learned how to pray well enough or broken myself open and fully out of my self-seeking box in my service of Go. Make disciples — until I am hanging on a cross.  And nobody has asked me to do that.  Seriously.

Jesus would probably have been in all 3 groups:

Group A — Jesus is greeting flight attendants, taking a window seat, making eye contact and actually inviting others to sit in his row.

Group B — Jesus is probably taking the middle seat instead of the aisle — to make the third person to the row more comfortable as well as to get close to Window Seat Person and start an immediate conversation…Jesus is all about community.

Group C — Jesus is not only trying to make eye contact — but he is calling me by name, inviting me into the conversation. Challenging my unease and giving me the courage to see — to really see — the dignity of each person’s life, faith journey, and cross.  When I am willing to look back at Jesus — I am also changed forever by the lives, faith journeys, and crosses of others. When I am brave enough to *encuentro* — encounter God’s people with authenticity and intimacy —  I learn to desire the experience of accompaniment.  Of journey.  Of ushering another person and allowing another to usher, to travel with me.

And That Guy — Jesus is in That Guy too. Just to see how I’ll do.

We are called to challenge ourselves this week to take a closer look at:

Who are these groups in my life when it comes to my faith community?

Which group am I in?

How does this understanding affect how I treat others?

How am I doing with my 2 tasks:

1.) Go.

2.) Make disciples.

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…sometimes you get killed.

Again I am inspired this week by lots of people in lots of places to work a lot harder on my own humility and joy as I consider today’s Gospel reading (Matthew 20: 1-16a).

This week kicks off the next 3 weeks worth of vineyard parables. One of my favorite priests wrote me a card many years ago during a particularly challenging time in my life.  It said simply, “When you work in God’s vineyard, sometimes you get killed.”  I still have that card — and although I suspect that particular priest — in his great kindness — was attempting to use humor (and sarcasm) to get me to take whatever dramatic thing I was sure had happened to me — down a notch or two, that line has come to mean different things at different times to me.  And I think of it every 3rd year…around this time.  This Ordinary Time.

As I read ahead for the week, I came to the familiar self-righteousness that usually accompanies my reading of this parable — that I am of course among the first batch of workers hired. And then I watched Tom and Kimi Tomaszek’s “visio divina” of Between Sundays — a ministry of The Five Loaves. This is a great free resource that helps prepare me for the upcoming Sunday Gospel.  It’s great because they always cause me to see simple things in a gentle way — that I’ve never thought of before.  And this week it was a story about what it really means to work in a vineyard — something they have a little bit of experience at.  And I’d never known some of the things one has to think about in picking grapes.  It made me re-vision this gospel.  Watch their “Visio Divina” here:

http://www.thefiveloaves.com/

I could go on and on about how this makes me look at social justice, day laborers, and all sorts of other things based on what I learned from the Tomaszeks — but that’s another blog entry for another time.

Here’s what occurred to me:

1.) If I am among the first batch of workers hired — I am so busy whining and toiling and complaining about the heat, the conditions, the payment, the actual labor I am called to do — which is to joyfully make disciples — that I miss all kinds of grapes. I do not really *look* at what I’m supposed to be doing.  I don’t really pay attention sometimes.  Grapes wither and die because I have missed them or skipped them. They fall on the ground and get trampled because I am careless and wish to be noticed and thanked or otherwise praised.  Perhaps I have done the trampling myself.  While I am busy and distracted and looking anywhere else — especially my watch — I miss the *encuentro.*  The encounter.  The joy of labor and work in light of what God has called me to do.  I may have worked a full day for a full day’s wage — but I haven’t yielded all I can back to the vineyard owner.  I haven’t used my gifts and skills to their full potential.  And this wise vineyard owner has a deep understanding of what it means to work in a vineyard — so it seems like he is well aware that he will need to hire more workers to go back through and continue the harvest.  Hence the hiring of the 9, 12, and 3 o’clock workers.

2.) If I am a 9, 12, or 3 o’clock worker — the above still applies — but the gospel isn’t specific about their attitude when payment comes. My guess is that they are mostly grateful and quiet. They know they haven’t been there since the beginning — so they probably feel like they lucked out a little bit — but are hopefully glad to be working and also glad that those crabby first-batch people aren’t complaining about them.

3.) The 5 o’clock workers…And really — this is an issue of God’s Timing. If I am honest with myself and consider those last workers hired — it is indeed possible that they didn’t show up to be hired until late in the day because they were doing something else.  Or that they weren’t ready/prepared to work until late in the day because of another job.  If I consider with humility that these workers perhaps had a very different sort of skill — some places call them gleaners — they needed to be able to really look and find the grapes that no one else had yet found.  This is actually what God does.  If Jesus had been hired that day — I bet he would have been in that 5pm shift.  If you know anything about vintners or wine, it takes a good eye to be able to discern whether grapes that have been scorched by the sun, punctured, fallen, been trampled or have grown into the vines can even be used for harvest. Those last workers spent that last hour crawling around on the ground or bending down to pick up all variations of grapes that had been left behind, broken, or bypassed. Their necks probably would have been just as sunburned and their bodies just as tired as everyone else’s.  Their work was different.  But just as critical to the harvest.

So really — I’ve probably proven myself as one of the first batch hired. Congratulations.  What is different now is that I am aware that God has to send a whole bunch of people back behind me to do what I have not done. To fix what I have done poorly.  To pick up after me.  To do the tasks that I have left undone.

And I must prayerfully and humbly remember that we are indeed talking about people.  Not grapes.

In one more wrinkle — or nugget of truth — I spoke to a family member yesterday who works in a place that assists people who for one reason or another have not been able to re-enter the workforce. And we talked a little about God preparing each of us for a specific time and place in His Plan for our salvation. Our own personal salvation and that of others.  On the outside it might look like someone is lazy, or unmotivated, or not good enough, smart enough, professional enough — whatever — but it is possible that God is preparing — maybe even saving — someone for exactly the right task, people, community, world, point in history — to do the most good.

So today’s response of those last workers — “No one has hired us,” meant something after that conversation.  Was more significant to me given that I’ve never had a very hard time finding a job. We presume no one has hired them because they are not good workers.  When in fact — they have been being prepared for this moment in this gospel in this time and place in history.  Their skills are needed NOW.  After the others.  In response to the harvest that has already begun.  That these very people who get looked down upon, tossed aside, overlooked — even by me in the very moments of the proclamation of the gospel — are EXACTLY the right people to be the last hired — because they know how to find truth and value in what has been left behind.

I’m not sure yet whether I desire to belong to the first group hired — and do a way better job than I have been doing — or whether I desire to develop the skills needed to be in that last group hired — the ones that God is depending on to finish up strong the work of the world as seen from his vineyard.

So — that priest is still right and his card is still true. When you work in the Lord’s vineyard — sometimes you do get killed. Some of us will actually be tasked with dying for the faith.  But most of us are going to be asked to die unto ourselves.  I believe I’m being asked this week to kill off my pride.  Suffocate my ego.  Give up my self-righteous attitude of entitlement.  To praise.  To payment.  To recognition.  All of it.  Bring death to my worldly practice of consuming others and instead give myself up to be consumed by others in joyful and loving service.  Fr. Dolindo Ruotolo wrote of himself, “I am poor, a poor nothing.”

Help me Lord, this week, to become a poor nothing — desiring only to do your will.

I know. It’s been awhile. Long story. Here’s a new and unrelated entry.

I’m always so grateful to be Catholic. One of my favorite things is the Word of God at Mass.  As I’ve gotten older — I feel more and more like the readings have been  designed especially for me.  Which is always good news. And sometimes it is “I just got socked in the head by God” news.  But I’m always humbled and grateful.

Today is the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross — a meaningful day for me personally in many ways. Today marks several anniversaries for me: of my paternal grandmother’s death.  Of my job interview that brought me to my previous parish.  Of an especially important Youth Day liturgy for me in another diocese.  Of my first real retreat given as a youth minister.  Of the inception of the religious community I’m discerning.  And the parish feast day of a good and holy priest friend.  And the Triumph of the Cross is also sort of like the “half-birthday” of Good Friday.  Sort of.

So these readings have great significance to me. But today as with many days — it’s as if I am hearing them for the first time. God always wants me to hear something I’ve never heard before, notice something I’ve never noticed before — and find Him in a space…or hear Him saying something I haven’t been prepared to find or hear until now.

I love all 4 of today’s readings for what I’m sure are the obvious reasons. They just ROCK.  But our first reading gave me some personal insight today.  I realized today that outside of the people complaining about food, water, weather, terrain, and then after getting smited by the Almighty Smiter Himself — they complain about snakebites — God could have easily just taken away the serpents. But He doesn’t. He leaves them.  One presumes by the reading that the serpents continue to attack the people.  But instead of taking something away — God gives them something extra. He adds to the equation.  He gives them an opportunity to actually — physically — turn back around to face Him — by physically turning to look upon the bronze serpent on the staff in order to live.

The Grown Up Me knows this prefigures Jesus on the Cross and that we must look at him to live — but I can remember being about 10 years old and hearing this reading and thinking: “Hang on. BRONZE serpent?  Didn’t God like *just* give those jokers the 10 Commandments?  And didn’t they *just* get busted for golden cows or something?  No graven images? But bronze serpents will heal you?  What kind of trick is this?”

Itsatrap

No trap. The Numbers reading refers to “saraph serpents.”  According to the footnotes — saraphs were either poisonous  flying snakes whose bites caused a burning pain (Wisdom 16) — OR a derivative of the fiery seraph angels guarding thrones in heaven — whose winged presence would have caused burning (Isaiah 6, 14, 30).  God always gives us what we ask for — but in a way that is good for us.  When we try to take away or get rid of things in our lives — or in the lives of others — that hurt, sting, or threaten our worldly lives — we risk missing the chance to physically turn around — and look God in the eyeballs.  A tremendous current-day-new-evangelist I know would say, “in the eyelashes.” And that’s when things get spiritual.  That’s when things truly get resurrected.  And we move towards LIFE.  Not this worldly life.  Everlasting life.  The life we were loved into being for.  The life we don’t even realize we long for most of the time.

God is not Santa Claus. We don’t hand him a list.  Or Albus Dumbledore.  He doesn’t reverse whatever spell has been cast.  God calls us to work within his plan.  In this case — I am the Israelites.  Asking for emancipation and receiving it.  And then becoming impatient with the circumstances under which I have received what I have asked for.  And so I doubt.  I fear.  I complain. Yet I received what I asked God for, didn’t I?  I have a dear friend and together we muse that although we beg God to make us saints — when given the opportunity to do this inside of our vocations — I can’t even be kind to others and she can’t even get the laundry done.  Some martyrs we’d make.  PSH.

And so here come the snakes.

IndianaJones2

I’m pretty sure God does not wish to punish me for poor behavior. Although my behavior is certainly poor.  I think He means to remind me that at my very best — when I am listening to and being obedient to His plan for me — I place my trust in Him completely.  And that’s how I get led to wherever I am at any given moment.  The serpents are about causing me to once again place my complete trust in Him to get me to the next place. Taking away the serpents and curing me demands no action on my part.  And God is all about action.  All about the 2-way street.  All about encounter.  Encuentro.  Authentic and intimate friendship.  My participation and cooperation inside God’s grace and my free will.  I must stop what I’m doing and turn around and *look* at God in order to be healed.  I must make that Act of Faith.  I must surrender to God.  Return to the mission.  A favorite priest friend reminded the assembly once that submission is not the word we think it is.  It’s not about weakness and dominance.  It’s about having strength and courage to play on the team.  To both lead and be coached.  To share the burden.  To carry — and even embrace — the cross.  To be a good steward of what we have been loaned.  To wash feet.  It means to be “under mission.”  A mission from God.  Then we are co-missioned…can you imagine?  Having a co-mission — a shared mission with God?  Like THE God?!  We have a role in that mission?!  YES!  My very favorite line in the newest translation of Eucharistic Prayer II is: “…that we may merit to be co-heirs to eternal life.”  CO-HEIRS.  We are adopted children of God.  CO-HEIRS.  This is what we are called to become.  Called to return to.  Called to receive.  We live up to our dignity and birthright in every Act of Faith.

SO — this first reading for me this week — is about really committing to humbly and joyfully working inside of the scenario God has given me. Serpents included. There can be no resurrection without a crucifixion. So I need to get it together.  This is the exaltation — the triumph — of the cross for me this week.  Until I get more instructions next Sunday.  And I am furthermore forced to consider with great sadness as well that there are people in this world — for whom I am the biting-pain-causing serpent.  ACK.

I find great encouragement and fortitude in that we are marked, then — with indelible signs from our Baptism and Confirmation — perhaps like a snake bite would leave a mark behind. The acts of faith — both in the turning towards God and in our sacramental lives are then what marks us.  This is the how and the why we Point Catholic.

Day 4: Part One

[Yes. Yes. I am a slacker pilgrim. I wrote the first half of this post almost 2 months ago — on the Feast of Pentecost..18 May. And I’m going to finish it today 13 July…so — leaving the first half as is…and away we go!]

Today is the Feast of Pentecost — Happy 1980th Birthday Catholic Church! Come Holy Spirit! And what a great time we live in — if we know how to see beyond the lens of the world! I’m not great at it yet — but I’m definitely trying!

So really — if I’m following the journey of our pilgrimage last month — I’m only really on Day 4 (which is technically only day 2…hmmm…I think I need a key) so — by request of others here it is:

Day 1: Travel
Day 2: Arrive Rome (for Mom and me…this was North American College and Cupola Tour)
Day 3: Papa Francesco & Vatican Museum
Day 4: Christian Rome: Catacombs (Domitilla), Papal Basilicas (St. Mary Major, St. Paul Outside the Walls, and St. John Lateran), Drive-bys of Appian Way (Coliseum, Domino Quo Vadis Chapel, Baths of Caraclla, Arch of Drusus), the Pantheon, and Trevi Fountain
Day 5: Monte Cassino and San Giovanni Rotondo
Day 6: San Giovanni Rotondo (All things Padre Pio), Monte Sant’Angelo
Day 7: San Giovanni Rotondo, Lanciano, Loreto, Assisi
Day 8: Assisi
Day 9: Assisi and Siena
Day 10: Travel Home

Lots of peeps have asked if it was overwhelming or difficult to be around noise and tourists in sacred places — and although there were probably moments of that — in general I have found continued gratitude in reflecting back on those time and processing why it may have been different for me.

Traveling with a pilgrim mentality (vs. a straight secular or even faith-based tour) really made a lot of difference for me. We were well-educated before entering these sacred places — on the bus or just outside or sometimes walking through the little towns that led to sacred places — either by our Guide Gaia or by our Spiritual Director Fr. Stan. Mom and I had also done some reading in advance of the pilgrimage — thanks Dad! And though we did occasionally use on site tours — it wasn’t often. So by the time we actually walked into these places — we had been spiritually focused (particularly if Mass preceded) and told where to go, what to see, and reminded to spend some time in prayer. And pretty much we were cut loose! For me — that was very freeing! I do remember watching touristy groups, earbuds plugged in, speeding by relics of saints and timeless historical art, and feeling sorry for them. When our little family of pilgrims met back as a group — often we were refocused by Fr. Stan and Gaia — and people told stories about their experiences inside/around whatever place — and another opportunity for formation took place. It felt like being part of the earliest Christian communities. And that’s where I begin today…on the Feast of Pentecost…

So…Day 4: Christian Rome

So this day was actually the Feast of St. Stanislaus, significant for multiple reasons:
First — because he is a Polish Saint and my boss is a Polish priest!
Second — because one of our 2 Permanent Deacon’s Confirmation Saint is Stanislaus!
and Third — because our Spiritual Director Fr. Stan is well…Fr. STAN!

Incidentally, St. Stanislaus was a Bishop of Poland and got himself martyred by refusing to accept immoral behavior from and consequently reprimanding the King of Poland. He is significant to my home parish as our patron, St. Thomas More, lost his head for much the same reason. Also, St. Stanislaus was canonized the first native saint of Poland on my birthday — that’s a super-fun reason to like him too!

Anyway…some interesting tidbits from the Order of Mass that day:

-from 2 Timothy 4: 1-2
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingly power: proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching.

-from the Collect
…grant, we pray,
that we may persevere strong in faith even until death.

-from Acts 5 (First Reading)
(Peter and the Apostles) “We are witnesses of these things, as is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.” When they (court officers and the Sanhedrin) heard this, they became infuriated and wanted to put them to death.

-from John 3 (Gospel)
For the one whom God sent speaks the words of God. He does not ration his gift of the Spirit.

-from the Prayer over the Offerings
…so that, purified by your graciousness,
we may be conformed to the mysteries of your mighty love.

-from the Prayer After Communion
…in the Resurrection of Christ,
increase in us, we pray, the fruits of this paschal Sacrament,
and pour into our hearts the strength of this saving food.

It is Easter-y?
Sure.

Is it Pentecost-y?
You bet.

But the throwback here, folks, is that Mass that day was Said. In. The. Catacombs. Among the first believers. The original martyrs.

*****continued 13 July*****

And that, peeps, makes all the difference. We had Mass in lots of super-cool places which I will certainly write about — but this was the one that made my heart pound and brought tears to my eyes — because praying the words of the Mass on the feast day (red vestments) of a martyr (Stanislaus) in a place where martyrs were laid to rest didn’t just remind me — the whole history and spirit of the place called out with urgency and fire — fuego — to my own spirit — of who and what those words really cost others for me to be able to stand here and say them. Mass will never be the same for me again. Particularly the Sanctus (Holy). The Book of Revelation tells us this is the part where heaven and earth proclaim and worship God together. This is the closest we will ever come while here on earth — to heaven. This is a big part of why I can’t believe anyone wouldn’t want to be Catholic…or would stop going to Mass out of anger or sadness or guilt. This is as close as we get to our departed loved ones, the saints, our patrons, our family who has gone before us. We sing/pray the hymn of the communion of saints and the angels. And it was at this point in the liturgy in the catacombs that I was overwhelmed with the reality that some of those communion of saints might have stood — alive or not — right where I am standing. Celebrated Mass right where we are. On the stone altar on which the body of a martyr/saint/family member might have once been laid — and I get to touch.

We were not allowed to take pictures — but my journal notes here are:

2000 year-old architecture from YOUR family right in front of your nose. Just like your Catholic faith. Right in front of your nose. DON’T IGNORE IT. Travel into it. Walk inside. Don’t ever come out. This is your home.

I am going to receive the Eucharist with the earliest Christians and be united with my earliest family today. Without fear. Without persecution. Without martyrdom. Without sacrifice. Without a story of suffering. I haven’t been asked to give my whole life. But I desire to.

[I think these last 2 below might have been from Fr. Stan’s homily…they don’t sound like me…and I committed in advance to full participation in Mass and not taking pictures, video, or notes during liturgy and particularly during any of his homilies. I really wanted to allow liturgy to be liturgy…and to be a full, active, and conscious participant without distracting myself or anyone else…but occasionally I jotted down what immediately remained behind in my mind after Mass was over…so I think the following 2 might be his thoughts]

We must double our courage.

Moving forward means you understand the goal.

And for my history peeps — from wikipedia: the term catacombs first referred to the system of underground tombs between the 2nd and 3rd milestones of the Appian Way in Rome (which is where we were on Day 4), where the bodies of the apostles Peter and Paul, among others, were said to have been buried. The name of that place in late Latin was catacumbae, a word of obscure origin, possibly deriving from a proper name, or else a corruption of the Latin phrase cata tumbas, “among the tombs”. The word referred originally only to the Roman catacombs, but was extended by 1836 to refer to any subterranean receptacle of the dead, as in the 18th-century Paris catacombs.

According to my notes from our tour — there are 250 catacombs in Italy, 60 catacombs in Rome proper, and 5 catacombs that can be visited by the public. We were at the Catacombs of Domitilla, they are the oldest of Rome’s underground burial networks, and the only ones to still contain bones. They are also the best preserved and one of the largest of all the catacombs. 9 miles of underground tunnels! YIPES. Even our tour guide admitted he had gotten lost underground once! Included in their passages are a 2nd-century fresco of the Last Supper (which we saw…holy smokes FOR REAL!) and other valuable artifacts.

They are the only catacombs that have a subterranean basilica (which we also saw); entrance to the catacombs is achieved through this sunken 4th-century church, at via delle Sette Chiese 280. In the past, the basilica had become unsafe, and was abandoned in the 9th century. It was rediscovered in 1593, and much of it was reconstructed in 1870. In the beginning of 2009, at the request of the Vatican, the Divine Word Missionaries, a Roman Catholic Society of priests and Brothers, assumed responsibility as administrator of St. Domitilla Catacombs.

There is some confusion and unproven theories about who St. Flavia Domitilla was…but we are reasonably certain she came from a pagan family in the 1st century. She seems to have converted quietly and of her own accord to Christianity. She may have been the niece of the Roman Emperor Domitian, who had Flavia’s husband put to death, and sent her into exile until she was martyred for the faith by decapitation in the Coliseum. Her family converted many years later. There are only 2 martyrs for sure (certainly there could be more) buried at St. Domitilla: both soldiers and both martyred in the 3rd century during the reign of Emperor Diocletian, who persecuted Christians in the military between 295-298. Their names were Nereus and Achilleus.

Although we were asked not to take photographs inside the catacombs — my mom took these outside — and there were lots of these inside too! Simplistic and inspirational:

Symbol of Jesus as the Good Shepherd
Symbol of Jesus as the Good Shepherd
Jesus is symbolized in the fish.  Strong faith is symbolized in the anchor.  Thing to the top right is symbol for our soul.
Jesus is symbolized in the fish. Strong faith is symbolized in the anchor. Thing to the top right is symbol for our soul.
Greek letters Chi and Rho -- symbol for Christ -- as well as special to those of us who celebrate KAIROS as "God's Time."
Greek letters Chi and Rho — symbol for Christ — as well as special to those of us who celebrate KAIROS as “God’s Time.”
Christ symbolized as a fish.  Thought those letters were Greek (Iota/Chi/Theta/Upsilon...) but there's no C symbol.  Alex Estrella -- I'm lookin' for a comment from YOU!!!
Christ symbolized as a fish. Thought those letters were Greek (Iota/Chi/Theta/Upsilon…) but there’s no C symbol. Alex Estrella — I’m lookin’ for a comment from YOU!!!

So — this was only how my Thursday, 11 April 2013 (Day 4) started. There’s lots more to Day 4 coming next! But I could not be more grateful to our Tour Leader Judy, our Tour Guide Gaia, and our Spiritual Director, Fr. Stan — for whoever decided to do things in the order we did them. I just think it was perfect! Doing Christian Rome starting out with Mass in the catacombs on the Feast of St. Stanislaus just set the stage for the rest of the day — and the rest of the day set the stage for the whole pilgrimage. Just sayin’. Maybe it worked out this way by accident. But I don’t think anything is an accident.

One other note — there are no names or dates on tombs, etc. within the catacombs — we were told very matter-of-factly by our tour guide: “…because nobody cares! Christians believe in the Resurrection!”

That made me smile and think of the simplicity of our Holy Father Papa Francesco!

BUONGIORNO! back again…

Well, I know I’ve been back for awhile and haven’t updated here — and I really need to get on it because everyone who tells me to hurry up and write things down and mark the pictures, and transcribe my notes is RIGHT — I’m starting to forget specifics! So here we go…
One of the most special things about being on a Catholic pilgrimage (as opposed to a secular tour) is the Catholic Christian community that forms within the group. You’re touring just like everyone else — but with a Catholic Guide, a Spiritual Director (Fr. Stan Fortuna, C.F.R. of http://www.francescoproductions.com), Liturgy every day in the most beautiful places — its. just. really. different. I think also when looking through the Catholic Christian lens of where you are and who you’re around — God teaches us as much about our life’s journey, our pilgrimage, the way to heaven by using the people around us as instruments. And that was definitely true in multiple ways for me. My life’s vocation was confirmed in many ways big and small throughout the trip by many people — but since I work with young people and families — and because tonight is Prom Night in our town — I’m going to write about how the married couple traveling together on our trip inspired me.
I don’t know if I need to protect their privacy or not — I have permission to share their story — but I guess I will change their names anyway. Maybe they will comment here and you’ll get to meet them for real!
Vinnie and Marie were traveling together with Vinnie’s mother, Leona on our pilgrimage. They are from Long island, NY and have THE BEST ACCENTS EVER!!! Vinnie and Marie were kind enough, on that very first day, (I know…I’m back tracking a little here…this is pre-Papa Francesco…the day of the NAC/North America College and Cupola Tour with mom) to share their 25th Wedding Anniversary with our group at Mass. We were at a parish named for St. Paola of Rome. This is the icon inside the church sanctuary. She’s beautiful!
StPaola
St. Paola lived between 347-404 and was an early Roman saint and an early Desert Mother. Her Feast Day is 26 January. She was widowed at age 32 — and is one of the many patrons of widows. She is perhaps most famous for her support of and service to the man who would become St. Jerome. My maternal grandfather’s name was Jerome — and my nephew is named Jeremy after him — so from a familial perspective this is significant! St. Paola was from a wealthy family and had been well educated — she met Jerome while on pilgrimage!!! She established a monastery for men and a convent for women. And she quietly used her gifts to help Jerome translate the Bible from Hebrew and Greek into Latin. She assisted Jerome in editing his manuscripts and letters, and she and her daughter helped copy all the work for circulation! They of course were not romantic or married — but the story reminds me of the many stories I know of married couples (including my own parents) whose relationships began by the woman helping the man (and NO…in my experience it has never been the other way around…hahahaha…) with schoolwork, writing papers, typing papers, or editing work! I have always loved to be helpful in that way as well!
So back to Mass and Vinnie and Marie…the Collect Prayer for that day called us to live out and “…proclaim the power of the risen Lord, that we, who have received the pledge of his gift, may come to possess all he gives when it is fully revealed.” Each of the pilgrims were given a gift in this pilgrimage – and that is each other. What would continue to amaze me the whole pilgrimage is that beginning today — we were hearing everyday from the Acts of the Apostles — and all of those readings and the gospels of course — as we are in the season of Easter — deal with the earliest Christians and their experience of living out the faith in the immediate light of the Resurrection! And here I am right smack dab in the middle of my Roman Catholic story! MY HISTORY. And the First reading told us that the disciples of Jesus shared everything — and had all things in common. I continued to be overwhelmed by my own experience of Wonder and Awe in God’s Presence.
OK…now really back to Vinnie and Marie…They proclaimed that first reading and psalm, and then they renewed their vows in front of all of us! It was really really special and I felt honored! I think this sharing of their special sacrament on the very first day set the stage for the rest of our time together — we truly would share all things in common — this would prove to be true over and over again…and for me…it was begun by my mother sharing this gift of pilgrimage with me — and then by Vinnie and Marie sharing their sacramental life of marriage with all of us on that first day.
Vinnie and Marie later shared their story and journey with me — how they were married young, and how Vinnie knew right away that he would someday marry Marie. It was super fun to hear about how Marie’s family guarded her innocence — they were only allowed to spend time together with other family members present…since Vinnie was a few years older…I LOVE THAT! And how they were inspired (and just plain TOLD) by both sides of their Puerto Rican families to be honorable and chaste in their relationship. It was very touching to me to hear them both share their hearts and experiences! What a blessing to my life as a blessed single! I am always amused by the fact that God sends such wonderful married couples into my life — and also that I might never be married because I have so many good examples and such a high bar! I must really need them! Because through all of my sacramentally married friends and families — God shows me what Matrimony is REALLY supposed to look like! And Catholic Marriage doesn’t look like any other Love Story ANYWHERE — because it is always rooted in Jesus’ Love Story with US. Individually AND communally!!! And I am so grateful for that! Vinnie and Marie shared that since Vinnie was in the Navy — he would drive hours and hours to see Marie (always supervised…but he was patient…and so was she…even when it was difficult) when he was on leave — and then turn right back around to get back to work! They finally married civilly — but — and this is SO GREAT — decided NOT to live together or participate as husband and wife until after they were married in the Catholic Church a few months later! And they both talked about how much they believed that was the best and right thing to do — even though I cannot imagine how difficult that had to have been for these 2 crazy-in-love peeps!!! They have 3 children — who i won’t name here — but trust me — they have THE BEST SAINT NAMES!!! And Vinnie and Marie have experienced many hardships — but particularly one that resulted in the miraculous healing of one of their children during his infancy. And they so willingly give of themselves and their story to others! I wish everyone could hear their story! I wish everyone could see how they laugh and joke and look at each other with such love as they tell that story! I want every young person to see in this married couple what they yearn for themselves in holy relationships. I want every married couple who wonders what the big deal is about being married in the Catholic Church to see through Vinnie and Marie what the REAL difference is and what they are truly capable of inside their call to the vocation of marriage! I want every married couple who wonders whether it was worth it – or who wonders if their children dating is worth the fight and argument about purity. IT IS!!! Purity until marriage or other vocation is worth it! Chastity inside marriage is worth it! Forming ourselves in John paul II’s Theology of the Body is WORTH IT!!! At any age. Any time. It’s never too early and never too late!
I watched Vinnie and Marie very carefully over our pilgrimage — it was fun to catch them checking on each other, checking on Vinnie’s mom, Leona, touch each other, holding hands when they thought no one was looking…joking around with the other pilgrims. Vinnie snoring in the back of the bus (yes, Vinnie, we have video proof!). Marie spending time talking and listening and caring for her mother-in-law. Leona clearly so proud of her son and daughter-in-law. They became everyone’s favorite married couple! They became everyone’s mom, dad, sister, brother, friend — Leona became everyone’s mom! And this continued to happen with and to everyone there! This is community. This is family. These are 2 people who clearly place God first above everything — and when 2 people do that on behalf of such great love for the other — their love cannot help but move both of them closer to God and to each other — like the triangle I attempt to teach our students. If God is the top of the triangle and the 2 people are the 2 base points…and they are constantly moving closer to God — moving up those lines of the triangle towards the top where God is — they cannot help but become closer to each other — the closer they become to God. This is why Matrimony and the family is like the Trinity! That great Love only creates more Love — in the form of children — among other things. Children inside of Matrimony is how God makes us most like Him — we get to participate in His creative process because of our great love! The triangle applies to every relationship we are called to be inside — friendship, relationship, work, home, family, whatever! WHO wouldn’t WANT to be CATHOLIC?!!! Seriously!!! So thanks — Vinnie and Marie and Leona — for being a sign and symbol of what God calls each of us to — to share what we have and to lay down our life for others — and to be that passionate fire that enkindles our faith! I will be praying with these things in mind tonight as our young people are practicing to “Protect ALL the Dignities” tonight at Prom!
allthethings

Day 3 — Post-Pope

After the Papal Audience we toured St. Peter’s Basilica and some of the art on our way to the Sistine Chapel. I was overwhelmed as expected by the sheer amount of artwork — but even more so I felt called back to the past weekend of certificate study as well as the Gospel reading about the Feeding of the 5000. Fr. Stan broke it down: 5 loaves. 2 fish. 1 boy. Doesn’t humanly add up to 5000 (really probably 15-20,000 peeps). But God ain’t bound by math. He ain’t bound by doubt. We have a WILD God who dares us to believe He can’t do something! And when we are most unlovable is when He loves us the most.
So standing there amidst all this art — some of it my taste — and some of it not — I’m reminded that 100% of the gifts are right here to meet 100% of the needs. Wherever I am. Every time. All of this art comes from talent which is an unearned, undeserved, gift from God. My heart spoke, “with all of this beauty, surely there is enough.”
I’ve been discerning moving on from my current job, and I knew I would be praying a lot about that here on pilgrimage. I have been worried that perhaps I missed a call from God. I’ve been sending my resume out to a few places but not feeling really passionate about it. I have worried that either my gifts have been tapped here or that the community’s gifts have been tapped out here. But I am wrong. I need to re-examine my trust and faith.
We walked along a Fresco Hall and I was listening to the comments of others around me about how all this art was done by hand — no computer graphics, no facebook sharing, no copies, no computers, no technology, and how this generation will never be able to appreciate or produce such amazing [whatever]. Again my heart spoke, “God evens it out.” I don’t know what that means, but we are a people of hope — so my hope is through all of the elements, gifts, needs, and calls towards a New Evangelization, a call to New Media Evangelization, through peeps like Fr. Stan and many others — that God indeed will even it out.
We were briefed on the Sistine Chapel before we went inside — but nothing could prepare one for the entrance into one of the most important places in our current Church History. There are Vatican guides reminding of silenzio as you enter, and it’s packed with people. I was lucky enough to find a seat facing the direction I knew I wanted to face — thanks to prep work by our very own STM peep Dr. Jim. I knew I wanted to spend my 15 minutes facing the Last Judgment. I swear I could still smell the incense from conclave. I walked past the spot where every Cardinal swore their oath. I sat in the back and prayed about my own discernment, the intentions of my family, friends, and parish, and asked God to help everyone making touch decisions and asked for clarity in hearing God’s Will.
My notes while watching the Last Judgment read: hundreds of decisions made right here…by saints and sinners…surrounded by signs…surrounded by God’s glory…by God’s Plan for us…God’s intention for where we will spend eternity…and still we sin…still we fall…I feel emotional…this is how God gave us Pope Francis just 28 days ago. I’m standing where it happened. I know the Holy Spirit is everywhere — but He was here in this place in a very special way just recently. I feel overwhelmed with the reality of fire and love for my Catholic faith, and I feel passionate about cooperating with God’s plan “that we may all be one,” to help others who know only partially — to know fully — as God fully knows each of us. I feel humbled by all of the fear and wisdom and wonder and awe in this room — I feel the weight of the Church. The weight of the people…and at the same time a freedom and trust in our God. This is what it’s about. This is the meaning of MY life. This is the meaning of where I am called. To heaven.
Now — don’t get nervous. I did look around in other places besides the Last Judgment. My mother was very struck by the Creation of Man panel and Adam and Eve. I think perhaps that speaks to her because of the gift of marriage she has. I’ve listened to a fabulous courtship and marriage story even while on this pilgrimage — I’ll write about it later.