“Four Majors” of Venice

Hopefully everyone knows that Rome has four major basilicas.

A pilgrimage to the Apostolic See of St. Peter involves visiting these four churches: 1. St. Peter’s tomb at the Vatican. 2. St. Paul’s tomb, at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls. 3. The cathedral of Rome, St. John Lateran. 4. St. Mary Major.

The pilgrim who visits all four obtains an indulgence. I have had the privilege of leading pilgrims to the four majors not once, but twice, in 2006 and 2008. Also, I have visited them as a private pilgrim on three other occasions.

Far be it from me to suggest that Venice stands as a kind of ‘second Rome.’ Yes, you don’t have to evade speeding motorini in Venice; you just listen to the burbling of vaporetto propellers in the canals–which many travelers probably prefer. But only Rome is Rome. Only the bishop of Rome is the pope. Only Rome has four official major basilicas.

I would like humbly to suggest, though, that Venice also has four major basilicas. For the pilgrim to visit.

Unofficial “majors.” Rome has the tomb of St. Peter, prince of the Apostles. But Venice has the tomb of St. Mark–briefest of the Evangelists, which has to count for something.

Granted: Most of the people who trundle themselves to Venice do so in order to ride in gondolas and take selfies. But some venture there as pilgrims, out of devotion to God and His saints.

So I propose these “four majors” of the Serene City.

I include these four because they stand on the major islands of the city, rather than on remote, secondary islands.

St. Mark’s and Santa Maria della Salute face each other across the opening of the Grand Canal, which flows like an S through the city, and divides it into two parts. The Frari and San Zenipolo stand on opposite sides, buried inland, deep in the neighborhoods.

1. St. Mark’s marks the center of Venice. All the canals, and all the alleyways, ultimately lead there.

per san marco sign venice

(No reasonable person tries to use a map in Venice. The alleys have names, but it’s practically impossible to know what those names are. You just follow the signs for either San Marco or the Rialto, and eventually you wind up somewhere good.)

Saint Mark's Venice

Believe it or not, I found the interior of the basilica that houses my baptismal patron’s relics rather underwhelming. Yes, the gold mosaics glitter all over the walls.

St. Mark's Venice interior
(most of these photos come from Wikipedia)

But the church seems considerably more impressive and mysterious on the outside than it does on the inside. Inside, to be honest, St. Mark’s seems a little dingy.

2. Santa Maria della Salute sits right on the water, across from San Marco. The early seventeen-century Venetians built this octagonal geometric masterpiece to thank our Lady for saving them from the plague.

Santa Maria della Salute on the water

Dome of Santa Maria della Salute, Venice, Italy.

3. Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari sits on the same side of the Grand Canal as Santa Maria della Salute.

Frari Venice exterior

Frari main altar Titian Assumption of the Virgin Mary
Titian’s world-famous Assumption hangs in the apse
Frari Venice choir stalls.jpg
the choir stalls stand in the middle of the nave, behind a stunning rood screen

Frari Venice rood screen

4. Santi Giovanni e Paolo, aka San Zenipolo (back on the San Marco side of Grand Canal)

Exterior_of_Santi_Giovanni_e_Paolo_(Venice)

Facade_of_Santi_Giovanni_e_Paolo_(Venice)_-_Portal

Santi_Giovanni_e_Paolo_Venice_interior
the stained-glass windows in the apse fill the huge church with light

…Venice has other basilicas that a pilgrim could profitably cross the earth just to visit. Like San Gregorio Maggiore, which looms across the lagoon from Piazza San Marco, on an island all its own. Or San Pietro di Castello, the original cathedral of Venice, which I mentioned in an earlier post.

I never made it to Guidecca island to see the Redentore, or to Torcello island to see the really ancient cathedral (going back to before Venice became Venice), with it’s world-famous apse mosaic:

Torcello cathedral Venice apse mosaic Virgin Mother

Also, Venice has other, smaller churches aplenty, many of which deserve encomiums beyond my ability to produce.

Like Santa Maria dei Miracoli, which sits quietly by a small, largely un-used canal, unassumingly waiting to send you into a rapture upon entering…

Santa_Maria_Dei_Miracoli_interior Venice

…So, yes: Venice is not Rome. But it does indeed have some seriously major basilicas and churches. Worth going on pilgrimage to pray in.

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Milan, Ancient but Not Easy to Pray

Duomo Milano columns.jpg

You step into a giant forest of marble, when you enter the cathedral of Milan.

St. Bartholomew Milan

Then I found myself next to the famous statue of St. Bartholomew, flayed alive for the faith.

St. Charles Borromeo lies in the crypt, under the high altar.

They don’t make it easy to pray in the Duomo Milano. Large parts of the church lie behind impenetrable barricades. Couldn’t even find the Blessed Sacrament.

But across town, the Basilica di Sant’Ambrogio has the great Father of the Church, entombed with two martyrs to whom he was devoted, Sts. Gervase and Protase.

Ambrose made them the patrons of Milan, as narrated in St. Augustine’s Confessions. (St. Ambrose baptized St. Augustine.) After Ambrose died, they re-interred the martyrs with him, since he had become the city’s perennial patron.

St. Ambrose

The martyrs are vested as St. Ambrose’s deacons. They lie beneath this mosaic:

Basilica Ambrogio mosaic.jpg

Daring Prayer and Evangelization

El Greco Christ in Prayer

Abraham negotiated with the Judge of the world. About the possible innocent souls in Sodom and Gomorrah. In the course of these negotiations, when Abraham had worked the Lord’s cut-off number from fifty down to twenty, Abraham acknowledged, “I have dared speak to my Lord thus.” [Spanish]

He dared.

Some people grow up scared of their fathers, afraid to ask anything, for fear of bad repercussions. And some people grow up counting on both parents for understanding and compassion in every possible circumstance. Abraham had begun to learn that pure prayer to God Almighty involves more childlike confidence than fear.

Ready for some Greek?  I wouldn’t put you through this, but this particular Greek word appears in the New Testament 41 times. And it’s in the Catechism.

Parrhesia. Childlike openness, frankness, confidence and boldness.  Speaking with the knowledge that the listener will understand and indulge you.  That the listener loves you.

When you pray, say “Father.” Father. In other words, speak with parrhesia. The disciples had asked the Lord Jesus, “How do we pray?” When you pray, children, say ‘Father.’ Dare to say, “Father.”

After all, Christ revealed, in His own prayers, how to speak to the Father with confidence:

Father, I give You praise, because what You have hidden from the wise and the learned, You have revealed to the merest children.

Father, take this chalice from Me. But not My will, but Yours, be done.

Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.

Father, into Your hands I commend my spirit.

Father, I pray that they might be one, that I might live in them as You live in Me, and that their joy might be complete.

Father consecrate them in truth.

The incarnate Son spoke to the heavenly Father with consummate parrhesia.  Christ always took for granted: the Father knows all, understands all, guides all toward the true good. “The birds of the air and the flowers of the field neither toil nor spin, yet your Father in heaven provides for them.”

St. Paul expresses what parrhesia means like this:  “Christ pours His Spirit into our hearts, and we cry out, ‘Abba, Father.’”

The Roman Catechism of Pope St. Pius V explains:  We call God Father, with the bold confidence of beloved children, because:

sistine

1. He made us out of nothing in His own image and likeness.

2. He unfailingly provides for our needs by exercising His tender providence.

3. He redeemed us from the condemnation we deserved through His Son’s perfect sacrifice, and He pours out heavenly grace through the ministry of the Church.

In other words, Almighty God has shown Himself to be the very compassionate, gentle, understanding, and indulgent Father that Abraham boldly talked down from wrath to mercy. God has shown Himself to be the Father Who patiently waits for our repentance, longs for our reconciliation, forgets our iniquities, forgives the injuries we have done Him, and grants us an altogether fresh start in Christ.

All this makes us bold and confident in another way, also. In prayer we speak to the Father fearlessly, as His beloved children. We also speak that way before the world, about the Father.

Because we know how generous and trustworthy God is, we have nothing to fear from this world. Come what may, we stride forward in confidence to fulfill our mission: to make the Good News of the good heavenly Father known.

Children don’t imagine that they have to know how a car works. They just say, “Daddy, can you drive me to the park?” They don’t imagine that they must understand the chemistry of cooking.  They just say, “Mommy, can you make me some macaroni and cheese?”

Our heavenly Father does not require us to strategize extensively about how to gain souls for His kingdom through artful persuasion and clever tactics. He can devise tactics a million times more cleverly than we can. Our role is: to bear witness. To offer confident, childlike testimony about the goodness of God.

Testimony that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is true. That God is the loving and kind Father of the whole human race. That He rules His kingdom of justice and peace with an open Heart. That the Holy Mass contains all the riches and wisdom of God. That the Church is a real family, to which everyone can belong.

Heavenly Father, we boldly ask You lovingly to give us boldness. We securely petition You for confidence and serenity in prayer, and in all our interactions in this world. We know that You know what we need before we ask You, and that You grant liberally all that we ask in the name of Your Son. So we trustingly ask You in the name of Jesus to give us the grace of His unfailing, rock-solid trust in You.

Say Some Prayers, Please

Crystal City immigration court
Immigration Court building, Crystal City, Virginia

Tomorrow will find your unworthy servant in a courtroom, along with a score of my beloved people.

One of them faces possible deportation. But tomorrow’s hearing could put him on a path to full American citizenship.

The rest of us will testify, one after another. We will explain a. our dear friend’s exemplary character, and b. the extreme hardship that his family will face if the government separates them.

Please pray for a good outcome! Thank you!

They Need a Miracle…

plenary-council-plaque
Stone tablet commemorating the Third Provincial Council of the US bishops in Baltimore

…when they meet in Baltimore next week. The bishops of the US.

We American Catholics received a little miracle at a bishops’ meeting in Baltimore once before. The Third Provincial Council of Baltimore gave us the Baltimore Catechism.

This year we need a bigger one.

A breakthrough. A triumph of Christian humility and prudence. A faith-restoring renunciation of all the defensive, self-pitying nonsense, of all the bureaucratic argle-bargle, of all the lawyering and pointless, counterproductive p.r.’ing.

A miracle: That they would say and do what Men of God under these circumstances would say and do. Not jockeying for position among themselves. Not thinking of what anyone else might think or say. No self-importance. No passive voice. No slogans. No gestures.

Just a humble reckoning with actual facts. Careful study. Fatherliness.

…Like I said: we have to pray for a major miracle here. So I have studied the best way to pray for these brothers. And my method is to pray for them by ecclesiastical province.

US_Roman_Catholic_dioceses provinces map
Handy map of all the US dioceses, colored according to province

There are too many dioceses–and way too many individual bishops–to keep in your mind. But not too many provinces. (An ecclesiastical province is an Archbishopric with its associated bishoprics.)

I haven’t participated in a Mass in absolutely every US ecclesiastical province, in my little life. But I have memories of most of them: friends’ ordinations in the provinces of Indiana, New Jersey, GA-NC-SC, Illinois, Louisiana, Iowa; Masses on various trips in the provinces of east and west Texas, southern California (and northern CA-NV-UT), Pennsylvania, Missouri, AZ-NM, Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, CO-WY; weddings in CT-RI, OK-AR, New York.

Let’s pray, dear reader. For another Baltimore miracle. For some kind of genuinely heartening new beginning. Let’s pray for our bishops. I humbly suggest praying for them by province. But you choose your own preferred way. Just pray.

Yes, it will take a miracle for the total institutional free-fall of summer-fall 2018 to end in Baltimore next week. A miracle unlike any we’ve seen in these parts, in a long, long time.

But some unforeseen, beautiful thing could conceivably happen. Something that said to your honest Catholic, kneeling in the pew and trying to hold on: Yes, we can start fresh. We can actually begin building again, building an institution worth trusting.

Yes, that would be a major miracle. But we believe in miracles. So let’s pray for one.

Zeal for the Temple

cleansing

Zeal for your house will consume me. (Psalm 69:10)

As we read in St. John’s gospel, the Lord’s disciples thought of this psalm verse when Jesus cleansed the Temple. Took the worldliness out of it, the cynicism, the selfish dishonesty. The Lord gave back to the Temple the purity of its prayerfulness.

In Genesis we read about how our father Jacob dreamed of a ladder that stretched up to the realm of the angels. When he woke up, Jacob said, “The house of God is the gate of heaven.” (Genesis 28:16)

Thanks be to God, we have a lovely temple here (Rocky Mount, Va.), a building worthy of housing the celebration of Holy Mass. Ditto in Martinsville.

But, of course, the outward temple exists to serve the inward temple. The true temple is: the human person, made in the image and likeness of God. Consecrated in Christ as a temple of the Holy Spirit.

This is why we Christians understand crimes against the spiritual and bodily integrity of a human being—we understand the whole business in a special light. Pope John Paul II explained it all in his encyclical letter Evangelium Vitae.

God destines and guides every human being towards divine communion; He has made everyone a temple of His own glory. Whenever anyone attacks or abuses the spiritual and bodily integrity of a human being, we have to stand up. We lament it. We condemn it. We cry out for justice. And we pray.

It all begins at the moment of conception in the mother’s womb. We Catholics incorrigibly insist on the right to life. With the Supreme Court transition underway here in the US, our bishops have proposed that we pray for nine Fridays, starting today. Pray that our nation will respect the right to life.

And let’s pray, while we’re at it, that our Church will be the Church of Evangelium Vitae. The Church of the New Evangelization. A true, cleansed temple.

Flying into Windows

robin bird

St. Peter wrote: Be serious and sober-minded, so that you will be able to pray. Lord Jesus said: When you stand to pray, forgive anyone against whom you have a grievance.

Reading between the lines here, we conclude: It is neither serious, nor sober-minded, to hold grievances.

Prayer offers us a cleansing of the interior temple. Humbly I come before God Almighty. I see that, at every turn, He has offered me the path of life. And I, like a self-destructive zig-zagging robin, have flown smack into a window instead.

Do robins who fly into windows judge other robins? Hold grievances against them? Don’t they rather think to their little selves: “As a group, we need help.”

May God have mercy. On us all.

What sober-minded, serious person surveys the world as it is, and thinks, “You know, everything would be absolutely, perfectly fine—if it weren’t for all those people who voted for Donald Trump!” Or what sober-minded, serious individual looks around realistically and thinks, “Gosh, everything would be awesome—if it weren’t for all those people who stand in the way of Donald Trump’s success!”

My point is: Everything most obviously is not fine, either way. We all find ourselves in one situation together: Morally speaking, the human race flies into windows constantly.

May God have mercy on us. Let’s beg Him to help us. Our grievances against each other were small-minded yesterday. Today, we can’t even remember why we have them. Better to focus on God, forget the grievances, and pray.

Praying Heroes

Garofalo Ascension of Christ

Lord Jesus prepared to ascend to the Father. He gave a final benediction to His disciples, with two components.

First: I am sending you. He says that to us, also.

The Kingdom of God has one center, one “capital city,” so to speak: the human Heart of Christ. His Heart beats with love for every human being, because every human being exists by virtue of God’s divine love.

So the Lord says to us: I send you on a mission. To extend My Kingdom by extending My love. Live in My love, so that, living in love, you can love. You can love your neighbor in mercy and in truth. With that love, the divine love, you will conquer the kingdom of evil.

Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, wrote us a letter in March, to help us understand how we must base our lives completely on the mission that Jesus has given us. The same mission that the Lord gave to the original Apostles, as He prepared to ascend to heaven—He has given that same mission to us.

The key to our spiritual lives, the key to Christian holiness, the key to a vigorous and meaningful life in this world is: Our apostolate. Christ has consecrated us His apostles; we have a mission. And that mission involves loving our neighbors with the love of the Heart of Christ. It involves pursuing souls, to help them come home to holy Mother Church.

We have no doubt: what we receive at Mass offers the sustenance that every human soul desperately needs. So we extend the offer to our neighbors, ‘Come, share this feast with us!’ We risk contempt, rejection, all kinds of suffering. Christ went to the cross for us, out of love, and He sends us out into the world as ambassadors of His crucified love.

peter-crucifixionWhen we grasp all this, we grasp the true meaning of our lives. We grasp the true meaning of every human interaction we have–with anyone, anywhere, anytime. When we realize that we exist for the sake of our apostolate, we grasp the vital principle of reality. Because the world turns on Divine Love.

Which heroes do we admire as the most truly manly? How about St. Peter? He repented of his betrayal, and he admitted it. Jesus forgave him, and gave the first pope his mission. Then St. Peter went out and found a way to befriend recalcitrant Jews. He found a way to befriend Greeks, Roman soldiers, everyone—so that they could know Christ. St. Peter shepherded the whole flock, spread across the Mediterranean. Then he unflinchingly offered his own life, hanging upside down on a cross, on Vatican Hill in Rome.

Or how about St. Paul? What more manly hero could anyone ever imagine? Like St. Peter, a humble repentant sinner. And a tireless traveler and adventurer. St. Paul’s adventures make Indiana Jones look like Papa Smurf by comparison. St. Paul, like St. Peter, communicated with every kind of person, in all kinds of languages, so that everyone could know Christ. And St. Paul, too, offered his mortal body as a sacrifice to God on the outskirts of the city of Rome, where they beheaded the human author of half of the New Testament.

Jesus summons us today to this kind of humble, adventurous heroism. But there was a second component to Christ’s parting benediction. He didn’t just say, Go, evangelize. He said: Pray first. Pray that the Holy Spirit will come. Pray that heaven may clothe you with the power of divine love. Because you can’t do it without My Holy Spirit.

None of the heroic exploits of selfless love, undertaken by the original apostles, or by any of the martyrs and saints who have followed in their footsteps—none of these manly deeds could ever have happened, if it hadn’t been for the original Novena.

pentecost_with_maryThe original Novena involved the future heroes of Christ’s Church keeping quiet and still for nine days, trembling with fear and uncertainty about the future. Meanwhile, one person stood at the center and showed them what to do.

The Greatest Hero showed the other heroes what to do. They would all freely admit: they followed the lead of the one who quietly, unobtrusively, unpretentiously, steadily, gently prayed.

The Blessed Virgin. The Mother of the Apostolate.

Who won the Holy Spirit for us? Who moved God to pour out His fearless divine love into our unworthy hearts?

Jesus, of course. Also His Mother. For those nine days between Ascension and Pentecost, she prayed. Could the Apostles have prayed like they should have, without her? Are you kidding? They would have gone crazy with confusion and fear; they would have bickered endlessly—if the Blessed Mother had not been there to steady them and focus them on the task at hand. Prayer.

Hopefully everyone takes my point. We find meaning in life by grasping that God has consecrated us to do heroic deeds of selfless love to build His kingdom. And the greatest heroes of them all? Our mothers, who quietly taught us how to pray.

Spring Training for Heaven

spring training

[Click AQUI para leer en Spanish]

We do not know yet what heaven is like. But we know that it involves being personally united with God forever. If we hope to have this personal communion with God in the end, then we probably need to have some kind of communion with Him now, right? Some kind of practice or spring training, so to speak.

So here’s an easy question:  How do we develop a friendship with the Lord, now, while we are still here on earth?  Easy…by praying.

Anyone ever heard of the Catechism of the Catholic Church?  Everybody know that the Catechism is divided into four parts, for the four pillars of the Catholic faith? Part IV of the Catechism concerns prayer.  This part of the Catechism begins with the gospel reading for Holy Mass on Sunday, about the Samaritan woman at the well. Makes sense because:  To pray is like going to a well.  Someone who prays opens up his soul to God like a thirsty person opening his or her throat for cool, refreshing water.

When we open up like this, when we go to the well of prayer, we find Christ waiting for us there, like the Samaritan woman found Him. Upon meeting Christ, we discover three things…

Catechism-of-the-Catholic-CHurch1. While of course we come thirsty to the well of prayer, we discover that the Lord also thirsts. “Give me a drink,” He says.

What do we possess that we can give God to drink? Can we give water to the One Who measures out the depth of the oceans and holds the rain clouds in His hands?

No. The Lord thirsts for one thing and one thing only. He thirsts for our devoted love. On the Cross He opened His arms to us. His throat was parched. He said to each of us, “I thirst. I thirst for you.”

2. The well of Christian prayer is the well of our father Jacob, dug in ancient times for the Israelites. So we have to be willing to imitate Jacob. As we read in Genesis, Jacob struggled all night in the darkness. Some unknown foe wrestled with him, but Jacob refused to give in. Then, in the morning, Jacob received the blessing he sought, and a new name. The Lord called him Israel, because he persevered in his struggle through the dark night.

At this very well, the Lord Jesus pours out the living water of the Holy Spirit. But to pray in the Holy Spirit, we have to be willing to persevere through a dark struggle, too. The Holy Spirit is infinite divine love, but love can be rough. The Holy Spirit doesn’t send Hallmark cards. He lifts us up to dizzying, frightening, unfamiliar heights.

3. The third thing that we discover when we meet Christ at the well of prayer is this: The Lord Jesus is the Messiah Who makes it possible for us to worship the Father in spirit and in truth.

Now, human beings are naturally inclined to pray.  But a lot of things can get in the way.  Spiritual laziness.  Self-centeredness.  Attachments to material things.  False ideas about God.  Distractions.  Distractions.  Distractions.

In Christ, we find humble and true prayer. In Christ, man prays for everything that is truly good. The Catechism has a beautiful one-sentence explanation of what Christian prayer is:  “Prayer is the response of faith to the free promise of salvation.” The response of faith to the free promise of salvation.

What did the Lord say to the woman at the well?  “If you knew the gift of God!”

The woman had rebuffed the Messiah at first, because He made a request she didn’t think she could deal with.  She couldn’t fully grasp what He was asking her.  She had her ideas about how she fit into the world.  And this interaction with Christ fell outside those ideas. If only we knew the gift of God!

Instead, we waste our time thinking thoughts like:  I’m a loser, because I don’t have very many facebook friends.  Or:  I’m not worth anything, because I’m fat.  I’m not cool, because I only have an iPhone 4.  I suck, because I can’t cook, I can’t jump, I can’t attract attention at parties.

No!  If we only knew the gift of God, the promise of salvation.  He is saying to us:  I died for you, at the exact weight you are now, with the exact number of facebook friends you have right now!  You don’t need to be any thinner, or have any more facebook friends, for me to love you.  I suffered agony and died for you exactly as you are—I suffered that much, and died that miserably, precisely to show you how much I want you with me in heaven.

So, please, for a minute, says the Lord, just forget your diet and your job and your husband and your wife and your children and your parents and your neighbor and your car and your business and your dog and your cat and your homework and your resume and your money and your apps and your DVR—forget it all for a minute. And believe that your Maker has suffered and died on the cross out of love for you.