All Roads Lead to…

s-maria-maggGreetings to you from the neighborhood of Santa Maria Maggiore. After an afternoon stop in Orvieto, we have arrived in Rome.

We had a beautiful morning in Assisi to bid a bittersweet goodbye to Sts. Francis and Clare. Yours truly took advantage of the nearby friary full of Franciscan priests, and I went to Confession.

I don’t think any of us really wanted to leave Assisi, but we got on the bus anyway, because we are on a mission from God to get to the tombs of the Apostles Peter and Paul, and to see the Pope.

Orvieto funicular
Orvieto funicular
We reached Orvieto at mid-day. The roads up to the ancient hilltop city are closed to outside traffic. So we traveled by funicular up to see the magnificent medieval Duomo. We explored the town and lunched. Then we had Holy Mass in the crypt of the cathedral, surrounded by the tombs of four bishops.

Our hotel here in Rome is two blocks from the Papal Basilica of the Blessed Virgin, where we will have Mass on Friday. Tomorrow morning we will go to St. Peter’s Square to see Pope Benedict.

Then we will go to the Holy Office. Not because I have been called in for questioning. An old friend of mine works there, and he wants to show us the place.

After lunch, we will visit the catacombs. Then we will go to the tomb of St. Paul, at his Basilica “Outside the Walls”—ie., south of the walls of the ancient city. We will celebrate the Holy Mass there.

The Holy Office, seen through the colonnade of St. Peter's Square
The Holy Office, seen through the colonnade of St. Peter's Square
I wish I had more snapshots to show you. Our photographers have been working hard to provide nice pictures for these posts.

Unfortunately, computers do not work the way they are supposed to work. They bait and switch. It is unlikely that we will be able to have any more snapshots. It IS likely that I will throw my laptop out of the third floor window of this hotel.

These posts will not be enjoyable without snapshots. This blog is becoming lame. I am sorry.

Count on our prayers for you, though, at the tombs of the Holy Apostles.

FILES-VATICAN-POPE-AUDIENCETomorrow, when we receive the Pope’s blessing, he will be blessing all those we represent, too–the entire parish of St. Mary of the Assumption and the whole loyal readership of P & BD.

Ciao! (for now) –Plus Pilgrimage Homily Drafts

lufthansaShortly we pilgrims will be off. May it please our Lord and our Lady to give us a safe trans-Altantic voyage.

Alas, we are going to miss the Dallas game at FedEx Field on Sunday night. Some things cannot be helped. We have to have our priorities straight here.

Hopefully, you will hear from me again when we reach Assisi. There is always the chance that technical difficulties will beset the Preacher and Big Daddy team on the road, however. To allow you to follow along with us no matter what happens, I present you with drafts of my homilies for the pilgrimage…

First, the Sacred Scripture “theme” for the pilgrimage:

“You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its savor, what can make it salty again? … Have salt in yourselves.” (Matthew 5:10, Mark 9:50)

Homily for Sunday, November 16: 33rd Sunday of the Year. Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels in Assisi, site of the Portiuncula, the chapel used by St. Francis and his first followers

Assisi, with the Basilica in the foreground
Assisi, with the Basilica in the foreground
“You yourselves know that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.”

Last night, the thief came and stole the whole night’s sleep from us. We got on a plane, did what little we could to get comfortable, and all of a sudden it was morning.

This thief has stolen more than just a night’s sleep from us. He has stolen our familiar environment. He has stolen our daily companions and routine. He has taken away our familiar food and the creature-comforts of home. We are in a strange place, surrounded by not a few strangers, fatigued, probably a bit bewildered.

Welcome, dear brothers and sisters, to the pilgrimage. The special grace of going on pilgrimage is precisely this: to be removed from the familiar and the comfortable. The Lord has called us to travel to Italy to discover what He has in store for us, and we have come. He has led us far from home, to teach us how to put ourselves completely in His hands. Into His hands and also Elizabeth’s hands (our tour escort, Elizabeth Flanagan).

The small chapel of the first Franciscans within the larger Basilica
The small chapel of the first Franciscans within the larger Basilica
St. Paul tells us: “You are children of the light and children of the day.”

You can say that again, brother. We have not visited a bed for nearly thirty hours. This day feels like the never-ending day. We want to “stay alert and sober,” like St. Paul tells us to, but it would be easier to stay alert if we could get a good night’s sleep.

We have come to Assisi to rest a little. Rome is of course our ultimate goal—the tombs of the Apostles Peter and Paul are our ultimate destination. But Rome does not offer much peace and quiet. Assisi is the perfect place to regain our traveling strength.

So let us throw ourselves into the loving arms of St. Francis here in his peaceful town. When St. Francis lived in Assisi, this area at the bottom of the hill was a secluded wood. When St. Francis brought his first followers down here to rebuild this little chapel, he was seeking a place of quiet contemplation.

Let us pray that the good Lord will give us a good night’s sleep and plenty of vim and vigor to continue our pilgrimage, so that we can be alert to all that He has in store for us.

Homily for Monday, November 17—Basilica of St. Francis

The Lord Jesus tells us that we Christians are the salt of the earth. It is for us to season the world, to cure it, like salt cures meat and keeps it from spoiling. It is for us to keep the world from going bad, to keep it from getting rancid. Not only that—it is for us to make the world savory, to make life in this world pleasant to the discerning palate.

basilicastfrancisHow can we hope to be salt for the earth? This is our God-given mission—how can we accomplish it? What is it exactly that can keep the world from going bad? What will make life on earth flavorful with vigor, with virtue?

We have just heard the answer to this question. The Beatitudes are seasoning for the earth. A single life lived according to the Beatitudes is like a pinch of salt dropped into a pot: It will fill the whole stew with good flavor.

The earthly life of St. Francis was one such pinch of salt thrown into the pot of this world, a holy life according to the Beatitudes.

Yesterday we concluded our Litany of St. Francis by praying: “O Lord, when the world was waxing cold, to the inflaming of our hearts thou didst renew in the flesh of St. Francis the sacred marks of Thy Passion.”

The Beatitudes are more than a moral code. They are a portrait of Christ crucified: Poor in spirit, meek, mourning the sins of the world, hungering and thirsting, suffering insult and persecution, merciful, making peace by His sacrifice.

The Beatitudes are a portrait of Christ on the Cross, and St. Francis, too, is such a portrait. In the Litany, we called St. Francis a “living crucifix.” St. Francis was so profoundly united with Christ that He bore the Lord’s wounds in His own flesh.

St Francis Receiving the Stigmata by El Greco
St Francis Receiving the Stigmata by El Greco
The Lord has brought us here to the tomb of this beloved holy man in order to season us anew. We cannot hope to retain our saltiness by ourselves. Left to our own devices, we become insipid and bland to the taste, if not downright unpalatable. Buried under the weight of daily routine, we can become completely un-salty. We can become indistinguishable from everyone else–run down, oppressed by worldliness, distracted and unfocused.

In the Litany yesterday, we said an amazing thing about St. Francis. We addressed him as the one whose soul has taken Lucifer’s place in the heavenly choir. The Devil was a glorious angel, made to sing the praises of the divine Majesty. But in bitter pride, he fell. God in His Providence raised St. Francis’ soul to the place which Satan vacated. This is truly an awesome thing to contemplate. And here we are, next to the body that will one day be re-united with that seraphic soul.

St. Francis, pray for us, that we might be salty enough to flavor this world of ours with holiness!

Homily for Tuesday, November 18—Orvieto. Memorial of the Dedication of Basilicas of Saints Peter and Paul

peter-crucifixionThe hand of God guided the steps of both St. Peter and St. Paul to Rome. It was the Lord’s will that both of these Apostles would give their lives for the Gospel in the capital city of the Empire. By shedding their blood in Rome, the Apostles consecrated the city as the Holy and Apostolic See, the capital city of the Church.

The first Christians of Rome buried both Apostles near the sites of their martyrdoms. Both were killed outside the ancient city, in the suburbs. St. Peter was crucified on the far side of the Tiber River, in the Circus of Nero, at the foot of Vatican Hill. St. Paul was beheaded on the road to Ostia, a few miles south of the ancient city.

Nine days ago, we kept the feast of the dedication of the Pope’s cathedral, St. John Lateran. The Lateran Basilica was built shortly after Emperor Constantine declared Christianity legal. As we recall, the Lateran Basilica was built on property that had belonged to a prominent Roman family. It was a central location in the city, ideal for the cathedral.

The Beheading of St. Paul
The Beheading of St. Paul
At the same time, though, two other great churches had to be built. For centuries, Christians had been coming on pilgrimage to visit the tombs of the Apostles Peter and Paul, even risking their lives to do so. Now the time had come when the Church could finally build worthy basilicas to house the tombs and give the pilgrims a proper place to pray. Today we commemorate the solemn dedication of those two churches. We will be visiting them tomorrow and the next day.

Today we find ourselves in a remarkable situation. We are on our pilgrim way to Rome. We have stopped at Orvieto to refresh ourselves.

The exact same thing happened in 1363. A priest was on his way to Rome on pilgrimage. He stopped on this hill to say Mass.

He was a pious priest, but his faith in the Real Presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament was weak. Because he could not understand it, he did not think he could believe it.

When this priest elevated the Host after the consecration at his Mass here, the Host began to bleed, and blood flowed down his fingers. Some of the blood fell on the square cloth which the priest unfolds on the altar. The cloth is called a corporal.

Chapel of the Corporal in Orvieto
Chapel of the Corporal in Orvieto
The priest took the corporal to the Pope, who was living at Orvieto that year. Rejoicing over the miracle, the Pope instituted the Feast of Corpus Christi, the Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ. St. Thomas Aquinas wrote the hymns for the feast, Pange Lingue, O Salutaris, Tantum Ergo. The rest is history.

“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” With these words, St. Peter inaugurated the great age of Christian faith. This final age of the world will last until the Lord Jesus comes again in glory. Then everyone will see Him and know that He is God, and faith will no longer be necessary.

In the meantime, we know the Christ, the Son of the living God, by faith. We believe Him when He says, “This is my Body,” and “This is my Blood.” When He comes to us in the Holy Mass, let us greet him like St. Peter did. We believe, Lord.

[The story of the Eucharistic Miracle of Bolsena/Orvieto is recounted on this interesting-looking weblog.]

Deacon William Walker, a fellow pilgrim, will preach the homilies at our Holy Masses at the Basilicas of Ss. Peter and Paul on Wednesday and Thursday, November 19 and 20.

Homily for Friday, November 21—Feast of the Presentation of Mary, in Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome

Today we celebrate our final Mass of the pilgrimage at the Pope’s Basilica of our Lady. Today we keep the feast of her Presentation in the temple, when her parents Joachim and Ann offered her to God, and the Blessed Virgin’s service to the Lord began.

St. Mary Major High Altar
St. Mary Major High Altar
Our Lord’s grandparents presented their daughter to the priests in the Temple so that she could learn to do the will of God. Preserved from original sin, she was the perfect pupil. Her entire life was an act of obedience to the divine will.

The Virgin’s vocation eventually led her to Bethlehem, where she gave birth to the Christ and then laid her newborn Son in a manger. Some of the wood of that manger is in the chapel beneath the high altar in this basilica.

Being a saint is always doing the will of the Father. This church houses saints who have done the Father’s will at different times in history. St. Jerome, who collected and translated the books of the Bible, is here. Pope St. Pius V, whose prayers protected the Christian people from an invasion from Turkey and who guided the Church after the Council of Trent—he is here. Both St. Ignatius Loyola and Pope Pius XII said their first Masses here in St. Mary Major.

Ceiling of the Sforza Chapel
Ceiling of the Sforza Chapel
Our heavenly Father will call each of us to do particular things for Him. We do His will by being faithful to the duties that He has given us in our particular states of life. We become more and more the salt of the earth the more we are open to the Lord’s summons to do more for Him, to take risks for the sake of the Gospel.

Being faithful means making sacrifices. We will all have to make a sacrifice for the Lord tonight by setting our alarms for 3:00 in the morning, so that we can make it to the airport on time. Trust me, I did not schedule this flight. But we might as well make the most of it by offering it up.

May our Lady watch over us as we make our way home. May her prayers, and the prayers of all the saints we have visited, help to keep us salty and ready to do the Father’s will.

Ad Limina Apostolorum

Interior of St. Peters by Giovanni Paolo Pannini
Interior of St. Peters by Giovanni Paolo Pannini. This church--the largest on earth--was built to house to tomb of St. Peter.
The Holy Apostles Peter and Paul shed their blood for Christ in Rome. St. Peter died by the cross and St. Paul by the sword under the Emporer Nero in A.D. 67. Ever since then, Christians have come from all over the world to visit their tombs.

Among his other duties, the Pope is the custodian of these holy places. The pilgrimage ad limina apostolorum usually affords an opportunity to see the Successor of St. Peter and receive his blessing.

A group of pilgrims from St. Mary’s parish in Upper Marlboro, Md., will–God willing–reach the Eternal City on the feast of the Dedication of the Basilicas of St. Peter and St. Paul, November 18.

St. Paul Outside the Walls
St. Paul Outside the Walls, built to house the tomb of St. Paul
May it please the Lord to pour out many graces upon us when we kiss the earth made holy by the martyr’s blood!

Perhaps November 18 will actually be St. Paul’s 2,000th birthday. It could be, after all.

We are likely within one year of his 2,000th birthday. We do not know the exact date. Perhaps we pilgrims should just assume that his birthday is November 18, and have a canoli or some gelato when we arrive in Rome to celebrate.

May the Holy Apostle pray for us, that we will have a safe journey and will profit from our pilgrimage as God wills.

Everybody else, please pray for us! We leave the U.S. on Saturday. We will be stopping in Assisi and Orvieto on the way to Rome.

Speaking of the way to Rome, Hillaire Belloc wrote a thoroughly enjoyable book about his pilgrimage on foot from France to Rome.

The Four Last Things

The Resurrection by Signorelli, in the Brizio Chapel in the Duomo in Orvieto
The Resurrection by Signorelli, in the Brizio Chapel in the Duomo in Orvieto
“This is the will of my father, that everyone who sees the Son of Man and believes in him may have eternal life, and I shall raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:40)

In the month of November, nature’s life cycle comes to an end. The leaves wither and fall from the trees, and birds fly south for the winter. The night grows longer and longer. The time has come for us to meditate on the Last Things.

There are four Last Things, plus one very important next-to-last thing, namely Purgatory.

The first of the four Last Things is death. Sooner or later, death comes for everyone. Only a fool would refuse to prepare himself for it.

We can thank the good Lord that he has given us our Catholic faith to help us face death with courage and a calm mind. Others are not so fortunate. The inevitability of death hangs over unbelievers like a dark cloud.

We can penetrate the cloud, because the Lord Jesus has taught us what lies beyond death. After death comes the second of the Last Things: Judgment. Jesus Christ, the all-knowing, all-seeing God will judge every human being. He will take everything into account. His judgment will be perfectly just.

When we are judged by Christ at the most supreme of all courts, there are only two possible sentences. The two sentences are the third and fourth Last Things.

If my sins are counted against me and are not remitted by the Precious Blood shed for us on the Cross, then I will be condemned to hell. I will suffer for all eternity. My conscience will accuse me forever, and I will endure the permanent agony of being separated from the only true happiness. At the end of time, my body will rise again from the grave with all the other bodies, and then my torments will only increase.

May it please the Lord, our Lady, the angels and the saints to deliver us all from this!

On the other hand, if we meet death shining with the brightness of Christ, clothed with the grace of His sacraments, outfitted with the virtues that He has lived in us, and provided-for by the merits of His saints, then we will not be condemned for our sins. Our sins will be pardoned.

This means that the sweetest sound we can hear in this life are the words by which our souls are washed clean after a good Confession: “I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” May we all go to God in a state of grace.

Facade of the Duomo
Facade of the Duomo
If we do go to Him in grace, then everlasting happiness awaits us. We will rest in the infinite truth of God forever, contemplating His beauty with bottomless awe, united with all the saints. Heaven is the fourth Last Thing.

Obviously, heaven is the place of perfect justice, purity, and goodness. Most of us, then, will have to be purified in order to enter heaven.

We do not know the details about the purification of purgatory. We do not know how long it takes or exactly how it happens. What we do know is that 1) it is necessary, and 2) we can help each other get through it.

This is why the month for meditating on the Last Things is also the month for praying for our dead. The least we can do is to try to help those who have gone before us to get to heaven as soon as possible. When we die, and—please God—begin our purification, we will want others to help us get through it.

What can we do to help the souls in Purgatory? Here are four ways to shorten Purgatory for our beloved dead:

1) Have Masses said for them. Every Mass can be offered for a particular intention, including the repose of a particular soul.

Interior of the Orvieto Duomo
Interior of the Orvieto Duomo
2) We shorten purgatory for people by obtaining indulgences. The Church, being a very solid spiritual institution, possesses an enormous spiritual bank account. It is the treasury of the merits of Christ and His saints. This bank has the most precious deposits in the universe, and they are also the most secure.

An indulgence is a withdrawal from this bank, which we can make on behalf of a deceased loved one. It is like a bailout for the afterlife. All we need to do is to renounce all sin and then do one of the pious acts which the Church recommends. One of those acts is to come to church on All Souls Day to pray for the dead.

The third thing we can do to help the souls in Purgatory is to pray for them at any time in any place. Every prayer helps.

Lastly, we can help the poor souls in Purgatory by making sacrifices for them, offering something up for them.

May it please God that we will all be together in heaven someday, with all the people we love!