It’s been a long time since I’ve sat down to just blog for fun, and this day just screamed out for it.

Happy Gaudete!  What a great, great day.  I’ve always loved Gaudete Sunday, and this year it seems especially joyful.  For starters, I had a lovely weekend with family, enjoying Nashville through food, history, drink, and more food.  And drink.  I went to sleep last night almost feeling like it was already my birthday.  Honestly, no one deserves this much fun for their birthday after they enter their third decade.

This morning I had poticia and a leftover pink cupcake for breakfast to celebrate Gaudete Sunday.  Poticia is a Slovenian nut bread that my grandma always made for Christmas- now my mom and aunts make it, and my aunt gave me some early – so I saved it to eat on Gaudete Sunday! Rejoice!  I lit my advent wreath and read my morning spiritual reading, and I honestly thought for a brief moment that it was already my birthday.  It’s good to be loved.

Even Sammy, the weekend doorman, gave me homemade treats this morning. Honestly, I do not deserve this much love.

Mass was absolutely beautiful, with all the best Advent songs AND the OPENING OF THE HOLY DOOR with the Bishop sitting in choir and an incredible homily from Father Baker that actually ended with a hilarious reference to L.A. (Lower Alabama) and the command to shout “Happy Jubilee!” in the streets of Nashville.  Honestly.  It’s just too much. I was dying of joy.

Then it was the realization during Communion that:

1) I was born during an extraordinary Jubilee.

2) This is an extraordinary Jubilee, and it basically opened for me this morning, on my favorite Sunday of the year, the day before my birthday

3) In 11 days, I will celebrate the 20th anniversary of my first Marian consecration. 20 years. Whew.

Basically, people, this is a big year for me. I can feel it. Lots of graces.  God has big plans.  Here we go!

Almost half the church was wearing pink this morning. You could feel the joy.  Then a bright pink taxi cab drove by while we were standing outside of church and Father Baker shouted, “That taxi cab!  Come here!  We need you! It’s a Gaudete taxi cab!”  I mean, it was like everyone was intoxicated on Advent Joy.

It was sad to say goodbye to the family after brunch, especially since we have had such an incredibly fun time (lots of laughter!), but it was tempered by the fact that I would see them all in ten days!  I began listening to Advent/Christmas music on the way home (for the first time this year- it pays to wait, I’m telling you) and I could just feel it.  He is coming.  He is near.

Gaudete, everyone!  Go rejoice today!  He is near!



As Saturday approaches…

Okay, so I’m giving this tip free of charge to any husband/boyfriend/male-currently-alive-in-the-universe. You can thank me later, when your wife/girlfriend/female-currently-alive-in-the-universe isn’t mad at you.

She says she doesn’t like Valentine’s Day.  Get her something anyway.

Maybe she’s not even pretending about not liking the day.  She could be completely telling the honest truth.

But she will not be mad at you if you give her flowers.

Okay, so maybe some woman out there would be mad.  But I don’t know many females like that.  Honestly.  It’s like Pascal’s wager.

1. She says she doesn’t like Valentine’s Day but she actually does. Buy her flowers. WIN!

2. She says she doesn’t like Valentine’s Day and she actually doesn’t. Buy her flowers. Who doesn’t like getting flowers, even for some lame Hallmark holiday? WIN!

3. She says she doesn’t like Valentine’s Day, she actually doesn’t, and she’s so morally opposed to the day that it overpowers her natural female inclination to like flowers. LOSE.

I think you’re better off buying those flowers.


Culinary Adventures

Food is not a new topic for this blog – just check out the category cloud at the bottom of the page. But I’m usually just eating other people’s creations.  Last week I had the most tender chicken I think I’ve ever tasted at Josephine’s- a relatively-new-ish restaurant, although they come so quickly around here it’s hard to keep up.

But this blog post is different.  Rather than talking about other people’s creations and adventures, I’m here to talk about my own.

Let’s start with beverages.

Everyone knows that Pumpkin Spice Lattes are the fad drink.  If Starbucks and their incorrect Italian lingo didn’t already bother me, they started calling an incorrectly-named drink (it should be caffe latte, if you want more than milk in the drink) by an acronym.  PSL?  Brother.

But more than just annoying, Starbucks’ pumpkin spice lattes don’t contain any pumpkin. And that’s slightly alarming.  I love me some pumpkin, though, so when Bobby Flay tweeted a recipe for making your own pumpkin spice syrup, I thought it would be worth a try.

It was.

I don’t have any pictures, but you can find the recipe here.  So far I’ve only had it in coffee, but once I finish this post I intend to put it in ice cream and celebrate the first Sunday of Advent with a pumpkin shake.

The second adventure was making cranberry simple sauce for a thanksgiving cocktail.  It was delightful – cranberry simple syrup, rye whiskey, and bitters.  You can find the cocktail (and the simple syrup) recipe here. I think it was a hit.


Which brings me to my final and greatest culinary adventure of the week. Thanksgiving.  I didn’t get the Wednesday before Thanksgiving off, so it was going to be hard to go to Virginia like usual.  I think this was the first time in five or six years I didn’t spend the holiday with my sister and her family, and I definitely missed them all weekend.  But when I realized I was going to be staying here, I decided to host dinner for any of my friends staying in town.

I offered to make the turkey, and everyone graciously chipped in the side dishes.  We tried to make sure everyone’s traditions were covered, and even though it was a pretty laid-back day, it was a lot of fun.  The added treat for me was that I went over to the Motherhouse for morning Mass and I got to sit with Sr. Mary Grace at Mass!  So that was an unexpected gift.

I was worried about the turkey … mostly just because it’s a lot of pressure.  The main dish is something you only make once a year (or… have never made…) and it’s not just the main dish, it’s sort of the center of the entire holiday. I suppose some people have Thanksgiving without turkey, but I can’t imagine it.  So there’s just a lot of pressure around a single dish.  But I figured if people do it every year, it couldn’t be that hard… right?

I read a lot of food blogs and tweets from Alton Brown and gathered tips and tricks … so by Thursday, I was feeling pretty good.  I combined two tactics — this recipe for apple-bourbon gravy and then Alton Brown’s advice from his Good Eats episode.  It ended up turning out pretty well!



I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving!  Happy Advent!


A dulcedomum – joaninordinarytime mashup

IMG_7763I had been looking forward to Jill’s visit to Nashville for a long time — before we were even sure it was happening.  As she mentions on her blog, she and John Paul came to town to meet Christopher da Vinck.  Chris is the author of  The Power of the Powerless, a moving testimony to the difference the weakest among us can make in this world.  (You should read the book.  You should also read the article that started it all – here. He read it during his talk, and it was awesome to hear him read it out loud.) As soon as I heard he was coming to speak at Aquinas, I knew Jill needed to come and meet him.  It’s a miracle that it all worked out, and I truly saw her visit as a gift from God.

As I drove to the airport to pick her up, my heart was so full.  I don’t know how else to describe it — I thought my heart was going to burst with love and excitement.  Her visit was going to be short, but I was going to have her (and John Paul) all to myself. I was going to have the chance to show her my life.  And I was very, very happy.  And grateful.

We went straight to Jack’s to get BBQ for lunch, then it was back to my condo to just sit back and relax (for the first and last time).  She had never seen my condo, so even something as simple as that gave me great joy.

That night was the lecture, and beforehand we were able to go to a reception for Dr. da Vinck so that Jill would have a chance to meet him and talk to him.  As she mentioned on her blog, John Paul might have gotten more attention than Dr. da Vinck… but I don’t think he minded. : )

IMG_7736John Paul is very camera-aware.

Everyone was so excited to meet Jill and John Paul – it was quite humbling.  All my friends and coworkers had been praying for them for the last year, and they all commented that they felt like they already knew Jill.  And John Paul was a rock star– the whole trip he took it all in stride, always smiling, always flirting.  He let people hold him, he showed off his cracker-eating skills, and he just generally charmed everyone he met.

IMG_7745We may have been a bit disruptive during Dr. da Vinck’s talk.  John Paul knows how to make his Aunt Joannie laugh.

IMG_7742We had to take a lobby selfie.  I have a big mirror that greets me as I wait for the elevator every morning, and it’s occasionally too tempting to take a selfie of my outfit for the day. I try not to do it very often (because no one really cares what I’m wearing), but my Instagram followers suggested hashtags like #lobbyselfie and #waitingfortheelevator, so now it’s kind of a thing.

Wednesday was spent having fun — an exhausting and fun mix of seeing Nashville and taking John Paul to meet his fans.  Jill commented at one point that she felt like they were on a book tour.  It’s an adequate description — they were two celebrities who were in Nashville for a short time, so they needed to see the sights and meet their fans.

It was a beautiful day, so we set out for downtown to eat a big southern breakfast at The Southern, then headed to the Johnny Cash Museum gift shop.  Then we made a loop down Broadway and over to the Schermerhorn Symphony Center, playing tourist.

Our first engagement of the day was my friend Cathy’s classroom at St. Ann School, where her fourth graders were anxiously waiting to meet the little boy they had been praying for.  Then it was over to Aquinas for Mass and Bible study, then off to a late lunch at Bobbie’s Dairy Dip.

IMG_7776The day was only half over!  I thought they deserved a relaxing afternoon, so we went over to Cheekwood Botanical Gardens to enjoy the dogwoods and tulips in their peak.  The bizarre cold snap the night before had hurt some of the flowers, but there were still plenty to enjoy.  Some of the parts of the gardens and the mansion were less than stroller-friendly, but we still managed to see a lot and delight in the beautiful day.


IMG_7788Our next stop was the Cathedral, where the Chrism Mass was going to be starting in about an hour.  You might remember that I had the joy of teaching the men in formation for the permanent diaconate during the fall of 2012.  Since we had found out about John Paul during that time, I had asked the men and their wives for their prayers.  One of them in particular, my good friend Rafael, has been a prayer warrior for John Paul and Patrick and Jill ever since.  The deacon-candidates still pray for John Paul at every class, and I was continually humbled by their love for someone they had never met.

Rafael was waiting for us outside the Cathedral, and it was like he and John Paul were old friends.  John Paul let him take him into his arms, and Rafael proceeded to take John Paul right into the Cathedral to meet all his deacon-candidate fans.  We made a bit of a spectacle in the middle aisle of the full church, but it was such a beautiful moment.

Over and over again during this trip, it became clear that John Paul has touched many, many lives…. just by being John Paul.  The heroism of ordinary life, the power of prayer, the witness of the weakest … these lessons have ceased being theological postulates or groundless maxims and have become quite real and evident.

The last stop was, quite fittingly, our sister’s home, the Dominican Motherhouse, where we enjoyed a visit with three of Sisters who have been like family over the past 15 years.  Then it was home for dinner and a lovely visit with my cousin and his wife!

I hope I didn’t wear Jill and John Paul out, but it was such a rare gift to have them here and I wanted to squeeze out every joy!  I think one of the best compliments Jill could have given the visit was when she said she felt like she was living in my blog.  I think that’s a good thing. : )  (It was right after seeing Vince Gill eating dinner and a woman horribly mispronouncing my name.  Welcome to my life!)

Next time the whole family is coming!  (right, Jill?)  And not during Lent.  There are too many ice cream places to hit up…



Happy Canonization Day!

A few observations from this (early) morning:

1. One of the most striking things about any Papal Mass is the presence of the universal Church.  In its full splendor, impossible to ignore or miss, is the width and breadth and height and depth of the universal Church.  The young, the elderly, the families, the handicapped, the dignitaries, the homeless, the cardinals, the seminarians, the babies, the bishops.  Polish youth wedged next to Italian nuns. Families from the US sharing cobblestones with religious communities from Brazil.  This morning it was there, from the steps of St. Peter’s to the Tiber River, in Piazza Navona and Piazza Farnese, along Via dei Fori Imperiali and outside the Colosseum.

Behold the Church.  In her splendor, in her universality, in her holiness, in her pilgrimage.

2. History has never seen two Pope canonized in the same ceremony, much less two Popes present at the canonization of two Popes. It was one of those moments when you realize you’re alive at a very special time in the Church… the times they write about in history books.

3. It was worth the early wake up call.  I actually got a decent amount of sleep, since I went to bed early with a headache.  It’s now the end of the day Sunday and I’m feeling fine.  I took a quick nap after the canonization, before I got ready for morning Mass, but other than that, I’ve been up all day and it doesn’t even feel like I woke up in the middle of the night to watch history.

Mom was awake too, so we shared commentary via text message.  I marveled at the change in technology since I was in Rome nine years ago.  Now I was following along the ceremony with the same booklet the people had in their hands in those cute little Vatican worship aids – except mine was on my iPad.  I was living the moment with friends via pictures on Twitter and newsva on Instagram.  It was almost like being there.

IMG_7850Well, almost.  Except that I had slept in my own bed and was sitting on my couch drinking hot tea and eating a mini Columba.  So… not quite like being there.

4. It was strange to enter the real world later that morning and see everything go on as usual. Not only had I been up several hours longer than everyone else, I had just witnessed history.  Why was everything normal?  Why wasn’t everyone singing and dancing and laughing and partying?  It was like I had dreamed it all, and everyone else had missed out.

5. The thoughts I had during Mass on JPII’s first feast day returned.  Both John XXIII and John Paul II are in heaven, but to many of us, they aren’t just paintings on a holy card or statues of plaster.  They were seen with our eyes, touched with our hands, heard with our hearts.  Sainthood is possible, ladies and gentlemen.  Sanctity has been in our midst.  Holiness has laughed with us, has cried with us, has lived with us…. has challenged us.

“Consult not your fears, but your hopes and your dreams.
Think not about your frustrations, but about your unfulfilled potential.
Concern yourself not with what you tried and failed in, but with what it is still possible for you to do.”
-Pope St. John XXIII

“We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures;
we are the sum of the Father’s love for us and our real capacity
to become the image of His Son.”
-Pope St. John Paul II



the funeral of a saint

I found a way to cope with my sadness about not being at the canonization.  I will relive the past.

So, without further ado, my email home on Sunday, April 17, 2005, a week after experiencing the funeral of the only Pope I had ever known.  The email is preserved in all its glory, every detail, every !!, for posterity.  No names have been changed to protect the innocent.


There are some moments in your life that you will never forget. I came to study in Rome knowing that I would return a different person.  I knew that I would experience things that would change my life forever. But I never expected to experience what I experienced last Thursday and Friday.

Around twenty of my classmates and I left our home in Rome Thursday afternoon around 2:30, equipped with blankets and bread, ready to camp out with the popes.  We knew that our chances of getting into the piazza the next day for the Holy Father’s funeral was slim, as we were competing with millions of people, so we realized we had to get an early start.  It’s not easy to travel around crowds with 20 people, so we soon realized (well, some of us realized and then took charge and ordered everyone else around. I think I’m practicing for when I’m first lady) that we would have to settle down as a group and then have a few people go scout things out and come back and report.  So we parked ourselves on Via Conciliazione, the main road that heads right into St. Peter’s Square.  If we could manage to stay there all night, we had prime spots for the rush the next morning.  But we had no illusions that they would let us stay there all night, since we had heard reports that they were closing the piazza and Via C at 10pm.  So we needed to find out more before we committed ourselves to spots that would be taken from us in 7 hours.  My roommate from freshman year, Marisa White (who’s an amazing girl — the world will hear from her someday, I guarantee – so remember that name) and I went off to investigate.

It didn’t take us long to realize that no one really knew what was going on.  We asked someone from every different military or police unit (“Hey, there’s a guy in a green uniform with a black beret – we haven’t asked someone who looks like that yet!”) and all the guys were more than willing to try their English out on the two of us.  Sorry, guys, we don’t want to talk to you… we just want information.  Which they had none of.  So we dropped them pretty quickly and attempted to get to the Swiss Guards, the official guards of the Vatican.  Our first try was unsuccessful because you needed a special pass to even get over to where they were standing.  So we walked all the way around St. Peter’s and the surrounding streets, make detours when necessary — and stopping to get gelato on the way — and managed to get to the Swiss Guards on the other side, at the Sant’Anna gate.

I wish I could somehow describe the atmosphere and the crowds.  There were people everywhere.  People coming and going from who knows where, pilgrims everywhere with sleeping bags and backpacks, large groups of people sitting and laying on the ground around entrances where they hoped maybe they could get into the piazza in the morning.  But we didn’t want to hope — we wanted to know.  And if we were going to camp out all night, we were going to sit ourselves in a place we were pretty confident about.  So Marisa went and asked to Swiss Guards (now, don’t think we’re Swiss Guard crazy. Okay, I am a little, but Marisa isn’t. M: “Joannie, they’re all either old and fat or short with glasses.” J: “But they know karate to kill!” M: “Joannie, look at them. Look past the uniform.” J: “Well, it IS a nice uniform…” so we were really just going to the Guards to get info, I promise.) and they wouldn’t say if Via C was closing — the piazza was for sure at 1o, but that didn’t really matter because no one was allowed in the piazza except the people standing in line to pay their respects, and that line had been cut off the night before.  But the Swiss Guard said that we seemed to have pretty good spots.  So we returned to the group not really knowing anything more than we had when we started. (but heck, we had fun.)  We were even getting conflicting responses about if the Mass was inside or out!  It was a combination of 1) security reasons keeping everyone either not talking or not knowing and 2) the Italians never really knowing what’s going on anyway.

IMG_1040There were lots of guards on Via C around barricades halfway down the street, but they were pretty much letting everyone come and go around the barricades.  There were also barricades at the very end of the street (far from St. Peter’s) that were a little restricted with their flow, and then there were barricades on the other end, right by St Peter’s Square, that were completely closed.  (This is really hard to try to explain) Via C was split into three aisles. The side aisles were the usual sidewalks of the street with businesses and things.  A lot of businesses stayed open, so people from the group wandered and got gelato and stuff. (most of us had brought food with us — I was armed with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (thanks, Mom and Dad!) and peanut butter M&Ms (thanks again!) and an apple.)  The middle aisle was what used to be the line to view the body, but now the line was cut off, so we wondered where everyone that was walking up was going… because the road stayed fairly busy with pilgrims, the majority of them Polish.  It turned out that they were all going and camping up closer to the entrance of the piazza, by the barricades that were closed.  The red and white flags continued to joyfully stream past as the Polish joined us with their own blankets and dinner. I have never seen so many Polish flags.  It was amazing.

We passed the time talking and studying and I called Mom from a pay phone. One of the neatest parts of the evening were the priests that wandered through the crowds or sat against buildings with their purple stoles, ready to hear confessions.  The grace that was flowing that afternoon was almost visible.  It was so beautiful!  You got such a sense that these men were truly men of God, ready to do His work at every moment! They could have been doing a hundred other things at that moment — but they were ready to hear confessions.  I have to say, one of the most memorable confessions of my life came that night — I was just standing on Via C talking to the priest — holy cow, it was incredible! That whole night was one of those experiences that seems natural while you’re doing it, and then you pause a second and think, “What in the world?! We did that? That’s amazing!!”  We SLEPT OUTSIDE OF ST.PETER’S!! I went to confession on the street!  It’s mind boggling.  I wish I could describe it.

Around 5 or so — I kind of lost track of time — our president of Christendom, Dr. Timothy O’Donnell, his wife, and our college chaplain, Father Heisler, found us.  They suggested we at least move a little closer to the piazza, so we moved camp a little farther down the road and ended up all gathering around a huge supply of bottled waters — some people even built seats and beds with all the bottled water.  I was really impressed with how prepared Rome was for this.  They had bottled water out the wazoo.  They only problem was that it was all bubbly water.  Marisa and I were offered water when we were wandering around, and we asked if they had any “natural” and the guy said no, but then his assistant and yes and pulled two non-bubbly bottles out of nowhere — but then as we were walking away the guy started getting mad at her — haha, we think she probably gave us his water! 🙂

We were also camped out right near a first-aid type station, which was really nice because they had tons of blankets for everyone, and they kept passing them out — since we were right there next to them, every once and while the nun would come over (she didn’t speak any English) and just cover up the guys while they were sleeping and stuff.  It was so cute!


So the O’Donnells and Father Heisler talked to us for a long time, then left to go find dinner — Mrs. O’Donnell was convincing Dr. O’Donnell to stay all night, so she had to keep him busy and moving all the time so he wouldn’t get fed up and leave!  They suggested we go find their son, Niall, who was camped out on the other side of the colonnade of St. Peter’s.  So we sent two people, Maris and John O’Herron, to go scout things out before we moved.

As a side note, the O’Donnells were SO nice to us.  He’s on the Pontifical Council for the Family, so needless to say, they had a lot of other things they could be doing and a lot of other people they could be seeing. But they took time out to come visit us and make sure we were okay.  It was unlike anything a larger university would ever experience. Your president and his wife try to get to know you by name and seek you out to make sure you’re okay? And then after dinner they came back and brought us cookies! It was SO sweet. They came back three times throughout the night (once at around 2 or 3 and they woke me up – it was cute.)

Well, we waited for awhile for John and Marisa, and we were sending Peter to go find them when he came back with the report that now Via C was blocked off and no one could get on it.. so that meant John and Marisa were stuck outside.  We were in the middle of a huge elaborate plan which included Peter leaving and somehow bribing the guard with a cigarette to let him back in (you have to understanding how Italian police work) when Marisa and John appeared out of breath … they had snuck back in one gate, then ran and pleaded with other guards to make it back to us.  So we decided to stay where we were — if they let us stay, we were in an even better spot since we were ahead of all the other crowds.  The only other people left on Via C were us, hundreds of Polish pilgrims now sleeping in rows, some American seminarians, and journalists, who had access to the road all night.

As the evening wore on, we passed the time studying, sleeping, and getting interviewed by several radio and television stations.  The road became fairly deserted and we wrapped up in our blankets to keep warm.  IMG_1052While one wouldn’t usually call a concrete stretch of a thousand Polish pilgrims, a handful of American college students, and a hundred roaming reporters “deserted,” it was empty compared to the other side of the barricades at the end of the road, where pilgrims continued to gather.  Throughout the night, we were reports that the line was stretching for kilometers.

There were several hilarious episodes through the night, memories I’ll never forget, but a particularly funny one happened because of my obsession with Shepard Smith.  I really wanted to meet him, since he’s my favorite Fox newscaster, and I knew he was around the Vatican somewhere.  John O’Herron had been wandering around up Via C by the Polish pilgrims and came back and told me he saw a Fox guy — he thought maybe a local guy from DC.  So he went with me so I could ask the guy where Shepard Smith was (by this time, my obsession had become the joke of the group).  Well, he said he didn’t want to be interviewed because he had botched his last interview a few days earlier (to be an American in Rome during these times means you get interviewed constantly.  It’s crazy.) so I had to go talk to them instead.  Well, I chickened out.  When I returned to the group, Marisa got mad and said I had to do it.  So she went back with me, and I went and asked the guy if he was from Fox, blah blah blah.  It turns out that he was from the DC Fox station, and he got really excited (he was a spastic fellow) when he heard we went to school in VA, and asked if there was anyone in our group from VA.  So me, being the devious person I am, told him that we had a guy from VA — John O’Herron.  He said he would catch up with us later, when he found his cameraman (he was lugging his own camera around – it was pretty funny) and we went back and told John he was going to interview him, and John freaked out and went off by himself to get himself ready for it.  What made matters worse was that John and his family actually watch their local Fox station at night for the very purpose of making fun of the “googly” news guys … and once we talked to this guy, we could see why — he was crazy!! … so it was pretty hard for him to get through the interview without laughing and without us cracking up… but he did it, and he did a very good job.  Then he called home and told his family to make sure and watch the “googly” news because he would be on.IMG_1054

The night wore on … I slept a little, got interviewed by a German radio station and a Boston TV station … we talked with the North American seminarians who were camping near us … it was a pretty fun night.  Dr. O’Donnell and his wife came back — they camped out all night, too! : )  There were a few false alarms — “I think they’re opening the piazza!” so we’d pack up our stuff and head up there, only to find no sign of them opening the piazza anytime soon.

We headed up to stand in line by the gates around 6, I think, so by the time the sun rose we were lined up with our Polish friends and a few American seminarians, waiting for the piazza  to open.  Before the piazza opened, however, the barricades at the end of the road opened, and more pilgrims — the majority Polish — began to stream onto Via C to join us in the wait. We were released around seven o’clock, and people started to head toward the piazza.  We were reluctant to leave our spots near the barricades on Via C, though, because we were right by huge televisions and there was no indication whether people were actually being allowed into the piazza, or just around it.  There were rumors that due to security, people wouldn’t be let in the actual piazza, and when we asked a guard as everyone was streaming in, he told us they weren’t letting people in the piazza at all, just around it.  So we waited by our TVs, because we knew if we weren’t allowed in the piazza there was no way we were going to see the TVs in the piazza and we wouldn’t really know what was going on.  Eventually, though, my friend Andy went and scoped things out, and he saw they were letting people in — so we headed up there.  So if you watched TV and were surprised there weren’t more people in the pizza, that’s why — thousands of people were told they weren’t even being let into the piazza, so they didn’t want to leave Via C with the TV screens, and it was impossible to tell from Via C if the piazza was open or not — it’s hard to comprehend, but everything is so mammoth and far away that while Via C and St. Peter’s look close, they aren’t.  So it’s really hard to tell what’s going on, even though it’s right in front of you, because it’s actually pretty far away.

The last part of that paragraph was a horror in grammar, but I’ll continue.  IMG_1071I’m sure most of you saw the funeral or clips of it on TV.  I don’t need to say that it was one of the most moving experiences of my life.  Plus, not only was I blessed to be in the piazza for the Holy Father’s funeral, I was blessed to be able to experience it while being surrounded by people from Wadowice, the Holy Father’s hometown.  While the entire piazza was filled with the Holy Father’s countrymen, the people that surrounded me were truly his people.  I will always remember how joyful his people were.  They cried and grieved, but they rejoiced, knowing their friend had followed Christ and had fought the good fight.  When we clapped for the Holy Father at the end of Mass, their clapping drowned out the helicopters that hovered overhead.  I will never forget those people. They had hitchhiked to Rome, slept on the concrete, and afterward, stood in the rain.  They were there to say thank you to a man that was a son of their country and a father to the world.


The image of the pall-bearers when they turned and lifted his coffin up for all to see before they went inside will be forever burned into my mind.  It was amazing.


Tomorrow, the conclave begins, and we begin our vigil in the square, awaiting the white smoke.  Most of the pilgrims have left the city, and the Church will pause until the Holy Spirit will make the new pope known.  As I walked through the Square the day after the funeral, I was initially surprised that nothing seemed different.  There was no physical change since the Holy Father passed away except that the shutters to his bedroom window remained closed.  It reminded me, however, that the Church continues.  We said goodbye to a Holy Father that history will never forget, but the Church’s invisible head — Christ — is still with His Bride.  I haven’t been down to see the Holy Father’s tomb yet because the lines are still very, very long.  But I’ll make it down there soon.

I wish I had a cell phone and could start calling people the minute the smoke appeared!  Such exciting times… it’s hard to write down.  IT’s hard to even speak about.  All the experiences have been so intimate and personal, that they’re hard to talk about.  Not that I don’t WANT to talk about them, but they’re impossible to talk about because they’re impossible to voice or understand unless you experienced them.  But I continue to try.

[Apparently I did.  Did anyone actually get through those 3,000 words?]



Pancake Day!

There are certainly a lot of names for today.  Growing up we always called it “Fat Tuesday.”  Now I pretty much always hear it called “Mardi Gras,” probably because I’m a little closer to New Orleans and Mobile.  When we threw our party last weekend I tried to push the Venetian Carnivale theme, although most people admitted when they heard the word they thought of animals and rides.  I suppose that’s the importance of pronouncing it like an Italian and emphasizing the “E” at the end.  Carne-vale

In 2008, Lent was much earlier and my friends and I were already overseas preparing for our semester abroad in Rome.  My friend Alice was from Brentwood (England, not Tennessee) and invited us to begin our overseas adventure by first coming to stay with her family in England.  So before heading to Rome we explored England for ten days.

A few months before, when we were discussing details and dates, Alice realized we were going to be in England for the start of Lent.

“You’ll be at my house for PANCAKE DAY!”


Pancake Day in England, circa 2008

None of us had ever heard of such a holiday, but it turns out it’s the English version of Fat Tuesday/Shrove Tuesday/Mardi Gras/Carnivale.   Need to use up your fat and dairy and eggs before fasting for 40 days?  Time to make pancakes!

Every spring I go through a mixture of emotions associated with reminiscing my springs overseas.  Lenten weekdays remind me of early morning Station Church Masses, feast days remind me of Roman liturgies, and even the smell of car exhaust and cigarettes mixed with spring air brings me right back to my memories of Rome.

So these days bring back memories of England, when we ate pancakes for breakfast and then headed north to the town of Walsingham, one of the greatest pilgrimage sites of medieval Christendom.  After stopping in Cambridge –


we arrived in Walsingham in time to have a pint at the local pub to finish our celebrations before Lent.



photo courtesy of Katy Thomas

I was already in love with Walsingham, and I hadn’t even seen it in the light yet.  We settled in a big house right on High Street, and when I woke up in the adorable little British town, I began contemplating moving there for good.


“The Shields,” our house for the first three days of Lent

On Ash Wednesday, we woke up before dawn so that we could make our pilgrimage – not walking from London to Walsingham, but at least walking from our home in Walsingham out to the Slipper Chapel, the Catholic shrine at Walsingham.  The medieval shrine was destroyed during the Reformation and devotion to Our Lady of Walsingham went underground.  (Henry VIII visited the shrine as a pilgrim when he was still Fidei defensor… then destroyed it in 1538.)   In the 1890s, the Slipper Chapel was purchased and restored by Catholics.  It had been the last wayside chapel of the pilgrimage route – the place you’d remove your shoes before continuing your walk to the shrine.

(In the 1920s and 1930s, an Anglican shrine was constructed in town on the site of the original shrine.  So we visited that shrine in the afternoon, but in the morning we made a little pilgrimage out of town to the Catholic church.)

IMG_5115The pilgrimage – just in the opposite direction as the medieval pilgrim…

IMG_8049The Slipper Chapel

We went to morning Mass in the modern church next to the Slipper Chapel, built to accommodate the thousands of pilgrims that come to Walsingham.  Then we each began our Lent with prayer time in the Slipper Chapel and a quiet walk back to Walsingham.


IMG_5120Definitely an Ash Wednesday like none other.  We spent the next few days driving down to Norwich and up to the English seaside, but Walsingham was our home base and I had fallen in love.  We walked every morning to the little Roman Catholic parish in town, where the daily Mass crowd quickly adopted us.  We walked every day to get our groceries from the little farm shop in town, where the other shoppers quickly recognized us and adopted us too.

I’m not sure why we ever left.

When I get in these reminiscing moods, I can get sad, remembering friends I haven’t seen in a long time and longing to return to those times and adventures.  But God didn’t bless me with these amazing experiences just so that I can think back to them and be sad, dwelling on the past.  He gave me friends and adventures to shape my life for the future – so that the gifts and lessons of the past shape who I am in the present and prepare me for the future.

The graces of Walsingham, the friendships of that spring semester, the lessons learned overseas were not given only for my enjoyment in 2008 but to form me for the years to come…. if only I respond to the grace.