2016 Pilgrimage Recap

This was published in the diocesan newspaper this week – I thought I’d share it here, since it’s hard to link to the print edition of the paper.

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When I began work as Director of Adult Formation for the diocese, I knew I wanted to take people on pilgrimage.  My own time spent in Rome had a deep impact on my spiritual life and the discernment of my vocation, and I knew that no amount of study or reading could replicate what happens on a pilgrimage.  To walk in the footsteps of saints, to experience Catholic culture lived out, to see the Holy Father, and to pray and celebrate Mass with fellow pilgrims are formative experiences that cannot be taught, but lived.

Before the trip even began, our group experienced sorrows and joys.  One of the couples planning on coming with us had to cancel their trip after the husband was diagnosed with cancer, and he passed away two weeks before we left.  He and his family were remembered along every step of our pilgrimage, and we offered Mass for the repose of his soul in Assisi.  Two of our pilgrims were united in Holy Matrimony on the feast of Pope John Paul II just a few days before we left, and on our trip Father John Hammond blessed their marriage before Mass in St. Peter’s basilica, directly in front of Pope John Paul’s tomb.

The high point for everyone was the chance to see the Holy Father.  Months before we left, we found out that both the Wednesday General Audience the Pope holds weekly and the special Papal Mass that is held every year for All Soul’s Day had been cancelled.  Francis was traveling to Sweden right when we were arriving in Rome.  Since these were the only opportunities our pilgrims were going to get to see the Pope, I had to break the hard news to everyone.  They weren’t going to get to see Francis.

Behind the scenes, I worked with my fellow tour leader, Mountain Butorac, who lives in Rome with his family, to see what we could do.  Since we were familiar with the Pope’s routine, we knew there was a good chance that he would stop at the Basilica of Saint Mary Major after returning to Rome from Sweden.  He usually goes to pray in front of a famous icon of the Blessed Mother before and after his trips.  We planned our visit of St. Mary Major for Tuesday afternoon and prayed, not daring to tell any of the pilgrims about the possibility so as to avoid getting hopes up.  I entrusted the intention to St. Jude, patron of hopeless causes!

God – and St. Jude – were certainly smiling on our pilgrimage.  Not only were we in the basilica when the Pope arrived, we were in the front row along the temporary barricade that had been set up.  The Nashville pilgrims were less than 20 feet away when Pope Francis quietly came to the basilica to lay flowers at the altar and silently pray at the icon.  We joined him in singing the Salve Regina, and then as he left, he gave a small wave to us.  To see the surprise and happiness on the faces of our Nashville group, a group that had thought their chance to see the Pope had been taken away months ago, was well-worth keeping the secret under wraps for so long!

To top it off, the Papal Mass that had been cancelled was rescheduled, and so our group joined a small gathering of mostly Italians for Mass in a Roman cemetery outside the city of Rome.  There were only about 1,500 in attendance, and our group was a mere 60 yards away from the makeshift altar that had been set up amongst the mausoleums and graves. I have been to dozens of Papal Masses, but this one certainly took the prize for most unusual!

Besides our times with the Holy Father, the trip was marked with beautiful liturgies celebrated by our own Father Bulso and Father Hammond, prayer in front of the tombs of saints like St. Francis, St. Clare, and St. Paul, and the traditional climbing of the Holy Stairs on our knees.  We saw the Sistine Chapel, relics of the Passion, the wood of the crib of Our Lord, and the table of the Last Supper.  We were able to go under St. Peter’s Basilica and see the very bones of our first Pope. We walked through the Holy Doors of all four major Roman basilicas, making our Jubilee pilgrimage complete.

New friendships were forged as people from various parishes journeyed together.  Gelato and pasta were consumed, memories were made, and prayer intentions were lifted up.  Most of all, a group from Nashville, TN, touched the heart of the Church in the footsteps of saints, and brought you with us.

 

 

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The Joy of Papal Documents in a Era of Instant Communication

It’s going to be an interesting day. At first glance, the Pope’s document on the family looks like a (LONG) synthesis of previous Pontiff’s teachings coupled with a charge to go into the trenches and apply the teaching to pastoral situations. Nothing really new. Maybe my phone won’t ring today. Maybe I’ll get off easy.

But there are already tweets questioning a footnote here, articles claiming an agenda there, and plenty of people anxious to get the story first -regardless of whether the story exists.

Before I wade into the 300 page document, I’d like to say one thing.

Truth is black and white. It’s as black and white as the polka-dotted sweater I’m wearing today.  Nothing will ever change that. Truth is a Person, Jesus Christ, and is therefore unchanging and eternal.

People are gray. As much as we’d like to live in a Western where the good guys wore white hats and the villains wore black, we live in a world where even the greatest saint has sinned and the even the greatest sinner has the capacity for conversion.

We also live in a culture that wants to say the exact opposite. Our modern culture wants to paint the Truth in a relativistic gray – “what’s right for you isn’t necessarily what’s right for me” and yet pigeon-hole people into camps of good and bad.  We label people and denigrate them, putting them in boxes based on a comment here or a personal view there. We crown people heroes when we agree with them, and unfairly vilify people we don’t like.  We can’t even have a decent debate or discussion these days without someone getting branded and put in a box, never to escape.

I fear a culture with their blacks, whites, and grays so mixed up will never be able to understand Amoris Laetitia.

Gaudete!

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!

 

Thoughts on the Synod

I have been more out-of-the-loop with the Synod than I normally would like.  It’s a far cry from last year, when I had just started my job and didn’t have any projects in full swing. I had plenty of time to read as much as I could, watch press conferences, and speculate. This year, work has kept me busy and I’ve barely had time to read a blog post here and there.  I skim Twitter in the morning (following the Holy See Press Office is rather helpful for getting quotes from the press conferences) and sometimes that’s all I can do.

Perhaps, though, it’s not such a bad thing.  I’m aware of the discussions and debates, but in the end, I’ll be waiting until the dust settles to see what comes of all of this. Which is all I could have done anyway. So we pray for the bishops, we pray for the Pope, and we wait.

One thought: Pretending that the only issue the synod needs to discuss is Communion for the divorced and remarried is an insult to families throughout the world. This isn’t a synod on the question of Communion for the divorced and remarried.  This is a synod on the family.  And with all respect to those who are in that situation and hurting, there are millions of people throughout this world hurting for other reasons, and their wounds need to be addressed as well. I was reading comments on an article during the first week of the Synod (heaven help me, why do I read comments on articles…) and the person said if that problem wasn’t going to be solved, why is there even a synod?  Well, that’s insulting to every family that is hurting throughout the world: hurt by war, fatherless families, prostitution and sex trafficking, polygamy, abuse, poverty, infertility, lack of educational opportunities…

What about the families who are struggling to be faithful, to be life-giving, to be virtuous in this culture when everyone around them is telling them to give up?  To act like the synod is only about Communion for the divorced and remarried is a slap in the face, at best.  (Thank you, Cardinal Dolan.)

More than one bishop has commented that if the focus of the synod is Communion for the divorced and remarried, it is a narrow focus that pretty much completely ignores the situation of families outside the western world.  We tend to forget that much of the Catholic world lies outside our everyday experience.  The Catholics in North America make up a mere 8% of the Catholic Church.  Add Europe and you get a total of about 32%. Not exactly a majority.

One of the most striking things about the World Meeting of Families was not just the international community present, but where much of the international community came from. Not from affluent Europe (an easy trip to Philadelphia).  No, they were from Asia and Africa.  I’ve never seen so many bishops gathered for Mass in one place outside of Rome, as I did at that opening Mass for the WMOF.  Where were they from? Africa and Asia. (Including this guy.) The Church is growing and the Church is faithful in these “2nd millennial” churches.  They deserve to be in the conversation.

That being said, I stand by the things I said last year (here and here) about last year’s extraordinary synod, and I urge everyone to pray for the bishops.  We can spill a lot of ink, we can gossip and complain and speculate and worry.  Or we can pray.

Prepping for the Pope

I don’t know why I was surprised to see a “Welcome Pope Francis!” sign in the Philadelphia airport last night.  I mean, this is kind of a big deal.  But it started to sink in then, and continued to sink in as we drove through the city and saw billboard after billboard welcoming the World Meeting of Families and Pope Francis.  I mean, even Wawa is welcoming him!

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I also realized last week that this will not only be my first time to see a Pope on American soil, it’ll be my first time seeing the Pope anywhere outside of Rome!  I’ve seen John Paul II, Benedict, and Francis, but always in Vatican City or somewhere within the city of Rome.

So it’s happening, folks.  I haven’t blogged about my incredible experience at the Bristol night race (thank you, Dad!!) or the whiskey class I took a few weeks ago, or the incredible food I’ve eaten lately, but I’m back here and ready to blog about Philly.

I’ll be blogging serious thoughts over at joanmwatson.com – if I find time at the end of the day – but if I want to blog about things like the sandwich I ate from Wawa last night, you’ll find me around here.

We started the festivities of the week by going to a Padre Pio festival today, complete with people whose names are Antoinetta Biancorosso and Italian men who talked with their hands and plenty of people who were willing to jab you in the back if you weren’t standing close enough in the line for sausage and peppers. Good memories of Rome and hopefully good practice for what lies ahead next weekend.

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Okay, Philly.  Here’s your chance to shine. I’m still sad Francis didn’t come to Nashville, but it’s time to show him what your city is all about.  Okay, maybe not.  Please try to make Americans look good.

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Thoughts after Chapter 1

I’ve spent the last day wading through Laudato Si and plenty of articles and blog posts about it.  I’ll be honest- because I think I can still be transparent and frank here – I’m still sorting out my own mind about it.  After finishing the first chapter, I’m uncomfortable with the amount of “science” in it and am hoping the second chapter has more theology. But that’s just my honest opinion.

So I’m not finished with it, but I wanted to come here and share some links in case you have questions yourself.

Father Barron’s commentary is excellent, and after listening to his refreshingly clear and insightful comments, I found myself wishing he had been on the committee to help draft the document. Watch here.

Father Pius is a Dominican priest studying in Rome, and he shares some good initial thoughts on the encyclical here.

Here’s a good round-up of quotes you won’t hear the mainstream media speaking about: 11 Things You Won’t Hear…

One thought as I close.  I was looking over my notes to teach RCIA last night, and I happened to use the notebook that I also used to teach church history a few years back.  I happened to open to my notes on Galileo, so I took a second to look over them.  I had tried to set the scene for my students – what the study of science was like at the time, how science was seen as natural philosophy and thus was naturally related to the studies of theology and philosophy, etc.  It wasn’t strange for the Church to be in the debate – after all, most of the leading astromoners were clerics, anyway.  Well, as I was reading my notes, I thought how funny it was that the some of the same people who yelp about how wrong it is for the Church to poke Her nose into a discussion of science don’t even seem to blink at that first chapter of Laudato Si, where the Pope seems to be speaking a lot about science.  Just a thought.

and that has made all the difference

Last week at the Chrism Mass, I sat a few rows back from a young man who came into the Church last year.  I teach for RCIA classes occasionally, and I distinctly remember the night I taught his class.  He was full of questions — really good, probing questions.  I could tell he wasn’t there lightly. He was really searching.  I could tell just from his questions that he had been in several different faith communities, had experience with different theologies, and had a strong philosophical background. He had done his research.  But the answers he had received in the past were not satisfactory.  Later, after talking to him, I learned he was a self-described skeptic.

I left class honestly not sure if he would come into the Church.  I hoped I had answered his questions, but I felt he wasn’t truly satisfied.  And I knew he had more.

You know the end of the story, because I already told you.  He did end up entering the Church, and he’s one of those beautiful zealous souls that is 100% inside.  Perhaps he would still describe himself philosophically as a skeptic, but I don’t see it when I talk to him now.  There is that contentment and joy that comes when you really and truly take the plunge. All in. No-holds-barred.

As I sat behind him the other night, I thought of what an example he is of the gift of faith. There are some questions that don’t have satisfactory answers.  And there are some answers that are only understood with the grace of the sacraments. While I’m not telling anyone to come into the Church flippantly (exactly the opposite, actually), I do think we need to let go of trying to solve every predicament or clear every roadblock of doubt.  Perhaps there are some things that only grace will answer.

As we enter this Easter season, let’s remember the importance of mystagogy.  Most of us are fully initiated into the Church and have received the sacraments. That does not mean we are finished with our journey of faith, but that we’ve just begun.  Now that we’ve received the mysteries, now that we’ve received sanctifying grace, we can begin to enter into them, to unpack them. Now it is time to LIVE the mysteries… something that was impossible before receiving them.  It is impossible to know the Church and Her Mysteries from the outside. It is only possible from the inside, in grace.  (I highly recommend “Living the Mysteries: A Guide for Unfinished Christians.”)

Don’t get discouraged when friends or family members don’t seem to understand Christ and His Church.  Some things are only possible with faith.  Pray for the gift of faith for them, and don’t take your own faith for granted.  Thank God for it, praying that He gives you even more.

Happy Easter!