Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Old: Ostia Antica

Cordiali saluti, i miei amici italiani!

La settimana schorza io ho fatto la mia esame prima alla universita. Non era troppo difficile, ma vedremo se ho fatto bene. Si spera. (Ma certo, in Dio solo)

Greetings, English speakers!

Last weekend my hopes were finally fulfilled, as I was able to make a trip to Ostia Antica, the ancient port city of Rome. This port is very important to me because it is where St. Augustine lived for a time and where his mother, St. Monica, died. (St. Augustine is one of the most well known saints of the Church. He was the Bishop of Hippo, in Africa, and is known most of all for the extensive philosophical and theological writings he composed). St. Augustine describes his time in Ostia in his famous book Confessions. Here is the famous part, on Ostia Antica, when he and his mother are speaking before her death:

23. As the day now approached on which [St. Monica] was to depart this life--a day which thou knewest, but which we did not--it happened (though I believe it was by thy secret ways arranged) that she and I stood alone, leaning in a certain window from which the garden of the house we occupied at Ostia could be seen. Here in this place, removed from the crowd, we were resting ourselves for the voyage after the fatigues of a long journey.
25. What we said went something like this: “If to any man the tumult of the flesh were silenced;
and the phantoms of earth and waters and air were silenced; and the poles were silent as well;
indeed, if the very soul grew silent to herself, and went beyond herself by not thinking of herself; if fancies and imaginary revelations were silenced; if every tongue and every sign and every transient thing--for actually if any man could hear them, all these would say, ‘We did not create ourselves, but were created by Him who abides forever’--and if, having uttered this, they too should be silent, having stirred our ears to hear him who created them; and if then he alone spoke, not through them but by himself, that we might hear his word, not in fleshly tongue or angelic voice, nor sound of thunder, nor the obscurity of a parable, but might hear him--him for whose sake we love these things--if we could hear him without these, as we two now strained ourselves to do, we then with rapid thought might touch on that Eternal Wisdom which abides over all. And if this could be sustained, and other visions of a far different kind be taken away, and this one should so ravish and absorb and envelop its beholder in these inward joys that his life might be eternally like that one moment of knowledge which we now sighed after--would not this be the reality of the saying, ‘Enter into the joy of thy Lord’? But when shall such a thing be? Shall it not be ‘when we all shall rise again,’ and shall it not be that ‘all things will be changed’?”
26. Such a thought I was expressing, and if not in this manner and in these words, still, O Lord,
thou knowest that on that day we were talking thus and that this world, with all its joys, seemed
cheap to us even as we spoke. Then my mother said: “Son, for myself I have no longer any pleasure in anything in this life. Now that my hopes in this world are satisfied, I do not know what more I want here or why I am here. There was indeed one thing for which I wished to tarry a little in this life, and that was that I might see you a Catholic Christian before I died. My God hath answered this more than abundantly, so that I see you now made his servant and spurning all earthly happiness. What more am I to do here?”
27. I do not well remember what reply I made to her about this. However, it was scarcely five
days later--certainly not much more--that she was prostrated by fever. While she was sick, she
fainted one day and was for a short time quite unconscious. We hurried to her, and when she soon regained her senses, she looked at me and my brother and said: “Where was I?” Then looking intently at us, dumb in our grief, she said, “Here in this place [Ostia] shall you bury your mother.” I was silent and held back my tears; but my brother said something, wishing
her the happier lot of dying in her own country and not abroad. When she heard this, she fixed him with her eye and an anxious countenance, because he savored of such earthly concerns, and then gazing at me she said, “See how he speaks.” Soon after, she said to us both: “Lay this body anywhere, and do not let the care of it be a trouble to you at all. Only this I ask: that you will remember me at the Lord’s altar, wherever you are.” And when she had expressed her wish in such words as she could, she fell silent, in heavy pain with her increasing sickness.

Sorry for the huge quotation, but I wanted you to get the background to the situation into which I was entering. That is, I was able to experience the very streets, the very houses, the very church where Saint Monica and Saint Augustine lived and prayed--and who knows, perhaps I walked by the very house where St. Augustine and St. Monica spoke!

Ostia Antica is now in ruins. After the fall of Rome, the Roman economy collapsed (more or less) and so the Ostia (the port of Rome) had no economic means to sustain itself. So the city of 60,000 people became a village of a few hundred until the modern era. (Though it does have a medieval castle on the outskirts) Anyway, today anyone can enter the ruins (it is basically a park) which have been excavated by archaeologists. Here are some pictures!

Something of historical interest is that if Rome had not fallen when it did and as it did, then the Ostian ruins would have been buried (and not preserved) over the centuries, just like in Rome (Romans today have literally built a city on ruins). Instead, however, Ostia's abandonment has left us today with a untouched Roman city of the past. So we can really get a glimpse into Roman life from these ruins. For example, this port of Ostia had running, clean water from the mountains and indoor heating. They also had hotels, markets, and a fire department (in other words, human needs have not changed).

Okay: so I actually walked on the exact roads where St. Augustine walked--the very same stones and all. Since he is one of my heroes, well, that's pretty awesome! It was a profound experience.

The internet is getting slow and it is getting late. I will add more when I can. Ciao for now!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Santa Maria Degli Angeli and More

Fall Greetings!

The weather has clearly (or not so clearly) changed here in Rome from sunny and warm to rainy, cloudy, and cold. Of course, it is not that cold as it is in the US in some places, but one must bundle up in the mornings. It is not so bad, though, and Maryland is definitely colder at this time of year.

Speaking of the US, Thanksgiving is just around the corner and the NAC has a lot planned to celebrate Thanksgiving here as best as we can. We are having the customary "Spaghetti Bowl," which is a football game between the first year seminarians (that's me) and all the other 150 seminarians (the odds are not in our favor). I have promised the coach that I will be putting on 75 pounds of pure muscle for the game (putting me at 250 pounds), and I am making some progress towards that goal...I am in the position of linebacker, after all.

All joking aside, we are having a fantastic Thanksgiving Day meal at the NAC with the traditional American food (turkey, gravy, potatoes, cranberry sauce, and more). It will definitely be a nice way to remember and celebrate with the US in spirit.

We also are having two "shows" being performed for the college. One is called the "New Man Show," which is performed by the first year seminarians, and the other is the "Old Man Show," which is done by the other seminarians (again, the odds are against us). It is not really a competition, but both shows are expected to be clever, funny, and meaningful for the NAC community. We'll see what happens, especially since I have yet to learn my part!

On a more recent note, last weekend I went to visit the Basilica (in Rome) called Santa Maria degli Angeli, which means Saint Mary of the Angels. All the Baltimore seminarians here went together because actually this Basilica has a special connection with the Archdiocese. Let me explain.

Every time a bishop or priest is appointed as a cardinal, a church within the Diocese of Rome is given to him as (I suppose) a sign of unity and spiritual support from the Holy See. Santa Maria degli Angeli happens to be the titular church of William Cardinal Keeler, Archbishop Emeritus of Baltimore. So, we Baltimore seminarians decided to go and not only visit the beautiful and historic Basilica, but also to have Mass said for the Cardinal and for the Archdiocese. Another opportunity to be in spirit with the people of Maryland and the US!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Il Più Bella: Switzerland

Greetings from Rome!

This past weekend I went on my first out-of-country trip to Lugano, a small city in southern Switzerland. To start, here are some pictures which will say more than I can about the beauty of this place.

At first glance, on a cloudy day, not too bad...Lake Lugano.

A picture of me in the park "Lungo Lago," meaning along the lake.

The high altar at the Cathedral of Lugano.

And then the clouds began to break...

And right before I left to return to Rome, the sun came out and I got to see the Alps! It was amazing and hard to describe.

I will write about what I did on my trip tomorrow (I have to go to bed now). Enjoy the picts!

The Vatican