Welcome! This blog celebrates both the local and the catholic -- that is, universal -- aspects of the Roman Catholic Church by sharing reflections on experiences of the Church in a variety of settings and cultures. Postings will come from around the world and around the corner. You don't have to be a Catholic to come along.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Good St. Wenceslaus

Good King Wenceslaus looked out
On the feast of Stephen
When the snow lay round about
Deep and crisp and even . . .

The feast of Stephen is, of course, the day after Christmas. Less well known is that Good King Wenceslaus, who was very good indeed, has his own feast day on Sept. 28. Probably the only reason I know that myself is that it's my birthday!

Wenceslaus I was a 10th century Duke of Bohemia, known for charity and kindness. He was martyred on the steps of a church in 935 by his brother, Boleslav I, and the brother's associates. The story of his death is part of the Office of Readings for today in the Liturgy of the Hours.

Revered as the patron saint of the Czech people and the Czech Republic, his feast day is celebrated in that country as a public holiday called Statehood Day. In Prague stands a famous statue of St. Wenceslaus and several other Bohemian patrons on Wenceslaus Square.

The saint's tomb, curiously, lies not in the Czech Republic but at a brewery in Belgium. Actually, the brewery is also a monastery -- the Abbey of Orval. (There are many "abbey beers" in Belgium, but Oval is one of the few that is still brewed in an abbey.) The Belgians were quite proud to show us the elaborate tomb,shown above, on our visit to the Abbey in 1997.

It's nice to recall that even a temporal king can also be a saint.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Universal, but not Identical

"Catholic" means universal, but not identical. Here are some of the experiences that have reminded me the Church is everywhere the same but also different:

● On my first trip to Europe, we participated in an Ascension Thursday Mass in a Brugges, Belgium, convent (shown at right) that had once been a duke's private chapel. The language was Flemish but the familiar order of the Mass made it easy to know when we were at the Gloria, the Lord's prayer, etc.

● One evening at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky, while I was on retreat, I took part in a communal recitation of the rosary. The monk in charge, Brother Andre, invited anyone who wished to lead a decade to do so. At one point a Spanish-speaking woman began the Lord's prayer and the Hail Mary in her own language and the rest of us finished it in English.

● A couple of years ago, on a visit to St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican we found ourselves at a Mass offered in side chapel. The liturgy itself was in Latin, with the homily in Italian and a few words by the priest at the end in German. The German-speaking choir sang a Negro spiritual in English.

● At the Cathedral in Kyoto, Japan, I was amused but not surprised that Japanese Catholics bow at the sign of peace rather than shaking hands western-style.

● One Saturday night in Milan we went to Mass at Tempio Civico di San Sebastiano according to the Ambrosian rite. Named for St. Ambrose, fourth century bishop of Milan, this is a rite of the Latin Church that is used mostly in that city. It was familiar, but different. The broad outlines are the same but many of the prayers are not and the sign of peace takes place near the beginning instead of after the consecration.

● On the south wall of our living room we have two pieces of art depicting Christ's entrance into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. In one, Jesus and the apostles look distinctly Asian. It is a print by the Japanese Catholic artist Sadao Watanabe. The other is an Africa version in which Jesus is black. On the same wall hangs a Asian Madonna-and-child from Korea.

Sometimes the Church is even more universal than its visible boundaries. On my first night in Cuba, I was at a meeting in which a group of Presbyterian women were praying in Spanish. I assumed I wouldn't understand them, so I didn't try very hard. But a Lutheran minister standing next to me said, "That's the Magnificat." How surprising that this prayer so associated with the Mother of the Lord is known by its Latin name in at least some Protestant circles.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

On Pilgrimage

An Eastern Rite Catholic friend of ours recently wrote that her family has a tradition of going on pilgrimage to a monastery over the Labor Day weekend. What a wonderful way to close out the summer!

Pilgrimage is an ancient spiritual practice. Although any vacation can take on aspects of a pilgrimage if approached with that intention, a pilgrimage is essentially different from a vacation. It means to go to a holy place, often suffering some inconvenience in the process, and be changed by the experience. It doesn't matter whether the place is near or far.

In Rome, there is a 400-year tradition of a pilgrimage to seven important churches. In the jubilee year of 2000, the Archdiocese of Cincinnati sponsored a seven-church pilgrimage on one day, May 21, 2000, in each of the three areas of the archdiocese.

In conjunction with the event, we produced a video in which we interviewed a priest, a rabbi, an imam and an academic expert on Hindu and Buddhist spirituality. One of of our priests was unhappy with this reminder that pilgrimage isn't just a Christian tradition. But I think it's important to recall that, even before God became one of us, human beings have always been infused with a sense that there is something deeply significant about going away and coming back.

And yet, pilgrimage is also distinctively Christian, from travelers to the Holy Land and the shrine of Santiago de Compostela in northwest Spain to the pilgrims to Canterbury telling their stories that make up Chaucer's Canterbury Tales.

In a document on "The Pilgrimage in the Great Jubilee," the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travelers called pilgrimage "a paradigm of the whole life of faith" for Christians:

"The departure reveals the decision of the pilgrims to go forward up to the destination and achieve the spiritual objectives of their baptismal vocation; walking leads them to solidarity with their brothers and sisters and to the necessary preparation for the meeting with the Lord."

At their destination, Christians are invited "to listen to the word of God and to sacramental celebration." Their return "reminds them of their mission in the world as witnesses of salvation and of builders of peace."

It was not without meaning that Servant of God Dorothy Day called the column she wrote about her daily life and observations "On Pilgrimage." We are all on pilgrimage until we return to our true home with God.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Charlotte's Prayer

Charlotte Grace Andriacco, our first grandchild, was born on September 17, 2002. She had a gorgeous face and a defective heart.

As she spent the first days of her life recuperating from heart surgery, our friend Pastor Fred Lubs wrote this prayer:

Almighty God, your wisdom abounds in the glory of creation and is beyond our understanding. Your love for us and all creatures is as gentle as a father's and as tender as a mother's. We give you thanks for creating new life. Our hearts are filled with joy and expectation; with wonder, fear and awe. Help us, in these days, to proclaim your greatness and mercy as we ask for your sustaining care for Charlotte Grace; that all who surround her with love and care may grow in wisdom, faith, and grace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Although Charlotte unexpectedly died the following month, I do not believe that prayer went unanswered. Those she left behind -- her mommy and daddy and the rest of her loving family -- and the brother and sisters that followed her surely have grown in wisdom, faith and grace these last eight years.

Charlotte's Prayer still hangs on our refrigerator door. Not a day goes by that Nonna and I don't think of her. And I know that now she is praying for us.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

We call him Bishop Bill

We know a number of bishops. One of them is a Lutheran.

On Saturday we were honored to attend the installation of our good friend Rev. Dr. William O. ("Tall Bill") Gafkjen as bishop of the Indiana-Kentucky Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

The beautiful service, held at a large Methodist church in Indianapolis, would have seemed familiar to any Roman Catholic. The order of the liturgy closely followed the Mass and many of the prayers, including the Creed, were nearly identical to their Catholic counterparts. Two of the hymns were ones I have heard frequently in our own cathedral and in our seminary. Another, "Taste and See," was written by Catholic composer and former Cincinnatian James E. Moore, Jr.

All of this reminded me that, as Pope Benedict XVI said in 2008, "We must never tire of praying for the unity of Christians!"

Closing out the Week of Christian Unity that year, the Holy Father taught: "We all have the duty to pray and work for the overcoming of every division between Christians, responding to Christ's desire ut unum sint. Prayer, conversion of heart, the reinforcement of the bonds of communion, form the essence of this spiritual movement that we hope will soon lead the disciples of Christ to celebrate the Eucharist together, the manifestation of their full unity."

Meanwhile, congratulations Bishop Bill! May your ministry continue to bear abundant fruit!

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Angel in the Ivy

Angels are almost always portrayed as beautiful, but my favorite one isn't.

I'm referring to the almost life-sized concrete fountain that our older son gave Ann as a birthday present some years ago. It sits in an ivy patch by the brick patio in our back yard. I love to sit with her, usually with a beverage or a book or both.

Look at her face in this photo by our son, Sgt. Mike. As Ann was the first to observe, it has strength and character. Isn't that better than beauty?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

America's Catholic roots

It didn't start in 1607.

In grade school that was pounded into my head as the date of the first permanent English settlement in the United States. The date stuck, along with 1620 as the year the Pilgrims landed, but the qualifier "English" didn't. I basically forgot that the English weren't the first Europeans to take up residence on this continent.

Of course I knew that St. Augustine, Florida, is the oldest continuously occupied city in what is now the United States, but I just didn't think about it. The Spanish established St. Augustine in 1565. Like Christopher Columbus earlier, they brought the Catholic Church with them.

We recently visited St. Augustine. In addition to being the site of the Fountain of Youth and the original Ripley's Believe It Or Not Museum, it has the oldest Catholic parish in the United States, the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine.

Mass was first celebrated in the parish on Sept. 8, 1565, the Feast (then a Solemnity) of the Birth of Mary. The present church (pictured here) was started in 1793. Although rebuilt, renovated and added to over the years, the face and the walls of the coquina (a kind of limestone) edifice date back to the building's completion in 1796.

There was a time, which perhaps extended longer than enlightened people would like to believe, when the Catholic Church in the United States was viewed with suspicion as a "foreign" religion and its adherents somehow not quite real Americans. It is perhaps worth recalling on this feast day that the faith's roots on this continent run deep, planted long before the Pilgrims even sighted Plymouth Rock in the distance.

Friday, September 3, 2010

The Pause That Refreshes

By Brian Doyle
Guest Blogger

Because of a friend’s generous offer, I now receive his Travel + Leisure Magazine. I know why he has rid himself of it.

It is almost painful to leaf through the pages-popping images of exotic places and people, food and romance, perfection in a bottle and in the form of pillows -- the pages are intoxicating for the homebound and world traveler alike: dreams of places that beg to be tasted, smelled, enveloped, but will more than likely be forlorned.

It becomes difficult to know others are globe-skipping while the fish sticks are burning and the 2-year-old has just emptied yet another grape juice container onto the carpet.

And yet, it reminds me of how artificial travel can be; or at least, perceived.

The “stuff” of travel for me has never been the longing for precision combed beaches, flourishes of rainbows and olfactory hallucinations on a plate, or the luxury of 10,000 count satin sheets adorned by flown-in chocolates from the Garden of Eden.

The “stuff” of travel, for me, has always been spiritual, basic, primal. Good travel, real travel, transforms a person. The “stuff” is made up of pauses, wonder, humility, the oft misunderstood virtue of “the fear of the Lord,” and finality. Ultimately, travel reminds us of our human frailty and beauty at the same time, bound together in a weave so tight that they constitute an inseparable tapestry. We are not home, but a mere passer through.

The authentic traveler asks the question both rhetorically and practically, “Why am I here?” All travel, in the end, is pilgrimage.

When the good Doctor kindly asked me if I would consider being a guest blogger, I first started filing through the cabinet of my brain, thinking back on my time in which I met the saints of Liseux, Dachau, Rome, Calcutta; and some of the sidewalks I’ve crossed in the Serengeti, Capri, Cairo, Cebu. And yet, when I got down to remembering the places, faces, smells and tears, it was the singular experience of pause that came to do just that: give me pause.

Travel is always a privilege, and for all of us, an opportunity to receive pause --quiet, solitudinal, reflectional time and space, even in the midst of chaos and crowded piazzas, that brings one back to the most simple and difficult of truths: that there is a God and I am not He.

So, as I continue to stand along the sidewalk, participating from the sideline in reading these pages that the good Doctor puts to “blog”, I cherish the opportunity to take a few minutes and give pause: pause to travel, pause to pilgrimage, pause to breathe, pause to . . . pause.

Brian Doyle, whose feet are shown above in the Ring of Kerry, Ireland, is associate director of the Stewardship Department of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. Opinions expressed here are his own and not those of the Archdiocese.