Mass times while visiting Watsonville

Just a quick note to let everyone know where I’ll be celebrating Mass during my visit to Watsonville, CA at the beginning of August. I hope to see you.

Date Place Time
2-Aug St. Patrick’s Church 8:00 AM
3-Aug Our Lady, Help of Christians 9:00 AM
4-Aug Our Lady, Help of Christians 9:00 AM
5-Aug Our Lady, Help of Christians 9:00 AM
6-Aug Our Lady, Help of Christians 4:15 PM
7-Aug St. Patrick’s Church 7:30 AM
8-Aug St. Patrick’s Church 8:00 AM
9-Aug St. Patrick’s Church 8:00 AM
10-Aug Our Lady, Help of Christians 9:00 AM

Marian Pilgrimage to Our Lady of Mentorella

I should have written this blog post before the one regarding my trip to New Hampshire, but it slipped my mind until I stumbled across the photos on my cell phone.

During the month of May my community did our annual Marian pilgrimage to the the Shrine of Our Lady of Mentorella.

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The site of the shrine has a history going back to the second century when St. Eustachius converted to Christianity there and was later martyred. The emperor Constantine decided to build a basilica there in honor of St. Eustachius and it was consecrated by Pope Sylvester I sometime before 335 A.D. In the sixth century the property was given to the Benedictine monks of Subiaco and some scholars believe it was one of the twelve abbeys founded by St. Benedict himself. In the thirteenth century a wooden statue of Our Lady that sits in the shrine even today was created.

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The Benedictines abandoned the shrine in the fourteenth century and it fell into disrepair until the seventeenth century when a Jesuit, Fr. Athanasius Kircher, rebuilt the shrine and restored devotion to Our Lady of Mentorella. When he died he asked that his heart be buried there, and Pope Innocent XIII asked the same for himself. In 1857 it was entrusted to the Congregation of the Resurrection, who own and care for it today. St. John Paul II visited it often (it is cared for by Polish priests), and Pope Benedict XVI visited it in 2006.

We arrived late morning and had a concelebrated Mass with homily in the tiny shrine (we all managed to fit in the sanctuary for the concelebration, but it was tight). After Mass there was time for hiking in the mountains and hills surrounding the shrine (the shrine is up in the mountains in the area of Capranica Prenestina, a thousand meters above sea level). The Resurrection fathers were gracious enough to let us barbecue in a beautiful little cultivated terrace where they have cookouts. After lunch we chatted and played table games for a while before returning to Rome after honoring Our Lady and enjoying some majestic views.

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Fides et Ratio Seminar in Merrimack, New Hampshire

In the last week of May and first days of June I was blessed with the opportunity to participate in a Fides et Ratio seminar organized by the Faith and Reason Institute. This seminar was held at the Thomas More College of Liberal Arts in Merrimack, New Hampshire. The goal of the seminar is to give Catholic educators an opportunity to study and discuss great authors of the Catholic Intellectual and Spiritual Tradition. The topic for the seminar I’d be attending was “The Church Fathers, Doctors, Popes, Sacred Art & Music I” and I hope to attend the second one next year.

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My flight connected through Amsterdam (a first time there for me and it is a nice, clean airport) and then I arrived in Boston, just a little over an hour’s drive away from Merrimack. It was the first time I’d been in New England since 2014, when I spent the summer in Rhode Island to finish my doctoral dissertation, and it was nice to be back in the States, even if only for about a week. I made it to Merrimack from the airport without incident, and celebrated my return to America with some  Chinese takeout thanks to the help of Ethan, an intern organizing the event.

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I’d arrived a day early to get over the jet lag and read a little more to prepare for the seminar. I spent Saturday reading St. Augustine’s On Christian Doctrine, my first read, and it was nice to have hours of quiet study in a faculty lounge (I am a professor). The college is small, about ninety students, and they have a four-year liberal arts curriculum. The students were on summer vacation already, with the exception of around eight or so who had jobs on campus during the summer.

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We had an excellent selection of readings. Church Fathers from the East and the West, including St. Athanasius and St. Augustine, Medieval authors, like St. Anselm and St. Bernard of Clairvaux, authors of modern spiritual theology, including St. Teresa of Jesus and St. Francis de Sales, and more recent popes, including St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. Other than two high school teachers and one doctoral candidate, the rest were university professors and the wealth of knowledge present made for some very enriching discussions.

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I also served as chaplain with daily Mass and time for confessions. On the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus the students prepared some polyphony to sing. It was the tenth anniversary of my diaconate ordination and the World Day of Prayer for the Sanctification of Priests, so I thanked all those present, since a priest sanctifies himself through performing his ministry, so by participating in Mass we were helping to sanctify each other. The next day the seminar concluded in the morning and it was time to return to Rome after a wonderful academic and pastoral experience.

 

Sacred Triduum in Montepiano and a visit to the Loggia

Just under two weeks before Good Friday we received a liturgical distress call by way of a doctor who helps us with sports injuries (brothers play a lot, brothers twist ankles, lots of brothers, ergo we really appreciate all the medical help we can get). A community of consecrated lay women (not Regnum Christi, my movement) needed a priest to celebrate the Sacred Paschal Triduum for them in Montepiano, a small community to the north of Florence. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I convinced myself due to an initial miscommunication that they were cloistered Carmelites, therefore going to the parish was not the ideal option for them (if at all), and volunteered to go, since one of my dear friends is a cloistered Carmelite nun in Valparaiso, Nebraska. I had already celebrated the Sacred Paschal Triduum four times: twice in the United States as chaplain for Overbrook Academy, and twice in Switzerland for a group of English-speaking girls from Overbrook’s sister academy in Ireland, Woodlands (who were in Switzerland for a ski trip). Liturgically the Sacred Paschal Triduum is one of the most complex moments of the year, since Easter is considered the feast day of feast days, but after four times I wasn’t too worried.

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The plan was to ride up to Montepiano with the doctor on Good Friday, celebrate the Sacred Triduum, and then ride down with him on Easter Monday morning. That was how it worked out for me, but he had a lot more driving to do. Two days before the trip his elderly mother had heart problems and the day before the trip she had a pacemaker installed. He didn’t tell me until Good Friday morning when he came to pick me up (please keep the family in your prayers; she is doing much better now). God bless his generosity; he dropped me off in Montepiano (almost four hours driving), returned to Rome to be with his ailing mother in the hospital, and then he returned early on Easter Monday to bring me back to Rome. Upon arrival I found out the “cloistered Carmelites” were actually a community of consecrated lay women, the Little Community of Mary, Servant of the Lord (in Italian: Piccola Communità di Maria, Serva del Signore). They’d been founded in Umbria but now were in the diocese of Prato. These were the only ones. They prayed the Divine Office together at times during the day, spent quality time in front of the Blessed Sacrament, and also worked around the property that was a sort of country ranch before they moved there. One of them cast the Paschal Candle we used from beeswax and was also a carpenter.

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They had their duties and projects and attended to them in prayerful silence, therefore is was a pleasantly quiet place to stay, simple but joyful. The most potential anxiety came from learning the Exsultet, the Solemn Easter Proclamation in Italian. I learn music by ear and had a hard time finding a recording, but in the end it worked out, although I improvised a little based on how I’d learned the melody in English. The liturgies were small (a dozen people at most), but simple and beautiful. At the end of the Easter Vigil I was asked to bless some eggs, an Easter tradition, and then I brought Jesus back to the tabernacle where he belonged. They had arranged a snack and asked me to come and bless the snack, some giant chocolate Easter eggs and panettone (a delicious fruit cake, in this case the Colomba di Pasqua variety). They told me the “blessing” they wanted was for me to break the chocolate eggs first so they could be distributed, kind of like when the wedding couple cuts the cake (it was a good thing I hadn’t been asked to bless the real eggs second; I would have smashed them). So after my best karate chop we enjoyed some chocolate to conclude the evening and welcome Easter.

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The following Saturday, back in Rome, one of my confrere’s who works in the Vatican arranged for a tour for us of the Vatican Loggia. I stood in front of the wooden doors to the Sistine Chapel that everyone saw on television a few years ago when the conclave began to elect Pope Francis. Unfortunately I can’t share photos of the Loggia because they’re copyrighted and I don’t want to find out if there are Swiss Guard special forces, but I can share some views of St. Peter’s Square from a new perspective.

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Transit Strikes and Assisi Trips

A few months ago a consecrated woman whom I’d served as an auxiliary chaplain while living and working in Rhode Island contacted me by e-mail and asked me to come with her pilgrimage group to Assisi as chaplain for a day. The group was from Houston, TX, and it was the last day of their pilgrimage, March 18, nestled between St. Patrick’s Day and the Solemnity of St. Joseph. It would be my second time in Assisi, and the first time I hadn’t had much time to see all the sights, so not only was I happy to help, but happy to visit Assisi again.

We would be traveling to Assisi by train, so the day before the trip I checked the train times and the app on my phone included the seemingly innocuous note on each train time: “Strike?” If you want to know the word that either chills the blood of any Italian or at least makes them roll their eyes in frustration, it is sciopero (“strike”). The only exception are the transit workers who are on strike and the children (school gets cancelled).

When public transit is involved there are at least five unions in play that I managed to identify. The sciopero is announced in advance; for the trains it would be from 9PM on the 17th to 9PM on the 18th, while the buses and the subway in Rome would be from 8:30AM to 12:30AM (they wanted to strike for 24 hours, but the Prefect of Rome apparently had the authority to issue an ordinance reducing it to four hours). There were also rumors that the taxis would also go on strike. The sciopero wouldn’t be for all public transit; the unions were required by law to provide basic services, basically enough to get you to work in the morning and back home in the evening with a lot of hassle. However, some trains between major cities were cancelled outright. I attempted in vain to confirm whether the Assisi train was going to be cancelled as well.

The group was out in the city when I found out, so they were blissfully ignorant of the potential transit doom looming over them. I managed to reach them by cell and warn them that the train might be cancelled and I would be in touch if I got any more information. If we couldn’t confirm it, we’d go to Termini Train Station and hope for the best. The worst case would be spending another day walking around Rome, and I know the city pretty well and could show them some places off the beaten path.

In the end there was no way to confirm the train, so early Friday morning I left on the legally mandated strike-proof train to Termini Station. On the train to Termini Station, even before the day was confirmed, I experienced a great peace, because I knew that God had planned for it to work out one way or another: if Assisi was cancelled, I could show them things in Rome. It reminded me of something I learned when I organized pilgrimages for college students as a brother, what I called the Providence train: amidst logistical challenges and seemingly impossible situations, God is working hiddenly and if he wants something, it will happen, no matter how impossible it seems. The pilgrimages were such a cluster bomb of Godincidences at key moments that in my frequent train rides in the city during them I realized that Providence was very similar: God knew the schedule, the track, and the destination, all I had to do was find and get on the train at the correct time.

The consecrated women organized the pilgrimage confided to me that when they heard of the possible cancellation they had no anxiety whatsoever: their pilgrimage had been a series of Godincidences already and they knew things would work out. I have to admit in my old age I was a little more anxious about the whole thing. Thankfully the Assisi train was not cancelled, although we had a brief scare when the person checking tickets on the train (well underway) warned us that the train crew may decide to not go as far as Assisi due to the strike. It was a wonderful opportunity to convert angst into hope; the train continued to its final destination and we arrived in Assisi right on time. Our Lord didn’t want to disappoint a group of pilgrims on their last day. We were blessed by a clear crisp day just before the end of winter. Assisi is a beautiful town; you can hardly take two steps without being able to take a beautiful photo from practically any angle. More beautiful are the stories of St. Francis, St. Clare, and all the Franciscans and Poor Clares who had answered the Lord’s call to Francis to help rebuild His Church.

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We started at the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli (St. Mary of the Angels). Inside this basilica a tiny church is preserved, the Porziuncola, where Francis spent time praying at the beginning of his spiritual conversion; it’s there that the Franciscan movement started. The entrance to this little church within the Basilica was also aptly the Door of Mercy for the Year of Mercy underway; the pilgrims with me had crossed eight or nine Doors of Mercy during their pilgrimage.

After visiting Santa Maria degli Angeli we took a bus up the hill to the older part of Assisi, praying that the bus was not on strike. Thankfully it wasn’t and, while we were waiting, an elderly Franciscan nun greeted us who was also waiting for the bus. Our first stop was the Cathedral of Saint Rufinus, the first bishop of Assisi who was martyred in the third century A.D. Near the cathedral was the spot where St. Clare was born and raised. The main entrance to the cathedral was flanked by two majestic stone lions.

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After visiting the Cathedral we made our way to the Basilica of St. Clare, where she is buried. In a side chapel is also the Crucifix that was originally in the Church of St. Damian. One day when St. Francis was praying before it the Crucifix spoke to him told him to help rebuild the Church. From the plaza of the Basilica there were wonderful panoramas of the Umbrian countryside.

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After lunch we concluded our visit with Mass at the Capella della Pace on the grounds of the Basilica of St. Francis. After Mass we saw the frescoes rendered by Giotto in the upper basilica, visited the tomb of St. Francis, and passed through the second Door of Mercy. The fresco that struck me the most was one of a dream the Pope had in Francis’ time seeing the little friar of Assisi sustaining the Church. St. Francis had responded generously to the Lord’s invitation to help rebuild His Church, and through the Franciscan testimony of radical Gospel poverty, simplicity, and joy they continue to sustain the Church, even to the degree that our current Holy Father chose to take the name of Francis, a historical first. The poverello of Assisi has made a lasting positive impact on the Church.

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After a wonderful day I didn’t worry too much about the return train being on strike, and we returned to Rome with no problems. In my homily I told the pilgrims to remember that the graces of a pilgrimage are like time-release capsules: they keep giving us new insights in good and bad moments, so it is important to jot them down and not forget them. At lunch everyone was sharing their spiritual experiences on the pilgrimage and it was clear that our pilgrimage would be a source of grace for many years to come.

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