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Archive for the ‘Italy’ Category

There’s a little fare war going on right now from JFK and EWR to Milan.  The fares seem to apply mostly to buying two tickets (sparked by an Emirates sale), but as of this writing, you can still get over there (if you buy 2 tix, as I said) for around 450 apiece for spring travel.

Well worth it.  In fact, I’m tempted.

We were there four years ago, inspired by a similar, even more awesome sale – our tickets from New York to Milan were (wait for it) 250 apiece.  Two hundred and fifty dollars.

So yes, if you are in the NY area and can swing it – try Milan.  It’s not as heavily touristed as other Italian cities, and is a bit more of a challenge to navigate since it is not as compact.  Nor does it have a medieval or renaissance center – in fact there’s hardly any pre-19th century architecture readily seen, mostly because Milan, as the capital of Lombardy, has been the object of invasion and conquest and various other battles since Roman times.

(The Last Supper barely survived Allied bombing in World War II)

So, some photos and blog posts from that great trip.

(This is the apartment where we stayed)

The Duomo, of course.

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From the roof of the Milan Duomo

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On the Duomo roof

First blog post:

We were there for the 150th anniversary of Italian unification

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Under the duomo – where Ambrose baptized Augustine.

The natural history museum

Day trip to Stresa, on Lago Maggiore

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A Sunday afternoon in Pavia 

…and all for probably less than some people spent for a week at Disney World….

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At Castle Sforzesco – see what happens when you buy a cheap umbrella from a street vendor?

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Gelato at Castle Sforzesco at night

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Fantastic Archimboldo exhibit. A complete surprise, and the boys loved it.

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Many thanks to Lisa Hendey for the opportunity to talk about one of my favorite subjects: travel.  You can read the interview here.

There was a question in the interview that I didn’t answer over there:

Have you ever had any travel “disasters?”

I told Lisa that yes, there was something, and it was an incident I’d been intending to blog about since it happened, but I kept forgetting, and then waiting for the right opportunity again, and then forgetting…but now’s my chance!

So..yes.  There has been one real disaster – only one so far, and while what happened wasn’t as bad as being stranded in an airport for three days or suffering an accident or serious illness far from home, it was traumatic enough. And potentially far worse than it was.

So, yes, it was actually one of the worst moments..of..my life. Second worst, I’d say. Yup. That bad. So here you go….

"amy welborn"

In the Pyrenees

Two and a half years ago, the boys and I had the amazing experience of spending three months in Europe.  If you were reading me back then you know that the course of our journey took us to France for two months – we spend most of September in western France, around Montignac, in Lourdes and then Provence, and then October was Paris.

We left Paris in early November, the plan being to spend most of that month in Italy, and then heading back home after Thanksgiving.

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Doing what they do – run – in Lausanne. In front of the Olympic Museum (which was closed)

After a few days in Lausanne, Switzerland (the only place in Europe I experienced sticker shock – expensive!) , we took the train to Padua, which was the first stage of the Italian segment.  Padua for almost a week, then Assisi for a few days, then finally Rome for two weeks.

It was to be an all-day train ride from Lausanne to Padua, via Milan.  There were several stops, the longest being Milan.

It was a lovely trip, first through the Alps, then to northern Italy, and onto Padua.  We looked out the windows, ate snacks, read, and some of us were probably praying our mother never hauled us to Europe during (American) football season again.

And…here we go!  Padua!  St. Anthony, here we come!

I should mention that of course, we were traveling with all of our luggage.  I’m committed to packing light, and  I had already sent some of our stuff back to the States with a friend from Birmingham who had spent a week with us in Paris, but still…we each had a suitcase, plus a backpack.  And remember, the boys were two years younger then – Michael was seven and Joseph, twelve.  My point being that getting these suitcases in and out of trains without letting gravity pull an overloaded child determined that I CAN DO IT MYSELF under the tracks was…a challenge that required speed, negotiation skills, and balance.

As we pulled into the station, I knew that we would only have a couple of minutes, since trains don’t spend much time at all on these stops. I also didn’t want anyone – especially Michael – to take a tumble as they struggled with luggage.

So I told them, as we gathered near the door, that what I wanted them to do was get off, stand on the platform and take the suitcases as I handed them down to them. Sounds good.

The train stopped.  The door slid open.  The boys got out. I handed one suitcase down.  Check.  I reached for the other.

The doors shut.

There was some sort of green button next to the door.  I pushed it.  Then punched it.

The train started to move.

I punched and started shouting. I tried to will the doors back open.

The train sped up.  As trains do.

And the last thing I saw as we slipped away, doors shut tight, was Joseph on the platform, arms outstretched, trying to run but being held back by someone, crying out, “MOM!”

Even now, thinking about that moment, tears come to my eyes, even though I (and you) know it all turned out fine.

But at that moment, I was as frantic and panicked as I’d ever been in my life.  I raced up and down the train cars, looking for someone – anyone who was in a uniform.  Finally, I found one, but he spoke no English, and neither did his colleague, but it didn’t take long for him to grasp my point:  Bambini – in Padua!

What to do?

The next stop was Mestre, the first Venice station, and so of course, what I would do is just get off (with the damn suitcases), and find a train right back.  I was confident that the boys knew what to do – to stay put, because we had talked about it often in Paris in relation to the Metro, which could be crazy crowded, with plenty of times we were squeezed on at the last minute before the doors shut.

What do you do if you all get on the train, and I don’t?

We get off at the next stop and wait for you.

What do you do if I get on the train, but you get left behind?

We stay where we are and wait for you.

So I knew they’d stay there. Well, that’s comforting. They’ll stay! In Padua! Italy! By themselves!

Finally – finally  – the train employee reached the Padua station by telephone and ascertained that the boys were safe – they had been taken to the police office at the train station and would, of course, wait until my return.

As I said, it was a barely-thirty minute ride to Venice, but those were certainly the longest thirty minutes of my life.  Our trip had gone so well, and had been such a rich experience, but now, every doubt I’d had about me taking these two kids to Europe by myself returned and echoed with added embellishments of guilt about my  carelessness.

As we pulled into Mestre, an older man who, with his wife, had boarded in Milan and had been seated across from us and seen all of it happen, approached  and offered to help me find the return train to Padua.  So grateful, of course I said yes, and together, we pulled those two remaining suitcases out of the train and found the platform for a Padua train that would, thank goodness, be coming in only a matter of minutes.  We got to that platform, I thanked him profusely, but before he left, he glanced around, found a woman of about my age, and explained to her (in Italian) what had happened.  All I could understand was bambini and his dramatic re-enactment of “Mama! Mama!” But that was enough, and he handed me over.

Another excruciating thirty minutes, attempting to converse with the sweet woman who’d been appointed my guardian, when finally I was back in Padua.  Off the train, to the police offices…and there they were.  Mi bambini.

Oh, my.

I am so, so sorry.  So, so sorry. 

The officers were quite kind as they took my information and made copies of our passports.  The boys said that some bystanders had been under the impression that they were supposed to be going to Venice and asked if they wanted to take the next train, but they knew better, and said, “No, our Mom will be coming back. We know it.”

As we got the taxi to our apartment, Michael – who was naturally far more frightened by the experience than Joseph – muttered, “I’m never riding a train again.”

I told him, as nicely as I could that I totally understood, but we certainly weren’t going to be walking to Assisi, and the whole thing was totally my fault and it wasn’t going to happen again.  I promise. I’d learned my lesson, and from now on, we’d do as I finally woke up and observed the Europeans doing – crowding at the train door, luggage in hand, ready to jump out as soon as they open, and not taking any time to gather anything, because there isn’t.  Time.

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The street in Padua where our apartment was located.

We finally got to our apartment, after I’d called the owner from the police offices to tell her that we would be late meeting her.  As we settled in and I told the owner the story of why we were late, she gasped and shook her head and murmured at intervals, “Mama Mia.. Mama Mia.” And I remember thinking amid the remnants of my breathless panic, Huh. They really do say that.

Sometimes I think back on that horrid hour of our lives and think, It really wasn’t that bad.  They were immediately taken care of by the authorities.  It was fine. 

But then I think again…what if someone evil had been there and taken advantage of the situation, and offered…

And I can’t think anymore.  It’s too terrible. I can’t fool myself.  It could have been much, much worse, and thank God and Saint Anthony and all the good people there that it wasn’t.

Coda:

A few days later, we were leaving Padua. Michael had accepted the facts of life and was okay with the train – considering he’d ridden it twice to Venice during our week, that wasn’t surprising.

But our departure and final visit to the Padua station wasn’t drama-free, either.

As we were checking out that day, a big protest parade marched passed our apartment.  The owner shrugged and said, "amy welborn"“Students.  We protested back in our day, now they do.” No big deal.

Right?

Well, it turned out to be sort of a big deal.  The protests built as our taxi made its way to the station, and by the time we arrived it was a mess, for the plaza in front of the station was the final destination of the protest, the police had gathered and the students were approaching.  They’d closed off the front of the station. I looked at the driver, he shrugged helplessly, and so we got out anyway.  With, of course, our suitcases.

A bystander warned us that we should probably get away – “The students are going to start running, probably, and there will be tear gas,” he said.

(There were, in fact, injuries.  The protests were one of the many anti-austerity protests around Europe that fall.  As this news article relates, there were two policeman injured by firecrackers – which we heard.)

But we couldn’t enter the station….the doors were locked, and the police stood guard…or could we?

I watched to see what other people were doing, and it seemed pretty clear to me that there must be a back entrance, for I saw a steady stream heading down a side street away and back towards the station.  I have to wonder why our taxi driver didn’t just  take us there for indeed, as we found out after a ten minute walk, there was a back entrance, and it was open and inside, everything was quiet and calm.

Almost there. Almost.

I set the boys at a table at the doorway of a grocery store in the station and I dashed in to get snacks and drinks.  When I returned five minutes later, their eyes were wide with excitement.

“Mom! We saw someone GET ARRESTED! And it was the same police lady who helped us the other day!”

Ciao, Padua!

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Shrine of St. Anthony, Padua

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Seriously – loved Padua, despite a rough beginning and weird end.

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And…from the pontificate of Benedict XVI, selections from the Sunday Angelus addresses of the Fourth Sunday of Advent:

2005:

Let us allow ourselves to be “filled” with St Joseph’s silence! In a world that is often too noisy, that encourages neither recollection nor listening to God’s voice, we are in such deep need of it. During this season of preparation for Christmas, let us cultivate inner recollection in order to welcome and cherish Jesus in our own lives.

2006

Let us prepare ourselves, dear friends, to meet Jesus, the Emmanuel, God with us. Born in the poverty of Bethlehem, he wants to be the travelling companion of each one of us on our life’s journey. In this world, from the very moment when he decided to pitch his “tent”, no one is a stranger.

It is true, we are all here in passing, but it is precisely Jesus who makes us feel at home on this earth, sanctified by his presence. He asks us, however, to make it a home in which all are welcome.
The surprising gift of Christmas is exactly this: Jesus came for each one of us and in him we have become brothers.

The corresponding duty is to increasingly overcome preconceptions and prejudices, to break down barriers and eliminate the differences that divide us, or worse, that set individuals and peoples against one another, in order to build together a world of justice and peace.

With these sentiments, dear brothers and sisters, let us live the last hours that separate us from Christmas, preparing ourselves spiritually to welcome the Child Jesus. In the heart of the night he will come for us. It is his desire, however, also to come in us, to dwell in the heart of every one of us.

2007

Nothing is more beautiful, urgent and important than freely offering to men and women, in turn, what we ourselves have freely received from God! Nothing can dispense or relieve us from this burdensome but fascinating commitment. While the joy of Christmas that we already anticipate fills us with hope, it spurs us at the same time to proclaim to everyone God’s presence in our midst.

2008

Beyond its historical dimension, this mystery of salvation also has a cosmic dimension: Christ is the sun of grace who, with his life, “transfigures and enflames the expectant universe” (cf. Liturgy). The Christmas festivity is placed within and linked to the winter solstice when, in the northern hemisphere, the days begin once again to lengthen. In this regard perhaps not everyone knows "amy welborn"that in St Peter’s Square there is also a meridian; in fact, the great obelisk casts its shadow in a line that runs along the paving stones toward the fountain beneath this window and in these days, the shadow is at its longest of the year. This reminds us of the role of astronomy in setting the times of prayer. The Angelus, for example, is recited in the morning, at noon and in the evening, and clocks were regulated by the meridian which in ancient times made it possible to know the “exact midday”.

The fact that the winter solstice occurs exactly today, 21 December, and at this very time, offers me the opportunity to greet all those who will be taking part in various capacities in the initiatives for the World Year of Astronomy, 2009, established on the fourth centenary of Galileo Galilei’s first observations by telescope. Among my Predecessors of venerable memory there were some who studied this science, such as Sylvester II who taught it, Gregory XIII to whom we owe our calendar, and St Pius X who knew how to build sundials. If the heavens, according to the Psalmist’s beautiful words, “are telling the glory of God” (Ps 19[18]: 1), the laws of nature which over the course of centuries many men and women of science have enabled us to understand better are a great incentive to contemplate the works of the Lord with gratitude.

2009

Precisely this aspect of the prophecy, that of messianic peace, leads us naturally to emphasize that the city of Bethlehem is also a symbol of peace, in the Holy Land and in the world. Unfortunately, in our day, it does not represent an attained and stable peace, but rather a peace sought with effort and hope. Yet God is never resigned to this state of affairs, so that this year too, in Bethlehem and throughout the world, the mystery of Christmas will be renewed in the Church. A prophecy of peace for every person which obliges Christians to immerse themselves in the closures, tragedies, that are often unknown and hidden, and in the conflicts of the context in which they live, with the sentiments of Jesus so that they may become everywhere instruments and messengers of peace, to sow love where there is hatred, pardon where there is injury, joy where there is sadness and truth where there is error, according to the beautiful words of a well-known Franciscan prayer.

Today, as in the times of Jesus, Christmas is not a fairy-tale for children but God’s response to the drama of humanity in search of true peace. “He shall be peace”, says the Prophet referring to the Messiah. It is up to us to open, to fling open wide the doors to welcome him. Let us learn from Mary and Joseph: let us place ourselves with faith at the service of God’s plan. Even if we do not understand it fully, let us entrust ourselves to his wisdom and goodness. Let us seek first of all the Kingdom of God, and Providence will help us. A Happy Christmas to you all!

2010

St Ambrose comments that “Joseph had the amiability and stature of a just man, to make his capacity as a witness worthier” (Exp. Ev. sec. Lucam II, 5: CCL 14,32-33). St Ambrose continues: “He could not have contaminated the temple of the Holy Spirit, the Mother of the Lord, the womb rendered fertile by the mystery” (ibid., II, 6: CCL 14,33). Although he had felt distressed, Joseph “did as the Angel of the Lord commanded him”, certain that he was doing the right thing. And in giving the name of “Jesus” to the Child who rules the entire universe, he placed himself among the throng of humble and faithful servants, similar to the Angels and Prophets, similar to the Martyrs and to the Apostles — as the ancient Eastern hymns sing. In witnessing to Mary’s virginity, to God’s gratuitous action and in safeguarding the Messiah’s earthly life St Joseph announces the miracle of the Lord. Therefore let us venerate the legal father of Jesus (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 532), because the new man is outlined in him, who looks with trust and courage to the future. He does not follow his own plans but entrusts himself without reserve to the infinite mercy of the One who will fulfil the prophecies and open the time of salvation.

2011

The human being who came to life in her womb took Mary’s flesh, but his existence derived totally from God. He is fully man, made of clay — to use the biblical symbol — but comes from on high, from Heaven. The fact that Mary conceived while remaining a virgin is thus essential to the knowledge of Jesus and to our faith, because it testifies that it was God’s initiative and, above all, it reveals who the conceived being was.

As the Gospel says: “the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God” (Lk 1:35). In this sense, the virginity of Mary and the divinity of Jesus guarantees each other. This is what makes that single question so important that Mary, “greatly troubled”, asks the Angel: “How can this be, since I have no husband?” (Lk 1:34). Mary was very wise in her simplicity. She did not doubt God’s power, but she wanted to better understand his will, in order to conform herself completely to this will. Mary was infinitely overcome by the Mystery, yet she occupied perfectly the place which, in its centre had been assigned to her. Her heart and her mind are fully humble and precisely because of her unique humility, God awaits this young woman’s “yes” in order to carry out his plan. He respects her dignity and her freedom. Mary’s “yes” entailed motherhood and virginity as a whole. She wanted everything in her to glorify God and he wanted the Son, born of her, to be totally a gift of grace.

Dear friends, Mary’s virginity is unique and unrepeatable; but its spiritual meaning concerns every Christian, who is essentially linked to faith. In fact, those who put deep trust in God’s love welcome Jesus and his divine life within them through the action of the Holy Spirit. This is the mystery of Christmas! I hope that you will all experience it with deep joy.

2012

In her greeting to Mary Elizabeth recognizes that God’s promise to humanity is being fulfilled and exclaims: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Lk 1:42-43). In the Old Testament, the phrase “blessed are you among women” refers both to Jael (Judg 5:24), and to Judith (Jud 13:18), two women warriors who do their utmost to save Israel.

Instead it is used here to describe Mary, a peaceful young woman who is about to bring the Saviour into the world. Thus John’s leap of joy (cf. Lk 1:44) also calls to mind King David’s dancing when he accompanied the entry of the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem (cf. 1 Chron 15:29. The Ark that contained the Tablets of the Law, the manna and Aaron’s rod (cf. Heb 9:4) was the sign of God’s presence among his People. The unborn John exults with joy before Mary, the Ark of the New Mary-ArkCovenant, who in her womb is carrying Jesus, the Son of God made man.

The scene of the Visitation also expresses the beauty of the greeting. Wherever there is reciprocal acceptance, listening, making room for another, God is there, as well as the joy that comes from him. At Christmas time let us emulate Mary, visiting all those who are living in hardship, especially the sick, prisoners, the elderly and children. And let us also imitate Elizabeth who welcomes the guest as God himself: without wishing it, we shall never know the Lord, without expecting him we shall not meet him, without looking for him we shall not find him. Let us too go to meet the Lord who comes with the same joy as Mary, who went with haste to Elizabeth (Lk 1:39).

Let us pray that all men and women may seek God, discovering that it is God himself who comes to visit us first. Let us entrust our heart to Mary, Ark of the New and Eternal Covenant, so that she may make it worthy to receive God’s visit in the mystery of his Birth

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I went through the archives of Sunday Angelus talks from John Paull II on through and pulled out what the various Popes have said to the children on this occasion.  You might find a nice quote to share with your own family.  (Missing years are mostly because most of  JPII’s Angelus talks are only available in Italian and Spanish.)

1978

As I bless your little statues, beloved children, I think with serene hope of you, of the immense good that you can do, precisely because you are little, within your family, the school, the Associations, and society itself. Not for nothing did Jesus himself choose you as models for those who wish to have a part in his Kingdom (cf. Mt 18:4; Mk 10: 15).

Take home, with great care, the little statue of the Infant Jesus, also as a sign of the Pope’s love for you and your families. Put it in your Crib with intense faith, with that faith wherewith the Blessed Virgin, the Mother of God, laid the new-born Jesus in the manger (cf. Lk 2:7). Invite your father, your mother, your brothers and sisters, the whole of your family, to gather round the Crib in these days of the Christmas Novena, to recite together the prayers learned on your mother’s lap, to sing bambinelli blessingthe sweet carols, so charged with human and Christian sentiment.

May the Infant Jesus, present in the Crib of your home, be the concrete sign of a limpid and sincere faith, which will enlighten, guide and direct your life and that of your dear ones.

Then skip ahead…to 1997…

This climate of serenity and joy typical of the Christian Christmas can already be felt today, here in St Peter’s Square, thanks to the Christmas tree and the crib which are being set up. It is all the more evident thanks to the presence of so many Roman boys and girls who, following a beautiful custom, have brought figurines of the Baby Jesus from their own cribs for the Pope to bless.

I address you in particular, dear children. Christmas is the feast of a Child. Therefore it is your feast! You wait for it impatiently and prepare for it with joy, counting the days until 25 December. I gladly bless the figurines of the Christ Child and the cribs you are making at home. I bless you and the children of every part of the world, especially on the American continent, who were frequently recalled by the Synod Fathers. May the Infant Jesus fill each of them with joy, especially those tried by physical suffering or the lack of affection.

1999

One of the popular expressions of the joyful expectation of Christmas is the preparation of cribs in families. In Christian homes these are the days when a suitable corner is chosen for arranging the figurines, leaving room between Mary and Joseph for the Child Jesus. Having in mind all the Christian families arranging their cribs, I very gladly bless you, dear boys and girls of Rome, who have come in large numbers with your Bambinelli. May Christmas, now close at hand, spur you and all believers in every part of the world to prepare a worthy dwelling-place for Christ.

2000

With great joy I also greet you, dear boys and girls, who have come, as you do every year, to have the figurines of the Baby Jesus blessed before you put them in your cribs at home. I hope that as they gather around this wonderful sign of God’s tenderness, every family will find joy and peace, and will experience in simplicity the true spirit of the Christmas holidays.

2002

Dear children and youngsters of Rome, you have come today to add a touch of liveliness in keeping with the tradition of having the Baby Jesus of your cribs blessed by the Pope. I greet you affectionately and thank you because your joy fits in very well with the spirit of joy that is appropriate for the Third Sunday of Advent.

I also think of the cribs that you and your parents and teachers have prepared in your homes and schools. In the manger, between Mary and Joseph, you will place the Baby Jesus you hold in your hands. The crib will become the centre of your classroom and the heart of your families.

Above all, Christmas is a feast of the family because, by being born in a human family, the Son of God chose it as the first community consecrated by his love.

2003

I greet with affection the children of Rome who have come for the traditional blessing of the “Baby Jesus”; and I thank the Roman Centre of After-School Activities which has organized this lovely event. Dear children and boys and girls, when you place the statue of the Baby Jesus in your Nativity scene, say a prayer for me and for all the people who turn to the Pope in their difficulties. Happy Christmas to you all!

2004

The feast of Christmas is approaching and in many places, such as here in St Peter’s Square, the Christmas crib is already being set up. Small or large, simple or elaborate, it is a familiar and most vivid representation of Christmas. The Nativity scene is a feature of our culture and art, but above all it is a sign of faith in God, who in Bethlehem came “and dwelt among us” (Jn 1: 14).

2. As I do every year, in a little while I shall bless the Baby Jesus figurines that on the Holy Night will be placed in the Christmas cribs, where St Joseph and Our Lady are already silent witnesses of a sublime mystery. With their loving gaze they invite us to watch and pray in order to welcome the divine Saviour, who comes to bring the joy of Christmas to the world.

Now, moving on to B16:

2005:

The Crib helps us contemplate the mystery of God’s love that was revealed in the poverty and simplicity of the Bethlehem Grotto. St Francis of Assisi was so taken by the mystery of the Incarnation that he wanted to present it anew at Greccio in the living Nativity scene, thus beginning an old, popular tradition that still retains its value for evangelization today.

Indeed, the Crib can help us understand the secret of the true Christmas because it speaks of the humility and merciful goodness of Christ, who “though he was rich he made himself poor” for us (II Cor 8: 9).

His poverty enriches those who embrace it and Christmas brings joy and peace to those who, like bambinelli blessingthe shepherds in Bethlehem, accept the Angel’s words: “Let this be a sign to you: in a manger you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes” (Lk 2: 12). This is still the sign for us too, men and women of the third millennium. There is no other Christmas.

Soon, as did beloved John Paul II, I too will bless the figurines of the Baby Jesus that the children of Rome will place in the Crib in their homes. With this act of Blessing, I would like to invoke the help of the Lord so that all Christian families will prepare to celebrate the coming Christmas celebrations with faith. May Mary help us enter into the true spirit of Christmas.

2006

The invitation to rejoice is not an alienating message nor a sterile palliative, but on the contrary, it is a salvific prophecy, an appeal for rescue that starts with inner renewal.

To transform the world, God chose a humble young girl from a village in Galilee, Mary of Nazareth, and challenged her with this greeting: “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you”. In these words lies the secret of an authentic Christmas. God repeats them to the Church, to each one of us:  Rejoice, the Lord is close! With Mary’s help, let us offer ourselves with humility and courage so that the world may accept Christ, who is the source of true joy.

I address a special greeting to the children, the boys and girls of Rome, who have come with their relatives and teachers for the blessing of the figurines of the Baby Jesus that you will put in their cribs at home, at school and in the oratories. I thank the “Centro Oratori Romani” which has organized this important pilgrimage and I warmly bless all the “Baby Jesuses”. Dear children, pray to Jesus before the crib for your father’s intentions too! I thank you and wish you a Merry Christmas!

2007

Men and women of every age and social condition, happy to dedicate their existence to others, give us the answer with their lives! Was not Bl. Mother Teresa of Calcutta an unforgettable witness of true Gospel joy in our time? She lived in touch daily with wretchedness, human degradation and death. Her soul knew the trials of the dark night of faith, yet she gave everyone God’s smile. In one of her writings, we read: “We wait impatiently for paradise, where God is, but it is in our power to be in paradise even here on earth and from this moment. Being happy with God means loving like him, helping like him, giving like him, serving like him” (The Joy of Giving to Others, 1987, p. 143). Yes, joy enters the hearts of those who put themselves at the service of the lowly and poor. God abides in those who love like this and their souls rejoice. If, instead, people make an idol of happiness, they lose their way and it is truly hard for them to find the joy of which Jesus speaks. Unfortunately, this is what is proposed by cultures that replace God by individual happiness, mindsets that find their emblematic effect in seeking pleasure at all costs, in spreading drug use as an escape, a refuge in artificial paradises that later prove to be entirely deceptive.

Dear brothers and sisters, one can lose the way even at Christmas, one can exchange the true celebration for one that does not open the heart to Christ’s joy. May the Virgin Mary help all Christians and people in search of God to reach Bethlehem, to encounter the Child who was born for us, for salvation and for the happiness of all humanity.

I would like to greet the children and young people of Rome who have come here in large numbers this year in spite of the cold to receive the blessing of the Christ Child figurines for their cribs. Dear friends, with great affection I wish you and your relatives a good Christmas. And as I thank the Centro Oratori Romani which organizes this beautiful initiative, I urge priests, parents and catechists to collaborate enthusiastically in the Christian education of children. Thanks to you all and a good Sunday!

2008

(This is the prayer featured in the book)

In this light, it gives me real pleasure to renew the beautiful tradition of the Blessing of the Christ Child figurines, the miniature statues of the Baby Jesus to be placed in the manger. I address you in particular, dear boys and girls of Rome, who have come this morning with your Baby Jesus figurines that I now bless. I invite you to join me, following attentively this prayer:

God, our Father
you so loved humankind
that you sent us your only Son Jesus,
born of the Virgin Mary,
to save us and lead us back to you.

We pray that with your Blessing
these images of Jesus,
who is about to come among us,
may be a sign of your presence and
love in our homes.

Good Father,
give your Blessing to us too,
to our parents, to our families and
to our friends.

Open our hearts,
so that we may be able to
receive Jesus in joy,
always do what he asks
and see him in all those
who are in need of our love.

We ask you this in the name of Jesus,
your beloved Son
who comes to give the world peace.

He lives and reigns forever and ever.
Amen.

And now let us recite together the prayer of the Angelus Domini, invoking Mary’s intercession so that Jesus, whose birth brings God’s Blessing to mankind, may be lovingly welcomed in all homes, in Rome and throughout the world.

2009

We have now reached the Third Sunday of Advent. Today in the liturgy the Apostle Paul’s invitation rings out: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice…. The Lord is at hand!” (Phil 4: 4-5). While Mother Church accompanies us towards Holy Christmas she helps us rediscover the meaning and taste of Christian joy, so different from that of the world. On this Sunday, according to a beautiful tradition, the children of Rome come to have the Pope bless the Baby Jesus figurines that they will put in their cribs. And in fact, I see here in St Peter’s Square a great number of children and young people, together with their parents, teachers and catechists. Dear friends, I greet you all with deep affection and thank you for coming. It gives me great joy to know that the custom of creating a crib scene has been preserved in your families. Yet it is not enough to repeat a traditional gesture, however important it may be. It is necessary to seek to live in the reality of daily life that the crib represents, namely, the love of Christ, his humility, his poverty. This is what St Francis did at Greccio: he recreated a live presentation of the nativity scene in order to contemplate and worship it, but above all to be better able to put into practice the message of the Son of God who for love of us emptied himself completely and made himself a tiny child.

The blessing of the “Bambinelli” [Baby Jesus figurines] as they are called in Rome, reminds us that the crib is a school of life where we can learn the secret of true joy. This does not consist in having many things but in feeling loved by the Lord, in giving oneself as a gift for others and in loving one another. Let us look at the crib. Our Lady and St Joseph do not seem to be a very fortunate family; their first child was born in the midst of great hardship; yet they are full of deep joy, because they love each other, they help each other and, especially, they are certain that God, who made himself present in the little Jesus, is at work in their story. And the shepherds? What did they have to rejoice about? That Newborn Infant was not to change their condition of poverty and marginalization. But faith helped them recognize the “babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger” as a “sign” of the fulfilment of God’s promises for all human beings, “with whom he is pleased” (Lk 2: 12, 14).

This, dear friends, is what true joy consists in: it is feeling that our personal and community existence has been visited and filled by a great mystery, the mystery of God’s love. In order to rejoice we do not need things alone, but love and truth: we need a close God who warms our hearts and responds to our deepest expectations. This God is manifested in Jesus, born of the Virgin Mary. Therefore that “Bambinello” which we place in a stable or a grotto is the centre of all things, the heart of the world. Let us pray that every person, like the Virgin Mary, may accept as the centre of his or her life the God who made himself a Child, the source of true joy.

2013, Pope Francis:

Today my first greeting is for the children of Rome, who have come for the traditional blessing of the “Baby Jesus” figurines organized by the Roman Oratory. Dear children, when you pray before the manger, remember me too, as I remember you. I thank you, and Happy Christmas!

2014  (Hey, when it’s in English, I’ll post it!)

E ora saluto con affetto i bambini venuti per la benedizione dei “Bambinelli”, organizzata dal Centro Oratori Romani. Complimenti! Voi siete stati bravi, siete stati gioiosi qui in piazza, complimenti! E adesso portate il presepio benedetto. Cari bambini, vi ringrazio della vostra presenza e vi auguro buon Natale! Quando pregherete a casa, davanti al vostro presepe, ricordatevi anche di pregare per me, come io mi ricordo di voi. La preghiera è il respiro dell’anima: è importante trovare dei momenti nella giornata per aprire il cuore a Dio, anche con le semplici e brevi preghiere del popolo cristiano. Per questo, oggi ho pensato di fare un regalo a tutti voi che siete qui in piazza, una sorpresa, un regalo: vi darò un piccolo libretto tascabile che raccoglie alcune preghiere, per i vari momenti della giornata e per le diverse situazioni della vita. E’ questo. Alcuni volontari lo distribuiranno. Prendetene uno ciascuno e portatelo sempre con voi, come aiuto a vivere tutta la giornata con Dio. E perché non dimentichiamo quel messaggio tanto bello che voi avete fatto qui con il cartello: “Con Gesù la gioia è di casa”. Un’altra volta: “Con Gesù la gioia è di casa”. Bravi!

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On this Third Sunday of Advent, more words from Pope Emeritus Benedict’s homilies on the occasion, which was usually celebrated in a Roman parish.

2005

The New Testament is truly “Gospel”, the “Good News” that brings us joy. God is not remote from us, unknown, enigmatic or perhaps dangerous. God is close to us, so close that he makes himself a child and we can informally address this God.

It was the Greek world above all that grasped this innovation, that felt this joy deeply, for it had been unclear to the Greeks whether there was a good God, a wicked God or simply no God. Religion at that time spoke to them of so many divinities: therefore, they had felt they were surrounded by very different divinities that were opposed to one another; thus, they were afraid that if they did something for one of these divinities, another might be offended and seek revenge.

So it was that they lived in a world of fear, surrounded by dangerous demons, never knowing how to save themselves from these forces in conflict with one another. It was a world of fear, a dark world. Then they heard: “Rejoice, these demons are nothing; the true God exists and this true God is good, he loves us, he knows us, he is with us, with us even to the point that he took on flesh!”.

This is the great joy that Christianity proclaims. Knowing this God is truly “Good News”, a word of redemption.

Perhaps we Catholics who have always known it are no longer surprised and no longer feel this "amy welborn"liberating joy keenly. However, if we look at today’s world where God is absent, we cannot but note that it is also dominated by fears and uncertainties: is it good to be a person or not? Is it good to be alive or not? Is it truly a good to exist? Or might everything be negative? And they really live in a dark world, they need anaesthetics to be able to live. Thus, the words: “Rejoice, because God is with you, he is with us”, are words that truly open a new epoch. Dear friends, with an act of faith we must once again accept and understand in the depths of our hearts this liberating word: “Rejoice!”.

We cannot keep solely for ourselves this joy that we have received; joy must always be shared. Joy must be communicated. Mary went without delay to communicate her joy to her cousin Elizabeth. And ever since her Assumption into Heaven she has showered joy upon the whole world, she has become the great Consoler: our Mother who communicates joy, trust and kindness and also invites us to spread joy. This is the real commitment of Advent: to bring joy to others. Joy is the true gift of Christmas, not expensive presents that demand time and money.

We can transmit this joy simply: with a smile, with a kind gesture, with some small help, with forgiveness. Let us give this joy and the joy given will be returned to us. Let us seek in particular to communicate the deepest joy, that of knowing God in Christ. Let us pray that this presence of God’s liberating joy will shine out in our lives.

The second word on which I would like to meditate is another word of the Angel’s: “Do not fear, Mary”, he says. In fact, there was reason for her to fear, for it was a great burden to bear the weight of the world upon herself, to be the Mother of the universal King, to be the Mother of the Son of God: what a burden that was! It was too heavy a burden for human strength to bear! But the Angel said: “Do not fear! Yes, you are carrying God, but God is carrying you. Do not fear!”.

…….

Adam and Eve, with their “no” to God’s will, had closed this door. “Let God’s will be done”: Mary invites us too to say this “yes” which sometimes seems so difficult. We are tempted to prefer our own will, but she tells us: “Be brave, you too say: “Your will be done’, because this will is good”. It might at first seem an unbearable burden, a yoke impossible to bear; but in reality, God’s will is not a burden, God’s will gives us wings to fly high and thus we too can dare, with Mary, to open the door of our lives to God, the doors of this world, by saying “yes” to his will, aware that this will is the true good and leads us to true happiness. Let us pray to Mary, Comfort of the Afflicted, our Mother, the Mother of the Church, to give us the courage to say this “yes” and also to give us this joy of being with God and to lead us to his Son, to true life. Amen!

2010

Dear brothers and sisters, next to the invitation to rejoice, today’s Liturgy, with the words of St James that we have heard, also asks us to be constant and patient in waiting for the Lord who comes and to be so together, as a community, avoiding complaints and criticism (cf. Jas 5:7-10).

In the Gospel we heard the question asked by John the Baptist who was in prison: John, who had proclaimed the coming of the Judge who would change the world, and now felt had that the world has remained the same. Thus he sends word to Jesus asking: “Are you ‘He who is to come’, or shall we look for another?”. Is it you or should we expect another?

In the past two or three centuries many have asked: “But is it really you? Or must the world be changed in a more radical manner? Will you not do it?”.

And a great tide of prophets, ideologists and dictators have come and said: “It is not him! He did not change the world! It is we!”. And they created their empires, their dictatorships, their totalitarianism which was supposed to change the world. And they changed it, but in a destructive manner. Today we know that of these great promises nothing remained but a great void and great destruction. It was not they.

And thus we must see Christ again and ask Christ: “Is it you?” The Lord, in his own silent way, answers: “You see what I did, I did not start a bloody revolution, I did not change the world with force; but lit many I, which in the meantime form a pathway of light through the millenniums”.

Let us start here in our Parish with St Maximilian Kolbe, who offered to die of hunger himself in order to save the father of a family. What a great light he became! How much light shone from this figure and encouraged others to give themselves, to be close to the suffering and the oppressed!

Let us think of Damien de Veuster who was a father to lepers, and who lived and died withand for lepers, and has thus brought light to this community.

Let us think of Mother Teresa, who gave so much light to people that, after a life without light, they died with a smile because they were touched by the light of God’s love.

And thus we shall be able to continue and we shall see, as the Lord said in his answer to John, that it is not the violent revolution of the world, but rather the silent light of the truth, of the goodness of God that is the sign of his presence and gives us the certainty that we are loved to the end and are not forgotten, that we are not a product of chance but of a will to love.

Thus we may live, we may feel God’s nearness. “God is close”, says today’s First Reading, he is near us but we are often distant. Let us draw near, let us move into the presence of his light, let us pray the Lord that through contact with him in prayer we ourselves will become light for others.

 2011

Overcome the limitations of individualism, withdrawal into self and the fascination of relativism that views any kind of behaviour as licit, and of the attraction exercised by forms of religious sentiment that exploit the deepest needs and aspirations of the human soul, offering prospects of easy but deceptive gratification. Faith is a gift of God but demands of us a response, a decision to follow Christ, not only when he heals and alleviates but also when he speaks of love even to the point of self-gift.

Another point on which I want to insist is the witnessing to charity that must characterize your community life. In recent years you have seen it increase rapidly, in the number of its members too, but you have also seen it help many people in difficulty and in situations of hardship who need you, who need your material aid, but also and above all need your faith and your testimony as believers. Make sure that the face of your community is always able to express in practice the love of God, who is rich in mercy, and invite people to approach him with trust.

I would like to address a special word of affection and friendship to you, dear boys and girls and young people who are listening to me, as well as to your peers who live in this parish. History’s today and tomorrow and the future of faith are entrusted especially to you who are the new generations. The Church expects much of your enthusiasm, your ability to look ahead, to be inspired by ideals and your desire for radicalism in the decisions of life. The parish is accompanying you and I would like you also to feel my encouragement.

“Brethren…. Rejoice always” (1 Thes 5:16). This invitation to joy which St Paul addressed to the Christians of Thessalonica in that time, also characterizes this Sunday, commonly known as “Gaudete” Sunday. It resonates from the very first words of the Entrance Antiphon: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice! The Lord is at hand”; St Paul, in prison, wrote these words to the Christians of Philippi (cf. Phil 4:4-5) and also addresses them to us.

Yes, we are glad because the Lord is near us and in a few days, on Christmas night, we shall be celebrating the mystery of his birth. Mary, who was the first to hear the Angel’s invitation: “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!” (Lk 1:28), points out to us the way to reach true joy, which comes from God. St Mary of Grace, Mother of Divine Love, pray for us all. Amen!

2012

We can reflect on whether we are really aware of this fact that the Lord is present among us, that he is not a distant God but a God-with-us, a God in our midst who is with us here, who is in the Blessed Eucharist, he is with us in the living Church and we must be heralds of this presence of God. Thus God rejoices in us and we can attain joy: God exists, God is good and God is close.

In the Second Reading we have heard, St Paul invites the Christians of Philippi to rejoice in the Lord. Can we rejoice? And why should we rejoice? St Paul answers: because “the Lord is at hand” (Phil 4:5). In a few days we shall be celebrating Christmas, the Feast of the coming of God who made himself a child and our brother so as to be with us and to share in our human condition. We must rejoice in his closeness, in his presence, and must seek ever better to understand that he really is close, and thus be penetrated by the reality of God’s goodness, joy at Christ being with us.

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Although his feast is superseded by the Second Sunday of Advent, St. Ambrose is so awesome, we can’t ignore him, can we?

Almost four year ago, we did a spring break trip to Milan (freaky low airfare.  I’ll bet if you flew to Orlando that year for spring break and went to Disney, I spent less than you did on our trip.).  And of course, Milan=Ambrose.

(What you might not know is that Milan, as the center of Lombardy in northern Italy, has been the focus of so much attempted conquest and other warfare over the centures, has very little ancient, medieval or even Renaissance architecture or infrastructure.  The basilica of St. Ambrose is an anomaly in the city. Leonardo’s Last Supper barely survived the Allied bombing of WWII.)

But first, to the Duomo –
In the crypt of the Duomo – the baptistry where St. Ambrose baptized St. Augustine:

"amy welborn"

"amy welborn"

The Metro stop is nearby, and an underground corridor passes the baptistry.  You can peek out at the passengers rushing by, and if you are on the other side you could peek in to the baptistry – if you knew it was there.

"amy welborn"

A different type of modern transport juxtaposed with the ancient.   Some wheels from the city’s bike-sharing service in front of the Basilica of Sant’Ambrogio -

one of the four churches built by Ambrose. (of course what we see is not the original – but is the result of building and rebuilding on the site.)

"amy welborn"

"amy welborn"

"amy welborn"

"amy welborn"

"amy welborn"

In other places you can find photos of the body of St. Ambrose in the crypt.  I  didn’t take his photo though. I probably could have – a little girl stuck her camera right through the grate and got a shot of the vested skeleton and no one stopped her. But it just didn’t feel right to me. Maybe because the boys were with me and I didn’t want to model “getting a good shot” as even Step Two (after “pray”) in “What To do in the Presence of Important Saints’ Relics.”

B16 at a General Audience, speaking about St. Ambrose:

Dear brothers and sisters, I would like further to propose to you a sort of “patristic icon”, which, interpreted in the light of what we have said, effectively represents “the heart” of Ambrosian doctrine. In the sixth book of the Confessions, Augustine tells of his meeting with Ambrose, an encounter that was indisputably of great importance in the history of the Church. He writes in his text that whenever he went to see the Bishop of Milan, he would regularly find him taken up with catervae of people full of problems for whose needs he did his utmost. There was always a long queue waiting to talk to Ambrose, seeking in him consolation and hope. When Ambrose was not with them, with the people (and this happened for the space of the briefest of moments), he was either restoring his body with the necessary food or nourishing his spirit with reading. Here Augustine marvels because Ambrose read the Scriptures with his mouth shut, only with his eyes (cf. Confessions, 6, 3). Indeed, in the early Christian centuries reading was conceived of strictly for proclamation, and reading aloud also facilitated the reader’s understanding. That Ambrose could scan the pages with his eyes alone suggested to the admiring Augustine a rare ability for reading and familiarity with the Scriptures. Well, in that “reading under one’s breath”, where the heart is committed to achieving knowledge of the Word of God – this is the “icon” to which we are referring -, one can glimpse the method of Ambrosian catechesis; it is Scripture itself, intimately assimilated, which suggests the content to proclaim that will lead to the conversion of hearts.

Thus, with regard to the magisterium of Ambrose and of Augustine, catechesis is inseparable from witness of life. What I wrote on the theologian in the Introduction to Christianity might also be useful to the catechist. An educator in the faith cannot risk appearing like a sort of clown who recites a part “by profession”. Rather – to use an image dear to Origen, a writer who was particularly appreciated by Ambrose -, he must be like the beloved disciple who rested his head against his Master’s heart and there learned the way to think, speak and act. The true disciple is ultimately the one whose proclamation of the Gospel is the most credible and effective.

Like the Apostle John, Bishop Ambrose – who never tired of saying: “Omnia Christus est nobis! To us Christ is all!” – continues to be a genuine witness of the Lord. Let us thus conclude our Catechesis with his same words, full of love for Jesus: “Omnia Christus est nobis! If you have a wound to heal, he is the doctor; if you are parched by fever, he is the spring; if you are oppressed by injustice, he is justice; if you are in need of help, he is strength; if you fear death, he is life; if you desire Heaven, he is the way; if you are in the darkness, he is light…. Taste and see how good is the Lord:  blessed is the man who hopes in him!” (De Virginitate, 16, 99). Let us also hope in Christ. We shall thus be blessed and shall live in peace.

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Here’s some information on the new saints:

St. Giovanni Antonio Farin

In 1831 in Vicenza he founded the first school for poor girls and in 1836, the Institute of the Sisters Teachers of St Dorothy, Daughters of the Sacred Hearts, to supply suitable teachers. He wanted his religious also to care for deafmutes, blind girls and the psychologically handicapped. They nursed the sick and the elderly in hospital and at home. There was no form of suffering that this farsighted founder overlooked. In 1850 Fr Farina was appointed Bishop of Treviso. Here he undertook a variety of pastoral initiatives, forming his priests and laity for evangelization and catholic action. Throughout his ten-year term, canonical problems with the Cathedral Chapter caused him constant suffering and setbacks. Here he was able to follow the preparation of Giuseppe Sarto (the future St Pius X) for the priesthood ordaining him in 1858. In 1860 he was transferred to Vicenza. Despite the turbulent period in Italian history, during his 28 years as bishop he embarked on an ambitious pastoral programme that included the spiritual and cultural formation of the priests and of the laity for evangelization, the reform of studies and discipline in the seminary, and the organization of associations for the care of the poor. He was called the “Bishop of Charity”.

From JPII’s homily during his beatification:

Looking back at his work performed for the glory of God, for the formation of young people, as a witness of charity for the poorest and most abandoned, we are reminded of the words of the Apostle Paul in the second reading: everything must be done so that in everything “the name of the Lord Jesus might be glorified” (2 Thes 1,12).

 St. Ludovico of Casoria:

This change and redirection of Blessed Louis’ life occurred one day while he was at prayer before The Blessed Sacrament, he fell to ground, experiencing what he was to call later his “second baptism”. This was his call to change direction and dedicate his life to works of charity on behalf of the less fortunate. From that time forward, his ministry to the less fortunate characterized Blessed Louis’ lifestyle.

From this time of reorientation, Blessed Louis began to meet with persons of differing political and cultural orientation; he founded academies of religious culture and Homes for the aged. With the approval of Ferdinand II, he was able to redeem numerous young slaves from Cairo and Alexandria, with a view to giving them a life of dignity, a Christian education, as well as a cultural preparation in such a way to be able to send them back to Africa as missionaries themselves. Many of these youths chose to be Baptized, Confirmed, and successively became priests, and consecrated women religious. As his works of charity grew, Blessed Louis saw the need to have a corps of helpers more closely aggregated to his works of charity.

The Grey Franciscan Friars of Charity were founded by Blessed Louis of Casoria to assist him in the corporal and spiritual works of mercy established by him and to continue this patrimony grafted on to the great spiritual tree of the Franciscan Family.

St. Nicola Saggio

.Born to a poor peasant family, Giovanni was a clever boy who enjoyed study, but had to work the fields with his father instead of going to school. He was a pious child, and would spead whole days in prayer in a local Minim church. At 20, against his family’s wishes (legend says that he was struck blind when his mother objected, and only recovered his sight when she agreed to let him follow his vocation), he became an Oblate friar of the Order of the Minims, taking the name Nicola. Miracle worker.

St. Amatus Ronconi:

Born to a wealthy family, Amatus was orphaned when very young and grew up in the home of his older brother Giacomo. Feeling a call to live according to the gospel, he devoted himself to caring for the poor and helping pilgrims. Franciscan tertiary. Constructed combination chapel and shelters for pilgrims including the Beato Amato Ronconi Nursing Home which still exists. Made four pilgrimages to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. Benedictine lay brother.

Then two saints from the Syro-Malabar Church:

(News article)

(More Syro-Malabar saints here)

St. Kuriakose Elias Chavara

From JPII’s 1998 homily at the beatification in Kerala:

Father Kuriakose Elias Chavara was born here in Kerala, and for nearly all of his sixty-five years of earthly life he laboured generously for the renewal and enrichment of the Christian life. His deep love for Christ filled him with apostolic zeal and made him especially careful to promote the unity of the Church. With great generosity he collaborated with others, especially brother priests and religious, in the work of salvation.

In co-operation with Fathers Thomas Palackal and Thomas Porukara, Father Kuriakose founded an Indian religious congregation for men, now known as the Carmelites of Mary Immaculate. Later, with the help of an Italian missionary, Father Leopold Beccaro, he started an Indian religious congregation for women, the Congregation of the Mother of Carmel. These congregations grew and flourished, and religious vocations became better understood and appreciated. Through the common efforts of the members of new religious families, his hopes and works were multiplied many times over.

Father Kuriakose’s life, and the lives of these new religious, were dedicated to the service of the Syro-Malabar Church. Under his leadership or inspiration, a good number of apostolic initiatives were undertaken: the establishment of seminaries for the education and formation of the clergy, the introduction of annual retreats, a publishing house for Catholic works, a house to care for the destitute and dying, schools for general education and programmes for the training of catechumens. He contributed to the Syro-Malabar liturgy and spread devotion to the Holy Eucharist and the Holy Family. In particular, he dedicated himself to encouraging and counselling Christian families, convinced as he was of the fundamental role of the family in the life of society and the Church.

But no apostolic cause was dearer to the heart of this great man of faith than that of the unity and harmony within the Church. It was as if he had always before his mind the prayer of Jesus, on the night before his Sacrifice on the Cross: “That they may all be one; even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us” . Today the Church solemnly recalls with love and gratitude all his efforts to resist threats of disunity and to encourage the clergy and faithful to maintain unity with the See of Peter and the universal Church. His success in this, as in all his many undertakings, was undoubtedly due to the intense charity and prayer which characterised his daily life, his close communion with Christ and his love for the Church as the visible Body of Christ on earth.

St. Euphrasia Eluvathingal

From the same homily:

Sister Alphonsa of the Immaculate Conception, born a century after Father Kuriakose Elias, would gladly have served the Lord with similar apostolic projects. And indeed, she possessed a personal devotion to Father Kuriakose from early in her religious life. But the path to holiness for Sister Alphonsa was clearly a different one. It was the way of the Cross, the way of sickness and suffering.

Already at a very young age, Sister Alphonsa desired to serve the Lord as a religious, but it was not without enduring trials that she was finally able to pursue this goal. When it became possible, she joined the Franciscan Clarist Congregation. Throughout her life, which was a brief thirty-six years, she continually gave thanks to God for the joy and privilege of her religious vocation, for the grace of her vows of chastity, poverty and obedience.

From early in her life, Sister Alphonsa experienced great suffering. With the passing of the years, the heavenly Father gave her an ever fuller share in the Passion of his beloved Son. We recall how she experienced not only physical pain of great intensity, but also the spiritual suffering of being misunderstood and misjudged by others. But she constantly accepted all her sufferings with serenity and trust in God, being firmly convinced that they would purify her motives, help her to overcome all selfishness, and unite her more closely with her beloved divine Spouse. She wrote to her spiritual director: “Dear Father, as my good Lord Jesus loves me so very much, I sincerely desire to remain on this sick bed and suffer not only this, but anything else besides, even to the end of the world. I feel now that God has intended my life to be an oblation, a sacrifice of suffering” (20 November 1944). She came to love suffering because she loved the suffering Christ. She learned to love the Cross through her love of the crucified Lord.

Sister Alphonsa knew that by her sufferings she shared in the Church’s apostolate; she found joy in them by offering them all to Christ. In this way, she seemed to have made her own the words of Saint Paul: “I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church” . She was endowed by God with an affectionate and happy disposition, with the ability to take delight in ordinary and simple things. The weight of human suffering, even the misunderstanding or jealousy of others, could not extinguish the joy of the Lord which filled her heart. In a letter written shortly before she died, at time of intense physical and mental suffering, she said: “I have given myself up completely to Jesus. Let him please himself in his dealings with me. My only desire in this world is to suffer for love of God and to rejoice in doing it” (February 1946).

Pope Francis’ homily today:

Today the Church places before us the example of these new saints.  Each in his or her own way served the kingdom of God, of which they became heirs, precisely through works of generous devotion to God and their brothers and sisters.  They responded with extraordinary creativity to the commandment of love of God and neighbour.  They dedicated themselves, without holding back, to serving the least and assisting the destitute, sick, elderly and pilgrims.  Their preference for the smallest and poorest was the reflection and measure of their unconditional love of God.  In fact, they sought and discovered love in a strong and personal relationship with God, from whence springs forth true love for one’s neighbour.  In the hour of judgement, therefore, they heard that tender invitation: “Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Mt25:34).

Through the rite of canonization, we have confessed once again the mystery of God’s kingdom and we have honoured Christ the King, the Shepherd full of love for his sheep.  May our new saints, through their witness and intercession, increase within us the joy of walking in the way of the Gospel and our resolve to embrace the Gospel as the compass of our lives.  Let us follow in their footsteps, imitating their faith and love, so that our hope too may be clothed in immortality.  May we not allow ourselves to be distracted by other earthly and fleeting interests.  And may Mary, our Mother and Queen of all Saints, guide us on the way to the kingdom of heaven. 

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