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Posts Tagged ‘Italy’

Today was the day. I don’t often do tours, but given the concentration of interesting and quality food production in Emilia-Romagna, and to make sure we got the most of the experience, a tour seemed in order this time – and it was a good thing, too.

We went with Laura Panella, and she was great. She took us to four family-owned producers, we learned, we tasted, we had a nice lunch…a good day!

Parma is a bit less than an hour train ride from Bologna.  Since the Parmesan production occurs in the morning, that meant…we needed to get ourselves going a little earlier than we have been. A lot earlier. It’s good that the train station is only a couple of blocks from our apartment  – that short walk lessened the pain a bit.

And as it turned out, the train was late. Only about fifteen minutes, but enough to stress me out. I hadn’t considered that possibility. Which was stupid. Would we miss the cheese production? Would they have pack it all into the forms before we got there?

(No.)

The train was packed from Bologna to Modena, when 3/4 of the passengers – a lot of students – disembarked. At Parma, we hopped off, met Laura at her car parked nearby, and off we went.

First, to the Parmesan Reggiano factory owned by this farm.  And no, we were not too late – we were able to see much of the process. We arrived after the milk and rennet had been mixed and curds were starting to form. While that continued, we saw the storeroom, learned about the various levels of Parmesan, how it is tested, what care is required – the turning, mostly done by a robot, even in this small factory – and the labeling. We were then able to see the workers removed the curds which just sort of rolled into shape, then this huge ball was cut in two, and each half stuffed in a plastic form. It would rest there for a day or so, then move to steel, and then be freed to age. This facility is near Bibbio, which claims to be the site of the invention of Parmesan – by monks, of course, who wanted a cheese that would keep. The invention is memorialized in a roundabout by a statue representing a huge chunk of cheese and the typical knife used to slice it. Some photos – and the video is via Snapchat, which I keep telling you to keep up with, so you can follow our travels in almost real time…as much as I can manage to fool with it.

 

The earlier (not earliest, which occurred long before we arrived) stage of letting the curds settle out of the milk. The vats are cone-shaped and go down into the floor. 12 vats which produce 24 wheels of cheese a day. 

 

What is happening here is that the curds are pulled together and up with a paddle, then gathered in cloth which is hung from the stick in order to allow liquid to escape. That one big ball is then cut in half, and those two hung in the same manner. In the lower right hand photo, you can see how the whey is being pumped out of the vat – it is traveling directly to a truck outside, which then takes the whey to become part of pig feed. 

 

The balls are removed , floated in water for a second to make them easier to handle, then hoisted up into the plastic forms. In the top left photo, they have been removed from the forms and are floating in sea-salt water to give a bit of flavor while they wait for the steel, curved forms and the imprinting from a plastic form. 

 

Image originally posted on Instagram. 

There’s also a short video I originally put on Snapchat here on Instagram.  Also, a quick survey of my purchases from today is on Snapchat…for the next 24 hours…(amywelborn2)

Then to the winery. Lambrusco typical wine of the region, as the vineyard owner explained, since the food of the area tends to be heavy, a lighter wine is important. We saw the vines, learned about the process of making the various wines, and tasted. Well, I tasted. Lovely wines. What was so interesting to me was that 60-70% of the wineries products are purchased by local families who bring in these huge containers (I can’t remember the name…perhaps one of you knows it) when the Lambrusco is ready, have it filled, and then take it home to bottle it themselves to have their wine for the year.  The rest is sold to local delis and groceries – no exportation, it’s just too expensive, and not worth it.  Under three Euros a bottle. I wish I could have purchased more, but we are only at the beginning of our trip, and two bottles is about as much as I want to cart around Italy for two weeks.

I asked the owner – the granddaughter of the original owner – if she’d been to the US, and she said no, but she’d been to Mexico – as it turns out, many of the same places – Chichen Itza, Merida, Tulum – to where we traveled a couple of years ago, so that was a fun conversation.

And now…meat. Which is very…meaty.

Another family business, with the 82-year old owner still about. They produce Parma ham, coppa, pancetta…etc. We learned about all of these different cuts, and of course, the curing process. Entering the curing room, you’re hit with incredibly strong smells I can only describe as..meat. With some sea salt and mold mixed in, Phew. It was not exactly delicious-smelling to my senses. The tasting was interesting to me because eating these meats right there, without benefit of refrigeration or industrial production, it is much more evident that these are cured, not cooked meats. It’s hard to describe, but there was a sort of fleshiness about them that I suppose is the way it’s supposed to be, but was still a bit of a surprise.

 

In the lower left photo, coppa is being tested by inserting a long pick made from a horse bone, used because it is porous and therefore can take in the scent of the meet quickly and then just as quickly release it. 

Lunch!  I honestly cannot tell you where we ate – I was so turned around by that point, and I forgot to take a card. Somewhere between Parma and Emilia-Reggerio, is all I can say. I think. We had a simple, but good meal of cured meats (of course), an assortment of ravioli, stuffed with pumpkin (typical of the region), swiss chard, potato and turnip greens, in a light butter sauce. The boys had “chocolate salami” – basically chocolate biscotti with hazlenuts – and I had a corncake that you dip in moscato wine. Oh, and Lambrusco, of course. Very nice, and nice people running the place.

Finally, the balsamic vinegar, which is not what you find in stores,most of which is made via flavoring additives. This is the place we visited, and received a tour and instruction from the owner. The tasting was illuminating – such a clear and interesting difference between, say 10- and 25-year aged vinegars. Quite complex. You can read more about it here.

 

Laura then drove us back to Parma and, at my request, dropped us at the  centro where we could see the duomo and baptistry, then walk to the train. I hadn’t bought return tickets, but knew generally when the trains ran, and we hit it almost perfectly, arriving at the station about ten minutes before a train was departing for Bologna.

Baptisteries are lovely things. Constructed in an era when baptisms only occurred at most twice a year in the “mother church” of the diocese, they were made for crowds. I couldn’t get a great shot, but the inner area of this font is made for four priests to do the baptizing at once – and how do they get in? A board was put over the water, that’s how. (Information learned from Fr Augustine Thompson’s wonderful Cities of God.).

The cathedral is covered –  covered in paintings. The most well -known is in the cupola, a Carreggio Assumption which:

…features the Virgin Mary ascending through a sea of limbs, faces and swirling drapery.

The imagery of the Assumption has been met with some bemusement over the years, with a contemporary comparing it to a “hash of frogs’ legs” and Dickens commenting that the scene was such that “no operative surgeon gone made could imagine in his wildest delirium.

Even from a distance, it’s pretty wild. 

Correggio Assumption Parma

 

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(Follow me on Instagram & Snapchat – amywelborn2 –  to get timely updates. I have no-extra cost data overseas, so….yeah.)

Okay, the last we met, it was early afternoon Bologna time on Monday, and now it’s about 10pm Tuesday Bologna time. I feel as if I have been here forever. (In a good way)

My older son had a more difficult time adjusting to the time difference and toil of travel this time, and ended up sleeping most of the day on Monday.  After I returned from my morning walk, the younger son and I went out, returned, saw the brother was still out, and went back again…and then finally around 4, went out to wander one last time with the now rested brother.

It actually was good because I really got my bearings that way and could plot out an efficient day today.

First, even though Bologna is not so much on the American tourist route, there are a lot of tourists here – other Italians, French, and lots of Brits. It’s a busy, busy city with an interesting vibe – probably even more so over around the university, and I’ve enjoyed the time.

So today, I got up first, of course, and walked back down to Piazza Maggiore, where I shot a little video. 

The big church is the Basilica of St. Petronius, an early bishop of Bologna and the city’s patron saint. Obviously, the marble facade was never finished. The interior is huge and expansive – it was hoped to be larger than St. Peter’s in Rome, but the Pope squashed that notion. The interior is not terribly interesting except for its size – there are a few pieces of artwork I took note of – an enormous fresco of St. Christopher, for example – and I think the most prized fresco set was roped off and is only open to special tours or something. It was odd.

I found some really wonderful croissants at this bakery. Most Italian croissants that you find in a typical corner bakery are not so great. Obviously mass-produced, dry and too sweet for my taste, they are not a favorite. But these were lovely, baked out of some sort of (probably) organic/natural/Slow Food ethos. As good as you would find in France. And cheaper than anything you find in America – 6 Euros for five exceptional pastries.

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Once everyone was up and fed we got out the door and took the bus down to find the Corpus Domini convent. It is where St. Catherine of Bologna’s body is on display for reverencing. Yes, her whole body, sitting up. The story of why is here. And while the nature of her final earthly resting place seems weird and grotesque to some, her life story is anything but. A fascinating woman, born into wealth and privilege, she sacrificed it all to become a Poor Clare and left some very sound spiritual advice. You can read what Benedict XVI said about her, including that advice here.

In her autobiographical and didactic treatise, The Seven Spiritual Weapons, Catherine offers in this regard teaching of deep wisdom and profound discernment. She speaks in the third person in reporting the extraordinary graces which the Lord gives to her and in the first person in confessing her sins. From her writing transpires the purity of her faith in God, her profound humility, the simplicity of her heart, her missionary zeal, her passion for the salvation of souls. She identifies seven weapons in the fight against evil, against the devil:

1. always to be careful and diligently strive to do good; 2. to believe that alone we will never be able to do something truly good; 3. to trust in God and, for love of him, never to fear in the battle against evil, either in the world or within ourselves; 4. to meditate often on the events and words of the life of Jesus, and especially on his Passion and his death; 5. to remember that we must die; 6. to focus our minds firmly on memory of the goods of Heaven; 7. to be familiar with Sacred Scripture, always cherishing it in our hearts so that it may give direction to all our thoughts and all our actions. A splendid programme of spiritual life, today too, for each one of us!

In the convent Catherine, in spite of being accustomed to the court in Ferrara, served in the offices of laundress, dressmaker and breadmaker and even looked after the animals. She did everything, even the lowliest tasks, with love and ready obedience, offering her sisters a luminous witness. Indeed she saw disobedience as that spiritual pride which destroys every other virtue. Out of obedience she accepted the office of novice mistress, although she considered herself unfit for this office, and God continued to inspire her with his presence and his gifts: in fact she proved to be a wise and appreciated mistress.

Later the service of the parlour was entrusted to her. She found it trying to have to interrupt her prayers frequently in order to respond to those who came to the monastery grill, but this time too the Lord did not fail to visit her and to be close to her.

With her the monastery became an increasingly prayerful place of self-giving, of silence, of endeavour and of joy.

(By the way, I was under the impression that some sort of secret handshake was involved in getting into the side chapel with the body, but no – the door was wide open, and there she sat.)

The experience was not as odd as I thought it would be. For one, I couldn’t get close because a woman was deep in prayer in front of the body. But secondly…it just wasn’t. You get in there, are initially a little bit freaked out, and then you pray, and it all makes sense – why you are there and what you need to be saying.

It seems to me that St. Catherine is still filling that role – the service of the parlour – as she welcomes outsiders to the prayerful silence of the convent, of focused spiritual life.

Then we walked just a few blocks over to the complex of San Domenico – where St. Dominic died in 1221, after having sent his friars to the university town in 1217  –  and where his body rests – not sitting up behind glass, but in a large , stunning sarcophagus. Unfortunately, as per usual, we arrived to see it right before they shut off close access to it – I don’t know if it was for the afternoon break or because of Mass, but whatever the case, we only had a couple of minutes close to the tomb – enough time to pray for Dominicans we know, including future teachers of some of us from the Nashville Dominicans, as well as other friends and acquaintances, and in general thanksgiving for this wonderful order.

So if you want to see good photos and learn more about the art…go here.  I’m no help.

As we walked over, large groups of schoolchildren started streaming in from various streets in the same direction, and when we walked in the church, it was clear there was going to be some sort of Mass. More and more children – teens to tiny ones – kept coming, and as we left before Mass began, here came a bishop.

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(I’m using Snapchat a lot this trip – find me as amywelborn2)

We were then just a few blocks from San Stefano, where we’d attempted to go the previous day before being kicked out after 97 seconds. We headed over there and it was interesting – the complex is a set of churches (more like chapels) intended to evoke Jerusalem.  The problem is that the signage is terrible, there is no guidebook available at the entrance – only at the gift shop which is in the back and staffed by chatty (with each other)  but otherwise indifferent Benedictines. Some evocative Romanesque, but I’m still not sure what it evoked.

san stefano, Bologna

We then returned to the Archiginnasio of the University of Bologna, where, again, we had ventured the previous day, but of course, right before closing time. It is an fascinating structure – one of the original sections of the University of Bologna. What makes it so memorable is the tradition of students’ coats of arms being painted or erected on the walls and the ceilings – seven thousand.

Right up the street was Santa Maria della Vita , in which I wanted to stop to see the other terracotta grouping – the 15th century Lamentation over Dead Christ by Niccolò dell’Arca .  There is a small charge to see it (3 euros for me, 1 each for the boys), and it is worth it. It’s a stunning piece of work. Probably overwrought, but no matter. It’s hard to stop looking, and a privilege to be able to do so at such close range.

It was then time for lunch. I decided we would check off “Traditional Bolognese Cuisine” from the list and so we went to Da Nell0 – just a block from Piazza Maggiore – and had a good meal centered on cured meats, then tortellini en brodo (tortellini in broth) and tagliatelle Bolognese – which is not what you might think of when you think “Spaghetti Bolognese.” First it is made with the flat, ribbony pasta called tagliatelle, and secondly real Bolognese sauce is basically meat. It has been cooked down and is intensely flavorful (I made a simpler version a few weeks ago, via Marcella Hazan), and it is so much better than any tomato-sauce drenched dish you’d find on the menu in the US.

We had great service, which is obviously the norm, not only for humans, either. We must have been seated next to the canine table, for the party sitting there when we arrived had a dog with them, and the next group and another, even larger dog. No, we weren’t outdoors, and as we had learned in France, Europeans don’t seem to mind dogs in restaurants…

By then, the older kid needed a break, and what the younger one had his sights on held no interest for him – the Archaeological Museum.  So we walked him back to the apartment and then headed back out to the museum, taking the bus for most of it. It is not that far, but at this point, I was, uncharacteristically, dragging. I say “uncharacteristically” because I am blessed with great health and stamina and hardly every get tired. But not today.  The reason being that I had awakened at about 4 am and not been able to get back to sleep. So yes, after having been awake for 12 hours, eaten a heavy lunch (also uncharacteristic), and walked about 4 miles…I could have easily dozed off in the midst of the mummies. In fact, I might have.

For that was the special exhibit – on Egypt. And, as we discovered, it was the only exhibit. the museum was all Egypt, top to bottom for the moment. It was okay – the kid was fascinated, and there was an audio guide which made it even better.

Then back to the apartment where, unbelievably, people asked for food.  I won’t eat again until tomorrow at some point, and have no desire or need to, but, them..what is up with these people and their thing about eating meals?

Well if you are going to insist, then you are going to get streetfront pizza, which is just fine and super cheap. So.

We then walked around a bit, ending up strolling through the 11 Settembre Park – a small park where there were teens and students congregated at one end smoking and drinking, and parents and children on the other, smoking and drinking. The main attraction for us was an enclosed dog park in which an Great Dane was holding court with a resounding, basso, yet friendly  bark.

What’s a little sad is that at 11 and 15, my own kids are now too old to join the playground scrum. Some of our greatest travel memories have been made on playgrounds in foreign countries, including in Paris one day when the then-7 year old ran up to me breathlessly saying, “The kids keep asking me what my name is and all I keep saying is, ‘Je suis Americain, je suis Americain,‘ but they keep wanting to talk to me!”

But..time passes and different pleasures take the old ones’ places.

One more stop: the train station to  buy tickets for tomorrow. We are going to Parma, and it’s not necessary to buy tickets ahead of time from an availability standpoint, but since the train is pret-ty early, I thought it would be a good idea to have them in hand for my own peace of mind.

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On the way to buy train tickets. This is the Porta Galleria, a gate built at the old medieval city walls in the 17th century. 

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The beginnings of these trips are always so odd – you lose a day of your life, in this case, Sunday.

We flew out of Atlanta. Yes, Birmingham has an airport, but for international flights, you are probably going to get a better deal out of Atlanta (although Atlanta international fare “deals” are not much to shout about. I did well on this fare, though.) ..and the last time we flew internationally to and from Birmingham, we almost missed the connecting flight back to Birmingham from Atlanta because of customs, so I swore we would never do that again.

On the way, we caught the Vigil Mass at this sweet little church in Carrollton, Georgia.

It’s Our Lady of Perpetual Help, and I really like the design of this metal ornamentation on the exterior.

Parked offsite at the airport, where it’s cheaper, and got on a plane to London, waited a couple of hours, and then flew to Bologna. The flights were fine. They had never flow British Airways before and were blown away by the difference in service between that and American airlines. Some sleeping occurred on the way over the Atlantic, and more between London and Bologna. Even I slept a bit, which I usually don’t do.

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We were too tired to explore Heathrow much, although I did peak in the multi-faith prayer room, where a few Muslim men were saying their prayers.

We are in an apartment in Bologna. We didn’t get here until after 6. Met by the owner, we were oriented, and then walked a bit. Got pizza, checked out the grocery store, found Kinder Eggs, then came back. Asleep by 9, I woke up by 7 AM and set out to explore a bit and get my bearings. I happened upon the Cathedral, where Mass was happening, and saw this marvelous terracotta figure grouping.  Compianto su Cristo morto. 

 

There is another, more famous terracotta group elsewhere in the city. We’ll find it.

Random shots. Find me on Snapchat (amywelborn2) and Instagram (amy_welborn) for more frequent updates and even some expertly-shot video.

 

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We’ll try to check some of this out. 

Unfortunately, we will have to miss St. Philip Neri being honored by Italians singing American Gospel music. 

 

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The second floor of the grocery store has a pharmacy/health goods, plus this area growing herbs that you can pack up and purchase. 

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View from the apartment. I don’t mind. I’ts quiet. City apartments with a street view tend to be…loud, as we learned in Madrid, painfully.

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Some reflections from Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. In 2008, Benedict made a pastoral visit to Savona and Genoa over Trinity Sunday weekend. He preached two homilies, one on Saturday and one on Sunday.

First, from Saturday in Savona:

On this Solemnity, the liturgy invites us to praise God not merely for the wonders that he has worked, but for who he is; for the beauty and goodness of his being from which his action stems. We are invited to contemplate, so to speak, the Heart of God, his deepest reality which is his being One in the Trinity, a supreme and profound communion of love and life

Then, in Genoa:

There is contained, therefore, in these Readings, a principal that regards God and in effect today’s Feast invites us to contemplate him, the Lord. It invites us in a certain sense to scale “the mountain” as Moses did. This seems at first sight to take us far from the world and its problems but in fact one discovers that it is precisely by coming to know God more intimately that one receives fundamental instructions for this our life: something like what happened to Moses who, climbing Sinai and remaining in God’s presence, received the law engraved on stone tablets from which the people drew the guidance to continue, to find freedom and to form themselves as a people in liberty and justice. Our history depends on God’s Name and our journey on the light of his Face. From this reality of God which he himself made known to us by revealing his “Name” to us comes a certain image of man, that is, the exact concept of the person. If God is a dialogical unity, a being in relation, the human creature made in his image and likeness reflects this constitution: thus he is called to fulfil himself in dialogue, in conversation, in encounter.

…In a society fraught between globalization and individualism, the Church is called to offer a witness of koinonìa, of communion. This reality does not come “from below” but is a mystery which, so to speak, “has its roots in Heaven”, in the Triune God himself. It is he, in himself, who is the eternal dialogue of love which was communicated to us in Jesus Christ and woven into the fabric of humanity and history to lead it to fullness.

…The high standard of discipleship alone fascinates and gives joy. I urge all to grow in the missionary dimension which is co-essential to communion. Indeed, the Trinity is at the same time unity and mission: the more intense love is, the stronger is the urge to pour it out, to spread it, to communicate it. Church of Genoa, be united and missionary to proclaim to all the joy of faith and the beauty of being God’s Family.

MORE

Fr. James V. Schall, SJ, pulled all of Benedict’s Trinitarian allusions of that visit together in this article. 

 

 

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— 1 —

Alrighty then.

T-TBA and counting until we liftoff and leave you suckers  behind in Trump/Clinton land…and I am rapidly tumbling into the Buyer’s Regret stage of my trip preparation, wondering…and why are we doing this? And wouldn’t it be less hassle to just stay home? It will pass once we hop in the car and drive away from the house, but yes, it’s strong right now.

Once it does pass, I will, I hope, be merrily sharing sights and sounds of Italy with you via social media. . I am going to be attempting Periscope on this trip (not kidding) and will definitely Snapchat (as well as Instagram & blog) – as long as it doesn’t interfere with the moment.

 

— 2 —

I will say that the reason I like blogging and things like Instagram is that I can be in an experience, snap some photos, and then later, when everyone is asleep and I don’t have anything else to do, I can fire up the computer, write it all up and post some pictures. I don’t have to interrupt that moment to Do the Thing. So we’ll see…as I keep saying.

I did do a Periscope earlier this week, and it was fine, but I ended up deleting it – it didn’t seem to be replaying correctly, and I’m not sure if it was just me or not, so I thought it best to get rid of it. I might try again on Friday, or just wait til next week in Italy. But sign up and follow so you will know!

UPDATE

It looks like Periscope is a no-go.  I have a new Android phone (have never had an IPhone, don’t intend to have one) – an Honor 5X – and while it seems as if the live broadcast attempt went through, it is not working correctly for replay.  It won’t replay at all on my own phone, and when I replayed it on the Ipad, it played, but there was no audio.  I do have Periscope on the Ipad, but my Ipad is 4 years old, the camera is pretty bad and I hate  the sight of people  using Ipads for cameras, and so no, I don’t want that to be me…

So forget that!

Which is just as well. 

might try a live broadcast at some point…but probably not. If I do I will put the word out on Twitter a few hours beforehand, so anyone who wants to

So when it comes to video, go to Instagram (1-minute videos allowed), Snapchat, or back here. I upgraded my WordPress account so I can upload video directly onto the blog. So look for that!!!

But do follow me on Snapchat – you can search me by just typing amywelborn2 and the same on Periscope. You can also do a screenshot of this icon and then do what Snapchat tells you to do with it.

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— 3 —

Paris-based foodblogger David Lebovitz is on Snapchat, and I really have enjoyed what he’s shared so far – simply experiences of cooking and eating…that’s it. It’s another nice example of what can be done with the app. Someone on David’s Facebook page complained, “But the videos go away after 24 hours! So you can’t save the recipes you share!” Well, the person doing the Snaps can, indeed, share if they want to but, hey…David was tossing pasta, asparagus and pesto in a pan. I think I can remember that.

 — 4 —

Speaking of social media, a couple of random accounts I find valuable and interesting:

On Facebook, Iraqi Christians – really great photos and insight into the lives of Christians in this challenging landscape.

On Instagram, African Catholics. Just great photos and an important peek into real Catholic life in another part of the world.

Eucharistic Adoration in a prison in Kenya. 

Social media is good for a few things. A few.

— 5 

The first  In Our Time I listened to this week  was not so great. The subject was the impact of the 1815 explosion of the volcano on Mt. Tambora in Indonesia  on the global climate, and therefore on various aspects of society and culture. The meteorological information was interesting, but everything else seemed to come down to, “Well, we are pretty sure it made the weather bad around the world” and “Mary Shelly wrote Frankenstein because of the lousy weather in  Geneva that one time.”

Much better was the episode on the notorious English insane asylum, Bedlam – short for Bethlehem. The history was quite fascinating, a history which illustrated the fact that when the institution began – as a Catholic residence, pre-Reformation -there were no problems and it was even a model. But later, when Church had nothing more to do with it, matters got difficult and the quality of care declined. One of the academics even blamed Calvinist-tinged religion for unsettling souls – as people had to constantly worry if they were the elect or not – and increasing levels of mental illness.

6–

HEY KIDS. They’re releasing an edition of The Da Vinci Code just for you! Catechists and religion teachers everywhere are so grateful.

“But this book said they were married!”

De-Coding Da Vinci is out of print, but believe me, I am scurrying to see what can be done about that, even if I have to do it myself – simply to offer said catechists and teachers a simple, straightforward means of response to this nonsense, and a way of using any interest as a useful teachable moment.

 Great headline: 

DAN BROWN IS RELEASING A YOUNG ADULT ‘DA VINCI CODE’ AND NO ONE’S SURE WHY

— 7 —

Trip reading: All the guidebooks, plus Fr. Augustine Thompson’s Cities of God and Dante, whom I am ashamed to admit I have never read. I read the Inferno last week and will read the other two sections over the next few days. Dante is buried in Ravenna, and was, of course a Tuscan, so yes, I can’t visit these places and not read Dante. Which I should have read a long time ago anyway.

And, appropriate to today, his feast, a bit about St. Bernardino of Siena…one of our destinations, as well as Catherine of Bologna, whom we might meet soon. 

Dear friends, with her words and with her life, St Catherine of Bologna is a pressing invitation to let ourselves always be guided by God, to do his will daily, even if it often does not correspond with our plans, to trust in his Providence which never leaves us on our own. In this perspective, St Catherine speaks to us; from the distance of so many centuries she is still very modern and speaks to our lives.

She, like us, suffered temptations, she suffered the temptations of disbelief, of sensuality, of a difficult spiritual struggle. She felt forsaken by God, she found herself in the darkness of faith. Yet in all these situations she was always holding the Lord’s hand, she did not leave him, she did not abandon him. And walking hand in hand with the Lord, she walked on the right path and found the way of light.

So it is that she also tells us: take heart, even in the night of faith, even amidst our many doubts, do not let go of the Lord’s hand, walk hand in hand with him, believe in God’s goodness. This is how to follow the right path!

And I would like to stress another aspect: her great humility. She was a person who did not want to be someone or something; she did not care for appearances, she did not want to govern. She wanted to serve, to do God’s will, to be at the service of others. And for this very reason Catherine was credible in her authority, because she was able to see that for her authority meant, precisely, serving others.

Let us ask God, through the intercession of Our Saint, for the gift to achieve courageously and generously the project he has for us, so that he alone may be the firm rock on which our lives are built. Thank you.

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum!

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We’ll start with the more confusing one – James. As is the case with (in English) “Mary” – there are a lot of “James” in the New Testament narratives, so sorting them out is a challenge. And perhaps not even really possible.

Today’s feast celebrates James “the Lesser” – as opposed to James the Greater, brother of John, one of the first four apostles called by Jesus, present at the Transfiguration, feast June 25, etc.

This James, son of Alphaeus, is often identified with the James who was head of the Church in Jerusalem and the author of the New Testament letter.  That’s what Pope Benedict went with in his 2007 General Audience talk: 

Thus, St James’ Letter shows us a very concrete and practical Christianity. Faith must be fulfilled in life, above all, in love of neighbour and especially in dedication to the poor. It is against this background that the famous sentence must be read: “As the body apart from the spirit is dead, so faith apart from works is dead” (Jas 2: 26).

At times, this declaration by St James has been considered as opposed to the affirmations of Paul, who claims that we are justified by God not by virtue of our actions but through our faith "amy welborn"(cf. Gal 2: 16; Rom 3: 28). However, if the two apparently contradictory sentences with their different perspectives are correctly interpreted, they actually complete each other.

St Paul is opposed to the pride of man who thinks he does not need the love of God that precedes us; he is opposed to the pride of self-justification without grace, simply given and undeserved.

St James, instead, talks about works as the normal fruit of faith: “Every sound tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears evil fruit”, the Lord says (Mt 7: 17). And St James repeats it and says it to us.

Lastly, the Letter of James urges us to abandon ourselves in the hands of God in all that we do: “If the Lord wills” (Jas 4: 15). Thus, he teaches us not to presume to plan our lives autonomously and with self interest, but to make room for the inscrutable will of God, who knows what is truly good for us.

Now, Philip. I think this GA talk really highlight’s B16’s catechetical skills. We don’t know that much about Philip, but Benedict takes what we do know, and hones it down in the most practical…pastoral way:

The Fourth Gospel recounts that after being called by Jesus, Philip meets Nathanael and tells him: “We have found him of whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph” (Jn 1: 45). Philip does not give way to Nathanael’s somewhat sceptical answer (“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”) and firmly retorts: “Come and see!” (Jn 1: 46).

In his dry but clear response, Philip displays the characteristics of a true witness: he is not satisfied with presenting the proclamation theoretically, but directly challenges the person addressing him by suggesting he have a personal experience of what he has been told.

The same two verbs are used by Jesus when two disciples of John the Baptist approach him to ask him where he is staying. Jesus answers: “Come and see” (cf. Jn 1: 38-39).

We can imagine that Philip is also addressing us with those two verbs that imply personal involvement. He is also saying to us what he said to Nathanael: “Come and see”. The Apostle engages us to become closely acquainted with Jesus.

In fact, friendship, true knowledge of the other person, needs closeness and indeed, to a certain extent, lives on it. Moreover, it should not be forgotten that according to what Mark writes, Jesus chose the Twelve primarily “to be with him” (Mk 3: 14); that is, to share in his life and learn directly from him not only the style of his behaviour, but above all who he really was.

Indeed, only in this way, taking part in his life, could they get to know him and subsequently, proclaim him."amy welborn"

Later, in Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, one would read that what is important is to “learn Christ” (4: 20): therefore, not only and not so much to listen to his teachings and words as rather to know him in person, that is, his humanity and his divinity, his mystery and his beauty. In fact, he is not only a Teacher but a Friend, indeed, a Brother.

How will we be able to get to know him properly by being distant? Closeness, familiarity and habit make us discover the true identity of Jesus Christ. The Apostle Philip reminds us precisely of this. And thus he invites us to “come” and “see”, that is, to enter into contact by listening, responding and communion of life with Jesus, day by day.

Then, on the occasion of the multiplication of the loaves, he received a request from Jesus as precise as it was surprising: that is, where could they buy bread to satisfy the hunger of all the people who were following him (cf. Jn 6: 5). Then Philip very realistically answered: “Two hundred denarii would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little” (Jn 6: 7).

Here one can see the practicality and realism of the Apostle who can judge the effective implications of a situation.

We then know how things went. We know that Jesus took the loaves and after giving thanks, distributed them. Thus, he brought about the multiplication of the loaves.

It is interesting, however, that it was to Philip himself that Jesus turned for some preliminary help with solving the problem: this is an obvious sign that he belonged to the close group that surrounded Jesus.

On another occasion very important for future history, before the Passion some Greeks who had gone to Jerusalem for the Passover “came to Philip… and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus’. Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew went with Philip and they told Jesus” (cf. Jn 12: 20-22).

Once again, we have an indication of his special prestige within the Apostolic College. In this case, Philip acts above all as an intermediary between the request of some Greeks – he probably spoke Greek and could serve as an interpreter – and Jesus; even if he joined Andrew, the other Apostle with a Greek name, he was in any case the one whom the foreigners addressed.

This teaches us always to be ready to accept questions and requests, wherever they come from, and to direct them to the Lord, the only one who can fully satisfy them. Indeed, it is important to know that the prayers of those who approach us are not ultimately addressed to us, but to the Lord: it is to him that we must direct anyone in need. So it is that each one of us must be an open road towards him!

There is then another very particular occasion when Philip makes his entrance. During the Last Supper, after Jesus affirmed that to know him was also to know the Father (cf. Jn 14: 7), Philip quite ingenuously asks him: “Lord, show us the Father, and we shall be satisfied” (Jn 14: 8). Jesus answered with a gentle rebuke: “Have I been with you so long, and yet you do not know me, Philip? He who has seen me has seen the Father: how can you say, “Show us the Father?’ Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father in me?… Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father in me” (Jn 14: 9-11).

These words are among the most exalted in John’s Gospel. They contain a true and proper revelation. At the end of the Prologue to his Gospel, John says: “No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known” (Jn 1: 18).

Well, that declaration which is made by the Evangelist is taken up and confirmed by Jesus himself, but with a fresh nuance. In fact, whereas John’s Prologue speaks of an explanatory intervention by Jesus through the words of his teaching, in his answer to Philip Jesus refers to his own Person as such, letting it be understood that it is possible to understand him not only through his words but rather, simply through what he is.

To express ourselves in accordance with the paradox of the Incarnation we can certainly say that God gave himself a human face, the Face of Jesus, and consequently, from now on, if we truly want to know the Face of God, all we have to do is to contemplate the Face of Jesus! In his Face we truly see who God is and what he looks like!

The Evangelist does not tell us whether Philip grasped the full meaning of Jesus’ sentence. There is no doubt that he dedicated his whole life entirely to him. According to certain later accounts (Acts of Philip and others), our Apostle is said to have evangelized first Greece and then Frisia, where he is supposed to have died, in Hierapolis, by a torture described variously as crucifixion or stoning.

Let us conclude our reflection by recalling the aim to which our whole life must aspire: to encounter Jesus as Philip encountered him, seeking to perceive in him God himself, the heavenly Father. If this commitment were lacking, we would be reflected back to ourselves as in a mirror and become more and more lonely! Philip teaches us instead to let ourselves be won over by Jesus, to be with him and also to invite others to share in this indispensable company; and in seeing, finding God, to find true life.

 

Many years ago, I wrote a study guide for B16’s collected General Audience talks on the Apostles and other early Church figures. The study guide is available online in pdf form – so if you have a church discussion group and would like to use it, or even just for yourself  – there it is. 

Both images from St. John Lateran in Rome. 

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Speaking of Siena..

(Which we were, on Friday. Right?)

Siena is in an area of Italy called Tuscany. Tuscany is north of Rome and includes, not only Siena, but Florence, Pisa, Lucca and dozens of charming towns, many of them atop hills.

Tuscany looks beautiful and interesting. Tuscany is very popular. A spate of books on the expats’ experience in Tuscany both reflects and exacerbates the popularity, which then leads to a certain packaging of the Tuscany experience.

 

Thanks to reader John for the reminder….

But Tuscany is also a large area (not as big as North Dakota, George. Sorry.) with a lot to see, and the challenge is that while it is about three hours from Rome up to Florence – and that doesn’t seem far – the geography of the area makes finding a central base for exploration challenging, and you for sure need a car.

So, after weeks of reading and thinking, I had to force myself to return to one of my basic philosophies I claim I hold and ask myself if I really indeed believed it and was willing to live by it:

You can’t do everything. Just do what you can, and do it well.

So no, we were not going to be able to see everything that we might find interesting. Choices would have to be made.

And I still haven’t made them.

Yup. Some people plan their vacations a year out. Me, I’m a few weeks away from a week in Tuscany, and I haven’t yet booked a single accommodation.

Right now, this is what I’m thinking – feel free to chime in.

We are done in Rome on a Friday. At that point, I’ll rent a car, and we’ll head out. I was thinking that for two or three days, we’d do the southern part of Tuscany, or Maremma. Orvieto (which is really Umbria), Pitigiliano, Sorano, Sovano, Saturnia – focusing on Etruscan stuff as well as the usual Catholic fun.

via-cave-tuscany

Etruscan Stuff and Catholic fun all in one – part of the Etruscan Via Cave with a later Christian addition – appropriate for today (May 1) – St. Joseph protecting those who venture onward. More here. 

Alternative: take the train to Orvieto, center there for a couple of days, rent car and use a car for the rest of the week.

Maybe.

Then there’s Siena.

And Florence.

And little towns around.

I would love to base in Siena, but, a couple of things…Siena accommodations are pretty expensive, it seems. Secondly, it’s a hike from Siena to Florence – over an hour, maybe more, I think. I’m leaning towards basing somewhere between Siena and Florence for the bulk of that week, but I just don’t know.

We end up in Pisa. We fly out of there on a Friday afternoon, so I figure we will take Thursday afternoon and evening to do Pisa and stay there Thursday night – I already have those hotel reservations.

Bottom line: I have no idea. No. That’s not true. I have ideas, but I’m torn and am having to resist, with all my strength, the temptation to dash around and See All The Tuscan Things. I know from experience that is miserable, and I know the way to actually benefit deeply from travel is to calm down, stay still, look and listen.

I think: I’ll be back. I can see more on some other trip.

But will I? I might drop dead, some other drama, tragedy or priority might make future travel of this sort impossible or ill-advised. There are many other places in the world I have my eye on. So no. Maybe I won’t be back.

And what does it matter anyway? There is no urgency or necessity about this, at all. If I don’t see some little Tuscan hill town that caught my eye…so what? If we don’t experience this ruin or Etruscan site that I think the boys will enjoy and appreciate…so what?

Whatever we are doing while not doing what we’re missing…will be worth doing.  

It’s all fascinating, all opportunities to learn, to see, to listen – all – beginning with my own neighborhood, my own town, first of all. Beginning today, here and now.

The only way to “miss” something important is to close myself off to the present – where ever it is I happen to be.

 

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