The importance of being irrepressibly joyful

Our Church is suffering from mass confusion.  On all sides, I am asked my opinion of the latest quicksand, since I was there in Rome during the Amazon Synod.  But the entire time I was there, I was focused on the good we were doing, and the hard work it took to achieve that work, and because of this, I was preserved almost as if in a bubble from the scandal and the furious politicking.

And really, this is the answer that I offer to all who are confused and frustrated.

If you are busy doing God’s work, what time do you have for being confused and frustrated?

Of course, not everyone can drop everything and go do something all-consuming like we did.

But it is important to remember something:

We are not fighting flesh and blood, but powers and principalities. 
(How ironic that this very phrase was in this Sunday’s Epistle!)

We are not fighting men, but the power of Hell itself.  And this is why political solutions won’t work.  This is why anger and frustration and resentment won’t work.  We are not fighting an earthly battle with swords, nor even a verbal battle with words and explanations and corrections.  Our battle is entirely in the spiritual plane.

Therefore what must our weapons be?  For if we arm ourselves with weapons that are meant for earthly battles, we are sure to fail.  If we embrace the spiritual traps of the enemy as we march into this battle, we are sure to fail. 

The devil is crafty, and he would have us believe that if we can just make this or that argument, or if we can just change that one person’s mind, that we will have made a difference. 

But our war will not be won by strife or argument.  It will be won by virtue. 

For what makes the most eloquent arguments, and what changes the most people’s minds, are the spiritual weapons of peace, love, and especially JOY.  Christ himself said of these times, “And you shall hear of wars and rumours of wars. See that ye be not troubled.

The war in which we are engaged has already been won. We have to remember that, and live in the knowledge that no matter how dark things look, they looked darker on Good Friday. But we have the assurance of knowing that after Good Friday comes the glory of the Resurrection.

Each of us is called to the warfare of this life in a different capacity.  Some of us are called to battle with words.  And some are called to courageous feats in the public arena.  But for most of us, the best thing we can do is to follow Paul’s admonition:

“Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing.  In all things give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you all.”  (1 Thess 5:16-18)

And…see that you be not troubled.

Father Thomas’ Story

Father Thomas shared his story with us recently:

Treasure and Tradition has helped me tremendously in praying the Traditional Latin Mass.  I prayed my first Latin Mass on March 19, 2018 and told St. Joseph that he was responsible for helping me.  In 2018 I was able to offer 45 TLMs.  This year I am at 106 already.  I will break 125 by Christmas.  I love it.  I still have to work hard at it, so I try to study a few pages of your book before going into the Mass.  Of course I also study the propers beforehand.

I gave out all 125 copies that I ordered last year.

I am stationed in a rural area, but when I travel to our largest city, I offer the TLM at various parishes and invite local people to attend.  It seems that God has called me to stay where I am (in the Novus Ordo, as hard as it is to give people Communion in the hand and face the people during Mass) in order to transition people back to Tradition.  But all of my churches have kneelers, and about 10% of the people are now kneeling for Holy Communion.  The TLM teaches us to pray the Novus Ordo way better.

Gratitude

For an author like J.R.R. Tolkien–who had served in the Great War and had experienced those unique bonds formed in adversity, along with the deep sense of loss brought about when those bonds were broken by farewells–the Parting of the Fellowship in The Lord of the Rings was especially poignant.

I had my first taste of this unique sort of grief when my dear friend and partner in this project left on Wednesday, and thus I knew that I ought to expect a tsunami as I bid farewell to the rest of the group on this, my last day before flying home early tomorrow morning.  And yet, again, nothing could prepare me for these good byes.

Adoration and Benediction at San Lorenzo in Damaso

Our day started with yet another fire drill of moving books, this time to the location of the reception that was scheduled to take place after today’s Mass at St. Peter’s.  We accomplished this just in time to get to the Eucharistic Adoration and Benediction preceding the procession through the streets of Rome for which the Pilgrimage is famous.

The Procession Begins.

Thanks to the zeal of my dear Brazilian friend, I was encouraged not to give up on the idea of distributing our books to the gaping bystanders in the wake of the procession.  We filled our bags as full as we could without staggering and managed to dispose of every single copy before arriving at the doors of the Basilica.

The altar of the Chair of Peter is one of my favorite parts of St. Peter’s Basilica.  The composition of the dove of the Holy Spirit with its rays amidst the clouds is one that has been often imitated throughout the world, but none reaches the heights of artistry and imposing scale as this one.  From my seat, I could see all three of my remaining friends as the Pontifical Mass was celebrated at this magnificent altar.  As I gave thanks for the myriad blessings of this moment, experiencing the truly grand Liturgy for which this Basilica was intended, I felt my heart expanding beyond its known boundaries, as though I were Christopher Columbus about to sail off the edge of the world…and instead finding an unimagined New World.

Mass at the Altar of the Chair in St. Peter’s

As before, I was overwhelmed by a powerful sense that I am being called to do more, on a scale so large as to make this project look like child’s play.  The prospect is, quite frankly, terrifying.  Only in that setting, immersed within the Mass which is the Source and Summit of our faith, and after the miracles of grace that have been extravagantly showered on us during these weeks, could I wrestle open my heart with a yes to this call, despite the enormous sacrifices that I see it will bring.  And in that same moment, as I looked on my friends, I saw God asking more of them as well, more than they realize yet, and more than they know they are able to give.  I saw the heart of an apostle, the heart of a father, and the heart of a priest.

How could I have failed to remember, after last night’s tears, to bring a handkerchief?  Tears of joy, of fear, of pain, but mostly of overwhelming gratitude came upon me in the expected tsunami.  And I hadn’t even said good bye yet.

But of course this was for the best, as I could give all of this to our Lord in thanksgiving, there in the setting best prepared for such an outpouring, and when I later needed to bid these dear, dear friends good bye, the torrent had already passed and I was able to contain myself in those moments.

However, as I now reflect, I see that the reaction was merely delayed…

Our view from the Terrace at tonight’s reception.

I have never in my life experienced such powerful love for people who were total strangers a mere two weeks ago, and the only explanation is that this bond exists on a higher plane, one that is not of this world.

And I know that I will never feel the same again when I read Tolkien, of the Parting of the Fellowship.  We may not have journeyed into a place so dread as Mordor, but our journey forced us to put our entire trust in God alone as our guide, and we found ourselves in a country that none of us knew existed before.  Our roads back home may be on the same paths, but we are no longer the same people we were when we first set our feet upon the road.

The whistling of a gentle air

“…[there was] a great and strong wind before the Lord over throwing the mountains, and breaking the rocks in pieces: the Lord is not in the wind, and after the wind an earthquake: the Lord is not in the earthquake.  And after the earthquake a fire: the Lord is not in the fire, and after the fire a whistling of a gentle air.” (3 Kings 19:11-12)

Tree plantings, Pagan Idols, feather headdresses, desecrated churches, police chasing faithful Catholics from the Vatican precincts while allowing anyone with face paint and maracas to do as they please anywhere they like…

…ah, what a blessed release we finally had today, as the Synod comes to a close and the Summorum Pontificum pilgrimage began.

This gathering of like-minded, tradition-loving Catholics is centered around a schedule of liturgical events in thanksgiving for Benedict XVI’s motu proprio.  However, it is also an opportunity for those same people to share their love for the Traditions of our Church and the myriad ways in which each of them are individually called by the Holy Spirit to spread this love far and wide throughout the world.

Ruben Peretó Rivas speaking at the Conference.

So my morning was spent partially in attending a sort of conference with various speakers from the Catholic world, and partially in networking with these many other friends of Tradition.  Full disclosure: I hate networking and I’m terrible at it.  I can’t think of anything I enjoy doing less than boasting to perfect strangers about what I do. 

But as I have mentioned before, this project is not merely about humbling myself before strangers on the street to give away these books, it’s also about fighting my own interior voice so that I can hear the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit…the “whistling of a gentle air.”  And that voice required me to put myself forward, not for the sake of my own glory, but for the sake of His.  Thy Kingdom come, Thy Will be done…

And in this gathering God sent to me exactly the people I needed to begin bringing this project to the next phase.  An Italian publisher.  A copyright lawyer.  People from several countries wishing to translate this book into other languages.  And already I see that these people are not merely meant to be useful toward achieving the ends of this project, but to be dear and lasting friends.

The evening was crowned with a Solemn High Mass at Santa Maria ad Martyres, better known to most people as the Pantheon.  Yes, that Pantheon.  The entire Mass, including the music, was celebrated by a group of canons from Hungary, in conjunction with the Juventutem group there.  The choir sang the propers of the Mass according to 14th-and 15th-century Hungarian chant.  It was truly a brief encounter with heaven on earth, and tears of gratitude flowed freely.

Tomorrow morning comes the event that I look forward to as the highlight of the entire trip: a procession of clergy and laity from the Cancelleria palace all the way to St. Peter’s Basilica, where a Pontifical Mass will be celebrated at the Altar of the Chair. 

Pray for me that I don’t die of happiness.

1% Inspiration, 99% Perspiration.

I never, ever, in my wildest dreams, imagined I would ever drive a car through the streets of Rome.

In the rain.

At night.

But then again, the list of unprecedented things I’ve been involved in since I fell in love with the Latin Mass 14 years ago, and especially since we arrived here in Rome two weeks ago, has become so long that I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by anything anymore.

Today was spent lugging boxes of books around, first by foot and then by car.  After my experience this past weekend of driving to Norcia, I decided that driving in Rome wasn’t as scary as I always thought.  Not sure what that says about how bad Chicago traffic is…

Threading the needle in the giant sedan they gave me. Sometimes you have to pull your mirrors in to pass through the space allowed, but hey, as long as you can get through, I guess it’s allowed.

Therefore rather than attempting to carry all these boxes on a dolly 3 at a time across 2 miles of cobblestones, or pay someone else an exorbitant fee to do it, by far the cheapest option was just to rent a car and drive them ourselves.

You really don’t want to roll a dolly over these cobblestones. They eat suitcase wheels for breakfast every day.

I learned several things from the experience, and thought I’d share them with you since, after all, I don’t have much else to share today except sweat.

No stop signs. And when there are signs, you often really don’t know what they mean. Well…at least I didn’t.
  1. There are almost no stop signs in the historic center of Rome, and only a handful of traffic lights on the main roadways.  It’s every man for himself at most intersections.
  2. There are lines painted in the road but most of them are so worn down that you can’t see them, especially at night in the rain.  But it doesn’t really matter much anyway because most of the drivers ignore them completely. 
  3. Oh, and did I mention that the colors of the lines painted on the street are the opposite of what we in the US are used to?  There is a double white stripe dividing you from oncoming traffic, and yellow stripes by the side of the road to mark off the bus-only lanes, etc. That is…when you can see them.
  4. There are probably rules of the road for people driving motorcycles and scooters, but no one enforces them or pays any attention.  They will cut between lanes, swarm past you at stop lights, anything that’s life-threateningly dangerous, they will do.
  5. If there are rules for parking, I really can’t tell.  Unless there is a sign saying no parking, the rule seems to be that if you can fit it and people can still get past you (even just barely) then you’re good.
  6. Here no one actually cares if you double-park, people do it all the time.  We had little choice but to follow suit, since there were no parking spots anywhere near where we needed to be.  I was amazed how long we could leave it and really no one even raised an eyebrow.
  7. Gas stations here I guess have a license for highway robbery.  Their version of pay-at-the-pump involves charging you 2 Euros as a “service fee”…if you want to avoid this, you can put in cash but you don’t get any change if you don’t use up the entire amount.  So to refill the tank of the rental car, I waaaaay overpaid.
  8. Oh, and most cars here are manual transmission too…
This is the Main Drag leading from the Train Station to downtown. It’s a major roadway. Can you see a center line? I can’t. Also, see the yellow line on the side?

Tomorrow begins the big Summorum Pontificum Pilgrimage and we have over a thousand books in place for people to take home with them. I can’t wait!

A new phase begins.

I was overwhelmed by an unexpected wave of grief when my dear friend left for home this morning.  I have been so focused on the tasks to be done each day that it really wasn’t until that moment that I realized what a sacred bond we had formed through our triumphs and travails.  She has been my faithful partner in this enterprise from the very beginning stages of planning, and we have trod the streets together as if two halves of one whole.  Now that she is gone, she takes part of my heart with her, and this phase of our project comes to a close. 

Now it must enter a new phase in preparation for the Summorum Pontificum pilgrimage this weekend.  Once more, thousands of books must be moved to make them available to the attendants of the pilgrimage, though I am wary of hiring the movers once more.  I am tempted to move them with my own two feet as a penance, but the distance they must travel over cobblestones puts this outside the realm of prudence.  God will provide.

A simple and quiet lunch, Italian style…

Nor will this project truly end.  Many books remain here in storage, in the hands of those who will continue to find places and uses for them.  Moreover, upon my return home, yet another phase will begin.  Now that we have inaugurated this concept on a grand scale, here in the heart of the Catholic world, we have shown what can be done with patience, determination and love.  Now we will have these economical softcover versions printed in bulk back in the USA so that those who would like to implement the same idea on a smaller scale can buy an “evangelization pack” of, say, 50 books or more, and distribute them anywhere they wish (as long as they have the proper permissions of course…!).

Through the past weeks we have come into the circle of many important people here in Rome.  I have been stretched to new limits as we have made these connections and many of our experiences have shown me that there is another dimension to our project that I hadn’t anticipated, one that seems to be preparing me, educating me, forming me for something more.  It is hard to imagine what God can have in mind that is even bigger than what we have already miraculously accomplished (with His assistance at every step), and therefore I anticipate the future with equal parts eagerness and trepidation. God’s Will be done…on earth as it is in heaven.

My view at close of day after a very long walk…

Connections

Today was once more a day of collection and connection.  It was the last day in Rome for my “partner in crime,” as she heads home tomorrow.  So we had to tie up several loose ends, one of which included doing a video interview with Jim Hale of LifeSite News.  I have to say that I have never done this sort of thing before and it was surreal being the focus of attention for every person in the Borgo Pio, all of whom were wondering who on earth we were, that we were important enough to be interviewed like this.

Look who dropped in to join us for lunch…

We met up with many of our friends today in order to bid them a partial farewell.  I also decided to go once more to the Questura and get our permission-to-stand-somewhere renewed for a few more days.  They generously added yet another portion of ghetto-nowhere-near-the-Vatican for us.  Not sure whether it is worth bothering with.

As I was walking through St. Peter’s Square, looking around at all the Catholics that we are not allowed to reach, I couldn’t help mourning, thinking that if all were as it should be, the Vatican would not only be happy for us to be here doing what we are doing, but would be even inviting us to do it.  Alas that the entire reason we are here is that this is emphatically not the case.

Actually the police detective I met with this afternoon was quite personable and immediately recognized the book…so we must be making some sort of impact.  People keep seeing these books around.  He kept teasing me that I had come all the way to Rome to give away all these books and hadn’t even had the courtesy to have an Italian version!  It became a running joke for the rest of the interview, but amidst all his questions, I took the time to explain the book to him and why it was so nice, and rather than brushing me off, he continued to ask further questions and really seemed genuinely impressed…and was truly pleased when I told him he should keep that copy.

While I was busy with this, my friend went to see the remaining Pachamama idol that was removed from the Traspontina Church and chucked off the bridge by Castel Sant’Angelo.  Rather than falling in the river, it landed on the stone foot of the bridge, but the Tiber is so dirty I don’t think anyone wants to risk their health to retrieve it.  Good riddance.  The presence of these pagan idols in our churches disgusts and infuriates.  God bless the brave soul who has put God’s laws before those of man.

The final resting place of the idol.

Our apartment will be quieter and lonelier tomorrow but there is still much to do.  I had hoped to distribute to the pilgrims arriving for the Wednesday General Audience with the Pope in St. Peter’s Square tomorrow, but we have been specifically told not to.  I struggled with whom to obey: God or man…but we have become known by now and the Summorum Pontificum Pilgrimage begins Friday.  A good and holy priest has advised us that at this point it is not prudent to flout the law.  There will be opportunity enough this weekend.

And on the Seventh day…

Even missionaries need a day off.  In doing God’s work it is crucial to center on prayer and that is hard to do when you are fighting bus schedules and event schedules and police office schedules.  We have been fighting the good fight all week long with the only down time being that imposed upon us by the police every time they send us packing, but I’m sure you will all agree that doesn’t really count as a respite.

So on Sunday we allowed ourselves to sleep in past 6AM and go to the 11:00 High Mass at Ss. Trinità dei Pellegrini .  The acoustics in that church are so good that even a less stellar choir would sound good, but these top-notch musicians sounded truly angelic from the choir loft.  Paired with the beauty of every other detail of the space, the art and architecture, the vestments, the liturgy…it was a much-needed reward after this week’s labors.

After Mass we joined the parishioners for coffee in the back room and I finally got to meet “The Great Roman” Fabrizio that we all hear about on Father Z’s blog, as well as several other parishioners and visitors.  We could have stayed all day, but a rental car awaited us for our journey to Norcia to visit the Monastery and pray with the monks.

We gathered our things and caught a cab and were halfway to the car rental place when I looked at the paperwork and realized…that it had closed already an hour ago.

Our taxi driver was marvelous, immediately suggested that we try the train station, as they would likely still be open, and even looked up some options on his phone for us (yes, while driving…yikes!).  So it cost quite a bit more and took much longer to leave, but we did finally get a car and began the trip out of the city.

I was worried that the traffic would be extremely stressful, but even with the manual transmission I didn’t find the traffic to be any worse than what I have experienced in downtown Chicago at times.

Of course, with the delays, we did not manage to make it to the monastery in time for Vespers, but we did get there for Benediction and Compline, and obtained permission to come early in the morning for Matins and Lauds. 

The last rays of the sun over Norcia in the valley below…just before Compline.

The valley where Norcia is located is surrounded by mountains and it is not unusual on chilly mornings like this one for cool mist to become trapped until the sun becomes warm enough to burn it all off.  Therefore our trip back up the hill this morning was not only in the dark, but through thick pea-soup fog.

Thick fog in the valley below the monastery after the sun rose. It remained this way until after 11:00 AM.

However, the monastery is perched up on the mountain, above the fog, so we could see the stars above and only murkiness below.  It was like being in an island in the sky.

The monks at Norcia set their schedule according to the sun, not the clock, so Matins was timed to end just as the sky was beginning to brighten, and shortly after this, Lauds began while the sun climbed into the sky.  These two full hours of prayer are chanted while standing.  If you want to test your endurance, I recommend praying these hours with the monks and seeing if you can stand as long as they do without your back screaming at you.  Let’s just say it was an excellent penance that we offered up for the sake of our Church.

We missed Prime because we needed a bite to eat in order to remain upright, and needed to check out of our AirBNB apartment.  But we had plenty of time to recite it on our own while we waited for the Conventual Mass at 9:30.

To say that all of this was glorious is surely redundant.

After Mass we were honored to be able to speak for a few minutes with Father Cassian Folsom, the founder of the Monastery and now the guestmaster.  And of course we didn’t neglect to pick up some Birra Nursia, which we finally tried after dinner tonight and I can say in all honesty that it lives up to the hype. Just get some.

Besides the opportunity to pray and enjoy the peaceful surroundings, one of the best parts of the trip from Rome to Norcia is the stunning beauty of the countryside.  Here you will see the face of God.

Alas, photos just don’t do it justice…

Our little group will soon break up as our students from the Angelicum are busy with their studies, our Brazilian friend is out of town and my “right hand” who helped me plan this ambitious project is returning home too.  I will stay on through the Summorum Pontificum pilgrimage but I must now decide whether to face the police yet again this week, to renew our permission to stand in the ghetto by Castel Sant’Angelo, or to move on to other activities.  Please continue to pray for us.

And in this ring over here…

Here in Rome there is a special circus going on during the Synod, called “Amazzonia: Casa Comune” which means “The Amazon: Our Common Home.”  These are the voodoo folks you’ve seen news photos of, desecrating the church of Transpontina with their pagan Pachamama idols and others we won’t speak of.  On today’s schedule for the circus was a pilgrimage from Castel Sant’Angelo to the Vatican.  I always thought a pilgrimage was rather longer than this but it seems that the earlier plans to make it longer failed, and if the attendance figures were any indication, I’d say it was due to lack of interest in walking that far.

As this group made their mini pilgrimage up the broad avenue called Via della Conciliazione, which leads to St. Peter’s Basilica, along the way they “prayed” a “way of the cross” that wasn’t really a Via Crucis but rather a series of tributes to their collection of communist “martyrs” and the new category of environmental sins.  They were surrounded by a huge pack of journalists and curious tourists that made it difficult to discern the true number of actual attendants, but most noticeable was a small group of men in jeans, T-shirts and an abundance of feathers that did not take part in any of the ceremonies and seemed to be there to do nothing more than fill the role of the costumed gladiators at the Colosseum: photo ops for tourists.

All week long I have carefully avoided this circus and I refuse to enter that desecrated church.  But since the police have providentially placed us in this little ghetto where the pilgrimage was to pass by, we thought it best to arrive in time to at least witness it, and who knows?  Perhaps get one or two books into some of those hands. 

With the help of some Brazilian friends, we did manage just this.  Not huge numbers, but some.  However, most of the people passing by Castel Sant’Angelo are not the same people that are coming to Rome on Pilgrimage and being dropped off by the busload to visit the Vatican.  Not only had they no interest in such a book as ours, they looked at us as though we were little green men.  That is, when they weren’t studiously ignoring us.  So though we made a valiant effort, very few copies left our hands.

So we brought several boxes of books to the FSSP parish here in Rome, Ss. Trinità dei Pellegrini, and the priests allowed us to place the boxes by the entrance where any passersby can help themselves.  They do get a fair number of tourists that pass through to see the beautiful altar painting by Guido Reni.  During the holy hour that I spent there after dropping off the books, I saw at least three tourists enter with the book in hand.

The altar painting is worth taking a moment to share because its composition is profound and worthy of contemplation.  If you look at the Trinity depicted here, you will see that the overall grouping is in the shape of the Tree of Life.  But now look at each of the three Persons: all of them have arms (or wings) extended.  God the Father is reaching outwards with His mighty power as Creator.  God the Holy Spirit’s wings scoop downwards, showering the earth with His sevenfold Gifts and twelve Fruits.  And God the Son reaches upward from the cross, offering up His own life for the sake of Mankind, sanctifying our Human nature while also offering perfect propitiation for us with the Father.

Tomorrow will be an official day of rest for us, as we will attend the High Mass at Trinità dei Pellegrini and then drive up to Norcia to visit and pray with the monks.  We are praying for all of our benefactors as well as all those who have and who are yet to receive this book.

Friday Penances

Well, this morning it was off to the Questura, which is where you get the authorization to stand somewhere with stuff.  The good news is that it wasn’t the sort of place that is run by government pencil-pushers, it was mostly cops and it was quite efficient.  So I was ushered right away into an office and spoke to a person who was reasonably intelligent and capable, and within 20 minutes or less I had my authorization papers.

The bad news is that due to antiterrorism regulations, it is impossible for them to give me permission to have big bags and boxes in the area immediately surrounding St. Peter’s square, because they could have explosives in them.

No problem, when I arrive in the area, I will happily submit to having the boxes and bags searched!

Not possible.  The closest we can get to the Vatican is Castel Sant’Angelo.  (In case you were wondering why the Acies Ordinata protest was located there, I’d be willing to bet it’s for the same reason…)

So…that was that.

But like a river that has been dammed by a landslide, the force moving behind this project cannot be simply stopped.  We have simply found other methods.  Namely, getting these books by the boxload into the hands of priests and seminarians as well as Catholic tour guides. 

Today my Friday Penance was to help deliver these boxes, including walking one up the hill to the North American College atop the Janiculum hill.  The view of Rome from up there more than repaid me for my efforts.

Then in the afternoon we visited the Basilica of SS. Giovanni e Paolo, the church of the Passionists here in Rome, where their founder, St. Paul of the Cross, died on this very day in 1775.  We were treated to a tour of the room where he lived and died, and the extensive museum of relics of various Passionist saints, from St. Gabriel Possenti to Eugene Bossilkov to Gemma Galgani.

Since we were up late last night with all the excitement, we went to an evening Mass and then visited with friends while getting some much needed rest.

Tomorrow there is a pilgrimage in support of the Synod—which, from what I hear, needs all the support it can buy now—and some of our friends will be covering it so we will join them in our little ghetto of authorized space and offer them our own brand of support.  We will see if they accept it.

Create your website at WordPress.com
Get started