Archive | March, 2013

Reflections on the Triduum ~ Good Friday

March 29, 2013

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Good Friday always confused me.  Like many people, Catholic and non-

On The Cross Licensed under Creative Commons - Archer10

On The Cross
Licensed under Creative Commons – Archer10

Catholic alike, the question is “Why do we call it good?”

In years past one part of the liturgy has always stood out to me.  The veneration of the cross. I would sit there in awe as I watched members of our parish walk up to kiss the wood of the cross.  One woman struggled with her walker as she made her way to the cross and knelt before it.  Another woman, widowed recently , venerated the cross and wiped a tear away as she returned to her seat.  Yet another person I saw was a man suffering from Cancer and wouldn’t probably see another Good Friday.  I’ve seen these scenes over the years…. And yet we call it “Good.”

Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. (Lk. 14:27)

“Embrace the cross!” the priest said from the pulpit, but it wasn’t his words that struck a cord with me, it was his actions.

As the priest enters into this liturgy – he lays down, prostrate on the ground in front of the altar.  It is a humbling action.  As I watched this action a phrase rung in my head.
“Bring us God!”

I pondered as to why this was my reaction to this gesture by the priest. Was it that empty tabernacle again? Or was their something more I was to understand?  I had just read Pope Frances homily from the Chrism Mass so it gave me a little insight as to why this action invoked such a strong  and strange response.  In his homily, Pope Frances instructs his priests to go out.  To go out to the people where they are suffering and to also go out of themselves.  And when they go to the outskirts:

“they [the people] feel that the fragrance of the Anointed One, of Christ, has come to them through us, they feel encouraged to entrust to us everything they want to bring before the Lord: “Pray for me, Father, because I have this problem”, “Bless me Father”, “Pray for me”

Bring us God through the Eucharist, bring us God through reconciliation, bring us God through the word because without God we couldn’t survive the crosses of our lives.

So that is why we call it “Good.”  With this one gesture of Christ dying on the cross for us He gives to us himself so we never have to carry our cross alone.

In fact it would be impossible to.

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Reflections on the Triduum ~ Holy Thursday

March 29, 2013

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Licensed under Creative Commons

Licensed under Creative Commons

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I love the Triduum! It was 10 years ago that I attended my first Holy Thursday Mass.  It was shortly after my “re-conversion” to the faith and I was blown away.
As I watched with wonder at  the beauty of the Mass and tried to understand the depth of the liturgy, I left the church that night in a bit of a stupor. As I stumbled out of the church past the priest, I walked up to him and said “It is like coming home.  It is like being away at college for a long time and then you come back home. It feels like that!” I don’t know if anyone else can understand that sentimentality, but its impact has never left me.
Each year I enter into this sacred week with certain expectations.  What I expect never seems to be what I get, but if I approach it with my eyes and heart open I most certainly hear God’s voice.
This year my personal, family life is in a bit of a disarray.  With two children at college and their needs and schedules changing- regular family traditions are a bit off.  Easter baskets have changed from candy and bunny rabbits to gas cards and cash.  To top it all off – we are remodeling our kitchen so we have no stove, sink or refrigerator. We will not be making Easter eggs, traditional ham dinner or even a pizza!

Trying to enter into a prayerful mood – I left my home an hour early to attend the Holy Thursday Mass. The sounds of saws, screw guns and hammers were interrupting my already distracted mind. I was looking for a little peace!

As I walked into the church – the first thing I noticed was the empty tabernacle.  It immediately brought to mind the thought that Jesus was not “in the house.” Their is something sad about an empty tabernacle.

As I sat in a corner to collect my thoughts and pray when I looked up at the hustle and bustle going on around me.  From a distance I noticed the choir rehearsing – a unified choir with our Latino and English speaking community.  I noticed a young man from our Catholic high school walking the other servers through server training.  I saw the sacristan putting out candles, readers looking over their readings, volunteers arranging flowers and ushers setting out worship aids.  All this action could have put me on edge since I came to the church to get away from the bustle of my home, but then I realized something.

Jesus WAS “in the house!”

Everyone there – a community – had come together to make this happen.  They were joyfully doing their part to bring others to God through the liturgy.

Of course the Holy Thursday Liturgy speaks of service.  Service to each other.  Service to those in need.  The Holy Thursday Liturgy also speaks of the Eucharist – the body of Christ.  And He was present there  in the people and at the great offering of the Sacrament.

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Two angels at the tomb of Jesus

March 28, 2013

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Resurrection at St. Andrew in Fairfax revised

Resurrection at St. Andrew in Fairfax revised

A Miraculous Encounter.  On Easter Sunday morning when Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and a number of other women from Galilee went to the tomb of Jesus, they encountered “two men in dazzling garments” (Lk 24:4).

A Curious Discrepancy.  Each of the four evangelists mentions the presence of one or two mysterious figures at the tomb.  Matthew explained that “an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, approached, rolled back the stone, and sat upon it.  His appearance was like lightning and his clothing was white as snow” (Mt 28:2,3).  Mark reported that the women, upon entering the tomb, “saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a white robe” (Mk 16:5).  In the Fourth Gospel John the evangelist recounted how Mary Magdalene “saw two angels in white sitting there, one at the head and one at the feet where the body of Jesus had been” (Jn 20:12).  In Matthew and Mark there is one figure, while in Luke and John there are two.  Who are they?  Why is the number different?

Unique Identity.  There are multiple details that reveal the identity of the figures present in the tomb.  Both Matthew and John state explicitly that they were angels.  All four gospels say that the figures were clothed in white or dazzling garments, a sign they came from heaven, the abode of the angels.  Each delivered an announcement from God that Jesus was risen from the dead, and it is the duty of angels to serve as divine messengers.

One or Two Angels.  Modern rationalistic philosophy and the scientific method strive for factual accuracy and precision, while the evangelists use details to convey a symbolic message.  There are several plausible reasons why Luke prefers two angels to one.  Luke uses pairs throughout his gospel:  Zechariah and Elizabeth, Simeon and Anna, the cure of a leper and the cure of a paralytic, Martha and Mary, and many others.  When it comes to the angels, it is preferable for them to work together in tandem rather than by themselves, alone.  Furthermore, when it comes to the strength of testimony, in the Mosaic Law a statement given by an individual is considered insufficient or unreliable, while the word of two gives necessary corroboration and verification (see Dt 19:15).

The Two-Figure Symbolism.  There is a strong likelihood that Luke wants the reader to make a connection between the Transfiguration and the Resurrection.  When Jesus was transfigured, two men in glory appeared with him (Lk 9:30,31), and when Jesus was raised two men in dazzling garments appeared (Lk 24:4).  Moses and Elijah came from heaven and the two figures in the tomb also came from heaven.  Moses and Elijah spoke of Jesus’ exodus that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem (Lk 9:31), and men in dazzling garments spoke about the completion of Jesus’ exodus on earth in anticipation of his future and final exodus, his Ascension to heaven.

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From Home to Rome: The Sisterhood of the Traveling Skirt

March 20, 2013

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Lisa skirtBy Lisa Weier

A couple years ago, I walked out of a Nebraska thrift store with the close friends I had come with, a couple new-to-me skirts I hadn’t, and the satisfaction of time and money well spent.  One of the skirts in my shopping bag was particularly feminine and flowery, and billowed out perfectly when its wearer spun around. My friend Lucy and I split its cost with the shared understanding that this particular skirt would dance its way between our closets.  We never really planned for it to go between our suitcases too.

When Lucy went to Rome in the spring of 2012, it was an easy decision to send the skirt with her.  I also, then, took the skirt with me this year on my own Roman adventure, having no idea how much of an adventure it would really be.  The Conclave, for instance, was unexpected.

March 13 was the most personally convenient time for a new pope to be chosen; I would not need to run across the city, dodging people and vaulting mini-cars.  Instead, we had set time aside to go and pray in the square, and of course keep an eye on the Sistine chimney. So I went, with the thirty-three other students in my Catholic Studies Study Abroad program.  And I wore the skirt.

I did a bit of singing and dancing in the rain down the streets of Rome, fabric swishing underneath my trench coat and over the tops of my boots.  When we entered the square, there were already many people present, from seemingly everywhere in the world.  Most of them were holding umbrellas, beautifully arched over heads, a ridiculous amount of patterns and colors.  We prayed, talked and waited.  And waited.  And a seagull, I presume wanting to be on TV, landed on the top of the smokestack.  And we waited longer.

And suddenly, there was gray smoke.  Gray?  Everyone was trapped in confusion for a couple seconds, but as we saw the smoke become whiter and whiter, our confusion turned into desire for a good view.  There was a mad rush for the front of the square, closest to the doors where the new Pope would emerge.  I grabbed onto one of my classmate seminarian’s book bags and listened to the joyful yells of another classmate seminarian gripping my shoulder as we snaked toward the front, “LISA! WE HAVE A POPE! WE HAVE A POPE!”

We waited in suspense for an hour under our group’s US and papal flags.  I was in a sea of umbrellas, cameras, reporters and conjecture. The Swiss Guard band played and marched.  Then they stood still for a long time (I sometimes think they are some of the best statues in Rome).

Someone turned the interior lights of St. Peter’s on to a collective gasp from the thousands below.  Something rustled the curtains inside the balcony door.  A cameraman emerged to groans. FINALLY the proclamation sounded, “Habemus Papam.”  An absolutely joyful noise erupted, screams and cries of “Papa!” emerged all over.

Once we quieted down, the cardinal announced the elect’s name to more confusion.  Who?  Finally the word circulated and was confirmed through technology, Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina, Papa Francesco.  Chants of “Francesco, Francesco!” prompted his first steps onto the balcony.  He stood, taking in the crowd, probably overwhelmed with the day he was having.  And then his words cut through the cheers, “Buona sera. Come stai?”  Good evening.  How are you?  We laughed and he went on.

He spoke in Italian, I didn’t understand all of it, but I did know he asked us to pray for him in silence; I’ve never heard Rome quite that quiet before.  I also could see that he loved us in humility.  I was so happy to have a Papa again.  In the midst of it all, I found it beautiful that I was still very much connected to home, holding the hem of the skirt.  Lucy, my family and other friends, were on my mind, in my prayers, and also under the subsequent blessing of the new Holy Father.  I like to think the skirt can retain a bit of it too… Viva il Papa!

 

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One Lucky Baby! Blessed by Pope Francis

March 14, 2013

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During his first full day on the job, Pope Francis took the time to visit with his new staff. One man placed a hand on his wife’s belly and asked “Papa” to bless the baby within. Speaking Italian the proud daddy said, “The baby is still in the womb. Five months…five months.” Of course the Holy Father imparted his blessing.

What a lucky baby! Or should I say What a blessed baby!

One of our sons is named after a pope. When he was young, if someone asked him, “What is your name?” He’d say, “John Paul after the pope.” Just think, Someday someone will ask that Italian baby the same question. And after that child answers, he or she will be able to add: “And I was the first baby blessed by Pope Francis!”

Isn’t that beautiful?

In his homily from April in the year of 2005, Emeritus Pope Benedict said:

“We are not some casual or meaningless product of evolution. Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary.”

That Vatican baby’s soul was touched by the hand of our new pontiff. It was a blessing we can remember with hope. It’s sign that we are all part of God’s plan.

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Get ready for spring turkey hunting

March 14, 2013

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Steve Huettl shows off a nice tom he shot in Wisconsin last spring

Steve Huettl shows off a nice tom he shot in Wisconsin last May, while hunting with the author.

There’s plenty of snow on the ground, and it looks like more shoveling lies ahead, but that doesn’t stop me from thinking about the upcoming turkey hunting season. The truth is, now is an important time for getting ready to chase gobblers in April and May.

I will be hunting in both Minnesota and Wisconsin this spring, as usual. Lottery results for both states have been available for weeks. I was picked for Season D in Wisconsin, and plan to buy a license over the counter for Minnesota’s Season E (only the first four seasons, A through D, are by lottery). Back in January, I made calls to landowners to secure permission to hunt properties in both states.

If you haven’t already done so, now’s the time to make those calls. The longer you wait, the more risk you run of having others get permission before you do. Then, you’ll have to scramble to find other properties to hunt.

Pick up those calls

With that accomplished, turned to another important task – practicing my turkey calling. Much to the chagrin of my wife and kids, I have been sounding off for several weeks now. I’ve been turkey hunting nearly three decades, and I have become proficient at several types of calls – box, slate, mouth and push-button.

It’s not a task I need to spend hours on, but I don’t want to neglect it entirely. What I have learned is that when a turkey is gobbling and coming in, I tend to get nervous. My mouth gets dry and my hands tremble a bit. So, calling can get more challenging. That’s why I like to keep my calling simple, and go for the easiest calls to use during those tense moments.

My go-to call for pulling a gobbler those finals steps into gun range has been A Pushpin Pro Yelper by Quaker Boy. It’s a pushbutton-style friction call that is very easy to use. I have called in several birds with it, including a nice mature tom in Minnesota last year. This call works!

Yet, I felt I needed to add something more, something hands free. The obvious thing is a mouth diaphragm call. I have used them over the years, but they can be stiff and tricky to operate. I wanted something that is easy to use and can produce the soft calls – clucks and purrs – that I like to use when a gobbler is close but not visible or in gun range.

How to tease toms

I found a call recently that fits the bill. The company is called Tom Teasers and what caught my eye was the name of one of its mouth calls – Butt Naked Hen. When I ran across this name while surfing the Internet, I just had to go to the website and check it out.

I discovered that the calls are hand made, not mass produced. What’s more, each call has a short video demo that you can click on to hear what it sounds like. So, there’s no guesswork.

That was what really sold me on the calls, and I called the company to get my hands on one. I ended up talking to the founder and owner, Tommy Walton, whose company is located in Georgia. How often is it that you can get on the phone with the guy in charge?

Interestingly, the only other time that happened was when I contacted another Georgia company, Comp-N-Choke. The owner took my order back in 2009, and I have been very happy with the results. I have made shots from beyond 50 yards, and it’s highly unlikely I will ever switch to another choke.

Turns out, Tommy Walton knows about Comp-N-Choke and knows the owner. I had a great turkey chat with Tommy, and he graciously agreed to send me some samples. I waited eagerly for them to show up in my mail box, which they did less than a week later.

Perfect fit

To my delight, the Butt Naked Hen was among the samples Tommy sent. I have tried three of the five and like them all, but I especially like the Butt Naked Hen for the soft calls. It makes great clucks and purrs, and I’m sure this call will be with me when I hit the woods in May.

I noticed two things about these calls right away – they’re very easy to use, and they work great right out of the box. So often, I have found, mouth calls are stiff right out of the box and require a break-in period. That’s not the case with Tom Teasers.

On one of the calls, the tape came loose, and I called Tommy to let him know. Very graciously, he sent me a replacement call that arrived just a few days later. He also told me that he has since discovered a flaw in some of the tape he buys to make the calls. He is aware of the problem, and says all mouth call manufacturers are experiencing it, as the tape company sells to a lot of different call manufacturing companies.

So, anyone buying a mouth call should be aware of this, and be prepared to contact the call company if there’s a problem. Tommy said he will replace any call with this problem free of charge. I did not have this problem with the other four calls he sent me, and the replacement call has worked fine.

How good is good enough?

I will be the first to admit that I do not sound nearly as good with a mouth call as Tommy and the other guy who does the demos on the Tom Teasers website. But, the good news is, I don’t have to. It’s all about cadence and rhythm when it comes to producing hen sounds. If you get that right, you’re good to go, especially up here in the Midwest, where birds aren’t pressured nearly as heavily as they are down south.

Tommy told me that, down in the south, birds are hunted hard and can become call shy. So, hunters need to sound as realistic as possible. He added that any bird you get in the south is well earned.

My turkey hunt begins May 1. That’s only a month and a half away. As always, I’m optimistic about the season. Looks like the breeding could happen later this year, like it did two years ago. That’s one reason why I like to hunt in May. It’s very rare that there’s cold and snow then. In fact, two years ago, the weather was great, despite the late spring.

As I wait for the snow to melt, I’ll keep practicing my calling. Who knows? Maybe I can become almost as good on a mouth call as Tommy Walton. Then again, maybe the birds up here can’t tell the difference!

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3 ways you can get involved in the Papal conclave online

March 12, 2013

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sedevacante

CNS

Adopt a Cardinal will assign a Cardinal to you who you can support through prayer and intercession.

Sign up for Pope Alarm
From the good people at focus (Fellowship of Catholic University Students), a promise to text and/or email you when the white smoke is billowing.

Pray a Prayer for the Election of a Pope over at EWTN.

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2 video tributes to our 2 last popes

March 11, 2013

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Here is a lovely song by Italian, Alida Ferrarese. it is called Una Fumata Blanca  (“The White Smoke”). My mother wrote to me about it, saying: 

“Last Wednesday night, lying on my bed on the fourth floor of a hotel in Bellagio, with a big window overlooking Lake Como, this video came on TV. I had to share it with you. My favorite part is when Blessed John Paul is wearing a red cape and playing with some little boys. It’s just a few seconds. Don’t miss it. So CUTE !!!”

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During his eight years as St. Peter’s successor, Pope Benedict XVI wrote three encyclicals, canonized over 40 saints, named two doctors of the church, and created 90 cardinals. He traveled across six continents and published over 30 books. He consistantly spoke about his desire for unity in the Church, and renewing the Church and its faithful. Thank you, “Papa.”

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A Minnesotan in Rome: Witness to the extraordinary

March 8, 2013

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Pilgrims wave U.S. flags before the start of Pope Benedict XVI's final general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican Feb. 27. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pilgrims wave U.S. flags before the start of Pope Benedict XVI’s final general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican Feb. 27. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

by Renée Roden

St. Peter’s Square, Vatican City

At 8:55 a.m. on the morning of Wednesday, Feb. 27, my plane touched ground at Fiumicino Airport, a 30-minute express train ride out of Rome. A little over an hour and a half later, at 10:33 a.m., I was one of many pilgrims streaming into St. Peter’s Square, just as Benedict XVI, now Pope Emeritus, drove into the square in the popemobile.

And I knew I was witnessing something extraordinary.

There is a lot of speculation about what the cardinals at the Vatican will do, and how they will do it and why. The question that we are left with is: Why does this matter?

One of the most beautiful tenets of Christianity is that the ordinary becomes extraordinary. As I stood in St. Peter’s Square, listening to Benedict XVI offer his thanks for the Church’s love and support, listening to the cardinals thank Benedict for his work, and bowed my head to receive Benedict’s final apostolic blessing for myself and my family, I knew I was witnessing, I was experiencing, something extraordinary — something that doesn’t take place every day.

The busy crowd, loudly vibrating with the sounds of hymns being sung, people chattering together, and spontaneous shouts of “Benedetto!” Or “Il Papa!” subdued themselves as they respond to his greeting with a hushed chant of “et cum spiritu tuo.” A hush settled over the audience, as they settled into waiting to hear the pope’s final words.

Although I was only able to read Benedict’s speech later (given that my nascent Italian vocabulary is still at the level of “grazie” and “do’ve il bano?”), the spirit of his message was abundantly clear — it completely transcended the language barrier. His words were ones of thanksgiving and gratitude — gratitude for being able to carry the holy burden of the Petrine office, and gratitude for now responding to the call to lay it aside. Spontaneous applause broke out occasionally in response to his words. Sporadic cries of “¡Viva Il Papa!” broke out of the crowd.

There was an overwhelming sense of gratitude and love for the small man wearing white on the stage in front of the crowd of 150,000 pilgrims, native Romans and curious onlookers. Next to me, a group of chatty teenagers ignored the proceedings after taking several photographs all together; an elderly Jewish woman watched the stage intently; a pair of Mormon missionaries strolled through the crowd, eyeing the stage. Next to me, an elderly Russian man ran up and hugged his friend, and they stood side-by-side watching the scene unfold.

The massive stone Basilica that took up the entire skyline dwarfed the small, frail man wearing white. Yet he stood out all the more. “Now I am just a pilgrim beginning the last part of his journey on earth,” he said the next day at Castel Gandolfo. His soft, fragile voice was scratchy and weak, but his words and his actions came through loud and clear. This event, this action was about something greater than himself. This extraordinary fuss was about something greater than Benedict. As the audience ended, and the thousands rushed out of the square, I sat on one of the fountains and marveled at the amount of people in the square, and how I managed to be lucky enough to be among them.

Looking inward

These extraordinary events often raise the question: So why do we care? What makes them extraordinary?

The next evening at 5 p.m., as my friend and I were waiting in the square, waiting to watch Pope Benedict’s helicopter take off from the Vatican grounds, a journalist came up to us and asked: What do you think you will see here?

Her question resonated in my heart throughout the rest of the day: What did I think I was going to see here? Why was I there? Why had I felt that it was so imperatively necessary to be in St. Peter’s Square at 5 p.m. on Feb. 28?

As a large crowd, undulating between applause and cheers and a solemn, rapt silence filled the square, large screens showed the sequence of events:

Benedict leaving the Vatican.

Benedict driving to the helicopter.

The tearful goodbyes of his chauffeur.

The helicopter’s journey to Castel Gandolfo.

The crowds outside Castel Gandolfo.

And then, finally, the then-Holy Father’s last words:

“Thank you for bringing yourselves [here] — with all my heart, I give you my blessing…. Thank you and goodnight!”

People lingered.

The little bevy of American nuns behind me wiped tears from their eyes.

Next to me, an Italian woman carrying bags of groceries had a blotchy face and sniffled.

A priest walked past me hurriedly, the beads of a rosary slipping through his fingers.

There was scattered applause from several onlookers unsure of what to do next.

Several groups of German Catholics, in traditional garb, stood with a banner that read: “DANKE”

Later that night, at 8 p.m., there was a much smaller crowd gathered in St. Peter’s Square. As 8 p.m. approached, a group of seminarians from St. Paul, Minn., led the rosary. A circle of pilgrims surrounded them as they all prayed around several students kneeling, holding candles. A small wave of people walked up toward the barriers in front of the Basilica, our eyes glued to the clock, lit up, so close to striking 8 o’clock.

As a small chorus of voices started singing the soft, sweet tones of the “Salve Regina,” my friend turned to look at the view behind us and whispered quietly: “Here we are. Tucked in the arms of the Church.” I turned my eyes from the clock and looked over the square. The pilgrims kneeling in the bright street lamps mirrored the stony statues of the saints that processed out of the Basilica, atop the colonnades. We were surrounded by the Church.

I looked up to the Basilica of Peter — the Basilica of the Rock — as the clock gently, unceremoniously chimed 8 o’clock.

Our little Church that had gathered in the arms of the Church paused.

We applauded quietly.

And then someone started singing the “Salve Regina” again.

Our Church soldiered on with business as usual, as the Church has always done.

That was, I realized, why all this hubbub mattered. All the brouhaha and hoi polloi that surrounds the cardinals gathering, and discussing and coalition-ing and voting matters because of these pilgrims gathered at the feet of Peter. All that extraordinary fuss exists for the ordinary. The Church exists for the little second-graders in Stillwater receiving their first Holy Communion. It exists for the young couple getting married and starting a regular family. It exists so that a small piece of unleavened bread can be transformed into the body of the Savior of the World.

That is the miracle and magic of Catholicism — the grandeur of St. Peter’s is simply the grandeur that is in every tiny little parish church, with the veil of the ordinary removed. The extraordinary moments pull back the dim guise of ordinary-ness that we live our lives in, and reveals to us just how extraordinary each everyday moment truly is.

Renée Roden, a student at the University of Notre Dame, is from the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. She is currently in Rome to cover the conclave for one of the university’s publications.

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Take a peek inside the Vatican

March 8, 2013

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Vatican Diaries coverJohn Thavis, who covered the Vatican as a journalist for 30 years, betrayed his Minnesota roots when he wrote, “Attending these Rome academic conferences was like fishing on a slow day — you waited a lot and hoped something would bite.”

Thavis, a native of Mankato, Minn., and a graduate of St. John’s University in Collegeville, hooked an author’s dream: His book on the inner workings of the Vatican was ready to be released when Pope Benedict XVI unexpectedly announced his decision to retire.

Viking moved up the release date, making “The Vatican Diaries” as timely a read as a writer might hope for.

Thavis, whose byline ran in The Catholic Spirit for many years, retired just last year as Rome bureau chief for Catholic News Service.

That post and the many friends and sources he made in and around St. Peter’s often put him in unique position to observe and hear of any number of interesting goings on, some foolhardy, some machiavellian, some scandalous.

Anecdotes, even atrocities

There is, for example, the blatant disregard for an ancient cemetery by one Vatican City functionary, who is intent on bulldozing the monuments and the remains to add more parking to the cramped tiny space.

A lengthy chapter on the finally denounced, cult-like Legion of Christ gives a vivid picture of how power works in the Vatican, and it’s not a very nice portrait.

Thavis details how the once-revered founder of the Legion of Christ was protected by people in high places who refused to believe accusations made against him over the course of decades, and it was only when Father Marcial Maciel Degollado’s double life was revealed — that he had fathered children by two women, sexually abused his own son and hidden secret assets of nearly $30 million — that the Vatican finally intervened.

The incident has left an obvious black mark on the late Pope John Paul II’s record, but Thavis presents insight here that echoes in other Catholic locales around the globe.

He writes, “To a good number of Vatican officials, the calls for transparency and full accountability [in the Maciel case] were typical of moralistic (and legalistic) Americans, but not necessarily helpful for the universal church. . . As one Vatican offical put it, ‘We have a two-thousand-year history of not airing dirty laundry. You don’t really expect that to change, do you?’ ”

Thavis dives into the ongoing squabble over the ultra-conservative, breakaway Society of St. Pius X, sharing probably more than the typical Catholic would want to know about the battle over the validity of Vatican II by this hard-core group of naysayers.

Superb reporting, writing

There’s a terrific chapter that’s really a personality profile of the American priest who was one of the Vatican’s top Latin language experts — the fun, enlightening and eccentric Father Reginald Foster.

Foster — Thavis eschews his title throughout — is a reporter’s dream, someone on the inside who knows a lot, isn’t afraid to share and shares in colorful language. The chapter on “The Latinist” is of the quality of a piece you’d expect to read in the New York Times Magazine or The New Yorker.

Thavis went along to some 60 countries with John Paul II and Benedict XVI, and “The Vatican Diaries” includes hilarious anecdotes about life as a reporter on papal trips. There’s plenty about life covering the Vatican to enjoy reading, too, including the story about the pope’s preacher admitting he used Google as a source.

Readers will find that the halo they may have imagined above the heads of some high-ranking residents of Vatican City ends up, shall we say, “less glowing,” to describe it the way a Vatican official might, avoiding the use of the more accurate “tarnished.”

And that may be what Thavis does best here.

Important contribution

He offers sound reporting and analysis, to be sure. But he’s at the top of his game explaining how “The Vatican” sees things.

He translates Vatican-ese, putting in plain language what official statements really say, and in many cases what those statements say by not saying something directly.

Even when he gets into such minutia of a story that you wonder if all these details are necessary, Thavis seems to perfectly sum it up by interpreting the event’s significance. It’s as if, without using these words, he’s says, now here’s why this is important.

“The Vatican Diaries” is not only informative and entertaining. Published as the Catholic Church prepares to welcome a new leader, it gives us valuable insight into the organizational challenges the new pontiff faces.

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