Posted by: lettersfromrome | September 3, 2008







Dear Mom,

September 3, 2008, Memorial

Saint Gregory the Great, pope and doctor of the Church


The orientation schedule here in Rome keeps us pretty busy, which is nice.  Every morning I wake up about 5:30-6:00 to a nice pot of coffee and relax in my room till morning prayer at 7:00.  That is followed by Mass then breakfast.  Immediately after breakfast we go to Italian class which lasts until 1:00.  Then lunch, which is the main meal of the day and it lasts until about 2:00, and usually right after that we have some conference where they explain some aspect of life at the NAC.  Then in the afternoons you are free to go on excursions around the city.  In late afternoon there is a holy hour followed by evening prayer and after evening prayer there is dinner.  After dinner there are some other meetings and then you have to do your homework before collapsing into a beautiful sleep.


On Sunday I got to go to Castelgandolfo, the summer residence of the Holy Father, about 30 km southeast of Rome.  I was literally about fifteen feet from Pope Benedict XVI during the Sunday Angelus.  It was incredible.  I was going to try to listen to see how much of the Italian I knew, but the whole time in my head I was just like, “Holy Father! Holy Father! Holy Father!”  Pope Benedict XVI is such a great priest and a wonderful example.  He has such a warm presence, it was great to just stand there and watch him.


After the Angelus Archbishop Burke, the new Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura, and another good priestly example, joined us for lunch at La Gardenia.  Probably one of the fanciest places around, the food was phenomenal.  And the whole restaurant sits overlooking this beautiful lake.  You could not really ask for a better way to spend a Sunday morning.



And if that was not enough, after lunch I was taken on a tour of the Holy Father’s private gardens.  It was one of the most beautiful places you can imagine.  Because Rome is so unbearably hot during the month of August, the Holy Father tends to spend much this month at Castelgandolfo.  During the Second World War, Pope Pius XII hid a few thousand Jewish people here.  They were so grateful that after the war they gave Pius XII a large cross as a gift of thanks, and it remains in the place where they were hid as a sort of memorial.



Pope John Paul II loved swimming in the pool they have, he use to do it twice a day, and they had to build a roof thing over it to keep the Italian journalists from constantly trying to take pictures of him while he exercised.  There is also this little pond full of fish which belong to the Holy Father.  Every afternoon the Pope goes out there and feeds the fish and sits and prays on this little bench.  I sat on that bench.  John Paul II in the last years of his life enjoyed being wheeled out there to sit.



Pope Benedict’s older brother, who is also a priest, will spend his summers with his little brother at Castelgandolfo.  Every morning the Holy Father will sit out in the gardens and read the newspaper to his older brother, who is legally blind.



The gardens are not really open to the public and the whole time I was walking through them I was thinking about how crazy it is I get to do all of this ridiculously incredible stuff.  Yesterday I got to go on another tour of the excavations beneath St. Peter’s Basilica.  And you are walking around under St. Peter’s and all of a sudden you hear, “and these are the bones of St. Peter.”  And all you can do is just drop to your knees and pray.


When Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”  They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”  He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”  Simon Peter said in reply, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”  Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.  And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.  I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.  Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

-Gospel of St. Matthew 16:13-19


I have been really blessed so far with all of the things I have been able to witness and the people I have been surrounded by.  I am doing my best to take in all the experiences and just make it a prayerful time and hopefully everything I experience will be used to bring others closer to Christ one day.


Today there was a meeting for people interested in trying out for the school’s choir.  So I went to it.  I can hear you laughing at me now, but I seriously did.  We practiced singing some Gregorian chant stuff and I was pretty lost with all the musical terminology.  I have an individual tryout tomorrow at 4:30, so make sure to pray for me, I will need it.


I think it is providential that the first choir practice meeting took place on the feast day of Pope Gregory the Great.  Pope Gregory the Great was a humble and prayerful monk who became the Holy Father in the year 590.  Pope Gregory was a true shepherd who constantly helped the poor and he worked unceasingly instituting liturgical reforms and organizing a great deal of missionary work.



I read this homily of his on Ezekiel this morning and thought it was really humbling and I could not stop thinking about it:


Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel. Note that a man whom the Lord sends forth as a preacher is called a watchman.  A watchman always stands on a height so that he can see from afar what is coming.  Anyone appointed to be a watchmen for the people must stand on a height for all his life to help them by his foresight.


How hard it is for me to say this, for by these very words I denounce myself.  I cannot preach with any competence, and yet insofar as I do succeed, still I myself do not live my life according to my own preaching.


I do not deny my responsibility; I recognize that I am slothful and negligent, but perhaps the acknowledgment of my fault will win me pardon from my just judge.  Indeed when I was in the monastery I could curb my idle talk and usually be absorbed in my prayers.  Since I assumed the burden of pastoral care, my mind can no longer be collected; it is concerned with so many matters.


I am forced to consider the affairs of the Church and of the monasteries.  I must weigh the lives and acts of individuals.  I am responsible for the concerns of our citizens.  I must worry about the invasions of roving bands of barbarians, and beware of the wolves who lie in wait for my flock.  I must become an administrator lest the religious go in want.  I must put up with certain robbers without losing patience and at times I must deal with them in all charity.


With my mind divided and torn to pieces by so many problems, how can I meditate or preach wholeheartedly without neglecting the ministry of proclaiming the Gospel?  Moreover, in my position I must often communicate with worldly men.  At times I let my tongue run, for if I am always severe in my judgments, the worldly will avoid me, and I can never attack them as I would.  As a result I often listen patiently to chatter.  And because I too am weak, I find myself drawn little by little into idle conversation, and I begin to talk freely about matters which once I would have avoided.  What once I found tedious I now enjoy.


So who am I to be a watchman, for I do not stand on the mountain of action but lie down in the valley of weakness?  Truly the all-powerful Creator and Redeemer of mankind can give me in spite of my weaknesses a higher life and effective speech; because I love him, I do not spare myself in speaking of him.


(end of homily)



I read through this homily again and again throughout the day today.  The humble words of this Holy Father really touched me as I thought about what it would mean to be a priest in the world today.  And how much weaker I am then this great saint.  I hope that the experiences I am receiving and my time in Rome can be one of prayer, and that one day our Lord will be able to work through me despite all my weaknesses.



St. Peter,

St. Gregory the Great,

Pray for us.


With Love from Rome,

Your Son




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