From Home to Rome

Yes, I started a blog.  I have to admit, it’s a little strange to write a blog.  Don’t get me wrong, there are some great blogs out there.  There’s blogs with all sorts of useful information like news, church stuff, food recipes, bird bath ideas, ferret training tutorials, etc.  However, it has been requested that I write about a blog about my experiences of Italy, school, and seminary.  The reason it’s a little strange is because it feels like kind of cheap way of keeping in touch.  You hear all about me me me while I don’t get to hear about how your life is going.  It’s kind of a one-way street.  If you would like to get my mailing address or send me an email, my email address is lbrown@pnac.org (please just request my mailing address there.

Also, please forgive the “Luke the Carpenter” name.  Having one of the most common names around, Luke & Brown, it’s difficult to find a title that doesn’t end with a 10 digit number, my favorite TV show, or other nonsense, i.e. lwbrown1938346574, lwbrownredgreenshow, LuKEbrOwNLuVsPorTerHousESteaKs…

That being said, here we go!

I had a great couple of weeks home with the family before I left for Italy.  Had my last taste of Mom’s great cooking and had a few beers with Dad.  Since I won’t be home for two years, I soaked it in as much as I could.  I spent as much time as I could with my new Nephew Everett.  My brother Jeff and his wife Mandi and their first child this summer and he’s been a lot of fun to spend time with.  We watched Walk the Line over the summer so that I could introduce him to my favorite singer.  Although he slept most of the time, when I sang along with the songs in the movie, he woke up and started crying.  As soon as I stopped, he went back to sleep…

On August 21st, Mom and Dad took me to the airport and said our goodbyes.  Everett was even there.  My flight left Rapid City and I landed in Chicago two hours later.  After a short layover, I flew out for Rome.  I had spent so much time going over packing and spending time with people, I hadn’t really slept too much.  I thought the plane would be a good chance to sleep.  I was wrong.  I didn’t move from my seat the whole time.  9 hours I sat in my seat without sleeping a wink.  With the time change, we got into Rome around 7AM.  The vice-rector and a few seminarians met us to take us to the college.  Now, there’s a tradition here at the North American College (NAC) where the older guys applaud all of us as we process into the chapel.  This is a great tradition, but I didn’t really know what I was in for.  I just want to sleep and get out of this heat.  I had my suit coat on because I didn’t want it to get wrinkled in the luggage.  I stepped out of the van with my International Harvester trucker hat on (my brother and nephew would have been proud), blue jeans, boots, suit-coat, and floral shirt into the heat and bright sun.  There was the college.  We went into the chapel, said morning prayer, and had the list of the days events given to us.  Long story short, we said evening prayer with the people on our hallways that night, and I fell asleep in the middle of singing and almost fell off the couch.

Despite the haze of the first few days, things got better very quickly.  The college here is great.  The priests in charge of our formation came around and made sure that we felt at home.  There was also an orientation team that made sure we had the things we needed and knew where everything is.  The college became a home very quickly.  As far as college events go, we had Italian classes for 4 weeks, diaconate ordinations, and we’ve been in school now for 3 weeks.  So the college is actually just the place where we all live, receive formation, attend functions etc.  Our actual classes are all at universities throughout the city.  There are three that we can attend: Sante Croce, Gregorian, and Angelicum.  I’m at the Angelicum.  All the classes are in english and the classes are taught by the Dominican Order.  This is actually where John Paul II studied theology!  It’s about a 40 minute walk to get to class every morning, so we get some good exercise.  It helps to work off all that pasta we’ve been eating.

Rome is amazing.  There are so many churches, saints, and holy places to visit here.  On the first week I was here, we went on the Scavi tour.  For those unfamiliar with the tour, it’s a tour below St. Peter’s Basilica where they found St. Peter’s bones that were buried almost 2000 years ago.  St. Peter’s Square is only half a mile from us here at the college.  From our rooftop, we’ve got about the best view in Rome of the dome of St. Peter’s.  If you were to tie a string to a weight and lower it from the cross on top of the dome, it would go straight down to St. Peter’s bones.  It was such a breathtaking tour.  Since Rome has been destroyed so many times, the Italians just leveled the ground and built on top of all the rubble.  The Rome we see now is much higher than the Rome we would have seen 2000 years ago.  There have been great structures built in the past under St. Peter’s that were the headquarters of the Church, but they were all buried and then excavated after St. Peter’s was built on top.  The hallways are small, the air is stuffy, and the tour groups are only 6 or 7 people.  It’s easy to get caught up in the architecture, engravings, and archaeology of the tour and forget what’s coming at the end.  I’m convinced that the tour guide wouldn’t need to tell you where St. Peter’s bones were.  We didn’t know where they were, but as we got closer, the group got very quiet and there was a certain reverence that everyone had.  We were led into a small room, and there he was.  St. Peter.  The first pope.  If you ever get to Rome, this should be on the top of your list for sights to see.  You have to book the tour at least 3 months in advance since the groups are so small and the demand so high.  It’s such a humbling experience to be able to look out our windows here at school, see that cross on top of the dome, and know that St. Peter is right here with us.

Image

Just about to begin the Scavi Tour

That same week, we were able to tour the barracks of the Swiss Guard.  They’re the ones guarding the gates at St. Peter’s that wear the purple, gold, and red uniforms.  They actually don’t give tours or allow guests into the barracks, but the NAC has a special deal with them.  They come over to use our soccer field and give us tours of the barracks in return.  It was a great tour.  We got to see the weapons that they’ve used over the last few centuries.  They had everything from maces and spears to hand cannons and automatic weapons.  They showed us there chapel and the sisters that helped take care of their meals and housing.  It was very cool to see the Pope’s guards and the routine they have every day.

Image

Swiss Guard suits of armor

Another highlight was our class trip to Assisi.  The tombs of St. Clare and St. Francis are at opposite ends of the small town.  It was one of the most peaceful places I’ve ever been.  Praying at these tombs was incredible humbling.  We don’t have as many opportunities in America to see the actual bodies of saints and to see where they ministered.  Since I’ve been in Italy, I’ve seen where Francis made the first nativity scene, where he slept, where he prayed, the house he grew up in, and where he died.  The most humbling thing is seeing that concrete example of a person following Christ and knowing that it’s what every single one of us is called to.  The radical lifestyle and poverty of Francis and Clare may not be one that we are called to live, but their abandonment to God and life of prayer is the same that we are called to.  This life is so counter-cultural nowadays, it’s no wonder Pope Francis chose his name to help us remember what we’re called to.

Image

Basilica of St. Francis

Image

The Body of St. Clare

The diaconate ordinations were also a great grace.  Since it’s the first one I had ever been to, I didn’t know what to expect.  The whole event is beautiful, but there’s a certain part that really grabs the heart of the seminarian.  They go through all the expectations and vows of the men to be ordained before they can proceed.  It’s so easy, in the seminary, to get wrapped up in studies, formation, and the grind of daily life that it’s easy to forget WHY we are doing this.  The reality of the priesthood is coming up quickly for all of us here, and the diaconate ordinations were a good reminder of that.  It gave us a renewed dedication to our vocation and a greater motivation for following Christ every step of the way.  Also, Adam Hofer is the first friend I’ve had both before and after ordination.  To see someone that I know well ordained stirred a feeling of pride and joy that made me so thankful for the fraternity and example he has given to us.  I’m excited to see all that the new deacons do in their vocation and to serve someday with Adam back in the Diocese of Rapid City.

It was also a great time to see all of our pilgrims from the diocese.  We had two groups here; one with Father Brian Christensen and one with Father Michael Mulloy.  It was great to meet all the new people and to catch up with the old (not an age joke Father Mulloy.)  I was very happy to see all the folks from Timber Lake that I met when our team did Duc in Altum there two years ago!  Also, Father Brian was a great tour guide since he went to school here at the NAC.  Bishop Gruss was also here to visit just last week.  We had Mass over at the altar of Our Lady of Guadalupe in St. Peter’s.  The Gospel reading was very fitting.  There are three of us Rapid City seminarians here: Adam, Mark, and myself.  It was the Bishop, Father Jim Steffes from Winona, and Adam behind the altar, and just Mark and myself in the congregation.  Adam read the Gospel and, no joke, it said, “Luke is the only one with me.  Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is helpful to me in the ministry.”  I couldn’t believe it.  It was also the feast day of St. Luke, so that was fun.  Since it’s hard to read Paul’s tone in the bible, I couldn’t tell if it meant, “Luke has been the only one to stand beside me on this mission.  Please send Mark so that we have more help,” or if it meant, “Luke just bums around and eats Wheat Thins, PLEASE send someone else.”

Image

Also had a good chance to catch up with Michael Hofer, a good friend of mine.  This is the view from our rooftop.  That’s St. Peter’s over Michael’s right shoulder.

I hope that all of you are doing well now that school and sports are up and running.  School starts so late here that I forget you all have been back at school for a couple months now.  I hope the Red Cloud folks are keeping Jen Sierra and the kids in line and that my IPF friends are doing well back at the seminary.  Please be assured of my prayers for all the families affected by the storm that hit a few weeks ago.  I hope that the tragedy can be an opportunity for people to come together and help one another get by.  Please keep me in your prayers and I’ll keep you in mine.