Okay… this’ll have to be a relatively short and quick post—just to show that yes, I’m still alive and kicking (perhaps barely, but still going anyway). I’m deep into the final week and a half of class before Christmas break and they’re super busy days. I’ve often said to my friends here that I’m living advent to the full nowadays in the sense that I’m keeping watch… If the Good Lord comes at some point during the night, I think He’d be mildly amused to find me still up and waiting. c”,) Hehehehehehe
So what’s been going on? Well, I’ve rejoined a little bit of my youth… Since my last post, I’ve had two field trips down to Brussels for my Hebrew class. The first visit was to the Jewish museum where a professor well versed with Jewish culture and traditions gave us a bit of a tour. The other field trip, which took place yesterday (Tuesday) was to the Grand Synagogue in Brussels, located on what the grand rabbi who gave us the tour called the central street of Brussels. On one end is the towering palace of justice with the royal palace in the middle and the legislative offices far on the other end. There are a whole bunch of museums dotting the sides too… it’s one of the main streets of the city. Well, the grand rabbi welcomed us yesterday and spoke to us a little bit about Jewish theology—the value of the Sabbath, the meaning of the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD (rather than punishing and destroying the people for their sins, the good Lord destroyed the building), and a few of the symbolisms of Judaism (the synagogue itself and the little skull cap which all of us were required to wear). One of the first things he did to encourage us on our Hebrew studies was to offer us (at 50% off reduced price) his book on Judaism. He did it in such an enthusiastic way that we all just laughed at it and most of us decided to pick up his book in the end.
The other thing that I’ve been up to was to go to a huge celebration in the abbey of Maredsous. About 50 years ago sometime around this time, the council fathers of Vatican II released the first conciliar document “Sacrosanctum Concilium”, on the Sacred Liturgy. The bishops and the cardinal of Belgium, I think appropriately decided to celebrate this great document by gathering together and celebrating Liturgy—we went to the abbey and sang solemn 2nd vespers (for the 2nd Sunday of Advent) with the monks. It was a longer than usual Vespers and it included a nice long homily given by Cardinal Daneels, which was really more like a prayer of his memories of the times surrounding the Council. Another highlight was the fact that for the intercessions, they read some of the key passages of Sacrosanctum Concilium and drew the intercessions from there. It was an amazing event!
And, because one of my classmates in the seminary is a monk in Maredsous, just before the event, he gave me a little tour of the ancient monastery. What a holy place! We went by the boarding school where a whole bunch of students study, the grounds… I got to go into a part of the cloistered area and see the chapter room where the monks hold their community meetings/chapters. He also took me down into the crypt and to the cemetery. I also, later on in the evening, got to see the monastery refectory because that’s where they held a small reception for all of us who came to the abbey for this liturgical celebration.
Okay… that’s as far as I’ll post for now… I’ve gotta get back to work… I’ll try and have something longer and more substantial for you guys after classes end next week! In the meantime, have a holy Advent and God bless!
So I’m back… After the last month of traveling and spending about a week at home to recover (which was just barely enough time), I’m back in the abbey!!! The return to the seminary this year was a little more reluctant and hesitant than last year after a summer where, after a long time, I once again took a good, hard look at my vocation but didn’t get any of the answers I was hoping to find… Wow, discernment is hard! I am hoping though that throughout this year back, I’ll find some of those answers that I’m seeking out…
The beginning of a new school year is always marked by change and that was certainly the case this time… It’s interesting that in a place like a Benedictine monastery where, pretty much nothing changes for years, so much can happen in such a short time. The prior (second in command) stepped down from his position and he’s now our rector (meaning we get to call him now Fr. Matthew instead of Fr. Prior after his position). He’s replacing a legend here in the seminary, Fr. Nicholas who was our rector last year and has been the rector here for many many years. Then, in the vacated prior position, Fr. Benedict, one of the younger but super intelligent monks here, has started to take up just this year. New leadership almost always means changes, however minor they are because there’s still a sense of continuity that’s going on even while many of the rules are being looked at again and updated a little bit… It’s interesting being around this time and seeing all this happen because I have the reference point of last year to compare it with.
This year, in the seminary, I’ve changed my goals up quite a bit. Because of my reluctance and the tremendous uncertainty especially regarding what exactly it is God wants me to do, I’ve decided to dedicate much more time to prayer and I’m really, thus far, loving every minute of it… Last year, I would normally have a holy hour in the afternoon, just before vespers… I’d use up that time reading and (accidentally) falling asleep… There were always a few people (monks and seminarians) in the abbey church at the time too… Well, this year, because I feel I need more time alone (work on a little bit of that interior silence I should be cultivating… heheheeehhe), I decided to move that holy hour to the night, at the time when all the monks are off in recreation. It’s hauntingly beautiful being in that darkened corner of the abbey church where there’s no one else but you and Jesus and the only light is coming from the flickering candle of the tabernacle lamp… Sigh… It’s always the perfect way for me to end each and every single day…
Apart from everything slowly starting to get back to normal (hockey season is starting up once again this week and I was voluntold/drafted back into a team, and we even have our student government elections tomorrow night), the big event this week was easily a huge conference held at Regent College over the weekend between Catholic and Protestant theologians of extraordinary caliber… The theology students were all required to go but they gave permission (not to mention money to pay for the conference) to some of us interested arts students too. The conference was on the heated debate among primarily Protestant scholars about the role and usage of one of two different methods of scriptural interpretation. The historical/critical method or, what I often hear as the literal method is the taking of a specific text as it says it is, though also in consideration of the motives of the author, the cultural and religious circumstances he/she lived in and even the intended audience… It’s the method most accepted by Protestant theologians today. Some Protestant theologians though have started discovering in reading the Fathers of the Church (the people around during the late 1st century through to the 4th century and wrote about the church at the time) a different form of interpretation known as the spiritual/allegorical interpretation, which looks at the deeper meaning of the text often from a Christological perspective…. How does this text, for example, reflect certain truths about the arriving Messiah…. The Catholic Church beautifully integrates both methods in its teaching while the Protestants are still debating the validity of the allegorical method, fearing that it puts too much human influence into Sacred Scriptures…
It was a pretty head conference and most of us didn’t understand half the stuff being said… What kept us interested? Scott Hahn being there sure helped… Deacon Pablo’s respect for me (which isn’t that much) jumped up to 30% because I had a camera with me and managed to snap a nice little picture of our whole group with this prolific Catholic author… Scott Hahn was there alongside Mary Healy, a professor from Sacred Heart Major Seminary who gave a stirring talk on the Letter of St. Paul to the Hebrews, speaking of how, found in the Old Testament are “shadows” that point to Christ and that need to be interpreted allegorically/spiritually to get to that conclusion. We also had R.R. Reno, the editor of the scholarly journal First Things and Matthew Levering from the University of Dayton there with us. My favorite talk though didn’t come from one of these amazing Catholic theologians… My favorite talk was given by Jason Byasse, a pastor for a United Methodist church… He talked about the use of allegory in reading the book of Job by Pope St. Gregory the Great citing some examples given by St. Gregory that illustrated the absolute beauty of allegorical interpretations…
It’ll be tougher for me this year to blog as much as I’d like to because of both the number and difficulty of my classes… Alongside my metaphysics class (ouch…), I’m also taking Greek, Latin, Liturgical history, sociology (studying different encyclicals and the compendium of the social doctrine of the Church), drama (debate class) and modern philosophy so I have a ton on my plate… In addition, I’ll also be spending significantly more time in the chapel trying to figure out where it really is I’m called to be so my blogging is going to take a slightly second seat… Hehehehe I hope you’ll be patient with me on this… It’s a critical year for me because next year, if I get as far as next year, will be the start of theology… That step between philosophy and theology is a massive one and really does require a lot of prayer and discernment before it’s made… c”,) God bless and thanks for all your prayers!!!
So when last I wrote, I ended up in Toledo… Right now, I’m in Valencia, Spain, traveling a bit with my brother and sister but I still want to share with you guys the experience of World Youth Day, while it’s still fresh in my mind… I hope you don’t mind too much that I’m a week behind… Hehehehehehehe
After the mass and humongous party that followed it in Toledo, we again woke up early the next day, thanks to the beautiful roosters (God bless the roosters!) and packed for the main event… Madrid! One of the big ways you’ll have to prepare for during the World Youth Days is not just spiritually, but also physically. As you’ll see when you get to Rio, you’re in the middle of a marathon… You’re up early everyday, in bed late every night… always on the go. It’s tough but it’s definitely part of the fun of the experience… I can’t say it enough, you’re a pilgrim, not a tourist… No sleeping in on comfty beds for you!
Upon arriving in our residences (another school) in Madrid, we were prepared for anything… We learned that we would be staying with two other groups, some from Croatia and others from (I think) the Czech Republic…
Challenge # 1: When we got there, the Croatians had already taken up most of the space (at least for the guys area) so we had to move some of them over to make some room for ourselves…
Challenge # 2: The showers are once again outdoors (for both guys and girls this time) and the biggest part is that there are only 3 of them for over 100 people. The people in charge decided that for the sake of chastity and prudence, the guys would take their showers at night while the girls would take theirs in the morning (because the warm day would give them the opportunity to dry their hair).
Challenge # 3: The showers here were much colder than in Toledo… I got into a bit of a debate with one of the Croatians here because I thought that it was about the same temperature, at least until I got in and stayed in the shower for a couple of minutes…. He was right… They are colder!
Challenge # 4: For the girls, their sleeping quarters, which was on the top floor of the school, were apparently too hot, so a whole bunch of them ended up sleeping on the parking lot/basketball court (which was basically where our showers were too) that was located within the gated compound of the school.
Ahhhhhh…. the pilgrim’s life is a glorious one, isn’t it…? Believe it or not, all these challenges are part of the fun of a world youth day because everybody’s going through the same thing and because it gives you the opportunity to rise above your normal, everyday, comfortable life…
After settling in, we hoofed it onto the bus to get to Plaza Cibeles for the opening mass with the host cardinal… The bus ride was quite memorable too because it featured a bus driver who, drinking so much into the spirit of World Youth Day, broke into song. With an operatic voice, he sang out loud the Ave Maria of Schubert… Then, on finding out that most of my group was from Quebec, he sang Alouette… It was fantastic and we enthusiastically joined in!
Plaza de Cibeles was absolutely crazy!!! Everywhere there were people!!! Plus, it was so hot and unlike in Toledo, there were no volunteers giving out free water for pilgrims… You had to make do with what you had! From our location, near the plaza but far away from the stage with the altar, we had a great view of the big screen but I guess they had some issues with the audio that we could barely hear all that was going on… The mass itself though, and especially the music, was beautiful. The orchestra that accompanied the choir was fantastic all throughout the week of World Youth Day… This particular mass was different from the opening mass in Sydney (2008) because rather than having everyone in the same huge area, everyone lined the streets and it was pretty much first come first served… We were literally shoulder to shoulder cramped with people. The archbishop, in his homily which was given in Spanish (duh…. hehehehehe)
In his homily, he talked of the importance of pilgrimages, relating it to the theme of this year’s World Youth Day, rooted and built up in Christ, firm in the faith. He said:
“When inviting us to participate in this 26th World Youth Day in Madrid, the Pope is calling us to place ourselves on the path towards a new encounter with the Lord, friend, brother, Jesus Christ! He is the only one who can understand you and lead you to the truth; give everlasting life, happiness and true love! Yes, the youth of World Youth Day since Santiago de Compostela until now and forever are pilgrims of the Church. They walk in communion with her on an exceptional spiritual journey of decisive consequences for the future of their lives. They verify that the path indicated by the Successor of Peter indeed leads to Christ and no human power can prevent it; the path for their search, but above all, the way to meet Him.”
The next day was an interesting one for Luke and myself (we are the two seminarians of the group, Luke being a seminarian from Maine, USA). We woke up early and had to separate from the group to get our accreditation as seminarians in order to get access to the special mass to be celebrated by Pope Benedict for seminarians. We went to the seminary of Madrid, passing the beautiful Cathedral of Santa María la Real de La Almudena on the way. Just a couple of words on the seminary… It’s definitely a lot older than the one I am in in Mission, BC. It looks like it’s a little bit more comfortable too… I mean take a look at their lounge and classroom! Hehehehehe
We beat them on the church though because our church happens to be the abbey church of the monks, which is a bit bigger than the chapel they have in the seminary… However, their being right next to the cathedral makes up for it…
Because we had to get our documents in order, we missed out on the first catechism of the week, given by a Cardinal from Lyons, France… Remember, I was with the group from Quebec meaning that all the catechisms, masses, etc. were in French for me… It gave me a great opportunity to experience World Youth Day a little differently from when I went to Sydney with English pilgrims… Though we missed the catechism (there were to be three of these, each given by a bishop over the Wednesday, Thursday and Friday… the catechisms by a bishop are one of the strongest hearts of World Youth Day) we were sooooooo happy to find out that we were just in time for the mass. The French catechisms were given in the Institución Ferial de Madrid, a place with lots of huge conference rooms. The mass was one animated by the Emmanuel Community in their usual upbeat, charismatic style… After mass, we two seminarians and one of the priests who was with our group (we lost the rest of the group) went for a quick lunch nearby before meeting the archbishop of Quebec and the rest of the pilgrims from the province during an event that was meant to gather all the people of Quebec who were in Madrid together. During that event, I found the rest of my group and we stayed together for the rest of the day.
That night was the Noche Alegria, literally “A night of joy” planned out by the Emmanuel Community in the Madrid Arena for the close to 10,000 people who came. Our group was heavily featured throughout the event and I was sooooo soooo proud of my friends. Some of the girls (and one of the guys) went up on stage to dance. They had been practicing very very hard for this over the days leading up to event itself and I was so proud to see them go for it on stage. In addition, one of the members of our group was asked to give her testimony (conversion story) on stage for everyone (all 10000 + people there). We were all whooping and cheering for her all the way!!
The night also featured a couple of numbers, most notably Priestband (the rock band made up of priests from all over the world, Andrés O’Hagan (a Catholic magician from Mexico) and a talk given by the new Archbishop of Philadelphia, Archbishop Chaput. One of the two highlights of the night though was definitely Tony Melendez, a guitar player who was born with no arms… Yes… that’s right, a guitar player who was born with NO ARMS… He plays his guitar using his feet… He played even for Pope John Paul II who was so moved by his performance that he came up to Tony afterwards and gave him a big hug, urging him never to stop playing because of the hope he gives to the world. And he never has…
The other highlight was definitely the Eucharistic adoration that took place that day too. Because it ran a little later than I guess the organizers intended it to run (most of us had a bit of a curfew that we needed to meet to get back to our residences… the volunteers needed to lock everything up after all of us were inside) the adoration was a little shorter than any of us wanted it to be. But that didn’t matter… Even a few minutes with Jesus is a few minutes with Jesus!!
So I’ll stop here so as not to overload you guys but I’m slowly trying to catch up… hehehhehehe Take care and God bless!!!