Do you know the feeling of when you’re a little kid in like this massive candy store where you’re able to eat just about anything you like and it’s all yummy and tasty and healthy for you? And then at a certain point, after eating so much great stuff, you start feeling a little bit sick and just a little bit tired… and you start craving for vegetables? Maybe it’s not a universal experience…. Hahahaha Anyway, that’s a weird little analogy to illustrate where I got to a little bit this week. The semester has been a seemingly very long one with very few pauses in between… almost a bit like a marathon which, though it’s been very good has also been very tiring… Well I remember sitting in my funerals class this week thinking “This stuff is so great but I’m starting to get a little bit tired of all this goodness…” J I don’t know if any of you guys can relate to this… It’s sorta like that feeling when the semester is starting to wind down, exams are coming up and the weight of everything that you’ve received and worked on throughout the semester is starting to be felt…
Well one of the ways I tried to refocus and to get some rest at the same time was by just taking a night off one of the days this past week to watch a little movie. I recently bought from iTunes the movie “The Wolverine” and I really wanted to check it out when I had a bit of free time. The problem is that as a student, free time is an extremely rare commodity… So I grabbed at it when even the smallest bit of free time came up… and it was awesome! Wolverine who’s in Japan after being invited by his dying friend whom he saved years and years ago then has to battle tons of gangsters and ninjas to save this man’s daughter from the baddies. It sounds soooooo cheesy but it was exactly the kind of movie I needed. And it raises some pretty fascinating questions—particularly on the question of immortality. This will be a spoiler free review so don’t worry. As most fans know, Wolverine is a mutant from the Marvel universe who has adamantium claws able to cut through anything and a fantastic healing power that allows him to recover from anything he receives—and gives him the power of being able to live forever. What the film greatly tackles is the question about what a great gift and what an immense curse this immortality is… It’s something that I think fascinates all of us a bit… the thought of living forever. I remember as a biologist in SFU, learning about this one powerful little enzyme that a lot of people are studying called telomerase. Basically, the process of replicating DNA, a process necessary for each time the cell divides (when we grow or heal, etc.) eats up a little bit DNA each time it happens. To compensate, an enzyme called telomerase adds tons and tons of “junk DNA” at the ends of the chromosomes (the cluster of DNA) to protect the person’s DNA from getting snipped off at the end. But this enzyme is only active in babies (and in cancer cells—which is why they can reproduce indefinitely) and shuts off a little bit after birth. So each human being has a limited supply of “junk” DNA to protect him from the very slowly self destructing process of DNA replication—and it’s this enzyme, dubbed “the immortality gene” that’s causing quite a bit of whisperings in the academic world… Who knows? Stop aging by reactivating a rogue enzyme… but it’s intriguing… and just a little bit scary actually…
A very well known Catholic philosopher, Peter Kreeft, once acknowledged to us in the Vancouver seminary, when he came to visit about 3-4 years ago now, that he believes that the minute we discover a way of stopping death, that’s when the world will end… that’s when man sneaks past the angel with the flaming sword into the Garden of Eden and tries to steal fruits from the tree of life and that’s when, “hell on earth” begins… A fallen world of immortals… can you imagine? I mean it’s true that none of us have the desire to die… it’s true that our hearts were made for an eternity… BUT NOT HERE. Not on this earth… because regardless of how long we have on here, we’ll never ever ever ever find the infinite happiness that our bottomless, restless hearts yearn for in the finite, perishable material world around us… Just a few thoughts from Wolverine… What do you guys think? c”,)
Another way I refocused and got a bit of rest came from the outside—this weekend, the Emmanuel Community here in Belgium got together in Banneux. I’ve spoken to you guys about Banneux already (when we prayed a massive worldwide rosary for the consecration of humanity to Our Lady of Fatima) and it was awesome to be back there… We were there for an overnighter this time on a silent retreat led by one of the priests of the Community, a chaplain at Paray le Monial named Jean-Rodolphe Kars who gave us a whole series of talks on the Sacred Heart. He spoke firstly on the biblical, scriptural groundings of the heart of Jesus, going through in precise detail (i) the Last Supper when John rested on the heart of Jesus and (ii) the piercing of the Sacred Heart on the cross as well as the implications of the two references St. John gave during that moment. It was cool!! After giving us these, he went specifically into the message of Paray le Monial itself… the 3 Great Visions of St. Margaret Mary, etc. J The best part of the retreat though, for me personally was on the one hand, the silence, and on the other, the intimate time I could spend with Our Lady of the Poor.
Saturday night, towards the end of a mercy evening that we all celebrated (with adorations and confessions) in one of the churches of the sanctuary, I stole away for a few moments to head over to the little part of the sanctuary where Mary told the visionary, Mariette, to push into the earth and where a spring started sprouting from. Normally, that place is packed with people but it being about 10 pm, I was all alone there with Mary… I spent a few minutes in prayer there—among numerous little prayer intentions, I promised a friend of mine who was getting ordained deacon that Sunday that I’d pray for him before Our Lady. So that’s what I did… I came back refreshed… and boy will I need all the bits of strength that I got from there… These next few weeks coming up are going to be suuuuuuuper intense!! I can see it coming already!!! Augh!! Please pray for me!!! c”,)
Today, we all woke up really early in the morning, boarded our bus and headed out to the famous pilgrimage site of Montserrat… We had packed everything pretty much the night before because we would not be coming back to Barcelona, and instead head straight for Zaragoza after Montserrat by bus. The ride up that mountain was something very special!! We drove by mountain villages and cliffs overlooking the gorgeous valley early that Sunday morning… The sun was barely peeking through the clouds… As we drove up, we were all meditating in silent prayer, allowing the beauty of everything around us to just slowly soak in… Hehehehe
Once we got to Montserrat, it was still early so it was very nice and quiet. Montserrat is a very old Marian shrine, dating back to the late 8th century with the discovery of the statue of the Black Virgin of Montserrat by some shepherds… Very quickly, it became a pilgrimage site with thousands of medieval Christians making their way up that mountain to pray and ask Mary for her intercession to her Son. Soon afterward, Benedictine monks arrived at the site and built a monastery on top of the mountain where, because the land is barren and there’s not much room at all for a farm, the monks instead either worked to help care for the pilgrims who came to pray or did some intellectual works. They were very proud of the fact that very soon (a few years) after the printing press was invented, they already possessed one that helped them to do the rigorous copying of manuscripts and translation of books that were key to the preservation of our history and the spreading of our faith.
Soon after we arrived, we met one of the Benedictine monks who took us over to the monastery and gave us a quick instruction of some of the important points in history of the pilgrimage site, including its almost complete destruction at the hands of Napoleon. He told us of the role monks usually play, a story I’ve already heard from the monks back in Canada, where because they have a vow of stability, which is the vow that they make to spend their lives in the same place, they usually first go to isolated spaces and build. Then slowly, a village starts to build around them because people start coming in to help the monks and in return, are educated and spiritually nourished by the monastic community. This was apparently how many of the major cities came to pass, including London (with its Canterbury Monastery, now Cathedral) and a few other places througout Europe… It was so interesting to learn this.
After his teaching, we all went to mass (in the Catelan language… Montserrat after all remains the heart of the Catelan culture and faith) then ate our lunch just off to the side… Now, earlier during the day, I was really loving Montserrat… When I lived in the Philippines, I studied under the Jesuits whose founder, St. Ignatius of Loyola, visited Montserrat shortly after his conversion. It is well known as the place where he, a soldier for his city, offered his sword up to God, gave up his fine clothes to a fellow pilgrim in exchange for the poor, humble garments of a traveller and ended up founding the Jesuits. I remember that story well because I grew up with it… And so being in the site where it all happened gave me chills… It made it so much more real and I felt almost like I could touch one of my favorite saints and see with my own eyes what he saw, hear what he heard… Later on during the day though, as more and more pilgrims started to arrive and the sun started to beat down more and more upon us, all the nice fuzzy feelings started to go away… Hehehee It must be tough for the monks here to keep their peaceful silence especially when they´re constantly surrounded by pilgrims… I can´t even begin to imagine what it would be like up at Westminster Abbey in Mission if we had this many people coming to visit us everyday! But I guess after centuries of pilgrims, the monks must be somewhat used to it… I´m sure it calms down somewhat during the evening… but we didn’t stay long enough to find out. After walking and praying a little bit on the Camino (Santiago de Compostella) which leads to the monastery, we left Montserrat for Zaragoza.
On the way, I had to give my teaching… the one that I found out I needed to give a week ago and spent the last few days slaving away to prepare for… It´s not so much that the topic was difficult (Jesus, true God and true man) but it was more that I needed to give it in French, a first for me. So part of the headache (which I really didn´t mind that much… hehehehehe) was found not just in making up the talk but in translating it into French too! But I was really glad to get it done and apparently, it went well… I don´t know… I was the one giving it.. c¨,)
We got to Zaragoza by the early evening and the first thing we did after getting our luggage settled into our fantastic hostels (with air-condition, laundry and the works) was go for dinner. We went to a nice little restaurant near the hostel. It was fantastic!!! We ate soooooo much because, like the Italians, the Spaniards serve two dishes at the beginning of the meal, followed by the dessert. We also drank sooooooo much because, as many of you may know, wine is almost as expensive as water way out here!!! It was one of the best meals I had thus far! J´ètais tellement content!! We finished off our day with the complines (night prayer) down by the river that runs through Zaragoza.
Today, after prayer in the morning (again, we´re pilgrims, not just tourists) we went to the castle Aljaferia… This is a beautiful middle-age castle located in the middle of the city that lived through much of the city’s history, from being a Christian nation, to its conquest by the Arab nations to its reconquest by the Christians… It’s architecture reflects much of the changes that occurred, as you can see with the few pictures I took… Unfortunately, while there was a guided tour for us then, I wasn’t able to pay that much attention to it… Bad student you see… Hehehehehe I just enjoyed taking my time walking around the beautiful castle.
Then during the afternoon, we had, for the most part, the rest of the day off… My team and I ate our lunch in a fantastic little restaurant just by the medieval castle before walking by the stadium where they hold some of their bullfights… We ended up making our way to the beautiful basilica cathedral of Santa Maria del Pilar, Our Lady of the Pillar (I have no pictures of the inside of this basilica because they asked us not to take pictures). At the time I got there, I had no idea of the history of the place… For me, it was just another beautiful basilica… Then I saw a small line forming off to the side and people venerating something (I couldn’t see what it was). Because I wasn’t able to venerate the image of our Lady over at Montserrat because of the huge crowds and the limited time we had, I thought maybe I could go over to this one. I asked one of the nearby pilgrims (another WYD pilgrim from the US) what it was they were venerating… She said there was a pillar over there that was kissed by Blessed John Paul II… Now my first thought, which I blurted out was Is that it? She looked at me really funny and said It’s a pillar that was kissed by Blessed John Paul II!!!! In my mind, I was thinking… Well, Pope John Paul kissed lots of stuff during his time, including the ground whenever he arrived at a country he was going to visit… We’re not venerating that are we… So I kinda walked away disappointed…
It wasn’t until later on during the day that I found out the significance of that basilica… It’s not just a pillar that Pope John Paul was venerating… On the pillar is a statue of Mary that according to legend, while St. James the apostle was preaching in Spain and getting discouraged by his lack of success, Mary appeared to him giving him a small wooden statue of herself… He then built a church for her on that site… a church which is today, Our Lady of the Pillar… Oops… apparently, the pillar isn’t all there is… I’ll definitely be going back there later today before leaving for our next site…
By the way… As you can see, I found a new thing while in Montserrat. I bought a little pilgrim staff, more for having a giant pole to mount my flag on but I’m using it right now, mainly as a pilgrim tick… It comes in handy for whacking some slow pilgrims out of the way… Hehehhehehe kidding!!! Anyway, we ended our day with mass at a small chapel within the basilica and had our dinner in the basement pub of our awesome (I’ve said it before but it’s worth mentioning how great this place is) hostel…
Just before leaving, I need to mention to you guys that I wasn’t able to get a data plan for my iPad… Apparently, you need to be a resident of Spain to get it so there may be gaps between my writings because I need to find WIFI spots to upload everything… Sorry! I really tried to get data but I’ll have to work with what I have…. Such is the life of a pilgrim… Sigh… Hehehehehehe God bless!!!
About a month ago, during the silent retreat for the seminarians, the minors (who were also having their silent retreat at the same time) were involved, under the direction of their rector in a very serious “battle.” They were in a contest to see who could get the most rosaries in each day. Their rector (who’s also our philosophy teacher and would tell us all these stories during our classes leading up to the retreat) gets in, I believe, well over 10 rosaries each day. Having prayed thousands of rosaries to date as a monk, he’s probably soooooo used to saying rosaries that he can do them really really quickly. At the time that he was telling us these stories, some of us were kind of protesting that they probably were really quickly blurting out the prayers and therefore, they weren’t really “saying” the rosary but Father dispelled that notion very quickly.
I’m mentioning all this by the way because this past week, a few of us too in the majors who have Father as our spiritual director have also begun a “mini rosary war.” It’s nothing like the minors had though. Some of them, at the height of their conflict, were able to get in 30 rosaries in a day! We’re only managing so far to skimp out 2-3 instead of the normal 1 or 1/2 each day… 😛 It’s certainly a lot better though for us, and we’re actually just beginning to heat up.
So what’s the logic behind saying rosaries very quickly? Father gave me two points during spiritual direction. First of all, the rosary is an aid to reflecting on the mysteries of the gospel of each decade (10 Hail Marys). The best way to ponder these mysteries is to focus, not on the words of the prayer and how we’re feeling as we’re praying it–which is what I would kind of do by praying it slowly. Rather, while we’re praying quickly, one helpful thing we can do is to contemplate the heart of Jesus (or Mary) at the time of the mystery. We’re to think about what they are feeling during the Annunciation say or during the Transfiguration and to do that, we’re to focus less on ourselves and the way we’re saying the rosary and more on them. He must increase, I must decrease… right? c”,)
Heheheehe The other reason why a fast rosary is helpful is because right now, we’re trying to get into the habit of prayer. He compared us to musicians who are still learning our scales. We need to familiarize ourselves with the process first before we work on the principles underneath the process. Just as a pianist spends hours each day working on just scales, so we too, by praying our ideal 4-5 rosaries per day are getting into the habit of praying. That’s the goal of all of this. The idea is that by focusing more on the quantity of prayers we get out each day, we start to think more about prayer each day. We get up in the morning and the first thing we think about doing is prayer. It’s actually quite ingenious!! Hehehhehe
So far, I haven’t been that fantastically good at this… I’ve only been getting around 2.5 per day with most of these coming in the morning. I’m trying to pray every time my mind is not actively doing something (like when I’m walking between the residence and the abbey church or when I’m in the shower or when I’m eating a meal) I’m hoping to get at least more and more decades in by the end of each day and work my way up to the 4 rosaries per day. I’ll let you know how that goes though!!
HOW MANY ROSARIES CAN YOU GET IN PER DAY? c”,) There’s your challenge for this week!! Heheheehe God bless!!