Thursday, February 22, 2018

"Upon This Rock" By:C.C.

"You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it." (Matthew 16:18)

Even while I lived in complete error, even while I accepted sin religiously, I never thought anything within the Catholic Church was untrue.

It lingered truthful and intact, just unexplored, and unloved.

I dismissed it , accepting that it would be waiting , just as it has been left to us by Him. Waiting as constant and fixed as Christ left it to us, but I preferred the fluidity of the world , and all of its apparent freedoms.

I remember meeting a few religious, those people imbued with a sense of the Gospel , those to whom God was really God and they were subject to His authority.

I thought myself free. Not beyond His authority, but more tragically beyond His love.
In fact, I completely chose myself there. To love other things and left no room to love Him adequately, nor the room for Him to take the place He most deserved and desired, denying Him the place He created. 

But He rang the bell of my heart , He sang there in times of need. He reminded me Whose I was, always seeking to gain entry to a place He owned yet was shut out of completely.

Eventually He won , His Rock demolishing the castles I'd built from the sand of sin.

What is this Truth we possess , if it does not leave us changed? What is this faith we profess if our whole life is not rearranged?

On the feast of the Saintly lover in 2014 , on a fresh day in February, I knelt before the bones of St.Peter , and I felt mine within shatter in further surrender. I believed before I got there, but I left that tomb faithful in spaces within me I didn't know existed.

And so I do not worry what may force against It. I do not mind those entrenched in error and sin, for Truth, though unlived remains intact and valid. God's promise to us is a constant comfort.

He alone can ring the bell.

He alone will call His children home to Rome. 

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

"That's Amore": Remembering Italy & God's love By: C.C.

"Do you not yet understand or comprehend?
Are your hearts hardened?
Do you have eyes and not see, ears and not hear?
And do you not remember" (Mark 8:17-18)

Our remembering of God's goodness and intercession in our lives does not render us perfect but points us to recalling where perfection can be found, and to where we must return and reside to attain it. To live in faith and trust God in order to be brought to the fullness of our purpose and know true life. 

It is important to remember where we came from, where God has brought us, and to do so graciously. The point of our remembering is important, because as we proceed in our faith lives and gain greater understanding, we see the grace of those moments behind us that  can help encourage our continued following of the Lord. This remembering also enables us to see the grace and movements of the Holy Spirit interceding at a time when we were much too ignorant to notice. It is in our coming to recognize Him at work that we become more attentive, more humble, and more faithful.

During my fourth year of university, I was far from God but nearer to my roots and indeed on my way to witnessing the collision of my culture and the faith that I had so poorly tried to dismiss.

I immersed myself in Italian studies during the later years of my post-secondary education. Many of the English courses were cross listed with Italian, and I used this to successfully explore my passion for the Italo-Canadese experience, Italian literature, and identity throughout my final year. 

I fondly remember reading through great works of Italian studies, plenty of those I read moved with deep critique and satirical references to the Catholic faith, despite how eloquently done they were, in time I did begin to recognize how controversial all of it was. Even at the highest most articulate critique of the Church I was moved to consider God in a way that I had not before.
It led me to entertain that there was something intensely true about the Catholic faith that I'd so nonchalantly thought of.
I was intrigued by the history of Italy the literary life of Florence , nostalgic for a time long gone and people etched in these pages. A dear friend of mine was going to Milan that year for a semester at Bocconi University. She is incredibly bright, I somehow always managed to keep some quality company, despite scraping through the trenches of immorality.
I approached my dad and told him that I would enjoy, as a means of celebrating my last year of university, to go to Italy for some time to be with my friend, to tour a bit etc. It was a fulfilled request and off I went for reading week and some added extra time.
I would also be spending Valentine's day in Italy , I mean, how romantic could it get?  At that point in my life I was far more into these secular things, and into plenty disastrous scenarios and men, but in honest reflection I was the tornado causing most of the disaster! God had a much bigger plan and lesson to be learned indeed.
Prior to leaving , given my interest in Italian studies I perused the Italian Interest section at Chapters one day and discovered a book about Padre Pio. It grasped my attention to say the least and I clasped the book and reserved myself to buying it. That my soul was never to be the same was an understatement, if you welcome him , look out! I am sure now , that God in all of His goodness knew I needed the intercession of one such spiritual warrior to help shake me from all my badness! 

I'm also assured had he been living and I went to him for confession it'd be one of those spent kneeling for 14 hours, with a line up of people outside shaking their heads at me chanting "Vergogna". 

I was shaken to the core , but not shaken enough of course, just rattled enough to know how real and mighty God was , how true this faith within me was , and how far I had gone from all of it, and that this Padre Pio man was a mighty man of faith and surely very real.
Valentine's day in Italy that year seemed far from romantic. It involved a yelling match with a partner left at home , and just disgust at my current life. Simultaneously this was incredibly the most beautiful day because alive in me was the desire for only God , for a Church, and this is where I reserved myself to spending the day, looking for a Church, a priest, and praying that my English tongue could muster up the ugly litany of my numerous sins in the beautiful Italian language in a confessional somehow. 

I'm amazed looking back and seeing the grace at recognizing the need for Confession, when I couldn't even muster up the effort to attend Sunday Mass. That awakening to seeing our sin and coming to know where it can be remedied is a true grace. 

My friend was off to her day at Bocconi and I was off to find a church, which I was sure in Italy, would not be difficult! Off I went to seek "la Chiesa"

What I discovered on the way was the awareness of radical solitude and my own freedom of vulnerability. There's something about the perception of being unknown in your surroundings that can offer a freedom to appear just as you are without concern. And so I wept and wept through the streets of Milan, it was far more dramatic than necessary, and maybe in many ways poetic perhaps. But it did indeed capture the moment I was in. Ah, the collapse of the sinful fortress within me was beginning. 

 I went into the Church beside the University  but there was no Priest present to hear my Confession. There was a young man praying there and I left as silently as possible in my sniffles and tears to continue seeking another Church. I walked outside and the young man who was in the Church followed me and introduced himself. His name was Giuseppe, he was from Sicily, and he was a law student at Bocconi. 

I was a mess, truthfully the last thing I wanted to do was talk to anyone beyond a priest. I spoke to him in my stuttered Italian and said that I was in need of a Priest and a good Confession. The young man looked at his watch, and told me that he knew where another Church was and that he would bring me there. He did have an exam to write that day, and told me that his time was short. He motioned toward his vehicle, and apprehensively I said to him that I would not be travelling in a car with as I do not know him. I was being "street smart" even in my state of personal disaster. He exclaimed a slightly frustrated "Va bene" and said he would walk me there. A walk that he said would take a near 30 minutes.

I could not believe the selflessness of this man's gesture to me. We spoke on the walk about faith, and religion. He shared about himself and his journey of faith and the very reason for his success of studies and in his life was due to his faith in the Lord and that of his praying family. He asked me bluntly if I was religious, I did not know how to respond to such a question. I was not religious, in fact I did not have any relationship with my faith life at that time. Although, I did talk to him about Padre Pio because I had just finished reading his life story, which I feel was largely responsible in aiding me to be walking the streets of Milan distressed and looking for a Confession.

Giuseppe had much to say about Padre Pio. In fact he was very devoted to him.  We approached this beautiful Church and he walked me inside. He spoke to the secretary for me and asked when the priest would be returning. She notified him that it would be a couple of hours. He parted with me and said ``be faithful and be strong``. He had to get back to Bocconi, and I agreed that I would wait inside of the Church for a priest. 

This Church was beyond words. There were people everywhere taking pictures. I knelt in tears in one of the pews and continued to weep for a rather long time. I did not recall the name of this Church and for years it had bothered me. I remained there for over two hours in silent tears of prayer. I did not end up seeing the Priest but there was still something seemingly profound and sense of home that I felt in being there within the Church. By God`s grace I would eventually find a priest for Confession back home, though it did take me some good time(couple years sadly) and bad moments until I sought it. 

(*Go to Confession, don't wait, it's beautiful)

When I left this Church I took a picture of it to remember. It would be years until I would realize the incredible holiness and sacred ground that I was kneeling upon, and it's symbolism. I learned that the place I was led to by Giuseppe was a Basilica.
While in attendance at a Conference in Connecticut (2013), I encountered a priest from Milan. I quickly realized that maybe he would be able to tell me the name of this Church where I was years before in tears and in search of a priest. 

   Fr. Mario did in fact tell me that this Basilica where I was at in 2008 is called Sant` Eustorgio. It is one of the oldest Churches in Milan and the original location of the relics of the Three Kings. It is also named after St. Eustorgius (I) who was Archbishop of Milan in 343-349. He was appropriately referred to by St.Ambrose  as `confessor`. I'm also baptized on St.Ambrose' feast day so I was pretty moved to say the least to know I came to the right place for a Confession, even if I didn't find a Confessor!                            
                                    (My friend gave me this as a parting gift from Italy)

As time went on in 2014 , I found myself off to Italy again for Valentine's Day, this time a practicing Catholic, a frequent Confession going woman, and about to be married in under a month. 

Within me was intense gratitude. I recalled prayerfully my last Valentine's day long ago that I had spent in Italy, and how far I had come. It was a necessary remembering of grace. It was a moment that grows in significance the more that time passes. 

At the center of all we think we know of human love is God's radical love for each of us. As Valentine's day approaches and all the fluffy nonsense is overdone, poorly done, and so meaningless. We as the faithful begin our Lenten journey. Remembering that we are dust. 

I am pausing to remember two Valentine's days spent in Italy coming to learn the amazing power and love of God, and His love for us, despite us. 

And I am also thankful for knowing where to find a priest, and for this morning's Sacrament of Penance.