Fr. Francesco Podda, O. de M., Provincial Secretary, received the vows of Brothers James and Scott. This is the homily he gave during the Mass.
Dear brothers and sisters,
Today we celebrate together two men whom the Church has always viewed as her columns: St. Peter and St. Paul. Christ chose both of them, even though in different ways, to follow him and be committed to the duty to continue his mission of preaching the Gospel of salvation and the forgiveness of the sins in his name.
This feast allows us to reflect on the mystery of vocation. Who were these men? Were they special or better than the others? Did Jesus have any human reason for choosing them?
If we read the Gospel we discover that the only reason of their calling is the mysterious and gratuitous will of the Father, who shows his strength through human weakness, as St. Paul will later write of reflecting on his own vocation.
In fact Peter was a simple fisherman, son of a fisherman, generous, impulsive, sometimes overconfident, and at the same time fearful until disowning Christ. But he was also humble, conscious of his sin and capable to weep bitterly for having betrayed his Lord.
Paul was a scribe lover and slave of the law, who was present at the martyrdom of St. Steven, the first martyr of the Church. He was going to Damascus to seek and kill the Christians when Jesus called Paul in a mysterious way, made him an apostle and sent him to announce the Gospel to the gentiles.
Both of them gave their lives for the Gospel and for remained faithful to Jesus. Both of them were martyred in Rome. They were so different and yet united by the same vocation to follow the Lord so closely and worthy to receive the same destiny of their Master Jesus Christ.
This feast is a favorable opportunity to reflect on one’s vocation, most of all because today two other men are going to confirm their wish to follow Christ forever. The profession of solemn vows is the definitive yes that Br. James and Br. Scott give to the divine call they have heard and followed with faith and trust in Jesus.
They are going to proclaim before the Church, represented by this liturgical assembly, their resolute intention to follow Christ as religious and as mercedarians.
What does it mean to be religious and to be mercedarian?
First of all we should remember the source of the vocation. Jesus reminded his disciples that they did not choose him, but He chose them. These brothers are here because they heard the voice of Christ calling them to follow him in this particular way, as religious. Nobody should think that to be a religious or a priest is a simple human project. The vocation to the religious life or to the priesthood is a gift of the Lord, and the one who is called can only accept this gift and answer “yes” as the Virgin Mary did, but nobody can presume to be a religious or a priest if not called by Jesus.
The main purpose of the religious life is to be a sign of the presence of Christ among men and to help them to meet him. In particular the religious life is to make visible the way of life Jesus adopted when he lived as a man in this world.
This is the significance of the vows. They are not the sacrifice of the good things of life, such as getting married, to having and using property or possessions, or realizing personal project.
The religious vows should be a clear sign of the way of life of Christ, who didn’t get married, so to be free to love God and mankind until giving up his life for them. He did not have a place to rest his head, so to remind us of God’s love, who nourishes the birds of the sky and takes care of every creature. He didn’t have any personal project, but his food was to accomplish the will of the Father.
We are religious not to pursue a personal perfection, but to be a sign of the heavenly kingdom for all of God’s people as the Second Vatican Council reminds us: “The profession of the evangelical counsels … appears as a sign which can and ought to attract all the members of the Church to an effective and prompt fulfillment of the duties of their Christian vocation. The people of God have no lasting city here below, but look forward to one that is to come”.
All the religious make the three vows of chastity, poverty and obedience, but we as mercedarian have also another vow that we call the fourth vow, and I believe it is the first and the most important, because it affects also the particular way by which we live the other vows.
This fourth vow is the vow of redemption that expresses our specific charism. Our father and founder St. Peter Nolasco, inspired by the Virgin Mary of Mercy founded our Order for visiting and freeing those Christians who were in captivity and in the power of the enemies of Jesus Christ, and as in the first Consitutions of the Order, St. Peter Nolasco established that all the brothers of the Order, as sons of true obedience, must always be gladly disposed to give up their lives, if it necessary, as Jesus gave up his life for us.
We the mercedarians still consecrate ourselves to God by this special vow, by virtue of which we promise to give up our lives, as Christ gave his life for us, in order to save those Christians who find themselves in extreme danger of losing their faith by new forms of captivity.
Only if we are free, we may be ready to free our brothers and sisters, at the cost of our life, and the other three vows we profess help us to be always free and ready to give up our life.
This is what Br. James and Br. Scott are doing with the profession of solemn vows. We can imagine how difficult the mission could be, because, like Peter and Paul, and like each of us who have made this profession before them, they are simple men whom the mysterious and gratuitous will of the Father called to surrender their lives into his hands, so to become instruments of salvation, to bring freedom to those who are enslaved by the evil one.
Today we accompany them with our prayer, asking for them the same generosity that brought St. Peter and St. Paul to give up their lives for Christ.
Dear James and Scott, may God who began this good work in you, by the intercession of St. Peter Nolasco, and with the maternal protection of our Most Holy Mother of Mercy bring it to fulfillment.
At the beginning of October, Br. Scottston Brentwood was transferred to the Mercedarian student community in Rome for further ecclesiastical studies. Br. Scottston agreed to send us a periodic journal to help keep us in close communion with him. To date, Br. Scottston has sent four installments. We shall post the first four together and then update the installments as they arrive. Please keep Br. Scottston in your prayers and enjoy his journal.
I thought I would let everyone know all the happenings here in Rome. I’ve only been here for a week, but MUCH has happened! I have to admit, it is truly a wonderful experience, and I have to thank all the brothers/priests here in Italy for all the kindness they have shown toward me. Even with the present language barrier, we are having a great time with many laughs and a truly remarkable, communitarian life.
Thus, here is a summary of many of the things I’ve done this last week. By no means is it comprehensive, but it does give you a flavor of the fun I have had.
I arrived early Saturday morning at the Da Vinci Airport in Rome. I was overwhelmed not so much with being in the city of Rome itself as much as the shear number of people there! So many people, and the tragedy was that everyone was headed to the same location – baggage claim. As sad as it might sound, I literally watched my bags go by at least twice as I was unable to get close enough to them to pull them off the carousel. I met the other brothers who picked me up, and we went to what would be my home for the next few years.
I spent the next couple of days doing various things. I went from unpacking to liturgical functions to processions etc. As I did not speak the native language (and few if anyone here shares my language) I can assure you it was rather interesting trying to figure out what exactly I was suppose to be doing. In the end, it all worked out, that is, until they asked me to lead the rosary in Italian.
On Sunday I went with one of the other brothers – Bro. Petrus – to downtown Rome. We visited the Vatican (i.e. St. Peters) and stopped for a gelato at a nearby shop. On our way home we visited the “Holy Stairs” and St. John Lateran.
On Tuesday I went with Fr. Stefano to register at one of the Language Institutes. Afterward we walked to the Gregorian University where he teaches via the Trevi Fountain before returning home for ponzo. After the meal we headed out for the sacred and highly coveted Metrobus Card that will allow me to take the Metro without the hassle of purchasing a ticket with every trip.
On Thursday I decided to take in some sights while at the same time taking the opportunity to travel to my new school alone to see if I could remember how to get there. I found it with no difficulties. I traveled back toward the Trevi Fountain and continued on to the more ancient parts (i.e. the area around the Monument to Victor Emanuele) I took some photos, relished in the past grandeur of the Roman Empire, and headed back home.
Friday came, and I thought it wise to find a location for confession in English. Fr. Ricci suggested I go to St. Mary Major, so I asked Bro. Petrus which stop on the Metro would be the closest. He told me the Termini stop is best, and when I looked at a map, St. Mary Major was between Termini and Victor Emanuele stops. I opted for the Termini stop – major mistake. The shear number of people there is enough to detract my attention, and when I emerged from the station I was completely lost. Note to self – a map alone is useless without a compass. I asked some Sisters for directions and easily found the Basilica. The experience of the Basilica was different – very pleasant. I found the beauty of the Basilica to be a true reflection of the beauty of God’s creation. I think of all the places I have been in Rome, St. Mary Major was my favorite.
To return home I opted for the other Metro stop – Victor Emanuele. Note to self – take this stop if you are going to St. Mary Major: its on the same street, and there are no people there.
Thus, I finished my first week in Italy.
So I had to spend some time preparing for my exam to move to the next level in my study of Italian, so I was unable to give a written version of week 2 here in Italy. SO, here is weeks 2 and 3 all at once. Most likely you will not find it as interesting as the first week, but it is what it is right?
I began my Italian classes on Monday, October 12. I have class five days a week for three hours each day. As of now, the classes are in the afternoon, so I have the mornings to study. The class is small which helps facilitate the “learning process,” and the teacher is a nice guy – Italian, but he knows some English which helps. The other students are American. As I actually have to do homework (it is checked every day and there are MANY exercises to complete), the general rule for me is thus – every morning is occupied with books, paper, pens, and DICTIONARIES.
I had my first run-in with a “quasi-gypsy” the following Tuesday. As I was at the Spanish Steps, this guy approaches and (in less than 30 seconds) ties this string bracelet around my wrist. He then asks me for 5 euros! I told him I had nothing, he of course did not believe me as I am an American, and I actually demonstrated that my pockets were empty and the sound he was hearing was my KEYS! Fortunately I do not carry money with me, so if they ask for it, I cannot give that which I do not possess myself. Ultimately he came to the obvious realization that I was not going to give him anything (as I had nothing to give), so he told me to accept it as a gift, “welcome to Italy” he said to me, and walked away. Note to anyone walking in Rome – keep your hands in your pockets so as to prevent the gypsies from putting something in them and wanting money for something you neither wanted nor asked for.
On Thursday I headed to the more ancient parts of the city. I saw the Coliseum and the Arch of Constantine, took some photos, and found my way home via another route. The purpose of this exercise is so that I become more familiar with the city, and you never know – I might find some interesting places in my travels.
The following day I wanted to see if there were any bookstores close to my school, and as I arrived early (the METRO is sometimes fast, sometimes slow, and sometimes on strike…so you never know what to expect), I went looking. I stopped to ask a man for directions, asked him if he spoke English (I asked in Italian), he told me (in Italian) that he neither spoke nor understood English, so I proceeded to put my Italian courses to work and asked for directions to a bookstore with books in English (in Italian). His response (in ENGLISH) was, “go two blocks down the street, take a left, and it will be right there.” Hmmmmm…. As a side note, books in English are easy to find, but the cost is more than double the price of the same book in Italian.
Thus I finished my second week in Italy.
I went on Saturday (October 17) downtown to find another bookstore…something larger maybe? I found one online close to St. Mary Major, so I figured I could head out for a weekly confession, visit the bookstore which was three blocks away, and head home by the METRO which is a block away from the bookstore. It was raining, so I bought an umbrella from the perpetual venders walking around outside the tourist places (if you speak in Italian you get things at a cheaper rate), confessed, and as I exited the church was overwhelmed by a Communist Party demonstration which was literally marching around St. Mary Major! Personally, I think I would have chosen a more political venue for a political demonstration, but whatever. I found the bookstore with no difficulty and it was ENORMOUS – 4 floors of books of every kind (some even in English…but at a “normal” price).
Saturday night was spent in front of the all-powerful plasma TV…literally transfixed to the glowing edifice as the Genoa / Inter game was screening. I was supporting Inter, and I was in luck as they won. I somehow surprised the Italians with my knowledge of the different teams, their uniform colors, and the cities they are from. Every American knows these things…right?
On Sunday I spent some time with the youth of our parish – Bro. Sergio coordinates a soccer game every week, and the youth wanted to demonstrate to me their soccer skills. To my surprise, even the younger ones were really, really good.
That evening, Bro. Petrus brought wood into the refectory and started a fire in the fireplace there. I jokingly asked Fr. Stefano if he was going to cook over the fire, and to my surprise, he said yes! I had never seen steak prepared using a fireplace before, but it was tasty so I cannot complain. Somehow thoughts of Fr. Matthew Phelan grilling in the refectory fireplace of the Monastery made me laugh. All I can say is, “do not try this at home, we are professionals.”
Monday = back to class and the regular routine. Nothing really new there, but on Thursday I had to take a test to see if I was ready to move onto the next level at the language institute. I was rather worried about it during our review – I did not remember many things, but when I took the exam, I was the first one to finish. Ultimately I did very well, and begin the next level on Monday morning.
End of week three.
Saturday, October 24 – We had our first formation class in the morning…in Italian of course. I understood what was being said, took some notes, but did not really offer much input; I did afterwards when I was alone with Fr. Ricci. After the sacred pranzo, the students and Fr. Ricci went to Fr.’s hometown to visit his sister. Next we went up the mountains that surround the town – VERY nice, but different than the mountains I am use to in Virginia. Finally, we headed to Nemi to see the house/community there. The city is beautiful, and the house is located next to Lake Nemi. We saw the renovations that are taking place there – MANY – and headed back home. On a side note, I saw my first Roman sunset…over Lake Nemi.
On Sunday, Fr. Provincial returned home. We had a very nice conversation (in Italian of course), and he was happy that I was progressing with the language. Though I made some grammatical mistakes, he at least understood what I was trying to say. That night many of the various superiors arrived as a gathering of the Italian superiors was going to begin on Monday and carry on through the week; some of them I had already met as they had been here for the various Secretariat meetings the previous week.
Monday proved to be an interesting day. I was under the impression class was to begin at 9:30am with a new instructor, but it was changed to 10:00am…and I thus arrived EARLY. I thought I would walk around the general vicinity to see what was new and exciting. I stumbled into a church that was near by that I had not visited yet – St. Andrea d. Fratte. Very nice. I did notice that even though Mass was going on, a confessional was available. As I did not have time to hit up St. Mary Major for confession during the weekend, I thought I would ask the priest if he spoke English. It turns out that he, in fact, did NOT (big surprise)…but he said that “Jesus understands all languages”…and he wanted to continue the confession with me attempting it in Italian. Ultimately (as I did not know the names of any sins in Italian) I described the sins, and the priest provided me with the Italian name for them. Confession done – my first in Italian – I went to school and followed the normal routine.
On Wednesday Bro. Petrus and I went to the Post Office to work on the documentation for the Promesso Soggorno. The office only has one person to handle everyone who is seeking this…and though the office opened at 8:30am, he did not arrive until 9:15am. LONG day, and there is still more that needs to be done to obtain this “important” document. Needless to say, I was late for class, but no worries. Bro. Petrus and I walked from the Vatican (where the Post Office is) to my school – the trip was very short and was equal in time to the public transportation fiasco. I was able to see the Castle Sant Angelo…and a few other things before I had a couple more hours of Italian.
Thursday was the final day for the gathering of superiors, and when I was returning home from school, I was greeted by Fr. General who welcomed me home from the balcony over the main entrance. In fact, he said he was “unhappy” with me because I did not write to him as soon as I had arrived in Italy, but I rectified the situation by mentioning that I thought he was OUTSIDE Italy at the time. I had a quick bite to eat – alone as everyone had literally just finished – but while I ate Fr. Nunzio spoke with me about the vocations situation of the Order within Italy. Once I finished, I sat and spoke with Fr. General. At our last meeting in Cleveland we spoke in English as I did not know Italian. This time, however, we used Italian. As we were speaking, Fr. Provincial joined us, and the two of them asked me many things about America and my thoughts on various topics.
On Friday my former teacher showed me the location of an international bookstore…not far from the large one I already knew of. EVERY language you could think of was present, but the English section was the largest…and the books were actually priced at a reasonable price.
Thus ended my fourth week…and my first month.
Editor’s note: In installment #4 we see, as Brother Scottston stated himself in the message that accompanied the journal, the “more spiritual side came out.”
My Dearest Friend,
It feels as though an eternity has passed since our last conversation… Perhaps it was my fault – I was too preoccupied dwelling on my own thoughts to perceive the fact you were present. I realize that no level of apology would be sufficient to account fully for my unremitting failures…a reality that I have reluctantly come to accept.
Why should today be any different?
I can see you…standing there…saying to me, “Why such baffled disposition? ‘Did you miss me?’ It is a normal question – I missed you. But what do I get back? Not an ounce of excitement, not a whisper of a thrill.” My only response would invariably be silence. It always is.
I see you further saying to me, “Scott at a loss for words? The man from whose lips fall ‘rapture’ and ‘fury’ and ‘enthrallment’ …all those admonitions about being ‘deliberately happy,’ … all the dispiriting advice you dispense in round, pear-shaped tones…?”
…again…the customary downcast sigh.
And yet the faint, sad uncertain smile, so often there, now seems to glimmer from its obscurity, and linger briefly on my lips. It could be a fool’s hope of that which is to be…or merely the delusion of a simple boy…who finds himself coming to the realization that all truly IS well.
My daily transformation takes place…my gradual coming to better understand you as I mature day by day into the person I was always meant to be. But you already knew that. I attempt to surprise you…even though I know that your knowledge of me is so superior to my expectations that there is nothing that would (or could) surprise you.
…yet you still pretend to be surprised to placate my child-like desire to please you. What impresses me most is that – though I never surprise you, you always respond in a way that ultimately elevates me.
How could you who know me so well…not feel disappointed by the knowledge that I do not recapitulate that same reciprocal knowledge of you? Is this merely further evidence of not only my failure to truly get to know you from the beginning, but also evidence of my focus on myself at the detriment of knowing you?
The possibilities are endless.
I rest, however, in the knowledge that ultimately it does not matter – all is made perfect in time…or that is the hope at least. Until then, I will rest in my complacency…knowing (and trusting) in that which is…and that which will be.