26 December 2012

Homily of Pope Benedict XVI - Midnight Mass - Christmas 2012

Below is the homily of Pope Benedict XVI from Christmas 'Midnight' Mass (which he actually celebrates at 10pm).  You can also see the Mass on video.

Midnight Mass - Christmas 2012:

Dear Brothers and Sisters!
Again and again the beauty of this Gospel touches our hearts: a beauty that is the splendour of truth. Again and again it astonishes us that God makes himself a child so that we may love him, so that we may dare to love him, and as a child trustingly lets himself be taken into our arms. It is as if God were saying: I know that my glory frightens you, and that you are trying to assert yourself in the face of my grandeur. So now I am coming to you as a child, so that you can accept me and love me.

Christmas at St. Peter's

One of the priests and I went to St. Peter's for Solemn Vespers (Evening Prayer) for Christmas.  They had a very good choir, including a small orchestra with brass and tympani.  It was very beautiful.  Well, I didn't get any pictures of Vespers.  But I did get pictures of the creche scenes at St. Peter's.  There are always 2:  one in the Piazza and and one inside the Basilica.

The outdoor one was given from the Basilicata region of Italy.  It incorporates architecture and styles of the  Lucani, an Italian tribal people who pre-date the Romans.  Zenit has an article on the outdoor creche here:  Artistic Nativity Creche in Saint Peter's Square.

The inside one is a bit simpler than last year.  Apparently last year, they rigged it up so that fake snow would drop down on the creche scene.  This year they just had changing lights to give the impression of day and night.  There were a few animatronic figures, a fisherman with his pole and string and a shepherd raising and lowering his hat.

San Clemente Christmas

Below are some pictures of San Clemente decorated for Christmas.  As I was concelebrating Midnight Mass, I couldn't take too many pictures of the Mass itself, but it was very nice.  Many of the pictures below are from the praesepio (creche) from the parish.  This is a story in itself.  The creche is made by Patrizio, who mostly serves as our cook.  He's the third generation of his family to have worked for the Irish fathers.  His father was also a cook, and his father's uncle before him.

For many years now Patrizio has been putting together the creche.  Now, this is not simply a matter of getting pieces up from storage and assembling them.  No, Patrizio creates a new scene every year.  He covers up the St. Dominic altar, and we are not allowed to see it until it is finished.  The brothers tell me that it is different every year.  In 2001, for example, he included a small tribute to the victims of the terrorist attack in New York.

Knowing all this, I was still not prepared for how amazingly good his creche scene would be.  He truly is an artist.  Unfortunately, the camera does not do it justice.  He has it lit for midnight, with a red light on much of the scene, and a blue light highlighting the angel.  The flash of the camera makes everything a bit too bright.

Oh, and then there are the sound effects.  He has added some sound recordings of animals.  He says it's in response to the press reports (which were, unfortunately, the typical errors of an anti-Catholic press) of Pope Benedict saying that there shouldn't be (or weren't) animals at the crib.  So, you can hear chickens, cows, and even a rooster.

There's also running water in the background of the scene.

Of course, the neatest touches are the parts you really can't see unless you get very close up (or take pictures with a zoom lens).  Patrizio has added some signs to the streets, like an ancient Italian village.  In fact, he has even named one of the streets:  "Largo Patrizio", translated somewhat loosely as Patrizio Street.  A wonderful touch on an amazing work of art:

24 December 2012

Christianity 'close to extinction' in Middle East

What group is the most persecuted in the world today?  Christians.  As much as 10% of Christians--200 million--currently suffer persecution, mostly at the hands of Islam, although persecution is increasing even in the West.  This Christmas, we should pray for those Christians who simply want to worship God in peace, but are denied this fundamental right.  And we should continue to pray for the conversion of the followers of the prophet Mohammad.

Christianity 'close to extinction' in Middle East - Telegraph:

18 December 2012

Advent, Suffering and the Promise of Joy

Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia is one of the best writers and preachers in the American hierarchy.  Before coming to Philadelphia, he was archbishop in Denver, Colorado, and assisted at the funerals of a number of the Columbine victims.  He recently wrote a very moving article on tragedy at Sandy Hook and the promise of Advent, which is well worth reading.  A link to the article is below.

ZENIT - Advent, Suffering and the Promise of Joy

17 December 2012

Advent Carols

Speaking of music, we have been having different groups at the Angelicum sing for Christmas. This is a group of some of the Dominicans at the Angelicum. We sing Veni, Veni Emmanuel and some other piece I had not heard of before.

Flash mob Washington DC Chinatown: bananas meet Dominican Friars

The Vocations Director of the Province posted this video of our brothers caroling on the streets of downtown Washington, apparently near Chinatown. At some point they are overwhelmed by a crowd of bananas. Yes, bananas. The world is a very strange place indeed.

14 December 2012

Roman Christmas Trees

While walking, I took pictures of two of the larger Christmas trees in Rome.  Christmas trees are not really much of an Italian custom, much more German.  Nevertheless, like most things in our globalized culture, these customs spread, mostly because of American movies and television.

One of the friars here tells the story of a church here in Rome belonging to a group of non-Italian religious.  The religious superior wanted to put an Advent wreath in the church for the first time.  Advent wreaths are also not really an Italian tradition.  Anyway, it was put in the nave of the Church.  One of the local parishioners was seen standing in front of it, making the sign of the cross, and shaking her head slowly.  She thought it was a funeral wreath!  (Wreaths in Italian are pretty much only used at funerals.)  They stopped using the advent wreath.

These two trees are down the street from each other, one right next to the Colosseum and one in the Piazza Venezia.

Bl. Pope John Paul II Statue

Continuing on the art theme...

A few years ago, an artist did a statue of Pope John Paul II.  It was placed right near the Termini train station, just a bit south of the Piazza Republica.  Here is the picture I took of it last year:

From Rome - General

The Italians--and just about everyone else--hated it.  Well, with the outcry the artist decided to make some changes.  I think they were finished a few months ago.  Since I was walking nearby again today, I thought I'd snap some more pictures, here are two of them:

Huge change?  I suppose it's an improvement.  I'm not sure why they removed the grass.

Here's a close-up of the faces:

Igor Mitoraj

When I was in the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli, I saw a sculpture.  From what I gather this was supposed to be a statue of the head of St. John the Baptist:

From Santa Maria degli Angeli

When I saw this, I thought it looked very familiar.  I couldn't get out of my head--pun intended--that I had seen this somewhere before, only much bigger.  I thought it was in Chicago at first.  So, I finally went through my old pictures, and found this:

This one is from the market square in Krakow, Poland.  It's probably about 5 or 6 feet high, much bigger than the one in the Basilica.

But they are rather similar, no?

Well, it turns out they are from the same artist, a modern Polish artist named Igor Mitoraj.  Images of pieces of bodies is a common motif for Mr. Mitoraj, as especially is this sideways head.

Despite their similarity, they are meant to be depictions of two different figures.  The top one, as I mentioned, is of St. John the Baptism.  The bottom one usually goes by the title, Eros Bendato, or Eros Bound.  It's curious that the scuplture would cast these so similarly, Eros being the symbol of passionate love, and St. John the Baptist being the great martyr to marital fidelity.

Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri

Today I went over to the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri (St. Mary of the Angels and the Martyrs) on the Piazza Republica, just north of Termini, Rome's train station.

The building originally was the great baths of Rome, built in about the 3rd century.  Most of the place had fallen into ruins, but like so much of Rome was just kept around.  The original baths was a huge structure, and the current basilica is only a part of it, made from the "cold rooms".  For many years, there was a desire to turn this grand but decaying building into a church.  The task was taken up by Michelangelo, very late in his life.

The building is also famous for its Medirian Line, essentially a giant solar clock carved into the floor.  It was created with an aperture on the wall so that at solar noon (when the sun is highest in the sky), the light would mark a spot on a line on the floor.  Unfortunately, it was a bit too cloudy to see it today.  It marks its furthest point along the line on the winter solstice, December 21.

Here is slideshow of the pictures:

11 December 2012

Immaculate Conception

On December 8--the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary--the Pope traditionally leads prayers at the statute of the Immaculate in the Piazza di Spagna.  The statue is in the Piazza of the Spanish Embassy to the Holy See, and so the embassy staff is usually always there.

It is usually a very well attended event, with people lines up and down the streets.  Despite the very cold Roman weather, this year was no different.  Before the Pope's arrival, one of the Bishops leads the people in the Rosary.  The Vatican choir is usually on hand and always sings the Tu es Petrus upon the Pope's arrival.  (It was a bit too cold for them to sing much else this year.)  The Pope then offers prayers, especially for the sick that are gathered, and offers a few words of meditation.  He ended his talk this year saying:
In this time of Advent, Mary Immaculate teaches us to listen to the voice of God who speaks in silence; to receive his grace, which frees us from sin and from all egoism; in order to enjoy the true joy.
Below are some pictures from the event:

02 December 2012

First Vespers of Advent

The Holy Father celebrated the first Vespers of Advent with university students from throughout Rome.  As they did last year, the event begins before the Pope arrives with an icon of Sedes Sapientiae (Mary, Seat of Wisdom).  The icon travels around different schools.  This year, the icon was brought in procession by some Italian university students.  After Vespers, it was taken out by students from Brazil.  The reason it is Brazil is because Brazil is the site for the next World Youth Day.

The Holy See takes videos of most of the papal events.  You can see their video here

The Pope's homily was in Italian, and is not yet available in English.  Among other things, he reminded the students that their desire for God is best satisfied in that place where God makes himself closest to us, in the Liturgy:
The liturgy, seen in its true spirit, is always the fundamental school to live the life of Christian faith, a "theological" faith that involves your entire being--spirit, soul, and body--to make you become living stones in the construction of the Church and collaborators in the New Evangelization.  In a particular way, in the Eucharist, the living God makes himself so near, by making himself the food that sustains us on the way, the presence that transforms with the fire of his love.
Here are the pictures from Vespers:

Il Circo è arrivato!

For several years now, the Holy Father has greeted and offered a Pontifical blessing to circus performers.  The event is organized by the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People. I suppose a traveling circus counts as itinerant.  You can read the story from Vatican Radio:  Pope Greets Circus Performers

I did not get pictures of the performers, that was earlier in the day at the Paul VI hall.  However, I did get some of the circus tent and the carousel: