Ash Wednesday in Rome

From a 2006 trip by Michael Dubruiel

I often blog what the Pope says at his General Audience on Wednesdays, but I will never do so without the sense of what it is like to actually be there. Thanks to several people we knew that to get a good seat at the General Audience we needed to be there as soon as they allowed people in, around 8:00 a.m.(two and half hours before the audience begins, although one of our contacts told us that Benedict had been beginning them about a half hour early). So we were there, dressed for warm weather, because it was rather warm at the time. We found the shortest line and waited about ten minutes until the mad rush began. The security was fairly lax at the entrance point that we were at, police with wands, but not really using them. So once through the entrance we ran (sort of the way people were running through the columns when Pope Benedict was about to be announced as the successor of St. Peter last year).
We were able to get to the fourth row right against the center rail, which turned out to be a pretty good spot. The two men sitting in front of me were from Brazil, I think the people behind us were from Ireland. There was a group from Steubenville near us, as well as the St. Thomas folk who were just behind us.
Then it turned cool, the sun disappeared and the clouds covered the sky. The temperature must have dropped ten or fifteen degrees. I think Joseph fell asleep, as well as the baby and for the most part we sat in silence with some outbursts of enthusiastic groups now and then.
Ten o’clock arrived and we were hopeful that the pope might come out early, but not today. Then at ten thirty there was a commotion and suddenly there he was, well looking exactly like the pope! You can see how dark the skies were and the pope had on his winter coat.Pope Benedict has shunned the glass case that John Paul used after he was shot in 1981, when I saw Pope John Paul in Miami he was behind the glass of the popemobile when he drove through the streets of Miami,but then I saw him up close at Mass the next day (a Mass that wasn’t finished because of a thunderstorm). I remember being shocked at how old Cardinal Ratzinger was when he celebrated the funeral of Pope John Paul, and even how he seemed bent with age as he entered the conclave to elect the new pope–but how youthful he emerged from the conclave!
Organ music is played as a background which gave the feeling of either a carnival or funeral but didn’t seem to strike the right chord for the ceremony.
Now right after the Pope passed us the baby’s bottle somehow dropped onto the pavement and went rolling down the path the pope had just passed. A Swiss Guard finally picked it up after it had rolled for what seemed like an eternity, and looked at it suspiciously. He finally walked over and handed it to me.After making the circuit the Holy Father’s pope mobile drives up the steps and then he gets out and goes to his chair…Then you hear something along the lines of: 
Cari Fratelli e Sorelle,
Inizia oggi, con la Liturgia del Mercoledì delle Ceneri, l’itinerario quaresimale di quaranta giorni che ci condurrà al Triduo pasquale, memoria della passione, morte e risurrezione del Signore, cuore del mistero della nostra salvezza. Questo è un tempo favorevole in cui la Chiesa invita i cristiani a prendere più viva consapevolezza dell’opera redentrice di Cristo e a vivere con più profondità il proprio Battesimo. In effetti, in questo periodo liturgico il Popolo di Dio fin dai primi tempi si nutre con abbondanza della Parola di Dio per rafforzarsi nella fede, ripercorrendo l’intera storia della creazione e della redenzione.
Which I now know means:
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today, with the Ash Wednesday Liturgy, the Lenten journey of 40 days begins that will lead us to the Easter Tridium, the memorial of the passion, death and Resurrection of the Lord, heart of the mystery of our salvation. It is a favourable time when the Church invites Christians to have a keener awareness of the redeeming work of Christ and to live their Baptism in greater depth.

The audience continues with the pope teaching a lesson in Italian. At the conclusion various Monsignors in different languages greet the pope in the name of the various language groups present. Some groups when they are announced sing, some just cheer. The pope acknowledges them with a wave, then responds with a summary of his teaching in that language. This pope like John Paul before him is fluent in a number of tongues and it is interesting to hear him speak English.
Finally the Pope gives his Apostolic blessing, blessing religious articles also.
Then he greets the Cardinals and bishops present. At this audience there was one cardinal (I believe it is Cardinal Jorge Arturo Medina Estevez the very Cardinal who announced to the world last year Habemus Papam!) pictured here in the piazza afterwards. Then the sick and handicapped are brought in wheelchairs before him, pushed by nuns for the most part, and he gives each of them a blessing. I’m not sure what the history of this is or for how long this has been done, but I found it to be one of the most poignant moments of the audience. There was a long parade of these crucified memembers of the Body of Christ and they evoked from the Marian prayer “do you do we cry, poor banished children of Eve, in this valley of tears.” The wisdom of giving these souls the privileged position at the audience and the primacy of a personal meeting with the pope was incredibly Christian–a great witness. Would that all in attendance learn to see in those marginalized the truly important.
After this the pope walked over to the barrier to the left at which were standing a group of Moslems and he greeted them and spoke to them and then worked down the line. At the end of this line he mounted the popemobile and then passed along the barrier on the right and shook hands as he went along. Then the popemobile made its way down the steps toward me. (Click on any image for a full size shot)
Until finally, there he was right in front of me.
So I put the camera down for a second or two. Then after I gave him a wave, I picked it up again just in time because someone handed him a baby.
Then he was gone, as Joseph would say “back to the Pope cave (ala batcave).” The thousands that had gathered began to disperse. Amy had more Rome Reports video to shoot, so she went with the kids for the outside shots. I was to meet with Jeffrey Kirby to take a walk up to the North American College for a tour and lunch. While waiting, I spotted another group gathered for the pope’s audience, a group of Eastern monks.

More about Michael Dubruiel 

Ash Wednesday is February 26

An Excerpt from One of My Books:


(Michael Dubruiel)

This is an excerpt from one of my books, “Praying in the Presence of Our Lord with Fulton J. Sheen”. This entry is from Part I under the heading “The Sanctification of the Present Moment.” I quote this because I noticed somewhere online today the popularity of a spiritual guru who Oprah is promoting, Eckhart Tolle (I think it helps to have an estoteric name in the modern world) who’s “Power of Now” is quite the rave. There is nothing new in what Tolle is promoting and any serious student of spirituality can find it in Catholicism. Fulton Sheen was preaching this years ago and as I point out in this entry from the book a very famous work of Christian Spirituality also does:

Bishop Sheen’s “Now-moment” corresponds to the thinking of the great spiritual writer Jean Pierre de Caussade. In Abandonment to Divine Providence, Fr. Caussade gives the reader a sure way of knowing the will of God at any moment—by simply confronting the present moment with all its reality. It seems simple, but if we reflect for a second most of us will find that we spend most of our lives avoiding the present moment.

A few years ago an English translation of the Father Caussade’s work appeared in the United States changing the original title to read “The Sacrament of the Present Moment.” This captures the essence of Father Caussade’s work and Bishop Sheen’s meditation that in the present time we are presented with an opportunity that is truly unique. Each moment is sacramental.

Most of us are capable of presenting ourselves with some amount of reflection as we celebrate the sacraments. If we celebrated the sacrament of Baptism as an adult certainly we came expecting to be changed by God. Each time we enter a confessional surely we have examined our conscience beforehand and are penitent expecting to be forgiven by God. Undoubtedly every time we approach the altar to receive the Eucharist we expect to encounter God. But what about the other moments of our lives?

As we awake in the morning, is our first thought of God? As we greet our brothers and sisters throughout the day do we expect that God might be present? Every moment of our lives is an opportunity to encounter God who is always present.

Spend some time reflecting on the following:

1. Go over the events of the present day and ask yourself where God might have been in each of them. Is there a consistent pattern to your day?

2. Reflect on the life of your favorite saint, and meditate on how he or she dealt with the people they met in their daily journeys. How could you imitate this saint? What enabled the saint to act in the way he or she did toward others?

3. Imagine as you leave from this time of prayer that God wishes to continue to be present to you as you go forth. How will you react to his presence in others?

Prayer

Lord, help me to search for you in the garden of life in the same way that St. Mary Magdalene did when she found your tomb empty. May my search be rewarded as hers was by knowledge of your abiding presence.

Amen.

Ash Wednesday is February 26

For a brief, pointed and helpful guide,

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All of Michael Dubruiel’s books listed on Amazon.

The Power of the Cross free download and audio files.

The New Version of the Stations of the Cross link

How to “Offer it Up”

From How to Get the Most Out of the Eucharist by Michael Dubruiel

A  N O T E      O F C A U T I O N

N ow, I want to be clear that what I am proposing in this book is not the “victim-ism” that was sometimes prevalent in the older spirituality of “offering it up.” In every situation we are free to choose how we will respond to an event: we can blame someone else for what is happening, or we can feel powerless and do

nothing. It is my contention that neither of these responses is Christlike.The experience of “offering up” our lives to God needs to be a positive and co-redemptive act.Thankfully, with God’s help we are all capable of freely choosing to respond in this fashion.

Those who promoted the spirituality of “offering it up” in a previous age often quoted St.Paul’s words to the Colossians:“Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church” (Colossians 1:24). In offering our sacrifice at the Eucharist, in the same way that we offer up any suffering we endure in life, we take whatever is negative and turn it into a positive, life-giving force both in our own lives and in the lives of those around us. We make up for what is “lacking” for the sake of  “his body,”the Church — that is,ourselves in communion with all Christians with all of our imperfections and all of our failings. “The miracle of the church assembly lies in that it is not the ‘sum’ of the sinful and unworthy people who comprise it, but the body of Christ,” Father Alexander Schmemann remarked.This is the power of the cross of Jesus Christ,taking what appears to be weakness and allowing God to transform it into strength!

Daily Lent Devotional

The Power of the Cross by Michael Dubruiel is a book well-suited to daily reading during Lent. The book is available here in pdf version. Daily excerpts will be reprinted in this space during Lent.

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From the Introduction (part 4)


“What Do I Do Now?” 


Start reading this book. Each section is designed to be read and pondered on its own; read one of the entries each day, or take up  one section each week. There are parts of this book with which you may readily agree; other sections will probably anger you. Don’t worry about that; parts of this book elicit the same reaction in me. When faced with the cross, my inner demons rebel. Surrendering to the cross of Christ is the only way to rid oneself of whatever evil may be lurking in our lives. 


The way of the cross is the only sure way to joy and freedom. The world offers us happiness and rejects the cross, to be sure, but it is a happiness that is short lived. For those who embrace his cross, Jesus promises a joy that never ends. The evil one makes it hard for us to see the truth of Jesus’ claim at times. But those who seek the truth will experience—either first-hand or through living saints like Pearl—true reality: What the world promises is a lie. 


We are all headed to Cross City, whether we are following Christ or not. For those who follow Christ, Cross City is the gate to eternal life. For those who venture along that path without Christ, the cross brings only suffering and ultimately death. The crucified Christ is the Vine; we are called to be the branches. May his joy be in you, “that your joy may be full” (John 15:11).   More

For more about Michael Dubruiel.  

Gethsemani Abbey in Kentucky

One time in the late 80’s I was traveling with another friend of mine, Brian, on our way to Chicago. The first night we stopped at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, GA about twenty miles east of Atlanta.

Fr. Francis (originally a monk at Gethsemani and one of the founding monks of Holy Spirit, then in his 80’s) met us at the Guest House door, “Will you stay?”

Anyone who has read Thomas Merton’s Seven Storey Mountain knows this is what you expect to hear when you arrive at a Trappist monastery. There is a double meaning to the question…”Will you stay?” and join our community, “Will you stay?” in the guest house and finally since in the Rule of St. Benedict the stranger is to be welcomed as Christ…Will you stay? Lord as in “Stay with us Lord for the day is far spent.”

We answered “yes” as in yes we’ll stay in the guest house tonight, which we did and attended prayers and Mass–then left the next morning on our way to Gethsemani. We arrived in Gethsemani that afternoon (about seven hours later). No one greeted us or asked us if we would stay. There were a few other pilgrims wandering around but no monks visible. We were settled in the chapel for Vespers when the first monks began to emerge from the cloister and enter into the chapel. Brian leaned over to me and whispered, “Its the same guys.”

Well not exactly. Driving toward Birmingham and away from Gethsemani I thought of my friend Peter who has been a big fan of the Trappists from way back. I knew that he had thought about entering the Monastery of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit at one timea and still made visits there frequently–I also knew that he had visited Gethsemani several times. His experience and mine of both monasteries knew that one welcomed strangers and the other saw them as an intrusion and to be fair because of Thomas Merton Gethsemani got a glut of strangers.

When I first stayed at Gethsemani the beds were very Trappist–really nothing more than a pallet with a two inch mattress on it. Years laters a beautiful, state of the art guest house was built that was more along the lines of mid range hotel. Now the Welcome Center–the times they are a changing.

I called Pete to share my views about the Welcome Center and I share them here because for the most part they were inaccurate as my return trip proved but they say a lot about how our minds process religious experiences. I told Pete:

“The first thing you notice when you walk in through the cloister wall and into the building is a coffin…it is open but empty. In some ways it is symbolic of immediately reminding you of your final end and asking you the question what am I here for? Several monks were available to answer the question.”

“Over the PA system there was an incessant crackling of flames–they made me think of the flames of Hell (another of the Last Things), when in fact a peak into the room to the left of the entrance showed that it was the Easter Fire being prepared and the flames providing the fire to illuminate the Easter Candle–symbolic of the light of Christ illuminating the darkness. The video featured the changing seasons…the crackling flames were replaced with crackling dead leaves falling from the trees surrounding the monastery, the barren trees introduced the funeral of a monk with living monks keeping vigil reading the psalms all night before the burial of their brother.”

I told Pete that all of this left me with the impression that the Welcome Center was designed as a sort of funeral parlor and that unconsciously the monks were providing the guest with a modern morality play that the visitor was the staring player. Walking out of the Welcome Center I made my way toward the Chapel for Vespers–passing by another gate where the words “God Alone” were engraved. Long time readers of this blog will remember that this gate once graced the right hand column of this blog…the Gospel in two words, a reminder that after death all that matters will be God Alone…a reminder that in this life ultimately what matters is God Alone.

Then the Chapel and monks bending in unison at the waist singing “Praise to the Father, the Son and Holy Spirit both now and forever, until the end of the ages.” punctuating the Psalms of praise and thanksgiving.

Death, Hell, Purgatory and Heaven all in a few minutes of each other. “Will you stay?”

No, not here anyway.

(Later my return to Getsemani later in the week and a more accurate description of the Welcome Center).

-Michael Dubruiel

How to Get the Most Out of the Eucharist – part 28

From How to Get the Most Out of the Eucharist by Michael Dubruiel

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From Chapter 4 – Confess – Part 4

D M I T T I N G U R E E D

There is often talk about the way “modern” Catholics believe, picking and choosing what they believe and bypassing what they don’t. It has been termed cafeteria Catholicism — what it is in reality is intellectual sin. We accept Christ’s teaching only so far as it agrees with what we already think. When it challenges us, we ignore it.

56

Jesus didn’t accept this from his disciples. When he announced the doctrine of the Eucharist in John 6 many disciples ceased to follow him because they found the teaching too difficult (see John 6:66, notice the numbers). Did Jesus yell out, “Oh, that’s okay — take what you like, ignore the rest”? No, instead he turned to those who had not left him and asked, “Do you want to leave me too?”

Our reluctance to accept the Lord’s teaching,“in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and what I have failed to do,” may be our most persistent sin, one that we constantly need to confess openly, as we do at the beginning of every celebration of the Eucharist.

W E A R E A LWAY S S I N N E R S

One of my favorite prayers is the Jesus Prayer.It is a simple prayer, taken from the Scriptures, one that can be prayed anywhere simply by repeating the words “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, the sinner,” over and over slowly. I often pray it throughout the day, whenever I find myself waiting: in the car at a traffic light, in an airport waiting for a flight, in an office waiting for an appointment or at church waiting for the Eucharist to begin.

As I pray this prayer I often imagine that I am one of the blind men spoken of in the gospel who cried out to Jesus as he was passing by.

The Jesus Prayer is essentially an Eastern Christian prayer. Eastern Christians do not have a problem with acknowledging that they are sinners, but I think that Western Christians do.

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