City of Saints, Camp of Sinners

As I sit in my cozy, quiet apartment, I find it difficult to believe that a mere two weeks ago I was outside, on a tarp with close friends and surrounded by around 2 million unknown brothers and sisters. Here, I have all material possessions. There, I had a tiny backpack with the absolute bare necessities. Here I am in a huge bustling city. There I was in an open field so vast and congested I could not dream of seeing the end of it. Here I’m in the nation’s most diverse archdiocese, and there I was surrounded by flags and people from the universal Church represented by 187 countries.

The stark contrast between my pilgrimage in Poland to World Youth Day and my ordinary life is readily apparent. Not as easily apparent are the similarities – the patterns of life that repeat and extend and blossom brilliantly no matter the physical place. I am no less a pilgrim now than I was two weeks ago. If anything, the reality of my pilgrim status has only been made super-real. My week in Poland was a microcosm of the true pilgrimage of this life to the Divine Life with the Trinity. There were moments of surreal joy and boundless hope that were bordered by aching bones and a heavy heart. My companions gave me strength and courage to continue, and there were also moments when I wanted nothing more than to be alone. I experienced profound openness to the Holy Spirit working in me, and I also resisted His presence. There were conversations that revealed ever more the beauty of the human person, and I walked through places where the ugly reality of sin were most cruelly exposed. I have seldom smiled so much or allowed my tears to flow as freely as I did during this week. These are the things  that weave together that create the pattern of this life of ascent. I experienced them acutely and in rapid succession in Poland, but we all experience them over time in the daily life or looking out to the grand scheme of things.

I could lay out our itinerary and describe each day in all its wonders and joys and sorrows. I could, and perhaps that’s what some of you expect and want from this post. But I’m not writing that. Not today. Rather, I want to take some time to reflect on those whom I was privileged to encounter.

Poland, and Krakow in particular, boasts a plethora of saints. In the months and weeks before I left for Poland, I brushed up on my saint-knowledge. I read all about St. John Paul II, St. Maximilian Kolbe, and St. Faustina. I took Bl. Pier Giorgio’s words to heart and immersed myself in the feast of St. Mary Magdalene by dwelling on the Gospel of St. John’s words on her. But no amount of reading could prepare me for truly encountering these people, these saints, in Poland. Though I’ve known their stories and their deeds for some time now and though I was plenty excited to walk their walks and venerate their relics, I was not ready to encounter them.

Thursday, we began the day by venerating the relics of Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati, the “Man of the Beatitutes.” Friday, we began the day venerating the relics of St. John Paul II, St. Faustina, St. Maximilian Kolbe, and St. Mary Magdalene. In the presence of their relics, I finally had some time to take a breath after a long week of running hither and thither to different sites. These were not men and women who were perfectly pious in every way or who never resisted God’s will in their life. These were men and women who simply became who they were meant to be, who they were made to be. In triumph and in failure, they strove towards Christ. By reflecting on their lives, something truly extraordinary happened in my heart: I realized the depth of my very own calling to sainthood. It’s something I think about relatively often, and yet, not nearly deeply enough. And I am not afraid to proclaim from the rooftops or into the blogosphere: I want to be a saint! To be a saint is not to be a doe-eyed painting or sober-looking statue somewhere of an individual who dumbly gave their life to an unseen God. No, to be a saint means to truly offer oneself, body and soul, to Christ. It is in this offering that man becomes fully alive, becomes fully himself. I want to be Kenzie, fully alive, fully the woman I was created to be.

I am encouraged to be who I am by those who came before me – by the saints whom we celebrate and remember. And I am encouraged so deeply by those who were present to me at World Youth Day. I saw millions of young people alive in their faith – lit up by joy and hope. I witnessed the transfiguration of my friends’ and companions’ hearts as we journeyed in that foreign land. Today’s second reading from Hebrews 12 encapsulates the importance of our brothers and sisters, both those in Heaven and on Earth:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider how he endured such opposition from sinners, in order that you may not grow weary and lose heart.

I went to the City of Saints, and the Camp of Sinners. The camp grounds where we gathered to celebrate World Youth Day was called Campus Misercordiae, The Camp of Mercy. In the camp of mercy, I encountered fellow pilgrims from all over the world. Our sins divide us, but our common call to sainthood in pursuing the way of Christ unites us. In the camp of mercy, the sinners were called to be saints by our shepherd here on earth, Pope Francis. He exhorted us during the Vigil on Saturday night,

Today Jesus, who is the way, the truth and the life, is calling you to leave your mark on history. He, who is life, is asking each of you to leave a mark that brings life to your own history and that of many others. He, who is truth, is asking you to abandon the paths of rejection, division and emptiness. Are you up to this? What answer will you give, with your hands and with your feet, to the Lord, who is the way, the truth and the life?

Jesus Christ is calling us to be who were made to be for the greater good of the Church and the world. In today’s gospel he says exasperatedly, “I have come to set the world on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!” (Luke 12:49) This is an emphatic call to rise to the occasion of our lives. We have been given what we need to change the world by the witness of our lives just as those saints who came before us were given what they needed.

I pray that I have the perseverance and courage to be Kenzie, a woman fully alive for Christ. Please pray for me to become who I am meant to be. Know that I am praying for you!

May God bless you on your way!

St. Maximilian Kolbe, on this your feast day please pray for us!

The Pilgrim’s Progress

For two years I have been praying and paying and preparing for one week of my life: a pilgrimage to Poland for World Youth Day. Two years have elapsed and now in a mere two days I will board a plane with 70 other pilgrims from Houston and cross into Europe.

I began this blog two years ago just after making my participation in this experience official. The fall semester of my sophomore year was one imbued with many themes of pilgrimage. I read Dante, Josef Pieper, and Chaucer. I reflected on St. Therese’s musings and on the Songs of Ascent in the Book of Psalms. For the first time in my life, I began to understand what this life truly is: a pilgrimage, an ascent to the heavenly Jerusalem. But I saw my life take shape in many other, smaller pilgrimages during the time in between then and now.

In my very first post, The Pilgrim, I introduced the blog and meditated on the meaning of pilgrimage. I asked for donations for the Poland Pilgrimage. That was November 2014. Today seemed so far away then. So much has happened between then and now. Many of you journeyed with me on here as I wrote about my adventures with study abroad last fall and some have seen the other various thoughts that have crossed my mind along the way.

Now I stand on a precipice of a known yet unknown journey. I know where we are meant to go, what we’re meant to see. My bags are packed. I’ve been walking more to prepare my body, and I’ve done reading on all the great Polish saints to prepare my soul. But where am I going? Who will I meet? How will Christ alter my plans and pre-conceived notions? I pray that I have the courage to place it all in his hands and say, Jesus I trust in you.

Someone who trusted absolutely in our Lord is St. Mary Magdalene. Today the Church remembers the great woman who is heralded throughout the centuries as the “apostle to the apostles” for her mission from Jesus to be the very first to share the joy of his resurrection from the grave. Cardinal Sarah wrote recently,

St. Mary Magdalene seeks the Lord, and when she finds him, she adores him. She is the first to adore the Lord….Adoration takes first place. Mary Magdalene reminds us of the need to recover the primacy of God and the primacy of adoration in the life of the Church and in the liturgical celebration.

Mary Magdalene was a woman who was known by Christ. She stood at the foot of the cross as he suffered and died. She was the first to witness the Resurrected Lord. She was called by name. She was known, but she also longed to know him. He utters her name, and she exclaims “Teacher!” Yet Jesus is so much more than Teacher. One of the optional first readings for today is a stunning cry of longing from Song of Songs 3:1-4b,

Upon my bed by night, I sought him who my soul loves, I sought him, but found him not. I called him, but he gave me no answer. “I will rise now and go about the city, in the streets and in the squares; I will seek him whom my soul loves.” I sought him, but found him not. The watchmen found me, as they went about in the city. “Have you seen him whom my soul loves? Scarcely had I passed them, when I found him whom my soul loves.

 

This passage reads like what Mary Magdalene’s heart must have been screaming that Sunday morning that she went to the tomb. Jesus is the Lover of her heart, as he is the great Lover of us all. Mary Magdalene found him who her soul loved. So I too, as Cardinal Sarah put it, desire to seek my Lord to adore him and receive my mission.

This is why I go on pilgrimage to World Youth Day: to seek Him, adore Him, and receive my mission from Him who my soul loves.

I also go for those whose intentions I carry with me. I go for those who can’t. I go for those reluctant to answer God’s call. I go for those who do not know Him at all. I go for those in the throes of joy. I go for the spiritual maturity of my peers. I go for the Church – for the strength of the Body of Christ. I go to rest in His Love. I go for the sake of His unfathomable divine mercy. I go for my fellow pilgrims. I go as His instrument to open myself up to His will.

This is not whimsical wander lust. This is not a trip. This is not international adventure in the secular sense. This is a pilgrimage. This is more for interior exploration than exterior, though that will most certainly take place. My eyes will wonder on the beautiful places and spaces of Poland. My body will crumble under physical exhaustion. However, I’m most concerned with what the eyes of my heart will behold afterwards and whether my soul will find the needed nourishment and encouragement.

My pilgrimage is a joyful, humbling privilege. Yet it will also have its difficulties. Two million are expected to descend on Krakow for the occasion. We will all need your prayers for this special time. Please be assured of my prayers as I walk, reflect, behold, and participate in what is to come.

May God bless you on your way!

Thanks a Million, 2015!

We are on the cusp of new year: 2016. A year of new possibilities, opportunities, triumphs, failures, births, jobs, classes, etc. It is exciting to look forward to what is to come and to make resolutions for a fresh start. However, I want to take a moment to look back with a dash of nostalgia in this heart full of gratitude.

In the spring, I learned the importance of leisure the hard way by not having any whatsoever. I spent my times hitting the books, writing papers, and serving the organizations I was involved in. It was an extraordinarily fruitful time, but also a wearying one. I was also encouraged more than I ever have been by my professors to keep pursuing my education, and their confidence in my capabilities made the strenuous semester well worth it.

When summer came, I immersed myself in books and Netflix, and perhaps reveled in the leisure a little too much. By the second week of summer, I was ready to return to school and being busy. Instead, I tried to take my mother’s insistence that I didn’t have a job or take classes with a reflective mind. I spent a lot of time reading and readying myself for my time abroad, and I have to say I’m glad my mother forced me to take a step back from the hectic busyness to enjoy my summer.

Then came Ireland. Oh, Ireland. The first weeks were a headache and a half trying to adjust, but once I acclimated to the weather and the culture, I relished every experience. I traveled solo to Italy and England – in the same week. I let go of a lot of my anxiety and fear. I learned how to sleep through any amount of partying. I met people from all over Europe and delighted in their diverse cultures. I was welcomed by the kindest Irish people.I saw beauty in every green hill, fluffy sheep, and breathtaking lake. I became a pilgrim not only spiritually, but physically, to Knock and Rome and Assisi. I spent authentic quality time with Christ, relying on Him while all I held dear were thousands of miles away.

It wasn’t just a trip. It wasn’t just a semester in a foreign country. It was the most amazing opportunity and leap of faith I have ever taken. And I am so grateful. I fell in love with a new country not by merely visiting there, but living there. I had time to form habits and get to know the city of Limerick. I teemed with nervous excitement leaving Texas because I didn’t know what I was facing, but I had a heavy heart leaving Ireland because I knew exactly what I left behind.

2015 has been a year of learning and growth for me, both in a classroom and from experiencing the big world beyond the classroom. And now I look forward with joy and anticipation to what 2016 might have in store for me.

I hope you celebrate a very happy new year! May God bless you on your way.

Sláinte!

Study(ing New Places) Week

Plane. Train. Automobile. Underground. Water taxi. Bus. Weary feet. We did it all during the week we were meant to be studying for our final exams. My friends and I packed up our backpacks and left from the Dublin Airport for a week of traveling and exploring.

 

We arrived in London Monday afternoon eager to discover the city. We spent the evening wandering Piccadilly Circus, looking into the beautiful window displays and behaving like children in the six-story monstrosity of Hamley’s Toy Store. We saw Buckingham Palace at night, nice and devoid of tourists. In Hyde Park, we came upon a Christmas carnival where we courageously braved some very high swings. Our eyes were watering from the wind, but we had an amazing view of the whole city.

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Tuesday dawned early as we excitedly hopped on the underground to Paddington Station, which is around the corner from the hospital where Princess Kate had the royal babies. From there we went on to check out 221B Baker Street and do some sleuthing. Afterwards, onward to watch the changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace. It was quite the ceremony! Onto the underground once more to Westminster. We came out to the most beautiful, radiant scene of Big Ben, minutes from chiming the hour. Though gray all morning, the sun peeked out to illuminate our view of the famous clock and the Parliament buildings. Though we didn’t get to go inside, we spent several minutes marveling outside Westminster Abbey, in awe of the architecture and the historicity.

We meandered down to the National Gallery and spent a solid two hours gaping at Fra Angelico, Bernini, Van Gogh, Monet, Cezanne, Renoir, and Rembrandt to only name a few. From there, we found (with some trouble) the Cheshire Cheese where Charles Dickens, Samuel Johnson, and G.K.Chesterton among other authors liked to grab a pint. Afterwards, we went back across the city to see the Brompton Oratory followed by the enormous department store, Harrod’s.

Wednesday, we got up to begin the day at the Tower of London. The tour was fascinating, and it was mind-boggling to walk in the footsteps of the royalty, the prisoners, and those sentenced to death, particularly Sts. Thomas More and John Fisher. The crown jewels were absolutely spectacular in person! Afterwards, we sped across the city to see Kensington Gardens and Palace, which were absolutely gorgeous!

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The rest of Wednesday was spent in traveling to the airport and flying across Europe to the Venice airport. We made it to the city of canals at 11, exhausted but excited to see the sights the next day. The water taxi ride to our hostel was eerie as the city was covered in fog and mist. The waters were grey and dreary, and honestly a bit foreboding.

Thursday was bright and misty, allowing us to soak in the boats, canals, and bustle of Venice. The day had no particular agenda, and we spent most of it wandering around the narrow streets and riding the water taxis just to soak it all in. We also ate a LOT of gelato. A lot a lot. We saw the Basilica di San Marco, which is spectacular. The inside is in the Byzantine style, and every inch is covered in amazing mosaics. How beautiful it was to pray before the remains of St. Mark the Evangelist. His mark is all over the city in the Marcan symbol of the Winged Lion.

Venice is beautiful, and it was a delight to take a deep breath and not worry about cross the city as we had to do in London. It was nice simply to wander with no commitments and demands.

Friday morning made a parting of the ways as Taryn went to make it to Belfast, while Lena and I took the train to Assisi. The train ride was peaceful and rife with the first glimpses of the beautiful Italian countryside – olive trees, vineyards, and rustic homes. Arriving in the Assisi train station was so very exciting. Lena and I found our Bed and Breakfast before making it to the Basilica di San Francesco for daily Mass. We prayed before the tomb of the saint, absolutely reveling that we actually made a pilgrimage to Assisi.

After Mass, Sr. Mary Frances of the FSE sisters picked us up for dinner, and we got dinner and shared lovely conversation. Then she took us to Mary of the Angels, the basilica built around the Porziuncola, the original church that St. Francis built. It was there that my heart felt squeezed with the reality of where we were. How very good God is!

Saturday, we returned to San Francesco to investigate further the artistry and architecture. Taking our time, we wound our way back up the city poking around the Christmas market and marveling at the views of the Umbrian hillsides. In the afternoon, we walked down to San Damiano, where Francis received the vision from God and St. Clare established her monastery. So. Incredibly. Beautiful. And oh so peaceful. My heart was full walking in the beautiful way of the saints!

The monastery was a place surrounded in the spirit of true peace. What wonder that God brought us, two little girls from the US, to the beautiful Assisi. We climbed back up into the city to explore Santa Chiara before ending our day.

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Sunday dawned very, very early as Sr. Mary Frances picked us up for 7am Lauds followed by 7:30am Mass at San Damiano. It. Was. Amazing. And a little bleary eyed. Following Mass, Sister took us to their house for breakfast before dropping us off at the airport.

What a week! And this description is but the bare bones of it all! Britain is great. Italy is gorgeous. And above all, God is good!

May God bless you on your way!

Wondering and Wandering

A mere two full days after I returned from Rome, in the most bewildering week of my life, I went on to Birmingham, England. I flew into Birmingham rather than London for one reason alone – to visit the Birmingham Oratory.

The Oratory was founded by Bl. John Henry Newman in 1848, and today they have a gorgeous shrine there with his relics. In addition to its significance with that  blessed and prolific cardinal, J.R.R.Tolkien and his younger brother were essentially raised there after the death of their mother. Instead of being entrusted to family members, the two boys were entrusted to the care of a priest, Fr. Francis Xavier Morgan, who was to raise them to be diligent Catholics. The Oratory is fantastically beautiful – and I was blessed with the opportunity to go to daily Mass and Adoration there.

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I found my way to the Birmingham train station from my hostel and caught a train to Oxford. The difference between the enormous, bustling, industrial Birmingham and the sprawling, quiet, and nature-nurtured Oxford were immediately apparent from their difference in train stations. Birmingham has perhaps 20 some odd platforms, and Oxford has two.

From the train station, I found my way to my accommodation – I stayed in a dorm room inside Somerville College. I felt like a proper Oxonian staying in the same halls as some of her students. I made a beeline for the Eagle and Child (aka the Birdy and Baby) where Tolkien, C.S.Lewis, and the other members of the Inklings would meet to share their writings and a pint or two. I ended up talking to a sweet woman who was from Dallas, and she and her husband ended up buying my lunch and inviting me to eat with them. It was a great conversation talking about school, faith, and literature.

 

After departing, I wandered through the streets of Oxford, determined to end the day at Magdalen College. I felt much more at ease in Oxford than I had in Rome. Rome was amazing, but stressful as it is so enormous and I didn’t speak the language. In Oxford, I took my ease navigating the streets, not worrying if I got lost. I was there to fill my lungs with the crisp autumn air, to revel in the glory of academia, and walk the walks of my literary heroes.

I eventually found my way to Magdalen – the college where Lewis taught. The college has expansive and beautiful meadows as a part of its grounds. I spent close to two hours wandering the footpaths, my mind and heart caught up in a myriad of thoughts. Primary among those thoughts was the conversion of Lewis, which began one evening walking those very paths – known as Addison’s Walk – with Charles Williams and Tolkien. They discussed Myth and Truth, and this conversation among others eventually resulted in Lewis’ conversion to Christianity.

That night, I went back to the Eagle and Child to read Tolkien’s Essay on Fairy-Stories, drink a pint of {ginger} beer and enjoy the atmosphere of the cozy (cosy?) pub.

Saturday dawned early and misty as I rose to attend daily Mass and Adoration at Tolkien’s home parish – Sts. Gregory and Augustine. I enjoyed a wet walk down to the church. It’s a small, sweet, distinctly British parish. It was me and the old men for Saturday’s celebration of the liturgy. I found great peace there as I ruminated upon Tolkien feeding his own faith there, the faith that shaped his worldview and his writings.

After leaving his parish, I walked further on to his and his wife’s grave. It was a cemetery obviously well looked after. Most of the graves had tokens of love upon them. Tolkien’s, too, had tokens that were obviously from admirers. It was beautiful to visit the home of his faith on earth and then to visit the home of his physical remains on earth. My mind meandered to the Grey Havens at the end of Lord of the Rings, and wandered further still to Christian faith in the Resurrection at the end of time.

I walked back into Oxford proper, and spent some time at Blackwell’s book store – which is a beautiful place for any and all who love the printed word. For the rest of the afternoon, I meandered among the colleges, the buildings, the streets where great thoughts have been conceived, taught, written. I spent a good hour getting drenched in the meadow’s at Christ’s Church College – and loving every autumnal gust and rain drop.

That night, I went back to the Eagle and Child for another night of reading and ginger beer drinking. I ended up talking to guy from Cork (which is not too far to where I’m living currently in Limerick). He bought my drink, and introduced me to his mother and sister. We got into a great conversation about academics, the Church, and traveling. They were an absolutely delight to talk with, and I was bewildered and pleased that two out my three times to the pub produced the fruit of new friends and thoughtful conversations (as well as free refreshments). Just as the Inklings cultivated their friendships in conversation there, I was provided with the right circumstances to interact with friendly travelers and take joy in common interests.

On Sunday, I relished a luxurious morning to wake up, eat, and prepare for Mass at my leisure – the Oxford Oratory is on the campus of the college I stayed in! Bl. John Henry Newman preached in, Gerard Manly Hopkins was curated at, and Tolkien attended the Oxford Oratory. It is a beautiful, historic church, and I thoroughly enjoyed Mass there. It was nice to see other college students attending there – I (most unfortunately) have seen too few during my time here in Ireland.

After Mass, I headed for the train station to get back to Birmingham and fly back to Limerick. My time in Oxford was too brief, but it was an excellent restorative. Rome was a spiritual home, but Oxford felt like a academic/literary home. Though it was new, it felt familiar. To use Tolkien’s now famous quote from the Fellowship of the Ring, “Not all those who wander are lost.” I spent my weekend in Oxford doing much wandering and wondering, treasuring the opportunity of doing both immensely.

May God bless you on your way – and may yours be filled with much wondering and wandering as well!

 

Rome Sweet Home

Rome. The Eternal City. The Heart of the Church.

Just two weeks ago, I boarded a plane by myself and flew to a place where I did not speak the language, where I did not have a common cultural history, and where I did not know what to anticipate. But I did go where God was calling me.

There are many things about my pilgrimage to Rome that I could recount to illustrate my certainty that without God’s will, there would have been no way I would have made it in the first place. Instead of recounting these, however, I will ponder them in my heart and for the present time only recount the bare events as I experienced them. My understanding of this pilgrimage has yet to blossom, so there are no insights I have to shed. I have only to proclaim first the goodness of God and second my wonder and awe in my unworthiness.

I arrived on Thursday night, a bit dazed and confused after a long day of traveling across Ireland to the Dublin Airport and then further flying across Europe to Italy. I stayed in a guesthouse run by sisters belonging to the Pontifical Institute of Maestro Pie Filippini, and though the sisters seemed very sweet, they spoke no English whatsoever. We communicated primarily through smiling, some exasperated hand gestures and sighs, and some excited pointing at my saint medals. My room there was extremely comfortable, and a nice, quiet, clean refuge to return to after the hustle and bustle of Rome.

On Friday, I began by getting lost on my way to the Basilica of St. John Lateran. I eventually found it, but to be honest, it greatly overwhelmed me, and I wasn’t able to properly to take it in.

Our Mother Church!

Our Mother Church!

After dazedly walking through John Lateran with mouth open wide, I went to climb the Scala Sancta, or the Holy Steps. When St. Helena did her excavations in Jerusalem, she found stairs that we believe to be the steps from Pontius Pilate’s praetorium, which Jesus climbed several times the day of His Crucifixion. The faithful are only allowed to climb the stairs on their knees, moving at a reverent pace. Utilizing the pamphlet available and gazing upon a gorgeous mosaic of the Crucifixion, climbing the Scala Sancta was the most fruitful meditation on the Crucifixion of my life thus far.

After collecting my ticket for the canonization, I met up with another American woman traveling alone named Maria. We walked down together to the Sancta Maria Supra Minerva, where the body of St. Catherine of Siena (minus her head!) resides. It was beautiful to be in the presence of the earthly remains of such an indomitable woman and Doctor of the Church!

My day continued in its beautiful glory and bewilderment as I went to meet a seminarian at St. Peter’s. My heart stopped when I first caught sight of the dome. I thought, “Surely, that’s not it. OHMYGOODNESS THAT’S IT.” I practically ran the rest of the way. The columned arms of the Basilica were an embrace – a warm welcome home.

First sighting!

First sighting!

A kind American seminarian, Joseph, gave me a delightful tour of the Basilica. It is so beautiful! How I wish I had a more eloquent way to describe St. Peter’s, but all I am currently able to do is affirm the great beauty of the physical building, and to marvel at the greater beauty of all that has happened there and all those who have faithfully offered up their prayers to God there.

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Several days before I left, the opportunity to go down into the Scavi – the Crypt of St. Peter – practically fell into my lap, which is not something that happens to just anyone! Saturday dawned bright and hopeful as I trekked towards the Vatican to meet with those I was meant to go on the tour with. It. Was. Fascinating.

Vatican Hill was originally a cemetery for Roman families – and I was able to walk among part of its “City of the Dead” on our tour. In 320, Constantine filled in everything on the hill to lay a foundation to build his basilica, because it was also the area of St. Peter’s burial. Until Pope Pius XII gave his authorization in 1939, no one had seen what lay beneath the basilica for 1600 years! How privileged we are to live in a time when it is possible to see the wonderfully preserved City of the Dead and remains of the Constantinian Basilica.

The most amazing marvel were the remains of St. Peter, which I saw with my very own eyes! I SAW ST. PETER. I saw, with my physical eyes (and I pray some spiritual vision as well) the Rock upon whom Christ built His Church. The man who was born a poor fisherman and died a martyr for radically following Jesus Christ and spreading His message. What grace! Safe to say I lost it before his tomb and wept profusely, begging for his intercession for us all.

On Saturday afternoon, I was able to visit with the Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist who live in Rome. How I love that community! The three sisters there welcomed me cheerfully and gave me a peaceful place to talk about my experiences with joy.

That evening, I went to the Vigil for the Canonization with Maria at the Basilica of St. Teresa of Avila. The parents of the two children who were miraculously healed by the intercession of Zelie and Louis gave their testimonies. Everything was in Italian, so I did not understand much, but it was wonderful to simply be present and to watch the other faithful celebrating these two wonderful witnesses to Christian love and family life.

Venerating the relics of Zelie and Louis.

Venerating the relics of Zelie and Louis.

Sunday dawned bright and early as I woke up before the sun to meet Maria so we could make it to St. Peter’s by 6am to get in line outside the gates. For two hours, we talked with those around us, watched the line rapidly grow, and tried to prepare our hearts for what was in store. At 8am, the gates opened and once through security, we ran to find good seats. Praise be to God, we found seats four rows back from the front of the section for the general audience. For another two hours, we watched the square fill up with people of every nation, age, and walk of life. We watched the seminarians, priests, bishops, and religious file in. We prayed the Rosary in Latin with thousands and thousands of our brothers and sisters, sharing together in an ancient devotion in the ancient tongue of our Church.

The Canonization Mass was the most heart-inflamingly beautiful liturgy I have ever participated in. To hear as Pope Francis proclaimed my patron saint’s parents saints – my heart burned with the fire of the Holy Spirit in awe of these two people who simply (though not easily) fulfilled who God created them to be. Sainthood and holiness cannot be equated with doing or saying exceptional things, but rather by truly allowing the extraordinary grace of God to work in you in your daily life. This is holiness: to submit to the will of God, to be who He made you – you and most specifically YOU – to be!

Ss. Zelie and Louis Martin.

Ss. Zelie and Louis Martin.

So close to the altar.

So close to the altar.

Today we the Church celebrate the Feast of All Saints! We joyfully celebrate those who came before us who answered God’s call to holiness by being who He made them to be. Today we pray that we too may answer His call and joyfully join the ranks of the saints someday in Heaven.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow for bringing me to Rome. I am so incredibly grateful. It is an experience I will reflect upon for the rest of my life. My pilgrimage there made ever more present to me the reality and gravity of our faith. So many have gone before us on the pilgrimage through this life to Eternal Life. The Eternal City which felt like home made me long ever more for the Eternal Home. For now, the road goes ever on.

May God bless you on your journey!

Knock(ing) on Heaven’s Door

On October 3rd I had the opportunity to make pilgrimage to the Shrine at Knock, in Co. Mayo, and what a blessed day it was! I woke up before the sun and boarded a bus – I traveled for three-ish hours by bus to reach the tiny village that is home to the popular pilgrimage site. When I say tiny village, I mean TINY. The village consists of a handful of hotels, coffee shops, religious stores, and the sprawling grounds of the Shrine itself.

The Shrine property includes a visitor center, Adoration Chapel, book store, museum and cafe, reconciliation chapel, the Basilica, and the parish church, with the Shrine on the rear wall of the church.

In August of 1879, Mary, St. Joseph, and St. John the Evangelist appeared to 15 villagers in Knock for two hours. The message of the apparition was a silent one, unlike many other well known Marian apparitions. Since 1879, millions have made pilgrimage to Knock seeking the intercession of Our Lady. Many have been healed of physical and non-physical ailments, and many have simply experienced the peace of the place. In 1979, Pope St. John Paul the Great made pilgrimage and said Mass there, to a crowd of nearly half a million! Bl. Mother Teresa also made pilgrimage there in 1993, drawing another large crowd to her powerful personality.

Many have made pilgrimage there, and I was so overjoyed to join the ranks of these other pilgrims. It was my first time visiting the site of a Marian apparition, and I must say that I experienced a peace there that I have never felt in my life before. I participated in Mass at the Basilica with hundreds of others, and felt connected to them through the Blessed Sacrament of Our Lord and also the tender affection for Our Lady. It was a long, yet extraordinarily peaceful and joyful day. Thanks be to God!

The Basilica.

The Basilica.

The Shrine itself.

The Shrine itself.

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This past weekend, I embarked for Galway City with two friends. We had a blast exploring the city – so many shops, so many street performers, and so many interesting sites within the compact city center. It’s a bustling city, with many students and tourists milling about. We really, really enjoyed going out in the evening to find live musicians.

Old city wall inside the underground mall!

Old city wall inside the underground mall!

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Galway Cathedral!

Galway Cathedral!

Magical children's store!

Magical children’s store!

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On Saturday, we took a day tour of Connemara, a beautiful mountainous region in County Galway. My heart was overwhelmed by the majesty of the mountains and the peace of open fields, lakes, and sheep at every altitude. We also visited the famed Kylemore Abbey, which was built in the latter half of the 19th century by a dedicated husband for a beloved wife. After her premature death, the castle and estate were sold, and in 1920 the Irish Benedictine Nuns began to call the castle and the estate their home. They ran a girls boarding school there from the ’30s until 2010, and still live and work on the site. It was GORGEOUS. The castle (now abbey) and the grounds are astonishingly beautiful, and I loved the serenity of the castle nestled in the heart of the Connemara Mountains.

CONNEMARA MOUNTAINS

CONNEMARA MOUNTAINS

Kylemore Abbey - Benedictine nuns still live and work here.

Kylemore Abbey – Benedictine nuns still live and work here.

Sitting room inside Kylemore.

Sitting room inside Kylemore.

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On Sunday, we traipsed about the city some more, went to Mass at Galway Cathedral (which has an AMAZING choir), I experienced the coolest bookstore I’ve been to yet in my life, and we enjoyed the sunny weather out on the Bay.

Coolest book store I've been to in my life.

Coolest book store I’ve been to in my life.

Galway Bay!

Galway Bay!

All in all, a wonderful weekend in Galway. (And yes, we sang Galway Girl on a constant loop haha!)