I got back to Rome on Sept. 9th. It seems like a long time ago already. I am grateful for the time at home, especially the time with family and friends. I was really edified by the goodness I found in them. My first week back was spent in workshops on pastoral counseling. It was taught by a professor from the seminary in St. Louis. It will be pretty useful when the time comes- people come to a priest looking for help with a lot of things, and I feel a little better equipped having at least been exposed to some basic counseling skills. The workshops were all held in the basement level of the college, so in spite of the material and presentation being excellent, I was feeling pretty cooped up by the end of the week.
Fortunately, we were able to get out of the house the following week: my entire class went on retreat at a retreat house on the mediterranean coast close to Rome. I made sure to go swimming every chance I got. I noticed that it is a lot easier to float in salt water. It was a week-long silent directed retreat. We took our meals in silence, had Mass together, and otherwise spent the days in prayer and reflection. Each day we would meet with our spiritual director to receive guidance and biblical passages to pray with. The whole point of the retreat is to just spend some time with the Lord without all the distractions of everyday life.
After retreat we had a week of preaching workshops. The focus for these was to learn how to preach at weddings and funerals. It is harder than one might think, or so I discovered. The priest who taught us is from the Archdiocese of Washington D.C. and was a very good storyteller. This made the time pass more quickly.
Having worked hard all week preparing practice homilies [we can't preach for real yet], my classmate Fred Gruber and I took a little pilgrimage out of Rome to the shrine of Our Lady of Good Counsel. It is about an hour bus ride to the East, in the hills of Lazio. The story is that the image pictured below was miraculously transported from Albania to Genazzano, Italy, and placed in this church in 1470. Needless to say, the Albanians have great devotion to this image. John Paul II as well as Mother Theresa have both visited this shrine. Also St. John Bosco. I read a prayer of Mother Theresa that was posted on the wall that said something to the extent of "Blessed Mother, please come back home to Albania", so she seemed to think the story was legitimate. The Augustinian brothers who care for the shrine invited us to pranzo[lunch] with them, so naturally we obliged them. I had never really met Augustinians before so it was a new experience. And lastly, we have a little garden here at the NAC. I planted some eggplants from seed in my room last February, put the seedlings in the ground in April, and left for America in June. I assumed they would die from neglect, lack of water, and extreme Roman summer temperature. But much to my surprise, they made it and have eggplants on them. Someone must have watered them. I never had eaten eggplant before coming here, but it is really quite good. If you fry it in oil it just soaks it up like a sponge. I suppose it probably doesn't have much nutritional value, but it sure tastes good. Since the temperature is so mild during the winter here, I'm going to try and grow some cold weather crops over the winter. This Thursday all of the men in the 4th year will be ordained deacons at St. Peter's Basilica. It is an exciting week for everyone at the seminary. Next week school starts for the rest of the house [I started today since I go the the Holy Cross], then we'll settle into a normal schedule again, not to be interrupted until Christmas.
I thank you for all of your prayers for me. I don't think we realize how much we can help one another by our praying of each other. Know that I pray for all of you in my daily prayers.