Saturday, May 12, 2007

May 12 - Fourth Day of Discernment

First of all, here is a picture of three of the Brothers at my table this afternoon. Br. Michael Murphy is a fellow classmate from Justin-Siena serving as a translater; Br. John Guasconi is from the LINE District and also a translator, and Br. Michael French is the Director of CIL, from the Midwest District, and a Delegate to the Chapter. A fine bunch of folks.

Add to the list of things that I misjudged (a long list) - the fact that the Discernment Days would be relatively calm days for me; maybe even enough to read something besides lists of liturgy to-do's and computer screens. It was not to be, and today was a good example.

Since I knew that I would be going to the Vatican with Leonardo this morning and had the Mass covered, I thought I'd sleep in. Nevertheless, I woke up at around 7:30 and started my day. A quick trip to the "office" to check email and the like was followed by an equally quick breakfast, still in silence. (Yesterday, as I passed Frank Carr during one of the silent meals I leaned down and whispered, "Why is it that even when we're under silence everyone still sits in language groups." Must be something about feeling comfortable.

Br. Lorenzo informed me before breakfast that he'd had another call from the Bishop's office, asking for the information about the program on Founder's Day. Fabio, one of the workers here, helped me get into Carla's office to try the fax machine again. This time, the machine on our end refused to cooperate. Time was getting short and I told Fabio that I'd go ahead and make a copy of the fax and then walk it to the office at the Vatican with Leonardo. Fabio went to the hotel part of the Motherhouse to try that fax machine, while I met up with Leonardo, as planned, and we made our way downtown. He knew the roads, and soon enough we were dodging down a tiny street next to the Vatican and then popped into a hole in the ground that happened to be a public parking lot. The attendant knew Leonardo well, and hardly a word was spoken as he picked up his ticket and left the car in a room about as big as a small strip-mall store, filled with cars packed tighter than nuns at a papal audience.

We walked to one of the large buildings along the huge road that leads right into the piazza and made our way upstairs to some large doors. Inside, an Italian attendant behind a desk was the gate-keeper. Leonardo spoke with him, introduced me (handshakes all around) and asked for a certain secretary. Smiles and words later, the attendant disappeared down a long hallway and soon the Padre Pietro, the secretary (I guess) of the bishop, appeared. We gave him the envelope with the information about the Mass, and he said that he's just received the fax (from the hotel, no doubt). But we chatted a bit and then made our way to another floor where Leonardo had some further business with another office. Along the way we met a very kind older nun, whom Leonardo told me later was probably the most respected canon lawyer around.

When we'd returned to the car, we decided that it was better to walk to the music store (remember that I'd wanted to get that music stand) than try to find another parking place. So a brisk 15-minute walk later we arrived at Musicarte where I found the stand. Leonardo went back for the car while I looked around a bit. When I finally bought the stand, providentially another salesman was packing up a stand that hadn't been on display but that was portable and better for my purposes - plus it cost half as much. So the change was made, the purchases finalized, and I met up with Leonardo on the street, which by now was filled with double-parked cars, leaving only a tiny lane in the middle, down which an Italian policeman ambled, blowing his whistle every once in a while to let people in the stores know that he was going to stand idly by while the rules were violated.

Leonardo next had to go to the Secretariat of State, which was within the Vatican. He drove to a side gate, showed his Vatican pass, and was let in. We drove through part of the gardens and then into some dark, medieval-looking lanes, emerging in a wide-open plaza surrounded by the Secretariat buildings. A smart-looking Swiss guard greeted us, saluted, and told us to go ahead to the main building. There, another smart-looking Swiss guard greeted us, saluted, and said that he'd take the package that Leonardo was delivering. Sometimes, they let you through and you can go up the office yourself, but this time that's as far as we got. So back to the car, a quick side-trip into another building to ask about the audience with the Holy Father that's planned for later in the month (a general audience, but we want a good spot), and then on our way out. While driving across the Vatican again, Leonardo pointed out the old train station and said that there was a store there. I asked if we could stop for a minute, and we had ten minutes or so before he had to get back to the Motherhouse for another appointment. As I went in, I was expecting a souvenier kind of shop, perhaps with a few fancy items included. Well, I was in for a surprise. It was like Macy's or Tiffany's in there. Lots of fashionable items (clothing, jewelry, luggage, electronics, liquor, etc.) that were for people way outside of my pay grade. Leonardo explained that everything was about 30% less expensive here because there were no taxes, and only people connected to the Vatican (and their friends) could shop there.

Soon back to the Motherhouse, where at noon both Frank Carr and myself were scheduled to be filmed by Roch for Founder's Day videos back home. I'd promised the folks at Christian Brothers High School that I'd try to do a short video that could be used at the Founder's Day Liturgy, and Frank was doing something similar for Juan Diego School in his District. Roch set up the camera in front and we both did individual coming-out-of-the-front-door and going down the steps shots, talking as we went. It was a bit awkward at first, but we soon got the hang of it. Then Roch did shots with me in the Chapter Hall, the Chapel, and the garden. We'll see what he and Paul put together with it all. We had asked Br. Alvaro to include a message from the Superior General and later today Roch shot that too, so that will be part of the package. When it's ready, next Tuesday, I'll see if I can link into it with the blog.

Okay, this is getting too long. During the morning and afternoon, the Brothers had placed cards listing the major topics (challenges) that they think we need to face in the future. These were placed on bulletin boards and then "clustered" into themes by the group leaders. Further cards were tacked on later in the day. The result was that by the end of the afternoon, we had a good indication of what major themes of topics would be the substance of the rest of our time together. These, of course, were the fruit of our discernment days.

Just to finish the day... There followed singing practice at 4:00 PM, a meeting at 4:30 PM with one of the Brothers, and the Central Commission meeting at 5:00 PM until whenever. As it turned out, the Central Commission went on for over an hour and a half, dealing with the upcoming schedule changes. Tomorrow will be real busy. From the meeting, I rushed back to the office to get things ready for the evening Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament service, something that Freddy and I had been working on during the afternoon. He and Br. Alberto had constructed a "tent" on the altar for tonight's service. It not only looked real good, but Br. Vincenzo thought it had been a nifty idea. Just before the service, as we were finalizing things, he told Alberto and Freddy - in Italian, of course, with half French and lots of gestures - that the Founder had come into the chapel early that afternoon, pointing to me with a smile. He meant when I came in with Roch (and me in my robe) to film the chapel piece of the video. He's turning out to be way less rigid than others had warned me about. Patience and a positive attitude go a long way.

Only one other thing to mention - the fire during the evening service. We had turned most of the lights out in the chapel and had two containers of sand with long candles in front of the icon of the Face of Christ that we had put in front of the tent / altar. The table with the candles from the Brothers was again in front of the sanctuary. The background music, in intervals, was Byzantine chant (one of my favorite kinds of music), and things seemed to go swimmingly. Then, as I was in the back taking some pictures, there was a bit of a flare on the table with candles. One Brother in the front pew went up to re-arrange things, and soon another joined him. Then suddenly the flame got larger and he was flaying his arms at it all, with the other Brother joining in - calm all around with the rest of the group. For a bit, it looked like we might have trouble, but the burst of fire stopped and smoke rose in little billows above his head. By the time I had made my way up there, they had removed one of the candle holders, which had burned right through to the plastic plate beneath it, melting everything into an ugly mess. We rearranged the candles a bit, and then resumed our meditations. I'm thinking of getting that Brother a fire-chief hat at a toy store nearby. His quick action prevented something that could have been much more serious. Who said that liturgy wasn't exciting?

More pictures at

Friday, May 11, 2007

May 11 - Third Day of Discernment

These days of discernment are something I could get used to. I can take my time getting up in the morning, and can make my way down to the office at a leisurely pace. Since breakfast is in silence, people go at different times and leave as they finish. The first time that you do something together is at 9 AM for the morning Mass. This morning I thought that we'd run out of wine and so I did a quick walk to the Main Chapel for another bottle (from a little refrigerator that's in the back, through a door, around the corner, and at floor level - Vincenzo showed me). When I got back I noticed that everything had already been put out, including the wine. Well, at least we're ready for tomorrow also.

During the prayers of intercession we were invited to mention Brothers and Lasallian Partners who had had an important influence in our lives, and who may or may not be dead. Most of us mentioned three names - mine were Hugh Kennedy, Bertram Coleman, and Timothy Diener. In hearing the names mentioned by those whom I knew, it was also evident (in a sort of intuitive way) how the people they mentioned were reflected in their own personalities. I could only hope for the same in my case, but I've got a long way to go.

The morning had several components for those attending the Chapter, and all of them were included in a small Discernement Days booklet that they carried around with them. For my part, I did work on liturgies and resources, walking around as well to take a number of photographs. One group that met, for example, were the "C Group" leaders, who were overseeing the late afternoon discussions / sharing that were being held. They would bring up questions, or insights, or listen to the plans for the following day. These meetings were held in another room here that's set up for simulataneous translation. Those translaters have a pretty strenuous job, and they're almost all Brothers from various parts of the world. They really are doing a yeoman's job.

I had hoped to go with Br. Leonardo to the music store that had the music stand that I wanted to get for our choral group and for other venues coming up, but he had a last-minute something come up and couldn't go. But it was all for the best, because a little while later I received a note saying that the bishop for the Founder's Day Mass wanted to know what readings we were doing and what the program was. I received this about 4:30 PM. When I tried to call his secretary back there was no answer. Then I put together a fax and went upstairs to Carla, one of the secretaries, so that she could fax it before 5 PM, when all of Rome apparently, and certainly the Vatican, goes home. She did fax it, but an hour later I found it back at my desk with a post-it saying that it hadn't gone through. I got into her office with the help of Lorenzo and tried to fax it myself. No luck, just a lot of ringing. Then I saw Br. Leonardo at dinner and he said that I could go with him to the Vatican tomorrow, where he had to go anyway, and we could stop at the bishop's office. (I don't know if he will be in, but at least we could drop off an envelope with the information.) All I had to do now is find someone to fill in for starting the music at the morning Mass, which I would have to miss. But it all worked out when I spoke to the people involved.

Another interesting twist was the statue of De La Salle that suddenly showed up in the plaza area next to the Main Chapel. It wasn't there two days ago and suddenly there it was, with Massimo (the handyman guy who does everything and has been here forever) putting in a couple of lights to light it up at night. He and Br. Marcellino had gone up to Turin to pick it up and had just brought it back. Apparently, it's a gift from the Brothers in Italy and they hope that we can dedicate / bless it on the feast of the Founder. So Lorenzo saw me and asked if we could just tack on a little something to the Mass for that day, bring everyone outside and bless the statue. Sure, no problem. Now I've just got to figure out where I can find a statue prayer, let alone a little ritual for it all. If you have any ideas, send them my way (soon).

Central Commission meeting at 5 PM as usual. Topics ranged from finalizing the schedule on Sunday, the last day of this phase to the evaluations that had been turned in by the Brothers concerning the first two phases. I haven't read them yet, but if there was anything significant it would have been brought up. One of the things that those of us in communications should be conscious of is the fact that lots of things are shared through the internet, and we should be discreet in deciding the kinds of pictures that we make universally available. It's a good caution, since some of the pictures from here would make it seem that we've had a lot of parties (uh, I mean presentations) from the various regions. Well, there have been some, but the majority of time has been spent either in groups large and small or at prayer. It's just that you can take only so many pictures of people sitting around a table or in the Aula Magna. This is an intense group, almost all of whom are go-getters who want to get things done. Being in a General Chapter doesn't change that at all, as is clear from their conversations and serious demeanor.

The Exposition of the Blessed Sacramento this evening had an Indian theme to it. Freddy had three people do the Indian rite of adoration (fire, flowers, incense) while the choir sang one of the Bhanyans that he brought. Then, throughout the time that we were there, he would play a Bhanyan on the CD, softly and in the background. It all fit quite well. Tomorrow evening I hope to make it more of a Byzantine flavor, with the icon of Christ from the CIL chapel and perhaps even something that one of the Brothers suggested to me in keeping with our theme - putting together some kind of tent on the altar within which the monstrance would be placed. I've spoken with Freddy about it, and he will see what he can do. God knows what the Brothers of the house here will think of that. Who said that liturgy wasn't adventurous.
More pictures at

Thursday, May 10, 2007

May 10 - Second Day of Discernment

It's in the nature of days like this that nothing much happens - at least on the outside. The environment, schedule, and circumstances are shaped in a way that will encourage reflection, prayer and serious consideration of what has gone on before this.

At the English language group Mass this morning, we were invited to reflect on the conversion that God is calling the Institute towards. These were written on note cards, brought up to the altar, and remained there until after Mass when I was supposed to burn them. Instead, in a more contemporary twist, I went and found a shredder and shredded them to bits. When I asked Br. Lorenzo where the ones from the Spanish language group were, he said that he'd already burned them in the yard somewhere. I had half a mind to go look at the place where he did that, since I wouldn't have known where to start, fearing that one of the Ethiopean gardens would come running at me with a stick and a garden hose if I tried to burn the cards in the nearest convenient spot. But all's well that ends well. The French language group did not use the note cards; I don't know how they completed the exercise, but I presume they did so. It was part of the retreat. (Oh, no, we're not supposed to call it a retreat. They're days of discernment!)

For the morning, I worked on the liturgies that are coming up, plus some resources for future prayer services, and I spent some time talking with Br. Leonardo about various things, also giving him a copy of the book I had written on De La Salle and his spirituality, something that he had asked me for. His main job is working with the Holy See. Anything where the Institute needs to contact or work with its departments, Leonardo is the man. From the look of his office, he's very efficient at it too.

Instead of going to lunch - too much food around here - I decided to go downtown to a music store in order to find a good music stand to use. I walked down to the bus station and noticed another music store across the street. Taking my life in my hands, I crossed like the Italians do (actually I followed in the wake of a few determined Italians, and that worked). While they didn't have what I needed, there were a couple of other items that I did get (e.g., a reasonably priced guitar tuner) and then waited for the 49 bus to take me to the Vatican.

Once there, I began to walk in what I thought was the right direction. After about half a mile I thought that the surroundings did not seem very familiar. Soon it became apparent that I'd gone in the wrong direction. So out came the map, whence I found out that I had zigged when I should have zagged. Back I went and finally found the right street. Upon arriving at the store, it was well and truly closed, complete with metal door lowered down and locked. Of course, if was 2 PM and everyone was home having dinner. Now what?

Well, there's lots to do in Rome. So I walked over to the Vatican, stopping for a walk-in pizza and beer and later for some Amaretti cookies (they're very good, but expensivo). Getting to the piazza, I planted myself in the middle, ate my cookies, and watched the tourists. They were either dead-tired, bubbling with excitement, or fiddling with some sort of camera. Looking over to the side, I saw that there was a photo exhibit of the photographs taken by the official Vatican photographer for the last 50 years or more. He's the guy you always saw running about JP II with 15 cameras hanging from his neck, taking as many shots as he could. I went to the exhibit (free) and enjoyed the pictures that he had picked out to display. You could really see how JP II aged during his pontificate; but of course all the pictures were flattering. There were signs all over that the photos may be shipped all over the world - but it was in some tortured English that I don't now recall. You'd think they'd ask one of the 1500 English-speaking priests how to write a normal sounding declarative sentence. (Maybe I should have said something.) In any case, I moved on and meandered back to the music shop, where I found a good stand that I may pick up tomorrow. It wasn't quite portable and I didn't want to make my way back on the Metro lugging a music stand up and down escalators.

I returned back at the ranch just in time for the 5:00 PM Central Commission meeting. It was announced that this would likely be a short meeting. As was pointed out afterwards, that usually means that the meeting will end up being longer than thought, and this was no exception. We were there for over an hour. Different issues, lots of discussion, ending with general agreement on how to proceed.

Dinner was in silence, with the usual noise in that large echo chambe of a dining room (great for singing, awful for making yourself heard across the table) making dinner seem anything but silent.

For the Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament this evening, it was decided that we would try to use some music to cover up the creaking of the pews and to provide some atmosphere. So I found some good background music (Hilliard Ensemble singing Latin chants and meditation piano music) and tried various locations in the chapel before deciding on a spot near the sanctuary.

The service proceeded as planned. About 15 minutes from the end, at 9:45, one of the Brothers went up, whispered to Lorenzo who was sitting by the sanctuary, and then walked over to the ipod I had rigged up and promptly turned it off. I think that after over an hour of the music, he'd had enough of it. And I must say that the silence was fine by me. It's all about owning the liturgy, and the Brothers seemed to be getting the hang of it.

One interesting note, I took several pictures during my foray of these little cars called Smart cars. They seat two people only, seem to run on a lawnmower engine (although designed by Mercedes), and can be parked nose-in. They're the tiniest cars I've yet seen, and I run into old models (or ones like it) and new ones. They're now being sold in Canada, and they will soon be made available by Chrysler in the U.S., so I'm told. They certainly are interesting looking. But paying over $20,000 for them seems a bit steep. Maybe it's cheaper when you use Euros.

More pictures at

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

May 9 - First Day of the Discernment Days

I now have a new appreciation for the expression "Thank God for small favors." Since this was the first day for discernment, things didn't really start until the 9:00 AM Mass in the Main Chapel , and breakfast at 7:30 AM was to be in silence. So I was able to get up a little later today, and THEN to run around to make sure that everything was in place for Mass.

Breakfast was anything but silent, of course. Yes, there was very little, if any, talking, and lots of polite smiles and nods. But the chairs in the dining room made a symphony all their own. Between the clinking of silverware, the scratching of chair legs against the tile floor, the noises of 100 people having breakfast, the sounds were merely different than usual. But everyone seemed comfortable with the request of having a silent meal, and many remember them from other retreats.

The opening Mass for the discernment days had been prepared by the French language group and they did a marvelous job. We began outside of the Main Chapel, where we were invited to begin our journey by processing into the "tent" of the chapel (See, it's working!), blessing ourselves with holy water, as a symbol of baptism (and going through the Red Sea, etc.), singing a wonderful French hymn recalling the journey. After the readings, we were invited to really reflect on the readings and to write on a small card an answer to the question: "Lord, what do you want us to do now?" At the offertory, all of us went up to the altar and dropped our cards into a basket. After Mass, the cards were posted in the hallway for all to read throughout the day. During the Mass, there were some further terrific musical settings, to my ear anyway. I might not have been able to understand all of the French, but the sentiments certainly were communicated.

After Mass, there was a long 2-hour period of reflection and study. I mostly worked on upcoming liturgical things and the evening Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. I asked Fr. Dennis to begin the service, and both of us spent a good 20 minutes with Br. Vincenzo talking in a mixture of broken English, French, Italian and Esperanto (or our version of it) about the service and what we would need. "Oue, fratello, we need pouvrai le monstrance pour la altare." Even a United Nations interpretor would have had a hard time keeping up. But it all worked. Vincenzo kept smiling, grabbing our hand and upper arm with both of his and dragging us to another part of the sacristry where he would point to things (a taper, or a thurible, or a candle stand) in order to make a point about how he things it should all go. Then, Br. Ferdinand asked me to help him find some push pins so that he could put together a small display for the front of the altar. We went to Br. Lorenzo (didn't have any), to Br. Roch (took us to the Sisters who dove into the convent and came out with needles - no good), to a nearby stationery store (everything else but push pins) to the Interspar store nearby (penny nails wouldn't do, needles couldn't work either). Just as we were exiting the Interspar store, I spied a section with scissors and the like. And there, on the bottom rung, near the back, were the pushpins. They're the tiniest things, and they sure were hard to find. And a small box cost about four dollars. But at that point I was willing to pay twice as much. It's that supply and demand thing, I guess.

Lunch time was a time when we could talk. At breakfast that morning, Freddie (Br. Ferdinand) had stopped me, given me a hug, and congratulated me on my birthday. I don't know how he knew, but pretty soon other people were doing the same. At lunchtime, towards the end, Br. Carlos Gomez (the one in charge of the Central Committee), Br. Frank Carr, and a Brother Jean-Francois took the microphone and proceeded to tell the whole group in three languages that it was my birthday, each language rendition ending in applause and smiles in my direction. I, of course, was a bit embarrassed by it all and certainly must have turn red as a beet. Thankfully, there were no pictures. Then the whole place broke into a chorus of "Happy Birthday to You" (you remember how they do this at the drop of a hat - this time it fit) and in the second half even rendered it in three or four harmonies. That was pretty impressive. Then more applause followed by a line of Brothers, both those I already knew and those I'd met, coming up to congratulate me personally. It was all a bit overwhelming. Of course for the rest of the day, anyone who hadn't yet congratulated me made sure to do so when they met me in the hallway. I suppose that it is a mark of these Brothers that they not only really care for one another but that by disposition and experience they are generous in the attention that they pay to others. That's why they are chosen by the other Brothers for the positions that they have. Nevertheless, it was probably one of the most unique and powerful experiences of a birthday that I can recall. Br. Aad van Bentem gave me the gift of a copy of a book on the history of the Brothers in Holland, written in Dutch and completed only last year. Even though the language level might be a bit beyond my own, I'll enjoy making my way through it and improving on my Dutch. He wants me to come give some talks to the Brothers in Holland next year. Yikes! I better start taking those throat lozenges right now - the way the throat works with Dutch gives it a real beating.

Okay, that being over, I had to prepare for the choir rehearsal at 2:00 PM. Most of the folks showed up and we practices both the Agio Theos, a wonderful three-part Greek chant that we will use at the beginning of the service tonight, and Adoro te Devote, a traditional Eucharistic hymn. The voices sounded marvelous, both in their harmony and in the way they flowed through the words. For the first time in my experience, the Latin chant was sung with a flow that reflected the united character of the group. With hardly any practice, but with their common background and present character as brothers, they breathed and sung and enunciated very well together, as if they were one voice. It was quite something else to hear.

After the choir practice, it was time for a nice nap. I'm getting used to that Italian siesta thing - not a bad idea. And to drift off for a while with the sounds of the kids at the school in back playing in their schoolyard and providing a background noise through the open window is a rather nice thing. It doesn't matter how small or large the room is.

At 5:00 PM there was another Central Commission meeting. We reviewed the day so far and looked at the details for tomorrow. Then we took up an item that had been submitted to us by a member of the Chapter and had a thorough discussion. I was again impressed with the caliber of the people in the room. Within a 30 minute period, I heard several positions stated very articulately and with conviction. But if a little later some reasons were given to chance that opinion, they readily did so. People were interested in moving the discussion forward, not in defending some position that they had previously espoused, and they were quite willing to change their minds for the right reasons.

Just before dinner, I went downstairs to "The Den" - which is the room the the English-speaking Brothers call their own, for some chicken wings and Coke that Roch had prepared for the occasion. The two volunteers, Paul, Roch, and one of the other Brothers were there to participate. Dinner was again in silence. There was the clinking of glasses and all of the noises from breakfast, only more intense (more food, more utensils, more walking around getting things from various serving tables). The tables had champagne glasses on them, so we knew that they'd probably bring out a cake at the end of dinner. Several Brothers toasted me in silence with their empty champagne glasses and a smile, and I got at least one gift of a bread stick. Near the end of dinner, the cake was rolled in to applause (still no speaking allowed) and then the moderator announced that because of the occasion, we could now talk. Great relief all around. I'd gotten hold of Br. Michael French and Br. Camillo, telling them that the cake was for them as well (they had celebrated their birthdays yesterday, but there had been no cake), and they joined me in cutting the cake. Again, "Happy Birthday to You" but this time "Happy birthday, dear Brothers..." We distributed the cake and served the champagne, which quickly ran out.

Pretty much right after dinner, I rushed off to my room to get my candle (we were each to bring a candle for the evening service) and then made my way to the Main Chapel for the Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. Since it followed dinner so closely, I waited a couple of minutes before beginning. Then the choir started Agio Theos and Fr. Dennis came out to place the host in the monstrance, and so on. We had also placed a lectionary / bible on the altar next to the monstrance in order to show that God was present in both Word and Sacrament. Then we sang four verses of Adoro te Devote (everyone seemed to know it, and it sounded very nice a capella in that chapel) and then there was silence for a few minutes. Finally, Paulo Petry and I walked over to the Paschal Candle, lit our candles, placed them on the long table that Freddie and I had put in front of the sanctuary, and gestured for others to bring their candles. Soon we had a full procession going where, silently, the Brothers placed their candles on the table (on top of small plastic dishes in order to preserve the wood surface). It was quite a sight.

For the next 80 minutes of so, the Brothers prayer silently in the chapel or elsewhere. They were free to stay or to go and most stayed for at least an hour. You could hear the creaking of the benches but that too gradually faded away. I had thought that the chapel would be almost empty at the end of the time period, but there were still 40 or so Brothers there. So I went up to the front and began to sing the Tantum Ergo as a closing hymn, gesturing to Vincenzo to put the host back into the tabernacle. He did so - I think it made his day - very reverently. Then I intoned the Salve Regina, which all sang with gusto, and closed the ceremony. A few minutes later, five or six Brothers were blowing out the candles (too dark to take a picture, which was too bad), cleaning up the wax that had fallen on the table, and helping to roll the table to the side, since tomorrow morning the French language group would be having Mass there (everyone would be back in language groups for the next three days).

The day wasn't over for me yet, however. Two people had invited me to go our for gelato, and this evening was the only available time for me. So at 10:15 PM, Roch, Leonardo, Paulo and I made our way to Blue Ice for a closing gelato. It was a fine end to a fine day.

More pictures of the day at

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

May 8 - One Important Decision

This morning I made sure to get up early, since I would be accompanying the English-language group at our 7 AM Mass. It was only a couple of songs, but I wanted to make sure that I was ready with my guitar, the music, and all the rest. It was a Mass for peace. Two Brothers had been asked to talk about war and peace in the areas with which they were familiar. One Brother spoke about the wars in Africa, listing more than ten during the last twenty years. The other Brother spoke about Bethlehem University and the kinds of challenges they have, operating within a virtual war zone. It brought the prayers and intercessions down to earth. We also prayed for Scott Gibbs, who I'd found out had died last Saturday. He was a wonderful man, a good friend to many Brothers, and a real artist when it came to video production, having filmed and produced virtually all of the key videos for the District over the past ten years or so. They will be a great legacy for him, and I hope that he will intercede for the success of this Chapter.

Today included two major components. The first of them was in the morning, when Br. Alvara, Br. Bill Mann, and the group of Councillors each met with one of the three language groups for 45 minutes in order to address sets of questions that had been submitted and also answered any other questions that might be in the group. I sat in on the English-speaking group's meetings with Br. Alvaro and Br. Bill Mann. The conversation was very good, I believe, with lots of substantial topics being addressed - Lasallian formation, vocations in the future, governing structures, priorities for the future, etc.

That activity took up all of the morning. At noon, the whole group met in the Chapter Hall for a full session during which we addressed Phase 3 of the Chapter process, as proposed by the Preparatory Commission. Any or all of the plans could be accepted or rejected by the body of the Brothers gathered there. They are, in effect, the sovereign authority for the Chapter. And there was a bit of discussion regarding the length of the Phase 3 Discernment Phase (5 days), which will include lots of time for re-reading documents, praying and reflecting about our future, writing summaries of individual thoughts and group consensus reflections, and the like. Some thought that it was too long, others thought that it was not only the right amount of time but that we would be following the recommendations of many of our speakers last week, and of course the recommendations of De La Salle himself. After 45 minutes of good back and forth on the issue, we came to two possibilities: 1) to keep the days as planned, and 2) to look at splitting the 5 days up into 3 days now and 2 days later in the process. A vote was taken - with some anticipation I must say on my part - and nearly 2/3 of the group was in favor of staying with the 5 days. So that's how we will proceed.

The session had begun with a very nice prayer that was prepared by the French Brothers and was dedicated to Our Lady of the Star, whose feast it was today within the Institute. The Brothers sang a wonderful little chant to Our Lady, which we repeated several times in between short readings and prayers done in the different languages. I was again impressed by how these Brothers can take an idea (the Brother who organized it had only talked to me yesterday about doing this prayer today) and run with it, getting others involved in the process.

I had called a meeting of the Liturgy Committee for 2 PM in order to go over the plans for the prayers and liturgies during these discernment days. The French-language group was organizing the opening liturgy tomorrow; I had heard them practicing in the chapel the day before. I wanted to make sure that they had all they needed. And I wanted to see about the Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament periods each evening, plus to look ahead at some of the other liturgies coming up. We decided that we would continue with our plans of having the Blessed Sacramento adoration each evening in the CIL Chapel (where the English-language group had been having its Masses), and invite Brothers to bring the candles that they brought from home to that chapel when they came in to pray.

I went back to my computer to work on the pamphlet editing that I had promised and worked on that until 6 PM, when we had the meeting of the Central Commission to address a couple of procedural and other concerns related to the Chapter proceedings. Those having been addressed, it was off to lunch, which I spent happily chatting away in Dutch with Br. Aad from Holland, and then returned to the pamphlet work until I had finished it around 10 PM. It was clear during dinner that about a third of the Capitulants had taken advantage of the fact that the afternoon had been "free" and had gone off into the environs of Rome. Perhaps this was like a Fat Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, an outing before the days of discernment began (silence at some meals, lots of reflection quiet time, etc.).

I don't know how much "action" there will be during the next 5 days, since they will largely consist of reflection, prayer, and study of various documents. But, we'll see, and I'll let you know.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Back to Work - May 7, 2007

This place was like a ghost town yesterday - everyone found ways to re-energize either individually or in groups - and today, like those purveyors of fine time jewelry and fashion handbags purveying their wares on the street next to the Vatican yesterday, the whole group returned in a flash to the business at hand. There was one major difference that was noticable; we were all much more at ease. You could tell by the level of noise in the room (softer) and the demeanor of the moderators (relatively relaxed). People have settled in and ready to move ahead. The image of a milk-horse comes to mind, except that it neither conveys the high energy that remains nor is it very flattering, so I won't use it.

This morning we were addressed by the last person on the list of outside speakers who had been invited to help us understand the reality of today in the world, in the church, and in religious life. She was Sister Mary Sujita, SND, who is the Superior General (I don't know if they call her that) of the School Sisters of Notre Dame. She is a calm, articulate, and an evidently forward-thinking woman whose comments to us centered around, to my ears, our life of faith as religious and the key role that working with the poor has in finding out where God wants us to be. Key phrases that I wrote down included:
  • Sometimes our communities provide for us so well that God has a hard time to find a chance to provide for us.
  • A little smell and touch of poverty helps us to keep our perspective right.
  • Jesus and his mission are the only reason for consecrated life.
  • What are the spiritual disciplines that mark our ministry?
  • If there is no threat to us, we have co-opted to the values of the world.
  • Mission is not only about what is and was but also about what might be.
  • We must live a "spirituality of sufficiency" within our ministries (where you can say "Enough is enough"); where I'm able to find joy when I don't have everything.
  • The Gospel challenges us to be more and to have less. "Being more" is a loving more within ourselves - a rootedness based on interiority (my word) that radiates peace and cannot be shaken by outside factors, in ministry or community or elsewhere.
  • Re vocations: Why do we want vocations is a key question? We should be concerned about creating islands of hope rather than kingdoms (as in the past, or for maintaining what we have).
  • There is no way of doing the mission of Jesus except in how he did it.
  • "Simplicity" she defines as an outstanding inner freedom.
  • We're so busy working for the Lord that we don't have time to be with the Lord.
  • Creating an asceticism in our lives is to find time to be, and having the audacity to say "No, this is enough."
  • Be men of spiritual stamina, with a passion for spiritual depth; share deeply one's faith experiences, one's inner fire.
  • Don't die before you die (regarding "retired members"). Some people are just waiting to be buried.
  • Don't wait for everyone to move. Here a litte, there a little; it will catch fire
Those are in no particular order, but you can see the consistent themes. The text of her talk is in a PDF document at this link.

As with the other speakers, while her talk was excellent, it was during the question-and-answer period that some of the real nuances and applications to the Chapter's work over the next few weeks began to become evident. Earlier on, the Central Commission had decided to be less formal with these questions (where groups had to come up with several, then have their linguistic secretaries combine them into several key questions, then have a spokesperson ask them in the hall) and to have discussion groups submit a couple of questions directly before opening it up to the whole chapter hall. Her answers were all insightful and direct. I believe that she had a very positive impact. She remained with us for lunch and there were many who spoke with her at the table and afterwards.

After lunch, I went to the room where the Region of Latin America would have their "presentation" tonight, in order to let them use my guitar and speaker setup. The guitar was fine, but the speaker system, a 70 lbs. portable Peavey Escort 2000 system that I had dragged here from Sacramento, didn't cooperate. Perhaps it had to do with the fact that I failed to make the 110 - 220 Volt fuse switch on the unit. All I remember is that I plugged it in, turned it on, and then saw the lights come on for a couple of seconds and then fade out. No matter what fiddling I did with it afterwards, it didn't do a thing. Hopefully, it was just a fuse and I can figure out how to replace it. It would be a shame to find that out that I fried it when I plugged it in. In any case, the room's speaker system did a fine job of amplifying the sound, so it wasn't even needed after all.

This afternoon, it seemed like no time at all before we were back in the Aula Magna for the afternoon's session on the Rules of Procedure - actually it's called the "Handbook" of the Members of the Chapter. In any case, there were a number of details that had to be straightened out, and if nothing else, the Brothers at the Chapter are into details as an occupational necessity and are very good at it. It was fascinating to simply follow along and say "Yes, that's right - good insight" followed by another intervention on the same point, perhaps an opposite view, and say again "Oh Yeah, that works too." Finally, when on one of the points it was clear that there was no consensus, a couple of strategic questions to the assembly on the topic by the moderators, followed by indicative votes, made clear where people wanted to go. As I said, fascinating how this may be done with a multi-lingual, multi-cultural group.

However, at some point I was drooping and reaching that point where closing one's eyes for even ten seconds immediately lauches the brain into an alpha state and it's only with the most deliberative of efforts that you force yourself to at least open your eyes in the hope of again reaching the "in between" stage before your head thumps on the desk. And so prudently I went up to my room for a little nap - the perogative of "staff" during long sessions like this that apply only to the Capitulants.

A couple of hours later I was right as rain - and it was raining and thundering outside. The Brothers were gathered in linguistic groups to choose a language representative for the Central Commission, to provide an evaluation of the Chapter thus far, according to an evaluation sheet that the Facilitators created this morning (that's a pictue of the facilitators up above, putting the evaluation together), to prepare questions for the meetings with Brother Superior and his Councillors tomorrow, and to close with a common prayer, for which I had given the prayer leaders some ideas and suggestions.

Most of the groups finished their work a bit before dinner, so that they could have a break. Towards the end of dinner, there was a nagging sense in the back of my head, and then I remembered that of course we would have a Central Commission meeting tonight to talk about tomorrow. Off I went to the meeting, which now included three new people, one each from each of the language groups. We took the full 45 minutes to work out details for the next day and then adjourned to the RELAL (Latin American Region) for their evening of sharing and fiesta. Earlier, they had sent around representative to personally invite every person to attend the festivities.

It was another evening of singing and dancing, this time directed towards an appreciation of the Latin American culture. There were videos, there was loud singing by everyone, there were acclamations for those celebrating birthdays today, and there was a lot of fun. One of the highlights was one of the Brothers dancing a traditional dance with one of the Guadulapanas Sisters, although this time she was dressed in a traditional Latin American costume. It was all quite enjoyable and a celebration of fraternity. One of the Brothers remarked how great it was that we could be very serious one part of the day and later on have a tremendous amount of fun together. I would agree.

More pictures may be found at

Sunday, May 6, 2007

First Real Break - Sunday


What a nice thing to wake up when the sun is already up. For the last two weeks, it's been dark when my alarm went off at 6 AM, but today the sun was out when the bells of the tower on the property woke me up at 9 AM. There were very few Brothers around when I made my way down to the communications office to check my email and do just a bit of work. I had promised one of the Brothers here that I would edit the English version of a pamphlet that he was writing. It's a 28-page document and I had been able to do a few pages, finding many expressions or phrases or tenses that needed correcting. It was turning out to be a bigger job than I had anticipated. Yesterday, he'd asked me if I could have it done by this evening so that he could get all of the translations to the printer, and I said that I would try. After working on it for another 30 minutes or so, it became clear that I would have to spend most of the day on this little project. So I wrote him a polite email, attaching the work I'd done so far and saying that it would be unwise for me to not take a break today from the work, since I had been fully occupied for the last two weeks. I'm glad I did that. I don't know what he thought, but I'm sure that it will be okay.

I went to the roof to catch some of the sights around the Motherhouse and found Br. Stephen Touey and Br. Miguel Campus up there catching some rays. I pulled up a chair and sat with them for a while; a good way to start a Sunday.

Later, Br. Roch and Paul emerged from their caves and we decided to show Paul some of Rome. We made our way via the Metro to the Ottaviani stop and walked through the main street to the Vatican. Near the Piazza, there was a wide sidewalk that butted up against the Vatican wall. Arranged along that sidewalk were twenty or more street vendors with their Gucci (fake) bags and Rolex (fake) watches and all sorts of things laid out neatly on blankets or sheets. About 3/4 of the way through them, we noticed some police officers non-chalantly walking to that part of the street. I turned around, and magically the streets were clear of all the vendors. They had managed to pick up and move on within about 7 seconds. It was amazing. Of course, when the police had moved past, it took just about as long to set everything back up and be back in business.

At the Vatican, we went through security and spent a good amount of time inside. The strangest thing to me was the fact that as soon as the herd of people stepped inside that entry door - inside the biggest church in Christendom (except for the one in one of the Aftican countries that's supposed to be a couple of feet bigger) - they froze in their tracks, whipped out their cameras, and stood there as if they had been planted in the ground, blocking the entrance of everyone else behind them. All they'd have to do is walk 20 or 30 feet further in, and there would be no difference in their pictures. But no, they had to respond to that instinct of capturing the grandeur of what they saw immediately, as if it would disappear if they waited a couple of minutes or seconds. Saint Peter's had been there for a whole bunch of centuries and would likely remain, but they acted as if it would disappear within the hour, and so they ran about, trying to see and capure everything RIGHT NOW.

In the middle of Saint Peter's, Roch noticed that there was now a mark showing where the new Cathedral of Los Angeles would reach down the nave. And, of course, we paid close attention to the statue of De La Salle in the middle of the nave. I'd love to see what the place would look like with all of the lights turned on, but I saw no box where you could throw in a Euro or two to get them to light it up.

We walked to the Piazza Nuove and then walked on until we came to the Pantheon, a truly impressive building with an oculus (i.e., a hole) in the middle of the dome. Notes near the entrance said that 15 small holes on the floor make sure that the water that accumulates after a rain storm is drained away. Lots of gawking around here too, and hordes of tourists, most of whom wore the unofficial earth uniform of jeans and a T-shirt. Seeing virtually everyone taking pictures of everything made me reflect on the whys and wherefores of our obsession with capturing the memorable and the beautiful. It probably has more to do with a desire to control than with a desire to appreciate. It made me think of a phrase in a poem by Billy Collins: "Why feed scenery into a hungry, one-eyed camera eager to eat the world one monument at a time?"

Then it was off to the Trevi fountain, stopping for some street pizza along the way. From there, we made our way to the Spanish Steps, and then I took my leave to return to the Motherhouse for a 5 PM meeting of the Central Commission, in order to get ready for tomorrow's sessions of the Chapter. Somehow I'd lost my sense of direction, and it took me 15 minutes of wandering before I found my way to the Metro entrance (yes, I did stop and ask someone, finally).

Back at the Motherhouse, I dropped off my stuff in my room and went to the meeting. Yesterday, all of the members of the interim Central Commission were also the ones who were elected to those positions by the Chapter Body. Brother Lorenzo told me that this was the first time in the history of the Institute that the same people who were initially appointed as temporary members (in order to get the whole thing going for the first week or so) were also then elected to those posts. Well, they're a very good group. I'm not surprised.

At around 6 PM, however, I had to leave the meeting - my part in tomorrow's session had been covered by then - and meet up with Evelyn and Bro. Pedro, both of whom had said that they were interested in joining me at the Byzantine Liturgy at the church where the Sant'Egidio community celebrated, in Trastevere - a wonderfully alive and intimate section of Rome. We left soon after and made our way to the nearest bus station, where we caught the infamous # 46 bus to the first stop past the Vatican (watch your wallet). Then it was a brisk walk down some narrow streets for about 15 minutes - streets lined often by small restaurants and shops - until we arrived at the piazza in the middle of Trastevere and went into the church, where the liturgy had already started. We found some places near the front and then entered into the wonderful singing, smells and bells and rich liturgical tradition that came from St. John Chrysostom in the 4th century, a tradition that apparently has changed little since that time. I tried to follow in the booklet they provided and a lady next to me would helpfully point to the right section every once in a while. The whole thing was mostly in Italian. Only in the church would you have a Greek liturgy sung in Italian to Russian music by a Dutchman, a French woman, and a Mexican Brother. I thought it was great.

Afterwards, we met up with Br. Santiago and Br. Patricio from Argentina, who were also attending the Mass. We went to a nearby gelato place for our "dinner" and then wound our way back through the streets of Trastevere to the Vatican, where we caught the 916 back to the Motherhouse. To say that that bus was full would be an understatement. We were sardines in a can, and at every stop the whole mass of people would jiggle and rumble, and out would pop one or two people at the door, only to see four more people try to get on. When we finally got to our stop, I was only too happy to breathe fresh air again. Of course, I'd hung on to my shoulder bag for dear life, suspecting everyone around me of being a pickpocket or a thief (not uncommon at all on these crowded buses, so I'm told). How's that for an end to a fine day in Rome?

More pictures at