Monday, February 18, 2013

Ash Wednesday, 5 other points

I’m in town today for the first time in a week and a half, although it’s only a half hour drive in from St. Fidelis. Here are some updates on life in that time:

1) Despite the excitement of the beginning of the term, a definite highlight was speaking to my sister on her 8th birthday. She is, I would venture to say, the most adorable little girl in the world. As always, not seeing or hugging her is the hardest part of being anywhere where she isn’t.

2) I’ve begun to teach. The joys and challenges of teaching here are quite different from those in the US. Students are always respectful and all show some level of eagerness to learn. For an American this is often hard to notice, though, due to the apparent “shyness” of students in the classroom.

3) The program here has recently been updated and is now very catechesis (systematic introduction to basic Christian doctrines) intensive in its first year. Students have responded to this well. Many seem relieved. In many parts of this country, people have a strong Christian faith, but have very limited understanding of that faith. This is also true of many of our students.

4) Some of the most satisfying moments have been during “office hours” or during work hours when students have asked me questions and we can talk one-on-one or in a small group. I’m glad to see students asking questions—especially when they ask ones that I can answer!

5) I learned about Pope Benedict’s resignation at morning chapel. Br. Jim, our rector, had learned the night before, after I had gone to sleep, and announced it to the students after our morning Mass. We have been praying for Benedict, thanking God for his service to the Church, and praying for the cardinals to be particularly receptive to the calling of the Holy Spirit as they meet next month to elect a new Pope.

6) We marked Ash Wednesday (the start of Lent) with a Recollection Day, which meant no classes, but extra talks in the chapel, Adoration, and extra opportunities for Confession. It was a good start to the Lenten season, in which I hope to be particularly open to Christ’s call to each one of us to repent and believe the good news.

Peace to all of you ! 

Thursday, February 7, 2013


The last week has marked the beginning of orientation at St. Fidelis Seminary. Next Monday, classes will begin. All of the students who are here are divided into either “propaedeutic” (a fancy word meaning a program designed as preparation for further studies) or “spiritual year” students. I will be teaching students in the propaedeutic program. Students in the spiritual year have all been through the propaedeutic program and some have even already done philosophy level studies in the highlands and spent some time doing non-ordained pastoral work. The spiritual year students are supposed to have a year of relative quiet with a greater and more intense focus on prayer and the spiritual life before they proceed to their final theology studies in preparation for ordination to the priesthood.

For the new students, this week has involved many things, but in large part it has provided time for the new students to begin to acclimate to the school’s routine that will punctuate their whole lifestyle here with prayer, study, and work. In many ways I share that routine:

5:30am The student sacristan rings our “bell” (in quotes because it is metal…but it is neither shaped like nor sounds like a traditional bell) signaling that it’s time to rise. Students and staff begin moving into the school chapel.

6:00am By this time everyone will be in the chapel. At 5:55, the last chance to come in was signaled by a student hitting the garamut, a traditional, hollowed out log drum used to send signals. From 6 to 6:30 everyone engages in silent meditation in the chapel together. Some silently pray the rosary or engage in other devotions, but most simply pray internally.

6:30am Morning Prayer. Different sides of the chapel alternate reciting stanzas from the Psalms and other portions of Scripture.

6:45am Mass. This week we formed a student liturgy committee, so students alternate leading the singing, reading the first Scripture reading, and altar serving.

For Catholics, the Mass, the Eucharistic celebration, is the source and summit of the Christian life. Here in hot and humid Madang, this time of the morning is in some ways our prime time for activity. The sun will be up, but it will still be relatively cool.

7:30am Breakfast

8:30am-12:00pm Classes

12:00-1:00pm Lunch

1:15-200pm One more class, either English or public reading practice

2:00-4:00pm Manual Labor. The students maintain a number of gardens, which allow us to save money on food. There is always also a need for general maintenance. The road from our school to the north coast highway is about ¾ of a mile long, and we’re responsible for maintaining it. Even before the students arrived, my afternoon labor has mostly involved cutting grass (thankfully with a  machine rather than a machete, though at times that needs to happen too). You can tell I’m not a farmer, because I can often note with disappointment the incredible fecundity of Papua New Guinean soil (rain + sunshine + volcanic soil= perpetual lawn mowing).

Here the students’ schedule and my own diverge somewhat. From 4-6 is free time for the students. The friars sit in the friary chapel at 5 for another half hour of meditation, pray Evening Prayer at 5:30pm and eat shortly after 6. The students can gather in the assembly hall to watch Em TV (national tv channel) news at 6pm, and then have dinner at 6:30pm and Evening Prayer at 7:30pm. After that is usually mandatory study time for the students although on some nights (like tonight) they will be able to watch a movie in the assembly hall (or a rugby game when it’s rugby season). I think lights out time is at 10:30pm, but believe it or not, I have yet to stay up even that late. I value sleep and have had little trouble getting to bed as early as 9pm (don’t judge!)

Like the students, I’m beginning to get a feel for what it’s like to live within this schedule. In many ways it is quite liberating. I really appreciate the time set aside for prayer. You can pray that I persevere in using this time well, and choose to never leave that spirit of prayerfulness throughout the day.