By John Rieping | Published 10 May 2014 in The Madera Tribune | All rights reserved |
I hadn’t flown since 1998 nor taken a true vacation in 11 years. But love beckoned, and change followed — as so often happens.
Curiosity about a minor detail of a photograph on an online dating website began a correspondence that ultimately led to my leaping into the sky between the aluminum wings of Alaska Air and Horizon Air passenger planes. The first hop carried me to Oregon and the second left me in Washington state.
Both states were far more hydrated than my seemingly cloud-repellant home of California.
Across the U.S.-Canadian border sat my destination of Vancouver, British Columbia. The following days reacquainted me with the tree-seasoned metropolis I had last visited as an older child. Little seemed to have changed compared to the few and incomplete memories I still had of the mostly familiar yet mildly peculiar land.
Updated oddities included the emergence of plastic polymer Canadian currency in 2011 to replace the older paper bills that, as a child, had astonished me with their colorfulness.
What draws me to our northern neighbor always seems to be a dear person in my life. This spring’s journey of mine sought time with a chaste lady friend of mine. My previous trip in September 1984 had been to see Pope John Paul II with my family, who drove there from Madera as part of group from St. Joachim Catholic Church.
Back then the Hough family, strangers to us but devout fellow Christians, generously shared their home to my family and I for the week, fed us and led us to lovely places. We all belonged to a multi-religion movement known as Focolare (www.focolare.org), which focuses on living out the Christian gospels to build a unity born of love and truth.
We saw the steam-powered clock in Vancouver’s Gastown, crossed a long and narrow rope suspension bridge in a grand park, gazed out like an eagle from the lofty Vancouver Lookout viewing deck, and more.
I even randomly met a U.S. actress of the day, Erin Gray, then star of the TV sitcom “Silver Spoons.” I approached her to ask for an autograph, but turned around when faced with two serious and muscular men — presumably bodyguards — who flanked her. The trio’s expressions were unreadable behind sunglasses.
She was not the star we came from afar following however. We met John Paul II, canonized this April by the Roman Catholic Church, at Abbotsford Airport.
My father had an impressive camera with him for the occasion while I had my cheap toy equivalent. He and I waited for what seemed an eternity at the edge of our assigned seating area to try to capture the pontiff when he passed by before the open-air Mass. Yet, shortly before the anticipated moment, Polish mothers with their children in traditional ethnic clothing commandeered the barricades and routed many adults there, including my dad. As a child, though, I stayed and took the desired photograph in an unexpected reversal.
I felt like such a hero, though fittingly the secret to my triumph was my littleness.
The only words spoken that I recall from my youthful adventure in British Columbia were not by the pope however. They weren’t even significant. I had overheard the Hough’s daughter practicing her numbers in French, and became concerned she had her Spanish wrong. So I spoke with her parents to try to help. They patiently listened and explained it was not the language I mistook it for.
Yet even there in that humbling moment was a message I still remember clearly: love. I saw it in my family, in the kind Houghs, in countless strangers, and even in the Polish mothers who perhaps wanted the bishop of Rome to see an echo of his homeland.
In his Abbotsford sermon, John Paul noted: “During the whole of Jesus’ earthly life, this heart (of his) was the center in which was manifested, in a human way, the love of God.”
Our own hearts were ever meant to do the same, Christians believe, for we humans are made in the image and likeness of a God who is love. Yet we can fail gravely in this. Is it any wonder then that some struggle with or despair in belief of God?
It is only natural to find it difficult to believe in what is unseen or contradicted in our lives. But God was never meant to be invisible. Let us who claim to believe ask for divine help to show God to all through our love.
By John Rieping | Published 12 Oct. 2013 in The Madera Tribune | All rights reserved
As any squirrel would tell you by its actions, winter is coming as the year cycles through its seasons. Though months away according to the calendar, its presence asserts itself early. (Photograph by John Rieping)
Though technically months away, my favorite season of the year approaches. In other parts of the United States, it would be called springtime or even summer, but here in Central California we call it winter.
Apart from some temporarily barren trees, the natural world thrives and -- in better years -- normally empty riverbeds flow with life-giving water. The seasons of Advent and Christmas heat hearts even as temperatures chill. I love the flexible aesthetics and comfort found in layers of clothing, and the ability to feel the sharp slap of cold air while warm at one's core.
It is a time of life and the romance of raindrops on shelter or skin, the art of delicate frozen frosting on grass blades and windows, and the mystery and -- admittedly-- peril of unpredictable mists.
Our winter begins with fog, frosts, and rain, yet ends with blooms. By the time North American spring officially arrives, most of the local flowering has finished and the slow dehydration of the landscape has begun. The climax of the dry and golden-hued days of summer reminds us we live in irrigated deserts and drained wetlands.
This is not the cycle for many elsewhere in our nation. Locals would be stunned by the Easter snowfalls and seemingly-apocalyptic late spring and summer lightning storms common to parts of the Midwest -- not to mention the sight of sunbathers on a snowbank. Here even an amateur has a good chance at predicting the day's conditions. In Iowa, we college students would joke: if you don't like the weather, wait a few hours.
Just as each region of the world has its own natural rhythms and patterns so it is with peoples and persons. "To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to uproot..." (Koheleth/Ecclesiastes 3:1-2).
We all have our favorite seasons of the soul and others we do not favor. Yet I believe all of them can be a gift if we trust in the source of all blessings.
As the Oxford academic and cardinal John Henry Newman (1801-1890) once said: God "can bless the most unpromising circumstances; He even can lead us forward by means of our mistakes; He can turn our mistakes into a revelation; He can convert us, if He will, through the very obstinacy, or self-will, or superstition, which mixes itself up with our better feelings, and defiles, yet is sanctified by our sincerity."
Newman, a convert, is perhaps best remembered today for his poem, "The Pillar of Cloud." He wrote it while his sailing ship, en route to France, remained windless and motionless for a week in the Straits of Bonifacio. Before this trip, he had become ill in Italy and then was unable to find a ship heading to his home of England for nearly three weeks. He finally found an orange boat bound for Marseilles.
Throughout he had struggled with impatience and homesickness. Of this he wrote: "Before starting from my inn (in Italy), I sat down on my bed and began to sob bitterly. My servant, who had acted as my nurse, asked what ailed me. I could only answer, 'I have work to do in England.' I was aching to get home."
Yet God breathes over still waters and amidst the imprisoning calm of the sea Newman penned these words: "Lead, Kindly Light, amidst th'encircling gloom, / Lead Thou me on! / The night is dark, and I am far from home, / Lead Thou me on! / Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see / The distant scene; one step enough for me.
"I was not ever thus, nor prayed that Thou / Shouldst lead me on; / I loved to choose and see my path; but now / Lead Thou me on! / I loved the garish day, and, spite of fears, / Pride ruled my will. Remember not past years!
"So long Thy power hath blest me, sure it still / Will lead me on. / O'er moor and fen, o'er crag and torrent, till / The night is gone, / And with the morn those angel faces smile, / Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile!
"Meantime, along the narrow rugged path, / Thyself hast trod, / Lead, Saviour, lead me home in childlike faith, / Home to my God. / To rest forever after earthly strife / In the calm light of everlasting life."
By John Rieping | All rights reserved | Published 20 July 2013 in The Madera Tribune
A winged child flees an attack by lions in an apparently controversial metal sculpture at the Iron Bird Lofts in Fresno, California.
I hunted as well on May 27th, but the beauty I wished to catch I had no appetite to harm, though I was no less hungry for it.
Photograph by John Rieping. All rights reserved.
I had parked illegally in Downtown Fresno on Memorial Day, but I hoped a 10-minute stop to hunt urban beauty with my camera would be safe enough. I thought I was just stopping a moment while on my way to the highway, but I would spend my entire afternoon on that spontaneous safari.
I captured the light of many moments outside the Legion of Valor Museum before turning back to my tiny Smart car. But an older bearded man called after me until he had my attention. He left behind his shelter, his belongings, and companion to approach.
"I see people stop and take pictures of that" -- he pointed at the 109-foot Old Fresno Water Tower -- "all the time. I've never been able to figure it out. Why do they do that?" he asked, more or less.
I looked up at the brown-capped tower of white before me with its graceful geometry and decor. A Chicago architect designed the American Romanesque brick tower in 1891, and it had served the city unceasingly until 1963.
"Because it is old," I replied in part. "It is one of the oldest buildings here. It is a landmark here."
His curiosity satisfied, we parted ways.
Down the road, I spotted a proper parking lot and decided to explore what other sights, old and new, Downtown Fresno would present. I began with the oft-forgotten artistry of Fulton Mall, a historic pedestrian-only area covering six blocks of Fulton Street. Dedicated in 1964 as an urban renewal project, Fulton Mall has returned to its depressed roots -- a victim of the ever-so-common downtown flight and blight.
Older buildings have more costly upkeep, society has grown less communal, and shoppers increasingly wanted to minimize outdoor walking. So gradually mainstream consumers and big retailers went elsewhere. Minority and niche businesses were lured in by affordable rent, government offices dominated, and the lovely mall grew ever more marginalized.
I remember visiting Fulton Mall as a child. Or rather, I recall the journey. My grandmother, Carmen Lozano Najar, took me on the public transit system, and I had never been on a bus before. I felt excitement and mystery at the sight of the promenade between shops full of strangers.
Others have different associations. One woman I spoke with associates the mall with feelings of being on the fringes of society, insecure and disrespected. Though she agreed it had pleasing art and ornamentation, it repulses her to this day because of the dark emotional investment it holds for her.
I wandered far beyond the mall along Fulton Street, and to other streets beside. Most striking, perhaps, was the apparently controversial metal sculptures at the Iron Bird Lofts, which show winged humans in distress. In one, a lion devours a cherub while a feline partner leaps after another. In several, cherubs try to escape winged men -- or are being rescued by them.
They're artistic, clever, and impressive, yet disturbing if examined closely. I would hesitate to condemn or commend them, but I wonder what stories lie behind their making.
The aforementioned lofts themselves were appealing and well designed, so much so they almost seemed out of place. I posted photographs of them online and one person asked where I had taken them. He was skeptical it was Fresno.
It seems that we respond to places and sights as much due to our hearts as to appearances. The same can be said of how we interpret much else I suppose. We judge the outlines of life with a crooked eye.
Is there any way to see reality as it is? I believe we can try, and by that effort draw close enough to it to grab hold of truth.
It is not so much that we can possess truth. It is bigger than we are and refuses to fit into our pockets or purses. But we can allow ourselves to better conform to truth, to be changed by truth, and so be possessed by truth.
By John Rieping | All rights reserved | Published 18 May 2013 in The Madera Tribune
I've been driving more than usual this past week. Paradoxically I've done so because I'm not good at it and many insist only practice can improve my skill.
A week ago I tackled my longest solo trek ever -- past Duarte, Los Angeles and Pomona (California). My one-day round trip went far better than I or others expected, especially on the L.A. freeway. I attribute that to the helpfulness of my GPS device, which navigated on my behalf. Instead of deciphering a map as I drove, I could focus on steering my sub-compact car safely in the congested stop-and-go traffic.
A guide is such a precious gift when journeying on unknown paths.
Perhaps tired out by my wanderings, I slept in a little several times this week. As weekday Mass is only available locally at 7 and 8 a.m., my sleepiness spurred me to attend later Masses in nearby Fresno instead. Afterwards I visited parts of Fresno to see what glimpses of the past remained.
With family history and a stranger's advice to lead me, I stumbled upon the Fresno Betsuin Buddhist Temple, which is only a block away from where my grandfather operated a Chinatown grocery store in the 1940s. Barbershops, a classic shoe store, restaurants and other businesses remain, but the lively personality the area displayed has diminished with age I suspect.
I walked on Trinity Street where my grandfather tried again with another little store and where St. Alphonsus (of Liguori) Church still rises high, flanked by equally tall palm trees as they all face historic Kearney Boulevard, which itself is lined with similar trees for 20 miles. Decades ago, three convents graced that street and a Catholic school thrived a block away. Now it is a charter school, albeit with statues of saints still looking down from one outside wall. The nuns are long gone. Few Catholics remain in the formerly Italian, then Mexican and now African-American neighborhood.
After a noon Mass another day at the ornate St. John's Cathedral, a public exposition of the Eucharist caught me by surprise. I joined a motley crowd of Catholics, young and old, in prayer and song before the demands of work pulled me away. No priest kept watch or presided, so those there followed a heartfelt liturgy of their own.
The lack of clerical guidance was missed, but a tiny Asian lady filled that void.
Within the next hour or so, I listened to the spontaneous preaching of that woman, who had a strong faith and enthusiasm for God; I talked and prayed with an alcoholic and addict, sober for years, who wanted intercession and encouragement to persevere in the daily struggle; I winced at singing that defied any theories of harmony known to humanity. Yet it was admirable and lovely that so many sang to God regardless of such concerns.
Before I left, I learned that a Passionist priest and writer of 16 books, Rev. Cedric Pisegna, would finish up a three-day parish mission elsewhere on the next day, Wednesday. Helpful guidance indeed.
So the following morning I ended up at St. Anthony of Padua Church in its Our Lady of Guadalupe Chapel. There Pisegna, who has a show on the Eternal Word Television Network and a local network, celebrated Mass and preached on prayer.
With jests and true stories, he affirmed that God hears our prayers and miracles do happen in response to them. But then he addressed a common lament: what about those long-term prayers that seem unanswered?
In these cases, he proposed, it may be that the greater work of God's grace is taking place in our own selves rather than in the circumstance or loved one for whom we pray. In such situations, he urged acceptance of God's providence without losing hope and becoming resigned. We must trust that God is working in us and through us.
An airline passenger once watched in shock, Pisegna joked, as an angry stranger harassed a baggage handler for roughly treating a suitcase. The worker endured this with such calm and dignity that the observer complimented him for his professionalism. The employee replied, "It was easy to take his abuse, because I knew that man would be going to Florida and his bag will be headed to Milwaukee."
Acceptance of a situation doesn't mean one must despair of future remedy.
On Pentecost Sunday this weekend, some Christians will celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit. Let us give thanks for that gift of divine guidance and far more.
By John Rieping | All rights reserved | Previously published August 25, 2012, in The Madera Tribune
“Today my thoughts
Are swift and cool
As goldfish in
A lily pool.
Tomorrow, like as not,
Brown turtles blinking
Hard at me.
And I shall be
As dull as they
And blink back, too.
But oh, today!”
— Sister M. Philip, “Today”
I woke up several times during my first night in Italy far from my hometown of Madera, California. I had never been overseas. It was autumn 1997, and jet lag had convinced me that morning had come. The glow-in-the-dark numbers of my mother’s wind-up clock, however, disagreed with my skewed sense of time. My body eventually won the argument and I arose more than an hour before my 6:30 wake-up call.
I stayed with 10 other pilgrims at the Hotel Sirenetta (mermaid), which fittingly stood by the Tyrrhenian Sea, part of the Mediterranean. So I stepped into the lingering rain-sodden night to pray and walk along the seashore.
The harbor city of Ostia, which means “mouth,” sits at the mouth of the Tiber River and had been the most important port of the Roman empire until the capitol moved east to Constantinople. Now the pounding surf seemed to bring only litter to the rocky beach, and most of the shoreline had been claimed by resorts and restaurants.
After a light 7 a.m. breakfast of pastry, we crawled by bus through Rome's rush hour traffic amidst compacts, motorcycles and other buses. Beside the narrow roads, Italian competed with English for linguistic dominance on small billboards and ads, some of which were a voyeur's dream. Gas pumps sat on the sidewalk offering drive-by fill-ups.
We breached the Vatican an hour early for a 9:30 a.m. Wednesday audience with Pope John Paul II. On the way, our tour guide Sylvia Puppio had explained that to join the pope’s Swiss Guard one should be a “good-looking” bachelor who spoke English, German, Italian and Spanish. Alas, I sat two languages shy of the qualifications... among other things.
In St. Peter's Square, 140 stone saints atop the Roman colonnade had me surrounded, not to mention thousands of fellow pilgrims from around the globe. Tickets for a weekly papal audience are free, and courteous Swiss Guard and police directed the crowd, which in time filled the massive square.
On this site in A.D. 67 the apostle Peter (Kephas in Aramaic) had been crucified upside down as part of the Emperor Nero's Circo Vaticano (Vatican Arena) spectacles. Peter’s remains would be buried nearby, and in 326 the Emperor Constantine began work on a memorial church over his tomb. St. Peter's Basilica would be rebuilt in the 16th and 17th century, and has the largest interior of any Christian church in the world even today. I discovered that for myself that afternoon as my mind lost all sense of perspective in the presence of giant statues, pillars, and more.
A cousin later joked that Jesus’ words in Matthew 16:18 not only were true spiritually, but literally as well — upon Peter a church had been built. At the time, I preferred to marvel at the sweet irony of how Jesus and all the martyrs had bested the Roman Empire even in the “defeat” of death.
That morning the pope’s open white car passed me before the audience, and I looked up at the tired, swollen eyes of a shepherd I had seen 13 years prior in Vancouver, British Columbia. Time had altered his face like a back alley mugger, but the light in his eyes hadn’t dulled. His strong presence would remain undimmed until the end of his earthly pilgrimage in 2005.
In a numbing diversity of tongues, visiting groups were announced, scripture read (Matthew 19:1-6), and the pope spoke upon the importance of an intact and loving marriage and family. Occasionally exuberant pilgrims would spontaneously break into song, cheer, or chant. The pope bore this with patience and a smile, like an indulgent grandfather.
I struggled to be patient myself as I tried to figure out what language was being spoken as I awaited words in English. But through it all I felt great peace and a gentle joy.
After a blessing around 11:30 a.m., I reluctantly rejoined Sylvia and my fellow California pilgrims for the more mundane matter of lunch. Yet I had already been well fed.
“The storm — the blast — the tempest shock,
Have beat upon these walls in vain;
She stands — a daughter of the rock --
The changeless God’s eternal fane.”
— Robert Stephen Hawker, “Morwennae Statio”
By John Rieping | All rights reserved | Previously published 11/07/97 in The Madera Tribune
"Though blind men see no light, the sun doth shine.
Sweet cakes are sweet, though fevered tastes deny it.
Pearls precious are, though trodden on by swine;
Each truth is true, though all men do not try it."
— Robert Southwell, "Of the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar"
LANCIANO, Italy — By late Friday morning, this Maderan's tour bus rode into the city of Lanciano for a lunch break. That afternoon, we pilgrims would catch our flight at the Leonardo Da Vinci airport in Rome for Dubrovnik, Croatia.
Our tour guide Sylvia Puppio led the 11 Californians from the bus to the little Church of St. Legontian. We were to meet again near there an hour later to continue the last leg of our journey through Italy.
In the back of this church sat an alleged 1,200-year-old miracle of the Eucharist, where the bread and wine of Communion had reportedly become Jesus' flesh and blood in a visible fashion.
Except for Sylvia, all silently prayed for a time before leaving to eat or shop. Another group of European and Middle-Eastern pilgrims filled the pews as my fellow pilgrims left one-by-one.
As for myself, I wasn't overwhelmed at the sight before my eyes. As a Catholic, I had always believed and don't recall ever doubting that Jesus truly became physically present in the bread and wine of Communion at mass. For me, appearances could not change what the scriptures and early Christians so clearly attested (I.E. Mat. 26:26-28; John 6:51-58; 1 Cor. 10:16; 11:23-32).
Sylvia had warned us earlier that we weren't allowed to take photographs of the Eucharist out of reverence. But several pilgrims — including myself — couldn't resist taking at least one shot. I prayed first to ask God permission to take His picture even though this was discouraged. If He did mind, I asked that the photo wouldn't come out ... and when I returned I discovered that it hadn't.
"I stooped to see the wonder, when, behold!
Within the cup a Countenance divine
Looked upward at me through the trembling wine,
Suffused with tenderest love and grief untold."
— Frederick Tennyson, "An Incident"
In the eighth century Frentanese city of Anxanum, a Basilian monk who had been studying the science of the day began to doubt the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. How could Jesus be physically present when the apparent nature of the bread and wine didn’t change? While celebrating mass one day, he interiorly begged God to help him know for sure that Jesus was present in the bread and wine, he later claimed. After the two-fold consecration during mass, the outer edge of the large Communion host publicly appeared to transform into flesh, and the wine into blood. It seemed his prayers had been dramatically answered.
The blood, now kept in an old rock-crystal cup, coagulated into five irregular globules and has a yellowish earthy color. The light brown flesh, minus the bread center which wasted away, has sat in a silver Ostensorium since 1713.
A scientific investigation was conducted in 1970-'71, and partly in 1981, by Prof. Odoardo Linoli, a professor in anatomy and pathological histology and in chemistry and clinical microscopy. Prof. Ruggero Bertelli of the University of Siena assisted. Their conclusions were that the flesh and blood are real flesh and blood, belong to the human species, and have the same blood-type: AB.
The flesh consists of muscular tissue of the heart: the myocardium, endocardium, the vagus nerve, and the left ventricle of the heart. The blood contains proteins in the same normal proportions (percentage-wise) as the sero-proteic make-up of fresh human blood. They could not explain how this flesh and blood, which had been left exposed to atmospheric and biological agents for 12 centuries, could remain preserved and fresh, despite signs of age in the ancient tissue.
"And I heard Agnus, Agnus Dei,
Pleading for man with Love's own breath;
And Love drew near me,
And Love drew near me
And I drank Life through God’s own death."
— Alfred Noyes, "The Strong City"
Too soon the hour of prayer passed. I made sure this time to be at the designated meeting place a few minutes earlier than requested. I would not be late this time, and happily endured the tardy return of a few shopping pilgrims.
We travelled westward, and upon arriving in Rome at half-past three we were delayed by a necessary detour. The bus driver, who had driven in a relatively subdued fashion during our travels, began to drive more like the other drivers with a heavy pedal. We had to reach the Da Vinci airport in time or miss checking in for our 5:25 p.m. flight.
"Your journey here has ended," announced Sylvia as we passed a statue of Leonardo da Vinci holding a model of the primitive helicopter he thought up.
She wouldn’t have another tour group until Thursday, but she stayed at the airport to help us all check-in and lingered behind to watch her odd bunch of 'tourists' off. I couldn't think of anything to say at the last, so I said farewell with a silent bow which amused her.
All of the pilgrims felt a bit sad to leave Italy, but all were excited and eager to go on to Medjugorje.
"Thou art the Way.
Hadst Thou been nothing but the goal,
I cannot say
If Thou hadst ever met my soul...
I'll not reproach
The road that winds, my feet that err.
Art Thou, Time, Way, and Wayfarer."
— Alice Meynell, "'I Am the Way'"
By John Rieping | All rights reserved | Previously published 10/30/97 in The Madera Tribune
"Come, forsake your city street!
Come to God’s own fields and meet October.
Not the lean, unkempt and brown
Counterfeit that haunts the town..."
— T.A. Daly, “October”
OSTIA, Italy — Not long after 7 a.m. on Oct. 9, this Maderan and the other pilgrims bade farewell to the mermaids of Hotel Sirenetta beside the Tyrrhenian Sea, and set an easterly course to the opposite coast.
Beyond Rome, the autumn morning paraded before us Italy’s rolling vineyards, castles, homes and villas. Walled towns tightly crowned their chosen hill as though a flood, or attack, were imminent.
Upon the passing fields I could almost see the beggar form of St. Francis of Assisi, a man like Jesus in spirit and in flesh. Surely he glimpsed heaven’s shadow when, as I, he looked down upon a twisting valley filled with a river of clouds.
Warning beeps sounded in the bus after 9 a.m. The driver stopped and found that the compressor belt had snapped, so we went on to the next “restoration” area to await a mechanic summoned by our cellular-phone-toting guide, Sylvia Puppio.
The convenience store there offered fine cheeses, sausages, liquor and more, but I satisfied myself with a bit of packaged toast from the hotel. I would fast on bread and water this day as a sacrifice on behalf of the petitions I brought to the cave of St. Michael in Monte San Angelo.
The store also sold “Papa Dolce” in a white, cardboard box bearing the pope’s photo. Does the pope endorse cookies? If only I read Italian.
“What hast thou felt to-day?
The pinions of the Angel-guide
That standeth at thy side
In rapturous ardours beat,
Glowing, from head to feet,
In ecstasy divine? Nay,
This only have I felt,
Christ’s hand in mine.”
— Robert Hugh Benson, “After a Retreat”
The mechanic arrived within half an hour, and the pilgrims traveled on for two more hours to the Rosary hotel-restaurant for lunch in the little fishing town of Termoli. As I entered, I noticed the familiar “Voice of Padre Pio” magazine, except in Italian, laying on a table by the front door.
The travel since the rest stop had been an unexpected trial for me as memories and temptations plagued me, as they had the night before, making prayer difficult. At the restaurant, I stood alone upon the balcony overlooking the Adriatic Sea and struggled with myself not to choose sin in my heart. Then, in light of my gentle surroundings, sin suddenly seemed alien and senseless. I refused anew to compromise, and slowly peace returned.
Most of the menu featured delicate dishes of fishes, but to the kindly waiters’ dismay I would only eat bread. At first they concluded this poor American couldn’t get enough of the good Italian bread. So they brought out olive oil for my bread, after explaining that “burro” (butter) would make me fat. But despite my repeated attempts to explain I was fasting, they innocently continued to serve me each course of the lovely meal.
My abstinence disturbed them, but they hit upon a solution. At the end of the meal, the beaming waiters sweetly presented me with a large, round loaf of Italian bread. I’d never been so pleasantly embarrassed in my life. Their solicitude didn’t extend only to me, and I think all of the pilgrims left the Rosary smiling.
Our unexpected breakdown rearranged our itinerary. Skipping Lanciano for now, we journeyed south past San Giovanni Rotondo to arrive at Monte San Angelo, the Gargano Mountains’ highest peak, in the late afternoon. From a distance, the peak’s tight clusters of houses resembled a monastery or fortification.
Up the narrow, winding road our bus climbed until we reached the top. The bus wasn’t allowed on the narrower roads, and St. Michael’s Basilica wasn’t far by foot.
“Not woman-faced and sweet, as look
The angels in the picture-book;
But terrible in majesty,
More than an army passing by.”
— Katherine Tynan, “Michael the Archangel”