Sunday, 28 February 2016

Rome: Gaining our Year of Mercy Indulgence

Year of Mercy Indulgence

When Pope Francis announced this year as a Year of Mercy, Becca began to immediately make plans to head to Rome to walk through the Jubilee Door at St. Peter's in Rome.  We had intended to head back to Rome one last time before heading home and doing it in January seemed like a good 'off-season' time to go.

Going to Rome for us was more than just gaining an indulgence.  Rome, the Eternal City, is the centre of Christendom.  It is like coming home or going to a family reunion.  Each church has relics of our brothers and sisters, around each corner is another brick or stone or monument attesting to the early days of our faith.  The longing of the heart to connect with your own history comes to fruition as you walk the ancient Appian way, or kneel in the Catacombs where our loved ones are buried and pray for the repose of their souls as our forefathers did. Going to Rome is a pilgrimage. A prayer.

And... to top it off, we had been studying ancient Rome the entire semester with our children in our homeschooling curriculum. Hence, heading to Rome was a perfect end for the unit.

Day 1: Arrival and a visit to the Catacombs

We took the overnight train and had the entire cabin booked for ourselves. With 7 of us in a 6-seater it was a bit squishy - especially because children generally don't sleep still but flop around a lot.

Eventually, everyone nodded off, but at midnight the train stopped at the border and Tavi woke up. He was then awake (with Daddy) till 5am.  That made for a rough night I must say.

We had breakfast on the train, and then set out to find the convent of the Dominican Sister we were staying with. We couldn't find a taxi large enough for our family, and not wanting to pay for two, we took the metro to the general area and tried to find it on our own.  This was hairy. It must've been a sight! A family of 7 with all their luggage, lugging through the streets of Rome asking everyone for directions ... it is moments like these where I almost break down and purchase an i-phone.

We finally arrived in good fashion and not overly stressed. And here we had the first of many small gifts. We had booked only 3 beds for the 5 kids to save money. When the nuns saw us they insisted on giving us 5 beds and not charging us for the extra beds. That was very nice.

First Stop: Catacombs of St. Callixtus

Our first stop was to walk to the beginning of the Appian Way and head to the Catacombs of St. Callixtus. We took the bus, and the bus driver, when seeing our family, insisted that we didn't pay and headed down the Appian Way.

The first image of Jesus was the image of the Good Shepherd, which is the symbol for the Year of Mercy this year.

They had all the early Christian symbols that were found in the catacombs organized for us to see:

The greek for fish reads: Jesus Christ Son of God Saviour

Unfortunately, we weren't allowed to take pictures inside and there was no bones!! People kept stealing the bones so they were all removed. We saw the place where the body of St. Cecilia was found and the ancient spaces where they used to have secret Masses.

Walking back and at the beginning of the Appian Way was the Quo Vadis Chapel.
Here is where Jesus appeared to Peter as he was fleeing Rome. 

He asked Jesus, "Quo Vadis Domine?" (Where are you going Lord? )  

Jesus answered: "Venito Romam iterum crucifici." (To Rome to be crucified again.)

Peter turned about.

A copy of the original of the footprints Jesus left on the stone were here as well.

This effort left us hungry and a bit grumpy.  We caught a bus and tried to figure out where we were and to find a restaurant to eat at with the kids.

We ended up eating at a completely non-kid friendly restaurant near the Monument to Vittorio Emanuele II (though we didn't really know where we were).  Then off to bed!

Day 2: Visit to the Colosseum

We had been studying ancient Rome in our history units so we were all excited to see inside the Colosseum and imagine what the Lido must've been like.

There used to be more crosses erected, but due to politics they'd be been taken down.   Where this cross is stationed is the site of the emperial box.

 The Pope leads the Way of the Cross here on Good Friday.

Here once can see the Arch of Constantine through one of the 'windows'.  

When we finished it was lunch time. We walked up to the St. Bonaventura Church, looking for a nice place to eat or a view and came up with nothing. So we walked all the way back down and ate with the blasted pigeons.  Or rather my children fed our precious food to the blasted pigeons.

Then we split up. Momma took Tavi to have a nap and I took the other 4.

Basilica: St. Paul outside the Wall

This was to be our first walk through a door of mercy (below).  We entered through the security, stood before the door and prayed for God's mercy on us sinners and the whole world, and walked through.

Here is the crypt where St. Paul is buried. And here above the crypt are the chains that bound him when he was beheaded. 

St. Peter in Chains

Next, after many stairs, and finally ditching a hawker trying to give us free braclets and then take them back again, we headed to the Church of St. Peter in Chains. Here we venerated the chains that bound St. Peter at his death and enjoyed the Moses sculpted by Michelangelo.

Of the monumental tomb made for Pope Julius II, only the Moses was totally done by Michelangelo. The goat horns on his head are the result of a poor understanding of the text of Exodus - the 'horns' were meant to be a radiance or light shone around his face when he came down from Mt. Sinai.

Day 2: Vatican and St. Peter's Basilica

Every morning the kids and I went to the Latin Market and bought food for lunch.  The sisters insisted on giving us breakfast for free each day. That was wonderful and generous!

Today was the day to do our pilgrimage through the Door of Mercy at St. Peter's. This was to be our first time entering St. Peter's Basilica. We were all very excited!

The walk to the door began in front of Castel Sant Angelo. There was a quarantined area for pilgrims to walk down all the way to St. Peter's.

There were 5 places in which to stop and pray. The final being at the tomb of St. Peter.

Here we are walking through the Door of Mercy:

St. Peter's was breathtaking. I could've spent all day there.

The kids were very excited to see Michaelangelo's Pieta.

... and of course we had to rub the foot of St. Peter ...

The Papal Tiara:

After a nice lunch among the colonnades we took the kids to the Vatican Museum.  Here again, the Italians loved our family and gave us one free admission.

In our homeschooling, we had specifically studied Michelangelo and his works.  Here the kids were quite excited when the recognized the work that had been discovered and which inspired him to include motion in his sculpture. It as the Laocoon: a sculpture of the Trojan priest Laocoon and his two sons writhing frantically in a death struggle with terrible serpents.

Every room of the museum was a work of art. We were hit by the intense love of beauty that the Popes had throughout the ages. 

The Sistine Chapel was excellent. The massive painting of the 'Last Judgment' by Michelangelo was by far my favourite.  What a powerful image of Christ.

Day 3: Lateran Basilica

Today was the day to complete what was necessary to gain our Year of Mercy indulgences. We attended Holy Mass and had confessions at the Lateran Basilica and thus gained our indulgences.  This was our 3rd Door of Mercy that we walked through.  Then, we relaxed and let the children play.  

My favourite Pope:  Pope Leo XIII !!! Buried here at the Lateran Basilica.

My favourite Latin inscription!

"Most Holy Lateran Church, Mother and Mistress of all churches of the City and the World."

After lunch we climbed and prayed our way up the holy stairs on our knees.  

And then went for Gelato!  Oh joy of joys!  And here again we were given a gelato for free because the server loved our family! 

We had a couple of hours to kill before we had to pack up and head to catch the 7pm train. So we went by the old aquaduct and played in the playgrounds and watched the 50 or so black cats being fed by a lady.

Back at the convent we said good-bye to the lovely sisters that spoke no English. 

We had a good night on the way home. Tavi and all the kids slept. Only mommy and daddy really suffered from sleep in our old age.  

Bye Bye Rome!

Final Semester Course Load:

Canon Law: Marriage
Greek II
St. Thomas Aquinas: Perfection in Charity
St. Thomas Aquinas: de Incarnatione
Priesthood, Marriage, Virginity
Theological Anthropology
Modern Political Philosophy: Locke, Hobbes, Machiavelli, Rosseau, Mills, Marx
Pastoral Theology: Church in the Modern World

Sermon from the Vineyard: Quick lesson on Indulgences

Some of you may read this blog post and wonder what I'm doing talking about a Mediaeval bygone called 'indulgences'.  So here is a little primer to help those of you who don't know anything about them and to hopefully answer why on earth we would travel to Rome to get one.

Indulgences go all the back to the early Church days.  During the times of the various Roman persecutions of the Christians, there were some Christians who refused to deny Christ and were hence martyred for their faith.  Others, the lapsi, out of weak faith or fear denied Christ, but afterwards went back to the Church bishops to confess their weakness and sin.  At this time a great debate broke in Christendom: The Donatists claimed the lapsi couldn't be forgiven and brought back into the Church for the sin was too great. The Catholic Church of course disagreed.  For those who did confess, they were given a two year penance because of the gravity of the sin.

Now this is where indulgences were born.  If the lapsi went to the prisons and received a letter from those Christians who were awaiting their own martyrdom, and then showed this to the priests, they could have their penance removed.  Why? This act was similar to Peter seeing Christ after he denied our Lord 3x.  Our Lord, on the beach, after breaking the bread asked him 3x if he loved Him. In the same way, the lapsi had to face those who didn't deny Christ and receive their forgiveness as well. The merit earned by the martyr (or the tortured and about to be martyred) was applied to those dissident and it lessened their penance.

This practice born early in the Church continues till today.  However, we don't have per se martyrs to run to, in prison.  However, we do have 1000's of them in Heaven who have gained with Christ many merits through their meritorious acts.

In order to understand why the Bifferts would go to Rome, one needs to understand the following:

1. Sin merits two types of punishments: eternal punishments and temporal punishments. Put plainly, if I murder, then the eternal punishment is hell and the temporal punishment is imprisonment.

2.  Through our baptism and confession of our sins and thus accepting the gift of Christ's sacrifice on the cross as payment for our sins we are saved from hell.  The debt has been paid by Our Lord's act of love on the cross.

3.  However, Christ's act on the cross did not erase all the temporal punishments.  The murderer still needs to do prison time. He doesn't escape the punishment for his crime just because he gets baptized, even though he is forgiven and repentant.

4. Some of the temporal punishments for our sins we won't suffer in this life.  For example, what is the punishment for thinking lustful thoughts (which Christ states is akin to adultery)? There has to be a reckoning for our sins and a 'making right'.

5.  After confessing sins to a priest, Catholics receive a penance to help erase the temporal punishments of our sins.  If we only received forgiveness of our sins and died without paying the temporal debt for our sins, then we'd have to pay the debt for them in purgatory, or be 'purged' from them.  Remember: Christ's death on the cross erases only the eternal punishment for our sins.

6.  The Pope as the successor of Peter, to whom as been given the power to bind and loose things in Heaven and earth (Mt. 16:19), has the power to issue indulgences to which either will pay the debt for all the temporal consequences of our sins or at least part of them.  He applies ('looses') the merits of Christ and the saints in Heaven on our behalf.  Our role is to do what is prescribed to receive the indulgence, just as the lapsi did a couple 1000 years ago.

Thus, in going to Rome and walking through the Door of Mercy, and fulfilling the other elements needed (confession, going to Mass, praying for the Pope's intentions, and not having habitual sin in our hearts) we gain an indulgence.


As we are planning our return to Canada, we are realizing the abundance of needs that we'll incur upon our arrival.  Much of our belongings will have to be left here in Austria.  If any of you are getting rid of items or have the following at your disposal, please consider setting them aside for us.  If you'd like to sell them or donate them: please contact us.

- bikes for all of us (2 adult, 4 kids sized)
- skates, balls, hockey sticks, roller blades, sleds ... any sporting equipment for kids
- book shelves
- beds for the kids
- night tables
- study desks
- clothing for the kids
- winter coats, boots and wear
- blankets for the beds
- toys, books
- car seats/booster seats

Our kids ages are:
Winter: 10
Tristan: 8
Benedict: 6
Kate: 4
Tavi: 2

And I'm sure there is more. We have appreciated all the help we received in coming here and all your prayers and support from back home.  

Blessed Lent,

Love from Kenton, Becca, Winter, Tristan, Benedict, Kate, Tavi and the new baby

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