Saturday, January 20, 2007

Florida Pictures

Here is a link to facebook where I originally posted the pictures.

Florida Hospitality

The success of our exploration into the gator infested Florida territory is directly correlated to the hospitality of Jason LaLonde and the other Florida Parousians. Jason, the leader of the recently established Parousian group at the University of Florida, hosted a small band of LSU Parousians. Saturday evening, January 13, 2007, our posse (six in all) from LSU invaded the foreign campus of UF. Shortly after our landing, our guide Jason quickly appeared.

We ventured to a local restaurant and popular college hang-out, the Swamp. Here we met other members of the Florida Parousians: Mark LaBelle, Amanda Arick, Cliff Whitty, and Kevin Jones (the next morning Ben Burwell would rally with us to St. Augustine). After engaging in small chat and sharing a common meal the culture shock rapidly faded as our new found friends cheered with us as the Saints played on the big screen television.

After dinner all six of us raided Jason’s house where he generously offered us his bed, couch, and floor for sleeping accommodations in his two bedroom apartment. Although his house was neat and well-kept, he never once complained about us messing it up and destructing his normal routine as he slept on the floor.

We couldn’t have asked for a more gracious host. Thank you Florida Parousians! We are humbled to have you join our vision.

Florida Trip: The Future Parousian Van

Downtown St Augustine is very Old-World if you’ve never been. The buildings express a charm that I’ve only found in the French Quarter of New Orleans and the Northeast. The historic Catholic church faces a small green plaza, and acres of parking are nowhere in sight, thank God. On our visit the entire scene was almost perfectly Old-World except for a van strategically parked right in front of the Catholic church.

“The evangelicals are coming,” I thought as we passed the solid white van covered in red words of repentance, Biblical passages (King James version), prophecy and a few atypical exhortations. We were going to Mass, so I had to wait to get a closer look and meet the man behind the van.

Br Tony Dellumo’s clothes matched his van: a white baseball hat, white sweatshirt, white shoes and white Air Jordan athletic pants with red trim. He had Bible verses (King James version) on his chest and hat that I don’t remember only because they didn’t stand out from the van.

We had time to look at the catechesis painted on the van because Br Tony was talking to a young man interviewing for a college newspaper. The first message that stood out was on the tire cover: “God kills / I kill and I make a live [sic].” More surprising was the message below dating the end of the world to 2011. Even more shocking was the message painted on the corner of the van: “no more church!” Befuddled, I walked to the side of the van where I saw “BIBLE” written on a window in thick, red caulk that reminded me of red frosting on the white icing of a red velvet cake.

Cake analogies and anti-church messages aside, the man was quite civil in his conversations. He never raised his voice but simply told us that he was preaching the gospel without a sugar coating. I was surprised that he didn’t ask us any questions characteristic of street preachers; rather, he did all the talking. I was also surprised at his reluctance to give us pamphlets describing God’s plan for salvation. “You have to believe this before I give it to you,” he told us.

On the pamphlet we found the explanation for the end of the church age that we were looking for. If you read Mt 24:15,16 and interpret Judea to mean the local churches and the mountains to mean Christ, then you are one step closer to understanding Br Tony’s message. Apparently the apostle Peter in 1 Peter 4:17 also speaks specifically to today’s local churches (in this verse the “house of God”) and their futility. According to Br Tony, these verses have special importance at this point in time because Biblical texts reveal the date of the end of the world, 2011. Br Tony’s dates for the end of the world and its creation, 11013 BC, come from Harold Camping of Family Radio. I leave it up to you and google to find out more. Hopefully I’ll see Br Tony and his van in Louisiana before 2011.

After recovering from that spiritual shock we went to the beach for a shock of a different kind. The beach at St Augustine was not empty, and surfers in black bodysuits gave the impression that a colony of penguins was feeding in the water. “What need have we for bodysuits? Into the water!” I yelled to deaf ears. The Louisiana pilgrims were hesitant (rightly so), but luckily two native Floridians, Kevin Jones and Jason LaLonde, from the University of Florida joined me in plunging into unknown depths of unknown cold. How cold was the water? Cold enough to make me catch my breath. I wasn’t rolling in the snow like St Francis, but I shared in some small way in that freezing experience. Even though the feeling of being sapped of my body heat was invigorating, the waves were too small to make the swim worth it. After 10 minutes we got out of the water, dried off and soon were on our way back to Gainesville.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Cathedral-Basilica of St. Augustine, Our Lady of La Leche Shrine

During our time in Florida, we stopped in St. Augustine's to attend Sunday Mass at the Cathedral Basilica and to visit Our Lady of the Leche Shrine with some of the UF Parousians. The Cathedral Basilica in St. Augustine's is the oldest Catholic Church in the United States and it is one of the most beautiful I have seen. The Church was erected by the Spanish settlers in 1797 and dedicated on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, the feast of the patroness of our nation. When you first walk into the Church, the first things to strike your eyes are three beautiful gold statues and a lovely pipe organ in the apse.

Photo of Cathedral Basilica

As you walk into the nave of the Cathedral, along the walls are murals depicting the Church's history. Curiously, there is also a side chapel to St. Patrick in the Cathedral. Though I am not certain as to the history of this side chapel, it seems as though one man who helped to restore the Cathedral in the early 1800's had helped to build St. Patrick's in New York City. (This is the only connection I could make). Above the tabernacle, there is a magnificent mosaic depicting the Last Supper. Be sure to check out Mary-Grace's photos to see these pieces of art.

The Mass at the Cathedral was full and lively. The Gospel for that Sunday was the story of the Wedding Feast at Cana. The Deacon gave a beautiful homily stressing the sacramental nature of marriage. After the Mass, we were able to pull Father Galeone and Deacon Richards aside for a picture.

After we left the Cathedral-Basilica, we made our way to Our Lady of La Leche Shrine. This Shrine was built upon the spot where the Spanish celebrated their first Mass in the United States. The full name of this shrine is "Our Lady of the Milk and Good Birth." According the website: "Our Lady of La Leche is the first shrine dedicated to Our Blessed Mother in the United States. The history of the devotion to the Mother of Jesus as Our Lady of La Leche may have roots in a 4th Century grotto in Bethlehem. To this day the Franciscan community maintains a shrine there called the Milk Grotto. Its centerpiece is the Blessed Virgin nursing the infant Jesus. Many believe that the crusaders brought the devotion to Mary as a nursing mother to Spain in the Middle Ages."
Our Lady of La Leche

What is so striking about this shrine is the immediate sense of awe and sacredness of the grounds. This first shrine to Our Lady is so fitting for our nation: it depicts Mary nursing the infant Christ. The shrine is a sign of God's Providence and God's grace in the world: what our nation needs most is to retrieve the sense of the sacredness of all human life, especially life in the womb. The artwork of the shrine is simple, and yet it is so evocative of the necessity for humility and of the vulnerability of each human life. The Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche is a place of silence, awe, and gravity. The words that remain in my mind as I recall it are none other than Mary's words at the Incarnation: "My soul doth magnify the Lord. And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. Because he hath regarded the humility of his handmaid; for behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. Because he that is mighty, hath done great things to me; and holy is his name. And his mercy is from generation unto generations, to them that fear him. He hath shewed might in his arm: he hath scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart. He hath put down the mighty from their seat, and hath exalted the humble. He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away. He hath received Israel his servant, being mindful of his mercy: As he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his seed for ever."

Islands of Adventure, Universal Studios

The Parousians spent some time during the Florida trip enjoying the charms of recreation at two of Orlando's theme parks: Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios. On Friday morning, we awoke early and attended Mass at Mary, Queen of the Universe Shrine (which, by the way, we are sure has some connection to Universal Studios...we decided we should have a presentation on it). From there, we made our way to the Islands of Adventure for a day of scares -- I mean thrills from riding on the rollercoasters.

We began the day riding the daunting coaster The Hulk. For those who are terrified of coasters, this was by the far the most terrifying. However, I am told by thrill-seekers such as Mary-Grace that this rollercoaster was not bold enough. From there we made our way to other fabulous attractions such as the 3D Spiderman ride, The Cat in the Hat ride (which we voted scariest ride), and my personal favorite the Dueling Dragons. On Saturday, we went to Universal Studios to enjoy rides such as the Mummy, Shrek, Twister, and Back to the Future before making our way to Mass at St. Nicholas of Myra.

And just in case you thought our time at the theme parks was all fun and games, I can assure you, it was not. The Saints fans in our group were sure to defend the truth of the faith by screaming "Who Dat" at the Eagles fans in the park. We also prayed the St. Michael prayer as we slowly made our way up the on the Dueling Dragons (This was especially for those of us who are terrified of falling off rollercoasters). During the course of our couple of days at the parks, I made a comment that the rides I enjoyed the most were also the ones that terrified me the most. Michael Denton managed to connect this comment to his presentation on Sheen's Life of Christ. We took every opportunity to recognize God's graces during our leisure time. All in all, the time at the theme parks was a worthy way to recreate, and even though we spent much of our time waiting in lines, we spent it discussing topics related to the faith and culture.

St. Nicholas of Myra, Byzantine Catholic Church

Saturday evening we endeavored out again with conflicting directions to try to find St. Nicholas of Myra, a Byzantine Catholic Church which celebrates the Eastern Rite. Without showering after a day at Universal Studios, we tried to disguise our stinky bodies with appropriate clean clothes - minus the Lutheran analogy. Walking into the quaint looking church’s narthex, we were greeted by a friendly usher who welcomed us. To my great appreciation he informed us of some liturgical differences we should know lest certain and imminent embarrassment.

To show the receiving of a blessing, the people make the sign of the cross opposite of the priest, where ‘Holy’ falls on the right shoulder and ‘Spirit’ on the left. Each time the Holy Trinity is referred to in the Divine Liturgy, either by name or when each Divine Person of the Trinity is mentioned, the sign of the cross is made with a slight bow. Throughout their St. John Chrysostom Liturgy, there is more verbal participation than in the Roman Rite. Also, the priest faces the altar and celebrates behind the open doors of the iconostasis.

Upon entering the nave, the first thing I noticed was the ornate iconostasis separating the earthly world from the sanctuary, the heavenly world. However, the iconostasis is also a symbol of unity; this is where the two worlds meet with icons of Saints, Mary, and Christ in between to show the means of our salvation. The iconostasis emphasizes the sanctuary as the “holy of holies,” its sacredness, and the mystery of God. The priest enters through the center doors, the Royal or Holy Doors, and the deacon can only enter on the side single doors. The action of the priest exiting the sanctuary through the iconostasis symbolizes his bringing the mystery of God to the people. Above the iconostasis on the back wall is a painting of the Last Supper, as it is a focal point of the Divine Liturgy. Also, the rest of the walls are either decorated with stained glass windows or icons. Even the chandeliers are beautifully decorated and contain small icons around their middles. The Church contained no statues as this is a tradition of the West.

The angels and Mary are reserved special devotion in the icons and Divine Liturgy. Gabriel, Michael, and Raphael are depicted on both the iconostasis and the wall behind it. Mary is pictured in icons, and she is honored as the Mother of Christ multiple times throughout the Divine Liturgy. The seraphim and cherubim are also mentioned as they glorify and praise God constantly. The seraphim are depicted in the iconic mural above and behind the sanctuary with Mary and child Jesus. Extending from the back of the tabernacle are two rods with sun-like ends representing the seraphim as well.

Father Sal Pignato spoke to us after the Divine Liturgy and shared with us some of the richness of the Eastern rite, which aided in this recounting of the experience. We are grateful to Father for celebrating the Divine Liturgy with us and the other people – mostly tourists – who attended. St. Nicholas of Myra is a beautiful church using the moving St. John Chrysostom liturgy, both well-suited and appropriate for the worship of God in His infinite mystery. The Divine Liturgy is normally chanted on Sundays with the regular parishioners. Unfortunately, we attended the typically tourist Divine Liturgy on Saturday without singing. I guess we’ll have to visit St. Nicholas of Myra again.

St. Nicholas of Myra homepage

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Florida Trip: Mary, Queen of the Universe Shrine

We began our first full day in Florida (see "The Journey to Orlando" below) the best way possible: Mass! As befitting a pilgrimage, we found a particularly incredible church for Holy Mass. Mary, Queen of the Universe Shrine, completed only in 1993, stands as a testament to the faith of the laity and clergy of the Diocese of Orlando who since 1975 had brought Sunday Masses to Walt Disney World. That glorious faith expresses itself in the artwork and engulfing architecture; unfortunately we could only stay for a short time to soak it all in.

The outside of the building shows a certain simplicity that continues in the interior. The monotony of the length of the external wall is broken by stained glass windows and flying buttresses (an architectural support found on Notre Dame Cathedral), and the entrance has two beautiful brass doors depicting events from the life of Christ flanked by wooden doors. Above the entrance is a rose window of stained glass (Notre Dame has the best example).

The vast space and soaring ceiling inside reminded me of the cathedrals I had seen in Europe. An enormous sculpture of Christ crucified is suspended above the altar in front of a glass cross which according to the official website represents “the shadow of the Cross.” Behind the altar, the tabernacle is built into the very building, embedded in a complex, three dimensional, 4-paned glass boundary between the main sanctuary and a small chapel. I found out after Mass that a beautiful gold monstrance sits in the tabernacle on the side opposite the sanctuary for adoration in the little chapel. If you never thought of the tabernacle as being the focal point of your church, I invite you to find a church such as this that artistically emphasizes that point through its architecture.

I always remember churches by their outstanding art, and this church has three wonderful pieces. After Mass, I visited a nativity scene adjacent to the narthex, or lobby, in the Chapel of Our Lady of Guadalupe. I found out the patroness of that space because of the intricate mosaic not only of Our Lady but also of the peasant, St Juan Diego, during the first apparition and the presentation of the roses and the miraculous image to his bishop. The next edifying piece I found was the larger-than-life Mary, Queen of the Universe made with marble from the same quarry as Michelangelo’s Pieta. You can see more pictures of this statue, representing not only a queen but also an intensely compassionate mother, in the link below.

Statue of Mary, Queen of the Universe

The work we enjoyed together as a group was the bronze sculpture of the adolescent Jesus with Joseph found to the left of the main altar. The piece is set in a carpenter’s workshop with Jesus sitting on the workbench telling a wonderful story while Joseph listens with a look of priceless joy on his face. Jesus’ left hand rests on two pieces of wood which form a pseudo-cross, and three wood nails are not far from where he is sitting. This sculpture brings to mind the beautiful father/son relationship between Joseph and Jesus that I had never really thought about before.

After a few more minutes in the sanctuary we made the obligatory gift-shop visit and continued on to Universal Studios. On the website you can find some of the things I’m talking about, but you really have to go there for Mass when you make your next Disney World trip.

Mary, Queen of the Universe Shrine

Emily Byers on Starbucks

Emily Byers renews her excellent column this week with a discussion of the recent announcement of a new Starbucks on LSU's campus. Why should you read this column you might ask? Simply this: it doesn't suck like a hull breach.

Emily Byers on Starbucks

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

LSU Conference

The LSU Political Science Graduate Student Association is hosting an academic conference on Saturday, March 24, 2007. The theme for the conference is Politics and Religion: Tolerance and Conflict in Society. We are looking for student papers to be presented at the conference. This is a great opportunity for the Parousians to be discussing the relationship between the faith and political society. The cost is free and we will also be providing free lunch and refreshments. Any student of any major can submit a paper. Please email Angela Miceli with any questions at

Patron Saints for the Modern World

This link includes a list of patron saints for issues that relate directly to the modern world.

The Culture and Defense of Pornography

This article by Dinesh D'Souza provides an interesting commentary on the perversity of pornography and those who defend it as well as that perversity's effect on our culture as a whole.

Dinesh D'Souza: "Pornography--The Real Perversion"

Monday, January 15, 2007

The Journey to Orlando

On Thursday January 11 the Parousians set off from Baton Rouge in a van with the destination of Orlando in sights. The trip started off a little rocky thanks to unneccessary and unreasonable delays by the rental car company. However, as Angela pointed out "a bad start means a good trip." How true that was. So we grabbed some meat pies and began the long trip. There were six of us: Toby Danna, Ryan Halford, Mary-Grace Westphal, Angela Miceli, Matthew, and Michael Denton.

We went without much of note until we hit Pensacola. It was about lunch time, so we decided to pull over for lunch. Finding a place wasn't too easy, but we eventually drove around until we found a place to park near the beach. It was windy and kinda chilly but we put the blanket on the beach, took our shoes off, and enjoyed it. We made sandwiches, which was complicated by the wind and the sand that seemed to find its way into the sandwiches (but hey, sand diversifies the diet, right?). So we watched the gulls and waves for a while and then packed up. We took the, er, scenic route back to the interstate and were on our way until Tallahassee.

In Tallahassee we decided to look for a church since most of us had missed mass while dealing with the rental car. So we drove to Florida State University looking for the Church. I suppose one exists but no one on the campus knows where it is. We did find out that they know where the Anglican Church is as they sent us to that twice. So having found no church we were kinda stuck as to what to do. Then as we drive we see a sex toys shop right off campus. We made the split the decision then and there to go in front of the store and pray the rosary. So we stood on the sidewalk and offered up prayers as cars whizzed right behind us in rush-hour traffic and a small crowd gathered at the tattoo shop nearby. I'm not sure what about this made such an impact on me personally. Whether it was the sponaneity of such a dramatic move or the striking contrast between the beauty of the rosary and the depravity of the shop, or the fact that people who passed us were obviously startled, something about saying that rosary struck a chord with the group. I would not be surprised if later we returned to FSU to do it again.

When we were finished there we went across the street to where we had parked and another picnic of sorts, this time with a spread out on the hood of the van to make the sandwiches. From there we went to Gainesville. More interesting Florida road signs made the trip to Orlando an adventure. Eventually we arrived at our hotel and went to bed...well, not really. Some of us decided to watch a movie so that we didn't get to bed until 4:30. AM. That was not a bright idea on my part as I would discover and hour and a half later when we had to wake up...

During the entire trip and especially during the drive up we did a devotion to St. Raphael. St. Raphael, if you don't know already, is the chosen patron saint of the University of Florida chapter as well as the patron angel of travelers. So we read the book of Tobit and the litany of St. Raphael throughout the trip. It is probably due to his intercession that we managed to pull ourselves out of the directional messes we found ourselves on Thursday and throughout the weekend. The reading of St. Raphael and the rosary at the porn shop I think set this trip out on a proper spiritual start so that we would see the trip blossom into more blessings than I could have hoped for.

Trip to the University of Florida

The Parousians who went to the University of Florida have just returned. I can say that the entire journey was an incredible and awe-inspiring success. It was so successful that we've decided to break up the posts describing the adventure so that we can cover everything in the time each event deserves. So keep checking the blog this week as we update you on the trip.

We'd also like to thank everyone who kept us in their prayers as we went to Florida and ask that everyone continue to keep the Parousians in their prayers, especially the branch at the University of Florida.