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Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Trust in God: Mountains, Miracles, and Mud Pies

A blog post by Leanna Praetzel, Fall 2011 Semester 

Forty minutes until my flight from Chicago was leaving, and I still had to clear customs, figure out where my luggage should go, switch terminals, go through security, and locate my gate number? The scenario sounded all too familiar...

Right off the bat I was behind- It turns out the airline was handing out customs fast passes while I was busy singing The National Anthem with my good friend Joe and getting yelled at for calling my Dad while still on the plane. "It's going to be okay," I thought as my friends helped me get through the line and grab my checked bag from the belt. Not knowing where to put it (I still had to fly to Cleveland), I asked the man working with the luggage. "Belt seven," he said. I knew this whole ordeal was a test of trust, and I had to make it on my plane in time, so, even though the screen read "Cancun", I put my bag on belt seven.

And then I was alone. I rode the shuttle to Terminal Two like an airport worker told me to do, and upon arriving there noticed that my flight was delayed ten minutes. My excitement was cut short, though, when I realized in the line for security that I was in the wrong terminal. I paused mid-panic, and decided I was completely going to rely on God. After getting through security, I ran. My legs were wobbling, my bags were ripping, random stuff kept falling everywhere, and (surprisingly) I was laughing! I must have looked like such a fool! Passing by another departure board, I saw my plane was delayed another twenty minutes. I felt so special... like God was making the plane wait just for me!

Of course I arrived with time to spare. I talked the whole way home to an exchange student from Prague, and was greeted by my entire family in the baggage claim area. I was not, however, greeted by my checked bag. "Maybe it didn't make it to the plane in time," my Dad said. We filled out a form and were told it would arrive the next day.

One week later and I still did not have my bag. At first I joked with my friends that it might be enjoying Cancun. But it wasn't long before I started pouting. A whole semester abroad's worth of stuff- gone? My dad figured out that I actually had not taken my bag past customs (oops... how was I supposed to know?!) and that I might never get it back. It was the day I accepted the fact that I might never see it again - the day I stopped whining and started wanting God's will- that I got it back. After a week of being "untraceable", my bag was just sitting there on my front porch!  I couldn't help but think about how much God really must love me.

This past semester, I feel like God has taken every opportunity to challenge my trust in Him... and there is no struggle anymore for me to see why.  God wants me to experience first-hand how powerful He is!  Through trusting Him to take me where He wanted me to go all semester, I've seen so much!  I've seen how He took the grotto in Lourdes- a filthy dump, a pigsty!- and, by allowing Mary to appear there, turned it into a holy shrine, a pinnacle of faith. I've witnessed Him taking the small, dirty city of Medjugorje and, through our Mother Mary, creating a glorious pilgrimage site. I take mud and make mud pies... He takes mud and makes mountains, miracles, and men!

How could I NOT trust a God like that? A God who crafted the Swiss Alps and the Austrian waterfalls, who fashioned the Italian hillsides and the German ravines? A God whose Spirit moves in every country and stands without fail by his Bride the universal Catholic Church? A God who, through his Son, passed on the keys of the Kingdom to our first pope, Peter, whose very bones still lie under the Vatican Basilica? This real and living God has shown me so much this past semester through my gradual trust in Him.. And I can't thank Him enough.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Advent Market & Semester End

A blog post by student Chelsea Graham, Fall 2011

Oh the happenings of this week! From “Adventmarkts” and Krampus, baptisms, and finals—I couldn’t think of a better way to spend the second to last week in Austria…except maybe minus the finals.

All throughout Europe, during the season of Advent, communities come together and have Advent markets, or in German “Adventmarkts.” There was one here at the Kartause for the past week, and although I miss the quiet, peaceful Kartause, I have enjoyed the market. It’s almost like a craft fair back in the states, but all Christmassy…. And with the Adventmarkt come some of Austria’s traditions…Like the Krampus or Perchten. Unlike in the States, Santa, or St. Nicholas, does not bring coal for the kids on the “Naughty List,” instead the Krampus come and whip the naughty boys and girl.
I had been warned of this Austrian tradition by some of the Kartause kids, but I guess I thought they were over exaggerating…Well they weren’t. The Krampus are terrifying!! And I’m sure I’m overreacting, but seriously. When someone comes up to you in a huge hairy costume with bells and a whip and they stare you down, and you keep backing up, and they continue to walk closer…it’s scary! Not at all what I expected…Especially when they came out with eerie red fog and lit fires! And there were several of them—There was no way of escaping them! But it was fun at the same time…if that makes any sense! It was really neat to experience an authentic Austrian Christmas tradition.

Also this week, during the Vigil mass for the Feast day of the Immaculate Conception, one of the LCI students was baptized, confirmed, and received Communion for the first time. It was one of the most exciting times of the semester. I have known Ksenia, and as the weeks drew closer the excitement grew all around the Kartause. And at mass on Wednesday, the whole Kartause community was there in support of her, and it was an incredibly beautiful experience to witness. Seeing someone make the decision to come into the Church all on her own, and seeing her excitement was such a blessing, and made this semester that much more incredible.

And also with the end of the semester comes finals. I’ve finished one, so only four left to go! But to be perfectly honest, the tests really aren’t too bad. I’m not saying I enjoy them, but this semester’s classes have been incredible. Taking theology and philosophy classes were the perfect way to compliment this semester, and going over everything we’ve learned kind of ends the semester perfectly…So I wouldn’t say finals are all that bad!

Spending my last week at the Kartause will be hard. I’m full of excitement to go home, but at the same time I want time to go by really slow so I can enjoy Gaming as much as possible, before I have to say goodbye…And I know that won’t be easy. Nothing will be able to replace my time here in Gaming, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything, and having it come to an end is not easy by any means. But we have to have peace with where we are, right? So for the next week, I’m going to soak everything inas much as possible and go from there!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Mystical Mediterranean

A blog post by Joe White, Fall 2011

            As stated previously, these posts will be a two part series. This is not Part Two but rather part two of Part One.[1]

            After a studious week of midterms, myself and five of my yet-to-be-best friends embarked on our ten day break. The majority of our trip was spent in the beautiful island of Malta and the hills of Cinque Terre. Let’s talk Malta.

Yeah, it was pretty much like that. Beautiful beaches, warm Mediterranean water, caves to climb to, VERY inexpensive (more on that in a minute), and very visibly Catholic. That beach pictured above had a big bust of Mary, queen of the beach, in the middle of her sands. We stayed the longest on Gozo, the small sister island of Malta. In Gozo alone there are forty-three churches.[2] Crevices were carved in buildings and above residential garages to hold statues of St. Anthony and St. Joseph. We found “Ave Maria” inscribed on various apartment buildings. It was really quite beautiful, seeing their faith alive outside the walls of the church. We booked an apartment in Xlendi Bay. Four beds, two rooms, dining/living room, kitchen, bathroom and balcony: ten euro a night. Here was the view from our balcony:

That right there is the Mediterranean, folks! My goodness, it was too good. Snack bars were common place in the Maltese cities; one could purchase a “cheese envelope” for seventy Euro cents or a personal sized pizza for one euro. Cream cake: eighty Euro cent. Bravo fruit juice: one euro. Mars Bar Cake: one Euro twenty. Those cheese envelopes and pizzas were baaad news though, let me tell you. We got groceries for dinner most nights which came down to two euro each. Man, Malta was just really enjoyable. Here are some photos of Blue Lagoon:


            After ten day we had a two day weekend. A friend from back home is spending her year in Ireland studying. Her ten day break fell the weekend after mine, so she came out to Austria to visit. We met in Salzburg where we visited the Sound of Music gardens (an experience I missed during the school trip to Salzburg back in the beginning). Then it was back to the Kartause to give her a taste of Gaming life. It was strangely affirming giving her a tour of this place—it made me realize how much of a home this place has become. These are my friends, this is the creek, there’s the bell tower, here’s the Byzantine chapel, this is the ballroom. These are the things I heard when I first arrived and now it was I giving the tour. We rented bikes in Krems and rode through the Danube River valley with nothing but beauty around us. Autumn trees on the hills, colored vineyards, and the big blue Danube. Great.

             Finally—and this will lead into part two quite nicely—I travelled with a group to Medjugorje (non-sponsored) last weekend. A lot of us talked about how we were not planning on travelling to  Medjugorje while there—at all. And yet we all our found ourselves on a bus going to Bosnia that Thursday evening. Unexpected as it was, the pilgrimage yielded graces both big and small. Some were moved to deeper prayer, some were heartbroken to leave.

            A true peacefulness exists in this quaint Bosnian town. The church bells of Saint Joseph’s chime every hour but also twenty minutes before mass; this is the time that Our Lady appears to the visionaries. While most of the visionaries live elsewhere, Mary has appeared in Medjugorje proper in a myriad of places, from the base of a hill where a blue cross stands, to halfway up the same hill (appropriately titled Apparition Hill), to the very top of Cross Mountain.[3] During our time there, we were accommodated by Nancy and Patrick who have been building a castle (literally) for pilgrims and religious who visit Medj. Their niceness and charitableness was second to none—in the words of my pal, Shannon, “I don’t think I’ve ever been told ‘Good Morning, treasure’ before.” The way Our Lady’s messages have sparked them to live in such a joyful and serving way really prompts me to continue on to better know our Lord and our mother. Prompts me to forward movement.

[1] Think how the Harry Potter movies were an 8 part series with the last being one part but having two segments.
[2] Malta itself has upwards of two-hundred and twenty.
[3] This place made quite happy: the cross atop the hill was erected in the 1933 and the Bosnian people—in their meekness—sent a letter to the Vatican asking permission to build the cross. Of course you can build a cross, the Vatican said, but since you asked, here is a piece of the True Cross. So through their humility, we have a beautiful cross containing Christ’s cross.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Adventures in Bruges & Aachen

A blog post by Joe White, Fall 2011

 I think this’ll be a two part blog: the first, a more superficial look at my travels and the second a deeper analysis of what these travels have taught me.

            The first week I travelled without the school, was a trip of all sorts. Peter, my friend, had a strong, burning desire to get to Bruges in Belgium, if only to see where the movie In Bruges was filmed. We had some complications with train reservations on the way out, so instead of ironing them out we made no reservations on anything and hoped that the 18 hour trip would go without a hitch. Long and short: it did. We stopped in Brussels, originally a twenty minute stop that we decided to make a two hour respite. On the city subway Monica made friends with a French speaking student (indeed, from France) and he and his friend gave us an hour tour of the city—all in French. Luckily Sam and Monica are both pretty fluent in the language so they were our translators. We all had enormous waffles topped with bananas and strawberries and cream and then headed to Bruges. The city was beautiful in its medieval splendor. Everything you’d expect to be great met our liking: the mussels were tasty, the beer: wonderful, the chocolate: exceptional.
I ditched my group the next day to meet up with my friend Laura. She was a foreign exchange student at my high school (junior year), and we became good friends during her time in America. Of course when I decided to go to Franciscan I told her I would visit her during my Austrian semester. We met in Maastricht, Netherlands where she attends university and then went to her home in Aachen, Germany. It was really great to see an old friend, especially in her wonderful German home. Aachen was a great city: young and vibrant with university students but also rich in history—there was a legend to go along with nearly every statue in the city. Plus the incredible Aachen Dom, built by Charlemagne (or Karl der Grosse, as the Germans call him) himself. One of the most unique churches I’ve ever encountered: it was built in the shape of an octagon. It also contains the tallest stained glass window—that is to say, it is one solid piece of glass. Truly impressive. Check it out:
Yes, each of those windows is one piece of glass.

            I departed from Aachen, alone, Sunday afternoon, knowing full well I’d be arriving back in Gaming at 6 AM Monday, only minutes before my Christian Moral Principles midterm. It’s good to be young!
 On the overnight train from Munich to Salzburg, while getting up to use the WC I heard a call from one of the other cabins. “Joe White. JOE WHITE!” I heard. And who was on the train, alone as well, but my good friend Daniel. I entered his cabin, and we exchanged stories—he left his passport on the train going to Bruges, and so on the last day he had to train to the very top of Belgium[1] to get it back. But he retrieved it—just as he retrieved the famous Westwleterny 12.[2] From Salzburg we rode to St. Polten where we met up with a very cold Patrick who had been trying to sleep there—unsuccessfully—for nearly half a day. Our merry band grew larger. On the train from Pรถchlarn we encountered Dave, Jacob, and John who were just returning from Cinque Terre. We all returned to the Kartause safely and demolished our exams that day, followed by a long, well earned nap. Stay tuned for more!

[1] In his own words, “I could see the English Channel from the train station.”
[2] Nearly unanimously ranked as the world’s best beer

Friday, December 9, 2011

Looking Back on Ordinary Life at the Kartause

 A blog post by Joe White, Fall 2011
            Hello again. The last blog I wrote had a pretty serious tone and lest this blog be reduced to travelogues, I figure it would be good to talk a little on weekly life here at the Kartause. The hot button question last week was “Are you going anywhere this weekend or staying back?” Plenty of folks more studious than I and my compatriots stayed in Gaming during the three day weekend to prepare for finals. Tuesday the 4th of October was the St. Francis’s feast day, necessitating a party on the lawn. We all enjoyed burgers and fries and Kartausebrau (the local microbrew) while Kevin Mahon sang and played the four songs he knows with Dave Spears offering some sax solos while Adam S played the djembe. It felt a lot like summer, being outside with music and burgers and a sunset.

            I had had the urge for a while to take a night hike up Book Mountain. I’m a big fan of hiking in the dark: there is calm in the woods like none other in the nighttime. It can be a great time for silence and contemplation. It can put peace in your soul. Unless you’re trying your best not to slip off the side of a narrow trail coming down a mountain. Aside from the somewhat terrifying descent back down, the whole experience was quite beautiful. It was my second time climbing it, first time at night. The stars shine bright enough in the town; atop Book they were brighter and more abundant. After signing the book and sharing a bottle of wonderful wine from Melk Monastary (the one we visited earlier this semester) we descended. After cleaning the dirt off our shoes, we all got pizza and a Stiegl beer to celebrate the climb.

            Alright, so it’s been about three hours of writing, pursuing other distractions and struggling to write. There really isn’t that much to say about weekday living here, usually. We study, we talk, we go to Spar, we ride bikes to eat kebabs and ice cream, and occasionally we climb mountains. Life is ordinary here but we are attempting to live it in an extraordinary way. Growing closer to Christ not only in world-shaking pilgrimages but day-by-day living, in the menial tasks of studying and cleaning, et cetera. That is the task at hand: that everyday and in everything we grow into Christ.