I join the rest of the world today in complete disbelief about the news
I heard the minute after my alarm radio went off: Pope Benedict plans
to resign. As the historians assess his legacy, I'm reflecting on the
blessing of a few encounters with the man who benefited from the love
his predecessor garnered for the papacy, but who attracted an affection
all his own.
Humility is what I think of when I think of Pope Benedict. I shook his hand once (and then awkwardkly tried to kiss his ring, as is the custom), as he walked down the aisle of the Vatican's Hall of Pope Paul VI during a regular Wednesday audience. Like everyone else who gets asile seats, I got there two hours early and rushed for the chairs when the doors opened.
What struck me as Pope Benedict made his way to the front of the hall was everyone's enthusiasm -- 50-year-old men losing all sense of decorum as they stretched their hands out, hoping they will grasped, and the quiet awe of others, who wanted deeply to convey their respect. (The photo above is my pittiful effort to capture the atmosphere.)
As as people shouted, cheered, sobbed, Pope Benedict XVI walked with his head down slightly, as if all this attention was a little bit much.
A few years later, I was back in Rome with my parents, and we happend to be in the right place at the right time, the Popemobile whizzing past us and not many others, long enough to really see Pope Benedict and wonder if we really did make eye contact. My parents were thrilled, and I still relish that moment, remembering their faces.
Every Catholic who has the chance seems to treasure that "private" moment with the pope, a personal memory of a singlar encounter with a saint-in-the-making. I lived in Rome during the papacy of John Paul II, and I have friends who heard then-Cardinal Ratzinger preach in English at the Lent pilgrimage churches. They said he was so approachable, so kind.
And then of course, he is also brilliant. What a beautiful example, this marriage of incredible gifts, but the humility that knows they are only in service of God. Thank you, Pope Benedict, for the gift of these eight years.
February 11, 2013 10:38
By Maria Wiering
Maybe it's some psychological attachment to its Star-Spangled
history, but Baltimore is not shy about fireworks, I learned last night
at the annual Washington Monument lighting. Bombs burst in the air all
around the monument, which is the centerpiece of the Mount Vernon
neighborhood and an icon of the city.
Each year, the city strings
lights from the top of the monument (where Geroge Washington keeps his
watch over the city) to its base, making a sort of Christmas-tree shape.
Getting in on the action was Baltimore must, I was told. We were down
for the pre-lighting events, which for us, included hot wassail. Venders
lined monument street with food and drink, and different choirs put on a
concert on the main stage. When the monument was eventually lit,
fireworks went off for a good five minutes, much to the delight of the
cookie-stuffed kids standing in front of me.
There may not be snow on the ground (and there may be highs in the 60s forecasted for Saturday), but this convinced me that the holiday season has begun!
December 10, 2012 10:22
By Maria Wiering
The lengthy Thanksgiving weekend provided yet one
more thing to be grateful for – the opportunity to explore a few new
things in Baltimore. My husband and I
ducked into a back alley near Johns Hopkins,
tooled around on bikes in Hampden, and explored an architectural treasure trove near the M&T Bank
Stadium. At the end, even more turkey couldn’t have left us with feeling any more
satisfaction than a few days well spent.
Our favorite finds:
The Book Thing.
If you visited our apartment, one thing would be immediately clear – we
love books. There’s definitely some his-and-hers on our massive
bookshelf (His: Aristotle; Hers: Wendell Berry) but we’re proud of our growing collection (largely still in
boxes in our parents’ Midwestern basements), which is mostly comprised
of second-hand or library-sale copies. It is no wonder then that we
enjoyed the hunt at the Book Thing of Baltimore, which
is shelf after sagging shelf of free books for the taking. Free books
are a great way to indulge learning whims -- I picked up a copy of Dan Buettner’s “The Blue Zones” after talking about the concept with a
friend the day before, and book of Michelangelo’s
letters. It’s opened every weekend, even on holidays and in blizzards –
and, according to store signs, the apocalypse or the rapture. 3001
Vineyard Lane, Baltimore. (Look up directions before you go – it really
was in an alley.)
Birroteca. This Baltimore restaurant is still so
new that its website isn’t finished, and it’s worth staking your claim
now. We tried it out for Wednesday night happy hour – and were back on
Friday. Located in Hampden near the Fallsway,
this too is off the beaten path, but an easy bike ride from our place.
They do $3 drafts from Evolution Brewing, which recently relocated to
Maryland’s Eastern Shore from Delaware, from 5 to 7 p.m. And, as we
thankfully learned the first night, their grilled
calamari is perfect. It made a man who typically races me for the best
bites put down his fork and savor each piece. 1520 Clipper Road,
For me, this is next to heaven. I have
ALWAYS loved old architectural elements. My parents taught me to love
old craftsmanship – my dad for the quality, and my mom for the beauty.
I’ve also always had a soft spot for old
houses, even in severely dilapidated forms. Housewerks struck all of my
heartstrings. This place definitely has some beautiful and quirky
things salvaged from decline: stained glass lunettes, heavy large doors
with wrought iron detailing, and industrial shelving,
saved for projects yet to be devised or dreamt. Housewerks also have
drawers of old architectural and mechanical blueprints that, famed and
hung, would make for a trendy conversation piece. Also, they have a
decent stash of Catholic kitsch. I told my husband
I wanted to come here for my birthday, just to look. 1415 Bayard St.,
November 26, 2012 05:34
By Maria Wiering
I did something stupid the other day – I threw on my running shoes and left the house as the sky was already streaking with orange. I was in the mood to run, and run far. As I wound my way down the Jones Falls Parkway, I told myself it wasn’t a big deal that it was getting dark, that it was no different than running along the Mississippi at dusk, which was completely safe in Minnesota.
But remember, this is Baltimore.
You’ve seen The Wire, right?
By the time I was halfway done, the sky was navy, and I no longer felt safe. Because it had rained earlier in the evening, few other runners were out. Instead of retracing my route, I decided to take a “shortcut” home, which involved a route through an old neighborhood that had never struck me as particularly dangerous.
As I navigated an overgrown sidewalk, a car slowed down beside me, and a woman leaned out the window. “Get home!” she yelled at me. “Get home now!”
I wasn’t sure I understood her. Is that what she said?
“Get home NOW!” she shouted.
Yikes! That is what she said!
“I’m trying!” I yelled back.
She drove off, and I picked up the pace. Really picked it up. It deeply disturbed me that this woman was insistent I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. I was still a mile or so from home. What could I do? My husband was at class, and no taxi was going to come my way.
I realized my pride and stubbornness – I’m not naive to the city. However, that night, I didn’t want it to be THE CITY. I wanted it to be a city of my own, where I was in control. And my pride was putting me at risk.
Half a mile to go, but the street seemed unending. So I prayed. “Guardian Angels!” I yelled. “And St. Michael!” for good measure.
I crossed North Avenue, and was back in my neighborhood. A cop drove by. A few blocks later, I was locking my front door.
I breathed a prayer of thanksgiving. Was I really ever in actual danger? I won’t go running past dark again to find out. However, the whole situation reminded me of a talk a priest gave the night before the Feast of the Guardian Angels, Oct. 2.
Don’t under-employ your guardian angel, he said -- giving the all-too-familiar example of calling upon it only for help finding a parking space. Guardian angels are meant for service, he said.
As a little girl, I was obsessed with angels. I loved to read books with stories about people who thought they encountered one. My mother would pray the guardian angel prayer with my siblings and me every school day before we left for the bus.
As I’ve gotten older, it’s been easy to relegate guardian angels to the realm of childish things. It was easy to think of a them as Tinkerbell-sort-of-beings, and that hardly seemed appropriate for someone coming up on 30.
I’ve been reconsidering.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states is paragraph No. 336, “From infancy to death, human life is surrounded by their (angels’) watchful care an intercession.” Quoting St. Basil, it adds, “Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life.”
If that’s true, and the Catholic Church teaches that it is, it kind of changes the game, doesn’t it?
Last week, Pope Benedict XVI declared the opening of a Year of Faith. Right and left, Catholics are making spiritual resolutions, such as reading the entire Catechism cover to cover (it’s also its 20th anniversary) over 12 months.
My resolution is not to under-employ my guardian angel – and I know I don’t have to seek out perilous situations do call on him.
I tend to need extra intercession every day, for one reason or another.
October 17, 2012 10:34
By Maria Wiering
The Catholic Review is featuring Vincent Vaise, a
Catholic and chief of interpretation at Fort McHenry, in this week’s
issue, which gave me a reason to visit Fort McHenry for the first time.
Vince’s enthusiasm for the fort is unparalleled,
but it’s clear that his deep interest in history extends far beyond
those fortified walls.
I asked him to list the top historic sites everyone
visiting (or living) in Baltimore should see, and without hesitation, he
suggested the following:
Fort McHenry, of course! It’s the birthplace of the
National Anthem. In September 1814, during the War of 1812, Francis
Scott Key was inspired to write what would become The Star-Spangled
Banner after spying the American flag still waving
after the fort endured an overnight bombarding from the British in the
Battle of Baltimore. (2400 East Fort Avenue, Baltimore)
Hampton National Historic Site. Vaise is also chief
of interpretation for this mansion and its grounds, just north of
Baltimore. He described it as “63 acres of pure awesome,” and a local
fix for a Downton Abbey addiction. (Guilty!)
Each of the mansion’s rooms is decorated in a different historic period
to give visitors glimpses into how a house adapts over time. A lot of
the outer buildings are preserved, and it has formal gardens. Vaise
recommends visiting at 10 or 11 a.m. on a Sunday,
when tours are typically smaller and you can pretend the house is
yours. (535 Hampton Lane, Towson)
Maryland Historical Society. The quintessential museum for understanding the state with plenty of interesting artifacts. (201 West Monument St., Baltimore)
Battle Monument. “Oh, you mean that column with the
lady on the top?” I asked when Vince brought this one up. “That’s Lady
Baltimore!” he cried. He told me not to feel too bad – a lot of natives
don’t know that the city’s allegorical
figure has such a signature spot. The column is a Roman fasces with
Lady Baltimore donning a victory crown and clutching a laurel wreath, commemorating the War of 1812 and honoring the fallen from the Battle of
Baltimore. Keep your eyes open for her image to show up on anything official from the city. Also, you'll be able to see her at closer range after she's moved to the Walters Art Musuem; a replica will be take her place up high. (Calvert Street between Fayette and Lexington
The Basilica of the National Shrine of the
Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Yes, that name is a mouthful, but why not? It’s America’s first Catholic
cathedral and was designed by Benjamin Henry Latrobe, the architect who
designed the U.S. Capitol. Since the Captiol’s design
has evolved over the years (and because the British burned it in August 1814, before heading up to Baltimore), the Basilica is the best example
in the country of Latrobe’s work. (408 N. Charles St., Baltimore)
Shrine of St. Alphonsus It’s clear that this church has a special place in Vince’s
heart. The interior is a feast for the eyes, but it also has some
above-average ties to the Communion of Saints --- two
of its former pastors are St. John Neumann and Blessed Francis Xavier
Seelos. (114 W. Saratoga St.,
September 05, 2012 10:47
By Maria Wiering
I can’t say I actually prayed for a table, so my title might
be misleading. However, I think Providence was at play when I spotted a table
on a sidewalk after bunch with friends this past weekend.
“Go around the block!” I commanded to my husband, who was
piloting our Volkswagon.
He did, because he’s used to it
I jumped out of the car to examine the specimen. It was mid-century, blonde and drop-leafed. That last quality was key. I wanted a table that could fit
nicely against the wall when it’s just two of us dining, but could easily
expand to accommodate guests (and the dreams of dinner parties that dance in my
My husband expected me to scurry back to the car to tell him
what I thought, but the thing was already bought and paid for when I got it to
the car – a very reasonable $35, exactly the cash I had in my wallet.
Upon a brief examination, the table revealed it was a
Heywood Wakefield, which happens to be his grandparents’ favorite furniture, and
which also means it is worth much more than we paid.
So, there was a lot to make us feel like the table was meant
to be, including the fact that it fit through our apartment’s narrow door.
This is an unexpected blessing, considering that just a week
before I had experienced a deep table-related disappointment. I had been
Craigslist surfing for awhile for a table, and we had been “picnicking” on the
floor while we waited for the right one to turn up.
“Right one” = cheap, drop-leafed.
I found it on a Sunday evening – chestnut, claw-footed,
drop-leafed and $25. “Be mine!” my heart cried, and I swiftly e-mailed to
claim. The owner called me the next day and we agreed that I would pick it up
Two hours later, she called me to tell me someone else had
bought it, and it was no longer available.
Now, I have my theories of why this deal bombed, and they
all revolve around aggressive antique dealers upping my price and offering to
pick it up immediately. Needless to say, my decorator’s heart was broken. And I
resolved to out-Craigslist anybody who wanted to stand in my way of a table
This is when my husband said I was becoming addicted to
Craigslist and he wanted me to stop before he had to admit me someplace
(probably the same kind of place that serves chronic Facebook cases).
“But how will we find furniture?” I asked. Real furniture
stores were out of our price range, and Ikea exhausts us.
“We will,” he said.
So, I reeled in my Craigslist searches, and decided that
picnicking was fine. Seriously, we have had much greater housing adventures,
such as when we lived in a homemade fort for our first month of marriage in a
friend’s living room while looking for our own place. (I am not even kidding,
even though you think I am.)
I decided that Craigslist was making me focus a little too
much on things, at the expense of time with people and living life. And I think that God may have rewarded
me for that small act of detachment with that roadside find.
Because I’m pretty sure God wants me to practice hospitality
and throw dinner parties.
August 22, 2012 08:39
By Maria Wiering
My husband and I were angling toward the harbor on Sunday
afternoon when red, green and white bunting caught our eye. A $1-each entrance
fee later, we were part of the crowd for the annual St. Gabriel Festival, which
consumes the streets intersecting at the Church of St. Leo the Great in
Baltimore’s Little Italy.
Some things we learned:
1) The party honors St. Gabriel Possenti, who died as a
young Passionist seminarian in Gran Sasso, Italy. Because he believed the
Blessed Virgin Mary healed him of a childhood ailment, he developed an intense
devotion to her and took the religious name Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows. He
died at age 24 after an illness. His feast is actually Feb. 27; no word as to
why St. Leo holds the festival in August.
2) In an intriguing twist, it seems there’s a group in Arlington, Va., advocating that St. Gabriel become the patron of handgunners, because he
defended Piedmont, Italy, with a gun. (I don’t think he actually shot anybody.)
3) There is some awesome food in Little Italy. My husband is
still raving about his meatball sandwich, and I was spoiled with the best-ever
4) Bocce ball is a serious sport, with serious players, in
serious matching shirts.
5) Cannoli sell out fast. Get in line early, and stay in line.
6) Baltimore's Little Italy knows how to celebrate a saint. My husband said it was the best parish festival he's ever been to.
Italy is close to my heart. My husband I met in Rome 10
years ago while studying abroad, and I’ve had the pleasure of returning
several times, most recently for my cousin’s diaconate ordination (he’s now a
priest in Minnesota) in 2010. I’ll take a reason to reminisce any day.
Or a reminder to start saving up for another trip.
August 21, 2012 11:01
By Maria Wiering
On Friday night, two hours before the Olympic
Games’ opening ceremonies, my husband and I dug our tiny TV out of
storage and plugged it in, hoping beyond hope that somehow we would get a
Of course, we didn’t, since the thing is a relic from those analog days of yore.
Since a converter box and rabbit ears were going to
cost the equivalent of 12 pints of craft beer, we decided to get the
beer instead. Our Olympics-watching has thus been confined to stints in
local pubs and the limited coverage on NBC.com.
At first, I was dismayed. I am in awe of these
athletes, who demonstrate the incredible capabilities of the human body.
(I especially love the gymnastics, and I’ve decided that my favorite
American is Gabby Douglas, who has completely melted
me with that always-present winning grin.)
Two nights ago, my husband and I were at Turp’s
watching Michael Phelps race. We didn’t know anyone around us, but we
found ourselves joining in the audible reaction as the whole bar turned
the screens. There was cheering, there was sighing and a few chants of
And it occurred to me – THIS is the way to watch the Olympics.
For me, one of the great things about the games is
the camaraderie it builds among countries, along with a healthy
competition. For 16 days, we have a tangible common bond with people
across the globe. It seems like a celebration of being
human – that’s why I’ve been known to get a little choked up over
those VISA commercials that culminate in “Go World.”
Yeah, I think! Go world!!
And that’s why it’s really great to watch the
Olympics with a crowd of strangers. The Olympics are unifying across
class, race and political persuasion. For a moment, we can raise our
glass and celebrate our country with someone inclined to a completely different array of bumper stickers. Especially during
an election year, it’s good to find something that brings us all together.
July 30, 2012 11:14
By Maria Wiering
Last night I flew back from a whirlwind 11-day,
three state tour-de-Midwest. My husband and I attended friends’ weddings
in Milwaukee and Bismarck on the weekends, and spent the middle part of
our trip with friends and family in Minneapolis,
where we both lived for a long stretch.
As good as it is to revisit old haunts—including
the Blue Door Pub, which makes the best Juicy Lucies in the world – and
catch up with longtime friends, there is something SO GOOD about walking
in the front door of one’s own home after
time away, even if it’s 12:30 a.m., and you spent the day driving from
Bismarck to Minneapolis and flying to Baltimore. (And that does take the
So getting home last night was a treat – and to make it even better, my first issue of Verily was waiting in the mailbox.
Friends tipped me off to this new magazine via
Facebook a couple months ago, and I have been impatiently waiting for
the “teaser” issue to arrive. From what I can gather, the mag’s purpose
is to reach out to women whose experience doesn’t
fully resonate in the pages of Cosmo – women who are interested in
relationships, not just sex, and inward beauty as much as outward.
According to the website, “Verily
is starting a new conversation – one for those who want a fresh take on
life; an honest message that relates to their experiences which is
uplifting, affirming, and true.”
And so far I like what I see. It’s
well designed, and that is a huge plus. Sections focus on style,
relationships, lifestyle and culture. From the drama of Downton Abbey to
women’s reproductive health, the articles dovetail
with topics my friends and I actually talk about, which is refreshing.
(Image from VerilyMag.com)
It’s totally weird to page through it and think, this was made just for me.
Because that’s how it feels.
I ordered one for my lil’ sister,
too, and I haven’t heard her final verdict yet. The magazine fully
launches with its first actual issue later this year (probably WITH
advertising – the teaser was ad free). I really, really
want to see this venture succeed, because the image of women it
presents is brimming with integrity and wisdom and reality.
So, check it out. Really. It’s like the glossy manifestation of Saint Paul’s command to the Philippians:
“Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right,
whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything
is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”
July 23, 2012 05:45
By Maria Wiering
On Saturday, my husband and I were driving to Chipotle on
Charles Street to feed our starving move-in crew (five very generous friends)
when he turned to me and said, “This is my fifth time to Baltimore.”
Shesh! How could I relocate my husband to a place he’s only
visited four times before loading up the 10-foot moving truck and barreling
down the interstate with all of his life possessions?
I take solace in knowing that he moved sight unseen from
Minneapolis to Washington, D.C., three years ago when he began his doctoral
He’ll be fine. I hope.
After working in the city for nearly four months, Baltimore
already feels like home to me, and I really, really want it to feel the same
way to him. He’ll still be commuting to Washington a few days a week, so the
move was to accommodate my work and allow us to have a larger place with
dedicated office space for my husband to write his dissertation.
Right now Baltimore is an adventure for both of us, where
very simple things make for great rewards. Like realizing that The Brewer’s Art has an extended happy
hour on Mondays. And finding a grocery store. (The Safeway in Charles Village
is way nicer than the one by our old place, and it has a mural
overlooking its parking lot.)
Thankfully, the Bolton Hill neighborhood where we’re living
makes things a bit easier for us. It has a website
with a lot of information helpful for new residents, including a listing of the
area’s merchants like b, a bistro I’ve
been told is stellar, and the On the
Hill Café and Market, which looks cute.
It sounds like the Maryland Institute College of Art is
pretty generous to its neighbors, too, and as an art lover, I’m glad it’s a
stone’s throw away. Maybe we’ll buy something created by one of its students to grace
our very large, very white, and currently very naked walls that scream “give us
something to wear!”
I think art on the walls could go a long way into making a
house (or apartment) into a home, which is our other current objective.
What are your suggestions for making a city or new place a
June 26, 2012 01:10
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By Maria Wiering