My homily, as preached last Sunday, January 22nd at the church of St. Cecilia in Wisconsin Dells, WI
A blessed Lent to all! May the good God aid you in every way as you take up battle against spiritual evil.
I wish to take this holy time to make known something I feel deep in my heart – everything to JESUS, through Mary, with Peter!
This is a refrain, an invocation, that was given by St. Josemaria Escriva. It is one I have always used but since I have come to Rome I have understood it better than ever. These are hard times in the life of the Church. Many waves crash against the barque of Peter and the Faith wains in many parts of the world. When we hear the words of Jesus from the Gospel, “But, when the Son of Man comes, will He find Faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8) it is easy to tempted to dark thoughts and worries as trends hostile to the Faith spring up every where.
Of course, we are filled ever with hope, always with the joy of the Gospel that “fills the hearts of all those who encounter Jesus.” (Evangelii Gaudium 1)
How did the world come to encounter Jesus? Through Mary. Not because of Mary – it was because God so love the world. The Blessed Trinity is the reason, the cause and the end of all of this joy. But the Blessed Trinity came to us through Mary. When the world saw the face of Jesus Christ it saw the Face of God.
Jesus is the image of the invisible God. He was seen with eyes and touched with hands and heard with ears and so forth. Thus does He leave the Sacraments and thus did He leave His image. He also left her image.
St. Josemaria has another saying, “Love for our Mother will be the breath that kindles into a living flame the embers of virtue hidden in the ashes of your indifference.” (The Way 492)
The image of Jesus at Manopello is a miracle. The image of the Virgin Mary at Monte Mario is not. Jesus is God. Mary is not. But Jesus and Mary are inseparably linked – His humanity comes from her humanity. Her desire is His desire, “Do whatever He tells you.” Devotion to her will lead you only to love Him more and more and more.
The image of our Lady, which I have posted above, is the mother of all icons, of all images of Mary throughout history (except Guadalupe, which I will write about another time.) This image was lost to the world for many years. And that was ok – the world didn’t need it in order to live and love Faith.
In these days the image, through amazing workings of Providence, is known again. As Pope Benedict XVI went to see the Face of Jesus at Manopello, he also went to see the face of Mary on Monte Mario (to Jesus, though Mary, with Peter.) I have no doubt that these images will be at the center of the New Evangelization. To contemplate them is to contemplate the divine – Jesus is Divine and Mary does nothing but point to the Divine.
Today I was able to live the unity of Jesus and Mary in a particular way.
I celebrated the Mass of Ash Wednesday at the altar of the chapel in the Monster of the Holy Rosary, which houses the icon L’Advocata of Mary. To raise the Sacred Host and Chalice is the greatest of act of glory that can be given to God.
To look into the eyes of the Virgin Mary does nothing but nourish and magnify that glory in one’s heart. Look at her and she will have you look at Him. Do you have trouble with your resolutions? She will help. Is the fire of your faith cold, she will breathe on it – wherever she is the HOLY SPIRIT is right there too (Annunciation & Pentecost anyone?)!
I am going to work to make these images (Jesus’ image at Manopello and Mary’s on Monte Mario) better known and better love because God used them once in history to renew Faith on the earth and He is going to do it again!
ALL FOR JESUS, ALWAYS AND EVERYWHERE! All through Mary – look to her and soon you will be looking with her and glorifying God with all you have and are.
A blessed Lent to all.
I will be back in Madison in one week – a sad but joyful reality – I kindly ask for your prayers for safe travel and resolution to my health situation.
I have always loved the Blessed Virgin Mary. Today, I fell in love with her.
This morning my friend Fr. Daren and I met Mr. Paul Badde at a little cafe not far from St. Anne’s Gate at the Vatican. From there Mr. Badde took us to the Dominican Convent of the Holy Rosary on Mont Mario in Rome.
Mont Mario is a hill in Rome, though not one of the Seven Hills of Rome. In ancient times it was outside of the city, located on the western side of the Tiber River and a bit north of the Vatican Hill. It is recognizable to many who have visited Rome as it is the tallest hill in Rome and there is an observatory on the hill which can be seen from most parts of the city. It is not often visited as there are many private homes and a beautiful nature preserve (which is not a normal Roman tourist destination.) It is also held that Mont Mario is the place where Constantine had his vision of the Cross in the sky before the Battle of the Milvian Bridge.
The Convent of the Holy Rosary has ancient foundations but the current church is a baroque building build in 1725. The convent is home to an order of cloistered Dominican nuns – about 25 of them. While Mont Mario is not the original location of this particular convent, the convent was founded by St. Dominic himself when he came to Rome, about the year 1220. It is a beautiful place that, in addition to this wonderful contemplative order, houses significant relics of St. Dominic, St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Catherine of Siena.
It is also home to this icon:
The icon is called in Greek Hagiosoritissa in Italian L’Avvocata or The Advocate. It is sometimes all called Our Lady of St. Luke.
I have not had time to research this history very deeply as most of it seems to be in either Latin or Italian and is almost completely lost in English.
In brief, it is a treasure. It is said to have been painted by St. Luke. The first established Christian community outside of Jerusalem sent a request saying, more or less, ‘hey, you have the Apostles, you have the Virgin Mary, can we at lest get a picture or something?’ Thus, the first images of Jesus and Mary were sent to this place. When the Muslim conquests began they were sent to Constantinople. When Constantinople was first threatened, the image of Our Lady came to Rome and was entrusted to the Dominicans. That is the super short version.
It carbon dates to the first century, so that claim is clear. There is an extant record of its being brought to Constantinople, so that is clear. There is also a record of Greek monks bringing it to Rome, so the line is clear. It is also a unique type of iconography. Many iconographers have come to see the image and have testified that the method used to make this icon is unique and has been lost to history. There is more historical detail but, it seems to have the clearest and strongest of all claims to be, if not the original icon of the Virgin Mary, an icon written by someone who knew Mary personally and looked upon her face.
I looked upon that face today and didn’t want to leave.
The eyes of this image pulled me in like nothing I have seen before and filled me with a consolation I have not felt. it was a window into endless beauty, pureness of love and joy beyond telling. More to the point, when I looked at and prayed before this icon of Mary, my heart was pulled to love the Eucharist in the Tabernacle like I had never done before. We prayed the Rosary before this image and all I could think was, ‘I don’t love Jesus enough but I can love Him more and more and more and more and more. . .’ It was a heavenly peace.
In brief, wow! It is much like the image of Jesus at Manoppello (which I will write about soon.) How do more people not know about this!
Pope Benedict XVI visited and venerated the image in 2010. If I was the Pope I would be up there once a week and have that icon in St. Peter’s for just about every Marian feast day there is and twice on Saturdays.
It seems to me that the good God is re-unveiling some of this wondrous images and relics and working many miracles in a time when the world needs it so very much. St. Faustina is proved true when she talks about the Lord God working great miracles of the heart in these times. May He be blessed forever!
As the West declines and the last lights of this once great civilization go off – a bright horizon opens by the work of the Holy Spirit to re-fire Divine Love in souls.
True enough I hope to obtain a doctorate in Liturgy from the Pontifical Institute for Liturgy at the Pontifical Athaneum Sant’Anselm while I am in Rome. Just as much I hope to help spread the word about these great and holy icons (Manopello and Mont Mario) for I feel that, as He did in the early days of the Church, the good God wishes to use these things to bring people to know the wonder and glory of His Son, Jesus Christ.
O, and they have the hand of St. Catherine of Siena.
O felix Roma!
Lest the reader think me too dark or depressive, feel free to read this post as a counterweight to ‘Felix Roma Part 2.’ I do not change anything said in that post but wish, in this post, to let people know some of the things that Christians have brought to counterweight the immense evil that is at the foundation of this city.
As you may know, to save the world God sent His only begotten Son who is the visible image of the invisible God. The radical nature of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ is one of, if not the most, shocking and beautiful aspects of the Christian Faith. It is beyond conception that the utterly transcendent God will incarnate in a human nature to show His Face to the world, leave His commands and bring salvation to the world from the inside out thus redeeming all and making all beautiful.
By His Divine Will and through human cooperation icons of this salvation have been left all over the world.
The Sacraments of the Church are the first and most important of those things. Holiness of life is the next of those important icons. From these things a whole treasure of Christian holiness, art, architecture, music, poetry, literature – in short, culture – has arisen. In no place is this more evident than in Rome.
Let’s take saints for one: no, we can’t know these things for certain until either canonization or Eternity, but there are SO many bishops, priests, deacons, religious, seminarians and lay people living and working towards a life of holiness that I am truly amazed. Indeed, I have met many people striving for holiness whenever I have been but here in Rome it is truly edifying. The house I live in, the Casa Santa Maria, would be prime example of that. Such a gathering of orthodox, hard-working, smart, prayerful, humble and good humored men would be hard to find anywhere else. This reality is replicated all over the city and is truly edifying.
Let’s turn to relics of Saints – after Sacraments and Scripture – these are the greatest inspirations and helps to holiness. First the princes – St. Peter and St. Paul have their mortal remains resting in the greatest shrines in the Christian world. Let’s see, who else? (Really some relic of all the Apostles are in this city), St. Gregory the Great, St. Leo the Great, St. Basil, St. Gregory Nazianzen, St. Pius V, St. Pius X, St. John Paul II, St. Josephat, St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Francis Xavier, St. Aloysius, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Monica, St. Josemaria, St. Agnes, St. Cecelia – and these are just the ones I saw this week.
The relics of Cross of Christ, the tip of the spear that pierced His side, the Crib from Bethlehem, the Stairs from the praetorian in Jerusalem, the table used at the Last Supper, chains the St. Peter wore while imprisoned, the house where St. Paul lived while in Rome, the oldest known image of the Virgin Mary, and the list could go on.
Art? Let’s leave out all the ancient frescoes and mosaics whose creators we don’t know. We still have Michelangelo, Rafael, Bramante, Maduro, Botticelli, Caravaggio, Bernini. This is really a lame attempt as I am only listing things that come up as I write.
Let me just list some of the simple things in my neighbor hood to illustrate.
Out the back door in the Basilica of the Twelve Apostles.
Not only is it beautiful and contains much moving devotional art, it houses the relics of the Apostles Simon and James the Less. Not bad. It also houses the relics of some early martyrs.
One block away out the front door is the Trevi Fountain.
Not a holy site but man is it beautiful, especially at night.
A five minute walk out the back door, on the famous Via del Corso is the church of Santa Maria in Via Lata.
Not only does this place house a beautiful and very ancient image of our Lady, it has Eucharistic Adoration every night from 5:00 pm – 10:00 pm, does and amazing apostolate for the poor in downtown Rome, it also happens to be built on top of the house where St. Paul lived during his house arrest in Rome. St. Luke also lived there for a time.
About a 10 minute walk from the Casa is the Basilica of Sant’Iganzio. Oddly enough St. Ignatius is not buried here. But you can venerate the tombs of St. Aloysius or St. John Berchmanns, or, if that’s not enough, St. Robert Bellarmine. Oh, the ceiling is both beautiful and a giant leap forward in the history of art.
The church of Sts. Charles and Ambrose is not ‘in my neighborhood’ but is only a 15 minute walk down the beautiful Via del Corso, heading to the very beautiful Piazza del Populo. Also, I visited there today to do my mental prayer and pray Vespers.
Oh – and the heart of St. Charles Borromeo is there.
All this and more is in this city because Peter shed his blood here, Paul preached here, martyrs died for the Faith here, Saints lived for Jesus here, Popes governed for the good of the world from here, artists sacrificed their gifts for God here. God has placed such unique goodness in this city for two millenia and it is far from over. What I have listed above is only a small part of the glorious things in this city.
It is a privilege to live here and I hope to honor it with my work.
O felix Roma!
The title of this post is a line that might be known to people as it was used in the movie, Return of the King. The line does come from the great work by author J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings but the movie uses the line in a different context than the book.
In the movie, the character of the elf-lord Elrond speaks this line to the man Aragorn when he hands over the great sword of the King of Men. In the book, this line appears in the appendix (The Lord of the Rings has numerous and exstensive appendices) and is spoken by Aragorn’s mother shortly after the birth and naming of Aragorn.
Why the nerdy literature lesson? Because this line has great meaning to me and I wanted to explain before I explain why.
You see in the movie the line is spoken by Elrond, a king who has power in the world and who has sons and a daughter and lands. He speaks it to the grown Aragorn who will become a king and marry and have children and power and lands. You see, these characters have hope in the world and beyond it. This is a distortion of the original use.
Aragorn’s mother is a widow, her husband having been killed in a battle with orcs. She knows her son is the rightful heir to the kingdom of men but also know that she will not see that come to pass. All she knows, all she rightly knows, is the passing nature of the world around her. She names her son Estel, which in Tolkien’s world means ‘hope.’ At the birth and naming of Estel/Aragorn she says, ‘I give hope to men, I leave none for myself.’ She dies not seeing her son come into his glory.
A lengthy introduction to what this post is really about – the priestly life.
The experience and the knowledge that come from it happened two weeks before I wrote this post. I had been 10 days in Siena and nearly three weeks in Rome. Some friends had had babies, got pregnant, got new jobs, started new things, had hurts and troubles – and I was some thousands of miles away. All things familiar were beyond reach and Skype (which is amazing) just isn’t quite the same. In Rome the house was empty, the other priests don’t return until mid-September and by the time I arrived in Siena the seminarians had left and I was surrounded by German college girls and middle-aged French women who were all atheists. There was a lot of apostolate but things familiar and friendly were far away and hard to see.
It seemed like my kingdom was out there, a home that I had built, somewhere out in the mists, but I couldn’t get there. It had been taken away from me and there was no way back, in fact it wasn’t even mine anymore. I was lost, alone, adrift, somewhere and yet nowhere.
This was surely emotion, I won’t deny that, but much more than mere emotion. You see, I wasn’t sad. It was easy to have joy at the Mass, to smile and chat with the teachers and other students, to enjoy the cool breeze and the warm pasta and the amazing Tuscan landscape. But it wasn’t mine, none of it was mine, none of it could ever be mine – it wasn’t home, it never was home, it could never be home – none of it ever was or would be or could be.
“Lord, we have left everything to follow you, what will there be for us?” Houses and children and lands, says our Lord Jesus, with persecutions and eternal life in the world to come. Surely I trust this promise but on one warm Monday morning it seemed like a fading icon as I made my way to the Cathedral in the center of Siena. During the daytime it is packed with rather noisy tourists but in the morning (7:30 am) it is empty and fairly silent and the Madonna chapel (built by the famous Bernini) has the Blessed Sacrament reserved. There I went, as I have very weekday morning, to do my mental prayer and pour out my heart to God.
It was on this particular morning that I realized all the more deeply who and what a priest really is, that I ‘give hope to men, I leave none for myself.’
To be brief about it, my time of prayer was deep and powerful and gave rise to true grief in my heart a sort of ‘blessed are those who mourn’ opportunity – and I took it. This mourning was far from perfect but was deeply consoling as I saw how much attachment I had to shed from my soul to be what I truly am, a priest of Jesus Christ, without house or lineage.
The Christian priesthood is not hereditary, it does not descend from father to son, save for God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ. It does not belong to any house or family save the House of The Lord. Priests are not nobility nor royalty save the Kingdom of God and well, ‘My Kingdom is not of this world, if it were of this world. . .” If you know the Bible, you know how the rest goes.
When I left the chapel I went out a looked up at the great inner dome of the Cathedral, ringed by saints and decorated all in blue with gold stars running up to the center and top where there is an image of the Holy Spirit.
You say, Father, heaven is everyone’s only hope. That is true enough, but not the same for others. You see, others will find spouses, have children, buy homes and property, they will build careers, found companies they will have a lineage that carries their name. True, ‘not one stone will be left upon another’ but most people and many Christians have many hopes in this world. And they should! The world is not a bad place, it should not be loathed or despised and Christians should build hopes in this world.
That’s why the Christian priesthood and the celibate vocations of the Church must be. Not should be or can be or might be but must be. There must be those with a singular, undivided hope. Such people are not morally or spiritually superior but they have something that is, ‘not for all, but only for those to whom it has been given.’
It can be hard to have hope in this world. So much goes wrong, so many dreams fail, promised falter, lies prevail, greed triumphs, evils are perpetrated again and again and again. There must be those who can give this unattached, un-fettered hope, who can give hope to men and leave none for themselves.
This is a good life I have been given but such a strange one. I love this world and all the good things in it but know that none of them are mine and all of them will pass away.
Thus, I give hope to men, I leave none for myself. I have no home in this world, I will leave no line or name behind me, my few and paltry treasures will fade so quickly when I am gone from this life. All I have to give is hope: the true faith, the sacraments, the charity of God.
All of this is yours, O priest of Jesus Christ! It is an immeasurable treasure, the weight of glory, a pearl of great price and it cannot be obtained in this vale of tears. Every priest, true to his vocation, laughs with some one moment and cries with someone else the next. He appreciates all of the beauty of this world only because he knows it will fade into something more beautiful. He is always joyful, not because of the good things of this world but because of his knowledge of eternity. There is nothing here for him save the passing love of friends that is only confirmed in the eternal love of his Lord.
There is so much good in this world and none of it is for me.
I give hope to men, I leave none for myself.
You will please regard this not as a political commentary, but a cultural one. Recently I had cause to read the farewell address of President Dwight Eisenhower given on January 17, 1961 shortly before the Inauguration of the new President, John Kennedy.
Looking backwards in history there seemed to be some prophetic, if you will, insights that he made and I would care to draw your attention to them and comment briefly. I have quoted various snippets of the speech, you will find a video of the full speech linked below.
Throughout America’s adventure in free government, our basic purposes have been to keep the peace, to foster progress in human achievement, and to enhance liberty, dignity, and integrity among peoples and among nations. To strive for less would be unworthy of a free and religious people. Any failure traceable to arrogance, or our lack of comprehension, or readiness to sacrifice would inflict upon us grievous hurt, both at home and abroad.
Do we not see the inherent link made by this president, like so many before him, between authentic freedom and religion. It has been, up until now, the undying assertion of American leadership the the authentic search for freedom is tied up in the authentic search for the Divine.
We face a hostile ideology global in scope, atheistic in character, ruthless in purpose, and insidious in method.
Again, only repeated in the negative sense, the clear assertion of the danger of atheistic character. Obviously he is referring to the Soviet Union with this line but, tied with the line above the opposition between the two is clear.
Crises there will continue to be. In meeting them, whether foreign or domestic, great or small, there is a recurring temptation to feel that some spectacular and costly action could become the miraculous solution to all current difficulties.
Here is the warning against false messianism, the notion that we can become our own savior, that something or things we can do will bring an end to all ills.
We annually spend on military security alone more than the net income of all United States corporations. Now this conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence — economic, political, even spiritual — is felt in every city, every Statehouse, every office of the Federal government.
Do we not see this in our own time, a huge and unquestioned military budget exists without comment in this nation. No one would question the need for the greatest military in the world to protect this nation. But, while the need is not questioned, does that mean that no other questions should be asked either?
In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted.
Yet we take so many things for granted. The Federal government can suspend habeus corpus, a citizen can be indefinitely detained, your phone can be tapped, your correspondence monitored, why the President even has the legal authority to order the assassination of American citizens. We object so little as to be no objection at all.
The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present — and is gravely to be regarded.
Witness the utter triumph of utilitarianism that serves the means of the state. Knowledge is not pursued for the sake of knowledge nor even to the mere betterment of mankind but, ultimately, to serve the ends dictated by the state.
Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.
Should the NSA listen to your phone conversations? Should Google keep all of your information on file forever? Should Intel record every keystroke of your computer? Should whatever federal organization have access to your information at the drop of a hat? Who cares?! We can do it, so we should. Plus, these technological people are so much smarter and more advanced than you so quit wasting time asking these silly questions.
We cannot mortgage the material assets of our grandchildren without risking the loss also of their political and spiritual heritage. We want democracy to survive for all generations to come, not to become the insolvent phantom of tomorrow.
“Insolvent phantom of tomorrow” Wow, that’s a line, if ever there was one. Does Eisenhower see something in the future? Is this a warning or merely a comment and encouragement?
Disarmament, with mutual honor and confidence, is a continuing imperative. . . Together we must learn how to compose differences, not with arms, but with intellect and decent purpose. As one who has witnessed the horror and the lingering sadness of war, as one who knows that another war could utterly destroy this civilization which has been so slowly and painfully built over thousands of years, I wish I could say tonight that a lasting peace is in sight.
Ideas, solid ideas and experience, a knowledge of the human person, of the world in which he lives and the desire for the good of all must drive our discourse. Certainly Eisenhower is talking about something different from the current political landscape but does he not address, inadvertently, the cultural and philosophical landscape of our time? How much we talk at each other and shout past each other. There is an anger in the air that leads people to combat, to fight. The fight is no holds barred and only one man left standing. Yet this puts civilization at risk. It is time for the end of this mere emotionalism that is so regnant in social discourse and philosophy. It is time for virtue to regain its foothold and the intellect to assert its rights.
Let me finish with an early line from President John Kennedy’s Inaugural Address, which was given only three days after Eisenhower’s Farewell Address.
For man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life. And yet the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe — the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state, but from the hand of God.
The human person and the Divinity cannot be separated nor can one oppose the Other. It is only in reference to the transcendent God that the rights of man can be observed and only through a true fear of God will they be respected. Atheistic humanism is a myth, politically, economically and socially. It will always lead to a tyranny and abuse, perhaps technocratic, perhaps utilitarian, perhaps military, perhaps economic, perhaps social, usually a combination of those. This has long been asserted by the leaders of our nation and we might be reminded to assert it still.
This, of course, means that we do not give in to a militarily dominated mindset. It means we do not bend the knee to technology, much less the technocrats. We do not live our lives only for ourselves but for the other and for the future. We love all things in their place and respect all people as we should. But we do no deny the rights of God nor His Creation for if we do, we will only end up denying the rights of man as well.
The last week or so has been extremely frustrating to say the least with delays in shipping, lack of sleep and delay in Italian study.
But, my parents have been the best. My dad has been doing yeoman’s work in getting my shipping situation worked out. It isn’t finished yet but we are moving forward. I am very lucky to have a Dad who always looks out for me and shows me what it is to work hard for people who are not yourself.
But sleepless nights – the worst form of jet-lag I’ve every had – combined with this frustration and delay have made the days difficult. So when I was on the phone with my parents on Friday, my Dad worked hard for me and was most reassuring. My Mom was extremely cheerful and encouraging as she could tell how frustrated I was. At the time I didn’t take it well. I’m sorry Mom, as usual, you were right.
In short she said, ‘go out, visit the saints, have a little gelato and read a book, let St. Aloysius be a friend since everyone else is away.’ I listened but was hardly receptive and she took all my angst with maternal cheer and showed me a lot of love.
When I woke up on Saturday morning, which is to say when I got out of bed around 6:45 since I woke up at 1:05 and couldn’t fall asleep the rest of the night, which has been par for the course. I was ornery, upset and rather down to say the least.
First, I chatted via Skype with one of the most beautiful women in the world. I am lucky to know her and she always brightens my day. I told her about my chat with my parents and she too encouraged me to take Mom’s advice and so I started the day. I was tired and irritable but off I went for the morning routine. It was slow to say the least but after the usual morning I decided I would heed my Mother and go out.
The day was getting hot and was still feeling annoyed and frustrated with life and because of the heat I decided to go incognito, that is to say I wore the black shoes, black pants and light blue polo. I bought a couple of new polo shirts before I left, the first time in 4 years, and boy they make these things out of some funky stuff, very light and cool which was so helpful. Thus clad I went out int the Roman morning about 10:30 and headed to St. Peter’s so I could go to Confession, it was time to unload some spiritual weight.
Speaking of weight, I’ve dropped about 7 pounds since I’ve been in Rome, the great effectiveness of the ‘don’t sleep and don’t eat’ diet.
I left the back door of the Casa Santa Maria at 10:36 am, a bit later that I might have wanted to but there were some emails to answer and laundry to do. It seemed like the mood to take the scenic route to St. Peter’s so I could pass through some of the lovely areas of a lovely city. You see, I live so close to so many wonderful places, as does everyone who lives in Rome. First I went past the Pantheon – it is a wonderful building with a beautiful fountain in the square and, while flooded with tourists it is always worth seeing.
While to bus moves faster and there are quicker paths to St. Peter’s, I wanted to go through the great Piazza Navona, the most beautiful piazza in Rome. It also seemed fitting as the Piazza Navona is the site of the martyrdom of St. Agnes, one of my great loves and whose intercession I very much need. It’s true that this is a great tourist hub but it’s one of the things I love about the Piazza Navona, the great baroque church of Santa Agnese in Agone, built over the site of her death, the great fountains by Bernini with giant obelisk in the middle. That doesn’t even mention the beautiful baroque buildings all around, the restaurants the all of the painters, photographers, sketch artists, dancers and various others things. It is the most fun at night, but even in the morning there is a great beauty.
Even at 10:45 there was not much activity in lovely Rome but was very nice to walk when it was a bit cooler. The humidity is way up and it is better to be out while the temperature is cool and the shade is a particular helper. It is always odd to see this city slow and a bit empty, you realize how much tourism dominates the landscape. It was a pleasant walk through old street and along the old buildings. True, one might wonder, why so old, why not modernize more than they have? But there is more than nostalgia here, there is the hint of a world that paid more attention to interior realities or at least as much to interior realities as exterior ones. It is nostalgia, but more than mere nostalgia, it is a fallen world’s appeal to beauty and it makes for a nice walk down to the Tiber River.
I was sure to cross the Tiber along the Ponte Sant Angelo, which leads across the river to the Castel Sant Angelo, old fortress of the Popes on the Western side of the Tiber.
The angels along the bridge all hold the instruments of the Passion of Our Lord and, even though it is full of touristic types and the various persons hocking their junk it’s not that hard to be inspired to meditate on how the suffering of Jesus lead to the beauty of the Resurrection and life therein. Plus, when you cross the bridge you turn left and get a stunning view and straight walk right up to St. Peter’s Basilica.
Not bad, right?
By now it was a little before 11:00 and the tourists where out, especially around St. Peter’s. Two groups dominate the scene, Germans and Chinese. True enough there is every nation, race, language and tribe under the sun in the great Piazza San Pietro, there are special concentration of these two groups. As I walked up the the queue into the basilica I had a great fortune. I was trapped between tour groups, the one in back of me was German, the one in front was French. It is my own opinion that there is no language so strong and forthright as the German tongue and no language so light and cheerful as the lingua Franca. Were they here for pious reasons? Who knows. I listened happily to what seemed an odd yet beautiful symphony of chitter-chatter.
Saint Peter’s was as usual, packed with people and loud. The ushers try, to no avail, to lower the voices of tour-guides and tourists alike. There is nothing other than wide eyes and a bevy of camera, smartphones and iPads taking all manner of picture of everything. Some of this I understand, some I don’t get at all.
There must have been fifty or so people standing around the funeral monument of Queen Christian of Sweden. Famously and admirably she renounced the crown of Lutheran Sweden when she converted to the Faith in 1654. Her monument is in the upper part of the basilica while her body is buried down in the Vatican Grottoes. I wonder how many picture-takers at her monument know or cared about any of this? Did they have devotion to Queen Christina? Or did they, rather, see something pretty and take a snap like they did of every other pretty thing? My guess is that later – my guess is that all of the modern people, so surrounded and all sides by the sterile, technocratic, suburban convenience of their lives that can’t tell the difference between pretty and beautiful and that when they see anything that smacks of one or the other they must gobble it up with their technocratic power so as to posses it. Thus there is so much picture taking around Rome. There is a dying capacity to be taken into beauty, such a thing frightens us, it demands of us, makes demands of us. So we picture take – no need to be drawn out of myself, such a thing is to scary for the sovereign self.
You might find such a reflection odd in a post filled with pictures. I make a distinction – I have seen and meditated on all of these places I have photographed many times before and what you see are all the pictures I took and took for the purpose of this blog. Pictures have a great use, they can take us to a place where we are not and so the taking of some photos is a good, wise, even a holy endeavor. I simply wonder how many people spend their touring of great places behind a camera and in doing so may lose the capacity to enter into the thing before them.
No more sermonizing, for now. I entered the great basilica, fought the photographs for a dip in the holy water font, greeted our Lady’s image of the Pieta and made for the Blessed Sacrament Chapel.
This was harder than one might imagine as there was a great line to get in, guarded by the usher’s of the basilica. This is both a heartening and a sad thing. Heartening because there are so many who want into Our Lord’s Presence and because the church wants to make sure that place is kept for silence and prayer. Sad because so many want in to snap a secret picture and get out and it is a great effort to keep this holy place in a sacral sense. So, I simply stepped to the side to a window where I could catch a glimpse Our Lord through the window, made my greeting and then walked to the transept where confessions are heard.
Blessed be God! I made my confession to Christ Jesus through a Dutch Franciscan who exhorted me to pray in a beautiful way. I walked away with deep peace, feeling the humidity, but with a deep peace. Easily I made my way out as the area of Confessions in the one place where the tourist is kept out. Oh, there are artistic glories there to be sure, and great saints (Gregory the Great and Josephat) but only those who want Mercy make their way in.
After Confession I did go and wait my turn in line for the Blessed Sacrament chapel as it was only proper to a good deal of time with Jesus after going to Confession. The line had, mercifully, shrunk down quite a bit and after only about five minutes (including a bit longer delay due to the nuns who butted in line, which is a regular happening) I was in the chapel where I prayed for quite a while, about an hour. Our Lord was present in Eucharistic Adoration, which was especially beautiful – it is fitting beyond measure that Jesus Christ the Resurrected should be surrounded by all the splendor and beauty that the world can offer and have all that beauty fall into the simple white Beauty of the All-in-All that is Divinity on the altar, Whose beauty no earthly glory can match.
When the time of prayer was finished I walked out again, a bit sweaty but full of goodness in my heart. The basilica was a bit un-comfortable you see. The temperature was much cooler than outside, the thick stone kept things quite cool. But the humidity was also much higher. The doors and some windows were open and many, many people came in so as the humidity seeped in it had nowhere else to go and so hung in the air. By the time I was heading out and had a clear sense of that cool, clammy humidity. Plus, it was nearly 13:00 and so the heat outside was up and the full flood of pilgrims and tourists were filling the basilica. So I left the Light of the World and entered the light of the world to make my way home.
Brother sun was at full force by this time, it reached about 95 degrees and the humidity could certainly be felt. I had not eaten or drunk anything since I woke up and was feeling a bit un-comfortable. It was good to keep a little fast until confession and I have to say that my heart was full but I needed to find a little something to drink and so I did. It is fortunate that there are endless places for this right out of the square. I had three worldly goals that day; 1) buy soap, 2) buy a candle and 3) buy some flowers. The first was easily accomplished as I stopped at a place outside the square that sells many this’s and that’s made by various monastic orders from around Italy. I bought some very manly-smelling soap made by Trappist monks somewhere up north and felt that contemporary sense of moral goodness that comes from buying organic and went out into the Roman sun.
Shade is a great friend on such days and I have become quite adept at finding the shade. It isn’t that hard once mid-day has passed as there are many buildings around the city and so you find the shady side (I look so forward to the day when, “The sun will not beat down on them, nor any scorching heat.” Rev. 7:16) and walk close to the buildings. I walked back a different way than I came so as to go through and old part of the city and come to the Campo de’ Fiori, another one of the more famous squares (it’s more of a rectangle) in Rome. It was a bit sad as most shops were closed for the August holiday. I don’t begrudge them vacation but there are many art shops and other like places along those roads.
They are also very old roads with many of the old buildings.
I made particularly sure to walk down the Via dei Cappellari, which comes right into the Campo de’ Fiori and has this tavern right near the end.
I hope to one day to have a drink at the Crusader Pub, just to what it is like.
While the Campo de’ Fiori was full of happy people, there were no flowers (fiori is Italian for flowers) and I suppose this made sense as it was about 13:30 and quite hot so I suppose that, if there had been any flowers, they would have wilted out in the heat so long. I thought I might search a couple of the local markets for some spirits and came to learn that Italians apparently do not have any affinity for bourbon so out I went back to the streets heading back to the Piazza Navona so that I might eat and then visit St. Agnese in Agone.
Very near the square, almost on it but not quite, the is a restaurant called 4 Colonne that had caught my eye a couple of years ago and has been highly reviewed by the Roman restaurant critics. Previously the expatriates I was with that it would surely be ‘too touristy’ because it was so close to Navona. Indeed, I have found that, while there is truth to the clear tourist restaurants that only the expatriates – the long standing tourists – complain about touristy restaurants. Here is a little secret: there are nice restaurants near the famous places too. Why? Because the beautiful places are beautiful to both locals and tourists, why shouldn’t the locals want to eat while looking at something beautiful.
So in I went and found a beautiful place. It was small and very clean with high walls and simple decor that was an interesting combination of classic and contemporary feel. Outside was a small deck with only about seven or so tables and from where I sat I could look out and see about half the Piazza Navona, including the great fountain in the middle. It as shaded and a light breeze was going which made for a comfortable place. Plus, it is just off the square and so it was rather more quiet. I read from the fiction I am currently enjoying and had a lovely lunch. It was excellent! The table setting was classic yet un-complicated the service was the best I have ever had in Rome and until that moment I had no idea how good carbonara could be. The only thing that could have been more pleasant would have been good friends about.
When lunch was finished, it was a little after 15:45 I walked through the square and went into St. Agnese in Agone, visited or Lord in the Tabernacle and then went to the back chapel which contains the skull of St. Agnes. I must confess that I find the church of her burial, the basilica of St. Agnese fuori la Mura, to be a much more consoling place and easier to pray. But I wanted to greet my little saint – some have heard me say that, while I am completely celibate I do have a girlfriend, St. Agnes, who always does something to help me out or make me smile. There are always so many people who come in to see the great dome of the basilica and wander about that it is not easy to pray there, so I visited Our Lord who remains where He belongs, dead center in the sanctuary of the church, and then to visit St. Agnes’ relics and ask her help in keeping a pure heart and chaste life.
It is a beautiful thing too when you step out of that church as you open right on to the great Fountain of the Four Rivers by Bernini.
From there it is not far back to the Pantheon. I hoped the Vodaphone store might be open and I could finish the work to obtain a cell-phone but it was not so, another time. I did wander about some shops and look at many of the fun things but had no intent to buy. What a great area of Rome I live in, in the picture below you see the Pantheon just on the right and straight ahead the street that leads up the the Piazza San Igancio and then to the Casa Santa Maria.
My mother had suggested I go pray by St. Aloysius and so I thought to do so. It didn’t take long to get to the church of San Ignacio (St. Ignatius) which does not have the relics of St. Ignatius but rather the bodies of St. Robert Bellarmine, St. John Berchmanns and St. Aloysius Gonzaga. I love this church, above the central nave is a painting that represents the evangelization of the world, there is an amazing side chapel of the Crucifixion, the Tabernacle remains in the center of a beautiful sanctuary and just off in the right side transept is the altar of St. Aloysius under which is his body. I sat down to do my afternoon mental prayer there. It was a bit difficult as the church as quite humid and I forgot that the late afternoon is particularly full of visitors and so it was a bit distracting with all the goings on.
Nonetheless it was good to be there and pray and after the time of mental prayer go to the Marian chapel to say my Rosary. It all made for a great sense of peace in my heart, my mind and my soul. I walked out into the beautiful square, which I have tried to capture in photos – it is an amazing baroque square and only about three blocks away from the Casa Santa Maria and two blocks from the Pantheon.
By the time I was walking home I thought, why not head up the the Trevi Fountain, it’s not far from my house and I might check out the stores in between. What great idea that was! True, it was hot and the day was getting long. All around me were the red and glistening faces of the tourists who had been running all around holy Rome and, no matter how much shade you might find, it wears on a person, a day of walking everywhere up and down the hills in the heat and humidity. I was so amazingly pleased at the following:
1) There are all kinds of super-neat stores that sell all sorts of stuff I was looking for!
2) Rome is full of stores selling terrible liquor and finally I found two, less than a block away that sell the good ones!
3) The Trevi Fountain is about three minutes away from my front door! Sure, it is packed with people all of the time, but it is really very beautiful and a fun place to be.
What a day, and by now it was after 17:00 and I was feeling rather tired. I walked back home and took a long, cold shower. After that I made some coffee – needed to stay away until at least 21:30 – and read from my novel. I had a lovely Skype with the Fassino’s and my parents, started writing this post and then went to bed.
Laus Deo, I slept for the first time in ten days! Seriously, I have had a terrible time sleeping and last night I slept twelve and a half hours! Today has been a very smooth day – prayer, Mass, a short walk, lunch, reading, typing, about to Skype with some friends.
All thanks to the good work of my parents and some particular enouragement from my Mom. Thank you, I love you!
Listen to your mother, things might work out, at least if she is as good as my Mom! So many beautiful things are all around us. True, Rome has things more famous and many saints, but I bet there are beautiful things near you as well.
Buon Domenica to you all, I love you from my priestly heart all the way from felix Roma!
(sorry if there are spelling/grammar errors, I did’t edit the post.)