Tag Archives: Christianity

Jesus who Reconciles

Dear Folks,

As we continue to celebrate the Easter season, we encounter the risen Jesus in John 21. It is worth looking at it a little closer.

We see an echo of Luke 5:1-11, when Jesus called Peter, James, and John. After a night of catching nothing, it was morning (See Luke 1:78), Jesus calls them to put out their nets again. As with several of the resurrection accounts, they don’t immediately recognize Jesus. They bring in a very large number of fish (153!), but unlike in the Lucan account, the net is not tearing (John 1:11). Scholars have said that in those days there were 153 different species of fish, and this is a foreshadowing of the Church being able to hold all kinds of people together (when there is a schism in the Church, that is a result of human failing, not a limitation of God’s Church).

Jesus calls them to bring some of the fish they had caught, but he already had bread and fish cooked on a charcoal fire (John 21:9-13). This makes no sense at first, but it echoes all the accounts of multiplying loaves and fishes, in which He calls them to bring forth what they have, but it is He who feeds. This is a paradox in Christianity: it is all the work of His grace, but it requires every last bit of effort that we have. Grace is not an excuse to slack off, and our efforts do not allow us to boast before Him as if we had accomplished something that He has not given us.

Notice it is a charcoal fire (details matter in John, and we must keep our eyes sharp). Remember John 18:18, in which Peter was warming himself around a charcoal fire when he was denying Jesus. Psychologists tell us that our sense of smell is the most powerful sense for evoking emotional memories. Do you think his three-fold denial was on Peter’s mind? Weighing heavily on him? Hmm. Jesus does not address the denial directly, but calls for a three-fold affirmation, each time bringing a call to take care of Jesus sheep (we remember that Jesus is the good shepherd as He taught in chapter 10). Jesus reconciles with Peter and sends him forth as shepherd. The gift he was given was not just for his sake, but for the sake of Peter’s service to the mission of the Church. Going through Acts of the Apostles, we see that God will protect Peter and Paul again and again, but still allow them to suffer and eventually be martyred. It is about what serves the mission.

As an Easter people, we come to Jesus confidently, knowing that He has won the victory. We can bring our sinfulness to be reconciled, knowing that the gifts we receive are not just for our sake, but so that we can serve the mission of the Church. We are called to put forward our mightiest effort, but know it is He who wins the victory. To be an Easter people is to be a people of mission.

Blessings, Fr. Jim

Spirit of Peace

Dear Folks,

As we continue the Easter season, we reflect on how to be an Easter people. Our Gospel last Sunday has two parts: the giving of peace and the Holy Spirit for the sake of reconciliation and showing Thomas something to help him believe. My thought on this is how we as Christians should be reconcilers, and that will help people believe, Jesus said to Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen, but have believed (John 20:29).” This does not mean they believe without reason. People may not see the wounds of Christ, but if they see that our behavior is different from the general population because of our faith, then they will have grounds to believe that what we say about Jesus is real.

One of the ways we can strive to be different is being better reconcilers and peacemakers. There is a lot that can be said about how to do that (and I have tried on different occasions). Easter is a good time to talk about how peace can grow from being less concerned with our own desires and more concerned with pleasing God.

St. Paul teaches, “If then you were raised with Christ, seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Think of what is above not what is on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God (Colossians 3:1-3).”

If our desires are paramount, our desires will always get in the way of each other. “Where do the wars and where do the conflicts among you come from? Is it not from your passions that make war within your members? You covet but do not possess. You kill and envy, but you cannot obtain; you fight and wage war. You cannot possess because you do not ask. You ask but do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions (James 4:1-3).”

Even if we are fighting for God’s truth, against the forces of evil, we do it as people of faith. We can spend ourselves generously to build goodness without the desperation that comes from thinking it all depends on us. We remember people thinking they could save the world without God (I’m thinking of Hitler, Stalin, and Mao) who were sure they were building a better world and that they were so important that they should have no limitations. They killed millions because they thought the tradeoff was worth it. We do what we can do, careful to show that we love even those who oppose us, knowing that God Himself will bring about the victory. The greatness of our cause calls us to higher standards of behavior, not lower. Church people have done nasty stuff when they have forgotten that.

We remember that the ability to do this depends on the Holy Spirit. We are not just celebrating the great season of Easter (though that would be plenty in itself), but also preparing for the great feast of Pentecost. This is a time to reflect and consider how our relationship with the Holy Spirit is enabling us to live as an Easter people.

The gifts of the Holy Spirit (from Isaiah 11) are wisdom, understanding, knowledge, council, fortitude, piety, and fear of the Lord. The traditional explanations of the first four tend to be a bit subtle, but I think they boil down to knowing that God is more important than anything else, understanding how that affects the way we look at life, and what is life is truly of value, seeing how it all connects, and knowing how to respond. Fortitude is the strength actually to do what we now know we should do (based on the first four). Piety is a sense of awe toward God and attentiveness to Him. Fear of the Lord is, of course, not about fear in the usual sense, but a deep desire to be pleasing to God and a deep horror of displeasing Him.

The fruits of the Holy Spirit (from Galatians 5) are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

As we prepare for Pentecost, we can pray regularly for the Holy Spirit to increase these attributes in us, that we may better live as an Easter people, may better be peacemakers, and may better be witnesses of the Gospel to the world.

Alleluia! Fr. Jim

Keeping our Lamps Lit

Dear Folks,
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus’ public teaching closes with three parables about the Last
Judgement, and we will be reading them from now until Advent. It would probably be a
good thing to think about the Last Day on a regular basis given that is where we are all
headed, and this is the most pivotal day of our existence. If we have a good day on that
day, none of our bad days will matter. If it is a bad day, none of our good days will
matter. Reading through the New Testament leaves me with a strong sense that we can’t
take this day for granted; we are not called to live in fear, but neither can we be complacent
(see, for example, Matthew 7: 13-14, 21-23; I Corinthians 9:27).
Our Gospel today speaks of bridesmaids who are phronimos (wise /shrew /prudent /clever/
cunning/crafty) and bring extra oil for their oil lamps. This echoes Jesus’ teaching that a
man who is phronimos will build his house on rock rather than sand (Matthew 7:24-27) in
the Sermon on the Mount. Both speak of the importance of enduring. It is one thing to start
out with enthusiasm. It is quite another to continue through obstacles, persecutions,
disappointments, failures, and all the things that come with being a disciple. In Matthew
chapter 10, Jesus warns that there will be persecution, sometimes from the people closest to
us, but the one who “holds out to the end will be saved (Matt. 10:22).”
Last Friday we did the Gospel reading about the dishonest steward (Luke 16:1-13).” He
finagled himself a severance package by using (misusing?) his power as steward. Jesus said
that the master commended him for being phronimos, and said, “For the children of this
world are more phronimos in dealing with their own generation than the children of light
(see Luke: 16:8).” As we read on, we see Him calling us to use our resources well for the
sake of the Kingdom, knowing that we will not always have the chance to do so.
There are countless stories of people who have left the practice of the faith because they
were mad at the Pope, the bishop, the pastor, other parishioners, etc. Others left the practice
of the faith because they did not believe Church teaching, or someone had sat down with
them and showed them some Bible verses that convinced them that the teaching of the
Church was wrong. I would suggest that in each of these cases, they did not have enough oil
for their lamps; they did not build their houses on a firm enough foundation. We were
warned there would be challenges of all kinds, coming from the world or the faith
community, and we are called to navigate these treacherous waters.
In Matthew chapter 10, Jesus sends the disciples forth and tells them not to bring “gold or
silver, or copper for your belts; no sack for the journey, or a second tunic, or sandals, or
walking stick (see Matt 10:9-10).” Extra oil for our lamps, then, would not necessarily
mean material supplies. “Behold, I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves; so be
phronimos as serpents and simple as doves (Matthew 10:16).”
Lately, many have expressed frustration about things that are happening in the Church and
things that are happening in the government. Some are tempted to despair or panic. It
would suggest reflecting on these texts, as well as the whole of Matthew 10 and then Luke
14:25-33. These suggest we were warned from the beginning that our journey as disciples
could entail all sorts of trials (all sorts!). That does not make it easy, but it does tell us that
this is part of what it means to be Christian, and our faithfulness now is more important
than anything that happens around us.
Blessings,
Fr. Jim

God and Caesar

Dear Folks,

Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s, as Jesus says in our Gospel this week: Matthew 22:15-21. Christians cannot ignore the government and how it runs, but must remember there is a higher authority. We are called to follow the law except when it requires us to break God’s law in the slightest way. St. Thomas More was a faithful Catholic, who tried to follow the law, and when it became impossible to do his job and be faithful to God, he resigned from his job. The king did not let that lie and had him executed. His final statement was: “I die the king’s good servant, but God’s first.”Christians are called to exercise our voices as citizens, not because we seek to force others to follow our faith, but because our faith, properly practiced, gives us a deep sense of human good, and a sensitivity to the cause of human flourishing and to the lives and dignity of all people, especially the marginal.For many years since the forming of the United States, many Christians worked to abolish slavery, impelled by their Christian faith. Those who were pro-choice about owning slaves said that such people could believe what they wanted, but should not force their Christian beliefs on others, and the government should not interfere with such decisions. Many thought the abolitionists did not understand the complexities of the issue, and should be focusing more on other moral concerns. There were, of course, other moral concerns to deal with at the time, but this issue was special: It explicitly set aside a group of human beings as not being worthy of human rights, and so could be treated in a way we would object to being treated ourselves. Those who tackled the issue changed the course of history, and we now regard them as heroes. As we look back, we do not admire those who were personally opposed to slavery, but did not want to force their beliefs on others. In our current situation there are important issues that call for a serious response, but the solutions are not obvious, and people of good will might disagree. We need to do something about violence, but good people can have different ideas about whether more gun control laws will do more good or more harm. We need to care for the poor, but we can disagree about how to best do it. We can agree we want everyone to have access to health care and disagree about how best to do it (more government administration or more free market solutions?) Eight years ago Bishop Barron did a very interesting YouTube video called “Bishop Barron on Paul Ryan and Catholic Social Teaching” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tq8KRIkGtLQ. It talks about striking the balance between the values of solidarity and subsidiarity, and how different takes on that balance can lead good people to differ on how we best help the poor, and what role government might play in it. That said, if we use that as an excuse to do nothing, we will answer to God for it (Matthew 25: 31-46! Could Jesus have been any more emphatic?).We need to find a way to improve our system for processing immigrants. We need to ease and heal race relations, and deal with violence in the streets. I have written some thoughts about these issues, but it seems that much (most?) of the conversation is about saying how bad the situation is, sharing slogans, and assigning blame. I’m not seeing nearly as much rational discussion about how to move things to a better place. I think it would be helpful to tone down the rhetoric, cool the anger (James 1:19-20), hear each other’s concerns, and try to work together. It might be helpful to be careful about believing what we hear, because sometimes the narrative can get ahead of the facts. In our society, we have a right and a responsibility to help move our country to a place that better promotes flourishing for all people. Blessings,Fr. Jim

Giving God His Grape

Dear Folks,
In our Gospel this Sunday, Jesus continues to call the nation of Israel, particularly the
leadership, to account for their behavior and lack of faithfulness. Matthew chapters 19 –
22, they are testing Jesus and He is testing them. He will unleash judgement in chapter 23,
and finish that chapter by weeping over Jerusalem and their refusal to respond to
Him. When we are angry at someone we love, underneath that layer of anger is a deeper
well of sadness. Jesus said, “Blessed are they who mourn (Matt 5:4)” and now He shows
what that means.
Matt 21:33-43 reflects the history of Israel. God gave them the nation, and called them to
follow His teachings. Jesus compares God to the owner of a vineyard, who provided for his
vineyard owners, and calls for a return. God sent the prophets to call the people to
faithfulness, but many were beaten, mistreated, and some were killed. Jesus was the Son
who was sent, and He would be killed. This rejection of God’s call would have
consequences.
God has given us many blessings, and calls us to give a response, not because it would
benefit Him in any way, but because a love relationship with Him is the greatest good for
us, and we cannot be in such a love relationship without responding to His love with our
actions.
What are we called to do in response to God’s gifts? The Scriptures for our next three
Sundays will serve to highlight three areas of response: Worship, Christian citizenship, and
love of neighbor. These are, of course, interrelated (everything is connected to everything
else), but we will take them one at a time for clarity. These are not multiple choice, of
course. It is common nowadays for some people to pick the parts of the practice of the faith
that they like and leave the rest.
In any love relationship, we seek the presence of our Beloved, and seek to express directly
our love, admiration, and other aspects of our stance toward the one we love. We are not
fully responding to God without worship, and worship according to His teaching. The
central act of worship that God gives us is the Eucharist. We can discuss this in the context
of call to the banquet next week.
In any love relationship, we must be willing to do things that please our Beloved, and with
God that cannot omit helping people in need. Two of the ways we can do this are
exercising our citizenship driven by our Christian consciences, and directly helping others
with our resources. We can discuss these in the context of rendering to Caesar what is
Caesar’s and rending to God what is God’s, and the greatest commandment.
To be good tenants in God’s vineyard, we must have some understanding of how to grow
grapes. Imagine vineyard workers who did not understand how to plant, cultivate, and
harvest grapes. They might put in a lot of effort, but not produce much fruit. We have read
that in a recent Pew poll only 31% of those who call themselves Catholic hold the Catholic
belief about the Real Presence in the Eucharist. Robert Mixa in a recent Word on Fire blog
said, “The recent ‘State of Theology’ survey alarmingly demonstrates that US Catholics are
far from uniform in believing in the divinity of Christ. In fact, many tend not to believe in
his divinity. When confronting the statement ‘Jesus was a great teacher, but he was not
God,’ a shocking 30% of Catholics ‘agree,’ 27% ‘somewhat agree,’ 9% are ‘not sure,’ 12%
‘somewhat disagree,’ and 22% ‘disagree.’” These are among the most basic, fundamental
truths of the faith, and if we are going to be productive tenants in God’s vineyard, we shall
need to open (much) more widely the wonderful treasure that is the Catholic faith. This is
why I am such a fanatic about Catholics learning more about their faith (If you think I talk a
lot about it, you have no idea what I would be saying if I really opened up).
God is calling. How will we respond?
Blessings,
Fr Jim

Ministry of Healing Relationship

That all May be One

Dear Folks,
In our Gospel today, Jesus talks about dealing with conflict in the Church. He doesn’t spend a lot of time talking directly about how to do Church, so I figure Jesus thinks this
issue is especially important. I have addressed conflict resolution before, and will do it again, because I think this is a huge ongoing issue for the Church, for the nation and for the
world. I think it is worth spending time on it. We see so much anger and hate in our society, and it seems to be getting worse. There is much talk about racial reconciliation. I think
part of the solution is to develop our own reconciliation skills.
The first thing Jesus talks about is going directly to the person with which you have the issue. It can be tempting to go to other people and tell our side of the story to garner
sympathy, hoping to collect people on our side. It is crucial to resist and come to the person directly.
I think just as important is how we approach. How would we want someone to approach us when we are wrong? We might be tempted to say that we would never do such a thing, but
we can easily overestimate how well we know ourselves, and underestimate our ability to mess up in ways that can hurt people. To deal with these issues requires humility and
charity. It requires truly loving those people with whom we disagree. Only if we approach a conflict with sincere love for the other can we be doing the work of Christ. To suggest to
people they are wrong can cause pain, but it can still be loving. If we are approaching in love, we want to cause the least pain possible, and have the best possible chance of doing good. It is necessary but not enough to tell the truth. We must be intentional about seeking to make the situation better. We need to be aware of our anger and pain, but not ruled by
them. One of the problems these days is people venting anger for the sake of venting anger, and not directing their efforts toward solutions.
There are some Scriptures worthy of meditation. James 1:19 teaches us to “be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath.”
“Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun set on your anger, and do not leave room for the devil (Ephesians 4:26-27).” “No foul language should come out of your mouths, but only
such as is good for needed edification, that it may impart grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the holy Spirit of God, with which you were sealed for the day of redemption.
All bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling must be removed from you, along with all malice. And be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has
forgiven you in Christ (Ephesians 4:29-32).”
“Do not return evil for evil, or insult for insult; but on the contrary, a blessing, because to this you were called, that you might inherit a blessing (1 Peter 3:9).” “But even if you
should suffer because of righteousness, blessed are you. Do not be afraid or terrified with fear of them, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts. Always be ready to give an
explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence, keeping your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who
defame your good conduct in Christ may themselves be put to shame (1 Peter 3:14-16).”
I have recommended Ann Garrido’s book Redeeming Conflict before. There are many books on how to deal with conflict, but I think if a lot of people have a common set of principles and a common vocabulary, that might make conversation easier.
Where in our lives can we begin?
Blessings,
Fr. Jim

Parable of Two Armies

flint ak47

Imagine if you will two armies meeting in battle.  One is armed with flintlock rifles and swords and they are highly skilled with them.  They have had extensive training and practice.  The other army is armed with M-16’s, AK-47’s and rocket propelled grenade launchers, but haven’t a clue how to use them. They don’t know how to load or cock them, never mind how to clean them.  Which army is going to win?  I suggest the Catholic faith and its principles are not doing better in the marketplace of ideas is similar: we have the better message, but the world is marketing theirs better. Many people have a very negative understanding of Catholicism, and of Christianity in general, because those who say only the negative, and often distort the reality, are so much more effective that we have been getting the word out.

When the Church began, a small handful of people with no resources but the Gospel story and the grace of God were able to change the world forever.  The surrounding culture was extremely hostile; they thought following someone who had been crucified was the dumbest thing they had ever heard, and they held to highly decadent values.  Nonetheless, the mightiest empire that the world had ever seen was helpless to stop the Church from growing.  We have all the resources that the early Church had and more.

When most Catholics are taught the faith, we not been taught to be evangelists.  We have been prepared to be customers in the Church.  Even in the seminary, we were not really taught how to spread the faith to others, but rather how to deal with people who already believed. Much of the way we are taught to talk about the faith only makes sense to those who already accept its basic premises.  Furthermore, many, many Catholics stop learning about the faith after twelfth, eighth or even second grade, so they never learn the faith on an adult level.  But, they keep learning in other areas, so that faith falls behind.

We know that Jesus, the Son of God, became man and died on the cross to save us from our sins.  Okay, but what does it mean that He is the “Son of God”?  What does dying on a cross have to do with saving us from our sins?  Why do we need saving? What does it mean to save us? What is “sin” anyway and why does it matter?  When if we can’t explain that in language that they can understand, it is not going to make sense to them.  We are so used to our religious language, we have not learned to talk about this stuff without it.

Many people were raised Catholic and have left because they think it doesn’t make a lot of sense, or doesn’t make a lot of difference.  I’ve talked to a lot of them, and if I understood Catholicism the way they did, I wouldn’t be Catholic either. I wouldn’t be Christian at all.  They can have some strange ideas, and say terrible things about the faith (like, “so you believe that God put us here to guess the right religion, and if we guess wrong he will burn us in fire forever and ever, but he loves us.”). Whatever they were taught growing up, this is what they absorbed. It is futile to get mad at them for saying such things.  We need to focus our energy on getting the faith out more effectively.

We have work to do.  We need to understand our faith story better, and we need to learn to express it in ways that the world can find compelling.  If what we claim to believe is true, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the most powerful transformative force in the universe.  We just need the will and the skill to do it, and the world can be transformed.  Our weapons are the Word of Truth and loving action. God wants us to succeed.

Love and Baloney

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Love and Baloney

Imagine a young man and a young woman.  They have very little money, but he goes out into the fields and collects some flowers.  He makes them baloney sandwiches and puts them in a paper bag.  He spreads out the picnic on newspaper, and says to her, “I love you more than the sun, the moon, the stars, brook trout and the Green Bay Packers. Will you be with me for the rest of our lives?”  She melts.

Now, it is their fiftieth anniversary.  Even though they live in an upscale condo in the center of a large city, he drives to the country and picks wild flowers.  He makes baloney sandwiches, and puts them in a paper bag.  He spreads newspaper on the table, and says to her, “I love you more than the sun, the moon, the stars, brook trout and the Green Bay Packers. Will you be with me for the rest of our lives?”  She melts.

Someone who didn’t know the history might say to him, “Are you crazy? Your fiftieth anniversary, you could easily afford roses and catering, and you do this?”  It is the connection to the history of the relationship that gives it meaning that it would not otherwyse have. In relationships, rituals, signs and symbols can have a power beyond what they are because of what they mean. (I suspect he also took her out to a nice restaurant, but that is another story.)

In religion, there are a lot of signs, symbols and rituals. Many who don’t know their meaning will disparage them and say they have nothing to do with God.  Many times they are practiced by those who don’t know or don’t care about their meaning, and then they fail in their purpose, and can even do harm (see I Corinthians 11).

There are many who say that a personal relationship with God is something separate from religion, and that they love God but have no use for religion.  I suggest that they either do not understand how ritual, structure, sign and symbol can be a key part of a relationship, have never been taught the meaning of these activities, or experienced people who went through the motions without attending to what they meant.  A kiss is meant to be a sign of affection and caring.  If someone gives you a kiss and then treats you like garbage, that sign is worse than useless.  It even does harm.

Many have left the Catholic Church or are minimally connected because they have not experienced it as a powerful encounter with the love of God. However, if they could only understand that every aspect of the Catholic faith is about encountering, walking with, and loving God.

A next step is with the book A Biblical Walk through the Mass by Dr. Edward Sri, or even his video study program:

http://ascensionpress.com/t/category/study-programs/the-mass/biblical-walk-through-the-mass

And that’s no baloney.

Unholy Holes

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Many years ago, I heard the story of a beautiful summer day in a downtown, when a truck pulls up to the side of the road. Two guys get out and dig a hole. Then two other guys get out and fill in the hole.  They get back in the truck and drive forward twenty feet.  The first two guys get out and dig a hole, and then the second two guys fill in the hole.  This goes on for a while. Finally, people ask, “What is going on?” They said, “We work for the city. The guy who plants the trees is sick today.”

You can have a lot of activity without accomplishing your primary purpose.  This leads to a key question for Church work: Are we fulfilling our primary purpose?  Having a lot of good activities does not, in itself, answer the question. Of course, to do that it would help to know what that purpose is.

I have asked a number of practicing Catholics “What is religion?”  Many have a hard time coming up with an answer.  Some say it is a belief.  Some say it is a set of practices. Is that all it is?

I suggest that religion at its core is a love relationship with the God who loves us very much.  Everything is about that.  A love relationship is different from anything else that is, and nothing can substitute for it. A collection of beliefs and tasks is much, much less than an all-transforming love relationship.

Some people have told me that their relationship with God is one thing, and their religion is something else.  But then what is religion?  If it is not our relationship with God, then why do it?  If we do it to please God, to express our love, devotion and obedience to Him, to encounter Him, then is it not our relationship with God? There may be aspects of our relationship with God that are informal and don’t directly involve Church, but I suggest that in religion there is love relationship with God, and there is nothing else.

According to Sherry Weddell’s Forming Intentional Disciples, only 60% of Catholics believe in a personal God at all, and most Catholics are not certain that they can have a personal relationship with God. If so few Catholics understand what I had thought was the most basic of truths about the faith, then how well have we been communicating the faith?

If we are bringing people into the Church and getting them involved in activities, that is good. But if we are not leading them to an all –transforming love relationship with God, then I suggest that we are not fulfilling our central function. Our tree planting guy is sick.

According to Forming Intentional Disciples, only 30% of those raised Catholic in America are currently coming to Mass once a month or more.  Maybe people have stopped coming because they have not found the Church to bring them to a love relationship with God. In any case, these numbers suggest to me that we need a serious re-examination of how we look at Church and how we do Church. What do you think?

Day 13 in Rome

Day 13, Last day to wander around Rome

Piazza dei Populi

Piazza della Republica

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Via di Quattro Fontani

Rome is thick with history and art.
The Church of Santa Maria della Concezione dei Capuchini

The Capuchins, of course, have a lot of history in Rome. After all, they got a drink named after them (what kind of drink do you want named after you?). This church is most famous for its crypt with its arrangements of the bones of deceased Franciscans.   These bones have been stacked and arranged artistically requiring the bones of thousands of hours of work. (They didn’t want pictures taken. More info at:  http://www.atlasobscura.com/places/santa-maria-della-concezione.)

I am reminded of the St. Katherine’s monastery at the base of Mount Sinai. They had a building with bins of skulls, bins of leg bones, etc. The idea was to have no personal monument on earth. We remember that on one (on earth) knows where the body of Moses is buried. Here we have no lasting city (Hebrews 13:14). Nathaniel Hawthorne visited this crypt in Rome and found that it dragged down his faith, and he needed blue skies to recharge it.

I’m surprised he would react that way given that his most famous work “The House of Seven Gables” is not the cheeriest text.

One can also question of that is a proper way to treat human remains. However, it speaks of people who were comfortable with their own mortality, and with mortality in general. The museum shows a painting of St. Francis holding a human skull. We remember the admonition of St. Benedict to keep our mortality daily before our face, and the old adage, “Time flies, remember death.” Longfellow wrote, “Art is long, and time is fleeting, and our hearts, though stout and brave, still like muffled drums are beating funeral marches to the grave.”

Perhaps that is to teach us to take ourselves less seriously, for our stay here is so brief while at the same time take our work more seriously, because history is so much larger than we are, and marks that we leave (recognized as ours or not) can affect people for a long time.

When they were laying the first bricks on the Palatine hill, what were they envisioning? It is hard to believe they were planning on an Empire that would last a thousand years, and then leave tools that would help the building of what followed.

Of course, it took the work of countless people, whose bones have long turned to dust, to make that happen. On the one hand, the large number of people involved makes the contribution of each a smaller part of the whole; on the other hand, the gathering of so many contributions made the effect of each last longer and reach farther. I was given to understand that one of the early symbols of Rome was a bundle of sticks, suggesting that bound together they were so much stronger than each individually.

I would also suggest that the effect of our contributions is not merely cumulative, like the value of pennies in a jar, but one can build on another, like supports on a bridge. St. Ambrose encouraged St. Augustine, and both were influenced by St. Paul. Was there a teacher, a parent, or an uncle that gave St. Paul critical encouragement or support that moved him to the path of being zealous for God or strong in learning?  How do you weigh the total effect of that unknown person?

The Church of Santa Maria della Vittoria was even more beautiful than most. My first reaction was, “I want one!” There were some excellent sculptures including the famous Ecstasy of St. Teresa of Avila.

Vittoria1.jpg[1]         Vittoria2[1]        Avila.jpg[1]

The Church of Mary of the Angels and Martyrs was large with many large works of art. One wing was dedicated to prayer (the rest to tourism).

While I was there, Mass happened and a small group participated.

Of course, that brings me back to the central point. The greatest treasures are not the buildings, the sculptures or the paintings, but the faith and devotion of the people.

This is the end of my Rome trip.  Next post will take this blog in a new direction.