Sunday, August 29, 2010

Gearing Down to Understand Gearing Up.

In Jesuit communities in the U.S. there is almost always some dessert option after dinner. If you are as lucky as I have been in the past three years, you are blessed to live in a community where the cook is particularly talented with cakes and desserts. So when I came to Rome, I was sad to hear that we wouldn't have that everyday here.  Now don't get me wrong, I certainly don't need dessert. In fact, truth be told, I am better off without it, but it seemed like it just might be one more annoying cultural adjustment that I would have to make, then I strangely realized that I kind of liked it. 

The view from my desk as I write this. 
In addition to losing a little weight, this arrangement is made all the more enjoyable by the fact that we have a fairly simple way to mark special days here in Rome. For example, today was the feast of St. Augustine, and so after lunch we had cake. Tomorrow is a Sunday, and Gelato will be served. On regular days though, its just fruit, and that's increasingly becoming something that I kind of strangely enjoy. For example, this past week, on the feast of St. Bernard I sat down with a piece of cake, and jokingly said: "Thank you St. Bernard for your life of austerity and poverty, for this we will enjoy cake."  Now irony aside, I didn't know it was a feast day before I walked into the dining room, in fact I quickly pulled out my Ipod to see which feast it was, and read a little about St. Bernard. The thing is, in the US I am not sure that I would have looked up which feast it was had we not been celebrating, and the fact that we even do something so simple to mark those days is a very cool thing. 

St. John of the Cross in his famous Dark Night of the Soul points more eloquently to the reality that I am getting at. He says that sometimes in our spiritual lives God allows us to go through dark, dry, dessert periods so that we can really appreciate what it is to feel God's presence. I like that thought, and I think that those of us who live in the US could stand to learn something from it. 

The simple reality is that when we become too contented, when everyday is a feast day, we lose sight of what it is to celebrate. When everything is too pleasant, we become dulled to life around us. I think there is a way in which an American lifestyle sometimes can lull us into a spiritual coma, if only by simple always giving us access to everything that we want. Maybe the best thing that we can do is save some of those pleasurable everyday things for special occasions, and to do some critical self reflection about what we can really do without, so that when we do enjoy those little things in life they are really a cause for celebration. 

Sunday, August 15, 2010

There's No Place Like Rome.

Here it is: a very quick view of where I live. The video is sped up to get you through what is a 10 minute walk in 3 minutes or so, but you can catch glimpses of the important stuff. More detailed videos of different things in the house to follow. 


Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Random thoughts from Rome.

Rome unfolding from the top of St. Peter's

1.     Apparently the bar across the street is where the Swiss Guard go to hang out… this should be interesting.
2.     I went to a Wal-Mart like store named Panaramo in the suburbs today via the Metro. I had to walk back with a laundry basket full of stuff through the Forum. Tourists were still annoying.
3.     Tourists in the forum have this habit of randomly stopping in front of you to the point where a single walk through the forum yields an average of 3.2 collisions.
4.     I can see a tower designed by Michelangelo from my bed as I fall asleep. What can you see?
5.      I went to La Storta this weekend for the first time. After we prayed in the chapel of the vision for an hour I went to get an espresso, when I emerged everyone was gone.  (So I just went to the train station…)
6.     Went to watch the Sox Game tonight at the ex-pat bar nearby,  they were playing trivia, I could have won on my own. (Come on, seriously, which Muppet lived in a trash can, as a question????)
7.     I bought a bottle of Coke today. The label, which was from before the world cup, advertised over a thousand free vuvuzelas in a give away…. Strange that Coke knew what a big deal they would be this time around in advance of the cup….
8.     I am actually beginning to have conversations with Italians fairly confidently, and they seem to be tolerating my horrible Italian.  I am told that Ignatius spoke horrible Italian too, so much so that little kids would correct him. I take consolation in this.
9.     I have learned that 30 Celsius is the upper threshold of gross sweatiness.
10.  The walls were paper thin at the little hotel that we were studying at in Verona, not a huge fan of not being able to talk to anyone after 10:30pm Verona time.  This isn’t be such a huge deal in Rome (where our walls are 400 years old and about a foot thick.)
11.  I realized today that horsemeat is a Veronese specialty, and that without knowing it I have probably eaten it. I have my suspicions about which mystery meat it was, but don’t ask how I liked it.
12.  I have begun to be recognized by the barista at the cafĂ© across the street from my language school. This morning he had my espresso ready for me before I even asked.
13.  It cracks me up when Americans are clearly lost in my neighborhood, particularly trying to find the Pantheon, and I ask if they need help and I get something like “nope got it,” and then they wander off in the wrong direction anyway.
14.  I have learned that if you just stare down taxi cabs while you are in a crosswalk they will stop, the same cannot be said for moto-scooters.
            15.  Taking a walk like most Romans do at night for a little exercise is a good thing, the             positive  effects of which are negated when you merely walk to the Trevi Fountain for Gelato. 

Saturday, August 07, 2010

A Letter which echoes back..

If Christ is for us.. who can be against us???

I had this thought tonight as I was standing atop a newly discovered terrace in our house here in Rome. If Christ is for us then who can be against us? If you look to the west, you see the Capitoline hill. Here they crowned new emperors; behind it lay the ruins in stone and brick of what was once the most powerful place on earth. If you look east, you see a hill on what was once the outskirts of that powerful city where the executed a man who was old and likely illiterate from a backwater town in a backwater country.

If Christ is for us…. Who can be against us???

On that hill today stands the most prominent point in the eternal city, the dome of St. Peter’s. The empire is in ruins, and yet the place where an impotent (in the classical sense of the word) fisherman was executed upside down is revered.

If Christ is for us…. Who can be against us???

If you look to the north you can see the space where nine college friends lived for a few years while they waited to figure out what they should do since their original plans were going to be delayed by war in the middle east. If you look immediately down, you can see where one of them died years later as one of the more influential men in Europe and in the Church. If you look down you can see where the letters that captured the imagination of an entire continent arrived from one of those men who went to India. If you walk down the stairs you can walk where their followers walked, like the son of the most notoriously violent family in Spain, and you can stand in the spaces where one of the wealthiest men in the world at the time decided to turn in his wealth for a life of poverty….

If Christ is for us…. Who can be against us???

I am not saying that St. Peter or St. Ignatius would be thrilled with the churches built in their names, in fact I suspect that they might be perplexed by them, but faith has overcome empire, and the indecision of the quarter-life crisis shared by Ignatius, Faber, and Xavier was transformed into the Society of Jesus.

So I ask, looking at Rome, boldy and bravely…

If Christ is for us… who can be against us.

I daresay that there is still even more to it than this, and that these symbols of the in-breaking of the kingdom of God are only half measures. We need to be as bold as St. Peter, and embrace what the world sees as futility in coming to Rome, a place where they were executing Christians.

We need to be as bold as Ignatius, Xavier, and Faber, to look with hope to the future even if/when our plans fall apart.

Now is not a time to be practical, but to embrace a holy boldness. We need to look at the world as it is and continue to pray that God’s kingdom come ON EARTH as it is in heaven, and believe it can happen….

If Christ is for us… who can be against us?????