Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Ite, missa est

c. Tina Gulotta Miller
It's been just over a month since the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report describing the ways in which many American Catholic bishops covered up credible reports of abuse by priests of their dioceses. The Church is roiled by accusations.  I'm horrified to hear people — children of God, made in the image and likeness of God — called "filth" because of their sexual orientation in the comments of a Catholic news site. Fingers point. There are cries of "not me" or at least "not us anymore." Prayer services are scheduled.  Let's all fast on the Ember Days or say a rosary or adore the Sacrament.

Personally I want to rent my garments and wail on a street corner for the wounds to my beloved Church, nothing so decorous and planned as a prayer service will do.  No delicate rosary is clasped in my hands, that I might count off grace-lit prayers on its jewels. The rough wool of a prayer rope chafes at my wrist and the knots catch on my fingers, "Lord Jesus Christ, son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner." I sit not in a church redolent of incense, candlelight glimmering off the gold of the monstrance, but watch a woman rock a tiny child to sleep so her worn mother can do her homework, the smell of bleach drifting past, the holiest thing I have seen today. I keep vigil at the door of the shelter, a tabernacle for this one night, the Body of Christ kept safe.

Ite, missa est.  Go, they said, the Mass is ended. Go, not to repeat what has been done here in all reverent beauty, but to do it again amidst the wild roughness of the world. Go knowing how to hold the Body of Christ up, and say, this, this is God incarnate, come to dwell among us. This wailing child, this exhausted mother.  If you cannot see Christ in the beggar at the door, said St. John Chrysostom, you will not find Him in the chalice.

Sunday, September 09, 2018

In space, no one can hear you scream

Content warning:  seven motifs of disgust

The sneakers in question, post mouse corpse removal.
I have a pair of sneakers I love, Chuck Taylors with sci-fi images on them.  I haven't worn them since before I tore the ligaments in my ankle last winter. They've been sitting in my study, under my desk, waiting for the swelling to go down. I pulled them out this morning after Mass, figuring they'd be a cheery spot on a rainy day.

Oh, there's a dried leaf in there. As I grabbed the stem, I wondered absentmindedly how such a large leaf had ended up in there. Huh, that's a pretty odd shaped stem. It was bit stuck, so I pulled and found myself holding....half a mummified mouse by the tail.

I shrieked.

No one heard me scream. Not Math Man, the two floors down in the basement doing laundry.  Not my brother The Artiste visiting from New York, on a call with his headphones on.

I scrubbed my hands in the sink. Once, twice. I dried them, and wondered about washing them again. I could empathize with Lady Macbeth, out damned spot, out.

The other half, you ask? Stuck in my shoe. How much do I love these shoes?  Enough to take it out on the driveway in the rain and clean it out. How much am I grossed out? Enough that I won't wear them without socks.

Wednesday, September 05, 2018

A murmuration of starlings

Over the wall from the Specola, I could just see the vines growing up the sides of the Poor Clares' cloister next door.  One afternoon, when it was cool enough to have the window open, I could hear the nuns chanting, a low murmur burbling like the fountain in the courtyard.  I stood up to stretch and out the window I could see a murmuration of starlings, a dark wing against the sky, swirling up and out of the cloister, then diving back in, always staying with the bounds of the enclosure. A visual chant.

Monday, August 20, 2018

The proud in their conceit

Icon of Our Mother of Good Counsel in Castelgandolfo
It was odd to be in Rome, literally within the walls of the Vatican City State, when the report detailing the horrific sins of the Church, her priests and her bishops, in Pennsylvania was released last week. This morning, a letter from Pope Francis on the sexual abuse crisis, addressed to the People of God, appeared. In it he quotes the Magnificat, the Gospel canticle to be proclaimed each evening by those obliged to celebrate the Liturgy of the Hours:
"For the Lord remembers the promise he made to our fathers: 'he has scattered the proud in their conceit; he has cast down the mighty from their thrones and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty' (Lk 1:51-53). We feel shame when we realize that our style of life has denied, and continues to deny, the words we recite."
Evening Prayer is one of the two hinges of the Hours (morning prayer is the other), this is a Gospel that should be in the mouth of every ordained Catholic priest, deacon and bishop in the world every day. Underneath Pope Francis' words, I could hear the old Latin saw I learned in theology, "lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi" — the way of prayer is the way of belief is the way of life, or more literally, the law of prayer is the law of belief is the law by which we live.

Each time I pray the evening Office, I feel measured against those words.  Where have I been proud, what are my conceits?  Where have I lifted up the lowly or been sent away empty? Where have I grasped, rather than opened, my hands?  Is what I pray what I believe, how I live?

Pope Francis blames clericalism, and I don't doubt that is one root of the abuse crisis. But perhaps it is as much that we have failed to teach those in authority to pray these Hours, not as an obligation, but as a gauge, a measure of mercy and of justice.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Buon ferragosto!

Statue of Mary in the papal gardens, a favorite spot for Popes
to pray.

It's the Feast of the Assumption, a holy day of obligation in the US and of course, here in Italy. Here, however, it is also a major holiday - ferragosto. Stores are closed, many for the whole week.  Even the supermarket with 'orario continuato' — continuous open hours, they don't close for the mid-afternoon rest — is closed today.  You could definitely feel the anticipation in the air yesterday afternoon as people ran last errands around town.  Me, too.  I bought melon and tomatoes and herbs from the farmer's market in the square and some salumi at the supermercato. Everyone was wishing each other a cheery "Buon ferragosto!" 

Bit of mosaic in floor at San Pietro.
This morning when the bells from San Pietro started to ring at 8 to nudge people planning on going to the 8:30, I grabbed my bag and headed out to church. It's a two minute walk to this 6th century church, named for St. Peter the Apostle (who apparently evangelized the Romans living here back in the day). The church was already half full, the Eucharist is on the altar almost all day for those who want to come in and sit.  I sat.  Mass at 8:30 was full, but I should have paid attention to the seating pattern. Sit nearest the open door that overlooks the plain below. The breeze is delightful, as I discovered when I went up to communion.

San Pietro after Mass. The sisters are in the 
prime spot.
There is a clear sense of celebration in the town. Local restaurants are doing a set "ferragosto" menu and I went out with the Jesuit community here across the square for a two-hour pranzo, the main meal of the day.  Pace yourself, I was warned. Two types of antipasti, bread, wine, water, lasagna al forno, crispy calamari and shrimp. Another pasta and fish dish: paccheri di scoglio. That last translates literally as "slaps of rocks" - actually pasta with clams, shrimp and mussels in the shell; paccheri is large tubes of pasta that apparently make a slapping noise when they hit the plate. Finally, watermelon for dessert and an espresso so you don't (quite) fall asleep at the table.

I went back to the apartment to change for my afternoon walk, dodging kids with squirt guns and enjoying watching the women of my age dressed in their best out walking. I don't have the panache to wear some of the shoes (or the willingness to risk my ankles) - so much gold lame and so many glittery sequins. Though you have to admit, it absolutely goes with the feast:  Risplende la regina, Signore, alla tua destra. (or in the US, The queen stands at your right hand, arrayed in gold.)

Now, of course, it's afternoon thunderstorms, so I'm waiting it out, the local weather suggests we'll get a break soon.  Meanwhile, the papal roosters are annoyed at the changing light, the thunder and the ringing bells to announce Mass at one of the five churches within a few minutes walk. They are crowing up a storm!