I am now blessed to be in Rome, sharing time between the Irish College near St. John Lateran, and the lovely villa-like campus of the University of Dallas south of Rome. So many things I would like to share! This is my third visit to the Sacred City. It is so easy to feel at home here — the city is packed with more than a lifetime of inspiring churches and monuments, and yet you can walk from one end to the other and back in a day (and now zip around on easily rentable motor scooters and electric bicycles). Romans always seem welcoming but not fawning. Rome is a city reborn (Renaissanced) as a place of pilgrimage, and the citizens respect that.
This morning I was privileged to get a private tour of San Clementi, a stone’s throw from the College, from an Irish Dominican archaeologist. If you start from the ceiling, and work your way down by vision and then physical descent into the excavated portions below, you experience an historical/spiritual pilgrimage through the Church, moving from the Baroque ceiling to the twelfth century current church, to the Byzantine period of Rome to the 4th century time of the Church’s liberation, then back further to the “house church” of the third century, then to the pagan military cult of Mithras, all the way to the Roman mint built just after the burning of Rome in 66 AD. The central apse is covered by a mosaic of Byzantine flavor but medieval setting, in which the vine of the Church grows out to encompass Christians in every walk of life, and all of nature as well; the vine flows down into the floor mosaics, drawing contemporary worshippers into life that flows from the Cross.
At Mass in the very simple small chapel of the Irish College, I heard these words of Our Lord about the Queen of Sheba visiting Solomon.
The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, and now something greater than Solomon is here.
When we turn to the story in 1 Kings, we read:
When the queen of Sheba witnessed Solomon’s great wisdom, the house he had built, the food at his table, the seating of his ministers, the attendance and dress of his waiters, his servers, and the burnt offerings he offered in the house of the Lord, it took her breath away. “The report I heard in my country about your deeds and your wisdom is true,” she told the king. “I did not believe the report until I came and saw with my own eyes that not even the half had been told me. Your wisdom and prosperity surpass the report I heard. Happy are your servants, happy these ministers of yours, who stand before you always and listen to your wisdom. Blessed be the Lord, your God, who has been pleased to place you on the throne of Israel. In his enduring love for Israel, the Lord has made you king to carry out judgment and justice.
This is the experience of coming to Rome. One feels the spiritual power of the man, Jesus Christ, “the Power and Wisdom of God” radiating through all the centuries of the Church.
The Communion Antiphon today was from Revelations: “I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and dine with that person, and they with me.” After much knocking, Roman civilization opened its doors to Him, and He dined with it, and continues to do so.
Somebody paint me a picture that I am sure a thousand words could not capture: a slight girl, blonde hair waving above her head in a “Pebbles-tail”, her back turned towards the sanctuary, giving her mother across the pew that quintessential two-year old impish, “Isn’t what I am about to do exactly what you don’t want me to, but oh-so-fun” smile as she leaned out into the aisle, her mother turning toward her in a restrained lunge, her profile revealing some wear from years of steady determination to bring her young to daily Mass, while her five-year old boy with close-cropped hair hits her on the back with his casted arm, pointing excitedly forward with his good arm, past fellow congregants of varying ages and professional status scattered in front of them — some alone, some couples, another family with older kids — towards the altar, where his slightly older brother stands proudly but nervously in his black cassock and white surplice, beside an enormously tall teen-ager (his impassive face not quite hiding a just so slightly put out expression at having to oversee the squirt next to him), handing a cruet to the priest with the tabernacle framed behind.
I have been leading a course in electromagnetic theory which draws a lot on Michael Faraday and James Clerk Maxwell. The course is in need of reorganization, which has prompted me to do a lot of extra reading in these two authors particularly. I have discovered some real gems. I just ran across a reference to Faraday’s 1859 Christmas lectures for the young, which looks like it might provide an excellent entry into the fundamental phenomena of electricity and magnetism. Here’s hoping. (Complete text here.)
The blog also mentions that Faraday studied the art of lecturing — he does seem like a model for teachers.
St. James, that we might control our tongues — and input devices!
Recently, a colleague responded critically to a group email I sent around. There was nothing terribly wrong with it, other than he stated frankly that he thought I was very wrong. I wanted to immediately hit that reply-all command! So many responses flooded my imagination and inflamed my heart – wry, scoffing, witty “put-him-in-his place” retorts. Thankfully I wasn’t able to respond at the moment. But I kept running through possible replies. They weren’t all openly bitter, though I couldn’t completely remove patronizing or belittling nuances. I could keep going with the narrative, but you have no doubt lived this story yourself.
This episode reminded me of something I have been wanting to suggest for awhile. We who communicate through social media should develop a devotion to St. James the Lesser. Believe or not, I know quite a few who don’t use social media, in part because they see the ways in which it drives people apart instead of bringing them closer. I myself have refrained from most social media since the bitter 2020 battles over the virus and the riots. Those fights tore apart families and friends. While some of it did help me by forcing upon me information and perspectives I would not have gotten from my own bubble, the whole affair left so much permanent damage that I could almost wish the internet had never been invented.
But the destructive power of the internet must be curbed through the intercession of a great saint who can become the terror of its demons. St. James is just the ferocious spirit we need. He devotes a considerable portion of his short epistle to warnings of the evil of the tongue. The eloquent power of these short passages should scare the hell out of us. He describes that inner fire we know so well, and warns us of the insurmountable difficulty of refraining from bitter, harmful speech. Let us meditate frequently on his exhortations, and beg through his intercession for the peaceable spirit of wisdom to ennoble all of our communications with our brethren, actual and desired.
1:26 If any one thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this man’s religion is vain.
3:3 If we put bits into the mouths of horses that they may obey us, we guide their whole bodies. 4 Look at the ships also; though they are so great and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. 5 So the tongue is a little member and boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! 6 And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is an unrighteous world among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the cycle of nature, and set on fire by hell. 7 For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, 8 but no man can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brethren, this ought not to be so. 11 Does a spring pour forth from the same opening fresh water and brackish? 12 Can a fig tree, my brethren, yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh.
3:17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, without uncertainty or insincerity.
4:11 Do not speak evil against one another, brethren. He that speaks evil against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. 12 There is one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you that you judge your neighbor?
I highly recommend Dr. Holmes new book on Scripture — profound yet accessible and formative for all. This interview gives some sneak peaks, such as this:
Story gives structure and rationality to memory, the storehouse of experience. Memory in turn gives permanence and enhanced existence to time, which exists outside of our memories only as the indivisible now. If we had no memory, we would have no identity, no sense of the permanent reality that is the “I”. So story is what brings coherence to our identity, by structuring memory.
But there is more. By storing up time and giving it unity, memory resembles God’s eternity, where all times pre-exist as one. By giving structure and unity to memory, story brings it to an even closer resemblance to God’s eternity. And memory participates most of all in God’s eternity when it soaks in the story of all time as narrated by God himself. When this happens, we take on a sense of identity proper to the sons of God.
For the second installment of the Fly on the Wall podcast, I spoke with two of our seniors, who shared their excitement about readings from Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America. This was also recorded back in November.
Here’s a new effort. I thought I would try sharing some of the excitement of our college’s discussions. I recorded this pilot discussion with fellow Tutor, Christopher Oleson, who is leading Sophomore Seminar, the Roman/Medieval year. We talked about a selection from Plutarch’s lives of the Gracchi brothers, in which we witness the beginning of political violence in the Roman Republic. It was recorded shortly before the national elections last fall.