Looking ahead, 2 ½ months seems like such a long time. Looking back, however, the time just seems to have flown by. Was it really that long ago that I arrived in Rome on Epiphany morning? And now, here it is St. Joseph’s Day! March 19 is, of course, the day to eat chickpeas (and some certainly tastier things too, which sadly I can't eat anymore), but my focus today will be on packing my bags for my return trip! Maybe that’s how time tends to work in general. When we are young and looking forward, the time ahead seems lengthy and the wait seems to stretch on forever. When we are old, we look back on the past and feel it just flew by!
Given how anxious and fretful I was beforehand, how I seemed to be anticipating the whole experience with an almost apocalyptic fear and dread, I have to say in retrospect that it really has been the most wonderful couple of months. I won’t know till mid-May at the earliest whether I actually passed the course or not. So I will withhold judgment on that part of the experience – except to say that, pass or fail, I did certainly learn a lot and generally enjoyed class, in spite of its being in Italian. (That may have been the best part of it actually – forcing me to learn my ancestral tongue well enough to understood the lectures and the textbook!)
The academic part of the experience was good, but even better were the incidental side-benefits of being here. Rome is, of course, the heart of the Church. So it has always attracted and fascinated me. I have often said that I think every seminarian ought to spend at least a semester in Rome – if nothing else just for the experience it offers of the Church’s universality. That’s a view I have long espoused and is not some sudden by-product of my present experience. What this prolonged time here would add to that, however, would be a strong encouragement to anyone – priest, seminarian, layperson who has the opportunity to do so - to take advantage of the Lenten stations, not just as a valuable art and history lesson but as a genuine connection with the Age of the Martyrs and the Faith that has flourished so thoroughly thanks to them. This morning's station at SS. Quatro Coronati (photo) certainly combined all of that!
SS. Quatro Coronati is dedicated to SS. Claudius, Nicostratus, Symphorian, and Castorius, sculptors martyred by Diocletian for refusing to make a statue of the god Aesculapius. From the bus, one climbs the steep, cobblestoned Via SS Quatro Coronati, through a 5th-century atrium to a frescoed courtyard, then a second courtyard (originally part of the nave), to the right of which is the 13th-century Chapel of St, Sylvester, decorated with frescoes of the life of Constantine. The Church, which also features a distinctive 15th-century Tabernacle, is in the care of a community of Augustinian nuns and also has an interesting medieval cloister. What a treasure this City is!
And so, as I prepare to say arrivederci, I am overwhelmed with gratitude and and filled with appreciation to the Paulist community here in Rome, whose hospitality has been so graciously welcoming, and to my fellow Paulists back in the US, whose readiness to take on some extra burdens during this time made it actually possible for me to do all this. And, of course, thank you to this historic and holy City itself whose ancient streets and stones and whose many churches and the relics they enshrine have reminded me so strongly of what matters most both here and now and for eternity.