One of the people with whom our ICE group met in Jerusalem was Michael Marmur, the Vice-President for Academic Affairs of all three campuses of the Hebrew Union College – Jerusalem, New York, and Cincinnati. As you might imagine it is a challenging job to coordinate between campuses that are eight hours apart. When he convenes a meeting in Jerusalem at 5 p.m. it is 9 a.m. in New York and Cincinnati. His job is further complicated because Hebrew Union College is part of the Reform Jewish tradition and the Israeli government only recognizes the Orthodox Rabbinate. Probably the reason Hebrew Union College was allowed to establish a Jerusalem campus is their first President in Jerusalem was Nelson Glueck the famous archaeologist, and for many Israelis archaeology is a form of religion. Also the land that Hebrew Union College was allowed to acquire in Jerusalem at the time was in no man’s land between West Jerusalem held by the Israelis and East Jerusalem held by the Jordanians. And in the early years, Jordanian soldiers would sometimes take pot shots at the campus from the walls of the Old City. So, Hebrew Union got a really good financial deal on the land for their campus – just a few dollars. Today, their campus is some of the most expensive real estate in the world.
Rabbi Jonathan Miller, who is a graduate of Hebrew Union College, had written to Michael Marmur about our study theme “connecting with the divine,” so he graciously prepared a text study for us on Numbers 12:1-8 about seeing and hearing God.
In this passage Miriam and Aaron were criticizing Moses, because he married a Cushite woman. Like most pastors Moses was the subject of continual criticism, and the Cushites were a very dark skinned people, so there may have been some latent racism in Miriam and Aaron’s criticism. As they were challenging Moses’ authority they pointed out that they too were prophets and they had also seen God. But then God rebuked Miriam and Aaron saying, “no one has seen the Holy One like Moses for with Moses I speak mouth to mouth and he beholds my divine presence.” Mouth to mouth suggests a divine kiss, intimate experience of God, echoing Genesis 2 where God breathed into Adam the breath of life.
Now the question is what does “seeing” mean? In everyday language we might say, “I am seeing a girl,” or “I am seeing a therapist.” And when we say those things, we mean more than the physical act of taking in light with our eyes. We are talking about perception and all of the internal emotional and attitudinal lenses and filters through which we perceive reality. And that is why no two of us ever quite “sees” the same thing, because we never directly experience reality. Everything we experience is mediated through our minds.
Dr. Marmur lifted up the text from I Corinthians 12:13 when Rabbi Paul talks about seeing as if in an imperfect reflecting surface dimly, but when the Messiah comes, we shall see face to face. The lenses and filters through which we see reality are like veils that make our vision of things and especially the divine imperfect, sometimes even opaque. Every once in a while some of the veils may part, and we behold a glimpse of divine truth. As seekers of divine truth we always have to ask the question, “am I striving to see God, or am I in love with my own reflection?” That was the issue Phillip Cary focused upon in his book the Monday Bible Study read and the Diaconate is reading: Good News for Anxious Christians. Although I think Cary ultimately got it wrong, because his philosophical orientation is so suspicious of psychology, he doesn’t adequately account for the emotional and attitudinal filters that affect our perception of reality. If we do not understand our psychological lenses and filters, we will end up claiming ultimate truth, when we are only “seeing” a vague version of reality from our own vantage point. My rule of thumb is that whenever we try to talk about God or truth, we end up saying far more about ourselves, than we ever say about God or the truth.
Most profoundly Dr. Marmur pointed to Maimonides, who said we need to understand that ethics is the foundation for clearing our spiritual insight. For when we practice ethics we begin to be able see the face of the other.
Think about it, how many times do we really see the homeless person, or our enemy? We usually just pass by on the other side and don’t really see the needs of others. It is the people we don’t see who are the measure of our success or failure in seeing God. And I believe this is most profoundly what Jesus intended when he answered the question, “who is my neighbor?” Until I can really see people who are in need, I cannot see God. “And then the righteous will ask, ‘when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’
And then the Messiah will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers or sisters, you did it to me.'”
If we want to see God, we have to get out of ourselves, transcend our egos long enough to truly see other people and respond to their needs. Faith is not about us. Faith is learning to live in community with others, and to learn to become responsive to their needs.
Another profound issue we grappled with Dr. Marmur was the subject of interfaith dialogue, for we talked about the problem of trying to see one another and hear one another from different faith perspectives.
Unless we can accept a certain amount of pluralism, we cannot see and hear the other. If there is only one truth, and I have it, I cannot dialogue with other people, who may have a different experience of the truth. And at that point Dr. Marmur pointed out that one of the problems of trying to dialogue with the Jihadists is that by the time someone is strapping on a suicide belt, the time for theological reflection is over.
“But of necessity, Dr. Marmur insisted, “we must continue to work together in community theological discussion because, I must be interested in what you see, since I can only see with my own eyes. None of us get to see reality as it really is.” Of necessity we must be willing to accept a certain amount of relativism and pluralism. Jonathan Miller added an insight from Arthur Greene with whom we studied in Boston: “In post-modern times,” Greene says, “to be singular and non-pluralistic is to miss the vision.”
Arthur Greene’s comment inspired Dr. Marmur to point out, “even internally we see life from different perspectives. We have binocular vision. We see with two eyes. Seeing with two eyes two slightly different perspectives is what gives us depth perception. In the same way we have two brains a right brain and a left brain, and unless we are using both brain functions, our reality is shallow, and we have no depth of understanding. Sometimes we need more than one pair of eyes, more than one perception of the divine more than one religious tradition to begin to appreciate the richness of the experience of God.
I was reminded of our interview with Dr. Joseph Lumbard a professor a Brandeis University in Boston: “Religions are not the absolute but the particulars of the religions mediate the absolute. (In other words religions are not the divine, but religion can help us connect with the divine.)
Think of faith as a mountain. The rain comes down on the mountain and different streams are formed coming down the sides of the mountain. The streams form paths that can be followed up the mountain. Far too many people worship the path rather than the goal of the path.”
Therefore we cannot be Christians alone. We need to live in community with other people of faith and people of other faiths who will pray with us and for us, who will challenge us, who will share their unique perspectives of the truth with us, so we might grow into the full richness of the experience of God. And we need to be in mission together learning to see the face of the other, especially the needs of others, the poor, the elderly, the sick, the imprisoned, the mentally ill, learning through them how to touch God in our midst.
During our journey to Jerusalem and Rome, our group was like a walking joke – you known a minister, a priest and a rabbi walked into St. Peter’s in Rome, a minister, a priest and a rabbi walk up to the Western Wall in Jerusalem, a minister, a priest and a rabbi walk up to the Acropolis in Athens. Wherever we went we were unusual. And as I close I would like to share with you two stories about a minister, a priest and a rabbi.
A Minister a Priest and a Rabbi were having a friendly game of poker, when the police burst in to break up the game. The police officerasks: “Father Dunmyer, were you gambling?” Turning his eyes to heaven, Father Dunmyer whispers, “Lord, forgive me for what I am about to do.” To the police officer, he then says, “No, officer, I was not gambling.” The officer then asks the minister: “Pastor Hurst, were you gambling?” Again, after an appeal to heaven, Pastor Hurst replies, “No, officer, I was not gambling.” Turning to the rabbi, the officer again asks: “Rabbi Miller, were you gambling?” Shrugging his shoulders, Rabbi Miller replies: “With whom?”
A minister, a priest and a rabbi went for a hike one day. It was very hot. They were sweating and exhausted when they came upon a small lake. Since it was fairly secluded, they took off all their clothes and jumped in the water. Feeling refreshed, the trio decided to pick a few berries while enjoying their “freedom.” As they were crossing an open area, who should come along but a group of ladies from town. Unable to get to their clothes in time, the minister and the priest covered their private parts and the rabbi covered his face while they ran for cover. After the ladies left and the men got their clothes back on. The minister and the priest asked the rabbi why he covered his face rather than his private parts. The rabbi replied, “I don’t know about you, but in MY congregation, it’s my face they would recognize.”
It’s not fair! Some people never seem to get caught, while others of us the one time we are hurrying a little too fast, there are those blue lights in our rear view mirror. Some people take tremendous risks, and never seem to suffer a negative consequence, while other folks if not for their bad luck, they wouldn’t have any luck at all. The writers of the scriptures were no Polly Anna’s. They recognized that sometimes the wicked seem to get away with it. Even Jesus understood the universe isn’t fair: “God causes the sun to shine on the evil and the good, and the rain falls on the just and the unjust.”
It’s not fair, and there is no such thing as perfect justice. Maybe that is why so many people are drawn to graphic images of damnation and the suffering of the wicked in a fiery afterlife like in Dante’s Inferno. They want somebody to get their just deserts.
Now I have to admit there is just a little part of my unredeemed soul, that gets a thrill when Dirty Harry says, “Go ahead, make my day.” And sometimes I enjoy stories about revenge. Like the town gossip who got her just deserts. It seems that the town gossip circulated a rumor that a local man, George, was an alcoholic, because she had observed his pick-up truck parked outside the only bar in town. George never answered a word to the woman’s accusation. He just took his pick-up truck and parked it out in front of the Gossip’s house all night.
The first biker took out his cigar and dropped it into the man’s coffee. The man didn’t say a word and resumed eating his breakfast.
The second biker tipped over his glass of orange juice — still no reaction. The third ugly biker dumped the man’s plate of bacon and eggs on the floor. The little old man got up without saying a word, paid his bill and left the cafe.
“He wasn’t much of a man was he?” said the leader of the pack.
“No,” said the waitress, “and not much of a truck driver either. He just ran over three Harleys in the parking lot.”
There is a primitive part of our nature that enjoys the prospect of retributive justice — bad guys getting their just deserts. Don’t get mad get even. But our Psalmist counsels us to fret not. Don’t get bent out of shape over the wicked. Eventually their schemes will unravel — sort of like Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme. The seeds of Madoff’s destruction were sown into the very heart of his business, just as the subprime mortgage market was structured to fail. “Yet a little while, and the wicked will be no more; though you look well at his place, he will not be there.”
But most of us are impatient. We can’t wait for the slow natural unfolding of events to bring down the wicked. We want revenge and we want it now – retribution. The American justice system is caught in a contradiction in the popular imagination between retributive justice and restorative or rehabilitative justice. Restorative justice seeks to make whole what is broken. Retributive justice wants to punish – an eye for an eye. But as Mahatma Gandhi said, “an eye for an eye only leaves the whole world blind.” Now some folks may think I am treading on political ground here, but it’s not politics, it’s theology.
What kind of God do we believe in? Do we want an angry punishing God, who delights in eternally torturing people for their sins — sinners in the hands of an angry God? Or do we want a loving Creator, who seeks to save and reconcile the whole world to himself – the whole world, no exceptions, even you and me?
Now I recognize there is a great divide in the Christian world between those who want an angry punishing God, and those who want to believe that God is love. Rob Bell, a prominent evangelical pastor this Spring, kicked up a hornet’s nest in the evangelical community, when he published a book entitled, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived. Rob Bell is saying that a truly loving God does not consign people to eternal torment – there is no hell.
And when I was in Bethlehem I was confronted with why “love wins” is such an important affirmation of faith/ On this trip to Israel it seemed to me that the two sides in the Israeli Palestinian conflict are further apart than ever. Person after person with whom we visited expressed genuine despair. The most optimistic statement I heard from Kinneret Shiryon, a woman reform Rabbi. And she said, “we are two peoples living on the same land, and we have to learn to live together. But I don’t think I will see it in my life time. I pray that it will be in my children’s life time. This was the most optimistic statement from Israeli or Palestinian. And then I was visiting Bethlehem. I have not been in Bethlehem since the separation wall between Bethlehem and Jerusalem was built. And as I came out of the store, there was the wall in all of its ugliness – ugly and necessary. And then I noticed among the graffiti the affirmation of faith in the face of despair – love ultimately wins.
I think the most telling howls of protest over Bell’s book are those who complain, “if there is no hell, what’s the point of being good?” Like if there is no incentive for being good, we will all run out and commit deliciously wicked deeds. Or if there is no hell, why would people join the church and give money? Can’t we do good for the sake of doing good? Can’t doing good and participating in the community of faith be its own reward?
But then I am reminded of the rule of thumb in marketing: fear sells better than hope. We can certainly see how that principle works in politics. It is much easier to get people out to vote, if you can make them afraid of something, than trying to get them to turn out to vote by inspiring hope. Fear sells better than hope.
But I believe like Rob Bell the church needs to take the high road. We need to preach a gospel of love for God, because God first loves us. God invites us to do good even when there is no particular reward, because love wins, that is the good news of Jesus Christ. Love wins has been taught by all great souls, Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, Martin Luther King. Love wins, even when the forces of evil try to kill it, because love rises stronger than before.
So what do we do with all those images of an angry punishing God? Maybe it is time to embrace I John 4:16 So we know and believe the love God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. But if God is love and heaven and hell are no longer issues, what incentives do we offer for people to choose the good and avoid evil?
Terri Shows has a phrase I believe cuts to the heart of the matter: “how’s that workin’ for you?” Children who are raised with natural and logical consequences become more responsible and mature than children who grow up parented by a strict rewards and punishments system. Natural and logical consequences focuses on giving children choices, while punishment systems focus on control. And that is really the problem with religious groups that focus on an angry punishing God. They want control, rather than freeing up people to become responsible adults. If people respond to God out of fear, they are much easier to control, than if they are choosing God out of love.
Now a natural and logical consequences approach to religion means we have to help people learn to appreciate a long term perspective, rather than seeking immediate gratification. Listen again to some of the phrases from Psalm 37:
Trust in the LORD, and do good; so you will dwell in the land. Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him. Be still before the LORD, and wait patiently. All of those phrases make sense to someone who has learned to approach life with a long term perspective. The problem with most of us is we want what we want and we want it now! We want everything to be fair now! We want to know that those people who have hurts us or we don’t like are going to get their just deserts in the end. We don’t want any of this be still and know that I am God business. Believing in a God of love, following Jesus to do the good is for mature people.
Believing in a God of love and following Jesus is also for people who are willing to forgive others, and who are willing to be forgiven. We don’t have to live frozen lives for fear that we might a mistake, because our blunders are forgiven. Now we also have to be willing to believe in a God who forgives people we don’t like. And that may be one of the hardest parts of embracing the way of Jesus. Matthew 18:21 Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven. Luke 6:37 “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; 38 give, and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”
Jesus is just downright subversive. He undermines all of our efforts to use religion for social control. Jesus wants us to be free to love. And that means we are also free to be unloving, and that is why God freely offers forgiveness – we can start over and try again. God loves us.
We have to learn to take the long view. When Bernie Madoff was riding high, he was admired and envied. But now, how’s that working for you Bernie? Be not envious of wrongdoers, for they will ultimately fade like the grass, and wither like the green herb. Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil. Take the long view. Be still before the Lord and wait patiently. Better is a little that the righteous has than the abundance of many wicked.
We left the hotel at 8:30 a.m. to walk to the Vatican for a tour of the excavations underneath the Vatican. We had to wait for to be cleared through the entrance, and Ray Dunmyer explained that the Swiss Guards are all recruited from Italian speaking cantons in Switzerland. The pay isn’t so great, but it looks good on your resume. A young man might serve in the Swiss Guard for three or four years and then move on to other pursuits.
In 1939 during some renovations in the Vatican Basement, they started to dig in the floor, and struck the cornice of the roof of a structure underneath the floor. Pope Pius XII gave permission to undertake excavations, but they had to be done secretly, and no part of the present structure could be destroyed. What they found underneath the Vatican were the remains of a necropolis, a City of the Dead, sort of like an above ground cemetery, where people were buried. In the first century Nero built a Circus, where many Christians were martyred. Nero’s Circus were outside the walls of the City. Up on the slope of the hill behind Nero’s Circus there were pauper graves. According to legend, when St. Peter was crucified upside down in Nero’s Circus his body was taken by Christians and buried on the slope of the hill behind the Circus. After Nero, his Circus fell into disuse and people began using the area as a Necropolis.
When Constantine won the battle of Milvan Bridge, he began building churches and monuments in Rome. He determined that Peter had been buried on the Vatican Hill and undertook to build a church on the site. He supposedly located the altar right over the grave of Peter. The archaeologists conducting the excavation had to remove tons of material secretly. One story is that they extended the Vatican Garden extensively. They found the Necropolis first. It had been filled in by Constantine to provide the support for his church. As they diggers got closer and closer to what they believed was the grave of Peter they ran into several obstacles including an ancient wall full of graffiti. When they came to the level of Peter’s grave they discover 136 bone fragments. A biologist studies them for 10 years carefully and came to several conclusions. They are the bones of a man from the First Century. There are bones from every part of the body except the feet. Probably Peter was crucified upside down, and they cut his feet off in order to get him off of the cross. The bones were stained with a purple die that came from the imperial cloth Constantine had used to wrap them. The excavators for many reasons believe they found the bones of Peter. The bone fragments were put in plastic boxes and put back in place underneath the altar of the church.
Our guide was quite impressive. There are only 200 people per day who are taken on the Scavi Tour. So most people never get a chance to see this. When we came out of the tour we went up into the Dome of St. Peters up to the cupola. There was an elevator to take us part of the way, and then there were 300 – 400 steps that had to be climbed. At the top of all those steps was a magnificent view of the Vatican City and the City of Rome. It was well worth the effort, though it left us really hot and sweaty. So we walked back to the Hotel, freshened up, and changed clothes for our meeting with the American Ambassador to the Vatican at 3 p.m.
Jonathan Miller had arranged for the meeting through the office of Senator Richard Shelby. The security at the Embassy was very impressive. We had to pass through several metal detectors, surrender our phones and our cameras. There was a large Italian Military Vehicle parked across the street from the Embassy, and the grounds are protected by Italian Secret Service. We were ushered into an attractive meeting area over-looking the Circus Maximus and the ruins of the Imperial Palace.
Ronald Regan appointed the first ambassador to the Vatican. Since that time there have been eight Ambassadors to the Holy See. President Obama appointed the current ambassador Dr. Miguel Diaz, who is a theologian who taught at St. John’s College in Minnesota before accepting the Ambassadorship.
Ambassador Diaz explained that as an ambassador he is not there to do theology, but today it is impossible to deny the importance of religion in society in the world. He talked about how we are living in a time of the “globalization of God.” We have a separation of church and state, but not religion and society.
He reported he had just held an interagency seminar in the State Department on engaging communities of faith.
He pointed out how we just cannot get around the impact of religion on the world stage. “When a Pastor burned a Quran in Florida Ambassadors from around the world especially from Muslim countries contacted me. I had to represent the United States.” Another function of the ambassador is from time to time to issue statements about human rights including religious freedom. Right now they are monitoring conflict in China between the Roman Catholic Church and the Chinese government over the appointment of Bishops. He concentrates on the love of God and neighbor. Love over hate, charity over indifference.
The Ambassador sponsored a conversation entitled Building Bridges of Hope. He invited Jewish, Christian and Muslim leaders to talk about conflict resolution, economic justice and the environment. Another conference he sponsored as Building Bridges of Freedom specifically aimed at ending the trafficking of women especially in what has become an international sex slave trade. “I can’t do theology as a government officer, but I can invite others to come together to talk about ways to change the world. This is a different way of developing consensus.”
Another conference he is involved in is Building Bridges – God, Diplomacy and the Common Good. Diplomacy needs religion and religion needs diplomacy. We can begin to build networks of religious leaders, who can work together for the common good.
“I will return to the University someday, but I hope I can use this experience to further serve – religion and society. So from the embassy, we do conferences, conversations and one on one interactions with the Vatican and the Diplomatic Community.”
“I have a lot on my plate as a result of migration due to conflict in the Mediterranean world. We need to be proactive rather than reactive to developments in the world. We need actions more than statements. The mission is unique. We talk to other ambassadors to the Holy See. The potential is always much greater than what is realized.”
John Paul II was very active diplomatically. He may have been a part of bringing down the Berlin Wall. Benedict is more focused on European secularism. Don’t worry about secularization. From the perspective of Karl Rahner spirituality will come out in the end, because it is so central to the human experience. The internet is creating new religious communities. How is the experience of the divine in an internet age. We need to raise a whole new series of questions. Weekly participation in worship may no longer be the measure of secular or religious.
“If I could help Americans to understand. To just listen until you can appreciate a global perspective of faith and other issues. It is so important. We cannot isolate ourselves, because we are interdependent beings. Think WE! The Spanish word for we, nosotrous, means ‘the community of we others.’ Community of difference – Rabbi Sachs – love of strangers.”
When there is economic distress it becomes hard to love strangers. But the internet makes it hard for us to wall ourselves off. John Paul II helped to tear down the Berlin Wall. Now there are other walls that have to come down. Today there are walls of religion and cultural difference that need to be overcome. San Eggidio does a tremendous work of reaching out.
The Ambassador is a person of great energy. So I asked him how his energy is related to his spiritual life. He did not want to answer the question directly out of respect for the line between church and state, but he mentioned that he hoped that as a result of the practice of his faith he has something of the Spirit. I wish we had an opportunity to visit with him outside of his role as ambassador. He seems to be an individual of authentic faith.
Our conversation came to an end and he graciously had his picture taken with us. What a fabulous ending to our trip. I need to think about the Ambassadors words for a time. He tried to avoid doing theology, but I think he pointed toward how we need to connect with the divine in our world today and in the future. Several times he mentioned the internet in changing the cultural context and how we form community, and how we will think of spiritual community.
For our last dinner in Rome we went out to a restaurant that is operated by a community of Carmelite nuns, who come from all over the world and wear their native dress to serve the dinner. The restaurant is in an old Palatzo with renaissance decoration, and according to one of the nuns, this is where one of the Renaissance Popes kept his family. Their costumes were colorful, and at 10 p.m. as part of their community devotion and for the benefit of their guest they sang the Ave Maria (see video when I have a chance to post.) They sang very nicely. According to Ed Hurley this restaurant was John Paul II’s favorite restaurant in Rome before he became Pope.
We left the hotel at 8:30 a.m. to walk to the Vatican, and we waited for the Swiss Guard to clear us through for an interview with Father John Paul Kimes, a priest from Birmingham, who is now a cannon lawyer in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, also known as the Holy Office initiated in 1542 by Pope Paul III to watch over matters of the Faith, especially heresy. This was in part in response to the Reformation, but it was not the same as the Spanish Inquisition. Although the Papacy did burn a few people at the stake. They don’t have any instruments of torture any more. Pope Benedict was the Prefect of the Holy Office before he was elected Pope. Father Kimes did show us the “stairs of death” but that was an especially wide stair case built into most of the apartment houses in Rome in order to accommodate carrying out a casket.
John Paul’s specialty is cannon law of the Eastern Rites of the Church. Father Kimes is a priest in the Maronite Rite. A little history is necessary to understand the Eastern Rites and their differences with Rome. There are 22 different kinds of Catholic. 96 % of all Catholics are of the Latin Rite. There are also Melkite, Maronite, and 19 other Eastern Rites of the Catholic Church. Historically there were 5 metropolitans in the early church: Jerusalem, Alexandria, Constantinople, Antioch and Rome. Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 A.D. and was lost. The churches associated with Alexandria became known as Coptic. Constantinople was the home of most of the Orthodox churches. And Antioch was the seat of most of what became the Eastern Rite Churches. There was a Western Syrian Tradition, and an Eastern Syrian Tradition. The Eastern Syrian Tradition spread to Persia, India, even Beijing. The Maronites came out of the Western Syrian tradition, and they spread into Northern Syria, parts of Iraq, but with the coming Islam they were pushed into the mountains of Lebanon, where they were cut off for several hundred years, just doing their own thing. Their liturgical language is Aramaic, but it is a different alphabet than the Syrian Orthodox we met in Jerusalem, who are also known as Jacobites who never accepted the Council of Chalcedon.
There was no Bishop in Antioch so in 780 A.D. the Maronite Bishops elected a Patriarch. During the crusades the Maronites began to have contact with Rome again. At first Rome insisted that the Eastern Rite adopt Roman practices, with the Second Vatican council they were allowed to go back to their original traditions. The Maronites have married priests, but they must be married before they are ordained like in the Greek Orthodox tradition.
The Maronite Patriarch is located in a village North of Beirut, but lays claim to Antioch. He is elected by a Synod of Maronite Bishops, and then received by the Pope. The current Patriarch is a monk who became a Bishop and is considered to be a very spiritual person. The wahabi Saudis are dedicated to driving Christians out of the Middle East. There are six different Catholic churches and seven different orthodox communions in Lebanon. The Maronites are in conflict with Hezbollah. The previous Patriarch of the Maronites resigned before he died, because he had become so heavily involved in the crazy politics of Lebanon he felt he needed to step aside and allow a new Patriarch to start with a clean slate.
The Holy Office is part of the Dicastre a Roman word for Department. It is part of the Vatican bureaucracy charged with safe guarding the doctrine of the Church, by examining publications and disciplining people when necessary. When an author publishes a book and seeks the imprimatur of the Congregation of the Faith, the Holy Office will review the material and then send a series of questions to the author, asking for a response for clarification. The dialogue may go on for several years before the Imprimatur is granted. The case of Terry Schiavo was discussed and argued out in the room, where we were sitting for two and a half years, before a decision was made concerning whether food and water have to be administered to a brain dead patient.
Some of the most recent work of the Holy Office has been the examination of Liberation Theology popular in South America and some other places in the Third World. They try to put people on notice, when an author has departed from orthodox doctrine.
The disciplining section of the Holy Office handles the abuse cases from all over the world. Essentially abuse cases have been taken out of the hands of the Bishops, and it is now all processed in Rome. Abuse of minors is always now referred to the civil authorities. Cases of sexual abuse are all over the world. Other types of abuse can include the violation of the confessional seal, and the violation of the eucharist. The Holy Office is also charged with the examination of apparitions. Apparitions that are silent don’t have to be examined, but apparitions, where there is talking is considered to be revelation, teaching, and the content must be examined.
Criteria for examining private revelations:
Apparitions cannot contradict the apostolic tradition. Private revelations are never required to be believed by the faithful. Lourdes and Fatima have never been “approved” by the Holy Office. It is important to draw the distinction between public and private revelation. Where ever there is an apparition, the Holy Office prays the figure or figures don’t say anything. The church only regulates public revelation.
Steve Jones asked about Mother Angelica. The Holy Office does not want to comment. They do not regulate other media in the same way they regulate books. This may be a mistake in the internet age, but they cannot possibly keep up with everything on the internet.
Barry Vaughn asked about the organization Opus Dei. Their founder has been canonized, and they have started many schools especially in Spanish speaking countries. They are sort of like a new Jesuit Order, dedicated to raising the level of intellectual discourse in the church educating for a new intellectual culture. They are organized as a personal prelature. Priests are either attached to a Bishop or an Order, a religious community. In a personal prelature there is a Superior to whom the priest in the prelature are responsible. The Prelate of Opus Dei has the authority to ordain priests. In some places they operate their own parishes and this makes some Bishops nervous.
We asked Father Kimes how he senses the divine in his work. He said that he used to pray for the people involved in the cases he has to review, but had to stop doing that, because he became too emotionally involved. Every day he is examining abuse cases and it is a real downer. In his own personal devotional life he has had period of dryness, sometimes long periods, and then every once in a while he fines “a drop of water,” and he finds himself moved to tears. It doesn’t happen on his schedule either, or when he thinks he needs it. He is grateful for every touch of the divine in his life. He would like to go back and serve a parish, because so much of his life force comes from sharing faith in community. Even on the worst day in the parish something good happens. In the Holy Office we see “the garbage of the church” all the time. There are 53 priests in the Holy Office, and about half of the staff are lay people.
From the Holy Office we left the Vatican and went back to the Hotel to freshen up before going again to the North American College in order to meet with Dr. Allaria Morale. Dr. Morale is Professor of Dogmatic Theology at Gregorian University. Her specialty is relationships and tension in the interfaith dialogue. She was a co-author with Father Becker of an important volume entitled Catholic Engagement with World Religions. In particular she has been involved in discussions with Muslims.
Islam is not a unity. There are several different Islams, and it is important to distinguish with whom you are talking in the Muslim world, and also be clear but diplomatic about Christian Faith. Interfaith dialogue tends to look for commonalities in belief about God. Muslims venerated Jesus as a prophet but not as the Christ.
The theologian Karl Rahner lifted up the theory of anonymous Christians, people who because of the exemplary lives they lead may be said to be Christian, but not by that name. Catholic position acknowledges that all human beings are seeking salvation, and all human beings can be saved, but only God knows how. At Reggensburg Benedict tried to take a first step in engaging the Muslim Communities of the world. Benedict challenged Muslims to embrace human rights, particularly freedom of religion, and he called upon everyone to forsake violence. Whenever a door opens Christians must walk through. The Islamic Spring may be an opening for Catholic initiative.
There are two opposing narratives. Mistakes are part of the history between the church and the Jews. Some Catholics still believe we need to share Jesus with the Jews. Other Catholics say the Jews have their own covenant with God. Have Catholics given up super-cessionism? Most Catholics have. Sometime at the end of time we will all understand.
There are dialogues in individual Islamic countries in hospitals and other places of ministry. Dr. Allaria has been involved in discussions with Muslim scholars at the University of Islam. Turkey wants to be open to Europe, and wants Europe to be open to Turkey, so they are willing to work harder at dialogue than some other countries. The head of the library at Istanbul University began a section of Christian books so students my come to better understand Christian faith.
In the discussion time AB indicated that in several stores in Rome, he could not get waited on because of the color of his skin. Dr. Allaria is from the North of Italy and she agreed that Romans are not nice. But she pointed out that Italians in general are very nervous about immigration especially from Africa. Not unlike some attitudes in the United States about immigration. Many Muslim immigrants come to Italy and the country is not ready for it. It is difficult to share space.
After the formal presentation I was able to get Dr. Alarria aside. She had seemed somewhat uncomfortable trying to make a presentation in English. When we talked together informally, we talked about women’s ordination. She mentioned that the Catholic Church is very resistant to women. I pointed out that in the UCC about half of the ordained people now are women. She expressed some surprise and then said, she wasn’t sure if women need to be ordained. I countered that it must be hard to be taken seriously as a theologian, if you are not a priest. She smiled and acknowledged that reality.
From the North American College we returned to the hotel and tried a restaurant near the hotel recommended by Richard Donahoe. As usual, Richard’s recommendation was a wonderful gastronomical experience.
We left the hotel early in order to meet Magdalena our guide for the Vatican Museum. She was also our guide for Ancient Rome. She is very knowledgeable, and her husband works in the Vatican archives. The Archives have been undergoing a renovation for the past three years, some of us joked it must have been because Dan Brown blew it up in Angels and Demons. If you come to Rome and want to see the Vatican Museum, engage a guide. Everyone else was waiting in a line that extended for three blocks at least, while our guide was allowed to bring us past all of those people waiting right into the museum as it was opening. We saw the Vatican Gardens upon entering.
There are eight miles of galleries in the Vatican Museum so Magdalena had to pick and choose carefully what galleries we would see. She began with a gallery of statuary. Pointing out various styles of classical sculpture.
Then we went into the Map Gallery. One of the Popes was fascinated by maps, and he commissioned map makers to survey the country and then make accurate scale model drawings, that are accurate enough you could still plan a walking tour of Italy using them. There was an open window in this gallery through which we could see one of the inner courts in the Vatican. The wall with scaffolding on the right in the picture is part of the Sistine Chapel.
We next visited Magdelena’s favorite painter, the gallery of Raphael. Raphael and Michel Angelo were rivals. According to Magdalena Raphael was the better painter and Michel Angelo was the better sculptor. Many of Michel Angelo’s painted figures look more like sculptures than paintings. They seem to hang in space rather than fitting into the picture. Magdalena pointed out that Michel Angelo was bi-polar. He worked all the time, and was miserable most of the time. Raphael loved life, loved his mistress, had a good time, was liked by people, and would have been fun to be with. She pointed out many details in Raphael’s paintings. Raphael was willing to paint what people asked for. If a person commissioned a painting, he was willing to paint them into the picture. Michel Angelo insisted upon artistic freedom and authenticity. He would never paint a patron into a picture. In Raphael’s painting of Socrates and Plato, he had some fun by painting Michel Angelo as the tortured depressed looking youth in the foreground of the painting. Another famous Raphael painting that photographed pretty well was the burning of Rome. Many of his commissions from the Pope involved advancing Papal propaganda, like the donation of Constantine, the coronation of Charlemagne, Constantine at Milvian Bridge.
Magdelena was not allowed to guide us in the Sistine Chapel, and we could not take pictures there. A couple of things she pointed out before we went into the Chapel. First the ceiling is a series of panels depicting Genesis from Creation through Noah. He started working on the panels about Noah and later in Genesis first and he made the figures too small. He didn’t discover this until he had finished these pictures and the scaffolding had been taken down, and by then it was too late. The Ceiling is so high the figures in these panels don’t stand out, because they are too small. On the rest of the Ceiling he draws truly great figures. One of the details she pointed out was that the background behind God who is reaching out to touch Adam’s hand, that background is in the shape of a human brain. And this was drawn in a time when human dissection was not allowed. But Michel Angelo had studied cadavers in order to sculpt and paint.
When we left the Sistine Chapel we went down to St. Peter’s to see the Pieta, one of Michel Angelo’s most beautiful sculptures. Michel Angelo was expressing that Mary holding Jesus in a way that she is offering her son to the world. It was carve from a single block of marble, and he worked from the front going in. The sculpture was damaged by a deranged individual in 1983, who hit it with a hammer. It required three times as much time to repair the statue as it did to carve it.
As I thought about Rafael and Michel Angelo I had to admit that Rafael was technically the better painter. He did things with light and dark, proportion, the use of two perspectives so that the painting shifts its perspective as the observer moves. But Rafael didn’t want any control over his subject matter. That way he couldn’t get in trouble with his patrons or the Pope. But it meant that Rafael ended up serving the Pope and his other patron’s propaganda purposes. The more tortured soul of Michel Angelo insisted on artistic freedom to express his sense of connection with the divine. He wasn’t serving the Pope’s propaganda. No he was trying to help ordinary people connect with the divine content of the paintings he envisioned. In this sense there was a lesson about connecting with the divine in the Vatican Museum.
Magdalena took us around St. Peter’s to point out important art details. The decoration of St. Peter’s was the responsibility of Bernini. And something I had not guessed is that all of the pictures over the altars in St. Peters are not paintings. They are incredibly detailed mosaics.
After Magdalena left, Ray took us down to the crypt where the tombs of many Popes are located. I took a picture of the tomb of John Paul I, who only reigned for just over a month. From the Vatican we went to lunch, came back to the hotel to freshen up, and then started off for Treve Fountain one of the most famous fountains in Rome. This is the fountain, if you throw in a coin over your shoulder and it lands in the fountain, then you will return to Rome – I think Treve appears in “Roman Holiday,” and “Three Coins in a Fountain.” Although in the movies there are only five or six people at the fountain, rather than 600 people. Rome is completely full of tourists as many of the Romans leave to escape the heat of the City.
From Treve Fountain we walked about two blocks to the Residence for the North American University in Rome. There we met with Richard Dunahoe a priest from the Birmingham Diocese who has been working on a Doctoral Dissertation about married priests of the Anglican church who want to convert to Roman Catholicism. The way Rome has welcomed Anglican priests from England is to create what is called an “ordinariat” that acknowledges the diversity of patrimony. In other words since Anglicans have had married priests for centuries, these Anglicans who convert in order to be in communion with Rome will be allowed to be married priests. Some people think that Rome may be hoping to make inroads into Anglicanism and create a way for bringing back disaffected Anglicans rather than negotiating for ecumenical communion.
Richard shared with us that another ordinariat will probably be named for the United States next year in order to take advantage of all the disaffected Episcopalians in the United States. They will have their own liturgy, their own rules about being married, maybe their own bishops. The clergy will have to be ordained again, when they convert to Roman Catholicism.
Richard started out as an Episcopalian. His mother was Roman Catholic and his Father was Episcopalian, but he had to take his uncle to Mass each week. He graduated from Sewanee, and was ordained as an Episcopal priest, but he just felt he wanted to be closer to the history of the Roman Catholic Church, and a communion where everyone shared the same understanding of the Eucharist. So he converted to and was then re-ordained as a Roman Catholic priest. He was never married, but the Roman Catholic church in America has accepted some married Episcopal clergy in the past and they have worked out well as married priests.
Richard took us to dinner at an excellent restaurant, and most reasonable restaurant we have found so far in Rome, just around the corner from the North American University. When we asked him about his own personal spirituality, he said that most profoundly he experiences the presence of God in the people of God. That is his first and most important experience of the presence of God. (Richard is a flaming extrovert – surprise – surprise.) He says he also profoundly experiences the divine in the liturgy, but in the liturgy in community more so than if he has to say the liturgy alone.
The meal was excellent. This humble restaurant was the scene of many important discussion among the theologians during Vatican II. Because Richard is a frequent patron of the restaurant they served complimentary after dinner liquor, and the stories flowed. We returned late to the hotel.
We started our day at the Anglican Centre in Rome. Cannon David Richardson is the personal representative of the Arch Bishop of Canterbury to the Vatican. He maintains a library for ecumenical research on Anglicanism, a chapel, and a presence for maintaining discussions between the Anglican Communions and the Roman Catholic Church. Their offices are in a really cool Palatzo near the Pantheon.
They also conduct some summer courses, like “Love, Truth and Beauty in the Eternal City,” asking the question where is God in all of this. Since that that is the very question we are asking Daivd turned into an important resource for us.
They maintain a chapel that has the permanent smell of incense, and they offer communion twice a week.
“Much Christian Spirituality in Rome is based upon martyrdom. How is God speaking through these sacred sites? Rome is naked human power versus human spirituality. The Vatican is the assertion of power over the visitor. It is intended to impress. But how do such spaces speak of the sacred? Many people visit St. Peters and come out saying, ‘now I know why there was a reformation!’”
David went on to point out that the Roman Catholic Church has two story lines – cannon law, based upon ancient Roman Law, where everything has to be defined and categorized and power relationships made plain, and inspiration, charism.
Right now in terms of ecumenism Rome is looking to its discussions with the orthodox rather than with the Anglicans or the Protestants. Rome is looking East rather than West.
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith welcomed some renegade Anglicans back to Mother Church, but the Council for Ecumenism has whispered that the action of the Holy Office is not their understanding of Ecumenism. In 2009 the Pope created an ordinariate so some Anglicans could return to the Roman Church but retain some of the Anglican Patrimony – ie. Wives. This has been an embarrassment for Anglicans, but even more so for the Vatican. Cardinal Caspar just before he was sent into retirement announced that he had not been consulted on the decision. As it turns out one of these renegade Anglicans who was representing himself as the head of the conservative Anglican movement had been a Catholic priest, who became an Anglican, married, had two children, was divorced and then remarried again, and was received back as a Catholic priest as part of this “deal” for the return of the these conservative Anglicans. It turned out that fewer “conservative Anglicans” returned than what this character had represented.
There have been “informal talks” every year between the Anglicans and the Roman Catholics since Vatican II. At the end of 2008 Rome announced that it was too soon to reignite discussions. The very next year after the ordinariate scandal, Rome announced that it was time to restart discussions. The goal of ecumenism as the Anglicans understand it is full organic union some day with Rome. The model of unity is scriptural. But as David said, “Rome is hot and humid, ecumenical talks are cold.”
David referred to a metaphor in a book Man Meets Dog. Dogs will bark at each other through a fence. If suddenly they come to the end of the fence and meet one another nose to nose, they will go back to where there is fence between them so they can bark at each other again. This may be some clue to ecumenical dialogue.
When asked about common experiences of the divine Cannon Richardson said: “I suspect there are common experiences of the divine. There are also culturally and theologically distinct was of experiencing the divine. For instance, sacred spaces are often cross cultural. At Ronchamp at the border of France and Germany the Allies and the Germans met in a bloody battle, and a chapel there was destroyed. The chapel was rebuilt in 1950 and it retains the sacredness of the space. Another example is the Anglican Cathedral in Adelaide, Australia. For 100,000 years the aboriginal peoples of Australia had treated this area of Adelaide as a neutral zone of peace, where they could meet to work out their relationships and problems. The Cathedral retains something of that sense of sacred space imparted to it by the aborigines.
After the meeting at the Anglican Center we had some free time and then met our guide Mikilah at the Basilica of Clement. This church has three levels and is an illustration of cross cultural sacred space. At its very lowest level 50 feet below the present streets of Rome is an ancient Spring, probably a source, a sacred place of pagan worship. Just above the Spring there is an ancient place of sacrifice to the God Mithras, the religion that was the chief competitor with Christianity before Constantine embraced Christianity. After the triumph of Constantine the worship of Mithras melted away. Mithras was represented by a bull, who was sacrificed and the initiate into the cult of Mithras was showered in the blood of the bull. There was then a sacred banquet at which the initiate was welcomed into the fellowship of Mithras – parallels to Christian worship.
Also on the lowest level of the excavation, was the foundation of a Roman mint, and an apartment house that archaeologists believe may have been the home of Clement I the third Bishop of Rome. On the second level of the excavation is a fourth century church built in honor of Clement I. There are unusual frescoes on the walls depicting Clement and his death – according to legend he went to the Black Sea area as a missionary, and they died an anchor around his neck and through him in the Sea. Then supposedly 100 years later, the sea parted and they found his body and brought it back to Rome. We aren’t required to believe everything. On the top level is a church that was rebuilt in the 19th century after the 4th century church became unstable and had to be abandoned. One worship site on top of another on top of another. Maybe David Richardson is right?
When we finished the tour of St. Clements we walked several blocks to the lay center in Rome. This Center is located in a beautiful garden of several acres right in the heart of Rome overlooking the Coliseum. On the grounds of this Lay Center are the remains of an Aqua Duct that Nero built to bring water to the Coliseum for the naval battles. The garden and buildings belong to the Vatican, and the Center is to encourage lay people to come to Rome to Study. The emphasis of study is ecumenism. There we met Jim and Sandra Keating, a couple who teach at Providence College in Providence Rhode Island. Jim teaches Paul and comparative religion, Sandra’s specialty is Islamic Studies – very, very bright lady, well worth following. We also met Rome, and AJ Boyd who is working on a doctorate in Rome.
The lay center is all about ecumenisic and interfaith dialogue. They have a number of Islamic students who live there and Jewish students as well as Protestants and Roman Catholics. When people live together and eat together they are encouraged to work together. Almost one third of the students at the Gregorian College now are lay people. This is an astounding development in the live of the Roman Catholic Church. The Lay Center was founded to help lay students who were coming to Rome to study. They also sponsor international programs that bring Catholic leaders in higher education to come to Rome. The mission is about hospitality and prayer. They also have some local programs.
Donna Orsuto offered us the insight that we should not despair over what is happening at the official level of ecumenical and interfaith dialogue. There is another reality happening at the grass roots level. Cardinal Caspar recently gave a lecture at the lay center: “why I am still a man of hope.” Donna also pointed to a new document signed on to by a number of Islamic scholars called “the Common Word Document.” This was the first time that Islamic Scholars have sought common ground from which to dialogue with Christians and Jews.
One of the current problems from the Catholic side of discussions is there is now a tendency to concentrate on identity. There is a fear that a distinct Catholic identity can be lost, and so Catholics needs to define themselves over against Protestants and others. There is a similar trend among some Protestants. Another issue the Lay Center is processing is the clericalization of the laity. Lay ecclesial ministry needs to be a serious formation for lay ministry.
How do we help people be open to the divine? How do people experience the divine?
1. Listen to the Word until the word comes alive within you. The word is God’s love letter to God’s people. If you received a letter from someone important, you would open and read it. So we should do with the scriptures.
2. Sacramental life – we have to break bread with the community of faith.
3. Listen to the community – we all need good spiritual friends involved in our spiritual formation.
Is faith the same experience, or a different experienced of God for different people and different peoples? From the Christian perspective faith is the experience of God as self-sacrificing love. Now when we use the term love we have to understand that a distinction. My love for my children is different from my love for my pets. If there is a fire, I save my pets first. God’s love for us is on the level of the parent who saves his or her children.
Jonathan Miller offered the observation that in Judaism God loves us and suffers with us rather than for us — God is with us and among us.
Sandra Keating offered that the strength of Islam is to keep God before them all the time, and the absolute obligation of everyone to care for all the members of the community – prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Sandra says she also stands in awe of the Islamic discipline of fasting during Ramadan. She then had an interesting observation about one of the problems in Islam. Islam talks about mercy, rather than forgiveness and reconciliation. The distance between the divine and the human in Islam is so great, that the faithful can only throw themselves upon Allah’s mercy. When this gets translated into relationships between human beings, rather than a divine human encounter, Islam is limited. People can show mercy to one another, but there isn’t a good model forgiveness and reconciliation. Thus, when there is conflict, there must be winners and losers before there is mercy, where with a well developed sense of forgiveness and reconciliation it is possible to find peace, where both sides win – win-win rather than win-lose. I would like to ask Joseph Lumbard, the Islamic scholar we met with in Boston about that observation.
Our group noted the confusion we felt in India, and our scholar group commented. Hindus and Buddhists believe the diversity of creation is an indication of the brokenness of creation. The multiplicity of the manifestation of the divine is like the multiple emanations of the divine in Gnosticism and speaks of the basic brokenness of the created order, rather than experiencing the goodness of God through the diversity of creation.
In a conversation with Donna Orzuto at the close of the meeting I received another important insight. I mentioned that I had been a student of George Lindbeck, and she became very excited. Dr. Lindbeck is a real hero at the Lay Center as a leader in ecumenistic studies. He lectured at the Gregorian University two years ago. And I contrast the reaction of the lay center with the reaction of the Congregation for Ecumenical Relations where Bishop Ferrel wasn’t sure if he had heard of Dr. Lindbeck. This convinces me that the curia is oblivious, while the laity are clued in.
I must also admit that the discussions at the lay center were so interesting I forgot to take pictures of our hosts.
The folks at the lay center wished us on our way to San Eggidio, and gave us a great recommendation for a restaurant to have dinner that is run by the Community of San Eggidio as a fund raising project. The Community of San Eggidio out grew the Church of San Eggidio, so now the community holds its prayers in a different church. The prayer service is a bit like Taize with chants and prayers, and music. A wonderful organist was playing when we showed up about half an hour early. The organ was a grand European pipe organ, and when I can up load some video later, I will include some of that prelude music. The church was ornate, but then most churches in Rome are decorated in a baroque fashion.
I was a bit surprised when three clergy arrived at the service, and two of them spoke. To me for a movement that is entirely lay led, the clerical presence seemed out of keeping. But I supposed the hierarchy wants to maintain some relations with this energetic lay movement in their midst. Also several of the lay leaders of the community were on vacation. For instance, Claudio, who we were told to ask for, when we visited San Eggidio was out of town. So maybe they asked the bishop and priests to come to “fill-in” while the lay leadership was away.
After the service that was hard to follow, because it was all in Italian, although they did have headsets and a translator for the homily, we made contact with two members of the community who talked with us. There was Dee, who is a member of the San Eggidio community in Jersey City, who gave us some insight into the community in the United States, and Paula, who was an early member of the community and joined the community at the age of 14. They started out as a bunch teen agers in the 1960’s in Rome, who wanted to live their faith in the world. They focused on Friendship, Prayer and Service. They went out on the streets to serve the poor, and got to know people where they were serving. They operate a soup kitchen open to all. And rather than doing service to the poor, they focused on serving in friendship with the poor – an important distinction. They have become involved as honest brokers in peace negotiations in several conflicts around the world. At a very informal level they are able to bring different sides to Rome, and begin to broker dialogue that later leads to more formal agreements to end conflict. They really seek to live out the Christian faith. They connect well with young people. Most of the people in the church were young adults, although I didn’t see many teens, and did not have an opportunity to ask how well they are connecting with the Millennial generation. I should have remembered to ask that. There are certainly lots of teenagers roaming the streets of Rome in the evening. From the service we went to dinner at the restaurant sponsored by the Community of San Eggedio. They use the restaurant to hire some handicapped workers as well as raise money for their ministries. The prices were reasonable, and we had a good time. Didn’t get back to the hotel, however, until 11:30 p.m.
We were able to sleep in a little bit this morning with a general improvement of all of our health and moods. We left the hotel and walked ten minutes to St. Peters, where we encountered a huge line to go through the metal detectors to enter St. Peters. After standing in line for 25 minutes and being inspected for proper attire, no shorts, no tank tops, no bare shoulders, we were finally admitted. St. Peters is the largest church in the world and the art, the statuary, the decoration is overwhelming. Just taking pictures does not do justice to the experience.
The high altar is used only when the Pope is celebrating Mass which is only for special occasions. Most Sunday mornings a Cardinal celebrates the Mass at the Altar of the Confession that is deep inside the church, all the way to the back wall. Ray pointed out some inscriptions on the floor, that told us where other churches would end, emphasizing that St. Peters is larger than all the rest of them.
The Mass was just beginning as we made our way to the area of seats that had been set up for worship. There are no permanent pews in the sanctuary. We sat down and watched and listen as the liturgy was celebrated in Italian. There were no bulletins, prayer books, no folders with explanation in English. If we didn’t know what was going on, well then that was our problem. Everything about the church communicated power, raw naked power and wealth. When we met with David Richardson the Anglican representative in Rome the next day he said: “Many people visit St. Peters and come out saying, ‘now I know why there was a reformation.’”
The music was classical but good. I contrasted my surroundings with St,. Francis whom we had been studying on Saturday. Religion, power and wealth are an incongruous mix, at least for Christians. Or maybe I should say spirituality, power and wealth are an incongruous mix, for all too often in the history of the world religion has been co-opted into the service of power and wealth.
After the Mass we wandered a bit in St. Peters. We visited the tomb of Pope John XXIII. He is on display at a side altar. Ray was a very good guide pointing out the area of the sacristy and other monuments inside the church. He also kept commenting that the security and the efforts at crowd control were more than he had ever seen before.
When we were finished looking through the church we walked back to the hotel, where we had a few minutes to freshen up, while we waited for our guide Mikilah, who came to take us on a tour of the Jewish Quarter. We traveled by bus. In Rome you buy a ticket at many different stores or vendors and then validate your ticket once you get on the bus. We noticed that only about 20% of the passengers were bothering to validate a ticket.
We got off the bus at the huge monument to Victor Emmanuel II, who liberated Rome in 1880. He did not have good relationships with the Pope, because up until that time the Pope had ruled Rome. It was under Victor Emmanuel that the church’s holdings collapsed to the few acres of Vatican City. In the Square before the Victor Emmanuel monument we saw where Benito Mussolini had had his offices and the window from which Mussolini had often addressed the crowds.
We then walked to the area of the Jewish Ghetto. Even today Romans refer to this part of the City as the ghetto, where a large part of the Jewish population still lives. Jews began living in Rome as early as 161 B.C.E., when the Maccabean King of Israel sent ambassadors to Rome to try to negotiate an alliance with Rome over against Israel’s enemies. Beware of negotiating with Rome. In 63 B.C.E. Pompei conquered Jerusalem and the Jewish population of Rome began to grow significantly. Augustus gave Jews complete freedom in Rome and also gave them the Travestre neighborhood, where they had begun as early at 161 B.C.E. When Rome destroyed Jerusalem in 70 A.D. and again in 133 A.D. many Jews were brought to Rome as slaves. But many of these slaves were purchased by their fellow Jews already in Rome and then set free. In 212 A.D. Caracalla issued an edict granting Roman citizenship to Jews and all free inhabitants of the Empire.
In 325 A.D. Constantine embraced Christianity began building churches and from then on there was discrimination against the Jews. But still the Jews were respected for their learning, especially medicine. Several of the Popes employed Jewish physicians. In 1215 A.D. the fourth Lateran Council decreed anti Jewish legislation. But in 1406 Pope Innocent VII granted citizenship to some Jews especially the physicians of Travestre.
In 1492 the expulsion of the Jews from Spain brought a wave of Jewish immigration to Rome. Many of these Jews had been forcibly converted before expulsion from Spain. So their families would face further persecution in Italy later. At the beginning of the 16th century there were 10 Synagogues in Rome, Sephardic, Ashkenazi, and Roma. This marked the last period of toleration for the Jews.
In 1542 the Holy Office of the Inquisition was started, and in 1555 the Jewish Ghetto in Rome was established. The Ghetto was confined to about 4 blocks, walled off from the rest of the City, with gates that opened at dawn and closed at dusk. Every Jew must be inside the Ghetto by night fall, when the gates were closed. Jews were only allowed the vocations of cloth making, carpentry, second hand merchants of cloth and metal goods. Six thousand people lived inside this tiny area. At first the Jews were only allowed one synagogue, but then they were granted permission to have five synagogues inside of one building.
When Victor Emmanuel seized the City in 1870, the Ghetto was finally abolished. Jews could live anywhere, but most of them continued to live in the Travestre neighborhood, where many still live today near the present Grand Synagogue that was built in 1904.
In 1943 the Nazis deposed Mussolini and took over Italy. In September the Nazis told the Jews that if they would come up with 50 Kilos of gold, none of them would be harmed. They met the ransom, but in October of 1943 2090 Jews were deported from Rome to Auschwitz anyway. Only 16 of those Jews returned. Fortunately the Italian people were able to hide 7,000 Jews from the Germans. Today about 35,000 Jews live in Italy, 16,000 in Rome most of the rest in Milan.
Mikilah led us on our tour of the ghetto. One of our group commented that at Yad Vashem it was possible to say, “oh that was just those crazy Nazis, it was an aberration. But here in Rome it became clear that anti-Semitism has been deeply ingrained in European Christian Culture, and so it offers a greater challenge to Christians. The Nazis did not invent anti-Semitism.
After the tour of the ghetto we walked to the Pantheon, where we found a restaurant, and enjoyed the Sunday Summer evening of Rome. Street musicians, jugglers, mimes, all kinds of entertainment can and went in the Palatzo of the Pantheon, while we ate dinner. It was great fun. Some people even got up and danced to the music of the street musicians. I noticed a lot of Frank Sinatra music was very popular.
After dinner we started to walk back to the hotel and we took a route that went through the Palatzo Navona. Here there were many, many artists. Also more street musicians, some of whom had cycled over from the Palatzo of the Pantheon. There were more entertainers, and lots of people just having a good time. Wandering in Rome on a summer evening is great fun. Ray tells me that a Christmas time the Palatzo Navona is full of Christmas decorations and vendors as well as the entertainers. Thus ended a wonderful day.
We left the hotel at 8:30 a.m. to drive for two hours north through the Apennine Mountains to the Village of Assisi the home of St. Francis. Pope Benedicts has called for an Interfaith meeting of world religious leaders to gather in Assisi in October. The Muslims have great respect for St. Francis. During the crusades Francis set out for the Holy Land to try to convert the Muslims. He was so appalled by the behavior of the Crusaders, he left their camp and crossed over the Muslim lines, where he was arrested and taken to Saladin the Sultan. They had a very deep and abiding discussion of their faiths, that caused both men to have great respect for each other. Ever since then the Muslims have held St. Francis in high regard and the Franciscans were made the keepers of the Catholic holy sites in the Holy Land.
Francis started life as anything but a saint. He was the spoiled child of a well to do merchant, not nobility, but part of the rising middle class. He wanted to be a knight, a soldier. So his father purchased for him armor, weapons and a horse. Assisi went to war with one of the neighboring towns, and Francis signed up to go to war for Assisi. He didn’t do very well. He was captured and held for a year in prison, until his father ransomed him. Another war broke out with a neighboring town, and again Francis prepared to go to war, but after riding out the gate of the City, he began to have second thoughts, and after a few hours returned confused and dejected. For a year to the consternation of his parents he sort of wandered the countryside. And one day he stopped to pray in a small humble run down church. While praying in front of a crucifix he heard a voice saying, “Rebuild my church.” Francis took a look around and said, “you’re right this little church needs refurbishing.”
So Francis began working to clean and repair the little church of San Damiano. He got the message half right. It was only after repairing the church that he realized he was being called to a much larger and more difficult task. The church had grown rich and powerful and no longer cared for the poor. Francis in a symbolic act went to his parents and gave them back all of his clothes. His father believing he had gone made imprisoned him for three days, hoping he would come to his senses. But his mother finally left him out, and he went down into the valley and began living in the woods. Other young people attracted to his example came and joined him. A wealthy young woman by the name of Claire came and joined him, and she attracted other young women. Francis gave her San Damiano, for her new order of nuns, the Poor Claires.
There are important parallels between the life of St. Francis and the life of Peter Lombard the founder of the Waldensians. They both believed the church had grown too rich and needed reforming. They both desperately wanted to minister to the poor, and they believed that the general populace, who were ignorant of the faith needed teaching and preaching to come to a better appreciation and practice of their faith. Francis followed a much more ascetic path, severely limiting clothing, food, and other earthly needs.
St. Francis had a very simple shelter and chapel in the woods. Today a huge church has been built over those structures to protect them. St. Francis probably would have been quite disappointed with how large and ornate was the church built to honor him. I think Francis would be especially disappointed that they charge 60 cents to go to the bathroom at his church. The Franciscan ideal is to embrace poverty and service, and to live in harmony with nature. Everywhere we went in Assisi there were flowers growing. Francis was particularly fond of animals. Francis attracted many followers because of the authenticity of his faith that was reflected in the way he lived his life. The Franciscans were originally entirely a lay movement. There is no record that Francis was ever ordained as a priest or a deacon or any other ordained status in the church.
We had lunch at a guest house run by the Brigettine Sisters. Their order was founded by Mary Elisabeth Hesselblad a Swedish girl, who migrated to the United States in 1886 to study nursing. She converted to Catholicism, and re-founded the order of the Sisters of St. Bridget. One of their primary ministries is hospitality. After a wonderful lunch we talked with Sister Marcellina about her order’s ministry. Of the ten nuns in Assisi, nine are from India and one is from Mexico. Although Sister Marcellina was quick to point out that with increasing affluence in India the number of vocations is dropping. Ray Dunmyer says the Catholic Church now has more priests and nuns than ever before, but they are from the Third World. I wonder if a rising economic tide in the Third world will lead to fewer vocations there also? The Brigettine Sisters have adopted the ministry of hospitality, because through hospitality so many people can experience the presence of God. United Church needs to remember this example.
After lunch we went on a walking tour of the village of Assisi inside the Wall. We toured a church dedicated to St. Claire, the founder of the Poor Claires. Her crypt is in the basement of the church. We saw the home of St. Francis’ parents. And finally we toured the Basilica dedicated to St. Francis, where his crypt is located.
There we met with Brother James a Franciscan originally from West Haven, Connecticut. He is a lay brother, not ordained, and displayed a certain irreverent spirit that is often the mark of the Franciscan Brothers. He said that once Francis understood the vocation to which God was calling him, he reformed the church by embodying Christianity, embracing poverty, humility and serving the poor. His life was so compelling that others began to follow him, and they began living humbly and serving the poor too. Francis could get both rich and poor to listen to him. He understood the needs of the poor who could not read or write. It is possible that he really did not read and write either. He needed a scribe to help him write his rule. The church at that time needed a very different expression of the faith, for the poor had sunk into ignorance and superstition. The Friars helped to lift them out of darkness. St. Francis was the first person to use the crèche at Christmas time to tell the story of Christmas in a way that illiterate people could understand.
Brother James felt called to the Franciscan Order because of their informality, and their more fraternal relationship with one another. He initially decided to try it for a year, and figured he would get over it. But he has now been a friar for over 30 years. He finds that people are called to the Franciscans in many ways. Sometimes it is just the experience of being around other Franciscans and experiencing their sense of community and fraternity. Young people seem to be attracted to Francis’ humility, and authenticity, now there’s a real Christian. Young people are also drawn to his love and care for the environment.
We drove back to room in the gathering evening through the Apennine Mountains. When we returned, I was too tired to go out for dinner, and came back to the room and collapsed. Tomorrow we go to worship at St. Peter’s.
Today was a day of connections. Two years ago we met with Harvey Cox in Boston, and some of us read his book The Future of Faith:
My own favorite example of a “heretical” group that survived centuries of excommunication, persecution and exile to become a small but significant part of the Christian family is the Waldensians. . .
For many years now the Waldensians have maintained a church, a bookstore, and a seminary just off the Palazzo di Giustizia in Rome, a short walk from the Vatican. I happened to be staying at that seminary in the summer of 1996 when Pope John Paul II issued an unexpected invitation to the “Valdese” as he called them, to meet him for a special gathering in St. Peter’s Basilica. . . I joined the “Valdese” to walk along the Tiber to St. Peter’s square.
When we arrived, to our astonishment the Vatican staff gathered our small group not in some little reception room as we had expected, but around the high altar in St. Peter’s itself. . . . After a few minutes the Successor of Peter entered in glistening white papal regalia, walked slowly to the altar, and then told us in deeply sincere tones, that it was now time to leave our differences behind and search out what we all have in common. . . .
Still, in its own way, John Paul II’s welcoming of heretics and schismatics is a hopeful sign. It suggests that even within the heart of the Catholic Church the Age of Belief, with its insistence on creedal conformity and doctrinal correctness, is passing, and an Age of the Spirit is stirring.
We started our day by visiting that Waldensian seminary and meeting with the Dean of the Seminary, Yann Raedalia. He teaches New Testament, and there are 5 other members of the faculty. They are a very old and small group, about 30,000 in Italy, 10,000 in Rio de la Plata – Uruguay and Argentina. They have merged with the Methodists in Italy, because the Methodists have many immigrants coming from Africa, and that is the source of greatest energy of their movement. There is some tension, because the European Waldensians are fairly tied to traditional worship, silent in prayer and oriented toward more learned study, while many of Africans have a pentecostal background, they like to shout in prayer focusing on the direct and immediate experience of God. Leadership style is also very different. The Europeans have rules for making democratic decisions, while the Africans tend to rely upon charismatic leadership. “We are trying to be church together, rather than becoming separate ethnic enclaves.” Thus the European Waldensians have become “twice a minority.” The are protestant in a overwhelmingly Catholic country and because they do not have many children, and their generation transmission of the faith has largely failed due to the increasing secularization in Europe. In the words of the Dean we see a new interest among the young in things spiritual, but they are interested in believing but not belonging.
The Waldensians began in the 12thcentury founded by Peter Waldo, the son of a rich business man. He embraced the concept of poverty in the religious life, almost 100 years before St. Francis. The focus of the movement was on preaching to the common people in the vernacular. Even women were allowed to preach. They were considered by the church to be heretics. The movement spread into Lombardy, France and Czechoslovakia. John Hus was a outgrown of the Waldensian movement. The Waldensians influenced the Reform Movement in French speaking Switzerland. The movement was wiped out in France by Louis XIV. The Waldensians survive mainly in Italy in the Piedmont Valley. Through international diplomacy the Waldensians survived. In 1848 the King of Savoy granted toleration to the Jews and the Waldensians.
The Worship Service with the centrality of the sermon is traditional Waldensian spirituality. People are very quiet. African worship is very interactive with lots of shouting and praise. But even the African community is suffering generational transmission failure.
Trying to be church together will not be accomplished in one generation. But if the immigrant is not integrated into the society by the third generation then sociologically they are likely to turn against the dominant culture to be over against the society that does not accept them. That is why Muslim residents of France are beginning to turn against French culture and insisting on a distinctively Islamic identity.
There are two styles of being secular. There is the English system of pluralism, most successfully practice in the separation of church and state in America. And then there is the anti-religious secularism of France. Trying to be “church together” will hopefully be a laboratory for finding our way into a new religious and cultural future. Note, there has been such an influx of immigrants from Eastern Europe, the Orthodox church has grown 600% in 5 years.
The Waldensians have a good relationship with the Roman Catholic Church. Thye are invited to participate on ecumenical commissions as token protestants. They have been invited to teach on Roman Catholic faculties.
The Pope does not oppose Berlisconi. He likes to keep Berlisconi “at Canosa” – a reference to the subordination of the Holy Roman Emperors by the Papacy. Berlisconi has no morals, but he kisses the Pope’s shoes. Morally touchy issues are “written in the sand” and the government does not address them, because the church wants to maintain the status quo. People are no longer fighting for what they want, they are afraid they will lose what they have.
Dr. Raedalia then took us on a tour of the seminary, showing us the chapel and the Library. We did not have time to see the church, because we had to find our way over to St. Peter’s to meet with a member of the curia, Archbishop Ferrel of the Pontifical Council for Ecumenism and the Commission for Jewish relations.
Archbishop Ferrel was born in Ireland, and he wanted to become a missionary. So after becoming a priest he was sent to Connecticut for 10 years, He was then brought to Rome to work in the Secretary of State’s office, and then he was invited to become part of the new Pontifical Council for Ecumenism. This was a new department in the curia created by Pope John XXIII in order to invite ecumenical observers to come to the Second Vatican Council. So he asked Cardinal Bayer to form this new department, and since Cardinal Bayer was an Old Testament scholar, he wanted to include the Jews, and that is how the Commission for Jewish relations was formed. Archbishop Ferrel’s organization is very close to Tantur. Cardinal Bayer changes to occur in the church for centuries. Today there are those who would like to turn the clock back. Bishop Ferrel believes that Paul VI did a brilliant job of following up the work John XXIII had begun, but he is under appreciated, because he has been so overshadowed by his successor John Paul II. Paul VI visited Jerusalem in 1964, where he met with the Greek Orthodox Patriarch. This may have been the first meeting between the leader of the Greek Church and the Latin Church in 800 years. The Icon of Peter and Andrew that was in the room where we were meeting was a gift of the Greek Patriarch to Paul VI. It is a picture of the Apostles Peter and Andrew, who were brothers, symbolic of the meeting of the two leaders.
There is supposed to be a big Interfaith Meeting in Assisi in October. Bishop Ferrel is busy working on the issue of who will sit where. Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists are all invited to this meeting. Because the climate of interfaith relationship is problematical the Bishop does not forsee any great breakthroughs for the conference. There is a hope that the meeting can produce some statement condemning the use of religion to justify violence and a general commitment to peace.
The Pontifical Council for Ecumenism is carrying on 15 formal dialogues with Christian Churches. One fundamental issue that separates Rome and the Byzantines is the issue of the authority of the Pope. The orthodox churches have lived as a second class civilization under the Turks and then under communism. Even under the Czar the Russian Orthodox were not free. This colors the conversation between Rome and the orthodox.
In the 3rd phase of the dialogue between Rome and the Anglicans the issue of gay bishops and gay marriages has created a stumbling block that goes further than the gay issue. Rome has a very clear central teaching authority, the Anglicans do not.
The dialogue with the Lutherans goes on and on and doesn’t come to any agreement. In 1999 Rome and the Lutherans seemed to agree on justification by faith, but then the Pope seemed to have some reservations around the theological understanding of the church. The Lutherans interpreted this as taking back the agreement on justification. So there is no mutual recognition of the eucharist between Rome and the Lutherans. Part of the problem about the theology of the church is that the Reformed tradition is more spiritual in its concept, while Rome is more concrete, an institution moving through time and physical reality. The ordination of women, especially women as Bishops is a big stumbling block in relationships with protestants.
The Commission for religious relationships with Jews discusses issues of common concern. For instance, when Rome authorized a reprint of the Good Friday liturgy, no one thought to take out the prayer calling for conversion of the Jews. So the Pope wrote a new prayer taking out the offensive language, but no one thought to change the title of the prayer. Sometimes in Rome the left hand does not know what the right hand is doing.
Bishop Ferrel believes that the whole church is at a point of theological weakness. There are no great guiding lights in theology.
The Catholic Church cannot join the World Council of Churches, because Rome is the only universal church, and Rome disagrees too much with what the World Council does — too focused on social issues.
Some of the most important issues in the church are the transmission of the faith to the younger generation, ecumenical spirituality, and the effect of migration on churches. There is a real crisis because no one seems to be succeeding in the transmission of faith to this youngest generation. As we move into the future he believes we will be revisiting the ontological issues of what does it mean to be human? We have lost clarity. The relationship between the people and the world, their environment has changed, and young people have become out of touch with the interior life.
We went from our meeting with Archbishop Ferrel to lunch and then we met our guide Magdalena for a tour of ancient Rome. We started by seeing the pillar of Marcus Aurelius, who represents the golden age of ancient Rome, and perhaps its greatest Emperor. We then walked to the Pantheon, a temple where all the gods were worshipped. This is the building with the largest dome and a whole in the center. There are elaborate drains in the floor for when it rains. The Pantheon is still used as a church, and on Pentecost Sunday firemen of Rome climb up the outside of the dome and drop rose petals through the hole in the roof.
We passed one of the de Medici Palaces and saw a very unique statue of an elephant with an obelisk on its back. The obelisk was brought from Egypt, and the elephant is the representation of a real elephant, an albino, that was given to the de Medici’s, and this is where the expression “white elephant” comes from. For when the de Medici’s accept the gift, they had no idea how much forage was required to sustain an elephant. Thus the term white elephant gift.
We visited the Coliseum, where 65,000 people could watch the games. There were 72 gates, and you had to enter the gate for which you had a ticket. Due to the large number of gates, supposedly 65,000 people could fill or exit the Coliseum in 10 minutes. Most of the time it is believed that the gladiatorial contest in the Coliseum were not fights to the death. The gladiators were too valuable. It was more important to display skill in fighting, rather than a public display of carnage. Occasionally criminals were executed as part of the events. So some Christians may have been thrown to the lions in the Coliseum. More probably, the Christians were executed at Nero’s personal circus that was outside the walls of Rome, where the Vatican is today. Thus the tradition that Peter died on Vatican hill crucified upside down.
We next visited the Circus Maximus, where 300,000 people could attend the chariot races and other spectacles including the execution of criminals. The chariot races were immensely popular and very brutal. Many people lost their lives in the chariot races. In the fourth lap the “blades would come out.” In this sense the chariot race in Ben Hur is accurate. The Emperor’s Palace overlooked the Circus Maximus, so he did not need to leave his Palace in order to attend the chariot races.
Next we went to the top of the Capitoline Hill in order to look down on the Forum. We did not have time to take a walking tour of the Forum, but from the vantage point above we could see most of the ruins of the different buildings in the Forum. This is where the public business of Rome took place. There were temples including the temple of Vesta, where the Vestal Virgins kept the sacred fire of Rome burning. Having a daughter appointed to be a Vestal Virgin was a great honor in Rome. They were appoint at the age of six years old, served for thirty years, and then at the age of thirty-six they were retired with a generous pension, and they were free to marry. If they violated their vow of chastity while still serving they were buried alive.
We returned to the hotel and then four of us who could still walk set out for the Grand Synagogue of Rome. It was about a mile and a half walk along the Tiber River in the cool of the evening. We arrived at the Synagogue and had to surrender our phones and our cameras. Security was very tight. In the past they have been attacked. The liturgy is very unusual. Their melodies are unique to Rome. Their choir of eight men was very loud because of the echo in the acoustics, although Jonathan commented that the words were sort of indistinct. Once again as we were exiting the Synagogue Jonathan met an old friend, a fellow Rabbi from Tucson.
We walked for 20 minutes trying to find a restaurant that had been recommended to us. We walked in a great circle and ended up finding the restaurant right beside the Synagogue. There is perhaps some symbolism in that event for us. One of the specialties was fried artichoke Jewish style. We had a nice meal before returning at 11:30 p.m. to the hotel. I was exhausted.
The Temple of Hecate
Small Temple in the Agora
Athens Old Market