Monday, March 31, 2014

A gay Catholic man shares his journey of faith

Some time back I stumbled upon this blog, written by a Steve Gershom, a man who identified himself as a same-sex attracted Catholic seeking to live faithfully the Church's teaching. If I recall correctly, I was looking for resources on a problem that is becoming huge: the addiction to Internet porn; and either from someone else's link, or a Google search, I came upon something this fellow had written.

Since then, I've been checking back as he continues to share his life's journey. He writes about his friends, his work, his personal problems, his spiritual wrestling, his sins, and above all, his faith. Our Faith.

As I've been cleaning up my links, I thought, why don't I add this? I've been very impressed with Mr. Gershom. He's candid about his life in a way that is enlightening for those who haven't shared his experiences and struggles, and must be encouraging for those who do. One of the things I have noticed is that he has good friends who know him and love him, and from his writings, they are a huge strength to him. At least one of them is a priest, who hears his confessions and helps him stay anchored in Christ.

I've never met Mr. Gershom, but that would be nice if it happens. In the meantime, I am continuing to read his site, and I hope you will check it out as well.

(Note: someone may take issue with my terminology, particularly in my headline. I understand that a lot of the terms we use are ideologically loaded. But first, Mr. Gershom uses the term himself; moreover, some headlines will garner more Google attention than others; and if that helps to bring some folks here, and then to Mr. Gershom's site, I think that's worthwhile.)

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Holy Mass 'done' right -- in Rome

"Is that normally how you have Mass on Sundays?"


"With incense, with a fair amount of chanting, with some Latin?"

"Sure," the seminarians nodded, in the sacristy after Mass.

"I was very, very edified," I told them.

Even though I've been in Rome on and off since early February, this was the first Sunday I participated in Holy Mass at the North American College, where principally U.S. seminarians attend (although some hail from Canada, Australia, and perhaps other locations).

So what was so good?

In addition to what I mentioned, let me include the following:

> The proper chants of the Mass -- at the entrance, the offertory and communion -- were sung. In the case of the entrance chant, it followed a conventional Lenten hymn, sung during the procession. The opening was in Latin, I think the others were English. The Kyrie, Credo, Sanctus and Agnus Dei were all in Gregorian chant.

> The celebrant himself was chanting prayers throughout. He seemed reasonably at ease with it.

> The readers chanted the conclusion to the readings -- which introduces everyone, if they noticed, to one of the lovely subtleties of the Liturgy of the Word. When the first reading, usually from the Old Testament, is concluded, the tone for the concluding "The Word of the Lord"/"Thanks be to God" is in a lower tone. Then comes the psalm -- also chanted. Then the second reading, from an epistle, concludes with a chant in a notably higher tone. Then the Gospel intro and conclusion in a higher, lighter tone. Get the idea? It's subtle, but it's lovely. And it's something added only when there is chanting.

> The celebrant continued his good example by not interlacing the prayers of Holy Mass with his own, intrinsically inferior commentary. This is not a commentary on this good priest. I'm simply pointing out that no matter how eloquent a priest may be, his interjections into the prayers of the Mass are not going to equal the words of the Mass itself. They can't! -- precisely because they are his own, private words, while the words of the Mass are the voice of the Church; and in a true sense (taught by Vatican II!), the words of Holy Mass are the voice of Christ.

So fathers, dear brothers, we should keep our commentary to the barest minimum -- which in most cases, means none at all (some is allowed; but this is much abused).

> The celebrant also set a good example in his ars celebrandi--i.e., his manner of leading the prayer. Of course, this was at work in how all the seminarians conducted themselves.  Everyone assisting at the altar was sharp, as they should be. If you are a young guy, one of the few selected to prepare for the priesthood in Rome, wouldn't you want to be sharp? To do it well?

After Holy Mass, the seminary community has a brunch. And over our eggs and roast beef (they also had fried potatoes, pancakes, fruit and sweet rolls, which I believe the Romans call cornetti), I was discussing all this with a seminarian and a faculty member sitting near me. I was asking more questions about how they handled the liturgy, and asked if they had tried ad orientem (not yet), and if they ever have the Mass more--or entirely--in Latin (on occasion). The celebrant had already answered, in the homily, my question about the Extraordinary Form: they have it some of the time (I didn't ask how often); and I learned previously they have training.

One of the points I made as we talked, is that we intuitively (by "we" I mean contemporary Catholics) get the importance of the true and the good--but somehow, we don't have time or money for the beautiful. "This has been a problem with the contemporary Church since before the Council," I said.

The priest nodded, adding, "the battle for the liturgy will be won by emphasizing beauty."

About half-way through brunch I learned the priest wasn't just any faculty member, but the liturgist for the seminary. 

Now, you must be wondering: why haven't I mentioned the homily? Wasn't it any good?

On the contrary, the homily was good. The celebrant kept to a fairly direct theme regarding seeing Christ, and ticked off various ways, in the seminary, and in the parish setting where the men -- God willing -- would serve as priests, and in our contemporary social milieu, that it can be hard to find Christ. He gave a fervent, even passionate exhortation to the men to keep turning to Christ, particularly as they faced challenges with faculty, with other seminarians, and their own sinfulness. 
Because I was sitting behind the pulpit, I couldn't really see the celebrant's face as he spoke, but it was an engaging homily nonetheless. 

But, as we talked over brunch, one of the points I made was that for me at least, it can be a little dismaying when people have told me, after Holy Mass, that the homily was their main focus! 

Don't get me wrong: homilies need to be good! And a lot of priests and deacons...well, they're trying.

That said, when the Holy Mass is celebrated with discipline, with dignity, and with beauty, then here's what happens: instead of the homily standing out, the whole liturgy shines. 

As my regular readers know, this is a subject about which I am passionate. And you know that one of the frustrations with this whole subject is the grave misunderstanding of what Vatican II intended for the sacred liturgy. For the sake of clarity, let me offer some examples:

> The liturgy now included the added option of using the vernacular; Latin was not banished in any way!

> The form of the Mass was modified, but traditional expressions and forms likewise were not banished. It is not true that the Council created a "whole new" liturgy. In other words, a hermeneutic of continuity rather than rupture.

> The Council did not abolish chant or a sung liturgy; on the contrary, the Council wanted to see more of that. Combining both the Council's exhortation to restore Gregorian chant, and it's call for more Scripture, I would argue that using the proper chants of the Mass is the true "spirit" of Vatican II, rather than the hymns that are so customary (despite being a holdover from those supposedly bad old days).

In short, the men at the NAC are being taught much more accurately a Vatican II understanding of the liturgy.

Now here's what's even more encouraging.

The men who are here, preparing for the priesthood, are from dioceses coast-to-coast. And, may I add that, because they often represent "the cream of the crop," a lot of these men will in leadership positions in their dioceses, in the national conference, and in Rome. Many of them will be bishops; some of them cardinals.

In time, the seeds sown will sprout. Be patient and keep praying.

P.S. Someone will ask about the vestments, particularly as it was Laetare Sunday. The celebrant and deacons wore the traditional Rose (and I am tempted to sneak down and "borrow" one of the deacon's dalmatics, so perfect was the shade, which is hard to get right!); the 20 or so concelebrants wore purple. The chasubles weren't notable in any way, but the dalmatics were in the classic Roman style.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Updating my links...

...On a beautiful Roman day! Am I crazy?

No, I'm doing laundry, and this is what I was doing (among other things) while I wait for the crazy Italian washers and dryers -- which I don't really understand. Not just the language, but the rationale for the various settings. It's not the same as ours back home, not even close.

At any rate, I've eliminated some and updated some.

Which leads me to this:

If you link me, I'll link you. If you have already linked me, and I haven't put your link up, let me know.

Exception: mindful of the fact that I'm a priest, I have, from time to time, not linked when asked, because of what I found at the other side of the link. (No, not that, get your mind out of the gutter; just stuff that's just...not a good fit.)

So let me know, OK?

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Sandra Fluke's silly ideas about corporations and religion

Tuesday, in addition to being the Solemnity of the Annunciation, was also the day that two cases concerning the so-called contraception mandate. As we all know, in 2012, the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services issued a rule -- under the provisions of the Affordable Care Act (so-called; aka "Obamacare") -- that widely compels employers, even many religious employers, into facilitating the provision of sterilization and contraception, including those medications that actually destroy a newly conceived child.

Well, as everyone probably knows, some companies sued, and Tuesday was their day in the High Court. Because this subject concerns me greatly, I was eagerly reading all I could about it since then.

Now, one of the things that fascinates me about this is some of the nonsense people have said about this:

> What contraception I use is a private matter.

Then you agree with those suing the government. What Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood -- the two companies in question -- want is to be left out of your contraception/abortion/sterilization decisions. Why do you want them to be involved?

> "Corporations aren't people" (from Sandra Fluke, who graduated from Georgetown Law School and is now a "social justice attorney."

Well, Ms. Fluke is an attorney and I'm not, but I do know this much: our laws treat corporations as "persons," for many good reasons. This isn't something all that new; and like lots of legal principles, it makes sense when you think about it.

What's a corporation? A group of people acting together for some purpose. It might be a business; or it might be a charity; or a club; or a religious body. Why form a corporation? Well, because it smooths out a lot of things involved in trying to operate your business/charity/club/religion.

According to Ms. Fluke -- in a Washington Post op-ed this week -- "Corporations can't have religious views." I'm sorry, but that's embarrassing. (I thought about adding a comment about her alma mater, but it's just too easy.)

Of course a corporation can have religious views -- because the corporation is the collective action of the people who formed it and run it. That includes religious organizations, charities, mosques, synagogues and churches. They don't have religious views?

Now, you're going to say, but she meant companies. And I admit, it's not terribly likely or practical for, say, Coca-Cola to have any express religious views; but I don't know that it couldn't if the owners wanted it to. But when "owners" means untold millions of shareholders, it's almost impossible to see how that would work.

But if we change that to "ethical" views, then I wonder if Ms. Fluke and others who take this line have been paying attention? Because for decades, many organizations have been working on the leaders and shareholders of corporations to adopt various ethical stances: no animal testing, no blood diamonds, no helping South Africa when it practiced apartheid, no pornography in hotel rooms, etc.

In fact, such efforts are quite current: witness all the efforts to get...wait for it...corporations to take a stance on gay rights and so-called gay marriage. So Guinness and Sam Adams both pulled out of the New York City Saint Patrick Day Parade because the parade organizers wouldn't let people march in the parade advocating pro-homosexual-behavior or pro-same-sex-marriage causes.

Those appeals to companies to take sides in these things isn't an effort to get them to express ethical values? What is it?

Some will reply, it's "just good business." And I don't doubt that's true.

So, back in February, CVS pharmacies announced they will stop selling tobacco. The company admits it will lose $2 billion in revenue. "Good business"?

Now, this line of thought -- that according rights to corporations is bizarre and dangerous etc. (Ms. Fluke uses words like "catastrophe" and "slippery slope") -- also shows up in the discussion of so-called "campaign finance reform." Remember a few years ago the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, in the Citizens United case, something about this? If you don't know better, you'd think the Citizens United ruling invented this idea of corporate personhood.

And after that, some folks -- including some politicians -- actually started ginning up an effort to amend the U.S. Constitution to "solve this problem." So one proposal was the so-called "Peoples Rights Amendment," which says the following:

People, person, or persons as used in this Constitution does not include corporations, limited liability companies or other corporate entities established by the laws of any state, the United States, or any foreign state, and such corporate entities are subject to such regulation as the people, through their elected state and federal representatives, deem reasonable and are otherwise consistent with the powers of Congress and the States under this Constitution (Emphasis added)>

Do you know what that means? No organization, club, religion, charity, etc. -- in addition to businesses -- formed as "corporations, limited liability companies or other corporate entities" will have any rights under the Constitution.

Bye-bye, First Amendment, which says:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances (Emphasis added).

With this amendment, free speech is only an individual right; never collective. And the press? They are not only corporations, but even for-profit! Horrors! So their rights would be stripped out of the Constitution.

(Now, I must note here that the proposed amendment goes on to say that this won't be construed as limiting "people's rights of freedom of speech, freedom of the press, free exercise of religion, and such other rights of the people, which rights are inalienable." Just one problem; the provisions before this expressly say these "inalienable" rights no longer apply to anyone but "natural persons," not corporations. Except in the extremely unlikely event the courts would rule that the two provisions cancel each other out, the only result can be that "corporations" -- cue boos -- will no longer be accorded rights under the constitution, amended for that very purpose.)

Here's the thing: boil it down, a corporation is a collective action of people. Yes, I realize there's more to it, particularly in how corporations make decisions. And I'm not saying a corporation is exactly the same, legally or morally, as a natural person. (And our laws don't take that view.)

The point I am making is that while you can't fully equate a corporation to a natural person, you also can't entirely divorce a corporation from natural persons, either. Is there anywhere in the world a corporation that exists and operates, with a total absence of human persons involved? That's not as far-fetched as it sounds, particularly as technology progresses. But I'm guessing there isn't.

So in the case of Hobby Lobby. Sure, there is a legal entity that exists, for tax and legal purposes, that is distinct from the human beings who operate it. And yet, the company is never wholly divorced from the people who own and operate the company.

What folks who take this line are advocating is one of two things: either some sort of formal, legal action that really does separate a company from it's owners -- but that's not going to fly; or a moral separation...

"Mr. Jones, I entirely agree with you about animal testing. It's horrible. I'll never do it.

"My company, however, is another matter. It has no conscience. Good day!"

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

A visit to our Lady's house on Lady Day

Now I'm in the final segment of my sabbatical, and in some ways, this last part will be less exciting than the rest. I've been to the Holy Land, Turkey, Malta, Germany (and even a very brief visit to the Netherlands and Belgium!). Now back to the relative "humdrum" of Rome!

I'm back at the house at the North American College, with a new group of priests. The program here offers four "modules," and priests can sign up for any or all. Some have been here for all four; some for just one. I signed up for segments 2 and 4. So while most of the guys I know from module 2, there are new faces. In that sense, a new group.

Our topic for the next (almost) three weeks is Christian Art and Architecture, and we'll be having some field trips! The first several days, as was the case with each module, is a retreat. 

Yesterday, of course, was the Solemnity of the Annunciation -- or, as someone pointed out when I was in the Holy Land, and we visited the very place of the Annunciation, it really ought to be the Solemnity of the Incarnation.

For Holy Mass, our group traveled to the Basilica of Saint Mary Major; afterward, an American priest who is stationed there gave us a marvelous tour. I did a little better job than usual in snapping at least some pictures, so here you go...

Here's a view of a beloved, ancient icon of our Lady, under the title, Salus Populi Romani. The claim is made that Saint Luke himself painted it; what is indisputable is that it's been venerated in Rome since before the time of Saint Gregory the Great. Our guide pointed out that right after his election, Pope Benedict came and prayed a while before this icon; and Francis did the same. (The link above will take you to better, closer images.) Also, note the image at the top, in a frame? What you're seeing is the pope, in a group of people, tracing something in snow. I'll come back to that.

Here's the most precious relic in the basilica: the remains of the manger in which our Lord was placed after his birth. Is this credible? Our guide pointed out that the wood has been tested -- it's old enough -- and Saint Jerome attested to it personally. His bones, by the way, are also buried under the high altar here.

That picture isn't as clear as it might be. Here's an image from Wikipedia. You can see clearly (even better in person) the wood of the crib:

Facing the Lord's crib is this lovely image of Pope Blessed Pius IX, who loved to pray here. Look at the joyful gaze on his face!

Of the four major basilicae, this one was the last to be begun, but has more of the ancient buildings still in place. For example, at Saint Peter's, the "new" basilica (erected in the 16th century) was build pretty much right on top of the one the Emperor Constantine built; if you go down to the lower levels of the basilica, you can see some signs of that. Something similar happened with Saint John Lateran and Saint Paul; but both of these were badly damaged by fire, so little remains in them of the ancient structures.

But for Santa Maria Maggiore, the central structure is original. The columns in the nave, for example, are from the 4th century. These mosaics are from 5th century; when the church was modified, they were taken down, and put back up.

How about this as a tabernacle? Actually, it's not the tabernacle used, apart from Holy Thursday, but it was at one time. (The chapel opposite it, where the icon of our Lady is enthroned, also houses the tabernacle.) Below this is the altar Saint Ignatius of Loyola used for his first Mass, relocated from somewhere else in the church.

One of the fun things about a tour like this is seeing things few ever see. In this case, we were able to visit a crypt below the church that honors the Borghese family, one of the many prominent families of Rome down through the centuries. One of the things you see, if you spend some time visiting and learning about Rome, is how the lives and fortunes of certain families of wealth and prominence are intertwined with the life and history of the Church. Many of these families' members would be clerics in the Church, even cardinals and popes. And they would provide much of the vast sums the Church needed, both for its buildings and artwork, but also for its care of the city's needs and the people. Recall that for a long time, the pope was the temporal ruler of central Italy.

So this crypt/chapel, with an altar, remembers the contributions of the House of Borghese. One of the Borgheses who rose highest was Pope Paul V, who contributed a lot to the adornment of this basilica, and who, accordingly, is buried here -- in a separate crypt to the left of this image. (Those are crypts on the walls in this picture.)

But let's focus in on this floor. Notice the dates at the bottom, in the 1600s:

At the other end, the latest branches of the tree show birth dates in the 20th century, and a couple of dates of death in the 21st. The top of the main trunk of the tree is incomplete, and there is room for it to be continued. Isn't that lovely? May they rest in peace.

One whimsical thing about the influence of the Borghese family. The family crest includes an eagle and a dragon. If you prowl around the basilica, and look closely, you will see these images in various places: handles on the closets in the sacristy, and even on kneelers in the chapel where we had Holy Mass.

Our guide had lots of stories to tell, and we were running short on time; so our last few stops were in a hurry; so no pictures of some of them. We went up a broad staircase with very deep, very low-rise steps of marble. Do you know why they were built that way, he asked? We did not. "To allow horses to come up!" He pointed out that in a time of no elevators, getting up those steps -- to the apartments -- wouldn't be easy for some older clerics. So they had a horse bring them up!

He then showed us some very old vestments, and then -- sorry I didn't get a picture of this -- another staircase, designed by the great Lorenzo Bernini who -- with his father -- is buried in the basilica. The staircase extends several stories, is all in stone, and is marvelously straight and precise. I found an image in this post at John's Janiculum Jaunt. John had the same tour I did, but did a far better job in both pictures and narration. Here's his picture:

In between, we saw this mosiac on the front of the basilica, on a porch above the main entrance. Unless you come up here, however, you'll never notice this, because the facade was modified in the 18th century.

The mosiac marvelously represents the story of how this basilica came to be. It originated with Pope Liberius, circa AD 352-366, who had a dream in which our Lady asked him to build a church; the next day, a childless, patrician couple came to tell him they'd had a message from our Lady -- the same dream! And the sign was a snowfall on August 5, on this location. As it rarely snows in Rome, never in August, this was an indisputable miracle. So in this first image, you can see the patrician woman dreaming. (I did this quickly; I didn't capture the image, to the left of this, showing the pope in bed, also dreaming.)

And then this side of the mosaic shows the couple approaching the pope; and then it shows the snowfall to the right. I'm sorry I didn't get a closer shot, but you can just see our Lord, with our Lady at his left, in a circle overhead, causing the snowfall. Our genial guide captioned the picture with a quote from our Lord: "The things my mother makes me do."

So remember the detail in the first image, of the pope tracing in the snow? The story goes that when he saw the snow, he immediately traced the plan of the basilica that was built shortly thereafter.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

A Sunday of misfires and grace

Today didn't play out as I planned, but it was good nonetheless. Here's how it went.

First, I should explain that yesterday was a down day; Friday night I had a great time over dinner with three priest friends -- all from Cincinnati -- and yet, something I ate kept me up all night. Some of you, who know me, will nod and say, see, eating all that stuff you like is finally catching up with you. And you're right; yet I figured that out some time ago. And I've been cutting back on my beloved fried food, and late-night snacks. I was very good! Yet I was up pretty much all night.

So...Saturday was a day I chose not to do very much, other than rest. And I caught up on my sleep Saturday night.

Sunday -- this morning -- I slept late.

First I thought about Holy Mass. I recalled that Saint Mary Major had a Latin Mass or two; I checked their website, and sure enough, a Latin Mass at 10 am and at 6 pm. Well, since I was relying on buses and subways, I wasn't going to make 10 -- so six pm was it.

Then I thought, wouldn't it be nice to have an honest-to-goodness brunch? Such a thing is not often seen here; and as much as I've enjoyed it here, I do miss our American-style breakfasts. So I let my fingers do the walking (on the Internet), and found several places that offer good, solid brunch, well into the afternoon. I figured out which one was closest, and decided, that was my destination. Then I could wander around until it was time for Holy Mass. Such was my plan.

So I headed out a little after noon (I told you I slept late!) to catch the bus I needed. But as I walked down the avenue, I saw some tape blocking off one side of the street. It was some sort of race:

Well, that's nice! So I walked along, and discovered the bus stop was also "taped off." So where would the bus stop, then?

OK, I walked down a little further, and found a bus stop not impeded by the course of the race. I waited. And waited. And waited. And I wondered: is the bus running? Or, if it's been rerouted, maybe it's rerouted around this stop too? So I decided to walk on, aiming to get to the next stop. In any case, if I was going to wait, I might as well keep moving, right?

That works, except if you stray off the bus route -- which is what I did. Which meant, I was going to be walking awhile, until I hit a bus line or the subway.

So, I walked awhile, crossed the river, and along the way, crossed paths with the race-course. This footrace is a bigger deal than perhaps I realized.

Across the river, I came to a subway station, and took the subway a couple of stops to where I needed to get off. Then I had more walking, which I'd planned on. Down the Via Nazionale, to the Via Milano. After a lot of delays and with some sore feet, I finally arrived at the bakery that -- according to the website, had a traditional American-style brunch. Well, I'd certainly worked up an appetite by now!

So, finding the address, this is what I found on the door:

You don't need me to explain that, do you? The key word was "chiuso" -- closed!

So...I walked back to the Via Nazionale, and found a cafe offering, not American brunch, but Roman pizza!

After enjoying both lunch and a book I'm reading (via iPad), and with death by hunger averted, I walked on. A little bit on, I studied a map posted on a building, and remembered a museum I wanted to check out; and it appeared that it was just a bit over that way, beyond the "Wedding Cake" (i.e., the monument to King Vittorio Emmanuele); OK, so I'll head there!

Remember I mentioned how, when you walk around Rome, you find interesting churches around every corner? Sure enough, as I walked along, I came upon a curious church, sitting way down below the level of the Via Nazionale. Of course, that's what you see in ancient cities, because very old buildings are often on a lower level from the current development. Still, it's striking. The church turned out to be the minor basilica of San Vitale, which was originally built in the year AD 400. Here's a shot of the interior:

What was striking was that the walls are almost entirely painted; what looks like great slabs of stone is the creative use of paint. You can see that a fair number of people were gathered; someone was playing the organ, and it seemed to me Holy Mass was about to begin. Since I had other plans, I moved along.

As I walked down the hill, I caught this sight of the walls of Rome. I'd never noticed this tower before. It's a reminder of less peaceful days when Rome had to defend itself at these walls. You can also see one of the marathon runners walking the last bit of the course.

I make my way down the hill, through the barricades that had been set up for the marathon (which is what the race turned out to be), now being taken down as the last stragglers came down the course, to great applause by those on the sidewalks (me too). Around the monument to King Vittorio, and now I'm looking for the Palazzo Corsini, home of part of the Galleria Nazionale de Arte Antica. I can't find it, but I do find another museum, and duck in to ask. My memory for foreign languages being what it is (terrible), I can't recall exactly the name of the museum I'm looking for; and the helpful young lady is at a loss. So I thank her, and go out, thinking, it's here somewhere, I'll keep looking. About a block away, I find another of the helpful maps, and when I look, I see: I'd misread the map earlier, and the museum I'd wanted wasn't close at all.

So now what do I do? The museum I wanted was out of the question for today. I could go back to the museum I'd just left; except it was past 4, and so I thought: not enough time for a museum, and so maybe I ought to start making my way to Santa Maria Maggiore. So I set off in what was, more or less the right direction -- back to the "Wedding Cake."

There I found a bus stop, and one of the bus lines went by Santa Maria Maggiore. So, I thought: I'll ride the bus over, and have some time to pray before Holy Mass. So I wait for the bus.

And wait. And wait. Lots of buses, but none that any of those of us standing there wanted. I check the time, and it's now 5 pm. How long do I wait?

Not much longer, I decided. I set off walking again, remembering -- I think -- how to get there. Around the Wedding Cake I go, and down the Via Fori Imperiali toward the Colosseum. All of this, by the way, was part of the Marathon's course -- and there were workers taking down all the barricades and signs and booths set up for the race.

When I get past the Colosseum, I wonder -- is this the right way to Saint Mary Major? Or to Saint John Lateran? Another map; and, sure enough, I had gone the wrong way to east. So I circle back more to the northeast, which would take me to Saint Mary Major.

Walking, walking; I'm getting a little weary! And with Roman streets being curvy, I'm not certain of where I'm going. I check the time: it's 5:44 pm! Mass is at 6! I need to get there! No more time for walking; I need a taxi. So I try to wave down a taxi, except that one after another goes by with fares, so they don't stop. Meanwhile, I am thinking: how can I not be at Holy Mass on Sunday? I'm a priest!

Well, a taxi stops, and he is happy to take me to Santa Maria Maggiore, the "bella basilica!" he says. I get there about six minutes before Mass time. And though I'm tired, I motor up the steps, and to the sacristy, to ask if I can concelebrate.

Sure! No problem, the priest who is vesting said. Great! But it's in Italian, he says.

Italian? Not Latin?


I can't concelebrate in Italian (because I don't speak the language). Thank you; but I excuse myself. And I attend Mass at Saint Mary Major. (I thought; by the time I get back to the guest house where I'm staying, it'll be late; do I want to trouble the sisters about offering Mass in the chapel then? I decide not to.)

It was a very nice Mass. I can't say anything about the homily, but the priest seemed to be very energetic in talking about our Lord and the woman he met at the well, and that's good, isn't it? The Mass was well attended; when Mass ended, and as we were leaving, the lights, notably, were all shutting off. Time to go, it said. It was almost seven pm; as a parish priest, I understand!

So I walked back to the metro station (legs getting tired); the metro station was packed, the train was packed; thankfully, when I got off, I didn't have to wait too long for the bus that would take me the rest of the way back.

When I get back, it's been five hours since I ate lunch; I duck into a restaurant near the guesthouse, and have some pasta -- with red sauce, something not as common as you might think! After dinner, I walk back here, my legs and feet feeling like they're made of concrete.

And that's my day. Not what I planned for, but a day full of grace nonetheless. Thank you Lord!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

How I spent Saint Patrick's Day in Rome...

This is a "back up" post, out of sequence. I didn't mean to omit this, but for some reason I did.

So, backing up to Monday. After having Holy Mass at Santa Maria Maggiore on Sunday, I headed to Saint John Lateran -- San Giovanni Laterano -- on Monday. Again, for various reasons, I was rather...tardy in getting out and about, so I had Holy Mass in the afternoon. In between scheduling a time for Mass, and the Mass itself, I had some time to visit; so I walked up the road a bit (a bit! hah!) to the Roman Forum.

This was "downtown Rome" in Caesar Augustus' time:

Here is the Arch of Constantine, obviously undergoing some restoration work. Yes, that Constantine. He had this built. It's still there.

Here's a view down the Via Sacra to the Arch of Titus.

This was built to celebrate a great victory for Rome in AD 70. From this detail, can you guess what that victory was?

Here's a broader view of the forum. The much newer building you see, looming over all in the background, is the monument erected in Mussolini's time to King Victor Emmanuel to honor the unification of Italy. It's also the site of the tomb of the unknown.

On my first visit to Rome, around 2000, we were able to roam more freely over all this. Now the government has set up entrance and exit gates, and begun to charge admission -- which is the right thing to do. Even so, I liked the old way better.

A number of interesting sites here are either being restored or are subject to further excavation -- so I wasn't able to get close, for example, to the Senate building (yes, the Senate), or the prison nearby that may have housed Peter, Paul or both. But here's an interesting site:

It's a Roman temple, inside of which a church was built. Do you see the block sort of arrangement at the lower end of the staircase? That's believed to be where Saint Lawrence was martyred. The church is named Saint Lawrence.

Well, I had a good time here -- although I really hate walking on the cobblestones -- but it was approaching time to return to Saint John Lateran for Holy Mass.

One of the things I always find so impressive about Saint John Lateran are the huge, astonishing images of the Apostles that line both sides of the nave. I took a few pictures.

Here's Saint James the elder. Yet notice how young he looks!

Here is Saint Matthew. The book in his hands symbolizes, I'm sure, his Gospel. But notice what his foot is resting on:

And here is Saint Bartholomew. Notice what he's holding. Do you know why?

What a difference a day makes (part 2)

OK, back from dinner.

Before I return to my narrative, let me just say this...

What the Italians can do with food...Oh my goodness!

I had veal with some fried potatoes (sidebar to this sidebar: I am discovering potatoes are a more significant element in Italian cooking than I realized. They show up far more often than I expected). You know how that Mike Myers character on Saturday Night Live used to say, it's "like butter!" These potatoes -- sliced thin and cooked in oil -- really were like butter. I've never had fried potatoes like this. I told the waiter; but I don't know if he understood.

OK OK, back to the day...

So after working things out with the Carabineri over misunderstandings about the demonstration, I made my way back down the street, to the Basilica of the Twelve Apostles. But it wasn't yet 4 pm. So I sat down and read a bit, using my iPad -- which, with an app, masquerades nicely as a Kindle. A friend of mine has written a book, and I've been working at it during my travels. If you're reading this, dear friend, I'm about 2/3rds of the way through, and I can't wait till I see you to tell you all my reactions to your magnificent book!

Between jumping up to avoid being run over (it's a narrow street where I was waiting), and giving directions to McDonalds, and being approached by one or two beggars, I managed to read a bit, and then it was 4 pm -- at which point I ambled over to the locked gate in front of the doors of the basilica. There were several people waiting. (I don't know why I don't think to get pictures of these things.)

The fellow who languorously unlocked the door and the gate turned out to be il sacristano -- the sacristan. So I asked him about offering Mass, either that day, if possible, or else the next day, if not. This sacristan wasn't grumpy; he was something between diffident and inscrutable. He managed to use no Italian words I even remotely understood; so I just followed him to the sacristy, and stood around while he got things together. He assigned me to the Blessed Sacrament Chapel, where I found -- no surprise! -- some people waiting for Mass! How did they know?

While I don't usually attempt to get pictures or video while I'm offering Holy Mass, this time I made an exception. Here's a snippet:

Hahaha, just kidding! Did I mention I had a little wine at dinner?

Seriously, I did get a few pictures of the church. Here is the tomb of the Apostles Philip and James, which is under the high altar:

Here is the main altar. The painting depicts -- I think -- the martyrdoms of both Philip and James. I may be wrong; feel free to correct me in the comments. Notice the folks going down to the tomb of the Apostles.

After Holy Mass, I headed back here, at which point I wrote part one of this post, and now I've written part two, as I savor the simple yet really quite good meal I just had at a restaurant around the corner. 

And in digging into my collection of photos, I realize I never reported on my visit to Saint John Lateran, and the Roman Forum! So that's next...

What a difference a day makes (part 1)

Where yesterday -- even after the fiasco with the subway -- ended up being an unhappy day, today was beautiful and fun. Let's go the tape...

First, let me tell you about the rest of my yesterday. Early last evening, when it was too early to get dinner, I was reading some articles online, as I was doing just now. And I was reading one of my favorite Catholic blogs, and had a rather persistent, "you need to update" message that seemed to be from Java -- i.e., a software company whose product is part of lots of websites.

Well, those messages from Java are pretty routine. This one, there was something off, apart from it being in Italian. But, I'd updated Java before, so...

Well, I bet you know what happened. My "Spidey sense" was right; it wasn't Java; and as soon as I hit that button, all @#%! broke loose with my computer. Suddenly, I've got all sorts of programs opening up, things blinking and flashing...

You know how it goes, right?

Well, I took the "uninstall" route, but that didn't solve the problem. The long and short of it is, I ended up doing some research and buying a "spyware" program that showed promise of dealing with this.

And, it did. But all that took a lot of hours. I never went to dinner, and I was up pretty late. And I was grumpy.

Well, this morning came fresh and bright, and I was out the door at the crack of 11. It wasn't just languor on my part; I was spending some time with my laptop, running both the spyware program and my updated antivirus program, to make doubly sure all the crud had been cleaned out. I think so!

Today's destination was not Saint Paul's. I'd gotten a reply to an email from earlier in the week, indicating that they don't allow priests to offer Mass privately; I was welcome to concelebrate, however. So I wrote back to find out when they have a Latin Mass, as I think that is more likely than English, and I'd prefer not to concelebrate in Italian, as I have but a few words of that tongue. If I don't hear back, I'll head down there on Sunday morning and hope for the best.

So, today I decided to visit the Basilica of the Twelve Apostles. The doors were closed when I arrived just after Noon, but they reopened at 4. So that gave me some time to wander around, catch some lunch, and this perfect spring weather.

When I first got off the bus and started looking for the church, I asked a fellow playing a clarinet where it might be, and he pointed me in the right direction -- which happened to be 180 degrees from where I was intending to go! (Yes, I tipped him.) After finding the church, I walked back his way, now on my way to the famous Trevi Fountain.

Here he is, in a fascinating atrium, which -- when I came upon him, he seemed to have all by himself:

In fact, I passed by him later, and he seemed to get a fair amount of traffic; but in my first two encounters, it was pretty empty.

Here's a view of what was overhead:

When he started "Rhapsody in Blue," my heart soared; that's one of my favorites! But he didn't stay with it; he toodled and woodled, and I moved on.

One of the features of Roman streets are battalions of vendors, selling everything you can imagine. I saw a number of them selling some sort of toy -- here's a fellow demonstrating it. It's a gelatinous ball, with some sort of face on it; and when you throw it against the table, it flattens out like it'd been run over, and then slowly resumes its shape. I don't know if you can see it, but it's there. In the United States, I'd have asked him about it; but here, if you show interest, you see his entire inventory, even as you flee running.

One of the features of Roman streets are battalions of vendors, selling everything you can imagine. I saw a number of them selling some sort of toy -- here's a fellow demonstrating it. It's a gelatinous ball, with some sort of face on it; and when you throw it against the table, it flattens out like it'd been run over, and then slowly resumes its shape. I don't know if you can see it, but it's there. In the United States, I'd have asked him about it; but here, if you show interest, you see his entire inventory, even as you flee running.

And here's the famous fountain -- which really is spectacular:

It's a better picture if no one is standing in front of it, but I'm not getting up that early, sorry! This is the fountain into which you're supposed to throw coins; the number varies depending on what sort of with you have. Also, I think you're supposed to do it with your back to the fountain. No, I didn't throw any in.

Well, I watched people watch people at the fountain for awhile, then wandered off in a new direction. I came upon a couple more churches, but they too were closed. When it got a bit past one, I thought it a good time for pranza -- i.e., lunch. As it happened, there's a restaurant near the basilica I've visited before; a lot of clergy come here, particularly American clergy. They're always very welcoming to priests, and the menu had English on it, and the waiter spoke some English. Even though I am not afraid of all-Italian menus, using English -- especially when it's rare -- is nice.

As I'm finishing pranza, I hear a commotion from nearby. Someone seems to be giving a speech, and there's cheering and so forth. Then I realize: that's a demonstration of some sort! This is interesting! I want to see this! So I pay my bill, and poke around the corner, and sure enough, there was a police barricade, and beyond it a crowd of several hundred people, all gathered in front of a public building.

Here's one of the banners:

Here's a shot of the crowd:

Here is one line of police:

 There were several passionate speakers; here's one of them:

I had no idea what was going on, so I asked some journalists sitting on the curb -- I assume that's what they were, from their furious work on laptops. One of them explained it had to do with housing issues. Not long after that, a gentleman, who I think was one of the organizers, noticed me in my collar, and came to talk to me. I think he was hoping I'd be an ally, but I explained I was an American visitor, and listened as he shared a few thoughts about the problem, and asked me to "reflect" on it.

If you're reading this, Archbishop, that's really all that happened. Honest! I mean, I had no idea that giant red banner someone thrust into my hands had a hammer-and-sickle on it! CNN had no business videotaping that! And no matter what anyone from the Italian government may tell you, I assure you it was all a misunderstanding.

Here, see for yourself! Here's a clip I found from CNN:

OK, dinner break! I'm not missing dinner two nights in a row! See you on the other side...

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

How Roman unions ruined my morning

Well, this post was going to be about having holy Mass at the Basilica of Saint Paul's. But that didn't happen today, and I don't know when it will happen. Here's my story.

I headed out to catch a bus around 10 am; the bus would take me to the metro station, and the metro would -- with a transfer a Linea B -- to Saint Paul's. Arriving at Stazione Termini a few minutes later, I got off the one train, and walked up a staircase to get a train on Linea B.

Except there is no Linea B oggi (today) -- the gates are closed, and locked.

What's going on? This  is where not speaking the language really hurts. There are signs, and messages on the video terminals, but all in Italian. Who knows what announcement might have been made that I tuned out? I walk around, hoping to figure something out. After a few minutes thought, I realize: if it were a short delay, the gates wouldn't have been closed and locked. Whatever the problem is, it's not going to be fixed right away.

So, I start hunting for an alternative way to get to Saint Paul's. I pored over a map on the wall, listing bus routes, but there wasn't one direct. It looked like there might be an interurban train, but when I looked for a place to buy a ticket, I couldn't find it. The "auto ticket" machine didn't work for me (not the first time).

Now I'm outside the station, where there are a bunch of bus stops organized on various "islands." Thankfully, each bus line has a sign listing it's stops; so I'm checking each of them, only to confirm my earlier conclusion: no direct bus connection to San Paolo.

So now I head to the information booth. Happily, the woman behind the counter speaks English, and she is able to give me a couple of buses -- necessitating a transfer -- that will get me there. She even writes it out on a piece of paper. Very helpful!

And, while I'm waiting, I hear her explain to another stranded traveler, why Linea B isn't running:

A strike.

Well, I walk over to the island for the 75 bus. I scan the sign; it doesn't list "Piramide," which is the stop where I am to transfer to the 23. I look around at the other ones; none of them list Piramide. But, I figure I can ask the driver.

After waiting a few minutes, I remember my goal was to get there before Noon. I don't know for sure, but based on (limited) experience, I'd found that the sacristans tend to be away from Noon to about 3 or 4. So if I didn't make it by Noon, I was in no hurry. Since I didn't know of anything else near Saint Paul's that was worth seeing, I thought about whether I needed to jump right on this bus.

I looked up, and saw a brilliant gold statue, atop a building, that I'd noticed the other day, with the intention to check it out; so maybe today was that day? It was only a few blocks away; I could check it out, maybe get some lunch, and then head down to Saint Paul's.

The church, it turns out, is Sacro Cuore. And, it was closed. OK...

So I walked around a bit, didn't much like what I saw. I hadn't strayed very far from the train station; and, in fact, I was still on the same bus line. OK, I thought; I'll go see what the Piramide looks like (here's a Wikipedia article). So I sort of sat on the ledge of the wall, near the bus stop (I've noticed bus stops in Rome are conspicuously lacking benches), to wait for the 75.

After an hour, I gave up. If the bus runs less than once every hour, do I really want to rely on it to get me back here? And of course, that lovely word came back to mind: "strike."

So I walked back to Termini, and took the subway line that was working back here.

Now, will it surprise you that, in all that waiting and frustration, I thought about unions and how much power they ought to have? Do you suppose I thought a little about how I'd like to see the public authorities handle these situations?

Perhaps some of my readers are advocates of unionism; perhaps you know (and overlook) that I am more critical. And perhaps, dear reader, this helps you appreciate why many people do not think well of unions and the political power they wield.

Should a union be able to shut down a public accommodation in this way?

It may be a one-day thing, so we may be back in business tomorrow. We'll see.

Feel free to offer your own thoughts in the comments.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Everything you wanted to know about indulgences, but didn't know how to ask

So what's a "indulgence" anyway?

Before diving in, set aside everything you think you know about indulgences. Because the odds are strong you've been given the wrong idea.

An indulgence is a gift of mercy, made possible by Christ himself, but given to the faithful through the ministry of the Church, by virtue of the "power of the keys" conferred by Christ himself, first on Saint Peter in a particular way (Matthew 16), but on the Apostles as a college, and thus the Church through her apostolic leaders (Matthew 18).

OK, did you read that? Did you notice it's (a) a gift...(b) of Christ himself?

But wait, you say -- isn't there something about our own works? And isn't it some sort of way to get off the hook for sins?

Not exactly.

An indulgence is granted, by the Church, in conjunction with various acts of faith and charity. The rationale for attaching indulgences to various works isn't hard to see, once you see what they are. Some are spiritual works of mercy, such as visiting a cemetery; some are actions that are aimed at increasing ones own faith, such as a pilgrimage, or visits to particular holy places.

So what does an indulgence do?

An indulgence is the remittance -- the wiping away -- not of sins (which is available through sorrow and repentance, ordinarily through the sacrament of confession), but of the eternal consequences of sin. In other words, an indulgence is a relief for those undergoing purgation -- i.e., Purgatory. Some indulgences are "partial," others are "plenary" or full. The one I obtained today is the latter. 

So what do you do with an indulgence? Well, you can do two things. You can offer it to God for your own soul; or you can offer it to God for the souls of those in purgatory -- which is what I always do.

You might well wonder, how does this work? Did someone in Purgatory get a visit from an angel, get escorted out, "courtesy of Father Martin Fox"?

I dunno. But doesn't it make sense that the sharing all the Body of Christ have in the life of Christ should not be overpowered by death? Just because we have no real sense of what is going on in heaven or heaven's front porch (purgatory), doesn't mean they are in the same boat. 

It makes perfect sense to me that the souls in purgatory are well aware of both heaven and us. And if there is any suffering in purgatory -- and it makes sense that there would be, since there's suffering here -- isn't it a very happy thought that in some way, they receive some sort of relief or encouragement, and know it's from our prayers and offerings?

And here's another angle on this. You need to furrow your brow and really fire up your synapses to get this idea. Ready?

Where is it written that when we offer prayers and sacrifices for "the dead," that God is limited to applying them...only for people when they're dead?

I prayed for my parents during Mass today. Because they're dead as of AD 2014, does that mean that God is somehow handcuffed, and can only respond to that prayer in terms of what he might do for my parents in the afterlife? Who boxes God in in this way? Not I. Who then?

Consider, then, that when we pray for anyone, in particular for the dead, God is well able to apply those prayers at any point in that person's life. Including in what is -- to us -- the past!

Now, some people might look at this, and might not care for it. It doesn't help that many people, even priests, don't really understand what indulgences are. But why not step back and look at the larger picture here -- look at what the Church is actually doing.

Holy Mother Church is trying to foster both growing in faith, and in charity -- and the conditions of the indulgence, when you think about it, boil down to one word: conversion. If you want to get this grace, convert.

Of course, the Church could just say that. And she does. Over and over.

With indulgences, the Church is saying it a different way. In a way that helps get many people onto the path of conversion.

Mass for my parish in Rome -- and an indulgence too!

A little known opportunity for grace in visiting Rome is the plenary indulgences that are offered to those who visit the four patriarchal basilicae in the city: Saint Mary Major, Saint John Lateran, Saint Paul, and of course, Saint Peter.

The way it works is as follows.

The faithful do the action associated with the indulgence -- in this case, visiting one of the four basilicae mentioned. In addition, they go to confession -- anywhere, and some time close to the visit, not necessarily that day. And they receive holy communion, at the basilica. And they recite an Our Father and the Creed, and offer some other prayer for the intentions of the holy father. And -- this is important, but don't get scrupulous here -- the faithful are to be detached from all sin. That is satisfied by a good confession; but I mention it to emphasize the mindset that the Church is calling for here.

So, yesterday, I went to confession at Saint Peter. Today, I offered Holy Mass at Santa Maria Maggiore (more on that in a moment); Mass of course included the Creed and the Our Father, and the reception of holy communion. So -- if you'll pardon the casual language: one down, three to go!

This week, I'll have Mass at each of the basilicae.

So about the Mass.

My original plan was to try to get to the basilica for the noon Mass, in Latin, and see if I could concelebrate; otherwise, offer Holy Mass privately sometime in the afternoon.

Well, it didn't help that the fellows in the next room decided to be pretty noisy until the wee hours. I didn't care at 11; and was patient at midnight. Around one I was getting irked. When it got to 2 am, I said, quite loudly, "I can hear you." And that worked remarkably well! But I didn't get up as early as I wanted to.

Then, after I had walked part way to the subway station, I realized I'd forgotten my alb. There was a good chance they'd have one for me to use; however, I didn't want to give a grumpy sacristan a reason to say no, which sometimes happens. So I backtracked for my alb.

Well, I arrived at the basilica a few minutes after noon; and I wasn't terribly upset. Not only because I had a plan B, but that was really my preferred option anyway. So I checked in at the sacristy, and one of the Franciscan brothers marked me down for a 4 pm slot, at one of the side altars. This is really common in Rome. When it's a single priest, or a very small group, it's even less of a problem. Larger groups, of course, can require a little more effort, so they like you to reserve your slot ahead of time.

So now I had some time, and it was yet another gloriously beautiful day in Rome, so I decided to walk over to San Giovanni (Saint John), one of the basilica I wanted to have Mass at later in the week. Finding the sacristan around was chancy -- they tend to disappear for several hours in the afternoon -- but it was a lovely walk. I figured I could pray at the basilica, and get some pranzo (lunch) along the way, and take my time getting back to Saint Mary's for Holy Mass.

(I didn't get any pictures at Saint John Lateran, sorry -- but Holy Mass was underway when I got there.)

So the afternoon went; and I was back at Santa Maria Maggiore around 3 pm. I ducked into a side chapel to pray my evening prayer. (Yes, for you purists, that's a bit early. But there's no actual rubric here that specifies just when morning and evening prayer are to be offered; the Liturgy of the Hours is meant to be flexible. And the Church is practical. I learned long ago, as a parish priest, to pray my office when the opportunity arises; because one never knows what the rest of the day will bring. So there!) After that, I just spent some time reflecting and taking in the scene:

Here's a better view of the apse dome:

Around 3:45, I presented myself -- with my credentials -- at the sacristy. A chalice was ready for me, as was the Chapel of the Crucifixion:

The Franciscan brother in the sacristy attempted to explain to me -- in Italian -- that I would have a congregation (of about three people); after he'd opened up the chapel and turned on the lights, I am sure what happened was that some curious people asked him, and he said, yes, there would be Holy Mass.

That was fine with me. So, vested for Mass, I went to the chapel. I offered it ad orientem as you can see. I read the readings in English; otherwise, the prayers were in Latin. I hadn't planned on a homily, but with a congregation, I was obliged to offer one! So I introduced myself, and ascertained, through head nods, that everyone was Italian, and that my congregation had very little English. So I explained, briefly, why I was having Mass there that afternoon. It didn't seem I was being understood, so I didn't see any reason to attempt anything more. I did attempt to explain that, on the other side of the basilica, a Ukrainian bishop was offering Mass -- so I wouldn't be offended if they'd rather have a bishop than a mere American priest! No takers -- but I'm not sure they followed my on that one anyway.

So on with Holy Mass; and when the time came to show the Lamb of God, now my congregation had doubled, maybe a little more! So I broke some of the hosts, and distributed holy communion. As it turned out, not everyone came forward.

After Mass, I chatted a little with the folks, and confirmed everyone was Italian; it turned out one lady was Filipino. A couple of folks ducked out, so I didn't speak with them.

One lovely thing was that, even though they were having difficulty with the Latin, they responded beautifully to the Sanctus, Pater Noster and Agnus Dei. I think if I'd chanted the Pater Noster, they'd have joined right in, as with the others.

After returning to the sacristy, I got this photo of the Ukrainian Divine Liturgy. You can see the bishop was much more popular!

Oh, and a shout-out for my parish back home: I offered this Mass for the parish. How appropriate, then, that it was at a Church named for our Lady, in a Chapel dedicated to the Cross?

Saturday, March 15, 2014

La bella vita in Roma!

OK, here's a report on a glorious day in Rome...

Slept late -- although the combination of a busy street, and an open window, kind of interfered with that...

Since I missed the breakfast at the guest house (run by Oblate Sisters of Saint Philip Neri), I figured I could get something along the way.

My plan for the day was to catch a bus down toward Piazza Navona, and just roam from there. So I set out from the guest house, down toward the main avenue where I could catch the bus...

And I noticed the bicycles. Locked up along the street where I'm staying. I'd noticed them before; and they were as I remembered. Do you notice anything odd here?

No, not the seat, although it does look bad. No, look at the back wheel. It may not be clear from the photo, but in person I can assure you: that bike has sat there so long, it's become part of the ground.

OK, one abandoned bike. So what?

But it's not just one:

Again, notice the back tire. It's been flat for awhile.

In this photo, you can't see the details of every bike. They didn't all look equally bad. But several were in the same condition as the first two.

And then there's this one:

Well, it was past ten and I was getting hungry. So I kept going on down the Via Oslavia. I saw a "bar" -- which isn't what it sounds like in English -- and ducked in for this:

Looks tasty, doesn't it? Well, it was! Sated -- somewhat -- I continued my trek...

Before I'd left, I'd considered some places I might go today; or else during the coming week. One of the things that interests me is seeing examples of Fascist architecture. Not that I'm a fan -- but it's a tangible connection.

So then I come to a small park, with this:

Here's a look at the entire fountain:

Now, I don't actually know if it was Fascist; but note the fasces themselves, as well as the invocation of "honor" (and "virtue," not visible) on the pillars. If you look closely, they also say "Imperium." Hmm, which empire might that be? These sure aren't from the ancient Roman period.

Well, all this thinking made me a little peckish; besides, as pretty as that breakfast was, it was awfully small. So I ducked into another bar, and got...basically the same thing. Ah, Roma!

One of the lovely things about Rome is that you can turn a corner, and find a lovely church. As I walked along, I came upon this church.

Simple, but lovely. The picture on the right shows our Lady, with the help of two angels, pulling people out of flames.

Moving on, I came to another church. I don't remember the name of the first one, but this was San Gioccino -- i.e., Saint Joachim, grandfather of our Lord.

I was very taken by this image, showing Saint Joseph in his final agony, being comforted by his wife -- our Lady -- and his divine foster son:

 This is for everyone celebrating Saint Patrick's Day this coming week. Here's Patrick, reigning over the "Ireland Chapel" (there were several chapels in the church, each dedicated to a different country. Canada had one; we didn't). Please note that Saint Patrick is a bishop -- not a tipsy leprechaun.

And this is Saint Remigius baptising Clovis, in the French Chapel:

 So, moving on down the road, I came to a large piazza, named for Camillo Cavour, one of the leaders in the drive to unite Italy. Here's the statue there, with some figures below, which -- according to a sign nearby -- represent virtues:

 Did you notice the extra two figures? They would be a pair of boys who were having a merry time climbing all over the monument. Meanwhile, another boy, much younger, watched and worried, and ran to his grandfather to tug on his sleeve and point all this out. Grandpa looked sympathetic, but didn't do anything. (Neither did I -- should I?)

At this point, I was near the Tiber, and had given up on the bus; it was just too nice a day! So I crossed over the Tiber, and found my way to this:

Yes, that's the Pantheon -- built in the time of the first Caesar (although rebuilt by Hadrian, about a century later). That always amazes me.

It's a church now, of course: Santa Maria ad Martyres: Saint Mary of the Martyrs. It's a lovely church, entirely round. The first two kings of the unified Italy are buried here. It was filled with tourists, resulting in periodic requests over the PA system for silence -- in five or six languages.

I stopped here and had lunch, gazing at this very site. Then I decided to head back, to see if I could go to confession at Saint Peter's Basilica.

Remember what I said about finding a church at every turn? A few steps from the Pantheon, I stumbled onto this church dedicated to Saint Mary Magdalene.

Here are the mortal remains of Saint Camillus de Lillis:

And, as I was leaving, I caught sight of this unexpected splendor:

So, back across the Tiber, and up to the basilica. On Ash Wednesday the line was huge; today, very reasonable. Soon I was inside, waiting in the line for the sacrament. The way they do it is to have signs on the confessionals, indicating what languages the priest understands. There was one with "English" (also Italian, and I think Maltese) on it. That was for me.

I stayed to pray awhile; then I headed back here and had a siesta. According to Yahoo Maps, I walked just under six miles. But Rome will do that to you! While you've heard of Rome's seven hills, the area where I walked -- where lots of visitors walk -- tends to be fairly level. And it's all so fascinating.

After my siesta (that's when I posted my last item), I headed out for dinner. At the restaurant, I ran into some British folks, who were in town to attend a big rugby showdown between England and Italy. As I told them, I'd seen a lot of Brits all around town, and I joked that they were all wearing the same shirts, plus funny hats. "No," said one of the women, "this is my own hair!" We all laughed -- and I explained how I'd seen a lot of the fans around town with funny hats. I didn't manage to get my iPad out in time for most of them, but I did catch this pair:

Now, the funny thing is, it wasn't this fellow's picture I really wanted. While the princess tiara was a nice touch, the other fellow had some sort of mask on, that kind of looked like a pig face. That's the picture I wanted. But I am sure you can understand why I decided to be happy with what I got.

Ah, Roma!