"Preach the Gospel always; if necessary, use words." attributed to St. Francis of Assisi
Sabbatical Final Week
My last week of sabbatical has been spent entirely in Rome. As a tourist, Rome is overwhelming, dazzling, and exhausting. As a Christian, Rome is overwhelming, embarrassing, and troubling. A good example of the conflicting images can be found in the Church of the Gesù, the mother church for the Jesuits. On one hand, there is a moving tribute and altar to contemporary martyrs, and displays showing the amazing mission work of the Jesuits. But just a few feet away are majestic sculptures of the Cross being used to beat down heretics (which primarily meant Protestants when the sculpture was made.) The ceiling is a violent fantasy of Christianity, led by Ignatius of Loyola, who ushers good Roman Catholics to heaven, while Protestants and believers of other stripes are all cast down to hell (literally falling out of the painted ceiling as sculpture!) Across town is another ironically sad image: St. Francis (who lived and died for poverty) is depicted in a golden, ornate frame over an elaborate altar in a church dedicated to the Holy Stigmata of St. Francis (thus, completely missing the point of the stigmata– his identification with Christ in bearing his wounds.) As busloads of tourists from all over the world are led through “Christian” buildings, I wonder what message about Christ they could possibly be getting. And yet….it’s Rome, and there’s also beauty in every direction, hopefully pointing towards the Author of All Beauty.