Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Santa Prisca

Hello Lenten People,

With Holy Week, we find ourselves yet again climbing the Aventine Hill. It seems it is no coincidence that we began our Lenten Pilgrims in the same manner, as we made our first pilgrimage to Santa Sabina which is located about half way up the Aventine. By now, we have visited so many holy sites, encountered so many saints and martyrs, reflected upon the lives of so many who shed their blood for their faith in Christ that, as a buddy commented today after Mass, "everything is starting to blur together." But perhaps that is just the point....

Today's Church is Santa Prisca. Again we visit a site named after a New Testament figure--"Greet Prisca and Aquila, my co-workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I am grateful but also all the churches of the Gentiles" (Romans 16:3-4)

St. Prisca is believed to have encountered St. Paul in Rome. She then left with him to help teach the Christian faith all around Greece, before returning back to Rome to likely be martyred for her faith. Too, tradition holds that St. Peter stayed at this site for a time. Thus, the main fresco above the altar portrays St. Prisca being baptized by St. Peter...the washing that would prepare her for eternal life. So St. Prisca, along with her great witness, connects us readily to the two greatest saints of Rome--Peter and Paul--those great apostles who too shed their blood. It is their blood, united with that of all the martyrs, that has consecrated Rome in a special way to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is their witness that proclaims Christ and Christ crucified. It is their witness that confounds us...astonishes us...and makes us look deeper within and without.

Here are some shots of those at Mass today, taking this deeper look....

You can see St. Prisca being baptized by St. Peter in the fresco beyond the altar

Some Seminarians before Mass

A Nun, some Seminarians, and some College Students before Mass

Priests before Mass

Number of Priests lining up to consume and be absorbed by the Body and Blood of our Lord

A Picture of St. Prisca in prison...I wonder what kind of a "deeper look" she may have took during this time of testing

I'd like to conclude with some thoughts of St. Paul which I encountered today in prayer. They helped me to express much of what we have been experiencing through the many saints and martyrs we have encountered throughout Lent

[T]o you who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be holy, with all those everywhere who call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I give thanks to my God always on your account for the grace of God bestowed on you in Christ Jesus, that in him you were enriched in every way, with all discourse and all knowledge, as the testimony to Christ was confirmed among you,

so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will keep you firm to the end, irreproachable on the day of our Lord Jesus (Christ).

God is faithful, and by him you were called to fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

I urge you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree in what you say, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and in the same purpose.

For it has been reported to me about you, my brothers, by Chloe's people, that there are rivalries among you.

I mean that each of you is saying, "I belong to Paul," or "I belong to Apollos," or "I belong to Cephas," or "I belong to Christ."


Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?

The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

For it is written: "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the learning of the learned I will set aside."

Where is the wise one? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made the wisdom of the world foolish? For since in the wisdom of God the world did not come to know God through wisdom, it was the will of God through the foolishness of the proclamation to save those who have faith.

For Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom,

but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

Consider your own calling, brothers. Not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.

Rather, God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something, so that no human being might boast before God.

It is due to him that you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, as well as righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, so that, as it is written, "Whoever boasts, should boast in the Lord."

(1 Corinthians 1:2-13, 18-31)

So back to my buddies comment--"everything is starting to blur together." As we gaze upon the authentic Christian life--that life given totally in Love for the Other--it seems our gaze is pointed necessarily to the One who is Love in Human Form---Jesus Christ. As we gaze upon those who have adopted John the Baptist's mission statement--"He must increase, I must decrease"--grace seems to "blur" our vision...so that we see only Christ.

With all this in mind, I offer a prayer written by Mother Theresa. This prayer is prayed every morning by every Missionary of Charity (the Religious Order she founded) in every Mission House around the world:

d.gifEAR JESUS, help me to spread Thy fragrance everywhere I go. Flood my soul with Thy spirit and love. Penetrate and possess my whole
Return to "Paying Tribute to Mother Teresa of Calcutta"being so utterly that all my life may only be a radiance of Thine. Shine through me and be so in me that every soul I come in contact with may feel Thy presence in my soul. Let them look up and see no longer me but only Jesus. Stay with me and then I shall begin to shine as you shine, so to shine as to be a light to others.

Peace ya'll.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Santa Prassede

Holy Week has arrived. Today we made our way to Santa Prassede which lies down near the Basilica of Mary Major in the center of town.

photo by jimforest

She is traditionally said to be the sister of St. Pudenziana and joined her sister in the collection of the bodies of martyrs. It is believed she suffered martyrdom along with her sister. There was a church named after her as late as the end of the fifth century and was first based in an apartment block nearby. It was only in the early ninth century that the church was replaced with the current church. Following St. Prassede's devotion to the martyrs, Pope St. Paschal I brought the relics of 2300 martyrs from the catacombs to rest here.

One of the famous relics in this church is a column that was brought here in 1223 from Constantinople that was said to be the same column on which the flagellation of Christ took place.

photo by wm_archiv

St. Charles Borromeo was a cardinal titular here in the late 16th century and did a lot for the physical structure of the church as well as ministering to the people of the area, going so far as to invite the poor to eat at his table. This table is now part of the church in the chapel of St. Veronica.

This church has a beautiful mosaic in the apse drawing from the book of Revelation. The lower section depicts the 24 elders while above is the Lamb surrounded by 7 candlesticks and the four living creatures. Christ is in the middle with Saints Peter and Paul beside him as well as Saints Prassede and Pudenziana, Pope St. Paschal I with another blue halo, and St. Zeno.

photo by Allie_Caulfield

One of the most brilliants works from the medieval period is also found here in the side chapel of St. Zeno which was built for the tomb of Pope St. Paschal's mother Theodora. Check it out below.

photo by sjmcdonough

In today's readings Jesus is anointed by Mary as a symbolic preparation for his death and burial. And she does this in love. We too this Lent have given of ourselves through penance and prayer in order to move farther away from sin and move more closely to our Lord in love. Today let us push on in our journey to the cross and the empty tomb, knowing that our loving efforts through God's grace, most especially the gift of his Son upon the cross, will bring us to a joyful reunion one day with our Lord in paradise.

For more info about this church check out pnac or wiki.


Friday, March 26, 2010

Santo Stefano Rotondo

Author's Note: This is the final station church post from this author. It's been a pleasure writing for you fine folks over the last month or so. You're always welcome to stop by my blog, This Present Time. Have a blessed Holy Week, everyone. Happy Easter!

On this final Friday of Lent -- Good Friday technically falls within the Easter
Triduum ("three days") -- the pilgrim community of Rome journeyed to the station church of the day, the Basilica di Santo Stefano Rotondo. Also sometimes referenced by its location on the Caelian Hill, St. Stephen in the Round is an ancient basilica dedicated to both St. Stephen, the first martyr, and St. Stephen I, the first king of Hungary.

Santo Stefano Rotondo (19th cent.), Ettore Roesler Franz

Inspired by the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, which had been built by Constantine and his mother St. Helen in 326, St. Stephen's was constructed and dedicated by Pope Simplicius in the late 5th century on the site of an old Roman army camp on the Caelian Hill. The basilica was one of the first churches in the West to be built "in the round," as opposed to the traditional rectangular style. The pastoral setting on the Caelian Hill and the basilica's circular structure would have given the church the distinct connotation of a tomb, since the tombs of emperors and great statesmen were located and constructed in the same way. The intention by Pope Simplicius was to give the Christians of Rome an experience, without leaving home, of what it would have been like to visit Christ's tomb and the church that surrounds it in Jerusalem. For a city that has such a legacy of martyrs, it was fitting as well that Pope Simplicius brought the relics of St. Stephen -- one of the first seven deacons of the Church and its first martyr -- to Rome to be placed under the main, tomb-like altar.

The original church structure was larger than the current one, which underwent heavy renovations in the early and late middle ages. Nonetheless, the basilica remains one of if not the oldest existing examples of the "in the round" style of Christian churches. For this reason, it's fairly important architecturally; I remember studying it in my high school art class! The church is also famous for the series of 34 frescoes along the outer wall which depict various religious martyrdoms in Biblical and ecclesial history. Commissioned by Pope Gregory XIII in the 16th century, the frescoes were thought to have been an encouragement to the seminarians of the German (and Hungarian) College who maintained and worshiped at this church. Because of the political and religious unrest of the time, as well as battles against the Turks in Hungary, many Catholic priests were returning to their home countries to face certain death.

The Mass readings for today speak of persecutions against those who are just, life and death situations for the righteous. Jeremiah feels his life is threatened by those whom he is prophesying against, and Jesus knows that the Jews are wanting to stone him to death. Though today we may not often face the prospect of certain death at the hands of others, we can relate with feelings of being persecuted unfairly. In our lives, whether it's for what we have said or not said, done or not done, or perhaps because of what we believe, we often suffer deeply from unjust causes or in unnoticed ways.

The Stoning of St. Stephen (c. 1660), Pietro da Cortona

Perhaps we can take some solace in today's Responsorial Psalm, "In my distress I called upon the Lord, and he heard my voice." Our faith, rooted in hope, teaches us that God will justify those righteous men and women who are faithful to his truth. Indeed, he has already done so and continues to do so through the once-and-for-all sacrifice of his Son Jesus, whose Passion and Resurrection we are preparing to celebrate. We don't always feel or see this reality daily, but we know it to be true. For those who witnessed the deaths of early martyrs like St. Stephen, it might not have looked like God had heard their voices in distress. Yet, we know that he did and we celebrate today the glory of their sacrifice. In our contemporary struggles, we have hope that we, like them, can persevere in faith, knowing that if we do, we will see what Stephen saw when he said, at the point of his death, "Look, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!" (Acts 7:56)

Thursday, March 25, 2010


Sant'Apollinare alle Terme is a church dedicated to St Apollinaris, Bishop of Ravenna and martyr. The full name of the church is Sant'Apollinare alle Terme Neroniane-Allessandrine; this refers to the Baths of Nero which were in the area (http://romanchurches.wikia.com/wiki/Sant)

When Saint Peter, setting out for Rome, left Antioch after seven years as its spiritual Head, he took with him several of the faithful of that city, among them Apollinaris, a disciple of Jesus Christ. He consecrated him bishop a few years later and sent him to Ravenna as its first bishop.

His first miracle was on behalf of the blind son of a soldier who gave him hospitality when he first arrived in the city of Ravenna. When the apostle told him of the God he had come to preach and invited him to abandon the cult of idols, the soldier replied: “Stranger, if the God you preach is as powerful as you say, beg Him to give sight to my son, and I will believe in Him.” The Saint had the child brought and made the sign of the cross on his eyes as he prayed. The miracle was instantaneous, to the great amazement of all, and news of it spread rapidly. A day or so later, a military tribune sent for him to cure his wife from a long illness, which again he did. The house of the tribune became a center of apostolic action, and several persons sent their children to the Saint to instruct them there. Little by little a flourishing Christian assembly was formed, and priests and deacons were ordained. The Saint lived in community with the two priests and two deacons.

The idolatrous priests aroused the people against him, as we see the enemies of Saint Paul do in the Acts of the Apostles. He was left half-dead on the seashore, after being severely beaten, but was cared for by the Christians and recovered rapidly. A young girl whom he cured after having her father promise to allow her full liberty to follow Christ, consecrated her virginity to God. It was after this that, in the time of Vespasian, he was arrested and interrogated and again flogged, stretched on the rack and plunged into boiling oil. Alive still, he was exiled to Illyria, east of the Adriatic Sea.

He remained three years in that country, having survived a shipwreck with only a few persons whom he converted. Then he evangelized the various districts, with the aid of his converts. When an idol ceased to speak during his sojourn in one of these regions, the pagans again beat him and threw him and his companions on a ship which took them back to Italy. Soon imprisoned, he escaped but was seized again and for the last time subjected to a flogging. He died on July 23rd of the year 79. His body lay first at Classis, four miles from Ravenna, and a church was built over his tomb; later the relics were returned to Ravenna. Pope Honorius had a church built to honor the name of Apollinaris in Rome, about the year 630. From the beginning the Church has held his memory in high veneration. (http://www.magnificat.ca/cal/engl/07-23.htm)

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

San Marcello

Today’s station church was San Marcello. It is named after Pope Saint Marcellus I. He died working in the stables on which this church was built. He had been condemned to work there. He was elected in 308 and during his pontificate he was faced with the question of what to do with those people who had denied the faith during the persecutions. He upheld the traditional period of penance. After he made this decision he was arrested and forced to work in the imperial stables in which he died as I previously mentioned. In the early fifth century the first church in this place was built in his honor. This church held the unfortunate honor of being the seat of the antipope Boniface in 418 and then again of an antipope in the early twelfth century.

There are the relics of several saints contained in this church including Saints Degna, Merita, John, Blaise, Diogenes, Longinus and of course Marcellus. This church also contains a crucifix that survived a terrible fire in 1519. It has been especially venerated since then and was carried throughout the city before the opening of the Second Vatican Council and the Great Jubilee Year of 2000.

In today’s readings we hear Jesus say, “If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” The word is the Bible that has been passed down to us by the Church that Jesus Christ founded. By following this word and following the Church he set up on earth we are his disciples. And by making sure that we follow the teaching of the Catholic Church we can make sure that we are living in truth and it is by living in this truth that we are set free. As we come closer and closer to Easter let us strive to understand more fully what the Church teaches and pray especially for those Christians that are not in union with Rome.

This is a picture of the paiting over the high altar: St. Marcellus in glory.

This is a picture of the high altar in which the relics of Saint Marcellus are enshrined.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Santa Maria in Via Lata

Hello People on the Way,

Today's church is Santa Maria in Via Lata located just off the busy Via del Corso running straight through the heart of Rome. Although situated just off this busy street, lined with shops full of designer clothing,

the remains under this church date back the first century! It is believed that St. Paul himself lived there for awhile while he was in Rome. Ever since, it has been a site used by Christians. As early as the fifth or sixth century, the first Church could have been built on this site.

As you take a walk inside, you immediately are struck by the deeply red marble columns holding up this oasis in the heart of Rome.

Following the red marble columns to the top of the dome, you then are captivated by Bernini's portrayal of the Assumption of Mary.

The Assumption (or the "Dormition" as it is called in the East) refers to the very ancient belief that Mary, rather than dying a natural death, was "assumed" body and soul into heaven at the end of her life. Why would early Christians believe this? Well, because they also believed that Mary was conceived without original sin. Now why would early Christians believe that? Because Jesus had to be fully man, and Mary was his mother. Jesus took his humanity from Mary. But Jesus was also God. Thus, sin could not touch his being. So, the flesh that the Son of God was to take on, had to be immaculate...pure...perfect. So, Mary was preserved by God's grace from the stain of original sin. If we read the book of Genesis, we learn that man dies because of sin. "Death" was not part of God's game plan for human life. It came only as a result of sin. So, if Mary was conceived without sin--the cause of natural death--then she would not die a natural death. Sooooooooo, the early Christians believed that Mary was ASSUMED into heaven...fully. And thus stands as the Queen over heaven and earth. She awaits all of us....she paved the way for all of us...to be with God....perfectly...fully....body and soul...at the end of time...and on into Eternity!

Hopefully that made some sense. I know these may be new insights for some of you, but I encourage you to think about them...take them to prayer...see how they settle...or move within you.

After having your mind melted by that fresco, you are ready to lower your gaze upon the icon of the Blessed Mother just below. This particular icon is entitled "Mary Fount of Light, Star of the Sea."

It is believed to date back to the late 12th century. The church had several holy cards in the back of the church bearing this image. On the back was a beautiful prayer which really struck me. I would like to share it with ya'll. I have bolded the part that struck me the most:

"An Act of Commitment

In the name and to the glory of the Blessed Trinity, who has chosen you to be the Mother of Christ the Saviour, and the Mother of a humanity in need of salvation. Aware of my unworthiness, but confident of your motherly help I, who through my Baptism have already been immersed in the mystery of Christ and of the Church, place myself (today) entirely in your hands, oh Mary:

To walk with you, to cooperate with you in the Church in the history of salvation to bring to completion with you, day after day, my commitment of love and service to my brothers and sisters. With you shining example of faith, with your life of witness to the gospel, with that love with which you reach out to all as your children, may I too embrace them all in your heart, transforming for their sake, with the grace of the Holy Spirit, my life and my every deed into an unceasing act of love and of offering. And thus would I prolong in myself your maternity in the order of grace, to the benefit of all humanity in this present life and in eternity to come.

Grant me, oh Mother, a deep knowledge of you. Immerse me in your moments of silence, which are moments of intense action. Give me your humble availability to the Lord, and your delicate care for the brethren. Lend me your heart with which to love; live through me your desire to save. Amen!"

A beautiful prayer, perhaps, we can offer together in a special way this day and each day until Easter.

After Mass, they opened the crypt and let us go and walk around the ruins dating back to the first century. The frescoes that remain lend scholars to believe that Oriental Christians occupied this house for a long time, because the style is only found in the East. Some scholars also maintain that the last picture displayed portrays a species of upper level primate indigenous to the flatlands of Central Alabama. How such a species made its way into the first century ruins of Rome, still remains a hot bed of contention.

Aiiiiiight. Until next time.

Keep it Real.

Play for Keeps.

Keep Playing for Real.


Monday, March 22, 2010

San Crisogono

We are almost there. It's the last week of Lent! Today we visited the church of San Crisogono which may perhaps be the site of the oldest purpose-built church in Rome.

photo by ndalls

It is named after a 4th century military officer who was martyred in 304. His cult became popular and his name would eventually be included in one of the Eucharistic prayers (the Roman Canon). As soon as the persecutions were over, a large hall was constructed on this site. This would have even been before the Edict of Milan which granted religious freedom throughout the Roman Empire.

photo by jrm_tomburg

The remains you see above are from the first church building. The current church building is from around the 12th century. In the mid 19th century, the church was placed in the care of the Trinitarian Order which still serves here today. Their original purpose was to free Christian slaves. Inside the church, at the end of one of the aisles, is a chapel dedicated to Jesus the Nazarene. This chapel has a lot of significance for the Trinitarians. When negotiations to free slaves were successful, a statue of Jesus the Nazarene was used as a sign of the freedom of the slaves.

photo by jdtreat

Today's readings remind us that Christ is the light of the world and though we walk in darkness, though we struggle under our slavery to our own sinfulness, and perhaps struggle to accept the knowledge of how weak we are, He is at our side to walk with us. We are never alone in our battle to live free from sin. As the psalm today says, "Even though I walk in the dark valley I fear no evil; for you are at my side."

For more info about this church check out pnac or wiki.


Friday, March 19, 2010

Sant' Eusebio

I hope that today finds you having a happy and blessed Feast Day of Saint Joseph, Husband of Mary. My regrets also go out to all of you, who like myself, find yourself with a “busted bracket” one day into the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. If anyone doubted that the Big Ten was the best basketball conference in the nation this year they only had to tune into yesterday’s games to see the real Big East. Now that it has been settled that the Big Ten was once again superior to all others this year I’m sure some of you are interested in hearing about today’s station church.

Today’s station church was Sant’ Eusebio. The patron saint of this church is Saint Eusebius who was a priest of Rome in the 4th century. Saint Eusebius was a martyr who was persecuted and killed because he held the orthodox position on the divinity of Christ during the Arian controversy. He defended Saint Athanasius before the Emperor Constans in 357 and was condemned to death by starvation. This sentence was carried out at his home which was transformed into today’s church. The first church was restored around 750 and then rebuilt later that century. Another reconstruction was finished in 1238 under the instruction of Pope Gregory IX. This version of the church was renovated and redecorated from 1711 to 1750 giving us the church as it stands today.

The thing I found most striking about the church is the ceiling of the church which shows Saint Eusebius in glory. In the image Saint Eusebius is shown holding a tablet on which is inscribed a Greek phrase that translates to, “consubstantial with the Father”. This is the phrase he defended and it is the truth that he died for. Saint Eusebius is a great saint to ask for intercessions on behalf of those who do not hold that Jesus Christ was truly God.

Since today is the Solemnity of Saint Joseph, Husband of Mary there are some options for today’s readings. I would like to comment on the first chapter of the Gospel of Matthew. In this Gospel we find Joseph, betrothed to Mary, but before they had a chance to live together, finding out that she was with child. This of course was scandalous to him since he did not know that she had been with no man, but instead was carrying the Christ child. Joseph was a righteous man and instead of deciding to have Mary stoned, which would have been perfectly in his rights since it appeared that she was carrying another man’s child, he decided that instead of exposing her to shame he would divorce her quietly. It was in this time that the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and told him how Mary came to be with child and to take her into his home. When he awoke he did exactly as the angel of the Lord had instructed him to do. It is on this that I which to comment.

As you know, Saint Joseph’s words are not recorded anywhere in the New Testament. The man whom God decided upon for his only son’s earthly father is not quoted at any time and it is easy to find this perplexing. Could it be that it is not that Joseph had nothing important to say, but it is more important that we look to his example. In Joseph we see someone who in today’s readings is completely caught off guard with God’s plan and instead of protesting and trying to strike a bargain with God he does immediately what he is told. That in itself is enough for a gut check. However I would like to explore further the example that Saint Joseph gives us.

How often do we find ourselves wishing that we could do something heroic for God? How often do we wish that we could prove our love for God in some way, do the unthinkable so as to give God glory? The truth is that for most of us we will spend most of our lives doing things that we find less than heroic for God. But perhaps it is in this desire to do something heroic that we can learn from the example of Saint Joseph. Saint Joseph was a devout Jew and there is no doubt that like any other God fearing man he wanted to do something great for God. However, when it comes down to the actual living of his life Joseph spent much of it quietly obeying the will of God and without much pomp raising the Christ child and caring for his wife Mary. I believe that it is in doing all these little things, simply going about doing God’s will for him, that he was prepared to do something great for God when he was called upon. It was Joseph whom God called upon to protect the baby Jesus and his mother Mary from King Herod and Saint Joseph did so heroically taking his family and leading them into Egypt. It is from the example of Joseph that we learn that there are many things which God will ask us to go about doing quietly and without the notice of others so that when we are called upon for greatness for the Lord we will be willing and able to do so. Our reward of course for quiet and simple fidelity to the Lord will be great like Joseph’s reward, closeness to Jesus Christ and his mother Mary.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

San Martino ai Monti

North and east of the Roman Forum and the Colosseum lies the Monti rione, or neighborhood, of Rome. One of the largest of the 12 sections of Rome, the "Mountains" neighborhood is named thus because it covers the Esquiline and Viminal Hills and part of the Quirinal Hill. In ancient times it was the most heavily populated area of the city and also one of the poorest. It's fitting then, perhaps, that this area of the city is the location of a church named after one of the greatest patrons of the poor, St. Martin of Tours. This church, the Basilica di San Martino ai Monti, is our station for today.

The church is alternately known as the Basilica of Sts. Martin and Sylvester, the latter being the pope-saint who founded it in the early 4th century. It originally was the dwelling place of the priest Equitius and the house church took its name from him for a time, the Titulus Equitii, dedicated to the martyrs of Rome. About the year 500, the complex was rebuilt and dedicated at that time to St. Martin and St. Sylvester. The current basilica dates from the mid-9th century, when the name St. Martin's on the Mount became the most common title for the basilica. The church has been served by the Carmelite Order since the 14th century, and the facade and much of the interior dates from the 16th century.

As I mentioned, it's fitting that a church located in one of ancient Rome's poorest areas should be named after St. Martin of Tours. Named after Mars, the Roman god of war, Martin was raised to be a great soldier like his father, who served as head of the Roman cavalry in early 4th-century Gaul. At the age of 10, and to the great displeasure of his family, Martin became entered into the catechumenate, the long process of study and piety that was the process one started upon in order to be baptized a Christian. Although Christianity had recently been legalized by the emperor Constantine, it was still a minority religion with a stigma of appealing mostly to the poor, uneducated, and marginalized social strata. Martin's choice of becoming Christian would also have bucked strongly against the Mithraic cult, which was the typical religion of the military elite.

Martin gives up his career as a knight and soldier. A 13th-century fresco by Simone Martini, in the Chapel of St. Martin in the lower part of the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi.

Saint Martin and the Beggar (c. 1599) by El Greco

At the age of 15, still unbaptized, Martin became a cavalry officer like his father and served in the area around Amiens. One winter day, coming upon the gates of Amiens with his soldiers, he met a scantily-clad beggar freezing in the harsh conditions. Martin quickly and impulsively sliced his own cloak in half and handed one piece to the poor man. That night, Martin dreamt he saw that half of his cloak again, now wrapped around the shoulders of Christ, who said to the angels, "The soldier Martin, still unbaptized, has clad me." Taking the vision as a sign of confirmation in his faith, Martin was baptized at the age of 18. He continued to serve in the cavalry until the age of 20, when on the eve of a great battle he determined, "I am a soldier for Christ. I cannot fight for man." He was imprisoned for disobedience and cowardice, but though he offered to step to the front of the ranks unarmed, the sides sued for peace and battle was averted. Martin was released and left for Tours, where he became a disciple of St. Hilary of Poitiers and an ardent proponent of orthodox Trinitarian theology in the fight against the heresy of Arianism. He founded monasteries across Italy and France, continuing to argue against Arianism and other heresies. In 371, he was named the bishop of Tours, where he was known as a loving and dedicated shepherd, especially concerned always for the poor. One of the most popular saints in Europe's history, he is venerated today as the patron saint of soldiers and the national patron of France.

An icon of the First Council of Nicaea. There, the teachings of the priest Arius (in brown, foreground) are condemned.

The Basilica of Saint Martin has another interesting historical note, which also happens to relate to Arianism. The other saint for whom the church is dedicated, Pope St. Sylvester I, used the house church originally built on this site to prepare for the First Council of Nicaea. The council had been called to deal with the threat of Arianism, the heresy which denied the dogma of the Trinity by asserting that the Second Person of the Trinity (the Word, Jesus Christ) is not divine in the same way or to the same degree as the First Person, the Father. It is from this council that the Nicene Creed was written, which we still recite today in the liturgy. According to tradition, Pope St. Sylvester and his theological advisers gathered at the Titulus Equitii to examine the writings of the priest Arius and to prepare their arguments against him. After the council had ended, and Arius and others had been condemned, the Pope and his clergy gathered at the house once again to formally burn the heretical texts. The episode is remembered today as an important example of the duty of the pope and the bishops of the world to defend the Catholic faith from all moral and doctrinal error.

The Crypt of San Martino ai Monti (1806), by Fran├žois Marius Granet

What the crypt looks like today.

In today's Gospel from St. John, Jesus rebukes the Jews for their lack of belief. Just as they failed to understand Moses, who -- like all the prophets -- foretold of Christ's coming, so too did they fail to see the Christ when at last he appeared. In our day, too, the temptation is ever present to abandon Christ, to see him merely as a wonder-worker who lived a holy life, or even as a prophet of social and moral virtue. Let us not confuse ourselves! "The works that the Father gave me to accomplish, these works that I perform testify on my behalf that the Father has sent me. Moreover, the Father who sent me has testified on my behalf." John testified that Jesus is the Christ; the works of Jesus testify that he is the Christ; and indeed, as he says, the Father himself, at the moment of Jesus' baptism, testified "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased" and again at his Transfiguration, "This is my beloved Son; listen to Him!"

My friends, let us be ever vigilant to guard ourselves from any influence or source that causes us to doubt this most fundamental of our beliefs, that Jesus is the Holy One of God, the Savior sent to redeem us. Like Pope Sylvester and the council fathers of Nicaea, we must remember that our faith has no other foundation, no other savior, no other hope than He to whom even the Father has testified. Indeed, imagine the Apostle St. John, long after witnessing the events of the Gospel above, writing again of the same truth, a truth he himself had understood from Jesus' words: "And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life" (1 Jn 5:20).

Have a great weekend, everyone! As always, feel free to check out my other posts here.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

San Paolo Fuori Le Mura

“For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” -Hebrews 4:12

Today's station church is one of the major (papal) basilicas of Rome: St. Paul's Outside the Walls. It is quite a hike from the NAC to St. Paul's (since it is, after all, outside the walls of the city) but it has a fascinating and long history which makes it one of the favorite pilgrimage sites of the seminarians here at the North American College.

At the beginning of the 4th century, with the end of the persecutions and the promulgation of the Edicts of Tolerance in favour of Christianity, Emperor Constantine ordered the excavation of the cella memoriae, the place where Christians venerated the memory of Saint Paul the Apostle, beheaded under Nero around 65-67 A.D. Above his grave, located along the Ostiense Way, about two kilometers outside the Aurelian Walls surrounding Rome, Constantine built a Basilica which was consecrated by Pope Sylvester in 324.

The Tomb of the Apostle Paul, discovered only in the last century. This has been the site of his remains since the early Christians buried him and the Emperor Constantine erected the first Basilica in his honor.

Between 384 and 395 the Basilica, under the emperors Theodosius, Valentinian II and Arcadius, was restored and enlarged according to an extensive project consisting of five naves opening out into an atrium (quadriportico), or courtyard with four rows of columns. Throughout the centuries the Basilica would not cease to be embellished and enhanced by the Popes. For example, the massive defensive wall was built to protect against invasions at the end of the ninth century, while the bell tower and the magnificent Byzantine door were constructed in the eleventh century. This historical period represents the golden age of what had been the biggest Basilica of Rome, until the consecration of the new Basilica of St. Peter in 1626. This sacred place of Christian pilgrimage was well-known for its artistic works.

The triumphal arch over the main altar depicting Christ as victor over death (hence why it is called a "triumphal arch").

In addition to the Papal Basilica, the entire complex includes a very ancient Benedictine Abbey, restored by Odon of Cluny in 936. This Abbey remains active even today under the direction of its Abbot who retains his ordinary jurisdiction intra septa monasterii. The Benedictine Monks of the ancient Abbey, founded near the tomb of the Apostle by Pope Gregory II (715-731), attend to the ministry of Reconciliation (or Penance) and the promotion of special ecumenical events.

Innocent III (1198-1216) ordered the creation of the large mosaic in the apse (24 meters wide and 12 meters long), which at present looks much the same as it did when it was completed centuries ago. At that time the Basilica was universally known, not only as an important destination for pilgrimages but also as a chest of Paleo-Christian, Byzantine and Gothic artistic treasures.

On the night of July 15, 1823, a fire destroyed this unique testimony to the Paleo-Christian, Byzantine, Renaissance and Baroque periods. The Basilica was reconstructed identically to what it had been before, utilizing all the elements which had survived the fire. In 1840 Pope Gregory XVI consecrated the Altar of the Confession and the Transept.

Other embellishments followed the reconstruction. In 1928 the portico with 146 columns was added. Contemporary work in the Basilica has uncovered the tomb of the Apostle, while other important and beneficial works are carried out, as in the past, thanks to the generosity of Christians from all over the world.

In the fifth century under the Pontificate of Leo the Great, the Basilica became the home of a long series of medallions which would to this day depict all the popes throughout history. This testifies, in an extraordinary way, to “the very great, the very ancient and universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious Apostles, Peter and Paul” (Saint Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses 3, 3,2). (http://www.vatican.va/various/basiliche/san_paolo/en/basilica/oro_basilica.htm)