There are some places we have all had chance to visit that call us back and, if we are wise, we go. Certainly, Rome itself is such for me, but particular places that I visited last year have tugged my heartstrings to come and see once again. The Basilica of Santa Maria Trastevere is one such place.
So, this morning after a nice cup of coffee and a pastry up the hill from where I am staying, map in hand, I headed down the other side of the mountain to see what I could see and to arrive at Santa Maria Trastevere.
“Trastevere” means “across the Tiber”. The Trastevere area of Rome is lovely. It is what you would image Rome in the last century or the one before could have been. Houses, usually about 4 or 5 stories, are built up against one another seeming sometimes to be accretions onto something much older. They are all the warm Roman tans, golds, browns, warm greys and an occasional shade not quite pink. All windows have shutters to be used against the hot summer sun. There are a lot of arches, vines, and still some on this fall day with cascades of flowering plants down old stone walls. Sections of much older walls and buildings are everywhere. The camera comes out quite often. Sunday is a busy day in this area with lots of street vendors and artisans.
The basilica itself is old. If you care to, you can read all the details here so I will not bore you with them. There is a large piazza in front of the church. Almost all churches in Rome feature a piazza of sorts. There were lots of people gathered around the fountain, another feature to the larger churches. There was live music, contemporary but not overt rock, some blues and country-western (with Italian accented English), being played. As I entered the basilica, I could hear chant inside. Were they competing with the music outside or trying to cancel it out so those who wanted to could pray? If you go to the link, you will note there are a lot of mosaics in this church but those pictures, almost any pictures, do not do them justice. The timing of my visit was such that light was coming in on them and the large columns , recycled from a Roman bath on the opposite side of the Tiber, at just that certain angle that warms an interior.
I noted last year when I visited that this church is very well cared for. That is not something that can be said for many of the churches here in Rome. I just found out the other day that Santa Susanna, which usually holds Mass in English for the American tourists and ex-pats, has fallen into such a state of disrepair it may be closed. Apparently the roof is about to fall in. Not so, this church. It has a very active community worshiping in its space as evidenced by the many reader boards of activities. It is also “home base” for the St Egidio Community, a European version of Catholic Worker that is now all over the world. They are noted for their outreach to those beloved peripheries of Pope Francis, have been from the beginning They are also involved in peace and reconciliation work, noted for brokering the settlement of civil war in Mozambique.
When I go into these churches, I will sense a warmth in some of them. I believe that is because their is the life of the living Body of Christ in them. I feel it in this church. In a church such as this one, that is so alive, I will spend time in quiet prayer.
As I sat there today, I could not help but notice the beautiful mosaics on the walls and then on the floors. The ones on the floor struck me today as looking so much like quilts. There is a definite parallel in how they are both constructed, using small pieces of material to create a larger pattern.
In thinking of quilts, I could not help but think of Rosemary Tackes, who along with Jim, her husband was instrumental in founding Concerned Catholics of Montana. Jim told me before I left for Rome, that Rosemary so much wanted to be here for the Synod. In thinking about her and her love for quilts, I was so reminded of her “smallness”, not only in her stature, but in that “smallness” that Pope Francis often speaks about when he speaks of the humble of heart. She was that way, a very humble person who allowed herself to become part of something much greater, allowed herself to be “used’ by God. But in being a small piece, a “tessera”, the small cube shaped piece of material of a mosaic, she became part of the larger mosaic of each of our lives shared together, just as the small pieces of cloth she used to stitch together would become a beautiful quilt. Mosaics warm the interior of this church just as a quilt warms a bed. Interestingly enough, when I bent down to feel these mosaics, even in a shadowed corner, the felt warm and soft.
Both art forms “reveal” with their small pieces something greater. Rosemary and Jim certainly “revealed” something greater for each of us who became involved in Concerned Catholics. It certainly has challenged me to move to another level, another “being used” to hopefully help out as best I can shape a greater design.
Then the music being sung reminded me of another thought that has resonated with me. The eight note scale we use to make music, at least in Western culture, has never been exhausted in its ability to be re-combined to form new harmonies, new symphonies or even a new country-western song.
Each of these, mosaics and the eight-note scale, are ways I think about God. We each contribute our life, our “tessara” to the mosaic of life and in doing so, we reveal a glimpse of the face of God. We each contribute a note in the harmonies that come out of the recombinations of the eight-note scale, to reveal another song, another harmony, another melody. We will never be able to exhaust our ability to “hear” God, as he is to be found in the voices of all God’s children in the choir.
All of this remains unfinished business in this life. We may never see the full reveal of the face of God in this life. We may never catch the complete harmony or symphony of God in this life. But when I think of dying, just before my physical eyes dim and the last breath that I could possibly sing with leaves, I think of it as the time that I will see for the first time the completed and stunning mosaic and will hear the completed and harmonic symphony. It will be the full “reveal” of the face and voice of God.
My luck, that voice of God will be country-western. But, please God, if it is, not with Italian accented lyrics. If it is, I will know I am in Purgatory.
Thank you, Rosemary…..