I decided to extend my stay in Rome until Monday so we went to the Vatican museum and Sistine today followed by St Peter’s. We stood in line from 0830 until 1000 to get in but it was worth the wait. Everything was very, very crowded though. As Richard said as we walked through the museum, it was like viewing salvation history. We saw displays of Egyptian burial goods and mummies. We saw massive sculptures from the Roman empire period, pieces that would have been lost to history without being preserved by the Vatican. We say all kinds of small, pious objects from very early Christianity. When we got to the Sistine, we got lucky in that there were some seats in the back open so Richard and I sat there for at least 15 minutes. I spent some time trying to imagine what it must have been like as a conclave was occurring. I kept looking at the ceiling looking for where they put the chimney for the stove where they burn the ballots. I never did figure out how they did it. I have read books on Michelangelo’s work on this ceiling. The most prominent one I think is called The Pope’s Ceiling. It is another thing to actually see it. There are so many rich figures to look at. I kept craning my neck looking for God creating Adam until the guards herded us into the center. Then Richard pointed directly upwards and I saw it. Richard saw the Sistine 12 years ago right after it opened when they finished the cleaning and refurbishing. He said the colors were much brighter then and was dismayed to see how it has darkened. I have read that the Vatican is laying out some chunk of change to put in a new climate control system. They have noticed deterioration also which they think is due to the number of tourists who sweat and breathe. They just need to ask the tourists to not do those things and it will be fine. It was dismaying to me that the tourists will not get quiet when asked nor stop taking pictures so I expect they wouldn’t get far asking for cessation of sweating and breathing. After lunch, which we ate in one of the Vatican cafeterias there in the museum, we then had to stand in line to get into St Peter’s. The line was all the way around the north colonnade and half way across the back of the piazza but moved pretty good. We were in line maybe a half hour. passing the time talking to Delia, a lovely young lady from China. Richard asked her about the church in China. Her grandmother was a Catholic but she and her folks are Buddhist, or rather her folks are. She says that young Chinese don’t think about religion too much. They are not so different then than other young folks around the world. She certainly was a bright young woman, an IT consultant, who likes to travel and was in Rome on her own Before we could go in, they were screening all bodies and bags. I wonder if that is a standard procedure or if recent threats have them on heightened alert. When we got inside, the place was quite packed at first. The Pieta I found amazingly beautiful and haunting. Mary is depicted quite young, maybe in her twenties, holding a very dead looking body across her lap. The arm of Jesus hangs limp just as I have seen those of the dead. The detail in the legs and knee cap of Jesus are amazing. You don’t think of it as stone. It is in its own special chapel behind shatter proof glass as it was attacked in 1972 by a mentally disturbed man. I have now also seen Michelangelo’s Moses, the risen Christ in Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, and if all goes as planned, I hope to see David in Florence. I am not sure what I think of all of this. Museums I find to be good things. I think we need to preserve history and try to understand it in relation to where we are now. The most interesting thing I found in the museum was the collections of artifacts from early Christianity, those very simple objects that came out of the early faith of the people, an unencumbered practice. I can see, however, from what I saw of the things from Egypt and Rome before Christianity in the museum that a lot of Christian practice just absorbed from those cultures. Maryology is certainly something that came out of those cultures to satisfy the need for the feminine. How we have gotten from that simple faith, shared around a simple meal in someone’s home to something like St Peter’s Basilica is kind of mind-boggling at times St Pete’s was interesting to me only because of people, watching people interact with it. I think it was built to amaze, almost to overpower and people certainly seemed to be both once they stepped inside it. I sat thinking about this while watching people go to confession which is heard in all kinds of languages, including Chinese. I was sitting there watching because it was a place to sit so I could take my shoes off to put my sore, burning feet on the cool marble floor without getting a guard all in a twitter. Then a Mass began and Richard was drawn to it as a musician. It was Vatican 2 Novus Ordo Mass but with Latin chant. The readings were in Italian as well as the prayers of the faithful but the rest was in Latin and chanted by a priest with a not so good voice and quite quavery. I got a kick out of singing the responses just to say I sang in St Peter’s also. I was surprised that they allowed communion in the hand because the rest seemed quite conservative. Overall it didn’t float my boat. I will take any day a Father Jim Hogan Mass in his front room, simple and close. Even better yet would be one of his Masses near the shore of Flathead Lake. This was too much cultic priesthood with a big separation between priests, 3 of them, and people. Too masculine also. There was not a female anywhere assisting in this celebration neither singing….all male tenors but with lovely voices….and certainly not serving. It is actually not quite right to call it a celebration as the whole atmosphere, even the music was somber, almost severe. I have to say the thing that struck me the most about St Pete’s was putting a real physical experience to all of the video of Francis I have seen over the last months. It is such a contrast in my mind now to see him in that setting in the videos. When we first got inside, the main altar area was closed off. The Mass was held in the area at the back of the main altar below the massive window of the Holy Spirit, which is beautiful and almost modern looking, and the very ugly sculpture of the popes above the altar. This sculpture is of 3 or maybe 4, massively tall bearded men in very tall miters in various poses, all dark bronze. After the Mass they let us into the main altar area. That is when I felt that strange contrast in images: a simple man, Jorge Mario Bergoglio who likes Tango, having barbecue with his family, cooking his own meals and walking the streets of the barrios in Buenos Aires and the high altar of St Peter’s. I have this deep sorrow for him to be in the job he is in now and cut off from all that enriched his life. I wonder if he feels a similar kind of dichotomy. He seems to move through it with great calm and peace. I do have to say though, that I think he is his happiest out in the square kissing babies and giving kids a ride in the popemobile or saying Mass in the quiet, clean lines of the chapel in Santa Marta. At least he was able to do that yesterday during the general audience, getting a break from babysitting a bunch of bishops in the Synod where he is trying to get them to speak their own minds and to think like the pastors they are supposed to be To think of what he is trying to do in changing the church almost seems an impossible task. I know that he has spoke of it in terms of changing it one heart at a time and I do think he is achieving that. To quote him: “You do not set out on a mission with defeat in mind.” But to change the Vatican culture? He will be lucky if he makes it out dying a natural death. And I hope to hell he has some good last directives. I am just guessing, but there is no way that I think he would want to be decked out like we saw the body of John XXIII and laid beneath an altar in St Peter’s. I can’t even imagine any kind of big ostentatious funeral for him. If they deck him out in the red velvet and ermine, lace surplice, and red shoes, it will serve them right if he comes back to haunt them. I read a story quoting one of his friends from Buenos Aires. Francis called him shortly after the election for a chat. The friend asked how he was getting on and if he had gotten in trouble for not wanting to wear the red mozetta when he came out onto the loggia to greet the people after his election. Francis said back to him “Oh, come on. Can you imagine me in those things? That is just not me.” Nope….to me it doesn’t seem like him nor does saying Mass in St. Pete’s, but he thinks it is where God wants him to be and he trusts God will help him through it all. A great way to live one’s life, that, trusting God will help us through it all.
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