Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Usual Run of Humanity

So, here I am in Rome, in a hotel that is literally a stone's throw from St. Peter's. Yesterday was arrival day--red eye flight from Ottawa by way of Philadelphia, check in, meet and have lunch with the large and extraordinarily warm and friendly extended family of Michael Weitl, the MH seminarian whose diaconate ordination I am here for, and then our first 'tourist' event: the Roman Colosseum and Forum.
Pictured: Ruins

OK, I'm the first to admit that I'm not much of a photographer. In my defence, I have never even owned a camera in my life (I borrowed the MH library's camera), and have to continually remind myself to take a picture. This is (clearly) the exterior of the Colosseum; here is a photo of the interior ruins. 

Pictured: More ruins

Here is seen the ampitheatre floor, where all the 'entertainment' went on, and the seating around. Another member of the tour group asked me afterwards what I thought of it all. Besides the usual rather cliched thoughts of sic transit in gloria mundi and all that, I was actually quite struck by the fact that this was an entertainment centre, fundamentally, a theatre, a place where the Roman citizenry went for the spectacle of large muscly men trying to kill each other and condemned criminals being slaughtered by gladiators or wild beasts.

It was all about entertainment, all about the usual run of humanity: shallow, thoughtless, cruel at times, self-absorbed at others. Not incapable of kindness and flashes of genuine goodness, but always capable of a great calamitous descent into 'the banality of evil'. Such is our human condition.

Today, it is crowded with tourists, all of us armed with cameras of various i-types. Where before the human condition was marked by public executions and rivers of blood seeping into the white sand of the arena floor, now it is marked by 'selfies' and sodas, tour guides shepherding crowds wandering around staring at the ancient ruins. Which, I suppose, is progress--after all, nobody got their throat slit yesterday.

The usual run of humanity: I find us a loveable lot, really, in our ordinary ways and means, even with the descent into cruelty and barbaric evil that we are tragically prone to. But in the midst of that usual run, there is this other reality, which (whoops!) lousy photographer that I am, I failed to snap. At the entry of the Colosseum is a large, plain cross, marker of the historical fact that among those condemned criminals slaughtered by the beasts and the swordsmen were Christians, dying for their faith in Jesus. It is from that Cross that the Pope, each Good Friday, begins the solemn stations of the Cross in memory of Jesus' sacrifice, mirrored in the blood of the martyrs.

The usual run of humanity... and in the midst of it, shining forth like precious stones in a mud pit, this. Love to the point of death, the will to suffer and be slain for God, the courage to bear witness to a jeering, disbelieving world to the hope that transcends this world. The world's glory passes away, quickly or slowly, and ruins dotted by tourists are all that is left. But the glory of the Lord endureth forever, and this glory is expressed in faith, hope, love, diakonia (service) and the will to suffer and endure whatever is asked for the sake of God and his love poured out in the life of Christ and His Church.

Which is where we're heading today--a sweep through a few of the major basilicas of Rome, St. Peter's square, and so forth. Which, God willing, I will tell you all about tomorrow!

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