A Blog from Rome

I didn’t know that I suffer from agoraphobia until this year. We were in Rome this spring when the city imageswelled with pilgrims to celebrate the canonizations of the two popes, John XXIII and John Paul II. We couldn’t even get within a mile of Piazza San Pietro; it seemed that half of Warsaw was in town. Here’s a picture from the other side of the river, about two miles away, which was as close as we could get without needing the services of the Italian Red Cross.

The event naturally encourages us to think about the monumental achievements of these two popes. Pope John XXIII’s calling of the Council, of course, will stand as one of the most important institutional events of the modern era. It encouraged and renewed so many people, inside and outside the Church. Pamela and I were very lucky to be able to pray most evenings with the Community of Sant’ Egidio, a lay community of peace founded by high school students in Rome who were inspired by John XXIII and the Second Vatican Council. The community is anchored in communal prayer, evangelization and solidarity with the poor.

An aspect of John Paul’s legacy was on display in the newly opened excavation of a section of Domitian’s Circus, better known to tourists as the Piazza Navona. The archeological site had just opened a photographic and text exhibition celebrating the tireless efforts at interreligious dialogue of Pope John Paul II. It is amazing to be reminded how often he traveled to meet leaders of Jewish, Islamic and other faith traditions in the service of mutual understanding and peace. The second of the “Ten Commandments” of the Assisi prayer gathering for peace formulated by John Paul II reads:

We commit ourselves to educating people to mutual respect and esteem, in order to help bring about a peaceful and fraternal coexistence between people, of different ethnic groups, cultures and religions.

The photo exhibit is an excellent tool for such education; I hope that a good website for it will be available soon. So far I have been unable to find one. In the meantime, here is an article that lists the pope’s travels in the service of interreligious dialogue.

David Hammond and his wife Pamela Hedrick teach theology and Sacred Scripture for Saint Joseph’s College Online.

Memorial Day – Remembering the Ultimate Sacrifice

As our nation celebrates Memorial Day and honors those who have sacrificed their lives for the freedom of their country, it is a good time as Catholics to remember the ultimate sacrifice made by Jesus Christ for the freedom from sin of all of humanity – the Ultimate Sacrifice. In this Easter Season, we revel in the light of the resurrection, which is our proof that the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross was actually effective. Jesus’ giving of his life was worth the pain and suffering because it accomplished what it set out to do – show once and for all that God is more powerful than evil.

The resurrection is evidence of that. But do we really believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ? We say these words whenever we recite the creed – but do we really believe them? It is an absurd concept – even Thomas didn’t believe it when the other apostles told him. He had to see the risen body of Jesus for himself. Jesus tells him, “Blessed are those who do not see, yet believe.” (John 20:29) I think St. Paul is the greatest example for us for that! And we can see, each in our own lives, our own personal encounters with Jesus that affirm His resurrection to us. Truly, it is only through the eyes of faith, through a relationship with Jesus, that one can believe in the resurrection.

As people of faith, we must ask ourselves, then, whether the resurrection makes a difference in how we live our lives – in how we approach situations, how we make decisions. The resurrection is proof that the unconditional love of God is the most powerful power in the world. It is more powerful than anything else, including anything that is not love. Think of all the ways, big and small, that we experience a lack of love in our lives – all the ways that we sin and are sinned against. God’s love is more powerful than all of that! Indeed, it is more powerful than death itself.

Well, if the unconditional love of God really is the most powerful power in the world, then our lives should reflect that. Money, prestige, power, time (I think efficiency is the most common way we fail to live in the resurrection – the most efficient solution is often not the most loving) are all secondary to, even at the service of, love. The measure of success in the Christian life is love. We see the effect of the resurrection in our lives when we see that something we did out of love has an intrinsic value. This is why they will know we are Christians by our love!

This weekend, we are mindful of the freedoms we enjoy thanks to those who have died for this country. Let us also be mindful of that freedom from sin gained for us through the Paschal Mystery of Jesus Christ, the freedom that enables unconditional love to be the ultimate power in our lives.

Carmina Chapp teaches theology for Saint Joseph’s College Online.