Friday, June 29, 2012

The Lone Monk

While driving through Sicily, seemingly out-of-nowhere, appeared a huge monastery on top of a hill. It stood as if a citadel from the medieval past. Much of the sacred architecture in Sicily seems to belong to the Crusader school of building, with thick walls, few windows, and stout-defensive towers. Proceeding up the narrow road, all the structures looked abandoned. Parking the car, I first walked into the beautiful church. The small chapel was cool and dark on the bright-white hot day. The apse mosaic featured a Byzantine depiction of Christ in Judgment. I prayed for awhile, then went down a long corridor to see if anyone was home. In a small room, sat a solitary monk clad in his black habit. Alone in his wheelchair, the aged priest's robes were spotless and meticulous, as was his hair and general appearance. He spoke no English, but my cousin interpreted. He was the last surviving monk in a cloister than once housed over one hundred. As first, I though: How sad. Then I asked him why he did not return to his mother house near Rome. He ardently shook his head. My initial sense of pity for the little man turned to great admiration. I was reminded of a creepy horror film from the 70's called “The Sentinel” about a series of religious men and women who, over the generations, take a lone stance, guarding the gates of hell. Likewise this humble servant of god was making his stand. I thought, perhaps one day the old monastery will live again with a plethora of vocations. Maybe not. But the lone monk fought till the end.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Daisy Dukes, the Ugly American, and Bad Manners in Rome

The Porter at San Luigi dei Francesi.

A sign at the same Church.
When I arrived in Rome, the one particular about the City that surprised me the most was not the crowds, the traffic, or the noise, but the extreme irreverence shown by tourists at the various holy sites. Since I am a male with good vision, thanks to my glasses, I couldn’t help but to occasionally ogle at the scantily clad women everywhere; Lord forbid, even in line to enter St. Peter's. The constant sight of very short shorts repeatedly reminded me of a stupid line from Katy Perry's abysmal song “California Gurls.” In general the worst offenders where the Europeans and the Americans; the men are not excluded for their sloppy little boy-outfits of Bermuda shorts, sagging socks, sandals, and baseball caps. To their cultural credit, the best dressed and the award for deportment goes to the Asian tourists, Black-Africans, and African-Americans. When I lived on the border of Oakland and Berkeley during my days at the college, on Sundays, I was always mesmerized by the bright formals and large hats worn by the Black women in the neighborhood as they went to church. Somehow, they were able to maintain a tradition of dressing-up for services. Sadly, this has been lost in the Euro-American world.
Thankfully, there were guards of decency at some of the Basilicas and at the Vatican. In front of St. Peter's, once you passed through the metal-detectors, a young, well-dressed man looked everyone over as we passed under a small canopied area. Since I went through here several times, I noticed that he usually stopped those with sleeveless shirts and or shorts that were cut excessively high. Most just covered up with large caftans or scarves. One strange woman, put a fabric duffel-bag over her bare shoulders and asked if this was OK. As a fellow American, I was embarrassed for her; even if she was not. The greatest watch-dog for God prowled about the national church of France in Rome, San Luigi dei Francesi. The place was especially crowded with tourists as it housed several beautiful paintings by Caravaggio. The lay-porter was a scrawny little Filipino man with a mighty spirit and a loud voice. He kept his eye on the door, and ejected several cursing Americans for offensive dress. I couldn’t help myself from watching in glee. He also persistently asked for silence over a loud speaker. Another of heaven's gate-keepers was a young Redemptorist priest at the Scala Sancta (The Holy Stairs) who quickly and efficiently blasted several ignoramuses for rudely talking on their cell-phones in the sacred little chapel. That day, those two were my heroes. .

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Movie Review: Prometheus

I usually like the films of director Ridley Scott (Blade Runner, Gladiator, Robin Hood.) They are big, epic, and ambitious. His newest project, “Prometheus,” is no exception, for it takes on the theory of evolution, religious faith, and Man’s longing for unattainable knowledge. What makes the movie remarkable is that Scott tackled all these subjects under the guise of a science-fiction film. The heady plot makes the beginning of the film seem more plodding that his more action-packed blockbusters. But I found it all interesting. I especially enjoyed the character David: a humanoid robot. As with all artistic creations, he is the perfection of human ambition that is always flawed. He is cold and logical; unemotional and scientific. His personality contrasts with the female archeologist whose theory spurned the journey that is at the heart of the plot: the quest for the origins of Man. She is endlessly inquisitive, but grounded in a deep religious belief; represented by the cross she always wears. A memento from her dead father: the cross symbolizes all that Man’s seeks, but may never know.
The movie will appeal to fans of the “Alien” series of films as we get to find out how the whole mess started. The special effects are very good and not overly saturated with the often annoying computer generated images that weigh-down many modern movies. I most importantly appreciated the attempt to address some more serious topics, as so many movies now-a-days are pure trash or flash: heavy on bare-skin and explosions and light on thinking. In the end, I believe that the picture takes a pro-religion stance as the archeologist puts the cross back around her neck and ends her voyage by stating the date: “the Year of Our Lord…” The movie also exposes the corrosive nature of Man’s doubts and His ultimately doomed objective to be a god. For in our selfish desire to conquer our Creator, Man produces the horrific “Alien.” We unleash the devil: a maniacal monster with only one purpose-our own destruction. It’s a bold film: a sort of “2001” meets “Frankenstein.” Note: should be avoided by the squeamish. Also there is some vulgar language and gross violence-not for children under 16.

Corpus Christi Mass in Rome, 2012

I was graced to attend the Corpus Christi Mass and Procession in Rome this year. I had intended to only view the end of the Procession at St. Mary Major, figuring that the Mass at St. John Lateran would be incredibly crowded. But when I was returning to my flat, after a full day of touristing, I walked by the Angelicum (one of the priestly seminaries) where I talked briefly with one of the students standing in front of the college. He asked if I was going to the Mass. I said: No. He frowned and told me that I should not miss it. He gave me directions, using the subway, so I headed to the Church. When I got there, I was shocked to find very few people. On one side of the altar was a large section of reserved seating. In the front of the outdoor sanctuary were two small rows of chairs for various dignitaries, priests, and religious men and women. I quickly scampered to the front of the standing section and found myself only a few yards from where the Pope would offer Mass. Awesome.
When the Holy Father arrived, he filled the entire area with the force of his strength and serenity. Although I had walked across Rome that day, I felt rejuvenated and completely alleviated of all aches and worldly restlessness. It was as if I became completely transported to another realm of consciousness. The ground melted away, and everything focused on every move and spoken word of the Holy Father. The Holy Spirit poured all His energy into this human creature, who, when you squinted your eyes and focused on him, was again a powerful soul inside a frail and aging body. He is one of those few individuals who are able to totally defy the corrupt and corporal existence of Man and tap directly into the Divine.
When the Procession began, the Holy Father, lead the now teaming throngs down the wide avenue to St. Mary Major. The Pope, as the conduit of Holy Love, gave us the stamina to follow him. But the burden was light, and I felt as if I were floating along. Suddenly, I came across a grey-haired woman, walking with a pronounced limp on the side of the street. She kept away from the main push of the crowd that was now moving at a strong clip. When I got closer, I could see that she was wearing a false leg. Every step was labored, but she kept going. I slowed down a bit, in order to stay with her for awhile. It was just another amazing sight in a night filled with the remarkable. After a few minutes, I went back to my own pace and left her behind. God give me the Faith of this old woman. That night, Saints truly followed the Holiest of Holy Fathers.