Wednesday, October 14, 2015


Never have I seen the throngs of folks wielding selfie sticks like the throngs at St. Peter's in Rome. The whole scene was too much for me and I gave away my tickets to the Papal Mass and a Papal Audience in favor of wandering elsewhere, in particular along the banks of the Tiber.

Here I stumbled upon San Bartolomeo, the Memorial of the New Martyrs
Bishop Oscar Romero's missal. 
A letter written by Blessed Franz Jägerstätter
Now that moved me.   

In the back of the church, a fat German man slurped an ice cream.

I've thought a lot about the phenomenon of posting our life instead of living it. On FB, no-one says I’m having a bad time, this place sucks, I feel lonely, depressed, and unloved, I just ate a ripoff meal. We don’t travel. We just move our body to a new place so we can have a different background for our Instagram pix.

Ticking, say, the seven basilicas of Rome off my checklist doesn't make me a Catholic.  What makes me a Catholic—a follower of Christ; fully human—is the way I see the world, experience the world. My poverty and need. My imagination, that sees the whole world as consecrated, redeemable. My human heart that, as all human hearts must be, is pierced through with a sword. 

I've been thinking as well of the phenonomenon of photo-taking in general. One kind of photo is a theft, a taking without giving or leaving anything in return. Another kind of photo, no matter how amateurish, is an act of love—taken by a person who has undergone some hardship, usually tiny, sometimes huge, in which the hardship, the love, is given in exchange. That kind of person wants to leave the place, the scene, the building, the sunset, the light, the shadow, enriched, enfleshed, consummated, fulfilled. He or she comes with an attitude of heart that says, My desire is  to add something to you, not to snatch something from you.

To me, the most moving thing in St. Peter’s was Michelangelo’s Pietà. Kevin, the seminarian from Boston who yielded his afternoon to give me a tour, pointed out that Christ is almost falling from Mary’s lap.

It’s as if she’s about to deliver him onto the altar from which the whole world will be fed.



  1. Heather,

    My favorite translation of Rilke's "Book of Hours" (Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy) includes this:

    "I know that nothing has ever been real/ without my beholding it./ All becoming has needed me./ My looking ripens things/ and they come towards me, to meet and be met."

    I've always thought of photography as completing a circle of love... God creates beauty as a gift of love to us, but it is our beholding and appreciating that beauty that returns that gift of love to God...

  2. Don't miss San Paolo alla Regola Church, also in your Roman neighborhood...Love your pictures of the Tiber, a favorite walk for exercising and quiet. Yet another tip: from the Tiber at via della Lungara walk uphill to Sant' Onofrio al Giannicolo Church early early Sunday morning, nice cloister is open too. Incredible views of the city. Love, G from Rome

  3. My son and I were moved so much by visiting a small Capuchiin monk display right in the middle of Rome. Three rooms were beautifully decorated in dizzying patterns soley with their bones! We both wondered why this strange strange "artwork". In the last room a tiny sign said, "As you are now, we once we are now, you shall be." We both left there with a profound feeling of savoring each moment God gives us.

  4. A fat man slurping ice-cream in the back of the [presumably otherwise quiet] church wasn't enough to expedite your return home? You're a better woman than I, for having to hear the sounds of someone eating or drinking - slurping, chewing, swallowing, and smacking - is enough to drive me through the roof! How human I am! Recently participating in a Kirtan Service I heard, during the meditation, the sound of a man breathing heavily, almost in a snore! I was unable to remain in a sacred space of mind and heart, for all I could do was cringe and wish to run out the exit!

    It's quite ridiculous really. So easily I, without judgement, lovingly work with the broken hearted, the down trodden, the addicts, the impoverished, the assaulted and the perpetrators, the criminal, the homeless, the snobbish Northern Michigan tourists, the mentally ill, the minority, the weak, the outsiders! Yet, the sight and sounds of anyone eating/drinking or breathing heavily sets me into insta-judgement! Clearly I have work to do!

  5. That's always troubled me about cathedrals and basilicas in Europe - they're looked upon more as museums than as working churches. Not that one should slurp ice cream in a museum, Lord help us.

  6. Wondrous, healing, true post.

    Regarding FB posting, it's interesting to me we complain, mostly, to friends in real lufe but boast, mostly, on FB (huge generalizations seems we save our gratitudes for public diaplay).

  7. On FB, no-one says I’m having a bad time, this place sucks, I feel lonely, depressed, and unloved, I just ate a ripoff meal. We don’t travel. We just move our body to a new place so we can have a different background for our Instagram pix.

    So true!

  8. I think you are pointing out the difference between being a tour/ist (as related to being on a tour) and being a traveller, Heather. I completely understand why you gave away your tickets to the Papal Mass and audience in favor of immersing yourself in Rome---its architecture, its people, its smells and ambiance. Great insights into Facebook and selfie sticks. Alas!

    Your photographs are compelling as always.


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