Christmas break has officially started! I celebrated by sleeping in ‘til 1—in the process almost getting more sleep than in the previous three nights combined (it was a long week). Everyone has agreed that the holidays have come shockingly quickly. We’ve now been in Rome for 11 weeks. It really doesn’t seem that long. That’s not to say that we’re not overjoyed to take this marvelous time to rest, read, tour the city, watch movies, and in general lead the good life, sans classes.
The weather has taken a decided turn for the colder. These are all clear brisk days, with the occasional spot of rain. It’s very odd not to be catching the train, bus or plane home to Michigan at this time. This will be my first Christmas away from home, and now that my attention has shifted from classes to Christmas break, I’m only beginning to get used to the idea. There are a good number of people staying here for the holidays, so there will be no shortage of community to keep the feast with.
To market, to market. Tomorrow I’m going to the market at Porta Portese for the second time. Every Sunday morning they have a huge outdoor market that sells everything from kitchenware to jewelry to secondhand clothes. I suppose it’s the Roman equivalent to a flea market. Or so people tell me. Not having had the experience of a flea market, I bow to their superior judgment. Regardless, Porta Portese is a winner. Last time I picked up a sweater, two ties and a wallet for about 20 euro. A few people have had great luck finding Christmas gifts, kitchenware to supplement Bernardi’s sketchy collection, and the odd cardigan. Some of us are heading over to Mass at St. Paul’s outside the Walls tonight and then catching the bus to the market early tomorrow. I could really use a scarf.
I’ve found many times this semester that history has a way of coming alive when in Rome. So much of the civilization of the West and the history of the Church is rooted in Rome. In visiting places like the Forum, St. John Lateran, or the Catacombs, the dry stuff of history books becomes, in the shape of crumbling temples and magnificent churches, a rich experience of past meeting the present.
“No politician or celebrity receives as many visitors to their places of burial as Peter, the fisherman from Galilee,” said our guide as we began our Scavi tour last week. This was one of the most profound experiences I’ve had during my time here. When you at last reach the small room where Peter’s bones can be seen, you leave behind the sense that you’re in a museum, where artifacts lie lifeless and one views them with a certain detachment. You enter a hallowed place. As we stood there in the unpretentious side room where the bones of Peter are visible, our guide led us in an Our Father. As I began to pray the words that Jesus had taught to his followers, I got chills up and down my spine. The remains of one of those men lay right before me. It wasn’t something you could ignore; it wasn’t an exhibit that you could casually disregard. These words that I was praying, he, Peter, prayed. I am a part of that very tradition that he spearheaded. With that, the reality of the Christian tradition hit home. It was as though the cloudiness of everyday life cleared for a moment, and the light of a deeper reality shone through. Peter, prince of the Apostles, rock of the Church, ora pro nobis.
I have to admit that celebrating a peculiarly American holiday such as Thanksgiving in Rome can be a little surreal. That at least was my first take when we all walked into the dining room and saw the roast turkey lying in state on the long serving table and surrounded by all the fixings. After two months on Italian soil one gets so accustomed to all things Italian from pasta and pizza to grazie and prego that it felt a little odd to be turning to my fellow Bernardians, mouth full of turkey, wishing them a happy Thanksgiving and talking about pumpkin pie and football. Yet as Fr. Carola pointed out in his homily, it is especially as students in a foreign country that we have particular cause to recall our many blessings and be grateful. As I stopped to mull over the multitudinous graces I have received, especially in the last couple months, I realized how much we have cause (in the words of the immortal crooner Bing Crosby) to “fall asleep counting our blessings.” In fact, in the past week there have been several experiences that have done a lot to make me aware of how much I have to be grateful for. Here are a few particularly worth mentioning:
Experiencing the joyful faith and simplicity of the Little Sisters of the Lamb as some of us joined the sisters in working in their garden and afterwards shared mint tea and biscotti with them.
The marvelous community and competition in the Bernardi Thanksgiving football game, a colossal affair played out in the arena-like sand field at the nearby Borghese gardens. And no, it was not a tie.
Using a phone card for the first time, realizing, Dorothy-like, that there’s no place like home, yet taking that moment to particularly thank God for the beautiful gift of family.
Looking on as ten of our seminarians served vespers for the Holy Father at St. Peter’s on Saturday evening. Our very own Sharon Reed read the English intercession. I was struck by the dynamic, historical reality of the Catholic faith, the leaven that transforms this doughy life into an offering to God.
Such, in a nutshell, was my Thanksgiving Day in Italy. Buona festa to all y’all.