May 9, 2015
First thing in the morning on Saturday, May 9, I walked next door to the Basilica of St. Peter to celebrate Mass at the Altar of Pope St. John XXIII (+1963). His remains are right under the altar (see photo). Apparently his body is incorrupt. I offered the Mass for the repose of the souls of my parents, Tom and Tops Kerns. I thanked God for my whole family, for my patron saint: Pope John XXIII, and for the Second Vatican Council which renewed our church. Looking up while standing at the altar one can see the mosaic copy of the famous painting by Domenichino (1581-1641), “The Viaticum of Saint Jerome”. He is receiving Communion from St. Ephrem, the Deacon. St. Jerome was the first to translate the scriptures from all the various languages into one language, Latin. That translation is called the Latin Vulgate. I thought of how Vatican II brought about a greater emphasis on the use of scripture by Catholic clergy and laity (we have a number of bible studies in my parish). I also appreciate St. Ephrem the Deacon, in that I was ordained a deacon on his feast day in 1984 (June 9).
In short, it meant a lot to me to celebrate Mass there.
After breakfast I hit the town. But for a priest in Rome that means visiting churches. There are many saints whose remains are here. These saints are heroes of mine. I saw St. Catherine of Siena, who was a Dominican sister whose remains are under an altar at the Church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva, and St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, at the Gesu. In those two places I prayed for my Dominican and Jesuit friends.
The practice of “burying” someone under the altar probably dates back the catacombs, which were tunneled cemeteries for Christians. The pagan Roman Soldiers were spooked around dead bodies, so they avoided those areas. But the Christians who had no fear of death, due to our belief in the “resurrection of the body”, were quite comfortable in the catacombs and could escape pressure from the Romans in such places. While there they could celebrate Masses in the presence of those who were martyred, often over their sarcophagus.
The previously mentioned stops were intended, but I also would poke my nose into any church that looked interesting. That is how I accidentally came across one of my favorite paintings by one of my favorite artists: Caravaggio’s The Call of St. Matthew at the Church of St. Louis of France. I posted an image in this blog. I have preached about this painting.
Caravaggio does such interesting things with light. In this case the light comes from behind the Lord Jesus, with the idea that the light is from Christ. Jesus is pointing at St. Matthew the tax collector. Most interestingly, Matthew is totally engrossed in his money and seems to be the only one not paying attention to Jesus. They are also depicted in “modern” clothing, that is, other than Jesus and his companion who wear first century clothing, Caravaggio depicts clothing of his own day for those in need of conversion. We also are still in need of on-going conversion in our own day. Sometimes we become so engrossed with our own interests that we fail to hear Jesus calling us to a fuller life. Like St. Matthew, he is calling us to look up, to see and hear him, to come to a greater awareness of his love for us, and to hear his call to share his love with others.