Friday, July 09, 2010

Catherine sopra Minerva

Today, life in Rome was interrupted by a bus/train strike. We did manage to find a bus on the way to start our day (though it probably took longer to come than usual), but we ended up having to take a taxi home. My friend Jim says there's a saying that basically says, "If you don't like how we do things in this Rome, go ahead and go to the other one instead." Every city has its quirks, and Rome is certainly worth its hassles.

Today, we headed over to the area around Piazza Navona. Some highlights were the Pantheon, a couple of great Caravaggio paintings at San Luigi, the Dominican church (Santa Maria sopra Minerva), and just walking through piazzas and feeling the life of the city.

I want to say a bit more about Santa Maria sopra Minerva. As we walked in, my friend Jim was explaining (as you might see from the name) that this church was built over the site of what had been a temple to Minerva, goddess of wisdom. I made a comment about how typical it was that men can't deal with a smart and powerful woman and so they cover her up like that. Jim pointed out that it is a church named for Mary, so woman for woman, but it didn't quite strike a chord with me. I mean, Mary is certainly smart and powerful, but her more leading virtues seem to be about holiness and submission. It's a balancing act, but, well, like I said, it didn't strike quite the right chord with me.

But we got inside and I just loved the feel of this church. Before long, I wandered toward the altar at the center and discovered that the body of St. Catherine of Siena was lying right there. It really took me aback. I mean, talk about your smart and powerful (and holy!) women! I was really struck by the power of her presence there. I knelt before her body for awhile, contemplating her presence over that of Minerva, both in that space and in my life. When I was a child, I read a lot of Greek and Roman mythology and I really identified with Athena/Minerva particularly since I was in a gifted/talented program called the Athena program. Fast forward 30-plus years and I am a theologian working in a building named for Catherine of Siena. There is a strange way in which Catherine sopra Minerva is the story of my life.

I found myself asking Catherine to help me live my vocation as a theologian well. And yet even as I phrased the prayer, I found myself asking her to help me use my time and intelligence wisely in the service of the Church. The funny thing is that this was a motto of the old Athena program ("Use your time and intelligence wisely and this will ensure that you will think.")

It really is the case that Athens has plenty to do with Jerusalem, that the pagan gods are never completely obliterated, and that church and world are categories woven together too intricately to really ever be separated from one another. And perhaps there is no better place than Rome to discover the truth of that.

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