Wednesday, June 18, 2014


Two Sundays ago, on June 8, I went with a group of Academy fellows down to the Pantheon, to attend Pentecost mass.  No, I have not converted.  I went to experience a sublime sight -- sublime whether or not you are Catholic.  At the end of the service, as a metaphor for the flames that came down to the believers in Jerusalem, firefighters (yes, firefighters) tossed down thousands of rose petals through the oculus, that twenty-foot wide opening that defines this miraculous building onto the cheering crowd. The laughter and shouts of joy were infectious among the thousands of us who were packed into the building.

As I waited for the grand finale, I had conflicting thoughts.  Listening to the singing brought me back to my chorale days in high school, where Christian music was the heart and soul of our repertoire, as it is of most classical music.  I loved that time, and the music we sang, and felt the wash of nostalgia come over me as I listened.  But I couldn't help as well but feel repelled, as I have often feel in the churches of Rome and Italy.  So much glorious music and art that is inextricably tied to, even built upon, centuries of anti-Judaism.   When everyone turns to each other to say "peace be with you" I felt it a bit ironic.  A lovely gesture but, in this context, painfully ironic.  So much of this -- the building, the city, its "eternal" history was built not on peace at all. No doubt the wish of peace was heartfelt by the people all around me.  But there was nagging sense of annoyance about the tradition. Religious spaces ask us to think about our highest ideals, which has the unintended -- perhaps intended? -- effect of also shining a light on our hypocrisies.

Those were the thoughts during the mass.  But I found myself joining in the thrill, the childlike excitement, when baskets of red roses were sent fluttering down through the beam of light down onto the waiting crowd.

And here's a brief video of the event:

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