Thoughts from Elizabeth:
The Truth & Beauty Project is a wonderful place for formation, but at some point we have to leave that safety and comfort of community. And it won’t be easy.
Every week during the Truth & Beauty Project, we’ve focused on a different virtue. Many of our scripture reflections, art meditations, imagination-training exercises, and discussions have related to the virtue of the week. We contemplated hope, prudence, humility, justice, temperance, and now are ending this last week with fortitude. This virtue is especially relevant as we prepare to leave the security of our Fellowship that has become so close-knit, and are entering into the big, bad world, proudly bearing our lights into the vast darkness.
The definition of fortitude is “courage in pain or adversity.” As Christians living in a secular, anti-Christian world, we are inevitably going to face both pain and adversity. But as the great St. Teresa of Avila said, “Lord, either let me suffer or let me die.” In other words, we have two options. One, the easy path, is to succumb to the world, to let our lights be extinguished. The other option is to suffer, but to stay strong through it all, like steel forged in fire, remembering Romans, 5: 3 - 5, “we even boast of our afflictions, knowing that affliction produces endurance, and endurance, proven character, and proven character, hope, and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”
So how can we obtain the virtue of fortitude?
As we learned during the Project, a virtue is “a habitual and firm disposition to do the good.” To attain this virtue then, we must, first of all, pray for it. Then we have to make small decisions, step by step, one day at a time, to act courageously in the face of inevitable suffering.
Thoughts from Susie:
We do various Art Meditations as part of the Truth & Beauty Project, which provide an opportunity to focus on different pieces of art - poetry, music, painting, sculpture - or give a chance to imbibe thoughts from theologians and philosophers about art and beauty. The meditations allow us to contemplate and internalize these creations and concepts.
One that touched me deeply was the meditation we did on St. Peter’s Basilica. The minute you walk through the doors of St. Peter’s Basilica, you are hit with a complete sensory overload. To say that you could spend a week inside St. Peter’s and only scratch the surface is an understatement. I’ve spent nearly six weeks in Rome, and am still discovering more about the Basilica even in this last week of being a Truth & Beauty Project Fellow.
In his designs, Gian Lorenzo Bernini specifically intended that every inch and detail of St. Peter’s lead pilgrims and visitors to contemplate the highest Good, and God’s infinite glory. Needless to say, the one piece in Bernini’s design that is impossible to overlook is St. Peter’s Baldacchino. The Baldacchino, which towers just above the Main Altar and sits right under the Dome, serves to act as, not only a sort of canopy under which the celebration of the Mass is held, but also a link between Heaven and Earth. The bones of St. Peter rest just beneath the altar, making St. Peter the literal rock on which Christ’s church is built upon.
From the moment you look at the bronze architectural design, there are several key characteristics that add to the whole: The Solomonic Columns which allude to the Temple in Jerusalem, the canopy which represents a wedding canopy under which the faithful and Christ become one in the liturgy of the Eucharist, the Dove in the middle of the canopy, representing the Holy Spirit as the defender and protector of the Church, and finally, the gold cross which acts as the link between the Baldacchino (Mother Church) and the Dome (Christ, Himself).
Understanding the design of the Baldacchino is critical in recognizing what truly happens during the celebration of the Mass, and particularly in the Eucharistic Rite. In this dedicated place of worship, the Baldacchino is the portal through which we are given the incredible opportunity to unite ourselves to not only the physical body of Christ, but also to His mystical Body.
Thoughts from Alyssa:
The Life Skills Trainings we have received over these six weeks have been incredibly valuable and I know they skills will continue to guide us in the future.
The first talk Ashley gave was “The Gift of Time” about how to use our time in Rome to the absolute fullest as a period of learning, receiving, inspiration and growth. The next week she did a training called “Organizational Management,” where we learned various methods to take new projects from start to completion. Later, we did sessions on etiquette and on improving active listening skills.
The talk in week five resonated with me in a powerful way, especially at this moment in my life. It was called, “In the Meantime,” and taught us how to get out of the rut of living in a “meantime mentality,” to let go of the past, to not worry about the future, and to live in the Present Now with God. To do that, we need to understand that we are all constituted among the People of God and called to carry out, each in our own way, the mission of the whole Christian people in the Church and in the world, at all seasons of our lives. One of the fruits of living in the Present Now is peace. When I go back home to San Francisco, I don’t have a job and I don’t know what the Lord is calling me to next, but I will continue to try to live with Him in the Present Now, in peace, and to serve Him in whatever circumstances to which I’m called through His holy will.
Thoughts from Zac:
It seems that every side street and alley of Rome contains a beautiful church or piece of artwork. What a challenge it would be to witness all these creations in just six weeks! Luckily, we have John and Ashley to direct our gaze to the monuments of most importance and inspiration.
At least once weekly, we are blessed by a special tour with our mentors.
John took us to a basilica called Sant’ Ignazio, an incredible church dates back to 1626, and was designed and built completely by the Jesuits, a religious order founded by Saint Ignatius of Loyola.
The architecture of the building is certainly impressive, but the true wonder of the church lies in the frescoed ceiling, painted by a Jesuit brother named Andrea Pozzo. The ceiling showcases the work of Saint Ignatius and the Jesuits, missionaries to the four corners of the world. It also displays a beautiful presentation of Saint Ignatius being welcomed into heaven by Jesus and the Virgin Mary.
What makes the work so impressive is Pozzo’s painted impression of infinite space.The painting gives the illusion that the ceiling extends upwards forever, straight into the heavens where God is surrounded by angels and saints.
I think I speak for all the fellows when I say our necks were a little strained after staring at the beautiful work. Although it was worth it, since we didn't want to miss anything John shared or even a fragment of meaning, hidden within the fresco.
Thoughts from Julia:
All the people we have met over these six weeks have made a lasting impact on me. We have had guest speakers every week, who share a special lunch and give a talk and answer our questions. We have had weekly visits from young priests and deacons, who come over for breakfast and conversation after we’ve just celebrated Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica. Then, there are the countless people we’ve met at outside activities in the city and at social events held at John & Ashley’s home. Each time I meet someone new, which is just about everyday, I have learned something and have been touched or greatly impacted by their example and words.
I so appreciated a private Mass with Cardinal James Stafford, who reminded us that we can strive to make our souls beautiful by learning to authentically love God. I enjoyed a lunch with guest speaker, Fr. John Cush, a professor and film critic, who opened my eyes to the symbology of film. A lunch with Fr. Francesco Giordano, President of Human Life International Rome, made me think more about the philosophical aspects of art and that authentically beautiful art must point toward Truth, toward God. Professor Fr. John Wauck taught us the importance of “learning Rome” and how to see Rome as a classroom. Sister Mary Christa and Sister Sean Marie helped me to understand the virtue of religion and I really loved hearing their personal stories of their vocational calls. Fr. Josh Ehli took us through his Vatican office, the Congregation for the Propagation of Faith, and helped me better understand the impact of Christian outreach to the world. Author and poet, Sally Read, made me contemplate the responsibility that comes with being a creative and putting out material that can permanently affect others’ minds and imaginations.
Recently, I met a man who seemed to put all of my learnings over these weeks into action. Anthony Evans is a web designer for parishes. He is so full of joy and love, that his actions reflected Christ to me and his every word seemed to glorify the Lord. I was so moved and inspired! At one point we ended up sharing a taxi and he even managed to bring a big smile to the face of our standoffish taxi driver. Anthony’s joy was contagious! Near the end of the ride, Anthony invited us and the taxi driver to prayer. Together, we prayed for the taxi driver and his family.
This display of pure Christian intention made me want to live my life more like Christ and I’m thankful for Anthony’s example of one way to do that. Each of these amazing people have made indelible marks in me I’ll be taking them home with me in my heart!
Arrivederci for now!