the Rooms of Ignatius (and all four major basilicas)

Today is the feast of Ignatius of Loyola.  I’m a big fan of Ignatius — his spirituality fits my personality (according to Myers-Briggs) to a T, which I didn’t realize until my spirituality classes at the Angelicum.  Until that time, I didn’t know much about him — and I suppose I wrote him off because his recent followers have been such a disappointment.  But after learning more about him and reading his writings, I’ve really fallen in love.  Perhaps some day I’ll have the leisure of taking an Ignatian 30 day retreat.

When I realized it was his feast, I was taken back a few months to the time I visited his rooms in Rome — his office, his chapel, and the room where he died.  Then I realized I never blogged about it…

Because I still haven’t finished blogging about Rome!  Jeesh.

When I had left you in suspense, Megan and I were off to Santa Maria Maggiore, or “St. Mary Major,” one of the four major basilicas.  We hadn’t seen any of the four besides St. Peter’s yet on our trip, even though the four are pretty standard pilgrimage stops for anyone in Rome.  With a free afternoon and no plans, we decided to hop on the metro and head out to see the crib of Our Lord, which is under the high altar of the oldest church named for the Mother who laid Him there.  (There are disputes about St. Mary Major or Santa Maria in Trastevere being the oldest. You pick.)

Santa Maria Maggiore was dedicated not long after the Council of Ephesus, which declared Mary could rightly be called the Mother of God, Theotokos, God-bearer.   While Mary is a creature and is not higher than God, nor did she pre-exist God, she did give birth to the human nature of Christ, which the Second Person of the Trinity had assumed.  Since you don’t give birth to a nature (“Aww, isn’t that a cute human nature?”), but a person, Mary can rightly be called the Mother of God.  So it is quite fitting that the wood of the crib be preserved there.

We hadn’t made it over to that part of the city since jumping on a bus at Termini the day we got in to Rome — partly because there had been violence and riots in that part of the city the week before, and partly because when you live in Trastevere and hang out at St. Peter’s, that part of the city is on the other side of town.  Upon arriving in the beautiful church, we headed straight down to the crib to pray.

They were restoring the Blessed Sacrament chapel, but I was still able to play tour guide for Megan, reminding her of the high points (Pius XII said his first Mass there as a priest, as did St. Ignatius of Loyola.  Bernini is buried there, under a simple marble step, as is St. Jerome- although his body is lost and they can’t find where he is.  Oops!)

We decided since we were just down the street, we should probably head over to St. John Lateran, another one of the four major basilicas.  We passed the church of Marcellinus and Peter, which was one of the churches that had been vandalized during the riots.  The only sign of the violence the week before was a prevalence of anarchy symbols, freshly spray painted on the streets, buildings, and signs.

The church of St. Alphonsus, which is right on the way from Mary Major to John Lateran, was surprisingly not closed for riposo, so we were able to duck in there and kneel in the back while a Polish tour group finished Mass.  The church of St. Alphonsus is home of the original Our Lady of Perpetual Help icon.

This poster, from the pr0-life conservative political party in Italy, was a haunting reminder of the events the week before.  I was kind of scared to be seen taking a picture of it– even though we were in no danger, I was on edge being in that neighborhood.  So I snapped this picture across the street:

“An future without God… a Italy without a future”

Just outside St. John Lateran, we witnessed a motorcycle crash.  The young man on his little motorbike must have hit a curb or something — we just saw him fly off and skid across the pavement.  It was pretty scary — a group immediately gathered around him to try to help (and Megan knew one of the guys — random!)  When we came out of the basilica twenty minutes later, the boy was standing up and seemed perfectly okay.

We knew that most of the other churches in the area would be closed for riposo, so after St. John Lateran we headed towards the Colosseum.   I thought there might be a bus that we could take somewhere, but when there wasn’t, we kept walking, stopping for lunch in a little sandwich shop.  We ate in an odd courtyard in the back that was full of fake plants, but it was nice to be apart from the busy city outside.

As we approached the Colosseum, we decided to take the metro out to St. Paul Outside the Walls, the last of the major basilicas.  I hate the Colosseum metro stop, and I hate the B line of the metro (it’s so dirty and crowded), but I love St. Paul’s.  So I’m really glad we decided to suck it up and go out there.

After visiting St. Paul’s, I had a vague memory that there was a bus stop out front that might take us back into town.  Sure enough, not only was there a bus — it was our 271, that went right along the Tiber by our house!  We had to wait for awhile for it to come, but it was worth the wait — it had a nice scenic route past the Colosseum and Piazza Venezia before dropping us off along the river.

We were now officially exhausted.  There was some thought to going back out to listen to one of my friends defend her dissertation at the Angelicum, but once we laid down on our beds… we were out.

One of Megan’s friends had told her about rooms next to the Gesu that were “‘indescribable,” with something about an optical illusion.  We had stopped by earlier in the week and seen a sign for the rooms of St. Ignatius with hours listed.  So once we rested, Megan decided that we should head out for one last adventure.  And I was up for it.

We took a different route to get there — across Ponte Palatino, past the Theatre of Marcello, and through the Jewish Ghetto.  On the way we discovered the tomb of San Giovanni Leonardi, founder of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and then stumbled upon one of the best fountains in Rome — the turtle fountain.  It’s amazing what you just stumble upon when you’re wandering through the streets of Rome.  I knew we were close, but I didn’t expect to just walk into the piazza.  So it was a nice little treat.

The Gesu is one of the major Jesuit churches in Rome and is probably one of the most beautiful in the city.  The rooms of St. Ignatius are in the building connected to the church.  For two euro, you were able to pick up a book in your native tongue and then set off on a self-guided tour.  The first floor was a series of pictures detailing St. Ignatius’ conversion, and then some maps and information about him settling in Rome and being given the property.  As we climbed the stairs, the book spoke of the present building– essentially a palace– its construction after his death, and the desire to preserve his rooms, even though it required some architectural gymnastics and clever work arounds because the rooms were so small compared to the rest of the building.

There were a series of rooms, and they looked mini compared to the rest of the palace.  You had to walk up another set of stairs to get into them, because their floors were higher than the palace floors (and their ceilings lower than the palace ceiling).  They had simple wooden floors and low wooden ceilings.  There was St. Ignatius’ study and conference room, the room where he died, his chapel, and another room.  There were a few early copies of the constitution of the Jesuit order, the vestments he was buried in, his shoes, his desk — it was really beautiful.

A letter of St. Ignatius with his signature and the seal of the Jesuits

His desk, with his icon of the Blessed Mother over it

The most powerful moment… to kneel in front of Jesus in the tabernacle in the room where he died.

 Outside the rooms was a corridor that was full of paintings depicting the life of St. Ignatius and, in true Roman style, an optical illusion that made it seem like the corridor was much longer, with an arched ceiling.

Curved walls and ceiling?  Nope.

you can see better pictures here.

It was such a great find!  I’m so glad Megan had heard about it and wanted to go — I knew there was a treasure in Rome I hadn’t seen yet!

Afterwards we walked to Tartufo to get our last gelato of the trip.  Sadness!  I got their signature flavor, tartufo, and nocciola (hazelnut).

Then we headed to Piazza Navona to people watch, one of the best activities of a laid-back Rome trip.  Two young men were starting a break-dancing/gymnastics show, so we watched that for a bit.  Then we just hung out in the piazza — fighting off scarf-sellers and watching a large group of American businessmen and making up stories about who they might be.  Then we decided to eat some dinner.

We stopped in at a little supermarket and found a few of the things we hadn’t found at the larger supermercato the day before (like a little glass jar of Nutella, specifically requested by my sister), and then headed up to Piazza Maddalena, to a pizzeria a priest from back home took my family to way back in 2001.  It’s now a chain, but it’s still delicious.

We got red wine and water, vegetables tempura (I love the batter they fry everything in, and I love trying to guess what the vegetables are before you bite into them), a Buffalina D.O.C pizza for me, and gnocchi for Meg.  Then we finished it off with limoncello. Magnificent!

Then we headed back to Piazza Navona, got nutella crepes, and made one last trip across the Bridge of the Angels to go to St. Peters.  After buying matching Vespa keychains, we sadly walked up Via Conciliazione and spent a long time in the Square.

(He never wrote me back about having breakfast with him.)

From my journal:

I know I’ll be back, but it’s still hard to say goodbye each time.  And there’s something about St. Peter’s at night… I think just knowing that the Pope is up there, you’re down below, and Jesus is inside… all is right with the world, even when it’s not.



And now, for something completely different…

Food!  I know, shocking.  Me blogging about food.

On Wednesdays, I have a standing appointment with some friends for dinner.  When they had something come up, I found myself with a free evening– the first free evening in a few weeks.  I had errands to run, laundry to do, presents to wrap, and bills to pay — not to mention I probably just needed to get to bed early after recuperating from an ear infection, throwing a baby shower, and three out-of-town visitors in the last week and a half.

So did I stay home?

Of course not.

Because that morning I saw that there was  a “restaurant crawl” in one of the sections of the city that has a number of places I haven’t tried yet.  For $20, you got a “tasting” and a drink pairing at seven restaurants, all within walking distance of each other.

So my friends Maria and Mary agreed to check it out with me, and after work we headed over.

Our first stop was Zumi Shushi Japanese Kitchen, where we purchased our passports to start our journey.  We sat on the front porch and enjoyed Crab Rangoon sushi rolls with sweet Thai chili sauce and Mango Mojitos.


Zumi was the perfect example of why restaurants should do things like this — I would probably never choose to check Zumi out sight unseen.  But now?  I’m definitely going back.  The sushi rolls were great (and that’s from someone who doesn’t really like sushi) and the mojito was a great refreshing summer drink.  And for the whole month of August, if we take our passport back there, we get a free appetizer (even if we don’t buy anything else).  Every day!

Next door was Belcourt Taps and Tapas.  Long time readers of this blog will remember a terrible experience I had there last year — not only was service awful and the a/c broken, but they improvised on my salad without telling me — giving me a completely different salad, complete with pickled okra.  (When this happened, one of the girls I was with noted that she had been there for the 2011 restaurant crawl and they hadn’t impressed her at that, either.  So it was her second attempt.  Now, the 2012 restaurant crawl was my second attempt.)  Would they redeem themselves?

They changed their menu from a crab burger with shrimp to mac and cheese with pulled pork.  It wasn’t bad, but it definitely wasn’t the best thing we ate all night.  It was paired with a Jackalope beer, which was good.  But they made everyone sit on the same side of the patio, even though there was barely room for all of us.  Not impressive.

So I won’t be going back there — unless they’re included in the crawl next year.


Then we walked a little farther, to a place I’ve been meaning to try: Sunset Grill.  They are part of Restaurant Week twice a year, but I still haven’t made it over there.  We had to wait a bit to be seated, but it was worth it to be in the air conditioning.  We had choices between a red wine or a white wine, and a fried green tomato dish or a pork dish. We all chose the red wine (which wasn’t that good) and the pork dish: a smoked pork beggars purse with chipotle juniper bbq sauce and etouffee.


It was fairly good; I think it had been sitting for a bit because it wasn’t piping hot.  It was good enough that I would be willing to try Sunset again.  (and in the month of August, we get 10% off)

Then we crossed the street and headed to Cabana, which is a restaurant I really like.  They have a great Ladies Night on Wednesday nights that I need to take advantage of more often.  When we weren’t sure if the passports would be available, we figured worse case scenario would be just to hang out at Cabana all night.

We had another choice at Cabana — either hummus and crostini or bacon cheddar grit bites with a white cheddar sauce.  I like hummus… but come on.  No brainer.  Grit bites it was.  Paired with a Sauvignon Blanc.


Thumbs up.

The next stop was right next door -Bombasha Brazilian Steakhouse.  I had never even heard of the place, and it wasn’t very crowded compared to Sunset or Cabana.  We sat at the bar and drank Malbec and ate beef, a Brazilian cheese roll, and fried bananas…


Everything was good, but the fried banana was out of this world.  A perfect bridge between dinner and dessert.

And dessert was next!  We headed over to Sweet Cece’s, a local frozen yogurt chain.  It’s a pretty frequent stop for us.  They gave us a free cup with up to three toppings.  I had blackberry cobbler yogurt with chocolate-covered waffle cone pieces and whipped cream.  No drink pairing for them — it would have been cute for them to have cups of water, I think.


Our last stop was across the road at Provence Bakery.  Eclairs (which were much bigger than we expected) and espresso.  The espresso was actually quite nice, for America.  And it was the perfect finish after all that food and drink!


There’s another restaurant crawl in a different part of town at the end of the month — it’s already on my calendar.  Definitely worth the price for the passport.  And then Restaurant Week in September!

Bon appetite!


Alice, my friend from England, always accused me of being more British than she was — mostly when she was overreacting, being loud, expressing herself boisterously, etc, and I was quiet and composed.  She’d also accuse me of being an Anglophile, a fact which I rarely protested.

I’m not a big fan of Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, or George III, but I love Bl. John Henry Newman, Thaxted, and the King’s Speech.  Not to mention Masterpiece Classic, Jane Austen, St. Thomas More, and Stuart Varney.  And how can you NOT like a culture that gave us not only Sherlock Holmes, but Miss Marple, Christopher FoyleLord Peter Wimsey, and Maisie Dobbs?!

Yes, I’m a bit of an Anglophile.  I loved my visit to England in 2008, thanks to the generosity of aforementioned friend Alice, and I’d be happy to return to the land of Richard Armitage if he ever were to invite me.

So when I read about the quintessential British summer cocktail, I knew I had to try it out.


I got an email from the wine store close to work that they had just received a new shipment of Pimm’s No. 1 Cup.  The owner is British, and he was ready to introduce the famous summer drink – the Pimm’s Cup- to our fine city so that we could properly prepare for the Summer Olympics.

Pimm’s Cup is one of two staple drinks at Wimbleton, and it’s the classic summer drink served at Oxford and Cambridge.  That’s enough for me.  But when I read that Pimm’s actually contains herbs for digestion and quinine, I decided I owed it to my general health and well-being to investigate.

So I headed to the shop immediately after work, bought a bottle, and recieved an education in the cocktail from the two men working.


That night, I made a simple version of the drink — a shot of Pimm’s on the rocks, with 7up and slices of cucumber.  Mint was also a recommended ingredient, but I didn’t have any fresh mint on hand and was too cheap to buy it at the store.

The gentleman at The Wine Chap (what a great name for a British-owned liquor store, no?) warned me that it was “quite drinkable,” and boy, was he right.  I could probably drink these things all night.

Tonight’s version included strawberry, which cut the taste of the cucumber a bit.  I thought the cucumber was a nice refreshing taste, but it’s nice to have the added complexity of the strawberry as well.  Some recipes call for ginger ale instead of 7up/Sprite, and the other gentleman at The Wine Chap recommended trying San Pellegrino Limonata.

All in good time, though.  I’m enjoying this version immensely.

I highly recommend it — it might just take over the place in my summer heart that was firmly held by the gin and tonic.


Phantom of the Opera

Phantom of the Opera will always be my favorite musical.  I know it doesn’t have the philosophical and theological richness of Les Miserables, and perhaps it is a bit pedestrian to claim it as “favorite” — it’s like feeling advant-garde by claiming to like Adele.

I know much of it is because it’s so comfortably familiar – I have a strange memory of listening to the soundtrack while driving in the van with my parents and sister Jill — maybe circa 1996?  It’s a strange memory because I feel like we were just driving around town at night for fun — and the only plausible explanation for that would be if we were looking at Christmas lights… and who the heck listens to Phantom while looking at Christmas lights?

And it wasn’t the average one-disc soundtrack that just included all the songs — no, it was the full soundtrack that included every sung line, including the dialogue between songs.  In middle school and high school, I must have listened to that soundtrack over and over — I didn’t realize I listened to it so frequently until I watched the show and knew exactly what was coming before and after the main song — the off-key playing of Phantom after Music of the Night, or the dialogue between Meg and Christine about her new tutor, or the fantastic give-and-take dialogue surrounding the discovery of the notes from the Opera Ghost.

After seeing it live, I read the book and was shocked to find how much I loved Raoul.  The Phantom is downright creepy and demonic in the book- quite different from Webber’s sympathetic portrait.  So when I saw it again on stage, the book definitely swayed my second-viewing and I properly swooned at All I Ask of You and cheered when (spoiler alert) Christine left Phantom behind.

With all of this in mind, you can imagine what I thought of the 2004 movie.  I guess I should give it a second chance, but the fact that I was drawn to feel disappointed when she left the Phantom for Raoul makes me give it two-thumbs down.  I know he’s the main character, but come on — I should not be thinking, “Stay in this dungeon, Christine!  What are you thinking?!” when she has the option to flee a murderer.

All this to say… I just finished watching the 25th Anniversary performance at Royal Albert Hall.  And it is stunning.  After seeing bits on YouTube (Thanks to Jill– who saw it on PBS and recommended it), I got it on Netflix and relived my high school days over the last few nights.  I can’t recommend it enough.  Especially if you’ve only seen the live-action movie.

Ramin Karimloo is incredible.  Sierra Boggess is, hands down, the best Christine I’ve ever heard.

And you actually understand the story.  I don’t know why the characters make so much more sense in this production than the others — it’s not as if it’s a different script than the other times I’ve seen it on stage.  But somehow Phantom is creepier, Raoul is more dashing — and while you do feel sorry for Phantom, you definitely don’t want Christine to stay with him.

Perhaps it was seeing them up close — something I’ve obviously never been able to do when I saw it on stage (balcony seats in Clowes Hall and the Murat).   They had always been voices to me, but not actors.

I will have the songs in my head for the next week or so — the only downside to singing them in show choir is that it’s hard for me to hear them without wanting to sing along.  And I’m not worthy to sing along with Sierra!

If you’re a Phantom fan, you have to see this production.  If you have never seen Phantom, this is a great way to see it for the first time.

One More thing

Thanks for sticking with the reflections during the Fortnight.  They were penned for Aquinas College and I thought you all would enjoy them too.

Today is the day that Thomas More was executed– his feast is June 22 because he shares it with John Fisher, who was executed on the 22nd.  When John Fisher’s head was taken down from the pike at London Bridge, it was replaced by Thomas More’s.

On a strange side note, the Church of England celebrates the feast of John Fisher today.  Can someone explain that to me?  How bizarre.

I’ve never seen the Showtime drama The Tudors, and I suspect it’s probably mostly trash, but someone recommended this scene to me and I thought I’d share it on today.  St. Thomas More, pray for us.

Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati

Two hundred and thirty-six years ago, on July 2, about 50 men gathered in Philadelphia and voted to declare independence from the British Crown.  Two days later, the men approved a document called The Declaration of Independence.

This is the anniversary we remember today, the great event we celebrate with “pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other,” just as John Adams predicted we would in a letter to his wife on July 3, 1776.  He also said “it ought to be commemorated … by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty.”

Fittingly, many of us will go to Mass, thank our Father in heaven for this beautiful land of freedom, and beg that it remain that land of freedom.

Because his feast day lands on this great anniversary, most will not even remember young Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati.  But he shares this day of celebration with America.

On July 4, 1925, Pier Giorgio died in his bed from polio at the age of 24.  He had twenty four short years to make an impact on his country and Church.  And that’s exactly what he did.

Most people think of Pier Giorgio as an active, joyful, handsome young man, who is pictured on holy cards climbing mountains and laughing with his friends.  He loved mountain climbing, art, the opera, reading Dante, and playing practical jokes.

He is remembered for his charity to the poor, sick, and less fortunate.  Despite his wealthy family, he rode third class on the train and then spent the money he saved on medicine and food for the poor.  When asked why he rode third class, he merely joked, “Because there is no fourth class.”   He went to the poorest, dirties parts of Turin to minister to the sick.  He served them to the end, eventually contracting polio while working amongst them.  He suffered for six days in silence, not wanting to take his family’s attention away from helping his dying grandmother.  When he died, his parents knew they had lost a son.  They had no idea that thousands had lost a friend.

His sister later wrote, “The boy whom we thought was unknown to all but his family, suddenly was revealed to us to be the friend of thousands…those whom he had assisted or those he had merely passed near, leaving the unforgettable memory of his spirituality.”  “The street—it was nine in the morning—could hardly contain the thousands of persons who had come from every part of the city.”  “A blind man wanted to touch the coffin, another struggled to approach his benefactor. The crowd pressed around his mortal remains. Some wept, some prayed, while that coffin, without a single flower, seemed to rock above a tide of heads.”

What many don’t realize about Pier Giorgio is that he lived in Italy during a sensitive time for Church-state relations.  Italy had only be unified for thirty years, and Fascism was on the rise.  He became heavily involved in political and social reform, belonging to groups such as Catholic Action and the Federation of Italian Catholic University students.  He organized his fellow students and workers. He was arrested during peaceful demonstrations.  He physically protected priests who were attacked during protests.  He dialogued with workers during strikes and uprisings.

At age 21, during the rise of Mussolini, he wrote to his friends, “I glanced at Mussolini’s speech and my blood boiled. I am disappointed by the really shameful behavior of the Popular Party. Where is the fine program, where is the faith which motivates our people?  But when it is a matter of turning out for worldly honor, people trample on their own consciences.”

When John Paul II beatified Pier Giorgio in 1990, he called him the “Man of the Beatitudes.”   Just like the young John Paul II, Pier Giorgio enjoyed mountain climbing and picnics and spread the Gospel through joy.  But also like the young John Paul II, Pier Giorgio did not sit and watch his country and his Church suffer.  He became politically involved.  He not only fed the poor, he fought for them.  He not only lived justice, he worked for it.

Our country needs us to be men and women of the Beatitudes today.  We need to thirst for justice.  Our Church needs defending.  Our freedom needs rescuing.

Our poor need serving.  And yet it is precisely the freedom to do this that is being taken away from us.

In his homily to open the Fortnight for Freedom, Bishop Lori pointed out:

“[E]mbedded in the HHS mandate is a very narrow governmental definition of what constitutes a church; and if it is not removed, it is likely to spread throughout federal law.

In the HHS mandate, the federal government now defines a church as a body which hires mostly its own members and serves mostly its own members, and which exists primarily to advance its own teachings. In a word, so long as a church confines itself to the sacristy, then it is exempt from having to fund and facilitate in its health insurance plans government mandated services which are contrary to its own teachings.  But if a church steps beyond the narrow confines of this definition by hiring those of other faiths and by serving the common good – then the government is telling us that such institutions aren’t religious enough, that they don’t deserve an exemption from funding and facilitating those things which violate the very teachings which inspired churches to establish their institutions in the first place.

Friends, we must never allow the government, –any government, at any time, of any party–to impose such a constrictive definition on our beloved Church or any church! Our Church was sent forth by the Lord teach and baptize all the nations.  It was commissioned by our Savior to announce that the Kingdom of God is at hand.  It was sent into the world to do the corporal works of love and mercy.  Don’t we see this all around us – in inner-city Catholic schools, in Catholic hospitals, in the work of Catholic Charities so critical for the well being of local communities?  ‘The Word of God cannot be chained,’ St. Paul wrote to Timothy, and now it is up to us to defend the Church’s freedom to fulfill her mission to freely manifest the love of God by organized works of education and charity” (emphasis mine).

May Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati, Man of the Beatitudes, intercede for us as we suffer persecution for justice’s sake.  On this anniversary of our country’s founding, may we work for justice — so that this country may always be the land of the free and the home of the brave.

O thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved home and the war’s desolation.
Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the Heav’n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: “In God is our trust.”
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

(The Star-Spangled Banner, 4th verse)