Introducing Father Jeremiah
Walking along the Tiber this afternoon, near the Ponte Sant’Angelo, I noticed a sign by a church announcing a concert of chamber music — a piano and cello duo — to begin at 6:30 p.m. I glanced at my cellphone. It was 6:33.
There was no crowd there at all; in fact, not a soul. So I knocked on the massive wooden door, and, after a minute, somewhat to my surprise, it creaked open.
Inside, under a high ceiling, were several rows of pews, and, in the front, a splendid, black Alfonsi grand piano…
There, a thin, dynamic, 31-year-old Italian by the name of Michelangelo Carbonara, his hands moving with astonishing lightness and precision, was playing Beethoven’s Sonata No. 5. His wife, Kyungmi Lee, was accompanying him on the cello. I was the 15th person in the audience.
As Michelangelo played, I closed my eyes and drifted in my mind through the things I had just seen in the streets of Rome during the afternoon:
a) crowds from many countries — Americans, Germans, French, Japanese — filling the streets and squares of the city, walking peacefully under the Roman sun
b) a young Italian couple (actually, she was born in Paris, one of her friends told me) with dozens of family and friends, all the women wearing the finest dresses and shoes, all the men wearing the finest suits — along with a little boy and little girl dressed completely in white, one carrying a basket of flowers, the other carrying a white pillow with two gold rings on it — were married in a Mass at San Luigi dei Francesi
c) inside the church of San Luigi dei Francesi (above), which is just a few steps from Pazza Navona, six musicians were playing, and a bass in the balcony above the entranceway was practicing “Panis Amgelicus,” his voice majestically filling the church with the words “bread of angels”
d) there, in the front of the church, is the marvelous painting of Caravaggio, The Calling (or Vocation) of St. Matthew (above) where Christ, his hand outstretched like Adam’s hand in Michelangelo’s Creation on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel (Christ is the second Adam — in him, the human race received a second chance to fulfill its true destiny) calls Levi to come follow him
And it suddenly came to me that the figure in that painting that I always thought was Levi (Matthew) — the old man — was not Levi at all.
I realized that Christ was calling to the young man at the end of the table, the one with his head bent down, looking at his money, and not to the old man who seems to be pointing his finger at himself as if to say, “Do you mean me?”
The old man, I concluded, is actually pointing, not to himself, but to the younger man next to him at the end of the table, as if to say, “Do you mean him?”
(I don’t know if I am wrong to conclude that Matthew is the young man at the end of the table, but the painting makes no sense to me now any other way.)
Then, in the little church, the piano-playing virtuoso and his cello-playing wife were done, and the 15 of us applauded them for about 45 seconds, and they walked out, waited a moment, then came back for an encore.
And the piece they played for the encore, Sergei Rachmaninoff’s “Sonata in G Minor for Cello and Piano Op 19 No. 3 Andante (1901)” was… splendid. Moving. Glorious. The music soared, bringing those of us who heard it along for the ride.
Which led me to think: how wonderful is Rome! How beautiful is a city where the food — still grown (for the most part) from traditional seeds in traditional ways — tastes right, and good; where people walk by the hundreds and thousands from place to place; where the citizens of many nations mingle in peace; where churches containing Caravaggio’s paintings can be entered freely, and used for weddings; where people still observe some of the traditions of our forefathers, wearing long white gowns and exchanging rings to promise themselves; and where young musicians, struggling to make careers, can play divinely for 15 people on a sunny July evening, and create music which can cause the soul to awaken, and soar, and laugh.
Here is a link to a version of the Rachmaninoff piece; I urge you to take a moment to listen to it:
Concluding Unscientific Postscript
I left the concert and walked back across the Ponte Sant’Angelo. I saw another Italian couple who had just been married. A photographer was taking photos of them on the bridge. I thought, involuntarily, of the passage in Matthew, Chapter 24:38-39, where Christ says: “For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark, and knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be…”
The early evening sun fell obliquely over the statues, casting golden shadows.
Each of the statues along the sides of the bridge depicts an angel holding one of the instruments of Christ’s passion — a nail, a crown of thorns, a spear, dice. This is why this “Bridge of the Holy Angel” is really a “Bridge of Holy Angels who Remind Us of Christ’s Passion,” making it a suitable place for long reflection on the true cost of our redemption.
I then passed by the statue of St. Catherine of Siena, the Patroness of Italy, who called on the Popes, who had lived in Avignon, France, for 70 years in the 1300s, to return to Rome to guide the Church rightly. They heeded her call.
My day could not end without a conversation with an old friend, a monsignor, who is, in a manner of speaking, a “Catherine of Siena” in our time.
I have spoken with him many times over the years.
I will call him “Father Jeremiah.”
He has white hair, clear eyes, and he is a product of the preconciliar Church.
He knows the Curia well, though in recent years, he has had less intimate contact with its workings.
Still, through his circle of friends, he has access to information about upcoming documents and decisions which often proves to be quite precise. Sometimes, however, as he has explained to me, plans are altered, so some things he has said are likely to happen do not, in fact, happen.
With this caution, I can share some of what he has shared with me on a curial and ecclesial matters where decisions are still being weighed.
As some of you may have realized by now, I am far more interested in the philosophical and theological question of the Logos, of the true meaning of our existence, that is, in the truth of Christ, and also in the freedom of the Church from any secular or political influence to proclaim that truth, than I am in ecclesial appointments, or documents, prior to their announcement.
Still, sometimes Father Jeremiah discusses these things, as various hypotheses are being considered, and sometimes the scenarios he sketches seem important enough for the life and freedom of the Church to mention here, even though plans and decisions are not yet final.
Father Jeremiah told me some experienced nuncios may soon be promoted, one to a dicastery in the Curia, and one to the Patriarchate of Venice (left vacant by the decision to move Cardinal Angelo Scola to Milan).
It should be noted that, just as Milan is a see from which past Popes have emerged, so also is Venice. So it may be that the more interesting news now is not that Cardinal Scola was chosen for Milan, but that another man, not yet named, is going to become the Patriarch of Venice.
At the same time, the excellent work of Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, who organized the comprehensive new Vatican website (here), may soon be rewarded by a promotion to a cardinalatial post, perhaps at APSA (the Administration of the Patrimony of the Holy See).
Finally, Father Jeremiah spoke to me about a particular situation in the United States, and its relation to the future of the universal Church.
“Europe is in crisis, demographically and morally,” he said to me. “For this and other reasons, it may be time, in the not-too-distant future, for an American Pope. A possible candidate will have to have had a strong formation, perhaps in one of the traditional religious orders…”
Then he looked at me intently. “It may be time,” he said, “for a cappucino.”