Thursday, February 21, 2008

2nd Week of Lent: Basilica di San Clemente

I grew up in the California beach town of San Clemente. We had a house overlooking the Pacific Ocean and the sound of the waves lulled me to sleep at night. My mother loved to work in the garden that surrounded our home and there were colorful flowers blooming all year. She liked to stand at the kitchen sink and look out the window to the ever-changing colors of the ocean and the sky. When we were kids we took our natural surroundings for granted. My mother always marveled at the beauty of God’s creation. I remember the words that she quoted from somewhere... "We are little boats on the big sea."

The last time that I saw my mother was on Ash Wednesday, 1991. She was in a coma and I was at her bedside when the parish priest came to the hospital room and made a cross of ashes on her forehead with the words: “Remember Dorothy that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” He then repeated the words to me, placing a cross on my forehead. My mom died less than a month later. After her funeral, my brother and I took her ashes and scattered them into the Pacific Ocean from the end of the pier just up the beach from our home.
My mother was very much in my thoughts as I recalled the words of the beatitude and entered the Basilica di San Clemente, a station church for the 2nd week of Lent.

Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

My eyes were taken into the large golden mosaic of the apse as I sat on a bench in the nave of the basilica. The image of Christ on the cross is at the center, rooted in an acanthus plant, with four streams of water flowing from it, providing drink for two deer. Growing out of the acanthus are vines and branches extending over the whole surface of the apse in circular motions. Between the shots and inside the coils of the vines, the artist has depicted the rich diversity of creation. There are shepherds and peasants at work. There are monks at prayer. There are people of all kinds, rich and poor. Animals and plants make a fantasy of color against the gold background of the mosaic.

In my mother’s garden I was fascinated by the "prehistoric feeling" of the leaves and flowering spikes of her acanthus plants. They were a sharp contrast to other plants that seemed more refined. Their “wildness” added to the diversity that we enjoyed in her garden.

My mother’s life had a diversity that she shared with her children. She was very active in the local parish, and nurtured in me the sense of faith and community that are an important part of my life today. She was active in ecumenical activities in the 1950’s, one of the community's leaders for interfaith initiatives. She was a scout leader and our home was always a gathering point for the kids in the neighborhood. She gave us a respect for the beliefs and practices of our Muslim bread man. Often on Sunday evening, she put us in the station wagon and drove us to a Mass that was for migrant workers in a hut in the middle of the fields that were outside of town. She felt it was important for the Mexican men to be with families when they were separated from their own wives and children.

Sitting in the Basilica di San Clemente I am most grateful for the life of my mother. My prayer is that I will always keep my eyes open to the beauty of God’s creation and appreciate the richness of diversity that God calls me to participate in. May I never take things for granted. May I always be filled with wonder and awe and accept the challenges of life that God brings to me.

Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

I encourage you to read Michael Tinker’s blog for some interesting details about the Basilica di San Clemente. Michael is a professor at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, New York, and is teaching a course in Rome this semester.


JD said...

a lovely, poignant post. thank you for that.

Willym said...

Larry what a lovely post.. thank you...