On Register Radio this week, Jeanette DeMelo talks with papal biographer George Weigel about a fourth-century tradition: visiting the “station churches” in Rome during Lent, which the North American College is keeping alive in the Eternal City.
Also, Dan Burke talks with Tom Peterson of Catholics Come Home about GoodConfession.com, a powerful new initiative to promote the sacrament of reconciliation while calling Catholics to come home to the Church.
Station Churches in Rome
First on the show this week, Jeanette De Melo interviews George Weigel, the author of the bestselling biography of soon-to-be-saint John Paul II, Witness to Hope. He’s a distinguished senior fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center.
Weigel’s new book, Roman Pilgrimage: The Station Churches (2014, Perseus), is a partnership with art historian Elizabeth Lev and photographer Stephen Weigel, Weigel’s son. They take readers through a unique religious and aesthetic pilgrimage to dozens of Rome’s most striking churches.
The annual Lenten pilgrimage is a sacred tradition dating back almost two millennia, to the earliest days of Christianity. Along this historic spiritual pathway, today’s pilgrims confront the mysteries of the Christian faith through a program of biblical and early Christian readings, amplified by some of the greatest art and architecture of Western civilization.
This Lenten tradition “takes us back to the very beginning of Christianity in Rome,” according to Weigel, and it “has, interestingly enough, been revived by Americans in the last 30-some years. The idea of going from one Roman church to another for Mass on a particular day of Lent dates back to the fourth century, perhaps even earlier. It was for centuries the normal way the pope, the bishop of Rome, celebrated Mass with the clergy and people of Rome during Lent. Then the tradition fell into disrepair, I suppose we could say. It’s been revived since the mid-to-late 1970s.”
This tradition is now very much an English speakers’ experience in Rome, Weigel said. The station church Masses are attended by 200-500 English speakers each day of Lent. It has become relevant to the 21st century by these attendees.
Now, the faithful can “do Rome from home” during Lent, thanks to Weigel’s book.
When Weigel made the pilgrimage in Lent 2011, he and his son, the photographer for the project, lived at the North American College (NAC) and walked to each day’s early-morning Masses with the NAC seminarians. In addition to everything else, he said it was also “a great way to discover Rome,” in part because, at that time of the day, “you really have the city to yourself.”
“One of the things I have found in the 20 years I have been doing the station churches of Lent, either in pieces or as a whole, is you discover churches that you would not have had any occasion to go into for any other reason, that are some of the artistic and architectural gems of the city,” Weigel shared.
In addition to photos, art and architectural history, the book also provides daily reflections on the liturgy of the day for each day of Lent. Weigel refers to Lent as an “itinerary of conversion,” because “it is about journeying: about journeying with Jesus up to Jerusalem, about the journey of the Christian life. … Lent is about baptism for the catechumens who will enter the Church at the Easter vigil, but it’s also about preparing for the renewal of our baptismal promises at the vigil or on Easter Sunday, even if we were baptized 60-some years ago. There’s a sense where all of us are called to enter a kind of second, third, fourth, 57th catechumenate to deepen our engagement with the journey of the Lord up to Jerusalem, to deepen the imitation of Christ within us, so as to be able to celebrate Easter renewed in our dedication to be the missionary disciples we were baptized to be.”
Weigel shared his perspective on “the grittiness of Lent” and how that can be a call for us to serious and deep reflection on the broken parts of our lives. It’s his hope that Roman Pilgrimage will allow people to make their Lenten journeys in a thoughtful way that’s also joyful.
Dan Burke’s guest on this week’s show is Tom Peterson. Peterson is the president and founder of CatholicsComeHome.org and VirtueMedia.org. He had been a corporate ad executive for 25 years when he experienced a powerful conversion at a Catholic men’s retreat.
Catholics Come Home has aired commercials in 36 dioceses and has helped lead 500,000 souls home to the Catholic Church.
The new website initiative from Catholics Come Home is GoodConfession.com, which has a 30-second ad coming out soon called “Heavy Burden.” Peterson shared that there are a number of new commercials with a focus on the relief and beauty of the sacrament of confession.
The new companion site was built by Peterson’s daughter and is focused on why we do what we do, what the psychological implications of our sin are and how we are wired based on the temperaments God gave us.
We all have certain weaknesses and temptations, Peterson said, where the evil one is trying to bait our hooks.
Peterson said GoodConfession.com is there to help all of us resist temptation and grow in holiness, keeping our focus on heaven.
The new ads will be released on secular, national TV, based on support, as soon as funds are raised. They are available on the website right now.
What they emphasize, Peterson said, is that when the priest is in the confessional, in persona Christi, it’s a time of grace and a time of joy, not a place where one should be afraid.
The new initiative and focus on confession is based on 20 years of hearing that Catholics coming home go right to confession. Currently active Catholics, though, seem to be under-utilizing the sacrament. Peterson said, “We need to encourage our brothers and sisters to come home to the sacrament of reconciliation,” and he added that the new ad and the website “will be a tool to help people do that.”
GoodConfession.com explains why we have confession, how to get rid of habitual sins and offers an electronic encouragement for everyone to go to confession.
“A minute of education can provide a lifetime of hope,” Peterson said of the commercials. “It [the commercial] gets the conversation going” and “reminds them that God should be a part of every minute of our life.”