Sunday, December 13, 2009


This afternoon, the lady was back. Petite. Short, grey hair. Wry smile on her face and an acid tongue. The expletives and curses came out of her innocent-looking mouth in such well-packaged phrases and expressions that it threw me for a loop; like ordering a Big Mac at McD's and receiving a plate of spaghetti alle vongole. The temperature hovered around 40 and the rain came and went. It was cold and she didn't seem to notice. The stream of cursing went on and on throughout the game; a small, high-pitched voice nearly lost in the sea of loud, bass, masculine chants, whistles and songs. At one point she took a large banner, the size of a queen-sized bed sheet, from one of the youth and waved it around, obscuring our view. Such passion. Such fanaticism. Such a filthy mouth.

Earlier this morning, I sat with Brian in the office of a local pastor. Among other things, this pastor shared some of his views and concerns about the Catholic church. While I don't agree with all of them, I do with most of what he said and find myself in a rickety boat, navigating uncharted waters, attempting to grow an authentic Christian community here amongst the signs and symbols of the sacred.

The dictionary defines the word 'bestemmia' as insulting God or things that are sacred. So as the little, Italian granny cursed, insulted and 'sent the fans of the opposing team to that other place' (as they say here) I found my shock and laughter turning slowly into a startling realization that this was truly bestemmia. She wasn't cursing the church or God himself - at least that I heard - but she was cursing and spitting out lies about people, Creation, things that are, well, sacred.

My dad wrote me years ago some thoughts about the task we face in Italy and in Europe at large. He described what he saw as a land full of religious symbols, asking the question how many literal thousands of statues and churches and chapels and steeples and shrines and paintings and crucifixes and holidays and convents and monasteries fill the landscape around us and yet how do the church bells ring unheard? Maybe part of our call and our task, then, is to give new life and new meaning and new story to those symbols. Maybe we are here to invite people to explore for the first time that which is sacred.

So cheer on, little old lady, cheer on. Cheer the boys of the white-and-red on to victory. But don't tear down your brothers and neighbors. Treat them with love and with respect. Treat them as the sacred beings that they are for in them is the very breath of God.

By the way, we beat Brescia today, 2-0.