The following is a transcript of a Raised Catholic podcast episode.
To listen to the episode, click here.
Today is episode 133: Digging into the Past to Build Something Better
Hi friends. Today we continue our summer series all about some takeaways from my week in Rome, and today we are digging deep. When you go to a place like Rome from anywhere in the United States, you get a real sense of the depth of history. The past is literally everywhere you look, from the Parthenon to the Colosseum to Pompeii, I mean, my goodness, friends, human history is so very long.
And when we do dig into the past, we will so often find things that we did not expect. A great example of this is when Pope Pius XII dug beneath St. Peter’s Basilica for a burial space for his predecessor, and the workers there found a whole necropolis, a burial ground for Christians and pagans alike with intact mausoleums and urns and grave markings, and they even found the likely resting place of St. Peter himself. And, friend, all of that happened in the 1940s. Many centuries had passed since those who were buried there had lived out their lives, but here were their ornately carved sarcophagi, tiled floors, even spaces for food offerings. We saw all of this on a Scavi Tour, which I would highly recommend if you ever go to Rome, but the whole time I walked through that sacred ground, I was thinking about the very first worker who dug into some part of the ground under St. Peter’s and was startled by what they discovered. Then I thought about the many decisions and all the labor and time that it took to continue to dig and to explore what they found there, all of it quietly happening at the same time as the Second World War. Amazing.
Digging into the past is messy. It’s time consuming and challenging and it can even be sort of scary. Digging into the past can disrupt the normal operations of a thing like a church or a business or a government or even a family, but digging deep is worth it, because how can we build good things on a foundation that we don’t even understand?
At St. Francis Basilica in Assisi, we toured the lower level first, and there we found a stunning series of frescos depicting the life of Jesus. When we went upstairs, we found another set of murals which told the story of Francis’s life. This was intentional. St. Francis, who famously was called by Jesus to rebuild His Church, worked in his lifetime to bring the Church back to basics, back to its foundations. There’s an original parchment written by St. Francis and stamped by Pope Honorius III that was celebrated in a recent exhibition in St. Francis Basilica. In it, Francis collected and explained all of the critical parts of the faith, what Francis called ‘the marrow of the Gospel’, and what the exhibition called “The Gospel and Nothing Else.” So, it makes sense that the building that celebrates the good life of Francis was built on the foundation of the life of Jesus.
It is part of the human condition for us to stray from where we began. Humans wander. Our once-clear morals and direction can get distorted over time, and this happens in every kind of institution – political, religious, in business, and it certainly happens in individuals and families, too. We forget where we came from, or we forget where we want to go, and this is why, in part, that rhythms like liturgical seasons and practices like the Examen can be helpful. In both of these, we take a look our lives and our direction, we readjust our course, and we hopefully return to a more grounded and true way of living. We uncover the past in order to build something better in the future.
That’s exactly what’s happening at the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris these days, and in fact that’s the foundation for this whole podcast, and that is why Notre Dame is the title of episode one, so be sure to go back and give that one a listen if you missed it. When I heard about the devastating fire at Notre Dame in 2019, I saw it immediately as a metaphor for what is happening in the Church today. The destruction, and subsequent digging in ashes in order to build a safer and stronger structure for God’s people – well, all of that is a mirror to what I hope this generation will do with our Church. We dig to find what is true, what St. Francis called ‘the marrow of the Gospel’, and we leave behind all the parts that we have added over time – the clericalism, politicization, the holding onto power – all the times that flawed humans have strayed and led the Church to places that Jesus never intended it to go. In a process like personal faith deconstruction or in Pope Francis’s Global Synod, we dig to get back to our foundations, back to the things that Jesus actually taught, and all the ways in which He showed us how to live.
But any effort to dig into the past can come up against a whole lot of resistance. When people are invested in the status quo and in the power they hold, it is amazing what humans will do. If you’ve heard the pushback from some American priests and bishops to the Synodal process, or if your parish or diocese skipped it altogether (which, friend, if you’ve never heard of the Synod in your parish, that’s probably what happened and by the way, skipping it was not allowed.) But shortly put, the Synod is a three-year long worldwide listening process, from every corner of the globe and from people inside and outside of church walls – just listening for where God is leading our church next, and as the results are discerned in Rome starting this October, we may start to hear much more about what some commentators are saying could be very impactful reforms as to how the Church operates moving forward. I guess it’s unsurprising that some who hold power are not all that interested in changes that might shift some of that power, but we’ll see what happens when the Holy Spirit is involved.
Okay, switching topics here. Friend, are you watching The Bear, because I am obsessed, so you might hear much more about that show in episodes to come. If you’ve listened to me or read any of my writing in the past, you’ll know that there is nothing I love more than a good metaphor, and spoiler alert, to me, all of the challenges and efforts to revamp and elevate a broken-down family restaurant in the show are really the characters’ efforts to heal and to move on from family trauma. The restaurant is a great big metaphor for the family.
In early episodes, you see the resistance of many of the characters who say things like, “It’s always been done this way,” or who bristle at trying new routines or healthier work practices. The restaurant receives a C from the Board of Health, and they are required to display that failing grade to the world, the very last thing they want to do.
Well, anyway, there’s a scene in season 2 where they need to move out an existing set of lockers so that they can scrape and paint a wall, but one of the characters insists on a short-cut. He doesn’t want to risk breaking something valuable from their past, so he advocates for just throwing a tarp over the lockers and painting around them. He doesn’t understand why they would invest so much effort into moving them when they’re just going to go back to the original place anyway. But in the end, they do the job “right”. They move the lockers, they scrape and dig into all of the walls, and they discover lots of stuff there – logistical challenges, quite a lot of mess, and even some treasures along the way. It was time consuming, expensive, messy, risky work, and it in the end, it was work worth doing. That’s what digging into the past can give us. It can help us to move forward in a way that is healthy, clear, organized, and better than what it was before.
So, what are the places in our lives or in our faith practices that could use some excavation? What could we dig into, in our past or our habits or faith practices or relationships, that might enable us to build our next chapters well on a good and solid foundation? And what scares us about that? Let’s look at it, because as messy and costly and unexpected as examining the past can be, it is often the very best way to intentionally move forward and to build something good in our future that will last. That is my prayer for the upcoming Synod for our Church and it’s what I hope for each one of us, too.
Thanks so much for being with me today. If you need me, you can find me on Instagram @kerrycampbellwrites or on my website at kerrycampbell.org. Thanks so much for rating, reviewing, subscribing and most importantly, sharing this podcast with a friend. That really makes a difference in growing our community, so thanks. If you’d like to support this podcast financially, there’s a way for you to do that in the show notes, along with some resources related to today’s episode, so do check all of that out, but before we go, let’s pray together.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, amen.
Oh God, show us where we should look to dig out whatever we should bring out into the light. We want to go back to basics and to remember what your word calls “the love we had at first”, the marrow of what Jesus taught us. Come Holy Spirit, show us how to dig and how to build on a rock and not on the sand, and, Lord, we invite you into this work with us, because we know how much you love us and want us to be free and whole, both for us and for those who will come after us. In the name of Jesus and wrapped in the mantle of our mother, Mary, we pray, amen.
Thanks so much for listening today, friend. I’ll see you next time.
This week continues a summer series on a bunch of spiritual takeaways and epiphanies I experienced while on pilgrimage in Rome. I hope this one about the value of digging into the past is a meaningful one for you.
If you’d like to connect with me, find me on Instagram or at my website. If you’d like to help support this podcast financially, there’s now a way to do just that, and thank you – visit me on my page at buymeacoffee.com! Thanks as always for sharing, subscribing, rating, and reviewing, as this helps our community to grow!
Thanks as always to my friend, Peter Vaughan-Vail, for providing the beautiful harp music you hear in this and every episode.
Here are some resources I hope will help you to engage with this week’s topic in a deeper way for yourself:
1. Short Video: Visiting the Vatican Necropolis, with Boston Catholic Television
3. Podcast: The Examen with Fr. James Martin SJ
4. Raised Catholic Episode One: Notre Dame
5. Article: Synod on Synodality – Your Questions Answered, by Courtney Mares for Catholic News Agency
6. Prayer for the Synod on Synodality:
“We stand before you, Holy Spirit, as we gather together in your name. With you alone to guide us, make yourself at home in our hearts; teach us the way we must go and how we are to pursue it. We are weak and sinful; do not let us promote disorder. Do not let ignorance lead us down the wrong path nor partiality influence our actions. Let us find in you our unity so that we may journey together to eternal life and not stray from the way of truth and what is right. All this we ask of you, who are at work in every place and time, in the communion of the Father and the Son, forever and ever. Amen.”
7. Video: The Bear trailer
8. Song: The Church’s One Foundation, by Hymns of Grace
9. Article on Ongoing Renovation Efforts at Notre Dame from EuroNews