Day 9: Wednesday, June 17, 2014
The priest with whom we are standing in the photograph at top is Fr. Wojciech Giertych, O.P., who is the theologian of the papal household (appointed under the Benedict XVI). He is all sparkling personality and mirth, the kind (as it seems to me) that can only come from great intelligence and confidence. Since we were complete strangers to him, he was the more generous in receiving us into the Apostolic Palace. At first, I did not understand what he was saying when he brought us to his very large apartment with private chapel, for he kept describing himself as a prisoner in the Palace. When we left, I finally caught on: the luminous hall in which we stood in this photograph is locked on the far end (where it joins the public section of the Vatican Museums) and at the near end, where the photographer is standing, is a door, in size proportionate to the hall, that can only be opened by a Swiss Guard with an ancient-looking key. So Fr. Giertych cannot go in or out of this hall without buzzing for a guard to unlock the door for him. But if you must be a “prisoner”, this is quite the hall to have outside your “cell”! The light is incredible, even on a somewhat rainy day as this was. Latin funerary inscriptions—they so gleam that it is hard to credit their original purpose—line the hall from one end to the other. If you saw nothing but this hall in Rome, you would be impressed with how many physical artifacts had survived from the ancient world. I took away two thoughts in particular from our conversation with Fr. Giertych. The first was that he encouraged our students to choose a “master”—his own had been St. Therese of Lisieux—with whom, as it were, they could study intensively, reviewing everything that the master had written or said. And then, it may chance, that after ten years or so, it will be time to move on to another great light, but the period with the first master will not have been superficial and so the insights gained will be the more lasting and profound. The second thought was about Fr. Giertych’s manner of reading the Summa Theologica: he makes his marginal notes in Latin as he reads in the Latin text, desiring to hew as closely as he can to the thought of Thomas himself. Our many thanks to Fr. Giertych for an afternoon of pleasant conversation in the Apostolic Palace! Our thanks on this day also go to Fr. Eric Scanlan, who, after saying Mass for us in St. Peter’s Basilica, gave us a tour of the North American College. The panoramic view from the top of the main building is not to be missed!