Monday, May 15, 2006

Past, Present and to Come

Most people living in Britain know the name of Bonnie Prince Charlie. Many have an image of an iconic figure, fighting for Scotland against the English, and eventually failing in his struggle. Many will know the name of Flora MacDonald, an equally romantic figure, deeply embedded in 17th century history, dressing her prince as her maid in her effort to help him to reach safety.

Fewer will know that the building that is currently the Pontifical Biblical Institute, (Biblicum), here in Rome, was previously the home of the Stuart family.

Although some sources claim that the adjoining building, known as the Balestra, was the main living quarters of the palazzo, and therefore the place where Bonnie Prince Charlie was both born and where he died, it seems to me that the 'feel' of the place is wrong. The windows are too small and suggest servants’ quarters rather than royalty. What is clear is that both Bonnie Prince Charlie and his brother were baptized in the adjacent church of the Twelve Apostles, the church that houses the tomb of the Apostles Philip and James.

The building that is now the Pontifical Biblical Institute, and is in the care of the Jesuits, has an impressive doorway, is underneath what was a terrace overlooking the piazza which had direct access from the ballroom, and a main staircase. A gallery leading from this area has beautiful original frescoes showing rural scenes and typical of the Jacobean period, if not slightly pre-dating it. Windows from that same gallery overlook a magnificent courtyard of an ideal size for carriage access and as a 'grand entrance'. The ceilings are ornately carved and decorated in a fashion typical of the period. It is easy to imagine beautiful carriages and splendid period costumes on the people driven to the huge wooden doors… and so the story continues.

History is a strange thing. We are all a part of it. Our today will be the past of those who follow on after us, will help future generations to make sense of their own present. We look back and wonder what it was like to live in magnificent surroundings, whether as royalty or as servants, and yet can forget that there was no central heating in cold weather, no air conditioning or fans in the heat. There must have been times when candle glow was frustrating rather than romantic, when flicking a switch to make a cup of tea would have been so much easier than lighting a fire.

When Flora MacDonald lent her maid’s clothes to Bonnie Prince Charlie, they must both have been frightened. It all sounds easy and tidy with the hindsight of a couple of hundred years, but a grisly execution would have awaited both of them had they been caught. Probably, going back even further in time, when they were executed, Sts. Philip and James had no clue that their names would be in any way associated with a Scottish prince and were also afraid for their own lives and safety.

All of us, past, present and to come, know fear. To be afraid is not cowardice. Fearlessness is not bravery. Courage means doing what is right in spite of being afraid.

Lord, give me the wisdom to see the truth and the courage to put it into practice, at whatever the cost. Help me to make sense of my present and to create a good future for those who will come after me.

God bless,
Sr. Janet