There’s a flowering of the cross at Easter time. The flowering cross in the great apse of the church of San Clemente in Rome brims with life. It’s a resting place for doves; its branches swirl around the gifts God gives. It brings life, not death. Death gives way to life. The hand of God makes it so.
An early preacher Theodore the Studite praises the mystery of the cross:.
“How precious the gift of the cross, how splendid to contemplate! In the cross there is no mingling of good and evil, as in the tree of paradise: it is wholly beautiful to behold and good to taste. The fruit of this tree is not death but life, not darkness but light. This tree does not cast us out of paradise, but opens the way for our return.
“This was the tree on which Christ, like a king on a chariot, destroyed the devil, the Lord of death, and freed the human race from his tyranny. This was the tree upon which the Lord, like a brave warrior wounded in his hands, feet and side, healed the wounds of sin that the evil serpent had inflicted on our nature. A tree once caused our death, but now a tree brings life. Once deceived by a tree, we have now repelled the cunning serpent by a tree.
“What an astonishing transformation! That death should become life, that decay should become immortality, that shame should become glory! Well might the holy Apostle exclaim: Far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world!”
I just returned from San Clemente, near the Colisseum, where the feast of St. Clement, one of the early leaders of the Roman church was celebrated. It was an affair that burst out into the surrounding neighborhood as the relics of the saint were carried through the streets before returning for Mass at 6:30 PM. This beautiful church which rests upon another below and a fascinating complex of other buildings goes back to the 4th century and is a favorite of visitors to the city.
Tonight the church was lighted with torches on the outside, like a birthday cake. Cardinal Hummes officiated at the celebration. About two hundred people followed a Roman band and the community of Irish Dominicans and the cardinal and four stalwart young men carrying the golden bust of St Clement containing the relic through the streets. The Dominicans have been in charge of the church since they were banished from Ireland during Reformation times.
The climax of the procession was a waterfall of fireworks that stopped the procession at one point. Smiles on everyones’ faces. Who doesn’t like noisy fireworks?
The one thing we know about St.Clement for sure is his letter to the Corinthians. They seem to have been troublemakers in the early church, and Clement’s letter is basically telling them to cool it. We need to love each other more.
Maybe that was the saint’s message tonight as he went through the crowded streets where a good number of drivers were fuming that their favorite route was interrupted by a procession.
I have some fine video of the event, and I came home with some tea and cookies for some of the boys at Saints John and Paul.