This was not my first visit to the Sistine Chapel. On previous visits, however, I had hurried through the Chapel due to the crush of tourists. This time I committed to taking whatever time I needed to better appreciate the Chapel’s artwork, perhaps the most famous in humanity.
I rented an audio tour guide and made my way though many galleries before arriving at the Chapel, once again crowded. I followed the directions on the guide and settled into my own personal space for an hour. This was not easy as many tourists moved quickly in and out of the Chapel, many doing what I had done before. A quick look up to the ceiling to see Michelangelo’s masterpiece. God creating humankind in his image and then off to the next Rome destination.
I was about a third of the way through my audio tour when there was a loud “Silenzio” and then a “Shhhhhhhh” ringing throughout the Chapel. A security staff member’s amplified message quickly quieted down the international sounds and admonishments coming from the assembled.
It was quiet for a minute before chattering sounds came back like birdsong at sunrise. Many visitors were talking. Others were texting or playing with their phones. Some were quickly taking contraband photos. And, of course, many were finding creative ways to eat and drink forbidden food. I went back to my audio tour for the rest of the appreciation, standing with neck straining up to see all the detail of the frescoed ceiling.
Near the end of the audio tour, there was another round of “Silenzio’s,” but this time they were said by a priest who then blessed all of us. When he finished the blessing, he offered to hear confessions from any of those gathered.
This was interesting. In a very chaotic and public setting, the Church was offering the sacrament of reconciliation. The priest stood waiting by the side of the altar. Since no privacy was offered, I couldn’t imagine anyone taking him up on his offer and want back to my tour.
When I was finished the tour and looked down from the ceiling, I was surprised to see that a gentleman had come forward and was offering his confession the priest. There, just below The Final Judgment mural, was one of the faithful offering his vulnerability and most personal reflections to the Church.
It was a reminder to me about the work we do in a faith-based educational setting. We work hard to establish environments for learning that are filled with artifacts of humanity’s most significant achievements. Settings and faculty are carefully put together in such a way as to inspire our students, but the hustle and bustle of modern living can be so distracting.
When we compete for our students’ attention, with all that the modern world presents to them during their waking hours, what do we do to make a deep and personal connection with them? How do we make sure that they know they can let down their defenses and reflect on their learning and character development in our educational setting?
One would think being in the presence of greatness of thought should be enough, but when Michelangelo competes against an iPhone for our students’ attention we are reminded of the need of going the extra step to assure them that they can come forward to give expression to their innermost thoughts and reflections. This is noble work, for sure.