Lopez: There is an examination of conscience that happens and deepens along the Roman pilgrimage route. How important is examination of conscience beyond Lent and beyond Rome — perhaps in understanding conscience and religious liberty as a matter of law and policy and politics?
Weigel: The forty days (and beyond) in which the station-church pilgrimage unfolds offer us a chance to look into our hearts to see what is in there that is impeding our mission as disciples called to bring friendship with Christ to others, which is another way of asking ourselves the question: How well am I imitating Christ the Lord in my own life? One of the important things about the texts of the station-church pilgrimage, though, is that they tether this introspection to the Bible and the Fathers of the Church, so that examinations of conscience don’t lapse into subjectivism, which can often be the road to self-indulgence and self-justification. And of course the examination of conscience to which the pilgrimage invites us involves looking into our lives as citizens, which cannot be divorced from our lives as disciples. I would also hope that a daily meditation on the martyrs, which is inevitable in making the station-church pilgrimage in Rome or at home, is a reminder of the centrality of religious freedom to any meaningful scheme of human rights, and a fundamental building block of the just society.
: You’ve just returned from Rome. Is it a different kind of place under Papa Francesco?
Weigel: Wednesdays around St. Peter’s Square are certainly a bit more hectic. The pontificate is still in its early days. But the pope has grabbed the world’s attention, and that creates a very real evangelical opportunity. It would be a shame if that opportunity were squandered by Catholic internecine sniping — or by politicians and media personalities instrumentalizing the pope.
Lopez: What is this “Francis effect” people keep talking about? Are people on the left too gleeful and those on the right too worried?
Weigel: If Pope Francis has given people an inkling of the power of the Divine Mercy at work in a life, then I hope that will invite people to encounter Christ in his fullness, which includes his teaching of the truth as well as his merciful forgiveness when we fail to live the truth, as we all do. As for the pope and the blogosphere battles, there’s too much work to do converting a post-Christian culture to fret very much about that.
Lopez: Do you have any idea how many times you’ve been to Rome? Are there new discoveries for you still there? Any recent ones?
Weigel: I could mention new restaurants, but that might make me appear sybaritic, which would never do. I have no idea how many times I’ve been to Rome; it’s now one of the places I work, albeit in one-or-two-week periods (or six-and-a-half weeks, as this past February and March). But as for new things, sure; the city is inexhaustible, historically and aesthetically — and even in Catholic terms. Just this past Tuesday morning I attended Mass in one of the chapels I had never seen before, down in the Vatican grottoes, with my friends Msgr. Thomas Powers and Father Leo Patalinghug. The chapel had an exquisite, antique fresco of the Madonna and Child and some of the finest Cosmatesque decoration I’ve ever seen. Dr. Johnson’s observation that getting tired of London means getting tired of life applies to Rome, too.
Lopez: As we are about to celebrate the mystery of the Incarnation at Christmas, how should we bear Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection in mind?
Weigel: The Paschal mystery of Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection makes Christmas make sense. Christmas without Good Friday and Easter is mere sentimentality. Christmas read through the prism of the cross and resurrection is the celebration of the truth that Paul confesses to Titus in the second reading at midnight Mass on Christmas: “The grace of God has appeared.”
— Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online.