Make your 2016 Lent meaningful with The Lance and the Veil
When I was working on the first draft of The Lance and the Veil, I created a website entitled, Making Lent Meaningful, where I published a chapter a day — 40 chapters for the 40 days of Lent — with reflections for each chapter. For the final version of the novel, I removed the reflections along with two chapters chronicling Veronica’s journey through the Adriatic and Mediterranean Seas. For Lent 2016, I have restored the reflections and the lost chapters so readers can better use the novel as a spiritual tool. I wish you every blessing during the holy season of Lent and a truly glorious Easter.
Reflection: We all carry wounds. As Veronica experienced shock and loss, we have traumas from our past that impinge on our present lives. They paralyze us, hold us captive and prevent us from engaging with those we love. How free we would be if we could banish the thoughts that drag us back to those hurtful moments. This is the healing Jesus offers us. He’s come into our lives to carry that pain away. Holding onto our pain is an additional sin of pride. Let us humble ourselves before our Redeemer and concede that we need His intervention in our lives. Take our burden, Jesus. Confer on us the blessings of those who mourn, and allow us to be comforted.
Reflection: The Roman conceptions of their gods as venal, jealous and manipulative, vary greatly from what Christians believe. Yet how often do I approach God as a Roman would — with fear, trepidation and suspicion — instead of being confident in His love and mercy? Perhaps it’s because I don’t spend enough time in His presence. This Lent, let me find more time for quiet devotion, so I can feel God’s love more intimately.
Reflection: How frustrating — truly infuriating — it is when someone deliberately interferes with our happiness. We can feel helpless when those in authority abuse their power, and, that helplessness can turn our anger to bitterness. It’s been said that holding onto bitterness is like eating rat poison expecting someone else to die. This Lent, let’s stop poisoning ourselves. Let us remember that Jesus told us the meek shall inherit the Earth. Let us ask Him to take the weight off our hearts, and grant us the healing we so greatly need.
Reflection: Claudia’s spending sprees should resonate in our contemporary world. We truly live in an opulent society with distractions all around us. But it’s important to recognize when we need escapism, and when we need discernment and spiritual healing. Lent is a time of renewal because it compels us to choose the latter even when we’re in the habit of pursuing the former. This Lent, let’s build the habit of seeking God in quiet and seclusion instead of chasing vain distractions among the crowd or in the marketplace.
Reflection: Theodosius instructs Veronica on how personal squabbles come to involve families and clients of families, eventually leading to great rifts in society. How often in our own lives do we let personal conflicts grow out of proportion? How often do we seek allies instead of reconciliation? Do we pressure others to be loyal to us or are we open to criticism that might reveal our failings, so that, in humility, we might repair our damaged relationships? This Lent, let us cultivate meekness, and seek healing in our relationships.
Reflection: How often do we forget how blessed we are to have been given the faith of the living God. It is a gift for which Our Lord suffered, and generations of Christians have also sacrificed. This day in Lent, thank Our Lord for the gift of faith.
Reflection: Veronica finds the physical beauty of her world stands in stark contrast to the violence she’s witnessing. How often have we witnessed beauty and had it confirm out belief that there is goodness in the world. On this day of Lent, seek out the beauty of God’s creation, appreciate it and thank Him for it.
Reflection: One of the great masculine charisms is to be protector of the law (see Genesis 2:16-17). Yet, to do this, a man must know the law and conquer his passions. Otherwise, his enforcement of “the law” will be arbitrary and capricious, sowing confusion and fear and unleashing abuse upon those they should serve. Today, let us prayer for the moral formation of young men that they shall know God, cherish His law and uphold consistent moral standards.
Reflection: Longinus’ ruminations remind me of a quotation from Brian Gail, author of Fatherless, who wrote “In the service of women, men are called to greatness.” It may seem a quaint notion to modern minds, but recognizing the inherit worth of a woman inspires a man to self-improvement, while the failure to recognize her worth allows for exploitation. This day in Lent, let’s reflect on the complementarity in God’s plan for man and woman, how much we value the opposite gender and how we might demonstrate greater appreciation for their place in our lives.
Reflection: Obedience seems to be a forgotten virtue. Caricatures of mindless drones and relentless cries to “question authority” have undermined what should be an important element of every child’s moral formation: obedience to properly constituted authority. Today, let’s reflect on how we practice the virtue of obedience in our lives and how cultivating obedience might improve our lives.
Chapter 10 A – The First “Lost Chapter”
Veronica leaned over the boat’s railing and vomited. Again. Nothing came up save a trickle of bile; her stomach’s contents had long ago been emptied. It seemed as though her diaphragm had adopted the rhythm of the boat: relaxing as the bow rose, then wrenching upward as the bow fell. Each violent slam threatened to invert her stomach completely and hurl it up her esophagus. She was dizzy and light-headed and greatly tempted to pitch herself off the deck and let the sea finish her off, just as long as the retching would stop.
She sucked again on the ginger root the ship’s captain had given her. It burned her tongue, (albeit no more than her stomach acid did), but offered no relief. Her uncle wiped her mouth again. Again he offered water, which she swirled around her mouth but couldn’t bring herself to swallow. She lost it with the next spasm. Veronica saw the worry etched on Theodosius’ face. She listened as he argued with the captain, who, though sympathetic, claimed only to be master of the ship, not the sea. She took her uncle’s hand, trying to let him know she’d be alright, that it wasn’t his fault. She shouldn’t have lied to him at Salona.
They’d made the Adriatic crossing in good time and clear weather. Still, it had taken thirty-six hours to reach Salona, and they’d arrived at the port just before sunrise on the third day. Veronica had started to feel queasy on the morning of the second day; she had not slept well as the boat had yawed side to side, up and down. That day she ate and drank very little and Sabinus remarked several times that she was looking pale. That night she had her first vomiting episode, which lasted only a few minutes and, since everyone else was sleeping, went unnoticed. She had forced herself to stay awake all night so she wouldn’t soil herself or give away her secret. Her heart had leapt when her uncle tapped her shoulder and pointed to the lighted shore. She had stared into the torchlight that guided the boat to the pier, then had straightened her stiff limbs and wobbled across the deck to firm land.
The men had taken counsel on how to proceed. Weather still favored sailing, and several ships would push off with the morning tide. It was an opportunity to make up time lost in Ancona. The only concern was Veronica’s health. The men had remarked that she was ashen and listless, but Veronica, not wanting to be the weak link, had asserted that she was “feeling much better.” She “just hadn’t woken up yet.”
Theodosius had looked to Valentius, who shrugged. “If she’d thrown up, I’d be concerned. But she may just be getting her sea legs.”
“Alright,” Theodosius had nodded. “We’ll push on.”
Theodosius had then booked passage on another vessel, sailing down the Dalmatian coast to Dyrrhachium, another three hundred fifty miles, requiring three more days at sea. Veronica had kept her malady secret through the first day and night, which might just have been her downfall. She overheard the ship’s captain remark, “If you’d told me back north amongst the islands, I could have put ashore anywhere. Now we’ve got open sea the next hundred miles.”
“Find the first Dalmatian port,” her uncle insisted.
“Truly, sir,” the captain rebuffed him, “wind and current argue for maintaining our course. There’ll be no time gained by veering east, and the ride will only get bumpier.”
Theodosius huffed, but dropped the argument. He settled next to Veronica and stroked her hair.
A hundred miles. Veronica stared at the sea: it was enormous, merciless and relentless. No force on Earth could calm it. Her only hope was that it did not worsen, and that she could endure the constant tossing until they reached Dyrrhachium. Her limbs hung like dead weights and her head lolled on her crossed forearms. Her mouth was dry as papyrus and her throat burned. She spit out the ginger root into the sea. The light dancing on the water mocked her misery. She shut her eyes against it, and finally fell asleep.
When Veronica awoke, the moon was high. Her stomach rumbled, but not to hurl: she was hungry. Ravenously hungry! Her head was pounding, so she hesitated to move, but she desperately needed something to eat. Sabinus noticed her stirring and brought over some bread and a cup of water. Veronica sipped the water and savored it on her parched tongue. She held it in her mouth for a few seconds, as she was afraid to put even a sip of water on her stomach. When she did swallow, her throat seemed to crack, but her stomach accepted the water without lurching upward. She nibbled some bread and washed it down with another sip of water. Her stomach seemed to welcome the bread, so she ate more confidently.
“Whew,” she sighed. “I’m glad the boat settled down.”
“It’s actually no different,” Sabinus said. “Maybe you just needed sleep.”
Veronica napped on and off the rest of the night and awoke in the morning feeling somewhat refreshed. The men were visibly relieved.
“I’ve heard sea sickness affects women more than men,” Valentius offered. “Though I’ve never sailed with a girl, so I’ve no way to judge the truth of that rumor.”
“Then perhaps it’s not worth sharing,” Sabinus muttered. Valentius raised both eyebrows at the impudence, but Sabinus was not deterred. “Unless your object is to make her feel worse.”
“My meaning would be clear to anyone with ears,” Valentius grumbled. “To assure the mistress it’s not her fault.”
“Whoever would conclude it was?” Sabinus scoffed.
“If it’s a woman’s nature,” Valentius bellowed, “there’s nothing can be done!”
“So you’d rather she blame her gender than herself?” Sabinus prodded. “Have you ever known soldiers to get sick on their first sea voyage and then grow acclimated?”
“Of course,” Valentius sputtered.
“Why not mention that to encourage her? Instead, you latch on to one thing that cannot change, and make that her frailty.”
Valentius turned red as new wine. “I did not make it; I only remarked on it.”
“Clearly, a woman cannot change her nature,” Sabinus laughed. “But neither can a braying jackass.”
Valentius grabbed at the youth, who easily slipped his two-fingered grasp. Theodosius stomped on the deck for order.
“Enough! I should have the captain throw you both overboard!”
Veronica knew she was getting better as she had to suppress a giggle. She felt bad for Valentius, who was so earnest and so easily riled that skinny Sabinus was constantly getting the better of him. But, of course, she didn’t want to encourage Sabinus, to have him think her reaction to his antics was anything more than amusement.
The next day they spotted Dyrrhachium and Veronica was never so anxious to enter a city. Dyrrhachium, some two and a half centuries ago, had been known by the Greek name, Epidamnus. When Rome conquered the town, they decided the name too closely resembled the Latin word for “damnation,” and opted for a descriptive Greek phrase for “bad spine,” after a craggy ridge that defined the town. Despite its ugly and inauspicious appellations, Dyrrhachium was a rich and lively port, which many a Roman called, “The Adriatic Bazaar.” Happily situated across from the great Roman port of Brindisi, Dyrrhachium was the starting point of the Via Egnatia, a heavily traveled trade route connecting Macedonia with Asia. It was also a strategically valuable port, as demonstrated during the Roman Civil War.
Veronica knew from her studies that roughly seventy-five years earlier, General Pompey, fighting to preserve the Roman Republic, had taken his army of Senators and supporters to Dyrrhachium, where he amassed valuable supplies. Julius Caesar, the would-be dictator, and his lieutenant, Mark Antony, pursued him, split their forces and laid siege. When Pompey moved to break the siege, his forces routed Caesar’s army, but inexplicably, the old general failed to pursue. Caesar later remarked, “Today the victory had been the enemy’s, had there been anyone among them to take it.” Pompey’s reluctance allowed Caesar to preserve his army, with which he eventually cornered Pompey in Egypt. There the teenaged queen Cleopatra had welcomed the old general, only to have her people assassinate him. When Caesar arrived, she presented him with a basket containing Pompey’s head.
But it wasn’t the history that interested Veronica, or the goods on display in the marketplace. She was only interested in one thing: firm, dry land. As the boat settled at the pier and lines were pulled taut to secure it, Veronica clung to the rail, anxious to hoist herself onto the wooden walkway. She didn’t wait for the helping hand of a dockworker, but lifted herself up with both arms and pivoted to sit on the pier. She curled her knees to her chest and set her feet firmly on the planks. With a grunt she rose, pitching suddenly left, making quick cross steps to keep her balance. Theodosius caught her hand before she toppled off the far side of the pier.
“So much for solid land,” she muttered. It took quite a few paces before her wobbly legs properly supported her.
Theodosius decided the first thing to do was to find a suitable taberna for food and lodging. Veronica did not find much to like about Macedonian food: coarse, dry barley bread (made palatable only by dipping it in honey), cabbage soup, and dried figs. Theodosius promised dinner would be better. At least there would be meat. Once in their lodgings, they debated how to proceed.
“The sea route is the fastest,” Valentius offered, “But the riskiest.”
“Veronica will be fine,” Sabinus interrupted. “She got used to the boat.”
“In calm seas.” Valentius bowed his head, indicating he didn’t mean to offend. But Veronica right now was more annoyed at Sabinus: he’d been far too solicitous towards her during the last leg of the voyage and was starting to grate on her. She tipped her chin up, prompting Valentius to continue. “There’s the risk of encountering a storm. Or pirates. Or naval vessels. If Macro’s men were to board the ship, there’d be nowhere to run.”
Theodosius nodded, acknowledging the Equestrian’s points, then rebutted him. “The Via Egnatia is heavily patrolled by the Legion.”
“And highwaymen?” Veronica asked, knowing well the answer.
Theodosius shrugged. “They tend to be cowardly. Should the servants join us, we’d make a larger party, and should only fear bands of robbers with equal or greater numbers. No, the Roman Legion is our greatest obstacle. And we can expect less interference from them at sea.”
Valentius scowled, “That’s what the pirates say.” For a moment no one spoke, then Valentius continued, “This is our best opportunity to continue by land. We’re at the Via. If we start south by sea, and Veronica becomes ill…”
“She won’t!” Sabinus snapped.
Valentius raised his voice, “We could not turn back. We’d be committed to the sea!”
“We can sail as far as Oricum,” Theodosius said. “Meet the servants there. If Veronica fairs as well on the voyage as she did this last day, we can sail from there.”
“Or,” Valentius stressed, “we can split up. You, Veronica and one of us go by land, staying ahead of Macro. The other stays behind to meet the servants and tell them how to proceed to the next rendezvous. Speed, Senator.”
Sabinus cackled. “But then, the advantage we gain by leaving immediately is lost by taking the slower route! And all because you think Veronica isn’t strong enough.”
“I think,” Theodosius interjected firmly, “we’ve had a complete airing of our options and concerns. Perhaps we should adjourn, take a few hours to see the city, and reconvene.” Theodosius rose and opened the door. Valentius nodded and exited with due courtesy. Sabinus slapped his palms on his knees and jerked himself upright with a loud sigh of exasperation. He wagged his head in disapproval and looked over to Veronica, who turned away from his gaze. This seemed to surprise and fluster him. He stood for a moment not moving until Theodosius spoke.
“Vale, Senator,” he muttered. Then, “Vale, Mistress.”
Veronica would not meet his eyes. “Vale.” He slinked out the door.
Theodosius seemed to regard Veronica’s mood with a mixture of bemusement and aversion. She was happy to have him suggest a distraction: “Why don’t we see if Dyrrhachium deserves its reputation?”
They spent the next two hours strolling through the bazaar. Veronica was impressed by the abundance and variety of the goods, especially those from the Asian provinces. Of course, many of the items would have been sold in Rome, but at much higher prices. Theodosius insisted they buy provincial clothing; his Roman tunic bore the broad crimson stripe of his Senatorial rank and histoga praetexta featured a broad crimson band on the lower border, indicating his function as a priest. He said it was like walking around with a target on his back. The toga he purchased was an unbleached white, that of an ordinary citizen. Veronica bought a Greek chiton, which was essentially a tunic, but cut from a very broad cloth, so it gathered in many folds around her. It also had sleeves that could be buttoned down to her wrists. The wool was coarser than the fine linen Paenulus had used for her tunics, and itched a little, but it was significantly warmer and well-suited for their upcoming journey, whether by sea or through the mountainous regions of Macedonia.
As they concluded their purchases, Valentius rushed up, terribly excited about something he’d discovered.
“Senator! Senator!” he called. Theodosius gestured for quiet, shaking his head in disbelief.
“Defeats the point of our disguise, doesn’t it?” Veronica laughed.
“Disguise?” the Equestrian whispered.
Veronica indicated their new clothes.
“Oh, I see,” Valentius groaned.
“Might I suggest,” Theodosius said, “that you refrain from announcing my rank to the populace at large?”
“Beg pardon, sir. But I found something and, as I thought it would be of great interest to you, I wanted you to have this as my gift.”
By now Sabinus had spotted them and sidled up beside Veronica. She wasn’t ready to deal with him, and so turned slightly to observe the articles Valentius handed to her uncle. Sabinus reacted to the snub by crowding more closely upon her.
Theodosius held three slim volumes in his hand.
“Cicero, sir,” Valentius crowed. “‘On the Nature of the Gods.’ The bookseller says it’s his finest philosophical writing. He answers all man’s questions: did the gods create the world, do they order it or interfere in it, or are they simply disinterested?”
The books were leather bound and perhaps old enough to have been written by Cicero himself. The pages looked as though they might crumble to dust. Theodosius said nothing for the longest time; Veronica wondered at the lapse in his etiquette.
“Is something wrong, sir?” Valentius asked.
“It might just be,” Sabinus interjected, “that the Senator is descended from Mark Antony.”
Valentius’ jaw dropped and his face turned instantly ashen. He stammered, but made no sensible response. Theodosius held up his hand to calm him.
“It is a thoughtful gift, Valentius,” Theodosius assured him. “Perhaps we should all retire to our lodgings.” He placed his arm around Veronica’s shoulder and led her back toward the taberna. The four walked in moody silence.
Veronica knew that the blood feud between Mark Antony and Cicero had been notorious. Cicero had been one of the most influential statesmen in Rome at the end of the Republic. He had backed Pompey against Julius Caesar, then after Caesar’s assassination, he had backed young Octavian (who later became Augustus) against Mark Antony. He made several speeches ridiculing Antony as a drunkard, a bully and, oddly, a sheep. Hoping to drive Antony from Rome, Cicero approached Caesar’s assassins and told them that Antony was a much worse man than Caesar whom they had slain. He called Antony a madman and accused him of wanting to start a bloodbath. Cicero’s plan failed when Octavian and Antony made peace and decided to share rule in Rome. The new allies composed an enemies list of influential Romans whom they would put to death. Octavian was said to have argued for two days before allowing Antony to put Cicero on the list. Cicero attempted to flee Italy, but when Antony’s men cornered him, he found his courage. Baring his neck and bowing, he said, “There’s nothing proper in killing me, but do try kill me properly.” It was reported that they stabbed him multiple times before cutting off his head.
Cicero’s murder did not satisfy Antony, who mocked the orator’s legacy by nailing his hands to the rostrum of the forum. His head was also placed on a pike. Citizens who had marveled at Cicero’s graceful gesticulation now viewed his bloody appendages, rotting in the sun. The mouth that had spoken so eloquently gaped and filled with flies. Cicero was the only victim of Antony’s purge to be publicly abused, but it was still not enough for the Antonians. Antony’s wife Fulvia was reported to have yanked Cicero’s tongue and stabbed it again and again with a hairpin.
At the taberna, Theodosius cleared the air with Valentius. “It’s not that after — what is it, eighty years? — that I hold enmity towards Cicero. He was a great man who loved his country. But, I am embarrassed by my ancestors’ treatment of him. So his mention triggers a reflex of shame. Still, as a youth, I did read him. (Secretly, because my family disapproved.) I’ll read these books again with interest. And I will require Veronica to read and discuss them with me.”
That last remark triggered a reflex in Veronica’s eyes, causing them to roll upward. Apparently running for their lives was no excuse to get out of school. Still she was relieved that her uncle had let Valentius off the hook. If only Sabinus would be as gracious. As the two men entered the taberna in renewed good spirits, he hovered at Veronica’s elbow and sneered.
“Could have saved a lot of embarrassment if he’d just inquired,” Sabinus scoffed. “Your family history is common knowledge. Paenulus told me and the other boys all about it.”
“And that makes you so much better?” Veronica snapped. “You could have held your tongue out of courtesy, but no. You open your mouth and make the situation worse. Your mouth is always making the situation worse!”
“Me?” Sabinus sputtered. “I’ve been on your side!”
“And that’s another thing,” she fumed. “You say I’m strong enough to sail, but think I need you to argue my case. If I’m strong enough to sail, I should certainly be strong enough to argue my position without your help!”
Veronica turned on her heels and stormed to the taberna. She pulled on the heavy door and was horrified when it wouldn’t budge. The shock of potential humiliation sent a jolt of adrenalin through her limbs; she flung the door open slamming it against the wall so loudly that every head in the room snapped toward her. Veronica stepped into the cavernous dark, spotted her uncle and Valentius at a table, and padded across the floor to them. She flopped on a stool and began to sulk.
Theodosius passed her a cup of water, and asked quite as a matter of fact, “Did you finally have it out with young Sabinus?”
Veronica muttered, “Oh, so you were expecting it?” After he nodded, she huffed. “You could have said something.”
Theodosius dipped a crust of bread into a bowl of olive oil. “After the slap you delivered on the boat, I figured you capable of handling it yourself.” Theodosius looked past her to the door, where Sabinus was loitering, and waved the chastened youth over to their table.
They ordered dinner, a mutton shank heavy with garlic and spices served on a pile of root vegetables. Sabinus ate in a subdued and gloomy manner, while Veronica behaved so much like a ravenous wolf, her uncle had to prompt a remembrance of her manners. The subtle but insistent tap of his foot on her ankle got her off her elbows, and the overly demonstrative roll of his shoulders got her to release from her hunch and straighten her posture. The mood at the table lifted the more their stomachs were filled and the more the men drank pure wine. Theodosius and Valentius exchanged stories of foreign campaigns, which didn’t much interest Veronica, but seemed to have a further humbling effect on Sabinus. Despite his youthful bravado, he surely knew in his heart he was as green as a fawn’s antlers. It didn’t help that Theodosius refused to refill his half cup of wine.
“One cup makes a man think silly things,” the Senator cautioned. “Two cups makes him say silly things. Three cups, and he does silly things.”
Sabinus finally spoke, or rather grunted. “Fine then. I’m sure this Greek wine can’t even compared to Italy’s.”
Theodosius shrugged. “The best wine is the one which most pleases the man drinking it. Although, Diogenes has said, ‘I like best wine drunk at another man’s expense!’”
Valentius chuckled and after a thoughtful moment stated, “That’s a craft I’d like to undertake.” He said it as a shy admission, yet was still taken aback by the raised eyebrows around the table. “I know, Senator, you’ve endeavored to train me for the law, but I’ve too much bluster. The words stick in my throat. I do have patience, though, with things I can touch.” Then embarrassed by his damaged hand, he tried to joke. “I suppose I need the extra patience or I’d never get my boots on. But, to cultivate the land. To till the soil and help things grow. That’s a noble task. And the elegance of good wine appeals to me.”
Theodosius pursed his lips and mused for a moment. “I’ve land in Tuscany where we raise wheat. There are hills that cannot be plowed, and I’ve often thought to put in a vineyard. Perhaps upon our return.” He raised his cup in a toast, and Valentius nearly flew off his seat.
“Even Caesar can’t live forever!” he guffawed. His remark was a little too loud for the party’s comfort. Men in the crowded taberna were looking at them; who knows which might take offense, or feel motivated to report such talk to the commander of the local mansio. After an awkward moment, Valentius composed himself and, pointing the lone finger of his right hand at Sabinus, stated, “There’s your law student, Senator.”
Sabinus straightened on his stool, caught unawares by the tone of praise. Valentius nodded to confirm he meant what he’d said; it wasn’t just the wine talking. “The boy has the gift of the tongue and a facile mind. You better train him for the Forum,” he warned, chuckling loudly again, “if he only runs his mouth on the street, some lug like myself might crush his skull!”
“An unhappy end,” Theodosius agreed, “and a waste of talent.”
Each man clapped Sabinus on the shoulder, and the youth blushed. To Veronica he seemed grateful to be welcomed back into the group’s good graces. The last topic of discussion, whether to travel by land or sea, ended without resolution. Theodosius insisted they sleep on the question.
“That’s what Claudia would do,” Veronica chimed. “She always said her dreams helped settle her mind.”
Valentius lamented his shortcomings in the area of philosophy. “It would settle my mind greatly to know whether the gods are with us, against us, or indifferent to us.”
“Wouldn’t it be wonderful,” Veronica suggested, “if the gods would let us glimpse each possible future? Our outcome by land against our outcome by sea?”
“It’s not always good to know the future,” Theodosius cautioned. “Especially in military matters. If an army knows it will prevail, that’s all to the good. But if each soldier knows his individual fate, those who know they are to die would likely run away, changing the outcome, so that all who fought would be lost. Let us remember, we’re on a military expedition. We must treat it as such.”
They rose from the table and headed toward the staircase that led to their lodgings. Veronica wondered if Cicero’s books might reveal the attitude of the gods towards their journey. She recalled Joseph, the merchant, and his opinion of the gods: that they were human inventions, stone idols and fabricated stories. But that there was a living God that one could feel. Veronica waited until they were in their room, before broaching the subject with her uncle.
“You know what I would like, Uncle Theo?” Veronica half joked. “To hear Joseph the merchant debate Cicero about the gods.”
“I’d pay for a seat at that debate.”
“Do you think Joseph’s God might be more helpful to us?”
“Well, why don’t you ask Him?”
Veronica laughed and spun down on her bed. “Okay,” she pretended, “I will.” She crossed her arms over her heart and closed her eyes. “Oh, God of Joseph, tell us. Is it better to sail across the rolling sea or keep our feet on firm, dry land?”
Suddenly, the bed bucked. Veronica thought her uncle must have hoisted it in jest, but when she opened her eyes, Theodosius was bracing himself against the far wall. The bed vibrated like a plucked lyre, shaking Veronica onto the floor, which rolled like the deck of a ship underneath her. A lamp fell from its stand, shattering at Veronica’s feet, where the pool of oil burst into flames. Veronica yanked her feet away and scrambled on all fours to the door. Theodosius stepped over her and poured a bucket of sand onto the burning oil, extinguishing it. Then, lunging back over her, he reached an arm down and pulled Veronica into the hallway.
The taberna was in a panic. Men pushed down the hallway and squeezed onto the stairs. Theodosius wrapped Veronica in his arms, shielding her against the slamming bodies. The wave of humanity thrust them toward the stairs, where men had already fallen into a huge pile. The groaning staircase collapsed under that weight and the force of the shaking. Just as Veronica thought they’d topple onto the heap of writhing bodies, the shaking stopped.
“O gods, O gods,” Veronica cried.
Theodosius lifted Veronica and swung her from the landing over to a table, which she reached with her tip toes. She stepped down from the table onto the floor. A number of small fires burned, where lamps had smashed and oil splattered.
“Get out to the street!” Theodosius called. “Find an open space away from the buildings.”
The front door was jam packed with panicked patrons, so Veronica skipped over the flames and slipped out the back exit. She immediately had misgivings, because she found herself in a maze of tight alleys and steep staircases, not at all the open space Theodosius had ordered. Women and children were flooding from the living quarters of the many shops along the street. Veronica figured the women knew where they were going, so she followed the stream, which eventually emptied into the marketplace. Hundreds of people milled about: parents searched for children, children for their parents. Smoke filled the air as some houses started to burn. People formed chains to pass buckets from the central well to the flames. Veronica joined the effort, amazed at how well coordinated the response seemed to be. By the time the men found Veronica, the fire was all but extinguished, her hands were blistering and her shoulders tight enough to snap. Suddenly another building burst into flames and the chain of volunteers reformed. Theodosius, charred black from having fought a fire himself, pulled Veronica off the line and marched her through the crowd. As she coughed from the thickening smoke, she realized they were hurrying toward the wharf.
“What happened?” Veronica hacked.
“An earthquake,” Valentius answered. “Not the worst I’ve ever experienced. I was in Ephesus a few years back.”
Veronica wasn’t in the mood for another war story. And she was a little distressed that the men were carrying all their luggage.
“Uncle Theo, what does this mean?”
“It means,” Theodosius huffed, “that what Joseph’s God lacks in subtlety, He makes up for in clarity. Without ‘firm’ land, we sail.”
Nothing at that moment was clear to Veronica. Her mind was as cloudy as the smoky town. Had she caused this earthquake simply by asking a straight-forward question? As the men tossed their baggage onto the deck of a ship, Veronica glanced over her shoulder at more erupting buildings. Was this how the ‘living’ God responded when a mortal intruded upon him? With death and destruction? She’d certainly prefer the ‘human inventions,’ who turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to her suffering, to one who sent disasters in response to a simple prayer.
Reflection: How challenging it is to discern what God is trying to tell us! It’s tempting to grasp onto any coincidence and decide that God has spoken. Unfortunately, that draws us into the trap of seeing what we want to see. True discernment is more complicated, and requires us to cultivate a deep relationship with God, to recognize the signs he sends us. One key to discernment is simply sitting in silence in the presence of the Lord. This day in Lent, let us find a time for quiet contemplation, so that we not only speak to God, but take a moment to listen.
Chapter 10 B — The Second “Lost Chapter”
“Coincidence perhaps,” Theodosius conceded. “But what men call coincidence is often the gods shouting at the top of their lungs.”
In fact, Theodosius was shouting at the top of his lungs, not from anger, but simply because the wind, the waves and the flapping of the sails created a din with which polite voices could not compete.
The ship’s captain chuckled in response, “About that I cannot say.” He tightened the lines on the broad sail then slipped a wine skin off his shoulder and pulled out the stopper. He drank, then passed the skin around to his male passengers. “Tide, current, wind and stars: these are the elements of my discernment,” he said. His voice had not been soothed by the contents of the skin; his was a hoarse rasp that made Veronica’s throat ache just to listen. Decades of barking orders against raging squalls had taken their toll. “But I know earthquakes are much too common in Dyrrhachium. If not for the harbor and the highway stretching east, that town would have been abandoned long ago.”
Theodosius swirled the liquid in his mouth before swallowing. Apparently he had talked himself out. He’d debated with Valentius and Sabinus for hours on whether the earthquake had, in fact, been an omen and whether they had been wise to leave Dyrrhachium in such haste. Now with the first fingers of dawn pulling up the veil of night, he seemed to regret squandering the opportunity to sleep. Veronica rubbed her dry eyes in full sympathy. While the men had debated, Veronica, no longer upset by the rolling sea, had pored over Cicero’s essay by lamplight. She’d hoped to find something definite about the nature of the gods, which might settle the argument. But Cicero’s book was a tedious argument, full of bickering by dull philosophers, with every assertion shot down by a quick rebuttal. Plato says god is a being without a body, but Cicero thinks a god without a body couldn’t appreciate the senses or experience pleasure, so there’d be no point being a god. Zeno says god is mind and spirit, then claims the world is god, or the sky. The stars are god. But Cicero disagrees, since none of these display even a hint of divine virtue. Veronica was frustrated; this Cicero seemed like nothing more than a deliberate contrarian.
“All I know of the gods I learned from Ovid,” Valentius sighed. He absent-mindedly passed the wine skin to Veronica. She held it, wondering whether she was meant to drink or simply pass it on. Theodosius shrugged permission, so Veronica drank, expecting wine but tasting only water tartly flavored with sour grapes.
Valentius stretched and leaned back against the railing. “Have you read Ovid, Mistress?”
“Some,” Veronica admitted. She knew her uncle disapproved of Ovid’s more mature poems, tales of lust and adultery. But he’d allowed her and Claudia to read Metamorphoses.
“That’s great poetry,” Valentius growled. Sabinus, curled in a tight ball, dismissed the opinion with a sneer, but said nothing. Veronica was relieved that Valentius didn’t see it, or they’d have had fresh round of arguing.
She closed her slim volume with a clap. “I agree,” she said, half yawning. “But Cicero doesn’t. He says poets damage true religion. They portray the gods as the worst kind of humans, enraged with anger or engaged in immoral activity.”
“Well,” Valentius grunted. “Cicero never read Ovid.”
“Cicero read everything,” Sabinus scoffed, not even bothering to open his eyes. “He was the most learned man in Rome.”
“But,” Valentius snapped, jumping to his feet, “he died the same year Ovid was born!” Valentius howled with laughter, and turned to Theodosius for affirmation. “Isn’t that true, Sen—, er, uh, Proculus.”
Theodosius pursed his lips, an apparent wry and understated sign of appreciation. But whether it signaled approval for Valentius for finally getting the upper hand on Sabinus or for him biting his tongue rather than once again blurting out the Senator’s rank, Veronica couldn’t quite tell. “I can’t recall exactly,” her uncle admitted. “But Cicero had already been consigned to history before I was born, and Ovid I did meet once in the flesh, shortly before he left Rome.” With a hint of sadness, and perhaps shame, he added, “He was banished by the Emperor.”
“Cicero and Ovid?” Veronica grumbled.
A pall hung over the refugees.
“At least we’re in good company,” Sabinus remarked. At other moments, he might have gotten a laugh, or at least a nod of affirmation. There was only silence.
Theodosius rolled his shoulders, then stretched his neck and turned his face upward, toward the vanishing stars. “Rome makes a habit of running off its finest citizens.”
They sailed down the coast of Epirus, which had long been a Roman province, two more days to a port city called Oricum. This town, too, had played a part in the Roman Civil War. Caesar, in pursuit of Pompey, had landed in Epirus and immediately headed to Oricum, where there was a garrison of soldiers. The governor of the town, Lucius Torquatus, owed his job to Pompey who had appointed him. He ordered the gates barred against Caesar and commanded the Greeks to defend the city. But these people remembered the power of Rome and their losses in the Third Macedonian War. They refused to fight. In fact, they rebelled, forcing Torquatus to throw open the gates. He surrendered himself and the town to Caesar, who spared him.
Veronica looked at the small town, etched out of steep cliffs, and wondered if Oricum would be a safe haven for them. As they grabbed their bags to disembark onto the rickety pier, she broached the subject to Theodosius. She tried to ask in a purely academic tone, as a disinterested party, rather than a frightened girl concerned for her safety. She felt that, having rebounded from her seasickness, she had earned the right to know the truth, rather than have her delicate feelings protected. She wanted her uncle to deal with her frankly as he had when they were alone on the Via Salaria. Theodosius apparently agreed, because he replied with the even tone of a detached stoic.
“Well,” he answered, “on the one hand, these people resent Roman authority, so they’re not going to do Macro any special favors. On the other hand, they fear Rome’s power, so they’re not likely to take many risks in hiding us.”
“Is it a safe place to wait for the servants?” Veronica asked.
The corners of his mouth curled upward as one eyebrow arched. “I suppose we’re going to find out.”
Veronica smiled back at her uncle, and even felt a light spring in her step as they strode together down the gangplank. Having acclimated to the sea, she felt less like a liability to the group. In their time on the run Veronica had ridden horseback at break-neck speed, stood by her uncle’s side against Legionnaires and highwaymen, slept under the stars and, given her illness, could brag that she had suffered more for their freedom than any other member of the group. Still, she was a girl on the type of adventure that had always be reserved to men. As her feet hit the solid cobbles that paved the main street of Oricum, Veronica felt a deeper desire to be treated as a soldier on a mission rather than a passenger along for the ride.
* * *
It turned out that Oricum had very little of Rome about it. Too small to be used as a naval base, it was one of many seaport towns in Epirus that carried out trade across the Adriatic to Brindisi, the Roman port at the eastern tip of Italy’s heel. Brindisi was the planned point of departure for the servants, who Sabinus said were traveling south from Rome on the Via Appia. They were to arrive at Brindisi, then wait for a coded message from Sabinus. He wrote to Paenulus, filling the letter with details about fine fabrics and dyes he’d discovered along the coast from Dalmatia to Epirus. Hidden in the letter was the instruction to come with all haste to Oricum. Failing to reunite there, the servants should check certain lodgings where word of the travelers might be left for them. If no further instructions had been left, the servants would have to decide whether to sail farther to the next rendezvous, a seaside town in Galilee called Ptolemais, or abandon the pursuit and go their separate ways. It would take a week at least for the letter to reach Brindisi by private messenger sailing on a merchant ship, and perhaps another week for the servants to book passage and make the voyage to Oricum. Whether Veronica’s party could stay two weeks in this place undetected was anyone’s guess.
Theodosius decided they should split up, with him and Veronica renting a house on the edge of town and Valentius and Sabinus lodging at a taberna in the town square. As Veronica and Theodosius arrived at the small villa on the water, she wondered aloud how well the other two would get along without Theodosius to calm them down. Her uncle countered by saying, “They’ll get along much better without you to stir them up.”
“Uncle Theo!” she gasped. “I’ve done no such thing!”
He ignored her as the caretaker opened the house and a servant placed their bags inside the atrium. Theodosius opened his purse and dispensed a few coins, while Veronica tapped her foot impatiently. When the strange men had left, she repeated her objection. “Uncle Theo, I’ve done nothing to stir them up!”
“Not intentionally,” he laughed. “But young men are always in competition, and unmarried young men will always compete over a pretty girl. Believe me, with you out of sight, the boys will get along like brothers.”
“Hmphf,” Veronica retorted, “Like Romulus and Remus.”
“I hope not,” Theodosius scowled. “Those brothers killed each other.”
Veronica said nothing more. She simply plucked her bag from the top of the pile and trotted off to find her room.
* * *
The days in Oricum flew by. Veronica read. She took long walks. She cooked elaborate dinners that the men devoured, then basked in the compliments they bestowed on her. She watched as Theodosius trained Valentius and Sabinus at swordplay. Valentius improved greatly with the use of his left hand. What he lacked in agility, he made up for in speed and power. Sabinus traded in his cumbersome sword for a lighter weapon that he could wield more easily. His long limbs were actually quite graceful, which gave his thrusts and parries a measure of aesthetic beauty, but those broad sweeps wouldn’t serve him in close combat. Theodosius worked Sabinus very hard to make his strokes more compact, immediate and deadly. Veronica got swept up in the sparring between the two competitors, imagining as Theodosius had suggested, that they were fighting over her. While Valentius had begun with a great advantage due to his strength and experience, Sabinus practiced day and night, improving so quickly that he soon could match Valentius stroke for stroke. Their styles presented quite a contrast, with Valentius charging straight on, hacking away full-force, and Sabinus pivoting, jabbing, probing for an opening, then landing a mortal thrust. Sabinus also took to archery, a sport that Valentius had to lay aside because of his damaged hand.
The evenings’ entertainment centered on recitations. Taking Valentius’ advice, Theodosius began training Sabinus in rhetoric. So, each evening after supper, Sabinus would recite a speech or a poem. One night he read from Caesar’s account of the Gallic Wars. Sabinus dramatized Caesar’s description of how the barbarian Galls offered sacrifices to the gods to cleanse themselves of disease. They brought forth prisoners convicted of various crimes and laid them in stone ossuaries, whereupon their priests, the Druids, would light the men on fire and burn them alive. The Druids believed that the immortal gods were most pleased at the sacrifice of the guilty, but as criminals were in short supply, they also burned the innocent. The idea that a god could want one innocent person to perish in flames in order to cure another of disease, sent chills down Veronica’s spine. Where, in this gruesome superstition, was the divine virtue Cicero wrote of? Even if a god could offer such a cruel exchange, how could men bring themselves to accept? When he saw how deeply affected Veronica was, Sabinus appeared quite pleased with himself and began directing his oratories toward her.
Not to be outdone, Valentius rose to offer a few verses of his own. Vergil was his favorite, full of heroism. “I sing of arms and a man,” he declared. He was so terribly dramatic in his volume and broad gesticulation that Veronica had to suppress a few giggles. She’d seen this type of showmanship in the Roman theatre when Adrianna would take her and Claudia out in the evenings, yet there it was intended to be funny. Valentius was completely earnest, but simply didn’t have the art to convey real emotion.
Naturally, they urged Veronica to recite as well. She flushed crimson immediately upon standing. Oddly, she couldn’t look at the men without stammering, but as she kept her eyes down on the page, she managed to get through a short section of prose. This painful process was repeated over the course of a few nights, until Veronica gained some confidence and comfort, steadied the quaver in her voice, and was able to read with a modicum of expression.
They passed each evening this way for a week, until it became painfully obvious that each of the young men was using the occasion to flirt with Veronica. Valentius recited a love scene from Vergil’s Aeneid, where Aeneus breaks off his relationship with Queen Dido of Carthage and in her grief she reclines on a funeral pyre and immolates herself. When Sabinus followed, Veronica wondered just how many souls he would roast to convey his feelings to her. Instead, he recited a short but explicit love poem from Catullus, in which the poet demands kisses from his beloved at the rate of a thousand, then a hundred, then a thousand again.
After a moment of stunned silence, Theodosius rose from his chair. He stepped quietly to the center of the room, wagged his head a few times, then revealed his thoughts. “Gentlemen. An orator seeks to elicit emotion. By that I mean, he wants to draw the emotion out of the audience. You cannot draw out our emotion if you are suffocating us under yours. Therefore, do not grow so large with bombast as to fill the room, unless you want your audience to shrink away towards the exits. Just so.”
Theodosius relaxed, his hands falling gently to his sides. He focused at a spot on the far wall, as if a person stood there, and then spoke quietly.
“A poem by Catullus. Carried over many seas, and through many nations, brother, I come to these sad funeral rites, to grant you the last gifts to the dead, and speak in vain to your mute ashes.”
Veronica caught a breath in her throat.
“Seeing that fate has stolen from me yourself. Ah alas, my brother, taken shamefully from me. Yet, by the ancient custom of our parents, receive these sad gifts, offerings to the dead, soaked deeply with a brother’s tears, and for eternity, brother: ‘Hail and Farewell!’”
His eyes were veiled in mist, revealing a faint hint of tears, but around the room, everyone else wept. Valentius snorted loudly and buried his nose in his sleeve. Veronica sobbed. She hunched with her elbows on her knees and trembled as her uncle crouched in front of her.
“Why are you crying, my dear? It’s just acting.”
Veronica shook her head. “I thought you were talking…to my father.”
He brushed a strand of hair off her face and behind her ear. With his thumb he wiped away a tear. “I was. I often do.”
He took both her hands in his and patted them gently. He turned to the young men and raised an eyebrow. “Gentlemen, class dismissed.”
* * *
On the twelfth day, Veronica started getting anxious. If all had gone well, the servants could arrive any moment. She asked Theodosius if she could go down to the wharf and wait.
“That’s no place for a young lady,” he said.
“Well then, not all the way to the wharf. How about the market?”
Theodosius shook his head. He’d arranged for a peddler to bring fresh food to the villa each morning, and the man had proven as dependable as any rooster marking the dawn. “You cannot simply loiter at the market all day, especially since we have everything we need at home.”
“We don’t have everything, Uncle.”
“We don’t have salt?”
“Or lamp oil.”
“So unless you want to sit in the dark this evening without any salt for your bread…”
Theodosius groaned. “What did I do to be cursed with a willful child? Very well, go to the market. Get salt. And oil. Then come immediately back.”
“Thank you, Uncle.” Veronica kissed his cheek and dashed for the door.
“Come immediately back!” he bellowed. Veronica turned and curtseyed like an obedient ward, then hurried out to the street.
It was mid-morning and the sun shone bright, heating the stone-paved road. A strong breeze swept in from the bay, lifting Veronica’s hair off her shoulders and whipping it across her face. She slipped a leather thong bracelet off her wrist, gathered her hair and slipped it through the thong to knot it. She hurried towards town, determined to get there before the market closed for the mid-day heat. Then she thought, why bother? If she got there after it closed, she’d have the perfect excuse to wait until it opened. That would give her extra time to wait for incoming ships.
It turned out that wouldn’t be necessary, because as soon as she reached the town square, she spotted them! Across the crowded plaza were Adrianna and Paenulus standing next to a small donkey cart piled high with luggage. Certainly the rest of the house servants were nearby. Veronica leapt and waved, trying to draw their attention. As if on cue, the crowd parted. People practically jumped, creating an open avenue from her to the servants. It was like the rest of the world had melted away, leaving only Veronica and the loved ones she so wanted to embrace. But as she stepped forward, Veronica was knocked aside by the solid shoulder of a charging horse.
She hit the stones hard, her breath bursting, torso crumpling. Rolling, she fought to expand her chest. It wouldn’t open, wouldn’t fill. Looking up, she was blinded by the sun reflecting off the bronze breastplate of a Legionnaire.
“You!” the officer pointed.
Veronica couldn’t speak; she fought to get her wind back. Vainly forcing air into her chest, she brought forth an incomprehensible sound, like a madwoman or mental defective. A Roman soldier dismounted, grabbed her arm above the elbow and yanked her to her feet. She was caught. Discovered. The flight was over. How could it happen like this, without ever seeing the enemy coming? What would happen now to Uncle Theo? And the servants? They’d come all this way just to be snatched along with her. And it was all her fault!
The soldier dragged her before the officer.
“What do you mean wondering out in front of a galloping horse?” the officer barked. “Speak!”
Veronica jerked herself upright. The pain in her gut rippled out through her whole body. Still, she felt relief: he didn’t recognize her. He hadn’t identified her as a fugitive. But now what?
The officer pulled a whip from his saddle and slashed it downward. Veronica closed her eyes, heard a crack, but felt nothing. Opening her eyes, she saw Sabinus, rubbing a red welt across his cheek.
“Please, sir,” he said. “My sister can’t speak. She’s deaf from birth. That’s why she didn’t hear the horses.”
The officer growled. “Then put a leash on her.” He waved his arm forward, and the soldiers rode off.
Veronica stood stunned for a moment, then laughed nervously. She reached for Sabinus, to hold him out of gratitude and sympathy, and giddy joy. “You are such an artful liar!”
“Shush,” he said. “Remember, you can’t speak.”
Composing themselves, they strolled across the plaza and greeted the servants, who had witnessed it all, frozen in absolute panic.
“I thought we’d come all this way just to lose you,” Adrianna cried.
Veronica wanted to say something reassuring, but Sabinus wagged his finger, chiding, “Uh-uh-uh!” Veronica gave him an absolutely evil look, and clutched Adrianna’s hand tightly. She grabbed hold of Paenulus, too. She could tell from his milky stare that he was now completely blind.
“Let’s get going,” Sabinus said. “Round up the others.”
“Oh, I’m afraid…” Adriana started. “We’re all there is.”
Paenulus hung his head in shame. “The others got frightened. They backed out at Brindisi.”
“Oh, no!” Veronica groaned.
“They demanded the money your father had originally promised.”
Adrianna cried. “We barely had enough for the passage ourselves.”
Veronica’s heart sank, but she gathered Adrianna in her arms and held her tight. What would they do now? Over Adrianna’s shoulder, she read her own thoughts on Sabinus’ face: The able-bodied servants had fled, and they now had to care for a blind man and an old woman. They’d added numbers but subtracted strength.
Sabinus helped Paenulus to the cart and got the donkey moving. Veronica released Adrianna and patted her hand. Then she noticed Adrianna wore a gold ring. Paenulus, too, had one that matched. Veronica’s mouth dropped open in a wide O!
“Yes,” Adrianna chirped, “we got married!”
* * *
Despite the initial disappointment, the reunion at the villa was a joyous affair. Theodosius sloughed off the desertion of the freed servants stoically, remarking, “Free men will choose as they will.” He seemed unperturbed by the extra burden the couple might pose, focusing his happiness at having at least a portion of his household restored.
Veronica and Adrianna prepared a feast of mutton, roast duck and stewed rabbit. Theodosius thought the day called for a peacock or a swan to be stuffed, but Adrianna grumbled that no one would eat until midnight, so he relented. The men snacked on warm bread and goat cheese with slices of ripe, red tomatoes and black olives, which they washed down with pure wine. When most of the preparatory work was finished, the women relaxed in the kitchen, conversing between themselves and picking up fragments of the men’s talk. After a few cups of wine, Sabinus chided Paenulus about his sudden marriage and being a newlywed at an advanced age, to which Paenulus gave a very businesslike explanation. “A suggestion had been made it would aid our escape if the elders could pass for a married couple and the rest our household servants. Then when the servants fled, I wondered if they had not conspired against me.”
“Can you recall who first suggested it?” Valentius asked.
“I only know,” Paenulus attested, “that it was not I.”
In the kitchen Adrianna guffawed, then caught herself. She leaned over and whispered to Veronica, “Don’t believe the old fool. He’s been in love with me for years.”
Veronica was shocked. Why had she never noticed? “Why didn’t you get married sooner?” she asked.
“Because he’s a stubborn, old mule,” Adrianna answered, not without affection, but certainly with a tinge of annoyance. “Don’t you wait so long, my dear.”
Veronica’s eyebrows lifted incredulously.
“You can overlook his handicap.”
Now, wait, Veronica thought…
“Not the other?” Adrianna whispered. She eyed Sabinus doubtfully. “Dear, even as an exile, you still have your rank to consider.”
Veronica was flabbergasted. After so many weeks of separation — not knowing if they’d ever see each other again — this was all Adrianna had to talk about? And did she really believe that out of the entire world, the only two men available were these two whose company was entirely out of necessity rather than choice?
“Please, Adrianna,” she protested, “I can’t think about marriage now.”
Of course, she did think about it. She knew that leaving Rome would make any arrangements infinitely more difficult. But she was on a grand adventure, traveling the world. Didn’t that improve her chances of meeting someone exciting and impressive? She remembered how Claudia referred to Pontius as a man of the world. Couldn’t such a man exist somewhere for Veronica? Veronica hated to think that in the whole of the Empire there were no better suitors than the conniving boy and the bombastic hothead traveling with her.
The meat course was ready, so she and Adrianna removed the mutton and the fowl from the oven and placed them on platters. They dished the stew into bowls and brought it all to the men.
The mood in that room had grown somber as Paenulus reported news from Rome. Macro’s purge had decimated the Senate. Virtually all supporters of Sejanus had been rounded up. Many had been put through show trials and executed. Others were held in prison. It occurred to Veronica that the Rome she remembered might no longer exist. Paenulus thought the terror might be winding down, and there could be hope for clemency. Macro was not totally immune to public opinion; he had to demonstrate some mercy before the remainder of the Senate turned against him. Theodosius agreed that it was only a matter of time before Rome returned to something like normal. There would be a different kind of show — token amnesty granted to select individuals — to reassure the public. But would those who had been openly defiant, and who had outsmarted Macro, be given a second chance or singled out for vengeance? Theodosius was resolute about continuing to Judea.
Theodosius noticed that Veronica was sulking. In fact, he noticed before she did; the gloom had come upon her suddenly. As he turned an attentive gaze toward her, she instantly felt ashamed. She shouldn’t let silly moods bring down the morale of everyone around her.
“Are you worried about pressing on?” her uncle asked.
Veronica shook her head, a little too defensively. Her uncle kept his gaze on her, waiting for a verbal response. “May I quote Cicero, Uncle?”
“I can’t wait,” he teased.
“Cicero says, “It’s stupid to be afraid of that which cannot be avoided.””
Theodosius smiled, lifting a glass of wine in acknowledgement. “And let me quote you Ovid: “Be patient and tough; some day this pain will be useful to you.””
 Publius Ovidius Naso (20 March 43 BC – AD 17/18), whose poems in Latin are studied even today
 Twins brothers whom Roman folklore said were raised by wolves and founded the city of Rome.
 Julius Caesar established his reputation as a general by defeating the Gallic tribes in modern day France from 58 BC to 50 BC.
 Depositories for bones of the dead
Reflection: Ovid seems to understand the point of Lent. We create challenges, even induce pain, because we know that suffering builds character. Today, almost two weeks into Lent, let us examine the progress we’ve made, and ask whether we are fully challenging ourselves for the 40 days. Are we being patient and tough enough to make this season useful?
Reflection: Loyalty is an important virtue, essential to building lasting friendships. But how often to our affections for our friends lead us to compromise other virtues, such as honesty and fidelity to God. It is often easier to take a friend’s side than to risk a backlash for being too morally rigid. Yet our greatest service to a friend is to be a light when they are in the dark. Today, let us reflect on moments when we may have distanced ourselves from God to remain close to a friend. Let us ask God’s forgiveness and for His strength to amend that behavior.
Reflection: Pride and passion are healthy in small measures, but dangerous when allowed to run unchecked. Today let us reflect on the times our pride and passion allowed us to assert ourselves in a constructive manner towards a positive end, and those times when our pride and passion were destructive to ourselves and others. Let us ask God to bless us with prudence, so we can maintain the balance we need to act as He would have us.
Reflection: There’s a saying that “you never get a second chance to make a first impression.” How often have we wished that weren’t true! Usually, the surest remedy is a show of humility toward the person we may have offended, but that can be hard to do, especially after we’ve already been embarrassed. Yet, Lent is the perfect time to try cultivating humility to see if it doesn’t have a greater power than arrogance or bravado. Today. let us look for opportunities to exercise humility in our encounters with friends, family and coworkers.
Reflection: The murder of John the Baptist — as an offshoot of the entertainment at a party — is one of the most obscene episodes in the annals of Christianity. In our age of questionable entertainment, it’s useful to reflect on whether we view or listen to has a corrosive or edifying effect. Are their changes we could make in the way we seek enjoyment that would uplift our spirit and orient us more towards God.
Reflection: How much loss can a person suffer before giving into despair? In despair, everything turns black; hope has been squelched. Life seems a terrible burden. Relief only seems possible if life can be extinguished. As Christians we believe that Christ is Hope for the Hopeless. But how hard it is, after suffering a calamitous loss, to believe He actually cares. Today, recall a great loss in your life. Talk frankly to Jesus about it and take the time to listen to His response.
Reflection: Longinus refuses to believe in the miraculous. He is so set on seeing the world one way, he refuses to accept the evidence of his own eyes. How often are we like him, putting barriers between ourselves and authentic experiences of the world around us? Jesus challenges us to see things differently. The word we translate as “repent” actually means “change your mind.” Today, let us consider an area of our lives where our minds are set, and reflect on how Jesus may be asking us to see things differently.
Reflection: The generosity that Leah and her family demonstrate toward Veronica reminds us of the first Beatitude: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” The great charism of the poor stems from their lack of attachment to the material. Valuing people over things, they happily part with things to serve people. We often hear admonitions about our materialistic society and the need to practice non-attachment, but how successful are we? The season of Lent gives us an excellent opportunity to do without, but today, let’s do without joyfully, recognizing that our denial of the material places the kingdom of heaven within our reach.
Reflection: Veronica is so immersed in her situation, she doesn’t realize the toll its taken on her emotionally. How often does it happen to us that we get so inundated with stress that — like the fish that doesn’t know it’s wet — we don’t know that we’re in emotional and spiritual turmoil. Rather than be seduced by abnormal norms, we need to maintain a healthy equilibrium. This Lent, let us cultivate the habit of seeking solitude where we can decompress in the presence of Our Lord, unburden ourselves and feel His peace.
Reflection: Veronica has just seen an example of the atrocities Rome was willing to commit to maintain an Empire that benefited its citizens. This raises an important question: What responsibility do we have for our civil authorities who commit immoral acts ostensibly for our benefit? Are we doing enough to hold corrupt officials accountable, and to correct institutionalized injustice in our society? Let us pray today for discernment and fortitude, that God grant us the ability to fight the injustice that so often escapes our notice.
Reflection: Act in haste, repent at leisure. Longinus got his blood up, allowed himself to be distracted and fell prey to an ambush. How often does that happen to us? We react to the stresses of our lives — one demand, one annoyance, piling upon another — and we allow them to get the best of us. This Lent, let us try to deal with stress through prayer. Let us recognize when we are becoming agitated, and take a brief time-out to call upon the Lord.
Reflection: Jesus is so close. It can be so frustrating for believers to know in our hearts how close He is and still feel separated. Some obstacles seem out of our control; life’s demands seem to force us to focus elsewhere. But the greatest obstacles to Jesus are the ones we erect ourselves. Today think about the walls that we put up, the doors we slam and the bolts we throw. How can we remove the impediments in our life and enter into a greater union with Christ?
Reflection: Veronica has a plan for Jesus. But don’t we all! Yet often what we want Jesus to do in our lives, He wants us to do for ourselves. Today, let’s reflect on an area of our lives where we’ve been nagging Jesus to help, and He’s been waiting for us to make the first move.
Reflection: How difficult it is to share our faith with nonbelievers. In the face of skepticism and outright hostility, it’s hard to maintain the fundamental joy of being a Christian. We can become didactic, shrill or withdrawn and defensive, which does nothing to present our faith in an attractive manner. Today let us reflect on the joy and beauty of the Christian life and resolve to present those aspects of our face when challenged by those who don’t share our faith.
Reflection: It easy to become discouraged when we and our good countrymen suffer under poor leaders, especially those who do not reflect the moral or spiritual values of the population at large. We can become cynical, viewing our leaders as Pharaohs with hardened hearts, or we can pray that God might turn their hearts. Today, let us prayer for our civic leaders who are in need of conversion, that they may turn from arrogance, self-service and corruption, and act with servants’ hearts.
Reflection: Jesus tells Veronica and Salome a parable of sheep held captive by a tyrant shepherd. Jesus implies that He is prepared to lay down his life so the sheep can be fed. How often in our lives to we opt for Veronica or Salome’s solution to problems with people who treat us harshly, instead of trusting that problem to Jesus. Today, pray over a problem you have with a family member, friend or coworker, and ask Jesus to feed his sheep.
Reflection: Longinus is walking in darkness, and it’s not just his eyes. He’s suffered a loss, but, unable to mourn, he’s consumed by bitterness. This darkness of the soul is deeper and blacker than mere sightlessness. Jesus says, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Yet, mourning is a hard process, and we often shy away from it. We have to do it intermittently, in stages, and we have to be patient with ourselves as we go through the process. Today, let us examine our hearts to see if there are losses we haven’t mourned, if there is bitterness we’re holding on to, and let us accept Jesus’ promise of comfort.
Reflection: The dream of Claudia Procula, mentioned in John’s Gospel, raises many questions. As Christians we believe there are three possible sources for “private revelation”: God, our imagination or the adversary. Could God have been communicating through Claudia, so that Pilate might have a chance to save himself from the infamous crime of condemning to death a man he knew to be innocent? But if it was God’s plan for Jesus to die, why would God subvert it? Perhaps simply to dispel any notion of predestination; demonstrating that Pilate had free will. Of course, Claudia could simply have been a neurotic with an active imagination. The last possibility is that Satan, trying to foil God’s plan for mankind’s salvation attempted to use a woman to seduce a man. Sound familiar? The riddle of Claudia may never be solved, but it should motivate us to sharpen our own powers of discernment. One of the factors we’re taught to consider is how the revelation makes us feel. If we feel confident and strong, it may be from God; if it weakens us or terrifies us, it’s from elsewhere.
Reflection: Pilate’s question, “What is truth?” is one of the most puzzling lines of the Gospels. Is Pilate in earnest? Is he cynically dismissing the concept of truth? Is Pilate the first multicultural moral relativist, a harbinger of our time? As we approach Easter, let us turn from the pervasive present day attitude that denies the existence of truth, and turn to Jesus in earnest, asking Him to reveal His truth to us.
Reflection: As Christians we believe that Jesus suffered and died for the remission of our sins. Thus our sins inflict the torment upon him; the Roman soldiers were merely intermediaries. Perhaps it would be beneficial if, on the near occasion of sin, we reacted as Veronica, declaring “Jesus needs me.” Such a vivid reminder of the spiritual consequence might strengthen our resolve to choose the righteous path.
Reflection: Have there been times when you’ve been angry at God, when you wanted to yell like Veronica, “I’ll never believe in you again”? We’re properly taught to reverence God, but when we let that instruction prevent us from expressing our feelings, we create distance between ourselves and God. In the Bible, Abraham argues with God and arrives at a greater understanding of God’s nature.We can learn from his example, and that of other holy people, like Teresa of Avila, who had a healthy back and forth with the Lord. Today, consider whether you have any cares or anxieties you have not brought to God, especially concerns over your relationship. Dare to say whatever you’ve been carrying in silence.
Reflection: Have you ever felt yourself fighting against God’s plan? We often find ourselves praying with an attitude of “my will be done” rather than “Thy will be done.” It’s often difficult to accept that God has a different plan for us than we’ve made for ourselves. But how often do we see people going through a painful period of adjustment to emerge in a place of joy after discerning and accepting God’s plan. Infertile couples find joy in adoption. Seriously injured people gain satisfaction in overcoming disabilities. If we put the same energy into doing God’s will as we do in resisting it, imagine what we could accomplish! Today, let’s re-examine some aspect of our lives where God may be calling us, and where we may be resisting.
Reflection: Veronica is torn between her love for Longinus and her duty to Jesus. How often does this happen in our lives, that our relationship with a loved one who prevents us from deepening our faith. We are faced with a conflict of loyalties. We know we must choose Christ, but our loved ones are more immediately present and their demands on us more urgent. Like Veronica, let us take time to separate ourselves from loved ones who work in opposition to our growth as Christians, so that our time with the Lord will pay dividends in preparing us to love more fervently.
Reflection: Veronica takes a walk with Mary and as a result gets closer to Jesus. Of course, Mary is present for us to: Jesus gave her to us to be our Mother. Many Catholics and even non-Catholic Christians report a deepening of their faith by praying the Rosary regularly. Today, let us the Sorrowful Mysteries to connect with Jesus’ passion and death.
Reflection: How harsh the memories of our sins can be, especially if we let the fester without attempting to make amends. Fortunately, Catholics have access to healing grace through the sacrament of Reconciliation. Unfortunately, far too few of us avail ourselves to the sacrament with the regularity we should. Today, let us make a thorough examination of conscience. If we have any lingering problems with a loved one, friend or associate, let us resolve to make amends. Let us also resolve to make a confession as soon as the opportunity presents itself.
Reflection: How difficult it is to fathom the immensity of God’s love for us. Yet, when we fully understand Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, our relationship with Him changes and we feel the need to return His love. It’s similar to a romantic relationship where one lover pursues and the other remains passive. The pursuer must prove himself by fulfilling his loved one’s needs and desires. If he is successful, the object of his love begins to wonder what he desires and wants to fulfill those desires. So the love relationship becomes mutual. Jesus has pursued you. He has sacrificed to give you what you need and what you should desire. Today, try reflecting on all that Jesus has done for you in your life and search your heart for what you think He desires in return.
Reflection: As Christians we are emissaries for Christ. Every day we have the opportunity to bring Him to our family, friends, colleagues, coworkers and even strangers. That does not mean proselytizing. Remember that St. Francis said, “Preach the Gospel always, and if necessary, use words.” To paraphrase the hymn, “The should suspect we are Christians by our love.” Today, let us consider the opportunities we have in our lives to present the face of Christ to those we encounter. Let us feel compunction of heart for the opportunities missed, and dedicate ourselves to taking advantage of opportunities in the future.
Reflection: “If you want to hear God laugh, tell Him your plans.” We’ve heard that saying time and again. Yet it’s hard to imagine an all-loving God who delights in dashing our aspirations. It’s a great test of our resilience to adjust from our plans to God’s plan for us, and of our faith to believe that whatever God is leading us toward is truly better for us. Today let us pray for the perseverance to overcome disappointments and use them as opportunities to re-evaluate our choices and select a path that will lead us closer to Christ.
Reflection: Jesus calls each of us to show his face to the world. Keep this in mind today as you encounter family, friends, coworkers and strangers. Let them see Christ through you.