Greeting in Christ
Published on July 23-24, 2011 in the Parish Bulletin of Saint Andrew Catholic Church, Harrodsburg KY
Before they left for Rome, I gave a couple of the Brown scholars of the University of Louisville—our very own Alli Grant and Caleb Sheehan—a guide book and several pointers on traveling in the Eternal City. I also taught them an Italian greeting that is still heard in Rome’s ancient basilicas and in its modern churches: Sia lodato Gesù Cristo! (in English, Praised be Jesus Christ!) Most visits to a monastery begin with that holy welcome. Most homilies at Saint Peter’s end with those four words. But few visitors ever give the proper response: Sempre sia lodato (May He always be praised).
Sia lodato Gesù Cristo! John Paul II of blessed memory famously began his papacy with that greeting from the balcony of Saint Peter’s. Pope Benedict XVI sent it as his first salutation on Twitter. It is the Italian rendering of a traditional Catholic welcome given by generations past in Latin: Laudetur Iesus Christus! (The response, depending on the custom of the community, was either Semper laudetur or In saecula. Amen.) Only a few have retained this custom of greeting a guest with the name of Christ. There is a Carmelite convent in Massachusetts where a nun hailed the Most Holy Name as she opened the grille to receive me. I am told that the older monks of Saint Meinrad still knock on the doors with those words of blessing.
It is strange that the first words that one would hear from another person be a tribute to Someone else. Most everyone would rather make an observation about the weather (Good morning-afternoon-evening) or inquire about the person’s well-being (How are you?). But there is something otherworldly, or at the very least counter-cultural, for a Christian to acknowledge from the very first instant what he is all about: praising the name of the Lord. And I suppose, there is in the response an affirmation not only of a shared faith in the name of Christ but also of a mutual mission to praise His name always.
Sia lodato Gesù Cristo! When they hear those four words, I hope that Alli and Caleb will do us proud by giving the right reply: Sempre sia lodato. It will show the Romans that they have made an effort to learn a little Italian. But it will also reveal that they share with them the Catholic Faith in Christ. And, as the many pilgrims to the Eternal City before them have learned, that Faith still has the power to gather “from every tribe and tongue, from every people and nation” (cf. Rev. 5:9) one Church singing the praise of the Most Holy Name of Jesus Christ.