Today I have completed ten weeks of Italian school here in Rome. By now the routine is automatic. Out the door of the friary and down to the Metro station. Most of the time I pass the same people every day, usually in the same order. The business-casual guy with ear buds blasting and always carrying a big book but no bag. It's an odd omission; here in Italy everyone carries at least a handbag if not a backpack or messenger bag. And yes, the men have handbags. It's European! Then it's the young man with the little kid. Finally, the old man with the little dog. Somewhere in the middle I sometimes get to say hi to the cat that lives in the outdoor seating of the pizzeria. Same faces every day, but you don't know their names/party people going places on the D train.
I ride the train with the Romans. The folks who look like they have good jobs get off at Cavour and Termini. The ones who look like students go with me all the way to Policlinico. I go up the stairs and cross the little piazza. There's the imitation Apple store. Turn the corner at the big bar. Pass the curious model train and airplane shop and cross the street after the bar with the red chairs. Turn onto the side street and go up the stairs into the school. Then it's two hours and fifteen minutes of lessons before the break, when everyone goes to have their coffee and roll their cigarettes. I stay in the classroom, enjoying the quiet and saying my rosary. After the break there's another little bit of class for forty-five minutes. Every other Friday there's a test after class. Nome? 'Charles' Livello? The test is always three pages. Fill in the blanks. Conjugate. Supply the pronouns. Transform the phrase into past tense, passive voice, indirect discourse.
After school it's the same commute, but in reverse and with different characters. There's the man who takes his midday nap on the park bench across from the ugly church. At the bottom of the escalator to the train platform is the lady with the cup and the sign that says, "I'm hungry, I have three kids, please help me." I don't have money for her, and I'm always ashamed when I pass by. But I won't take the other escalator. Even if I don't know how to be the Good Samaritan, I'm not going to be the priest who passes by on the other side.
Ten weeks of Italian school here in Rome, and a month of classes in Assisi before that. The funny thing is, I don't have any sensation of knowing more Italian that I did before. And the real tests are coming soon, so I guess we'll see. I do remember not being able to catch much of anything from the TV news, but now I understand some of it. It reminds me of when I was little and I saw writing without knowing how to read.
Nemo iudex in causa sua, 'no one is a judge in his own cause,' I say to those who ask how the Italian is going. And I'm being honest; I really don't know. There's a set of sensations that I remember from when we went to Spanish school; one day I'll feel like I've learned something, have gained some new facility, etc., and then the next day I'll feel like I've hardly begun to pick up a few words.
It reminds me of something I learned well when I heard confessions regularly: few of us are good judges of our own spiritual condition. Sometimes we might be too hard on ourselves, but other times we might be too easy. The point is that we shouldn't trust ourselves too deeply in our self-diagnoses of how we are doing in our prayer and discipleship. We should always have at least a little of the Paul who said that he didn't care who judged him, as he didn't even judge himself. (1 Corinthians 4:3) Instead, recognizing our lack of clarity about how we are doing should drive us to commend ourselves more completely to God and his Providence and also to the humility of obedience before those who might know us better than we care to admit.