OK, whew! After almost 24 hours of continuous travel yesterday, counting from when we left the hotel at 8 a.m. Rome time (2 a.m. EST) to when I landed at my cousin's house in Ottawa at 11 p.m., I'm back in business. I have a day or so in Ottawa to have a bit of a visit with my family--the only one I'm going to have this year--and then back to MH and regular life Tuesday evening.
Final thoughts on Rome - no photos, though, as at a certain point I just gave up on the camera. If there was a way to make that thing take non-blurry photographs (and I'm sure there was) it exceeded my non-existent skill level. I am just not a photographer, which I suppose to anyone who knows me well is no great surprise - I have the visual sensitivity and observational abilities of a man in a coma as a matter of general life.
Now, when last I wrote you all we had just gotten back from Assisi, I believe. To sum up the remaining trip and its itinerary, Wednesday morning was the general audience with the Holy Father in St. Peter's Square, the text of which I will be blogging about shortly, as it was quite magnificent. I was amazed, actually, at how much of the Italian I could understand - Pope Francis enunciates very clearly, and of course I knew what he was likely to say on the subject, which is 'the holiness of the Church'. Wednesday afternoon was free (zzzzz.....), and the evening included a prayer vigil for the deacons-to-be and a festive supper.
Thursday was the diaconate ordination itself, in St. Peter's basilica, at the Altar of the Chair, followed by a reception at the college and magnificent celebratory supper in the evening. Friday we went to the catacombs of St. Priscilla, the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel. Saturday we had the Lateran Basilica, the Sacred Stairs (traditionally, if not quite historically, the stairs Jesus climbed to stand before Pontius Pilate), and the Church of Sancta Croce de Jerusalem, where the relics of the True Cross are housed. A final Mass at the North American College and one more blowout Italian meal wrapped up the week.
So that was what we did. Now, what to make of all this? I'm still thinking about it quite intensely. Rome is overpowering on every level - the degree of beauty, history, theological depth, traditional piety, human and divine expression of church life that is present on every level, at every turn of the road and vista of landscape is beyond the capacity of the normal human being to take in. It is breathtakingly immense in scale, and very, very beautiful indeed.
And... I want to express this carefully here. I am not an iconoclast, or a Philistine, nor do I have any desire to see Rome be anything but what it is. But I have to be honest - what I keep coming back to in my mind and my heart is the bones of the fisherman under the high altar at St. Peter's. The bones of the martyrs and the crude but evocatively beautiful frescoes in the catacombs of St. Prisicilla. And the poor man of Assisi, this man who was no martyr, but who poured his life's blood out in love and praise and imitation of Christ.
This is the heart of the Church. The Church is built not on a foundation of marble and stone, but on the blood of the saints and their love, which itself is a direct sharing in the blood of Christ and the love of the Father. The beauty of the Church, at its heart, is not in mosaic and fresco, stained glass and arches, domes and baldacchinos and apses, as truly and genuinely beautiful as all that is.
The beauty of the Church is the beauty of holiness, of all the poor little people (some of whom are cardinals and popes!) who have somehow, against all human possibility and in every possible manner of human circumstance, picked up their cross and followed Christ to the end. This is the splendor and majesty of Christian life--not exactly the splendor and majesty of sculpture and architecture, but God's sculpting, God's building, God's great work of art which is the redeemed and divinized flesh of man, and beside which all the outpouring of beauty of Bernini and Michelangelo pale into insignificance.
I guess all this is another way of saying that (in case any of them are reading this) I was just as impressed and moved by being with the family and friends of Deacon Michael Weitl, Michael himself, and my MH brothers and sisters who joined us for the celebration, as I was with Rome. A single human being who is even in the process of being built into this temple of God which we call a 'saint' is more magnificent and glorious to me than the whole city of Rome and its splendour.
So what is Rome, then? To me, Rome is an icon of the Church. It is good that so much work and genius and (yes) money has been poured into making this place happen over the millennia. It is good that we have city like Rome that reflects the true beauty of the Church, that shows that our faith is glorious, is magnificent, is the most precious and breathtaking reality that exists, and is worth all the marble and glass and stone and artistry we can give it.
Rome is an icon, ultimately it is an icon of you and me and what we are called to become. We are meant to make our own lives, by the grace of God and through, with, and in Our Lord Jesus Christ, something like that, something beautiful, something that takes our breath away. And that is ultimately and really and only about love, service, surrender, passion, joy, peace, prayer--the whole life of the Christian. Rome calls us, if we look at it rightly and understand what we are looking at, to live up to its beauty and in fact to outshine its beauty with the beauty of a life poured out for God and for neighbour, to manifest God's beauty in our towns and cities, our parishes and families. To be saints, in short. And that's what I think about Rome!