St. Peter's Basilica
The day after I got back, the rest of my class--about a dozen or so men--arrived to Rome for the official start of regular orientation. These men did their Italian studies back in the States and joined us early-orientation guys as the school calendar really starts to get rolling. My classmate from Sacred Heart, Dave Tomaszycki, was among this small group. Great to finally get him out here! The first thing we all did as an entire class was pray morning prayer together, which I thought was really cool. They showed up and got off the bus and we literally left all the baggage right there on the ground to head for the chapel. The whole thing was like a slow motion movie clip of a verse from the 6th chapter of 2nd Corinthians:
For he says, "At the acceptable time I have listened to you, and helped you on the day of salvation." Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.
I suppose I was just kind of reminded in that experience of the right-now-ness, if you will, of our salvation, insofar as it is a choice that we can't save until the last minute of our lives, but is one that we make at every moment of every day. I think God exhorted me to remember to "pray always", even when that means allowing my normal course of daily events to be interrupted.
After pranzo (la parola Italiana for "lunch") we when ahead and just got at it: walked over to the Vatican to take a tour of St. Peter's Basilica. A few pictorials would help to better explain the wow-face I'm making right now. Come on, let's all make it together:
|Alright, this picture doesn't really illustrate the enormity of this place. Look up in the dome and notice the word CAELORVM in that band of gold. I would fit entirely inside that teeny tiny letter O. Those letters are six feet tall!|
|The high altar. St. Peter is buried about 20 feet below this spot.|
|Typical arched and domed ceiling detail. Mamma mia!|
|Behind the high altar looking at the nave toward the front entrance. From where I am standing, that front wall is roughly two football fields away from me.|
|I just liked this picture.|
|The official monument to Pope Pius VII. Those mysterious set of doors are actually a broom closet. I think we can safely say, world's most elaborate broom closet.|
|One of the many beautiful mosaics in this basilica, depicting the miracle of St. Gregory the Great.|
|The Pieta, by Michelangelo. Hard to get a decent photo because the lighting was so low. But many would argue (me included!) that this is the greatest masterpiece of marblework ever sculpted.|
|Tomb of Blessed John Paul II! Lot of folks praying here. I also came back here after the tour to pray.|
|One of the four sculptures at the bases of the main dome's supporting corners. These sculptures all face the baldachinno, and this one is St. Andrew the Apostle, my Confirmation patron saint. He was crucified on an X-shaped cross.|
|Down by the bottom right you can see the small statue of Peter taken from the first basilica, which was built by Constantine in the early 4th century.|
St. Peter's Square from the steps of the basilica.
|Wouldn't be complete without a shot of the Swiss Guard.|
I know I've said this before of other churches, but friends, St. Peter's is unequivocally the most beautiful and awe-inspiring church I've ever seen. It was Johnny-No-Joke breathtaking. I kept wondering to myself how something so grand could be built by human hands, honestly this is something really to be personally experienced.
There are books that could be written about this basilica and everything/everyone in it, including the more than 90 popes buried here. A few very brief things. St. Peter's is the largest Catholic church in the world, and with room to spare. The reason that its appearance on the inside doesn't completely overwhelm you with its sheer enormity (and it is gigantic) is because the architects (mostly, Michelangelo) designed it that way. Everything was built in perspective, in the architectural sense of that word. For example, the statues along the bottom of the nave are about double life size, whereas along the top of the nave, they are about triple life size. From anyone's view on the ground, these statues all appear to be as large as each other, giving the illusion that the ceiling is not as high up there as it really is. Same with the lettering placed high along the walls, whose large size actually works to create an illusion that they are smaller and closer than they really are. Take another look at the baldacchino: that structure is a 10-story building, but you would never guess it from the photos.
The "painted" art in this basilica is not actually painted at all, but everything was done in tiled mosaic, so as to make it much more difficult to steal than a simple fresco. Talk about ingenuity! This is also why you can take pictures here, because the flash won't destroy the artwork.
The morning after our tour, we got up early and had Mass in the crypt at the tomb of St. Peter. It was really powerful. But even more powerful was the personal experience of taking the Scavi Tour underneath the crypt. I can't give away any details on this one because it is that worth it to experience it for yourself, but I will say that this tour would probably be the one thing not to miss if you ever came to Rome.
The biggest impression that this beautiful basilica made upon me was to really appreciate the historical and apostolic tradition of our Catholic faith. You begin to realize more concretely that people haven't been doing this thing or practicing Christianity only since you've been around, that the Church isn't only in the United States in the local community where you live. But we follow in the flesh-and-blood lineage of 20 centuries' worth of human souls across the world who have made the same journey we are making now on earth. It is a lineage that connects us spiritually, to be sure, but perhaps even more striking is the incredibly tactile, see-it-with-my-eyes-touch-it-with-my-hands nature of this lineage.
I mean, step back for a moment and think about it. Of all places in the world, why is the heart and wellspring of Christianity in Rome? From the beginning of the Church 20 centuries ago it has been here. I'm specifically here and not elsewhere studying to become a priest. But even a cursory glance should tell us that Jerusalem ought to hold that place of honor, right? It was the location of Jesus' passion, death, and resurrection after all! He was born and lived and preached all around there; Jesus worked His miracles there and converted souls there. Never in His whole earthly life was Jesus within 1400 miles of Rome, and yet His followers would call this city "home", the heart of the faith. Doesn't that seem strange?
Of course it does! But then we remember the historical reality, the fleshly-ness of the Church as it has been continuously incarnated in humanity since the beginning, and it all begins to make sense. Jesus wasn't an abstract person out there a long time ago who was nice and kind of mythical. He was real flesh and blood, and so were his followers, beginning with His mother and the Twelve Apostles. Jesus appointed these men as the leaders of His Church, a Church which would be not only spiritual but temporal, and He appointed Peter as chief among them. After Pentecost the Book of Acts tells us they went out with divine power to makes disciples of all the nations.
And Peter, for his part, became the first bishop of Rome. He led the Church from here, and was martyred here, and was buried here. Most of his 264 successors have lived and are buried here. He has the biggest, most beautiful church in all the world built over his body. And centuries of Christians since his time who would become martyrs and saints have flocked to this city for the sake of being close to Peter and his successors. To pray for his intercession at his tomb, to get a glimpse of his successor, to receive a papal blessing. To walk in his footsteps on sacred ground. In a real way, I flew 4500 miles across the ocean and am here to spend the next four years of my life in this city because an obscure Galilean 2000 years ago said yes to God with his life. So I hope that shows us the significance and sublime dignity of an individual human soul, the difference that just one person makes. The difference that one ordinary, broken fisherman made. Peter is the reason that we say, "Rome Sweet Home".