Rome’s Concreteness

Rome’s Concreteness

The following night the Lord stood by him and said, ‘Take courage. For just as you have borne witness to my cause in Jerusalem, so you must also bear witness in Rome.’

Acts 23: 11

The readings for our pilgrimage to Rome were rather perfect. For a few days, they focused on Paul’s arrest and subsequent journey to Rome to stand trial. As we visited the Basilica of St. Paul’s Outside the Walls and walked old cobblestone roads, the Scripture readings came alive. Here was the place Paul had come in chains, insisted on preaching the Gospel, spoke to the Christian community, and later died for Christ. It felt more real, more alive when in the place where so many important things happened.

When he entered Rome, Paul was allowed to live by himself, with the soldier who was guarding him.

Three days later he called together the leaders of the Jews. When they had gathered he said to them, ‘My brothers, although I had done nothing against our people or our ancestral customs, I was handed over to the Romans as a prisoner from Jerusalem. After trying my case the Romans wanted to release me, because they found nothing against me deserving the death penalty. But when the Jews objected, I was obliged to appeal to Caesar, even though I had no accusation to make against my own nation. This is the reason, then, I have requested to see you and to speak with you, for it is on account of the hope of Israel that I wear these chains.’ 

He remained for two full years in his lodgings. He received all who came to him, and with complete assurance and without hindrance he proclaimed the Kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ.

Acts 28:16-20, 30-31

In excavated catacombs, in the ruins of the Roman Forum, and in the expanse of the Colosseum, the reality of what had transpired in this ancient city rang clear. We prayed before Paul’s chains, momentarily visited the area where he was believed to have been beheaded, and stood near where Peter was crucified. Traversing beneath the current basilica, we stood before the bones of St. Peter, our first pope, and experienced the feast of Pentecost in the square just above. Everywhere we turned we were encountering concrete reminders that the apostles had visited this place.

I love several particular verses in Romans, but I couldn’t help but be struck anew that this was a letter written to the Roman people. And as a girl from the plains of South Dakota, where anything from the early 1800s feels old, I couldn’t help but be a little jealous that little Roman girls and boys get to grow up reading a letter written to them by St. Paul. How loved that letter must be! How beautiful to read: To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Then to read at the end of Romans as Paul lists numerous people to greet for him, real people who were working in the vineyard of the Lord and who knew Paul.

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The Church Showed Up Again

The Church Showed Up Again

Last fall, I saw the Church show up in a downtown bar to listen to a talk and grow in community. Last month, I saw the Church show up in an expected place (a church building) but in an unexpected way.

The Knights of Columbus organized a pilgrimage with the heart relic of St. John Vianney. I attended a crowded noon Mass and then waited to venerate the relic. Ever the romantic, I was waiting for the church to clear out and for the chance to approach the relic with ample time to pray. I imagined the crowds would soon dissipate and people would return to work.

That did not happen.

As time passed, the crowds did disperse, but people kept trickling in, causing the line to remain stretched down most of the center aisle. People came after work or on a break or once they picked their kids up from school. For nearly the entire afternoon, the line stretched down the aisle and about three-quarters of the way toward the back of the church.

The few hundred people who showed up at noon Mass surprised me, but the consistent flow of people throughout the afternoon surprised me more. It was a striking response to the distressing news that keeps being unearthed in diocese after diocese around the nation and world. The day before, our bishop released a letter listing priests who have abused minors in our diocese. Hours later, the Church showed up as hundreds of lay faithful and priests were falling on their knees before the incorrupt heart of a priest.

Our prayers were urgent and heartfelt. We need priests who have priestly hearts, mirrored after the heart of St. John Vianney but even more so after the High Priest Jesus Christ. Scandal within the Church simply highlights even more the great need that we have for holiness in the Body of Christ. Acknowledging the fragility of humanity, we interceded for the men whose consecrated hands confect the Eucharist, whose words extend absolution, and whose presence is sought from birth until death–and some of the most significant moments in between.

Continue reading “The Church Showed Up Again”

Home: From Rabanal del Camino to South Dakota

Home: From Rabanal del Camino to South Dakota

Walking into my hometown parish church for Memorial Day Mass, my family settled into a pew and prayed for a few minutes before Mass started.  It wasn’t particularly early, but the quiet and stillness made it feel earlier.  The priest was praying from his breviary and other parishioners were in silent preparation for the greatest memorial feast.

I was a bit surprised to find a Camino memory surface after a few seconds in the church.  The beauty of a still morning and entering a place I regard as a home, took me back to Rabanal del Camino, arguably my favorite spot along the Way.  Enticed by a sign outside the church saying there was a Benedictine Pilgrim Guest House, we stayed in Rabanal for a couple of days.  While brief, this was far longer than any other town we saw in Spain.

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After our first night at the guest house, we walked the short distance to the church for morning prayer.  The parish church was still and cool.  Choir stalls occupied the front of the church and those of us who stayed at the guest house quietly settled into them for our community prayer.  Simply having slept in the same town for two nights made me feel like a resident.  I watched pilgrims continue their walk and was filled with a strange joy that I was able to leave my backpack next to my bed.

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Early afternoon, we gathered for lunch in the monastery, prepared and served by the lovely Benedictine priest.  Even with a meal shared in silence, it was a tangible sensation of the familial in a country where I often felt as though I simply passed through.  In the evening, we gathered for Mass and then later for evening prayer.  Mass wasn’t an unusual occurrence along the Camino, but participating in Mass in the same church with a priest who recognized me was a novelty.

It wasn’t until we stopped walking that I was able to notice how much my heart longed for the familiar.  While I enjoy adventures, I also really love home.  Being a wandering stranger for weeks at a time was difficult for my homely heart.  When we spent a couple of days in one place, I was able to experience the joy of resting and the gift of the familiar.

One evening, after we had supper at the guest house, everyone staying there took a stroll through the streets of Rabanal.  Though I knew those outside my party for only two days, it seemed we were a little family, following after the Benedictine priest who had an endearing sense of humor and depth.  A French lady happened to see our group and simply joined us as we walked leisurely to the outskirts of town.  I didn’t blame her; it is something I would have wanted to do had I not already been in the group. Continue reading “Home: From Rabanal del Camino to South Dakota”

The Church Wants to be in Your Bedroom

The Church Wants to be in Your Bedroom

I’ve heard the complaint that people want the Church to stay out of their bedrooms.  The truth of human sexuality is not something people want to be bothered with when it comes face-to-face with their ordinary, everyday lives.  Contraception, IVF, sterilization, surrogacy,  and a host of other ethical problems are not what people want from the Church.  It is almost as if they were to say, “Just give us the church service and leave the rest of my life to me.

In which case, I am compelled to ask, “What exactly did you think the Church was?”

Rather than overbearing, the Church desires to guide us in every aspect of our lives because God cares about every aspect of our lives.  Jesus is Lord over all, even the parts of our life we struggle to give to Him.  Especially those parts.

The “Catholic world” has a lot more to it than churches.  It’s also a world of libraries and bedrooms, mountains and the seaside, galleries and sports fields, concerts halls and monastic cells–places where we get glimpses and hints of the extraordinary that lies just on the far side of the ordinary…

(Letters to a Young Catholic, George Weigel)

The Church isn’t trying to artificially insert itself into the different facets of life.  As the Bride of Christ, she seeks to be where Christ wants to be, which is everywhere.  It could be easy to convince ourselves that Jesus doesn’t care much about business ethics or our literary choices or who shares our bed.  We can separate those from that hour on Sunday as if Jesus can only see what happens in “His house.”  Jesus, however, wants to be involved in our work, leisure, relationships, and daily habits because He wants to transform those areas into means of sanctification.

We want to give Jesus the areas of our life that are easy to surrender.  Jesus wants the areas of life that we struggle to admit aren’t flawless.  He wants them, flaws and all.  When He spoke about taking up our cross and following Him, it wasn’t simply the cross of getting up Sunday morning and making our way to Mass.  It was about allowing Him into every part of our lives–our thoughts, our dreams, our free time, our business practices, our interactions with other people, and, yes, our sexuality. Continue reading “The Church Wants to be in Your Bedroom”

In the Body of Christ, Your Healing Heals Others

Her response was something along the lines of, “It’s Jesus.  Of course He was doing something for both of us.”  Her certainty and lack of surprise seemed the opposite of my wide-eyed, wide-hearted realization of God’s perfect planning.

On a silent retreat, I found myself working through a painful memory I had with my sister.  I had tried a couple times during prayer to get to the root of it, but I seemed to get off course.  Finally, I was in the memory and I pictured Jesus there, too.  The pain of the moment eased and I saw things from a better perspective, one closer to what Jesus must have experienced.

Instead of recalling only my emotions, I began to see the situation as she may have experienced it.  “You are the Beloved of the Father,” I found myself telling her.

Then she said those same words back to me and a deep healing occurred in that moment.  Something wounded in me was restored by God, not through a conversation with my sister.

After the retreat, I decided to write her and tell her about that experience.  I didn’t go into detail and I didn’t explain how I had felt hurt.  I simply told her what transpired in prayer.  The next time I saw her, she brought up the letter.  She said my letter was the Lord’s response to her about something she was struggling with.  As she told me that the letter was good for her own heart, I was amazed.  Our Lord took that inclination I had to write my sister and He used it to speak to her heart in a way I didn’t know she needed.

My response was, “Woah.”  Hers was one of confident certainty that the Lord works in exactly that sort of way.

Sometimes the Lord takes the movements of our hearts and our own healing so He can use them to speak to others in a profound way that we never intended.

Sometimes my own healing allows others to experience the grace of God.

As fallen humans, we are always seeking to repair our fragile, little hearts.  But what a different perspective I have when I think of my healing being an avenue that God uses to love others.  Beyond the fact that God desires my own personal wholeness, He has a mission for me, one that requires me to seek healing for the sake of others, not just for myself.

In a way, the Church needs you to be healed.  Our personal healing is a service to the Church.

Souls need you to pursue holiness and wholeness because, though perhaps unbeknownst to you, God will use that renewal to encounter them.

The Mystical Body of Christ is a mysterious being.  God heals us for our own good and then seeks to use that healing to bring about restoration in others.  One that may rely in part on your “Yes” to Jesus entering into those wounded parts of your own heart, areas you don’t want Him to go, but which will truly revive your soul if you let Him.

Your own healing might be that catalyst for others to be healed or encounter God in a necessary way.  

And so He gently asks, “What do you want me to do for you?”  (Mark 10:51)

Your response?  Unlock that little room within your heart that you’ve walled away and invite Jesus into that place.  His healing, transformative presence will change you and that will change others.

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