I knew I'd be back. Not because all roads lead to Rome, but because each time I visit, I throw a coin into the Trevi Fountain to ensure my return to the Eternal City.
I have been to Rome many times. With each visit I've experienced its magnificence through a different prism. In my youth, Rome was “La Dolce Vita,” in which wine and song were aphrodisiacs for a depleted soul. Other visits led toward art, history and losing myself in the labyrinth of three millennia.
According to Ecclesiastics, there's a time and place for everything under heaven. Throughout our lives, certain portals open and lure us to partake in the fruits and temptations that lie within. We choose according to where we are on the spectrum of life.
Kaitzer, the girls and I were visiting my niece, Ashley, and her husband, John, in Rome. They are Ph.D. candidates and professors at Christendom College and the European University of Rome. As scholars of theology, history and art, they have exposed us to the treasures of antiquity and a conceptualization of the evolution of civilization. Since they are well versed in ecumenical scripture and doctrine, we've experienced associations with priests, scholars and seminarians, which has provided an intimate perspective of the church.
However, enlightenment often evolves by happenstance. When you are looking about, you often find what you need hidden between the lines.
I went to Sunday Mass to fulfill my weekly obligation. My attention span is normally about four minutes, but at the church of the Pontifical North American College, my focus was fixated upon the priests, nuns and seminarians. I studied them intently, trying to comprehend the root of their fervent devotion to their savior, Jesus Christ. They possessed a definitive assurance that answered the questions pertaining to the why's, how's and who's of life. Such questions define existence.
I've been all over the world and have experienced a myriad of its wonders. However, I felt that these men and women of God had found something far greater than the corporeal and temporal components of the universe. They seemed to be channeling toward a mystery. They have found the divine. They possess a faith that I did not understand, because faith is a gift I've yet to receive. Saint Paul says, “The light of God produces righteousness, wisdom and truth.”
Rome is the center of Christendom, the fulcrum of Western spiritual life and the bastion of Catholicism. The expression, “of the glory of the church triumphant,” rises from Saint Peter's Basilica and transcends its spirit throughout the “Holy See.” As we view these architectural wonders, we see that such masters as Michelangelo, Bernini and Barberini brought light into these glorious edifices, creating ageless monuments that define divinity.
Has the divine atrophied from contemporary life? Is transcendentalism's message of our transcendence to beauty, truth and goodness non-existent? Have the rationalists who define life solely from empirical analysis become the new demigods?
Last evening at Saint Peter's Basilica, I found solace in my thoughts through the music of the La Cañada Concert Choir and Chamber Singers. While on tour in Italy, director Jeff Brookey raised our choir to the pinnacle of perfection during Mass. The choir created a sacred ambiance throughout Saint Peter's and its music touched my soul. The next morning, they sang gloriously for the pope at the Papal Audience.
As I craft the last lines of this, I sit in solitude at Saint Peter's, adjacent to Michelangelo's Pieta. It's 7a.m. I think to myself that maybe the divine exists within us, and not outside us.
I recall Mark's gospel of the previous evening. Christ says, “Everything is possible to one who has faith.”
But like the blind boy's father in the story, I answer, “I do believe, but help my unbelief.”