Rome — where do I begin? On some level, Rome is like every other big city out there — traffic, noise, the constant activity of people doing all the things that people do in big cities. But Rome is also strangely unlike any other big city in the world– it is literally bursting at the seams with all things Catholic — slowly the big city fades and you begin to notice that everywhere you look there is some aspect of our faith represented in living color.
It is a city of pilgrims, of saints, of sinners. In a real way, it is a city that belongs to all of us — for what else does the word “catholic” mean, but universal. This city of Rome — and especially the Vatican contained within it — welcomes all men, women, and children into the arms of the Church — and perhaps this message rings most clear at St. Peter’s Basilica. Granted — it may be crowded, and you might be chasing around 6 kids — but this is our Church and visiting St. Peter’s is a lot like coming home.
So, here are my 7 must see spots when visiting St. Peter’s Basilica
1.Before you reach St. Peter’s I recommend taking the original route of the Pilgrims. The very impressive Bridge of Angels, or Ponte Sant’Angelo, used to be the only route for pilgrims hoping to reach St. Peter’s. If you walk by day or night, it is incredibly beautiful. You can try to identify all the symbols of the passion held by each angel along the way. We had quite the journey to finally reach this spot, but in comparison to what pilgrim of old had to go through –what they had to risk to get here — it really blows the mind to imagine their sacrifices! Some pilgrims literally died en route and I found myself complaining because it was hot and I had lost my luggage! It is truly a touching and humbling way to begin your journey to St. Peter’s.
2.Before you can even reach the entrance to the Church, you are greeted by Bernini’s colonnades, which were built to represent the embrace of “the maternal arms of Mother Church”. One might feel their own inadequacy next to this impressive series of columns, but more than anything else, I hope that you feel like you belong here. It’s sort of like going home — maybe you have wronged everybody you love in this home of yours at some point in your life –but still you are welcome, you are loved, and you are at home when you walk inside.
3. As you walk through the columns, you will approach St. Peter’s Holy Doors. These doors are usually only open every 25 years (though this year of Mercy was an unusual exception to the rule). They represent a special time of grace that God is pouring into our lives. The question is, are we willing to accept the grace?
4. As you walk inside the entrance, move to the right to see The Pieta. Can you believe that Michelangelo was only 23 years old when he created this?! Knowing that makes me feel like a big, fat, underachiever! Some find brilliance in their youth — some in their old age –and frankly some never do — but we can’t worry too much about that. We just have to do our part to say yes to God’s grace and let God take care of the results. It is said that Michelangelo’s love and zeal drove him to refine and smooth this work to reach a perfection few artists have ever achieved. A simple prayer I prayed here: Lord grant me more love and zeal for my work — and when I don’t have that, just let me do my lousy best. Amen.
Funny story: Michelangelo was a relative unknown artist before The Pieta, and some claimed that it wasn’t really his work. So, one night after dark, Michelangelo snuck into the church and with a chisel and candle in hand, he put his name on the sash across Mary’s chest. It’s the only work he ever signed.
5. Find the statue of St. Peter. As tradition goes, give that foot a little rub and say a prayer. I don’t know why — it’s just what people do. If I’m being honest, I didn’t love this statue — maybe it’s the overdone background or the fact that it’s made of bronze — I don’t know. But what I do love about this statue is the reverence that people give to the person behind the statue. Peter was our first pope. He was a passionate man who denied Jesus, but he went on to become a great Saint and martyr for the faith. He died for what he believed in, and there are few of us who would do that! And the fact that Jesus chose Peter to lead the Church says something — it says something about Peter and about Jesus.
Jesus chose the weak, the sinner, the simple and He built His Church upon them. Why did Jesus choose sinful men to lead His Church? I don’t know. Maybe he wanted to show us that He can take the weak, the sinner, the little one and make them great. We all have a part to play in continuing the work of His Church. We are all weak at times and we fall — and we just have to get back up and begin again. That’s what Peter did and he never looked back. I want a faith like that, a faith that leads me all the way to the cross and makes me say, “hang me upside down because I am not fit to be crucified like the One I love and serve.” Wow! I’m not there yet!
6. The Dome of St. Peter’s and the Baldachin. If you have time, you can actually walk up to the top of the dome and look out over the entirety of St. Peter’s Square. But just looking up at the magnificence of this dome is pretty darn awe-inspiring! Perhaps more significant is that right below here is the tomb of St. Peter. This dome is built atop the Rock of the Church and don’t think that God doesn’t appreciate the poetry of that choice! As impressive as this spot is, we can’t forget that a simple fisherman was chosen to be the head of Christ’s Church and is buried directly below here.
7. As you leave St. Peter’s make sure you look around at the statues of the many men and women who died for their faith. The first time I was in this square, I was with a Franciscan priest who looked at me and said, “these men and women were willing to die for their faith, are you willing to die for yours?” Wow, that was a question that has stuck with me, and looking around at these men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice for their faith can’t help but be inspiring.
But it’s also kind of intimidating, because I don’t know if I could do what they did. The thing is, though, that God isn’t asking most of us to literally die for our faith. For most of us, we have that daily dying to self that is really.really.hard! I chose St. Joan of Arc as my patron Saint and I used to run around wishing to die the death of a martyr — and now I’m just trying not to scream at my kids when they make a terrible mess of my house–and failing at it. 🙁
I can’t be disheartened when I fail–instead I just need to focus on the little moments of dying to myself that allows love to fill my life and make me a better person. I just need to be faithful in the little things –like loving my kids and my husband the best that I can. It’s not complicated. That is what our lives on earth are all about –to love passionately and to let our faith change us. If it hasn’t changed us for the better than we’re not letting God’s grace work in our lives the way it could. It’s the Year of Mercy and we still have time to accept His grace and let Him change us in the ways that we need to be changed. Let’s do this thing!
Don’t forget to visit Kelly and the other Quick Takes.
Have a great weekend!