I am on pilgrimage now, in Italy. I arrived Monday evening and started having physical reactions right away. As I was leaving the Rome airport and looking around at the vegetation, it crossed my mind that the landscape I was seeing probably would have been familiar to St. Francis of Assisi, plus many other holy people I have studied and prayed with for years. My mind was full of wonder and my heart was vibrated with joy and excitement. At the thought of it all, tears filed my eyes. Before arriving at the hotel where I am staying, I was surprised to suddenly have this site fill the sky:
The dome of St. Peter’s Basilica is something I have seen countless pictures of throughout my life. When I saw it all lit up and making such a statement about the power of faith, I gasped. Really loud. It didn’t matter that I was in a shuttle-taxi van with a bunch of strangers, it was like the sound came from the depths of me and surprised all of us. Physical reactions can be like that.
Since then, I actually got to go inside of St. Peter’s Basilica. It’s enormous and filled with great art and devotion. It’s amazing to me what people create and do because they know and love God. Thousands and thousands of people from all over the world were inside praying, taking photos, and listening to guides share facts. Some were crowding around the sculptures by Bernini and Michelangelo to try to see the masterpiece with their own eyes, and maybe get a good photo. Some were in line to touch the feet of the statue of St. Peter, which were worn down flat. Some were in the adoration chapels off to the side. Others were praying with the non-corrupt body of Pope John XXIII. At one point, overwhelmed and trying to take it all in, I realized I was crying–another physical reaction to a spiritual reality.
Most recently, I was able to visit the Vatican museums, which includes the Sistine Chapel and its masterpiece paintings by Michelangelo. I got to spend over thirty minutes in there, crowded among hundreds, in dim light, bending my neck back and staring up at the phenomenal art. For part of the time I sat, prayed, and people watched. I started thinking about all the prayer and pope elections that have happened in that place over hundreds of years, and all the holy people who have also been in that place. Then, I became aware that my shoulders were shaking and tears were streaming down my face. Another physical reaction.
I’ve only been here three days now yet I am clearly being moved intensely by the experience already. The actual pilgrimage program began this afternoon and at our opening mass one of the guides, Father Rick Martignetti, reminded us that we are all called to be pilgrims and strangers on our journey through life. We pray with the physical world in a very sacred way. Places are “sources” that can speak to us, that can change us and that we can change–by our being and through our prayers. Many of the places that we are to encounter are places where heaven has met Earth, for this Christian faith of ours is a very physical faith. As I move on this holy ground I learning more every day about how the spiritual and the physical intermingle. I am amazed and blessed to be part of it all. For all this, I give thanks and praise. Amen!