The youth group at my parish went on a trip yesterday. No, it wasn't anywhere exciting for them (i.e., a baseball game or the movies). It was to the Franciscan Monastery in DC. The Monastery is an incredible thing. With altars and shrines based on ones around the world, particularly from the Holy Land, the Franciscan Monastery is famous for its beauty. And it is well deserved. It brought back memories of Rome walking in that church. They even had scaffolding, which was great. We took the catacomb tour, which was based off the ones in Rome, and even had the body of a saint, St. Innocent, a child martyr, and some of the bones of another (it brought back the excitement of the Eternal City). I had a blast there.
But before our arrival I was thinking of Rome. I knew what the church there was like, and knew that I would remember Rome, but it was something else that made me write this post, another reason I miss Rome.
In Rome, as you Romers can remember, the sky is pierced with the cross-tipped spires of churches. Every section of the city, it seems, has a church somewhere. You could spend your entire three months to Rome looking around at every church, examining everything about them. All of them, from St. Peter's on the Vatican to St. Andrew on the Quirinal, have something exciting and special in store for the pilgrim if they know where to look. My biggest regret about Rome was that I did not spend more time just walking the streets and entering churches. Oh, how glorious!
I dare now to compare Rome to DC. In DC the sky is also pierced by spires, many of which have crosses on them, just as the churches in Rome do. However, at the ground level, a different story is told. That cross leads not to Christ dwelling on Earth but rather to what in reality is a fancy meeting hall. It was the frequency of this that struck me. There are less Catholic churches in DC. Duh. Any atheist could tell you that. What struck me was that the same mark that labeled the Catholic churches in Rome is used in American to label Protestant ones. But its not the same. Where is the excitement in entering a Protestant church over a Catholic one? Can a Methodist church offer you the body of St. Vittoria, or the chains that held St. Paul? Can a Lutheran church present you with the Holy Eucharist, Christ truly present body and soul there in a tabernacle? What takes place in those hollowed walls of our "separated brethren?" Does it compare to the continuation of Calvary that occurs everyday in a Catholic church? I would say no.
But what struck me the most was the Spires. In Rome I did have the privilege of walking the streets, following after the crosses I saw punctuating the sky. There I would find treasures mentioned above. My heart would dance. Now I saw the spires of DC. I knew if I walked DC, following the crosses, I would not dig up such gold and jewels as in Rome. The treasures of a Catholic church are harder and harder to find.
I know why; I'm a historian. And I'm not stupid. I know the history of Italy and the history of this country. I know that Italy, particularly Rome, would be dead without the Church. The Rome of today has Catholicism in its blood. Not so with DC. I know how Catholics have played such a great role in this nation's history. They have been the unsung heroes of war, and the backbone of many political things. However, this is not a Catholic country. That's the simple truth.
So what have I gained from that afternoon reflection yesterday? Something that has hit me several times. Mary Beth just blogged on this. I have wanted to say something for a long time, but kept forgetting. Now I have time. Now I remember.
I Miss Rome.