[Yes. Yes. I am a slacker pilgrim. I wrote the first half of this post almost 2 months ago — on the Feast of Pentecost..18 May. And I’m going to finish it today 13 July…so — leaving the first half as is…and away we go!]
Today is the Feast of Pentecost — Happy 1980th Birthday Catholic Church! Come Holy Spirit! And what a great time we live in — if we know how to see beyond the lens of the world! I’m not great at it yet — but I’m definitely trying!
So really — if I’m following the journey of our pilgrimage last month — I’m only really on Day 4 (which is technically only day 2…hmmm…I think I need a key) so — by request of others here it is:
Day 1: Travel
Day 2: Arrive Rome (for Mom and me…this was North American College and Cupola Tour)
Day 3: Papa Francesco & Vatican Museum
Day 4: Christian Rome: Catacombs (Domitilla), Papal Basilicas (St. Mary Major, St. Paul Outside the Walls, and St. John Lateran), Drive-bys of Appian Way (Coliseum, Domino Quo Vadis Chapel, Baths of Caraclla, Arch of Drusus), the Pantheon, and Trevi Fountain
Day 5: Monte Cassino and San Giovanni Rotondo
Day 6: San Giovanni Rotondo (All things Padre Pio), Monte Sant’Angelo
Day 7: San Giovanni Rotondo, Lanciano, Loreto, Assisi
Day 8: Assisi
Day 9: Assisi and Siena
Day 10: Travel Home
Lots of peeps have asked if it was overwhelming or difficult to be around noise and tourists in sacred places — and although there were probably moments of that — in general I have found continued gratitude in reflecting back on those time and processing why it may have been different for me.
Traveling with a pilgrim mentality (vs. a straight secular or even faith-based tour) really made a lot of difference for me. We were well-educated before entering these sacred places — on the bus or just outside or sometimes walking through the little towns that led to sacred places — either by our Guide Gaia or by our Spiritual Director Fr. Stan. Mom and I had also done some reading in advance of the pilgrimage — thanks Dad! And though we did occasionally use on site tours — it wasn’t often. So by the time we actually walked into these places — we had been spiritually focused (particularly if Mass preceded) and told where to go, what to see, and reminded to spend some time in prayer. And pretty much we were cut loose! For me — that was very freeing! I do remember watching touristy groups, earbuds plugged in, speeding by relics of saints and timeless historical art, and feeling sorry for them. When our little family of pilgrims met back as a group — often we were refocused by Fr. Stan and Gaia — and people told stories about their experiences inside/around whatever place — and another opportunity for formation took place. It felt like being part of the earliest Christian communities. And that’s where I begin today…on the Feast of Pentecost…
So…Day 4: Christian Rome
So this day was actually the Feast of St. Stanislaus, significant for multiple reasons:
First — because he is a Polish Saint and my boss is a Polish priest!
Second — because one of our 2 Permanent Deacon’s Confirmation Saint is Stanislaus!
and Third — because our Spiritual Director Fr. Stan is well…Fr. STAN!
Incidentally, St. Stanislaus was a Bishop of Poland and got himself martyred by refusing to accept immoral behavior from and consequently reprimanding the King of Poland. He is significant to my home parish as our patron, St. Thomas More, lost his head for much the same reason. Also, St. Stanislaus was canonized the first native saint of Poland on my birthday — that’s a super-fun reason to like him too!
Anyway…some interesting tidbits from the Order of Mass that day:
-from 2 Timothy 4: 1-2
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingly power: proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching.
-from the Collect
…grant, we pray,
that we may persevere strong in faith even until death.
-from Acts 5 (First Reading)
(Peter and the Apostles) “We are witnesses of these things, as is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.” When they (court officers and the Sanhedrin) heard this, they became infuriated and wanted to put them to death.
-from John 3 (Gospel)
For the one whom God sent speaks the words of God. He does not ration his gift of the Spirit.
-from the Prayer over the Offerings
…so that, purified by your graciousness,
we may be conformed to the mysteries of your mighty love.
-from the Prayer After Communion
…in the Resurrection of Christ,
increase in us, we pray, the fruits of this paschal Sacrament,
and pour into our hearts the strength of this saving food.
It is Easter-y?
Is it Pentecost-y?
But the throwback here, folks, is that Mass that day was Said. In. The. Catacombs. Among the first believers. The original martyrs.
*****continued 13 July*****
And that, peeps, makes all the difference. We had Mass in lots of super-cool places which I will certainly write about — but this was the one that made my heart pound and brought tears to my eyes — because praying the words of the Mass on the feast day (red vestments) of a martyr (Stanislaus) in a place where martyrs were laid to rest didn’t just remind me — the whole history and spirit of the place called out with urgency and fire — fuego — to my own spirit — of who and what those words really cost others for me to be able to stand here and say them. Mass will never be the same for me again. Particularly the Sanctus (Holy). The Book of Revelation tells us this is the part where heaven and earth proclaim and worship God together. This is the closest we will ever come while here on earth — to heaven. This is a big part of why I can’t believe anyone wouldn’t want to be Catholic…or would stop going to Mass out of anger or sadness or guilt. This is as close as we get to our departed loved ones, the saints, our patrons, our family who has gone before us. We sing/pray the hymn of the communion of saints and the angels. And it was at this point in the liturgy in the catacombs that I was overwhelmed with the reality that some of those communion of saints might have stood — alive or not — right where I am standing. Celebrated Mass right where we are. On the stone altar on which the body of a martyr/saint/family member might have once been laid — and I get to touch.
We were not allowed to take pictures — but my journal notes here are:
2000 year-old architecture from YOUR family right in front of your nose. Just like your Catholic faith. Right in front of your nose. DON’T IGNORE IT. Travel into it. Walk inside. Don’t ever come out. This is your home.
I am going to receive the Eucharist with the earliest Christians and be united with my earliest family today. Without fear. Without persecution. Without martyrdom. Without sacrifice. Without a story of suffering. I haven’t been asked to give my whole life. But I desire to.
[I think these last 2 below might have been from Fr. Stan’s homily…they don’t sound like me…and I committed in advance to full participation in Mass and not taking pictures, video, or notes during liturgy and particularly during any of his homilies. I really wanted to allow liturgy to be liturgy…and to be a full, active, and conscious participant without distracting myself or anyone else…but occasionally I jotted down what immediately remained behind in my mind after Mass was over…so I think the following 2 might be his thoughts]
We must double our courage.
Moving forward means you understand the goal.
And for my history peeps — from wikipedia: the term catacombs first referred to the system of underground tombs between the 2nd and 3rd milestones of the Appian Way in Rome (which is where we were on Day 4), where the bodies of the apostles Peter and Paul, among others, were said to have been buried. The name of that place in late Latin was catacumbae, a word of obscure origin, possibly deriving from a proper name, or else a corruption of the Latin phrase cata tumbas, “among the tombs”. The word referred originally only to the Roman catacombs, but was extended by 1836 to refer to any subterranean receptacle of the dead, as in the 18th-century Paris catacombs.
According to my notes from our tour — there are 250 catacombs in Italy, 60 catacombs in Rome proper, and 5 catacombs that can be visited by the public. We were at the Catacombs of Domitilla, they are the oldest of Rome’s underground burial networks, and the only ones to still contain bones. They are also the best preserved and one of the largest of all the catacombs. 9 miles of underground tunnels! YIPES. Even our tour guide admitted he had gotten lost underground once! Included in their passages are a 2nd-century fresco of the Last Supper (which we saw…holy smokes FOR REAL!) and other valuable artifacts.
They are the only catacombs that have a subterranean basilica (which we also saw); entrance to the catacombs is achieved through this sunken 4th-century church, at via delle Sette Chiese 280. In the past, the basilica had become unsafe, and was abandoned in the 9th century. It was rediscovered in 1593, and much of it was reconstructed in 1870. In the beginning of 2009, at the request of the Vatican, the Divine Word Missionaries, a Roman Catholic Society of priests and Brothers, assumed responsibility as administrator of St. Domitilla Catacombs.
There is some confusion and unproven theories about who St. Flavia Domitilla was…but we are reasonably certain she came from a pagan family in the 1st century. She seems to have converted quietly and of her own accord to Christianity. She may have been the niece of the Roman Emperor Domitian, who had Flavia’s husband put to death, and sent her into exile until she was martyred for the faith by decapitation in the Coliseum. Her family converted many years later. There are only 2 martyrs for sure (certainly there could be more) buried at St. Domitilla: both soldiers and both martyred in the 3rd century during the reign of Emperor Diocletian, who persecuted Christians in the military between 295-298. Their names were Nereus and Achilleus.
Although we were asked not to take photographs inside the catacombs — my mom took these outside — and there were lots of these inside too! Simplistic and inspirational:
So — this was only how my Thursday, 11 April 2013 (Day 4) started. There’s lots more to Day 4 coming next! But I could not be more grateful to our Tour Leader Judy, our Tour Guide Gaia, and our Spiritual Director, Fr. Stan — for whoever decided to do things in the order we did them. I just think it was perfect! Doing Christian Rome starting out with Mass in the catacombs on the Feast of St. Stanislaus just set the stage for the rest of the day — and the rest of the day set the stage for the whole pilgrimage. Just sayin’. Maybe it worked out this way by accident. But I don’t think anything is an accident.
One other note — there are no names or dates on tombs, etc. within the catacombs — we were told very matter-of-factly by our tour guide: “…because nobody cares! Christians believe in the Resurrection!”
That made me smile and think of the simplicity of our Holy Father Papa Francesco!