Rome is a really special place for many of us. It’s this far off city that we dream of visiting one day. Or, it’s where we’ve already ventured and possibly long to return. We’ve traveled there for our honeymoons, to visit relatives, it’s a trip we went on thirty years ago when we were in high school, it’s where we dream of being proposed to, or maybe it’s the first European extravaganza we experienced because of our aunt’s generosity.
Well, my favorite professor in undergrad always started off by talking about the Eternal City by saying, “When you go to Rome…”. He told us that if you want to go to Rome, you will go one day! I have many friends and family members who’ve gone because of the encouragement of others. I think especially of my cousin who journeyed there a few years ago because of one of her best friend’s invitation and generosity. The coolest!
The Apostle Peter in Rome
I am more familiar with Rome than the average person. I lived there for about three years to study for the Catholic Church. I made lifelong friends, experienced the city in a unique and homey way which included becoming well acquainted with Peter. Saint Peter that is.
As a Roman Catholic, I am drawn to Rome, because that’s where the first leader of the early Christian community, also more formally known as the Pope and Bishop of Rome, is. Let me explain.
I returned to Rome this spring. While I was there, I met Pope Francis. I met Peter! This is something I did not experience when I lived in Rome, even though I saw Pope Benedict more times than I can count. (I also saw John Paul II during my first visit to Rome when I was in high school.). Meeting the Pope is pretty much the paramount highlight of a Catholic’s life. That and having your bishop celebrate your wedding and baptize at least one child. Catholics, am I right?
While this experience of meeting Pope Francis included my mantilla falling off (talk about embarrassing!), this encounter was significant for other reasons.
The Opportunity to Thank Peter.
I was the last person to greet the Holy Father. I am used to going last because of my last name, but this made me extra nervous because the cardinals, bishops, priests, and seminarians were all watching!
I walked up to Francis and he took my hand. Then so much ran through my head in the span of 30 seconds. “Don’t kiss his ring, he’ll pull his hand away and it will get awkward!” “Don’t hold his hand for longer than five seconds, he’ll slap your hand!” “Ask him to pray for the conversion of your family.”
Then it came out as my mantilla began to slide off… “Thank you… Thank you.” That’s all I said as I smiled at him and he smiled at me. It may have sounded superficial or that I didn’t know what else to say, but God knew what I needed to say for peace, growth, and healing. I wasn’t thanking Francis per se, I was thanking Peter.
Saint Peter has been my go-to intercessor since I first visited his tomb when I was in high school. It was there that I committed myself to a life of purity and chastity according to the vocation I would be called to. I put my chastity band on at the tomb.
It was that same summer I was introduced to the Theology of the Body through Jason Evert and Christopher West. I still wear the band today and will wear it until I am married and can give it to my husband. Or until I take vows and continue to wear it as a sign of my commitment.
I believe I have Saint Peter to thank for giving me the gift of the Theology of the Body (as well as, John Paul II of course!). Additionally, he got me through my canon law studies, and he has kept me serving the Church.
The times he has come to my aid are many! He is my friend and he is yours too. We all have him to thank for being the rock on which the Church was founded. If Jesus could trust Peter to lead the Church 2,000 years ago, I think we can trust him to be our intercessor, friend, and guide.
I encourage the book Letters to a Young Catholic for anyone who is preparing to make a pilgrimage to Catholic Europe, especially to Rome. It opened my eyes to the depth of Catholicism and Saint Peter when I first jumped into the exciting and lifelong journey of living the Catholic faith.
My friend John always says, “To know History is to be Catholic.” You will come to know this firsthand when you open this excellent book by George Weigel.
An Affirmation of My Femininity and Yours.
After my mantilla fell off all the way, I walked towards the group in my uncomfortable black heels and skirt suit (what my mother is calling my funeral outfit) and stood with them as the Holy Father delivered a greeting and message. The group included all men and three women (me included).
He started off by thanking the bishops for their bravery in bringing women with them to the audience. He said we were the first women to be at an ad limina audience this year.
It became clear right away that the Pope chose to talk to us freely and not use what had been prepared. The Holy Father affirmed the role of women, the significance of our gifts, that the Church needs more women serving, and that all the men present needed to make sure they had relationships with women and to not be afraid of us. That they need women in their lives and the Church needs the gifts that women have to offer.
I love the Church because of Jesus and not the Individuals Serving.
To say it’s easy to be Catholic would be a lie. To be a Roman or Eastern Catholic is hard. I think it becomes even harder when you work for the Church. You see and experience things you didn’t necessarily know you were signing up to see and experience.
You can’t pity yourself too long though, especially when you start to think of the Saints who really saw and experienced some pretty horrific things in the life of the Church, like St. Catherine of Siena (the Pope abandoned the Church and she had to make him return to Rome. No pressure!) and St. Joan of Arc (she was burned by the leaders of the Church for her radical faith. Doesn’t get much worse than this.).
I have worked with many in the Church. As a canon lawyer, I am considered a church worker myself. I know there have been occasions where individuals and families have been let down by my lack of knowledge, slow response to return their email or call, you name it. It’s hard to work for the Church. And again, it’s hard to be Catholic. What do you do?
Through the sexual abuse crises, the confusion around priestly celibacy, the role of women in the Church, personal disappointments with bishops and priests, I have made a decision that I will stay. I will stay because of Jesus. It’s still the Church Jesus gifted to us. I am Catholic because of Jesus and his gift to us through the Sacraments which are administered by the Church.
While my mantilla fell off… I once again made the decision that I am where I am called to be. I am not only where Peter is…I am where Jesus is and he’s in the Church not only in Rome, but he’s throughout the world in his Church and even more intimately in the Eucharist.