St. Peter’s and the St. Peter’s of Roanoke

Vatican Piazza

My house shall be a house of prayer. (Luke 19:46)

Some people say that New York City serves as the capital of the world.  But everyone who has ever visited the real capital of the world knows that ain’t true.  All roads lead to…

What does the grand edifice built over the tomb of Simon Peter represent? To see a picture of it—or, even more, to lay eyes on it in person—summons many feelings and associations.

St. Peter’s basilica represents Tradition.  For 1,952 years, Christians have prayed at Vatican Hill.  Lord Jesus promised that the gates of hell would never prevail against His Church, built on the rock of Peter.  The basilica represents that permanence with a unique divine guarantee.

Pope Francis occupies the oldest office in the world.  We think of the U.S. Presidency as a tradition-hallowed office.  Next year we will inaugurate our 45th.  Pope Francis is the 266th pope.

But St. Peter’s represents more than just ancient, unbroken tradition.  Because the place hums with the visits of our contemporaries, from the four corners of the earth.  The basilica represents the universality of the Catholic Church.

That’s what has struck me during my visits to St. Peter’s.  In front of that church, the paths of all the peoples of the world meet.  People from all continents, all colors, speaking all languages, meet–in one common expression of faith in Christ.

St Andrew

There’s more.  St. Peter’s basilica represents the magnificent beauty of God.  God, Who, through the Incarnation, has united Himself with our humble, human capacity to express ourselves through the arts. Michelangelo and Bernini are not themselves gods.  But they knew how to give God glory.

The huge artfulness of the building and all its many adornments represents this fact: the Lord walks with us through our earthly pilgrimage.  He does not despise our love for beauty, even though our art can never fully capture His Image.  Rather, He uses our human capacity to make beautiful things to lift us up to Him.

Now, some of us get to celebrate the Mass commemorating the dedication of the Roman basilicas in another very meaningful building.  I think we can call our church on the hill “the St. Peter’s of Roanoke.”  After all, his brother is our parish’s patron.

Everything I’ve said about St. Peter’s in Rome could be said about St. Andrew’s in Roanoke, too—if the Roanoke Valley constituted the whole world.  St. Andrew’s represents all the Catholic tradition of our valley, and it is the crossroads of the Christian faithful here, where the beauty of God shines.

St. Peter, St. Andrew:  Pray for us!  Help us to stay faithful, and to rejoice in the priceless gift of being Catholic!

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