Sorrow of Mary

The sufferings which Christ endured atoned for all the sins of the human race. God suffered as a perfectly innocent man. And He suffered in body and soul more deeply than we can imagine. The Son offered to the Father the dereliction of His apparent abandonment.

God made the Virgin Mary the mother of the sacrificial Lamb. She raised Him with sublime tenderness. Then she had to witness the agony by which He consummated His mission. The Virgin Mary shared in the most intimate way in the dereliction of the crucified Son of God.

More than anyone else, she knew the purity of His innocence and the injustice of His death. More than anyone else, she sympathized with her Son’s intimacy with the heavenly Father. She stood closest when the Lord cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Can anyone doubt that she would have preferred to die, rather than hear this?

But our Lady of sorrows gives us hope precisely because she knew such indescribable motherly pain. She has faced everything that we must endure; none of our sufferings are foreign to her. She greets them all with her patient faith.

She trusted in God even as she held her Son’s dead body in her arms. In the end, things turned out okay.

A Day in Vatican City

Painting of St. Peter's by George Cook
Painting of St. Peter

Today was a gift which the good Lord, St. Peter, the saints of Rome throughout the ages, and Michelangelo gave to us.

st-peters-sunrise

So that the loving fantasy
which made of art an idol and a king for me,
I now will know with how much sin was laden,
with that which all men desire against their will

Nor painting, nor sculpture, now can calm
The soul that turns to that divine love
That in the cross opens its arms to receive us.

On our busride from Orvieto to Rome, we were treated to a brief talk by an expert on Michelangelo. The expert is Dr. Ann White, my mom. She quoted these lines from a sonnet which the great artist of Renaissance Rome wrote near the end of his life.

Pieta
Pieta

Michelangelo is: the sculptor of the Pieta, the painter of the Sistine Chapel, and the architect of the St. Peter’s Basilica, among other things.

We were walking across St. Peter’s Square as the sun was rising. Our Mass was in the crypt of the Basilica, just a few yards from the tomb of the Prince of the Apostles.

There is nothing like being in St. Peter’s Basilica between 7:00 and 9:00 in the morning, when the only thing going on is quiet prayer at all the altars. (There are dozens of altars in the largest church in the world.)

St. Peter's tomb, under the High Altar of the Basilica
St. Peter

We had reached the final goal of our pilgrimage. Deacon Walker preached about St. Peter, about his remarkable transformation from humble fisherman to shepherd of souls.

The tomb of our dearly beloved late Pope John Paul II was just a few feet from our chapel. We were surrounded by saints and popes.

After Mass, we made our way to the Vatican Museums, the Papal Palace of former days. It is the most extensive art collection on earth. We saw sculptures, wall paintings, tapestries–not to mention the splendid architecture of the buildings themselves.

Vatican Museums.  Sistine Chapel in lower right.  This picture is from the roof of St. Peter's Basilica.
Vatican Museums. Sistine Chapel in lower right. This picture is from the roof of St. Peter

The tour of the Museums concludes with a visit to the Sistine Chapel, site of the Papal Conclaves.

Then we toured the Basilica, stopping to visit Bl. Pope John XXIII, Pope St. Leo the Great, Pope St. Pius X, and the Chair of St. Peter. We saw countless magnificent works of art, including the Pieta, Bernini’s bronze altar canopy, and his famous sculpture on Pope Urban VIII’s tomb.

Some of us braved the climb to the lantern at the top of the Basilica’s dome. From there we could see the entire city of Rome, bathed in mid-day sunlight.

After lunch, a group of us took a tour of the Vatican “Scavi,” the excavations of the cemetery in which St. Peter was buried. Scientific archaeology has determined that there is no reason to doubt that the altar on which the Pope says Mass is directly above the tomb of the Holy Apostle. We were able to lay our eyes on the original grave of St. Peter, and to see his bones, which are now kept in a plexiglass box. We recited the Creed and the Our Father.

The sun was setting when we emerged from the Basilica. We had spent the entire day in the world’s smallest sovereign state, governed by the Successor of the fisherman we had come to visit.

Bronze statue of St. Peter, close to his tomb
Bronze statue of St. Peter, close to his tomb

St. Peter saw to it that many, many graces were poured out on us humble pilgrims. Surely there are some graces in it for you, too.

Hopefully one of them will be a renewed sense of communion with the universal Church of Christ, founded two millenia ago. The Roman Catholic Church confesses the faith of the Apostles. She is given life by the power of the Holy Spirit. She embraces the entire earth.

In other words, She is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. She is shepherded by the Pope.