St. Justin Martyr on Christian Liturgy

Between work and school, I have a lot on my plate right now, so I’m afraid I’m going to have to delay another serious post for a few days at least. I am kicking around some ideas, and may tinker on them some — but for today I’ll leave you with a worthy patristic quotation.

Here is St. Justin Martyr (100–165) again, describing the Christian liturgy of the Early Church in his First Apology (ca. 150) (Chapter 65):

Justin Martyr

St. Justin Martyr (André Thevet, Les Vrais Pourtraits et Vies Hommes Illustres, 1584) (Wikipedia)

But we, after we have thus washed him who has been convinced and has assented to our teaching, bring him to the place where those who are called brethren are assembled, in order that we may offer hearty prayers in common for ourselves and for the baptized [illuminated] person, and for all others in every place, that we may be counted worthy, now that we have learned the truth, by our works also to be found good citizens and keepers of the commandments, so that we may be saved with an everlasting salvation. Having ended the prayers, we salute one another with a kiss. There is then brought to the president [i.e. he presiding] of the brethren bread and a cup of wine mixed with water; and he taking them, gives praise and glory to the Father of the universe, through the name of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, and offers thanks at considerable length for our being counted worthy to receive these things at His hands. And when he has concluded the prayers and thanksgivings, all the people present express their assent by saying Amen. This word Amen answers in the Hebrew language to γένοιτο [so be it]. And when the president has given thanks, and all the people have expressed their assent, those who are called by us deacons give to each of those present to partake of the bread and wine mixed with water over which the thanksgiving was pronounced, and to those who are absent they carry away a portion.

Expression vs. Impression in Liturgy and Worship


This is my 100th post here, apparently. Time flies, and the counter runs up quickly, when I post every day like I have been this month!

Brad posted this video, and I’ve seen it floating around the Twittersphere — and it’s excellent: a short but very powerful piece on liturgical reform by the Catholic News Service (CNS), the official news agency of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). It underscores and makes vivid everything I’ve been writing recently: the Mass of Paul VI (the new form of the Mass since Vatican II) is meant to be every bit as reverent as the Tridentine Mass (the pre-Vatican II Latin form), and every bit as centered on God; that it is the people, and their insistence on expression of self in worship, that have led churches into bad liturgical practices. This is worth six minutes for any one of my readers, even you Protestants, to get a brief taste of the reverence of the Mass.

The highlight — the “money quote,” as Brad called it, and I agree — on the loss of reverence in the Mass (at 1:00):

The missal of Paul VI does not presume any less reverence at all than the Tridentine missal. We Americans . . . have come naturally to think that in the liturgy we want to express ourselves, and if it doesn’t feel like us then we don’t want to say it. But the whole tradition of liturgy is not primarily expressive of where people are and what they want to say to God. Instead it is impressive; it forms us and it is always bigger than any given community that celebrates.

And this is precisely one of the many aspects of Catholic liturgy that I love over evangelical worship. As much as the Mass shapes us as a Church and as a people, it also defines our entire mode of approaching God in worship. I have written before about emotion in worship: how dependent on emotion evangelical worship and the evangelical experience of God always seemed to be. Evangelical worship is even more about expression — the expression of outward joy, outward worship, the expression of ourselves — and it’s probably this tendency that’s led some to demand the same from Catholicism. In evangelical churches, I was so often made to feel, when I was feeling down, that my worship wasn’t reaching God, that it was invalid, if I wasn’t singing, dancing, shouting, expressing. In the Catholic Church, it doesn’t have to be expressive of myself to be “real.” It is more impressive — I decrease, I recede, so that God can increase in me. I raise my worship to God through my participation in the liturgy, through being a part of the Body of Christ and its Sacraments — through laying down myself before God, and taking up my Cross.

More thoughts on calling priests “Father”

St. John Vianney

St. John Vianney, called the “Curé d’Ars,” patron saint of parish priests. (Parish priests are known as “curés” in French.)

Between reflecting on this on my own after my post last night, and having a chat with Kristen today, my more-seasoned-Catholic-convert and world-traveler friend, I’ve had a few more thoughts on calling priests “Father.”

We were both surprised by the claim that priests in the English-speaking world did not use the title “Father” until the nineteenth century, when they adopted the practice from Irish Catholic immigrants; that before, they were addressed as “Mister”; and that secular priests (i.e. in the world, not part of a religious order; diocesan priests) in non–English-speaking parts of the world are called by the equivalent “Mister,” “Monsieur,” “Don,” or the like. I still need to research the claim of Irish origins, but the rest of the claim, about non-anglophone priests, appears to on the level, after investigation.

In Latin, as several links I’ve found support, most authoritatively this one I just found from Jimmy Akin, priests are addressed not as “Pater,” but as “Dominus”: which becomes in the vernacular “Mister,” “Don,” etc.

From the Wikipedia page for “Don”:

Today in Italy, the title is widely given everywhere only to Diocesan Catholic priests, (never for prelates, who bear higher honorifics such as monsignore, eminenza and so on). Outside of the priesthood or old nobility, usage is now fairly uncommon in the south and rarely if ever used in central or northern Italy.

As for Germany, where Kristen is now, I found this link, which indicates that the standard form of address for a secular priest is “Hochwürden*,” the equivalent of the English “Reverend.”

*EDIT: Kristen says she has never seen this title; that it’s probably, as in English, a more formal title that is seldom used in addressing a priest personally. She says she hears “Pfarrer” most often — which googling and lookups in German dictionaries confirms is the appropriate word.

This brings up the other important thing Kristen and I realized: “Reverend” (or variations, depending on rank) is the formal title of Roman Catholic priests even here in the United States. On official diocesan parish directories, our priests are listed not as “Father” or “Fr.,” but as “Rev.”

And this makes firm my argument from last night. We call our priests “Father” not as an empty title, but as an honorific — not because it’s their formal title, but because they are our spiritual fathers, and honored members of our Christian family.

Call no man your father?

Pope Benedict XVI.

Happy Father’s Day to our Holy Father.

For Father’s Day, I thought I would tackle a “fatherly” topic. But this one has turned out to be a bear. One of the the oldest and most persistent weapons in the arsenal of anti-Catholicism — one that seems on its surface to be minor, but upon examination, proved an obnoxiously hard fly to swat — is the argument that Catholics are in violation are Jesus’s edict to “call no man your father on earth” (Matthew 23:9) by giving their priests the title “Father.”

There are a large number of sites on the Internet both asserting this argument and refuting it (1, 2, 3, and more) in a lot more detail than I really care to, since they have done a fine and in-depth job. If we consider Jesus’s statement in its full context, the argument almost rejects itself (Matthew 23:1-12):

The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. . . . For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor [καθηγητὴς, guide, teacher, professor], the Christ. The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

In this passage, Jesus is preaching against the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. And he is clearly speaking hyperbolically. For certainly we are to call our natural fathers “father”; and the Bible is rife with examples of spiritual mentors being called “father.” If we were to take this passage literally, not only would we not call anyone on earth “father” (including our natural fathers), but we would not call anyone “teacher” or “professor,” either. Jesus is not making a legalistic pronouncement here: he is speaking to the Pharisaic sin of exalting oneself over others, claiming for oneself empty titles and honorifics, rather than serving each other humbly.

As a prime example to refute the use of this passage as an attack on the priesthood, St. Paul writes (1 Corinthians 4:15):

For though you have countless guides [παιδαγωγοὺς, lit. pedagogues] in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

Here, if the anti-Catholic argument holds true, Paul is directly contradicting Jesus’s command. He frequently refers to especially Timothy as his spiritual child (Philippians 2:22, 1 Timothy 1.2, 2 Timothy 1:2), and he again calls himself the spiritual father of Onesimus (Philemon 10). St. John, in his epistles, frequently refers to his recipients as “his little children” (1 John 1:2).

So this (and especially those more elaborate refutations above) makes a convincing argument that there’s no problem at all with Jesus’s statement with regard to calling men on earth “father,” either our natural fathers or our spiritual fathers. But still this question bugged me. I wanted patristic support: early examples of priests being addressed as “Father.” I found numerous references that this was the custom “since the beginning” or “since the first century,” but not a single source citation connected with these statements. This instinctively sets off alarms in my historian brain.

I haven’t done any systematic search or study of the Church Fathers, but I’ve been shuffling through them as rapidly as I can for the past few hours. This search is complicated by the fact that a search for “father” turns up numerous references to both God the Father and to the Hebrew patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as fathers. And of course, there are the popes, who are frequently referred to as holy fathers. Eventually, in later patristic writings, there are plenty of references to the Church Fathers themselves. It’s late and I’m tired, but I am determined to post something tonight for Father’s Day, so let me summarize what I’ve found. And I will continue this research, because now I’m fascinated and determined to learn more.

  • According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, the title papa (πάππας in Greek) — which means roughly “daddy” — was once in much wider use, in the East referring to any priest, and in the West referring to any bishop (I found St. Cyprian being frequently addressed as “Father” in his correspondence). It didn’t become exclusive to the bishop of Rome (whom we now know as the pope) until around the fourth century.
  • This article by Fr. William Saunders gives some brief history which supports the above. He adds that St. Benedict used the term “father” for spiritual confessors, and that the title of the monastic abbot is derived from the familiar Aramaic “Abba.” Mendicant friars came to be addressed as “father” in the Middle Ages. Heads of religious communities and participants in ecumenical councils (i.e. council fathers) have been given the title “father.” He doesn’t describe when it became customary to call all priests “father” in the English-speaking world — but I get the sense that it is a fairly recent development (i.e. since the Reformation).
  • I stumbled across this piece, “Are ‘Mother’ and ‘Father’ Appropriate Titles for Protestant Clergy?” by someone writing from an Anglican/Episcopal perspective, hence the suggestion of women’s ordination. He gives some compelling history, but it’s also a little troubling — I’m not sure it’s right. He claims that historically, Protestants had no problem using the title “Father” for their leaders, and only picked up the anti-Catholic charge above in the xenophobia toward Irish Catholics of the 19th century. He also makes this claim:

Most significantly, the decline of “Father” in Protestantism coincides with the rise of Irish immigration to the United States in the 1840s. Before that time, Roman Catholic priests in America were usually addressed as “Mister,” for most were secular (nonmonastic) clergy with roots in Europe or England, where Roman Catholic practice restricted “Father” to priests of monastic orders. Secular priests were called “Mister,” “Monsieur,” “Don” or other vernacular equivalents. Irish Roman Catholics, however, addressed all priests — whether secular or monastic — as “Father.” And by the end of the Victorian period, the Irish had influenced English-speaking Roman Catholicism to call every priest “Father.”

Is this true? It’s a fascinating claim that I will have to investigate further. Most of the early counter-examples I can think of — such as the early priests in Maryland, and Padre Las Casas — were associated with religious orders (the Maryland missionaries with the Jesuits and Las Casas with the Dominicans). The “Reverend Father” Martin Luther was an Augustinian. Is it still the case that priests in the non–English-speaking world are called something other than “father”? I think of Padre Pio, but he was a Capuchin. On the other hand, I think of Don Bosco, who was a parish priest. My world traveler friends and seasoned Catholics, help me out here?

UPDATE:More thoughts on calling priests ‘Father’

Dropping the mask

This nom de plume I’ve been using, Paul Pilgrim, is getting a little burdensome and inconvenient.

Initially, while I was in the process of converting, my blog was semi-anonymous, only known to a few, select, trusted friends, and anybody else who randomly happened by. I was kind of timid of having to defend my nascent faith before I was ready. My blog then was known as Catholicus nascens, a “nascent Catholic,” or “A Catholic being born.”

I also realized that I had a problem with pride, and wanted these writings to be more about Christ and His Church than about me. So “Peregrinus” it was: a Pilgrim, a Stranger, a Foreigner. That sums up how I’ve felt all my life: wandering, never knowing where I was going, never fitting in anywhere. I felt an immediate connection when I learned that the Catholic Church calls itself a “pilgrim church”: for we are all pilgrims, sojourners in this life, seeking after our salvation.

After I entered the Church, and I became The Lonely Pilgrim (realizing that “catholicusnascens” was a mouthful and a handful), I changed my name here to Paul Pilgrim. Paul is my confirmation name; a pilgrim is what I am. But now that I’ve come out of the blog-closet to my friends on Facebook and Twitter, the nom de plume requires an extra step of explanation: “Here’s a link to my blog, and oh yeah, Paul Pilgrim is me.” And then I have to explain why I call myself that. And rather than being humble, it feels a bit pretentious. My Twitter has my real name on it anyway, so any alias is useless and confusing. I was only keeping it because I liked the name; but yeah, I am just me, not Paul Pilgrim.

So hi. I’m Joseph.

The Sacred Heart of Jesus

Sacred Heart

Pompeo Batoni. Il Sacro Cuore (The Sacred Heart) (1740).

I feel like I’ve been on the offensive a lot lately. I apologize for that. I’ve made three posts in the past two weeks against sola scriptura — and I have to confess, it’s been partly out of annoyance at the closed-mindedness the doctrine engenders. Forgive me for that. My deeper aim, in this blog and even in those posts, is to extend to my Protestant brethren the fullness and beauty that the Apostolic Tradition of the Church has to offer.

(For what it’s worth, that last sola scriptura post had been on the back burner half-formed since I posted the first two, so I decided I needed to finish it. I also have another rather critical post I began writing last year sometime, before I even entered the Church, about church membership, that I put down because I decided it wasn’t the tone I wanted my blog to take. I may look at it again sometime to see if there’s anything to salvage.)

Today is the Feast of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, and June is the Month of the Sacred Heart. The Sacred Heart is a devotion to the wounded physical heart of Jesus as a representation of His all-surpassing divine and human love for all humanity. This devotion — really the idea of devotions to things other than God Himself — is a new, rather strange concept to my evangelical brain. Isn’t devotion to or worship of an object idolatry? Well, no. Idolatry is worship of something as a god that isn’t God. Veneration of the saints is not idolatry because it’s not worship. Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament is not idolatry because the Blessed Sacrament really is Jesus. Likewise devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is not idolatry because it is an aspect of Jesus: it’s the love of Christ for all humanity, the love of God for all the world; and God is love (1 John 4:16).

Devotion to the Sacred Heart has a long tradition, with roots in Scripture and in the Church Fathers. I have an excellent book (picked up on one my thrifting quests) about the history and theology of the Sacred Heart, Heart of the Redeemer by Timothy T. O’Donnell, S.T.D. The earliest Christians associated the water flowing from the side of Christ at his Crucifixion with the “rivers of living water” flowing “from his heart” (John 7:37-38). . . .

[And a sidenote: I’m thrilled that the ESV and some other newer Bible translations, even Protestant ones, have translated this verse as “out of his heart.” Traditionally, that Greek word, κοιλία (koilia — in the phrase, ἐκ τῆς κοιλίας), has been rendered “belly” or “bosom”: according to the LSJ, it is a common Greek noun that refers to a cavity of the body, especially the belly or abdomen, but also any body cavity, ventricle, chamber, such as in heart, lungs, liver, brain: figuratively, the innermost center of being and consciousness of a person. It is the same word used for Mary’s womb in Luke 1:42. The Hebrew word used in Proverbs 4:23, the essence of which John 7:38 seems to follow, is לב (lêb), and most certainly refers to the heart (translated καρδία [kardia] in the Septuagint). In short, I think it’s pretty fantastic that the ESV translators, in translating a verse that refers to Old Testament prophecy, considered the Hebrew context of the words in their translation decisions from Greek. Jesus more than likely would have been speaking Aramaic, and may have quoted the passage in Aramaic rather than Hebrew; though especially the Evangelists Matthew and John would have been familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures. Both the Evangelists and our modern translators had to consider all these things in translating to and from Greek.]

St. Bernard

St. Bernard of Clairvaux.

. . . And the Church Fathers saw this wound, this flow of blood and water from the side of Christ, from His heart, as a symbol that the Heart of Jesus is the source and fountain of the living water that gives us grace, salvation, and the Sacraments (O’Donnell 49). Jesus’s wounds, his suffering for our sake, became a visible symbol of His love for us. Over the centuries of tradition, increasing devotion to the Heart of Jesus developed. There are so many wonderful passages I could quote (this book is really amazing), but here are some of my favorites. From St. Bernard (1090–1153):

The secret of His Heart is laid bare in the wounds of his body. One can easily read in them the mystery of God’s infinite goodness and merciful tenderness which came down to us like a dawning from on wounds. How could you indeed, Lord, show us more clearly than by your wounds that You are indeed ‘full of goodness and mercy abounding in love.’

From David of Augsburg (d. 1272) (O’Donnell 101):

From the burning Heart of Jesus flows his blood, hot with love. Jesus showed us from the Cross his faithful heart, glowing with love, since the death of our souls touched him more nearly than the death of his body. Ah, dearest Lord Jesus Christ, what great love and faithfulness wilt thou show when thou displayest thy riches and openest thy Heart to thy beloved friends!

The devotions grow longer, more elaborate, more flowery, until in the late seventeenth century, St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, a French nun and mystic, experienced a series of visions of the suffering Christ, in which He revealed his Sacred Heart to her, and set her own heart aflame with the fire of His. It is from her revelations and her writings that our modern conception of the Sacred Heart has proceeded. Devotion to the Sacred Heart spread throughout France, and gradually beyond its borders. Pope Pius IX first extended the Feast of the Sacred Heart to the entire Church in 1856. In 1899, Pope Leo XIII consecrated the entire human race to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, following the visions of Blessed Mary of the Divine Heart, in whose visions Christ Himself requested the consecration.

So in short: The Sacred Heart is, to put it simply, an ancient, God-inspired Christian meme. So much in tradition works this way: a writer has a revelation, and then another writer picks it up and elaborates upon it, until over time, a whole tradition of devotion and literature develops around it. No matter how you might feel about the personal revelations of these nuns, it is the symbol of the Sacred Heart that is important: the symbol of Christ’s divine and human love for the whole world, that has been a longstanding Christian tradition and object of devotion. To dedicate oneself to the Sacred Heart is to dedicate oneself to live in and for the love of Christ.

Tradition and Biblical Interpretation

Codex Vaticanus

A leaf from Codex Vaticanus, one of the earliest extant manuscripts of the Greek New Testament.

Tradition, I think, is a scary word for evangelical Protestants. But all it means on its letter is something handed down — from Latin trado: trans (over, across) + do (give) — something passed from one generation to the next, from one group to the next. As I’ve pointed out before, all Protestants, whether they admit it or not, adhere to some form of tradition. As Christians, everything we believe is by necessity traditional: it was not handed to us by God directly, but given to us by the Christians before us. Even the Bible is a collection of traditional writings: documents that were handed down to us from the Early Church. All Christians follow in the tradition of someone, whether it’s the Roman Magisterium, Martin Luther, John Calvin, or John Wesley. Ultimately, all Christians hope they are following in the tradition of the Apostles. If they are not — if they claim to be rejecting all tradition — then their Christianity must be seriously suspect.

Likewise, the way we interpret the Bible is traditional. Christians do not approach the biblical books as texts in a vacuum. Our readings are generally viewed in the light of the whole of Scripture. We read the Old Testament in the light of Christ’s fulfillment of it (with notable exceptions, such as the translations of the RSV and NRSV); we read the New Testament Epistles in the light of the Gospels and of each other. We approach Scripture with preconceptions of theology and doctrine. A prime example is the doctrine of the Holy Trinity: All orthodox Christians read the fullness of the doctrine of the Trinity in Scripture, but it is not at all written on Scripture’s face. We recognize the Trinity because the Church’s ancient theologians and exegetes have fleshed it out for us, hammered it out by generations of successive argument and refutation of heterodox views. Likewise is the doctrine of the fully human, fully divine nature of Christ and His hypostatic union. Even the canon of Scripture itself — what documents we accept as part of the Bible and what documents we reject — depends on the tradition of the Fathers of the Church in the first Christian centuries, arguing for and against the inclusion of various texts. Protestants read Scripture in the firm paradigms of their doctrinal traditions, whether Lutheran, Calvinist, Arminian, or so forth, appealing to the traditions and commentaries of great theologians of the past — with the result that despite their proclamation of sola scriptura, their understanding of Scripture is by necessity deeply rooted in tradition.

The Catholic Church reads Scripture in the same way — only with the whole of apostolic and patristic tradition behind its interpretations. As an historian (revisionists aside) builds his interpretations on those of his predecessors, the Catholic Church’s doctrinal framework is founded upon the traditions of popes, councils, great theologians and thinkers, all the way back to the Church Fathers, the first generations of Christians after the Apostles themselves. The Church proclaims its adherence to Apostolic Tradition, both that handed down orally and that written, and it is the early Fathers who attest to our traditions back to the hands of the Apostles.

As I have written before, the New Testament writings handed down to us are at best a fragmentary record of the teachings of the Apostles and Early Church; the Sacred Tradition handed down through the Church Fathers fills in the gaps and completes our image. But the Fathers also read and interpreted Scripture; and it is only in the light of their Tradition that we can properly understand the Bible. As for the historian, one of the crucial tasks in approaching a primary text, in understanding the thoughts and intentions of a writer, especially one of an ancient time and culture, is to understand how his words were received and understood by their primary recipients. The earliest Church Fathers, such as Clement of Rome and Ignatius of Antioch, are at most only thirty or forty years departed from the writing of the New Testament: they are the New Testament’s primary recipients, and within living memory of the Apostles. To separate the New Testament texts from the understanding of these early Christians, as a strict reliance on “sola scriptura” does — to read the New Testament in a presentist view, without the light of the interpretations of the Early Church — risks taking it out of context, or else grossly misinterpreting it.

Some Protestants do read the Church Fathers — but many are selective in their readings, reading the parts of Augustine especially, for example, that seem to support their Reformation theologies. Taking the Church Fathers, or any writer, out of their historical context in this way is as dangerous as it is with Scripture. For Augustine was a bishop of the Roman Church, operating in and upholding its traditions. His views must be interpreted against his position and his entire belief system; he would not have sanctioned his doctrines being used to support any theology that opposed the Catholic Church.

The fact of the multiplicity of Protestant readings and interpretations of Scripture — that there is less doctrinal agreement among Protestant churches than at any time prior — that there are more fragmented Protestant denominations than ever before (more than 33,000) — proclaims the utter failure of sola scriptura, and the danger of severing the interpretation of Scripture from tradition and authority. This is not a new phenomenon with Protestants: at the root of every heresy has been the decision to reject traditional doctrine and follow one’s own interpretation.

Before I began converting, the idea of giving up one’s personal, individualistic interpretation of Scripture to accept the teachings of a rigid and authoritative institution seemed to be an anti-intellectual subjugation of individual thought and will, and a recipe for abuse. For couldn’t the Church teach that Scripture said anything they wanted it to say, to justify their extrabiblical traditions? Wasn’t the freedom of the Christian to think and read the Bible for himself the only insurance he had against manipulation and deception? But I now see that the truth is just the opposite. The Christian who is “free” from authority is much more susceptible to being misled and exploited. It is the authority of the Church — the authority handed down from the Apostles — that protects us, that ensures the integrity and orthodoxy of our faith. And this protection is built into the system: Today’s prelates cannot abuse their authority, they cannot introduce inventions or radical reinterpretations, because the root of their authority and their interpretations is the Tradition of the Church — which is open, accessible, and visible for any Christian to investigate and in which to verify the truth.

Seeing the Pope

Pope Benedict XVI

Pope Benedict XVI, greeting the people just after his election was announced.

So when I left off my personal story, I was in Rome, on what became a pilgrimage of sorts: enthralled by the majestic churches, captured by the sense of history, drawn to God and Church for the first time in years.

We visited all four major basilicas of Rome: St. John Lateran; St. Mary Major; St. Paul outside the Walls, where I was powerfully moved at St. Paul’s tomb; and St. Peter’s. St. Peter’s in particular was overwhelming in its size and grandeur. I found the tomb of St. Gregory the Great, who was one of my favorite saints even then; and I’ve already told of my wonderings about St. Peter’s tomb. Some of the other churches we visited included San Clemente, the oldest of any church we saw, whose foundations reached back to the first century; Santa Maria sopra Minerva, where lay interred St. Catherine of Siena; and Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri, built in the remains of the Baths of Diocletian. There is far more to tell of my time in Rome, and far more still that I failed to see for my closed spiritual eyes. I long to go back now that I’ve found the Church.

The façade of the Basilica of St. Mary Major.

One more anecdote about Rome that I’d like to relate: I saw the pope. As I related briefly before, Pope John Paul II had died only weeks before our trip, and Pope Benedict XVI had succeeded him. Pope Benedict had only just taken possession of St. John Lateran as cathedral of Rome the week of our visit. (Many people don’t realize that St. John Lateran, not St. Peter’s, is Rome’s cathedral church.) I was very sad at the passing of Pope John Paul, but I was glad, at least, that he was no longer suffering, and that I might have the chance to see the new pope.

Every Wednesday, the pope holds a General Audience in St. Peter’s Square. A group of my fellow students and I decided to attend. It was an overcast Wednesday morning when we set out, five or six of us, from our hotel — without umbrellas. It wasn’t very long before we regretted that lack of foresight. It came a downpour, and by the time we arrived at St. Peter’s Square and had been sitting there a few minutes waiting, we were soaked to the bone. Gradually the rain slackened to a drizzle, but it was still overcast and unpleasant.

Finally the time came for the pope to appear. He rolled out at one end of the piazza in his pope-mobile, to the cheers of the people greeting their new pontiff. Two giant projection-screen TVs broadcast his arrival for those of us sitting at a distance. He circled the square, waving to the faithful, before coming to the stage erected on the steps of the basilica, and exiting.

The pope stepped out onto the steps, and raised his arms in a blessing. At that moment, the clouds parted. The sun appeared, brightly and warmly. The rain stopped. It was as if God was smiling on this man and on us who had come to hear him.

He spoke for a few minutes. I suppose he was speaking Italian, since I don’t remember what he said. But I felt very glad just to be there, to be standing a mere few yards away from the leader of Western Christendom.

At the end of his address, he said a blessing over the people, and announced that all religious items brought to the square that day were now blessed. I suppose many of the Catholic faithful brought Rosaries, statues, icons, and other devotional objects. I happened to have a Bible in my backpack, a compact NIV my dad had bought for me before I left. It is a religious item, I thought. I considered it ironic that the pope had unknowingly blessed a Protestant translation of the Bible; but I nonetheless considered it meaningful and important. I inscribed the event on the frontispiece of the book, and have cherished it ever since as “the Pope’s Bible.”

As soon as the pope was done speaking and had left the stage, the rain resumed. The clouds returned to cover the sun. I considered it an amusing coincidence, and have often jovially told the story, as I am now — but looking back I see the experience as yet another subtle gesture from God to the authority of this man and this Church — a nod as if to say, I am looking after this foundation. Looking back over the years, through all that I traveled, I consider it no small matter that the pope of Rome prayed for me and said words of blessing over me: At very long last, after seven years, those words have brought me home.

Giving y’all a Tour

I posted a new page last night that may be of interest to folks who are new here are or who are just passing through: A Brief Tour. It’s a description of the categories in my blog I consider most important to what I’m about, a listing of my favorite posts that I hope you will read, and my top posts by number of views.

Also, a couple of random links of things I found that are awesome:

St. Barnabas

St. Barnabas

St. Barnabas

Today is a slow day. It’s the Feast of St. Barnabas, with whom Protestants ought to be familiar as an important figure of the New Testament Church and faithful companion of the Apostle Paul. There is a much more vivid tradition about Barnabas in the Eastern Orthodox Church than here in the West, of which I was fascinated to read. Barnabas is celebrated as the founder of the Church of Cyprus, an apostle*, and a martyr.

* We in the West tend to associate the term “Apostle” with the Twelve — those disciples who were specially chosen by Christ as His closest companions and ministers, who were with Christ and witnessed his life, miracles, and Resurrection — and to Paul, to whom Christ appeared “as to one untimely born” (1 Cor 15:8). In the East they seem to use it more loosely and literally: Greek ἀπόστολος (apóstolos) is someone who was sent.

Some further links: