Hi everyone – so the 33 pilgrims joined us today arriving on the Red Eye at 7:30 am Rome time. We all got back to the hotel gave them a few minutes to wash up (since Check in isn’t until after 12 Noon) and then made our way to Vatican City for our First Mass. After Mass we had a fantastic lunch at Da Roberto for Norcina which is rigatoni with an Alfredo type sauce with sausage in it. Amazing…
Thanks be to God – we’ve all made it here… safe, hopefully some what sound – to Rome, to Italy – to the Eternal City – the city of Sts Peter and Paul.
Some of you have heard Lino has accused me of being a “scaredy cat” not wanting to go to the Jersualem. While there’s some truth to that – and not to get into all that especially during a homily where he can’t debate with me about it… being here in Rome we also have to recognize that for us Catholics, Rome has almost as deep spiritual meaning to us. For while the life, death and resurrection of Jesus took place in Jerusalem, the Church really grew out of Rome.
The persecution of the Early Christians forced the Church to almost completely abandon Jerusalem. St. Peter –
having been the one to whom Jesus gave “the keys of the kingdom of heaven” too,
the one Jesus appointed;
the one to whom he would build his Church upon
well in those early decades of the Christian faith after Jesus’ resurrection, the future of the Church depended upon the apostles being faithful to Jesus’ call to them to proclaim Him, His Gospel, His Good News to the furthest ends of the earth. And so where did they go to do that? The Acts of the Apostles tells us quite simply – They “finally came to Rome“(Acts 28:14).
And doing so, would eventually cost St. Peter his life, St. Paul his life – and thousands upon thousands of others their lives. But the Gospel did go forth from here to the ends of the earth. The church, despite those crushing defeats did solidify on St. Peter – and continues to proclaim this good news from this, St. Peter’s see, to the ends of the earth. The words of St. Paul who is buried in this, the first place of our pilgrimage – which makes up a bulk of the New Testament – is still revered by billions in our world at this very moment – and billions who preceded us.
Kind of cool to think about, huh?
We will be spending a great deal of time, visiting some amazing sights, tombs of our family members – fellow brothers and sisters who passed along this faith to us. And that’s why this, today’s Gospel is providential for us to begin with:
In the Gospel, the pharisees try to stump Jesus once again by noting his followers are technically violating one of the commandments. As Jesus figuratively slaps them down, he does so making an absolutely essential point for us as Christians – and for us this week as pilgrims. He quite simply insists that He, Himself, must be the core, the focus, the thing that we fix our eyes on alone.
To the original listeners he points out that He Himself is more important than the most important place to the Jews – the Temple; He Himself is more important than the most important thing to the Jews – the Law. And some 2,000 years later, that’s still the case. All of these amazingly breathtaking sights, the relics and remains of the Saints are absolutely meaningless if we don’t recognize that they are here as tangible, visible reminders of our ancestors faith, their testimonies to the importance of Jesus Christ to their lives – so much so they laid down their lives – spiritually, and physically – for Him alone.
That’s why we visit these places… That’s why they have deeper meaning other than artistic beauty – we see the inner beauty of people’s faith expressed both in those martyrs and Saints burried here – our Catholic all-stars – as well as the reverence of the people who built these Churches – so moved in mind and heart by these witnesses.
For us coming here today – in the verses right before this gospel passage, Jesus offers His followers some of the most comforting words of the Gospel “come to me all you who labor and are burdened…” This week, I believe the Lord is asking each of us, What are some of our burdens? What are some of the heavy things that we’ve carried with us – not in your luggage, but in your hearts? Is it fear over some life change? Sick family members? The grief of some loss we’ve experienced?
Jesus promises us that – if we let him – he will remove those burdens from us. But that involves a radical re-alignment of our hearts and minds to following Jesus alone and not our own wills. May the witnesses of the Saints that we encounter in these holy places inspire us to come to meet anew and come to know Jesus ever more deeply as we gaze on him through the vision, the perspective of some of his most devout followers.