Wednesday, March 21, 2012

I make all things new

"Brothers and Sister: whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come."
-- 2 Corinthians 5:17

Theme of this Lent: rebirth, renewal, and metanoia. Truly keeping in mind that at the end of Lent, we arrive at the Easter Vigil where we recommit ourselves to our baptismal vows. We go through our own rebirth, by reliving Christ's death and rebirth.

In that sense, the journey to Italy was a truly Lenten experience. I feel so different. Coming back to school has been marvelous, because there's nothing like returning home after traveling. You are a new person; you have transformed. And you're able to experience your home in a new, transformed ways, looking at everything through different eyes.

Whenever you return from a vacation, pilgrimage, or life-changing event, it's so difficult to express how wonderful it was. When every moment is filled to the brim and overflowing with beauty and magnificence, every new sight is a revelation, every new smell a joy, and every new bit of the world to take in and mull over, it's difficult to parse into words the days so full of life that you are constantly in a hazy state of beauty-drunk. That said, every single moment of the trip was a blessing and a joy. But, I think my four favorite moments, perhaps the four most transformative moments are these:

Fourth
Nutella Cannoli. I couldn't make it through a week in Italy and not be changed by the food, ya know? (I don't think I'll ever be able to drink American coffee again. That Italian espresso was beyond delish--it revealed what coffee is supposed to taste like.) But this nutella cannoli was a revelation. It was my first and only cannoli I've ever had. And the reason it was so transformative is beacause if it's the only cannoli I ever will eat, I will be happy. It was the most joyful, innocently pleasurable gastronomic experience I have ever had. In C.S. Lewis class, we read Perelandra right before break. In Perelandra, an unfallen world, the human mortal Ransom eats fruit off the trees. With his first bite, Ransom is overwhelmed by the goodness of the fruit. He enjoys it and takes pleasure in it innocently and unselfishly. He does not desire more and more of it, he does not crave it. When Ransom has finished it, he is satisfied. He has enjoyed the fruit the way it was meant to be enjoyed.
God, in the words of Screwtape, is a hedonist. He made the world good and beautiful for the joy of it. And when we enjoy it in the correct, rightly ordered way, we participate in its joy.
All this was discovered in the first bite of that cannoli.
The Italians know how to make good food.

Third
I've mentioned this one in a previous post, but it's worth mentioning again. When we were in Assisi, after dinner, we climbed up the hill of the city. We happened upon a clump of choristers singing, and we joined in. Then, and this is a moment I will always remember forever and ever, even until I'm ninety-nine and three-quarters: we sang Hail, Gladdening Light. I wept.
Stand on a hilltop under the stars, with beautiful people singing your favorite song, at the base of a medieval castle, with the city of Assisi and the lights of Umbria at your feet, and tell me you don't walk away a changed person.

Second
Our last day in Rome, we ditched the tour group as the entered St. John Lateran, and visited the Scala Sancta right next door. According to tradition, St. Helena moved the steps from Pontius Pilate's palace in Jerusalem to Rome. They are the steps that Christ walked up to receive His judgment from Pilate. Pilgrims journey up the steps on their knees, moving slowly from one stair to the next. It's an incredible experience. Much more painful than I was anticipating. And it's humbling. You're just sort of kneeling there before God, absolutely vulnerable, stuck on this stair, and your knees begin to hurt, and it's all so deeply spiritual in such a physical way. It's just you and God, but there are several other pilgrims with you on the stairs, and you're all making your way together, and there's quite the comfort in that as well.

You receive a plenary indulgence for making the journey up the steps, and I don't know why that fact struck me as it did. But how incredible and undeniable awesome is it that He made that journey to receive condemnation, and we crawl up the stairs after Him to receive forgiveness and mercy?
I think awesome (or awful) is precisely the word to describe the experience. In the old sense of the word. As in the experience was just one of awe. You feel as though you're being put in your proper place, but with none of the belittling connotations that phrase often carries. The world is just rightly ordered, and you have your own place in the order of the world, which is an overwhelmingly beautiful gift.
It was very real. I think it was one of the realest experiences of my life. The physical reality of you kneeling on the steps is intertwined completely with the actual reality of you kneeling before Christ. That much reality can only really be handled in small doses.


First
St. Peter's Basilica. Entering the Basilica for the first time, and wandering around, I stuck with the tour group up until the adoration chapel. Then, I popped around a curtain and sat down for a few moments with Jesus. So many people have expressed their dismay over the feeling they get from St. Peter's, which is that it's so much that it borders on museum-like. But as long as you find Christ and put Him at the center, I think it puts the rest of the church in context. And you find your place in the church. I was standing by a towering marble pillar as my friend approached to give me a giant hug. And the whole church felt just like that hug. A huge hug--an inundation of love--from God that just sweeps you up and makes you feel so small. Small in a good way. Like when you're wrapped up in a giant bear hug.
And peeps, that church is on fire with the Holy Spirit. There's so much joy and life flowing through the air. It makes you want to dance. So, accordingly, my friend and I waltzed for a bit by the main altar. Then, we espied Mass being offered across the altar in a side chapel. We arrived at the beginning of the Eucharistic prayer, so we sidled into a back row and joined in.

When I went up to receive communion, I got the chills. The light was streaming in through the windows, brilliantly illuminating all the gold in the church. The gilded dust specks dancing in the light were flying up towards the sky that peeped through the windows, just like thousands of souls flying towards their maker. It was so overwhelmingly beautiful, and the thought: "I just received Jesus in St. Peter's" was a little too much to handle. My friend and I looked at each other, and we both had huge grins and tears trickling down our faces.
That's one of those moments where you feel God's love, and you're like:
Whoa. That's a lot.
And then you realize that that's only a small taste of Heaven.
And your mind kind of explodes from trying to comprehend it.
Talk about a transformative experience.

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