Thursday, May 9, 2013

I passed the pictures around

Though he was in the form of God, He did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but rather emptied Himself.
--Paul, Apostle to the Gentiles. And professional letter-writer.

On Tuesday February 12, around 9:00am, I walked into our program director's office, and asked if I could kindly go to Rome for the resignation, and he kindly said yes.
It was all rather matter-of-fact.
Fast forward to two Tuesdays later, and I was boarding a flight to Rome.
At the time, it seemed like eons passed between that initial meeting and finally finding my feet on the road to Rome.
But looking back, I am shocked at how surprisingly quick that time was.

On February 27th, around 10:33 am Rome time, I fell into St. Peter's Square.
Okay, fact check time: I didn't actually fall into the square. 
Nor, even more surprisingly, did I trip on any of those vicious cobblestones on my way there, despite my general inability/ineptitude/unwillingness to negotiate cobblestones. 
Cobblestones are the enemy, friends. 
You don't negotiate or bargain with the enemy, friends. 
You fight the enemy.
(And, at least in the War of Cobblestones vs. The Poor Soles of My Shoes, you hold fast to your honor in the face of utterly shameful defeat. 
Three weeks of Roman cobblestones will take its toll on even the sturdiest of footwear, with horrifying results.)

Point being, in the picture of my memory, the moment of actually arriving in St. Peter's square is always somewhat surreal, as if I was dropped there. (Probably a hazy feeling resulting from lack of sleep in the Zurich airport, but a satisfyingly Romantic image, nonetheless.)

Being in the middle of a miracle is slightly disorienting.

As I arrived there, late, naturally, (but prompt in my lateness), I watched the familiar looking man in white, enter the square from the opposite side as me, and ride among the crowds, waving and smiling.
Observation number one: he looked so fragile.
As he sat in a small chair in front of the largest Basilica in the world, you couldn't help but notice the strange juxtaposition of the solid, unassailable, massive stone structure behind a tiny, bent old man.

"You are all fair, my love; there is no spot in you"

The Catholic Church, made up of rich old cardinals, and Italian nuns who cross streets without a twitch, and young altar servers who drop candles, is necessarily far from perfect. 
Human beings are just like that, I'm afraid. 
We just don't always get it right.
There are many spots and stains on the spotless bride.
The man who sat there on that chair knew that, perhaps, better than any of us.

"What is that to you? You follow Me!"
--John 21:22

As the audience ended, and the crowds slowly trickled out of the square like molasses, I sat by the fountain, and watched them all pour out of the arms of the Church.
And I was right there, sitting in the fountain, with the warm Italian sun on my face, in a daze.
I wasn't quite sure how I'd gotten from Heathrow to a strange night in the Zurich airport, to right there, in the middle of a crowd of Mormon missionaries, rowdy selfie-taking Spanish teenagers, and old Russian men, jostling to get as close as they could to the man in white.

I looked up at St. Peter's. 
The man in white had disappeared, decreased.
St. Peter's stood there still, vast, expansive, strong.

The word 'church' has a plethora of definitions.
Language is like that; words are eternal verbal incarnations of mysteries, and their definitions are the limits always approaching infinity. The increasingly grow closer and closer, but tantalizingly never quite reach it. 
But I think somewhere far down that limit, you find that the definition of church is most accurately described as that bizarre juxtaposition I witnessed in the square.
The imperfect, fragile, fallible human being.
And the stone fortress behind him.
It is the recipe made of five parts Italian nuns jostling you on your way to Holy Communion, several parts bishops who say the wrong line and stumble over their words in their homilies, and a multitude of bright-eyed children, who find that they had encountered hints of this Real Life before in their bedtime stories.
Somewhere between the covers of Mr. Lang's Blue Fairy Book, the seeds of instruction were laid, so that this young woman knows what it means to fight temptation, because she has learned how one goes about fighting dragons.
And this young priest realizes that, despite being in persona Christi, he still needs a savior, just as Rapunzel, maddeningly trapped in a tower, needed a prince to rescue her.

The Church must be all this, wrapped up in the Breath of God.
And then set in the imperturbable arms of St. Peter's.

"I wish my first Encyclical to speak of the love which God lavishes upon us and which we in turn must share with others."
--Benedict XVI

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