Reflections from the Rome Experience Class of 2013

matthew caravaggio

A Summary of Week 5: June 16-22
Curtis Miller
Seminarian for the Diocese of Burlington

This past Sunday, many of us were blessed to be able to attend a Mass in St. Peter’s Square, celebrated by Pope Francis. One of our program’s spiritual directors, Fr. Christopher Mahar, was even able to concelebrate with the Holy Father and to speak with him after Mass. It was a very hot day in the square, dotted with parasols, fluttering makeshift fans, and officials distributing water bottles. Yet the 200,000 of the faithful seemed to forget the heat when Pope Francis entered the square on the Popemobile. As he made his way through the crowds, Francis seemed to greet every pilgrim personally. Indeed, he often stopped to individually bless the sick or disabled, vividly exemplifying pastoral charity as well as reminding us of the dignity of every human life as a gift of God. In his homily, our Holy Father preached on this theme explicitly, reminding us that God is the source of our life. “Following God’s way leads to life, while following idols leads to death,” he warned. When we set up rivals to God, we stifle our own lives in the process. However, this is not the final word of the story because “God, the Living One, is merciful.” To stress the importance of this point, Francis led the whole crowd in repeating it three times during one memorable moment. In forgiving our sins, the Pope concluded, God gives us His gift of life anew.

Our week was marked with many beginnings and endings. We concluded our art history course with Dr. Elizabeth Lev, our papal history course with Father Anthony Robbie, and our guided tours of the art of Rome with our artist-in-residence, Dony MacManus. One of the highlights of these last couple classes was a reflection on the ability of art and beauty to touch hearts and turn them back to God. This was particularly exemplified in Caravaggio’s Calling of St. Matthew, which we went to see in the Church of St. Louis. In this painting, Matthew the tax collector is busy in the midst of his daily life. Suddenly at an unexpected moment, beautiful light breaks into the scene, Matthew looks up and he sees Christ coming to call Matthew to follow Him. For obvious reasons, this image is particularly moving for many seminarians and priests. In Father Robbie’s class, we traced the most recent history of the papacy, right up to the present day. This was particularly powerful to study in Rome, in the shadow of the dome of St. Peter’s, recalling that God continues to send shepherds to guide His Church down to this very day. As we conclude these courses, we are able to look back on all we have learned with gratitude to our wonderful teachers. This week, we continued our Vatican II class with Monsignor Morris and began our class on the priesthood with Father Pablo Gadenz. These have already provided many wonderful insights into the life of our Church and its application to our priestly formation.

This week, we were also blessed with the opportunity to visit the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, known to many as the office headed by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI for many years before his election to the papacy. Indeed, it was difficult not to feel his presence during our visit there. Many seminarians agreed that it was helpful to put a human face to an office you hear so much about, rather than merely envisioning a vague bureaucracy. It was another wonderful experience of the inner life of the universal church.

This coming week, our last one in Rome, promises to be full of many such experiences. Until then, please keep us in your prayers and know that we are praying for you all back home. God bless.

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