Postcards from the Class of 2015

June 23, 2015

TO SEE PETER
June 14-20, 2015
by Stephen Kenyon (Archdiocese of Portland in Oregon)

“Catholic, apostolic, Roman! I want you to be very Roman, ever anxious to make your ‘pilgrimage’ to Rome ‘videre Petrum’ – ‘to see Peter.’”

St. Josemaría Escrivá
The Way, no. 520

It is amazing to think that every night we get that chance “to see Peter” as we say our Rosary looking out from the balcony of the place we are staying onto the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica, the church literally built upon the rock of St. Peter. And in a way that is what it means to be in Rome: “to see”, to see Peter, the Saints, and the Church.

This week we finished our two-week course on the Historical Theology of Rome with Dr. Taylor Marshall, a course dedicated to answering the simple question, “Why Rome?” In the course we have looked at everything thing from Old Testament prophecies to the excavation of St. Peter’s tomb to the Emperor Constantine’s victory at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge, all pointing to a profound conclusion: Rome is not arbitrary, its significance in the Church is not accidental. God had a plan when He brought Peter and Paul here, a plan that included the blood of the martyrs and the glory of the city’s churches. It is this city that God has chosen to be a model and guide for the Church Universal – and what a beautiful model and guide it is!

To come to Rome is to see the Church in a truly unique way. In just a few weeks we have seen twenty-centuries of history, art, and Saints. On Tuesday a group of us went to the church of St. Laurence, where (along with St. Laurence and St. Stephen) St. Justin Marytr, a Saint of the second century, is buried. And then on Friday the whole group went a little bit outside of Rome to visit the tomb of St. Maria Gorreti, a Saint of the twentieth century. What about the centuries in between? Well, stop in almost any church and chances are there will be a Saint buried under or just above one of the altars. There is something truly awe-inspiring about praying in front of a Saint’s remains, and it is probably one of the things I will miss most when we return home. When you stand in the city of Rome that verse from the letter to the Hebrews comes alive: here we physically are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, the Saints who have paved the way before us and now assist us as we follow in their footsteps.

At the far end of St. Peter’s Basilica, behind what is called the Altar of the Chair, there lies one of the greatest works of art in the Basilica centered on a stain glass window of the Holy Spirit, in the form of a dove. The way it is designed it seems that the Holy Spirit is bursting into the Basilica and bringing to life the entire building. This points us to the reality of the Holy Spirit’s work in the Church: He gives life to the whole Body. It is this work of the Holy Spirit that is made so visible in Rome. The whole city is a testament to the faithfulness of the Spirit who has guided the Church through this Eternal City through an unbroken line of shepherds from Peter to Francis. As we prepare to return home in the next week, we take with us a profound confidence in the Spirit’s faithfulness, not merely witnessed to by our own lifetime, but more greatly witnessed to by two millennia of the Church in Rome against which the gates of hell have not nor ever shall prevail. I think this is what it means “to see Peter”.