Praying at the Tombs of the Saints
This past week we toured many churches and holy sites in Rome. One of the first churches that we visited was Santa Maria in Vallicella, or Chiesa Nuova. St. Philip Neri, the founder of the Oratorians is buried in the church and venerated by pilgrims who come into the holy place.
Upon entering the church I knew a little bit about St. Philip, the Apostle of Rome, and had probably asked for his intercession a half a dozen times. After our tour of the church, hearing some stories about St. Philip and praying at his tomb I felt like I had a connection to him. This has also happened at several other places this past week while touring Rome.
Later that same day we visited the Gesu, the mother church of the Jesuits. I knew a little bit more about St. Ignatius of Loyola than St. Philip but still did not consider him as a saint of whose intercession I would readily seek. After having spent time with at his tomb however and observing all of the beauty of the Gesu church, I was fascinated with this solider of Christ. He had such a strong and fervent love of the Lord that was infectious. I asked for his prayers to be on fire for our Lord just as he was.
I was also able to pray at the tombs of other saints such as St. Paul, St. Cecilia, St. Francis and St. Clare in Assisi. On each of these occasions I felt a strong connection to each friend of God, each member of the communion of saints. This has been one of the most enriching aspects of The Rome Experience, the introduction to the universality of the Church. Our holy Mother Church is so great, so holy, so rich, so incredibly filled with God’s goodness and grace and this is especially true in His saints.
Before coming to Rome I felt as though I had a good grasp on the saints, but I am beginning to realize that I have only scratched the surface in my knowledge of the Church Triumphant. As the hymn “Faith of our Fathers” suggests, the saints are our family in Heaven, even those with whom we may not be familiar. These fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters in the faith are a vital part of our Catholic heritage. To be Catholic means to have St. Francis, St. Dominic and St. Ignatius as a father in the faith. It means that I have the Blessed Virgin Mary as my primary spiritual mother but it also means that I can also have St. Clare as yet another mother. This is the famous Catholic “both, and” response, rather than “either, or.”
There have been many opportunities for spiritual growth, intellectual formation as well as pastoral and human formative moments thus far on The Rome Experience. It is, however, the greatness, the universality, and the goodness of Christ and His Church which has been made most tangible for me so far in the Eternal city. Time for prayer, especially at the tombs of so many great saints has opened me up to this holy communion. It is into this communion which, God willing as a priest, I will invite the flock to join so that they too one day might become saints.
The Rome Experience Class of 2016
Diocese of Fall River, MA