The Book of Nature | Reflections from Rome 2023

June 6, 2023
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In line with St. Augustine, many saints have discussed two books through which God speaks to us: the book of Scripture, and the book of Nature. God’s Revelation, his self-communication to us as found in Scripture directly tells us how God desires to dwell in the midst of us, culminating in Christ taking on our human nature and body to dwell in this physical world, and to demonstrate God’s unfathomable love for us through his saving action on the Cross. At times in history, the material world has gotten a bad rap, both in philosophy and theology. But it is the truth that God created the world and all that is in at as good, and Jesus’ taking on of our body and nature, uniting to the divine, elevates the material to unbelievable heights. Remember that Jesus’ glorified body sits at the right hand of the Father.

As I walk through the front lawn and gardens here in Bracciano, I find myself peaceful amidst the beauty of God’s creation, and thinking “I could stay here forever and be happy.” It makes me wonder what the Garden of Eden would have been like. If this place, with all its beauty, stillness, charm, and tranquility can bring such peace to the soul, how much more that immaculate garden, where men walked with God before the Fall. Yet we know that God transforms that Original Sin into a method of bestowing his infinite love and glory upon mankind, redeeming man through the Passion, Death, and Resurrection, elevating our fallen human nature to God, giving us the possibility of deification, a oneness and intimacy not known before. Seated on a fashioned tree stump, I look at the goodness and beauty found in a fallen world, pondering the pre-fallen world, and now wondering, how much more beautiful, peaceful, and fulfilling will the new heaven and the new earth be after Jesus comes again? Fr. Eric spoke to us of the need to desire to be holy, and holiness comes in the form of the Cross. There is no getting around it. If we seek to love God, and we unite our wills to His — making this our sole goal in life — and persevere, we will be made holy by His grace. This is not an easy path, it requires much sacrifice, but all Christians are called to it. If we are not holy, no one will see God through us. Above all, we are seeking intimacy with Jesus, our friend, brother, Lord, and Redeemer. To do this we live a life rooted in daily prayer, to bring us to an ever-deepening relationship with our God.

Being in Italy, traveling abroad to this gorgeous country, it is easy to be tempted to believe this is merely a vacation. After the excitement of Florence with its grand presentation, bustling streets, and delightful sights and tastes, even after the relative quiet simplicity of Orvieto and beholding the corporal of a bleeding host, this retreat at Bracciano, with its entry into interior silence and contemplation, is an illuminating moment. This trip is for spiritual renewal and growth. Our entering into the heart of Western Christianity is meant to bring us closer to the heart of Christ, to contemplate him and converse with him, just as the Church here has done for centuries. It is for Christ, for drawing close to God, that any flourishing of Christianity, old and new, occurs. We are walking in the footsteps of history, places where people of faith, strong or tepid, saint or sinner, have walked before. We enter into a great tradition on this pilgrimage, encountering the Tradition of Catholicism in places where men and women were set on fire with love of God by the Holy Spirit. God speaks to us as he spoke to them, through prayer, through Scripture, and as encountered on this trip, through the book of Nature. One cannot help but see the goodness and beauty of God in the beauty of this country. Matthew 24:35 says “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” The material world is transitive, the hills and valleys here will be gone, the charming towns, the incredible basilicas in honor of God as well. The people who built them, fired by the Holy Spirit know this, and they have passed on, leaving us their testament to faith and God whom they believe in and love. It is our hope on this Rome Experience, and for all who make pilgrimage, to be more edified, to fall deeper in love with our Lord.

David Morand
Archdiocese of Cincinnati