Our first day in Rome I am overwhelmed with the incomprehensibility of streets where there is no sidewalk and you press your little body up against the orange or yellow walls of the building and hope that the car doesn't hit you on its rambling way. I am overwhelmed in these churches, their Baroque ornate gold, inlays of marble and tiled floor almost too much for my eyes to take in. I am entranced by the sheer magnitude of Catholicism in this city. 365 churches. Four basilicas. There is almost too much to see. Dominican sisters pass me on one side of the street and Franciscans on the other. I hear the whispered words of the Liturgy of the Eucharist beginning as I shyly glance at the altars and paintings. And then there is the vision of St. Peter's from across the Tiber River.
What am I, a small person in a gloriously old world, to say? I eat my zucchini and mozzarella pizza and think to myself as we pause in our day to exhale the things we have seen. What can I possibly say to this city? And I sigh and fold my scarf into my coat, my eyes tracing the curves of columns and arches, and a slight spring in my step. For if I have nothing to say, then I can listen. If I am not talking, I can hear Rome talking. And it says that history is meraviglioso - marvelous. In a world so transient that most of us cannot remember breakfast, in a world where we compose emails faster than we write a note to someone, in a world where we would rather use google to translate our Italian needs than ask in our timid reedy voices - we need history all the more. Walk these streets with me, readers - and feel with me the many footsteps you are stepping into. For more years than we are capable of conceiving, this stone has been rounded by the footsteps of strangers and friends, of enemies and wanderers. In this land, I feel how we are shrouded in time, how it hovers around us as a quiet reminder of its Maker. For more unfathomable than the towering columns and the extraordinary ruins -
More unfathomable than that vision is that God is outside our time. He sees me in my blue jeans and my wide eyed stare in the same eternal vision that He sees Dante, He sees Marcus Aurelius, He sees St. Teresa of Avila. God did not simply suspend time, or act outside it - He who made it entered it. He glorifies time and its passing by living in time itself. Jesus enters the history I can feel under my feet and that I smell in the dust floating above my head. Jesus lives in the history I touch as I run my fingers over the base of a column. History is suddenly of the utmost importance. The Incarnation reaches into the deepest corners of humanness - it touches not only our sorrows and our laughter, not only our material world of bread and wine and olive fields, not only our mothers and fathers, not only the quivering hopes and dreams we dream in monasteries in Orvieto - the Incarnation touches History itself, touches Meaning, touches Time. God who sees all and knows all and loves all sends Jesus to restore everything to Himself. I never understood the depth of the Incarnational touch until here.
And I am in awe. You are Meraviglioso, God. Your hands that reached to touch the face of Mary Magdalene, Your voice that speaks and thus brings all of creation into being, Your love that promises, and fulfills all Your promises... You are meraviglioso to behold.
At the very end of Advent, dear friends, I wrote this in my prayer journal. I pray it again with you, from bella Italia.
O Heavenly Father, how might I become as open as Mary, as the small stable in Bethlehem, as Bethlehem itself, so that Jesus might be born in me? Show me how to bear Jesus, O Lord, into this world You have made, so that all may see Him in my heart. Show me how to carry Your Son, Your only Son whom You love so dearly. May I bear Him, God? May I bear Christ in my heart today? O God come speedily and mightily to help us and bring Your Son Jesus to be our peace. Crack open my heart and prepare Yourself a home there. Be forever near me, Lord God Almighty. For with You alone is light and joy and love. With You alone is all of life.