It is Sunday morning in Rome. Our students have a free day to explore the city. Some are going to Florence for the day. I have time to take a breath and to reflect. I feel deep gratitude for this wonderful group of young men and women, for their enthusiasm, their openness, their eagerness of spirit, their growing affection for one another.
We arrived last Wednesday afternoon, jetlagged and in need of some rest. On Thursday evening, we began in earnest with a wonderful Celebration of the Eucharist, helping us to focus on our purpose in spending these weeks in the Eternal City, and asking God’s blessing on our time here. Father Sal did a wonderful “teaching Mass”, explaining various elements of the Mass to the students, aspects of the ritual that they have experienced hundreds of times but probably never fully understood.
On Friday, we had the privilege of a guided site visit to the Scavi. The skill and learning of our young guides was excelled only by their obvious faith and love for Christ and his holy Catholic Church. Walking on the streets of the ancient necropolis of first century Rome, slowly approaching the tomb of the apostle to whom Jesus entrusted his Church, and being able to pray at the mortal remains of Peter was incredibly moving and a source of deep joy.
On Saturday, we made the wonderful trip up to Subiaco, to Sacro Speco, the “holy cave” of Benedict: a young man not unlike the young people in our group: eager to find his path in the world, deeply disillusioned by the hypocrisy of the culture around him, yearning for something more authentic and more challenging. He was an athlete, a spiritual athlete. Here we talked about Benedict’s experience and our own, we talked about how his openness to the Spirit’s call enabled him to start a movement that would be a blessing for all of Western culture, how his spiritual sons and daughters would keep the light of faith and learning burning bright during the darkest times in Western civilization. We celebrated the Eucharist, honored the memory of Benedict and his sister Scholastica, and prayed for our families and friends back home.
John Baptist De La Salle wrote, “Do you have a faith that is such that it is able to touch the hearts of your students and inspire them with the Christian spirit? This is the greatest miracle you could perform and the one that God asks of you, for this is the purpose of your work.” I feel deeply privileged and humbled that God has entrusted these young men and women to my care, and I pray that the faith we are seeking to share with them on this pilgrimage will be blessing to them, not just now, but throughout their entire lives. I pray that the sights and sounds of Rome, the witness of the wonderful people they are meeting here, the memories of all the holy women and men who have gone before them, the times of prayer, of sharing, of togetherness, and even our festive meals will inspire them with the Christian spirit and help them to grasp how much the Catholic faith has to offer them. As I sometimes counsel them, if they will keep the faith, the faith will keep them, i.e., that their Catholic faith will be their rock, their greatest source of joy, wisdom, and consolation as they move through life, with all of its challenges, its occasional disappointments, and, yes, even its moments of grief and sadness.
Prof. David Genty-Akin