Did I ever tell you about Italy? No?

Hey there!   Hope y’all are doing well!   Lots going on here… it’s been a veritable hurricane with so much stuff going on – at home, at the retreat center, at the church.  Grab a glass of something and find a comfy spot to relax, and let’s chat.  It dawned on me at some point that I never really told y’all about my trip to Italy back in June.  Shame on me!  It sure didn’t seem like what I wanted to begin with.   It seemed very tourist-y.  Really, I almost missed the whole point.  But as I’ve had time to reflect…

Italy was quite an interesting trip.  Nothing like I had expected;  Rome is still a blur.  And yet… I guess the trip for me was not about Rome in particular.  Rome was a noisy, dirty city with lots of graffiti, too many cars, and scooters that zipped in and out of traffic like they owned the roads.   But as I’ve had time to distance from the frantic pace and overload of Italian history, with time to merely reflect and pray, I realized that I experienced many truly profound moments that re-shaped and formed who I am today as a Christian.

Italy was about the Shroud of Turin.  The Shroud is the burial cloth they wrapped Jesus’ body in when they laid Him in the tomb.  It’s the Shroud of Turin because that’s where it ended up.  Long story of politics, money and devotion.   Standing there gazing at that shroud, seeing His actual blood stains, moves you.  You realize your are looking directly into the face of His willing, total sacrifice for me.  How does one live to show proper gratitude for such lavish love!  I remember standing there in tears, begging Him to take every bit of me and use me completely up for His glory, His kingdom, His pleasure.

It was about Our Lady of Oropa, a basilica and shrine just north of Turin, and a deeper understanding of Mary, the Queen of Heaven.  I got a bit more of that in Rome at St. Mary Major.  It was about the communion of saints – St. Padre Pio, St. Benedict, St. Scholastica, St. Francis and St. Clare.   And the Holy Spirit, nudging me to quietly pray that I could be completely clean and holy as a human being can be, free to do anything the Lord might ask.  It was about the grace and love and mercy you could actually feel coming off the confessionals St. Padre Pio used to bring God’s mercy to His repentant children; it made you want to go to confession to experience fresh love and grace and mercy.  It was about hearing of St. Pio’s prayer life from a friar who knew St. Pio personally.   It was also about St. Paul and St. Anthony, asking their intercession so I could be an effective and knowledgeable communicator of the faith.

It was about vespers and adoration in Norcia, which may have been the richest experience of the trip… it stays with me still today.  I can close my eyes and be back in that chapel, lost in wonder and adoration.

It was about St Francis of Assisi and the San Damiano Cross, standing there humbly bowing before the cross, again giving Him every iota of me without reserve; knowing that my specific calling is within the Church – both Protestant and Catholic –  like St. Francis.  It was about the Porciuncula and also the side altar to His Sacred Heart just outside it, and being totally dedicated to Him.

It was about St. Don Bosco and those eyes – Don Bosco’s in one particular photo, and the eyes of Jesus in the mural behind the altar in that hot, noisy chapel – eyes that burned into my very soul with a challenge to give the Lord everything and go make a difference.  It was about one painting in the Doge’s Palace at Venice.  Over a door, partly obscured by a capital, was a painting of St. Catherine’s Mystical Wedding.  Oh, how I long for such a relationship with Jesus!  I know we’re all the Bride of Christ, but I want more than ‘normal’.

It was about far more than geography, murals, mosaics, and marble.  It was about far more than ‘seeing the Pope!’ and buying souvenirs.  It was about Jesus.  It was Pilgrimage.

You know, you don’t have to leave the country to go on Pilgrimage.  You don’t have to leave town.  Just get in the car and go, find a place where you can kneel in reverence and experience His presence in a fresh way.  Is this all new?  Find a pastor or a priest.  They’ll be glad to help you encounter Christ in a new and more powerful, personal way.

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