Rome . . . the “Eternal City,” the Caput Mundi (the “capital of the world”);
The city of Romulus and Remus, of the Caesars and Nero;
The city that gave its name to one of the most sustained periods of peace the world has ever known, the Pax Romana; the seat of government over the most extensive, unified empire ever;
Rome . . . whose edicts could summon Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem for the nativity of their firstborn, Jesus, and whose appointed governor, Pontius Pilate, would sentence Him to death on a cross thirty-three years later;
Rome . . . the roads, language, and law allowed the apostles to spread the message of Jesus and His Church, bringing Peter and Paul to the Tiber;
Rome . . . whose emperor would crucify Peter upside-down and behead Paul, and unleash three centuries of persecution of the Church founded by Christ;
Rome . . . whose emperor, Constantine, would finally not only tolerate the Church but allow it to become the cohesive influence holding his crumbling empire together;
Rome . . . whose bishop, the successor of its first, Saint Peter, would become the unifying force in the western world upon the collapse of the ancient empire, giving civilization learning, science, art, music, charity, health care, schools and university — a culture drawing people to God.
Rome . . . here I am this Thanksgiving, in company with my brother bishops of the state of New York, on, as required every five years by canon law, our ad limina (“to the threshold”) visit, to the tombs of the two founders of the Church of Rome, Peter and Paul.
Rome . . . a city that always seems to reflect the best and the worst in our human drama.
Even the empire brought, admittedly, law, peace, justice, security, and unity, all the good; but it also gave us violence, oppression, brutality, war, slavery.
So the church in Rome brought Jesus and His message to the world, giving us peace, human dignity, compassion, education, charity, culture, and saints; but it also on occasion showed corruption, vice, immorality and scandal.
Rome . . . it seems, with this Sunday opening the new Church year in view, to be an advent: God always lurking there, on the doorstep, wanting us to invite Him in.
Rome . . . the city gives us hints of God’s presence: maybe in the medieval images of the Madonna on nearly every corner; or perhaps in the ubiquitous ancient churches built over the places where the first Christians quietly gathered for prayer, Mass, and community; in the catacombs where those martyred were buried; in the shrines of saints who have walked Rome’s alleys; in the candles, incense, art, and family celebrations with abundant food, wine, and song at baptisms, confirmations, first communions, weddings, and feast days.
Rome . . . the city is a living advent, with the Lord usually “just around the corner,” hidden, unexpected, lurking, giving us hints, obscured, at times, by earthiness and mustiness
. . . always waiting for us to discover Him anew.
Rome . . . the Lord is there in the city’s bishop, the successor of Saint Peter, our Holy Father, the Pope.
Benedict XVI is an advent, as we sense in him a hint of the Lord’s “coming” to His Church.
Maybe, on second thought, Rome is not that bad of a place to be for Thanksgiving!
It’s certainly a good place to be as Advent begins this Sunday!