I wish, like I've rarely
wished anything, that I could
do justice to the experience of being in
Rome. I can
already tell you that I am inadequate to the
Trying to describe Rome is like trying to
think. It can only be
done in bits and pieces,
and phrases that might come close
to describing some small
fraction of it.
inadequate to the point of ridiculousness, and I'll do
another page to
enlighten you as to where the best gellato can be
and the best fettuccine
with white truffle sauce. Right now, I just want to try to give
you a few glimpses of what I saw and experienced. It's the most I
can hope to do.
I bought a wonderful
book at a little gazebo on the Via Veneto, called "A Journey to
Rome" and subtitled "With Dickens, Shelley, Ruskin, Goethe,
Stendahl." (I wish I could tell you where to buy it, but
after combing the internet, the answer seems to be 'at a little gazebo
on the Via Veneto.' ) This book, with beautiful watercolor
illustrations and simple excerpts, does a better job of describing the
experience of Rome than you'll find in a million travel books. I
am going to include some of my favorite quotes here. Like this
"And here I am at last in Rome, calm and, from what I can
understand, appeased for the rest of my life... I finally see all
the dreams of my youth materialize... wherever I go I find an
ancient knowledge of a new world. Everything is like I had
imagined it, yet all is
And this one, also by
one goes, wherever one stops, landscapes of all
varieties are disclosed: palaces and ruins, gardens and
distant or cluttered horizons, small houses, stables,
and columns, most in such close proximity
that they could be set
down in a single sheet. One would need
to etch with a
gravers, what could a single pen hope
to accomplish here?"
life will always divide now, between the time before Rome and the time
after. I learned a million things in tiny moments of epiphany --
the breathtaking experience of my first glimpse of the Pieta; the
humbling experience of looking up at the dome of St. Peter's Basilica;
the stupifying experience of gazing at St. Peter's actual tomb...
and a million things of equal life-altering weight.
the threshold of the Holy Door sealed my fate for life. I have
often joked (and sometimes stated seriously) that I would probably end
up having an Episcopalian funeral. I figured "they"
would either get sick of my complaining and kick me out, or I would get
sick of their intransigence and leave. I still can't prevent the
former, but I will never again be anything other than deeply proud to
call myself a Catholic. It will take death or excommunication to
get rid of me now.
have always been enthralled by the through-line of Christianity, which
is a major part of what drew me to Catholicism in the first place.
But I've never felt any direct link to it, and I'd assumed I never
would. Before the trip, it never really occurred to me that I was
about to take a very concrete step back in time. Now I have walked
the same streets that were walked by Peter and Paul. I've stared
at the silhouette of the Coliseum against an impossibly blue sky -- what
a tragic paradox that must have been to the Christians who were about to
meet a hideous death there. I have touched the very shutters that
St. Ignatius opened every morning. I've crossed the same
river. In more ways than one.
am completely humbled by what has gone before me. The splendor
doesn't lie in the mosaics or the marble, but in the feeling of transcendence
and love -- inadequate words, and possibly trite, but any substitutes
would fall just as short. It's the simple wonder of what humans
are capable of doing, with God's guidance and inspiration. Gazing
in amazement at the knave of St. Peter's, I could only wonder "If
humans could do this, what must God be like?"
Dickens describes it better than I can:
on going out the next day, we hurried off to St.
The beauty of the Piazza, on which it stands, with its
exquisite columns and its gushing fountains -- so
fresh, so broad, and
and beautiful -- nothing can
exaggerate. The first burst of the
in all its expansive
majesty and glory; and, most of all, the looking
up into the
dome, is a sensation never to be forgotten."
Stendahl describes it like this:
"From the table I am writing I can see three quarters of
before me on the other side of the city the Dome of
soars majestically. In the evening, when the sun
sets, I can
it through the windows of St. Peter's and
half an hour later, this
admirable dome is outlined against a
surmounted high in the sky by a few
stars which begin to appear.
Nothing on earth can compare to
this. One's soul is heedful
uplifted, a quiet bliss penetrates
now understand why we spend massive amounts of money on Cathedrals while
people in third world countries starve. It isn't just "the
poor you will have with you always ." It's that there are a
lot of different ways to starve. The transcendent splendor that I
felt in Rome was the closest I've ever come to understanding what God is
like, and my spirit was giddy at the proximity. I felt I could
survive anything on this planet, if I could start and end every day
inside St. Peter's. Or St. John Lateran's. Or the Chiesa del
Gesu. Or St. Paul's Outside-the-Walls. Or the
hundreds of "small" churches that I would need a year to go
copyright 1995 Rob Dixon. All rights reserved
what I loved most about Rome. The constant presence of magnificent
reminders of the real order of the universe. The comfort of
being constantly reminded that my soul is not in the care of the people
who build banks and mini-malls, and that "Who Wants to be a
Millionaire?" is nowhere on God's list of priorities.
The constant feeling that God is nearby, as opposed to this country,
where one has to work hard to find man-made reminders that He even
my little group stepped into St. Peter's square for the first time, one
of my friends said, "Here we are, the center of the
universe." Then she added, "Well, my universe,
anyway." Mine, too. The entire time I was in Rome, I
felt the way some people must feel when they climb mountains. This
was as close to God as I could get in this lifetime, or so it
felt. As much as I admire and try to live up to St.
Ignatius' admonition to find God everywhere, there are places where He
is more easily found. Maybe that just means I'm spiritually lazy,
but I don't think so.
think it's more the experience of living, even briefly, in a world where
God has not been systematically removed. As one of my good friends
constantly says, "Most of us are trying to do something very
difficult (live our lives) on a subsistence diet of vegetables, while
rejecting this incredible banquet." I was graced with two
weeks at the banquet. Now I find sustenance in that memory, and in
the comforting knowledge that -- God willing -- I will return.
more quote from Wolfgang Goethe, and then I'll give up:
have experienced the greatest happiness... and now I know
highest degree which from now on I shall be able to use to
thermometer of my life."