5:00am. I know that for many religious this is midmorning, but for this nocturnal son of St. Ignatius, 5:00am is an ungodly hour. Why did I get up at 5am today? The answer is in a conversation that I had with a fellow Jesuit last month in Florence, when a good friend of mine invited me to a mass that he was celebrating in the Capella Clementina, at 7 am this morning.
|St. Peter's Basilica at 6:45 in the morning.. just barely after sunrise.|
For those of you who don’t know, the Capella Clementina is the Chapel closest to the tomb of St. Peter. It is the oldest part of St. Peter’s Basilica, and it is here that, under the altar you can see the remains of the “Old” St. Peter’s, namely the basilica of Constantine. If you go up to the altar and look down through the grate you can, in fact, see the actual tomb of Peter, where it was rediscovered during the archeological digs under St. Peter’s. People have worshiped in this space since the martyrdom of Peter in about 64 AD. The chapel was rebuilt by Pope Clement VIII in about 1592, and adorned with marble and gold. Clement left his mark, literally, on the chapel and all around it you can see the 8 pointed stars that are a part of his coat of arms. (You can also see these stars worked into the floor of St. Peter’s Basilica around the papal altar)
|The interior of the Capella Clementina, it is only able to hold about 6 people.|
So today we went to pray literally at the tomb of St. Peter, two other Jesuits and I woke up very early and took the bus across town and were actually the first people to pass through security at St. Peter’s Basilica this morning. At the tomb of Peter this morning I prayed for everyone in the path of the Hurricane back in the states. I figured the tomb that we were praying at was the tomb of a man who had seen the Lord rebuke a storm, and who had asked the Lord to rebuke a storm in scripture, so why not. After mass we went by the tomb of John Paul II, and I prayed there for a relative that was recently diagnosed with Parkinson’s because it just seemed to make sense. A few weeks back, when I first got to Rome I stumbled upon the Church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, which is literally a block away. The body of St. Catherine of Siena is buried there, and so I prayed for a friend of mine who, like St. Catherine, is a woman who both loves her faith and Church, but who also passionately works for justice in it. In Venice I prayed for my friends who teach scripture at the tomb of St. Mark. In Assisi I prayed for a Jesuit friend of mine who keeps finding himself on TV at the tomb of St. Claire, since she is the patroness of TV. Then there are the rooms of St. Ignatius, where I go to pray each day. In those rooms I have prayed for BC High, where I just completed three happy years, and I have prayed for many Jesuit friends of mine there as well.
A great cloud of witnesses indeed, as the writer of Hebrews says, surrounds us. These great saints not only serve to inspire us and intercede for us, but they also serve to connect us to those around us, because the communion of saints doesn’t just include them, but all of us who are living and still on pilgrimage. These saints have served, all too often, to connect me with the people that I care about most back home, even as the journeys to these places have served to bring me closer to the people I live with here in Rome. This morning in the Capella Clementinum, as I prayed for everyone in the path of the hurricane which now seems to be weakening, I didn’t feel quite so far from home. Maybe that is really in the end what the communion of Saints is all about.