Last week, I was in Rome to attend a dear friend’s ordination to the Order of Deacons. It is not every day that you have the opportunity to attend an ordination at the Basilica of St. Peter. My friend is one of 25 who were ordained from the North American College (NAC). While it will be hard to find the right words to describe the experiences of the week, I must try.
I must begin with my recent article on anxiety. You see, at the time I wrote that article, I was experiencing a great deal of travel anxiety. I have never been to Italy without a tour group and had not traveled International stand-by in many years. I thought of everything that could go wrong. I worried about being alone and trying to get around on my own. By the grace of God, nothing went wrong. Settling into first class with a mimosa, I was thinking this will be one of the best trips of my life. Before you wonder about a Franciscan enjoying first class, it did not come without humility. Be sure of your seat adjustment buttons — especially when seated next to the pilot crew rest seat. If your seat is not moving, it might be because you pressed your neighbor’s seat button. I woke up the pilot. I was so embarrassed.
So much for my previous anxiety. I found myself feeling very liberated during times that I was on my own. I discovered that I would not starve. I could communicate and read my map. It was my fourth trip to Rome, so I am no stranger to the city. I arrived in Rome on a Monday morning and by that night, I confidently walked back to my hotel on my own. Of course I was not entirely alone. There were family and other friends in attendance. There were several things planned during the week as well as plenty of free time.
One of things I enjoyed the most was the invitation to join the seminarians for evening prayer. They assemble in the Immaculate Conception Chapel. Coincidently my Secular Franciscan fraternity is the Immaculate Conception. As a Secular Franciscan, we promise to pray the Liturgy of the Hours. A majority of the time, we pray in private — alone. I pray aloud and alone at home. Once a month, we pray together at our fraternity meeting. NAC currently has an enrollment around 200 seminarians. The chapel was full and I believe the largest group with which I’ve prayed. The rich sound of the voices reminded me that, although I pray mostly alone, it is the prayer of the Universal Church. Even now, I’ve been home a few days — I still hear all those voices when I’m praying alone. I remember what it sounded like and I remember them in prayer. I remember that I am not alone in my prayer.
While on my own Tuesday, I mapped out a path from my hotel that would take me by Ss. Dodici Apostoli. Our pilgrim guide book said it is the Mother Church of the OFM Conventuals. It is through the OFM Conventuals of my parish home that I discovered St. Francis. This church in Rome has a magnificant ceiling painting, “Triumph of the Franciscan Order.” I spent some time in this church. Coincidently, the Bishop ordaining the deacons is an OFM Conventual. My friend introduced me to him and I was delighted to express my gratitude in person.
The day of the ordination came Thursday October 9th. The events began with a scheduled scavi tour. This is a tour of the excavation beneath St. Peter’s. We got off to a late start due to the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI was celebrating a special mass in the tomb of the popes. This area ajoins the scavi tour so security held us outside. We got under way about an hour late. The tour ends with veneration of the bones of St. Peter. Following this, we moved to the upper church to wait for our seating. Half the basilica had been blocked from tourists at this time. We waited with tickets in hand — ready to rush for a good seat.
Next April, I will celebrate my tenth anniversary as a Catholic. My friend being ordained is a big part of my faith journey — the person who explained the Real Presence to me and suggested I should be Catholic. The first evangelical Catholic I’d ever met. I took in all the sites around me as I sat in my pew — 4th row aisle. The statue of St. Francis of Assisi has a prominent place at the Altar of the Chair. The sun streams through the window and across the Holy Spirit window (now my blog header picture).
The procession begins at 4:30P and the basilica is now closed to tourists. There must be near 1,000 in attendance. I look around at the faces of parents, family, and friends. We are united in that one of the 25 men to be ordained is our son, brother, uncle, or friend. The diaconandi make their way up the center aisle and the particulars of the Rite of Ordination begin. To say that heaven’s doors opened wide and angel choirs were singing might do justice to what we experienced. I had thought I might cry, but, instead I had an incredible smile. I had not felt like this since my own reception into the church. I felt united with God and Christ in heaven and in celebration. I’m not at all surprised that my friend has the honor of being ordained at the Altar of the Chair in St. Peter’s Basilica.
Following the ordination and Mass was blur of camera flashes, hugs, and security telling us to leave. Later there was a wonderful reception dinner with champagne, laughter, good wine, good food, more photos — more champagne. A crazy taxi drive back to the hotel. On Friday morning, we attended the Mass of Thanksgiving where the new deacon proclaims the Gospel and delivers the homily for the first time. We are at Santa Maria in Trastavere, the oldest church in Rome. I am still smiling — perhaps a little tired. I could barely fall asleep the night before. It reminded me so much of my feelings at Easter Vigil 1999 — I was awake well into the night after the mid-night vigil. Final good-byes were said after this Mass. My week in Rome ended with a delicious dinner, gelato, and a coin toss into the Trevi Fountain.
I returned home in first class. I began to think, how will I ever describe this week. You just had to be there. I know I had to be there — and I was never really alone.
Related Article – Conversion Story