I had the opportunity to visit Rome this summer. Yes Rome. Before you start hatin’ on me, let me give you the sports/spiritual tie-in.
The most significant thing I took away from the trip was the power and grace of God working through the early Church to transform the Roman Empire from pagan warriors to pious worshipers in only 300 years. The faith and fearlessness of the early Christians overcame the Roman world which worshiped many gods.
The glory of Rome that our group saw in the ruins of the Coliseum, the Palatine Palace, Forum and Pantheon (still standing and pictured above) was no match for the Glory of God shinning through the early church believers, many whom were martyred. In their hey-day, Imperial Rome thought that their empire would last forever. NOT! The Pantheon, that marvelous temple built in honor of the Roman gods, is now a church, where worship of the true and living God takes place. In the end, God always wins!
I loved visiting the many churches, including St. John Lateran, Church of St. Agnes of Rome, St. Paul Outside the Walls, and St. Maria in Trasevere. However, the vain glories of the “State Church” were overwhelming, and I realized that, like the glories of the Roman Empire, the “vain glories” of the State church were also no match for the power of God. By vain glories I mean the audacious grandness of St. Peter’s Basilica and the treasures of the Vatican.
The most impactful visit was to the Catacombs of San Calisto. The sheer number of burials there was humbling; to know that so many martyrs were buried in those underground tunnels was a tremendous faith booster. And to top it off, we learned that many of those early Church Christians worshiped in those same tombs. The thought came to me that a worship service in the catacombs would be a spiritually “tingling” experience. Then we heard singing in the catacombs! We saw a Polish Church celebrating mass and heard their singing voices ring through the tunnels, and it took me back to the 1st Century when the early church worshiped there as well. It was truly a spiritually “magical,” i.e., mysteriously enchanting, experience.