Hope in the Lord: Walking in the Footsteps of our Holy Father

March 8, 2012

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This Ash Wednesday Pope Benedict XVI walked an ancient path from the Benedictine Monastery of S. Anselmo to the Dominican Church of S. Sabina. Both are on the Aventine Hill overlooking the Tiber, with a clear view of the Basilica of St. Peter across the river. Without ever realizing this would be our Holy Father’s path, I walked the same route just three days earlier when I was in Rome for the Consistory.

I took this route because I wanted to see the original crucifix at S. Anselmo that inspired the beautiful reproduction that Pope Benedict presented as a gift to every bishop visiting Rome on his ad limina visit. In helping me find the crucifix, a hospitable Benedictine guest master, Father Patrick Regan, told me about the famous and ancient Dominican Church of S. Sabina just down the street.

Immediately I thought that visiting S. Sabina would be a great tribute to Archbishop Kelly and a perfect place to bring my prayers and those of the archdiocesan family for the faithful repose of his soul and to thank God for his three decades of service to our archdiocesan church.

After leaving Father Regan, I went to the Dominican Church and lit a candle at a beautiful shrine. Please scroll down to see the photos of the pectoral cross and original crucifix referenced above plus the three photos I took there: the main sanctuary, where three days later Cardinal Tomko would confer ashes on the forehead of Pope Benedict; the shrine at which I lit the candle and prayed; and a mural on a side wall depicting what I found out later was St. Dominic himself conferring the Dominican habit upon St. Hyacinth, a Dominican who would then return to his native Poland to establish the Dominican order there.

The next morning, I made a holy hour in the Basilica of St. Peter. For your Lenten devotions, I recommend making a holy hour in conjunction with the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and that is what I did at the Basilica. I used the first part of the hour to examine my conscience. Since there was a line near the confessional marked for those wanting English-speaking confessors, I spent part of an hour in line recollecting. That’s when I saw the painting over the altar where I would end up completing my holy hour.

A martyrdom scene caught my eye in the line for Confession. I had been reflecting on the rough seas for Christ and his church in this age and had just read Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s address to Pope Benedict and the assembled cardinals and cardinal-designates that Friday before the Consistory.

In his address, Cardinal Dolan spoke of seven planks for the new evangelization. His seventh plank recalled the red of the cardinal biretta, signifying the blood of martyrs and the words to be used by our Holy Father: “To the praise of God, and the honor of the Apostolic See, receive the red biretta, the sign of the cardinal’s dignity; and know that you must be willing to conduct yourselves with fortitude even to the shedding of your blood: for the growth of the Christian faith, the peace and tranquility of the people of God, and the freedom and spread of the Holy Roman Church.” Not being able to resist a friendly joke with our Holy Father, Cardinal Dolan asked if the words “to the shedding of blood” might be skipped in his case and quickly added “Of course not!” (Click here for the full address.)

So as I looked at the martyrdom scene of St. Processus and St. Martinianus at the Basilica of St. Peter, I remembered the story of these two jailers who were converted by St. Peter during his imprisonment and who also gave their lives rather than deny Christ. St. Peter could not help but proclaim Jesus, and these jailers then heard the good news. Thus I prayed during the holy hour for those meeting in Why Catholic? groups right now and for their ability to hear the good news of Jesus Christ and to share this good news with those yearning to be closer to Christ and his church.

Cardinal Wuerl from Washington, D.C., has a great story of a third-grader who wanted to meet the Cardinal because after studying the concept of apostolic succession, this young person understood that the Cardinal knew someone who knew someone to the 100th degree who knew Christ. This is not unlike the story of these two martyrs, Processus and Martinianus, who knew someone — St. Peter — who knew Jesus. In a sense they were a very ancient Why Catholic? group!

Our Holy Father reminds us that Christian life is an encounter with the Person of Jesus, who opens new horizons and provides a decisive direction for us to follow. (For an interesting discussion of our Holy Father’s Lenten message, please see the video column here.) Consider making your own holy hour with reception of the Sacrament of Reconciliation and allow the Lord Jesus to open up new horizons in your life and to help you more confidently walk the decisive path which is The Way.

Original crucifix from St. Anselmo that is the basis for the pectoral cross given to me by the Holy Father. It dates back to the 14th century.

This pectoral cross was given to me and other bishops by the Holy Father during our ad limina visits.

Main sanctuary at S. Sabina.

The shrine at which I lit a candle for Archbishop Kelly.

Mural depicting St. Dominic conferring the Dominican habit on St. Hyacinth.

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