My first morning staying in Rome, April 28th, I was blessed to celebrate a private Mass at Santa Maria Maggiore. I certainly felt blessed by the experience.
The Mass was celebrated in the crypt below the sanctuary, where there is a relic of the crib of Christ.
Father Guillermo Hernandez, of the Diocese of my hometown of San Diego, celebrated Mass for me, my nephew and brother in law (the rest of the family was home sick). He dedicated the Mass for the soul of my father, who died in October of 2021.
It was an amazing experience. Imagine being able to spend time in front of this amazing reliquary.
I love the little baby Jesus on top. He seems so jolly and gay, like he’s saying, “Hey there! Check out my cool crib!”
As magnificent as this reliquary is–and the crypt surrounding it, and the church surrounding that!–this experience really brought to mind God’s humility in becoming one of us. His becoming human would be as if we created a whole world out of Play-Doh, then made ourselves a Play-Doh person, with all the limitations that a Play-Doh person has.
Jesus is God. As a man, if He allowed Himself, He could have done all the things that God can do, but He didn’t. He limited Himself to doing only what a baby, a child, a man could do.
In this crib, He cried. He was cold. Was He sad? I can only imagine that He was excited to begin His mission here on Earth. But from the beginning, He knew why He was here. As Bishop Fulton Sheen would often say, the shadow of the Cross fell upon that crib. That had to make Jesus sad sometimes.
Beginning my Italian Retreat for One with a Mass in this crypt was tremendously special, especially considering this is where Jesus first showed us how very much He loves us, and that, I was quickly learning, was the theme of my retreat.
As John 3:16 says:
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
God loves me so much, He came to earth and spent nine months inside the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. I often wonder what He did during those months. He must’ve loved the time of rest. I think of that anytime I am forced to rest–and I do need to be forced. I love doing so much. During my 50th year, I got long Covid, and the exhaustion forced me to rest for a whole year. It was a big dud. But eventually, I settled into it, figuring that God had a reason behind it all. Also, I love to sleep, so it wasn’t all bad.
God loves me so much, He decided to suffer in atonement for my sins from His first moments on earth. He was born in a manger in the middle of night, in the middle of winter. Was it cold? I suspect so. Was the hay prickly? I suspect so. Did it stink like animal dung? I don’t know what mangers are like, but I suspect so. It could not have been comfortable for a newborn baby, let alone for His parents, who really had to lean on their trust of God in this situation.
God loves me so much, He allowed someone to circumcise Him, when He didn’t need to be circumcised. The whole reason why Israelites circumcised themselves was to mark the covenant between God, Abraham, and His people. Jesus is God. He didn’t need to mark that covenant. And yet… He allowed it. Just as He allowed His baptism, later on.
God loves me so much, He suffered exile in Egypt. It must’ve been scary, escaping Herod’s murderous men, moving to a different country where they didn’t speak the language and were surrounded by foreign “gods” (aka demons).
God loves me so much that, after all this excitement, he settled down to a life of quiet obedience in Nazareth. He didn’t perform any miracles, heal anyone, or bring anyone back to life from death. He just went about life, obeying his mother and father, and doing his work as a carpenter.
This last period of Jesus’ life was especially valid on my Italian retreat, and remains so today.
All my life, I’ve felt like I was destined to do something great. What “great” meant changed from decade to decade, but for much of my life, it involved something flashy. Something that would get people to notice me and how awesome I am (yes, that was pride speaking!).
Funnily enough, when I finally was given a short time in the spotlight through The Faithful Traveler, I didn’t like it.
- I didn’t like being recognized. It’s actually very intrusive having random strangers know who you are and talk to you in public. It’s just weird.
- I didn’t like having to sell myself. As the face and the producer of The Faithful Traveler, I was the one who had to convince networks to take our project, newspapers to cover us, or bloggers or radio personalities to cover us. People always say not to take things like this personally, but when I created it, and was its face, how could I not?
- I didn’t like the feeling that I constantly had to be paying attention to things that were outside of my everyday life. That wasn’t my vocation. It wasn’t why God made me.
- Most of all, I hated shouting into the tunnel of LOOK AT ME, where everyone else was shouting the same thing, and no one was looking. Everyone was just shouting.
Eventually, all I wanted to do was walk away. When I did, life got quiet and I loved it. Life away from social media, with all its near occasions for sin, is heaven.
This all brings to mind the Litany of Humility, which I have been praying since High School (I’m hoping that some day, it will kick in!):
From the desire of being esteemed,
From the desire of being loved,
From the desire of being extolled,
From the desire of being honored,
From the desire of being praised,
From the desire of being preferred to others,
Deliver me, O Jesus.
That others may be loved more than I,
That others may be esteemed more than I,
That, in the opinion of the world, others may increase and I may decrease,
That others may be chosen and I set aside,
That others may be praised and I go unnoticed,
That others may be preferred to me in everything,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
Before this trip, I had been asking God what He wanted of me. What is my mission? What is my purpose?
Mass in this crypt chapel was a beautiful reminder that the greatest thing I can do with my life is follow Jesus and do everything He wants me to do.
In this city of Rome, as I trampled the dust that once was drenched in the blood of martyrs, I was being called home.
Would that home be as humble as Nazareth was for Jesus? Perhaps. But as long as He is there, nothing else matters.