Life-changing memories, as opposed to simply remembrances (like my first) which I cannot forget, are often experienced on my knees. They are gifts. Even if I tried, I don’t think I could erase them from my mind.
It was early, yet the sun already danced upon the marble floor of St. Peter’s Basilica. Just minutes before, I had seen the same morning beams light up one hundred and forty apostles, martyrs, and fathers of the Church overlooking St. Peter’s Square. I wished I could read their thoughts; these silent witnesses to the last five centuries of prayerful pilgrims. I now walked briskly past Masses being celebrated on side altars. I heard a blend of homilies, songs and the responses of huddled congregations echoing back off the high golden ceiling. Then I arrived.
I was not alone. Priests and religious nuns, moms, children, workers … we knelt. And we listened. And we poured out our souls to Christ in the Eucharist; silent only to those who listen without faith.
An hour later our tour began: After the historical background of WHY St. Peter’s stands exactly where it does—persecution, Nero, martyrdom, Catacombs—we stepped inside.
And as everyone began by looking upwards, I glanced at their feet: “The stone upon which you are now standing” I began “is imperial porphyry! This is the same stone upon which Charlemagne was crowned. It was placed here in the entrance of this emblematic basilica, to remind us that—through Baptism—each person who enters the Church, becomes truly a child of God: priest, prophet and king.”
I then explained the importance of Baptism. It is THE gift. Through these waters God the Trinity begins to live in us. “Yet, today, my friends, I would like to share something special with you. An image I received just minutes ago, while kneeling in front of Jesus in the Eucharist. To allow me to explain, please step this way.”
We walked about 30 paces to the right side of the Church. Glittering with the angled rays of sunlight still bouncing off the floor, she looked sadly at her son on her lap.
“This, my friends, is Michelangelo’s Pieta!”
And here’s what I would like to share: I have been struggling lately with spiritual progress. It seemed to me the battle to grow in virtue and to become more Christ-like should be more positive than it has been recently. Why so much pain? Why so much need for detachment, purification and self-denial? Shouldn’t the spiritual climb have a “top”? Would I never get to enjoy the view? … Our Lord just told me, from within me, that he is beautiful, and that he already lives in me. Not unlike the image of this Pieta here, which once remained “trapped” inside a huge block of marble. But Michelangelo began one day to hammer and pound. And he ground and sanded. And he hacked away and away, little by little, big chunks and smaller pieces. He never added on; he never glued or nailed. All he had to do was remove everything that was not “destined” to be a part of this now existing world-famous, sublime piece of artwork.
And that’s as well our life-long task. Since God already lives within us through Baptism, all that remains to be done is to remove, little by little, everything in us which is not Godlike. What will remain will be exactly as beautiful as God wants: nothing more, nothing less.