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Rome: Day 2

November 5, 2012

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Today was the day of martyrs.

In the second century St. Tertullian wrote, “the blood of martyrs is the seed of the church.” I have always used this quote when teaching others the history of the early church to illustrate that as each martyr died, persecuted by the Roman Empire, many others would respond to their witness of faith with faith of their own. To this day the church grows most in areas where there is the greatest persecution, as men and women realize that a faith worth dying for must be worth living for.

As we made our way around Rome today, I saw first hand that Tertullian meant his statement in a far more playful way. He was watching the church literally spring up from the ground in the burial places of martyrs.

Today we visited St. Paul Outside the Wall, the church which holds the bones of St. Paul (with the exception of his head, which resides with the head of St. Peter in St. John Lateran Cathedral. As Waldo said, “if you get famous enough, everyone wants a piece of you”). Glass covers the original burial spot where first century Christians erected a small, inconspicuous recognition of Paul. Later, a bigger church, and then a bigger were built on the spot. Since Paul’s death this place has been a place of worship. To say that the present Basilica is breathtaking is a vast understatement.

And this is precisely what St. Tertullian meant. The early church sprung out of the ground like a sapling and today is an orchard of faith that covers the earth (and Rome, with its 600+ churches). The orchard is ripe for the picking if only we’ll answer the call, “take and eat.”

But, St. Paul was just one of the many martyrs that provided the seeds of faith. We climbed the Ampitheater of Flavius (the Colosseum), remembering the martyrs killed for sport.

We walked but a tiny fraction of the 11 miles of Catacombs, the burial place of untold thousands in its 150,000 crypts. Many of these were Christian martyrs whose names we shall never know but whose witness is eternal and unmistakeable in this place.

The word martyrs means “witness” and my prayer today was that, in all things, I might be a strong witness of the love of Christ. I asked for the prayers of the martyrs who bore witness with their deaths.

As the election dawns tomorrow, I pray that, no matter the outcome, people of faith will focus on being witnesses of Christ and not fueling the fires of disunity.

Jesus said to his apostles, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you and you will be my witnesses [martyrs] in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria and to all the ends of the earth.”
Acts 1:8

God bless all who are following along on the blog and the many new followers who have subscribed.

On to Mass in St. Peter’s Cathedral in the morning. Please email me at cwilliston@gmail.com with any special intentions I can offer at Mass.

Other highlights of the day:
A great many laughs with my fellow pilgrims, as witty and loving a group of men as I have ever known.

Closing down St. Peter’s square this evening…but not before I asked Vatican police to give me five more minutes to finish my rosary before they kicked me out. They agreed.

Climbing the sacred steps on my knees thanking Christ for his love and suffering. The steps were brought to Rome from Jerusalem where they had led up to the home of Pontius Pilate. To climb them is to walk in the footsteps of Christ. What an amazing reminder of the sacrifice of Christ and a call to repentance.

We celebrated Mass in the Basilica of San Clemente, the final resting place of St. Clement and Ignatius of Antioch. The church is built on top of two structures, a church from the 4th Century and the 1st Century home of Clement’s family. Walking the rooms of the 1st Century home, entombed twenty to thirty feet below street level, you could imagine the Christian families of Clement celebrating Mass in secret.

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