Six priests lay prostrate before the altar as we knelt, chanting the Litany of the Saints with His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI. In his homily a few minutes earlier, the Holy Father had reminded us that we were “gathered together around the Lord’s altar on an occasion both solemn and joyful: the episcopal ordination of six new bishops.” As we invoked the prayers of the apostles and martyrs upon the bishops-elect that Saturday in September, just days after our arrival in the city, the full weight of the months ahead struck me with force and left me breathless.
We were in Rome. Here before us was St. Peter’s successor, praying in his German-inflected Latin above the tomb of Peter. For the next four months we were here to live and study at the heart of the Catholic Church, and here we could see that heart beating as Pope Benedict prepared to lay hands upon these men and make them his brothers in apostolic ministry. We were in Rome!
If there was one definitive aspect of the Catholic Studies program that prompted me to pursue my master’s degree, it was the idea of learning about Catholicism from, as it were, the inside. I had previously studied philosophy and religion, but in relative isolation from the practice or profession of the Catholic faith. While there are certainly benefits to studying the Church and her doctrines from a distance, such study will always be lacking. The Church is a living being, and one must encounter her in her wholeness in order to understand the many parts.
Every day during my stay in Rome the encounter with the living Church that is the foundation of the Catholic Studies graduate program was magni- fied and multiplied. Whether we were assisting at a liturgy, attending classes or simply strolling the quaint cobbled alleys, the city reminded us continually of the Church to whom it has been home for two thousand years. As a pil- grim in Rome during the beatification of the 498 twentieth-century Spanish martyrs, I also was introduced to the communion of saints and the universal- ity of the Catholic Church. The clergy, religious and lay people with whom we studied at the Angelicum taught me about the complementarity of all vocations within the Church.
Though I am still completing the master’s program, I consider my Roman semester to be the crown of my Catholic Studies degree. My time in this city refined and expanded upon all that my degree work has taught me. I would not trade those four months for any price, and I would gladly go back again to let the Roman Church continue to reveal to me what it is to be a member of her body.