Following Christ in the Footsteps of Peter
I am not a morning person, but this morning I extracted myself from the warmth of slumber at 4:30. I dragged myself to the shower and groggily went out into the chill. My destination was Annunciation Parish in Northwest Washington. There a happy party of about 100 waited to board buses to go to the residence of the Vatican nuncio. We were going to see the Holy Father off, to thank him, wish him well, and simply to be with him. Love is about simply being present to the other.
As we waited the church lights went on and a group hurried in to greet our Lord in the tabernacle. The buses were boarded as the sun began to illuminate lush greenery and a vast variety of blooming colors. After passing security clearance we began to pray the rosary, that string of roses, blood- red roses today; Friday means the sorrowful mysteries. We prayed for the health, safety, and mission of Pope Benedict and we prayed for the enemies of Christ and his Church. Among these enemies we prayed especially for our angry neighbors who had accompanied us throughout the Papal visit, the fundamentalists who screamed hateful things about all things Catholic.
Finally we headed to the lawn of the residence. Msgr. Panke, the DC vocation director, was present in spring like monsignorial purple. He led us in song. I chipped in, not wanting Monsignor to waste his vocal chords. Being a friar, I thought some two part chanting would be in order. One side screamed “Ubi Petrus!” while the other responded “Ibi Ecclesia!” Ubi Petrus ibi Ecclesia. (Wherever Peter is, there is the Church.) The line comes from St. Ambrose of Milan and the young crowd took to it like bees to honey.
The crowd cheered for everyone who lent a hand to keep the Holy Father safe and comfortable: the secret service, monsignori, cardinals, Archbishop Wuerl of Washington, house staff, and the good sisters. Cheer was spreading fast. Each person in the crowd held a Vatican flag, sometimes two, and a few held a fistful.
After many false starts, the doors finally opened to reveal the Pope. He came down the steps toward his car and, then, headed toward the barricades on the lawn. I was standing close, but as he approached, I lost sight of him. He had to walk between two large shrubs and he is not a tall man.
The shrubs were a type of evergreen, trimmed round, fresh spring green. My eyes fell to the bottom of the bush. I do not recall focusing on the noise. All seemed quiet and time seemed to stop. I felt like a child playing in my neighborhood; looking beneath the shrubs, as I often had. What was I looking for in particular back in my childhood? Nothing in particular, looking beneath the shrubs was an exercise in pure desire, an exercise in hope.
Then, in a moment, I was recalled to the present. Amidst the spring green shrub I made a find, rather something emerged. I saw bright red. It had always been exciting to spy a red bird in the garden, so bright. The shoes! The images deluged my mind: fire from a bush, the shoes of the fisherman, the bloodied feet of Christ, St. Peter’s bloodied feet. The Holy Father had greeted Catholic educators yesterday evening with Isaiah’s words quoted by St. Paul: “How beautiful are the footsteps of those who bring good news” (Rom 10:15-17). The Holy Father brings Good News, Christ is our Hope! This morning we found abundant joy in Christ with each other. May the words of Psalm 65 be a prayer answered as the Holy Father travels to New York:
You crown the year with your goodness.
Abundance flows in your steps,
In the pastures of the wilderness it flows.