“To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” – Romans 1:7
I smiled at our group of students and missionaries, laughing and sharing their hearts on our last day in the Eternal City. It’s an indescribable joy only the Lord can cultivate within us. We were face-to-face with His Truth, Beauty, and Goodness. How easy it is for us to forget that we were made to encounter Him? We were made for life and a relationship with Him.
In Rome, Jesus reminded me why I said “yes” to mission. It begins with my relationship with Him. He took me across the world to invite me back into the abundance I’m called to live in, the Truth I need to be rooted in, the Beauty He wants me to marvel at, and the Goodness He has given for me to receive. All of these flow from the depth of love He has for each of us. This is what Jesus taught me in Rome.
“Now this is eternal life, that they should know you, the only true God, and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ.” – John 17:3
Huddled in a hotel room in New Jersey before our pilgrimage, our group took turns asking each other as many questions as possible within a minute. I have always been captivated by the Beauty of basilicas, so when I was asked what I was most looking forward to in Rome, I wanted Christ’s Beauty to bring me to tears. Stepping into St. Peter’s Basilica, I felt my heart begin to hammer. I had been waiting for the church that would make me cry. I found myself asking why? Why isn’t everyone Catholic? Why aren’t the pews packed for Mass to receive the Bread of Life? Why aren’t we praying Holy Hours daily to be in communication with God? Why aren’t we reading scripture, the living Word of God, like it’s our job?
When eternal life is our inheritance, we seem to settle for so much less than what we were created for. Jesus Christ said, “I came that you may have life and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). We were made to encounter Truth, to be captivated by Beauty, and to receive Goodness. This life in abundance, eternal life, is offered in the depth of Christ’s love, present in Him and His Church. We were made to be “partakers in the divine nature” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 460). God simply draws close to us and wants to share life with us. All we have to do is respond by receiving His love.
“Now, when they heard this, they were cut to the heart,” – Acts 2:37
Jesus is my favorite topic of conversation. Something wells up within you. Joy, peace, zeal. When we have had radical encounters with Christ, an encounter that changes our hearts and lives, it changes everything. As we led the group down cobblestone streets and into churches, the time in between was spent in intentional conversation. I talked to students about what they were experiencing in the beauty of Christ’s Church, the transformation in their own hearts, and learned more about their lives. My conversations with my teammates on the trip reminded me of my “yes” to mission. One of the missionaries shared a zeal for scripture and Truth about Christ. Testimonies, the gospel, the Word of God, and zeal for Beauty and souls were exchanged. I can only describe these conversations as how the crowd must have felt when Peter shared the gospel with them after receiving the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. I was cut to the heart, reminded that we are on mission for Jesus Christ, who is everything.
“With such affection for you, we were determined to share with you not only the Gospel of God, but our very lives as well, so dearly beloved had you become to us.” – 1 Thessalonians 2:8
In small moments throughout the day, I would lean back and smile at the conversations happening around me. Over a meal or passing in between churches were hints of deep conversation. Laughter still echoed back and forth through our group and stories were shared. But virtuous friendship, where companions are running toward Christ together, are rooted in deeper questions, vulnerability, and sharing their hearts with each other. It’s in sharing life in Christ that we grow in love for one another. Joy radiates from these bonds. We are gifts entrusted to one another.
“No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
– John 15:13
In an airport in Switzerland, one of my teammates taught me about offering up our suffering for the sanctification and glorification of others. Our suffering does not go in vain, because we are close to Christ’s Passion. My teammate explained that Christ suffers for His Bride because He says she’s worth it. It’s the way a man’s heart loves, in service to his bride. Similarly, in striving to follow Christ, we can offer up our suffering for others because they are worth it. Their sanctity is worth it.
Days later, the crucifix at St. Clements Basilica had me blinking away tears. Jesus’ heart, a man’s heart, desired to serve me and humanity to the point of death. But He did not stop at death on the cross, as it was “impossible for Him to be held by it” (Acts 2:24) and brought new hope in the Resurrection. Everything leads to the joy and triumph of the Resurrection.
I will never forget the way we craned our necks to admire the Beauty covering every corner of the churches we prayed in. I can still see the pastel apartments and cobblestone paths we took in between churches, hear the laughter bubble up from our small crowd. I still reflect on the intentional conversations and the way the Lord spoke through my friends. I still smile at the ways the Holy Spirit healed and moved in visible and invisible ways. This is the abundance of life we’re invited into, with Christ at the forefront of our minds and on the throne of our hearts. He is everything. Praise be to the Lamb of God!