It’s hard to choose one highlight of our time in Rome but if I were pressed (hard) this would be it:
The morning of our third day in Rome, Father Tim arranged for us to go to Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica. I honestly can’t remember how he presented it, if I understood exactly what he was telling us right off the bat. But as it turns out, we would be going to Mass at St. Peter’s — a private Mass said by Fr. Tim, the three of us at one of the altars in the church.
The way it works is you arrive at the church early (we left our apartment around 6:45 a.m. to walk over). The priests enter through one door, we walked through the front. It’s the perfect time to see the church, so quiet with very few others there. We walked through security and then as we proceeded we saw Fr. Tim coming towards us with an altar server (an aide of some sort who works there). That man led us to our altar — where Father would celebrate Mass.
And the next thing I knew, there we stood, the three of us, celebrating Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica at a private altar. Paul and Tim, friends since they were fourteen, when each of their families moved to the South (the Balducci’s from Virginia, the McKeown’s from New York). They moved here to join this Christian community because Paul’s parents and Tim’s parents all knew that it was God wanted them to do.
And a friendship sparked — they went to the local Catholic high school together and then our community started a school their senior year. And those boys left their nice, happy little Catholic high school experience to be the only two boys in their Senior class (along with three girls) to make up the original graduating class of our school — the one my children now have the pleasure and joy to attend. In part because these men, Paul and Tim, were willing to say yes to Jesus in the same way, to do what they felt God wanted them to do.
This is what I marveled on as we stood there celebrating Mass — as I read the daily reading there in St. Peter’s (which was St. Paul’s letter to Timothy, if you can believe it): that God dreams so much bigger than we can dream.
Maybe those boys were scared way back when, to leave their diocesan school, their basketball team (that they loved) to go be a part of this small little brand-new school on a much smaller basketball team. But I don’t think they were. I think they just knew that’s what they were supposed to do. After their senior year, those boys were roommates all through college and then for the years after that when they discerned their vocations — when Tim decided God wanted him to pursue the priesthood and Paul decided (after praying about being a priest for years) that he should go to law school.
There we stood in St. Peter’s Basila and I realized that oftentimes the best things happen when you abandon your will to Jesus and just do what he asks you to do. If Tim had decided years ago that his life dream was to say a private Mass for his best friend in St. Peter’s, I can’t imagine it would have happened. Maybe it would have. But maybe not.
But when your goal in life is to just say yes to Jesus, one day at a time, moment by moment, big things happen. God is big. So very big indeed.