A seed of the sacred in the mess of the mundane

It was my first fax. And it seemed especially momentous, considering it came all the way from Rome. In the midst of planning our trip, I struggled to master this antiquated mode of communication. But, with a little help from a secretary much more adept than I, I walked away triumphantly with the prize in my hand. One step closer to seeing Pope Francis.

The Vatican gives tickets to anyone who wants to attend a papal audience that are technically free, but they come at the cost of a little hoop-jumping and determination. And even once that blessed fax came through, I still had a ways to go. You can collect your tickets, it read, directly from the Swiss Guards in the colonnade of St. Peter's Square at the "Bronze Door" on the Tuesday before the Audience from 3 pm until 7 pm. So on Tuesday afternoon, I snuck away from the group to complete my mission. It was a quiet, sunny afternoon in the square, and as I walked by St. Peter’s to the “Bronze Door,” I had that heart-bursting feeling of utter contentment. I passed through security and waited silently in line as the Swiss Guards slowly (and ever so seriously) let in a few of us at a time. I entered the dark hallway with a touch of disbelief at the grandeur and gravity of my surroundings. And then I was struck, too, at the banality of it all. I ducked my head to enter a narrow doorway to a small, windowless, messy room, at the center of which stood two tired men with sweaty brows and shirtsleeves rolled up. As each of us approached, they rifled through hundreds of white envelopes to fetch our long-awaited tickets. And that was it. A fax, a line, a dull room, and I’d accomplished my task. We were going to see the pope.

We all began that day with great anticipation. We rushed back to the square after our early Mass to stake our claim to the seats with the most superior vantage point. (And, after all that, they didn’t even collect our tickets. Oh, Italy.) I waited and wondered and chatted happily with my group. Our collective expectation hung in the air. And then, we caught a glimpse of him on the jumbotron as he started his ride on the popemobile. We searched the crowd excitedly, having no idea which direction to turn. And finally, there he was. Just feet away. Smiling gently, fatherly, with great love for his people who had come from across the world for this chance. And then I was struck with the simple, stunning truth of it all: He’s just a man. He’s worthy of honor and respect and imitation, to be sure. He’s gentle and humble and unassuming. He’s the successor of Peter and Vicar of Christ and Servant of the Servants of God. But he’s also just a man. A quiet, grandfatherly man who’s a sinner like me. A man who knows well the stuff of life, who smells like the sheep, who tires after long days in big crowds. And it is because of Jesus that he matters.

It’s not a profound realization, I know. And it’s amusing that it took me traveling 4,000 miles to come to it. But I’m still turning it over in my head, for I think there may be something there. Something Jesus wants to teach me. I’ve returned to normal life now, both the same and forever changed. And every day, He meets me in the simplest of appearances: bread and wine. It seems so mundane. But I wonder about those who walked the earth when Jesus did, who marveled at Him, who pondered, who doubted. He’s just a man, they must have thought. Is he not the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother named Mary? I pray that I would be lifted out of my own small-mindedness, my limited understanding, and that I would desperately seek Him, to catch even a glance of the one who loves me deeply, amidst the messiness. For this Man, this God, has made my little, mundane life so very sacred.





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