A New Springtime in Rome

The other day I attended the Letturato Mass of several good seminarian friends in Rome. The liturgy was an especially important occasion for them because they were making their first profession to be preachers of the Gospel. The Mass was celebrated in the Church of Santa Maria in Trastevere, just outside the center of Rome.

The church is unique among those in Rome, as it is the oldest in the Eternal City dedicated to the Virgin Mary, and the interior reflects in its majestic artwork the important role she has played in the Church’s history. Exquisitely carved marble columns abound, while golden mosaics with brilliant bursts of color fill the apse, culminating in a glorious image of Christ and the Madonna enthroned, dressed in the regal garb of Byzantium.

The stunning artwork so harmonized with the softly echoing chant and fragrant incense floating in the air that I couldn’t help but make a connection in my mind between the liturgy and paradise itself. Later in the liturgy, the seminarians knelt one by one in front of the archbishop who handed them the Gospel, meant to symbolize their new commission. I felt truly humbled that my friends had invited me to be present for such a significant event in their lives. It came at an appropriate time for me personally as well since it renewed my sense of hope for the future of the Church. I was once again reminded that despite the doubts and difficulties I experience or perceive, Christ is always in charge.

Here was a group of young men, normal in every sense of the word, who love the Church unconditionally and are ready to give of themselves completely in service to Christ. Elites of today may seek to dismiss such young people as exceptions — even freaks of some kind — out of touch with modern trends and the rest of their more “enlightened” secular peers. However the seminarians here in Rome, far from being backward romantics living in a past age, are thoroughly modern young men, filled with energy and enthusiasm for life. They simply understand that there is a different, more meaningful and ultimately more human way of being modern that is perfectly compatible with the Catholic faith. My friends constitute what Pope John Paul II referred to as “signs of contradiction” in the world.

Listening to the cultural and entertainment talking heads of the world, one would be led to believe that the young generation of today is that chosen group which will complete the work of their predecessors in the 1960s. They see the so-called sexual revolution as the first in a series of waves of emancipation and progress that eventually will culminate in a truly free and open society. What they really meant by “free and open” or “progress” remains unclear, but it is apparent now that the entire movement had nothing to do with a genuine search for progress, but was simply a precarious experiment in unbridled hedonism and degeneracy. Whatever they left unfinished was to be carried to fruition, so they envisioned, by their children. However, much to the surprise and chagrin of the leftovers from the 1960s, the generation of youth today, inspired by Pope John Paul II, is moving culture and history in a different direction. The torch has indeed been passed to a new generation, but the results are far different from what may have been anticipated by some. The heirs-apparent of the sexual revolution have proven themselves powerful signs of contradiction in the modern world.

This phenomenon, often referred to as the “JPII Generation,” is motivated by the challenge of the late pontiff to reject the culture of fear and loneliness and “open wide the doors to Christ.” More young people are realizing that the answers to the most fundamental questions regarding the meaning of their lives can only be deciphered through a profound spiritual journey, culminating in an encounter with the Transcendent Himself. Only this interior encounter with the person of Christ brings lasting peace and authentic happiness.

Saint Augustine’s maxim, first pronounced over 1,400 years ago, remains as true today as ever: “Our hearts are made for Thee Lord, and are restless until they rest in Thee.” The slogans and quick-fix solutions proffered by cultural elites have left many, young and old alike, feeling alone, barren and hopelessly bored with life. Modern society’s distorted understanding of freedom and happiness left a good number of people with an acute sense of isolation. Those whose goal was liberation at all costs, did in a sense succeed — in severing themselves from everything and everyone around them. And in a most painful and dramatic way, they have even been isolated interiorly from themselves, having lost a sense of identity and awareness of self. The rotten fruits of modernity’s perversion of freedom have resulted in insecurity, loneliness and a sense of purposelessness for many youth.

Pope John Paul II, from the earliest days of his pontificate to his final days of suffering, sought to dispel from the hearts of youth the suffocating fog of despair. Pope Benedict XVI echoed this message of hope at his Installation Mass, when he reminded youth that “Christ takes nothing from you and He gives you everything.” Through his life and teachings, Pope John Paul II redirected and reoriented an entire generation to pursue authentic happiness and fulfillment in a life rooted in unconditional love and gift of self.

The Mass in Rome was a powerful experience and it caught me a little by surprise. I didn’t expect that it would have such a personal impact. Afterward, there was a reception held in the tranquil walled-in courtyard of the seminary not too far from the ancient church. I had the opportunity to talk with several of the seminarians, and all of them were for me strong “witnesses of hope” to the bright future of the Church. One of them related to me his own journey of discernment and how at times it was difficult because, as he described it, “I stubbornly just wanted to hold on to a few pennies, nothing really, while Christ was there all along waiting for me, wanting to give me everything, and I learned to let go.” It’s difficult not to conclude that my friend’s experience is a common one, shared among a new generation, signs of contradiction, seeking lasting happiness, freedom and fulfillment.

© Copyright 2006 Catholic Exchange

Maldonado-Berry is currently studying Social Communication at the University of Santa Croce in Rome. He also works for Vatican Information Service (VIS) and Rome Reports, a news agency in Rome that covers Church events.

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