Inspiration & Instruction…From a Chair?

Wedding Attire on the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter

Imagine two newly-weds, honeymooning in Rome, waking up early, getting decked out in wedding attire for a second time. This couple was my wife and I, preparing to make our way to St. Peter’s Square for a once-in-a-lifetime moment.

We were already tired from two intense days of touring the Eternal City. The morning was gray and rainy, and we didn’t have an umbrella. My wife only had ballet slippers to wear with her wedding gown. Her feet were wet, cold, and hurting as we tried to traverse the cobblestone roads of Vatican City. As we waited near Bernini’s famous columns to enter the hall for the weekly papal audience, the clouds opened up and a torrential storm came down. All the while, we kept in mind that we would soon be near Pope Benedict XVI. Perhaps we would get to meet him.

Leading up to our wedding, there had been other challenges, too. A close member of my family passed away, causing a delayed arrival for several members of our wedding party. My bride’s mother had a severe accident that cause a broken nose and bruised face. On top of all that, we woke up on the morning of our wedding to an ice storm. We wondered if anyone would be able to celebrate our wedding with us at all. With all of these setbacks and difficulties, it would have been easy to lose sight of the fact that God had something amazing in store for us.

Then, at the beginning of his weekly papal audience, Pope Benedict walked right to us and shook our hands. We were able to thank him for his ministry and mission. It was a special moment that has provided a lifetime of memories, inspiration, and instruction for a couple that is still trying to figure out how to live this life of faith well.

 

This moment would have been special on any other day, but the fact that it was February 22nd, the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter (the pope’s very own feast day), made it even more special. We got to meet Pope Benedict on a day dedicated to the very ministry and mission of the papacy. This is something central to Catholic life and culture, and we now have a special story to go with that.

As I have reflected over the years (we just celebrated 14 years of marriage!) on the meaning of this series of events, I have come to understand that the Chair of St. Peter (the office of the papacy, not the piece of furniture) provides two things, primarily, to the Catholic faithful, including to me. Those two things are inspiration and instruction. Catholics around the world are inspired by the presence and apostolic activity of any pope. And, Catholics always want to learn what popes have to say to them and to the world.

For my wife and I, there was, first and foremost, the inspiration to make a pilgrimage to Rome for our honeymoon. We could have gone anywhere. Perhaps, in February, we could have gone somewhere with snow and skiing. Yet, we chose Rome because of our Catholic faith. We sought out admittance to the weekly papal audience because we had been inspired by Pope Benedict, and we wanted to share in that special part of Catholic culture.

Pope Benedict didn’t just inspire us. He instructed us, too. At the end of the audience, the holy father spoke words directly to the newly-wed couples. In his grandfatherly voice, he advised them: “And may you, dear newly-weds, always be witnesses of the love of Christ who has called you to achieve a common project of life.” That quote has adorned the wall of our home for nearly our whole married life. It is a constant reminder of what marriage and family life is about. My wife and I really see it as a way that we were taught directly by a man who occupied the Chair of St. Peter. For the last fourteen years, that single statement has provided a guide for our efforts at holiness and our efforts to raise holy, healthy children.

While many people may never make a pilgrimage to Rome, or visit a weekly papal audience, this special reality can be present in anyone’s life. It is possible to go on shorter, simpler pilgrimages, even in one’s own local area. Simply visiting the cathedral of a diocese is, in some way, connecting to the Chair of St. Peter. The chair (cathedra) of any bishop shares in the apostolic authority that Jesus gave to Peter and the apostles. Hopefully our bishops are sources of inspiration and instruction.

Another way to find inspiration from the Chair of St. Peter, and to access his instruction, is by reading his encyclicals and apostolic exhortations, or by accessing the texts of the Pope’s Wednesday audience addresses (all available at Vatican.va). By doing this, one will learn an incredible amount about Catholic faith, history, and culture. Most importantly, a reader will learn how to integrate those wonderful realities into his or her life.

Even if it’s not the great blessing of meeting a pope, God has amazing things in store for each one of us on any given day. It is possible for all of us to know and receive those gifts if we listen for the inspiration and instruction that comes from the Lord. Sometimes, that inspiration and instruction will come from the Chair (Cathedra) of St. Peter, and the man who occupies that chair. For centuries, Catholic faithful have found inspiration and instruction in the very presence of that chair, and of the popes. In our own age of Church history, let’s continue to seek out inspiration and instruction so we can live our faith more fully. And, let’s use that inspiration and instruction to ensure that the world has a chance to meet Jesus through us.

image: The Chair of St. Peter by Bernini, Vatican by nomadFra / Shutterstock.com

Derek Rotty

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Derek Rotty is a husband, father, historian, theologian, & Director of Evangelization & Discipleship at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Jackson, TN. His first book, A Life of Conversion: Meeting Christ in the Gospels, is available from Our Sunday Visitor Press. Follow his other ruminations at www.derekrotty.com.

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