A Human Encounter with the Prince of the Apostles

Author: Mr. Hugh Dowell

The city and the diocese of Rome carry great importance for Holy Cross. Blessed Basil Moreau visited Rome on a number of occasions in his efforts to receive papal approval for his new order, and his devotion to the Holy See is reflected today by two elements of the habit worn by Holy Cross religious: the Roman clerical collar and shoulder cape were both given to Moreau by the Holy Father as a sign of his new order’s allegiance to Rome and the Pope.

To be able to travel to this city that lies at the heart of the Church, and the history of the Congregation was long a hope of mine. When Fr. Jim Gallagher, C.S.C., asked me last October if I’d like to join him and a group of Notre Dame Undergraduates on a Campus Ministry pilgrimage to Rome, I knew that my only answer could only be “yes.”

Notre Dame Rome Pilgrimage

When I agreed to Fr. Jim’s invitation, none of us knew that we would arrive in Rome right in the middle of an historic time of transition as the Church waited for a new pope. One of our other pilgrim’s has already written on the experience of being in St. Peter’s Square as we heard the electoral results announced. I can only add my voice to his in the palpable joy that was in the square as we welcomed our new shepherd.

Yet, as exciting as that moment was and as fresh as it is in my mind, I have found the memory that remains the keenest is the few moments I was able to spend with the man in whose shoes Pope Francis now walks. There is something incredibly impressive about the simplicity of witnessing St. Peter’s bones underneath the high altar of the Vatican basilica. You can only look at them from a distance, and after wandering through the twists and turns of the vast necropolis that lies beneath the basilica, you turn a corner and suddenly there you are, and there he is.

Looking at those few bones in a hermetically sealed box, my initial reaction was one of disbelief. I almost wanted there to be more to it than this. The moment seemed more human than divine.

However, my reaction quickly changed when our guide pointed out that the bone closest to us and thus most visible was St. Peter’s jawbone. Here was, in the flesh, the mouth that was the first to confess Jesus as the Christ, the first to receive the Eucharist, and that denied the Lord three times. As I meditated on the life of St. Peter, I realized that, my expectations notwithstanding, it made perfect sense for my meeting with the Prince of the Apostles should be a very human experience. St. Peter was a man very much aware of his own humanity, and yet found holiness through that weakness, not in spite of it.

St Peter

When first presented with the full reality of what had been revealed to him in his first encounter with Christ, St. Peter cried out: “Depart from me Lord, for I am a sinful man.” In his cry, the simple Galilean fisherman expresses the doubt I think many young men feel when they first consider religious life: This is too big; it is meant for better men than me. Yet, Christ knew Peter was a sinner and called him anyway! Like all disciples, Peter believed that what he had found was true and all he could do but follow and trust in God.

When we embark on our own journey of discipleship, it can feel like too much and all too often we become acutely aware of the sinfulness that holds us back. Like Peter, none of us are perfect disciples, and like him we deny our Lord and criticise Him when His plan doesn’t meet our expectations. However, we are called to pick ourselves up, admit our mistakes and commit over and over again to tend the Lord’s flock.

Like all the saints and most especially our Patroness, St. Peter models for us the great trust that is required in order to live as Christ’s disciple. The road is long and difficult, and we will most certainly fall. But, by loving and trusting in the Lord, we can leave the trappings of our old life behind and travel to wherever the Lord wishes to take us.

For Peter, this meant travelling to the most powerful city in his world and proclaiming that Jesus Christ is raised from the dead. For us it could be taking the step to talk to a priest about religious life, or something simpler like making a daily act of trust in God’s providential care for us as we begin to ask where it is He wants us to go. Wherever we might be lead, we can look to St. Peter as a model to help us embrace our imperfections, but also to help us believe that the Lord truly can break the chains of our sins, lift us up, and calls us to follow Him wherever He goes.

Mr Hugh Dowell

Mr. Hugh Dowell is a Postulant at Moreau Seminary. He and other seminarians at Moreau post twice each month for the Spes Unica Blog, sharing on their life and formation at Moreau. Meet our other men in formation, and learn more about seminary life in Holy Cross, and specifically about the Postulant Program at Moreau Seminary, which constitutes the first year of religious and priestly formation in Holy Cross for college graduates.

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