by Katie Rich
When I stepped into my apartment-style dorm for the first time at John Cabot University in Rome, I had a fairly clear image in my head of how the upcoming months would play out. Until December, I would hold myself to a strict diet of pizza, pasta, and gelato. I was going to throw three coins into the Trevi Fountain, drape myself in a bed sheet and yell “Et tu, Brute?” in the middle of the Roman Forum, take a picture of myself pushing over the Leaning Tower of Pisa, cruise down Venice’s Grand Canal in a gondola, elegantly sample wine and cheese in the vineyards of Tuscany… the list was endless. At the top of the list, and arguably the entire reason I came to Rome in the first place, was seeing the pope. I reasoned that the moment I saw Papa Francesco, any cold doubt I held in my heart would melt away, and my faith would grow by leaps and bounds.
I have been in the Eternal City for nearly four weeks now, and I have set aside my list and replaced it with one short goal: find God in all things.
My new goal began to take shape in those hazy, jet-lagged days when I first ventured to St. Peter’s Square. The sight of the basilica at the head of the Square, with the great obelisk piercing a bright cerulean sky in front of it, is more than enough to take anyone’s breath away. But when I walked through those great doors and into the cool marble interior, I could not help but be filled with a quiet wonder. It was not the kind of trumpet-blaring, proclamation-inducing sensation that I had been expecting. Rather, standing in the shadow of the main altar, treading over the tombs of some of the holiest men to have ever graced the earth, I felt wonderfully insignificant. Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
It was a great gift to be so humbled. It was only in that second, that momentary relief from pride, that I could feel the power and glory of God in every inch of my body.
The feeling grew when I returned to St. Peter’s square for the vigil for peace in Syria on September 7. Kneeling on cobblestones surrounded by 100,000 people, I looked up and saw Christ’s representative on earth, the successor of Peter, kneeling and praying in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. How great is the man, I thought, compared to the people. But how infinitely more great is God compared to the man.
In his recently published exclusive interview with Fr. Antonio Spadaro, Pope Francis shed some light on one of the most commonly quoted pieces of Ignatian spirituality. “Finding God in all things is not an ‘empirical Eureka’… God is always a surprise, so you never know where and how you will find him.” he explained. Amidst my gelato-eating, homework-avoiding, and sight-seeing days, I have grown more and more convinced that these words of wisdom could not be truer. Certainly, when I first went into St. Peter’s and when I prayed at the vigil, I felt as though I had found God. It was not, as Pope Francis says, an “empirical Eureka”, but rather a gentle engulfing of my spirit in warmth and peace.
Lately, I have taken to wandering the streets of Trastevere, the neighborhood of Rome at the center of Rome that my university is nestled in, in search of God. I find Him in the orangey-tan stucco buildings with shuttered windows and clotheslines strung between them, dripping in ivy. I find Him in the dog that sits beside me in a piazza, hoping I will share my pizza. I find Him in the three-man band serenading the nighttime streets with Frank Sinatra melodies. I find Him in the little empty church tucked behind the corner, with sunlight streaming onto the altar through a stained glass window. I find Him in the pink, sun-filled river at sunset, and in the gulls flying low over the water. I find Him in the few stars struggling to be seen in the early evening sky. I find Him in the laughs of strangers and the embraces of friends. Truly, I strive to find Him in all things, because I know that He is there, and I only need to look.