Reflecting on the history, richness of the Catholic Church

by Jordan Mascari

North Texas Catholic contributor

A view of the Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi. (CNS photo / Paul Haring)

Howdy, my name is Jordan Mascari and my home parish is St. Thomas Aquinas in Pilot Point. I am 19 and am currently studying at Texas A&M University in College station. In 2013, I was blessed with the opportunity to attend World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. My experience at that gathering was so powerful and transformative that as soon as I returned home I knew I wanted to be a part of the next one. This pilgrimage is my first visit to Europe and only my second trip outside the States.

So far we have spent one day in Rome and another in Assisi. We have visited so many significant sites in this amount of time that even now it is difficult to call to mind each encounter, as powerful as each of them may have been.

Jordan Mascari

Upon entering Rome for the first time, I was struck most immediately by how different the Roman sense of time was to my own. Having lived in the United States all of my life, I have always understood items and monuments that are 150 or 200 years of age to be incredible and valuable. In Rome, structures twice as old as the U.S. itself are commonplace and buildings from the beginning of the last century are considered “recent additions.” One tour guide spoke of the doings of Mussolini as if they had only happened last week. Each basilica, monument, or tomb we encounter contributes to a sense that the past is not so distant and not so disconnected from our lives here and now.

Our first Mass in Rome was celebrated at the Basilica of St. Maria Maggiore, a site that Pope Francis visits after each of his trips abroad. This was the first church of many we would see that was decorated from wall to wall with ancient paintings of biblical events. Across from the chapel within the basilica was the altar dedicated to St. Pope Pius V, and near it his body rests in a tomb that at times is left open to allow for veneration of his relics. This was the first incorruptible I had seen in person, and although his hands and face were covered due to recent signs of decay, the saint’s presence was awe inspiring.

In this chapel, as in many others throughout the city, one’s eyes are drawn upward by both the architecture of the buildings and the elaborate decoration. As I gazed toward the top of the dome in this basilica, I noticed in the center of the dome, in its highest portion, is a painting of God the Father. This image was simple relative to the all of the other paintings that decorated the walls and was small enough that it seemed very easy to miss. As I looked at it I quickly realized its importance. This image appeared to signify God’s relationship to his creation. God the Father sat at the peak of this work. His image was solitary, simple, and nearly invisible. From this point proceeded all of the adornment of this chapel, its relics, and its altar, and finally its living visitors. At this point in the trip we had only come to our first stop and already I had begun to experience the richness of the Church in Rome.

The rest of the first day moved much more quickly as we visited the Basilica of St. John Lateran whose 12 central pillars house immense statues of the 12 apostles. Meanwhile, the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls holds portraits of every pope from Peter to Francis (and was my favorite church personally). And visiting the Catacombs of St. Domitilla was like peering into the Church of the first few centuries A.D.

We spent the second day of our trip in Assisi. This town and its environment was I think best described by our guide who said that visiting the town, one could see into a different time but could also see a town that had undergone the transformations from ancient to medieval and from medieval to modern.

Here we visited the tombs of St. Clare and St. Francis, as well as their respective basilicas. In these places, the stories heard throughout my Catholic upbringing took shape and became grounded in the real world in a way I could not have anticipated. Tomorrow we are off to the Vatican. I cannot wait for what is in store.

P.S. As far as food goes, I have learned that pasta with every meal is the way I was born to live, and that schnitzel is so good that even cold airport schnitzel is delicious.

Jordan is a parishioner of St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in Pilot Point and is involved in the men's chant group and Aggie Catholic Radio at Texas A&M University in College Station.

So far we have spent one day in Rome and another in Assisi. We have visited so many significant sites in this amount of time that even now it is difficult to call to mind each encounter, as powerful as each of them may have been.