In the short 22 years of my life, I’ve had the opportunity to visit Rome a number of times. I first went during high school for World Youth Day 2000, then twice while I studied abroad during college, and again when my then-fiance (now husband)’s family decided to take us for a whirlwind tour of Europe. God has brought me here again, this time with my husband as we take a month off from our jobs, rent an apartment, and just soak it all in. Each time I visit and I get to walk the cobblestone streets, taste the amazing gelato (pretty much the best ice cream ever), and pray in the churches, something different strikes me. I remember realizing in high school how universal our faith is, as I stood amid 5 million Catholics from around the world. In college I was sitting in Adoration at St Peter’s Basilica, understanding that a single person has more value than all Cathedrals in the world combined because we bear the image of God. Today as I took a moment to sit and pray, a phrase popped into my mind: All for the greater glory of God.
Now when this phrase came up I was gazing upon the tabernacle in a side chapel of one of Rome’s smaller churches. It was adorned with gold, surrounded by cases filled with relics of the saints. Everything else in sight was made of different types of marble intricately placed into beautiful designs on the floor, walls, columns and altar rails. And this was only the side chapel of relatively small church! If you combined all the gold and marble in all the churches in my county in Maryland it wouldn’t add up to what was in this place.
When you’re not used to it, it probably sounds kind of gaudy; I’ll bet a lot of people wonder why the Church doesn’t sell all of its valuables and give the money to the poor. Later when I went to Mass (in Italian), I understood one phrase of the Gospel that addressed just what I was thinking. It was Jesus’ response to Judas Iscariot when he judged the woman who used expensive oil to wash Christ’s feet. “You will always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.” It made me think of St Francis of Assisi, who lived his life in poverty. You would think he would want a quaint little Church made of twigs and mud, but St Francis always believed that Churches should be lined with gold. That’s because the Church is where Jesus Christ becomes physically present to us in the Eucharist and we should honor Him with all that we have.
So, I wondered – why did the woman wash Christ’s feet with perfumed oil? For God’s glory. Why did the people of the Middle Ages spend over a hundred years building a single Church? For God’s glory.
Why doesn’t the Church sell all her possessions to give the money to the poor? Because when it’s all been said and done, the poor will still be with us, but the beauty that we have in our churches is for His glory and His alone. The Church isn’t worried about losing monetary wealth; what She doesn’t want to lose are Her spiritual riches.
I remember hearing a story from a professor of mine about a woman he met who had been atheist but decided to become Catholic. When asked why, she explained that she had studied in Rome for a year as an art student. With all her studies, all the art, and all architecture she experienced, she came to see true Beauty, and knew that there must be a God.
I thought of that woman while I sat and prayed and while I experienced the same thing that won her heart over to God. I prayed that I could recognize His beauty each day in the little things, but more so that I could realize that I am made in the image of God, and that I have a greater capacity to glorify God with my life than all of those churches put together. Look around, see the things that reveal Him in your every day life, and know that you can live for the greater glory of God.