July 21, 2019: Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Associate Pastor’s Corner
In the latter half of May, Fr. Isaiah Mary had been on mission once again, this time to attend to meetings in Rome, and in Hong Kong to aid the Lay Missionaries. This summer, when he was given the opportunity, he would write about his experiences about his latest missionary adventure. Enjoy!
We met Brother Gregory Liu outside the Basilica of Saint Mary Major in Rome. He had been speaking Mandarin with a Chinese family with joy in their voices. We discovered that this family was from the underground Church in Beijing.
A few days before, Brother Gregory informed me that he had scheduled me to say Mass at the Basilica, and just that morning, he had invited this family to Mass with us.
Upon entering the Basilica, most would gaze at the ceiling or the sanctuary, but for me, I wanted to look for the confessionals. The Order had been hearing confessions at the Basilica for over 450 years. I wanted to see if we were on duty. I looked for the ornate wood carved confessionals scattered throughout of the Basilica. There was a central compartment, where the priest would sit, a heavy purple velvet screen separating him from the penitents, with kneelers on the priest’s right and left. Above this central section, would be the priest’s name, and a list of languages he could speak. Most of the confessionals were manned, and many of them had penitents receiving the Sacrament.
Once Brother Gregory and I had vested for Mass, we entered a side Altar, our team and our guests readying themselves for Mass. In that chapel hung a crucifix nearly 15 feet tall, with the Lord gazing down at me. Yes, there was the hustle-bustle of the pilgrims and tourists looking in, through the plexiglas that protected the chapel from the main church. Yes, there were the flashes of cameras of people taking pictures of us celebrating Mass. But simultaneously, there were also those moments when quietude, warmth, and normalcy in a simple Mass in a smallish chapel. Such a fantastic way to spend a Sunday!
After Mass, Brother Gregory and I joined the rest of our group in wandering the church. Praying at various chapels, lighting candles, praying for our mission, our missionaries, our benefactors and a variety of other needs, gazing at the relics of Dominican Pope Saint Pius V (of Our Lady of the Rosary fame) from a distance, and getting to know this Catholic family from Beijing.
I noticed that below the main altar of the Basilica, there were a set of stairs that went to downward. I asked Brother Gregory, “What’s down there?”
He smiled at Tricia, and they both nodded at me, encouraging me to see for myself.
Down a twisted set of stairs, and passing by a statue of a Pope, I saw a sea of Christians kneeling in front of something. At first glance, it looked like an enormous, crystal and gold soup tureen. And in a way, I wasn’t that far off. It was more like an Ark of the Covenant.
Here, at St. Mary Major, holds portions of Jesus’ crib, as designed by Giuseppe Valadier, and commissioned by Saint Pope Pius IX. On top of the Crib is a statue of the Child Christ pointing to heaven, reminding His children of our ultimate goal. I was thankful that I found a kneeler in front of the Holy Crib so that I can pray for our team and benefactors, as well as for this family that had joined us.
My pilgrimage to St. Mary Major is a convergence of so many things in my life. In no particular order: (1) I was given my name, I think, because of my devotion to the Isaian prophecies regarding the birth of Christ--particularly Isaiah 9, (2) St Dominic’s holds many hours of confessions a week, (3) the Sacrament of Reconciliation is a particular devotion that we have as Dominican priests, (4) Missionary work to Asia, (5) saying Mass at the largest Marian shrine in all of Rome, (6) it was the month of May and (7) probably a few other things that will occur to me years from now.
I am ever thankful for this opportunity to go on mission every year. I am thankful to our provincial and prior for giving me permission to travel outside our province, to Fr. Michael & Fr. Christopher in taking up a heavier burden as I go on mission. These mission trips, though exhausting, are a privilege.
Be part of the mission! St. Francis Xavier Lay Missionary Society is a Catholic non-profit organization dedicated to evangelize to young adults in Asia. You can give financially via Paypal at www.laymissionary.org, giving a monthly or one-time gift of $50 or more we are an IRS recognized 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Our EIN is: 46-2993509.
~Fr. Isaiah Mary