The faith is within

– Feast of Sts Andrew Dung-Lac and companions, Martyrs –

When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.” [Luke 21:5-6]

In the pre-Covid days, when travelling to Europe was an option for many after the appropriate amount of planning and saving, Italy was a favourite destination. As a place of beauty and antiquity, there was always plenty to see and do. Eating a pizza in the land that invented it, with the simplest of ingredients but with all the vibrancy and taste of the real deal, was an added bonus.

After living in Rome for a while, I discovered that many Italians are not as enthusiastic about their surroundings as the average tourist appears to be. The tourist is aware of the grandeur and mystery of the often-crumbling ruins testifying to an age gone by. The Italians are more aware of living in a city hampered in its development towards modernity by having to work around ancient sites that no one dare touch.

Soon after I arrived there, a colleague arranged a tour under the magnificent St Peter’s Basilica. As with much of Europe, the journey under a building is a journey back through time. We walked down through the foundations of the existing 16th century edifice, and on to the remains of the 4th century basilica built by the emperor Constantine. Badly damaged during the repeated barbarian invasions, by the 15th century the ruin of Constantine’s church was considered to be beyond repair, setting the scene for the construction of the building we see today. Yet, it is as you travel below the world of Constantine that things get interesting.

St Peter’s, of course, takes its name from the long-held belief that the Apostle Peter was executed and buried there. Unable to be proven, it was not until 1950 that archaeologists found what they were looking for: two inscriptions adjacent to a tomb – one in Greek and one in the Latin of the common people – indicating ‘Peter is within’. The bones of a man of the right age and from the appropriate time period were found.

Why this excursus into history? In today’s gospel text, Jesus reflects on the fact that even the holiest of buildings do not last. Our hope is not in them. Our hope is in what they represent, and the faith that comes to us down through the ages. Buildings come and go; institutions change and develop, or go out of existence. God is the constant.  

By Shane Dwyer

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