Friday, December 21, 2012



My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior;
he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed;
the Almighty has done great things for me and holy is his name.
He has mercy on those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm
and has scattered the proud in their conceit,
Casting down the mighty from their thrones
and lifting up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things
and sent the rich away empty.
He has come to the aid of his servant Israel,
to remember his promise of mercy,
The promise made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and his children for ever.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Italia highlights: faith

As it might have been expected in traveling to the very location wherein the birth of the early church took place, there were opportunities around every corner to experience profound spiritual moments/encounters that I will forever remember. I walked the same streets that the apostles tread upon and I cannot begin to articulate the surreal nature of the experience. I imagine this feeling is a hundred-fold for those who tour the holy land, but for now, I shall focus on the experience I have.

On our first full day in Rome, we toured the Colosseum and Roman Forum. Now, I know I said I was going to devote another posting to man-made beauty and architecture, so I won't focus too much on the structures; however, as it is well documented that Christians were martyred in the games (their blood being the seed from which the church sprouted) that took place in Roman arenas and the Colosseum, I had to include it in the faith section. (Side note: I had just finished reading Quo Vadis and the Mark of the Lion series prior to my trip, so viewing the location where the games took place was particularly meaningful.)

Upon entering the Colosseum, you are immediately met with the image of a cross. It was a haunting reminder of the blood that was spilled, but at the same time, my heart was overwhelmed with the knowledge that their sacrifice resulted in the gospel spreading like wildfire. "Oh death, where is your sting - Oh hell, where is your victory?" Once again, even death could not suppress Christ's message of love and hope.

As I stood viewing the expansive arena within the Colosseum, I could almost hear the cheering crowds and I pictured the Augustans sitting in their VIP section with Caesar at the helm. Once again, the only word that comes to mind is surreal...get used to hearing that.

Probably the most memorable experience I had on my trip came on the next day when we toured Vatican City. Obviously, the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel were beyond incredible, but I will focus on St. Peter's for the sake of this post. First of all, St. Peter's Square alone was amazing. The surrounding columns are so expansive and standing in the center taking in the 360-degree view was positively breathtaking.

Once inside St. Peter's, it was tough to not be completely overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude and expanse of the building. I could hardly begin to take it all in, but as mentioned on a previous post, I came upon a sign for the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament and I will never forget my time spent in prayer in this quiet side chapel. I truly believe the Holy Spirit ordained for me to stumble upon this by happenstance, especially since the chapel was not open to the public on our subsequent visit. As I knelt down in one of the simple wooden pews, I began to pray for all those in my life. I prayed for my immediate family, my extended family, my friends, my co-workers, and the list went on. But I didn't just pray blanket prayers, I claimed very specific promises for each person--things they were believing God for, things I was believing God for them, miracles that no rational mind would even think to ask for. I was almost instantly overwhelmed with the presence of the Lord and I sensed Him in a very real and mighty way. It was such a beautiful time, made all the more memorable that I was in St. Peter's the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament...

When we made our way back out of the Basilica and into the world, I couldn't believe what the Lord had created in the sky. Have you ever seen something so amazing? The clouds, the sun, the blue sky peaking through...all at the backdrop of St. Peter's square. It was TOO much to process. I just kept thinking of my cousin, Elisa, who happens to love the sky more than anyone I know and who taught me to appreciate the beauty God paints in the sky for us everyday.

Would you believe the sky only got better as we made our way back into Rome that early evening?  Check out the painting in the sky over the Spanish Steps...amazing.

My next highlight would have to be visiting the Duomo in Florence. My cousin had requested that I light a candle for her in St. Peter's, but I was utterly dismayed to discover there were not, in fact, candles for the lighting in the Basilica (three different guards assured me of such). Imagine my delight when there was not one, but multiple opportunities to light a candle inside the chapel of the Duomo. I took time to light a candle for her, as well as for members of my family.

When we climbed to the top of the cupola, I could not help but be in awe of the grandeur of God when I observed the 360-view of Florence. I really need to come up with some new words to describe amazing, breathtaking, surreal, unreal...but that's what this view was and I quite literally have no better what to describe it.

The glory of God's creation continued on that day on my 1/2 trip out to Chianti region. My pictures do not begin to do it justice, but just imagine the images below being about 50 times better in real life than they appear in photos.

As beautiful as the sky is in the photo above, it cannot hold a candle to that which my eyes beheld the following morning.  I was determined to attend mass at the Duomo on our last morning in Florence.  This required me to get up BEFORE Christy, which is saying a whole lot if you know either one of us (Christy=morning person / Rachel=antithesis of morning person).  However, the Lord had an incredible and unforgettable gift awaiting me that I would not have been able to unwrap had I not drug myself out of bed in the wee small hours of the morning.  As I briskly walked the nearly barren streets of Florence towards the Duomo, I was hit smack in the face with the most incredible sunrise.  The Lord was writing me a love letter and I actually had the luxury of being completely present and having nothing to do other than basking in the glory that was right in front of me.  I'll stop talking and just show you the photo proof.

In an effort to wrap this up, I will combine the remainder of my highlights by just saying the glory of God's creation was in all caps with exclamation points in Positano.  HOLY COW -- I'm not even going to attempt to describe the amazing colors, the incredible sea, the glorious cliffs, the expansive's TOO much and my words would be but a trifle.  Suffice it to say, I saw God in every sunset, every flower, every wave, every change of color in the ocean (it was a glorious rich emerald color in Positano, but then completely crystal clear in Capri)...He was everywhere.  There was no denying Him.  Who are we that the Lord would create something that we could delight in?  We are 100% unworthy, and yet, out of His infinite love, He created beauty and we get to delight in it.  And with that, I shall reveal the beauty of God's creation on the Amalfi coast.  (fair warning: prepare for major picture overload)

So there you have it, dear readers (all 4 of you).  Please note that these are merely highlights of the many faith experiences I had on my trip.  Around every turn, I was reminded of God's love for me and I truly felt His presence throughout each and every day.  There are so many more to share, but I shall exude some restraint and leave you with what I have shared.  I am certainly more than happy to regale you with many more if you have about 8 or 9 spare hours.