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The Dedication of the Roman Basilicas of St Peter and St Paul
I wish I could describe to you the comfort God affords me now, even though I am imprisoned, snatched away from the sacraments, sequestered from books and music and every other source of inspiration and relief, and isolated from those (like yourself) whom I love so dearly. In such a state, my mind’s eye races to Rome, for so long the geographical heart of Christ’s beloved Church, and beholds there the monuments erected in faith to the first Christian apostles, who also suffered imprisonment for their Catholic loyalty, and even poured out their very lives in imitation of their Savior. Today especially, when the universal Church recalls the dedication of the two most magnificent of the ancient basilicas, my spirit is filled with gratitude. I am confident that as long as I remain faithful to my Lord, my every breath, my every prayer, my every pain will be gathered by the angels and used to adorn not a material building, but the spiritual edifice of the Church, the New Jerusalem.
When Constantine first built the Basilica of St Peter over Peter’s grave site on the Vatican Hill, he adorned it with gold and jewels and marble of every color and hue. It was the wonder of Christian Rome for 1200 years. And when it was rebuilt in the Renaissance on an even grander scale, and rededicated on this date in 1626, it had become even more wonderful. Only the magnificent basilica of St Paul, equally ancient (though it too had to be rebuilt after a fire all but obliterated it in 1823), erected over the burial site of the Apostle to the Gentiles could rival it. And yet, I see now more clearly than ever that these buildings, as awe inspiring as they are, are but faint shadows of the true New Covenant temples: the soul of every Christian who lives in friendship with Christ. I can hardly contain my eagerness to reach the finish line of my race, so that entering into the everlasting Kingdom; I will be blessed to behold the indescribable beauty of the saints! Oh my dear niece, may the Holy Spirit deign to give you a taste of this bittersweet joy, of using the immense beauties of the Church on earth as springboards to soar beyond the limits of space and time, and glimpse the everlasting glory of City of God!
Your affectionate uncle,