Crashing a Party at the Vatican:
I don’t usually crash parties at the Vatican, but that’s effectively what I did last week! It was Sunday night at the Taverna Angelica (an excellent restaurant in what is otherwise a culinary black hole surrounding the Vatican), and I walked in at about 7:30 pm to join some friends from out of town for dinner. After a glance around the tiny establishment, I realized that I had just walked into the midst of an impressive gathering of American Catholic intellectuals. And when I say “Catholic intellectuals”, I mean “heavy-hitting Catholic intellectuals: I think that the only heavy-hitters not present were George Weigel and Archbishop Chaput! Everywhere I looked I saw writers, theologians, bishops and cardinals.
So, I felt a little out-of-place as I walked through the erudite crowd to join my friends. When I found them, they were also marveling at the number of diplomas and credentials filling the restaurant. One of them looked at me and said, “Did we walk into a First Things meeting?”
I did not mean to disturb the event, but I was wearing my Roman collar and speaking English, so everyone I bumped into assumed that I was a part of their party. Even though I explained why I was there, and it was not my intent to capitalize on the initial misunderstanding, I did end up exchanging cards and meeting a number of very interesting people involved with influential Catholic institutes and think tanks. The highlight was meeting Dr. Robert P. George, the renowned Catholic professor of jurisprudence from Princeton.
I soon found out that the high density of Catholic-American brainpower was due to a conference taking place at the Vatican that week called “Humanum: International Interreligious Colloquium on The Complementarity of Man and Woman”. The event, hosted by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and sponsored in part by the institutes represented at the gathering I had stumbled upon, was organized to produce a joint declaration on the importance of traditional marriage.
Later on, I went to check out the colloquium’s web site and was instantly impressed by its quality. The event’s video was a highly attractive compilation of images, testimonies, and pithy statements, all in defense of marriage. It is well-worth taking the time to watch it. (You can find it at this link: http://humanum.it/en/.)
The part of the video that struck me the most was on a sculpture by Auguste Rodin known as The Cathedral. They interview Fleur Nabert, an attractive and articulate sculptress, who powerfully describes the masterpiece:
He put [the hands of a man and a woman] together with a very delicate gesture where they are slightly and gently touching each other. They are forming a perfect architecture, a kind of sanctuary, between the two hands. It looks like there is nothing [between them], but there is everything!
Ms. Nabert goes on to say that Rodin’s Cathedral makes a powerful comparison: just as the great cathedrals of Europe were constructed to be splendid spatial reminders of God, so marriages are “constructed” by the effort of both spouses to be relational, human reminders of God.
When a man and woman come together in the sacred bond of marriage, it is so much more than a legal agreement to live together. It is the joining of two immortal persons who through their love for each other participate in God’s life-giving and creative power. When men and woman come together in matrimony, they create a dwelling place for God. Within the sanctity of their exclusive, unitive, and procreative bond, they offer an image, a sacramental icon, of the loving and creative union of the Holy Trinity.
This is how marriage can be seen truly as a work of art. There is so much more to marriage than daily domestic grind: it is actually a masterpiece in progress. The more the couple works together in love and self-giving, the more beautiful there union becomes as an icon of God’s love and as a dwelling place of His presence.
As one beautiful Nigerian mother put it in the video: “Marriage is your own project for the world.” Its beauty is not just for the couple, nor even for just the family; it is meant to be a splendid proclamation of the beauty of God for the whole world to see.
Your Life, Your Masterpiece
But this is not exclusive to marriage: it applies to all vocations. Everyone, whether married, single, or clerical, is called to live a beautiful life of love, one that announces God to the world. Ms. Nabert summed it up aptly at the end of her interview: “All of us can be creators of masterpieces of goodness, beauty, and spirituality.”
Whatever your state in life may be, remember that you are called to make it into a masterpiece of God’s love, one sacrifice, one task, one ordinary day at a time.