“Laudato Si’, mi’ Signore.”
This isn’t a column about an encyclical. It’s a column about witnessing a miracle.
In English: “Praise be to you, my Lord” are the words of St. Francis of Assisi in his famous Canticle of the Creatures. He utters this prayer because he was overwhelmed by the beauty of God’s creation. Our current pope, having taken the name of the great holy one of Umbria, tapped into the splendor of the saint’s gratitude when reminding us of our stewardship duties toward all of God’s gifts, particularly creation.
And as soon as you take your first deep breath in Assisi, you understand. You can’t keep silent. Francis couldn’t keep from singing, and who would ever think to resist? You can’t keep silent, and yet, this is where I traveled to do just that — a silent retreat for Advent. And while the skies and the sun and the birds were all temptations, the people may have been the most amazing.
First of all, do you ever stop to see just how beautiful people are? I started noticing while on the packed train out of Rome. Typically while commuting, I have work to do. Now my work was to turn off. So I stopped and looked. And it was beautiful. Every first and last person. Everyone, even as they wished they had the seat across from them or next to them free, as they struggled with their luggage, or were in a digitally imposed daze. The beauty is everywhere. The noise and the burdens can keep us from seeing and even ever knowing.
But my real day of temptation was the feast of the Immaculate Conception. On Dec. 8, the Franciscans at the Santa Maria degli Angeli, the basilica of the St. Mary of the Angels, just down the hill from the churches dedicated to St. Francis and Clare, have fireworks. Fireworks for Mary! This in and of itself was amazing to me. And hailing from the land of the Macy’s Independence Day fireworks in New York, I’m not typically one to notice your humble hometown light show, I confess. But they have fireworks for Mary. And on a continent I long understood to be forgetting its Christian roots — with empty churches, demographically dying.
And the light show wasn’t the story that day in Assisi, either. The churches were bursting at the seams. I spent the better part of the day as a witness to hope, watching people with a prayer. It was standing room only for Mass after Mass. There were all types, all ages. So many young families. Generations gathered. This being Assisi, there was also a dog in a pew. Others just popped in for a quick word, but others stayed for the final blessing. A holiday there, the Church seemed the only place that didn’t have its normal midday riposo time. Because it was the place to be for everyone.
I don’t know if the miracle was the scene or that I managed not to shout from the rooftops, digitally speaking: Don’t let this be just like any other day! Remember our Mother, and she will get you to her Son. There is beauty and hope and he comes to dwell in you. Especially given the six-hour time difference between Italy and the East Coast, I knew Americans still had time.
I understand I was in Assisi and, with people having the day off, it was the thing to do. But it’s not unlike Christmas Mass. You can wonder where all the people are every other Sunday, but how about give thanks the door is open and they ever come? And, for those of us who are there every week, could it be that we are not overwhelming the world with the joy of knowing our God? Our lives should be a fireworks display. Dec. 8 in Umbria, every day.
Kathryn Jean Lopez is senior fellow at the National Review Institute, editor-at-large of National Review, and co-author of “How to Defend the Faith Without Raising Your Voice” (OSV, $17.95).