The Vatican Museums, Rome

We were blessed with a charming guide, Sister Mary Emmanuel, a novitiate in the order of the Missionaries of Divine Revelation, .   She met us at the Entrance doors, her face shining with welcome, alight with an interior joy, her voice rising and falling in a melodic Irish lilt.  She has taken a new name since we met her last year in the order’s shop at the Lateran basilica, and she wears a forest green habit with a white headscarf.  It was so good to see her.

The morning was full of image and word as she paused before paintings that told the story of our faith.  We entered worlds of color and form and meaning, as she explained how the devout Franciscan Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel ceiling and walls with the history of man, from the parting of light and dark in the Creation to the end of time and eternity.  How all, in the end, through Creation of the earth and the heavens to the Last Judgement, reflected the love of God, the love of the Creator for His Creation.  The movement from the pagan world to the Christian world reflected this love, the prophets, apostles, martyrs all reflected this love of God for Man.  And all of this action through time became encapsulated in the Eucharist, the bread of Heaven, that feeds us and makes us one with God the Son in our earthly journey.

The themes of truth, beauty, and justice, seen in the Rafael rooms reinforced this divine order, and I pondered their relationship with one another, considering that true beauty and just law reflected God, the truth of God, themes I explore in my novels.  Even those who do not believe in Christianity, yearn for truth, beauty, and justice.  I would add mercy to Rafael’s themes.

But best of all was seeing Sister Emmanuel bright with the presence of God around her like a halo, full of His caritas, His love.  All of the art in the Vatican points to life, to the love of one for another, and she embodied this.  It was good to see her lead us down the halls of color and gold, under the vaults and into the ornate Renaissance rooms, her green habit dusting the marble floors. She was the only religious – members of the monastic orders – I saw there, and I wondered why, and I realized what a valuable work her order was engaged in – instructing the world in the art and heart of Christendom, the Vatican in Rome, revealing Christ to all of us through the image and color, word and vision, reaching to us from earlier ages.

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