Clearing the Heart to See the Truth

Hidden Treasures, Blessed Adventures in Italy

Pilgrimages reflect and remind the pilgrim of his sojourn on earth. They are not vacations, but, rather, journeys into God’s providence. It is a time of recognizing what is our true goal, union with God in heaven, versus what is merely the means to get there, our life on earth. We often get those two mixed up.

I recently returned from leading a pilgrimage to Italy. I was reminded several times that I still lack patience and charity, and so my earthly pilgrimage still has a long way to go in achieving its end. Nevertheless, this pilgrimage was for me a truly blessed adventure. God never allows our own weaknesses and sins to completely deter Him from accomplishing what He wants to do in us. He only asks that we allow Him the opportunity.

I experienced profound grace at every destination. It would take too long to recount the entire journey, but there were some hidden treasures that are worth sharing.

Our pilgrimage started in Florence. Florence possesses some of the greatest art treasures on earth and is an art-lover’s paradise. One of the

Fra Angelico's Carrying of the Cross

Fra Angelico’s Carrying of the Cross

sites that really struck me was the convent of San Marco. This ancient monastery is less known compared to some of the other art museums in the city. 600 years ago, inside this old Dominican cloister, lived a friar and master-painter named Fr Angelico, Blessed Fra Angelico, as St. John Paull II beatified him in 1982. He was asked by his superior to paint frescos inside each monk’s cell. Those frescos are still there, and their splendor has not faded with the passing of the centuries. The holiness of Fra Angelico radiates through his work. Michelangelo said of him, “he must have seen heaven to paint heaven.” The elegance and gracefulness of his paintings actually encourage one to be silent. In fact, I think that they can only be appreciated fully in contemplative stillness, the same atmosphere in which they were created. I was captivated. I left San Marco feeling as though I viewed heaven, and was touched by grace.

 

We then traveled to Assisi. The entire town is so quaint and clean, you wonder if you have been transported to the middle ages. It doesn’t take long to experience the real attraction of Assisi, St. Francis. His spirit permeates the village. Outside of the Holy Land, I have never been to a place that so conveys the spirit of another. There is so much to see in Assisi, I was glad that we stayed three days. The one place that left our group speechless more than any other was the visit to Eremo or Carceri Hermitage. Francis came here with his friars to sleep in caves in an extended retreat. The hermitage was built by hand by the friars after they became too large to stay in the few caves. One of the oratories was even built by St. Bernadine of Sienna. The footpaths that trail out of the hermitage are so peaceful and beautiful, one could understand what inspired St. Francis to write the Canticle of Creation. Stone altars used by his priests for Holy Mass are still there and are still used for the sacred sacrifice. The beauty, simplicity, and solitude of the hermitage landscape mirrors the beauty, simplicity, and solitude of St. Francis’s own spirituality.

001_MadonnaSantAndreaDelleFratte

Painting of the vision witnessed by Fr. Alphonse Ratisbonne

In Rome I sought out a church I longed to see the previous occasion, but didn’t have the chance: St. Andrea delle Fratte. It was in this church that the young St. Maximillian Kolbe celebrated his first Mass and decided to inaugurate the Militia of the Immaculata. Kolbe sought out this church for the same reason I did: it was in this church that Jewish businessman Alphonse Ratisbonne received the Marian apparition that converted him from his atheistic and virulently anti-Catholic prejudices into a Catholic priest who founded a religious order to pray for the conversion of the Jews and Muslims. I found this church, and prayed before the painted image of the apparition that appeared to Fr. Ratisbonne, so similar to the image on the miraculous medal of St. Catherine Labouré which he wore around his neck.

 

It is in these quieter, off-the-beaten-path hideaways, where I always find the treasures of my pilgrimages. Here, silence meets wonder, mysticism meets reality, and faith meets confirmation. In these hidden treasures, I found a blessed adventure.

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6 Responses to “Hidden Treasures, Blessed Adventures in Italy”

  1. Ian says:

    Hello Troy,

    Loved the article. Would you be interested in doing an interview about your trip for our podcast?

    Ian

  2. Kim S says:

    I agree with Pat! I would love to read more about your pilgrimage and the beautiful places you visited. I had never heard of the frescos in San Marco or the story of St. Andrea delle Fratte. Loved the awesome photos! I’ll be waiting for Part II!

  3. Pat says:

    Troy, your descriptions were so vivid, I felt I was also apart of this pilgrimage, and was a little disappointed when I reached the end, could there be a part II to this?

  4. Fr. Dan says:

    Beautiful reflection. Do you have more information on St. Andrea della Fratte? Such as a book or articles you’d recommend? It certainly sounds like an unknown highlight in Rome and I’d like to prepare before visiting. Thanks!

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