This was more than a coincidence. Let me tell you about the God who welcomes the prodigals home.
My life lately has been a constellation of contrary experiences mashed together: great joy and deep sorrow; holy assignments and embarrassing moral failures. I try to be as transparent as I can, but there are some things that only God and your closest friends should know. Suffice to say, that as happy as I have been in Europe, I arrived in Rome "in recovery". There was a great sin I'd done, and was mortified by it. I spent one night unable to sleep well because I can be very hard on myself. The worst of it was that I lost something precious in that entire process. But, by my second night in Rome, I was at least resigned to the fact that the best I thing I could do is learn to forgive myself, learn whatever lesson was there to be learned, re-organize my life to do teshuva (repentance), and do whatever I could to recover what I'd lost. I had to move on.
So, my host in Rome invited me to eat a real Italian lunch with the #RomaSquad (as I am affectionately calling them without their knowledge)--with ALL the courses. And after a couple of hours dining, we took our full bellies on a walk through the touristy area of Rome: through La Piazza Populo, past the Spanish Steps. We stopped into a couple of churches on the way. They were overwhelmingly beautiful. I am usually the sort that doesn't make much of a fuss about sacred space, but there was something corporeal about the "differentness" of these sanctuaries--something disarming, and unnerving. I guess you could say they were "awesome". All of a sudden I remembered my great sin. I sat down at an altar, bowed my head, and simply said, "Lord, have mercy on me." It was all I could say.
We continued our walk up to a cliff with a beautiful view of the whole city, as the sun was setting on the horizon. There was a man sitting on the ground, busking with his guitar. I sat next to him and asked if I could sing with him. He obliged, and we sang Bob Marley's "No Woman, No Cry" together. People stopped to listen, take pictures and video, and sing along. Then I looked up, and through the crowd I saw a familiar face. It was my friend Trey, fellow graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary.
I made my way over to speak with him. We were thrilled to run into one another. And before we parted ways he said he wanted to bless me, but didn't really have anything on him; but from what he had, he handed me a gift. The gift had a meaning that not even he would have known. It was something that I had spoken with God about in my prayers about my great sin, and there was the thing I thought I'd lost forever in Trey's hand. I wept and I confessed what I had done to Trey, and how God had been telling me that I was not so lost, but that I apparently needed an object lesson. One metaphor the Bible uses for sin is "debt", and that sin creates a debt that we are often unable to repay. But ancient theologians have emphatically stated that, when God forgives, God marks the ledger of our sin-debts as "paid". To receive this gift from my brother, was also to receive God's forgiveness. Then Trey began to tell me about the papal homily I missed this morning: it was about mercy, and about how God loves to "mercy" us (since mercy is a verb). Had that little prayer I breathed on the walk to that spot really been answered within an hour?
And this is why it is said that "God's kindness leads to repentance" (Romans 2:4). It was the first day of my new life. As we walked away from that place, the busker I had sat with began to sing Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah". Amen.
There were so many more things that happened Rome, but there isn't time or space to tell you. I also got to visit Vatican City. You can browse through the entire visit in the gallery below.
General Stuff in Rome: The Coliseum, Lunch w/ Roma Squad, Selfie in Tourist District, Spanish Steps, Churches we stopped in, Piazza di Populo, etc.