Outside of a honeymoon cruise to the Caribbean, a few days in Canada, and a weekend in Santa Monica, I have never traveled outside of America. That all changes this week, as the wife and I begin to make our way to Rome, where we will arrive Monday night after an overnight layover in Chicago and another layover in Munich.
The trip is a gift from my mother and stepfather. The best part of the gift is that they are coming along and organizing the whole thing. We will also be celebrating my mother’s 39th birthday in Rome — which is fitting; her being eight years younger than I is without question a miracle.
Because I went to public schools, when I first heard about the Rome trip I was very excited at the opportunity to visit Big Ben and Red Square. My disappointment at learning those stops are not on the itinerary (and having to return my beret) was quickly forgotten upon learning the Vatican, Sistine Chapel, Coliseum (where Chuck Norris got whooped by Bruce Lee), Pompeii, and the Tomb of St. Peter are.
And we will visit them all. This includes a visit with Pope Francis (with a few hundred other people).
Just a few years ago, the most exciting aspect of this trip would’ve been getting a look at Charlton Heston’s paint job in the Sistine Chapel. Around five years ago, though, as a forty-three-year old man, I joined the Catholic Church. Did so officially. Went through the whole process. Even remarried my wife in the Church as a way to get right with Jesus.
Other than my marriage, becoming a Roman Catholic was the most important and gratifying decision of my life. And it was not one I made lightly. I spent over a decade making it – making sure it was the right one. When decisions involve your role in eternity, they are not to be taken lightly.
Ultimately, I chose the Catholic Church because the Church makes me both comfortable and uncomfortable. It just feels right to belong to a Church that can be traced directly back to St. Peter — one of the apostles who walked with Christ. That is the comforting part. The uncomfortable part is that politically and socially the Church and I disagree on many things.
I won’t bore you with a list of differences, but I am someone who wants his belief structure challenged. Squirming in Church is a good thing; and so is feeling shame. Being forced to inventory your conscience, political ideas, and priorities is a good thing. The Catholic Church is not only a spiritual institution, it is an intellectual institution filled with scholars, thinkers, brilliant men and women who disagree and debate but do so based on a foundation of principles and beliefs laid out by Christ Himself in the New Testament.
So it is into the heart of my faith I travel, and abroad I go for the first time in my mostly misspent life.
Anything interesting, I look forward to sharing with you over the next few days. This will include photos and could involve spy-jinx if someone slips microfilm into my luggage that could change the fate of the world.
Follow John Nolte on Twitter @NolteNC