by Orlando Hernandez
When I first saw “The Chair of Peter” I was amazed and delighted. I was a lover of art and a fan of Gianlorenzo Bernini. At the time I was not a believer in God, and I was put off by the opulence of St Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The place seemed to me like an oversized train station. I felt no presence of God in this place. But I was also overcome by the magnificent beauty of the place.
What most impressed me though, was the back of the Basilica, behind the marvelous, massive metal canopy over the altar. Vast quantities of angels and swirling cloud-like shapes surrounded this huge, empty throne, giving the impression that it was being lifted up like some sort of Renaissance-era Space Shuttle blasting off into space. How all this heavy metal could evoke the lightness of cake frosting was indeed marvelous. And on top of it all, seeming small in comparison, was the poignant image of the brooding Spirit of God, shining from a stained-glass window way up high. Wow, Bernini, what a genius, my main man! Not a thought about this Saint Peter.
Nearly thirty years later, I re-entered this great place full of the Holy Spirit and the love of God. My attitude was different. I still loved great art but, after spiritual experiences and much reading of the Gospels, Jesus was my love, and Peter the Fisherman was my “Main Man,” my favorite saint. I was coming here to honor them both.
And yet, the place left me cold. It still felt huge and empty, yet full of aggressive, jostling tourists, making it very hard to be in a prayerful mood. This spectacular building said nothing to me about what the person of St Peter meant in my life. Then, the simplest of objects appeared before me, to remind me of why I was there.
In front of the stairs to the lower levels, where Peter’s tomb was located, there were a number of small tablets mounted on iron stands with typewritten information on them in different languages. I read the English one, and this is what was written on it:
“You are the Christ, the son of the, living God. (Mt 16:16)”
“Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God. (Jn 6: 68-69)”
“Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you. (Jn 21:17b)”
I almost felt dizzy. My heart was filled with so much emotion. It was as if the great saint had personally come to remind me of the mystery and the marvelous miracle that is the love of God. The humble fisherman had for the longest time been my example of what a life with Christ can be like. First, when He calls, I cannot help but recognize who He truly is. When I am confused, in doubt, or afraid of losing my faith, those words of Peter remind me that there really is no other place for me to go. I have walked too far with My Lord. In spite of the many times that I have been confused or felt threatened by His message, in spite of the many times I have denied Him, Peter has been my example every time I feel Jesus’ invitation to love Him. Thank you, Saint Peter, for being such an inspiration in my life!
I stood there for a while, and, as had happened various other times in Churches in Italy, my Lord came to call me. An elderly, stern priest came by ringing a bell, “Ding, ding, ding, ding ding,” announcing the Eucharist in one of the large chapels to the left. The chapel commemorated the crucifixion of Peter. I went joyfully to be with my Lord. I know that Peter, my “Main Man” and guide, was there also with me.
Wonderful words in praise of Peter. Above all his slow conversion from denying Christ in his life to embracing the love of God. Do you love me? He was asked and humbly answered. I think we are asked this each day as we go about our ordinary lives, showing extraordinary love. Peter is a good example for us. Your first visit you were seeing through the eyes of art. The next visit you saw as God sees.