So I found myself in Rome a second time this year.
The first time I spent my days searching the Scriptures with young priests and future priests, seeding long lifetimes of future preaching and prayer.
This time I was able to spend some time in conversation with an older priest who certainly doesn’t need my advice about his homilies or his prayer life.
So when I met with Pope Benedict XVI on the sunny afternoon of May 26 I spoke instead about our work—the work of the St. Paul Center—work that you and I share.
Of course I was nervous with anticipation as I got dressed for the meeting. I was a bit jet-lagged, too. But I had the presence of mind to pack the books that would give him a good idea of what you and I have done with the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology—I through my writing and speaking, and you through your prayer, encouragement, and donations.
At the top of the stack was my recent book Covenant and Communion: The Biblical Theology of Pope Benedict XVI. Just below was Kinship by Covenant, my recent title for Yale University’s Anchor Bible Reference Library. For the grand finale I packed a volume our journal, Letter & Spirit.
Why these three books? I wanted to show him how closely and carefully we’re studying his words, and I wanted to show him how diligently we’re applying his teaching to the current world of biblical studies. While I was at it, I wanted to mention that I was in Rome that week with a double-decker bus full of pilgrims from the St. Paul Center, and that we were praying for him. (Some might accuse me of boasting, but I’d call it reporting. The Center’s mission, after all, is to promote biblical literacy for all Catholics and biblical fluency for Catholic clergy and teachers.)
I rehearsed these ideas in my hotel room and in the bus on the way to the Vatican, and I hoped I’d have the presence of mind to recall them when I was with the great man.
And I did. Somehow I did. I told him about the Center, about the work you and I do together, and I explained each book in turn. Throughout my stumbling, he looked like a proud and grateful father. He showed genuine interest, and he gave encouraging, specific comments, repeating each title as he received each gift. Our meeting lasted just a few minutes, but I don’t think I could have communicated more in that short space.
That was at midday. Round midnight, after an evening of sightseeing, my colleague Mike Aquilina was at the cab stand in front of St. Peter’s Square. He looked up and saw a light on in Pope Benedict’s apartment overlooking the square. Mike felt certain the Holy Father just couldn’t tear himself away from the books he’d received that day.
What do I think?
A man can dream, can’t he?
Dream along with me.
And, please, keep praying for the work we do together. While I was on pilgrimage, I remembered you at the holy sites. You were with me, in my heart, as I approached the chair of Peter.