January 29: A Lamp Unto My Feet, Saint Peter’s, Rome

“Your word is a lamp unto my feet, a light to my path.” Psalm 119.


After so many days in Rome, today, we are here at Saint Peter’s Basilica. Together we are worshiping in the Polish chapel, so-named by Saint John Paul II. In front of us is an image of our Lady of Czestochowa; this very devotion to Mary strengthened the Polish nation — despite the years of political repression under Nazism and Communism.

There are times when we need light for our path or journey, and I’m fond of the verse from the 119th Psalm — “Your word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light to my path.” It is part of today’s Alleluia verse, and prepares us for Mark’s gospel passage in which Jesus asks: “Is a lamp brought in to be placed under a bushel basket or a bed, and not to be placed on a lampstand?” (Mark 4:21)

A few years ago, I was in New York City, and late for an appointment on the East Side of Manhattan. So I got into a taxi that took me along West 83rd Street toward Central Park and the East Side. At the traffic light on Broadway, I looked to my left, and there were the words of today’s Psalm carved into the side of Redeemer Presbyterian Church: “Your word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light to my path.” It got me to thinking of when I first heard these words of scripture.

As a young boy, and a member of our Choir Boys, each Sunday I attended and sang at the 8 AM “Children’s Mass” at my home parish of Saint Francis Xavier in Newark, N.J. Following Mass, I walked home – and over breakfast, I watched a WCBS-TV Channel 2 program, “Lamp Unto My Feet.” The friendly host was George Crothers, who, from week to week, introduced religious leaders of Jewish, Protestant, and Catholic congregations in the New York metropolitan area. This public affairs program was an attempt to create a dialogue among religious groups who, in the 1950s, barely knew one another.

This television program was my only exposure to the people and ideas of religious groups other than my Roman Catholic upbringing. It prepared me for the dialogue that would be sparked in this very place – namely Vatican Council II and the call for reconciliation among Christians as well as inter-religious dialogue among those people of “good faith.”

We have experienced this week of prayer for Christian Unity. How Pope Francis has acknowledged the gift of unity has moved us to work collaboratively on grave concerns such as human trafficking and modern slavery. We have listened to the words of Archbishop David Moxon, and his invitation to take up the work of the “Global Freedom Network.”

Back to Broadway and West 83rd Street, the location of the Redeemer Presbyterian Church. It happens to be one of New York’s most vibrant congregations. The Reverend Timothy Keller is among the nation’s best preachers, and each Sunday, his services are filled with congregants, many coming from the students and faculty at nearby Columbia University.

Several years ago, I was working on a “preaching project,” where I tried to identify the best preaching and what practices are needed to improve homilies and sermons.

Keller has a particular style worth paying attention to – more like a scripture class, where he opens the scripture for his listeners and goes deeply into the interpretation and the application of the text to daily life.

What was most interesting to me – was how this particular urban congregation employed social media and their website to engage from week to week those in attendance. Sometimes, their outreach included theological matters, but their staff often addressed issues of social concerns and how to meet other Christians in their urban neighborhood. In effect, in the big city, this was their way of building a community for social action and solidarity.

We need a “lamp unto our feet and a light to our path” to see the shared journey that brings us to one another and Christ.
We are in this great church, Saint Peter’s – asking the Lord to bless this journey of ours that has brought us here; and ask in prayer that the Lord will keep that light “placed on a lampstand” shining in us years to come.

Saint Peter’s Basilica, Rome, Italy.

“Walking in the Footsteps of the Early Christians,” Saint Mary’s College, Pilgrimage to Rome Jan. 12 – Feb. 2, 2015.



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