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  • Writer's pictureJenny Snarski

Adorning the Sanctuaries of our Savior

For the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore

As released white rose petals melt from on high,

More than our eyes look up to the sky.

Needs and prayers sent to God’s Mother above,

In a church – like her body – graced home of his Love.

Like the angels, Mother Mary speaking through dreams,

Sent snow to foreshow where would shower down streams

Of her Son’s life and grace, in sacrament and song.

Theotokos, God-bearer, a channel pure and strong.

In mosaic and gold, marble and stained glass

The walls witness of faith, teach the unending class

to hearts and minds- countless generations attentive-

mouths open, “taste and see” Christ’s Kingdom in glyph.

As a younger person I loved traveling. (I still do, but with a family it’s not as accessible as during my teen and young adult years). I grew up in good families but going back and forth between two very different ones, neither felt like where I completely belonged – so I looked to the world beyond. Given that, besides one high school band related trip, every international trip I ever took was somehow Catholic in nature. Either a pilgrimage, a mission trip or visiting family, I really cannot remember a time I left the U.S. for a “non-Catholic” reason.

Besides always feeling very much at home attending mass in these different countries and languages, but with familiar gestures and cadence to prayer, I experienced the very same Jesus every time.

I also experienced the very same Mother Mary, although she looked and sounded different in every new place I’d encounter. There she would be – yes, with hands folded and a pious look in the image or statue, but I would see through that to the mother that was revered and sought out by the local people; to the mother who made herself like her children, who came close to their lives, their cultures – just like her son.

In Medjugorje, it was a lady who came and spoke often, who drew people wide and far to prayer, sacrificial penance, confession and the Eucharist. In Ireland, it was Our Lady of Knock in her silence accompanying a people who had undergone so many hardships. In Mexico, it was the dearest mother of all – Guadalupe, who proclaimed herself mother with Christ under her bosom and all of us under her mantle with Juan Diego hearing her words, “Am I not here who is your Mother?”

In Spain and Italy, too many Marys to count! One of my favorite aspects of Marian apparitions and devotion is how she looks like the people she comes close to – in Japan she looks Asian, in Africa she looks African. She becomes what we need her to be, and that is because she is a Mother and her children are her everything.

The history and legend behind the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome – the largest and oldest known church dedicated to her honor – is like the kind of family story that gets passed down from generation to generation. What remains important is less of the details and more of the spirit it transmits.

Stepping inside the ancient church the architecture and artwork are truly overwhelming. Looking again at photographs of a place I have visited but admittedly its details blend in with the other majestic churches in Rome.

In the diocese where I live, some older churches – with their brick facades and stained glass windows – have given way to worship spaces that look more like a glorified meeting room. Yes, accessibility is a real consideration and things just don’t cost what they used to – but as I think about the most inspiring church buildings, the ones that, just by stepping through their doors, draw me into prayer and wonder.

What’s most inspiring isn’t even usually the art or architecture themselves, but the amazement at the time, effort, sheer manpower and craftsmanship that went into them. I love driving around rural Wisconsin and discovering towering church steeples catapulting up from what must have been farming community centers. These were clearly not immigrants and settlers who came bearing gold and frankincense, but who gave the very best of themselves to God. Who, by the churches they built to gather, pray and receive his goodness, strength and grace, spoke volumes in spire and stone.

It seems no wonder that God would have adorned Our Lady – the woman he chose and graced from before her birth with an immaculate heart and soul – would be so graciously dressed in memorial, especially when, like her own body, the buildings house the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord and Savior.

Like her, how do we adorn our own inner sanctuaries? The places in our homes and especially in our own hearts where we welcome and house our friend and brother, Jesus.

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