The weather is wretched. The credit card is groaning beneath the weight of Christmas charges. The family is restless. After you have made everybody sit down together and write thank-you notes for a whole weekend, what are you to do?
We are blessed to live in city of great monuments and museums, both of which are less crowded at this time of year. Parking can be an issue though, and the winter weather affects those marble stairs and pavilions adversely. Speaking of perilous environments, the next week or be a time for only the valiant and prepared to try the Capitol or the National Mall. The Basilica of the National Shrine is a great field trip, but you’ve probably done that already – and besides, the whole central vault is under scaffolding as the great central dome receives its beautiful new mosaic. So what’s to do?
May I suggest the Saint John Paul II Shrine? The building has been there for almost twenty years, but everything within the walls is completely new. It is not a church, but it has two chapels; it is not a museum, but it has both permanent and temporary exhibits.
The chapels are entirely covered in mosaics, recently conceived, executed, and completed by an artist whose work I had only seen in the private chapel of Pope John Paul II in the Apostolic Palace in Rome; the renovation was a gift to him or the twenty-fifth anniversary of his pontificate in 2003. The style is unique, modern, traditional, colorful, and captivating. The imagery will open your eyes to truths of the faith you had forgotten or never understood so clearly before. The expert guides will help you see as they point out and explain the various elements.
There is an engaging and enlightening permanent exhibit on the sainted pope and the Church during his 28-year reign. Even as someone who lived through all of it, I am amazed to be reminded of the breadth and brilliance of his transformational teaching of Christ, and all he accomplished for the Church and the world.
The current temporary exhibit, continuing through March 31, is about Saint Thomas More, the “Man for All Seasons,” whose influence in our own time and nation is more than you would imagine, and not nearly as much as we need.
My excuse for going to the newly invigorated Shrine was my parents’ visit in the days after Christmas. Everything we saw was marvelous, and we didn’t have nearly enough time to do everything while we were there. I am certain that they both want to take up where they left off when next they come to town.
Neil Sloan is planning a Family Pilgrimage to the Shrine for our First Communion and Confirmation families on Sunday 26 February, with a special presentation and tour arranged. We have an unusually strong connecting to the Shrine, in that a number of our parishioners, and a few until-recently parishioners, work in various capacities there. So it is easy to feel at home.
Just off North Capitol Street between Carroll High School and Catholic University, it is a twenty-minute drive from the heart of the parish. There is plenty of free parking. Admission is free. There is a gift shop. And the energized Brookland/CUA area nearby is filled with new places to eat.
So stretch your legs, and broaden your vision of the Faith. Make it a family outing and compare who likes and learns what. Soon you’ll be telling your out-of-town guests to make sure they don’t miss it, possibly so you can have another excuse to go yourself, no matter what the weather. Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!Monsignor Smith