The other day, a friend invited me to attend a lecture by Bishop Robert Barron of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles, and head of Word on Fire. Bishop Barron was being awarded an honorary doctorate by the Angelicum, the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas here in Rome (a place I likely would have attended at some point had I entered the Dominicans as I was discerning my call back when I was at Catholic University). Barron is a delight for Catholics – a social media-savvy evangelical, often compared to a modern Fulton J. Sheen.
The talk was interesting, but befitting the occasion, fairly technical. Barron showed how Aquinas was really a modern evangelical at heart by somehow looking at his theology through the lens of post-modern thinking to arrive at the doctrine of salvation by faith as we embrace grace, God’s free gift of complete self-giving, unconditional love in Jesus Christ (see Romans 5:1). At least that’s what I think he was saying. His YouTube videos are decidedly more accessible.
That evening, I had a date with Nasim, our refugee center cook. (You can see Nasim in the lower left hand corner of this blog’s header.) At night, Nasim sells scarves along Via Nazionale, and he has been asking me to have a gelato with him. On my way home, there he was on the street. We ducked into a nearby gelateria and Nasim insisted on buying. We talked about our families. Like many refugees, Nasim had what for me is an unimaginably painful story, which he volunteered. He has family in the country he came from, now including grandchildren, and sends money to them from the little he earns.
Sitting with Nasim on a bench on a busy Roman sidewalk at 9:00 PM, sticky with gelato offered by someone who really had no money to pay for it, hearing a story of great suffering told with great peace and even a sense of joy, I learned anew what grace is, God’s gift through Christ of truly unconditional love. And I was saved.