For those, like me, who love reading about the saints, today is a rich day! Not only is today the optional memorials of St Bede the Venerable, Pope St Gregory VII, and St Mary Magdalen of Pazzi, but it’s also the day of Don Pino Puglisi’s beatification.
Four fascinating “older siblings,” whom we can learn from and pray to.
The Venerable Bede
St Bede was a great monk and scholar, whose life and work anticipated the renaissance of the High Middle Ages. I first learned about him when I was a kid, playing Sid Meier’s Civilization. Bede was mentioned for his Ecclesiastical History of the English People, which is one of the great and timeless works of western civilisation. I have a copy of it somewhere, but I have not read it (yet).
Bede’s scholarship — and his sanctity — have earned him several impressive titles. In 746, St Boniface described him as, “a light of the church, lit by the Holy Spirit.” In 1899, Pope Leo XIII declared him a Doctor of the Church. And he is popularly known as ‘the Father of English History.’
Bede compiled the first hagiography (biography of saints) which conformed to objective historical principles. He was the finest scriptural commentator of his generation. He is the earliest known author of English prose (though sadly, the prose itself is not extant). And he popularised the ‘AD’ dating system we still use now.
Today’s Office of Readings includes an endearing account of his holy death.
Pope Gregory VII
Like St Bede, St Gregory VII was a wise and holy monk, who was trusted advisor to several popes. Eventually, he was elected pope himself — much to his horror and chagrin.
His election was grossly irregular. In the midst of Pope Alexander’s funeral, the assembled crowd nominated him by popular acclamation. A hasty conclave of cardinals ratified the decision within hours.
Upon learning of this, Gregory wrote to the Holy Roman Emperor, beseeching him to nullify the election, and warning him that should he become Pope, he could never tolerate the Emperor’s scandalous crimes. Henry nonetheless assented to Gregory’s election — a decision he came to regret.
Gregory was the sort of pope we’re all hoping Francis will be: a great reformer, who renewed and purified the Church. Many corrupt bishops, abbots and priests — not to mention princes — were deposed. As you can imagine, he made many powerful enemies, not least among them, the Emperor.
Gregory maintained the peace and composure of a cloistered monk, despite a tumultuous pontificate. He survived several assassination attempts; Rome was besieged and sacked; an anti-pope was installed; he died in exile, unsure of his legacy.
His legacy was in fact, positive and far-reaching. It included a restoration of the moral integrity of the clergy, and affirmation of the doctrine of the Real Presence. Nearly 1,000 laters, Pope Paul VI quoted a confession of faith Gregory composed and required of a recalcitrant cleric. It is a confession every Catholic of our own time can make their own:
I believe in my heart and openly profess that the bread and wine that are placed on the altar are, through the mystery of the sacred prayer and the words of the Redeemer, substantially changed into the true and proper and lifegiving flesh and blood of Jesus Christ our Lord, and that after the consecration they are the true body of Christ, which was born of the Virgin and which hung on the Cross as an offering for the salvation of the world, and the true blood of Christ, which flowed from His side, and not just as a sign and by reason of the power of the sacrament, but in the very truth and reality of their substance and in what is proper to their nature.
Mary Magdalene de Pazzi
The Breviary’s short biography of St Mary Magdalene of Pazzi leads one to compare her to St Thérèse of Lisieux:
She was a Carmelite nun who led a hidden life of prayer and self-denial, praying especially for the reform of the Church and the conversion of the whole world. She guided her fellow sisters along the path to perfection. She was granted many spiritual gifts by God.
In fact, she wasn’t anything like St Thérèse. She has more in common with St Teresa of Avila, insofar as she was a visionary and mystic, to whom Jesus often appeared and engaged in conversation. But where Teresa was down to earth and ruthlessly practical, Mary Magdalene was eccentric to say the least. There’s an old saying: “You’d have to be a saint to live with a saint!” That’s not always true, but I think it was coined with St Mary Magdalene in mind.
Probably, I’m being unfair. Mary Magadelene held many leadership positions within her community, which would not be bestowed on an authentic hysteric. I admit I really struggled through her reading in today’s Office, but I’ve never been a poet.
Don Pino Puglisi
I’ve blogged about this heroic martyr priest before. Today he is beatified! I hope the event is cause for more information about him to be made in the English language.
Anyone proficient in Italian, however, has much more at their disposal. Here is a biopic, which is recommended to me by a brother seminarian:
I just finished watching a documentary on Don Pino Puglisi who will be beatified this Saturday, 25th May in Palermo, Italy.
I must admit I couldn’t help but get emotional at the funeral footage and the thousands who followed behind his casket including the young people he helped. Don Pino’s story captivates me, and every time I read or watch something I come away inspired.
Anyway, I’ll be following the events over the weekend and I’ll keep you informed. This event will get a lot of press in Italy, but I doubt we will hear much in Australia despite the significance of it in the history of the Church.
I was in Melbourne this week to make my monthly recollection (a sort of mini-retreat), so I was able to stick around and attend the 2013 Harman Lecture.
The Harman Lecture is an annual lecture delivered primarily to the faculty and students of the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and the Family. This year, Cardinal Marc Ouellet spoke on ‘The Significance of the Institute for the New Evangelisation.’
Being an academic lecture delivered by an academic for academics, you can imagine that the subject matter was largely academic. Text of the lecture will soon be available on the JPII Institute website, so I won’t attempt to reproduce its themes here. I’ll note only that the Cardinal spoke of an “anthropological crisis” which afflicts contemporary culture.
A few weeks ago, I had coffee with a seminary classmate, now a priest. He suggested that gay marriage is to the Church of our time what the contraceptive pill was to the Church in the 1960s. It had never occurred to me before, but upon reflection, I think he’s spot on. In both cases, unbroken Christian tradition is in direct conflict with the spirit of the age. And in both cases, anthropology — a philosophical account of the human person — is at the heart of things. So I listened closely to Cardinal Ouellet’s analysis of an anthropological crisis, and his proposed remedies.
The Cardinal spoke for less than an hour, and then fielded questions. In the course of his address, and more so in his unscripted answers, he expounded on the family as an examplary Imago Dei. In doing so, he employed memorable turns of phrase.
“The sacrament of marriage is a couple’s Pentecost,” for example. Marriage not only consecrate’s a couple’s union, but also divinises it. Herein lies the sacramentality of marriage.
“The fruitfulness of marriage is first and foremost spiritual.” A husband’s gift of self, and a wife’s gift of self, “creates a new identity”; a presence of God. Children are a manifestation of this, but some couples’ inability to have children in no way diminishes their sacramental fruitfulness.
“Evangelisation is accomplished by attraction, not by compulsion.” The best demonstration of the image of God is a loving family.
The Cardinal’s remarks reminded me of a blog I recently stumbled across: Shawn van der Linden’s “Faith, Family, Fatherhood.” Here’s a living example of precisely the sort of thing Cardinal Ouellet was talking about:
Like many parents today I am becoming very concerned about the increasing “sexualisation” of our society and its impact on young children . . .
. . While it is overwhelming, I think we sometimes underestimate the power of our own marriages when it comes to taking the fight up to this culture.
Recently my wife and I celebrated our 13th wedding anniversary. Our takeaway, candle lit dinner was accompanied by interruptions from our children who insisted on regularly getting out of bed to check how our “romantic” dinner was going!
My wife and I have often reflected on the impact of our expressions of intimacy on the happiness of our young children. Usually if they find us having a cuddle in the kitchen, or sitting close on the couch, they will run over to join in. It sometimes ends up being one big family hug! They are like magnets to the love and intimacy that exists between my wife and I. Indeed they thirst for it and in so many ways it is the foundation of their security in life.
Tertullian wrote that a demonstration of love distinguished Christians in the earliest days of the Church. He quoted a pagan official who marvelled at what he encountered: “See how they love each other!” (Apology, 39.)
Loving families must be at the heart of the Church’s new evangelisation.
Did Pope Francis perform a public exorcism on Sunday? Fr Lombardi (Vatican spokesman) says no; Fr Amorth (Roman exorcist) says yes. Fr Blake and Fr Finigan have blogged on this, and link to the video.
Apart from that, I’d add that Fr Amorth is a bit . . . well, I’m not sure. He is famous for his best-selling book, An Exorcist Tells His Story. Dr Ed Peters, who apart from being a canon lawyer is a clear and precise thinker, doesn’t rate it highly.
But whatever you make of the Holy Father’s actions on Sunday, the enemy has featured prominently in his preaching. In the words of Sandro Magister:
He refers to him continually. He combats him without respite. He does not believe him to be a myth, but a real person, the most insidious enemy of the Church.
Here’s some useful background:
Remember Verso L’Alto Melbourne? I’ve blogged about it previously. Here’s a refresher:
Basically, Verso L’Alto Melbourne is a walking group. Three or four times a year, the organisers send out an invitation to their friends — and others — to join them on a walk of several hours, which culminates with Mass. You can bring your own cut lunch, or stake out a nearby café or restaurant.
A couple of priests, who are available for confession or a chat, join the walk, but mostly it’s a “peer apostolate” — that is, an opportunity for young Catholics to spend time with other young Catholics. The explicitly religious content might be limited to praying together at Mass, but the everyday experiences of enjoying the walk, swapping iPod playlists, and commiserating each other’s sore feet and blisters can be formative.
The group is heading to wintry Ballarat next month, for an almost certainly bracing walk around Lake Wendouree. The breeze coming off the lake in winter is famous for its chill factor! Nonetheless, the organisers are right to classify the walk as “easy grade.” Walking the lake is a very pleasant stroll.
Comments have become problematic of late. Trolls have posted offensive comments, and in some cases stolen other users’ identities. Please accept my apologies Cathy.
I have consequently tightened access to comments. If a legitimate user is unable to comment, e-mail me (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I’ll change the settings so that you are “guaranteed passage.”