Saturday, April 26, 2014


I have been hearing tremendous praises for the upcoming canonizations of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II.  But I have also been hearing reservations from some quarters on a couple of counts:  first, the waiving of a 2nd miracle in the case of John XXIII; and second, remembering some dubious judgments on the part of John Paul II. 

For myself, I am not convinced that any kind of miraculous interventions should be the primary criterion for sainthood, though I fully understand the historical context that underlies it.  Who honestly thinks, for example, that we should have to wait for miracles for the formal canonization of Mother Teresa?  What I think far more important is an evaluation of the overall life of the person.  Was it marked by “heroic sanctity”?  Is it a life worth being held up as a model of holiness?  Here is the real acid test. 

Was John XXIII a wonderful man and truly “Good Pope John”?  I think so, without a doubt, including considering his record in rescuing Jews during World War II and his role, behind the scenes, in helping de-fuse the Cuban Missile Crisis.

When Pope John Paul II died in 2005, the crowds immediately started chanting Santo subito! [“Sainthood immediately” is one way to translate it].  He was recognized for his holiness of life, especially in the last years, with the sufferings he endured with the Parkinson’s, and for his evangelical desire to bring Jesus Christ to the world.  The joke was that the difference between Pope John Paul II and God is that God is everywhere; John Paul has been everywhere.

Yet there were flaws of judgment in Pope John Paul (I choose this phrase deliberately).  His staunch opposition to Marxism made him unfeeling toward the plight of the poor in Central America and the attempts by Catholic clergy to defend their rights and lives.  This was especially true in the way Archbishop Oscar Romero was treated—in a dismissive, almost unfeeling, way—by the Vatican.  Again, the pope’s support of Msgr Maciel Degollado as exemplary came back badly (though after John Paul’s death) when the truth about his scandalous lifestyle finally was made public.  It is hard to believe that the Holy Father was not at least told some of the truths about the founder of the Legionnaires of Christ; if so, clearly he chose not to believe them.  He saw the Legion (and Opus Dei) as the true spirit of the Jesuits, in whose loyalty he had lost confidence.

“Flaws of judgment,” I said.  It marks for me the distinction between holiness and perfection, between being devoted to and attached to God and being always correct.  The former is the criterion for sainthood, not the latter.  If you like, it is a parallel to the distinction between a pope’s formal ex cathedra infallible proclamations on the one hand and his personal theological perspectives on the other—these last being important but not definitive and final.  Outside of his exercise of the extraordinary infallible magisterium, a pope can indeed make a mistake.

Consider that only 2 other popes in the last 500 years have been canonized:  Pius V and Pius X.  Both were personally holy and both found themselves in the See of Peter in times of crisis:   finishing the Council of Trent and implementing its reforms for Pius V, and in the headlong series of political events that triggered World War I for Pius X.  Both also were capable of making what I would call errors of judgment.  For Pius V, expulsion of the Jews from most areas of the Papal States (and their being confined to ghettos in Ancona and Rome), and the excommunication of Elizabeth I of England, were at the very least ill-advised.  In the case of Pius X, in his desire to quash “Modernism,” he demanded, for example, the exclusion from teaching positions of anyone showing “a love of novelty in history, archeology, or biblical exegesis, and authorized “Vigilance Councils” for all dioceses to report on those suspected of the heresy.  This amounted to a sort of “secret police” structure.  [For a fuller discussion, see John W O’Malley, A History of the Popes]

Were they personally holy and saintly?  Did they also do great good for the Church?  Were they utterly convinced their actions were good and necessary?  Yes, to all three questions.  And so we honor them.  I’m not aware of too many parishes called “St Pius V,” but here in the Mobile Archdiocese we have St Pius X. 
Errors in judgment show the humanity of the Church—the “gory glory of the Body of Christ,” as one priest once expressed it.  Through it all, the love of God in Jesus Christ is reflected.  And so we celebrate saints:  men and women in love with God—even when they are not perfect as God is.

Thursday, April 24, 2014


A series of curious events has triggered this post. 

I was given a year's subscription free to St Anthony Messenger for a book I'd purchased, and in a current issue there was a feature by a Franciscan writer I admire a great deal--Fr Murry Bodo.  We have in fact also had him as a speaker for Christus, some years ago.  He was writing about a young Franciscan in Assisi with a great voice who makes recordings and does concerts.  And so I bought the CD:  Friar Alessandro.
On it is a setting of Ave, Maria that I would dearly love to sing one day:  it is based on the "Intermezzo" of Pietro Mascagni's opera Cavalleria Rusticana (which I would freely translate as "Redneck Revenge," but that's another issue).

The story is set in Sicily on Easter Sunday, but it is a story of lust, seduction, adultery, hatred and murder.  Is there a greater complex of contradictions possible??

Still, in the course of the story there is the beautiful, heart-breaking "Intermezzo"--excuse me if I say that this is extraordinarily "sincere" music--as a prelude to the horrific end of this "verismo" opera.  And it is this music that Friar Alessandro sings so wonderfully.

I encourage you to get his CD.  It includes other features, in Latin, Italian, English, Spanish and French (a great mix), and among its selections is the more famous Schubert Ave, Maria, Panis Angelicus, and other wonderful pieces.

Below, please enjoy the instrumental interlude of Mascagni on its own terms, and (in spite of the operatic context)-- "Happy Easter to all!"  [PS--please skip the imbedded ad that I can't seem to delete...]

Wednesday, April 9, 2014


To say that the relationship between Christians and Jews has been checkered is a colossal understatement.  But especially in Holy Week we need to examine our thought-patterns, our prejudices, and our desires to be faithful to Jesus Christ while rejecting all forms of bigotry (of which, sadly, our Faith has had a too-long history).
In the middle of the 16th century Pope Paul IV ordered all Jews in Rome to be confined in a ghetto—they were free to move about during the day, but the ghetto was locked at night.  They were also forced on Sundays to attend Christian sermons.
Was this offensive?  Surely.  Was it well-intentioned?  Probably.  Was it “effective”?  Hardly.  Was it cruel?  Absolutely.  Then why was it done?
Catholics (and other Christians, by the way) regarded Jews not only as unbelievers but as obstinate in their rejection of Jesus as the Messiah.  Millennialists saw this rejection as a barrier to the breaking in of the new order (much, honestly, as Orthodox Jews see any “land for peace” arrangement in Israel as inhibiting the coming of the Messianic era—the Messiah can only come when the old kingdom is fully restored).  If Jews in sufficient quantities could be “converted” by means of obligatory preaching and perhaps even forced baptisms, so much the better—the Kingdom would thereby be advanced (and the Jews’ souls would be saved).
Meanwhile, Jews were seen as good enough to engage in professions that Christians saw as necessary for their economic well-being, yet sinful enough that they should never be part of, themselves:  money-lending (think Shylock in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, and re-read his speech in Act III, scene 1, lines 52ff.).
We have too easily grasped, as Christians, the theology (born of polemic bred in anger) from the Gospels of Matthew and John especially, that we and Jews should be antagonists; we have never bothered, until recently, to pay sufficient attention to the argumentation of St Paul (also a Jew and a Pharisee) in Romans 9-11, that God would never reject His Chosen People.  Punish them?  Yes; but never reject them.  And God will indeed also punish His new “Chosen People” (Christians/Catholics); but God will not reject those whom He loves—Christians or Jews.
Can we (Christians and Jews) be two branches on the same Vine in the vineyard of the LORD?  St Paul thought so; why should we think any less?  The cry, echoing after the Shoah of Nazi Germany, is “Never again!”  Should we not join our elder brothers and sisters in this cry?
When Christians confronted heretics called Cathars or Albigensians in southern France in the 12th century, one horrible massacre was justified by the cry: “Kill them all!  God will recognize His own!”  It’s time to reverse this cry of hate and shout together:  “Save them all!  God will recognize His own!” 
Without Abraham, “our Father in Faith,” where would we be, spiritually?  That in itself should be more than enough reason (as soon-to-be St John Paul II thought) to respect and honor our elder brothers and sisters in covenant with the Lord.
Happy Holy Week to all; blessed Passover to all.  May your Kingdom come:  for all of us.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

ITALY 2015

I've been approached recently by several people (parishioners) who have asked for details about the upcoming group I'll be taking to Italy in June of 2015.  Now that a huge spate of funerals is almost all over, and I can also get back to writing about the Roman Lenten Station Churches, I want to offer an outline of what we'll be doing (keeping in mind, of course, that some details can--and probably will--change, as exigencies of travel like hotel availability on certain dates may cause a re-configuring of the overall itinerary.

Quickly:  the trip is tentatively scheduled for a 14 June departure for Italy and return to the States on 26 June.  We typically arrange flights from Montgomery and Mobile, but we can modify connecting flights so folks can rendez-vous with us in Atlanta.

From a landing in Rome we'll head directly to Siena, and it'll include a passing visit at the wonderful Tuscan town of Cortona on the way to Assisi.  We're looking at a wine-tasting lunch in Spello, just outside Assisi.  From there we will make what I regard as the "cornerstone" of this pilgrimage:  a visit to Manoppello, where there is a miraculous cloth imprinted with the face of Jesus (and which matches in detail the face on the Shroud of Turin!).  You can read about this cloth in Paul Badde's book The Face of God.  We will also journey to Lanciano to see a Eucharistic miracle, and from there to the tomb of St Padre Pio in S Giovanni Rotondo.  On our way back to Rome we intend to celebrate Mass at Subiaco, St Benedict's first monastery and the home of the oldest known portrait of St Francis of Assisi.  In Rome itself, beyond Mass at St Peter's and opportunities to visit the Vatican Museums/Sistine Chapel, we will want to get tickets for the Galleria Borghese, my personal favorite of all Rome's art museums, and a day-trip to the famous fountains of the Villa d'Este in Tivoli, plus a walking tour of the old Jewish ghetto area. 
We have Mass every day in wonderful sites, including the tomb of St Francis in Assisi, and (hopefully) Chiesa Nuova, the home church of St Philip Neri, and perhaps also S Cecilia in the Trastevere district.

What is the cost, and what does it include?

Last time, the cost was right around $4,000/person based on double-occupancy.  There is a supplement for single-occupancy, and a break for triple-occupancy.  This time (as things go up), it'll surely be a couple of hundred dollars more, but it includes:

Airfare (we accommodate folks who wish to fly on their own)
Ground transportation
4-star hotels
2 meals every day
Admission fees to "built-in" visits all covered
Professional, licensed guides
Mass every day in wonderful churches
Me and my friends as tour leaders, who also hand-pick the restaurants!!

This is, as you can see from the dates, a 2-week visit.  We'll try not to cram too much in, to allow time for shopping, relaxation, and on-your-own visits to places you want to see (or see again).  But we won't leave you totally abandoned, either.

So if this interests you, make notes of the dates and let me know by e-mail if you'd like me to put you on the list of potentials--that way, you'll have updates as they come available (

Come join us!!