Friday, July 2, 2010

~Dear Lord, I pray for Wisdom to understand my man; Love to forgive him; And Patience for his moods. Because, Lord, if I pray for Strength, I'll beat him to death. AMEN~


The Celestine Sign

Yesterday was the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, apostles of the beginnings of the Church -- one to the Jews, the other to the nations. But the times remind one of a man who took the name "Celestine" when he became Pope, a name never chosen again...

"I resign the papacy out of the desire for humility, for a purer life, for a stainless conscience, the deficiencies of my own physical strength, my ignorance, the perverseness of the people, my longing for the tranquility of my former life." --Pope St. Celestine V (1209-1296), also known as Pietro da Marrone, the only Pope in history to resign the papacy, giving the reasons for his resignation on December 13, 1294 after only five months as Pope. He lived another year and a half, kept in prison by his successor, Boniface VIII.

"I saw and recognized the shade of him who by his cowardice made the great refusal" --Dante, Inferno, III, 59–60; many scholars believe Dante is referring to Celestine V, placing him in Hell because Dante felt Celestine had acted in a cowardly way by resigning rather than facing and fighting the forces of evil in the Church)

A Mystery in Plain Sight

Today (reported June 29) in Rome, on the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, Pope Benedict XVI gave a remarkable homily in which he mentions the threats that will come against the Church in the "last days."
This homily must be read in part as Benedict's commentary on the sexual abuse crisis and the increasing pressure being placed on the Church by secular judicial and law enforcement authorities.

The homily thus provides a deep insight into Benedict's mind at this troubled moment in his pontificate.

The feast in Rome on June 29 each year is the feast in which the Pope places the "pallium," a cloth made of wool, upon the shoulders of archbishops from around the world chosen during the past year as a sign that they are "linked" or "yoked" to the universal Church, to Rome, and to the person of the Pope.

In his homily, the Pope speaks of the "liberty of the Church" and says this liberty is protected by the strength of the union between the bishops around the world and the bishop of Rome, the Pope.
A little more than a year ago, on April 29, 2009, Benedict did something unusual. He left his own "pallium," the sign of his episcopal authority and his connection to Christ, on a tomb in Aquila, Italy. The tomb held the remains of a relatively obscure medieval Pope named was Celestine V (1209-1296).


The Pope now wears a pallium designed by Monsignor Guido Marini, a cross between the short pallium with black crosses worn by Metropolitan Archbishops and the longer ones with red crosses. This resembles the pallium worn by the the figure of Celestine in his shrine which is a short pallium with black crosses over an elaborate Roman chasuble.

Celestine was a holy monk. His model was John the Baptist. His wore hair-cloth and a chain of iron. He fasted every day except Sunday and each year he kept four Lents on bread and water alone. Many kindred spirits gathered about him eager to imitate his rule of life, and before his death there were 36 monasteries, numbering 600 religious, bearing his papal name (Celestini).

But he was not just a monk.

He was elected Pope in 1294, a time of great corruption and contention in the Church, after a conclave deadlocked for more than two years. He was elected at about the age of 80 (Benedict was 78 when he was elected Pope in 2005).

At Celestine's election, some of the Spiritual Franciscans, who opposed the worldliness of the Church hierarchy, proclaimed that he was the first legitimate Pope in nearly 1,000 years, since Constantine had granted the Church huge territorial possessions in the 300s.

So the Church had a holy leader, and many devout Catholics at that time thought the Church would be reformed by this good man.

But the holy Celestine -- who pleaded with the cardinals not to choose him as the Pope -- could not manage to rule the powerful cardinals around him.

The cardinals of 700 years ago seem to have chosen Celestine almost humorously, as it were, not seriously, as if to say, "We can't agree on a serious 'Prince-Cardinal' for Pope, so we will choose this holy, quiet, learned monk to be Pope, and watch with a certain amusement as he struggles mightily but in vain to guide the ungovernable bark of Peter."

After five months, Celestine gave up, and resigned -- the only Pope who has ever done so.

He thought he would end his life in peace, but his successor, Boniface VIII, fearing his opponents might use Celestine as a rallying point, ordered him confined, and some allege (probably wrongly, since he was already approaching 90), executed.

All of Celestine's official acts were annulled by Boniface.

Now, Benedict is scheduled to travel this Sunday, on July 4, to Sulmona, not far from Rome. There, in the crypt of the cathedral, as the last act of his visit, he is scheduled to venerate relics of this same holy Pope, Celestine V.

So Sunday, the Pope will pray before Celestine's relics for the second time in 15 months.

I am not suggesting Pope Benedict XVI is thinking of following in the footsteps of the saintly Pope Celestine and resigning.

I am suggesting that the studious Pope Benedict and the studious monk-Pope are "connected" in a mysterious way.

I believe Benedict's decisions to leave his pallium in Aquila, where Celestine's tomb is located, and to schedule a prayer before his relics this coming Sunday, are not haphazard.

These decisions are indicators, ways of communicating truths through gestures. They contain a message the Pope cannot deliver any other way.

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