Going Backwards

memento mori valentine
sicut transit gloria mundi

The scandal is, as it was: Pope and bishops run scared from the perennial reality of sexual abuse. Granted, dealing with such things sucks. But a doctor or nurse cannot say, “I don’t like the look and smell of this pus-filled wound or burn. So instead of trying to clean it and treat it, I will just let it fester.”

We have to face this scandalous fact: It is happening again, like it has so many times before. No one in authority in the Church has any zeal to see justice done in the McCarrick case.

James put his testimony on the table, so to speak. Mike did likewise: the New York Times spoke with his lawyer and published details–details of the original accusation, that got McCarrick suspended on June 20.

No one in the Church has openly acknowledged the clear accusations that now stand as a matter of public record. Instead, McCarrick offered his resignation from the College of Cardinals, and Pope Francis accepted it. The statement the Vatican made on that occasion (this past Saturday) actually serves to short-circuit the cause of justice in two decisive ways.

1. The Pope “sentenced” McCarrick to a confined life of prayer and penance. (That is, a monk’s life.) Pope Francis laid down this sentence without a trial. Is McCarrick guilty of the crimes that Mike and James have brought to light? Pope says nothing about that, nor does any bishop.

mccarrick

If McCarrick is “found guilty” by a Church trial (please don’t hold your breath), what further punishment can Holy Mother Church mete out upon him? She could degrade him to the lay state. But that would not affect his daily life as a monk in any significant way. In other words, the Pope has already imposed the real penalty. Seems to me that this reduces the urgency of actually holding a trial to zero.

2. Where is McCarrick? We don’t know. It seems we never will.

Now, no one seems to doubt the basic truthfulness of Mike and James’ accusations. But these accusers have both a duty and a right to confront McCarrick directly, preferably face-to-face. And McCarrick has both a duty and a right to answer those accusations with a public statement.

Is he willing to admit that he grievously wronged these gentlemen? While they were too young to know how to defend themselves from exploitation at his hands? Is he willing to get down on his knees in front of them, and beg their pardon, and ask how he can make it up to them?

st-peters-confessio

With my own eyes, I saw McCarrick solemnly created a Cardinal-Priest of the Apostolic See. That makes him fall directly under the Pope’s jurisdiction.

Pope Francis is “media savvy?” Then, why would he hurriedly accept McCarrick’s resignation? Instead, the pope could have:

Insisted that this exact scene take place, at the tomb of St. Peter, with the Vatican-media cameras rolling: McCarrick on his knees in front of James and Mike (and any others who have grievances of this kind against him).

Why did the Pope not insist on this or something like it? Something that would have brought some peace to us all? Because Pope Franics, like our own bishops here in the US: afraid to deal with this. Afraid to deal with cases of sexual abuse. Again: Our prelates’ womanish fear of this perennial problem is the scandal.

The Pope’s precipitous, imprudent act on Saturday effectively shelters McCarrick in a secret location forever. His accusers have to go on with their lives, with no opportunity to confront the villain who profoundly wounded them. The next time any of us will ever know Cardinal (whoops, I mean Archbishop) McCarrick’s whereabouts? His funeral.

Meanwhile, our American bishops prattle on, like the bureaucrats they are, about “procedures” to “prevent this.” And justifiably angry lay people insist on a total restructuring of authority in the Church in the US, to “make bishops accountable.”

Two things:

1. None of this involves actually dealing with the specific accusations, which are sitting on the table. Mike and James worked with reporters to put them in the public record. And these accusations stand as yet unaddressed by anyone in the Church.

2. Human beings cannot change the fundamental authority structure of the Church. Our Church is not a civil society that can have a “separation of powers” in order to protect Joe Citizen from government coercion.

Our Church is a purely voluntary society; Her governors have no coercive power, other than the grip of conscience. Within Her, authority follows the shape of the Holy Mass. The man who presides over the Mass governs the Church.

Please God we clergymen govern with prudence, justice, and love. But addressing our failures in that area is not a matter of “policies.” It requires prayer and mortification of the flesh. If we think our bishops suck, we can only accuse ourselves. We get the shepherds we deserve. If we want better ones, we have to pray and mortify ourselves to get them.

One irony of McCarrick’s “fall:” The Washington elite, many of the Washington priests, and the majority of the lay people, all thought he was one of “the good guys.” Good in that he wanted to interact with his people, wanted to know them, be close to them.

I can say (and my old friends will back me up) I never trusted McCarrick. I will write more about that when time allows. (I wrote about my struggles as a seminarian in November 2001 before.)

But I want to hope and pray that McCarrick himself will find a way to make this thing right. That he will seek pardon and achieve reconciliation.

Call me naive to hope and pray for such a thing. But it’s a lot less naive than imagining that Pope Francis or our American Cardinals and bishops will see justice done here.

…This morning I pulled out the Archidiocese of Washington directory and prayed by name for all my fellow McCarrick ordinands. As I made my way through the list, a clear memory surfaced.

When McCarrick came to Washington, then-deacon, now Father Martin Flum predicted that all of this would happen.

Father Flum’s holiness has always amazed me, so maybe it was a pure supernatural insight. Or maybe he had the common sense to believe the rumors about McCarrick’s sexual abuse of seminarians–which the rest of us didn’t want to believe.

Whatever the explanation for his prescience, Martin Flum absolutely predicted the McCarrick Scandal of 2018, seventeen or so years before it happened, in a conversation among brother seminarians sometime in the early 2000’s.

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James’ Amanuensis and The Catholic-Press Shadow House

James w McCarrick

You can’t google him, because he hasn’t given his last name. As far as I can tell, no one has yet collected links to all his statements to reporters. So I want to do that, because he deserves an amanuensis. (Please click Leave a Reply and let me know, if you have other links.)

The original New York Times story.

Follow-up story in the Washington Post.

Interview with Rod Dreher

TV interview: Fox 5

TV interview: NBC 4

Nauseating, in the extreme. But also profoundly consoling, as I tried to point out at Holy Mass today. What James has done is: compare McCarrick to Jesus Christ.

By that standard, McCarrick deserves severe chastisement. James’ hunger for justice (see Matthew 5) has changed the silent, suffering victim into the courageous advocate.

Should we doubt anything James says? Back in 2002 I learned: Men do not accuse other men of sexually abusing them, unless it happened. Also, other anonymous witnesses have corroborated some of the circumstantial details of James’ story, as you can read in Rod Dreher’s account of his conversation with James.

Addendum: Sed contra, One careful analyst notes some problems with James’ account. I, too, found James’ reference to Fr. Paul Shanley of Boston a little too perfect. But even if he got that wrong, or gilded the lily there, I still think the basic story rings true. After all, if James had made up the whole thing, and McCarrick stands falsely accused here, then surely the wronged Archbishop would have publicly denied it all by now.

Meanwhile, in the shadow-world of the Catholic and mainstream press…

1. The Pope did a great, unprecedented, bold thing on Saturday, accepting McCarrick’s resignation from the College of Cardinals. This altogether-weird interpretation of what happened Saturday is apparently the official position of the USCCB.

Hold on, please:

The Pope accepted McCarrick’s resignation. The Pope did not expel McCarrick from the College of Cardinals. The Pope reacted; he did not act.

2. The Archdiocese of Washington and Cardinal Wuerl made public statements to address the problem.

But hold on, please:

The only immediate practical upshot of any of this is: James is Bishop Burbidge’s problem, not ours. (We know that James lives in the Diocese of Arlington.)

Please, can we focus on the actual facts:

On June 20, the Archdioceses of Washington and New York announced then-Cardinal McCarrick’s suspension from public ministry, because of an accusation leveled by a New York man named Mike. …Since that time, no official in the Church has actually done anything.

On July 19, the New York Times published James’ story. …Everything that has happened since July 19 has happened because James spoke out.

James, and the journalists who have worked with him, have brought about the beginnings of a reckoning with justice. The Church has only reacted to events. And, as far as we know, no Church official has made the slightest effort to contact James.

I for one want to honor James, by name, for giving me hope in the face of excruciating pain. Mike, too: Thank you.

James: The Man of Hour. Part I

James w McCarrick

The yeast leavens the dough. Makes it delicious bread. The yeast of the Kingdom of God turns this flat and dry world into a beautiful, airy wonderland.

What is this yeast of God? The charity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ. Divine love. The Holy Spirit. The giving of life.

And what marches right alongside the charity of the Heart of Christ? What moves with it, bound up with it like two strands in a coaxial cable? The cable that delivers holiness, vigor, and hope to your house? The chastity of Christ. The charity of Christ and the chastity of Christ are so closely interwoven with each other that they are practically the same thing. Only one different letter.

sacredheart(If you count “st” as one letter.)

In the loving Heart of Christ, we find two gifts of chastity.

1) The Lord Jesus never married, never had children by the martial embrace. To some men and women, he gives this gift of perpetual chastity in celibacy. It involves spiritual struggles, sometimes intense. But consecrated celibacy also brings with it the indescribable blessedness of living on earth with one foot in heaven.

2) The loving Heart of God also loves His spouse, the Church, with unswerving, gentle fidelity. To most people, He gives this gift of marriage and family life. The Christian conjugal life, faithful until death, offers us an image of the communion of heaven.

Life flows into the world through these two forms of chastity. The coaxial cable of charity/chastity puts the divine yeast in the oven. The bread rises and becomes delicious.

What made me think of all this? The great Catholic hero of the past fortnight. James. He hasn’t given the public his last name. But he has given us a witness to the beauty of the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ.

How, you ask? Isn’t he the one who came forward with the accusations against the former Archbishop of Washington? He tells an ugly story, a heartbreaking story. (See Part II of this post.)

Yes, indeed, he does. But the nugget at the heart of the story is this: James still has faith in the true, divine love and chastity of Jesus. If he didn’t, then the former Archbishop’s selfish cynicism would have overwhelmed this man’s soul completely.

But it hasn’t. James has enough faith and hope in God to measure McCarrick versus Jesus. And to stand up and cry out for justice.

No Longer His Eminence

Consistory February 2001 McCarrick Bergoglio
Consistory for the Chair of Peter, 2001. Holy Father, McCarrick and me are all in this picture.

I can honestly say I remember as if it were yesterday. Pope John Paul II preaching to the new Cardinals at a huge Mass in St. Peter’s Square, February 22, 2001. Among the new Eminences: Jorge Bergoglio and Theodore McCarrick.

Christ ardently desires the full and visible communion of all those Communities in which, by virtue of God’s faithfulness, his Spirit dwells. To this primary goal Cardinals, both as a College and individually, can and must make their valuable contribution.

For they are the first collaborators in the Roman Pontiff’s ministry of unity. The red that they wear recalls the blood of the martyrs, especially that of Peter and Paul, on whose supreme witness the vocation and universal mission of the Church of Rome and of her Pastor is founded.

We were full of almost-indescribable excitement that day, we seminarians of the Archdiocese of Washington. Our new Archbishop had brought us with him to Rome to “receive his red hat.”

I learned on that trip what it means, being “created a Cardinal.” It makes you a clergyman of the ancient city of Rome, while you simultaneously retain your home affiliation also.

McCarrick was created a Cardinal-Priest and made the titular pastor of the parish church Sts. Nereus and Achilleus. New Cardinals usually celebrate Mass in their Roman churches the day after the Consistory. But McCarrick couldn’t, because Sts. Nereus and Achilleus was, at that time, enveloped in scaffolding and unsafe to enter. So we had our Mass at the altar of the Chair of St. Peter in the Basilica.

Here’s a goofy dude you know, in the cupola on top of the dome, after that Mass.

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Who would have thought it would end like this?

I will have more to say about this, dear reader. In the meantime, please don’t worry about me leaving the priesthood. What would I do? “I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg.”

But I daresay that all of us who sat in the back of McCarrick’s Cardinal-pilgrimage plane on that trip, all of us men that he ordained… I daresay we are hurting. Not as much as the men McCarrick abused. But hurting nonetheless.

The pathetic villainy of this one man, however, cannot touch the beauty of what we encountered on that trip:

A truly holy pope. The unfathomably rich Christian patrimony of the city of Rome. Our own fraternity in faith and zeal–zeal for the truths about God and man contained in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. All of that stands firm.

But: Thank you for praying. This hurts.

The Trust of Christ

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The hillside. The crowd. Time to eat. And time to trust in divine Providence. [Spanish]

St. Andrew knew about the boy with five barley loaves and two fish. But he also doubted the Lord’s miraculous bounty. “What good are these for so many?”

Let’s focus on St. Andrew. I visited St. Andrew’s tomb in Amalfi, Italy, two weeks ago. Let’s examine St. Andrew’s part in this particular situation–with the hungry crowd and the provident God.

God provides. To obey and follow Christ means acknowledging that God owns everything, and I own nothing–not even myself. Lord Jesus sent His Apostles into the world with nothing but a walking stick. As our Holy Father, Pope Francis, recently put it, “the walking stick is the attribute of the pilgrim.”

The pilgrim announces the Kingdom of God simply by being a pilgrim. The pilgrim claims nothing for his or her own, but trusts in the heavenly Father. “Give us this day our daily bread.” God is God. God loves His children. He will always provide for His little ones. Tomorrow will take care of itself.

tabgha loaves fishes multiplication mosaicLord Jesus took this trust to the cross. He trusted His Father, unto death. “Into Your hands I commend my spirit.” And Jesus trusted rightly. Not in vain, or blindly, or foolishly. Heaven vindicated the Christ’s trust. On the third day…

This whole mystery of the trust of the pilgrim Christ–the trust in heaven which we see in the Heart of the Son of God at every moment of His pilgrim life–this whole interior gift of trust in Providence emerged into full view on that hillside, with the hungry crowd. And St. Andrew got nervous.

They had come by the thousands, trusting in the miracle-working rabbi, abandoning themselves to Him. He ordered that they… recline. He did not say, “Have the people start picking the nearby crops. Or boiling their shoes to make stew.” No. He told them to relax. God provides.

So they did relax. Except poor St. Andrew, who fretted. ‘These five loaves and two fish are enough for one family, Lord. But, gosh–look at this crowd!’

Now, St. Andrew’s fretfulness on the hillside didn’t last forever. On Pentecost, he received the spiritual gifts that fill a soul with total trust. In the end, St. Andrew got crucified himself, a martyr, like his brother St. Peter and the other Apostles. St. Andrew died with serene trust that the kingdom of heaven awaited him. He hardly knew what the kingdom of heaven involves, but he trusted that it is good. After all, by then St. Andrew had seen His Lord feed 5,000 men and their families with five loaves and two fish. He had learned to fear nothing–other than sinning against Christ by mistrusting Him.

Outside the cathedral in Amalfi which houses St. Andrew’s tomb, there’s a fountain in the piazza. Water flows out of nymphs and mermaids–all under the feet of a statue of the Apostle. Holding his X-shaped cross in his arms, like a trophy. The trophy of: trust in Christ unto death.

Charles Bosseron Chambers Sacred Heart of JesusTrust in Divine Providence doesn’t mean comfort in this world. It doesn’t mean always getting what I want, or what I think is best. The trust of the miraculous hillside means walking through life with empty hands. I had empty hands when I came into this world. And I will have empty hands when I go forth from it.

Trust in divine Providence means accepting that I do not know exactly what God will provide and when. He knows best. Will He provide me with a meal today, or will He provide me with a moment to offer up my hunger? Will He give me another day of life tomorrow, or is today to be my last?

I don’t know. We don’t know. God does. He wills to give me His Kingdom. And only He knows exactly what that kingdom is. The Kingdom of God has one castle, one throne room, one banquet hall–and it’s all hidden in the invisible interior depths of the Heart of Jesus Christ.

At every moment of our pilgrim lives, God offers us a way into the hidden kingdom. We never have to live anywhere else. We just have to accept that we have nothing and know nothing. God has everything and knows everything. And what He has and knows and is: it’s pure good.

New Scandal, Worse Than the First

McCarrick sofa

He spoke with forked tongue. In Dallas. In 2002. When the American Bishops’ Conference supposedly addressed the problem of sex abuse by priests.

If it turns out we are not faithful to what we have all agreed, it will be similar to if we’re not faithful in teaching the faith. This will be a delict that we will be sanctioned for.

Craven hypocrisy. Thundering, preposterous, sickening lies.

We will take this seriously… We will be accountable to do what we promised to do… We must put an end to this.

McCarrick lead the bishops. In their supposedly sincere effort to win back the public’s trust.

Unbeknownst to us at the time, the holy angels looked down upon the spectacle, and they wept. Because the Vatican’s Man of the Hour in 2002, Theodore Cardinal McCarrick, himself deserved, at that very moment, to be defrocked and jailed for the rest of his life.

When I wrote about this before, I made a mistake regarding Cardinal McCarrick’s statement last month, when the Pope suspended his public ministry. McCarrick said: “I have no recollection of this reported abuse… I believe in my innocence.”

I interpreted this as an implicit admission of guilt. In my then-naive mind, I could not imagine a grown man, a priest, who could not remember whether or not he fondled the genitalia of an eleventh-grader. So this is the Cardinal’s way of admitting that he did it, I concluded.

But now, with more information available, the Cardinal’s statement makes more sense. It is plausibly sincere. As in:

I myself have watched the sun rise many, many times in my life. Did I ever watch the sun rise from the Virginia side of the Potomac River? Or did I ever watch the sun rise while thinking about 19th-century Italian politics? Can’t say that for sure; can’t remember that exactly. I have no recollection of thinking about Vittorio Emanuele while watching the sun rise. (Though I may have done so.)

sunrise2It appears that Cardinal McCarrick has fondled many different male genitalia in the course of his life. So maybe he truly and honestly can’t remember that particular time in 1971. The one that got him suspended from ministry, forty-seven years later.

I have no patience for vagueness and rumor mongering. Plenty of writers in the Catholic press have felt free to insinuate that “many bishops must have known about this.” But there’s not a single fact in that sentence. Others assume that more, terrible stories about McCarrick will emerge. Maybe they will; maybe they won’t.

But the simple facts that sit on the table now: McCarrick fondled a teenage seminarian in 1971. He abused a boy he had baptized through his pre-teens, teens, and twenties. He manipulated seminarians into sleeping in the same bed with him. The Church paid out cash settlements in secret to protect McCarrick–at least $180,000 that belonged to holy Church, spent to buy the silence of abused seminarians. These facts suffice.

Yes, I believe in due process, not trial by newspaper article. But can we honestly think that these stories are all untrue?

Does Pope Francis care? About McCarrick’s multiple victims?

Do the bishops of the United States care? And do they recognize that the institution called “the USCCB” has now suffered irreparable damage? McCarrick always called himself “a man of the Conference.” The “Conference” has burnt to ashes now, your Excellencies.

Speak. As individual men, as aggrieved fathers in God.  As St. Thomas More put it so eloquently, “Silence gives consent.” The papal and episcopal silence at this point is genuinely sickening.

Wimpy bureaucrat-ese won’t do it. McCarrick’s red robes must burn in a bonfire in St. Peter’s Square. Or no one will ever listen to anything. Any of you say. Ever. Again.

Martyrdom and Encyclical Anniversary

Cathedral_Santiago_de_Compostela

In Italy I visited the tombs of Saints Peter, Andrew, and Matthew. But not St. James. Because…

He’s the patron of Spain. All able-bodied Catholics in Spain have to go to Mass today.

Among the Apostles, St. James suffered martyrdom first. He drank Christ’s chalice: Offering your mortal life for the glory of God, with total trust in heaven. We will consider this in more detail on Sunday–the trust of the holy Apostle, submitting to death, like the Lord Jesus did.

Speaking of trust. Fifty years ago today… Pope Paul VI gave us the encyclical Humanae Vitae. Soon-to-be-saint Pope Paul preserved the true meaning of marriage. He saved human sexuality from the clutches of modern technocratic mistrust of God and His Providence.

As the Catechism puts it:

Spouses share in the creative power and fatherhood of God. They co-operate with the love of God the Creator. Parents are, in a certain sense, that love’s interpreters. (para 2367)

Trusting God, trusting the spouse, trusting your own body. Fifty years ago today, on St. James’ feastday, Pope Paul affirmed the wisdom and beauty of that kind of trust. He was a hero then, and everyone who trusts like that is a hero now.

Non Nisi Te Crucifix and Other Adventures with Saints in Italy

Carthusian Monastery of St. James, Isle of Capri

Rome

The hot July sun shone over the taxi lane at Leonardo da Vinci airport. I had just swallowed my first caffè lungo at the bar outside passport control. (Airplane travel had deprived me of the six hours when I usually sleep.) On my way to St. Peter’s…

A Dutch tourist next to me in line, as we waited on the St.-Peter’s-Square cobblestones in the heat, bought an eight-euro parasol from a north-African huckster. We were headed for the metal detectors tucked into the Bernini colonnade.

Once you get out of the sun, up the steps, and through the huge church doors, you discover that the Basilica has a climate of its own.

I kissed the foot of St. Peter’s statue, as countless tall pilgrims before me have done. (People of normal height reach up and touch the foot with their hands.) Then I prayed at the top of the blocked steps that lead down to the confessio, the tomb of the Prince of the Apostles.

Wow–they have installed a new, worthier altar in the apse, beneath the reliquary of St. Peter’s Chair. And the ushers in here have gotten a lot stricter: you must turn off all cellphones and iPads to enter the Blessed Sacrament chapel. (Bravo.)

But: No priests on-duty to hear confessions in the northern transept like there used to be. And they have built a wooden platform extending forward from the papal high altar that makes the bases of Bernini’s baldacchino columns look cramped. (Really?)

I wove my way through the phalanxes of tourists to the tombs of Pope Sts. Pius X, John XXIII, and John Paul II. The summer sunlight flowed through the clerestory windows and formed perfect spotlights on the basilica floor for Japanese and Filippino photo ops.

St-peters-basilica-interior-pannini

Logistical difficulties kept me away from St. Paul Outside the Walls. I had a kind driver–but I shared him with another passenger, an Italian with whom I traveled fairly widely–who also had demands.

I made it to the Pantheon, however–also full of the whole world, touring Rome. And a lot cooler inside than it was outside. The white sunlight flowed in through the large open oculus above.

Here lies Vittorio Emmanuele–not a saint of the Church’s reverence; an enemy, in fact, of another pope-saint whose footsteps I crossed by accident later in my trip. But the Father of Italy died with the sacraments. May he rest in peace.

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the Pantheon in Rome

Naples

St. Thomas Aquinas returned to his beloved Naples in 1272 to teach the truth about God at a newly founded seminary. At that point in his life, he enjoyed enormous fame as the world’s pre-eminent clarifier of theological terms.

St. Thomas knelt one night in prayer before an icon of the crucifixion of Christ. The Lord spoke to Thomas from the cross. “You have written well of Me. What reward would you have for your labor?”

Thomas was then 48 years of age. He would die within the year, but no one on earth knew that.

Thomas answered Jesus, “Non nisi te, Domine. I want no reward but You.”

St Thomas Aquinas Non Nisi Te Naples

The crucifix icon hangs in a side chapel of the Church of San Domenico Maggiore–a Baroque oasis of utter silence in the pullulating, hot streets of the Naples’ University district. They keep St. Thomas’ arm in a reliquary in the sacristy next door.

Around the corner, in the ugly, dark early-Gothic revival Church of Santa Chiara, lies the sepulcher of St. Ludovico of Casoria, canonized by Pope Francis in 2015. In a suburb of Naples which I passed on the train, this 19th-century Franciscan spent himself in fighting the faithlessness of the age, by building little institutions to care for the poor.

A few crowded blocks away: The Duomo of St. Mary, Assumed into Heaven. Here the blood of Naples’ illustrious martyr-patron, St. Januarius, often liquefies miraculously on the anniversary of his death during the persecution of Diocletian. Or when the pope visits the basilica.

The confessio under the high altar here offers a quiet, cool, subterranean place to pray in peace. Above, the apse mimics St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, with a copy of the Holy-Spirit dove window. But instead of a chair, the Pietro Bracci sculpture depicts Our Lady’s Assumption into heaven.

Pietro Bracci Virgin's Assumption Naples Cathedral

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Bishop relaxing in death in the Naples’ Duomo

Downtown Naples smells like the ancient port city that it is. From here Spaniards ruled a vast empire. The Palazzo Reale has statues of an august kingly line, from Roger the Norman to Vittorio Emanuele.

Across the Piazza del Plebiscito, the church of St. Francis of Paola looks like the Pantheon in Rome–because Napoleon wanted it built that way, in his own honor. Across the street stands the colossal Galleria Umberto, a 19th-century shopping mall flooded with sunlight through a glass roof.

Caserta

In 1750, the Savoys who ruled here decided to move the seat of government inland, to protect themselves from sea attack. They built the largest palace on earth, the Reggia Caserta. Never been to Versailles myself (the model for the Savoy palace) but this one is pretty amazing.

1200px-Reggia_di_Caserta,_prospettiva_dalla_fontana_di_Venere_e_Adone_-_panoramio

They dedicate one enormous room to the perpetual display of the royal Nativity set…

front
the front
back
back
coming from abroad
coming from the East
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more camels

In 1848 an Italian nationalist assassin stabbed the Pope’s Interior Minister to death in the Apostolic Chancery in Rome. Pope St. Pius IX left Rome for some months to preserve his safety. He stayed at his home in Gaeta, and in Naples, and here. They built him this little chapel:

Pio Nono chapel Caserta

Speaking of Neopolitan suburbs: they stretch endlessly from the city to the mountains. In one of them, I ate an interesting dinner with the niece of one of Naples’ auxiliary bishops, and her family. (Everyone in this world is connected within six degrees of separation, remember?)

Anyway, her husband has a friend with a singular passion: to run an American diner. We ate hamburgers at the Firefly Diner, San Prisco, Italy, beneath a photo of Johnny Cash.

Capri

In the other direction from Naples, across the bay by ferry: the Isle of Capri. An ancient bishop named Constantius gave his life in martyrdom here. And the Carthusians built a monastery, so old it looks modern.

The monks died out long ago. A Romantic German painter, full of strange spiritual ideas, lived in the monastery and covered canvasses with his grim visions of a vegetarian God.

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View of the famed Capri faraglione from the Monastery Prior’s house

Amalfi

South of Naples and Mount Vesuvius, the Tyrrhenian Sea hugs the Italian peninsula in a series of blue bays. The renowned Amalfi Coast lies on the north side of the first bay, the Gulf of Salerno. In the middle of this coastline, which stretches from Sorrento to Solerno (serviced by one, winding highway through hills pitching into the water) lies Amalfi town.

These days the well-to-do come here to play (if they can’t afford Capri). But centuries ago, they brought St. Andrew here to rest.

In 1206, after the Fourth Crusade, the western army brought the sacred relics, which had resided in Constantinople, back to Italy.

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Amalfi town’s piazza surrounds a statue of St. Andrew holding his X cross. The Duomo sits 62 steps above, with the tympanum mosaic shimmering in the sunlight.

The cathedral has an ancient secondary nave, and a cloister, and a colorful campanile. They have transformed the simple “basilica of the crucifix” into a museum of precious sacred objects.

From here you to descend to the crypt below. And there lies St. Peter’s brother, surrounded by marble.

Salerno

To the east, the ancient city of Salerno commands the Gulf like a count presiding over his dominions. You can walk the Lungomare Trieste and gaze at the water. Plus, they have closed the Via dei Mercanti to motorized vehicles, making for a lovely, peaceful walk from the train station to the Duomo, past coffee bars and gelaterias, then up the hill through narrow, ancient streets to the basilica that houses St. Matthew’s remains.

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bar tables from home, on Via dei Mercanti in Salerno

This church is relatively quiet. What tourists there are–a Spanish family and a German one, with boys in the jerseys of their favorite World-Cup stars–are here because they have the Catholic faith.

Under the bright and hot main nave, which has two 12th-century pulpits and an ancient apse mosaic, lies the Evangelist in his marble crypt.

They oriented the crypt cross-wise, to make the tomb a double-chapel, so that two Masses could take place over the saint’s relics at the same time. Today, one side is set-up for a wedding.

This particular afternoon, it’s quiet and cool. I pray with inexpressible delight in the company of the man who wrote down the Sermon on the Mount.

Upstairs Pope St. Gregory VII rests in the east transept.

In addition to my main goals–visiting saints and talking to Italians–my trip had two little “themes.”

First: The spiritual battle in Italy against “Modernism,” “Americanism,” “Enlightenment-ism.” That is, against the alternate religion which believes in a fundamental change having occurred, since the mysteries of salvation were entrusted to the Apostles by Christ.

The adherents of this myth imagine different turning points. Like the lifetime of Isaac Newton, or Galileo, or Copernicus, or Albert Einstein or Steve Jobs. Or the year 1776, or 1789, or 1914, or 1968.

But the fundamental idea is the same: Now things are different; now we know better; now the ‘old ways’ must change, because they no longer serve the purpose.

This mythology dominates the life of Italy today, to be sure. But it encountered a few resolute Italian churchmen in the 19th and 20th centuries, sons of Italy who did not fear to fight the myth of Modernism, using the resources at their disposal. Popes Sts. Pius IX and X top that list. (Much more to come on this topic as time moves forward, dear reader.)

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Second theme. I found myself in a cozy little mountain town, along the main peninsular railway line. To meet a man who has built a world-class museum in his own basement.

Mussolini fell from power in July 1943. The Germans occupied Italy. Americans, Brits, and Poles landed in the south and marched north. In December, they met the German “Winter Line.”

There’s a medieval castle in this town, where the locals took shelter during the battle. (I recommended to the tour-guide that she read Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth, which is available in Italian.)

The Allies managed to break the German line, at great cost. My host, Mr. Angelo Andreoli, himself a veteran of the Italian military, along with his wife Maria Christina Verdone, have collected artifacts from the battle site, and from survivors in England, America, and Poland.

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Dear reader, I have run out of time to recount these adventures. I’m glad to be home, and back to work. I’m sure that additional reflections will sneak up on you in upcoming homilies. For now, Arrivaderci, Roma e Italia.

Visits

Ciao.

Soon I will board a plane, to go visit…

st-peters-confessio

St. Peter

Pius x tomb

St. Pius X

st john paul ii

St. John Paul II

outside-wall

St. Paul

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St. Andrew

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St. Matthew

Tomb of St. Januarius Naples

St. Januarius

San Costanzo Capri

St. Constanzo

(in their tombs)

Plus, St. Thomas Aquinas‘ arm

St. Thomas Aquinas arm Naples San Domenico Maggiore

and some of St. Blaise‘s bones

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Basilica di San Biagio

I will pray for you, dear reader, when I visit all these saints.

Please pray for me, that I will have safe travels. And plenty of good pasta and Taurasi. In Rome, Naples, Salerno, Amalfi, Maratea, and Capri.

A dopo.

Two Saints of Chastity

maria goretti tomb holy card
St. Maria Goretti, protect me everywhere!

A double saint-of-chastity day today. [Spanish]

One hundred sixteen years ago today, Maria Goretti died a martyr of chastity, before her twelfth birthday. She refused to give in to the sexual advances of a teenage boy. He threatened her life; she stood firm. He stabbed her to death. Maria Goretti made herself the young patroness of the #metoo movement over a century before Twitter got invented.

In our gospel reading at Mass, we hear the Lord call St. Matthew. Thanks to Matthew, we have “the Gospel of the Church,” a thorough compendium of Jesus Christ’s sayings and doings, written for readers already somewhat familiar with the Old Testament.

According to ancient Christian writings, St. Matthew wrote his gospel in the Holy Land, then set off to evangelize. He converted a pagan king, whose daughter Ephigenia made a vow of virginity to Christ.

A suitor then tried to persuade the princess to marry him. St. Matthew explained at Mass that Ephigenia had already committed herself. So the suitor killed St. Matthew in front of the altar.

There’s a little more… In AD 954, Christians brought St. Matthew’s remains to Salermo, in southern Italy, where they remain to this day. Your humble servant will visit the tomb next week. I will pray for you there!

caravaggio-call-st-matthew