Merciful Like Chrysostom Says Easter Is

St John Chrysostom in St PatricksSt. John Chrysostom died 1611 years ago tomorrow. He was a Syrian. He suffered at the hands of hostile secular rulers. He suffered at the hands of jealous fellow clerics. He lived an endless love affair with Christ, with learning, and with his flock. He bequeathed to us an all-but-bottomless treasury of Christian love, rendered in writing.

At Holy Mass today, we heard the Lord Jesus command us: “Be merciful as your heavenly Father is merciful.

How?

One way to answer that question might be to meditate on another question: To whom does Easter belong? Here is St. John Chrysostom’s answer to that question:

Are there any who are devout lovers of God? Let them enjoy this beautiful bright festival! Are there any who are grateful servants? Let them rejoice and enter into the joy of their Lord! Are there any weary with fasting? Let them now receive their wages!

If any have toiled from the first hour, let them receive their due reward; if any have come after the third hour, let him with gratitude join in the Feast! And he that arrived after the sixth hour, let him not doubt, for he too shall sustain no loss. And if any delayed until the ninth hour, let him not hesitate, but let him come too. And he who arrived only at the eleventh hour, let him not be afraid by reason of his delay.

For the Lord is gracious and receives the last even as the first. He gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour, as well as to him that toiled from the first….

Let us all enter into the joy of the Lord! First and last alike receive your reward; rich and poor, rejoice together! Sober and slothful, celebrate the day! You that have kept the fast, and you that have not, rejoice today for the Table is richly laden! Feast royally on it, the calf is a fatted one. Let no one go away hungry. Partake, all, of the cup of faith. Enjoy all the riches of His goodness!

Let no one grieve at his poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed. Let no one mourn that he has fallen again and again; for forgiveness has risen from the grave.

Let no one fear death, for the Death of our Savior has set us free. He has destroyed it by enduring it. He destroyed Hell when He descended into it…

Christ is Risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead; for Christ having risen from the dead, is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep. To Him be Glory and Power forever and ever. Amen!

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Even More Dramatic

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If we were looking for something more-dramatic than the controversy involving the pope and bishops, we found it. The Passion of St. John the Baptist, the anniversary of which we keep today.

St. John, while languishing in prison, sent two of his disciples to Jesus, to ask if He is indeed the Christ. I think we can safely assume that John sent these disciples with this question for their benefit, not his; he knew the truth.

Anyway, the Lord Jesus answered the question with a kind of question of his own (though it was hardly a prevarication 🙂 ) The Lord asked them: What do you see?

I have come, and the blind see, the lame walk, the deaf hear; lepers are clean, the dead rise again, and the poor have hope. Blessed is the one who takes no offense in Me.

In other words: Look, I may be a humble, dusty, sweaty Nazorean with no property, surrounded by low-class followers. But I am obviously the Messiah. You can see with your own eyes that I am the King of Justice, Peace, and true Life.

Tissot Herod
Herod

…Now to the dramatic moment of St. John’s death.

Herod drunk at his egomaniacal birthday celebration. Engaging in perverse, incestuous sensuality by leering at his own step-daughter, who was also his half-niece, the daughter of his half-brother. Reveling in his worldly power, swearing up and down to give her anything–as if he, Herod, were some kind of tin-pot god.

Then a dark thunderclap cuts through all the debauched levity. Execute the holy man. Kill the herald of the Messiah.

The mother and daughter had called Herod’s bluff.

Herod knew that what they asked him to do was wrong—grievously, preposterously wrong. He knew that a sober man would not think of such an act of violence. He knew that John, and John’s lord Jesus, spoke righteous truth, gave hope, offered people a path toward a good and wholesome life in the sight of God.

A big part of Herod’s own soul wanted to go down that path. But he couldn’t choose it; wouldn’t choose it. Instead, he chose merciless, hopeless, meaningless death. All because he feared being exposed for the puny little fraud that he actually was.

May God save us from such a fate. May He strengthen us so that we can face our choices humbly and soberly.

Let’s start by freely acknowledging that we ourselves are puny little frauds. No need to fear being exposed as such; we declare it ourselves! Then let’s stay close to Jesus and His saints.

My Hero, His Mother, and Pontifical Prevarication

pope press conference

You listened to her, O Lord, and did not despise her tears, which moistened the earth, whenever she prayed. (Antiphon for today’s Memorial of St. Monica)

St. Monica. She prayed for her son… Augustine. That he would embrace Catholicism.

She prayed. And he did. He embraced our religion, big time. The Catechism quotes Monica’s son more than any other theologian. Reading St. Augustine’s sermons has given me endless inspiration and insight. There is no one whom I admire more.

What separated Augustine from the hypocrites? Maybe his slavish humility before the sacred text of the Scriptures? Maybe his total personal devotion to Jesus his Savior? Maybe his tireless readiness to seek the truth? This made him the kind of pastor who could answer questions without prevarication.

Let’s take one Augustine quote from the Catechism.

To live well is nothing other than to love God with all one’s heart, with all one’s soul and with all one’s efforts.

From this it comes about that love is kept whole and uncorrupted (through temperance). No misfortune can disturb it (and this is fortitude). It obeys only God (and this is justice), and is careful in discerning things, so as not to be surprised by deceit or trickery (and this is prudence). [CCC 1809]

There’s enough wisdom in that one paragraph to organize your whole life on.

To live well is to love God.

Loving God keeps love pure and temperate.

Loving God makes love strong, even in the face of great difficulties.

Loving God keeps love honest and just, since the Lord sits on His throne to judge everyone, with all truth.

And loving God keeps love prudent, since a brave, pure, and honest love can see through nonsense and root itself in facts, in reality.

The best reaction I have heard so far to the publication of the famous Archbishop Viganó dossier: “I am shocked above all to learn that an Italian official spent time working during the second half of August.”

augustine-bookSeriously, though. We find ourselves at a terrible impasse. Our Holy Father had a chance yesterday to deny the truth of what the Archbishop alleges. On the papal plane heading home from Ireland, a reporter asked the pope directly, “Is it true that you knew about McCarrick?”

But Pope Francis would not say, “No. It is not true. Had I known I would have acted. Acted on behalf of those victimized by McCarrick’s predations. I’m only sorry I found out about it so late, and it breaks my heart to think about all the people that this man has hurt.”

The pope could have said all this. If it were true. But he did not. He said, “You must draw your own conclusions.”

To repeat: A reporter had asked the pope about a private conversation between himself and an Archbishop. The Archbishop had written: “I told Pope Francis about McCarrick in June of 2013.” So, Holy Father, is that true? Answer: “Draw your own conclusions.”

You might have wondered what I meant above, when I used the word ‘prevarication.’ Our Holy Father’s answer to a simple Yes or No question, a question that only he can answer: “Draw your own conclusions.”

That’s what we call prevarication, my dear ones.

Transparent with Temporalities

El Escorial
designed as a gridiron to honor St. Lawrence

We read in the Acts of the Apostles about the origin of the diaconate. Deacons took on the duty of administering the Church’s earthly goods, so that the Apostles could focus on the Word of God.

The deacon St. Lawrence administered the temporal goods of the Church in Rome. In AD 258, the Emperor Valerian ordered that all those goods be confiscated, and all the clergy executed.

St. Lawrence asked for three days to gather the Church’s possessions. He gave everything away to the poor. Then, when the Roman prefect asked Lawrence for the goods, the deacon pointed to a group of poor people and said: “Here is the Church’s treasure.”

Titian Martyrdom of St. Lawrence

On August 10, they burned Lawrence alive on a gridiron. Halfway through, Lawrence said: “Turn me over. I’m done on this side.”

Anyone ever visited Spain? King Philip II won a decisive victory over the French on St. Lawrence’s feast day in 1557. So the king ordered his palace built in the shape of a gridiron, in honor of the deacon martyr. The Escorial.

In my mind, a contrast immediately emerges: St. Lawrence’ faithful stewardship of the Church’s treasure, unto death. Versus: something we learned about recently. Two New-Jersey bishops entering into secret settlements with victims of Theodore McCarrick’s sexual abuse, apparently in order to protect the reputation of a criminal. So far no bishop has explained why this happened.

St. Lawrence intercedes in heaven on behalf of a lot of classes of people: the people of Rome, the people of Canada, the poor, students, firefighters, miners, chefs, roasters, and comedians. Let’s beg him to intercede for us, too: American Catholics looking for leadership in the wake of the McCarrick scandal. And not finding any. Looking for a just resolution to this case. And not finding any hope that justice will be done.

Our Vichy Regime

Philippe Petain Vichy

Seventy-six years ago today, Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein) died in a Nazi gas chamber. She was Jewish Catholic nun. She had received the sacraments of Christian initiation at age thirty, in 1922. She gladly met her death, at age fifty, as an act of love for her people.

This saint, in her all-encompassing devotion to Christ, kept in focus the key thing that the real heroes in World War II never lost: reverence for the dignity of the individual human person.

The Catholic Bishops of the Netherlands had enunciated that concept and publicly condemned Nazism just two weeks before St. Edith Stein’s martyrdom. The Nazis rounded up the Catholic nuns in revenge for that condemnation.

St. Edith SteinPope St. John Paul II declared that the Catholic Church must remember the Holocaust each year, on the anniversary of Edith Stein’s death.

This year, because of the McCarrick scandal, I want to contrast St. Teresa Benedicta’s experience of the Holocaust with that of a fellow Catholic, Philippe Pétain.

Anyone know him? Maybe you do, if you’re a Jeopardy! addict like me. Pétain ran the “Vichy Regime” in France, which collaborated with the Nazis.

Edith Stein died for the Christian truth of individual human dignity; meanwhile, Pétain and the Vichy regime in France lost sight of the concept. The regime had the trappings of a legitimate government. But it was compromised at its core.

After World War II ended, a highly politicized French court convicted Pétain of treason and sentenced him to death. Charles De Gaulle commuted the sentence to life imprisonment, because of Pétain’s advanced age. At that moment in her history, the French nation had an opportunity for profound self-examination of her identity. But she didn’t really take it.

I bring all this up because: I think we may have stumbled upon a good analogy to help us understand where we are, the Catholic Church in the US, right now.

We need to keep clearly in focus what St. Teresa Benedicta died for: the dignity of the human individual. We need to start with the individual human beings that Theodore McCarrick preyed on. The dignity of those people demands that we advocate for them and insist on justice–and a public reckoning with all the facts.

The USCCB seems to mirror the inner-emptiness of the Vichy regime. What remains utterly absent from any public response to the McCarrick scandal by any American bishop so far? The mention of the individual human beings still awaiting justice in this case. Instead, the bishops can only focus on the survival of their own bureaucracy.

McCarrick flourished in this very Vichy-regime bureaucracy. The real, evangelizing, pro-life Church–submitted under the reigning spirit of the technocratic, post-modern world. The Catholic Vichy Regime of late 20th-century and early 21st-century America.

I promise to try to break down this (admittedly preposterous) generalization with specific analyzes as we move forward. May the Vichy regime fall. We can hope that it will, if we stay focused on precisely what St. Edith Stein died for, in the gas chamber, 76 years ago today: the dignity of the human individual.

Tottering Church

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Again I will restore you, and you shall be rebuilt, O virgin Israel! (Jeremiah 31:4)

Israel. The children of Abraham. The flock of God. The one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. One essential city reigns over Her, where the successor of St. Peter sits. Rome.

Who knows which church building actually houses the cathedra of the Bishop of Rome? What basilica holds the pope’s throne?

Correct. St. John Lateran. (Not St. Peter’s; that’s where Peter is buried.)

Anyway, 803 years ago, the pope had a nightmare that the building shook to its foundations. The church tottered on the point of collapse. But a poor man, an apostolic man, a man who owned nothing, but lived by pure faith—he stepped forward and bolstered the entire building on his shoulder. The “Atlas” of the Holy Church. Not a myth, but a real person.

Was it St. Francis? Or maybe it was the holy man who died 797 years ago today.

Both St. Dominic and St. Francis lived through the Fourth Lateran Council, when the pope had this nightmare.

That Council defined our doctrine regarding the transubstantiation of the Blessed Sacrament. It laid down the formal rule that everyone has to go to Confession at least once a year. It established procedures for heresy and other failures of discipline by priests. And bishops.

So we can confidently believe: Someone will come along to hold up the building. Yes: it totters on the brink of collapse. If we imagine that it doesn’t, we fool ourselves. The McCarrick scandal has revealed how dangerous our situation is: There’s no one around to lead us out of it.

But someone will come along. In Pope St. Innocent III’s time, many bishops were so worldly that he had to remind them not to bring their hunting dogs with them to the ecumenical council. Dream on, if you think we’re in better shape now.

But an apostolic man will come. Or two. God gave Francis and Dominic to the Church at the same time! The Lateran did not collapse.

McCarrick called us his “sons,” we whom he ordained. Makes me want to spit now.

But St. Dominic had, and has, real spiritual sons. His first maxim for them: “Give to others what you yourself have contemplated.” In other words: Live in the divine love yourselves. Then preach.

A man, or two, or three, who actually follows this, will come along and rescue, restore, and rebuild the tottering Church.

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a window in St. Dominic’s, Washington, D.C.–the first Catholic church your humble servant ever entered

St. Alphonsus, Pray for Newark and Washington

Cardinal Tobin at the Basilica of St Alphonsus in Pagani Italy
Joseph Cardinal Tobin praying in Pagani, Italy, in January 2017

The pearl of great price: divine mercy. Reconciliation with God, with the truth, with justice and peace. Friendship with Jesus Christ, living in His beating Heart.

St. Alphonsus Liguori died 231 years ago today, outside Naples. The Italian province of Liguori lies in northern Italy. But St. Alphonsus’ name is like the name of a fellow I knew in Washington named Brian Boston. As far as I know, homeboy had never even been to Boston. St. Alphonsus Liguori was no Liguorian; he was a Neopolitan, a southern Italian. His relics lie in a basilica near the foot of Mount Vesuvius.

Guess who was there last month–at the tomb of the founder of the Redemptorists, the patron saint of priest-confessors?

St. Alphonsus and his companions dedicated themselves to preaching about death, judgment, heaven, and hell. I believe they always carried a crucifix in their belts, to hold up during their sermons. St. Alphonsus gave his priests a principle that I myself have always tried to follow: Be a lion in the pulpit and a lamb in the confessional.

Another American priest visited St. Alphonsus’ relics not long ago. A Redemptorist, once the Superior General of the Order. Now the Archbishop of Newark, NJ. Joseph Cardinal Tobin. He prayed at the basilica in January 2017.

Now: If my home Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. has suffered a wound because of the McCarrick scandal—and it has, to be sure–then the Archdiocese of Newark… must have two collapsed lungs. Living on a ventilator.

McCarrick served as Archbishop of Washington for 5½ years, ordained about 40 priests, confirmed maybe 1,000 young people. (That last number is a guesstimate.*) He served as Archbishop of Newark for almost fifteen years. Ordained 400 priests there. Must have confirmed at least 3,000 young people.

Washington has a deep wound. Newark… must need a double lung transplant.

So let’s pray. For the Archbishops of Washington and Newark. They have a task ahead of them that I would not wish on anyone. The bishop saint who died 231 years ago today–may he intercede.

Everyone living in the huge wake of McCarrick’s broken life—and that is a lot of Catholics on the East Coast—all of us need a miracle of reconciliation and a fresh start. Pray for us, St. Alphonsus!

 

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* As I recall, McCarrick’s globe-trotting ways got in the way of his doing a lot of Confirmations. His auxiliary bishops did the lion’s share of the confirming during his Washington years. I imagine the same was true in Newark. So I base my estimate on 200 confirmations a year (two or three Confirmation liturgies). This is of course nowhere near the total annual number of confirmations in the Archdioceses in question. And I could be way off.

Martyrdom and Encyclical Anniversary

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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.

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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…

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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.

Two Saints of Chastity

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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!

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