Perfectly Consistent St. Francis

Holy Father visiting Assisi today, for the saint’s feastday.

Five years ago, your humble servant also paid a visit (which was my third). My dear mommy appears here, on the far left. Two of the fellow pilgrims pictured have gone on to meet Sister Death in the meantime. May God be merciful…

In front of the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi
In front of the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi

“Lord, increase our faith.” Increase our faith. Increase our faith today. And for the rest of this Year of Faith. For the rest of the Redskins season. For the rest of our earthly pilgrimage. Increase our faith, Lord.

St. Francis of Assisi had some faith. To quite G.K. Chesterton’s biography: “To this mystic his religion was not a thing like a theory but a thing like a love affair.” Religion that is not a theory but a love affair.

To believe in God so much that my life is nothing other than my love affair with Him. I think maybe that explains St. Francis better than anything else I have ever read about him.

colorfrancisTo us smaller, worldly souls, St. Francis can appear inconsistent. He caressed the wolf and sang to his friends the sun and moon, as if he were living in the Age of Aquarius. But Francis also fasted and did penance to the point that his body never recovered. He died when he was my age.

Francis embraced the leper and found Christ in every poor man. But, at the same time, no one has ever revered the hierarchical structure of the Church, the sacredness of the male, celibate priesthood, the office of the papacy—no one has ever revered these things more than Francis of Assisi revered them.

In our mind’s eye, we can see Francis dancing with joy through the trees and wildflowers of the Umbrian hills, a man as free as Jesus Christ Himself. But, like Christ’s freedom, Francis’ came from unstinting, self-sacrificing obedience to divine law. The perfectly free Francis never swerved from the path of perfect obedience.

Inconsistent? St. Francis? Again, Chesterton: “What seems inconsistency to you, modern man, did not seem inconsistency to him.”

…In Assisi today, venerating his namesake, our Holy Father quoted St. Francis’ prayer for his own hometown. The Pope used this prayer for Assisi, and for the nation of Italy (which has St. Francis for her patron). The prayer is like an echo of the prayer of the exiles of Jerusalm (first reading at Holy Mass today), a penitent acclamation of Christ’s dominion:

I pray to you, Lord Jesus Christ, Father of mercies: Do not look upon our ingratitude, but always keep in mind the surpassing goodness which you have shown to this City. Grant that it may always be the home of men and women who know you in truth and who glorify your most holy and glorious name, now and for all ages. Amen.

St. Francis prayed that his city would be a city of faith and service to the triune God. Pope Francis prays the same. This prayer reminds us of our Holy Father’s words in his encyclical on faith:

If we remove faith in God from our cities, mutual trust would be weakened, we would remain united only by fear, and our stability would be threatened. In the Letter to the Hebrews we read that “God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them” (Heb 11:16)… The intention is to say that God, by his concrete actions, makes a public avowal that he is present in our midst and that he desires to solidify every human relationship. Could it be the case, instead, that we are the ones who are ashamed to call God our God? That we are the ones who fail to confess him as such in our public life, who fail to propose the grandeur of the life in common, which he makes possible?*

The doctrine of St. Francis mesmerizes us with its simplicity: We all have one Father. We are all brothers. Simple.

And his doctrine convinces us by the intensity of his own experience of its truth. How do we know that we all have one Father and that we are all brothers? We know it because Christ taught us. How did Christ teach us? By His wounds, which He suffered for us. How do we learn it? By bearing His wounds in our bodies.

* This same paragraph of Lumen Fidei quotes one of our Hall-of-Famers, T.S. Eliot. In particular, his lyrics for “The Rock.” The long poem packs a punch, especially during these days of widespread federal furloughs.

Pilgrims Slideshow

The computer gremlins have been conquered (for the time being). Here are a few snapshots from our trip…

In front of the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi (Fr. White mommy on the far left)
In front of the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi (Fr. White mommy on the far left)
With Archbishop Burke
With Archbishop Burke
In front of St. Peter's Basilica
In front of St. Peter's Basilica
In St. Peter's Basilica
In St. Peter's
On the roof of St. Peter's
On the roof of St. Peter's
Piazza Navona in Rome
Piazza Navona in Rome
At the Trevi Fountain
At the Trevi Fountain
The Intrepid Photographer
The Intrepid Photographer

All Roads Lead to…

s-maria-maggGreetings to you from the neighborhood of Santa Maria Maggiore. After an afternoon stop in Orvieto, we have arrived in Rome.

We had a beautiful morning in Assisi to bid a bittersweet goodbye to Sts. Francis and Clare. Yours truly took advantage of the nearby friary full of Franciscan priests, and I went to Confession.

I don’t think any of us really wanted to leave Assisi, but we got on the bus anyway, because we are on a mission from God to get to the tombs of the Apostles Peter and Paul, and to see the Pope.

Orvieto funicular
Orvieto funicular
We reached Orvieto at mid-day. The roads up to the ancient hilltop city are closed to outside traffic. So we traveled by funicular up to see the magnificent medieval Duomo. We explored the town and lunched. Then we had Holy Mass in the crypt of the cathedral, surrounded by the tombs of four bishops.

Our hotel here in Rome is two blocks from the Papal Basilica of the Blessed Virgin, where we will have Mass on Friday. Tomorrow morning we will go to St. Peter’s Square to see Pope Benedict.

Then we will go to the Holy Office. Not because I have been called in for questioning. An old friend of mine works there, and he wants to show us the place.

After lunch, we will visit the catacombs. Then we will go to the tomb of St. Paul, at his Basilica “Outside the Walls”—ie., south of the walls of the ancient city. We will celebrate the Holy Mass there.

The Holy Office, seen through the colonnade of St. Peter's Square
The Holy Office, seen through the colonnade of St. Peter's Square
I wish I had more snapshots to show you. Our photographers have been working hard to provide nice pictures for these posts.

Unfortunately, computers do not work the way they are supposed to work. They bait and switch. It is unlikely that we will be able to have any more snapshots. It IS likely that I will throw my laptop out of the third floor window of this hotel.

These posts will not be enjoyable without snapshots. This blog is becoming lame. I am sorry.

Count on our prayers for you, though, at the tombs of the Holy Apostles.

FILES-VATICAN-POPE-AUDIENCETomorrow, when we receive the Pope’s blessing, he will be blessing all those we represent, too–the entire parish of St. Mary of the Assumption and the whole loyal readership of P & BD.

Snapshots from Assisi

Here are some pilgrmage snapshots taken by an intrepid Preacher & Big Daddy photographer. Locations include: the front door of our hotel, the Basilica of St. Francis, and Fuimicino airport.





Hopefully we will have more pictures in the days to come. This will require the resolution of some technical difficulties which are now besetting the enterprise. I have to take back what I wrote the other day about contemporary computer devices having more “native intelligence” than they did when I was a full-fledged geek back in the eighties. It is not true. They are as obtuse as ever.

Prayer Requests

Hotel Fontebella
Hotel Fontebella
Thank you for all the good wishes upon our arrival here. We have received the prayer requests. Count on our prayers.

This morning we had Holy Mass in the lower Basilica of St. Francis, just a few feet from his tomb.

Then we toured the upper and lower Basilicas, visiting St. Francis and admiring the beautiful frescoes, especially those by Giotto. We were guided by a local expert, with a son named Francesco.

We visited the nearby chapel of San Damiano, where St. Francis heard our Lord speak to him from the cross. Christ told St. Francis to “re-build my Church.” This is also the place where St. Clare lived her life as a nun and inaugurated the Poor Clare way of life. We visited the original Poor Clare convent.

paniniThen we visited the Basilica of St. Clare, where the saint rests in peaceful splendor, awaiting the resurrection. From there we walked to the town square, where there was an ancient Roman temple to the goddess of wisdom. Now the building is a church dedicated to our Lady.

Then it was time for a delicious Italian lunch.

Just to give you an idea of what a small world it truly is: By noon today (Assisi time, of course–six hours ahead of EST) I had already run into two priests I know.

Also, we all knew by breakfast about the unfortunate outcome yesterday evening in Washington. But we do not care, since we have bigger fish to fry. A pilgrimage can even put football into perspective.

…More to follow, hopefully with pictures.

Thrilled, Tired, and Here

Deacon William Walker and your servant in front of the Basilica of Our Lady of the Angels in Assisi
Deacon William Walker and your servant in front of the Basilica of Our Lady of the Angels in Assisi

It has been something of a slog through airports, bus parking lots, and hilly Umbrian streets…but we pilgrims have made it to the town of St. Francis.

Upon arrival in Assisi, we went straight to the Basilica of Our Lady of the Angels. This massive sixteenth-century church houses the Portiuncula, the small chapel where St. Francis and his first followers prayed. This is also the site where St. Clare became the Bride of Christ, as our guide Elizabeth pointed out. And it is the place where the Troubadour of Christ breathed his last.

For followers and friends of St. Francis, this is the holiest of sites. It was not just sleep deprivation that made us emotional as we celebrated Holy Mass in the chapel of St. Clare. The Lord has drawn us here to meet Him, to renew ourselves in contemplation of the mystery of holiness.

Tomorrow we will visit both St. Francis and St. Clare. The Basilica where we were earlier today is in the lower town of Assisi, at the bottom of the hill. It was open country and woods at the time of St. Francis and St. Clare.

The churches of the saints of Assisi are in the thousand-year-old town at the top of the hill. We came up the hill by bus after Mass, just in time for supper.

dinnerfontOur accommodations are right between the churches of St. Francis and St. Clare, in the middle of the old town. The hotel dining room afforded us a splendid dinner this evening, complete with bottles of delicious Umbrian wine. We are now well-fed and hope to be well-rested soon.

We thank the gracious Providence of God for getting us here safely. And we thank Him, and all the wonderful geeks of the world, for making it possible to share this with you. The Geeks are alright!

More to come tomorrow, if God allows.

Ciao! (for now) –Plus Pilgrimage Homily Drafts

lufthansaShortly we pilgrims will be off. May it please our Lord and our Lady to give us a safe trans-Altantic voyage.

Alas, we are going to miss the Dallas game at FedEx Field on Sunday night. Some things cannot be helped. We have to have our priorities straight here.

Hopefully, you will hear from me again when we reach Assisi. There is always the chance that technical difficulties will beset the Preacher and Big Daddy team on the road, however. To allow you to follow along with us no matter what happens, I present you with drafts of my homilies for the pilgrimage…

First, the Sacred Scripture “theme” for the pilgrimage:

“You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its savor, what can make it salty again? … Have salt in yourselves.” (Matthew 5:10, Mark 9:50)

Homily for Sunday, November 16: 33rd Sunday of the Year. Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels in Assisi, site of the Portiuncula, the chapel used by St. Francis and his first followers

Assisi, with the Basilica in the foreground
Assisi, with the Basilica in the foreground
“You yourselves know that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.”

Last night, the thief came and stole the whole night’s sleep from us. We got on a plane, did what little we could to get comfortable, and all of a sudden it was morning.

This thief has stolen more than just a night’s sleep from us. He has stolen our familiar environment. He has stolen our daily companions and routine. He has taken away our familiar food and the creature-comforts of home. We are in a strange place, surrounded by not a few strangers, fatigued, probably a bit bewildered.

Welcome, dear brothers and sisters, to the pilgrimage. The special grace of going on pilgrimage is precisely this: to be removed from the familiar and the comfortable. The Lord has called us to travel to Italy to discover what He has in store for us, and we have come. He has led us far from home, to teach us how to put ourselves completely in His hands. Into His hands and also Elizabeth’s hands (our tour escort, Elizabeth Flanagan).

The small chapel of the first Franciscans within the larger Basilica
The small chapel of the first Franciscans within the larger Basilica
St. Paul tells us: “You are children of the light and children of the day.”

You can say that again, brother. We have not visited a bed for nearly thirty hours. This day feels like the never-ending day. We want to “stay alert and sober,” like St. Paul tells us to, but it would be easier to stay alert if we could get a good night’s sleep.

We have come to Assisi to rest a little. Rome is of course our ultimate goal—the tombs of the Apostles Peter and Paul are our ultimate destination. But Rome does not offer much peace and quiet. Assisi is the perfect place to regain our traveling strength.

So let us throw ourselves into the loving arms of St. Francis here in his peaceful town. When St. Francis lived in Assisi, this area at the bottom of the hill was a secluded wood. When St. Francis brought his first followers down here to rebuild this little chapel, he was seeking a place of quiet contemplation.

Let us pray that the good Lord will give us a good night’s sleep and plenty of vim and vigor to continue our pilgrimage, so that we can be alert to all that He has in store for us.

Homily for Monday, November 17—Basilica of St. Francis

The Lord Jesus tells us that we Christians are the salt of the earth. It is for us to season the world, to cure it, like salt cures meat and keeps it from spoiling. It is for us to keep the world from going bad, to keep it from getting rancid. Not only that—it is for us to make the world savory, to make life in this world pleasant to the discerning palate.

basilicastfrancisHow can we hope to be salt for the earth? This is our God-given mission—how can we accomplish it? What is it exactly that can keep the world from going bad? What will make life on earth flavorful with vigor, with virtue?

We have just heard the answer to this question. The Beatitudes are seasoning for the earth. A single life lived according to the Beatitudes is like a pinch of salt dropped into a pot: It will fill the whole stew with good flavor.

The earthly life of St. Francis was one such pinch of salt thrown into the pot of this world, a holy life according to the Beatitudes.

Yesterday we concluded our Litany of St. Francis by praying: “O Lord, when the world was waxing cold, to the inflaming of our hearts thou didst renew in the flesh of St. Francis the sacred marks of Thy Passion.”

The Beatitudes are more than a moral code. They are a portrait of Christ crucified: Poor in spirit, meek, mourning the sins of the world, hungering and thirsting, suffering insult and persecution, merciful, making peace by His sacrifice.

The Beatitudes are a portrait of Christ on the Cross, and St. Francis, too, is such a portrait. In the Litany, we called St. Francis a “living crucifix.” St. Francis was so profoundly united with Christ that He bore the Lord’s wounds in His own flesh.

St Francis Receiving the Stigmata by El Greco
St Francis Receiving the Stigmata by El Greco
The Lord has brought us here to the tomb of this beloved holy man in order to season us anew. We cannot hope to retain our saltiness by ourselves. Left to our own devices, we become insipid and bland to the taste, if not downright unpalatable. Buried under the weight of daily routine, we can become completely un-salty. We can become indistinguishable from everyone else–run down, oppressed by worldliness, distracted and unfocused.

In the Litany yesterday, we said an amazing thing about St. Francis. We addressed him as the one whose soul has taken Lucifer’s place in the heavenly choir. The Devil was a glorious angel, made to sing the praises of the divine Majesty. But in bitter pride, he fell. God in His Providence raised St. Francis’ soul to the place which Satan vacated. This is truly an awesome thing to contemplate. And here we are, next to the body that will one day be re-united with that seraphic soul.

St. Francis, pray for us, that we might be salty enough to flavor this world of ours with holiness!

Homily for Tuesday, November 18—Orvieto. Memorial of the Dedication of Basilicas of Saints Peter and Paul

peter-crucifixionThe hand of God guided the steps of both St. Peter and St. Paul to Rome. It was the Lord’s will that both of these Apostles would give their lives for the Gospel in the capital city of the Empire. By shedding their blood in Rome, the Apostles consecrated the city as the Holy and Apostolic See, the capital city of the Church.

The first Christians of Rome buried both Apostles near the sites of their martyrdoms. Both were killed outside the ancient city, in the suburbs. St. Peter was crucified on the far side of the Tiber River, in the Circus of Nero, at the foot of Vatican Hill. St. Paul was beheaded on the road to Ostia, a few miles south of the ancient city.

Nine days ago, we kept the feast of the dedication of the Pope’s cathedral, St. John Lateran. The Lateran Basilica was built shortly after Emperor Constantine declared Christianity legal. As we recall, the Lateran Basilica was built on property that had belonged to a prominent Roman family. It was a central location in the city, ideal for the cathedral.

The Beheading of St. Paul
The Beheading of St. Paul
At the same time, though, two other great churches had to be built. For centuries, Christians had been coming on pilgrimage to visit the tombs of the Apostles Peter and Paul, even risking their lives to do so. Now the time had come when the Church could finally build worthy basilicas to house the tombs and give the pilgrims a proper place to pray. Today we commemorate the solemn dedication of those two churches. We will be visiting them tomorrow and the next day.

Today we find ourselves in a remarkable situation. We are on our pilgrim way to Rome. We have stopped at Orvieto to refresh ourselves.

The exact same thing happened in 1363. A priest was on his way to Rome on pilgrimage. He stopped on this hill to say Mass.

He was a pious priest, but his faith in the Real Presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament was weak. Because he could not understand it, he did not think he could believe it.

When this priest elevated the Host after the consecration at his Mass here, the Host began to bleed, and blood flowed down his fingers. Some of the blood fell on the square cloth which the priest unfolds on the altar. The cloth is called a corporal.

Chapel of the Corporal in Orvieto
Chapel of the Corporal in Orvieto
The priest took the corporal to the Pope, who was living at Orvieto that year. Rejoicing over the miracle, the Pope instituted the Feast of Corpus Christi, the Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ. St. Thomas Aquinas wrote the hymns for the feast, Pange Lingue, O Salutaris, Tantum Ergo. The rest is history.

“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” With these words, St. Peter inaugurated the great age of Christian faith. This final age of the world will last until the Lord Jesus comes again in glory. Then everyone will see Him and know that He is God, and faith will no longer be necessary.

In the meantime, we know the Christ, the Son of the living God, by faith. We believe Him when He says, “This is my Body,” and “This is my Blood.” When He comes to us in the Holy Mass, let us greet him like St. Peter did. We believe, Lord.

[The story of the Eucharistic Miracle of Bolsena/Orvieto is recounted on this interesting-looking weblog.]

Deacon William Walker, a fellow pilgrim, will preach the homilies at our Holy Masses at the Basilicas of Ss. Peter and Paul on Wednesday and Thursday, November 19 and 20.

Homily for Friday, November 21—Feast of the Presentation of Mary, in Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome

Today we celebrate our final Mass of the pilgrimage at the Pope’s Basilica of our Lady. Today we keep the feast of her Presentation in the temple, when her parents Joachim and Ann offered her to God, and the Blessed Virgin’s service to the Lord began.

St. Mary Major High Altar
St. Mary Major High Altar
Our Lord’s grandparents presented their daughter to the priests in the Temple so that she could learn to do the will of God. Preserved from original sin, she was the perfect pupil. Her entire life was an act of obedience to the divine will.

The Virgin’s vocation eventually led her to Bethlehem, where she gave birth to the Christ and then laid her newborn Son in a manger. Some of the wood of that manger is in the chapel beneath the high altar in this basilica.

Being a saint is always doing the will of the Father. This church houses saints who have done the Father’s will at different times in history. St. Jerome, who collected and translated the books of the Bible, is here. Pope St. Pius V, whose prayers protected the Christian people from an invasion from Turkey and who guided the Church after the Council of Trent—he is here. Both St. Ignatius Loyola and Pope Pius XII said their first Masses here in St. Mary Major.

Ceiling of the Sforza Chapel
Ceiling of the Sforza Chapel
Our heavenly Father will call each of us to do particular things for Him. We do His will by being faithful to the duties that He has given us in our particular states of life. We become more and more the salt of the earth the more we are open to the Lord’s summons to do more for Him, to take risks for the sake of the Gospel.

Being faithful means making sacrifices. We will all have to make a sacrifice for the Lord tonight by setting our alarms for 3:00 in the morning, so that we can make it to the airport on time. Trust me, I did not schedule this flight. But we might as well make the most of it by offering it up.

May our Lady watch over us as we make our way home. May her prayers, and the prayers of all the saints we have visited, help to keep us salty and ready to do the Father’s will.

Ad Limina Apostolorum

Interior of St. Peters by Giovanni Paolo Pannini
Interior of St. Peters by Giovanni Paolo Pannini. This church--the largest on earth--was built to house to tomb of St. Peter.
The Holy Apostles Peter and Paul shed their blood for Christ in Rome. St. Peter died by the cross and St. Paul by the sword under the Emporer Nero in A.D. 67. Ever since then, Christians have come from all over the world to visit their tombs.

Among his other duties, the Pope is the custodian of these holy places. The pilgrimage ad limina apostolorum usually affords an opportunity to see the Successor of St. Peter and receive his blessing.

A group of pilgrims from St. Mary’s parish in Upper Marlboro, Md., will–God willing–reach the Eternal City on the feast of the Dedication of the Basilicas of St. Peter and St. Paul, November 18.

St. Paul Outside the Walls
St. Paul Outside the Walls, built to house the tomb of St. Paul
May it please the Lord to pour out many graces upon us when we kiss the earth made holy by the martyr’s blood!

Perhaps November 18 will actually be St. Paul’s 2,000th birthday. It could be, after all.

We are likely within one year of his 2,000th birthday. We do not know the exact date. Perhaps we pilgrims should just assume that his birthday is November 18, and have a canoli or some gelato when we arrive in Rome to celebrate.

May the Holy Apostle pray for us, that we will have a safe journey and will profit from our pilgrimage as God wills.

Everybody else, please pray for us! We leave the U.S. on Saturday. We will be stopping in Assisi and Orvieto on the way to Rome.

Speaking of the way to Rome, Hillaire Belloc wrote a thoroughly enjoyable book about his pilgrimage on foot from France to Rome.