In preparation for the Year of Mercy, Pope Francis released a letter expressing his desire to give priests some special abilities to minister to those seeking forgiveness for having participated in an abortion. He also had some special instructions for those who would go to a priest of the Society of St. Pius X for confession. Because these issues involve some complexities of canon law, there has been some confusion. Hopefully this video can clear a few things up.
Today we went to visit the swamp mentioned in yesterday’s homily. It’s not a swamp anymore, but actually a small town in it’s own right. This is where St. Francis was given his first church by the Benedictines. That little church, called the Portiuncula or “Little Portion,” is today preserved inside the much larger church of Santa Maria degli Angeli, St. Mary of the Angels.
Just behind the Portiuncula church is a little chapel that makes the spot where St. Francis died. Inside are a piece of the cloth from his religious habit, symbol of poverty, and also the cincture that he wore about his waist to symbolize chastity.
After spending the morning at St. Mary of the Angels we came back up into the city and visited the Basilica of St. Francis. The heart of this church is the crypt that contains the body of St. Francis and his early Franciscan brothers. At the time St. Francis died, this area was outside the city and really a sort of dump. This is where St. Francis personally chose to be buried. Today it is a beautiful pilgrim site for the thousands who come each year to venerate the relics of the “little poor man” of Assisi.
In the afternoon we took a special trip up the large hill behind the town of Assisi to the hermitage built by St. Francis. He and the brothers would often come up here and stay alone in complete silence for months at a time. It was such a beautiful and peaceful place that you could see why he wouldn’t want to come down.
After a long day of tracing the footsteps of St. Francis, I had some time to spend praying back at the Basilica. The church is very famous for its frescoes. One of them is considered by those who knew Francis to be the one that most looks like the saint appeared in life. A great way to end to the day.
Upon arriving in Assisi we were blessed to be able to celebrate Mass at the Basilica of St. Francis, right near the tomb of the saint. The readings of the day speak of the need for us to remove a “log” from our own eyes before we can see to remove a “splinter” from someone else’s eye. I use this image to illustrate how St. Francis found that the comfort of Assisi and his worldly possessions seemed to block his vision of God. The life Francis was living was not bad, but he famously left his comfortable life in search of something more.
Although he left Assisi, he didn’t go far. In fact, he went right down the hill the town was built on and settled in the swamp below where the Benedictines had given him a little run-down church. Here an amazing thing happened. People saw Francis down in the swamp. Some of course made fun of him, but others started to wonder why he was so happy and they weren’t. People began to go down to the swamp and follow Francis, most famously St. Clare. From this beginning, the Franciscan order has reached the entire world.
Is God maybe calling you to leave comfort behind and follow him in a new way? Whatever fears you might have, it’s time to remove whatever the log might be in your eye so that, like St. Francis, you too can see clearly the joy to which God is calling you.
Today was a travel day from San Giovanni Rotondo to our home the next few nights, Assisi. On the way we stopped in the town of Lanciano to visit what is probably the most famous Eucharistic miracle in the history of the Church. As Catholics know, when a validly ordained priest says the words of institution (This is my body; this is my blood) over ordinary bread and wine, they become truly the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ. This of course is the greatest miracle we can experience on earth. By God’s design, normally only the substance, the reality, of the bread and wine change, while the outward appearances and properties remain unchanged.
As I said, it is “normally” the case that the Eucharist continues to look like bread and wine. However, there have been a number of times in history when God has allowed not only the substance of the bread and wine to change at the Mass, but also the outward appearances. This is what we mean by a Eucharistic Miracle. Such a miracle took place in the 8th century in Lanciano when a priest celebrating Mass began to have doubts about whether the Eucharist was truly the body and blood of Jesus. As a gift to help his faith, God allowed the appearances of the bread and wine to change at the moment in the Mass when the priest consecrated them.
To the amazement of the priest and all those present, the host in his hand turned into a piece of living flesh, later found to be human heart tissue. The wine in the chalice became living human blood. The elements from that Mass have remained without preservatives of any kind to the present day. Modern scientific tests revealed the following facts:
- The Flesh is real Flesh. The Blood is real Blood.
- The Flesh and the Blood belong to the human species.
- The Flesh consists of the muscular tissue of the heart.
- In the Flesh we see present in section: the myocardium, the endocardium, the vagus nerve and also the left ventricle of the heart for the large thickness of the myocardium.
- The Flesh is a “HEART” complete in its essential structure.
- The Flesh and the Blood have the same blood-type: AB (Blood-type identical to that which Prof. Baima Bollone uncovered in the Holy Shroud of Turin).
- In the Blood there were found proteins in the same normal proportions (percentage-wise) as are found in the sero-proteic make-up of the fresh normal blood.
- In the Blood there were also found these minerals: chlorides, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, sodium and calcium.
- The preservation of the Flesh and of the Blood, which were left in their natural state for twelve centuries and exposed to the action of atmospheric and biological agents, remains an extraordinary phenomenon.
I first learned about the Eucharistic miracle of Lanciano when I was in college. A teacher gave me a picture of it. When I went to work after graduating, I kept this picture on my desk. It was sort of what you might call a “Eucharist trap,” knowing that people would often come by my desk, see the picture, and inevitably ask, “So, what’s in the picture?” Thus opened a nice opportunity to talk about the Eucharist and why everyone should be Catholic!
We were blessed in that we got to spend our holy hour today in the church where the Eucharistic miracle is kept. With Jesus on the altar sacramentally present in the Eucharist, and the miracle reserved behind the altar, we were in a pretty special place. Although, both times that I’ve been here, I have to say that it also made me very much aware that Jesus is always present in the Eucharist. It’s nice to see that God allows miracles every now and then, but I came away again with the peaceful reassurance that I get to see Jesus every day in the Eucharist and that, in itself, is an amazing miracle. Lanciano is nice, but it really just reminded me that I guess I don’t really doubt the truth of what happens at Mass.
After spending the morning at the home of St. Padre Pio in San Giovanni Rotondo, we had Mass on Monte Sant’Angelo where the Archangel Michael appeared in the year 490. This homily speaks about our human desire to be in physical contact with God, to know that he is immanently present and not merely a distant spiritual reality.
We encounter the presence of God in many ways, but especially in the saints. We come on pilgrimage to be close to the saints, by visiting their homes and even venerating their earthly remains. God appeals not only through the mystery of the spirit, but also through the physical things of this world, like the saints and, most especially, the Eucharist.
San Giovanni Rotondo used to be a small town in the middle of nowhere, but today it is one of the largest pilgrimage sites in Italy. This is all thanks to one miracle-working Franciscan friar known to all as “Padre Pio.” Since his canonization in 2002 he is also now known to the Church as Saint Pio of Pietrelcina. St. Pio spent almost his entire life as a priest in this little friary in San Giovani Rotondo. We could almost say that he never left, except he was known to have the gift of bilocation whereby he was physically present in some other place while still having never left the friary. I could certainly use this gift!
While not bilocating, St. Pio spent his day celebrating Mass and hearing confessions. These two simple tasks seem so simple and yet are at the heart of what the priesthood is all about. He began his Mass each day at 5am and it would often take 3 hours for him to finish. He was so moved by the passion of our Lord made present in the holy Mass that he would go into ecstasy at the consecration of the Eucharist. One might think that a 3 hour morning Mass at 5am would not be very popular with the laity, yet St. Pio’s Masses were filled to overflowing. Everyone wanted to be near this holy priest, as if to see more clearly the reality of the Mass as St. Pio saw it.
After celebrating Mass, St. Pio spent most of the rest of his day hearing the confessions of the hundreds of faithful who would come to receive sacramental absolution from him. In those days when spiritual direction for the laity was rare, people flocked to the saint for his advice. One of the main reasons for his popularity as a confessor is that he had the miraculous ability the “read souls,” often reminding people of the sins they were hiding and failing to confess. He was known to tell people to leave the confessional and come back later when they were truly sorry. I don’t think it would go so well if I tried to imitate him in this respect. There would more likely be a line at the archbishop’s office than outside my confessional. Yet, St. Pio had this amazing gift to know if a soul was not yet sincere in confession and to help them to confess well.
While there are many miraculous stories attributed to St. Pio, the gift that drew the most attention was that he bore the five wounds of Christ, the stigmata, on his hands, feet, and side. He would lose almost two cups of blood each day from his wounds, inexplicable by modern medicine. He was actually quite embarrassed by this gift and wore gloves which he only removed to celebrate Mass. When a man is ordained a priest he is told to “imitate what you celebrate and conform your life to the mystery of the Lord’s cross.” I can think of no better example than St. Pio in living out this command, both in life and even physically in his body.
By the later years of his life, so many people were coming to see St. Pio that a new church had to be built next to the original friary church. Some thought it unwise to build such a large church, thinking that Padre Pio would soon be forgotten after his death. The future saint commented that the new church would not be big enough!
St. Pio died in his cell on September 23, 1968 having just finished celebrating his final Mass a few hours before. He was buried in the crypt of the new church where millions, including myself, came to pray at his tomb, imploring his continued intercession from heaven.
Seeing the great devotion of the faithful, and after careful examination of several continuing miracles after his death, the Church proclaimed Padre Pio “blessed” in 1999 and canonized him a “St. Pio of Pietrelcina” in 2002. The saint’s prediction that the “new” church would not be large enough was proved true by the time of his canonization. The new shrine of St. Pio was completed in 2010 and is now able to seat over 6000 for Mass. With millions of pilgrims steaming to San Giovanni Rotondo each year, even this church can only hold a fraction of those who wish to come pray at the tomb of St. Pio.
As a part of the canonization process, St. Pio’s body was exhumed from the tomb where his remains had rested since his death in 1968. When the tomb was opened, it was discovered that a lot off moisture had been trapped inside, potentially due to the cement not being completely dry before his burial. The moisture had caused St. Pio’s skin to become blackened, although his body was intact. Since there was a desire to display the saint’s body in a glass casket for venation of the faithful, a wax mask was created to accurately depicted his face at the time of death. One can still see the natural state of his body in his exposed hands.
Twelve years ago I came to pray at the tomb of this great saint, asking for his intercession in discerning God’s call for my life. It was a great joy to return in thanksgiving today, this time asking for his continuing intercession in living out the priestly vocation which we now share. I pray that, following his example, I too may better each day conform my life to the mystery of the Lord’s cross.
Buon giorno! We arrived safely in Roma this morning and met up with our local tour guides. We then headed out for our first stop, the town of Boville. I’m fairly certain that no other tour group, perhaps ever, has gone to the town of Boville. To understand why, I’ll take this moment to explain the main reason for this particular pilgrimage.
Our pilgrimage is being led by a group of consecrated women known as the Apostles of the Interior Life (AVI in the Italian abbreviation). They were founded in Rome 25 years ago and the pilgrimage is in celebration of this anniversary. It’s also a sort of anniversary for me as well. It was twelve years ago that I first met the sisters on a pilgrimage to Italy very similar to our present itinerary. It was on that pilgrimage that I decided to enter seminary, thanks in part to the counsel of a very holy woman, Sr. Susan, who has been my spiritual director ever since. More on that story later.
Back to Boville. This was the home of a little boy named Amerigo without whom the Apostles would likely have never come to the United States. Amerigo died when he was 6 years old in Rome. At the time, an American seminarian assigned to the hospital met one of the sisters who was also caring for the family. Eventually this seminarian would become a priest in Peoria, IL and would be instrumental in getting the Apostles to found their first house at the University of Illinois. The sisters say they wouldn’t be here in America with Amerigo and consider him a sort of spiritual intercessor for their movement. That’s a pretty providential name go along with role too!
In Boville we visited the grave of Amerigo and prayed there. We then had Mass with Amerigo’s parents. The parish church was filled to capacity with a large number of the townspeople wanting to meet us and pray with us.
We were then truly blessed to be treated to a wonderful Italian dinner complete with over 6 different courses. I remember this experience well when I first arrived in Italy 12 years ago. You have to pace yourself. Every time you think the last course has arrived, there’s more. It was such an amazing lunch that we actually canceled our dinner at our hotel tonight. Speaking of which, our final destination tonight is San Giovanni Rotondo, the home of St. Pio of Pietralcina, better known as “Padre Pio.” It’s late and we’re here for two days, so more about him tomorrow. Buona note for now.
In history, pilgrimages have often been imposed as a penance to atone for sin. Despite all our modern conveniences, leaving home and traveling to a foreign country still requires a certain amount of asceticism. While there is much to look forward to in the days ahead, there are many little sufferings to endure in the whole process of leaving familiar surroundings to go on pilgrimage.
Just to make sure we would have something penitential to offer up right from the start, our meeting time at the airport in Kansas City was 4:30am. We had an early flight to Atlanta where we then spent the day waiting for other parts of our group to join us in time for our 6:00pm departure for Rome.
Yes, we spent 9 hours in the not so beautiful Hartsfield Jackson Airport. This did, however, give us the opportunity to celebrate Mass in the airport chapel and have an hour of adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. I also took the opportunity to watch a movie about St. Padre Pio whose home we will visit this weekend.
With penitential sleep deprivation kicking in, it’s time to cap the day with one of the unique penitential pilgrim experiences created by modern man, the transatlantic overnight airplane ride. I’ll catch you up on the other side of the pond.
It’s natural to place a high value on things that cost us a lot to obtain. Often times the things of most value are the ones for which we are willing to sacrifice the most. Today we celebrate countless men and women who felt that our country was of such value that they would die for it. What is most important to you? Is there anything for which you would be willing to trade your life? Arlington cemetery is full of examples of people who found something worth dying for. Today and every day, let us be eternally grateful.
Every year when I go to file my taxes as a proud resident of the state of Kansas I am asked at the end of the process whether I might be eligible for any of a number of tax credits. It seems like I remember there being a credit for plugging a well or improving a swine facility. I also seem to remember something about soybeans. There was some kind of a credit for raising soybeans. Now you might wonder, “Why soybeans and not wheat?” The answer is, “I don’t know.” Maybe we have all the wheat we can handle in Kansas and what we really need are soybeans. Maybe soybeans are endangered. I don’t know the exact reason, but for some reason the state of Kansas has chosen to offer an incentive for those who grow soybeans…or plug wells.
Things may be different in your state, but there are probably some kind of tax credits for engaging in various activities. By creating tax credits for some things and not others, what the government has done is to create what we call an “incentive.” In my personal opinion, I don’t actually like the way this whole tax system works, but that’s another story. For the most part, people seem to be fine with tax credits and creating incentives to do certain things.
Now suppose that people in Kansas who improve cattle facilities get upset there is only a tax credit for improving swine facilities. What if the well diggers get jealous of the well pluggers and their tax credit? What if corn growers get so upset that they occupy the statehouse in Topeka demanding the same tax credit the soybean farmers get? In a democracy like ours they are all free to make their request known.
Now, suppose that in the name of “equality” and “fairness” the legislature agreed with the corn farmers that it wasn’t fair that the soybean farmers get a tax credit and they don’t, so they add corn growing to the soybean credit. Now the wheat farmers are in shock and demand equal treatment, so the wheat farmers get bundled in with the rest. Eventually there are alfalfa riots and milo demonstrations…and the result is that they too get added into the soybean tax credit in the name of “equality.”
What is the result of all this? What happens to the original “soybean credit?” One might argue that the soybean farmers still get their credit, so why should they care if corn and wheat and other farmers are included. What should be obvious here is that if everything is “incentivized” then nothing is. There was a reason people were choosing corn all on their own and some “incentive” was needed to choose soybeans. If the soybean credit is now open to anyone, even if they don’t grow soybeans, then while it may be true that everyone is now “equal,” it’s also true that what was once a soybean credit is now completely meaningless.
While things seem to be fairly quiet on the soybean front in Kansas, something analogous to the situation just described is raising quite a debate concerning the civil aspects of the institution of marriage. For over 5000 years cultures have found it advantageous to try to ensure that when men and women engage with each other in the act of reproduction that they do so only when they are permanently committed to each other and to the children that could result from their activity. We have traditionally used the word “marriage” to describe this stable family structure.
What we are seeing now with the debate regarding so-called “gay marriage” is something very similar to the corn farmers demanding a soybean credit in the name of equality. Notice that a soybean credit doesn’t say anything negative about corn growers; it simply says that the people of Kansas have voted that the state has a reason to incentivize soybeans. In the case of Kansas I don’t know exactly what that reason was, but in the case of marriage we do know the reason.
The state has an interest in opposite sex couples engaging in reproductive behavior because children may result from this activity. If the mother and father are not stably committed to each other, then ultimately the state could become responsible for those children.
Now obviously we rightly understand marriage to be much more than this, but as far as the state’s interest, that there is what it’s about. Note that the state has absolutely no interest in who loves whom or even in the notion of love…and that’s a very good thing! Do you really want the government deciding what constitutes love and who is sufficiently attracted to whom? It’s none of their business. What is the state’s business is making sure that children are raised by their mom and dad whenever possible.
Sadly, most of the debate surrounding gay marriage is not focused on children at all; it’s focused on the desires and “rights” of adults. Proponents of gay marriage claim that the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment means that two people of the same sex should have the same “right” to marry that a man and a woman do. This is like corn farmers claiming they should have a right to a soybean credit. And you know what? I actually do think that corn farmers should have a right to the soybean credit.
I think corn farmers should have a right to a soybean credit the same way I think that gay people should have the right to marry. There’s just one requirement. If you want the soybean credit, you have to raise soybeans. You don’t get to redefine the soybean credit to include those who raise corn. Kansas doesn’t want corn; we want soybeans. If you’re gay and want to get married, you have the right to get married. There’s just one requirement. You have to choose to engage in marriage, not redefine marriage to include what you want it to be.
Maybe the corn farmers protest that they don’t want to raise soybeans. They just have no desire for soybeans. Raising corn is what makes them happy. That’s fine, but don’t expect a soybean credit. I’m not particularly attracted to well-plugging, swine, or their facilities, but I don’t go around complaining that I’m being discriminated against because I don’t get those tax credits. Maybe you think there should be a tax break for two people in a same-sex relationship. Fine. Go out and convince people. Demonstrate to all your fellow citizens why the state should incentivize people to engage in homosexual activity. If the corn growers convince enough people, then next year on my taxes there will be a corn credit right next to the soybean credit. That’s how democracy works.
Obviously all analogies limp, and here’s the most important point where the agricultural references just can’t cut it: Marriage exists apart from any civil laws whatsoever. The state does not create marriage by its laws; it can only try to regulate something that exists already on its own. If the state tells a man and a woman that they can’t get married, they can still get married. If the state tells a married couple that they are no longer married, they’re still married. And if the state tells two people of the same sex that they are married, they are still not married.
If the state, and really all of us, continue to pretend that marriage means anything that we want it to mean, then ultimately the word “marriage” will be meaningless. In some way, we are only able to have a debate about gay marriage because this has already happened in large part. It was sad to listen to the solicitor general from Michigan try to explain to the Supreme Court that marriage is supposed to be about children. He almost got laughed out of the room by the liberal justices. Similarly, the state supposedly has an interest in permanence in marriage and yet we allow no-fault divorce.
Yes, to some extent our civil notion of marriage is already meaningless. But why choose to go further down this path? To be clear, homosexuals are not responsible for the sad state of marriage today; heterosexuals are. We’ve reduced marriage down to a relationship of convenience between two consenting adults who consent only to mutually pleasure each other in sterile acts of intimacy for as long as it pleases them. If we call this marriage, it’s no wonder that gay people ask why they can’t do this too. Rather than continuing charging blindly ahead, why not instead see this as a chance to face just how far we’ve fallen. Rather than legalizing gay marriage, why don’t we outlaw no-fault divorce? Why don’t we try to back the train up from the cliff?
The real meaning of marriage exists apart from any civil definitions. No matter what the Supreme Court does, the truth about marriage will not change. Men and women willing to sacrifice their own desires for the good of their family will still get married. What’s really at stake here is whether we as a country still see the value in what marriage really means or whether we will continue to play with words and definitions to fit our own desires until our language is completely separated from truth and the word “marriage” is meaningless.