Tag Archives: pope

St. Leo the Great


November 10th is the feast of St. Leo the Great, a 5th century pope buried in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome in the front of the church on the left side of the main altar.

A large picture over his tomb shows him meeting Atilla, the Hun, and his warriors who came in 452 to attack and plunder Rome. Barbarian tribes were then pouring through Rome’s defenses along the Rhine River and its northern frontier, threatening the Italian peninsula. In fear, most of Rome’s elite left for the safety of Constantinople, the new center of the empire. The rest, convinced the world was ending, barricaded themselves in their homes with everything they had. The army was too weak to defend the city.

Leo became Rome’s defense, persuading Atilla to leave Rome untouched by offering him tribute money. He was less successful when, a few years later, in 455  the Vandals returned to plunder Rome for 14 days.

Yet that’s not why Leo’s called great. A holy, learned man, he knew the church’s best defense was hope in Jesus Christ and the mysteries of his life, death and resurrection. In his sermons on the Incarnation,  preached in the course of the church year, he urged Christians to find their strength in Jesus Christ.

Leo believed, as Peter the Apostle did, that the church founded by Jesus had a future, despite the perilous circumstances it faced. As Bishop of Rome, he encouraged the bishops of the western church to hold on. He found his support in the Passion of Jesus Christ. Here’s one of my favorite quotes from him:

“True reverence for the Lord’s passion means fixing the eyes of our heart on Jesus crucified and recognizing in him our own humanity…Who cannot recognize in Christ his own infirmities? Who would not recognize that Christ’s eating and sleeping, his sadness and his shedding of tears of love are marks of the nature of a slave?

“It was this nature of a slave that had to be healed of its ancient wounds and cleansed of the defilement of sin. For that reason the only-begotten Son of God became also the son of man. He was to have both the reality of  human nature and the fullness of the godhead.

“The body that lay lifeless in the tomb is ours. The body that rose again on the third day is ours. The body that ascended above all the heights of heaven to the right hand of the Father’s glory is ours.

“If then we walk in the way of his commandments, and are not ashamed to acknowledge the price he paid for our salvation in a lowly body, we too  rise to share his glory. The promise he made will be fulfilled in the sight of all: Whoever acknowledges me before others, I too will acknowledge him before my Father who is in heaven.”

 Sermon, Leo the Great

Knowing Yourself

NEW YORK TIMES columnist David Brooks has gotten a lot of attention lately for his suggestion that we need more humility in our society today. We need to know ourselves. We need to look to those who knew themselves and learn from them, Brooks say.

We may thing that humility stops you from doing anything, except hide in a corner away from the storm. Just the opposite, the humble take on large challenges, because they recognize another power at work besides themselves.

St. Gregory the Great, a 6th century pope, was called great for his humble service to the Roman world that was falling down around him. Gregory ends one of his finest commentaries on scripture, called the Moralia, a Commentary on the Book of Job, with words that reveal someone not afraid to honestly know himself.

“Now that I have finished this work, I have to look at myself. We are so complex, even when we try speaking the truth. Let me go from the forum of words to the senate house of my heart, to take council about myself.

I don’t want to speak anything evil or speak poorly about what is good.

I wish my words please the One is good.  Yet, can I claim I have spoken no evil at all? Have I spoken less well than I should, perhaps? When I look within, pushing aside leafy words and branches of arguments, and examine my deepest intentions, I know I intend to please God, but has some desire for human praise crept in? Has it intruded into my simple desire to please God?

Later, much later, I may realize this. Often, our intentions to please God are joined by a secret yen for human praise. Self-righteously, we even use God’s gifts to please others.

So in my commentary I reveal God’s gifts, but let me confess my wounds too. Let me instruct the little ones by my words, but let others take pity on my weakness. I offer help to some and seek help from others. As I tell some what to do, I open my heart to others to admit what they should forgive.  I give medicine to some, but do not hide my wounds from others. My reader will have more than paid me back if, for what he hears from me, he offers his tears for me.”

A humble man.

Pope Benedict XVI

The pope gave us a beautiful example of humility in his resignation today, just before we begin the season of Lent.

SONY DSCIt was a conscious decision, “before God” he makes it, not simply on his own.

It was a brave decision. No pope in recent times has resigned. He was not afraid of going out into uncharted waters.

It was not his own good he looked out for, but the good of the church. The office of the papacy is demanding and he saw it beyond his strength.

I think he leaves a powerful legacy that will be more appreciated in time. His books on Jesus of Nazareth are treasures that will last. His homilies and letters will be mined for years to come. He’s a beautiful writer and religious thinker.

God bless him.

The Pope’s Blessing

On weekdays I don’t usually need an alarm clock to get me up in the morning. A red van pulls up outside my window about 6:30 to pick up some workers from the neighborhood who are going off to work. José, who’s been here in our building long before that, comes out to say a jovial hello to them all, and then reaches into the van to give them a blessing.

Today we’re reading a sermon by St. Leo the Great, an early pope, which he gave on the anniversary of his consecration. It’s his feastday today. Though he’s pope, he says, the blessings he’s been given are shared with the whole community. All of us, from top to bottom, are meant to give to others the blessing we have received.

“In the unity of faith and baptism, therefore, our community is undivided. There is a common dignity, as the apostle Peter says in these words: And you are built up as living stones into spiritual houses, a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices which are acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. And again: But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people set apart.”

The pope isn’t the only one who blesses. As usual, José gave his blessing this morning, “Urbi et orbi.”

Looking Ahead with Confidence

I just returned from a pre-chapter meeting of my community. We’re getting ready to chart the course for the future–as much as we humanly can– and elect new provincial officers. Not easy today, when the future is so murky and our numbers older and fewer.

But our time is our time, and we have to live it to the full.

I like Pope Benedict’s words in “Charitas in Veritate:”

“The current crisis obliges us to re-plan our journey, to set ourselves new rules and to discover new forms of commitment, to build on positive experiences and to reject negative ones. The crisis thus becomes an opportunity for discernment, in which to shape a new vision for the future. In this spirit, with confidence rather than resignation, it is appropriate to address the difficulties of the present time.”

The pope isn’t doing our thinking for us; he’s telling us to  discern and to plan the future ourselves, with confidence.

What does the Pope really think?

We need more opportunities to hear the Pope when he lets his hair down (and a good head of hair he still has),  One place to hear him is in his informal meeting with the priests of Rome, usually at the beginning of Lent.  Rome is his diocese, after all, and he doesn’t  mind exploring questions with the priests who work its streets.

John Allen has that dialogue translated from Italian at the National Catholic Reporter site: http://ncronline.org/node/12551

Sunday at St. Lawrence

Today was a bonus day. Two visitors from Oxford were asking about going to the Basilica of St. Lawrence for Mass, so I found out there was one at 10 AM and met them there.

Not only was there a Mass, but the pope celebrated it. The climax of a year of celebration of the martyrdom of  Lawrence, the deacon, 1750 years ago, in 158 AD. We were completely surprised to stumble on it.

This church, one of the first churches built by Constantine in the early 4th century and rebuilt after being destroyed by Allied bombs in the 1940’s is one of the most important religious sites in Rome.

The church was packed with ordinary Italians, young and old, some from the neighborhood and some from outlining parishes. You could hardly move in the crowd. They sang their hearts out and prayed fervently with the pope, who gave a simple, yet thoughtful homily on Advent and the inspiring love for the poor that Lawrence challenges the Catholic church to keep afresh.

At the end of the celebration, the people, beaming with joy, poured out into the bright day, lining up along the way and greeting the pope as he walked among them. A young boy was playing a shepherd’s pipes as he made his way through the goodnatured crowd.

We went back to the church and headed for the tomb of Lawrence under the main altar. Many did the same thing we did– walking around the tomb covered with a bright red cloth, we reached through the iron grate and touched it.

This was no tourist affair, today in the ancient church. The place was transformed by the faith of people, caught up in the grace of the occasion.

Afterwards, we walked along the Aurelian Wall nearby. At one point there is gate from imperial Rome which in medieval times came to the known as St. Lawrence’s Gate. Pilgrims came through it to enter Rome from afar. They would turn up the road a little bit and enter the church where we were today and read the story of Lawrence spelled out in the frescoes at its entrance.

They would go to the tomb of Lawrence, like we did today, and ask for his blessing, like we did today.