Wednesday, May 18, 2016

In Pius IX's footsteps

This past Friday, May 13th, was the 224th birthday of Blessed Pope Pius IX (Giovanni Mastai-Ferretti), Bishop of Rome from 1846 until 1878.  In a bizarre string of coincidences, the likes of which religion geeks like me love and everybody else (perhaps wisely) just overlooks, May 13th is also:
*  the anniversary of the Blessed Mother's appearance to the children at Fatima, Portugal (1917)
*  the birthday of Peoples Temple founder, Jim Jones (1931-1978)--yes, the purple Kool-Aid guy
and...
*  the 35th anniversary of the attempted assassination of St. John Paul II by Mehmet Ali Agca.

The Fatima and assassination events are connected.  We now know that St. John Paul, as his driver whisked him away to the hospital, uttered "And now we see the Third Secret of Fatima revealed...", referencing the three messages Our Lady revealed to the three children in May 1917.  The third secret, revealed only in 2000, included a vision of white-clad bishop being murdered amidst a crowd. John L. Allen, Jr. notes that St. John Paul firmly believed Our Lady of Fatima altered the shot's trajectory and saved his life.  Agca's bullet now resides in the crown of Our Lady's statue in Fatima itself.  Allen:


Consider the worldview at work here: John Paul II was profoundly convinced that on May 13, 1981, the Virgin Mary altered the flight path of a bullet in order to keep him alive and, in so doing, to preserve his papacy.
If you genuinely believe that Mary interceded with God in order to suspend the laws of physics to keep you in office, then you never just wake up one morning and decide you’ve had enough.
Recall that John Paul II, even before the assassination attempt, regarded his papacy as belonging to Mary, not to him, as expressed in his motto Totus Tuus, “Entirely Yours,” a line drawn from the spiritual works of Saint Louis de Montfort.
If ever the pontiff would have concluded that Mary had put an exclamation point on her rights of ownership, the day of the assassination attempt certainly was it.
In other words, John Paul II simply did not believe it was up to him to decide when it was over.
Read all of Allen's piece here.

The profundity of St. John Paul's faith and his mystical-eschatological view of human history, including his own life (something Allen details in the post linked), stem from his own foundations in Marian piety and thus the Rosary.  That is something St. John Paul's predecessors, particularly Pius IX and Leo XIII, knew quite well.  Leo wrote twelve encyclicals on the Rosary alone.  Pius' Marian devotion was perhaps a bit more embodied.


Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee

Blessed are you among women

and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.

Holy Mary, Mother of God,

pray for us sinners,

now and at the hour of our death.



So that's Pius IX praying at Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome.  

For those keeping score at home, yes, the floor layout of a major Roman basilica was reworked in honor of Blessed Pius IX to reflect his great piety for the Blessed Virgin Mary. He was, after all, the pope who declared the infallible dogma of the Immaculate Conception. What the above photo does not show is the object of Pius' devotion.  That is not, despite the appearances, what's directly in front of the statue, but rather the basilica's mosaic apse--in other words, up above.  There Christ reigns in Heaven, crowning his mother as Queen of Heaven and of all the saints.  Pius gazes in prayer at this:




So often in the tired "spiritual or religious" conventions, the institutional Church, something which Roman Catholicism obviously is, stands against "the Spirit." This dichotomy actually rests on vapors, for "the Spirit", shorn of traditional identifiers, is only an amorphous idea and an equally amorphous entity enabling a "spiritual" believer to adhere to whatever she or he desires.  No matter--Roman Catholicism, and certainly a pope like Pius IX, fit the bill of institutional authoritarianism.  Out of all the popes and various Christian authority figures, Pius IX especially comes under heavy criticism.  Other institutional critics might follow Marx's critique--actually the diametrically opposite criticism--which condemns the Church's spiritualization of real-world problems.  In other words, the "spiritual" think the Church is too worldly and stuffy, while the Marxists think the Church isn't worldy enough.  

The Church, though, will have none of this and seeks, of course, to address both the spiritual and physical well-being of humanity.  St. John Paul obviously grasped this, and he did so in many ways, but on May 13, 1981, he planned to do so primarily through recognition of the Rosary pope, Leo XIII.  Since he was shot, he did not have the opportunity to state:


Over the centuries, from her origins until today, the Church has always met with and addressed the world and its problems, illuminating them in the light of the faith and Christ’s moral teaching. This has encouraged the clarification and emergence, along the arc of history, of a body of principles of Christian social morality, known today as the Social Doctrine of the Church. Pope Leo XIII is credited with having first sought to give them an organic and synthetic character. I am thus beginning, from the Magisterium, the new and delicate task, which is also a considerable undertaking, of developing for a world in continuous change, a teaching capable of responding to modern needs as well as to the rapid and continuous transformations of industrial society, and at the same time I am acting to safeguard the rights both of the human person and of the young nations that are becoming part of the international community. 

These words--and the rest of his remarks intended that day--reflect on Leo XIII's seminal 1891 labor encyclical Rerum Novarum.  So much for the Marxist criticism, and St. John Paul's grounding in Marian piety demolishes the spirit-only criticism, too.  Part of Mary's uniqueness resides in her predestination to become God's mother.  In other words, God freely gave her a grace like no other.  As David Mills writes, "What she is in herself, she is by the grace of God."  Mary cannot justify herself, as Garrigou-Lagrange once wrote;  she mediates graces that she herself needs and was given. The Rosary instructs us in Mary's path, which itself is that of Her Son.  After the Resurrection, Ascension, and Pentecost, all events involving Her Son, the Rosary's Glorious Mysteries then turn its attention to Mary's Assumption and her coronation in Heaven.  In words, Mary, having given us Jesus, then follows Him--and through our recitations of the Rosary, and our own personal intentions asked of the Blessed Mother, so do we.  

So part of May 13th's unique coincidences involve the evangelical reaching out to the world.  Prior to that, though, comes the interior reevaluation and reconfiguration of ourselves and the Church through Mary.  The Catechism says as much:  the Marian precedes the Petrine (#773).  Who better to exemplify that than Pius IX himself?  Whether we actually kneel as his statue depicts or kneel only mentally, we gaze at what God accomplishes in Christ Jesus through Mary.  And as St. John Paul II himself testified, the consequences for us can often be miraculous.

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