19 October 2014

The Beatification of Pope Paul VI

"Today vast numbers of people still do not know Jesus Christ. For this reason, the mission ad gentes continues to be most urgent. All the members of the Church are called to participate in this mission, for the Church is missionary by her very nature: she was born 'to go forth'."

With these words - words which echo the words of his predecessor Pope Paul VI in his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi (On Evangelization in the Modern World) written at the close of the Third Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops and released in 1975 - the Holy Father Pope Francis began his Message for World Mission Sunday 2014, which is to be observed today throughout the Church universal.

It was Pope Paul VI who said, "Those who have received the Good News and who have been gathered by it into the community of salvation can and must communicate and spread it," a reminder of which we are in continual need, especially in these days when too many Christians have forgotten the necessity of proclaiming the Gospel of Christ (13).

But these are not the only words from Evangelii Nuntiandi that seem particularly apt at this time. As the Cardinals and Bishops gathered these past two weeks for the Third Extradordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, perhaps should have spent more time reflecting on these prophetic words:
The split between the Gospel and culture is without a doubt the drama of our time, just as it was of other times. Therefore every effort must be made to ensure a full evangelization of culture, or more correctly of cultures. They have to be regenerated by an encounter with the Gospel. But this encounter will not take place if the Gospel is not proclaimed (20).
This split is becoming all too apparent with each passing day and needs to be honestly accessed and addressed.

My childhood pastor, Father John Beveridge, was deeply influenced by this exhortation of Pope Paul VI and through it brought the Systematic Integral New Evangelization (SINE) to St. John the Baptist Parish in which I was raised in Quincy, Illinois. Through the small faith sharing groups formed through SINE, I came to understand the Gospels more clearly and learned how to follow Christ more closely through the witness and encouragement of my fellow parishioners, especially those in my small group, to whom I am eternally indebted.

Reading through this exhortation again and again in high school and in college was one of the helps along the way as I sought to discern the Lord's will for my life. It was this sentence, above all, that struck me deeply:
Here lies the test of truth, the touchstone of evangelization: it is unthinkable that a person should accept the Word and give himself to the kingdom without becoming a person who bears witness to it and proclaims it in his turn (24).

For this reason - and in gratitude for Pope Paul VI's other prophetic witness in his encyclical letter Humanae Vitae - I was very happy this morning to be able to concelebrate the Holy Mass in Saint Peter's Square this morning for the beatification of this Bishop of Rome.

I left the Casa Santa Maria with five other priests. It is difficult to carry on a conversation with two other people as you walk through Rome (doing so with four others would be nearly impossible). So it was that I walked with a priest of the Diocese of Orange (whose Bishop - the Most Reverend Kevin Vann - is a priest of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois) and who has family in Hawaii. As we walked we spoke of our mutual love for those blessed islands.

When we reached St. Peter's Square, the size of the crowds forced our group apart and I ended up with two priests who also live at the Casa, but with whom I did not walk (one from the Diocese of Lincoln, the other from the Diocese of Trenton).

After about an hour and a half of waiting in our chairs, the Mass finally began. After the Sign of the Cross and the Penitential Rite, the Most Reverend Luciano Monari, Bishop of Brescia, petitioned Pope Francis with these words:
Most Holy Father, I, the Bishop of Brescia, humbly request Your Holiness that the Venerable Servant of God, Paul VI, Pope, be proclaimed Blessed.
The biographical sketch of Pope Paul VI was then read by the Postulator of the Cause. Afterwards Pope Francis responded to the request of Bishop Monari, saying:
Acceding to the request of our Brother Luciano Monari, Bishop of Brescia, of many other of our Brothers in the episcopate, and many of the faithful, after consultation with the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, by our apostolic authority we declare that the Venerable Servant of God Paul VI, Pope, shall henceforth be invoked as Blessed and that his feast shall be celebrated every year on the twenty-sixth day of September, in the places and according to the norms established by Church law.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

The veil over the official portrait of Blessed Pope Paul VI was then lifted as we sang, "Shout to the Lord, sing to the Lord!"

Someone needs to help the Holy See forget how to use Photoshop.
Next a relic of Blessed Pope Paul VI - an undershirt he wore when an attempt on his life was made in Manila - was displayed near the altar for the veneration of the faithful:

After the incensation of the relic, the Holy Mass continued in the usual way, beginning with the Gloria.

In his homily this morning, Pope Francis said:
When we look to this great Pope, this courageous Christian, this tireless apostle, we cannot but say in the sight of God a word as simple as it is heartfelt and important: thanks! Thank you, our dear and beloved Pope Paul VI! Thank you for your humble and prophetic witness of love for Christ and his Church!
In his personal journal, the great helmsman of the Council wrote, at the conclusion of its final session: “Perhaps the Lord has called me and preserved me for this service not because I am particularly fit for it, or so that I can govern and rescue the Church from her present difficulties, but so that I can suffer something for the Church, and in that way it will be clear that he, and no other, is her guide and saviour” (P. Macchi, Paolo VI nella sua parola, Brescia, 2001, pp. 120-121). In this humility the grandeur of Blessed Paul VI shines forth: before the advent of a secularized and hostile society, he could hold fast, with farsightedness and wisdom – and at times alone – to the helm of the barque of Peter, while never losing his joy and his trust in the Lord.
After the Mass, Pope Francis rode through the Square in the Pope-mobile and I was able to get a good picture as he rode by:

The coat of arms is that of the Pope Emeritus, Benedict XVI.
All in all, it was a beautiful morning and a great way to spend a Sunday.

Blessed Pope Paul VI, pray for us!

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