Museum Dedicated to Pope John Paul I Opens in Canale D’Agordo as his Sainthood Cause Advances

Here is an article I wrote for the website of the Pope John Paul I Association

(Canale D’Agordo, August 26, 2016).

His fourth-grade school notebook, the little bag he used in the seminary with his initials, his personal chalice, the vestments he wore as a bishop, the suitcase he took with him when he left Venice for the conclave – these are among the most moving exhibits of the new museum dedicated to Pope John Paul I.

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On Friday, August 26, 2016, the 38th anniversary of his election as Pope, the Museo Albino Luciani-Giovanni Paolo I was formally inaugurated in his hometown, the village of Canale D’Agordo in the Dolomite mountains in northern Italy. Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican Secretary of State, presided over the ceremony after the solemn Mass concelebrated in the village square by Cardinal Parolin, Renato Marangoni, the Bishop of Belluno and Giuseppe Andrich, the Bishop Emeritus of Belluno.
“The exhibition is characterized by the special involvement of the visitor,” says the museum’s curator Loris Serafini, “who, as he hears or reads a sort of autobiography taken from the writings of the Pope, is conducted in the experience by the words of Albino Luciani himself.”

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The Pope’s voice accompanies some significant moments, and lights, sounds, pictures, film clips, documents, clothes, objects, and text contribute to creating an atmosphere that evokes the time periods of the life of Albino Luciani, from the early 20th century to 1978. “Emotion will no doubt be aroused by the spontaneous story of the conclave narrated by the voice of the new Pope John Paul I after his election, or watching the home movies of the Sixties and Seventies that capture him as bishop of Vittorio Veneto, patriarch of Venice or Pope,” says Serafini. “The simplicity and linearity of this museum are intended to leave in the memory of those who visit an echo of the humility, humanity and faith that characterized the personality and life of Albino Luciani.”

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The exhibits that up to now have been housed in the rectory in Canale D’Agordo have been moved into the city’s old town hall next to the parish church. They also include an evocation of local history that gives background to the Pope’s life.

At the same time, some of the major players conducting Luciani’s cause for canonization are giving assurance that the process is advancing. Stefania Falasca, the vice-postulator of the cause, notes that the Positio or dossier which certifies among other things, the Christian virtues professed by Luciani, printed in 5 volumes and 3,600 pages, is about to be examined by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. The material they contain, she says, reveals his personality and life’s work, which deserve to be rediscovered and returned to their dignity.

The Positio will be examined by two committees, one made up of theologians and the other of bishops and cardinals. If the outcome is positive, Pope Francis will conclude this part of the process with the proclamation that Luciani practiced Christian virtue to a heroic degree and will name him Venerable. Then the Congregation will examine the evidence for a miracle worked through the intercession of the late Pope. Recently news has come of a miraculous healing in Latin America, about which an absolute reserve is being maintained, but which may turn out to be the one submitted to the Congregation.

Cardinal Beniamino Stella, who heads the Vatican Congregation for the Clergy, grew up in the diocese of Vittorio Veneto and attended the seminary while Luciani was bishop there. He recently took over the job of postulator of the cause for his beatification. “I believe in the sanctity of the Christian life of John Paul I, a sanctity that is lived in humility and daily self-giving to the Church and one’s neighbor in need, inspired by the theological virtues, practiced with interior fervor, and where the cross and sacrifice, and sometimes humiliation contribute to making the disciple of Jesus closer to his Lord,” said Stella. He invited people to pray that the miracle might be recognized on examination by the Vatican authorities.
Some newspapers speculated that the process might be finished by 2018, which will mark the 40th anniversary of John Paul I’s election and his death. But Cardinal Parolin is cautious. “I am not the prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints,” he said, “so I cannot say anything. The hope is that we will go forward with a certain speed and that we should pray for the miracle.”

Reporting from Il Corriere delle Alpi, of July 7, August 24, and August 26, 2016.

The Franciscan Spirit of St. Louis

Here we are, the members of the Tau Cross Region at the 19th Secular Franciscan Quinquennial Conference in St. Louis.

20160701_102445600 Secular Franciscans from all over the U.S., along with international representatives of the order met at the Renaissance Hotel on June 30-July 3 for four days of spiritual teaching and fellowship. We all had a wonderful time!

We also learned something about how Secular Franciscans can use social media – by, among other things, posting this photo of our session to Facebook!

13592645In between sessions, I was at the Tau Cross Books and Media table, meeting customers, selling and signing books.

I also sold copies of two new books I published last month that are available on the Tau Cross books website: The Voice of a Medieval Woman: St. Elizabeth of Hungary and A Tuscan Penitent: The Life and Legend of St. Margaret of Cortona.

Check them out!

Mary Magdalen, “Apostle to the Apostles”

Fra_Angelico_039Pope Francis has indeed been working to raise the image of women in the Church. Last week the Vatican announced that the Memorial for St. Mary Magdalene on July 22 has been raised to a Feast. Her liturgical celebration is now equivalent in rank to those of the Apostles. In fact, in line with Church tradition, she is marked out in the accompanying texts as Apostola apostolorum,” the Apostle to the Apostles”,  because she took news of the Resurrection to the apostles.

Robert Cardinal Sarah, head of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the sacraments, writes in his decree announcing this change:

Given that in our time the Church is called to reflect in a more profound way on the dignity of Woman, on the New Evangelization and on the greatness of the Mystery of Divine Mercy, it seemed right that the example of Saint Mary Magdalene might also fittingly be proposed to the faithful. In fact this woman, known as the one who loved Christ and who was greatly loved by Christ, and was called a “witness of Divine Mercy” by Saint Gregory the Great and an “apostle of the apostles” by Saint Thomas Aquinas, can now rightly be taken by the faithful as a model of women’s role in the Church.”

Msgr. Arthur Roche, secretary of the Congregation, wrote an accompanying letter, in which he explained how we should understand the saint, clearing up the still prevalent confusion about her identity:

Certainly Christian tradition in the West, especially after St. Gregory the Great, identifies Mary Magdalene, the woman who poured perfume in the house of Simon the Pharisee, and the sister of Lazarus and Martha, as the same person. This interpretation continued and had influence in the Western ecclesiastical authors, in Christian art and liturgical texts related to the saint. The Bollandists amply exposed the problem of identification of the three women and prepared the way for the liturgical reform of the Roman calendar.

Though he doesn’t say so directly, this makes it clear that Mary Magdalen is not to be identified as a repentant prostitute as she has so often in Christian tradition and art. Much more emphasis is laid on Mary Magdalen’s actions in the Gospel than on these speculations. Msgr. Roche goes on:

Therefore it is just that the liturgical celebration of this woman should have the same level of feast given to the celebration of the Apostles in the General Roman Calendar and that it underscore the special mission of this woman, who is an example and model for every woman in the Church.

Mary Magdalen’s feast day now has its own liturgical preface — and a beautiful one.

Truly is it worthy and just, advantageous and helpful toward salvation, that in all things we proclaim You, Father Almighty, whose mercy is not less than Your power, through Christ our Lord – Who, manifest, appeared in the garden to Mary Magdalene, for indeed she loved Him while he was living, saw Him dying on the Cross, sought Him lying in the sepulcher, and was the first to adore Him when he rose from the dead, and He honored her with the duty of apostleship in the presence of the apostles, so that the good news of new life would reach the ends of the earth. Therefore we too profess to you, O Lord, with Angels and Saints, saying in exultation: Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of Hosts…. (Source)

Some more traditional Catholics are already talking as this will be an incentive to a new push for women priests (I certainly will have more to say about this in a later post). In reality, this is not an innovation. In the period before the Council, Mary Magdalen’s Mass and Office was treated more like a feast, with obligatory reading, and the Creed was said at her Mass, as on Sundays and feast days (this was dropped in the 1962 reform of the missal by John XXIII).

I am in the middle of preparing a new book for publication, so the rest will have to wait.

Atheists, the Bible and Abortion

The news has provided so many things to write about lately — and me with so little time to write about them! Donald Trump’s candidacy and the harm it is doing to the pro-life movement. Pope Francis setting up a commission to study women deacons — I’m definitely going to write about this, but am still studying it myself — and so on.

WitchitaAdBut right now I’m going to tackle again atheist claims that the Bible condones abortion. Actually, this is a very easy subject to treat. Atheists are such sitting ducks for a good well-aimed argument. Their inane attempts to argue from the Bible clearly show not only that they have no conception of the view of God and humanity that lies behind Scripture — they simply cannot read with any kind of comprehension.

A couple of weeks ago, the Freedom from Religion released the ad at right, with a long list of Scriptural passages they say prove the Bible condones abortion, that human life, including life in the womb, is not sacred — even that God is an abortionist. None of the statements is an actual argument, so I can only guess how they are interpreting the text, but I have seen many of these before, and have some idea of what passes for argument with atheists and pro-choicers.

I don’t think there’s any way I can tackle all of these, but right now I will look at the first few, so you can understand the pattern of thought behind them. I may be able to get to some one the others later. (You can click on the picture to enlarge it and see the whole list). Keep in mind as you read that that other pro-choice people insist that there is no mention of abortion at all in the Bible. So somebody is clearly not reading right.

All right, here we go:

Life begins at birth — with the first breath (Gen 2:7)

“Then the Lord God formed the man out of the dust of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath [neshamat] of life, and the man became a living being [or living soul – nephesh chayyah].”

This is not an unusual claim for abortionists; in fact, it was the argument used by infamous late-term abortionist Kermit Gosnell for his work. I have already spoken about this one, fleetingly, in my review of the Gosnell documentary 3801 Lancaster.  He said that he had never felt completely comfortable with what he was doing until he went to jail, when he began to read the Bible through. As a result of that he found he could justify his abortions. In short, a desperate seeking for justification after the fact. He said that he found what he was seeking in Genesis 2:7, which “expresses the breath of life as the beginning of life, that God breathed life, breathed breath into Adam. The Bible, to me, is very clear, that life does not happen until breath.” He is referring to the first breath of a baby exiting the womb. Problem is, the text in Genesis isn’t referring to that at all.

What Genesis is actually expressing here is that Adam isn’t a fetus or a baby, but a full-grown man, when he comes not from the womb, but inanimate clay. Nor is it Adam’s first breath that is being talked about, but the breath of God, which is life-giving, or soul-making, being infused into him. This much is so obvious at first glance that only a desperate abortionist could think differently.

The word for breath (neshamah) is often related to and paired with another Hebrew word ruach, meaning “breath, spirit” and at times refers to God’s Holy Spirit  (See Job 33:4 for some true Hebrew parallelism, using similes: “The Spirit (ruach) of God has made me, and the breath (neshamah) of the Almighty has given me life”). Because the breath that is given is God’s breath, the life that is given is God’s life.

Ultimately what the passage expresses is the same as what is said: Genesis 1:26: “Let us make man in our image and likeness.” God is putting his divine life in Adam, because he is the creature in the universe most like God. God is not representing as breathing life into the animals; man is different, the crown of creation. The passage is not trying to give any indication that life happens when a fetus first breathes, since fetuses or born babies are not mentioned at all, and it is not physical breathing, but the divine life that is meant.

Fetuses are not persons (Ex 21:22-25)

This passage has always been somewhat obscure. Here is the way it is usually translated:

When men have a fight and hurt a pregnant woman, so that she suffers a miscarriage, but no further injury, the guilty one shall be fined as much as the woman’s husband demands of him, and he shall pay in the presence of the judges. But if injury ensues, you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.

This one is very frequently used not only by abortion supporters, but even by Jewish scholars and rabbis who support abortion, to argue that since a miscarriage entails only a fine, but injury to the woman a physical penalty, even death, the fetus is of less worth than a woman, or even not a person. But the Hebrew text does not bear this out. A while back, I found this on the Stand to Reason website by Greg Koukl, which gives a very detailed analysis of the passage:

The relevant phrase in the passage, “…she has a miscarriage…,” reads w’yase û ye ladêhâ in the Hebrew. It’s a combination of a Hebrew noun, yeled, and a verb, yasa, and literally means “the child comes forth.”

The verb is frequently used for live childbirth in the Old Testament: For instance:

Genesis 25:25-26 “Now the first came forth red, all over like a hairy garment; and they named him Esau. And afterward his brother came forth with his hand holding on to Esau’s heel, so his name was called Jacob.”

In fact, the verb yasa is never used for a miscarriage in the Old Testament. It is only use for a stillbirth in one passage Numbers 12:12, where it is specifically stated the child is dead.

A second point: the word “further” before “injury is not in the original Hebrew, but has been added by some translators in an attempt to clarify the context. The passage in question should read:

“And if men struggle with each other and strike a woman with child so that the child comes forth, yet there is no injury, he shall surely be fined as the woman’s husband may demand of him; and he shall pay as the judges decide. But if there is any injury, then you shall appoint as a penalty life for life….”

Another point is that the payment of a fine does not indicate that the unborn child is not a person. The payment of a fine or even the judgment of no penalty in the ancient Jewish law rather than execution or another penalty is not an indication that the fault isn’t grave, but frequently depends on the degree of culpability of the perpetrator, or whether the injury is direct, or indirect. Exodus 25 has a number of these.

The natural conclusion here is that fine is for causing the (probably premature) birth; further punishment is for any resulting injury, which could be either to the mother or the child. Gleason Archer, professor of Old Testament and Semitic Studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, says:

There is no ambiguity here, whatever. What is required is that if there should be an injury either to the mother or to her children, the injury shall be avenged by a like injury to the assailant. If it involves the life (nepes) of the premature baby, then the assailant shall pay for it with his life. There is no second-class status attached to the fetus under this rule; he is avenged just as if he were a normally delivered child or an older person: life for life. (Gleason Archer, Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982), p. 248).

The author of the article, Greg Koukl, adds:

Babies born prematurely require special care. Because their prenatal development has been interrupted, they are especially prone to difficulty. Pre-term babies often can’t breast feed, and there can be respiratory problems leading to permanent brain damage. The fine represents reimbursement for the expense of an untimely birth, and punitive damages for the serious trauma.

The whole article is excellent you can read it here.

I should add that while some Jewish biblical interpreters use this passage to argue for abortion, many Orthodox Jews are pro-life (including the Rabbis for Life I have seen at the march in Washington on January 22), and they would not interpret the passage this way.

Fetuses should be aborted as proof of adultery (Num 5:11-31)

I have already discussed this one here.

Shakespeare’s “Wooden O” . . . wasn’t really Round!

Continuing our Shakespeare theme, I read this article today — it has some really fascinating revelations from an archeological dig, which began in 2011, of the Curtain Theatre, where some of Shakespeare’s plays were first performed:

LONDON — London’s relentless building boom has dug up another chunk of the city’s history — one with a surprise for scholars of Shakespearean theater.

Archaeologists are excavating the remains of the Curtain, a 16th-century playhouse where some of the Bard’s plays were first staged, before a new apartment tower sprouts on the site. Unexpectedly, the dig has revealed that the venue wasn’t round, like most Elizabethan playhouses. It was rectangular.

That came as a surprise, because the best-known fact about the Curtain is that Shakespeare’s “Henry V” was first staged here — and the play’s prologue refers to the building as “this wooden O.”

“This is palpably not a circle,” Julian Bowsher, an expert on Elizabethan theaters, said during a tour of the site Tuesday. (Source)

Shakespeare’s prologue, spoken by a character called Chorus, invites the audience to use their imaginations to suspend their disbelief, and forget the narrow confines of the theater:

O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend
The brightest heaven of invention,
A kingdom for a stage, princes to act
And monarchs to behold the swelling scene!
Then should the warlike Harry, like himself,
Assume the port of Mars; and at his heels,
Leash’d in like hounds, should famine, sword and fire
Crouch for employment. But pardon, and gentles all,
The flat unraised spirits that have dared
On this unworthy scaffold to bring forth
So great an object: can this cockpit hold
The vasty fields of France? or may we cram
Within this wooden O the very casques
That did affright the air at Agincourt?
On your imaginary forces work.
Suppose within the girdle of these walls
Are now confined two mighty monarchies,
Whose high upreared and abutting fronts
The perilous narrow ocean parts asunder:
Piece out our imperfections with your thoughts;
Into a thousand parts divide one man,
And make imaginary puissance;
Think when we talk of horses, that you see them
Printing their proud hoofs i’ the receiving earth;
For ’tis your thoughts that now must deck our kings,
Carry them here and there; jumping o’er times,
Turning the accomplishment of many years
Into an hour-glass: for the which supply,
Admit me Chorus to this history;
Who prologue-like your humble patience pray,
Gently to hear, kindly to judge, our play.

The Curtain was founded in 1577, just the second theater in London, and Shakespeare’s company, the Lord Chamberlain’s men, was one of a number of troupes that performed there in the late 1590′s while waiting for their own theater, the Globe, to be built. Henry V actually premiered at the Curtain in 1599, and theater historians have always naturally supposed that the “wooden O” referred to the actual architecture of the theater in which it was played, which was always thought to have been round in construction, like other Elizabeth theaters. Now it turns out that the Curtain was actually rectangular! The article goes on:

The discovery has made Bowsher rethink some of his ideas about Tudor playhouses. He suspects that the Curtain — unlike the more famous Globe and Rose theaters — wasn’t built from scratch, but converted from an existing building.

“Out of the nine playhouses that we know in Tudor London, there are only two that have no reference to any construction,” he said — including the Curtain. “It’s beginning to make sense now.”

Where does that leave “Henry V”? Heather Knight, senior archaeologist at Museum of London Archaeology , said the play may still have premiered at the Curtain in 1599, but without the prologue.

“There’s a school of thought now that says prologues were actually a later addition,” she said.

You can get a good idea of how this Prologue may have actually been played in Shakespeare’s time from the opening scene of Laurence Olivier’s Henry V:

As you can see, Olivier set his performance in 1600 at the Globe (which actually was round), so even with the new discovery, it may still be accurate — perhaps the Prologue was specifically written for a performance at the Globe.

I’ve always loved the way Olivier filmed this, suggesting how the audience may have put their “imaginary forces” to work: it begins with onstage with all the conventions of the Elizabethan theater, and theatrical gestures, then gradually leaves the theater behind for outside, but still stylized location sets, then dissolving to 1415 and noble characters in costumes straight out of a medieval Book of Hours. By the time we get to the battle of Agincourt, we are in a fully realized naturalism. This makes sense, since most of Shakespeare’s groundlings would have seen medieval nobility only in those Books of Hours (if that), but were fully familiar with battles in real life.

All this really makes me want to see the film again! Here’s a 1944 review by James Agee.