Sainthood Watch: What Makes Someone a Martyr?

As I mentioned a few days ago, on his plane ride home from Korea, Pope Francis had some fascinating things to say about a number of different subjects. Among them was the canonization cause of Archbishop Oscar Romero:

The process was at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, blocked “for prudential reasons”, so they said.  Now it is unblocked.  It has been passed to the Congregation for Saints.  And it is following the usual procedure for such processes.  It depends on how the postulators move it forward.   This is very important, to do it quickly.  What I would like is a clarification about martyrdom in odium fidei, whether it can occur either for having confessed the Creed or for having done the works which Jesus commands with regard to one’s neighbour.  And this is a task for the theologians.  They are studying it.  Because after him [Romero] there is Rutilio Grande, and there are others too; there are others who were killed, but none as prominent as Romero.  You have to make this distinction theologically.  For me Romero is a man of God, but the process has to be followed, and the Lord too has to give his sign …  If he wants to do it, he will do it.  But right now the postulators have to move forward because there are no obstacles.

This is a fascinating subject, and few if any news sources picket up on it (it was lost in all the trumpeting over how the Pope supposedly “supports” liberation theology.” Yet it goes to the heart of the question the Church asks about a potential saint, or in this case, potential martyr. Here’s some elucidation, at least as I understand it:

The expression in odium fidei means “hatred of the faith,” and for a person to qualify as a martyr, it has to be shown that the person or persons who killed him hated the Christian faith, and killed him or her for that reason. But in some cases, while the Christian faith and love of the person who is killed might be perfect, the “hatred of the faith” might be lacking in the killers, or might not be the actual reason he was killed.For instance, Joan of Arc was killed unjustly by people who hated her, but bad as they might have been, they didn’t hate the Christian faith. They were all Catholics, after all. And they would have said they were upholding the faith by excommunicating her and killing her. Deceiving themselves no doubt, because they also had political motivations. . . quite a tangle. I believe that’s why Joan, while she was perfectly willing to die for all she believed, and while she is certainly a saint, and honored as one, has not been declared a martyr by the Church.

An even more interesting case is Fr. Maximilian Kolbe. His arrest by the Nazis was clearly motivated not only by his opposition, but by his religious opposition, to the regime. Yet his death was different because he volunteered to die.For those who don’t know, or don’t remember, Kolbe was sent to Auschwitz, where he certainly endured a lot of beatings because he was a priest, something which seemed to arouse a particular hatred in the Nazis. But one day after a prisoner had escaped, the Commandant declared that ten men had to die in retaliation. He was just pulling them out of the line at random, and one man who was chosen cried out “my wife and children!” Fr. Kolbe immediately volunteered to go in his place. It was all the same to the Commandant, who was in a hurry, so he put Kolbe in with the other condemned men. He was starved for ten days with the others, and eventually killed with an injection of carbolic acid. . .

This was a bit of a problem for Kolbe’s canonization, I think, because hatred for the faith didn’t directly cause his death. But John Paul II declared that he was “a martyr of charity,” because his death was for love of neighbor and such a perfect imitation of Christ’s sacrificial death.

RomeroNow with Romero, we have a similar question. The men who killed him, given that this was central America, were probably Catholic. They might have been devout Mass-goers. As members of a right-wing regime, they would have had a very different interpretation of that faith than Romero, just as the liberation theologians had a different interpretation than Romero’s. They would certainly have hated him for political or ideological reasons, but religious? Since I don’t think the killers were ever identified, it would be hard to come up with a complete or certain answer.

I think that Pope Francis is saying that there are two possibilities in considering martyrdom, whether it’s a) someone professing the Creed in spite of hatred for it (“Renounce Christ or die!”) or b) someone killed because their love of neighbor led to their death — as with Romero’s concern for protecting the people of his flock from violence. He consciously ran the risk, knowing his enemies would be coming after him, knowing what would happen, even as he spoke out more insistently. I wouldn’t be surprised if he too, was declared a martyr of charity.

Of course, these are just my own ideas. I could always simply call Pope Francis up and ask him. If I get one of his famous phone calls in reply, it would be worth it!

The Real Paul VI (Part II) His Spirituality

Here is the second installment of my little series on Pope Paul VI. This one comes from a audio presentation made some time ago by Pope Paul’s former secretary, John Magee, when he was Bishop of Cloyne Ireland, called “Untold Stories of Three Popes” published by Lighthouse Catholic Media.

paul-vi-ratzingerFr. Magee, who was an Irish missionary priest, working at Propaganda Fide in Rome when was called to be Pope Paul’s secretary in December 1974, and lived daily with him until the day of his death, August 6, 1978, said:

“Paul VI was . . . the first person I could say that I saw the person of Christ in him. He was absolutely transparent and beautiful. His prayer life his whole personality shone within; I knew I was walking with a saint, talking with a saint.”  What he has to tell about Pope Paul would occupy a lot of space, but here is what he recalled about his spirituality.

Bishop Magee recalled that every Tuesday morning, the Pope would give him a piece of paper with the books he wanted to consult for his Wednesday audience talk, and invariably the Opera Omnia of St. Augustine was to be found among them. St. Augustine was his favorite. “If you know anything about St. Augustine,” Magee said, “you know he was a bad boy, and he was converted.”

On one memorable occasion when they were walking on the roof, Magee says, the Pope said to him: “The secret of my spirituality it to be found in St. Augustine. In St. Augustine, as there is in each of us, there is a struggle going on inside; I call it a tension of love, between the weaknesses that are within us, the miseria, on one hand, and on the other hand, the love of God that seeks us out, to cover over the miseria that each one of us is. And this encounter between the love of God and the miseria of mankind coming together forms the word misericordia – mercy. So on the one hand, every one of us carries baggage, we all have miseria within us, we all all broken, but God sent his Son to cover over the brokenness, to redeem it and draw us back into the Father. . . . Remember, mercy would never have been, were there no sin to be redeemed. . .  and when miseria and misericordia encounter each other, misericordia becomes prominent in our lives, we become conscious of God’s goodness to us.”

Then he asked Bishop Magee. . .  “Now when you become conscious of God’s action of love in your life, what must be your reaction?” He obviously wanted Fr. Magee to guess the answer, and he did (the M’s must have done it).

“Holy Father, would it not be true to say that Our Blessed Lady is a perfect example of one totally covered by God’s love?” he said, “She who did not even have sin was totally covered over with God’s love, and she sang her song of thanksgiving in the Magnificat.”

“You have the secret of my spirituality,” Pope replied. “I am always conscious of my miseria, my weakness; I am always conscious of God’s great love for me, and when I allow the two to encounter, I sing my Magnificat.

MiseriaMisericordiaMagnificat – Some years later, when he became a bishop, Fr. Magee took these words as the motto of his episcopal coat of arms.

News from the Papal Plane

Pope Francis gave one of his most gripping interviews ever today. He covered a multitude of subjects, and you can read the whole thing here.

Among the revelations was his possible plan to visit northern Iraq or Kurdistan to comfort the many Christian and other refugees who are fleeing the bloodbath created by the ISIS jihadists in Iraq, who are murdering, raping and driving people from their homes.   He spoke frankly about the need to stop these violent extremists. However, most news sources are reporting only a part of what he said, and implying that the Pope endorses the use of force; he didn’t quite say that. He certainly didn’t approve of unilateral U.S. action. Here is what he did say, uncut:

In these cases where there is an unjust aggression, I can only say this: it is licit to stop the unjust aggressor. I underline the verb: stop. I do not say bomb, make war, I say stop by some means. With what means can they be stopped? These have to be evaluated. To stop the unjust aggressor is licit.

But we must also have memory. How many times under this excuse of stopping an unjust aggressor the powers [that intervened] have taken control of peoples, and have made a true war of conquest.

One nation alone cannot judge how to stop an unjust aggressor. After the Second World War there was the idea of the United Nations. It is there that this should be discussed. Is there an unjust aggressor? It would seem there is. How do we stop him? Only that, nothing more

I take the last section to mean Pope-Koreathat the war should only be one to stop the aggression, but not aim at conquest or other goals. This is in accordance with Catholic just war theory.

All of that is food for thought and prayer. But here is matter for pure rejoicing. Pope Francis may be coming to New York!

There were a few rumors previously that I hadn’t been aware of. But now there’s this:

Next year I would like to go to Philadelphia, for the meeting of the families. Then, I have been invited by the President of the United States to the American Congress. And also the Secretary General of the United Nations has also invited me to the Secretariat of the UN in New York. So maybe the three cities together.

One his way to Korea, he had actually confirmed the Philadelphia part, which has also been rumored for some time. But now he seems to be confirming the other two cities as well. If he does come, he will be the third Pope I will welcome to New York!  (I also saw JPII in 1995 and Benedict in 2008).

And, from what I saw of his Asian World Youth Day talk, he’s been practicing his English! This trip should be really good.

The Real Pope Paul VI (Part I)

Today, August 6, the Feast of the Transfiguration, is the 36th anniversary of the death of Pope Paul VI. He is due to be beatified this October 19.

This announcement created some consternation (inexplicable to me) in some traditionalist corners and cubbyholes in the Church. They credit Paul VI with single-handedly destroying the Church in the wake of Vatican II.  The only good thing that they can recall about him is that he issued Humanae Vitae.  Though many in the progressive wing of the Church aren’t that happy with him either. After all, he did issue Humanae Vitae.

The thing that strikes me most about both these groups is their superficiality. Few of them give any evidence that they have really studied Paul VI’s life. On the other hand, I have read quite a bit about him, I hope with some depth.  So I have decided that, beginning today, and in installments leading up to his beatification, I will published posts illustrating little-known aspects of his personality.

PaoloVIToday I’ll begin with something simple, but profound. The popular perception of Paul VI was that he was a gloomy Pope, and deeply pessimistic. He brooded, and vacillated, and in fact, was another Hamlet; as Pope John XXIII was alleged to have said.

So was Paul VI gloomy or joyful?

The following comes from a conference held at the Lateran University in Rome, called “John XXIII and Paul VI: The Two Popes of the Council” held October 9-11, 2002. This reporting comes from an archived version of John Allen’s blog at the National Catholic Reporter, from October 18, 2002.

A touching moment came when Bishop Pasquale Macchi, who was Paul VI’s private secretary, rose to defend the image of the pope he obviously loved.

“Once and for all, may we please get rid of this phrase, falsely attributed to John XXIII, that Montini was a ‘Hamlet’”? Macchi asked. He said that John XXIII’s secretary, Bishop Loris Capovilla, has written an article denying that John XXIII ever called Montini, whom he knew and loved and actually made a cardinal, a “Hamlet.” In fact, Macchi said, John XXIII knew that people attributed this remark to him, and was bitter about it.

“This idea does not correspond in any way to the figure of Paul VI,” Macchi insisted. “He studied problems in depth, yes, but there was absolutely nothing Hamlet-like in his character.”

Someone then asked Macchi about the other common label for Paul: Paolo VI mesto, “the sad Paul.”

“Also this is absolutely false,” Macchi responded. “He was never sad. He had a profound serenity, and even if he was sometimes anguished, he never was an ‘anguished pope.’ He had an awareness of problems, he searched to understand them in depth, but he always felt a strong interior peace.”

Here is the testimony of someone else who knew Pope Paul intimately, his successor: Pope John Paul I, who wrote this comment two days after his death.

For me the true, authentic Paul VI is the one that we Venetians saw and heard in Venice in 1972: informed about our problems, full of tact, and poetically genial in expounding them. This is the Pope that I met in private audiences: not gloomy and pessimistic, as some have presented him, but optimistic, smiling, and even gently humorous. For me, a great Pope, who, however, has had to carry out his lofty mission in difficult times. About him Cardinal Hoeffner has written: “You have been crowned with thorns.” And Arturo Carlo Jemolo: “Paul VI is a martyr who has accepted, submissive to the will of God, one of the most painful pontificates that history can recall, with the decaying of a society that had been formed on the basis of a Christian morality.” (“Un grande Papa per un tempo difficile,” Il Gazzettino, August 8, 1978; Opera 8:579 83).

Other duties call, so — to be continued.