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