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PADRE PIO'S WORLD
"...and what is lacking of the sufferings of Christ, I fill up in my flesh for His body, which is the Church..." (Col.1:24)
RECOMMENDED
 
First. . .
 
a most minor revelation. I reviewed some of the Padre Pio books listed below on Amazon under the name of Happy Loumin. The name is a combination of my mother, Minnie, and my father, Louis, and how "happy" I am that they were my parents. 

I reviewed the books because they affected me in an extraordinary and thoughtful way. I am not a 'book reviewer' per se -- writing reviews of books I do not like is something I would not care to do.    


PADRE PIO AND AMERICA   -    Frank M. Rega  

PADRE PIO AND AMERICA is a TAN edition of "The Holy Man on the Mountain, Padre Pio and the Americans Who Discovered Him," but even better because of photographs, which of course intensify the whole experience. You'll enjoy meeting these Americans (some of whom I knew)--so graced to have discovered Padre Pio on that mystical mountain long before the rest of the world heard of him.

 Following is my original review of December 29, 2004 : 

Frank Rega has gathered in one book all the stories--many never before told--of the first Americans, especially GIs, who discovered Padre Pio early on, at a time when you could still get near him, speak to him, kiss his gloved hand. I met Padre Pio briefly two years before he died. By then the world had begun to make inroads into this long forgotten mountain, and because of his age and frailty, Pio was guarded by friars who protected him from the rushing waves of people (much as Jesus was surrounded by crowds).

 But it wasn't so during the war. Rega writes about the GIs--battered soldiers, exhausted fliers, engineers--who took the road that wound up the lonely, barren mountain to San Giovanni Rotondo, some in trucks and jeeps, some even walking, to find this rumor of a "holy man" they'd heard about at the airbases below. Prompted by faith or curiosity in the midst of battle (perhaps, I have always thought, spurred on to a secret mission they were completely unaware of), they found the holy man to be a conduit of miracles, a discerner of souls called "a saint." They found a stigmatist, who became known as "The Living Crucifix." And all of the GIs spoke of Pio's profound Holy Mass conveying a real presence.

I'd read snippets in other Pio books about their awe, their standing in the back of the tiny, crowded 16th- century church, soldiers but also saints, in a way, answering the call for God and country. I had read of their visits to Mary Pyle, the first American to make her way up the mule path to Pio in 1923 (a great story recounted in detail in Rega's book), but I always longed to know more, more! What was it like during the war, when sacrifice was a daily thing? How did Pio inspire these men? Some even became priests! What did the GIs say to Padre Pio? And Pio to them? Well here it all is! And Rega does a sound, thorough, updated investigation of "The Flying Monk" mystery that haunts the legends of Padre Pio--Pio seen in the sky, stopping American bombers from unloading their unused bombs near San Giovanni Rotondo before returning to their base.   And oh yes, that possible secret mission of the GIs, for which it seems they were a great instrument in a plan of God we can only guess at? To carry back Saint Pio to this land of faith--"the good America!"  I loved this book!




THE TRUTH ABOUT PADRE PIO'S STIGMATA AND OTHER WONDERS OF THE SAINT   -    FRANK REGA  

 What is outstanding about "The Truth about Padre Pio's Stigmata: and Other Wonders of the Saint" is the meticulous detective work done by Frank Rega.

Yes, of course, some of these stories can be found in comprehensive biographies of Padre Pio that must touch on everything in his life-- how could one write a luminous history of Padre Pio leaving out these heavyweight legends, wonders and miracles? But they are, necessarily, condensed because there are so many of them. Here, Rega expands on some of them and lays out the entire field of their happenings, so we have the full story and fascinating details. Among the ones covered by Rega are the cancer miracle for JP II's (then Karol Wojtyla) friend, after a prayer request sent to Padre Pio; Padre Pio's vision of the death of a non-Catholic soul as it was happening, breathing new life into the question of salvation outside the Catholic Church; Padre Pio's letter to Pope Paul VI regarding the Pope's "Humanae Vitae" just days before Pio died -- a support so courageous at the time, and vital now! and often held aloft! But as necessary in biographies, these are often given in summaries, a sort of neutrally passing through the great legends on the way to the next one, and the next . . . And they leave you wondering:

1. Did Padre Pio really appear in bilocation to the disgraced General Cadorna of the First World War before the General was about to shoot himself, and thereby stop the suicide?

2. Did the child Gemma di Giorgi miraculously recover sight in eyes without pupils on her long railway journey to see Padre Pio?

And more recently there have been fatuous and irresponsible stories that needed to be addressed:

3. What were those crazy persistent rumors about Padre Pio's body being stolen or abducted from his burial place, the tomb in Our Lady of Grace church (before he was exhumed, kept on display for over a year and eventually transferred to the new Padre Pio Pilgrimage Church.)

4. BUT THE MOST IMPORTANT QUESTION OF ALL CONCERNS THE STIGMATA ON WHICH PADRE PIO'S FAME RESTED THROUGHOUT THE YEARS: Did Padre Pio apply chemicals to produce his famous stigmata, as implied by a chemist many decades ago (in recently opened Vatican archives of a Padre Pio investigation) and developed into a theory seriously set forth in a badly written book. Padre Pio devotees and admirers who have delved deeply into his life over the years find this laughable, as they well know the truth of the chemical story at San Giovanni Rotondo.

But this preposterous theory went over the hot wires of the media and is a resonating echo even today in a world that doesn't check things out. (The same happened some years ago when, after poorly controlled testing, it was announced that the Shroud of Turin was a fake -- a finding that is far from accepted or resolved. But subsequent objections to the impure testing, and new evidence and discoveries that weighed in on the side of the Shroud as the true relic-covering of Christ, were never given equal media time and global coverage.)

Frank Rega, a Padre Pio devotee to be sure, but also a scholar, focused his magnifying glass on all the Padre Pio stigmata evidence to zoom in on the truth. His chapter on the medical investigation of the 1918 event should put to rest any doubts that they were real. He does not take a neutral stance and points out clearly with documented evidence, the absurdity of the 'possibility' that they were faked.

It is important that all Padre Pio devotees, admirers and searchers must recognize and know by heart the true answer to the stigmata question, and not let ignorant theories cast doubts on the integrity of a Divine gift to one of the greatest saints ever to come to the Catholic Church.


 


 
TALES OF PADRE PIO  -   John McCaffery   



I have often called this my favorite of all Padre Pio books!  I say this because many years ago, when I first read these remembrances, they evoked the human in Padre Pio, as well as the saint. The emotional scenes McCaffery recreates made me wish I had been there then, feeling the warm-blooded Padre Pio, walking beside him in some small way, if not in the larger sense of those who knew him well.  I wouldn’t hesitate to take this book to a desert isle–with Padre Pio's letters, of course! I would not be lonely.   

 McCaffery was an organizer of the European resistance movements during World War II, and was occasionally accused of being "too cerebral a Catholic." He was skeptical at first of the stories he'd heard about Padre Pio. But once he met him he was won over and went on to become a loyal, sensitive, most loving and confidential friend of Pio. He writes of the intimate moments with him, of the gathering of friends in Pio's cell when one can almost hear the voices and laughter and feel the active life of disciples about him. He knew Padre Pio from postwar on and describes all Pio's heroes of "those great days," who, with almost nothing to work with, but under the spell of a divine madness, built the magnificent hospital Padre Pio dreamed of for years.  Every page is mesmerizing, but standouts are the following: 

From Chapter 26, this incident is in the untold miracles department.  McCaffery had developed heart problems during the war with bad symptoms: choking at times, palpitations, often having to sleep sitting up, and acute local head pains that led to a partial stroke. He was told by doctors that the problems were not organic, yet, but soon that was to be expected.  The heart problems never left, and after the war, when the head pains that had preceded the stroke returned, and McCaffery had the sensation of being close to passing on, he thought of his wife and young family.  It was during the early days of his acquaintance with Padre Pio, and he went to San Giovanni Rotondo to ask Pio to intervene. During Mass he bombarded him with this thought. Later that day, kneeling with others for Pio's blessings as he passed through a corridor:   

 

". . .he took a good long look at me, said nothing, but then, taking my head between his hands, he held it hard for quite some time against where the wound was in his side; he then gave me his blessing and passed along."

Three more times during that visit to San Giovanni, McCaffery knelt for Pio's blessing.

". . . each time he did the same thing, holding my head hard against his side.  Two months or so later I was down again and kneeling for his blessing once more. He took my head, placed it for an instant against his side, and then, pushing it away with a pleased, playful expression like that of a good-humored family doctor who finds his patient fully restored to health, he waited for me to stand up and embraced me. That was almost twenty-five years ago: almost twenty-five years of borrowed time during which I have never had the slightest recurrence of my trouble." 

 

 ". . . in the course of normal conversation, without any relevant reference, he placed the palm of his right hand, and therefore his wound, against my heart. Since then, not only have I put this unfortunate organ under very severe stresses without any ill result, but on several occasions on which I have had general medical examinations, the doctor in each case has said after his sounding, 'Nothing wrong with your heart, anyway!' "  

And don't miss the famous star and comedian of the Italian cinema, Carlo Campanini , declaring that he had the biggest cure of all from Padre Pio--he was cured of a "cancer of the soul!"

But the passage that remains with me forever  -- and surely will for all readers who know Padre Pio's love for humanity, for "the neighbor," and trust his words -- is when, in a discussion with McCaffery, he said thoughtfully, " . . .I believe that not a great number of souls go to hell. God loves us so much. He formed us in His image. God the Son incarnate died to redeem us. He loves us beyond understanding. And it is my belief that even when we have passed from the consciousness of this world, when we appear to be dead, God, before He judges us, will  give us a chance to see and understand what sin really is. And if we understand it properly, how could we fail to repent?" 
 

This book is still available at Amazon in the U.S. It is shown as available at the Irish Office for Padre Pio (www.padrepio.ie). It is a shame that this gem has been allowed to fade away.

 


SECRETS OF A SOUL Selected Letters of Padre Pio to His Spiritual Daughters
by St. Pio of Pietrelcina 

 

 

  For those who can’t, for various reasons, read the voluminous books of Padre Pio’s letters, "Secrets" will give you a great sense of him. You can't deeply know Padre Pio until you read his letters, filled with beauty, love, all that was happening around him, discreet discussion of his dark nights and physical agonies, and of all our struggles. A cornucopia of spiritual gems for the soul.

But when you finish this...go to the volumes of his complete letters, and take your time getting to know him more deeply.

 

 

WORDS OF LIGHT: Inspiration from the letters of Padre Pio
Introduction by Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa


I can't think of a more appropriate one to draw inspiration from Padre Pio's letters than the insightful Preacher to the Papal Household, Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, a Capuchin himself (and what a name: Cantalamessa--Sing the Mass). Be sure to read his

Introduction on Amazon. Here's a snippet--
"It is necessary to actually read the letters of Padre Pio in order to realize the stature of the man and the purity of his sanctity. Only God knows how those days were, and even more the nights, when Padre Pio left the confessional with his soul full of the sufferings and sins which had been poured into his heart. The sculptor, Francesco Messina, who designed the Via Crucis of San Giovanni Rotondo, portrayed Simon of Cyrene in the garments of Padre Pio. He could not have had a more beautiful intuition. Those who came to Padre Pio left the meeting feeling lighter, while he remained crushed. . . "

"...the person who follows Padre Pio's own way of internal suffering and expiation, sees in him a companion, a friend and an incomparable light."

 
 
 
 
 
 




MAGIC OF A MYSTIC  Stories of Padre Pio -  Suzanne Marie Adele Beauclerk, Duchess of St. Albans

This book is out of print, but there are some new and used available at Amazon.

 

Suzanne arrives in San Giovanni Rotondo, where her sister lives, from the south of France. 
She'd prepared for miracles and mysticism, but not for the intensity she finds.  But then who is?  She goes about exploring and talking to some of the people who knew Padre Pio well.  They don't often come out of their privacy, but there is a hard-won trust between them and Suzanne's sister, which makes them willing to open up, and Suzanne learns about Padre Pio's doings. Gently, you can feel her being drawn as she hears the legends of Padre Pio--some not often told.  They tell about stripping their souls to as-close-to-perfection as possible in the confessional. "There he listened, admonished, advised, encouraged and thundered in turn." They relate incredible events with a touching ingenuousness, as full of wonder as though these things happened only yesterday--yet these extraordinary happenings seem so natural to them.

Suzanne describes an enchanted place, inspite of the often raw-boned living to be near Padre Pio. One spiritual daughter, Margherita, slept in a hut in a desolate field, without heat or running water, but with the protection of a guardian-dog sent by Padre Pio.  Of course, guardian angels abound. 

The Duchess of St. Albans meets Padre Pio with refreshing light-heartedness, sometimes over a cup of tea, as she listens to the people's reminiscences....

I can never get too  much of this! It's Padre Pio's world, and a delight!
Suzanne, Duchess of St. Albans, passed away on February 12, 2010. RIP  

 

 

                                                  

  THE  OT H E R   S H E L F

 

 

ST. FRANCIS OF ASSISI AND THE CONVERSION OF THE MUSLIMS  Frank M. Rega  

 

Have you ever wondered why it's the Franciscans in their long brown habits with rope ties who lead you along the Via Dolorosa, The Way of the Cross in Jerusalem, the most sacred of Christian sites and Christian moments? Strangely enough, there are probably many Christians, many Catholics, who are not aware that a crucial meeting took place between Francis and the Sultan. Those who knew Francis, as well as scholars through the centuries, have written tomes opining and debating the reason for Francis' bold venture into the enemy camp during a lull in the heated battle at Damietta, Egypt. But march in he did, with the might of his faith and one companion! He expected he would most likely be martyred.  He was not.  Instead. . .In this excellent narrative of St. Francis coming face to face with the Muslims, Frank Rega (a Phi Beta Kappa and Woodrow Wilson scholar) traces a great and controversial moment in Christian history--the meeting of Francis of Assisi with the Sultan al Malik al Kamil, one of the most important leaders of Egypt, Palestine and Syria, in the hot summer of 1219, during the Fifth Crusade. Questions come to mind immediately: what on earth was Francis doing on a Crusade? What was his plan? his hope? 

This is Rega's entry into the debate. Francis, who had renounced the world, reduced himself to rags and the most austere living, and who loved every soul and creature on earth, joined the 5th Crusade "in a courageous attempt to preach the Gospel. . . in the Middle East," writes Rega. Standing in his beggarlike habit, Francis began to speak, and because of the simplicity of his arguments and the confidence he exuded, the Sultan was willing to listen to Francis' words. These are gripping moments, and one feels Rega's passion for the subject in his driven narrative, as he shows a Francis many of us have not met before. Along the way, Rega clarifies every question and possibility put forth by theorists, especially today, who "reduce this saint to a glorified social worker, nature lover, or 'the first hippie.' "

Much took place in those few days--or maybe they were more than a few; it is not known--resulting in the unprecedented gesture of the Sultan giving Francis a permit of safe passage to travel "without hindrance" anywhere in the Sultan's domains. Hence, a special relationship existed between the two men, which resulted in allowing the friars to eventually obtain custody of the Christian shrines in the Holy Land. The Sultan also eventually released 30,000 Christian prisoners and negotiated a peace with the Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick II, in which he returned Jerusalem to the Christians, with Muslims keeping their holy sites. This was the period in which the first Franciscans came to Palestine to care for the Christian sites, and they are still there today! 

 When Francis finally returned to Italy, he went on to another great Catholic moment on Mt. Alvernia--receiving the stigmata, the Crucifixion wounds of Jesus Christ. This is one of the many dramas in his life that could stand out as the moment he stepped into history. Part of this book is an essence-biography, highlighting the heart and soul of the man whose love for Christ held no room for compromise, and who ultimately reformed the Church. The better to understand why he went to the Middle East. 

One of Francis' most passionate disciples was Clare--beautiful, wealthy, patrician--who escaped her pursuing family to follow the impoverished Francis' path. Only 18, if she had any vanities, she left them completely in a gesture of renouncement, letting Francis cut off her glorious blonde hair, and giving up her beautiful clothes and jewels for the rough Franciscan habit. These two figures captured the imagination of Christian Europe, and not by halfway measures.... 

Rega's research goes back to 13th-century volumes. He asks the polemical questions about Francis' mission and offers his own answers at the conclusion of the book. Although intensity of Faith and Belief has faded in much of the world in our time, St. Francis remains relevant and is still an ambassador for Christ and the Gospel, a blaze of love for all souls, everywhere.







  LIFE OF THE MYSTIC LUISA PICCARRETA:
Journeys in the Divine Will- The Early Years    -   
Frank Rega 

  
There is no doubt that some of the writings of the Catholic mystic, Luisa Piccarreta, concerning the coming Reign of The Divine Will, have stirred controversy -- just go to the internet! Although Luisa had the support of clergy, and although 19 of her diary-volumes were published under the Imprimatur of her spiritual director and confessor for over 17 years (who is now a saint --St. Annibale di Francia, canonized by John Paul II on May 16, 2004), for a long time the Church placed some of her writings--not the diaries-- on the Index.

But those were not the pure, handwritten writings of Luisa-- they had been edited by others, explains author, Frank Rega (Padre Pio and America; St. Francis of Assisi and the Conversion of the Muslims; The Greatest Catholic President: Garcia Moreno of Ecuador). The debate has not deterred a wide fervent Catholic following, but has only served to bring focus to her life, mystical journeys, visions and revelations.

Luisa Piccarreta (1865-1947) lived in Corato, in southern Italy, one of five daughters born to simple Catholic farmers who worked for a landlord. Her childhood was characterized by extreme shyness and nightmares of demons trying to carry her away. From this she turned to prayer so intense, she began to experience inner locutions from Jesus that continued throughout her long, impoverished life--bedridden for over 60 years.

Ordered by her confessor to write down her experiences, her diaries fill 36 volumes from February 1899 to December 1938. Luisa's almost nightly mystical encounters put her into a rigid, nearly petrified state that could only be undone by her confessor the next morning. Her diaries record her years of conversations and journeys with Jesus, His Mother, the angels, the souls in Purgatory, and describe all her sufferings, physical and otherwise, the dark nights of her soul, the invisible stigmata, the supernatural world she lived in and the coming of the reign of The Divine Will -- a world inside-out from our own earthly grounding.

In short, the Divine Will unfolds, trying her spirit, slowly creating a victim-soul in Luisa, willing to save other souls through her suffering: "...her soul would leave her body and travel with Jesus to places of iniquity--and she would share the pain Jesus felt. He passed such bitterness into her soul that it felt as if knives were piercing her." (p. 43)

Her diaries leave no doubt, either, that she also experiences promises and rewards, and often a lyrical feeling of beauty and ineffable happiness not known in our world.
Luisa was a Dominican Tertiary existing mostly on the Eucharist, and became known as the Little Daughter of The Divine Will. Some photographs available show an aged woman with white hair drawn back, dressed in white and sitting upright in bed. One sees the shy dark eyes tinged with a grave humility and a sweet acceptance.

Rega, as a defender of Luisa, cites good references in evidence of the sincerity of her transcendent experiences. Since most of us would perhaps not even know about her or have time or inclination to read 36 volumes, he has taken on the herculean task of "sifting" 1000 pages of the first 12 volumes into some 270 pages in a fast-reading narration, opening the door to Luisa's mystical world of the Divine Will, what Rega calls "Heaven on earth. . . "

As often happens with mystics, they face conflict, doubt and questioning, but the Cause for Beatification and Canonization of Luisa Piccarreta has found its way. Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI), as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith "nullified the condemnations..." clearing the way for her Cause, which was opened on November 29th, 2004, the Feast of Christ the King. As part of the Vatican process for the Cause, her diaries are under scrutiny by the Magisterium, and they have requested that writers do not quote her work verbatim. Therefore, Rega has told the essentials of parts of her diaries in his own words, "from the perspective of an observer, reporting in the third person on what he has read."

For those who have never read Luisa's voluminous work--and I am one! -- the author has presented a chance to know her life and what she has to tell us of The Divine Will, of Divine Justice and Divine Love. "Her revelations and visions teach the way of personal sanctity and of life in the Divine Will, to prepare for a coming Era of Peace," Rega writes. I have not sufficient knowledge to offer an opinion on her vast diaries -- we'll have to wait until the Church speaks-- but in the meantime, reading Rega's book is a great help for those who want to ease into her writings. It flows like a simple prayer book that can be carried on the subway or bus to work -- easy to understand by the busiest reader of 'things Catholic,' while we await the outcome of her Cause for Beatification. "Thy Kingdom come, Thy Will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven..." All Christians want this.

Five stars for Rega's great effort-- and his fervent intention to bring the essence of the volumes before the world.


NOTE: An update from the official Newsletter for THE PIOUS UNIVERSAL UNION OF THE CHILDREN OF THE DIVINE WILL reports:

"The second theologian assigned to evaluate the writings of Luisa Piccarreta by the Vatican Congregation for the Causes of the Saints has given a positive, that is, favorable judgment.
This means that the Censor Liborum for the cause of Luisa have found nothing contrary to the faith in her writings, and her cause can now go forward." 


November 26, 2012: 
Update on the Cause of LuisaPiccarreta

Frank Rega reported the following on November 14th 2012.

"His Eminence Archbishop Pichierri, who is responsible for Luisa Piccarreta's cause, rejects the claim that there are doctrinal errors in her writings. Further, not only is it not prohibited to spread the knowledge of her life and of her writings, but it is desireable to do so. Please see attached communication for details. "
 
 
To read the full statement by the Archbishop, go to www.lifeofluisa.com

Luisa Piccarreta's path to sainthood, long and labyrinthine as it may be, is now clear of cluttering misinterpretations and declarations of heresy, and so...her journey is a step closer to that honor and conntinues freely. Her time, her day approaches. . .

In the meantime, since many may not want to read the thirty-six volumes of her diary, Frank Rega will soon be bringing out his second volume of Luisa's diary, The Middle Years.-- not translating it but "from the perspective of an observer, reporting in the third person on what he has read." It is indeed what is needed in these speeding times--a shorter path to get to the revelations of His Will.

To read an excerpt from this 2nd volume, a chapter entitled "Chastisement, Purges, Destruction - and a Remedy," go to www.lifeofluisa.com .

We may wish to read some passages a second time, not because they are not clear -- they are! -- but because the ideas and explanations to Luisa by Jesus are so profound and beyond our natural imaginings and inclinations, we want to digest them thoroughly. They bring to mind Isaiah 55: 8 "For my thoughts are not your thoughts; nor your ways my ways, saith the Lord." Luisa's sacrifice is called on by Jesus to "prepare the act opposite to the many evils that inundate the earth." I think one can say Luisa is a seedling of the Divine Volition--indeed, one could say a 'seedbed' for she was bedridden most of her life and from there was infused through the years with the purpose and meaning of The Divine Will. Among the many thoughts that flood one is how many such acts of sacrifice are silently and invisibly preventing the great fall of humanity into the inundations of evils.

Rega writes that Jesus tells Luisa "The earth will be purified further, since He is disgusted with it and cannot bear its sight." "He cannot rest until He gives the last divine brush stroke to all Creation." And for this he needs souls like Luisa, filled with His Will. . . .
 

 
 
   
 
 
 

 THESE ARE A FEW OF MY FAVORITE THINGS. . . .

A TRAVELER IN ROME - H.V. Morton

There has been no travel writer to compare with H.V. Morton (RIP), who wrote from the thirties to the sixties. Most of the travel  books today are filled with hotel and restaurant descriptions, thumbnail sketches of great cathedrals, churches and castles, and a rush through streets to the next sight and the next, never dwelling long  enough to fill the soul. . .

But not H.V. Morton. Where, today, can you find passages like this as he stood on the terrace of the Pincio gardens on a summer eve, looking across the span of Rome to St.Peter's:

"I gazed... out across the roofs of Rome to the dome of St. Peter's.... It is one of the great views of the world, and as I stood with the declining sun in my eyes, the whole landscape, with the dome in the centre, the tomb of Hadrian with its Angel, and the long, dark ridge of the Janiculum on the left, took on the exquisite colours that are not the least of Rome's glories. It is not really the sunset, but the afterglow in summer that is so wonderful from the Pincio. The sun went down. A golden light hovered above the city, seeming to ascend from it. The dome grew sharper against the sky, and gradually an upsurge of dull red light spread in the west and moved up to blend and mingle with the still dark blue of a summer's day in Italy. This is the rich Homeric light that suggests the dust flung by galloping horses and the wheels of chariots, an epic colour which deepened and darkened as the blue sky turned paler; until there was a rusty glow all over the west, a promise that tomorrow would be as cloudless as the day just ended."

And when the sun has gone down, Morton continues:
  

". . . the first stars burned over Rome. At this moment the heart is touched. First one and then another--one hardly knows where it starts--the bells of Rome are ringing the Angelus--the Ave Maria--and another day of life has gone. There is now the dark, and tomorrow."

And now he is watching a summer sunrise in Rome, from the Janiculum hill.

"Turning around, I saw that St. Peter's had now detached itself from the sky and loomed up, ready to catch the first light of the rising sun. Rome lay in beautiful, blessed silence. . .As I stood watching, facing the dim, incoherent mass of roofs and domes, the light grew stronger every second, and buildings, churches, towers and cupolas emerged clearly from the morning greyness, taking on individuality as colour flooded back into them, all the reds, browns and yellows of Rome; and the next instant the sun was shining in a cloudless sky. This was more wonderful than any sunset, this sight of Rome's new morning. All at once the roofs and domes were glinting and scintillating..."

The new Roman Missal, in conveying the original Latin, will say "from the rising of the sun to its setting," instead of "from east to west." These two Morton descriptions surely show us why: how beautiful is God's turning world.

Morton visits churches. . . .with a reverence. Here is one of my favorite passages, as he is sitting in the church of San Clemente, "the most beautiful of the mediaeval churches of Rome." He describes its beauties, but then...

"As I sat glancing around this beautiful church, a poor old woman like a little black ghost, her head covered with a ragged shawl, came shuffling along in carpet slippers and approached a life-sized crucifix in one of the aisles. She was like a bundle of old, dry leaves wrapped round with cobweb. First she knelt and told her beads, then she approached the crucifix and, bending forward, kissed the feet and placed her cheek against them, whispering all the time. I watched her lift a corner of her shawl and wipe the feet, as if wiping away the blood. Then she looked up into the face of Christ, and, with her arms held out in the earliest attitude of prayer, an attitude one still sees on the walls of the catacombs, began to speak to Him; then again went forward and kissed His feet. She seemed to be holding a conversation with the crucifix, pausing as if for a reply and then speaking again, sometimes blowing up a kiss. Then she touched the feet again, and stood there as if she were standing on Calvary, waiting for Christ to be taken from the cross.
"I fancied from her manner that she was in the habit of talking to Christ like this, perhaps telling Him her anxieties and maybe the events in the tenement where she lived. 'The infinite pathos of Human trust,' I thought, then I seemed to hear St. Paul, 'We walk by faith, not by sight'; and these lines came into my mind:

And Wisdom cries 'I know not anything';
And only Faith beholds that all is well. . . .

After all, I thought, is there much difference between this poor old creature and the great mystics? St. Teresa, who was on the same easy terms with God, and even on one occasion became angry with Him, would have understood this old woman. I remembered that a great scientist, now dead, once said to me: 'We know nothing, Science leads us to a sunny mountain, but from the top, where we expect to see everything, there is nothing but an impenetrable mist.' "

This is the way to see Rome. How many travel writers today, I wonder, would write of 'Christ' and the Cross with such focused interest, and give us St. Peter's beauty in sunset and sunrise as the great looming splendor of Rome? How many would describe this wonderful old woman before the Crucifix in such a way? Morton gives credence to the woman, her gestures, her faith....He even weighs the doubted 'wisdom' of science against her unquestioning faith. He evokes that moment so vividly, we know how much he is drawn....

In between such H.V. Morton passages, you'll find marvelous slices of Imperial Rome, Christian Rome, Renaissance Rome, Baroque Rome, the Popes and Princes and storylines better than any historical novel you can pick up today. And yes, you get a little something about restaurants, mainly because of the culture he's explaining. But you'd better keep to the dry practical 'guides' for that sort of thing. H.V. Morton is out to give you the heart and soul of Rome and anywhere he goes.
For a while his books were out of print--a ridiculous thing to happen to these literary treasures about Rome and all travel. But now they are back in print and if you're traveling to this truly Eternal city, on a pilgrimage to San Giovanni Rotondo and Padre Pio, and stopping over in Rome for a few days, or simply traveling by armchair, grab a copy of H.V. Morton's Rome before it goes out of print again! 

IN THE STEPS OF ST. PAUL - H.V.MORTON
 
 
 
 
  

 




 


 

 

CHRISTMASTIME...a time Hope became visible and palpable.  

Mary trusted and believed. 

The animals knew, they gave their warmth...The shepherds knew and approached the light.  The Angels explained...

The skies forecast it.  The Wise Men, Astrologers,  saw it in the firmament and followed "the star,"  the planets. . .  

Something earth-changing, life-altering, magnificent and foretold was happening as God's designing finger moved the stars along their course. . . Something breathtaking. . . Something, someone, who will save, as history would hurtle its turbulent storm through the centuries to this very moment you are reading this. . . 

It came in the presence of a child. . .   
 
 

Through the centuries, great composers have put their wondrous thoughts and feelings about this moment into Christmas music.  How much joy we owe them! Bach's Christmas Oratorio, Handel's Messiah, of course, and all the great Catholic Liturgical music and Masses,  But it's Christmas. . . and I am speaking now of the traditional classics, the heavensent inspiration given to the composers of the songs we listen for every year.

I want -- I need -- to look constantly to this great moment, this still point when "God is with us" to remind myself of the Love that is offered to the world. . .of what I can hope for. This meaning never stops opening out, radiating its beauty and fragrance with every Christmas song and meditation, an unspeakably beautiful truth, ever, ever flowering...I need to look at that Christmas truth ALWAYS.

Here are a few meditations on some of the Christmas tableaux by Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen in his Life of Christ, a great jewel in the Catholic treasury. They are followed by some of the Christmas music that evokes those stunning Nativity scenes.   

"No worldly mind would ever have suspected that He Who could make the sun warm the earth would one day have need of an ox and an ass to warm Him with their breath; [. . .] that He, from whose hands came planets and worlds, would one day have tiny arms that were not long enough to touch the huge heads of the cattle[. . .] that the Eternal Word would be dumb; that Omnipotence would be wrapped in swaddling clothes; that Salvation would lie in a manger [. . . ]no one would have ever suspected  that God coming to this earth would ever be so helpless. And that is precisely why so many miss Him. Divinity is always where one least expects to find it." (p.28)  
   
       "What Child is This..."   "Away in a Manger..." 

"Only two classes of people found the Babe; the shepherds and the Wise Men; the simple and the learned; those who knew that they knew nothing, and those who knew that they did not know everything. He is never seen by the man of one book; never by the man who thinks he knows. Not even God can tell the proud anything! Only the humble can find God!"  (p.30)

 

           "While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks By Night..."   "Shepherds! Shake Off Your Drowsy Sleep..."  "Angels We Have Heard On High..."  "Hark the Herald Angels Sing..."  "Behold, I Bring You Glad Tidings!"

 "Bethlehem became a link between heaven and earth; God and man met here and looked each other in the face. (p.31) [. . .] It was the first time in the history of this world that anyone could ever think of heaven as being anywhere else than 'somewhere up there';  when the Child was in her arms, Mary now looked down to Heaven." (p.27)

    "Oh Little Town of Bethlehem..."   "A Spotless Rose..."  "Once in Royal David's City"  "O Holy Night..."   "It Came Upon the Midnight Clear ..."  "Silent Night" 

"Simeon had foretold that the Divine Babe would be a Light to the Gentiles. They were already on the march.  At His birth there were the Magi, or the scientists of the East [. . .] The Psalmist had foretold that the kings of the East would come to do homage to Emmanuel. Following a star, they came to Jerusalem to ask Herod where the King had been born.

[. . .] It was a star that led them. God spoke to the Gentiles through nature and philosophers[. . .] The time was ripe for the coming of the Messiah and the whole world knew it. Though they were astrologers, the slight vestige of truth in their knowledge of the stars led them to the Star out of Jacob[. . .] Though coming from a land that worshiped stars, they surrendered that religion as they fell down and worshiped Him Who made the stars. The Gentiles in fulfillment of the prophecies of Isaiah and Jeremiah  'came to Him from the ends of the earth.' " (p. 43)

 

     "We Three Kings..."    "In Dulci Jubilo..."

And here is a beautiful meditation written by St. Louis De Montfort, about the child, the loving Saviour, from his little book, "The Love of Eternal Wisdom," which teaches us so much....

     "The shepherds who came to the stable to see him were so spellbound by the serenity and beauty of His face that for several days they remained to gaze upon Him in rapture. The kings, exalted as they were,  had no sooner seen the loving features of this beautiful Child, than, laying aside their dignity, they fell on their knees by His crib. They must often have said to one another, 'Friends, how good it is for us to be here! In our palaces we find no enjoyments to be compared with those we experience in this stable looking at this beloved Infant God.' "

     "Love Came Down at Christmas ..."  "O Magnum Mysterium..."

I'm reminded of Padre Pio's immense love for the Infant God. . .Father Gerardo Di Flumeri - RIP (Vice Postulator of The Cause for Canonization of Padre Pio) wrote: "I will always remember that Christmas of 1963 that I spent with Padre Pio, my beloved and venerable spiritual father. That look of wonder, his profound recollection and prayer remain fixed in my memory. What most of all remains still vivid before my eyes is the color of his rosy cheeks as he sang the Te Deum that announces the birth of Our Savior." [. . .]"Padre Pio was unable to contain his joy over the birth of the divine child intimately united to him in the depth of his soul..."

Is it any wonder Padre Pio carried the infant in his arms with such love and tenderness and the profound understanding of the meaning of this divine infant.  They processed through the church, corridors, friary, singing the Te Deum. Fr. Di Flumeri wrote: "The procession seemed to me like all humanity that has always gone to meet Jesus, who comes to us. Passing through the happy and noisy crowd that flanked us on either side, I noticed all eyes were turned to the image of the divine Child Jesus in the arms of the stigmatized priest. And with their hands they stretched out to touch Him, the soft hands of innocent little children, the gentle hands of devout women and the hands of laborers hardened from work in the fields. All wanted to see and touch the one 'through whom all was fulfilled' " (The Voice of Padre Pio, #12, 1993, p.8, cited in my forthcoming Padre Pio and Children) 

 To touch the awesome (in the true meaning of that much abused and casually used word), the awesome beauty of the moment, to touch the gift of inexpressible love, to feel the astonishment grip one's heart, to know the yearning for that Love and Purity. . . All this I want in Christmas music!  I listen throughout the year.  I can't give up Christmas just because the calendar moves on.  In fact, our Christmas tree stays up longer and longer each year, and it is still up, this year, since last Christmas.  Whenever I feel a little 'down,' I plug in the lights, and there it is...the Nativity, the light of the world.  Beside it are statues of Our Lady, and one large mock-bronze bust of Padre Pio. Prayers of thanksgiving rise up. . .

 

 Below are some recommendations if you'd like to go there. . . the place of the heart found by Padre Pio and Archbishop Sheen and St. Louis de Montfort and all the composers. . . The place where God has given the world salvation, if it accepts it. . .


"NATIVITAS" is my favorite.  I have been listening to it for quite a few years now, year-round.  I love the streaming flute transitions from one song to the next, floating the mood, the truth of each musical meditation to the next. Plus, on this recording, you have some beautiful chorales from one of my favorite composers, Francis Poulenc.  Don't pass over Poulenc's "4 Motets for Christmas--O Magnum Mysterium."  The Mystery. . . How beautifully he expresses the mystery, the unimaginable mystery--that a child could be God, that God could be a child; that the mystery continues to this day in transubstantiation--the Eucharist; that God could give himself in the form of a wafer, that a wafer could be Jesus Christ in us. . .O Magnum Mysterium permeates us, infuses and courses through our blood, heart, mind and soul . . . In the second Christmas Adagios, listen to Richard Stoltzman's meditating, praying clarinet. . .

These selections are not for noisy Christmas parties.  But they will work wonders for your spirit as you are wrapping gifts, baking Christmas cookies, preparing Christmas dinner, putting up the tree, missing loved ones who have left this world. . . or most importantly, as you are trying to pull away from the chaos of our times...and enter the real Christmas.

In some of these selections, as with all great music, train yourself to listen at intervals, a day or so apart for a while, and soon what you hadn't heard before, you will hear-- and, I pray, be present at The Birth.                                                                

 

 

 


 

                                                                                                                                                     

 


 


 






 

                                                 



        O MAGNUM MYSTERIUM
O great mystery,
and wonderful sacrament,
that animals should see the new-born Lord,
lying in a manger!
Blessed is the Virgin whose womb
was worthy to bear
Christ the Lord,
Alleluia!

                                     
         

                                                
                                                       IN DULCI JUBILO  
                                                       Oh sweet rejoicing
                                                       now sing and be glad!
                                                       Our hearts' joy
                                                       lies in the manger
                                                       And it shines like the sun
                                                       in the mother's lap
                                                       You are the alpha and omega!  

 


 STAY TUNED....