Saturday 16 August 2014

An uncelebrated WWI centenary?

On 4th August we offered Mass here in the parish for the centenary of Great Britain's entry into the First World War. I think the great turn out we had was in part due to the fact that the centenary had captured people's imagination and, through the media, was on people's radar, as it were.

Another centenary will arrive next Wednesday 20th August - that of the death of Pope St Pius X. His feastday is this coming Thursday 21st August in teh new calendar but is on September 3rd in the Usus Antquior. 

Famed for his condemnation of lamentable departures from the Christian Faith, he is certainly a saint for our times and a pope who shared our present Holy Father's discomfort with the pomp and ceremony of the office and a desire to live a simple life, even as the Successor of St Peter.  I wonder if the anniversary will be celebrated with any vigour at the Vatican or indeed here in our own country?

One of the many stories of his life of simplicity relates to his three sisters who looked after him, travelling in from a nearby small flat on the third floor of a house on the Piazza Rusticucci.  When a car was presented to the sisters by a rich American he told his niece, Ermengilda, "What a distressing sight it will be to see the sisters of the Pope driving through the streets of Rome in an automobile! Nothing could grieve me more." A few days later, the car was sold on his order.

Ever mindful of his humble origin, he stated, “I was born poor, I lived poor, I will die poor.” He was embarrassed by some of the pomp of the papal court. “Look how they have dressed me up,” he said in tears to an old friend. To another, “It is a penance to be forced to accept all these practices.”  Though uncomfortable with such things, he submitted to them with true humility.

He spoke of his inability to call the world away from war as "the last affliction that the Lord will visit on me" and it's said he died of a broken heart because of it.

I leave the final word here to G. K. Chesterton.
Among the many true and touching expressions of respect for the tragedy of the Vatican, most have commented on the fact that the late Pope was by birth a peasant. Yet few or none, I think, traced that truth to its most interesting and even tremendous conclusion. For the truth is that the Papacy is practically the only authority in modern Europe in which it could have happened. It is the oldest, immeasurably the oldest, throne in Europe; and it is the only one that a peasant could climb. In semi-Asiatic States there are doubtless raids and usurpations. But these are of brigands rather than peasants; I speak of the pure peasant advanced for pure merit. This is the only real elective monarchy left in the world; and any peasant can still be elected to it. … Even in high and heroic republics like those of France and of Switzerland, can one say that the ruler is really the plain man in power? 
Now all the evidence, from foes as much as friends, attests that this really was true of the great priest who lately gave back to God the most tremendous power in the world. Those who admired him most, admired the simplicity and sanity of a peasant. Those who murmured against him most, complained of the obstinacy and reluctance of a peasant. But for that very reason it was clear that the oldest representative institution in Europe was working; when all the new ones have broken down. It is still possible to get the strong, patient, humorous type that keeps cheerfulness and charity alive among millions, alive and supreme in an official institution.
 As has been pointed out, with subtle power and all proper delicacy, in numberless liberal and large-minded journals, the great and good priest now dead had all the prejudices of a peasant. He had a prejudice to the effect that the mystical word ‘Yes’ should be distinguished from the equally unfathomable expression ‘No’ … The Pope never pretended to have an extraordinary intellect; but he professed to be right — and he was. All honest atheists, all honest Calvinists, all honest men who mean anything or believe anything or deny anything, will have reason to thank their stars (a heathen habit) for the peasant in that high place. He left people to agree with his creed or disagree with it; but not free to misrepresent it. It was exactly what any peasant taken from any of our hills and plains would have said. But there was something more in him that would not have been in the ordinary peasant. For all this time he had wept for our tears; and he broke his heart for our bloodshed.
The Illustrated London News, August 29th, 1914.

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