Saturday, 30 April 2016

Saint Pius V - 30 April

Readings: Acts 20:17-18a, 28-32, 36 or 1 Corinthians 2:1-10a; John 21:15-17 or Luke 22:28.32

This homily was first given on 30 April 2015, the feast of St Pius V, in the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, Rome

In the four years that I have lived at Santa Sabina only one person has come asking to see the room of Pius V (1504-1572). He is not a popular saint, not a very well-known one. Yet his personality and his papacy bring to mind the ministries of the two popes currently living, Benedict XVI and Francis. Pius was inquisitor general before he was pope, a title that was often applied also to Benedict when he was prefect of the congregation for the doctrine of the faith. Like Josef Ratzinger, Michele Ghislieri was convinced about what we can call misericordia veritatis, the mercy and grace there is in knowing the truth. It is compassionate to help people stand and remain in the truth. The distractions and deceptions of error and falsehood need to be watched out for, they need to be brought out into the light.

Pius V's lifestyle of extreme poverty and simplicity, and his call to interior reform throughout the Church, beginning with his closest collaborators, brings to mind the present Pope, Francis. Like Giorgio Bergoglio, Michele Ghislieri was convinced about what we can call misericordia caritatis, the mercy and grace there is in reaching out to the neighbour, seeking to bring the compassion of Christ to all who are suffering or in need, living in a way that is simple and poor in order to follow Christ, simple and poor, more clearly.

When we read about him now we sense something fierce in Pius V's personality, something uncompromising, single-minded, relentless. We can say that his personality as a determined and energetic reformer was an instrument of the Holy Spirit in ensuring that the reforms of the Council of Trent did not remain a dead letter. We have some experience of what it is like for the Church to be in the wash of a great Council. It was under Pius that so many of Trent's reforms were finalised - the Missal, the Breviary, and the Catechism, for example. He established Propaganda Fidei to oversee the evangelizing work of the Church in the new world. He set up the index of prohibited books, part of his effort (more difficult for us to understand today, perhaps) to help people stand and remain in the truth.

For Dominicans there are three notable achievements in Pius' papacy. He established the Sacred College of Penitentiaries at Saint Mary Major's, a community of Dominican friars charged with serving in the Basilica as confessors. It is a work that continues to this day. He arranged for a new and complete edition of the writings of Saint Thomas Aquinas, the best possible according to the possibilities and skills of the time. And he declared Saint Thomas to be a Doctor of the Church. (We can add a fourth if the story is true that Popes have worn white since Pius' time because he preferred to continue wearing his Dominican habit rather than the scarlet which the Popes had worn up to then.)

Like Pope Francis, Pius was clear that reform had to begin at the centre of the Church's organisation, with the hierarchy and the Roman curia. But he was just as clear that it needed to be internal, a spiritual and moral reform beginning inside people, transforming them in their hearts and minds, and not just a structural or bureaucratic reform. He led by the example of his own life. His determined personality meant things would be pushed through to completion under his leadership.

Pius was involved also in reforming the ministry of mercy and reconciliation throughout the Church, and Francis has just declared a Jubilee of Mercy for the whole Church. St Thomas Aquinas, so deeply venerated and loved by Pius, gives us some of the most important theological insights about mercy that we can bring to our reflection on this Holy Year. Mercy is not just an occasional act or disposition of God, mercy is in God's very nature, Thomas tells us. 'Every divine action has its root in mercy'. Every divine action is creative, it can be nothing else, and every divine action originates in love, it can originate nowhere else. It has the character of mercy because it means He who is showing compassion towards he or she who is not (to quote St Catherine of Siena).

Nor is mercy a mode of justice in St Thomas's view, an attitude which a judge might occasionally add to his service of justice. It is the other way round according to St Thomas, God's justice is a mode of His mercy because it is God's mercy that is more fundamental. It is the foundation on which creation stands. And if we are to give a name to God as a 'moral' being then that name will once again be mercy because, as the Liturgy reminds us, God shows his omnipotence most clearly in his mercy.

So we celebrate this man, Michele Ghislieri, a personality we might find forbidding, even a bit frightening. In him we see a dedicated reformer, energetic in implementing the reforms of a Church council, relentless in defending the truth of the Catholic faith, tireless in serving the teaching, liturgical and sacramental ministries of the Church. We pray through his intercession that we will find in ourselves an ever-deepening misericordia veritatis, an ever-strengthening misericordia caritatis.

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