Wednesday, October 31, 2012

All Saints’ Blueprint for Living

Canonization of this October's "magnificent seven"
The year 2000 may have been the Church’s jubilee year, but it was also an election year in the U.S. As a student in Rome, I found out that I could vote absentee at the U.S. Embassy. So the week before Nov. 7, I trekked up via Veneto to discharge my civic duty. (That was before e-mail voting, which I just did last week.) On the way, I noticed a church, Santa Maria della Concezione, and decided to stop on my way back for my hour of Eucharistic adoration.

Whatever memory I may have had about my voting experience was completely wiped out by what followed. I had seen a small sign outside the church that read “Chapel.” So I walked in. There in front of me was a corridor with several galleries of human bones either stacked on shelves, clothed in Franciscan habits, or arranged in hundreds of intricate designs on ceilings and walls. 

It was the most macabre burial ground I had ever seen in my life. The brochure that the Capuchin friar kindly handed me quoted Mark Twain’s comment on his visit there. To the friar then on duty Twain is reputed to have said something like, “I wonder what’s going to happen when the final trumpet blows.” It wasn’t until I left that I realized it I was there on Halloween.

Stop laughing; this is serious. Wikipedia actually has an accurate history and description at

Much more inspiring to me was this year’s canonization, the Sunday before last, of seven fascinating people, including two Americans, Mother Marianne Cope of Molokai, who carried on Fr. Damien’s work with lepers, and our first Native American to be honored, Kateri Tekakwitha. Louise Hunt, who is a Penobscot, a Holy Family Institute member, and the mother of our Sr. Marie James, was there, too, with her family.

Through the kindness of one of our sisters in Rome, I got a green ticket to the event, which put me near the altar in St. Peter’s Square. Tickets are all free; they’re just used for placement and tracking. Yes, I broke my personal rule again and squeezed into the Piazza for a major event. And was it major—100,000 pilgrims major! By a sheer miracle I ran into friends from St. Louis, Dave and son Alex Mueckl. Msgr. Sal Polizzi had promised not to let go of my wrist as we were almost swept in by the crowd at the entrance. Since we managed to get inside without any serious harm to body or soul—ours and everybody else’s—we posed for a championship photo.

The real titleholders, though, were the seven new saints. In his homily for the canonization Mass, Pope Benedict repeated Jesus’ words from the Gospel for that day: “‘The Son of Man came to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many’ (cf. Mk 10:45). He called these words the saints’ own “blueprint for living,” singling out their  “heroic courage…in total consecration to the Lord and in the generous service of their brethren.” They were women and men, clergy, laity, and religious, Asians, Europeans, and Americans. What they had in common was their undaunted love for Christ and for their brothers and sisters in Christ, in the face of challenge and even death. How many live like them today!

When people ask what goes into making a person a saint, they’re often thinking of the canonization process: Servant of God, Venerable, Blessed, and finally, Saint, with a miracle attributed to the person’s intercession before the last two titles can be given. But that’s at the end of the road. The process looks at what came before: a life of faith, hope, and charity to a heroic degree (not to “perfection,” you’ll notice). That distinction is clear in their lives, and as we’re noticing during this year’s charism course, in the life of our founder, Blessed James Alberione.

In an attempt to legitimize the Pauline Family’s existence, we’ve often lionized Don Alberione. We Americans do this with our founding fathers and mothers and with other great figures in our history. It’s natural. The professors of our charism course, though, want us to know the real Alberione, in so far as we can know someone whose confidants were few, who spoke and wrote sparingly about himself, and who destroyed most of his personal notes, as well as every letter sent to him. Fortunately his secretary, Don Speciale, disobeyed his orders to dispose of many priceless papers, and some of Fr. Alberione’s closest collaborators kept diaries and letters. From them and from other eyewitnesses, documents, photos, and visual and audio recordings, we can piece together a portrait.

That he was a great Christian and a great founder is without question. I wonder how many founders responded to the call of Christ through the signs of the times with as much energy and creativity as he. That he could be unyielding and impatient is also without question. One professor of ours, Don Giancarlo Rocca, a Pauline historian, recounted how Alberione held a particular grudge for years. A Sister Disciple in our class marveled, “And yet he’s a Blessed!” “Yes,” answered Don Rocca, “because he never stopped correcting himself.” Fr. Alberione took seriously the words he heard from Jesus Master, “Have a penitent heart,” or according to a later rendition, “Be sorry for sin,” words that made it to our chapel walls and hopefully into our hearts and lives. People aren’t saints because they’re perfect, but because they never stop saying to God and to others, “I’m sorry” and “Help me to be better tomorrow.” The more sincere they are at this, the more saintly they are.

That’s my prayer for you as you celebrate All Saints Day tomorrow and All Souls Day on Friday. Do the same for me!
In solidarity….
In our generalate here in Rome, we’re praying for the 60 million people plus, who are being impacted by Hurricane Sandy. May you feel God’s provident care and comfort in the concern of us all.

And don’t pass up your privilege to vote! Even if you don’t like the candidates and find it almost impossible to choose, pray, inform yourself, and make a decision. Take heart from these words of Fr. Alberione: “Those who do things make mistakes, but those who do nothing make the biggest mistake of all!” Are there propositions or referenda in your state that need your input? Massachusetts does. Question 2 proposes to legalize physician-prescribed suicide. Guess where I stand. How about you?


  1. Sr. Margaret, I'm delighted to read of your unexpected find at the chapel! Oh my goodness, you must have been SURPRISED! Serious business to be sure. Bones of many greats, not to be forgotten. And all for the glory.
    On the attendance for the Canonization: WOW! An unforgettable day for you. Sr. Marie James told me much about her week in Rome. Wonderful stories & photos. Days, weeks, months, years pass & my Pauline Family continues to be more endearing. Sandy struck like a lion, and it is up to the lambs to give hope & support as thousands look for comfort. A time & event no person could predict or change. VOTING so critical, I'm glad you were willing to jump through hoops to do so. It's hard to justify the lack of interest & inaction by thousands & thousands who don't seem to care. I voted absente last week. LIFE, LIBERTY are a part of the pursuit of happiness. Religious freedom trumps secular agendas. ALSO, you spoke of Fr. Alberione with great affection. <-nicely done.
    I'm needing to get ready for All Saints mass so will end as I wish you many blessings, much happiness & my prayers from the heart. Keep writing my Sister. You are very much appreciated for doing so. In Jesus Master, Carol Anne

    1. Thank you for your encouragement, Carol Anne. You're an inspiration to many, too, as you face your own set of challenges. Prayers for you and for all who read PF!
      Sr. Margaret


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