Wednesday, 30 April 2008

St Pius V

The wedding season is truly upon us. The number of calls about Banns and all matters legal about weddings are steadily increasing. Many come to have their banns read here but are going to be married miles away; it is interesting to see how many people go back to their roots for their significant moments in life. It is a great joy meeting with these couples. I like to talk to them about married life and the vital place that Jesus has in it. It always proves to be a good hearted half an hour chat exploring our Christian Faith.

I am glad that yesterday was the day of St Catherine and today that of St Pius V, saints which I truly admire, my daughter (Maria-Pia) being named after St Pius V. Their feast days is helping me no end to recover from a meeting I attended last night which I can call, hand on heart, the worst chaired meeting I have ever attended in my whole life: spare us good Lord!

Why do I like St Pius V? Well the short answer to that is that he is the benefactor and heavenly patron of Valletta (picture left), the fortified city where I grew up. Pius V (picture above) sent his own architect: Francesco Laparelli, to oversee the fortifications of the new city built after the Victory over the Turks in 1565. Pius V also founded the Mother Parish Church of the city, so he looked after the new inhabitants of the new city both in body and in soul.

Over the years I learnt more about his virtues and holiness, his life of mortification though holding high offices. I like how Pius V guarded the frontiers of Christianity and how he handled the battle of Lepanto. He ascribed the victory of Lepanto to the intercession of Our Lady, and founded the feast day of Our Lady of the Rosary of Victories. He was also the Pope to preside just after the Council of Trent; he published the Catechism and the new missal, known now as the Tridentine Missal or the Mass of St Pius V. With the Bull “Regnans in Excelsis” he excommunicated Elizabeth I. This was no good news to Catholics in this country and whether he was well advised or not to do that is open to debate. But above all St Pius was a mystic. He had visions of our Lady and of the blessed Lord, and he would be rapt in contemplation for several hours with his gaze fixed on the crucifix.

I am fascinated by an episode from his childhood. Pius V (born as Antonio Ghislieri) belonged to a large and poor family, he could not receive the education he wanted to and so a decision was taken to make of him a full time shepherd on the hills near his home town of Bosco Marengo. One cold and misty day as he was shepherding in the solitude of those hills he sees approaching two friars clad in black and white. They were lost and night was falling. Antonio asks them to sit and shares with them what is left of his lunch, he gives them directions and also asks searching questions about God and the faith. The friars are impressed with his natural knowledge and see in him much potential and a great passion for God. The friars change their course and go with him back home, there they ask his parents to send Antonio with them to the Monastery in Voghera. The rest is history. There he becomes a friar with the name of Michele. His passion for God and his simplicity of a shepherd never ceases. He was soon noted for his holiness and was appointed bishop and Cardinal. He eventually was elected Pope with the name of Pius V in a very difficult time for the Church. This was the aftermath of the Council of Trent and the Church was still getting to terms with the Reformation whilst constantly being physically attacked by the Turks. For this sickly but saintly ex shepherd no problem was an issue, he left no stone unturned to consolidate the Church. He secured the frontiers of Christendom, sealed by the battle of Lepanto in 1571. He spread the devotion of the Rosary and whilst reforming the Roman Curia he gave the Church what later came to be known as the Tridentine Liturgy. It is the liturgy that brought about the much loved English Missal and that inspired the reforms of Vatican II which have influenced so much our own new liturgy: Common Worship.

All this the direct result of an act of kindness from unknown friars towards a shepherd boy. The message that I hear St Pius giving to us today is that of kindness, an act of kindness, even a very small one, goes a very long way. His relics (picture below, and also a photo of his monument in the main street of the city) are venerated in the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome.

Back to Sevenoaks, some residents (some of whom members of our congregation) today are fighting for a basic right, to enjoy their own property. They are competing against speculators from London who come with their money and well paid barristers. Today is the final day of their two day hearing. Could you please support them by your prayers?

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