Monday, October 29, 2012

The Smiling Pope’s Letter to Mark Twain

Dear Mark Twain,

You were one of my favorite authors during my adolescence.
I still remember the amusing Adventures of Tom Sawyer, which, after all are your own boyhood adventures, dear Twain. I have repeated some of your witticisms hundreds of time; the one about the value of books, for example. The value is beyond calculation, you once said to a girl who had questioned you, but it varies. A book bound in leather is excellent for sharpening a razor; a small book, concise—the sort the French write so well—wonderfully used when wedged under the short leg of a table; a thick book, a dictionary, for example, is an ideal projectile for throwing at cats, and finally, an atlas, with its wide pages, has the most suitable paper for keeping a pane of glass from rattling.
My pupils used to be delighted when I would announce: Now I’ll tell you another Mark Twain story. But I fear that the members of my diocese are shocked. “A bishop who quotes Mark Twain!” Perhaps it should be first explained to them that, just as books vary, so there are various kinds of bishop. Some, in fact, resemble eagles, soaring in masterly documents, at the highest level; others are nightingales, singing the praises of the Lord in a wondrous way; others are poor wrens who, on the lowest branch of the ecclesiastical tree, attempt to express some notion on very vast subjects.
I, dear Twain, belong to the last category. And so summoning my courage, I will recall how you once remarked, in effect, that man is more complex than he seems: every adult contains not one, but three different men. “What do you mean?” someone asked. And you said: Take John Doe. In him there is John the First, namely the man he thinks he is; there is John the Second, the man others think he is; and finally, John the Third, the man he really is.
How much truth, Twain, is contained in your joking remark! Take, for example, John the First. When we are shown a group photograph in which we posed, which is the likable, attractive face we look for at once? Sad to say, it is our own. Because we are vastly fond of ourselves, above all others. Loving ourselves so much, we are naturally led to enlarge our own merits, to play down our transgressions, to judge others by different standards from those used to judge ourselves. Enlarged merits. They are discussed by your fellow-writer Trilussa:
The little snail of Vainglory
Who had crawled up an obelisk
Looked at its slimy trail and said:
I see I’ll leave my mark on History
This is the way we are, dear Twain; even a bit of slime, if it is our own, and because it is our own, makes us boast, gives us a swelled head!
Play down transgressions? “I take a friendly drink once in a great while,” a man says. Others insist, on the contrary, that he is a sponge, afflicted with a chronic dry throat, a true worshiper of Bacchus, forever bending his elbow. And the woman says, “I have sensitive nerves; at times I grow upset.” Upset, indeed! People say she’s tough, cantankerous, vindictive, an unbearable character, a harpy!
In Homer, the gods move about the world wrapped in a cloud that hides them from everyone’s eyes; we have a cloud that hides us from our own eyes.
Francis de Sales, a bishop like me and a humorist like you, wrote:
We blame our neighbor for the slightest faults, and we condone the greatest ones in ourselves. We want to sell dearly, but buy cheaply. We want justice done in the home of others, but mercy in our own. We want our words to be taken kindly, but we are offended by those of others.
If an inferior is not well-mannered with us, we are irked by whatever he does; but if we find someone agreeable, we excuse him, in any action. We firmly demand our rights, but we want others to be temperate in demanding theirs…What we do for others always seems a great deal, what others do for us seems nothing.”
That is enough about John Doe the First. Let us turn to John the Second. Here, my dear Twain, it seems to me that the situation is two-fold: John wants people to respect him or else he suffers because people ignore and despise him. Nothing wrong there; he should, however, try not to exaggerate in either direction. “Woe to you”—Our Lord said—”for you love the best seat in the synagogues and salutations in the market places…,” and all is done in order to attract attention. Today we would say that, given the struggle for position, the pushing and shoving to achieve titles, through concessions and renunciations you are trying to get you name in the papers.
But why “Woe to you”? In 1938, when Hitler visited Florence, the city was covered with swastikas and slogans. The writer Bargellini said to Cardinal Dalla Costa: “You see, Your Eminence, you see?” “Never fear!” the cardinal replied, “his destiny is already marked down in the thirty-seventh Psalm: ‘I have seen a wicked man overbearing, and towering like a cedar of Lebanon. Again I passed by, and, lo, he was no more, though I sought him, he could not be found.’”
At times that “woe to” does not indicate divine punishment, but only human ridiculousness. It may be like the ass who covered himself with a lion’s skin and everyone said: “What a lion!” mean and animals fled. But the wind blew, lifted the skin, and everyone saw the ass. And then they came running back in a rage and gave the animal a sound, deserved beating.
Shaw said much the same thing: How comical truth is! In other words, we can’t help smiling when we know how little there is behind certain titles and certain forms of celebrity!
And what if the opposite happens? What if people think evil, where good exists? Here another thing Christ said comes to our aid: “For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; the Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Behold a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’” Not even Christ managed to satisfy everyone. So we must not take it too much to heart if we fail, too.
John the Third was a cook. This is not one of your stories, Twain; it is Tolstoy’s. Outside the kitchen door the dogs were lying. John slaughtered a calf and threw the entrails into the yard. The dogs fell on them and said: “He’s a good cook; he cooks well.” Some time after that, John was shelling peas, peeling onions; he threw the husks into the yard. The dogs rushed over, but, sniffing scornfully they said: “The cook is spoiled; he’s worthless now.” John, however, was not upset by this opinion; he said, “It is the master who must eat and enjoy my meals, not the dogs. The master’s appreciation is enough for me.”
Good for Tolstoy. But I ask myself: What are the Lord’s tastes? What does He like in us? One day, as He was preaching, someone said to Him: “Your mother and your brothers are outside, asking for you.” He held out His hand toward His disciples and answered: “Here are my mother and brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother, and sister, and mother.”
This is the person whom He likes: the one who does His will. He likes us to pray, but He does not like prayers to becomes a pretext for avoiding the labor of good works. “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?” Do what He tells you!
This may be a moralizing conclusion. You—humorist that you are—would not have drawn it. I, who am a bishop, must; and I urge my faithful: If you happen to think again of the three Johns, the three Jameses, the three Franceses that are in each of us, pay special attention to the third, the one whom God likes!

Pope John Paul I, May 1971


Tuesday, October 9, 2012


Could it be said that "I have too many opinions in position of responsibility"?

Saturday, October 6, 2012

St. Bruno's Feast Day

St. Bruno to his Carthusian sons, written from the hermitage of the Tower in Calabria.

To my brothers whom I love in Christ above all else, greetings from your brother, Bruno.

Now that I have heard from our dear brother Landwin a detailed and moving account of how firm you are in your resolve to follow a path of life so commendable and in accord with right reason and have learned of your ardent love and unflagging zeal for all that pertains to moral rectitude and the fullness of Christian maturity, my spirit rejoices in the Lord. I truly exult and am swept away by my impulse to praise and thanksgiving; yet at the same time I bitterly lament. I rejoice, as is only right, over the ripening fruits of your virtues; but I blush and bemoan my own condition, since I wallow so listless and inactive in the filth of my sins.

Rejoice then my brothers over the lot of overflowing happiness that has fallen to you and for the grace of God that you have received in such abundance. Rejoice that you have succeeded in escaping the countless dangers and shipwrecks of this storm-tossed world and have reached a quiet anchorage in the security of a hidden harbor. Many would like to join you — and many are those who make a considerable effort to do so — but fail in their attempt. What is more, many are shut out after having attained it, since it was not in God's plan to give them this grace.

Therefore, my brothers, count it a certitude proven time and time again: whoever has once experienced so enviable a good and subsequently lost it for whatever reasons will grieve over his loss to the end of his days, if he has any regard or concern for the salvation of his soul.

As regards to you lay monks, brothers so close to my heart, I have only this to say: My soul glorifies the Lord since I can perceive the glories of His mercy toward you from the account of your beloved father and prior who boasts a great deal about you and rejoices over you. I share in this joy since God in His power never ceases to inscribe on your hearts — however little the education you may have — not only love but understanding of His holy law. For by your lives you show what you really know and love, that is to say, when you are careful and zealous to observe a genuine obedience conceived not only as the carrying out of God's commands but as the original key to the spiritual life and its final stamp of authenticity as well, demanding as it does deep humility and outstanding patience, as well as sincere love for the Lord and our brothers — yes, when you do these then it is clear that you are gathering with relish nothing less than the most delectable and life-giving fruits of Holy Scripture.

So, my brothers, abide in that which you have attained and avoid like the plague that baneful crowd of so-called "monks" who, peddling their writings and speaking in hushed tones about things they neither cherish nor understand but rather contradict by the words and actions, are in reality as empty as can be. They are lazy and wander from place to place, slandering all those who are conscientious and dedicated, and imaging themselves worthy of praise if they blacken the name of those who really are worthy. To them anything that even resembles discipline or obedience is loathsome.

As for our brother, Landwin, I had intended to keep him here on account of his rather serious and recurrent illnesses; but he would have none of it, claiming that there could be nothing worthwhile for him, neither health nor joy nor zest for life apart from you. With repeated sighs and a veritable gushing fountain of tears for you he laid before me how much you mean to him and what pure affection he bears for you in the Lord. And so I have not wanted to force the issue lest I cause grief either to him or to you who are so dear to me for your maturity and excellence of spirit. Therefore, my brothers, I am most serious in this request, at once both humble and insistent, that you manifest by your deeds the love you bear in your heart for your prior and beloved father by kindly and attentively providing him with everything he needs for the various requirements of his health. He may be unwilling to agree to what your loving solicitude may dictate, preferring to jeopardize his health and life rather than be found lacking in some point of external observance. This is after all normally not permitted, and he, since he holds the first place among you, might be ashamed to fail in these matters, fearing lest some of you become negligent or lukewarm on his account. Yet I think there is hardly any danger of that, and so I hereby grant you the necessary authority to take my place in this regard and to respectfully compel him to accept whatever you accord him for his health.

As for me, my brothers, I would have you know that the only desire I have, after God, is to come and see you. As soon as I can, God willing, I will do just that.


Friday, October 5, 2012


"You, my child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High; *
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way,
to give his people knowledge of salvation *
by the forgiveness of their sins."

  • When I reflect on the quote above its meaning is in direct opposition to the secular society's position we live in.
  • Only when I live in the forgiveness offered to me will salvation break though into the secular world.
Casalibus Hermit 

Tuesday, October 2, 2012


Love flourishes in silence and hidden actions have a particular efficacy. If we have come apart from the world, it is in order to share in sanctifying the world, in union with the Lord who alone sanctifies. We are to be convinced of the apostolic fruitfulness of our willed hiddenness and our prayers said in secret. Here is matter for the faith, hope and love which constitute our life in the Heart of Christ.

Mother Abbess, St Cecilia’s Abbey