The First Saint of the Council

From America, December 15, 1962:

Three years ago, after Pope John XXIII had called the Second Vatican Council, he delivered a message, “Light on the Council,” in which he summed up its goal. He chose the words of St. Paul; words, he said, which deserve to be inscribed on the Council’s doors:

Rather are we to practice the truth in love, and so grow up in all things in him who is the head, Christ. For from him the whole body (being closely joined and knit together through every joint of the system according to the functioning in due measure of each single part) derives its increase to the building up of itself in love. (Eph. 4:15-16)

Now, with the close of the first session, the world has seen that, though the words might not have been written on the doors of the Council’s chambers, they have been impressed on the hearts of the Council’s Fathers. Now, too, Pope John is concretizing the ideal “to practice the truth in love,” with the canonization of Francis Mary of Camporosso, a humble Capuchin lay brother. He is the first model of the new spirit to come.

The Church is living in a new age. And just as every age gives rise to saintly men to act as models of the spirit needed, the Pope is showing, through Francis Mary, that the spirit of the coming years must be the spirit of every age and every year, the spirit of charity. This is not a textbook charity. It is a real, vibrant charity which shows itself to the world more in deeds than in words.

Pope John himself has shown what this means. No longer can we Catholics be satisfied merely to call ourselves Catholics. Rather, it is our duty to act like Catholics. Noblesse oblige. Catholics should be willing to go out of their way to show the world that Christ is living today—in themselves and in every Christian. And Christ must be loved in all.

Cardinal Bea has also shown what this means. When he addressed the non-Catholic observers and guests of the Ecumenical Council, he said from his heart: “Instead of a long listing of your titles, which I certainly do respect, please allow me to address you with these simple but so profound words: ‘My Brothers in Christ’.”

This is practicing the truth in love.

What Pope John, Cardinal Bea and the Fathers of the Council have shown on an international level, each individual church, each individual in the Church must show on a local level, whether it be in action for interracial understanding, rapprochement with non-Catholics or in Catholic charities. We cannot sit back and wait for results. It demands that we reach out to get them.

And Francis Mary is the model.

Each day, for almost forty years, this Capuchin used to hike up and down the streets of Genoa, practicing the truth in love. He was the beggar for the friars of his community. He was the father of the rich and the poor of the city. He was one with them all.

It was this way because he was always giving himself to others. Many times he would return home late in the evening after a full day spent walking about the Italian port city, his legs festered with open sores and varicose veins, with less than he had obtained. He had given the fruits of his labors to those who needed them more than his fellow friars.

Besides his manual help, he gave his spirit too. His example of humble charity reclaimed countless fallen-aways, even the hardened dock workers who had, more than once, pelted him with stones and insults. He spent himself for others because he saw Christ in them when they asked him to listen to their troubles, joys and sorrows. Hadn’t Christ done the same? Christ said He came to cast fire on the earth. It was this fire of love which Francis Mary brought to these souls.

When, in 1866, a frightful cholera plague swept down upon Genoa, leaving hundreds dead in its fury, Francis Mary offered himself to God to be a victim that the others might be saved. God accepted his offering. Within a few days after his death, the plague-stricken city was freed from its cross. The fire of Francis Mary’s love for others had consumed itself. It could not have been greater, for “greater love than this no one has, that one lay down his life for his friends.”

Jeremiah Crosby, O.F.M. CAP., is a student of philosophy at the Capuchin Seminary of St. Mary, Crown Point, Indiana.

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