VATICAN – Blessed Pope Luciani and the scandal of “facilitating salvation”
Vatican City (Agenzia Fides) – Albino Luciani becomes Blessed. On Sunday, September 4, Pope Francis will celebrate the beatification liturgy of his predecessor, who only ascended the throne of Peter for 34 days between August and September 1978.
The “September Pope” (as a recent English publication called him) is not proclaimed blessed for the brief time he served as Christ’s vicar on earth. Stefania Falasca, Vice-Postulator of the Cause of Canonization and now Vice-President of the Vatican Foundation John Paul I, strongly underlined that one does not “beatify” a pontificate. On the contrary, it is proclaimed before the people of God and before the world that the Christian, the priest, the bishop Albino Luciani – who at the end of his life became bishop of Rome and successor of Peter – lived an intimate union with God , realized by the grace of Christ, and which was manifested in him by the virtues of
Fides Romana, exercised “to a heroic degree”: the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity, as well as the cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, strength and temperance. Virtues that Pope John XXIII, in the Journal of the Soul, called “the Seven Lamps of Sanctification”.
Around these seven virtues, the seven lamps of Christian life, weaves the whole brief and incomparable papal magisterium of John Paul I. These were the first words on which he wanted to imprint all his preaching. These are the seven virtues, the “program” to be carried out in his first catechesis, preceded by that devoted to humility. He succeeded only in realizing those devoted to the three theological virtues.
In the Aula Nervi, Pope Luciani made faith shine with the help of quotes from Trilussa and Saint Augustine, to testify that faith does not consist in “believing that God exists”, but in entrusting oneself to Him and to recognize that that of Christ “is not our doctrine”, and that “we have only to keep it, we have only to present it”. He spoke of hope, of “childish virtue”, with quotations ranging from the Second Vatican Council to Saint Francis de Sales, from Augustine to Saint John Bosco, from Saint Alphonse de Liguori to Saint Thomas, from Andrés Canergie to Friedrich Nietzsche . He defined it as the virtue that keeps the door open to sinners. And he pronounced his last public words in the catechesis devoted to charity.
“Now – writes Saint Paul in the First Letter to the Corinthians – these three things remain: faith, hope and charity. But the greatest of all is charity”. In the short time of his pontificate, Pope Luciani had already said everything that needed to be said. And it is precisely this elementary feature of his testimony which today brings out in a luminous way the prophetic scope of his ecclesial relevance and the timely opportunity of his canonization. Saints and blesseds are not proclaimed to exalt their personal prestige, but according to criteria which, even in canonical procedure, refer to the ‘Opportunitas canonizationis’.
Today, the force of the beatification of Pope Luciani coincides precisely with the fact that everything goes back to the elementary data of Christian dynamism. Faith, hope, charity, gifts in which grace works, introduced by humility, which is the only thing in which Christ himself asked his Apostles to imitate him, knowing very well that they could not imitate him in performing miracles. The Pope, who received the Fides Romana in the mountains of Belluno, like a gift wrapped in prayers learned on his mother’s knees, repeats that even today, to be saved and to be happy, it is enough to walk in faith of the Apostles, proposed and proclaimed by the Church. A faith which announces itself in life in action, without any desire for originality, with the catechism, and is communicated in the grace of the sacraments, beginning with Baptism. “The most beautiful ministry – said Luciani – is the pastoral ministry. But the catechism is even more beautiful. There is nothing that can be compared to it. It is the purest ministry, the most detached from all pretension. What is not catechism is nothing in my eyes”.
At a time when misunderstanding makes Christian life a matter of “professional competence” to be acquired with dedication and at a high price, or an impassable path for sports champions to the heights of spirituality, Albino Luciani recalls that the scandalous mystery of Christianity is to make salvation easy. It suffices to follow in the footsteps of the simple gestures that the Church and the people of God repeat and to continue their journey through history, taking advantage of and preciously preserving all the riches scattered by the genius of men on their way. A “protocol” that becomes unwittingly subversive for clericalisms of all kinds. And it can nourish all authentic missionary impulse and all apostolic work with new and old lymph, preserving them from the risk of becoming sterile self-entertainment.
If salvation is a free gift mysteriously linked to the gestures proposed by the Tradition of the Church, there is no need for tricks and stratagems devised by a chosen class of enlightened “initiates”.
The pope, who turned general audiences into joyful catechism lessons, wanted to speak to the people of his time in his own language. And in this, too, he “remained faithful to the doctrine of Saint Francis de Sales, a saint whom he had loved since his adolescence, when he read Philothea. Introduction to the devout life and the Treatise on the love of God, and how it facilitated the path to Christ for all, as it is written in the pontifical brief which recognizes him as Doctor of the Church». (Stefania Falasca). Without poses, without sound and intimidating formulas. While already as pope he chose a familiar tone and summoned poets and writers as allies of his preaching magisterium, John Paul I returned to the paths of the Church Fathers who, already in the first Christian centuries, sought the “wisdom of the gift”. His “sermo humilis”, practiced in the footsteps of Saint Augustine, sprinkled with the words of Sacred Scripture and literary genius, was the most appropriate form of expression for a Church which wanted to be the friend of the men of its time. Like Augustine, Luciani recognized that all revealed truth must be offered “suaviter”, delicately, because “it only nourishes the soul with what makes it happy”. (GV) (Agenzia Fides, 9/3/2022)