Meet the (New) Saints… Pope Paul VI (Part 1 of 7)

On October 14, 2018, Pope Francis held the canonization Mass for seven blesseds.  Now saints, these holy individuals join the ranks of the souls we know to be in heaven who can intercede for us in a special way before the Father.  This post is part of a seven part series that will tell the story of these people and their path to sainthood.  

First up…  Pope Saint Paul VI

Who he was

Before he became pope, he was named Giovanni Battista Montini. Giovanni was the middle child; he had two brothers. They all lived in northern Italy. Giovanni was born in 1897 to an educated Catholic family that was involved in their community. He went through years of schooling at both Jesuit and public schools, though his education was sometimes interrupted by illnesses.

When he was nineteen, Giovanni entered the seminary, and was ordained as a priest four years later. He continued his formal education by doing graduate studies in philosophy, literature, and canon law. Then, in 1924, he joined the Vatican Secretariat of State, where he worked for thirty years. This unique path meant that Giovanni never held an office as a parish priest. In 1925, he helped found Morcelliana, a publishing house near his home village, which focuses on a “Christian-inspired culture.”

Giovanni, or Fr. Montini, was named archbishop of Milan in 1954. While serving in this role, Fr. Montini focused on disaffected workers who had strayed from the Church. He would visit factories regularly to serve those people, and referred to himself as “archbishop of workers.”

In 1958, Fr. Montini was named as a cardinal by Pope John XXIII. He helped prepare for Vatican II, and was an eager participant of its early sessions. In June 1963, when Fr. Montini became pope himself, he chose to continue the council and advocate for its sixteen documents. Because of his efforts, those documents were met with favor by the strong majority of bishops.

During his papacy, Paul VI made several important trips. For example, he visited Athenagoras, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, in the Holy Land in 1964. The following year, he visited New York City and gave a speech advocating for peace to the United Nations General Assembly. He also instituted the World Synod of Bishops, and established diplomatic relations between the Holy See and forty different countries. Paul VI penned seven encyclicals, the last of which was published in 1968. Humanae Vitae was and is a landmark encyclical that examines the sacredness of human life, and various offenses against it, such as hormonal birth control.

On August 6, 1978, Pope Paul VI passed away. He was beatified on October 19, 2014. Four years later, he was canonized on October 14 by Pope Francis. His feast day is the 26th of September.

What he did

Pope Paul VI is most often associated with Vatican II and Humanae Vitae, but they are not the only manifestations of his legacy. He also called for a more collaborative, conversation Church that was able to have dialogue within and without. This is apparent in the synods that continue to this day because of him. He encouraged us to act as witnesses, rather than teachers, in his commentary on evangelization.

The world calls for, and expects from us, simplicity of life, the spirit of prayer, charity towards all, especially towards the lowly and the poor, obedience and humility, detachment and self-sacrifice. Without this mark of holiness, our word will have difficulty in touching the heart of modern man. It risks being vain and sterile

Pope Paul VI in Evangelii Nuntiandi (“On Proclaiming the Gospel”)

Pope Paul VI’s travel outside of Italy was ground-breaking for its time. He was the first pope of the modern era to visit other countries. He discarded some of the materialistic trappings of the papacy, such as the triple tiara, to show that the pope was a servant, not a king. He also focused on unity. When facing dissent, his motto was “No one defeated; everyone convinced.” This shows a beautiful focus on achieving conversion of thought so that everyone moves forward of one mind because they fully understand and agree, rather than dragging a group along because they lost the debate.

His choices were controversial. Some people were upset with his teachings about birth control, and others were upset with his reform of the liturgy. But despite this discord, Pope Paul VI was a loving, holy, and optimistic man intent on improving the Church and serving its people. On this, his feast day, let us ask for his intercession over our lives and the trajectory of the Church.


Quizzes, Concerts, and Roller Coasters

I remember sitting in my high school theology classroom, chanting these words in unison with fifteen other girls:

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy, but I come so that they might have life and might have it more abundantly.”

John 10:10

That verse was one of the passages that my theology teacher required us to memorize for our Scripture class.  She had observed that some Christian denominations know the Bible remarkably well and can quote numerous verses from memory.  But in her experience, not many Catholics know Bible verses by heart.  So we had memory verse quizzes throughout our semester to try and increase our retention of God’s words. 

I’m very grateful for this tactic.  It worked exactly as it was intended; to this day, some of those verses still float around in my memory.  My teacher specifically chose verses that could easily apply to our daily lives, and they have served to comfort me in times of uncertainty.

This particular verse has appeared in my life in a couple of unexpected but very welcome ways.  The first was a few years ago at a concert.  I was attending a large-scale alternative rock/punk concert with some of my friends.  We were wandering through the booths looking at merchandise in between performances.  A particular tent caught my eye, first because of its beautiful galaxy pattern, but then because of the text that read “Steal, kill, and destroy.”  Considering the genre of music all around us, I wasn’t particularly surprised—until I saw “John 10:10” on the tent as well. 

“Wait a minute,” I said to my friends.  “That’s a Bible verse.  But, it’s next to such violence.  We’ve gotta check it out.”  Something seemed fuzzily familiar, but it hadn’t clicked yet. 

We approached the tent, and the staff smiled in welcome.  I told them I was curious about their beautiful tent, and asked what Bible verse they were quoting.  As soon as I heard them start the sentence, I finally recognized it, and I was able to finish the quotation with them.  It was so exciting to have this little nugget from high school show up in a place I’d never been before.  I felt like the Holy Spirit had waved at me unexpectedly, like finding a friend by surprise in a foreign country. 

The next time I ran into this verse “in the wild” was just last month.  I was at the NJ Catholic Youth Rally with my dad.  Typically, that event is attended by youth groups and young adult groups, but my church’s group hadn’t organized a trip.  My dad and I decided to attend by ourselves and have a father-daughter day instead.  The rally included a day in the Six Flags park, Mass, and a Matt Maher concert.  I have dreamed of seeing Matt Maher perform live for years, so when my mom forwarded me the information about the rally, I was eager to go.

The rally opened with a welcome ceremony led by the Franciscan Sisters of the Renewal and some youth from their ministry program.  My favorite thing about it was our “warm up.”  One of the sisters taught us the elements of their outfit—veil, habit, cincher, and sandals, as well as a rosary and three knots to represent their vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience—and set it to a familiar tune to help us remember.  Then she made the entire auditorium stand up and dance to “head, shoulders, knees, and toes” but with the names of her outfit components!  With each repetition, she sped up and challenged us to keep pace with her.  Even though my chronic illnesses kept me from participating fully, it was certainly a lot of fun to watch!

After our warm-up challenge, another sister stepped forward and told us her vocation story.  She prefaced her story with a recitation of John 10:10, which instantly caught my attention.  She went on to describe the moment that she knew Jesus was calling her to something special.  She had attended World Youth Day when she was sixteen, and was dancing with friends and strangers in a stadium with Christian music blasting.  She described the immense joy and fullness of life that she felt in that moment, and she knew that such joy is exactly what God made us to experience and wants us to enjoy. 

That is why, the sister explained, that Six Flags was such a perfect venue for our gathering today.  Riding on roller coasters with friends can give us such an exciting feeling of euphoria.  It is a way to experience the abundant life that Jesus wants for us.  It is also a way for us to practice outreach to others by showing kindness, patience, and love to all around us. 

I adored this notion.  I’d never thought about a day at Six Flags through the lens of theology before, but I’m glad that the Sisters suggested it to me.  It fit in so well with the lessons I’ve learned from my faith educators over the years.  Throughout my years at school, I heard a quote from our patron, Don Bosco, that has taken up a very special place in my heart. 

“My children: jump, run and play and make all the noise you want but avoid sin like the plague and you will surely gain Heaven.” 

St. John Bosco

My youth group always liked to combine faith with food and fun to most effectively evangelize to neophytes and faith veterans alike. Even in more secular settings, it’s easy to see that fun attracts people.  I work as an RA at school, and part of my job is to run events for my residents.  It becomes very clear very quickly that the more fun the event’s activities, the higher the attendance.  The truth is, human beings like fun—and we should!

God made us to experience joy; His plan for us includes our happiness.

Spending the day with my dad walking around Six Flags was great.  The stress of the school year is off my shoulders, and during the summer I can just relax.  Since it was just the two of us, we could explore the park and ride whatever rides caught our fancy without coordinating multiple people’s varied interests.  We got to spend quality time together all day long, which is a rarity with our busy schedules.

The Mass was beautiful.  I loved seeing so many young people gathered to share in their love for the Lord.  My college is very secular, and I only know a handful of practicing Catholics there.  Sometimes, it can feel very lonely, but seeing all these young people at Mass reminded me that I am not alone. 

I also noticed that the nearest roller coaster paused for the entire duration of Mass.  I realized that Six Flags must have purposefully chosen to close the ride temporarily so that we could celebrate Mass in peace without the screams of riders plummeting down intense drops and rolls.  I was floored by the thoughtfulness and respect that they showed us.  It was so nice to see a secular venue validate our faith.  There are plenty of stories of Christians getting their faith disregarded or disrespected, but Six Flags respected us, and that warmed my heart. 

Our evening ended with the concert.  Matt Maher gave an incredible performance.  I am most familiar with his music from XLTs, nights of Eucharstic adoration at my high school.  XLTs are where my faith first took on real, deep, and personal meaning for me, and I miss them every single day.  At the concert, Matt played a lot of songs that I associated with XLT, so I instantly felt a deep connection to Jesus in those moments.  We also got to hear some of his newer music, which was a great way to expand my horizons and hear the Holy Spirit in new ways. 

I am so grateful that God drew me to this event.  It was such an exciting way to revitalize my faith and build my relationship with my dad.  I had some important lessons reinforced, and got to praise God alongside hundreds of other Catholics from my state.  And most importantly, I got a taste of the abundant life that God desires for me and for you!

Cover photo by Pedro Velasco on Unsplash

Inside… the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception

Welcome to the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception!  I’d been meaning to visit here for quite a while, and I was very grateful to get the opportunity to go.  My parents and I were on vacation in Vermont one summer, and it just so happened to be the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  The Catholic Center, where I would typically attend Mass, was not holding Mass that day because they’re based on the schedule of college kids, and school had not started up yet, so not many students were around.  The Cathedral was holding Mass, though, so I finally had an undeniable reason to visit.

The Cathedral’s exterior is rather modern: a smooth, sleek thing.  But I absolutely love the landscaping!  There are trees surrounding the building in an organized pattern, creating a beautiful array of branches that create cool shifting columns as you walk along the path.

The inside of the worship space is beautiful and modern, and unlike any church with which I am familiar.  The pews here are set up in the round, which was interesting.  The smooth ceiling created an airy space flooded by natural light through skylights.  It was a lovely space, albeit a little unusual to me, but I liked it.  When we entered, we arrived in the middle of a recitation of the rosary.  My parents and I did not know that was scheduled, but we jumped in as soon as we caught on.  

We also spent some time in the lobby of the church, where they had statues and numerous relics.  I liked this image of Mary, and I thought it was especially well chosen for this particular placement.  The color scheme of the light teal with the browns is a soothing, natural palette.  It echoes the natural beauty of Vermont exceedingly well.  

The amount of relics here was incredible.  I recognized some of these saints, but I was also unfamiliar with several.  Bodily relics kind of freak me out a little bit, if I’m being completely honest, so this challenged me somewhat.  But the testimony of faith here is undeniable, and I valued that regardless of my own squeamishness!

This cathedral was a good representation to me of my experiences in Vermont.  The set up was a little bit different than I was used to, but it was beautiful in its personal way.  The theme of nature was prominent throughout, via the colors and landscaping.  I didn’t know exactly what was going on, but I did my best to eagerly jump in as soon as I got my bearings.  There were some things that I was not used to, but I recognized that my discomfort was based in unfamiliarity and challenged myself to see the good through the unusual.  There was also the consistency of universal truth and regularity.  I was instantly connected to a group larger than myself, and welcomed as a part of the community.  

This Mass really was a condensed metaphor for my move to Vermont.  It’s amazing how many places you can find God when you start looking for Him!

Inside… St. Thomas More

For longer than I have been alive, my extended family has been scattered around the country.  I grew up in New Jersey with my immediate family.  My mom’s side of the family has pockets in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Indiana.  My dad’s side of the family spread from New Jersey to Utah, Nevada, California, and even Alaska for a few years.  This means that I grew up with an interesting dynamic with many of my relatives.  My dad’s parents live less than two hours from me, so we see them about once a month.  My mom’s brother and his wife live about three hours away from me, so we see them a couple times during the year.  My mom’s parents, and her sister and her children, all live in Indiana and Pennsylvania, so we see them once a year for Easter (as I mentioned in my Święconka post).

My dad’s siblings and their families, however, live much further afield.  Utah and California are not a day-long road trip away, so I rarely get to see my aunts, uncle, and cousins.  For many years, all that I really knew of my relatives were a handful of phone calls and the occasional photo on Facebook.  I still have love for them, because they are my family, but it was this weird, somewhat anonymous love for people that I could not remember ever meeting in real life.

In December 2014, my uncle Claus died in a helicopter accident.  This was my first experience with death affecting my family.  My dad was really hurting, and my mom and sister were somber.  We booked flights to Utah as soon as the funeral arrangements were settled.

Beyond the emotional magnitude of loss, this trip was full of questions.  For me, this flight would be the first I would take at an age that I could actually understand.  (The previous time I was on a plane, I was a toddler and barely remember it.)  It would also be the first time that I met my numerous cousins—well, once again, I had met some of them before, but I was too young to remember.  It would also be the first time my parents, sister, or I were attending a Mormon funeral.  We had no idea what to expect, beyond a few tips from Google.

As it often happens, the research we did briefly in the haze of rushed packing ended up being outdated or inaccurate to our specific experiences.  We were told to not wear red to the funeral for cultural reasons…  and then watched as many members of his ward arrived in red, white, and blue to celebrate my uncle’s military service.  We found numerous references to these mysterious ‘funeral potatoes’ that were never explained.  All we knew was that the women of the ward were going to make food and deliver it to the immediate family so that they wouldn’t have to deal with cooking in the midst of everything else.  While that did happen, and we were very grateful for the meals provided, there were no funeral potatoes in sight, only (yummy) enchiladas.  It felt like everything our research prepared us for just didn’t happen, and things were basically what I was used to.

And yet, I felt like I was floundering.  Having flown across the country and plopped into an entirely new environment, I felt ripped away from my home community and placed in a foreign land.  I was disoriented, and didn’t know what to expect.  My immediate family was with me, and that was some source of comfort to me, but we never got much alone time, so I couldn’t meaningfully recharge my “home” battery.  My only experiences with death were around Catholic funerals that I had attended or served at, so I was used to certain language that just wasn’t present in Mormon services.  I wanted to lean on my parish life, lean on my youth group to find solace and community while I was working through the feelings of loss—but they were several hundred miles away, and I couldn’t reach them.

Since our time in Utah included a Sunday, my immediate family and I drove a little ways out of the city to attend Mass.  The church was absolutely beautiful, as you can see for yourself below.

I loved the colors of the stained glass windows.  That particular color scheme has a lot of my favorites in it, so I felt very comfortable here.  It was like God was giving me a special nod with the design of this church.  The airy sunlight streaming in from the walls brightened up the space immensely, and the mountains were visible through the windows.  This church was nestled in such a beautiful area.  There was a sense of peace throughout the space that I desperately needed at that time.  Here, in this Mass, was familiarity.  I no longer felt ripped away from my faith life.  I was connected once again to the rites I know, and I felt back in touch with my home parish because we are all unified in the Eucharist.  It was also a beautiful moment of mourning, because in the Mass, Heaven and Earth kiss, and I knew my uncle was present to us in a way I had not yet felt.

Despite the heavy weight of my emotions at the time, I felt happy in this church, and I will always be grateful for the sense of connection and community that I was afforded in this beautiful mountain church.

Inside… St. Catherine’s of Meath Street

As you may have noticed by my Instagram posts recently, I am in Ireland!  I have been so immensely blessed by the opportunity to study abroad for a semester in Dublin.  I have wanted to visit Ireland for many years, so it is really exciting and fulfilling that I get to be here.

My second Sunday in the city included the first regular, local Mass I attended.  The beautiful church known as St. Catherine’s of Alexandria welcomed me with open arms.  I felt very connected to this church because of its devotion to Mary and its recent devastation.

During a tour of the area within my school’s orientation, our guide brought us to this church and taught us about its role in the community.  In the past few years, this church burned.  A fire was set in the building and the space suffered heavy damage.  My high school chapel recently went through a similar crisis, so I knew the pain that this community felt.  The people of the parish rallied together to restore their church.  My favorite manifestation of this was their campaign to fix the roof.  A donation of five euro would sponsor a tile on the roof, and each sponsor received a plaque to thank them for their contribution.  Through the aide of this strong neighborhood, the church was restored to the beautiful space that it is now, as you can see below.

Screenshot_20180914-235132_Video Player

In an alcove in the back of the church, a small shrine is set up in remembrance of the fire.  Several photographs are framed on the walls to show the damage, and a statue that was partially destroyed was left in its “tragically beautiful” burnt state as a tribute.  There are candles to light as an offering at the feet of this statue.  When I first entered the church with our tour guide, I was still looking at him as he described this alcove.  When he finished speaking and gestured to the back, I turned to look at the statue, and instantly smiled.  This particular image was of Mary Help of Christians.  The Salesians have a very strong devotion to her, and seeing her in this alcove instantly created a sense of home.  I felt the Holy Spirit surge within me as I looked upon Our Lady’s face, smudged with ash and smoke, but still beautiful.  I thought of my home chapel, and how we also had an image of our mother get covered in soot but still remain a regal display.  To see something so similar here…  I knew God was connecting threads in my life right then.  I knew that I was meant to be here.  I knew that I had found a new spiritual home.

I returned for Mass shortly thereafter, and in all honesty, it felt like the Twilight Zone.  Everything was the same but a little bit different.  The most jarring change from Masses back home in America and Mass here was the speed.  It was like the entire congregation was dialed up to eleven!  Everyone spit back the responses as quickly as they could, even though that put people at mismatched paces.  The Mass was full of cacophonous enthusiasm, and I was a little bit lost in it, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.  The priest gave a lovely homily with a charming story about his childhood experiences as the introduction, and it was precious.  I was very amused by his dire warnings that winter is upon us once more because the students have returned to school and the choir has returned from their summer hiatus.

I am eager to return to this beautiful church soon.  Its history and its imagery remind me that God is my home everywhere, and that He is watching out for me and weaving my life together into a beautiful tapestry.  Every place I go, every experience I have, is intentionally used for His plan.  I am so excited to see what more He has in store for me!