Some interesting things about Pope Pius X:
He was the first Pope elected in the 20th Century, having ascended to the Papacy I 1903.
He codified the Church's law into a single book.
He moved the age of receiving 1st Communion to childhood.
He established the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine (CCD) as a means of combating religious illiteracy - and not just for kids, it was for adults too!
When he was canonized in 1954, there had not been a pope canonized for more than 200 years. And the last one canonized was Pope St. Pius V (a Dominican) who was a Renaissance Pope who died 331 years before Pius X became Pope.
Until last spring, the 1st Pope elected the 20th Century was the only one to have been canonized (not surprising given the length of the process involved.
Of the 32 men who served as Pope between Pius V and Pius X - only 3 have even had the beatification process begun for them (and 2 of those were so recent that the process was begun by Benedict XVI. I guess the modern era can hardly be considered a golden age for the papacy.
Today is the Feast of St. Jane Frances de Chantal, the co-founder (with St. Francis de Sales) of the Visitation Sisters. The oldest Monastery of cloistered Visitation nuns in America is right here in Mobile, Alabama. It is right down the street from where I lived when I was in high school and Imust have passed it a million times. But last Saturday morning was the first time I passed thru the gates. I celebrated Mass for the Men of St. Joseph Retreat that took place at the Monastery's retreat house last weekend. The community of nuns also attended that Mass and I could not help but be struck by the fact that there were nearly as many white veils as black veils among the 14 or 15 nuns - for the uninitiated - that means they hava lot of novices. Tonight I had the pleasure of meeting Carol, a young woman who will be entering the postulancy of that monastery on Friday. She will be the 7th Sister in initial formation and 2 more are going to be entering soon. God is clearly doing great things among those nuns! God be praised. I was happy on the Feast of St. Jane Frances to offer a blessing to this young woman who is soon to become one of Jane Frances' daughters!
The Gospel for Mass today is from Matthew 18. Jesus demonstrated the "greatest in the Kingdom" by showing his disciples a child and assuring them that if they did not become like that child, they would not enter the Kingdom. Since Jesus used a child as a visual aid for his teaching, I thought it okay to show everyone the perfect little one in my life too and I showed them this picture of me with my newborn niece (born yesterday at 7:02 am). I was so moved by her near perfection as I stared into her beautiful little face yesterday. I love that she is the example of what we are to become if we are to part of the kingdom: no earthly economic value, completely dependent, easily pleased, and a blank slate morally and intellectually. Jesus calls us to that kind of dependent innocence to claim our place in his kingdom.
As I was dressing this morning to celebrate Mass for the Feast of the Transfiguration of Jesus, I was listening to the news. There was a report about the 69th anniversary of the first detonation of an atomic bomb in warfare. Ican never remember reflecting on the coincidence of these two observances in the past. Ihad already prepared my homily for the Mass and I didn't really have time to mention the Hiroshima anniversary in any reflected way, so I simply chose to ignore it in the Mass and move on with my planned celebration and preaching (largely about the Glory of God not being contained in one place, but rather in the person of Jesus. We, as his disciples are called to experience and receive that Glory and make it available to others), but throughout the day, I have come back time and time to the obvious connection between Hiroshima and the Mount of Transfiguration: LIGHT. Mark's Gospel tells us that when Jesus was transfigured, "his clothes became dazzling white, such as no fuller on earth could bleach the.." (Mk 9:3). In other words, imagine the whitest you could imagine and multiply it. Every photographic or filmed image I have ever seen of a nuclear explosion might be described in the same way: dazling. Eyewitnesses to the Hiroshima explosion speak of the brillance of the light that preceded the boom. Colonel Tibbets, who piloted the Enola Gay, the plane that dropped the Hiroshima Bomb, said that the "whole sky was lit up with prettiest blues and pinks" he had ever seen.
The light of Mt. Tabor was the same light that "sun-burned" Moses' face on Mt. Sinai (Exodus 34); the light of the Burning Bush; the same light that guided the people of Israel through their 40 year wilderness trek, the light that entered the Temple of God: the Shekinah - The Glorious indwelling presence of God. Perhaps it is the light that created the photo-negative effect on the Shroud of Turin. That light was a powerful sign of God's presence and could be destructive to God's enemies, but in the Transfiguration, it becomes a powerful sign of the power of God's Word at work in Jesus of Nazareth, the fulfilment of the Law and the Profits. It is ultimately the most constructive force in creation.
For me, the dazzling light of Hiroshima is the utter antithesis of the light of the Transfiguration. The harnessing of that kind of power would necessarily lead to its use in war. The development of atomic weapons would be our reaching for the power of God, himself. Steven Spielberg touched on these themes in the "Raiders of the Lost Ark." The Nazis in that movie wanted the most powerful light on earth in order to destroy their enemies. They sought out the power of God's Glory, knowing that it would be the most potentially destructive. As a movie goer, I am to be offended by that kind of arrogance. These destroyers of the Jews will harness the power of the Jews to do their bidding. Oh those silly, silly Nazi's: that arrogance would lead to their own destruction. But Steven Spielberg's fantasy got one thing wrong: it was not the Nazis that opened the Ark. It was us. The United States remains the only government on the planet who has ever unleashed the power of a split atom anywhere other than in a laboratory. We remain the only people who have ever used the "dazzling light" as a weapon against an actual human population. More than 100K people died in Hiroshima and Nagasaki the days the bombs were dropped, the destructive power of atomic weaponry continued to wreak havoc of years. As a child of the Cold War era, I am also keenly aware of the utter fear created in a whole generation by the awareness of the destructive power of these weapons (no longer merely a theory after the Feast of the Transfiguration 1945). Even today, how much of our foreign policy resources go into making sure no one else gets access to that power?
Self preservation has prevented us from ever reaching for that kind of power again. The madness of "mutually assured destruction" has kept the lid on the Ark since 1945. But one wonders how long this will be true. The call of the Transfiguration is for us to listen to Jesus. Jesus calls us to forsake power in favor of humilty; To seek union and build connections; to passively endure injury instead of seeking to overwhelm with power. Wee who profess to be sons and daughters of the light are called by Jesus to find of blessedness in Peacemaking, to harness the power of God's light to bring light to the world. We are called to be that City on a Hill (in a Jesus sort of way- not a Reagan sort of way). We are called by the Word of God to let that light shine before others that they can see our good works and give praise to our heavenly Father who makes those works possible.
On this Transfiguration day, let us pray for the grace to harness the light of Christ, so that the only dazzling white lights in our future will be our works inspired by Jesus.
Fr. Bart Hutcherson, OP
Fr. Bart Hutcherson, OP is a Roman Catholic Priest & a Friar of the Dominican Province of the Most Holy Name of Jesus-USA. He is on the Pastoral Staff at Most Holy Rosary Parish in Antioch, California, and uses this page to post Homilies and Scripture reflections.