St Celestine V

Pope (entered heaven this day in 1296)

Dear Celeste,

You seem like you could use a bit of encouragement.  You always were a supremely sensitive soul. At times when you were growing up I used to think that this entire world was, well, a bit, how should I say… hard-edged for you.  In many ways, in fact, you follow after your most remarkable namesake, Peter of Morone, who took the name “Celestine V” when they elected him Pope.

A peasant boy, his widowed mother saw from the beginning that he had a special vocation, and so she sent him to school, even though her relatives razzed her severely for it (why is it that relatives so often oppose us?).  He was always an exceptional boy, and when he turned 20 he went off to live as a hermit. He built himself a tiny cell on Mount Morone. It was so small that he could neither stand up in it nor lie down fully extended. All he wanted was to pray, to give himself fully to the things of God.  For the next 64 years, he lived in solitude, although he did receive ordination as a priest, and admirers and disciples finally convinced him to form a monastic community instead of keeping to himself all the time. Then the strangest thing happened.

For two solid years, the Cardinals in Rome had been wrangling over who should be the next pope (yep – the see of Peter was empty for two solid years).  Well, good old St Peter Morone was talking to God about this, and God asked him to send the Cardinals a warning that if they didn’t straighten out their act (political interests were at the root of their wrangling), they would suffer for it.  The Cardinals hit upon a brilliant solution to the crisis: they named the renowned and holy monk Peter of Morone himself their new pope.

But Pope Celestine was simply not fit for the job.  The 84-year old man was cruelly manipulated by kings and cardinals, zealots and connivers, such that worse chaos than before soon reigned supreme.  He suggested that they just build him a cell in the Papal Palace, and he could appoint three cardinals to rule the Church, but that didn’t go over well.  Finally, after only five years as Pope, he resigned! He gathered the cardinals and prelates together, read a solemn statement of resignation (citing his age and various ineptitudes as the primary reasons), took off his papal robes and put on his monk’s habit, prostrated himself and asked pardon for his blunders, then returned to his blessed solitude.  But his ordeal wasn’t over yet. Opposers of the new pope (Boniface VIII) threatened to use the popular hermit against him, so Boniface forcibly brought Peter back to Rome and stowed him away in a cell for ten months before he died. The saint was heard to remark, “I wanted nothing in the world but a cell, and a cell they have given me.”

I am sure Pope St Celestine V will be more than happy to pray for you on all your gray and dreary days… Such happenings convince one that the Church is God’s after all, don’t they?  How else would it have survived?

Love, Uncle Eddy

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