St Zachary

Pope and Confessor (entered heaven this month in 752)

Dear Chary,

I think you make some excellent observations in your “spiritual program of work”.  The fact that you have finally decided to make such a program is in itself a great step forward.  I am going to send some specific comments on it when I get a chance to go over it with more attention.  But I wanted to make one observation right away.

It’s easy to make the spiritual life complicated.  In some senses it is complicated, but in the most important sense, it isn’t.  It can all be summed up in how you view and treat your neighbor.  This interests Christ more than anything.  This is the sign of true spiritual progress, much more than good feelings in prayer or the mastery of meditative techniques.  Kindness, self-sacrificing service, unbiased goodness, patience, generosity, faithfulness, self-control… These are the signs that the Holy Spirit is conquering your soul.  If you are playing favorites and criticizing and judging and despising, you can bet a different Spirit is behind it.

Today’s saint was one of those shining examples of this Christian charity.  He embodied the beatitudes in the most difficult position of all: the papacy.  He preached Christ’s love with his words, and he manifested it with his actions.  He visited kings in order to encourage leniency with rebels and the restoration of lands to conquered people; he bargained for war prisoners to be sent home without having to be ransomed; he negotiated peace in war torn Ravenna; he calmed ecclesiastical strife in Germany by calling an upstart priest Virgilius to task, and bringing him to Rome, where he repented so thoroughly that he was made a bishop; he purchased slaves that Venetian merchants were trying to sell to the Muslims, and then set them free, thus backing up his sermons against slavery with money from his own pocketbook; he beautified the great city of Rome (which had fallen into dilapidation in recent centuries) with glorious places of worship; he even made special allowance for a generous supply of olive oil so that the lamps in St Peter’s Basilica could always be lit, enriching the pious experience of pilgrims.

Wherever he saw someone else’s need or problem, he saw an opportunity, and he tirelessly tried to take advantage of them all.  Imagine what the world would be like if all us Catholics did the same.  Imagine what it would be like if only HALF of us did the same!

Your imagining uncle,


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