“Tell us about the seminary?”
“Francine refused to give a letter of permission, being that I was still underage. I waited what felt like an eternity and finally she provided it one month before my 18th birthday. The Reverend-Father of the seminary accepted me but doubted if I would fare well. You see, they viewed me as privileged and lazy… I worked very hard, excelled in my studies and thinned down. Many were even jealous of me and did various things to land me in trouble. However, Reverend-Father knew about their schemes so I was never sent away.”
“When were you ordained a priest?”
“In 1826, when I was 25 years old.”
“What was it like, meeting the Bishop of Lucca for the first time?”
“In those days, meeting a bishop was rare. Usually, he could only be spotted from afar on Easter Mass. When I first saw him, my heart filled with glad awe then when I approached him, I felt almost dizzied from the Holy Spirit’s presence. I imagined myself present before Christ, being chosen as His apostle.”
“Tell us about your first year as a priest?”
“The Bishop sent me to a small church, San Marta, just inside Lucca’s walls. After the parish pastor retied, I took his place. Though I felt nervous and unsure inside, I never revealed this. San Marta was a working-class community, with plenty of farmers and merchants. They were surprised that I, being from an affluent background, worked so well with these common people. I just beheld them as people, who like myself, needed God’s love and grace. …Then, they were surprised by the large numbers who came in order to hear me preach.”
“We know of your reputation as a great preacher. Is there anything you did to gain such eloquence? Perhaps you have advice for those of us who don’t speak in public so well?”
“I don’t remember doing anything in particular. I simply studied the Scriptures, and the homilies of our early Church Fathers, and I stayed close to God. There are differing gifts in the Church of Christ. Some may not speak well but they might be blessed with great faith or with understanding of deep, theological matters.”
“You brought us a copy of one of your sermons; may you please read it for us?”
“Yes, of course…May I stand?”
“This is from Lent, of 1827. I shall start:
“And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be humbled: and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted. (1). How many times does Our Lord say this? We hear it in the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax-Collector, we hear it echoed in the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the poor in spirit…” and we hear also, “The first shall be last and the last shall be first.” For what purpose?
Our Lord was not unacquainted with the ways of men. He knew well the lines we’ve drawn in society and He knew the hearts of earthly kings just as much as the hearts of beggars sitting atop ashes. We look at the outside, at appearances and we behold the Pharisee who boldly prays and call him an esteemed man. Yet, we see in the Gospel, that he only prays because he is pleased with himself. Who can be pleased with himself before the Lord? Who can bear His holy presence? I tell you, truly, the tax-collector, sinful as he is, who begs mercy from God- or the beggar sitting outside who prays for healing, is better off!
Now some of you may think I stand here to condemn worldly possessions but I do not. I condemn the notion that our possessions and fortunes make us better before God! Some of you have said before, “Look at this wealthy man, he is so blessed- he must be holy” as if every Christian found favorable in God’s eyes will be granted prosperity! Then why, my children, did so many of the prophets declare: “He has crushed me”, “May my soul not be forgotten”, “Why have You forsaken me”!
This is why Our Lord blesses the lowly and lifts them up. His own Son became a servant so that we may be free, became crushed that we would be healed. His path is a hard path and everyone who humbles himself follows after Christ’s own example unto the Kingdom of Heaven.”
“Wonderful! Very wonderful! And this beautiful eloquence is why the pope made you a cardinal?”
“I suppose… That is, at least, the reason he gave.”
“You are so funny, Your Eminence.”
“Oh, I don’t mean to be…”