Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Notes and asides on the Celestine Jubilee

On Saturday, 5 July, in Isernia, Italy, the probable birthplace of Pietro del Morrone, who, from 5 July -13 December 1294, served as Pope under the name Celestine V, Pope Francis announced the beginning of a Celestine Jubilee Year. Speaking in the piazza of the Duomo di Isernia, Cattedrale di San Pietro Apostolo, the Holy Father said:
Here is the truly modern sense of the Jubilee Year, this Celestine Jubilee Year, which I proclaim open from this moment, and during which the door of divine mercy will stand wide open to everyone. It is not an escape, not an avoidance of realty and of one’s problems, it is the answer that comes from the Gospel: love as a force of purification, of integrity, a force of renewal of social relationships, a force of planning for a different economy, which places the person, work and family at the centre rather than money and profit
From the perspective of his resignation, which he announced 11 February 2013, many commentators came to see Pope Benedict XVI's 2009 visit to the tomb of Pope Celestine V (the last pope to resign), which is in L'Aquila, Italy, in Santa Maria di Collemaggio Basilica, in a new light. Celestine V is a canonized saint of the Church. He was canonized as a holy hermit and founder of a contemplative religious order. Due to the high regard in which he is held, even venerated, first by Pope Benedict and now by Pope Francis, the question, "Who was Pietro del Morrone?" has been raised. Sandro Magister's recent article "Celestine V a Model Pope? The Myth and the Reality" is as good a response to this question as I have found.

Pope Benedict XVI visiting the tomb of Pope Celestine V

It seems to me that from the perspective of this papal veneration, one cannot simply dismiss Celestine V as "a bad pope." That he was not an effective pope is beyond historical dispute. He never wanted to be pope! Let's keep in view the fact that Pietro del Morrone was not elected pope until he was 84, which would be old even now. His pontificate only lasted five months and nine days.

One of the reasons Bergoglio was not on my radar during last year's conclave is that, given Benedict's resigning due to age, at 76, I thought him 10 years too old. This is no mere digression. Pope Benedict, having lived through the final years of the papacy of Pope St John Paul II, who gave heroic witness to the value of human life during this time, did not see fit to put the Church through that again.

Both Benedict and Francis see Celestine V as a model precisely for his humble and even selfless realization and acknowledgment that, as an old man, well past his prime, he was not "up to" the job. In this regard it bears noting that Benedict XVI resigned when he was the same age as Celestine V was when he resigned: 85. As Magister describes it, Celestine V's "plans for abdication were scrupulously examined from the juridical point of view. And on December 13, in the Castelnuovo in Naples, he read his declaration of resignation before the assembled cardinals. He set aside the pontifical vestments and dressed himself again in the gray robe of his congregation: the pope had again become Pietro del Morrone."

At least to me, there is something quite beautiful and distinctively Franciscan in Magister's description of del Morrone's resignation. Undoubtedly this is one reason why, in his speech announcing the Celestine Jubilee, the Holy Father linked these two men so closely together. I was personally gratified that in his Isernia remarks Pope Francis finally uttered the word "deacon" in public. Speaking of the example set by Sts Pietro del Morrone and Francesco de Assisi in giving prophetic witness to a new world, the foundation of which is mercy, a world in which "the goods of the earth and of work are equally distributed and no one lacks the necessary, because solidarity and sharing are the concrete result of fraternity," the Holy Father noted "one was a deacon [St Francis], the other a bishop, the Bishop of Rome — as clergy, both had to set the example of poverty, of mercy and of totally divesting themselves."

Pope Francis in Isernia

Regarding what the Pontiff said concerning "mercy," "indulgence," and "the forgiveness of debt," it bears noting that not long after he became pope, Celestine V promulgated a papal bull granting a plenary indulgence to all pilgrims visiting Santa Maria di Collemaggio (where he is now entombed) through its holy door on the anniversary of his papal coronation. He was selected as Roman Pontiff on 5 July, but was not installed until late August. To this day, the people of L'Aquila celebrate a festival, called Perdonanza Celestiniana, each year on 28-29 August.

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