St. Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1566)


Today the Church celebrates the feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus, an intellectual and missionary congregation of men better known as the Jesuits.

There is no question that the Society bears in its structure and apostolate the marks of early modernity, the period in which it was founded, but that should not hinder us from appreciating the deep roots St. Ignatius himself had planted in the late Middle Ages.  Born a year before the discovery of America, the soldier-saint from Spain manifested in his life and writings the spiritual instincts of his medieval forebears.  For example, famous is the story of Ignatius’ conversion, which took place while he was convalescing in a hospital.  As Luis Gonzalez tells the story, whose account we read in today’s Office of Readings, Ignatius was convicted by the spiritual reading he was given, a collection of the lives of the saints written in Spanish.  Stirred by a new interior spirit, he began to ask himself, “What if I should do what Saint Francis or Saint Dominic did?”  These two thirteenth-century giants of religious life served to guide Ignatius’ own religious instincts and the spiritual exercises he developed from them.

To be sure, Ignatius did not draw strength solely from the spiritual tradition of the Middle Ages.  He also appropriated its intellectual heritage, particularly as articulated by St. Thomas Aquinas.  When founding the Society of Jesus, Ignatius directed his young disciples to study the doctrines of the Common Doctor, and the Society’s 1599 Ratio Studiorum (plan of studies) repeated this instruction for all of the Society’s teachers. For example, this direction was given to provincials:

The provincial is to be especially careful that no one be appointed to teach theology who is not well disposed to the teaching of St. Thomas. Those who do not approve of his doctrine or take little interest in it, should not be allowed to teach theology.

These directives certainly bore fruit for the Society and for the Church.  After their foundation the Jesuits immersed themselves in the Thomistic tradition of philosophy and theology that gained magisterial sanction during the Council of Trent, and they imbued the Tridentine Church, often better than the Dominicans did, with the spirit and wisdom of St. Thomas.

Much has been made of the centuries-old intellectual rivalry between the Dominicans and the Jesuits.  As is well known, disagreements arose between them over the authentic interpretation of St. Thomas, and Dominicans and Jesuits today continue the friendly intellectual contest that has shaped their shared history.  One might argue that Ignatius himself helped to set up this competition by rooting the Society in the medieval intellectual and spiritual tradition.  Without getting into specific disputes, it suffices to say that the Jesuits should be remembered well today.  Through the beginning of the twentieth century, Jesuit intellectuals were on the ecclesial and cultural front lines promoting and defending the principles of Thomism.  For that, we Dominicans can gratefully tip our capuces to our Jesuit brothers.

For more on the life of St. Ignatius, including details of his conversion and his founding of the Jesuits, click here.  For the homepage of the Society of Jesus in the United States, click here.

you gave Saint Ignatius of Loyola to your Church
to bring greater glory to your name.
May we follow his example on earth
and share the crown of life in heaven.

We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, forever and ever. Amen.

Indiana Jones and the Christian catacombs? Not quite

A young Indiana Jones as a Boy Scout holds the Cross of Coronado

A young Indiana Jones as a Boy Scout holds the Cross of Coronado

By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Sometimes a job is just a job, even when from the outside it looks like it involves the stuff of an Indiana Jones movie.

Fabrizio Bisconti is the newly named archaeological superintendent of the Pontifical Commission for Sacred Archaeology, which oversees the upkeep and preservation of 140 Christian catacombs from the third and fourth centuries scattered all over Italy.

Most of the time, he said, the job is just work and study.

Staff members can spend a full month with surgical tools and cotton balls cleaning a third-century sarcophagus, but then there are those stunning, shocking, awe-inspiring moments of discovery.

Mid-June brought one of those “wow” moments when restorers cleaning a ceiling in the Catacombs of St. Thecla found what turned out to be the oldest known image of the apostle Paul. The fresco was hidden under a limestone crust.

Bisconti said treasure hunting and exploring were not his passions as a youth; he was into literature. But as a university literature student, he took an archaeology course “and fell in love.”

“Certainly, there is great emotion when you find something new, but for us archaeology is our job, the subject of our studies,” he said.

Bisconti said most of what he and his fellow archaeologists do all day involves very slow, painstaking precision care of the oldest intact Christian monuments and artwork.

Very little remains of any Christian church built before the fifth century, but the 140 catacombs in Italy offer clear evidence of how early Christians worshipped, how they lived and, especially, what they hoped and believed about death.

Because the catacombs are underground and were filled in with dirt in the fifth century — when people began burying their dead in cemeteries within the city walls — the catacombs remained remarkably intact, Bisconti said.

Deciding which catacombs to excavate and whether or not to open them to the public is a process that takes years and tries to balance the values of preservation, scholarship, education and Christian devotion, he said.

“Opening a catacomb means allowing its degradation,” he said.

As soon as the dirt in a catacomb is removed, the frescoes and inscriptions start fading and decaying. Human visitors, who sweat and breathe, add moisture to the air, which speeds up the growth of mold and the flaking of any painted surface, he said.

The catacombs are technically the property of the Italian government, which under the terms of the 1929 Lateran Pacts with the Vatican, entrusted their care and oversight to the Vatican.

Most of the 140 Christian catacombs in Italy are in Rome, and only five of those are open to the public: the catacombs of St. Sebastian, St. Callixtus, Priscilla, St. Agnes and Domitilla.

“There are many, many other catacombs,” he said.

For Bisconti, the most interesting of the closed catacombs is one on Via Latina in Rome. “It was discovered in 1955 and we have found more than 100 frescoes of scenes of the Old and New Testaments, but also of pagan myths,” he said.

The most popular Old Testament stories are Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac, Jonah in the belly of the whale, the story from the Book of Daniel about Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace — “all of these gave support and comfort to Christians because they are examples of salvation,” Bisconti said.

Most of the catacombs were built around the tomb of a martyr because other Christians wanted to be buried near a hero of the faith. Even after the catacombs were no longer used for burial and were filled in, paths leading pilgrims to the martyr’s tomb were left open for several hundred years.

Most of the catacombs demonstrate the early Christian preoccupation with the equality of all believers, he said. The bodies were sealed into niches carved out of the earth, usually with very simple inscriptions.

Slowly, however, decorations were added and wealthier Christians were buried in sarcophagi or thick marble caskets.

Bisconti said his office is two or three years away from allowing the public to visit the Catacombs of Pretestato, located near the Catacombs of Domitilla. Never before opened to the public, the Pretestato burial grounds are the site of more than 1,000 sarcophagi, many still intact.

“It was very snobbish, very chic” to be buried there, Bisconti said.

The superintendent added that, whether dealing with a sarcophagus or with a simple niche in a catacomb, if a sealed tomb is found, Vatican workers leave it closed out of respect for the deceased.

Bisconti said it is true that the art and symbols found in the catacombs repeat the same things, “but that is because it was catechetical art. They were advertisements to convince people to convert. They were a way to repeat a message and demonstrate the conviction that it was true.”

Usus Antiquior Pontifical Mass in St. Peter’s, Rome

St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican City located within Rome, Italy

St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican City located within Rome, Italy


 Like last year, the Italian society, Giovani e Tradizione (Youth and Tradition) and the Amicizia Sacerdotale Summorum Pontificum (Priestly Friends of Summorum Pontificum), are organising a convention in Rome at the Casa Bonus Pastor on the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum (for last year’s conference, see NLM posts here, here and here). You can see this year’s programme here; but one point certainly worth noting is that the conference will conclude with a Pontifical Mass according to the usus antiquior in the Papal Basilica of St. Peter in the Vatican (Chapel of the Eucharistic Adoration), celebrated by H.E. Msgr. Raymond L. Burke, Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura, on Sunday 18 October at 10 a.m.

Great Discoveries” Awaiting in the Catacombs

Pope Creates Vatican Post Focused on Archeology


VATICAN CITY, JULY 20, 2009 ( Benedict XVI has created and filled the post of archeological superintendent of the catacombs, in a move that will bring the Pontifical Commission for Sacred Archeology to function more like other Vatican dicasteries.

The Pope on Saturday named Monsignor Giovanni Carrù to the role of secretary of the commission. The monsignor had been servicing as subsecretary of the Congregation for Clergy. Fabrizio Bisconti, the outgoing secretary of the archeology commission, has been named the archeological superintendent of the catacombs, a post that did not previously exist.

In an interview Sunday in L’Osservatore Romano, Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, said that this change reflects an intention to give the commission a “general structure similar to that of other Vatican organizations.”

“Monsignor Carrù has extensive experience in the Roman Curia, particularly in an important congregation like that of the clergy,” he explained. “He arrives to consolidate within the commission all of the general characteristics of management and functioning that are needed so that the profile of the commission resembles as much as possible that of a Vatican organization.”

This change, Archbishop Ravasi continued, “has brought about the need to introduce the role of archeological superintendent.” The person in this post “will take on the responsibility of offering the president and secretary all of the necessary scientific support, taking into account the importance of the investigations that are being done and the complexity that these types of investigations have acquired at the technical level.”

The archbishop said the role is like that of a “permanent assessor” and is an “important task entrusted to a scholar with great experience,” such as Bisconti.

Bisconti, the prelate affirmed, “in the field of knowledge of the catacombs is certainly a figure of unquestioned importance at the international level.”

Archbishop Ravasi went on to explain some of the accomplishments achieved in the ongoing work of Bisconti and his team. He noted, for example, the discovery last month of the most ancient icon of St. Paul, found in the catacombs of St. Thecla.

He further pointed to the restoration of the burial site on the Via Dino Compagni, which has included some 100 paintings in 10 years of work.

The work of the pontifical commission is extensive, ranging from the excavation in the catacombs of St. Agnes, St. Sebastian and Peter and Marcelino, to projects under way outside of Rome.

“Notable paintings are emerging from the catacombs of Carini in Sicily,” Archbishop Ravasi said, “and great discoveries await us. Also, the excavation of the small catacombs on the island of Pianosa is commencing again, and we do not exclude the possibility of finding surprises.”

The commission is also in the process of compiling an “information census” of the thousands of objects discovered in Italy’s catacombs.


And, Now a Word from the Church Fathers

St. John Bosco and the Gray Dog

Folks, I believe you will find this story from St. John Bosco’s life very endearing:

Although Don Bosco had no lack of resourcefulness, he often received much-needed help from an unexpected source.

Don Bosco entitled the last chapter of his Memoirs “A Mysterious Dog: Grigio.” There he relates how a strange gray dog protected him from time to time. The dog came to be known as Grigio, from the Italian word for ‘gray.’ All sorts of attempts have been made to account for this animal, which always seemed to be present whenever Don Bosco needed protection but was subsequently nowhere to be found.

Those who saw it described it as a German shepherd standing about three feet high with a ferocious appearance. The first time Don Bosco’s mother set eyes on it, she cried out in alarm.

In those days the Valdocco was more isolated than it is now, and it was necessary to traverse a wide stretch of rough waste ground dotted with trees and bushes to reach the seminary. Since he had been physically attacked many times, Don Bosco was obliged to go out accompanied. One evening, however, he was returning home alone, and as he was making his way across this open area he began to feel afraid. Suddenly, a large dog bounded to his side, terrifying him even more.

“Yet its attitude was not threatening,” Don Bosco writes. “It was rather like a dog that had recognized its master. We quickly became friends, and it accompanied me as far as the Oratory. That was not the only time that I encountered it. On different occasions it kept me company, sometimes providentially.

“Towards the end of November, 1854, on a sleety night I was returning from the town. In order not to be alone I took the road leading from the Consolata down to the Cottolengo Institute. At one point I noticed that two men were walking a short distance in front of me, matching their pace with mine. I crossed over to the other side to avoid them but they did the same. I then tried to turn back but it was too late. They suddenly wheeled around and were on me in two steps. Without a word they threw some kind of coat over me. I struggled in vain to break loose. One of them then tried to gag me with a scarf. I wanted to shout but I hadn’t the strength.

“At that moment Grigio appeared, growling like a bear; he hurled himself at the first man with his paws at his throat while snarling at the other. They had to let go of me to deal with the dog.

04lolasit” ‘Call off your dog!’ they shouted, almost paralyzed with fear.

” ‘I’m going to,’ I replied, ‘but next time leave strangers alone.’

” ‘Call him off quickly!’ they shouted.

“Grigio went on barking. The two thugs took off as fast as they could, and Grigio accompanied me to the Cottolengo where I stopped to recover for a moment. Then I returned to the seminary, this time well protected. Every evening when I went out alone I always noticed Grigio on one side of the road.”

One evening, Grigio flatly refused to allow Don Bosco to leave the house by lying across the doorway and growling whenever he tried to pass. “If you won’t listen to me, listen to the dog; it has more sense than you,” remarked his mother. A quarter of an hour later a neighbor ran in to say that he had heard of a plot to assault Don Bosco that night.

When attempts to harm him ceased, the dog disappeared and was not seen again, save once. In 1883, Don Bosco arrived late one night to the station at Bordighera accompanied by one of his priests. Finding no one to show him the way, he wandered through the dark, stormy night trying to find the Salesian house. Suddenly, he was welcomed by a bark, as Grigio appeared and led him to the house.

“All sorts of stories have been told about this dog,” remarks Don Bosco, “but I never discovered who its master was. I only know that throughout the many dangers I encountered, this animal protected me providentially.”

In fact, Don Bosco never tried to discover whose dog it was. “What does it matter? What counts is that it was my friend.”

– Source:



FSSP with HH Pope Benedict

As recently reported, Very Rev Fr John Berg FSSP, the Superior General of the Priestly Fraternity of St Peter, met with the Holy Father in the library of the Apostolic Palace. Fr Berg was given the opportunity to speak privately with the Holy Father for fifteen minutes – something less common now that under Pope John Paul II. Afterwards Pope Benedict greeted Fr Bisig and the other founders of the FSSP. He gave his blessing to the FSSP which has 350 members. (There are also 2600 members in the Confraternity of St Peter.) The Holy Father’s particular message was “remain ever faithful.”

The FSSp website shows some interesting statistics. As of September 2008, there were 347 members: 208 priests, 11 deacons, and 128 seminarians. Average age of members: 37.  “The Church is alive. The Church is young.”

Benedict Slips and Falls

Pope Benedict slipped and fell in his vacation house during the night, fracturing his right wrist

By Robert Moynihan, INSIDE THE VATICAN
 reporting from Rome


VATICAN CITY, July 17, 2009Pope Benedict XVI, who turned 82 in April, went to the hospital this morning in Aosta, in northern Italy, after slipping and falling during the night and fracturing his wrist, according to Italian press reports.
The reports said that a cast would be placed on his right wrist, but that otherwise the Pope was fine.
The Pope’s Press Secretary, Father Federico Lombardi, said in a press release:

“As a consequence of a fall in his own bedroom, during the night, the Holy Father suffred a light fracture to his right wrist.

“The Holy Father during the morning nevertheless celebrated Mass and had breakfast, after which he was accompanied to the hospital in Aosta where he was doagnosed with a light fracture and it was determined to immobilize his wrist.”
Here is a picture of the press release in the Italian language as it was given out in the press office this morning (photo):
The Italian news agency ANSA quickly published the following more detailed report, in Italian, this morning:
PAPA IN OSPEDALE AD AOSTA, PICCOLA FRATTURA AL POLSO (Pope in Hospital in Aosta, Little Fracture in the Wrist)
ROMA – Papa Benedetto XVI viene operato al polso destro, dopo essere è caduto stanotte nella sua camera da letto, nello chalet di Les Combes, a 1300 metri di quota in Val d’Aosta, riportando una frattura scomposta. (Pope Benedict has had his right wrist operated on, after having fallen last night in his bedroom, in the chalet of Les Combes, at 1,300 meters altitude in Val d’Aosta, suffering a compound fracture.)
Secondo fonti vaticane, il pontefice è scivolato e non ha avuto alcun malore o svenimento. (According to Vatican sources, the pontiff slipped and did not have any sudden dizziness or fainting.)
In ogni caso lo hanno subito controllato il suo cardiologo ed il suo rianimatore personale. (In any case, his cardiologist and his personal doctor immediately took a look at him.)
A confermare le condizioni discrete del papa vi è il fatto che stamani – ha riferito il portavoce vaticano, padre Federico Lombardi – ha celebrato messa come ogni mattina, e ha fatto colazione. (In confirmation of the good health of the Pope is the fact that this morning — as the Vatican spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, said — he celebrated Mass like every morning, and had breakfast.)
Poi è stato accompagnato, con la sua auto nera, all’ospedale di Aosta, dove è giunto alle 9 e 45 circa. (The he was brought, in his black car, to the hospital in aosta, which he reached at about 9:45 am.)
Il pontefice è sceso dall’auto, protetto come sempre in questa vacanza da imponenti misure di sicurezza, ed ha percorso a piedi il lungo corridoio di ingresso tra una piccola folla di curiosi e malati che lo hanno salutato. I sanitari lo hanno subito sottoposto ad una radiografia, e anche a un check up completo. (The pontiff got out of the car, protected as always during this vacation by massive measures of security, and walked on foot down the long entrance corridor  among a little crowd of curious and sick people who greeted him. The doctors immediately did an x-ray, and also a complete physical check-up.)
Secondo quanto riferiscono ufficiosamente fonti ospedaliere, gli esami generali non hanno riscontrato alcun problema. (According to what the hospital sources say unofficially, the general exam did not reveal any problem whatsoever.)
Il papa ha dovuto però rimanere nel nosocomio, sotto osservazione, in attesa che i medici decidano il da farsi per la frattura. (But the Pope had to remain in the waiting room, under observation, until the doctors decided what to do about the fracture.)
E’ probabile che debba subire un piccolo intervento, con anestesia locale. (It is probable that he must undergo a little operation, with local anesthetic.)
Quindi il polso verrà ingessato. (Then his wrist will be put in a cast.)
In serata, dicono i suoi collaboratori, dovrebbe fare rientro a Les Combes. (In the evening, his collaborators say, he should return to Les Combes.)
Ottimista anche padre Lombardi. (Father Lombardi is also optimistic.)
“Niente di grave” ha assicurato ai giornalisti. “Credo proprio che proseguirà le sue vacanze”. Il portavoce vaticano si trova attualmente a Roma e dovrebbe raggiungere il pontefice domani sera, per l’Angelus di domenica, a Romano Canavese. (“Nothing serious,” he assured the journalists. “I believe for sure he will continue his vacation.” The spokesman is currently in Rome and is supposed to join the Pope tomorrow evening, for the Sunday Angelus, in Romano Canavese.)

After Broken Wrist, Pope in Surgery


WHISPERS IN THE LOGGIA – Having broken his right wrist in a bathroom fall last night, earlier today the Pope was checked into a hospital near his Alpine retreat, where he currently remains:

In a statement, the Vatican said that the 82-year-old pontiff had slipped in his room in the chalet where he is staying in the mountainous Valle d’Aosta region, but was well enough to eat breakfast and celebrate Mass before being taken by car to the local hospital.

“It’s nothing serious,” the Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said in a telephone interview . He said that the pope’s wrist had been “immobilized,” but he was not sure whether it required a cast.

Tiziano Trevisan, a spokesman for the hospital in Aosta where the pope was taken, said that the pontiff would remain at the hospital for several hours. “The doctors are evaluating how to proceed with the fracture,” Mr. Trevisan said. He did not rule out surgery but also said a “less invasive” intervention might suffice….

Father Lombardi said it remained to be seen whether the pope would keep his two scheduled commitments: delivering an Angelus message in two parishes near Aosta on the coming two Sundays.

This is the first hospital visit for B16 since his 2005 election; the pontiff turned 82 in mid-April.

SVILUPPO (7.30am ET): The Pope is undergoing surgery on the wrist:

Tiziano Trevisan, a spokesman at the Umberto Parini hospital in Aosta, says surgeons were operating Friday on the wrist to reduce the fracture, a procedure to realign the broken bone fragments….

He said they were giving 82-year-old Benedict “light sedation,” though heavier anesthesia may be given as the surgery progresses.




Diaz on Deck

WHISPERS IN THE LOGGIAdiaz3Since President Obama’s (Vatican-blessed) nomination of Miguel Diaz as US ambassador to the Holy See has garnered quite the amount of interest from its announcement in late May, it’s worth noting word fresh off the wire that the confirmation hearing for the St John’s theologian — an adviser to both the Obama campaign and the Dem-friendly lobby Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good — has been scheduled for next Wednesday, 22 July.

The 9am session before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will see the Vatican nominee join three other ambassadors-designate in taking questions from the panel’s 11 Democrats and seven Republicans; if green-lighted there, the nods move to the full Senate for a final vote.

Chairing the hearing will be Massachusetts’ John Kerry, a Catholic and the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee. Other Catholics on Foreign Relations include Connecticut’s Chris Dodd, New Jersey’s Robert Menendez, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania and New York’s Kirsten Gilibrand, all Democrats; Idaho’s Jim Risch is the lone GOP Catholic on the committee.

In the 100-member upper house — where the Blue bloc now holds a 60-seat supermajority — Catholic Democrats outnumber the body’s Republican faithful by an almost 2-to-1 margin.

As Diaz has observed the standard pre-confirmation silence since his nomination was announced, Wednesday’s hearing will provide the stage for his first public comment, especially on his intended approach to the post that, in all likelihood, he’ll soon take up.

As always, stay tuned.