Too often we forget to thank God for these gifts for poverty is truly a gift. If it weren't, do you think Jesus, His Blessed Mother Mary and foster-father Saint Joseph would have lived in such a way? Would the King of Kings have been born in a stable if poverty was something to disdain? After all, He was God. He could have chosen the grandest palace of them all to live in, much like many televangelists today opt to do. Is that the way Christ wants us to live? Contrary to their pompous self-righteous platitudes that God wants them to live that way, those who spout "Lord, Lord" while luxuriating in lavish surroundings are dead wrong. See Matthew 7: 13-23. If living high on the hog was God's Will then He would have set the example. But He set the example in the other direction, followed faithfully by His Apostles and disciples and saints. If poverty weren't such a gift would this be a sacred vow? Would the early hermits, Saint Benedict's followers, Saint Francis of Assisi and his loyal band of friars have embraced poverty so willingly? The answer is 'No!' Our Lord elevated poverty at every instance throughout His life - both private and public. He made this more than evident in the Beatitudes. He established Poverty as an Evangelical Counsel, along with Chastity and Obedience as He said in Matthew 19: 21, "If you will be perfect, go, sell what you have, and give to the poor." Jesus understood how difficultu these three counsels would be, "Not all can accept this teaching; but those to whom it has been given" (Matthew 19: 11). Christ's reasoning was of course that by means of these evangelical counsels of Poverty, Chastity and Obedience man can avoid the chief evil tendencies that plague us - avarice, greed, sensuality, lust, and pride.
The Evangelical Counsel of Poverty means it is voluntary. It is highly unlikely Roberto Benigni's poverty was voluntary, but what was voluntary was his acceptance of it. It shows in his real life character and behavior. He grew from the experiences of going without so that today he can truly appreciate things that so many of us take for granted. So also Francis, Saint Anthony and the millions of other priests, nuns and brothers were appreciative of whatever they received, always giving thanks, praise and honor to God. They seldom grumbled or complained for they appreciated the little things of life. We, on the other hand, have grown spoiled over the years from too much. We've lost the will to go without; we've lost the commitment to penance and sacrifice. Consider the hardships Benigni had growing up. He tells of hiding because he thought he was ugly; he tells of being grateful for a piece of bread; of appreciating a sunset. How many of us express that kind of sentiment, that kind of gratitude. With all these problems growing up, Roberto could take solace in the greatest riches he had - love of his parents who provided what they could. It is evident that what they imparted in love and life's education turned out to be riches no amount of money could attain. Maybe that's why this region is so famous for they say invention is the mother of necessity and this was never truer than the Tuscany region of Italy where Roberto was born and grew up. He was born in Misericordia near Arezzo and then his family moved to Vergaio in Prato which is a village of about 3,000. Tuscany is the same area that gave us Saint Catherine of Siena and the Renaissance with masters like Michelangelo Buonarotti and Leonardo da Vinci not to mention a plethora of other saints as well as artists, writers and poets such as Giotto di Bondone and Dante Alighieri. Roberto was so poor he couldn't afford to buy a ticket to see the movies at the outdoor drive-in as a youngster. But that didn't deter him; he'd sneak around to the back and watch movies backwards drinking it all in. It was here that he first saw the genius of Charlie Chaplin and built on that. As he said so himself after winning the Oscar, "It's like Michelangeo for me, so Chaplin was...If you look at Charlie Chaplin, not only because he was able to mix - to laugh and to cry - which is so close to God...We don't have to take us so seriously. And Chaplain is the man who did this really marvelous, magnificent...like Michelangelo." As we mentioned before, he is a modern Renaissance man for the cinema for he has brought to life the simple things and elevated love and appreciation to the status of gifts to be cherished and treasured. And this is all because he was cherished and treasured as a child. "I would like to tell that I was really loved, with the simplicity." That is why it was a natural for him to make "Life is Beautiful" enabling him to so beautifully and eloquently, yet simply, depict love as all-good to a small child in the face of the most atrocious aberration of the holocaust evil.
During his acceptance speech the other night for winning Best Actor, he expressed gratitude and love in his best broken English that many may have taken the wrong way when he said "Oh how can I, I am not able to express all my gratitude, because now, my body is in tumult because it is a colossal moment of joy so everything is really in a way that I cannot express. I would like to be Jupiter and kidnap everybody and lie down in the firmaments making love to everybody because I don't know how to express - it's a question of love. You are really, this is a mountain of snow, so delicate, the suavity and the kindness, it is something I cannot forget." You have to realize the richness in which this man of poverty expressed his sentiments and understand it was pure innocence speaking from the heart - something very, very rare in Hollywood or in political circles. He is like a little child on Christmas morning, displaying unbridled emotions of joy and love. The innocence pours from every pore of his body and we are reminded of Christ's words in Matthew 19: 14, "Let the little children be, and do not hinder them from coming to Me, for of such is the kingdom of Heaven." Not that Benigni is a saint; far from it. In fact he is, we understand, a fallen-away Catholic and we all need to pray for his return to the Church for the sake of his own soul. But we also suspect that God has a great sense of humor and revels in the souls that are moved closer to Him through the such things as the works of this Tuscan genius who expresses so much innocent, child-like love that unites the world in the universal language of love. Besides the graces of the Sacraments, good works count in the final tally and we're prayerful that Roberto's will register highly on that scale. He is showing one thing for sure, that we take ourselves too seriously, have too much pride, and we need to lighten up and enjoy the gifts God has given all - the gift of life. If we have that, we can never be poor. Maybe that's why, in God's special way and loving compassion, we can take solace in Jesus' words in Matthew 26: 11, "For the poor you have always with you, but you do not always have Me." He was reminding us all that we would be comforted by God's Mercy and, in His Mercy in this present age of spiritual darkness and moral malaise, He has sent us the comedic, compassionate and genius talents of Roberto Benigni. For that we thank God and the Academy for making known to all a poor man who enriches us.
Paul II was handsome and vain and this bothered many within the curia who winced at his love for carnival and entertainment. Many believe this penchant for celebration caused him to change the Jubilee concept of every fifty years to every 25, falsely believing that his rule would last that long and cover 1475. Little did he know he would die four years shy of that target. Yet, despite his love for the good life, he was also one who reached out to others and was known as the Pope with the great heart. Because of this and his youth his election was well-received in Rome. While he loved the merrymaking, he did not partake of it himself and was a chaste man despite the many temptations. He relished sitting high on his throne or on the balcony above, watching all below, lording over the festivities in a medieval-like setting. It was for this reason he reinstated the Renaissance movement in Rome, introduced by Pope Martin V but squelched by his uncle for various reasons. It was Paul who commissioned the Palazzo San Marco in Venice while he was still Patriarch of Venice and completed as Pope. As much as he loved buildings and monuments, he disdained some of the more liberal humanities because of two things. First, was the influx of modern thinking with a paganism and atheism that threatened the foundation of the Church; secondly, his treatment by Roman historian Bartolomeo Platina who characterized Paul as a greedy, selfish, vain Pope. In retaliation, Paul imprisoned and tortured the humanistic writer which prompted intellectuals to disdain Paul II. On the surface it would seem like Paul was unfair and unrealistic, but in delving deeper into those times we discover that there were those within the curia, some die-hard humanists, who were sabotaging him and badmouthing him, striving to undermine his policies in an attempt at regaining power for the councils and the curia. The more Paul tried to ferret them out in weeding the curial garden, the more they retaliated with venom that gave Paul a disfavorable reputation. Paul might have been able to offset this with the people and the humanists he had gathered within his inner circle in an effort to totally clean out the curia had it not been for other distractions such as the constant Muslim threat that his predecessors had failed in stemming.
The crusade, which his immediate predecessor Pope Pius II had been devoted to until his last dying breath on the shore of Ancona, died an apathetic death. Yet Paul II would not accept defeat and pressed on, siphoning the riches from the silver and aluminum mines of Tolfa to finance the effort against the Turks. Unfortunately his greatest ally in the cause against the infidels was George of Podebrady, king of Bohemia who ran afoul of Church teaching and embraced the Hussite heresy. Paul had no choice but to excommunicate George and even go so far as to preach a crusade against the king and the Hussites, but it had no teeth to it. This especially came to light when a key Christian outpost in Greece fell to Sultan Mehmet II and Venice was now the next target. That helped rally an Italian alliance which Paul II called to unite against the Muslims in December 1470. Still he could not get a solid offensive going as the alliance agreed to compromise and defend only if attacked. Meanwhile Paul agreed to an alliance with the Prince of Iran Uzun-Hassan to try to divert the Turks' attention away from Italian shores.
While Paul II enjoyed good relations with the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick III he carefully avoided entering any pact with the emperor for the latter sided with the pro-conciliary sect, trying to convince the Pope to call a general council at Constance. So also was Louis XI of France who toyed with the Roman Pontiff and enjoyed watching the Pope squirm in begging that the French monarch remove the "liberties" claimed by the French Church which brought up all the old investiture mess from the past. As much as Paul II attempted to reach a compromise, Louis continued to string the Pope along. Weary of this, Paul turned his attentions to Russia in his efforts to reunite the East and the West both for religious purposes and military might against the Turks. He had even managed to try to arrange the marriage of Ivan III of Russia with the Catholic daughter of Thomas Palaeologus but a stroke ended not only this effort, but the life of a promising Pope who, like others before him, garnered his fair share of enemies. He died of a sudden stroke on July 26, 1471 and once again Rome was faced with a dilemna as another Pope remained unfulfilled in his goals. His enemies within the humanist faction got their revenge when they commissioned the papal biographer and painter Platina to illustrate Paul II in dark, forboding colors which, in retrospect, was a sign of things to come as Paul's successor Pope Sixtus IV could see the dark clouds on the horizon as the Reformation began to raise its ugly head while the Popes continued to ignore a problem that wouldn't go away.
Next issue: Pope Sixtus IV: Pawn for power-brokers whose purpose was to secularize the papacy
Please go to My children. With My Mother's words I desire you to invite them - all of them - to My embrace. Tell all who are open that the Holy Spirit is awakening hearts who seek now to serve Me alone. Tell these souls that is one reason I call for Eucharistic communities. This is why I call for the Order of Divine Mercy to be founded in all monastic simplicity and true to its religious roots. Read, study, and live My Blessed Faustina's writings, for therein is a full rule of life to guide you. Let these women be of like mind and heart so that My Divine Mercy, unfathomable and limitless, may pour out over all the world. I, your God, desire to pour out even more Divine Mercy through this Order that My consecrated daughters vowed to contemplation and enclosure, may be living witnesses of Merciful Love. Let these women live a common life, pray, eat and recreate together in a holy manner. Let their dress be the same for each, and by their joy, the fruits of their prayers and works shall bring many more and those in authority will recognize My Will.
I give this message today when My Church normally celebrates the Feast of the Wise Men. I am asking My humble, simple souls to come and study all I gave to the world through My Blessed Faustina. The depths of My Mercy cannot be reached, but the depth and breadth, width and height can be lived in this Order, which is its charism.
Come, all you so moved by My Spirit, who seek true religious life. Come now to study Faustina's writings. Pray and work together and trust in Me for all things. In My time this Order shall have appropriate approval. I am pleased if you now come as lay women to undertake this joyful work, as a sign of the end times. It is My Will. The Victory is Mine!
Love Me even unto folly! Trust me in all things. Let your faith be unshakable, for I, your God, Am with you! You are weak, helpless creatures. With Me all things are possible.
Let the world with one voice cry: "Mercy", and I shall pour forth Divine torrents of Mercy. Peace! I am with you! I bless all who do Me homage. Praise and adore the Most Divine Trinity, and pray as My Mother has asked.
Then shall truth become clear to you. I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Follow Me. I forsake no one with a humble heart!