Paul VI in Nazareth

Pope Paul VI was the first pope to visit the Holy Land since St. Peter. He was very deeply moved by his pilgrimage. The second reading at vigils for the feast of the Holy Family in the Roman Breviary is taken from the address that he gave in Nazareth, and it opens with a highly emotional passage:

Oh! How We would like to return to Our childhood and attend the simple yet profound school that is Nazareth! How wonderful to be close to Mary, learning again the lesson of the true meaning of life, learning again God’s truths. But here We are only on pilgrimage. Time presses and We must set aside Our desire to stay and carry on Our education in the Gospel, for that education is never finished. But We cannot leave without recalling, hastily and in passing; some brief lessons from Nazareth. [Here is the French original. There are two English versions (neither quite satisfactory) here and here]

1977 FILE PHOTO OF POPE PAUL VI

This was in January 1964, scarcely half a year into his pontificate, and the first lesson that he takes shows his longing for silence and recollection:

If only we could once again appreciate silence, that admirable and indispensable state of mind, beset as we are by the cacophony of strident protests and conflicting claims so characteristic of these turbulent times. Oh silence of Nazareth, teach us recollection, reflection, and eagerness to heed  good inspiration and the words of true teachers; teach us the need and value of preparation, of study, of meditation, of interior life, of secret prayer seen by God alone.

The next lesson is the one most immediately connected to the Feast of the Holy Family:

May Nazareth show us the essence of the family; its harmony of love, its simplicity and austere beauty, its sacred and inviolable character; may it teach us how sweet and irreplaceable is its training, how fundamental is its role in society.

He then speaks of the “the austere and redeeming law of human work,” and holds up the “son of the carpenter” as the champion of the just cause of the workers. That is where the passage in the breviary ends, but some of the most moving parts of the address are from the beginning and the end which it leaves out. From the beginning:

At Nazareth Our very first thoughts must be turned toward Mary Most Holy, to offer her the tribute of Our devotion and to nourish that devotion with reflections […] Before all else We offer Our humble filial promise to venerate her with that special devotion which recognizes the wonders God has accomplished in her; with singular homage manifesting the most holy, pure affectionate, personal and confident movements of Our heart; with such devotion as causes her encouraging example of human perfection to shine upon the world from on high. Then We present to her Our requests for what is closest to Our heart, because We wish to honor both her goodness and the power of her love and intercession. We pray that she may preserve in our hearts a sincere devotion to her. We beg her to give us understanding, desire, and then the peace of possessing purity of body and soul, purity in thought and word, art and love; the purity that the world of today attempts to shock and violate; the purity to which Christ has linked one of His promises, one of His beatitudes, that of penetrating into the vision of God Himself.

And at the very end: “As we try to recapture some echo of the Master’s words, we seem to be won over as His disciples and to be genuinely filled with new wisdom and fresh courage.”

Paul VI was such a noble and refined soul it is hard not to love him, despite all the distressing things that he did. It is such a paradox that a pope with such a deep love and appreciation for the sacred liturgy, a reader of Romano Guardini, a passionate lover of silence and reverence, should have presided over the post-conciliar reform of the liturgy. Let us hope that the prayers that he now offers up in the heavenly home of the Holy Family might contribute to the renewal of the Church.

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