Wednesday, February 8


I take the opportunity offered by Bl. Pius IX's listing in yesterday's Martyrology to post a most POD image of this Holy Father's mortal remains at San Lorenzo fuori le Mure. Pius IX briefly served as an assistant to the papal apostolic delegate in Chile in his early days, and also was bishop of the Italian see of Imola like his predecessor, Pius VII, a dry martyr of Napoleon. In his youth, he attempted to join the Pope's Noble Guard, though it seems he did not have the constitution for it.

Pius also has the peculiar honor of being the butt of a complicated practical joke perpetrated by Don Bosco and God, the punchline of which came long his death. I was told this tale by a Curial official with a truly encyclopedic knowledge and a charmingly offbeat sense of humor while strolling with my classmates along one of the side-aisles in St. Peter's some years ago. I believe him, and if it's not true, it should be.

Don Bosco once came to Pius IX one day and told him, laughing, of a truly crazy dream he'd had. He'd dreamed he was standing above the Pope in St. Peter's. The two great men had a chuckle or two, and the business was quickly forgotten. How could you be above the Pope? A few years went by, and Pius made history by becoming the longest-reigning pope to date. Much to his embarassment, a rather garish mosaic portrait of the Pope was put up on the pier above the ancient statue of St. Peter venerated at the Vatican, with a plaque commemorating his longevity.

Flash forward almost fifty years. Don Bosco was canonized in 1934 by another Pius, the eleventh of that name, and the time came to put up a statue to him in the basilica, to stand along the other great religious founders, Ignatius of Loyola, Philip Neri and Elijah of the Carmelites.

And darned if the only empty niche left was right over the little monument to Pius IX that had embarassed his friend so very much. He was standing right over the Pope in St. Peter's, just like his wild dream had foretold.

God is gracious, and so He laughs with us, popes, paupers and priests alike.

(Photo via What does the Prayer Say?)

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