Friday, March 27, 2015

Pope Francis and the Blood of St. Januarius

Saint Januarius was a Catholic bishop of Naples (in Italy) who was martyred for being a Christian under the reign of Caesar Diocletian in about AD 305. He was beheaded at the Solfatara crater near Pozzuoli. His martyrdom is honoured in both the Roman Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodox churches. There is a cathedral in Naples which stands as a shrine in his memory, housing the relic of a small vile filled with some of his blood. According to legend, the blood was saved by a woman named Eusebia just after the saint's death. The blood, being some 1,700 years old now, has long since hardened. However, three times a year, a phenomenon occurs, in which the clotted and decayed blood returns to its liquid state. This happens on September 19 (Saint Januarius day, to commemorate his martyrdom), on December 16 (to celebrate his patronage of both Naples and of the archdiocese), and on the Saturday before the first Sunday of May (to commemorate the reunification of his relics). Religious pilgrims often visit the shrine on these dates to witness the phenomenon.

I call it a phenomenon, as opposed to a miracle, because the Vatican has never officially ruled it a miracle, though it does pay respect to the phenomenon and the devotion that has developed because of it.

In addition to these annual dates, the blood has also turned to liquid in the presence of three popes. The last time this occurred was in 1848 with Pius IX. It hasn't happened since, when other popes visited the shrine, until now. Pope Francis visited the cathedral on March 21, 2015. The following video tells of the encounter and the phenomenon...

Now, before we go on, let's be perfectly clear about some things. First, Pope Francis did not perform any miracle. He had no intention of turning the clotted blood back into liquid. He simply venerated the relic by kissing it, a sign of deep devotion and respect. Second, if indeed the phenomenon is miraculous, then it was God who performed the miracle, by the intercession of Saint Januarius. Again, Pope Francis did not do it. Third, whether it is a miracle or a phenomenon, God can use either to send us a message.

To try to find meaning in this, we should look back to when this happened with the last pope. Remember, popes have visited this shrine since then, and the blood has not liquefied for any of them. It did however liquefy for Pope Francis. This hasn't happened in 167 years. The last time this happened with a pope was in 1848 with Pope Pius IX, who was the longest reigning pope in Church history. Pius IX however, is also one of the most interesting popes in modern times. Following his visit to Naples in 1848, after the clotted blood of Saint Januarius had liquefied, that very same year Pope Pius IX was forced into exile from the Vatican. The exile was the result of political disputes and social unrest in Italy at the time. He returned to the Vatican two years later and from thence forth practically became a prisoner therein. Relations between the papacy and the Italian government where at an all time low, and the era was marked by riots in the streets and marauding gangs in the countryside. It was an especially dark time for the papacy, but Pius IX found himself purified in this crucible of fire. He proclaimed the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception infallibly, which is something Catholics had always believed, but hadn't been settled as an indisputable matter of faith until his proclamation. He approved a petition to name Mary, as the Immaculate Conception, the official patroness of the United States of America. He penned 38 papal encyclicals, and convened the First Vatican Council. He wrote the now famous 'Syllabus of Errors', which condemned the errors of Modernism, errors that have since led humanity into two world wars, and a global confrontation with communism, as well as the rapid deterioration of Western civilisation. During this time, Pope Pius IX was well known for a personal lifestyle of simplicity and poverty, which has since led the papacy to increasingly become a more spiritual office, and less of a temporal one. Pius IX's papacy is regarded by historians as the birth of the modern papacy, restoring the office to something closer to what it once was at the time of the apostles and the early centuries of the Church. Politically, Pius IX started out as a liberal, but later became much more conservative, after his initial exile from the Vatican. He became a reformer of the papacy and the Vatican. The spiritual aspects of Catholicism flourished under his reign, but the political relations between the papacy and the state suffered terribly. Pius IX was not well liked by the political rulers of his day; Italy, France, Germany, Russia and the United States of America. (Yes, even President Abraham Lincoln did not care for him, nor did his successor President Andrew Johnson.) Yet he was loved by Catholic clergy and laymen around the world.

Does this in any way sound like Pope Francis? I can see some similarities between Francis and the early years of Pius IX, during the liberal years of his papacy. Like Pius IX, Francis considers himself a reformer of the Vatican and seeks to reignite zeal among the Catholic faithful. The liquefaction of the blood of Saint Januarius for Pope Pius IX was immediately followed by unprecedented political trials for the Holy Father. This was accompanied by changes in his papacy, and the result was an incredibly holy man who changed the papacy for the better, and reignited the faith of millions of Catholics around the world. Does God have something similar planned for Pope Francis? Is the liquefaction of the blood of Saint Januarius at the kiss of Pope Francis a sign of this? There is no way we can know at this time. What we do know is that the liquefaction of the blood for the last pope turned out to be both a harbinger of evil and a herald of greatness at the same time. Does God use phenomenon like this to tell us something? Sure he does. We see the Bible littered with such things. The only problem is, we don't know exactly what it means until after it happens. For now, we can view the phenomenon of the liquefaction of Saint Janaurius' blood for Pope Francis as a possible sign from heaven, and that's all we can do. As for what it means, if anything, we'll just have to wait and see.

Written by Shane Schaetzel. Posted with permission of author.


Shane Schaetzel is a published author and columnist for Christian print magazines and online publications. He is a freelance writer and the creator of 'FullyChristian.Com -- The random musings of a Catholic in the Ozarks.'


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