The Holy Father announced yesterday that he will declare St John of Avila and St Hildegard of Bingen Doctors of the Church on Sunday the 7th October. He is doing so at the beginning of the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelisation and for a particular reason - these two figures, he says, are of considerable importance and relevance. Well, that should offer all of us an opportunity to get reading the lives and writings of these two new Doctors. In fact, given that the Holy Father is placing the emphasis on two Saints in the context of the New Evangelisation, we can see that the Saints in general are important as the Church "puts out into the deep" in this new missionary endeavour.
We must spare a thought for the Holy Father in these days as two crises envelop the Vatican. The president of the Institute for the Works of Religion (Vatican "bank") is in trouble, and after an investigation, a suspect in the so-called "Vati-leaks" has been arrested - it is the Pope's own butler. This will be hard on the Holy Father who relies on and trusts those people who are members of the "Papal family". To have a trusted assistant betray a confidence is one of the worst kinds of betrayal. He may not have been the only one though, the Vatican gendarme are continuing their investigations.
According to reports, the man will be tried by the Vatican legal system - that must be a first in a long time. In this system, the defendant has a trial, and if found guilty, can have two appeals. If found guilty after all that, he'll do his time in an Italian prison. I heard that he could face up to thirty years in prison because these leaks constitute a national security breach. It all sounds very strange, but then again we have to remember that the Vatican is an independent sovereign state and it operates as such.
Some will find that hard to take - after all, Jesus did not set up his own country - he was an itinerant preacher proclaiming the Word of God. True, but in practical terms if the Holy Father is to do the same without interference from secular governments, he needs to be free from the obligations of citizenship, and so the best way to do that is to have him living in an independent country where he is the ruler. If we object to that, just look at the way some of the history's secular rulers treated the Church - Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, Joseph II of Austria, Napoleon, Hitler, Stalin; and today - Barack Obama and Enda Kenny: if the Pope were a citizen under any of them his ministry would be seriously curtailed. Indeed Napoleon almost made the Popes his puppets as he dragged one Pope into captivity where he died, and made the life of another an absolute misery.
But we must pray for him. The Pope holds the Papal family very dear. One member, Manuela Camagni, died a couple of years ago: this is another blow.
When I first read of the "Papal family" I was very much impressed. These members of staff - his secretaries, the sisters that care for him and the household, form a little community in the Papal apartments. It must be a real support to the Holy Father who can rely on them to make a home for him in the midst of the officialdom and ceremony which surrounds him.
To be honest, it is a model which we priests and our bishops should look to. As diocesan priests many of us do not live in community - and even those priests that live together may not form a community. When in seminary we were told that we were preparing for life on our own - our parishes would be our community, but in reality when we go to our homes after a day's work, there is no community there. Some priests like that, other's don't. Certainly, in my opinion, it is not an ideal situation, priests need support, and unfortunately when there is no domestic support, priests on their own can fall prey to too many temptations just out of sheer loneliness or isolation.
When I was in Drogheda three of us priests lived in the presbytery and we actually did have a community. We usually had dinner together, sometimes went out for an evening together, took an interest in each other's lives and interests, and helped each other. Our individual families were always welcome. Our staff were also part of the community - the housekeepers, secretaries, the handyman. But such situations are rare.
As I was thinking about all this the Lord's words from Genesis came to mind: "It is not good for man to be alone". We understand that in terms of marriage and man as a social animal. In terms of priesthood, I think we might also see it as being a good indication that we should not live isolated lives. I am not advocating marriage for priests, by the way, but certainly we might look at how priests can live in the midst of a family in his domestic life. How that can happen I do not know. One thing I do know - it should not be completely formed of priests as the tendency to clericalism would be a serious temptation.