Today the Church in its calendar honours St Pius V, who was pope from 1566 until 1572. He had been a Dominican friar, and unlike many popes of this period had an exemplary private life: indeed he was very austere and disapproved, for example, of naked statues among the Holy See’s art treasures (and he is said to have covered them up). One reason he is honoured, apart from his personal holiness, is his contribution to worship, in that the Council of Trent tasked him with producing a standardised version of the Mass, which he did in 1570, basically the form of the Missal followed for exactly four hundred years,
Another thing he did in 1570 – he excommunicated Queen Elizabeth I of England and absolved her subjects of loyalty to her. Historians tend to take the view that this was an error of judgement which resulted in greater persecution of Catholics in this country; nevertheless it does help us understand our priorities and loyalties, and the need to put the Church first. At a time in the world when we’re seeing so many abuses of State power it’s refreshing to honour a Church leader not in awe of the powerful who was prepared to put monarchs in their place.
God bless and take care
In Acts chapter 6, when the apostles decide to commission the first seven deacons, they indicate that they want them to devote themselves to charitable work so that the apostles can concentrate on preaching. The problem with this is that the first two examples we have these deacons working show them not doing charitable work but preaching and catechising: first Stephen, martyred by being stoned to death, and then Philip in today’s first reading at Mass (8:26-40). It’s an exotic and moving account, a very speeded up RCIA programme!
Pope Francis has repeatedly encouraged the Church to minister to those on the margins of society. In a way the story of Philip and the eunuch is a model for this. Although Judaism had penetrated Ethiopia by this period – hence the eunuch’s pilgrimage to Jerusalem – for most devout Jews in Palestine an Ethiopian eunuch would have been someone viewed with suspicion or hostility. Many would have remembered that for the great figure of King Solomon, the ‘arrival of the Queen of Sheba’ had been the beginning of his ruin.
So this story has a message: the Church encounters with love those on the margins and should seek them out, part of the Easter message.