Death of a Pope and a Floating Friar

Today is the 14th anniversary of the death of Pope Saint John Paul II, who displayed in his final years, months and especially days his truly heroic soul, as well as the value, even the joy, of redemptive and ‘salvific suffering’ (Salvifici Doloris) on which he had written so eloquently 21 years earlier, on the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes in 1984. Well, well worth a Lenten read, or re-read, even if you just read my inferior summary of the Holy Father’s reflections.

This is also the memorial of Saint Francis of Paola (+1507), founder of the ‘Minim’ friars, who interpreted the rule of Saint Francis of Assisi – by whose heavenly intercession Francis had been healed as a boy – in a very strict manner, foregoing all animal and animal-derived products. Early vegans, of a sort, but for spiritual, ascetic and redemptive reasons. His thaumaturgic life was filled with miracles – often a charism of ascetics and mystics, signifying their deep, liminal connection with the divine – healings and raisings from the dead, both human and animal, foretelling the future, including his own death on this day, a Good Friday that year, as he had the Passion according to Saint John read to him.

In on incident, Francis used his cloak to ‘float’ cross a body of water – it seems the coat was both a boat and a sail – when the boatman refused him passage, a feat commemorated in the second of Franz Liszt’s Legendes for piano, ‘Saint Francois de Paule marchant sur les flots’, a sort of miracle for the piano itself, as is much of Liszt’s music.

Life is full of such miracles, if we had but eyes to see, and ears to hear…