Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Cesare Cardinal Baronio's Canonization Cause Revived

The virtue of patience is hard to come by in any day or age, but the extraordinary example of Cardinal Cesare Baronio should give us all heart. Not only did he dedicate long hard hours to his studies and writing, and suffer the ceaseless practical jokes of St. Philip Neri, but additionally his cause for canonization has been stalled since 1745 when Pope Benedict XIV conferred on him the title of venerable. But Cardinal Baronio's spirit of forbearance has paid off. This year, the 400th anniversary of his death, Cardinal Baronio's case has been reopened by the general attorney of the Oratory of St. Philip Neri, known as the Oratorians. "Peace and obedience" was the motto of this extraordinary man, and he lived both virtues throughout his life in such an exemplary manner that Pope John XXIII, an admirer of Cardinal Baronio's, took the same words and inverted them to become his own dictum. While his contemporary St. Peter Canisius traveled to heretical hot spots to preach -- personifying the daring, brilliant charism of the Jesuits -- Cardinal Baronio embodied the nurturing nature of the Oratorians by remaining stably in his parish, and writing steadily as he tended to his flock. Both men, however, gave a troubled world the tools to perceive the truth. St. Peter Canisius wrote the first catechism and Cardinal Baronio wrote 12 volumes of meticulously researched Church history.

Cesare Baronio was born near Naples in 1538 to a poor but noble family. At the age of 19 he came to Rome to study law at the Rome University and found lodgings in Piazza Farnese around the corner from the Church of San Gerolamo della Carità where Father Philip Neri lived. The young student was soon introduced to his saintly neighbor and, attracted by the great magnet of Father Neri's holiness, he started to frequent the oratory. Father Neri recognized the immense potential in Baronio and took an interest in his formation. Although Baronio's natural inclination lent toward subjects such as death and final judgment, Father Neri called him back to the here and now by setting him to study Church history. Baronio knew he was called to the priesthood, but wanted to join one of the new orders such as the Jesuits or Theatines, and to live among his brothers in the priesthood. After much discernment, however, he was ordained a secular priest in 1564. He took up his ministry in the Church of San Giovanni dei Fiorentini, the Florentine national church in Rome in the care of Father Neri. Together with two other priests, they were the nucleus of the congregation of the Oratorians which was officially established in 1575. Every day Father Baronio went from preaching and hearing confessions at San Giovanni to tending the sick and moribund at the hospital of Santo Spirito, and then returned home to cook for community of the Oratorians. When he realized that the kitchen duty was always left for him, Father Baronio's patience and good humor came to the fore and he inscribed above his oven "Caesar Baronius coquus perpetuus," "Cesare Baronio, cook in perpetuity."

Father Neri saw the many honors conferred on Father Baronio as a danger to his humility, and so the future saint would play tricks on the young priest to keep him from becoming too proud of his accomplishments. Father Neri once told Father Baronio to sing Psalm 51 "Miserere" at a wedding, although it was reserved for Good Friday or funerals. The startled guests looked at Father Baronio with disgust, but he took the lesson to heart, and always remained gentle and unassuming. While Pope Gregory XIII was reforming the Julian calendar in 1580 to fashion the Gregorian version still in use today, he set Father Baronio to reorganize the liturgical calendar, entrusting him with the task of revising the stories of the saints and martyrs. The Roman Martyrology has undergone numerous additions and alterations (the latest version was released in 2004). Father Baronio's careful work forms the basis of this beloved and useful book. During the writing of the martyrology, Father Baronio's passion for relics grew, and he was one of the first people to come running when the Catacombs of St. Priscilla was rediscovered in 1578.

He was elevated to cardinal in 1596. Although he was very poor, he took great pains to care for his titular church, St. Nereo and Achilleo. He even obtained the return of their relics which had been transferred to the Church of St. Hadrian. A scholar without intellectual arrogance, a cardinal who performed the humblest tasks for his fellow priests, a man inclined to solitude who spent most of his day caring for others, Cardinal Cesare Baronio offers a resonant example for our own time. To revive the memory and commemorate his great scholarly contributions, the Oratory has organized a year of special Masses with various members of the College of Cardinals, symposiums, concerts and conferences. Not bad for the humble house chef.

No comments: