The Veteran in a New Field, Winslow Homer, 1865

Translation From the Holy Gospel According to Matthew

At that time Jesus spoke this parable to the multitudes: The kingdom of heaven is likened to a man that sowed good seed in his field. But while men were asleep, his enemy came and oversowed cockle among the wheat, and went his way. And when the blade was sprung up and had brought forth fruit, then appeared also the cockle. And the servants of the good man of the house coming, said to him: Sir, didst thou not sow good seed in thy field? Whence then hath it cockle? And he said to them: An enemy hath done this. And the servants said to him: Wilt thou that we go and gather it up? And he said: No, lest perhaps, gathering up the cockle, you root up the wheat also together with it. Suffer both to grow until the harvest, and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers: Gather up first the cockle and bind it into bundles to burn, but the wheat gather ye into my barn.

A Message from Pope Benedict XVI’s General Audience for Wednesday, 7 October 2009

St. John Leonardi sought to make the personal encounter with Jesus Christ his fundamental raison d’être. It is necessary to start afresh from Christ, he liked to repeat again and again. The primacy of Christ over all things became for him the concrete criterion of judgement and action and the vital principle of his priestly activity… He recommended his disciples to keep before their eyes and minds only the honour, service and glory of Jesus Christ Crucified, and he added using a precise reference: lift up your hearts a little higher to God and with him measure all things.

The Tares, Eugene Burnand, early 20th c.

Motivated by apostolic zeal, in May 1605 he sent Pope Paul V, who had just been elected, a Petition in which he suggested the criteria for an authentic renewal of the Church. Observing that it is necessary for those who aspire to the reform of human morals to seek especially and above all things, the glory of God, he added that they must shine out “or their integrity of life and the excellence of their morals so that, rather than constraining people, they gently draw them to reform.

He remarked that anyone who wishes to carry out a serious religious and moral reform must first of all, like a good doctor, make an attentive diagnosis of the evils besetting the Church, thereby to be able to prescribe the most appropriate remedy for each one of them. And he noted that likewise the renewal of the Church must be brought about in her leaders and in their subordinates, both above and below. It must be started by those in charge and extended to their subjects. For this reason, while asking the Pope to promote a universal reform of the Church, he concerned himself with the Christian formation of the people and especially of children, to be educated from their earliest years… in the purity of Christian faith and holy morals.

Dear brothers and sisters, the luminous figure of this Saint invites priests in the first place, and all Christians, to strive constantly for the high standard of Christian living, which means holiness, naturally each one in accordance with his own state. Indeed, authentic ecclesial renewal can only stem from faithfulness to Christ. In those years, on the cultural and social threshold between the 16th and 17th centuries, the premises of the contemporary culture of the future began to be outlined. It was characterized by an undue separation between faith and reason that produced, among its negative effects, the marginalization of God, with the illusion of the possible and total autonomy of man who chooses to live as though God did not exist. This is the crisis of modern thought, which I have frequently had the opportunity to point out and which often leads to forms of relativism. John Leonardi perceived what the real medicine for these spiritual evils was and summed it up in the expression: Christ first of all, Christ at the centre of the heart, at the centre of history and of the cosmos. And, St John said forcefully, humanity stands in extreme need of Christ because he is our measure. There is no area that cannot be touched by his power; there is no evil that cannot find a remedy in him, no problem that is not resolved in him. Either Christ or nothing! This was his recipe for every type of spiritual and social reform.

There is another aspect of St John Leonardi’s spirituality that I would like to emphasize. On various occasions he reasserted that the living encounter with Christ takes place in his Church, holy but frail, rooted in history and in its sometimes obscure unfolding, where wheat and weeds grow side by side (cf. Matt 13:30), yet always the sacrament of salvation. Since he was clearly aware that the Church is God’s field (cf. Matt 13:24), St John was not shocked at her human weaknesses. To combat the weeds he chose to be good wheat: that is, he decided to love Christ in the Church and to help make her, more and more, a transparent sign of Christ. He saw the Church very realistically, her human frailty, but he also saw her as being God’s field, the instrument of God for humanity’s salvation. And this was not all. Out of love for Christ he worked tirelessly to purify the Church, to make her more beautiful and holy. He realized that every reform should be made within the Church and never against the Church. In this, St John Leonardi was truly extraordinary and his example is ever timely. Every reform, of course, concerns her structures, but in the first place must have an effect in believers’ hearts. Only Saints, men and women who let themselves be guided by the divine Spirit, ready to make radical and courageous decisions in the light of the Gospel, renew the Church and make a crucial contribution to building a better world.

The Harvest, Julien Dupré, ca. 1885

…Conquered by Christ, like the Apostle Paul, he pointed out to his followers and continues to point out to all of us, the Christocentric ideal for which it is necessary to strip oneself of every personal interest and look only to the service of God, keeping before the eyes of the mind only the honour, service and glory of Jesus Christ Crucified. Besides the Face of Christ, St John fixed his gaze on the motherly face of Mary. The One whom he chose to be Patroness of his Order was for him a teacher, sister and mother, and he experienced her constant protection. May the example and intercession of this fascinating man of God be a reference and an encouragement, particularly in this Year for Priests, for priests and for all Christians to live their own vocation with passionate enthusiasm.