By Albino Luciani
This sermon by Luciani is about a saint whose story is ideal for the upcoming Jubilee Year of Mercy: a Capuchin friar who, along with Padre Pio, was one of the most renowned confessors of modern times, St. Leopold Mandić.
After his confession to Fr. Leopold, Luciani carried his photo in his wallet for the rest of his life. He often stopped at the Capuchin church in Padua to pray at his tomb. He gave this homily in the church of the Capuchins in Mestre, on May 30, 1976, the same month Fr. Leopold was beatified. It was transcribed from a tape recording.
“A Great Saint!”
The first and only time I met Fr. Leopold was in Belluno. I was a very young priest, I was on a retreat and I was eating; and here entering the dining room was my bishop, he had the reading suspended and he said: “I’ve come to give you some wonderful news: Fr. Leopold, a saint, is here in Belluno; he has agreed to hear your confessions tomorrow, if you want; I beg you, don’t pass up the opportunity, go.”
I listened to my bishop. The next day I went to confession. He listened and gave me some advice. I was impressed by the fact that he was reading a book on ascetical theology that had just come out. You could see that he did not want to waste even a minute between one penitent and another, and that he was keeping himself up-to-date and studying. I was also impressed by the enormous esteem that my bishop had for him, and he was a saint, a great saint, Bishop Catarossi. A saint.
A few years later, Fr. Leopold died, and all those who spoke to me about him said: “He is a saint!” Even in Rome, as a bishop, I have found someone in the Congregation for the [Causes for] Saints who said to me: “I must give my vote on this cause. A great saint!” And then reading his life, you can see it. The Pope has recognized this by proclaiming him Blessed.
Here in brief is his life of 76 years. He spent the first sixteen down there in Castelnovo in Dalmatia, in his family. A family that had once been well-off; his ancestors were sea captains under Venice.
A friar at sixteen, he spent sixty years in religious life as a friar: seven of these years he spent in Venice, where he was ordained a priest. As a priest, fifty-two years: 9 partly at Basano, partly at Capodistria and partly at Thiene, and 33 in Padua. He had actually been sent to Fiume, but the bishop of Padua, a saint, Elia Dalla Costa, demanded that he return: the people of Padua want Fr. Leopold here. He returned. Thirty-three years, where? Go and see! He was there in a tiny little room, freezing in winter, a furnace in summer. There he became a saint. He was there ten, twelve, sometimes even eighteen hours a day, immobile, listening to penitents. He became a saint there. You know that we cannot become saints unless we copy in some way Jesus Christ, and he copied Jesus Christ in this aspect.
Like Jesus the Redeemer
On one hand, Jesus fights against sin as a “victim of expiation for sins,” on the other hand, he does not fight with, but meets with sinners. Open the pages of the Gospel: he fights against sin, says John the Baptist: “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away sins.” Read St. Paul: “He died for our sins.” Listen carefully to the words of Jesus in the Mass: “The Cup of My blood, poured out in remission of sins.” No sins! Our Lord does not want sin. But on the other hand, what kindness! How much mercy toward sinners! I am moved when I think that yes, Paul VI beatified Fr. Leopold, but the first person canonized, the first man proclaimed a saint before the whole people, was a thief. On the cross Jesus said: “This very day you will be with me in paradise.” To a thief! And what kindness, as I said, to sinners! When they brought the adulterous woman to him: “Woman, has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir.” “Woman, neither do I condemn you. Go in peace and try not to do it again.” The good shepherd said clearly: go in search of the lost sheep. “There is greater rejoicing in heaven over one penitent sheep in Paradise than for ninety-nine just ones who have no need to repent!”
Struggle against Sin
And Fr. Leopold faithfully copied this aspect of Jesus: he too, fought against sin, met with the sinner. Once someone said to him: “Fr. Leopold, you have been hearing confessions for so many years; by now you have heard everything – sin no longer makes an impression on you.” “What are you saying, sir? But at every moment, I am amazed, and I tremble when I think that human beings jeopardize their eternal salvation for foolish things, for foolish things.” He trembled over sin.
Another time a husband said: “Father, the doctors tell me that if my wife goes ahead with the pregnancy, she is in danger; abortion is necessary.” “No, no! The master is God and he does not want this, have faith, the Lord will help you, have faith!” Another time, a person came and said to him: “I have certainly not come to go to confession, but to confide to you a sorrow. You know, there is this: I prevented a priest from approaching a friend of mine who was dying. And he died without the sacraments.” “What have you done, my son? You didn’t think of eternal life; what have you done!” And he began to cry, tears ran down his white beard. At that scene even the unfortunate man was moved and wept too, and then he confessed.
Mercy with Sinners
Like Jesus, Fr. Leopold was afraid of sin: on the other hand, he was the exact opposite with sinners. It has been written: “With him, with Fr. Leopold, it was almost, almost as if it were a sin to have no sins.” He really welcomed the sinner like a brother, like a friend, and for this reason it was not a burden to go to confession to him. One person went to him. It had been twenty years since he had confessed. He told his sins. When he had finished, Fr. Leopold got to his feet, took his hand and thanked him: “Thank you, thank you for coming to me; you have agreed to have me receive your repentance after so many years.” He was the one who was giving thanks! So he encouraged people. They went gladly. He was really the mirror of the kindness of the Lord.
You know, we are all sinners, he knew it very well. We must realize this sad reality of ours: no one can avoid sin, either small or great, for very long. “But,” said St. Francis de Sales, “If you have a donkey and along the road it falls onto the pavement, what should you do? You certainly don’t go there with a stick to beat it; poor little thing, it’s already unfortunate enough. You must take it by the halter and say: ‘Up, let’s take to the road again.’ Help it return to the road from which it has fallen. Now we take the road we will pay more attention another time.” This is the system and Fr. Leopold applied this system in full. A priest, a friend of mine, who went to confess to him, said: “Father, you are too indulgent. I am glad to have gone to confession to you, but it seems to me that you are too indulgent.” And Fr. Leopold: “But who has been indulgent, my son? It was the Lord who was indulgent; it wasn’t me who died for sins, it is the Lord who died for our sins. How could he have been more indulgent with the thief, with others, than this?”
He Gave the Grace Of God
St. Alphonsus has written: “You cannot confess men well before God unless you first confess God before men.” Exactly. If someone does not have something inside him, if he does not love the Lord seriously, he can go into the confessional, he can listen, but what does he give? What does he transfuse? Only absolution. In order to give much more, he must have, he must possess friendship with the Lord. And Fr. Leopold was a sanctifier of others to the extent that he was first sanctified, let himself be sanctified. He always said, “The master is God, el paron benedeto.” He really felt that he was a small thing before God, but he felt that he was worth something only if united to him in prayer.
I have read in his life that he was fated to sleep only four hours a day. It is a truly heroic sacrifice. How this saint must have done it! How many prayers, how many visits to the Blessed Sacrament! He really spoke with God. He spoke little with men, but he spoke so much with the Lord, he felt he was alone, he felt he was the beloved of God. We should all feel this way. And he espoused the cause of the Lord completely.
For the Eastern Brothers and Sisters
Living down there in Dalmatia, Yugoslavia, he had seen from the time he was a child, Catholics over here, Orthodox over there, in disaccord in regard to doctrine and daily life. Then when he was a young man, he said: “I will sacrifice myself all my life for the union between Catholics and Orthodox.”
He had studied various Slavic languages especially in order to go as a missionary; in Venice he had also taught Croatian to his fellow Capuchin brothers, always in view of the East. He wanted to go, he asked to go: it was never granted, never. Then he resigned himself to obedience and once wrote: “Every person, every soul who will have need of my work, will be my little East.” He was more or less a little St. Anthony. St. Anthony left Portugal to go down in Africa at the cost of being a martyr. Nothing. He went, but the storm carried him onto the coast of Sicily; he had to come to Italy, and he ended up in Padua. And in the same way Fr. Leopold wanted to go to the East; instead he ended up in Padua too. His East was that little confessional. The Lord must have accepted for the East the work of sanctification that he did for sinners.
Love for Our Lady and The Pope
In addition to Our Lord, he had a great love for Our Lady, his “parona benedeta”
(blessed patron), and greatly recommended devotion to Our Lady. As he was dying his last words were: “O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary.” And then he loved the Church. Those who don’t love the Church cannot love God.
The Pope recently wrote: “We cannot separate: Jesus Christ is the head: we are the body.” You cannot take away the head and say: “I want the head, and not the body.” All of Jesus Christ is the Church. And the respect of Fr. Leopold for the Church! Beginning with his religious order, his vows, his rule; always faithful, even in the smallest things, even in his habit. Fr. Leopoldo once said to a priest in Padua who was a university professor: “Simply wearing the priestly habit with dignity is already an apostolate.”
Then the bishop. You know that he was the confessor of all the bishops of the Veneto. When they gave retreats, Fr. Leopold was there with the bishops; there are some photographs: he is there in a corner, very small. Cardinal La Fontaine, my predecessor, joked, saying: “our Fr. Leopoldo, who isn’t worth a soldo [penny].” But he knew that he was really worth a great deal.
He had great respect and especially for the Pope. One time he said: “Peter has spoken, that’s it; everything is settled.” And his brothers say that he never named the Pope without lifting his skullcap as a sign of respect. And these are the saints, these are the examples to imitate. I cannot say to you who are in the world: “Hear confessions like he did.” But I will try to hear your confession. If you were priests, I would say: “Hear confessions with greater zeal, with greater patience. Then there are priests who do not believe so much in confession and say, “It’s enough for you to come once or twice a year!” What are they doing! Without frequent confessions, how can we become good? We always have faults and we must always be purified. Do mothers change their babies every two or three days? And the soul is like that too: not once or twice a year, but confess often if you can.
And then the Pope and then the Church, whom the saints loved; they were humble. Today on the other hand, people say: “Oh! The Pope!” No. If you are Catholic you must be with the Pope as Blessed Leopold was, as all the great saints were. The Pope is the representative of Christ. Anyone who feels with the Church, who feels with the saints, who feels with blessed Leopold, must feel with the Pope.
Blessed Leopold always venerated the Pope as the unique infallible representative of God on earth. Now the Pope wants and permits us to no longer pray for him; he assures that he is in Heaven; instead, we should entrust ourselves to him in order to obtain graces, but above all we should try to imitate his great example of a good and holy life.
Originally published in the Portavoce del beato Leopoldo Mandić, 18 (1978), pp. 148-50; Opera 7: 354-59.
Translated by Lori Pieper