Pope Benedict XVI- General Audiences
On St. John Leonardi
"To Oppose the Weeds He Chose to be Good Wheat"
H.H. Benedict XVI
October 7, 2009
Dear brothers and sisters!
The day after tomorrow, Oct. 9, will be the 400th anniversary of the
death of St. John Leonardi, founder of the religious order of Clerks
Regular of the Mother of God, canonized on April 17, 1938, and chosen
patron of pharmacists on Aug. 8, 2006. He is also remembered for his
great missionary zeal.
Together with Monsignor Juan Bautista Vives and Jesuit Martin de Funes,
he planned and contributed to the establishment of a specific
Congregation of the Holy See for the missions, that of Propoganda Fide,
and to the future birth of the Pontifical Urbanian Athenaeum "De
Propoganda Fide," which in the course of centuries has forged thousands
of priests, many of them martyrs, to evangelize peoples. We are
speaking, therefore, of a luminous priestly figure, which I am pleased
to point out as an example to all presbyters in this Year for Priests.
He died in 1609 from influenza contracted while he was giving himself to
the care of all those who had been stricken by the epidemic in the Roman
quarter of Campitelli.
John Leonardi was born in 1541 in Diecimo, in the province of Lucca. The
last of seven siblings, his adolescence was sprinkled with rhythms of
faith lived in a healthy and industrious family group, as well as the
assiduous frequenting of a shop of herbs and medicines in his native
town. At age 17 his father enrolled him in a regular course in pharmacy
in Lucca, with the aim of making him a future pharmacist, that is, an
apothecary, as they were called then. For close to a decade young John
Leonardi was vigilant and diligent in following this, but when,
according to the norms established by the former Republic of Lucca, he
acquired the official recognition that would have allowed him to open
his own shop, he began to think if perhaps the moment had not arrived to
fulfill a plan that he had always had in his heart.
After mature reflection he decided to direct himself toward the
priesthood. And thus, having left the apothecary's pharmacy, and
acquired an appropriate theological formation, he was ordained a priest
and celebrated his first Mass on the feast of Epiphany of 1572. However,
he did not abandon his passion for pharmaceutics because he felt that
professional mediation as a pharmacist would allow him to realize fully
his vocation of transmitting to men, through a holy life, "the medicine
of God," which is Jesus Christ crucified and risen, "measure of all
Animated by the conviction that, more than any other thing, all human
beings need such medicine, St. John Leonardi tried to make the personal
encounter with Jesus Christ the fundamental reason of his existence. It
is necessary to "start anew from Christ," he liked to repeat very often.
The primacy of Christ over everything became for him the concrete
criterion of judgment and action and the generating principle of his
priestly activity, which he exercised while a vast and widespread
movement of spiritual renewal was under way in the Church, thanks to the
flowering of new religious institutes and the luminous witness of saints
such as Charles Borromeo, Philip Neri, Ignatius of Loyola, Joseph
Calasanzius, Camillus of Lellis and Aloysius Gonzaga.
He dedicated himself with enthusiasm to the apostolate among youth
through the Company of Christian Doctrine, gathering around himself a
group of young men with whom, on Sept. 1, 1574, he founded the
Congregation of Reformed Priests of the Blessed Virgin, subsequently
called the Order of Clerks Regular of the Mother of God. He recommended
to his disciples to have "before the mind's eye only the honor, service
and glory of Christ Jesus Crucified," and, like a good pharmacist,
accustomed to giving out potions according to careful measurements, he
would add: "Raise your hearts to God a bit more and measure things with
Moved by apostolic zeal, in May 1605 he sent newly elected Pope Paul V a
report in which he suggested the criteria for a genuine renewal of the
Church. Observing how it is "necessary that those who aspire to the
reform of men's practices must seek especially, and firstly, the glory
of God," he added that they should stand out "for their integrity of
life and excellence of customs thus, rather than constraining, they
gently draw one to reform." Moreover, he observed that "whoever wishes
to carry out a serious moral and religious reform must make first of
all, like a good doctor, a careful diagnosis of the evils that beset the
Church so as to be able to prescribe for each of them the most
appropriate remedy." And he noted that "the renewal of the Church must
be confirmed as much in leaders as in followers, high and low. It must
begin from those who command and be extended to the subjects."
It was because of this that, while soliciting the Pope to promote a
"universal reform of the Church," he was concerned with the Christian
formation of the people, especially of the young, educating them "from
their early years ... in the purity of the Christian faith and in holy
Dear brothers and sisters, the luminous figure of this saint invites
priests, in the first place, and all Christians, to tend constantly to
the "high measure of the Christian life," which is sanctity -- each, of
course, according to his own state. In fact, only from fidelity to
Christ can genuine ecclesial renewal spring.
In those years, in the cultural and social passage between the 16th and
17th century, the premises of the future contemporary culture began to
be delineated, characterized by an undue separation of faith and reason.
This has produced among its negative effects the marginalization of God,
with the illusion of a possible and total autonomy of man who chooses to
live "as if God did not exist." This is the crisis of modern thought,
which many times I have had the opportunity to point out and which often
leads to a form of relativism.
John Leonardi intuited what the real medicine was for these spiritual
evils and he synthesized it in the expression: "Christ first of all,"
Christ in the center of the heart, in the center of history and of the
cosmos. And humanity -- he affirmed forcefully -- needs Christ
intensely, because he is our "measure." There is no realm that cannot be
touched by his strength; there is no evil that cannot find remedy in
him, there is no problem that cannot be solved in him. "Either Christ or
nothing!" Here is his prescription for every type of spiritual and
There is another aspect of the spirituality of St. John Leonardi that I
would like to highlight. In many circumstances he had to confirm that a
living encounter with Christ is realized in his Church: holy but
fragile, rooted in history and in a sometimes dark future, where wheat
and weeds grow together (cf. Matthew 13:30), but, nevertheless, always
the sacrament of salvation. Having a clear awareness that the Church is
the field of God (cf. Matthew 13:24), he was not scandalized by her
human weaknesses. To oppose the weeds he chose to be good wheat: He
decided, that is, to love Christ in the Church and to contribute to
render her an ever more transparent sign of him.
He saw the Church with great realism, her human frailty, but also her
being "God's field," the instrument of God for the salvation of
humanity. And not only this. For love of Christ he worked with alacrity
to purify the Church, to render her more beautiful and holy. He
understood that every reform is made within the Church and never against
In this, St. John Leonardi was truly extraordinary and his example is
always timely. Every reform certainly involves structures, but in the
first place it must be engraved in the hearts of believers. Only the
saints, men and women who allow themselves to be guided by the divine
Spirit, ready to carry out radical and courageous choices in the light
of the Gospel, renew the Church and contribute, in a decisive way, to
building a better world.
Dear brothers and sisters, St. John Leonardi's existence was always
enlightened by the splendor of the "Holy Face" of Jesus, kept and
venerated in the Cathedral Church of Lucca, becoming the eloquent symbol
and the indisputable synthesis of the faith that animated him. Conquered
by Christ like the Apostle Paul, he pointed out to his disciples, and
continues to point out to all of us, the Christocentric ideal for which
"it is necessary to divest oneself of every self interest and only look
to the service of God," having "before the mind's eye only the honor,
service and glory of Christ Jesus Crucified."
Along with the face of Christ, he fixed his gaze on the maternal face of
Mary. She whom he chose patroness of his order, was for him teacher,
sister and mother, and he felt her constant protection. May the example
and intercession of this "fascinating man of God" be, particularly in
this Year for Priests, a call and encouragement for priests and for all
Christians to live their own vocations with passion and enthusiasm.
[Translation by ZENIT]
[The Pope then greeted pilgrims in several languages. In English, he
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
This week marks the four hundreth anniversary of the death of Saint John
Leonardi, the founder of the Clerks Regular of the Mother of God and a
priest whose missionary zeal found expression in the establishment of
the congregation of Propoganda Fide. Saint John was born near Lucca, and
after training as a pharmacist, became a priest committed to offering
"the medicine of God" to the men and women of his time. At a period of
great reform and renewal in the life of the Church, he made the
crucified Christ the centre of his preaching and the criterion of all
his activity. John understood that all true reform is born of fidelity
to Christ and love for the Church. It was love for Christ which inspired
his efforts to catechize the young, to promote missionary activity and
to renew Christian life and practice. Saint John was convinced that
Christ is the true measure of man, and so he worked with great realism
and zeal to promote holiness and the reform of society. During this Year
for Priests, may the figure of this great missionary inspire priests and
laity alike to "start anew from Christ" and embrace their vocation with
I offer a warm welcome to the English-speaking visitors at todayís
Audience, including the Sisters and friends of the Congregation of Jesus
and the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary, celebrating the four
hundredth anniversary of their foundation by Mary Ward. My particular
greetings go to the groups of faithful from Iraq, from the Archdiocese
of Samoa-Apia, and to the Diaconate ordination candidates from the
Pontifical North American College accompanied by their families and
friends. Upon all of you I invoke Godís blessings of joy and peace!
© Copyright 2009 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana
[In Italian, he said:]
I address, finally, a cordial greeting to young people, the sick and
newlyweds. Today the Church honors Our Lady of the Rosary, liturgical
memorial that gives me the opportunity to confirm the importance of
praying the rosary, a prayer so dear also to my venerated predecessors.
I recommend it to you, dear young people, so that it will help you to do
God's will and to find in the Immaculate Heart of Mary a safe refuge.
May it make you, dear sick people, feel the comfort of our heavenly
Mother, because with her you will be able to face moments of trial.
Dear newlyweds, may the recitation of this prayer be for you a daily
appointment for your family which will thus grow, thanks to the
intercession of Mary, in unity and fidelity to the Gospel.
[Translation by ZENIT]
at the One they Pierced!
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