The power of a smile

Stella Borealis has a great comment… and commentary on our times.

He’d be canonized by now if he had smiled more.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Angela says:

    Fr Z–
    The more I learn about Pope Pius XII, the more I love him. It’s such a tragedy that all his work against the Nazis has been twisted and maligned.
    A truly great man.

  2. Disgusted in DC says:

    Pius XII was a fine, perhaps even saintly man, and an outstanding Pope, but Stella Borealis is correct. The observant Catholic minority in the United States in the 50s saw Pius as otherworldly angd angelic. The American Protestant majority, however, perceived the same face as sinister and thorougly creepy. This perception predated the Holocaust/WWII controversies. John XXIII, however, was a smiling, funny, roly-poly grandfatherly type. That made a lot of difference in terms of public perception.

  3. Ann says:

    I think he would have smiled more if he didn’t know how many terrible things were happening to the Jews and to those who tried to help them. Can you imagine the stress of knowing that whatever you say could be used as an excuse to round up and kill still more people? I think it a miracle we have ANY photos of him smiling.

    I agree though, he was an incredible individual and well worth learning more about him!

  4. Legisperitus says:

    He’s the one who canonized St. Pius X, also rarely seen smiling and for good reason.

  5. TJB says:

    Traditionalists have made popular the title “The last Prince of God” for Pius XII, I like to think its more fitting now to say “the last Prince of God before Benedict XVI.”

  6. fortradition says:

    Pope Pius XII took the salvation of the souls of mankind very seriously. He keenly knew his great responsibility. He was elected to the Chair of St. Peter at a very dire time in world history with WWII looming ahead. He was a very angelic and very saintly Pontiff who never let liturgical abuses or heresies slide so as not to confuse the faithful. He knew Communism sought to destroy the Catholic Church, so he had many worries indeed. I have photos of Pope Pius XII smiling and he had a beautiful smile. He was one of the most brilliant Popes of the 20th century and was called into Vatican service after being ordained only two years a priest and he served the Church tirelessly until he died. His canonization is long overdue.

  7. DeborahAnne says:

    Pius XII was Supreme Pontiff during my childhood. Pope Pius had been quite ill during the 1950’s. He took a turn for the worse in 1957. I remember one particular day when my dear mother was feeling so sad to hear the news. She gave me ten cents and sent me off to church to light a candle for our beloved Vicar.

    I’m just askin’ – Is not the writing of 40 encyclicals, a life dedicated to Holy Mother Church, several miracles and one smile sufficient for his canonization?

    (The following is taken from Daily Catholic, a Novus Ordo publication. Note that although this is a Vatican II publication, they question if Vatican II should have happened. Pope Pius XII.

    “The most shining jewel in his papal tiara, for he was the last Supreme Pontiff to wear it, came on November 1, 1950 when he declared as a Doctrine of Faith the Dogma of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven. He was also a stickler for details, a hands-on Pope who knew the pulse of the Church. This alienated many cardinals within the Roman Curia who were used to running things their way and set in motion the changes that would be wrought at Vatican II. They began the rumor mill that the Church was in trouble, but Pius ignored the nay-sayers. In retrospect, was this a mistake on his part? Was he aware how satan had convinced many of the Church’s own prelates to undermine her? They worked insidiously and deftly, spreading the word that Holy Mother Church was weak and in need of a transfusion. Was she really? Some will say yes, but most Church scholars, historians and theologians feel in restrospect, that contrary to what some progressives may think, Vatican II was not necessary. On further review, many feel it was ill-advised.”

  8. Geoffrey says:

    I remember Pope John Paul the Great beatified Blessed Pius IX and Blessed John XXIII at the same ceremony to emphasize the continuity of the Church; to show that there was indeed no rupture before and after the Second Vatican Council. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Pius XII and John Paul II were beatified in the same ceremony as well?

  9. Paladin says:

    There might also be some underreporting going on, here. Check out the incredible book “Your Hour”, by Rev. M. Raymond, O.C.S.O., for this great quote about Mary Ellen Kelly, the paralytic who founded the League of Shut-In Sodalists, when she was in the crowd outside of Castel Gondolfo as Pope [soon to be St., God willing] Pius XII came onto the balcony to address a group of invalids:

    — quote —
    “It is a great joy to us to greet those of you who have endured great sacrifice, and even pain, to come from your homes thousands of miles away… We know that you are members of the League of Shut-In Sodalists, which was formed largely through the presevering efforts of one of you, our beloved daughter, Mary Ellen Kelly…”

    Mary Ellen could not believe her ears. But the came the question from His Holiness: “Which is she?” A man behind Mary Ellen’s cot pointed her out. The Pontiff leaned over, looked directly at her, and the Vicar of Christ broke into one of his most radiant smiles. Mary Ellen’s spirits soared higher than they ever had in all her life and, she writes, “I could feel my soul smiling back.”

    — end quote —

    I know from my own experience that the reports of my smiles would be very different, depending on whether the reporter was one to whon it was easy for me to smile! Maybe the reporters and photographers in question didn’t run in the right circles… :)

  10. jaykay says:

    Is it just me or does anyone else think that in that photo he bears a resemblance to John Paul I? That\’s what struck me straight away when I saw it.

    For what it\’s worth, I do remember my late mother, no friend to a lot of what was happening in the church during and after the 60s, saying that they always felt that popes up to John XXIII came across as \”far too severe\” and that the public personae of those after him was a welcome relief, or words to that effect. Now if a person like her, born 1919, devout but extremely practical, felt that way (and she was commenting on what people in general felt then) then I think there really was a bit of a problem with what subsequently became known as \”public image\”, remembering that for that generation criticising the pope was certainly not the done thing.

    But since Pius XII didn\’t have the advantage of the worldwide television coverage that began in the 60s and blossomed in the 70s and later, and anyway was ill for a lot of the time in the 50s up to his death, it\’s unfair to comapare his \”public persona\” with those of subsequent popes who have had the advantage/disadvantage of much wider PR.

  11. Andreas says:

    Fatuus in risu inaltat vocem suam, vir autem sapiens vix tacite ridebit (Eccl. 21:23)

  12. ED says:

    Pope Pius has been very overrated, lets not forget he’s the one who appointed all those wonderful bishops who gave us Vatican 2. Those were his men and they ruined the church!!!

  13. pelerin says:

    ‘Is it just me…’ Jaykay

    No – I thought immediately that it was Pope John Paul I and was very surprised to learn it was Pius XII. I have only ever seen pictures of Pope Pius XII with a devout but very serious face seemingly quite severe so it is wonderful to see the photo catching him with a most natural smile.

  14. jaykay says:

    Oh come on, ED, many of them would have been appointed by Pius XI and Benedict XV, although I doubt that any appointed by St. Pius X might still have been around? Certainly the spirit of modernism was infesting the Church for a very long time and Pius XII was well aware of this and fought so well against it. You cannot blame what subsequently happened on him.

  15. Patrick says:

    I read ED’s comment about Good Pope Pius being overrated because of his appointments.

    I disagree most strongly. I believe that a Pope is guided by the Holy Spirit and acts in the best interests of the Church. During a time of near world distruction Pope Pius acted as a true servant and steward of his and our patrimony. Holy Mother Church came through the fire. He appointed Bishops based on what information he had at hand. He did the best he could.

    Don’t forget that Michael Davies and others reported that the likes of Bugnini and other hijacked the process. If you are looking at the results from American eyes then you have to remember that many bishops were overwhelmed when the “reforms” started and could not cope with the reckless innovation and novelties that seemed to spring up daily.

    The really bad bishop appointments came under Paul VI and Jadot(sp?) in the sixties and seventies, maybe someone can fill us in on that.

    Blaming a Pope that had carried the weight of the world on his shoulders during the worst world war in history is unacceptable.

    He was the first Pope I knew, and definitely eclipsed John and Paul. Pope Wotyla and Pope Ratzinger do him proud.

  16. Hidden One says:

    Sanctus est. That’s all that I can say.

  17. Gordon says:

    I believe that Papa Pacelli, was the greatest pope to date since St. Gregory the Great. It is appalling we should have so allowed his works to be maligned to the extent it has in recent times. Even “Catholic” writers putting out so much evil falsehoods, that an uneducated and hostile world is only too eager to accept. I think part of this was done by Church authorities not doing enough to defend Pius XII post Vatican Council II just to try and discredit all that went before….as they wanted a completely new setup. As to the comment above about the “Pope’s men” wrecking the Church….they didn’t dare try anything wrong while Paceli was there, and even not under Roncalli would any prelate dare step out of line in the manner that happened after the 1960s. It must also be noted, that a great many bishops were horrified by what was happening then, but as the Vatican didn’t seem willing or able to stop things, and with new appointments, it proved pretty hopeless for these bishops who were against the changes.

  18. fortradition says:

    Just a comment regarding the above piece from Daily Catholic stating that Pope Pius XII was the last Pope to wear the triple tiara. Not so. Pope Paul VI wore his for a short time, took it off permanently, and no Holy Father since that time has chosen to wear the triple tiara. Pope John XXIII wore it quite often.

  19. Ottaviani says:

    Geoffrey – trust you to suggest the incredible.

    I have however always wondered why Pius XII had an aversion to looking directly into the camera when being photographed.

  20. Ottaviani says:

    Patrick: The really bad bishop appointments came under Paul VI and Jadot(sp?) in the sixties and seventies, maybe someone can fill us in on that.

    While it is undeniably true that Paul VI inflicted the USA with a scourge of bad appointments, courtesy of Jardot, one cannot forget that Pius XII made some pretty big blunders. Nearly all the progressives at Vatican II who recived their red hat, did so through Pius XII. The problem was that Pius XII appointed “yes men” to various posts and assumed that they were on his side. Come 1958, when Pius XII dies and “Good Pope John” comes to the throne, the same cardinals can hardly believe their luck when he planned to call a council.

    Consider this too: when Pius XII demoted future Paul VI from secretary of extraordinary affairs, after it was leaked that Montini was having secret discussions with Moscow, contrary to the policy of the Vatican, why did he give him the most powerful diocese in Italy, that has generated the most Italian popes (Milan)? Montini would never have risen to the top, if he was promoted as a bishop to some other Italian diocese. That was a serious blunder and the rest, as they say, was history…

  21. Sal says:

    What TJB said.

  22. Roland de Chanson says:

    Num Sanctis subridendum est? Nonne sufficit eos nobis arrississe?

  23. RBrown says:

    Pope Pius has been very overrated, lets not forget he’s the one who appointed all those wonderful bishops who gave us Vatican 2. Those were his men and they ruined the church
    Comment by ED

    Disagree. Pius XII singlehandedly held the Church together against some very insidious forces, both inside and outside the Church.

    John XXIII understood that the Church needed reform but did not understand that the forces were intent on the destruction of the Church. Their sights were aimed at the very constitution of the Church itself–the Eucharist and the Priesthood. He turned them loose (saying that those who opposed him were “prophets of gloom and doom”) and promptly died.

    Paul VI, for some reason I’ll never understand, institutionalized those forces. It is going to take years to recover from that.

  24. Mary Kay says:

    What a great photograph – thanks for including it.

  25. amsjj says:

    I’ve read that the Holy Father was somewhat shy, and so didn’t really like looking into the cameras much. Whether it’s true, I don’t know. But certainly this is a lovely picture of him.

  26. Geoffrey says:

    Ottaviani said: “Geoffrey – trust you to suggest the incredible.”

    Trust a traditionalist to find the suggestion incredible.

  27. therese b says:

    I heard an interesting story from an elderly gentleman last week. A recent convert, he blagged his way into a papal Mass in 1950. Pope Pius was being carried in his chair, and bent down and appreared to look straight into his eyes – in a way that he described as an intense spiritual experience. On comparing notes with his friend, the gentleman found that his friend had had exactly the same experience – which he described as quite uncanny. Apparently, this ability to make contact was a well know attribute of this Pope.
    The gentleman has written his experiences up and forwarded them to the Archbishop to be passed on to those interested in promoting Pius’s cause.

  28. prof. basto says:


    That didn’t happen under his watch, not under his watch…

    Also, not under the watch of his immediate successor either, because while bl. John XXIII summoned the Council and presided over its first session, he actually approved NONE of its decrees, since he died before the Council passed any actual document. Had he continued to live, perhaps the Council documents would have had a different wording, less vague, or perhaps a different implementation in the post-Conciliar period.

    The sole man responsible for approving EVERITHING that the Council did, and also for the all important work of IMPEMENTING the Council’s directives in the post-Conciliar period, was Paul VI.

    And by 1955 the relationship between Pius XII and the future Paul VI had already gone sour. Perhaps because Pius became desenchanted with Montini, having learned of his modern ideas.

  29. Mary Kay says:

    Doing a bit of scapegoating of Pope Paul VI? I suppose it’s convenient to forget that he wrote Humanae Vitae, defended priestly celibacy, officially proclaimed Mary as Mother of the Church, and frequently encouraged devotion to Mary.

    Then again, I shouldn’t be surprised – armchair Monday morning quarterbacks usually think they know better.

  30. dymphna says:

    The late Holy Father didn’t have much to smile about.

  31. Veritas says:

    I wonder – did Pope Alexander VI smile very much?

  32. Ottaviani says:

    Doing a bit of scapegoating of Pope Paul VI? I suppose it’s convenient to forget that he wrote Humanae Vitae, defended priestly celibacy, officially proclaimed Mary as Mother of the Church, and frequently encouraged devotion to Mary.

    Urrr – kinda in the Pope’s job description don’t you think?

    If we’re going to resort to praising the Pope for doing what is the bare minimum, then that is certainly a sad indictment and a sign of how compromised the papacy has become after the council. Like it or not, that’s how it looks.

  33. Mary Kay says:

    If you consider Humanae Vitae as the “bare minimum,” then nothing would satisfy you. You are indeed scapegoating one man for the actions of others.

    One of the reasons I usually don’t frequent this blog is because of the inevitable Vatican II bashing.

  34. John says:

    The pope of my youth. We all loved him. He should be a saint.

  35. Timbot says:

    “If you consider Humanae Vitae as the “bare minimum,” then nothing would satisfy you. You are indeed scapegoating one man for the actions of others.”\

    Well, is a sense, Humanae Vitae, being an infallible document reiterating a primary teaching of faith and morals, is a bare minimum, because had it asserted anything other than it had it would have constituted prima facie evidence against Petrine infallibility. It is also to be added that Paul IV was expected by many both within and without the church, and even the curial consultative bodies, to give allowance for the use of hormonal contraceptives. That Paul, a most malleable pontiff, suddenly transformed into a tower of iron on this one question despite all expectations, and all prior experience where he pretty much folded at the first sign of resistance, is the finest proof we have that the Holy Spirit will protect even the weakest Pope from teaching heresy from the Chair. If he had written anything else, it would have been game over for the church. But it is only honest to admit that as a shepherd of the Church, as a theologian, statesman, and teacher he pales in comparison to all the other popes of this century. Although his contraposition does make the radiance of Pius XII, JP II, and Benedict XVI shine all the more brilliantly

  36. Mary Kay says:

    I think more highly of those, vilified by others, who entrusted themselves to Jesus and Mary than to others who are so sure of themselves.

  37. Thomas Gillespie says:

    A fine face – solid chin, well defined and purposeful nose, warm, compassionate eyes. The face gives the impression of balance, purpose, commitment, and firmness.

    Even without knowing that this is a Pope, I would say this is the photo of an unusual man, marked out for something.

  38. David O'Rourke says:

    The Church normally follows the sound policy of not proceeding with anyone’s cause until at least five or is it ten year after his or her death. This is in part to see whether the cries for sainthood are short lived after the time of death or whether the enthusiam will endure.

    I remember Pius XII well. He was the Pope of my youth. Certrainly in North America he was considered angelic. We heard stories that he saw visions of Our Lady (though it is now thought by some that they may have been a result of his medication)and even Protestants in that non Ecumenical age looked up to him. Mind you, at least in North America, he didn’t have to put up with the liberalism and secularism that our present Popes face. When he died he seemed irreplaceable.

    Then John XXIII was elected. In no time the world fell in love with him. Pius XII had been buried out of sight and very quickly he was out of mind. I remember being aware of this because I knew that if his cultus didn’t endure his cause would not proceed. All this was before the Roch Hochbuth play which had very little effect in my memory upon Catholics of the time (I remember where I as when the news of Hochbuth’s play broke). I think it still doesn’t bear on the mionds of most Catholics although it changed the perceptions of the Jews.

    When John XXIII died the world wept. The Papal Liturgies of his reign had been splendid and yet the anecdotes of the man were filled with humour. His announcement of a Council and calls for Christian unity fired the imagination. When he died there were no cries for a Pius XIII and Hochbuth had nothing to do with it. People just wanted John XXIII’s vision to continue.

    It struck me at the time that Pius XII would never be canonized. His cultus had blazed like no Pope after him while he was alive but then it quickly died, unlike John XXIII and JPII, both of whose cultuses still live.

    I believe that Pius XII was a great and good Pope but will he ever be canonized? I don’t know.

  39. ssoldie says:

    Well said, good and faithful daughter, DeboraHanne 13 June.

  40. irishgirl says:

    I don’t think I’ve ever seen a picture of Pius XII smiling-and yes, he does have a certain resemblance to John Paul I.

    Paladin-the story about the paralyzed Sodalist was beautiful! I got goosebumps reading it!

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