Rorate Caeli

Sermon for A Requiem Mass for Mario Palmaro

From the Gospel according to St John:  “Jesus asked Martha: ‘Do you believe this?’”

And that is the only relevant question for the Catholic, because it is the basic question of faith.  In this gospel Jesus cuts through both a fuzzy belief in “life after death” and the sectarian Jewish belief in a resurrection on the last day when he states clearly and starkly:  “I am the Resurrection and the Life. He who believes in me, though he die, will live.”  The answer to this question by every individual is demanded by Jesus, for it is the essential question, and its answer is the key to, as St Paul says, the sure hope that our death will open up into eternal life with God in that place we call heaven.

We come here to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass for Mario Palmaro, a man who shows us how this answer of “Yes” in faith is lived out in one’s life.  I have never met Mario Palmaro, but I have been blessed to get to know him by his writings and by translating some of his articles from Italian into English for these past two years.  My sentiments are like those of someone who left the following comment on one of the Italian blogs that announced Palmaro’s death.

“I did not know Palmaro personally, yet I felt a sadness as if I had known him when I heard of his death.  Why is this?  Because, even though I did not know him personally, I shared with him that which is at the center of my heart:  this is the Church.”

I think that many people, including myself, felt the same way, a sadness that this man of 46 years old had died, leaving a young family behind, and the source of that sadness is two-fold:  the pain of grief of his family and friends and colleagues, but also the knowledge that the Church has lost a true man of the Church, who took his role as a layman in the Church ultimately seriously and courageously, and who is so sorely needed in the present critical state of the Church. Trained in the law, he became a professor of bioethics.  He was a fearless fighter against abortion and euthanasia in the secular climate of Europe.  His articles with Alessandro Gnocchi addressed difficult problems in the Church of today, including the role of the Papacy and the state of the faith in today’s world.  Palmaro and Gnocchi wrote critically of the current Pope and about the hierarchy’s inaction in the face of the erosion of Catholic faith among the people of Europe.  For doing so they were castigated by many, they were fired from Radio Maria, and accused of being unfaithful to the person of the Pope.  Pope Francis, having read some of Gnocchi and Palmaro’s criticisms, called Palmaro on the telephone when the Pope heard he was very ill and thanked him for his criticism.  Palmaro said that he was deeply moved by this gesture of the Pope.  And yet he knew that his ultimate loyalty is to the Church of Jesus Christ as the guardian of the Truth that has been handed down by Tradition and that ultimately is the person of Jesus Christ:  the Way, the Truth and the Life.  Roberto de Mattei, whom some of you here know as a great defender of the Tradition of the Church, said this about Palmaro:

“The life of a Christian, when he is a journalist, a writer, a university teacher, as was Mario Palmaro, is judged also by how he expressed himself, how he lived in the public square preceding his death, because how he lived his life in the public sphere is the seal of his devotion to the Truth.”

Mario Palmaro loved the Traditional Roman Mass, for he saw that it is the bearer of the Tradition in the deepest sense, that the Truth for which he lived shone forth in all of its beauty in the Mass of Gregory I and of John XXIII.  It is a commentary on our times within the Church that the pastor of his cathedral refused to allow the Traditional Requiem Mass for Palmaro’s funeral.  It was only when he was faced with something that could have become a shameful scandal did the pastor relent.  Palmaro’s funeral Mass was celebrated according to the Traditional Roman Rite in the Cathedral in Monza “in the presence of a deeply-moved crowd.”  (Riscossa Cristiana)

But in the end we do not come here to praise Mario Palmaro but to offer this Mass for the repose of his soul.  And he understood this so well, what the point of this Mass is, contrary to the foolishness that goes on at so many funeral Masses in our parishes today, where the reality of sin and death is glossed over in favor of a sentimental belief that everyone goes to heaven.  We thank God for Palmaro’s love for the Church, for his Catholic faith, his love for his family, his love for Italy and her people.  And we commend him to God and we pray that the Savior, whose Cross and Passion was at the enter of Mario Palmaro’s life, will embrace him in the arms of the mercy of God.

I close with Palmaro’s own words written not too long before his death in an interview:

The first thing that shakes you up about sickness is that it hits us without any warning and at a time we do not decide. We are at the mercy of events, and we can do nothing but accept them. Grave illness obliges one to become aware that we are truly mortal; even if death is the most certain thing in the world, modern man tends to live as if he should never die.

In sickness you understand for the first time that life on earth is but a breath, you recognize with bitterness that you have not made it that masterpiece of holiness God had wanted. You experience a profound nostalgia for the good that you could have done and for the bad that you could have avoided. You look at the Crucifix and you understand that this is the heart of the Faith; without sacrifice Catholicism wouldn’t exist. Then you thank God for having made you a Catholic, a “little ” Catholic, a sinner, but who has an attentive Mother in the Church. So, grave sickness is a time of grace, but often the vices and miseries that have accompanied us in life remain, or even increase [during it]. It is as if the agony has already begun, and there is a battle going on for the destiny of my soul, because nobody can be sure of their own salvation.

On the other hand, this sickness has allowed me to discover a remarkable amount of people who love and pray for me; families who recite the rosary in the evening with their children for my recovery. I have no words to describe the beauty of this experience which is an anticipation of the love of God and eternity itself. The greatest suffering I experience is the idea of having to leave this world which I am so fond of and is so beautiful even if also so tragic; of having to leave many friends and relatives; but most of all, of having to leave my wife and children who are still at a tender age.

Sometimes I imagine my home, my empty study, and the life that will continue there even if I am no longer present. It is a scene that hurts, but it is extremely realistic: it makes me realize what a useless servant I have been, and that all the books I have written, the conferences and articles, are nothing but straw. But my hope is in the mercy of the Lord, and in the fact that others will pick up part of my aspirations and battles and will continue on in “the ancient duel”.

Requiem aeternam dona ei, Domine. Et lux perpetua luceat ei.  Requiescat in pace.

Caro Mario,  Addio!

Father Richard G. Cipolla

Photos courtesy of Society of St Hugh of Cluny