Papal tweet for March 16: The Church wishes to be close to each person with the love, compassion and consolation that come from Christ.


(Vatican Radio)  Pope Francis held a private audience on Thursday with Mr. Michel Aoun, President of the Republic of Lebanon, and his wife, Nadia.

A communique from the Holy See Press Office said their discussions were “cordial.”

“The Parties focused on the good bilateral relations between the Holy See and Lebanon, underlining the historic and institutional role of the Church in the life of the country. Satisfaction was then expressed for the efforts on the part of all the various political parties in putting an end to the presidential vacancy, emphasising the hope for an increasingly fruitful future collaboration between the members of diverse ethnic and religious communities in favour of the common good and the development of the nation,” the communique read.

Turning to current events on the international stage, the Pope thanked President Aoun for his country’s welcome of Syrian refugees.

“The discussion then turned to Syria, with special attention to international efforts to find a political solution to the conflict. Furthermore, appreciation was expressed at the welcome that Lebanon has extended to many Syrian refugees. Finally, there was a broader exchange of views on the regional context, referring also to other ongoing conflicts and the situation of Christians in the Middle East.”

President Michel Aoun subsequently met with Cardinal Secretary of State, Pietro Parolin, accompanied by Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, Secretary for Relations with States.


(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis will preside over a penitential service at the Vatican in anticipation of the  ’24 Hours for the Lord’ initiative.

The service will take place on Friday March 17, one week before all churches around the world are asked to offer the sacrament of Confession, a request made by the Pontifical Council for the Promoting of the New Evangelization.

The theme of the initiative this year comes from the Gospel according to Saint Matthew: ‘I desire Mercy’ (Mt 9:13).

On Friday March 24, the churches of Santa Maria in Trastevere and Le Stimmate di San Francesco will remain open from 8pm for Confession and Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. On Saturday March 25, a service of thanksgiving will take place at 5pm in the church of Santo Spirito in Sassia. Monsignor Rino Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Council for the Promoting of the New Evangelization, will preside over First Vespers of the Fourth Sunday of Lent.

People around the world can show their support for the initiative by using the #24hoursfortheLord hashtag.

Here’s a link to the booklet if you watch this on EWTN: http://www.vatican.va/news_services/liturgy/libretti/2017/20170317-libretto-liturgia-penitenziale.pdf


(churchpop.com) Catholics are not supposed to eat meat on Fridays during Lent. Everyone knows that. (Catholics are also supposed to do penance on Fridays all year round; read more here.)

But sometimes there are exceptions! This Friday, March 17th 2017, might be one of those exceptions for you, depending on where you live.

It just so happens that this Friday is St. Patrick’s Day. That by itself doesn’t mean you can eat meat, but you can if at least one of these other conditions is met:

First, if St. Patrick is the patron of your diocese (e.g. the Archdiocese of New York), his feast is a solemnity for you and fasting is not required. This is true for all solemnities, such as the feast of St. Joseph (March 20th), which sometimes falls on a Friday during Lent.

Second, a bishop can grant a dispensation to everyone in his diocese from the normal fasting requirement. Dubbed the “Corned Beef Indult” (since corned beef is a customary food for St. Patrick’s Day), Rocco Palmo says the bishops of at least 112 dioceses in the United States have granted permission to their faithful to forego the normal abstinence from meat this Friday to allow for better celebration of St. Patrick’s Day.

For complete list, click here: https://churchpop.com/2017/03/15/you-can-eat-meat-in-these-u-s-dioceses-this-friday-st-patricks-day/


Pope Francis tweeted today: The word of God helps us to open our eyes to welcome and love life, especially when it is weak and vulnerable.


The Holy Father’s general audience catechesis in St. Peter’s Square today focused on hope, with a look at charity. After the catechesis in Italian and summaries in seven other languages, Pope Francis said, in off the cuff remarks: “Those who for economic reasons or to conclude unclear negotiations, close factories and business ventures and take away jobs, this person is committing a very grave sin.” The comments came after he had appealed for a resolution to a labor dispute at the satellite company, Sky Italia, whose Rome employees are facing job cuts and relocation Sky moves offices from Rome to Milan. The Holy Father called for a solution that respects the rights of all, “especially families.”

In a rather remarkable moment at the audience today, there was a very emotional encounter between the Pope, as he circled St. Peter’s Square in his jeep, and a small group of Chinese pilgrims where he stopped the car. Rome Reports carried video and explained how excited the Chinese were: A father and his son approached Pope Francis to ask for his blessing. The Pope kissed the little boy, who was in the arms of his father, who was crying and then knelt to kiss the ground. Others came forward, crying and filled with emotion, and asked him to bless their statue of Our Lady of Fatima. Pope Francis embraced them, kissed them and gave them his blessing.

Chinese pilgrims wave flags as Pope Francis leads his Wednesday general audience, in Saint Peter’s square at the Vatican March 15, 2017. REUTERS/Tony Gentile


(from Aleteia.org)

I wish to ask Aleteia readers to pray for the success of my mission in Medjugorje, for coming as close as possible to objective truth and for obtaining very good, concrete results, Archbishop Henryk Hoser tells our readers.

Pope Francis appointed the archbishop in February to be the Holy See’s special envoy to the site, where millions of pilgrims have visited since the apparitions were said to begin, in 1981.

The archbishop told Aleteia some of the details of his mission.

Konrad Sawicki: When will Your Excellency leave for Medjugorje?

Archbishop Hoser: I have recently heard that I am allegedly there and that I have been miraculously healed by the Holy Virgin Mary… Joking aside, my first visit to Medjugorje, an orientation one, will start at the end of March.

I will meet first with the Apostolic Nuncio to Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Archbishop of Sarajevo. Then, naturally, I will meet with the local Bishop of Mostar and the Franciscan friars who work in the shrine. First of all, however, I will listen intently to different opinions and examine the local pastoral situation.

This will be Your Excellency’s first visit to the shrine. Yet this is not going to be Your Excellency’s first special mission, is it?

It is true I have never visited Medjugorje myself, but a lot of the faithful from my Diocese of Warsaw-Praga go there and I am well-familiar with their accounts.

It is also true that this is not going to be my first mission as a special envoy of the pope. I have so far held three such missions. Two apostolic visitations were short; I have spent two weeks in Togo and Benin, respectively. I looked into the questions of seminaries there. The third mission was long; I spent one and a half years in Rwanda immediately after the genocide. This experience gives me courage to embark on another visitation, to Medjugorje.

As to the Marian apparitions in Medjugorje and their authenticity, let us clarify the current situation for our readers.

In 2010 the Holy See appointed a special doctrinal commission led by His Eminence Cardinal Camillo Ruini. In 2014 the commission concluded its operation and submitted its conclusions to the Holy Father. He subsequently forwarded the case to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. To date, the Congregation has not adopted its final position.

Your Excellency’s mission concerns not only the apparitions themselves; it is pastoral in character. However, not everyone understands why a Polish archbishop received a special mission from Francis. One website announced that Your Excellency is to “examine the conflict concerning Marian apparitions.” 

The mission entrusted to me is auxiliary to what the doctrinal commission has accomplished. Every year the shrine is visited by 2 to 2.5 million pilgrims from across the world. It has become a charismatic place. The fact that Medjugorje is visited by so many faithful, who are no doubt spiritually enriched there, is something to be borne in mind.

A demand for pastoral care in this place is huge. Imagine – there are 50 confessionals on the premises. The problem is that often there are not enough confessors speaking different languages.

My mission, as has been stipulated in the communiqué released by the Holy See, is to closely examine the local pastoral situation, in particular the needs of the pilgrims. I am also supposed to indicate possible new pastoral initiatives. The underlying objective is to enhance pastoral outreach and to better coordinate local pastoral actions.

After the nomination of the special envoy and the publication of a letter by the local bishop, which contests the authenticity of the apparitions, many faithful around the world are concerned. Was their pilgrimage to no avail? Were their prayers untrue? – they ask. Could Your Excellency as a papal pastoral envoy explain the current situation to them and dispel their worries?

We should by no means worry! The Church has not yet spoken on the authenticity of the apparitions. We should calmly wait for the final position. This is by no means the first situation when the Church is slow to take a decision, especially given that the form of the Marian apparitions in Medjugorje significantly differs from that of earlier well-known apparitions.

Besides, this issue will not change anything in the teaching of the Church concerning Marian veneration. If Marian devotion has flourished in Medjugorje, if such multitudes arrive there, it is therefore a place where veneration will continue, since Our Lady can be venerated everywhere, especially in those locations where this veneration is so fruitful, as we hear it has been from so many testimonies.

The Holy Father is aware of it and therefore would like to examine not only the pastoral situation in Medjugorje, but also, if necessary, find methods of improving the pastoral care provided to the pilgrims in this place, so strongly dedicated to Our Lady.

Let me take this opportunity to greet Your Excellency on behalf of the editors and readers of Aleteia and wish you a complete and fast recovery. Would Your Excellency like to address our staff and readers?

I would like to ask the Aleteia readers to pray for the success of my mission in Medjugorje. I embark on this mission on behalf of the Church, entrusted to me by the Holy Father. I want this mission to come closest to objective truth and to produce very good and concrete results.

I am an emissary of the Church but the Church should pray for me, as She prayed at one time for St. Peter and St. Paul. After all, prayer is the driving force of our actions in the Church, both the tangible and the invisible ones.

Henryk Hoser, Bishop of the Diocese of Warsaw-Praga, was born in 1942 in Warsaw. A graduate of a university school of medicine, in 1968 he entered the Society of Catholic Apostolate (the Pallottines). Having obtained degrees in philosophy and theology and having been ordained to the priesthood, he left for Paris and then for a mission to Rwanda (1975–1996). In 1978 he established a Medical and Social Centre in Kigali and led it for 17 years. He also set up the Family Formation Center (Action Familiale). After the civil war in Rwanda, the Holy See appointed him apostolic visitor in Rwanda. In 2005 John Paul II appointed him archbishop and auxiliary secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples and Chairman of the Pontifical Missionary Works. In 2008 Benedict XVI named him Bishop of the Diocese of Warsaw-Praga. On 11 February 2017 Pope Francis nominated him a special envoy of the Holy See to Medjugorje. At the beginning of 2017 Archbishop Hoser revealed that he is suffering from malaria.



It is my last full day in Krakow and the past week has been so wonderful that I am very reluctant to leave. Krakow is a beautiful city whose pulsating heart is the stunning, 40,000 square meter (430,000 square feet) Market Square, known locally as Rynek Glowny. It is filled with and surrounded by historical monuments – the medieval Cloth Hall, St. Mary’s Basilica, St. Adalbert Church, to name a few – and marvelous restaurants, pastry stores, five-star hotels, BnBs, elegant, brand name stores and – for me at least, the frosting on the cake – Krakow’s inimitable, white horse-driven carriages whose beautifully costumed drivers entice you with a smile and a reasonable fee to take a ride around old town. A carriage ride is a must here.

I have seen old friends and made new ones. I had a wonderful visit last Friday with Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, newly retired archbishop of Krakow and, as I think you all know, for 40 years he was Pope John Paul’s secretary, right-hand man and best friend. We have known each other for about 30 years. It was a joy to see him, he looked very happy and certainly seemed as busy as ever!

Cardinal Dziwisz asked me, as he always does when we meet, if I had brought some of my cookies and, for the first time in all our meetings, I had to say ‘no, Eminence, it is Lent.” And he replied, “You did well, I do not eat sweets in Lent.”

I knew two of his secretaries for a number of years and had the joy of seeing both of them during this visit. Fr. Dariusz Ras is now the parish priest, also called archpriest, of Saint Mary’s basilica on Market Square (it is twinned with St. Mary Major in Rome). We met Thursday morning in his office behind the basilica.

I did learn that the beautiful Mass I attended last Wednesday at St. Mary’s (which was where Fr. Dariusz and I caught up) was celebrated by one of Krakow’s auxiliary bishops. Krakow’s new Archbishop Marek Jedraszewski has started the custom of Station Churches in the diocese during Lent (you know of those through my blog and my recent Vatican Insider special), so a different church is used each day throughout Lent. (photo from St. Mary’s – I forgot to take a picture!)

By the way, the diocese of Krakow was established in the year 1000!

I also had a great meeting this morning with Fr. Tomasz Szopa, another former secretary to Cardinal Dziwisz, who is now the chancellor of the diocese! A lot to catch up on!

Yet another friend is Fr. Piotr Studnick, communications director for the diocese. We were able to have a chat over coffee and one of Krakow’s fabulous sweets. I’ve never in my life seen sweets and desserts like those I’ve seen here (anywhere except perhaps Jordan!). I’ll have to come back some time when it is not Lent.

You’ll learn of my new friends when I write about them in my book about Pope John Paul!

Back to Rome tomorrow. Today is the fourth anniversary of the election of Pope Francis to the papacy and is a holiday in the Vatican. At 3 this afternoon there was a celebration in St. Peter’s Basilica of Anglican vespers, presided over by Anglican Archbishop David Moxon, head of the Anglican Center of Rome. Archbishop Arthur Roche, secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of Sacraments delivered a homily.

So, for now I say, ‘Do widzenia – arrivederci, good bye Krakow!


Today, at the end of his retreat, Pope Francis tweeted:  Let us strive to fast during Lent with a smile, rather than a long face.

I wish I had a lot of time right now to tell the story of my amazing day but in a short while I will be going to Mass at St. Mary’s basilica, a celebration of the Eucharist I have come to love and look forward to every evening. I’ve not had too much time at the computer today but, if time allows after dinner, I’ll write something.

For now, just a brief bit of news on the return to the Vatican of Pope Francis and members of the Roman Curia after their spiritual exercises in Ariccia. I saw some photos on news.va – the ones you see below – and I do have a comment (probably the same as you have) on the Pope and cardinals and bishops in the bus. They really do not look too happy. It made me re-read today’s papal tweet!


Don’t forget to tune in to Vatican Insider this weekend when I speak with Janet Morana, executive director of Priests for Life. You last heard Janet here when we spoke of the life and death of Norma McCorvey, famous for being Jane Roe of Roe v Wade, the Supreme Court ruling that made abortion legal. Norma later dedicated her life to attempting to overturn that ruling.

In the United States, you can listen to Vatican Insider (VI) on a Catholic radio station near you (there is a list of U.S. stations at www.ewtn.com) or on channel 130 Sirius-XM satellite radio. Outside the U.S., you can listen to EWTN radio on our website home page by clicking on the right side where you see “LISTEN TO EWTN.” Vatican Insider airs Saturday mornings at 9:00am (ET). On the SKY satellite feed to the UK and parts of Europe, VI airs on audio channel 0147 at 11:30 am CET on Saturdays, and 5:30am and 10pm CET on Sundays. It’s also available on demand on the EWTN app and on the website. CHECK YOUR TIME ZONE. Here’s a link to download VI to your iTunes library: http://www.ewtn.com/se/pg/DatService.svc/feed/~LE.xml   For VI archives: http://www.ewtn.com/vondemand/audio/file_index.asp?SeriesId=7096&pgnu=


(Vatican Radio)  Pope Francis has thanked Fr. Giulio Michelini for directing the Spiritual Exercises from which the Holy Father returned on Friday.

Before returning to the Vatican, the Pope expressed his and the Roman Curia’s appreciation for Fr. Michelini’s preparation and direction.

“I would like to thank you for the good you wanted to do for us and the good you have done us. Above all, thank you for having shown yourself as you are and for being natural without ‘putting on a face from a holy card’.”

Pope Francis also thanked him for the work put into his preparation: “This implies responsibility, taking things seriously.”

“There was a mountain of things upon which to meditate, but St. Ignatius says that when one finds something in the Exercises something that gives consolation or desolation, one must stop there and not go forward. I’m sure all of us found one or two among all of this material. The rest is not wasted; it remains and will serve for another time.”

The Holy Father went on to tell the story of a famous Spanish preacher to show that “sometimes a little word, a tiny thing” can serve as a point of reflection.

“After giving a grand, well-prepared sermon, a man – a great public sinner – came up to him in tears, asking for confession. He confessed in an outburst of sin and tears, sin and tears. The confessor – shocked because he knew the life of this man – asked him: ‘But, tell me, in what moment did you feel that God had touched your heart? With what word…?’ [He responded,] ‘When you said, Let’s move to another topic’. Sometimes it is the simplest words that help us, or sometimes those more complicated: To each the Lord gives the [right] word.”

Finally, Pope Francis told Fr. Michelini: “Above all, I wish you [the grace] to be a good friar.”

The Holy Father returned to the Vatican Friday morning and celebrated Mass for Syria.

He also sent €100,000 to the poor of Aleppo, thanks to a contribution of the Roman Curia. The donation will be made by the Office of Papal Charities, the Elemosineria Apostolica (Apostolic Almoner).

On Friday evening, Pope Francis is set to travel to the Vicariate of Rome where he will meet with the prefects of the Diocese. The meeting, a normal part of the life of the local Church, will be strictly private.



Just a quick note with a few photos. I went to the 6:30 mass at St, Mary’s Basilica this evening and was happy I got there when I did – a few more minutes and I’d have had to stand for Mass! The church was packed. I gathered the faithful knew more than I did cause when the procession began, there were 10 priests and a bishop.

The Mass was so very beautiful – the Polish faithful so recollect and reverent that in the moments of silence you literally could have heard a pin drop. The music was wonderful – as if the entire community was one big choir, so lovely and harmonious and heartfelt was the singing.

I never did discover who the bishop was but at the end of Mass he brought out a lovely reliquary and explained what it was to great applause. After Mass I went up to a priest I felt I knew to ask about the reliquary and it turned out to be a friend I’d not seen in a few years – Fr. Darius, a former secretary to Cardinal Dziwisz.  We spoke briefly and then he had to accompany the bishop to a residence. I found out it was a relic of the True Cross! I’ll learn more tomorrow when I visit Fr. Darius in his office.

I took some photos of St. Mary’s at the end of Mass and afterwards – after my conversation with Fr. Darius – strolled around Market Square. All I could think of, for some reason, was the difference between….

The Sacred –

….and the profane



I did not write a column yesterday because, following my arrival in Krakow in early afternoon, the rest of the day was nonstop. I checked into the Grand Hotel (more about this historic building, great rooms and terrific staff at a later date) about 2:30, unpacked and checked email to see about pending appointments and, as I always do in a new city or one I already know, I went out to explore the neighborhood.  I actually knew this one from my time here last June – I’m just a block off one of my favorites squares in the world, the famous and very beautiful Market Square, Rynek Glowny.

At about 5:20 I went into the basilica of St. Mary and, after a brief visit to this church that stuns the senses, almost putting them into overdrive, I spent an hour in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel and then attended Mass. I later discovered that the 6:30 pm daily Mass is a student Mass: the young people provided the music and Mass was very well attended by adults as well.

Signs are all over asking people not to take photos but I did take two – which I posted last night on FB – of the overwhelmingly beautiful main altar chapel as soon as I saw some of the students taking photos. I’ll try to get permission to take more pictures as this church was very important in Pope John Paul’s life.

Here is the official website of St. Mary’s: http://mariacki.com/en/

Known by all here as St. Mary’s Church, the full name is Our Lady Assumed into Heaven. It is a brick Gothic church, originally built in the early 13th century by Bishop Iwo Odrowaz of Krakow and re-built in the 14th century. It is most celebrated for the wooden altarpiece carved by one Veit Stoss. The choir stalls in the altar area are stunning as well.

One of the favorite stories about the basilica is that of the trumpeter: Every hour a trumpet signal comes from the top of the taller of St. Mary’s two towers. However, the sound is cut off half way through, a break commemorating the famous 13th century trumpeter who was shot in the throat while sounding the alarm before an attack on the city by the Mongols. It is said that the noon-time trumpet sound is heard across Poland and abroad broadcast live by the Polish national Radio 1 Station. This was made famous in Eric Kelly’s book, “The Trumpeter of Krakow.”

By the way, I learned that St. Mary’s Basilica has served as an architectural model for many of the churches built by Polish migrants to America and other countries. One of these, by the way, is St. John Cantius in my hometown of Chicago.

Today was my first full day and Krakow and it has been nonstop activity to this moment.

In preparation for this trip, I’ve been in touch with friends in Poland and friends who have friends in Poland, asking to meet people who knew John Paul. One of those contacts was Fr. Wojciech Zyzak, rector of the John Paul II University. As he planned to leave for Warsaw tomorrow, he invited me to the university for a brief meeting and conversation and then a conference on Father Walerian Kalinka (1826–1886), who was a founder of the Polish Province of the Resurrectionist Fathers in 19th century.

The conference began at 9:30 and lasted until 1:30 with a morning coffee break. I did not understand a word but I was able to write a bit for my book as I listened to the speakers and, during the break and later at lunch, I met some fascinating priests and professors and heard some great stories about the man who brings a smile to everyone’s face in Poland as soon as it is mentioned, Pope John Paul.

I want to go to St. Mary’s again for a visit to the Blessed Sacrament Chapel and Mass so shall close for now. I’ll try to post photos in FB whenever I can. I tried doing a FB Live yesterday but the connection in Market Square was not strong enough. I’ll try again at some point.


I leave tomorrow morning, God willing, for Krakow, Poland where I’ll be spending time interviewing people who knew St. John Paul II and visiting sites linked to his life. I have set up a number of appointments to talk to priests, prelates, university rectors and lay people for my book on the late Pope, “I Made Cookies for a Saint.” I’ve been to Poland a number of times and especially love Krakow and am looking forward to a marvelous stay and some terrific conversations and insights.

I had an appointment here in Rome last Friday with Polish Ambassador to the Holy See, Janusz Kotansk, and he is immensely enthusiastic about the book and had a lot of suggestions for my visit. He has promised to help me find a qualified translator so the book can also be published in Polish.

I’ll do what I can to write something for this column every day, and will try on a daily basis to publish photos, FB Live, etc. on Facebook. Pope Francis and ranking members of the curia are on retreat this week but I’ll keep you posted on breaking news.

Pope Francis always asks us to remember him in our prayers – I ask the same of you!

Sunday Pope Francis tweeted: I ask, please, for your prayers for me and my collaborators, who until Friday will be on retreat.

Today’s Station Church in Rome is San Pietro in Vincoli (St. Peter’s in Chains): https://www.pnac.org/station-churches/week-1/monday-san-pietro-in-vincoli/

This is the titular church of Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C.



Pope Francis and ranking members of the Roman Curia departed the Vatican Sunday afternoon for Ariccia where they will spend the next five days on retreat. These annual spiritual exercises usually start on the Sunday following Ash Wednesday. They are being held in Ariccia, a 20-mile drive south of Rome, at the Casa Divin Maestro (Divine Master House), run by the Pauline Fathers. (photo news.va)


Click here to see where the Holy Father and other guests are staying (be sure to click on ‘Places and Surroundings” for some lovely additional photos): http://www.casadivinmaestro.it/www/aaa_intestazioni/intestazione.asp?LANGUAGE=ENG

The Pope mentioned the retreat at the Sunday Aneglus and asked the faithful to pray for him and his collaborators. He also tweeted the same request.

Franciscan Friar Giulio Michelini will lead the spiritual exerfcises on the theme of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ according to the Gospel of Matthew.

In this period, all of the Pope’s audiences, including Wednesday’s general audience, are suspended. Retreatants will return to the Vatican on Friday.

The Sunday schedule included Eucharistic adoration at 6 pm, vespers at 6:45 and dinner at 7:30.

The schedule for successive days is as follows:

  • –         7.30 am, lauds and a brief reflection
  • –         8.00 am, breakfast
  • –         9.30 am, first meditation
  • –         11.30 am, Eucharistic concelebration
  • –         12.30 lunch
  • –         4 pm, second meditation
  • –         6 pm, Eucharistic adoration
  • –         6.45 pm, vespers
  • –         7.30 pm, dinner


From Fr. George W. Rutler – St. Michael’s Church – March 5, 2017
A “psychic reader” near our church has a sign telling what bell to ring for her to open the door. If I ever have the chance, I shall ask why, if she has psychic abilities, does she need a doorbell? Superstition is a sin against holy religion, and one can look for meaning in numbers to the point of excess, which is one form of superstition. But God’s historical involvement with us seems intertwined with certain numerical configurations that can be hard to ignore. Foremost among them, of course, is the number seven, but there is also forty.

In simple physics, negative forty corresponds on the Fahrenheit and Celsius scales, but that is only a curiosity. In Sacred Writ, however, it rained forty days during the Flood, spies scouted Israel for forty days, the Hebrews wandered for forty years, the life of Moses divided into three segments of forty years, and three times he spent forty days on Mount Sinai, not to mention Goliath challenging the Israelites twice a day for forty days. Some of that might be swept aside, but then Jesus spent forty days in the wilderness of Judea, and walked among men for forty days between his Resurrection and Ascension. It is perhaps obtuse to ignore that.

The number forty has something to do with fear. There are two kinds of fear: servile, which is fear of the unknown, and holy, which is the awe instilled by the Holy Spirit. Servile fear may be legitimate, though it can also be irrational. It is reasonable to fear poisonous spiders, but it is irrational to fear all spiders all the time. The ancient Greeks were better psychologists than the less introspective Romans, and so they gave us the term “phobia” for irrational fear. Today, however, ignorant people slur anyone with a rational aversion to false religion or to perversion as “phobic.”

But if Roman culture lacked the psychological sophistication of the Greeks, it was precise about social realities, and Latin has words for different kinds of fear: metus, terror, timor, pavor, formido, trepidatio and, that more-subtle form of fear suffered by sensitive people expecting the worst: praetimeo.

Jesus knew these temptations without succumbing to them. He knew them so well that he sweat actual blood. He warned against irrational fear as sternly as he urged holy fear: we should fear no harm to our bodies as much as we should fear eternal destruction in hell (Luke 12:5, Matthew 10:28). In his glorious resurrection he forbade fear, and the Beloved Apostle took up this theme: “Perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18).

In one of P.G. Wodehouse’s books, Jeeves quotes Psalm 30 to the amiable dunce Bertie Wooster: “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.” For those perplexed by fears worse than the ones Bertie Wooster suffered, that is what the splendid forty days of Lent are about.