Recently I was trawling through the Catholic news websites in search of some good news to counteract the general gloom and doom, and once I’d scrolled past the usual bunch of ‘Pope says Mass,’ ‘Bishop thinks prayer is a good thing,’ kind of headlines, I found my attention grabbed not so much by the headline of one article, as by the picture that accompanied it.
It was a fairly old photograph of a candidate newly approved for the beatification process, an Italian judge named Rosario Livatino, who was killed by the Mafia in 1990, having seized considerable quantities of their assets and arrested some of their senior figures; and what had caught my attention was the expression on his face, which I can only describe as a kind of ‘holy smirk.’
Now, trying to determine what someone is feeling, let alone anything about their character, from the expression on their face is a fools’ game. How many times have you seen the expression on someone’s face in the street, and thought, ‘he looks pretty miserable,’ or ‘I bet she’s highly artistic,’ only to catch sight of your own expression in a shop window and realise it bears absolutely no resemblance to what you were thinking or feeling at the time?
And yet, I would swear that what caught my eye was the picture of a true saint for our times, someone completely grounded in our modern world but looking past me into eternity, and so captivated by what he sees that everything else, including his own life and safety, is some kind of hilarious sideshow.
It’s a face that illustrates that beautiful passage in Pope Paul VI’s Evangelii Nuntiandi no. 21, where he describes ‘a Christian or a handful of Christians who, in the midst of their own community…radiate in an altogether simple and unaffected way their faith in values that go beyond current values, and their hope in something that is not seen and that one would not dare to imagine.’
A picture, they say, is worth a thousand words. If I were the Mafia, or anyone who wanted to crush the Catholic Church, I would do everything I could to ensure no-one saw that face again. So Google it while you can.