This does not happen very often. The last pope was canonized almost 60 years ago. Sure, we’ve been blessed in the 20th and 21st centuries with a starting number of good, solid, holy popes. This has not always been the case throughout history, I will admit. During tough spiritual times, God has blessed us. I have several stories about Pope John Paul II, aka. Karol Wojtyla. (Extra special thank-you to individuals who make sure that spell check spells his name right!) I could create a whole series of pages about how awesome he is. But others have already done this. They are now up to Part 13!
Hint: this is Pope Francis making a stand.
The thing is… this is yet again unexpected. Why two popes, when Pope Francis seems to be all about service to God’s church? Why elevate the office, when he disposes of the symbolic emblems of the office? I think our ‘sleeper Pope’ Pope John XXIII, offers us some clues. I picked this image from a newspaper, because it reveals some things about Pope John XXIII that are not obvious from his wikipedia entry.
I chose this image because it seemed to have a purity to it, an unguarded moment that showed you a glimmer of what he must have been in person. So much of what we have is so formal, it’s hard to tell. From this I get the sense he was a moving and lively preacher.
His motto was “Obedience and Peace”, keeping in mind he entered the priesthood in 1915, and was ordained in the blood of the First World War, spending most of it as a chaplain. For those who paint him as a willing servant of the destructive forces that sowed weeds during the church’s wild confusion after the Second Vatican Council– you are wrong. If you took time to examine the character and teachings of this man, you’d find that most of his contemporaries, especially his opponents– considered him “an old fuddy duddy” or a ‘truly holy man.. and completely naive.”
He did not call the Vatican Council because he wanted to turn the Church on it’s ear. This is the man who was largely responsible for the fine and hallowed 1962 edition of the liturgy. He gave us the Tridentine Rite as it is practiced today in most traditionalist parishes. If you don’t see the seeds of treason in that document, I hardly think he was the architect of the mechanics of it’s supression some 20 years later.
He had a long and eventful role as a diplomat for the Vatican– in places like Bulgaria, Greece, and France— right after the war. Pope Pius XII put him constantly in places where stuff was hitting the fan.
One must understand that he saw a very different church than we do now–yet saw the seeds of what we’ve since suffered.
Let’s take a look at a sample, shall we? This was the opening Encyclical that announced his intentions for the Second Vatican Council. Bolded highlights are mine.
5. May the light of the Holy Spirit come upon Us from on high as We write this letter and upon you as you read it. May the grace of God move all men to attain these objectives, which all desire, even though prejudices, great difficulties, and many obstacles stand in the way of their achievement.
6. All the evils which poison men and nations and trouble so many hearts have a single cause and a single source: ignorance of the truth—and at times even more than ignorance, a contempt for truth and a reckless rejection of it. Thus arise all manner of errors, which enter the recesses of men’s hearts and the bloodstream of human society as would a plague. These errors turn everything upside down: they menace individuals and society itself.
7. And yet, God gave each of us an intellect capable of attaining natural truth. If we adhere to this truth, we adhere to God Himself, the author of truth, the lawgiver and ruler of our lives. But if we reject this truth, whether out of foolishness, neglect, or malice, we turn our backs on the highest good itself and on the very norm for right living.
8. As We have said, it is possible for us to attain natural truth by virtue of our intellects. But all cannot do this easily; often their efforts will result in a mixture of truth and error. This is particularly the case in matters of religion and sound morals. Moreover, we cannot possibly attain those truths which exceed the capacity of nature and the grasp of reason, unless God enlightens and inspires us. This is why the word of God, “who dwells in light inaccessible,”(2) in His great love took pity on man’s plight, “became flesh and dwelt among us,”(3) that He might “enlighten every man who cometh into the world”(4) and lead him not only to full and perfect truth, but to virtue and eternal happiness. All men, therefore, are bound to accept the teaching of the gospel. For if this is rejected, the very foundations of truth, goodness, and civilization are endangered.
I believe that Pope Francis is inspired in several features of his pontificate by John XXIII’s example.
The truth of the matter is this. Pope John XXIII is not the Villain he is often painted as, despite the temptation to do so. Having poured over his documents, I can’t see evidence of Roncalli any of the horrors that precipitated from the changes that accosted the Church. Even the European Media had to admit that “perhaps” it was later forces in the council that did away with the Latin Rite. Especially Reading AD PETRI CATHEDRAM, it appears he was a big fan of his predecessor, too. This leads to problems with the conservative narrative that he was a troublesome liberal.
I consider Pope Francis recognition of the man to be good news, not bad. Roncalli did a great deal to assist the Jews during the holocaust. Without his loyal efforts, I doubt Pope Pius XII could have done as much as he had. After he became Pope, after he instituted the council, he took time off from the Council to write an exhortation that assisted Kennedy in the peace process over the Bay of Pigs. There is evidence to suggest he is instrumental in swaying Kruschev into backing off. Dare we call this a miracle?
Now, as a conservative, any mention of the two in the same sentence can be troubling. BUT. What else should a good pope do? Would Pope Benedict XVI or Pope John Paul II have done any different?
IT is also fitting for Pope Francis to recognize Pope John , because he was the first of the modern pastoral Popes. He modeled the best of the modern papacy. He was the first to take apostolic visits here and there, the first pope to go to various places around Rome and actually BE a bishop of Rome in practice.. since 1871 (Pope Pius IX, who also shows evidence of being a pastoral pope–until he was made prisoner by politics, but that’s another show). Granted, two world wars were not helpful for apostolic visits, one has to admit– as well as the fact that the last pope to have done this duty was cut off from it by an invasion of the Papal states by Italian nationalists.
As for Roncalli– there is another theory floating around… that he called the Vatican Council to exert the power of the Holy Spirit to come down and bring all of his wayward bishops in one place, to show them that they were not to tear the church apart, but to bring unity. He says as much in his speech, and underscores these points with startling clarity in AD PETRI CATHEDRAM. This suggests that there was trouble in among the princes of the church even before there was a second Vatican Council.
He was a devout, humble man who offered his best– what God gave him.
This man was blessed by Pope Pius X after his first mass– (celebrated on the Tomb of Peter):
“Pius X placed both his hands on my head and said:’Bravo, I bless you and encourage you to be an honor to your high calling, and I hope that your priesthood will be a consolation to the Church of God.'”