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“Good Pope John” – Why you shouldn’t overlook Pope St. John XXIII

I am a member of the “John Paul II Generation,” but I winced when he and John XXIII were canonized together; people would say, “John Paul II and… uh… that other guy.”It would be a tragedy to overlook jolly John, a simple yet revolutionary figure in the history of Catholicism. From the time I began learning about him, he quickly became one of my heroes. This week, Pope Francis is launching the synodality process for the Church. For this reason, we should be even more aware of St. John XXIII, who led the Church into its most important period of renewal in recent history (the Second Vatican Council).

In John Paul II’s homily for the Mass during which he declared John XXIII ‘Blessed’, he said:

“Everyone remembers the image of Pope John’s smiling face and two outstretched arms embracing the whole world. How many people were won over by his simplicity of heart, combined with a broad experience of people and things! The breath of newness he brought certainly did not concern doctrine, but rather the way to explain it; his style of speaking and acting was new, as was his friendly approach to ordinary people and to the powerful of the world.”

Angelo Roncalli was the son of an Italian family (tenant farmers). As a young seminarian, he became a member of the Third Order of St. Francis. During World War I, then-Fr. Roncalli was assigned to carry wounded soldiers on stretchers from the field of battle to the field hospital. While a Bishop, he served Vatican City as a diplomat. He was a leader in the Vatican’s efforts that saved hundreds of thousands of European Jews from Nazi deportation. “In Budapest alone, Roncalli rescued at least 50,000 Jews by issuing baptismal certificates” (Catholic World Report). Read his biography; you will be inspired.

This ‘Good Pope John’ has taught me so many lessons. Here are a few:

1. God is calling you to holiness in an unrepeatable way.

Sometimes, I read saint biographies, and I think, “Wow, that is amazing, but that’s not me.” Further, Catholics can get caught up comparing ourselves, our prayer lives, and our talents to Saint So-and-So’s. We can end up more discouraged than inspired.

As a young man, John XXIII kept a spiritual journal, and reflected on this:

“I am not St. Aloysius, nor must I seek holiness in his particular way, but according to the requirements of my own nature, my own character and the different conditions of my life. I must not be the dry, bloodless reproduction of a model, however perfect. God desires us to follow the examples of the saints by absorbing the vital sap of their virtues and turning it into our own life-blood, adapting it to our own individual capacities and particular circumstances. If St. Aloysius had been as I am, he would have become holy in a different way” (Journal of a Soul).

2. Maintain a healthy sense of humor.

Shortly after his election, John XXIII was walking in the streets of Rome. A woman passed by, noticed him, and said to her friend, “My God, he’s so fat!” Having overheard, he turned around and replied, “Madame, I trust you understand that the papal conclave is not exactly a beauty contest.”

Famously, a journalist once asked him, “How many people work in the Vatican?”

He responded, “About half of them.”

3. God is in control; it’s OK to relax.

You think your life is stressful? Imagine being the Pope…the man elected to lead 1 billion Catholics around the world, who are facing all types of challenges, living in all different cultures, and with so many needs. Imagine holding the title, ‘Vicar of Christ on Earth’!

John XXIII said, “It often happens that I wake up at night and begin to think about a serious problem and decide I must tell the Pope about it. Then I wake up completely and remember that I am the Pope…” Talk about pressure! How did Good Pope John deal with it? At the end of a long day, he is said to have prayed, “Well, Lord, it’s your church. You take care of it. I’m going to bed.”

Simple as that.

4. “I am your brother.”

Having worked in evangelization for several years, I still find it hard to preach the Gospel. Loving others and speaking the truth to them requires us to get our hands dirty; to be present to people wherever they are; to be vulnerable. I fear ridicule, or failure. John XXIII maintained a very simple but profound attitude. He often greeted people saying, “I am your brother.”

Somehow, that phrase changes my perspective. I’m overwhelmed by the thought of approaching people with the Gospel, but when I remind myself, “I am their sister,” my eyes are opened to the simplicity of God’s call. Just be a brother.

5. Most of all — Do not worry. Do not be afraid.

Elected pope at 77, everyone expected John XXIII’s pontificate to be quick and forgettable. Thanks to the Holy Spirit, John’s turned out to be one of the most revolutionary pontificates in history. Most notably, he called for an ecumenical council: a meeting of the entire Church. In Christianity’s 2,000-year history, only twenty of these had been organized. So, why did he do it?

He said this in his opening address at the Second Vatican Council: “In the daily exercise of Our pastoral office, it sometimes happens that We hear certain opinions which disturb Us—opinions expressed by people who, though fired with a commendable zeal for religion, are lacking in sufficient prudence and judgment in their evaluation of events. They can see nothing but calamity and disaster in the present state of the world. They say over and over that this modern age of ours, in comparison with past ages, is definitely deteriorating. One would think from their attitude that history, that great teacher of life, had taught them nothing. They seem to imagine that in the days of the earlier councils everything was as it should be so far as doctrine and morality and the Church’s rightful liberty were concerned.

We feel that We must disagree with these prophets of doom, who are always forecasting worse disasters, as though the end of the world were at hand.”

Rather than flee from the world and lock the church doors behind us, John XXIII envisioned a Church that was empowered by the Holy Spirit to go out into the world and bring God’s love. Because John XXIII was unafraid to start a revolution, unafraid of the doom-and-gloom, and unafraid of what people might think of him, today we have a more lively, educated, enthusiastic, culturally-rich Catholic Church.

What a debt we owe him.


Answering Christ’s call, Pilgrim Center of Hope guides people to encounter Him so as to live in hope, as pilgrims in daily life.

Angela Sealana is Media Coordinator for Pilgrim Center of Hope, having served at the apostolate since 2010. She also serves on the PCH Speaker Team.

Mercy: The Secret to Healing

Statue at the Sea of Galilee depicting Christ and Saint Peter after Peter is forgiven for denying Jesus.

 

In his encyclical, Dives in Misericordia (Rich in Mercy), Saint Pope John Paul II writes,

by becoming for people a model of merciful love for others, Christ proclaims by His actions even more than by His words that call to mercy which is one of the essential elements to the Gospel ethos. In this instance, it is not just a case of satisfying a condition of major importance for God to reveal Himself in His mercy to man: “The merciful […] shall obtain mercy.” (II, The Messianic Message)

What is the pope saying?

He is saying what we all know we are called to do if we profess to name ourselves Christian; followers of Jesus Christ. We must, like our Master, be merciful through the action of forgiving those who hurt us.  Ouch!

There is something more…

The pope says it is not just a matter of what we are called to do (satisfying a condition); it is the way for God to reveal Himself in His Mercy to man (i.e. you and me):

…“The merciful […] shall obtain mercy.”

Finding Healing through Mercy

I have found this to be true. There are people who I feel have let me down. Whether real or just in my imagination, I have felt slighted, unrecognized, dismissed. Through the grace of God, I have chosen in my hurt to offer a prayer: “Lord, ________ hurt me, yet through You, I will to forgive.”

This ‘willing’ to forgive does not deny the justice due to me; it just puts the gavel in the hands of God—our Savior and Just Judge. I have discovered in my surrender to his will, by being merciful to the ones who hurt me, I have received healing. Even more amazing, I have received the recognition, the acceptance I felt was denied me by others through the grace of a closer relationship with Jesus. God sees me!  God knows!  God cares!

God’s Mercy for Us Now

We have a great opportunity this week to enter Healing through God’s gift of Divine Mercy.  Pope Francis has called this time we live in especially filled with God’s Mercy, saying,

“[L]isten to the voice of the Spirit that speaks to the whole Church in this our time, which is, in fact, the time of mercy. I am certain of this… It is the time of mercy in the whole Church… ]” (Pope Francis, address to the priests of the Diocese of Rome, 3/6/2014).

Next Sunday, April 28, is Divine Mercy Sunday.  Our Lord Jesus said to St. Faustina about this Feast:

On that day [Divine Mercy Sunday], the very depths of My tender mercy are opened. I pour out a whole ocean of graces upon those souls who approach the fount of My mercy. […] On that day, all the divine floodgates through which graces flow are opened. (Diary of St. Faustina, no. 699)

Finding God’s Mercy

To forgive may be Divine, but it is also very hard! Why not take advantage of this gift of “a whole ocean of graces” by participating in the Feast of Divine Mercy?!  If you need assistance finding a parish that is offering Divine Mercy Sunday services, contact us at Pilgrim Center of Hope.

Jesus asked in the Gospel of John (1:38-39), “What are you looking for?” He responds to our request for healing and mercy, just as he responded to those in the Gospel, “Come! and you will see.”


Nan Balfour is a grateful Catholic whose greatest desire is to make our Lord Jesus more loved. She seeks to accomplish this through her vocation to womanhood, marriage, motherhood and as a writer, speaker and events coordinator for Pilgrim Center of Hope

Answering Christ’s call, Pilgrim Center of Hope guides people to encounter Him so as to live in hope, as pilgrims in daily life. See what’s happening & let us journey with you! Visit PilgrimCenterOfHope.org.

Redemptoris Missio (Mission of the Redeemer) by Pope St. John Paul II

Redemptoris Missio - by John Paul IIPope St. John Paul II marked the 25th anniversary of the decree of Vatican II Ad gentes, with his encyclical Redemptoris Missio on the missionary mandate of the Church. The Pope calls for a new impetus in the missionary work of the Church, a Church who is ‘missionary by her very nature’.

Respect for what is good in other religions should not stop the Church from proclaiming Christ as the “the only one able to reveal God and lead to God.” He says,

“’For if I preach the Gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel!’ (1 Cor 9:16) In the name of the whole Church, I sense an urgent duty to repeat this cry of St Paul. From the beginning of my Pontificate I have chosen to travel to the ends of the earth in order to show this missionary concern. My direct contact with peoples who do not know Christ has convinced me even more of the urgency of missionary activity, a subject to which I am devoting the present encyclical.”

Purchase this book at your local Catholic bookstore or online. Don’t forget – if you shop on Amazon, make sure to start at Smile.Amazon.com and request that Pilgrim Center of Hope receive a portion of your purchase at no cost to you. Thank you for your much-needed support of this ministry.

We Are Made for More: What Our Bodies Tell Us

I’ve heard of the “Theology of the Body”, but I’m not really familiar with it. What is it?

The Theology of the Body (TOB) refers to the teachings of Pope St. John Paul II about the meaning given to our bodies made in the “image and likeness” of God. He expounded this teaching during weekly audiences from September 1979 to November 1984, and in various letters during his papacy.

So . . . what does the body mean?

In short, John Paul II explained that the body reveals God because it is designed in his likeness. This summary has as many applications as there are aspects of human life, because every human area is in relation to the body.

Our hands can be used to create music or hold a baby, embrace a loved one or plant a garden. Each one of these uses has much to say about God, and that’s just reflecting on the hands!

Where can I learn more about the TOB?
Author and 2014 Catholic Women’s Conference speaker Emily Stimpson joined host Nan Balfour and Danielle Smith, to talk about Emily’s book, These Beautiful Bones: An Everyday Theology of the Body.

Related

Letter to Women

In Pope John Paul II’s Letter to Women, the Pope addresses the topics of human dignity, motherhood, and the state of the women’s liberation movement. He also speaks to the complementary relationship between men and women and women’s particular capacity to help fashion a society marked by love, a capacity which he calls “the feminine genius.”

Written in 1995 for the occasion of the Fourth United Nations Conference on Women, this papal letter continues today to reaffirm the dignity of all human persons. A heartfelt expression of gratitude goes out to mothers, daughters, wives, sisters, and to working women and consecrated women.

 

John Paul II

On the Christian Meaning of Human Suffering

“On the Christian Meaning of Human Suffering (Salvifici Doloris)” by Pope St. John Paul II

Suffering is something which we will all experience in our lives.  When we suffer in union with Christ, it can be a source of innumerable graces and blessings, a powerful means through which our lives are transformed and made holy.  We saw this example of suffering lived deeply and authentically in the life of the author of this apostolic letter, our Holy Father, Pope John Paul II.

From the very beginning of his priestly ministry, Pope John Paul II identified himself with the sick and the suffering.  For him, all human suffering had meaning, value, and purpose.  It was his great love for us, his desire to share the message of joy and hope in suffering that inspired him to write Salvifici Doloris.

In it, he explores the various ways that we experience suffering in the world, he reflects on the origins of suffering and examines our quest for its meaning, and he shows us how it is only in Christ that we can hope to find any meaning and purpose in our experience of suffering.  Reflecting on this document has the potential to change lives.  (Description from ENDOW.)

Purchase this book at your local Catholic bookstore or online. Don’t forget – if you shop on Amazon, make sure to start at Smile.Amazon.com and request that Pilgrim Center of Hope receive a portion of your purchase at no cost to you. Thank you for your much-needed support of this ministry.

Theology of Our Bodies

Dr. David Delaney and Alan Becker discuss what our bodies reveal about spiritual realities.