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Let us now praise a holy man

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“I think it is now three years since I last used a typewriter,” Pope John XXIII began a letter to his brother. “I used to enjoy typing so much and if today I have decided to begin again, using a machine that is new and all my own, it is in order to tell you that I know I am growing old…” He had just turned 80.

Shortly after he died, about a year and a half since sitting at that typewriter, his spiritual notebooks and some of his letters and special prayers were published as “Journal of a Soul.” A few years later, I found my father’s copy of the book; I have been reading it, on and off, ever since.

When Pope Francis signaled his intent to canonize both John XXIII and John Paul II perhaps within the year, the first news reports used journalistic shorthand to describe the Second Vatican Council. The epochal assembly (only the 21st ecumenical council in history) which John XXIII convened, and which met for a few months each year in Rome from 1962 to 1965, was described as either “liberal” or “liberalizing.” In part this was to meet journalism’s summarizing tendency; but in part this was also a recognition that Vatican II happened such a long time ago, and needed “placing.”

To be sure, there was certainly an epic struggle between “liberal” and “conservative” forces during the Council deliberations. I hesitate to use the word “liberal,” however, to describe the unlikely pope who startled the world with his surprising idea. Born Angelo Guiseppe Roncalli in 1881, John XXIII was both traditional (as his journal attests, his seminary formation was decidedly old-school) and modern (he was the first to write an encyclical—a papal letter of the highest doctrinal significance—to “all men of good will”).

Perhaps the better word to describe him, and the Council he gave life to, was “pastoral.”

His notebooks, for instance, reveal his openness to the surprises of the spirit.

In 1962, during a special spiritual retreat undertaken to prepare for the opening of Vatican II, he listed what he called a “Summary of great graces bestowed on a man who has a low esteem of himself but receives good inspirations and humbly and trustfully proceeds to put them into practice.”

One of those great graces was the idea of the Council itself. “Without any forethought, I put forward, in one of my first talks with my Secretary of State, on 20 January, 1959, the idea of an Ecumenical Council, a Diocesan Synod and the revision of the Code of Canon Law, all this being quite contrary to any previous supposition or idea of my own on this subject.” He added, with characteristic candor: “I was the first to be surprised at my proposal, which was entirely my own idea.”

A year earlier, he outlined the reasoning that led him to write an apostolic letter encouraging devotion to “the mystery of the Precious Blood of Jesus.”

He wrote, thus. “I admit: this was a sudden inspiration for me. I saw private devotion to the Precious Blood of Jesus when I was a boy, little more than a child, as it was practised by my old great-uncle Zaverio, the eldest of the five Roncalli brothers. In fact he was the first person to train me to that practice of religion from which my priestly vocation was to spring, very early in my life and, I think, quite spontaneously. I remember the prayer books he kept on his  prie-dieu, and among them The Most Precious Blood which he used during July. Oh sacred and blessed memories of my childhood!

“…. This inspiration, which has lately taken me by surprise, is like a new impulse, a new spirit in my heart, a voice that imparts courage and great fervour.”

The notebooks he kept, and the letters he included in them, were spiritual in nature; they are a record of his interior life. But it is a life rooted in the concerns of the outside world. References to that world abound. “… in various Italian cities and in other European countries active Catholics, bold bands of youthful enthusiasts, have been commemorating the Rerum Novarum of the great Pope of the working people and joyfully celebrating the new conception of Christian democracy” (May 15, 1903); “More heart-rending than the gentle resigned grief for my Bishop is the clamour of war now rising from every part of Europe” (Aug. 10, 1914); “First Sermon: cancelled for the visit of the Shah of Persia, Reza Pahlevi” (1961).

I have many favorite passages in his spiritual diary. Let me end with one in particular.

In November 1939, while serving as the papal delegate to Turkey, he found time for his annual spiritual retreat.

“Every evening from the window of my room, here in the Residence of the Jesuit Fathers, I see an assemblage of boats on the Bosporus; they come round from the Golden Horn in tens and hundreds; they gather at a given rendezvous and then they light up, some more brilliantly than others, offering a most impressive spectacle of colours and lights. I thought it was a festival on the sea for Bairam [an Islamic feast], which occurs just about now. But it is the organised fleet fishing for bonito, large fish which are said to come from far away in the Black Sea. These lights glow all night and one can hear the cheerful voices of the fishermen.

“I find the sight very moving. The other night, towards one o’clock, it was pouring with rain but the fishermen were still there, undeterred from their heavy toil.

“Oh how ashamed we should feel, we priests, ‘fishers of men,’ before such an example! To pass from the illustration to the lesson illustrated, what a vision of work, zeal and labour for the souls of men to set before our eyes!”

* * *

jnery@inquirer.com.ph

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  • tgomeziii

    Let me share my favorite anecdote about Pope John XXIII………

    During WWI, already a priest, he was drafted into the Italian army as a sergeant, serving in its medical corps and as chaplain. Many years after, already a Cardinal, he was attending a social gathering in Rome when he saw from afar an old general under whom he had served. He approached the general from behind and surprised him by saying….”Sergeant Roncalli reporting for duty, sir!” executing a salute with a mischievous smile on his face. What a guy!!!

    I think Pope Francis is following in the footsteps of the ” Il Papa Buono.”

  • http://www.yellowmythbusters.gov.ph/ Weder-Weder Lang

    Pope John Paul II. The pope who turned a blind eye on sexual abuses committed by priests and other church authorities. The pope who supported the CIA and US brutalities in Latin America in the 1980s. In the words of Pope John Paul II to those who suffer injustice — “Silencio! Silencio!”

    And the crimes of the church against humanity were whitewashed for another generation.

  • Diepor

    Religion is for idiots and its opium for the masses.

    • riza888

      I view using the term ‘idiot’ as a very lazy way of arguing. I always find it funny when a nonbeliever uses a term like that, as they often take pride in exulting rationality above all else; one would expect a more reasoned argument than appeal to ridicule. The very nature of faith is that it is something you can’t prove. There is no point arguing it.

      • Diepor

        Religion is for people that can not see the facts because their own eyes are in the way. I won’t bother to discuss just what religion is, but I think a fair definition of religion could take account of two things, at least, immortality and God, and that both of them are based on some book, so practically all of it is a book. If you were born in thailand you would be a Buddist and go to hell, if you were born in Pakistan you would be Muslim and go to hell etc etc. All the religions cant be true but you think yours are just because you are born filipino and the rest of the world will go to hell?

  • Noel Noel Munro

    Do we need religion to have faith in God? Do you have to be a muslim to believe in Allah! Do you have to be catholic or protestant to believe with Jesus? Do you really need to be a member of any religion to pray to their god? if your answer is NO then you know God. God is with us.

    • Eustaquio Joven

      What God would you have faith in if you don’t have any religion? How could you believe in Allah if you are not a muslim? “… believe with Jesus?” What does He believe in? Why would you pray to a god of a religion of which you are not a member? What do you mean by God is with us? Does PopeJohn Paul II know this? Is it because of or despite his religion?

      • Noel Noel Munro

        If you want me to enlighten you let me ask you some ? first if you wont mind. yea? ok, first, What is your religion?

      • Eustaquio Joven

        Please don’t bother. I used to believe that people who choose not to have any religion are more sensible and rational. Now, I know that it’s not always so. Thanks for enlightening me.

      • Noel Noel Munro

        that is the least I can do.

    • riza888

      Sitting in church on Sundays is a good exercise in being silent. These days, I find that many people are incapable of shutting up long enough to hear anything except their own thoughts, own music, own whatever. Religion gives me the capacity to shut up and listen and reflect.

      • Noel Noel Munro

        good for you.

  • Rey Baltazar C. Tolentino

    I will wait for your explanation re:

    Why do you (Catholics) call Pope John Paul II ‘Holy Father’ if he is not
    yet a saint?

    • Noel Noel Munro

      Why do you have two names? which one is you first name or second name?

      • Rey Baltazar C. Tolentino

        Rey and Baltazar are both my first name. I have two ‘first’ names
        because my parents gave it to me, and I was baptized into that name. According to them, Rey Baltazar is the same as King Baltazar (since Rey means King). It is just a simple name calling.

        Thank you for asking about it.

    • Eustaquio Joven

      Nobody asked me, but… It is just a simple name calling, King Baltazar. lol

  • Rey Baltazar C. Tolentino

    Again, this is for all Catholic priest and bishops. Can you please explain to us, ‘Why do you call Pope John Paul II ‘Holy Father’ if he is not yet a saint?’

    • Noel Noel Munro

      Why bother asked if you are not Catholic? Stick to your own religion and it will make you a better person rather than insult other people for the sake of your own belief.

      • Rey Baltazar C. Tolentino

        Maybe you hardly see this. I am not insulting anyone but we have obligations to one another. So, how can I correct you (or them) if I will not tell that something is obviously wrong?

        Now, if they think I am wrong then please teach me and give me their reasons—- Why they called Pope John Paul II ‘Holy Father’ while in fact he is not yet a saint even in their own eyes?

        I know I will be hated by many people but what can I do? At the end of the day, I have to do my part and show my love by telling them that they are wrong, and thus, they need to seek the real Jesus Christ.

      • Noel Noel Munro

        Ok, its like calling your pastors as Pastors even you are not a herd of sheeps or goats. Would you call yourself a sheep dog? Respect ones belief is the new religion. Not the thing like ” oh mine is bigger then yours, boo yahhh”.

      • Rey Baltazar C. Tolentino

        I am not a member of any religious organization and therefore, I have no Pastor (In a way you presented ‘Pastor’ in your previous post).

        Nevertheless, I consider all of us – the entire humanity and all generations belong to one Church which sometimes they called the body of Christ and we have only one Pastor whom they called – Jesus Christ.

        I am not disrespecting anyone.

      • Noel Noel Munro

        hahaha you are funny man. God bless you sir.

      • Rey Baltazar C. Tolentino

        I do not think you get me.

      • Noel Noel Munro

        Leave other other religion alone, for goodness sake mind your own business or religion.

      • Rey Baltazar C. Tolentino

        You really do not get me.

        Do you think ‘minding your own business’ is a good cure for Priest and Bishops?

        Usually, they murmur such line when they see their own conflicting theological reasoning and thus, their usage of ‘minding your own business’ does not show or mean respect to other people but for their own self preservation as religious leaders which in turn, a sign of an uncaring heart toward others (and themselves too) who are at lost and in the dark.

        We all know that a deceive person is not aware of his present condition. Now, will you ‘mind your own business’ in that context?

        I will remind them of what Apostle Paul said regarding false teachers. He said, they claim to be wise but they are fools in worshipping other gods.

      • Noel Noel Munro

        Get a life.

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