Saint of the Day – Blessed Pope John XXIII
October 11 is the feast day of Blessed Pope John XXIII (1881-1965). The son of Italian share croppers who worked in the fields with his brothers and served as a stretcher bearer in World War I, he became a Church diplomat, Cardinal Archbishop of Venice, and Pope. This might seem like enough for more than one lifetime. Yet Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli would launch an institutional and cultural revolution unprecedented in Church history. By convening the Second Vatican Council (1961 -1965) and calling for “aggiornamento,” a renewal and updating of the Catholic Church, Angelo Roncalli opened the door to the Post Modern Church. Although he did not live to convene the second session of the Council, it is hard to appreciate the depth of the change Pope John XXIII and his successor Pope Paul VI brought about.
It is not enough to say that the Mass changed from Latin to the everyday languages of the faithful, because the change in the liturgy only symbolized a much deeper change of mentality. Christ is present among His people in their signs and symbols, in their language. “The Church” referred not only to the leadership of the Pope and bishops, but to its body – the faithful. We now use the term “faith community” somewhat lightly, without realizing the complete change of thinking the term represents.
Pope John Paul II, who declared Pope John XXIII Blessed, represented a completely different mentality. The difference is aptly summarized by Tom Fox in the National Catholic Reporter.
“How seemingly different is the mood among the hierarchy in Rome today. If images speak, then in place of the smiling John XXIII, we see a pained John Paul II, his face grimaced, his tired body leaning on his crosier, carrying the world’s burdens on his shoulders. Pope John gave us Pacem in Terris, a map to worldwide human understanding. Pope John Paul II gives us an analysis of the “culture of death,” an acknowledgment of global human failure.
This is not to say John did not understand the cross or John Paul the resurrection. It is to say their views of how grace operates in the world are radically different. John saw the church as an instrument of cooperative acts. John Paul sees the church as a fortress tested by evil. John saw the world, the playground of God’s love, as primary. John Paul sees the church, instrument of salvation, as primary. Operating out of John’s vision, the church not only can but also must adapt. It changes because the world changes. Operating out of John Paul’s vision, the church must strengthen itself by purification. It must not adapt because to do so is to blur the sign of contradiction.”…
“The late NCR Vatican Affairs Writer Peter Hebblethewaite once said the deeper underlying problem with John Paul’s black and white assessment is not that the world is so black but it makes the church so white. So unrepentive. So resisting of change. The perfect instrument of God requires no change. Further, it must not change.”
Blessed Pope John XXIII, pray for us.