Posts tagged: Pope John XXIII

Wagons West

By , April 24, 2014 9:53 am

When I was a younger priest I frequently gave retreats to high school students. I thoroughly enjoyed that work and they would be marvelously attentive. I always tried to get and keep their attention by using examples that they had in some sense experienced or had knowledge of. When I was talking to them about the Church, our community of faith, I would remind them of the old Westerns that still play on Turner Classic Movies so all of them had seen the old movies about wagon trains struggling to get across the Indian territory trying to make it to California.

I would tell them that Pope John XXIII was the wagon master in the Church back in 1958 and that, despite his weight, he climbed up on the lead wagon and cried out in a voice heard around the world, “WAGONS WEST!” With that the Church began to give up the defensive posture as circled wagons that it had maintained since the Protestant Reformation. The Church began to move in a new and exciting chapter in its journey through history.

I must admit that it was not a perfect example because the wagon master in the movie is leading them towards California and that is certainly no heavenly paradise. The Church had circled its wagons after it had suffered terrible losses in the 16th century. One-third of Europe abandoned the Catholic faith in only two lifetimes and thus the Church was very defensive.

Pope John XXIII had great confidence in the Holy Spirit and was ready to take the risk of uncircling the wagons. That would lead into a new period of exciting religious openness, which we now call the Ecumenical Movement. I will fill you in on that soon…

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It Started With the Liturgy

By , April 15, 2014 5:47 am

Back in the 1940’s and 50’s, bishops, priests and theologians were for the most part very relaxed about the Church. Most of them thought that everything was just fine and they never dreamed that an explosive development was coming down the pike that would be known in history as the Second Vatican Council.

However, there had been certain glimmers of approaching change and they first began to appear in the liturgical life of the Church. In the Western Church, everything was in Latin, not just the Mass and the Sacraments, but it was the working language of the Church. It was really a good thing for people who traveled a great deal. If you were a Frenchman attending Mass in the Congo, you were right at home with the Latin, but for most of the faithful the Latin language served as background music. They understood nothing but found it comforting.

Pope Pius XII had worked hard to encourage theologians to go back to the scriptures and he unleashed a very strong surge of dramatically improved scripture studies. Scripture would soon be overlapping in the world of liturgy and question began to be asked about certain things that might be accented too much or not enough.

Liturgists began to organize, liturgical and scripture scholars began to communicate more effectively, and suddenly there came to be a sense that not all was well in the inner-life of the Church.

In 1958 a wonderful, fulsome, Italian bishop from the Alps was elected to the Chair of Peter and he took the delightful name of Pope John XXIII.

He had been listening to that questioning and wondering himself about the need for updating the inner-life of the Church and then finally he did it. He called for a meeting of all the bishops of the world to come together under the dome of St. Peter’s and to pray, study, test, debate and decide on how the Church could more effectively move forward. In calling the Council, it generated an explosion of excitement and hope. The bishops answered his summons and met for several months a year for four years. Needless to say, the first issue that they took up was the sacred liturgy and they published an extraordinary document that would have awesome repercussions around the world.

Let’s take a look at that subject tomorrow.

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Yet More Good News

By , February 12, 2014 5:17 am

The Second Vatican Council is now a half century behind us. Pope John XXIII’s calling of the leaders of the Universal Church into session was an extraordinary historical event and opened not only windows for fresh air, but doors for improved communication and solidarity with the larger world. As is so often the case when sudden changes occur, there has been resistance and opposition. Today, we are seeing under the leadership of Pope Francis that we are going to reach back to the Second Vatican Council and hopefully move it towards achieving its original purpose.

When people think of the Council they think of changing from Latin to the vernacular, the celebrant facing the people at Mass, the restoration of the diaconate and the use of lay lectors in the liturgy. These were all good things but they are really minor issues around the edge of the life of the Church. The true purpose of the Council was to achieve a vision of collegiality. It was the central ecclesial theme to emerge from Vatican II, namely that everyone who is baptized and confirmed shares in some sense with the spreading of the Gospel.

Happily, the geography of the pope’s new cardinalatial appointments tells us a great deal not only about our Holy Father, but changes in the Church itself. You don’t hear much about it in the United States, but the Church in Asia has done extraordinary things in attempting to fulfill that dream and vision and the appointment of Archbishop Orlando Quevedo of Cotabato in the Philippines is a wonderful example of that.

As I mentioned the other day that Haiti, little Haiti, now has a dynamic young cardinal and we see in the person of Quevedo a new leader in the Church who will bring the Asian experience to the fore. All of this reflects that the domination of the Church by Europe, which has been so overwhelming for centuries, is beginning to recede. Given the fact that the European Church has grown so weak over the last fifty years, it is a good thing to see vision and leadership shifting to other parts of the planet.

When these 19 archbishops or bishops were appointed Pope Francis wrote each of them a personal letter the next day telling them very clearly, “The cardinalship does not imply a promotion. It is neither an honor nor a decoration.” He then asked the new appointees to not hold lavish celebrations before they officially become cardinals in a Vatican ceremony on February 22nd. Being a cardinal, Francis said, “is simply a service that requires you to broaden your gaze and open your hearts.” Of the 19 new cardinals only four come from the Vatican and only one is an Italian. The majority of the rest are from the Southern Hemisphere. It is startling, exciting and encouraging.

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Pacem In Terris, Peace on Earth

By , April 17, 2013 4:26 am

He was not overly photogenic, but what a man! What a Pope! In 1958, the world was informed that a successor to the awesome Pope Pius XII had been chosen. There was his picture- short,very heavy, and virtually unknown. Who was Angelo Roncalli? We may not have known who he was in 1958, but we soon learned. He became Pope John XXIII, a quiet, prayerful man, in his late 70′s, who was to effectively teach both the whole world and the Church his ideas and his vision that went far beyond the bounds of Roman Catholicism, and deeply touched the hearts of men and women across the world.
The first and most dramatic single thing he did was to call the first Vatican Council. The surprise announcement shocked and stunned Vatican officials. The last world council was held in 1870, and there had only been nineteen in 2000 years. What would happen when all the bishops got together under one roof? The council would be an extraordinary event that has had tremendous effect on the day to day life of the Church. Not all of his hopes have been realized, but I for one think we will yet see its fulfillment. For me personally, one of the most important things that this Pope accomplished was to write two extraordinary documents, and send them not just to the bishops, or just the Catholics, but to the whole human family. The first was Pacem in terris, and I will come back to this in a few days with more details, but for now I want to relate it to earlier papal documents that reflected the social theology of Roman Catholicism.
Let’s go back to 1891. Pope Leo XIII wrote the first of the great social encyclicals, and his document reflects where the economic systems were at that time. Therefore, it concentrates on the relationship between workers and owners, envisioning a world of small shops and factories.
Forty years later, (and that’s the name of the second document quadrajessimo ano) and Pope Pius XI challenged a much more complicated economic world, and challenged governments and industry-wide corporations to be concerned about and to treat fairly, the working people scattered across the planet. In 1963, this beloved pope from the Italian alps had worldwide vision, and although he solidly supported the teachings and values of the two earlier encyclicals, he reached out to embrace truly worldwide structures. Pope John XXIII reached the United Nations, to international cartels and was teaching about the reality of a one world economy, twenty years before the term was popular!
To summarize, in 1891, Pope Leo XII stressed local economic challenges. Pius Xi, in 1931 moved to the national sphere. Pope John XXIII framed this issue throughout the world in an international context. My life has been dramatically affected by these three documents, and I am happy to say that the world and the effectiveness of the Church within the world is enhanced because of them.

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A Missed Anniversary!

By , September 19, 2011 4:56 am

I am very embarrassed. In May, the Church marked the 50th anniversary of
Pope John XXIII’s magnificent encyclical Mater et Magistra (Mother and Teacher).
This great document would be followed a short time later by Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth). These two documents occurred during years of great hope and optimism, both for the Universal Church and for the political and economic development of the non-Communist world. The European Union was in the process of development and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization had strengthened the confidence of the West in the face of Communist military threats.

There is no practical way to classify the individual popes on the basis of their effectiveness or accomplishments, at least not within a short period of time. The personality of John Paul II has dominated the life of the Church in a sizable portion of the planet for the last thirty years. The thing he is most remembered for is the fact that he was instrumental in hastening the decline and collapse of Communism and that will always be remembered as an extraordinary achievement.
However, in my personal opinion, Pope John XXIII will prove to be more important in the history of the Church during the 20th century and maybe in the history of the planet as well. Not only did he move forward the teachings of the Church in terms of how the larger society ought to be restructured on the basis of justice and peace, but he called the Second Vatican Council, which produced extraordinary change in the relationships not only of the Church and world, but the Church inside itself. He came to office as an elderly man already in poor health and reigned for only five years. But what a five years! In my opinion, he is the greatest blessing the Church experienced in the 20th century and I thank God for his presence among us.

Onward through the very thick fog.

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