Posted by: fvbcdm | October 12, 2011

Commemoration of Blessed Pope John XXIII (11 Oct 2011)

On this date in 1962, I was a seminarian in Dubuque, Iowa, looking forward to my ordination to the priesthood the following year. And on that day, a long line of white-robed cardinals, patriarchs, and bishops wended its way across Saint Peter’s square into the Vatican basilica.  Inside the basilica, the Pope at that time, John XXIII, whom we liturgically celebrate today, waited to greet them and formally open the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council which he had convoked some months earlier.
It is interesting that when we have studied Church history, we have usually read about things that happened anywhere from two thousand to two hundred years ago. But that is changing now. We are now able to celebrate very important moments in Church history that WE can remember very clearly or that happened very near our own lifetime. Ten months before I was born, the Lateran Treaty was signed by the Republic of Italy and the Holy See, which treaty brought into being a new sovereign nation called the State of Vatican City. That treaty brought to an end years of official conflict between the government of Italy and the Church, and proved to be greatly beneficial to both.
I can remember the black crepe that was hung on the front doors of our parish church in 1939 when Pope Pius XI died, and the newly elected Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli took the name of Pius XII.  By the time that he died in 1958, I was in the seminary and when the news came that there was white smoke over the Vatican, we all ran to the radio in our recreation room to hear the news: “We have a Pope,” and then the name of the newly elected Cardinal Angelo Roncalli, who took the name of John XXIII. His election was a great surprise, since no one expected this 77-year-old man to become the Supreme Pontiff.  But the Church was in for some more surprises: the new pope joked, laughed at himself and others, visited people in the city of Rome, went to a children’s ward in a Roman hospital one day, and then to visit prisoners in one of the Roman jails on Christmas day, telling them: “You can’t come to me, so I came to you.”  As he posed for an official photograph of himself as the new pope, he said to the photographer, “From all eternity, God has known that one day, I would be the Pope. You’d think, wouldn’t you, that he’d have made me better looking!”
A much more significant surprise was the moment when he announced that he was convoking an ecumenical council to begin in about a year.  Cardinal Montini, who succeeded him as Pope soon after that as Pope Paul VI, remarked to someone: “I wonder if he realizes he’s stirring up a hornet’s nest.”  As a result of that Council, the Church has never been the same. When I was first ordained to the priesthood, I celebrated Mass all in Latin.  Thanks to Blessed John XXIII, I may now celebrate it either in Latin or any other language I choose, and either in the new rite which came in the 1970s or the older one in which Mass was celebrated for some 400 years before that. By the time of my ordination, though, John XXIII had died and Paul VI had been elected, who then presided over the Council to its conclusion.
Some Catholics and others who observe the Church believe that the changes have been very good; others are fairly indifferent to them, and still others think that they are the work of the devil.  But, like them or not, they are with us and God’s will permits them and will bring good for the Church, either by means of the changes or despite them.
In any case, the old Italian peasant pope with the round, fat face and the chuckling smile has now been beatified and so is Blessed John XXIII. And many of us can remember him and realize that he, too, is a part of Church history. Thank you for seeking God’s truth.  God bless you.  Father Victor Brown, O.P.


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