Posted by: fvbcdm | January 19, 2012

Feast of Saint Henry of Sweden (19 Jan 2012)

In the very difficult days of the fifteenth century, a man was elected Pope who took the name of John XXIII.  He was not, however, the validly elected pope and thus became one of the anti-popes of those days.  He functioned as pope for part of the church from 1410 to 1415.  In the year 1417, the Church was able to correct the scandalous affair of two or three men claiming to be pope at the same time.  In that year, all the Cardinals agreed on the election of Cardinal Colonna who took the name of Martin V, since he was born on the feast of Saint Martin—November 11.  But because there had been an anti-pope named John XXIII, that name was avoided until the election of a delightful old Italian peasant by the name of Angelo Cardinal Roncalli in 1958.  I remember that day very well; we seminarians ran to our radio to hear the announcement of who the new

pope was, since white smoke was rising from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel.  Someone had posted a page from the Chicago Catholic newspaper, with very small pictures of all the Cardinals, on the wall beside our radio.  Then came the name: Angelum Cardinalem Roncalli.  WHO?  We located his picture on the wall, but it was hard to believe that after many years of the aristocratic, ascetic, thin Pius XII, this fat little round-faced Italian peasant was our Supreme Pontiff!  And when they asked him what name he wished to go by as Pope, he answered “John”; it was his father’s name and he was very devoted to his father.  So now the avoidance of the papal name “John XXIII” was ended, and it may well happen that we will one day have a John XXIV, XXV, and so on. 

That was just one of the many changes that Pope John XXIII accomplished in his brief papacy of only five years.  He showed himself to be delightfully humorous.  When a reporter asked him how many people worked in the Vatican, he replied, “About half.” And as he was sitting for an official portrait as the new Pope, he remarked to the painter, “From all eternity, God has known that one day I would be Pope.  You’d think, wouldn’t you, that he would have made me better looking!”


I speak of him today because I’m reading a section of a book about him, and chuckling over some of those stories that circulated throughout the Church during his years as Pope, which was the time when my classmates and I were ordained to the priesthood.  1958-1963.  He is also said to have given a raise to the men who carried the portable papal throne, saying that since he weighed much more than Pope Pius XII, they had to work harder and so deserved an increase in pay.  Thank you for seeking God’s truth.  God bless you. Father Victor Brown, O.P.

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