“Good Pope John”

Pope John XXIIIToday, the Catholic Church celebrates the life of St. John XXIII, was Pope, Supreme Pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church, from 1958 to 1963.

Born Angelo Roncalli, in the Italian province of Lombardy, to a family of sharecroppers, in 1881. He would be ordained a priest in 1904, serve as an stretcher bearer and chaplain in the Italian army, during World War I. After the war, he would be a bishop’s secretary, papal diplomat to Bulgaria, Turkey, and France. During World War II, he would use his diplomatic and ecclesial status to help hundreds of Jews escape the Holocaust.

He was appointed Patriarch of Venice, Italy, and made a Cardinal, in 1953. In 1958, after the death of Pope Pius XII, he joined other Cardinals in the Sistine Chapel, to elect the new Pope. After eleven ballots, Cardinal Angelo Roncalli was elected Pope. As is custom he took a new name, and became Pope John XXIII.

He was expected to be a “caretaker” Pope, his papacy was to be short and uneventful. He shocked everyone when in 1959, he summoned the world’s bishops to what became the Second Vatican Council. He would not live to see it’s conclusion, dying of stomach cancer in 1963.

I have no memories of his pontificate. As an altar server, I witnessed the steady changes that came in the liturgy. When I was in high school, I came across a book listing his memorable sayings, including his more humorous ones. I became attracted to this Pope from the Italian countryside. In seminary, I read his spiritual journal, “Journal of a Soul,” and encountered the deeply spiritual Pope John. And I have read, or at least tried to read his social justice papal encyclicals “letters,” especially his famous “Pacem in Terris.”  I am finding that this letter still has something to say for our times.

Recently, I learned that there is something St. John XXIII and I share; we are both Secular Franciscans.  He joined the OFS during his seminary days, I joined in 1988.  So to my fellow Franciscan, I ask his intercession for our troubled Church, that the Holy Spirit will guide us into living the Gospel life more fully.

Servant Church – Diakonia

So when he had washed their feet and put his garments back on and reclined at table again, he said to them, ‘Do you realize what I have done for you?  You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master,’ and rightly so, for indeed I am.  If I therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet.  I given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.  (John 13: 12-15)

In the above Gospel passage, and in many others, Jesus stressed that those who follow him, must be willing to serve both those within the faith community, and those who are outside of it.  Throughout all the Gospels, Jesus showed through his healing ministry, that the Messiah in their midst came as a servant to all.  So his Church was also to be a servant to all, providing aid and support to the poor, serving those both within and without the Church.  The Greek word “diakonia,” meaning “service,” has been applied to describe an aspect of life in the Christian Church.  As related in the Acts of the Apostles, the Apostles appointed seven men to serve the Hellenist Christian widows.  In Christian tradition, they became known as the first Deacons.  As the Church grew, so did the number Deacons, performing works of mercy to the poor.  They became an Order in the early Church, an official sign of Church acting as servant to all.

As Europe moved into medieval times, as Christianity became the dominant religion in Western Europe, as bishops and the Pope inherited secular power, changes began to take hold.  The papacy and the episcopacy began to take on the trappings of the nobility; some adopting the view that they, with the nobility, deserve to be served by the serfs and peasants.  The idea of a servant Church almost disappeared; it was preserved by laypersons who were inspired to serve the poor; by some bishops and priests who established hospitals, homes for orphans, lepersariums.   An active Diaconate also declined, becoming a transactional position that a man would acquire for a period of time before being ordained to the priesthood.

With the Second Vatican Council, the concept of a servant Church was reborn.  The Council, and many encyclicals since then, have stressed that all members of the Catholic Church are called to participate in the ministry of service to the poor, the homeless, and the forgotten.  Fulfilling this call can take many forms: giving financial support to charities; volunteering for food pantries and kitchens, homeless shelters and centers; visiting patients in hospitals and nursing homes.  We need to be open to promptings of the Holy Spirit; and discern an opportunity to serve and show mercy.

The Council turned once again to the Order of Deacons, to be a visible sign of being a Servant Church.  About fifty years ago, Pope Paul VI reestablished the permanent Diaconate in the Roman Catholic Church.  Men, married and single, from many countries, including the United States, have stepped up and been ordained.  They are servants to the Church and the world, through liturgical participation, works of charity, preaching and being religion educators.  In the Archdiocese of Boston newspaper, The Pilot, three Deacons have written an excellent column on the Permanent Diaconate of today.  I invite you to go read it.

In our country, in our world, there are people in need, who feel abandoned and discarded.  In such times the world needs a Servant Church, to bring hope and relief.  A Church who follows Our Lord Jesus command; “I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.”

deacon red stole

 

 

 

Good Press, Bad Press

catacombsI have been scanning the Religion News Service online, when I came across this article by David Gibson, about the Pact of the Catacombs.  It tells the story of what happened, when on November 16th, 1965, close to the conclusion of the Second Vatican, around forty bishops gathered in a chapel located in the Catacombs of Domitilla.  At the end of the liturgy, each of the bishops affixed their signatures to a document that came to be known as the Pact of the Catacombs.  In signing it they “pledged … to ‘try to live according to the ordinary manner of our people in all that concerns housing, food, means of transport, and related matters.’

The signatories vowed to renounce personal possessions, fancy vestments and ‘names and titles that express prominence and power,’ and they said they would make advocating for the poor and powerless the focus of their ministry.

In all this, they said, ‘we will seek collaborators in ministry so that we can be animators according to the Spirit rather than dominators according to the world; we will try to make ourselves as humanly present and welcoming as possible; and we will show ourselves to be open to all, no matter what their beliefs.’  ”

The ideals outlined in that ecclesial manifesto were adopted by many of the South American prelates, Dom Helder Camara, Archbishop of Olinda and Recife, of Brazil, a leading advocate for the poor, was one of the original signatories.  About 500 Latin American bishops would eventually sign the Pact; among them the assassinated Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero.  These bishops strived to be shepherds of a church of, and for the poor.  Many found guidance in liberation theology, which placed them at odds with conservative clergy, their countries’ dictators, and eventually the Vatican.

The original signed document of the Pact has been lost, though its contents have been widely disseminated.  Only one of the original signers is still with us.  But its spirit is very much alive in the person of Pope Francis.  He has called on the Church’s bishops to adopt a simpler lifestyle, to be true shepherds, to have the “smell of the sheep.”  And he seeks to make real the desire of St. Pope John XXIII, and the other bishops to have a Church of the poor.

The Catholic Church is going to have some rough days ahead; this weekend, the movie, “Spotlight” will open in American theaters.  It will tell the story of how the Boston Globe uncovered the extant of clergy abuse of children in the Archdiocese of Boston.  It was that reporting that opened the floodgates, and revealed a scandal that continues affect the Church.  Also, two books will be published and released in Italy, which will “reveal” continuing financial scandals in Vatican City.

In the days ahead, we are going to need to examples of the lives of those bishops, who truly committed themselves to living the Gospel, to be servants of all.  And we are going to accept the challenge of the Gospel ourselves, to be servants for each other, and the world.  To seek to replace hatred with love, and war with peace, if we can do that, try to do this, perhaps we can show the world the true face of the Church.

Dear Holy Father!

Pope FrancisDear Holy Father:

What are we Catholics are hoping for in the pews?  St. Pope John XXIII declared his reason for calling the Second Vatican Council:  “I want to throw open the windows of the Church so that we can see out and the people can see in.”  Many of us believe that those windows were not opened enough; others hold that after the Council, those windows were shut!  In the stale air of a closed Church the clergy sexual abuse scandal became possible; and the various financial scandals involving the Vatican Bank came about more easily.  Some of the national Churches, the local dioceses; the Spirit was being stifled because of micromanaging from the Vatican Curia.

So when you were elected as our new Pope, it sent a shockwave through the Church.  From the get-go, you showed that you were going to be a very unusual Pontiff; you paid your own hotel bill, you chose not to live in the Apostolic Palace.  You have reached out to Cardinals from outside the Curia to set up a special council to advise you on reforming the bureaucracy.  You have established a commission to deal with the child abuse scandal.  You have begun to clean up the Church’s financial institutions.  You have encouraged the bishops to speak freely at the Synod of the Family, and sought input from the worldwide laity.

So what more are we looking for?  What I am looking is for more concrete action to back up your inspiring words.  I am looking for more bishops to be held accountable for their failure to act in defense of children.  I am looking for the laity to have more of a voice on who is appointed to shepherd us in our dioceses.  And I am looking for all Catholics to have more of a say in how our parishes and dioceses function.  I would like to the national conferences of bishops allowed to have more authority to speak on and to act on issues that concern the Church and country; and not have the Curia always second guessing them.  I would to see theologians have more freedom to” push the envelope,” when examining matters of faith, doctrine, and the world.  And open discussion, transparent disciplinary actions, should they go “off the rails.”

What I am looking for, Holy Father, what I am hoping for, is that the windows of the Church will once again be open wide, let the Spirit blow in, and set the Church on fire for Christ.  And if it scatters again the accumulated dust of ages; if it again shakes the structures of the Church; Holy Father, would that be such a bad thing?

Dear Leader