THE BIG NEWS this week from the Vatican is that they plan later this 2013 to add two new saints to the Church’s recognition. What is newsy about it is that both were modern time popes. One is Pope John the 23rd and the other is Pope John Paul the 2nd. It is quite unique to name two popes at once to be saints. (In fact, it probably is a historic “first.”) The celebration upcoming ought to be huge. They were so popular in their day and world known. Since they both lived in recent times, like Mother Teresa’s elevation to sainthood, many people will be wanting to go to the Vatican ceremony or watch on television or internet. People can identify with the recent blessings the world received by these pope’s lives…. Pope John Paul II I know of a Catholic priest-pastor who was so touched by Pope John Paul II’s visit to Denver, that, not only was his Catholic faith rejuvenated, but he also went on to become a priest and serve the Church’s mission by that inspiration from “JPII.” He observed, firsthand, the evangelical spirit and joy in the Good News of JPII and he caught on with the same spirit for evangelism. Now he is an evangelist for Christ, with his own unique fervor and style of evangelizing (and he is one of our DC priests). His is just one example of JPII’s influence……….. Pope John XXXIII I know of several people who were also touched by one single visit by Pope John XXXIII to the United Nations. It changed their lives. They say that he witnessed to them what Christ Jesus would do and say after the terror of what was the times of the 20th century world wars. They say that he spoke very inspirational words to re-direct the world back to the right path. “He was Christ’ Vicar calling the world to peace and co-respect. A great many persons listened to him and heeded his words of wisdom,” said a reborn Catholic. His 1963 encyclical, Pacem in Terris, proclaimed the need for our world conversion of the Hobbesian state of nature—of strong states dominating the weak—onto new relations based on mutual understanding, cooperation, and reconciliation. This pope stated that a conversion could only be reached by humankind following her deepest longings, which could make for philosophical and moral and religious renewal… What a radical statement to make to the world.! Yet so true. Such a prophet he was! Pope John reminded the world that humanity has a natural law that is God-founded in us. It is where one had to start in realizing truly what are “human rights” and of how it relates to what are God’s rights over us. He described the natural law as “the living expression of the shared conscience of humanity, a ‘grammar’ on which to build the future of the world.” This kind of language brought conversion to many persons, and, in those who have crusaded for peace and justice since his time to today, they will be joyful to honor Pope John 23 as a saint of our modern times.
Peace Vigil in Church
The Two Popes To Be Saints
The Celebration of Saint John the 23rd and Saint John Paul the 2nd will be given a date by His Holiness Francis I sometime for Autumn of 2013. It will be a double joy. What do I think of the two popes, concerning my own life? Overall, they each brought a vibrant light to the papacy and to the Church, which gave it much life and attraction to me, from my childhood and into my present 50’s in age.
More specifically, this is how they touched me. I was born in Pope John’s time and I was ordained in Pope John Paul’s time. One area in particular was how they both put a more human face on the Church and her revelation of Christ the Savior through their lives and pontificates. Usually through history, popes have given more of the distant transcendant and lofty representation of the Church and of her Lord. Yet not these two. They brought the Lord near and the papacy near to the people. These two popes mixed so much with people and cared so much for the common man that they let their Vicar of Christ role show all the modern world what Jesus was fully like in his humanity. Jesus must have enjoyed the new insights He was shining to the 20th century through his modern Peter(s).
A second impact upon me (and many) from both popes was on the modern liturgy–the Mass. Permit me to say a lot about this area. Pope John convened a Church council that renewed the Mass and brought it into the vernacular and gave the laity a more inclusive part in the prayers and readings of Mass. My experience of the English “New Mass” from the 1970’s and on was that I certainly enjoyed it as a young person. It was dubbed the “People’s Mass,” as it became a Mass that just wasn’t mostly of the priest, but truly a shared prayer, with “father” as its main celebrant (but with everyone else as ‘celebrants’, too): that approach really touched me. I came to love praying the Mass, with seemingly more of the lay parts now assigned to be answered to the presider’s prayer and with more lay participation coming forth. For the people in the pews, the Novus Ordo (New Mass) just seemed more inclusive. Having the prayers in English and having some variety in the liturgy (with lectors and extraordinary ministers helping) certainly was a plus. I became personally involved as a teen and young adult by assisting Mass in folk group and cantor ‘music ministry’ and lectoring and being a sacristan and a person greeter at the church entrance (before “greeter” was a position separate from usher).
The Mass was central to my life. It was a natural development, then, into my adult years, to identify more with how truly special the priest’s role was in the Mass. I came to highly respect the priests and see their amazing value to the Church as servant-leaders of prayer. (It helped that I was volunteering in service at Mass near to them; I got to know priests better.) I think this openness about the liturgy was a seed sown by John the 23rd’s influence on the Church, and I am glad that the timing of my birth coincided with his papacy. The Church I would serve (later) in my priesthood was so much shaped by his short pontificate (less than 5 years–in the late 1950’s, early 60’s). The Sacred Liturgy of the Church was so much renewed!
In the papacy of Pope John Paul II was I ordained to pray the Mass as a priest (1988), and much of it was served in his long pontificate (unlike John, John Paul had many years as pope). In trying to be a good priest, I continually go back to John Paul II’s self-description of his papacy and priestly life, who said that his Vicar of Christ role was simply to be “Servant among the servants of God.” He saw the priest as a servant, and he based it upon Jesus’ words (“I am among you Who serves… the greatest among you will be the servant to the many… servant to the others.”) This is its original model.
The Catholic priesthood received a renewal by how John Paul II led it. We were to be Christ (in the priestly call) as Servant. Our Holy Orders were first to be Christ the Servant. These were just not mere words of the pontiff, as we saw him live this call. I can recall watching the Youth Day Masses and so many other televised Masses of JPII and seeing that servant example in him during the Sacred Liturgy. I attended two of his Masses in America (DC, Baltimore) and two others as con-celebrant in St. Peter’s: his witness of servant was constant. His servanthood approach helped the Priest of Christ shine in his life more radiantly, and touched all of his ordained priests and bishops of the world to follow the same model. In my own vocation, I have so much more to imitate the way of Saint John Paul II: to be of the holy vessel that priesthood calls of me, in the Persona Christi vocation. Yet I am praying for it.
And, in looking to be the priest I should be, I also go to the example of Pope John XXIII who reminds us to be fully human and alive in our vocation, that we are not to be so pious as to be separated from people, but pious enought to truly love and mix with them as Jesus did.
I have spoken much here of the benefit of the renewal work of the Mass. I can finish with these comments… In the papacy of Pope John Paul II, he brought the prayers and liturgical life forward with a better Missal, in a truer translation in English (and in other languages) to the Latin Mass of the Church’s long history, and one that rebounded some of the reverent language to God of the prior Missals (that wasn’t as well first translated in the 1960’s-70’s Vatican II try for a vernacular Mass). The New Mass or “Novus Ordo” as they called it was fine and worthy for prayer, but the Missal we have now (since Advent 2011) is a more polished prayer for us to lift up to God. I have come to understand now how much John Paul II was building upon the liturgical work of Vatican II, that his work was to bless further what his predecessor John XXIII had started. (If you read the Vatican II document Sacrosactum Consilium, you can see this thread.) Because of Vatican II, John Paul II made it a priority in his papacy for the Church’s prayer to experience an update in the Holy Spirit. Even with all he accomplished in other areas, John Paul cared most about the Holy Mass. As Pope Francis has said this week in his first encyclical, it also remains his high concern for his papacy. From Lumen Fidei #44 he says, “The sacramental character of faith finds its highest expression in the Eucharist. The Eucharist is a precious nourishment for faith: an encounter with Christ truly present in the supreme act of his love, the life-giving gift of himself. In the Eucharist we find… its making-present of The Mystery… open(ing) up a future, to foreshadow ultimate fulfillment… making “hodie”, the today (experience) of the mysteries of salvation… (In it, we are also led) from the visible world to the invisible… we learn to see the heights and depths of reality. The bread and wine are changed into the body and blood of Christ, In this movement (into the body and blood of Christ, we are drawn) body and soul, into the movement of all creation towards its fulfilment.
My, oh my. It is much to fathom! As a priest in my 25th anniversary, I am glad to be praying Mass in the fruits of both of these pope’s work to renew the Church’s greatest act. The Holy Mass is meant to be the first and foremost work of Christ to renew and save His people. Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of Hosts!