Thursday, May 13, 2010
Good Pope John
I look forward to the canonization of Pope John XXIII as a saint.
It almost happened, shortly after his death, when, during the Second Vatican Council, some of the bishops proposed that he be declared a saint by popular acclamation. Cardinal Leo Suenens suggested that the usual process would simply take too long and that the people already considered their beloved pope to be a saint.
The Vatican's Congregation for the Causes of Saints objected that popular acclaim was no longer customary, that setting aside the meticulous investigation of the candidate's life and teaching was not appropriate, and that acclaiming John XXIII a saint would be insulting to the memory of his predecessor Pope Pius XII.
To defuse the controversy, Pope Paul VI, Pope John's successor, intervened and said that he would see to it that the process of canonization would begin simultaneously for both John XXIII and Pius XII.
In the year 2000 Pope John Paul II beatified Pope John, thus officially permitting Catholics to call upon him by name in prayer and affirming that a miracle ascribed to John's intervention had been investigated and approved.
In 1966, just three years after John's death, a religious Sister, a Daughter of Charity, lay dying from internal bleeding caused by a peptic ulcer of the stomach and further complicated by a fistula which broke through the wall of her abdomen allowing all that she tried to eat to be emitted. Sister Caterina Capitana said that while alone in her hospital room, she felt someone touch her stomach and heard a man's voice call her name. Looking up she saw Pope John XXIII standing next to her bed and heard him say, "Do not be afraid. You are now well." Sister said they talked for about ten minutes.
Her fever and other symptoms disappeared. Getting out of bed, Sister Caterina called for something to eat. Within two days she was back to her old job as a nurse. Her case was investigated and declared a miraculous cure. A second miracle is needed, one which occurs after the beatification process, in order to fulfill requirements for canonization. Several have been proposed.
Pope John XXIII called the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) for the purpose of updating the Church. His call for aggiornamento would be like "opening the window to let in a little fresh air." He said he wanted the Church to use the medicine of mercy rather than of severity in assessing the world and reaching out to it.
John was gentle yet strong, diplomatic but determined, intent on preserving the truths of faith but open to changing the language in which these truths were conveyed. He wanted a more friendly Church. "Pope John loved people more than power," was theologian Yves Congar's assessment.
Pope John XXIII was very much loved by Catholics and admired by others. Although there are Catholics who oppose his canonization on the grounds that he diluted the faith and trashed the Church, most of those who know who he was and what he did find no basis for that assessment. Pope John XXIII, responding to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, convoked what Church historian John W. O'Malley calls "the largest committee in the history of the world, some 2300 bishops" to promote the life of the Church.
What he managed to accomplish in the five years of his papacy staggers the imagination; who he was and how he inspired others, even to this very day, deserves honor and imitation. I look forward to the canonization of "good Pope John."