Today, we celebrate the life of Blessed Pope John XXIII, who opened the Second Vatican Council—arguably the most important religious event of the twentieth century—on October 11, 1962.
Much has been written about the council on the occasion of its 50th anniversary, and I hope to contribute to that body of work in the coming weeks and months. But today, on his feast day, I’d like to reflect briefly on the life of John XXIII—the Good Pope, as he was called.
A few weeks ago, when I was preparing a presentation on John to deliver for a class on Vatican II, I was struck by his humor and humility, compassion and courage, and detachment and trust. I’d like to share a few quotes and anecdotes about John’s attributes, in the hopes that we can carry on the mission of the Second Vatican Council by following his example.
Today’s post speaks to his humor and humility. I’ll post about compassion and detachment on Friday and Saturday.
Humor and humility
John, born Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli, came from a humble farming family in Northern Italy, and he used humor to remind himself of that.
When a little boy asked him once if he too could one day be pope, John replied: “Anybody can be pope. The proof is that I have become one.”
“It often happens that I wake up at night and begin to think about a serious problem and decide I must tell the Pope about it. Then I wake up completely and remember that I am the Pope!” John was so concerned about helping others that he often forgot about his own prominent position.
Some other great John jokes:
Reporter: “How many people work at the Vatican?”
John XXIII: “About half.”
Head nun at the Hospital of the Holy Spirit in Rome: “Welcome, Holy Father, I’m the superior of the Holy Spirit.”
John XXIII: “You outrank me. I’m only the Vicar of Christ!”
Parts 2 and 3 will be posted in the coming days.