Lessons from Good Pope John, Part 2: Compassion and courage

This post is the second piece in a series about Pope John XXIII, who opened the Vatican II Council on October 11, 1962.  I hope we can celebrate the 50th anniversary of the council, and live out its mission, by following the example of the Good Pope.

John’s motto for his papacy was “pastor and father.”  He didn’t just preach about unconditional Christian love, but he lived it by intimately engaging with people, even when it was unpopular.

Like a loving grandfather, John encouraged parents to “give their children a kiss from the pope,” and every day would pray the rosary for all the babies born in the world that day.

John with a little girl in her First Communion outfit.

He could easily empathize with others, and, while working as a military chaplain during World War I, wrote, “It often happened—permit me this personal memory—that I had to fall on my knees and cry like a child, alone in my room, unable to contain the emotion I felt at the simple and holy deaths of so many poor sons of our people.” As a diplomat in Europe during World War II, John worked secretly to save Jews by forging birth certificates and marriage papers.

John constantly practiced and encouraged aggiornamento—updating or renewal—during a time when the Church, for so long, had refused to engage with the modern world.

He not only pushed the Church toward aggiornamento by calling the Council, but he also sought to redefine his own position as pope. He took the name John upon ascending to the papacy, despite the fact that the name was considered “unsalvageable” after the militaristic John XXII had tainted the name.  The Good Pope reclaimed the name and transformed it.

John visits prisoners on Christmas in 1958.

John broke with the papal tradition of seclusion and made the world his home.  In a radical move, he celebrated his first Christmas as pope at a local prison. Upon meeting the prisoners he said, “You could not leave to see me so I came to you.”

Only days into his papacy—which many had assumed would be a short-term, transitional period, given John’s old age—John announced he plan to call a council.  It came in a “flash of inspiration” from the Holy Spirit, he said, and took swift action to make it happen.

John addressed the fears of Church leaders and laity who were wary about a council, and about bringing the Church into the modern world that it, for so long, had pulled away from.

In his opening speech at the council, John said, “We must disagree with these prophets of gloom,” who could only see the destruction and corruption of modernity. “We must recognize here the hand of God,” John asserted, understanding the good that modernity could do for the Church, and the good that the Church could do for modernity.  John quickly published an encyclical addressing all people (not just Catholics), which spoke about imperialism, just wage, social justice, human rights, relations with the Jews, liturgy, and religious freedom.  Speaking in modern terms about modern crises, he wanted all the world’s people to know how much he loved them.

Yesterday, I wrote about John’s humor and humility.  Tomorrow, I’ll discuss John’s attitude of detachment and trust.

Must watch vid and a birthday wish

Please take the time to watch this video, despite its length. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QZpT2Muxoo0&feature=player_embedded.

I tend to be a bit of a broken record–posting things related to the rising Islamophobia in our country, especially with this Islamic center issues–but the massive amount of fear-mongering needs to be countered with something, even if my tiny blog can’t compete with Fox News. 🙂

As Keith clarifies in the above video, the Islamic center formerly called “Cordoba House,” will now be named Park 51, because politicians have tried–and succeeded– in demonizing this name.  They say it refers to the Muslim conquest of medieval Spain; as I have made clear in previous posts, that is not the case at all.  It is a reference to the spirit of convivencia, “living together in harmony”, that was experienced by people of all faiths in the city of Cordoba.  It was a place of knowledge, learning, and mutual understanding.

I am disappointed that the builders decided to change the name.  It seems like they are conceding a bit to the ridiculous and false criticism of politicians on the right.  Cordoba House is still going to be a part of the center; it is the name of the program promoting interfaith dialogue, as it should be.

My blog-friend, Saladin, wrote a great commentary on this situation.  Check out his blog–that is where I stole this video from.  Thanks, Saladin!

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Also, Happy Birthday to my younger brother, Nick, who ran in his first Varsity-calibre cross country race today.  He turned 17 on the 17th, and he ran a 17:42.  Congrats bro, you have a very proud sister.