Sunday, April 27, 2014

(138) Remembering St. Pope John XXIII on the Day of His Canonization, Divine Mercy Sunday


An aerial view of the Canonization of the two Popes, St. John XXIII and John Paul II.  About 500,000 attended here plus some 300,000 more viewing giant screens
throughout the city and millions more on television worldwide.
Click on for a close up, much larger, and more panoramic view that you can explore with your mouse.

            Today we saw the canonization of two popes on Divine Mercy Sunday.  A bad habit worked to my benefit; that is I fell asleep early in front of the television set after a tiring afternoon of yard work and woke up at 3:30 am, just in time to see live the canonization of these two great popes.  It had to be acts of divine mercy that God raised up such great and saintly popes to steer the Church through such a turbulent world over the last 168 years.  Blessed Pius IX (1846-78) had to confront the conquest of the Papal States, one revolution after another in Europe, the Franco Prussian War, and the disappearance of Poland from the map as Russia, Prussia, and Austria divided the country among themselves.  Leo XIII (1878-1903) fought the evils and abuses bred by the Industrial Revolution and the rise of Marxism.
St. Pius X (1903-14) tried to prevent World War I among the imperialist powers of Europe. Benedict XV (1914-22) tried to make peace during World War I.  Pius XI (1922-39) saw the World Depression, the rise of two great evils which he vociferously condemned, Nazism, Italian and Japanese Fascism on the one hand and atheistic Communism on the other while trying to prevent World War II.  Pius XII (1939-58) tried to obtain peace, save thousands of Jews, more than any single person while America would not accept Jewish refugees, and guide a badly persecuted Church through Nazism and Communism in Europe and China. 

St. John XXIII (1958-63) guided the Church through the tensest part of the Cold War which came perilously close to a nuclear holocaust, but for the providence of God.  Paul VI (1963-78) guided the Church through a period of chaos that resulted from liberal distortions of the Vatican Council, the sexual revolution, and the Cold War.  The Lord used St. John Paul II the Great (1978-2005) to play a crucial part in the collapse of Communism in Europe and he had to face terrorism…….a revival of the thousand year old war between Western Civilization and militant Islam.  Pope Benedict XVI (2005-13) continued St. John Paul II’s work and gave the Church a greater theological understanding.

         Two popes stand out among these greats of the golden age of the papacy and we canonized both of them today.  We covered St. John Paul II in Blog #10 regarding his legacy and achievements and in Blog #79: Remembering Him and how he touched us, and Blog #98 on his visit to Detroit in 1987.  Let us do the same with St. John XXIII for his canonization.

St. John XXIII initiated the Vatican Council, considered by some to be the most important event in the Church in the 20th Century.  St. John Paul II helped to write the documents and played a very important role in its implementation that continues today.

Both of the new saints were Divine Mercy popes.  In the first days of his pontificate in 1958 St. John XXIII came across a stack of supposedly routine papers to sign.  Considered to be of the least importance and on the bottom was one to suppress completely the Divine Mercy devotion because of a determination of doctrinal error in St. Faustina’s Diary of our Lord’s appearances to her.  St. John XXIII turned the stack upside down and saw the Divine Mercy document first.  He was struck by it and wanted to consult the Polish bishops on it, but they were tightly restricted under Communism.  Instead he merely suspended it until further information could be obtained.
Some 15 years later Cardinal Archbishop Karol Wojtila of Cracow, Poland investigated it and discovered the diary and found it very authentic and true.  Thus he put pressure on the Vatican to lift its suspension and it turned out that the alleged doctrinal error was merely due to a faulty translation.  Upon becoming Pope John Paul II he wrote his second encyclical on Divine Mercy, beatified and canonized St. Faustina, and finally in the year 2000 declared the Second Sunday of Easter (the Octave) as Divine Mercy Sunday to be observed by the entire Church.   He died on the Vigil of Divine Mercy Sunday.

Pope Francis himself stated that he grew up with a devotion to Divine Mercy. 

The highlight of Pope Francis’s homily at the Canonization is the following quote: “They were priests, bishops and popes of the twentieth century. They lived through the tragic events of that century, but they were not overwhelmed by them. For them, God was more powerful; faith was more powerful – faith in Jesus Christ the Redeemer of man and the Lord of history; the mercy of God, shown by those five wounds, was more powerful; and more powerful too was the closeness of Mary our Mother.”  What a lesson for the world!  Pope Francis has a remarkable skill of saying so much with such great depth in a few words.  The complete text is given in the Appendix of this blog.

My most vivid memory of St. Pope John XXIII was at a general papal audience inside the immense Basilica of St. Peter in the Vatican in September 1962.  It was with my mother when I was on leave from my Army base in Orleans, France during the depths of the Cold War after Nikita Khrushchev put up the Berlin Wall.  They carried the good Pope, seated upon a portable throne, through the standing room only throng to the altar.  That first sight of him some 50 feet away was unforgettable.  This large man had a warm and peaceful smile that radiated joy, great kindness, and a tremendous love for everybody there as he blessed us.  The Pope spoke to us in French & Italian which was translated to us in different languages.  He asked for prayers for the success of the Vatican II Ecumenical Council which was due to open in the Fall.  That was the only session that he would preside over.  His successor, Pope Paul VI presided over the last three sessions in the Fall of 1963, 1964, and 1965.

On Sunday at noon he came to the window of his apartment for his weekly praying of the Angeles and gave his papal blessing as auto horns blared.  There were less people, but still a good crowd in St. Peter’s Square excited to have a glimpse of the good Pope.  His voice was powerful and energetic.  Little did we know that we could see his canonization on EWTN this Sunday.

Pope John XXIII was proud of his peasant origins. He had a common touch that endeared him to millions, and a beautiful humility that showed the depth of his spirituality as does his book, “Journal of a Soul” (google it or click on  Yet he was strong and vigorous.  As Fr. Angelo Roncalli, God prepared him for the papacy…….experience as a medic and chaplain during World War I, teaching Church History in a seminary, and working with the Propagation of the Faith.  From 1925 to 1953 he was a Vatican diplomat in Bulgaria, Turkey, and France before being named the Cardinal Archbishop of Venice.  Under orders from Pope Pius XII he played a role in rescuing Jews from Nazi controlled Hungary.

Since John XXIII was almost 77 when elected, nothing much was expected of his papacy in probably a short reign. Pope for only 4 ½ years, (1958 – 1963), his accomplishments far exceeded expectations.  He appointed a commission to revise the Code of Cannon Law.  The Pontiff expanded the College of Cardinals well beyond the customary 70 to be more international and include bishops from the Philippines, Japan, and Africa.  Furthermore, he established native hierarchies in Indonesia, Vietnam, and Korea.  Pope John continued the liturgical reforms begun by Pius XII and authorized use of the vernacular in the administration of Sacraments.
His Two Principal Encyclicals.  As a part-time graduate student in Business at Louisiana State University while working as a chemical engineer at Allied Chemical Corp. in Baton Rouge 1963-64, I belonged to the Graduate Discussion Group of the Catholic Student Center under the tutelage of Fr. William Borders, 50 years old and apparently destined to remain a Newman Center chaplain for the rest of his career.  The next year he was made monsignor, became the Rector of the cathedral parish, in 1968 the first Bishop of Orlando, had a heart attack, in 1974-89 the Archbishop of Baltimore and living to be 96 years old.  We read and discussed the two greatest encyclicals of St. John XXIII that significantly impacted the world.  Little did the members of this discussion group realize how its members and its leader would later apply the principles of these two great documents.

With Mater et Magistra on Christianity and Social Progress (1961) St. John XXIII reinforced and updated the pioneering 1891 encyclical of Pope Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum on the Condition of Labor on the 70th anniversary of its publication.  His successors updated it further with Octogesima Adveniens (1971) of Paul VI and Centesimus Annus of John Paul II in 1991.  These social encyclicals are really summaries of the social teachings of the Church at the time and promoted social justice. ñ  Remarkable is the unity of papal teaching from one Pope to another……never contradicting, always reinforcing, adapting and updating to changing times, new realities, and different problems. 

  For the complete text of Mater et Magistra, see  In fact the complete texts of almost any papal document is available on and, including encyclicals, apostolic letters, and other documents as those of the Vatican II Council.  

This encyclical reiterated the principle of subsidiarity…….that Big Government should only intervene when lower levels (communities, families, and individuals) cannot or will not do the job themselves with decisions being made at the lower levels.  Workers should not be seen as commodities, but as human beings with great dignity, created according to the image and likeness of God. 

The just wage should reflect one’s contribution to a company according to justice and equity, not simply the marketplace (supply and demand).  It must be a living wage.  A nation should balance economic development with social progress with the common good in mind.  Labor and Management must also consider the common good in their demands and decisions.  The wealthiest nations should assist and help the poor nations to help them to develop themselves.  Human life is sacred and must be nurtured through the family.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower meets with Pope John XXIII on December 6,     1959....... the first American president of the United States to visit a Pope since Woodrow Wilson in 1919.  This former Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in Wurope in World War II and all of his successors as well as other world leaders recognized how many divisions the Pope has (Joseph Stalin's question), i.e., influence on the world stage by visiting him.

In the wake of the construction of the Berlin Wall in August 1961 and the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962 during the Cold War that threatened to become a nuclear war (we actually came extremely close, but for the hand of Providence), John XXIII published on April 11, 1963 his landmark encyclical, Pacem in Terris ("Peace on Earth").  He addressed it to all men of good will, on natural-law principles of peace.  The Pontiff died less than two months later on June 3 of stomach cancer. 

In this encyclical the Pontiff emphasized that there cannot be peace or justice on earth until all of humanity recognizes the dignity of human beings as creations of God.  Peace needs to be based upon an order “founded on truth, built according to justice, vivified and integrated by charity, and put into practice in freedom”.  It was received very well on both sides of the iron curtain.  See the complete text at

The good Pope used his moral influence for peace in 1961 during the Berlin crisis, in 1962 during the Algerian revolt against France, and again later that year during the Cuban missile crisis. In 1963, he was posthumously awarded the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom.

His Great Missionary Initiative.  In 1961 he made an appeal for priests, religious, and lay volunteers to participate in the missions in Latin America.  Many laymen and religious with their dioceses responded to his call and I was one of them, although over a year after his death in June 1963.  It was Pope John XXIII who inspired the formation of a group of some 250 American lay men and women called the Papal Volunteers for Latin America or “PAVLA” under the authority of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.  Some 500 of us served in all.  

Although now defunct as an entity, it was a pioneering effort as the first organized missionary group of lay men and women on a national scale with a temporary three year commitment to serve in the missions (See Blogs #61-65.  I was sponsored by the Archdiocese of Baltimore and was sent to Arequipa, Perú to teach Chemistry and the Methodology of Science Teaching.  After taking a year off to obtain a Master’s Degree in Business Administration at the University of Pittsburgh, I taught Business and Economic Development at the Universidad Católica de Santa Maria.  I served for a total of 14 years until 1982.

Vatican Council II.  To everyone’s surprise three months into his papacy Pope John XXIII announced in his own words: “to open the window of the Church to fresh air” and convene an ecumenical council which took 44 months to prepare.  Its goals included renewing life in the Church, to reform its structures and institutions, and to explore ways and means of promoting unity among Christians. It was really a missionary council……to renew the Church, to make it more effective with the faithful, and to evangelize the world with the light of Christ.  John XXIII was the first to use the term, “evangelization”; John Paul II took his predecessor’s name and traveled all over the world to evangelize.  Their successors also picked up on the “New Evangelization” and promoted it.  The Pontiff selected the liturgy as the first major topic of discussion by the Council.  Collegiality was also to be discussed.

The council ushered in a new era in the history of the Church.  Among those most active in the writing of its documents were two brilliant scholars…….one, a young 42 year old philosopher, Auxiliary Bishop of Cracow, Poland Karol Wojtila and the other, a young 35 year old theologian by the name of Fr. Joseph Ratzinger.  Eventually they became Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI and implemented the Council despite liberal attempts to distort it under the guise of “Spirit of Vatican II” according to their own agenda.   Many of them never even read the documents the Council published. 

In no way did the Council ever change or contradict any doctrine; that was never the intent.  But it did clarify Church teaching and deepen our understanding of it, i.e., the Magisterium.  The Council did adapt Church teaching to the new realities of the 20th and 21st centuries.  In fact 50 years later the Church is still in the process of digesting and implemented Vatican Council II.  The Council of Trent (25 sessions from 1545 – 1563), i.e., the beginning of the Counterreformation, also took years to implement and had a lasting historical significance.  For the texts of all 16 documents, see  


Text of the Homily of Pope Francis at the 
Canonizations of St. John XXIII and St. John Paul II

At the heart of this Sunday, which concludes the Octave of Easter and which John Paul II wished to dedicate to Divine Mercy, are the glorious wounds of the risen Jesus. 

He had already shown those wounds when he first appeared to the Apostles on the very evening of that day following the Sabbath, the day of the resurrection. But, as we heard, Thomas was not there that evening, and when the others told him that they had seen the Lord, he replied that unless he himself saw and touched those wounds, he would not believe. A week later, Jesus appeared once more to the disciples gathered in the Upper Room, and Thomas was present; Jesus turned to him and told him to touch his wounds. Whereupon that man, so straightforward and accustomed to testing everything personally, knelt before Jesus with the words: “My Lord and my God!” (Jn 20:28).

The wounds of Jesus are a scandal, a stumbling block for faith, yet they are also the test of faith. That is why on the body of the risen Christ the wounds never pass away: they remain, for those wounds are the enduring sign of God’s love for us. They are essential for believing in God. Not for believing that God exists, but for believing that God is love, mercy and faithfulness. Saint Peter, quoting Isaiah, writes to Christians: “by his wounds you have been healed” (1 Pet 2:24, cf. Is 53:5).

Saint John XXIII and Saint John Paul II were not afraid to look upon the wounds of Jesus, to touch his torn hands and his pierced side. They were not ashamed of the flesh of Christ, they were not scandalized by him, by his cross; they did not despise the flesh of their brother (cf. Is 58:7), because they saw Jesus in every person who suffers and struggles. These were two men of courage, filled with the parrhesia of the Holy Spirit, and they bore witness before the Church and the world to God’s goodness and mercy.

They were priests, bishops and popes of the twentieth century. They lived through the tragic events of that century, but they were not overwhelmed by them. For them, God was more powerful; faith was more powerful – faith in Jesus Christ the Redeemer of man and the Lord of history; the mercy of God, shown by those five wounds, was more powerful; and more powerful too was the closeness of Mary our Mother.

In these two men, who looked upon the wounds of Christ and bore witness to his mercy, there dwelt a living hope and an indescribable and glorious joy (1 Pet 1:3,8). The hope and the joy which the risen Christ bestows on his disciples, the hope and the joy which nothing and no one can take from them. The hope and joy of Easter, forged in the crucible of self-denial, self-emptying, utter identification with sinners, even to the point of disgust at the bitterness of that chalice. Such were the hope and the joy which these two holy popes had received as a gift from the risen Lord and which they in turn bestowed in abundance upon the People of God, meriting our eternal gratitude.

This hope and this joy were palpable in the earliest community of believers, in Jerusalem, as we read in the Acts of the Apostles (cf. 2:42-47), as we heard in the second reading. It was a community which lived the heart of the Gospel, love and mercy, in simplicity and fraternity.

This is also the image of the Church which the Second Vatican Council set before us. John XXIII and John Paul II cooperated with the Holy Spirit in renewing and updating the Church in keeping with her pristine features, those features which the saints have given her throughout the centuries. Let us not forget that it is the saints who give direction and growth to the Church. In convening the Council, John XXIII showed an exquisite openness to the Holy Spirit. He let himself be led and he was for the Church a pastor, a servant-leader, led by the Spirit. This was his great service to the Church; he was the pope of openness to the Spirit.

In his own service to the People of God, John Paul II was the pope of the family. He himself once said that he wanted to be remembered as the pope of the family. I am particularly happy to point this out as we are in the process of journeying with families towards the Synod on the family. It is surely a journey which, from his place in heaven, he guides and sustains.

May these two new saints and shepherds of God’s people intercede for the Church, so that during this two-year journey toward the Synod she may be open to the Holy Spirit in pastoral service to the family. May both of them teach us not to be scandalized by the wounds of Christ and to enter ever more deeply into the mystery of divine mercy, which always hopes and always forgives, because it always loves.

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