CATHOLIC PewPOINT for Friday-Thursday, September 1-7, 2000
The Beatification of John Paul the Great!
It's interesting to note that of all those beatified during Pope John Paul II's 22-year pontificate this is the first time he will beatify a Sovereign Pontiff. But he's making up for lost time, so to speak, by raising to the status of Blessed two recent Popes, both deserving of the honor. There are many similarities between the two, but in personality they were entirely different. Yet that is only surface, their spirituality was quite similar even though many don't value enough the deep, meditative, common sense spirituality that both possessed. Both Popes will forever be linked to the Ecumenical Councils known as the Vatican Councils. Each Pope made a tremendous impact in world history, Pope Pius IX in the 19th century, the Papal States' last hurrah, if you will, with the First Vatican Council which confirmed the Dogma of Infallibility of the Supreme Pontiff; and Pope John XXIII, the jolly "Papa John" who introduced aggioriamento into the vocabulary of the Church with the surprise call for the Second Vatican Council in 1962.
Michael Cain, editor
These are two Popes who are largely misunderstood and therein their beatifications should serve as a clarification to the world as to their purpose and accomplishments in the face of opposition from outside the Church and within the Church. Sadly, too many magnify the pitfalls of their papacies and fail to see beyond the surface how obedient and loyal these two Servants of the servants of God were. It was Pius who declared two very important dogmas - the Immaculate Conception in 1854 and the Infallibility of the Pope in the early spring of 1870. Too many remember Pius IX having to surrender to King Victor Emmanuel in the fall of 1870, giving up the Papal States forever and reducing the once mighty temporal properties of the Church to only Vatican City. What they fail to realize is that this was truly a good thing, and totally in accord with the plan of the Almighty. Before being elevated to the Throne of Peter, he was Cardinal Giovanni Maria Mastai-Ferretti from Senigallia, Italy and had lived through the problems of his day. He was eminently qualified to lead the Church regardless of the persecutions inherent at that time. Yes, the humiliation by Emmanuel meant the end of temporal power and it is only fitting that Pius will be beatified on the Feast of Pope Saint Gregory the Great. For it was this great pontifical Doctor of the Church who, besides introducing Gregorian Chant to the universal Church, also began the reign of the temporal power of the Church when it was necessary by reaffirming civil authority of the Pope. Twelve centuries later, the world had changed. It was no longer necessary for Rome to wield temporal power, but more a necessity to be the benchmark for spirituality to a world obvious by its void of values.
As it turned out, the change produced strong, committed Popes from Pius IX through our present holy Vicar of Christ Pope John Paul II. This strong lineage carried through from Pius IX to Pope Leo XIII whose 25 year papacy was just seven years short of Pius IX's who still stands as the longest sitting Pope, though Saint Peter's papacy was 34 years. Leo bridged the centuries just as John Paul II has done. Both were elected in the year 78. Following Leo was Cardinal Joseph Sarto, better known as Pope Saint Pius X, the only papal saint of the 20th century thus far. These three Popes who served 68 years were a hard act to follow for Pope Benedict XV and Pope Pius XI, both of whose causes have also been considered for veneration in the long process toward canonization. On the brink of World War II, the Sacred Conclave chose Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, a man known for his austerity and piety and, quite possibly, the only man who could have guided the Church during that terrible tragic time in history when Catholics were fighting each other at war. As we have said so many times, Pope Pius XII has unfairly been maligned by those who do not have the interests of the Church and mankind at heart but selfishly cling to the victim mentality by blaming Pius for the deaths of millions of Jews in the concentration camps. In their accusatory tone they betray themselves and refuse to study the overwhelming testimonials by rabbis, Jewish historians, scholars and eyewitnesses who will attest to Pius' unyielding protection of the Jewish people during this horrific period in history. Were it not for those accusations and the extra work the Sacred Congregation for the Causes of Saints has had to undertake to satisfy complaints in playing "devil's advocate," we strongly believe he would be sharing the glory that Pius IX and Pius XII's own successor will be honored with on Sunday.
His successor was the portly, elderly, and much beloved Patriarch of Venice Cardinal Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli who, as it turned out, was full of surprises. His first was to take the name John. He chose this because it was the name of his own father, the name of the church where he was baptized on the same day he was born on November 25, 1781, and because John was the most used name and he wanted to purify the name after the last John XXIII was an antipope. He had been elected as an interim Pope so the crafty and set-in-their-way cardinals in the Curia could fashion their own man. It must be remembered that the Curia back then was very much like the U.S. Government today in the fact that little progress is made and more regulations are introduced for one reason and one reason only - so these government workers will be able to keep their jobs. It's called the 'Peter Principal' and it was running as rampant during the late 50's in Rome as it is today in political circles in the U.S. It was no secret the Curia was trying to control John and steer him away from any responsibility, patronizing him while they waited for him to die. But John wasn't quite ready to just lay down and he really upset the apple-cart in Rome when on January 25, 1959 during a papal visit to St. Paul-Outside-the-Walls Basilica, just four months into his pontificate, he announced to the world he was going to call a Synod of Bishops and an ecumenical council to "let some fresh air into the Church." He called it aggioriamento and his actions would forever leave an indelible mark in Church history.
There are some who call Vatican II a mistake that should not have taken place, but John's intentions were totally pure and he wanted the Church to be able to relate with the world and show how she could empathize and offer a strong shoulder to cry on without condoning the sins of the world. He also realized that by calling the bishops to Rome and empowering them to be pastors, he would be able to reinstill in them the realization that they were apostolic successors with the power and privileges given by Jesus Christ. He also realized that strength in numbers would paralyze those in the Curia who were in a snit at how this "old man" would have the gall to do what he was doing. The fact that John's greatest opposition came from the archconservative prelate and Pius' Secretary of State Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani led many to believe that it would follow John was a liberal, but this is another misconception that must be cleared up. John may have been liberal in his thinking, but his faith and loyalty to the traditions of the Church were very conservative. It is no secret that Ottaviani was sorely disappointed he had not been chosen Pope. Whether it was jealousy, revenge or fear of being uprooted, he strongly opposed John at every turn. History has shown that the Vatican Bank was in shambles and much of the blame can be laid at the feet of Ottaviani. This is not to villianize the Italian prelate, rather to exonerate John from the perception many conservative Catholics had been lead to believe about him, even today.
Believe us, if this were not true, he would not be eligible for beatification on the Feast of Pope Saint Gregory the Great, which this year is superseded by the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time. The tremendous microscope Pius and John's lives were placed under would have to pass all scrutiny. The same holds true for the other two Blesseds who will be beatified at the same time: French priest Blessed William Chaminade, the founder of the Marianists, and the Irish Abbot Blessed Dom Columba Marmion, a Benedictine who many consider a 20th century "giant of spirituality." Though the results are still mixed regarding the effects of Vatican II, the causes are true and John XXIII, as the days go on, will be remembered for the dedicated disciple he was and not a crazy man who wanted to change the Church. This perception was part of the artillery Ottaviani and his followers spread during and after the Council. John, fearing Ottaviani would undermine it, purposely did not close it, but mandated that it would be reconvened the following year as the two played the game of who could outlast the other. As it is neither won in their personal battle, but as evident from this Sunday's events, John clearly gets the edge. His beatification should also vindicate Pope Paul VI, another Sovereign Pontiff whose beatification is just around the corner. Many prayerfully are hoping that Paul and Pius XII will be beatified together in the same manner as Pius IX and John XXIII. That would be fitting. Quite possibly they could make it a trio with Leo XIII's name added to that illustrious list.
What makes the beatifications all the more special this Sunday is not just who is being beatified, but who is doing the beatification. How many realize that John Paul II has so many of the characteristics of both Pius IX and John XXIII? Look at our page of pictures of the three Popes and you can see they even look alike. Call it the "aura of holiness" - you can see it in St. Pius X as well. John Paul II possesses the firm dogmatic mind of Pius IX, the personality and magnetism of John. John Paul is well-loved and respected by the masses, just as John XXIII was known as the "Pope of the People." Many consider that it was during Pius IX's reign that the Age of Marian Apparitions excellerated and it is during John Paul's that it is concluding as Our Lady prophesied. John Paul shares the undying love of the Blessed Virgin Mary just as Pius and John cherished. He is also expected to, in God's time, proclaim the Fifth Dogma of Mary, what many call the "Final Dogma" - that of Mary as Co-Redemptrix, Advocate and Mediatrix of all grace. Many believe that will signal the eve of the Triumph of Mary's Immaculate Heart as promised at Fatima. Like Pius IX and John XXIII, John Paul II has had a tremendous impact on world history. Not many know that the famous "missiles of October" crisis in 1962, which put the world at the brink of nuclear war between the United States (led by President John F. Kennedy) and the Soviet Union (with Nikita Khrushchev at the helm) was averted by the intercession of John XXIII who spoke personally with both world leaders in bringing calm to the volatile situation. So also John Paul II is credited with bringing down the Iron Curtain and communism.
For all three of these Pontiffs, though they conquered the demons of their time, there were worse threats on the horizon for their flock. For Pius IX it was communism and modernism - a time of great persecution of Catholics the world over; for John XXIII it was the growing menace of materialism and the sexual revolution - the end of "Camelot;" and for John Paul II it is the culture of death, spurred on by new ageism and the threat of the one-world order. This is nothing new, for St. Gregory the Great it was defeating the Lombard invasions, only to open the way for the Holy Roman Empire which wasn't always holy and hardly ever Roman. The documented historical events give proof that in times when it is most needed God raises up the holiest and most pertinent leaders to guide His Holy Church. It was that way for Pius IX, for Leo XIII, for St. Pius X, for Pius XII, for John XXIII, for Paul VI, and for John Paul II, who we believe will go down in history and in the annals of the Church as a great Doctor of the Church and be forever known as "John Paul the Great." The true documents of the Second Vatican Council, the essence of what John intended, have John Paul's signature all through it as the loyal and wise Bishop Karol Wojtyla from Poland. It has to give him a special feeling of fulfillment to beatify the man whom he assisted so loyally in leaving his inspired imprint on the Conciliar Document Dignitatius Humanae on human dignity, something John Paul II has continued to campaign for throughout his consecrated life.
Like the Pontiffs before him, it is the make-up of man as God has deigned that their earthly life will come to an end. It is inevitable for all of us. We can't bury our head in the sand and pretend not to consider this, but to see in the events ahead God's guiding hand in all of this. God has been so good over the years to give us these wise and holy men to lead His Church. When He chooses to call John Paul the Great home, we can be assured, through the wise "lighting of the lamps" that our Holy Father has accomplished over the past two decades in appointing good, loyal bishops, that the Church will be in good hands for no one man is indispensable. Many thought that after Pius IX passed on. Leo XIII proved them wrong. The same for Leo, but God gave us St. Pius X. He also gave us Pius XII, who many thought could not be replaced and voila - John XXIII. When he passed away, the world mourned and wondered if ever a man would come along who had the charisma he possessed. His successor Paul VI was more in the aesthetic mold of Pius XII, but the man who was elected a century after Leo has proven to the world that no one is indispensable. In the same manner, John Paul II can be replaced someday by a man of equal stature and holiness. He's out there somewhere, being groomed by God, and he'll come forward when the Holy Spirit calls him forth. Hopefully and prayerfully it will be this new Servant of the Servants of God who someday will stand in St. Peter's Square and perform the same beatification ceremony for a past Pontiff - at that future time...the Beatification of John Paul the Great!
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