The Prophet of Hope: Blessed John XXIII

In a few days, on September 30, we will have confirmation of the exact date for the anticipated April canonization of Blessed Pope John Paul II and Blessed Pope John XXIII. The great mission of evangelization carried out during the papacy of John Paul II was preceded by the foundation for renewal laid by the Second Vatican Council, which is the lasting legacy of John XXIII.

On October 11, 1962, Blessed John XXIII made the following remarks in his opening address to all the bishops who had gathered for the Council:

In the daily exercise of our pastoral office, we sometimes have to listen, much to our regret, to voices of persons who, though burning with zeal, are not endowed with too much sense of discretion or measure. In these modern times they can see nothing but prevarication and ruin. They say that our era, in comparison with past eras, is getting worse, and they behave as though they had learned nothing from history, which is, none the less, the teacher of life. They behave as though at the time of former Councils everything was a full triumph for the Christian idea and life and for proper religious liberty.

We feel we must disagree with those prophets of gloom, who are always forecasting disaster, as though the end of the world were at hand.

Blessed John XXIII

There is no doubt that the papacy of John Paul II gave a long and authentic “witness to hope.” However, this message of hope was already in the mind and heart of John XXIII as he continued the dialogue with the modern world, following the footsteps of his predecessors: Pope Leo XIII and the Venerable Pope Pius XII.

The countless misinterpretations of Vatican II have caused our society to forget that the pastoral emphasis of the Council is firmly rooted in doctrinal truth. Once again in the words of Blessed John XXIII: “The greatest concern of the Ecumenical Council is this: that the sacred deposit of Christian doctrine should be guarded and taught more efficaciously.” Guarding the sacred deposit of faith does not preclude discerning new means (the new evangelization) for handing the faith onto others. Yet it has not been easy to balance the need for solid doctrine and the appropriate pastoral means as evidenced by the past 50 years.

The biggest challenge has been putting into practice the authentic teaching of the Council. In a 1998 ad limina visit with a group of bishops from the United States, Blessed John Paul II said, “The Council was a gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church, and its full implementation is the best means of ensuring that the Catholic community in the United States enters the new millennium strengthened in faith and holiness, effective contributing to a better society through its witness to the truth about man that is revealed in Jesus Christ (cf. Gaudium et spes, 24).” This Christocentric anthropology was central to John XXIII, the tender and peacemaking Father of the Second Vatican Council.

In his spiritual testament, John XXIII wrote, “I repeat once more that what matters most in this life is: our blessed Jesus Christ, his holy Church, his Gospel, and in the Gospel above all else the Our Father according to the mind and heart of Jesus, and the truth and goodness of his Gospel, goodness, which must be meek and kind, hardworking and patient, unconquerable and victorious.” The main truth, which we must teach, is a living Person! Above all, the work of proclaiming Him to the world requires each of us to imitate Christ’s life.

The papacy in our time has emphatically emphasized that the truth must be taught in charity. In the words of the Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, “Charity in truth, to which Jesus Christ bore witness by his earthly life and especially by his death and resurrection, is the principal driving force behind the authentic development of every person and of all humanity.” The Church’s mission is to proclaim the truth both in and out of season (2 Timothy 4:2). In order to be able to do this effectively, it requires that we root our transmission of the Gospel in charity.

Evangelization finds its source and summit in the Holy Eucharist. John XXIII made this commitment during a retreat in 1907: “This is what my life must be, centered in the Blessed Sacrament. I will never miss my daily visit and I will try to return to Jesus frequently during the rest of the day, if only to greet him.” Receiving the sacrament of charity worthily and adoring Him with frequency will assist the faithful in giving an authentic witness to the truth.

In our culture, both truth and charity have been severely attacked. This crisis begins with the separation of charity from the truth and vice-versa. Our culture will never embrace the truth of our faith without the constant witness of true charity from Christ’s ambassadors (each one of us).  Conversely, our culture cannot fully embrace true charity (love) without being informed by the truth. It is the truth of our faith that motivates us to love our neighbor and to continue to serve God when it is most difficult. True charity (love) is not simply social action, it is action guided by the love of Christ in our hearts.

The witness of the Pontiffs of the 20th and 21st centuries (albeit with different personalities and styles) has directed people to this precious unity. The hope for renewal foreseen by Blessed John XXIII begins with a restoration of the union of truth with charity. Authentic pastoral care expressed in charity is rooted in the truth of the Deposit of Faith.

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As a seminary professor, an ambassador for the Holy See, and the Supreme Pontiff, John XXIII translated the truth of the faith into heroic acts of charity. John XXIII was a prophet of hope working to assist Eastern Orthodox Christians after an earthquake in Bulgaria, working to assist Jews with “transit visas” in Turkey and Greece during World War II, and serving as an ambassador for peace between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cuban Missile crisis in the midst of the proceedings of the Second Vatican Council. This Blessed peacemaker will soon be raised to the altar as Pope Saint John XXIII along with Pope Saint John Paul II.

As the faithful continue to build a civilization of love, we will need the intercession of both saintly pontiffs to bring about authentic renewal rooted in truth and charity.

Blessed Pope John XXIII and Blessed Pope John Paul II, pray for us!

The 30th of September will be my last day as the editor for the Truth and Charity Forum. It has been a great blessing to serve as the editor during the Forum’s initial year. I hope you will support the Forum with your prayers as it prepares for a new editor and continues to promote a culture of life and love.

Roland Millare is the chair of the Theology Department at Saint John XXIII College Preparatory in Katy, TX. He also serves as the Director of Middle School CCE at St. Theresa Catholic Church in Sugar Land, TX and an adjunct professor of theology for Deacon candidates at St. Mary's Seminary in Houston, TX. He has a BA in Theology from Franciscan University in Steubenville, OH, a MA in Theological Studies from the Notre Dame Graduate School of Christendom College in Alexandria, VA, and a Licentiate in Sacred Theology (STL) from the Liturgical Institute of the University of St. Mary of the Lake in Mundelein, IL.  Roland is a member of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars, and an advisory board member to the Pope John Paul II Forum. Currently, he is a candidate for a Doctorate of Sacred Theology (STD).  He lives with his beautiful wife Veronica and their baby girl Gabriella in Sugar Land.
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