The canonizations of John XXIII and John Paul II are historic on so many levels and for so many reasons. They are the first popes to be canonized since Pope Pius X in 1954 and the first time two popes have been canonized together. Also, both men are heroes of the Faith and are loved and respected for a long list of reasons.
But as the Church moved closer to Divine Mercy Sunday, I found myself feeling sorry for John XXIII. Despite being the main force — next to the Holy Spirit, of course — behind Vatican II, he was also well known and greatly respected for numerous other accomplishments, including his efforts to provide a new vision for the Church, to build Christian unity, for his outreach to the Jewish community and his loving and joyful approach to witnessing the Gospel. But somehow he seemed to be getting lost in the shadow of John Paul II.
I felt just a tad bit guilty about that because so much of my writing and speaking has been inspired by John Paul II, whose groundbreaking teachings on women and his appreciation for the important role of the media in evangelization have had a profound impact on me. Like so many Catholics today, I grew up with John Paul II. My husband and I also returned to the Church during his pontificate and learned to appreciate John Paul II even more through the papacy of Benedict XVI. And, to be honest, I didn’t give much thought or put a lot of effort into learning more about John XXIII.
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Well, as the old saying goes, there’s no time like the present. And because I was on my way to Rome to cover the canonizations for EWTN and Ave Maria Radio, I decided it was important to take a closer look at this new saint who hailed from northern Italy: Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli.
I was already familiar with many of the Vatican II documents, particularly Inter Mirifica, the Decree on Social Communications. I am still working my way through his moving autobiography “Journal of a Soul” as well as his other writings and encyclicals. Despite his extensive body of written work left to the Church concerning such crucial issues as evangelization and ecumenism, it’s been some of his simple quotes that are really staying with me.
If you haven’t noticed, it’s getting a lot tougher on Christians these days, especially Catholic Christians. Much of it comes from the outside world, which is to be expected, but lately those trying to support and defend the teachings of the Church find themselves under sometimes greater attack from within. Sometimes it can make you want to pull the covers over your head and stay in bed and let somebody else do the work. That’s why I take such comfort from the words of John XXIII. After a long day’s work with the weight of the universal Church on his shoulders, the saint was said to have offered it all up to God with this prayer:
“Well Lord. It’s your Church. I’m tired and going to bed.”
God is God, and we are not. John XXIII had a down-to-earth way of helping us understand and appreciate that there is only so much we mere mortals can do. We have to be faithful, but the success is not up to us. Nothing drives this point home better though than the words printed on the prayer card now associated with his canonization: “Consult not your fears but your hopes and your dreams. Think not about your frustrations but about your unfulfilled potential. Concern yourself not with what you tried and failed in but with what is still possible for you to do.”
The more I am getting to know this saint, the more I am getting to love him. St. John XXIII pray for us.
Teresa Tomeo is the host of “Catholic Connection,” produced by Ava Maria Radio and heard daily on EWTN Global Catholic Radio and Sirius Channel 130.