John Paul I's election
Thirty days sufficed for Albino Luciani, elected Bishop of Rome on 26 August 1978, to leave his mark on the Church and point to the same path set down by the Popes of the Council, John XXIII and Paul VI, whose names he chose along with their prophetic style. And with the sudden death of John Paul I on the evening of 28 September, a 20-year period came to a close, what might be described as a triptych of humility: formed by Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli, elected Pope on 28 October 1958; by Giovanni Battista Montini, elected Pope on 21 June 1963; and lastly, for little more than a month, almost like a strengthening of spirit, by Albino Luciani.
Truly an ode to humility, which will endure. "The Church, in this common effort to be responsible and so respond to the pressing problems of the day, is called to give to the world that 'strengthening of the spirit' which is so needed and which alone can assure salvation". Those words uttered by Luciani on 27 August, the day after his election, echo the opening passage of the Conciliar Dogmatic Constitution Gaudium et Spes: "The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these too are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ" and thus "this community realizes that it is truly and intimately linked with mankind and its history".
The condition of mankind today is unchanged: the joy and sorrow, the hope and anxiety; the response from the community of believers, of the Church, is the same: to give the world that strengthening of spirit to which the Pope alludes. The Church is called to this, and the world is waiting, having "reached a peak, beyond which yawns the abyss". Indeed, the temptation is always that of "substituting for God one's own decisions, decisions that would prescind from moral laws".
These are the dangers and the consequences identified by John Paul I, but they are at the same time human spheres in which Christians can and must give their own strength of soul. He also spells out what the tragic conclusion of removing God would be: "The danger for modern man is that he would reduce the earth to a desert, the person to an automaton, brotherly co-existence to planned collectivization, often introducing death where God wishes life".
Creation, human life, the family, society are still today not only unresolved but in even more critical condition. It is up to the Church, then, to revive, enlighten and form consciences in the fundamental principles that guarantee authentic civilization and a real brotherhood between peoples: respect for one's neighbour, for his life and dignity, care for his spiritual and social progress, "patience and the desire for reconciliation in the fragile building up of peace", the new Pope said on 31 August to members of the Diplomatic Corps.
Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto, Terence once wrote. Sure, there are no easy solutions to difficult problems, "we do not have miracle-solutions for the great world problems", but the Christian community has is own special gift, indeed "very precious" the Pontiff said on 4 September: "a spirit which helps to unravel these problems sets them along the course which is essential, that of universal charity and opening to transcendent values, that is opening to God. We will try to carry out this service in simple, clear and trustful language."
These are the terms of spiritual strengthening that the Church and each the faithful has the duty to carry into every field of action; especially in the family, "the domestic Church" (Lumen Gentium, n. 11f). The family, despite adverse winds, a community of love and conjugal love generates new life and is the reflection of God's love. The Church's task is therefore to support and defend the family, "encouraging families to fidelity to the law of God and the Church. We need never fear to proclaim the exigencies of God's word, for Christ is with us and says today as before: 'He who hears you, hears me'."
In an essential way, therefore, "the indissolubility of Christian marriage is important; although it is a difficult part of our message, we must proclaim it firmly, because it is part of God's word, part of the mystery of faith. At the same time we are close to our people in their problems and difficulties. They must always know that we love them," the Pope said to a group of archbishops and bishops from the United States on 21 September. Starting again from the family: "We want you to know where our priorities lie" and "the holiness of the Christian family, is indeed a most apt means for producing that serene renewal of the Church which the Council so eagerly desired", even if it must go against the tide and be the voice of a minority.
Pope Luciani in his humanity was aware that is not easy to combine the horse and the rider: freedom and authority. The war-horse from a passage in Job "leaps like a locust and snorts" and the prudent rider "mounts the horse and, now with gentle voice, now making judicious use of the spurs, of the bridle and of the whip, he urges it on or controls its impetuous course, curbs it and restrains it", the Pope said, as he took possession of the Basilica of St John Lateran on 23 September. The indispensable condition of this accord lies in following the word and the law of God, according to which "one cannot do good to anyone if one does not first of all wish him well". From this simplicity of heart and service sprang Albino Luciani's strengthening of the spirit.