A Faith Both Traditional and Open
Pope John Paul II
John Paul II honours the memory of his Predecessor Pope John XXIII
Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli was born and baptized on 25 November 1881 in the village of Sotto il Monte, Bergamo, Italy. One hundred years later, Pope John Paul II traveled there to celebrate Mass for the centenary of his Predecessor's birth. The following is a translation of Pope Wojtyła's homily, which was delivered in Italian and is featured in L'Osservatore Romano's special edition for the canonization. It was originally published in our newspaper on 4 May 1981 (n. 18, p. 1).
Beloved Brothers and Sisters!
1. "We have contemplated, O God, the marvels of your love!". These words of the Liturgy are well suited to this "Domenica in Albis", on which, commemorating in his own native village the centenary of the birth of Pope John XXIII, we contemplate the marvellous gift that the Lord bestowed on us with his life and his teaching.
My heart is full of joy and emotion at being here at Sotto il Monte today for this solemn and significant ceremony, celebrated with you, to whom I extend my affectionate greeting.
I was driven here by the deep desire to bestow on my venerated Predecessor the honour and recognition that are due to him not only from the Church, but from all men who enjoyed his goodness and his wisdom.
A great many of you, inhabitants of Sotto il Monte and of Bergamo, knew Pope John, saw him, met him, spoke to him, heard his warm, loving and persuasive voice, sensitive to every joy and to every human suffering. And I too remember him with deep emotion at the first session of the Second Vatican Council, and above all at its final meeting, when he greeted us in what was meant to be an au revoir, but was instead the final farewell.
And I am particularly happy to recall the affLtion that Pope John always felt for my country, Poland. On 17 September 1912, on the occasion of the Eucharistic Congress of Vienna, he visited Krakow and celebrated in the Cathedral at the altar of the miraculous Cross of Wavel, as he liked to recall with extreme precision of detail. He also many times visited the Marian Sanctuary of Jasna Gora, discovering in the deep religious sentiments of my people something kindred, which touched him and comforted him.
It was only right, therefore, that on such an extraordinary and solemn occasion, his successor in Peter's See should come to his birthplace to meditate on his message and breathe his spirituality.
2. As you very well know, Angelo Giuseppe was born on Friday, 25 November 1881, into the Roncalli family, the fourth of thirteen children, and that very evening the bell of the parish church rang out to announce his baptism.
And so today we commemorate not only little "Angelino's" birth to the light of the sun, but also the spiritual birth to the life of grace and faith of him who was to become, as Paul VI said, "the Pope of the goodness, meekness and pastoral nature of the Church" (Insegnamenti di Paolo VI, vol. I, p. 534); the Pope who was able to love everyone and who was loved by all for his characteristics of fatherhood, serenity, and human and priestly sensitivity. In fact, the reason for his extraordinary success in the esteem and affection of the whole world, then and today, was his goodness: mankind is in great need of goodness, and for this reason it loved Pope John and still venerates and invokes him.
We seem to see him in these streets, through these hills, among these houses, in this landscape of his, so ardently loved and remembered with tenderness to the last days of his life, "his dear nest of Sotto il Monte", where he came every year, when it was possible, as a priest, as a bishop and as a cardinal, to take refuge, to fortify his spirit in gratia et fide, as his parents and his godfather, his great-uncle Zaverio, had trained him.
3. If we ask ourselves where and how Pope John acquired such gifts of goodness and fatherliness, together with a Christian faith that was always complete and pure, we can easily answer: from his family.
He himself, throughout his long life and in a very great number of writings, private and official, recalls, with emotion and gratitude, his family home, the years of his childhood and adolescence, spent in a crystal-clear and serene environment, in which the pattern was the grace of God, lived with simplicity and consistency; the rule of life was the catechism and parish instruction; the comfort was prayer, especially Mass on feast days, and the evening Rosary; and the daily commitment was charity: "We were poor", Pope John wrote, "but content with our condition, confident in the help of Providence. When a beggar appeared at the kitchen door, where a score of boys and girls were waiting for a plate of soup, there was always an extra place. My mother hastened to give the guest a seat beside us" (Journal of a Soul, IV ed. Appendix).
The family and parish catechesis was his spiritual nourishment; faithfulness to the practices of piety and to the rites of the Church was his constant commitment, because he had in his parents an example, a stimulus and his first school of theology. With sweet affability he recalled in an. address: "The dear image of Our Lady, under the title 'Help of Christians', was for many years familiar to our eyes as a boy and an adolescent in the house of our parents" (Discorsi, Messaggi, Colloqui del Santo Padre Giovanni XXIII, vol. XIV, p. 307). And in the address he delivered for his 80th birthday, he said: "It was from these memories that there began and was nourished with veneration all that referred to religious life, to the sanctuary of our families, modest, hardworking, God-fearing and serene" (ibid., vol. IV, p. 23).
On Christmas night, 1959, he went back with deep nostalgia to those distant times and with simplicity and wisdom traced the lines of Christian Doctrine concerning the family: "How well the great realities of the Christian family were lived! Engagement in the reflection of God's light, marriage sacred and inviolable in respect of its four characteristic notes: fidelity, chastity, mutual love and holy fear of the Lord; the spirit of prudence and sacrifice in the careful upbringing of the children; and always in every circumstance, love of neighbour, forgiveness, the spirit of endurance, trust, respect for others. It is in this way that you build a house that does not collapse" (ibid., vol. II, p. 96).
4. His faith, which originated in the family, and was enlightened and confirmed by the serious and methodical study carried out in the seminary in the wake of Holy Scripture, the Magisterium of the Church, patristics and qualified and approved theology, subsequently accompanied throughout the course of the years by reading and meditation on the great masters of asceticism and mysticism, remained in this way always complete and profound, without suffering the errors of modernism, without ever deviating from the straight path of Truth. In 1910 he noted in the Journal of a Soul: "I thank the Lord on my knees for having kept me unharmed in the midst of such seething and agitation of tongues and brains.:.. I must always recall that the Church contains within her the eternal youth of truth and of Christ who is of all times.... The first treasure of my soul is faith, the holy, sincere and ingenuous faith of my parents and my good old relatives".
From this genuine and transparent faith, instilled in him by the family, there sprang also his complete and confident abandonment to Providence, expressed in the motto that inspired his life: Oboedientia et Pax; from it there arose the supernatural and eschatological view of existence and of all history, through which he walks in the light of "the last things" and of the "theology of the beyond". This faith, enjoyed in his heart as absolute Truth and as the meaning of human existence, was expressed with sweetness and confidence in the practices of piety, which nourish Christian life: the many beautiful devotions that have blossomed throughout the centuries on the fertile trunk of dogma: union with the Eucharistic and Crucified Christ, with the Sacred Heart; devotion to the Blessed Virgin, to the Angels, to the Saints; constant remembrance of Souls in Purgatory; and naturally visits to the Blessed Sacrament, regular confession, recitation of the Rosary, retreats and spiritual exercises, meditation and pilgrimages.
It is a faith rightly and soundly traditional, which, however, is not static, petrified, unduly conservative in the demanding and sweeping changes of times and situations; on the contrary, it is marvellous, youthful, fearless, open, farsighted, to the extent of planning and initiating the Second Vatican Council and of feeling, with keen intelligence. all the problems that accompany the modern era, as the Encyclicals Mater et Magistra and Pacem in Terris clearly show.
5. Pope John was truly a man sent by God! He has left us an immensely rich and precious heritage. But in this birthplace of his, where he received from his family the first seeds of the faith which subsequently developed in such a surprising and fruitful way, I wish to recall and welcome in particular what he tells us about the family.
He had already given a warning about the dangers looming over it: "This sanctuary", he said with an anguished heart, "is threatened by so many snares. Propaganda, sometimes uncontrolled, uses the powerful media of the press, the theatre and entertainment to spread, especially among the young, the fatal germs of corruption. The family must defend itself... taking advantage also, when necessary, of the protection of the civil law" (Discorsi..., vol. 1, p. 172, 1 March 1959). Therefore his teaching remains valid and perennial, because it is the voice of Truth and what the soul of every person hopes for and expects deep down. I am happy to sum up that teaching in the five following "key points".
— In the first place the sacredness of the family, and therefore also of love and sexuality: "The family is a gift of God," he said, "it implies a vocation that comes from above, which cannot be improvised", (Discorsi..., vol. III, p. 67). "In the family there is the most admirable and close cooperation of man with God: the two human persons, created in the divine image and likeness, are called not only to the great task of continuing and prolonging the work of creation by giving physical life to new beings, in whom the life-giving Spirit infuses the mighty principle of immortal life, but also the nobler charge, which perfects the first one, of the civil and Christian education of their offspring" (ibid., vol. II, p. 519). Owing to this essential characteristic, Jesus willed that marriage be a "Sacrament".
— The morality of the family. "Let us not be deceived, blinded, deluded", he admonished with Christian and fatherly wisdom, "the Cross is always the only hope of salvation; the Law of God is always there, with its Ten Commandments, to remind the world that in this Law alone is the safeguarding of consciences and families, that the secret of peace and tranquillity of conscience lies only in its observance. Anyone who forgets it, even if he seems to shun any serious commitment, builds up, sooner or later, his own sadness and misery" (ibid., vol. II, p. 281-282). And on another occasion he added: "The cult of purity is the most precious honour and treasure of the Christian family" (ibid., vol. IV. p. 897).
— The responsibility of the family. Pope John has confidence in the educational work of parents, sustained by divine grace. Addressing mothers he said: "The mother's voice, when it encourages, invites, beseeches, remains carved in the depths of her children's hearts, and is never forgotten. Oh, only God knows the good done by this voice, and its services to the Church and to human society" (ibid., vol. II, p. 67). And to fathers he added: "In families in which the father prays and has a joyful and conscious faith, attends catechetical instructions and takes his children there, there will not be the storms and desolation of a rebellious and estranged youth. Our word wishes to be always one of hope; but we are certain that, in some discouraging expressions of youthful life, the greatest responsibility is to be sought first of all in those parents, especially in the fathers of families, who shirk the precise and serious duties of their state" (ibid., vol. IV, p. 272).
— The purpose of the family. On this point, Pope John was clear and straightforward: the aim for which
A historical photograph of Sotto il Monte
we arc born is holiness and salvation, and the family is willed by God for this purpose. Twenty years ago, in the letter-testament, written on the occasion of his 8oth birthday, recalling one by one the beloved members of his family, he said: "This is what is most important: to secure eternal life, trusting in the goodness of the Lord who secs everything and provides for everything" (3 December 1961). And commenting on the individual mysteries of the Rosary, he said that he prayed at the third joyful mystery for children of all human races who had been born to the light of day in the last 24 hours (ibid., vol. IV, p. 241).
— The good example of the Christian family. Pope John warmly exhorted Christian parents and children to be an example of faith and virtue in the modern world, on the model of the Holy Family: "The secret of true peace," he said, "of mutual and lasting harmony, of the docility of children, of the flourishing of noble morals, lies in the continuous and generous imitation of the sweetness and the modesty of the Family of Nazareth" (ibid., vol. II p. 118-119). Pope John is sure that from these exemplary families there can spring many choice priestly and religious vocations, despite the difficulties of the times.
This is in summary the doctrine of the great and loveable Pontiff about the family, a doctrine which is an open condemnation of theories and practices which are contrary to the institution of the family.
May the good and smiling figure of Pope John, so close to the hearts of all Italians, help to cause to emerge once more in their souls that heritage of goodness and solidarity, characteristic of a people that wants life, and not the death of man, the advancement, and not the destruction, of the family.
6. Beloved brothers and sisters! Meeting with Pope John here today at Sotto it Monte to commemorate the centenary of his birth is certainly a great joy for everyone and a sweet consolation; but it must also be an incentive to keep his example always in mind and to listen to his word: "Every believer", he wrote in Pacem in Terris, "must be a spark of light, a centre of love, a vivifying ferment in the mass" (n. 57).
This is the commitment I leave to you in his name! I leave it to you, inhabitants of Sotto il Monte and of the whole region of Bergamo, which he loved so much, following the indications of the Pastoral Plan drawn up in such an excellent way by your bishop.
I leave it to all the faithful of the Church, priests and lay people, and I extend it to all men of good will, who were drawn and moved by the fatherly figure of Pope John.
May the tender devotion to the Blessed Virgin, which always marked his life, also be the precious heritage of everyone. "It aims at nothing other than making our faith more sturdy, ready and active", are his words. "Mary will help us all, who are pilgrims here below: with her supreme support we will overcome the inevitable sorrows and adversities and we will acquire the habit of looking to Heaven, with serenity and joy" (ibid., vol. II, p. 707).
May Pope John accompany us with his example and his prayer along the laborious ways of our lives. He is a good friend: let us listen to him! His heritage is truly a blessing!
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