By Cardinal Bea, s. J. (Translation of an article by Cardinal Bea, on Pope John XXIII. Rome): AFTER the death of
Pope Pius XII, many a man anxiously asked the question who, of those in the conclave, might be elected successor of this great. Pope. The new Pope John XXIII, though quite different from his predecessor, but with almost the same ideas and plans, rapidly won not only the hearts of the Romans, but also those of the whole world.
This was surprising to everyone. His Secretary of State, Cardinal Tardini was able to say-without wanting to flatter the Holy Father-that within a year after the death of Pope Pius X11, the new pope had won the sympathy, esteem and devotion Of the whole world. Even non-Catholics were obviously impressed by the personality of Pope John XXIII.
What was the secret of this great personality? One often speaks of the kindness of the Pope, of his modesty; there already exist so many anecdotes of his humour. However, it is evident that these characteristics alone are not sufficient in order to explain the impression he gave by his appearance, the way hc spoke and acted. Through his speeches, many of which are typical of the personal way in which he said things, John XXIII surprisingly often gave insight into his nature, into his inner spiritual life.
Many of the spectators were very surprised when the Pope, in his Coronation speech, asked them to pray to the Lord to grant him above all the grace
of indulgence and humility. Surely there are many other ways of grace which are more worth being prayed for to God. However, it is significant that it was just these two characteristics for which John XXIII wanted the people to pray for him.
The characteristics of the divine Good Shepherd correspond best to the Pope's own inclinations. If one studies closely his work and watches how his numerous visitors were impressed by his personality, then one is inclined to believe that many people have prayed to God just as Pope John had asked them to do, and that their prayers had been heard.
What was most exceptional was the deep peace which seemed to emanate from the Pope's personality. This peace did not let itself be disturbed by sorrows and burdens which John XXIII surely carried. Once, when he spoke of the Roman Synod, he said that it was true it had caused him much anxiety but that this anxiety had been more of a peaceful kind.
On the occasion of his speech in the Church of St. Paul, shortly before the announcement of the Second Vatican Council, he gave it to understand that he was constantly perturbed by the grief and sorrow for the Church of Silence, even if these were not outwardly noticeable, because of his calmness. Furthermore, he said that even critical remarks and obstacles which had to be overcome and which always turn up in his kind of position, could not affect deeply his serene calmness.
After the decisions of the Roman Synod had been announced and put into action, he said, with inimitable expression, that it made him smile with delight when he thought of what somebody whispered into his ear about the remarks made concerning the Roman Synod, namely that this was something that he should not have let himself in for.
A fascinating characteristic of his personality was his plainness and modesty. To a group of Catholic Action pilgrims he said privately that he shared with then, the virtue of preferring modest, quite concrete organisations which would grow slowly and would lead in the end to better results, to those which show off, instead of doing concrete work.
Even during the short period of his Pontificate some of his measures were put into effect : the abolition of the right of option for those suburbican dioceses around Rome. This will consequently involve some important changes as to their pastoral care.
Then, for the first time in the history of the Roman Catholic Church. a bishop of the Eastern Church, His Excellency, Msgr. Coussa, was consecrated by the Pope himself according to Greek rite. Furthermore he appointed suffragans . for the diocese of Rome, etc. Already three months after his coronation, Pope John XXIII, in the same plain way, made known in St. Paul the grand programme of his Pontificate. i.e. the Roman Catholic Synod. the Council and the reform of the Canonical Law.
As another feature of the many-sided personality of the Holy Father, his expertness in making decisions was rightly stressed. Besides the appointment of native bishops in various countries of Africa and Asia, this determination was most obvious in his appointment of the different Cardinals. Less than one month after his accession to the throne, the new Pope announced 23 new cardinals, thus exceeding the number of 70, which had not happened since the reign of Pope Sixtus V. Three more appointments of cardinals followed so that within a little more than two years a total of 42 cardinals had been appointed by him. If one realizes how many points of view have to be taken into consideration by such effective decrees, then one cannot stop wondering about the self confidence and rapidity with which Pope John appointed the cardinals.
When we ask ourselves what was the secret of his expertness in making quick decisions, then we might first of all refer to his confidence in other people. especially in his co-workers. Once he said that during his Pontificate he intended to work much, but also to let other people work a lot. He who was in a position to watch his work from nearby, knows how much he must have appreciated the capability, cornpetenc,e and work of the people around him. The •visits he paid to the Roman Congregations and Offices were one example among many others. Being most aimiable, he knew bow to encourage people to work hard, by giving them a good example, by word of approval and encouragement. The rapid progress of the preparatory work for the Vatican Council surely was largely due to his personal incitement.
Another reason for his quickness of resolution was that he recognised the most important things at first sight. Naturally he did not shut his eyes to difficulties, deficiencies or imperfections in the realisation of his plans. but he put up with them, or made the best of them, in order to obtain what was essential. Thereby he had confidence that this, which is essential today, would one day be better, complete and perfect. One could also mention another reason: The Holy Father-as he explained once to the members of the French Catholic Actionknew of the relative value of all our human activities in comparison with the heavenly zeal.
It is no easy task to describe his deep supernatural faith, hecause for one thing one may ask : "Isn't it natural that the representative of Christ should lead a deep supernatural religious life?"
If one replies that this question does not concern general matters, but the special characteristic of the Pope's life, then there *DI remains the question,
hether there is not a lack of respect in wanting to penetrate into the most intimate sphere of the Pope's private life, and to expose it to the common view. C:ertainly. an arbitrary, respectless intrusion would not he right. Here, however, all we want is to simply collect respectfully statements made by the Holy Father in this matter, and to try to form out of this an entire picture which does not violate the respect due to the representative of Christ.
The first part of the supernatural life of our Holy Father was his profound personal attitude to judge reality out of faith. He gave us an excellent example for this shortly after his election, when he stated why he had chosen the name JOHN. Who was not at first a little hit embarrassed when hearing the name the new Pope had chosen? To choose a name which was so hereditarily afflicted in history! However, when one heard the three reasons he mentioned, especially the hint to the two persons named John, i.e. John the Baptist who paved the way for Christ the Lord, and John, the favourite apostle of Christ, then it was as if this embarrassing impression had dissolved in thin air. and in its place there came a deep feeling of relief.
There is another example whose origin lies some ten years hack. At first hearing, it seems almost humorous; later on, however, it shows some unexpected supernatural profoundness. This story was related by the Holy Father himself. When he was appointed bishop by Pope Pius Xl. and appointed Ambassador of the Holy See to Bulgaria, he wished to be consecrated bishop on the feast of St. Joseph. In reply to the Secretary of State, Cardinal Gasparri, who asked him the reason for this desire, he said that it was just St. Joseph who had been the best teacher and patron of the diplomats!
"I didn't expect that," said Cardinal Gasparri.
Mgr. Roncalli, however, declared simply: "Well, you see, Your Eminence, a diplomat of the Holy See should be obedient and keep silent, and not speak too much and be polite. And that is exactly what St. Joseph has done!"
This attitude of the Pope, to judge reality out of his life of faith, was marked by another characteristic feature: inspiration through the Holy Scriptures. Pope John XXIII had never been an exegete, and yet, how easily and spontaneously could he cite passages of the Holy Bible. Absolutely masterfully! He studied carefully passages from the psalms and digested them spiritually! He knew how to interpret even the simplest and best known stories from the Bible with a deep religious sense, and to make a glorious symbol out of them. Thus he had recently compared the battle of the Church with atheistic materialism to the fight of David and Goliath and called to his sons: "Have courage! Even if Goliath might seem to be too powerful, too big and too strong, little David is sure to overwhelm him with the help of God and by means of the peaceful supernatural weapons!"
It goes without saying that this attitude of the Pope, to judge reality from the point of view of his faith, which is inspired by the Bible; was derived from a profound life of prayer: it sprang from the reading of the breviary, which he did attentively and heartily, and from his deep concentrated recollection which one easily noticed on the occasion of great festivities, no matter, whether one was actually present or watched him on television. Another proof of this was the confession he made that he had prepared himself by constant prayer for the meeting with Dr. Fisher, the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury.
His expertness in making quick decisions, which was often so surprising, must have been heavenly inspired. Just take for example the immensely farreaching decision to summon an Ecumenical Council. The various statements he made, allow
observers to the Vatican Council. ope.
us to follow its development nearly step by step.
Certainly, in the beginning, there must have been an unexpected mysterious inspiration. The Holy Father, however, did not by far content himself with this alone. At first he asked his most intimate collaborators to tell him their opinion-as he once told us in a charming way -with the following argument: -True Romans always say what they think -at once: consequently, if they thought an idea was good, then it must be good!"
The Pope, after having thus previously questioned his fellowcitizens. to the surprise of everybody had the idea of the Roman Synod.
A highly official prelate once told hiin that it was above all necessary to set things right in one's own diocese, before convoking a General Council. On having thought this over, the Pope then expressed his idea of the Council before the Roman Cardinals, thereby requesting them to tell him what they thought of this. He admitted, however, that he was quite nervous and excited when doing so. Thus, from the uncertainty of the first beginning-which, as he once said, was good practice for someone who wanted to be humble-the Holy Father gradually, but steadily went on step by step. Nevertheless he added at once that the approval of his idea by Catholics and even nonCatholic Christians, and God's blessing, which seems to be with this undertaking. prove again and again that this really must be God's will.
This combination of his own thoughts, , together with the supernatural inspiration, the questioning and consulting of his co-workers, as well as listening to the voice of God in every event, special circumstances, in advices and reflections-all this was quite characteristic for Pope John XXIII. This can also be seen by the most important fact that-quite different from the First Vatican Council-the Holy Father requested the episcopate from all over the world to make suggestions and give hints concerning the Council, thereby permitting it to take full liberty to say all that which might be good and necessary for the welfare of the Church.
Hardly anybody else could summarise better all that has been said than the Holy Father himself, who, when taking over his cathedral, the Lateran basilica, expressed his programme by two symbols, namely the Chalice and the Holy Missal. The Missal is the Holy Scripture as it is read, explained and used in prayers and liturgy by the Church. The chalice is the symbol of liturgical mass, which contains all the prayers and sacrifices of the Church and its Divine High Priest. So, the Holy Father in our eyes is Christ's servant and the administrator of God's mysteries. As the servant of Christ, who is the one and true mediator, the Pope is also a mediator between God and man. Kneeling before God, he joins with Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, in interceding for the well-being of mankind. Here is the source from which he again and again receives God's revelations, His words and His sacraments, which he passes on to mankind. Thereby he puts into practice the example of the Divine Good Shepherd: His indulgence and kindness, His modesty, plainness and above all His unbounded love for mankind. It was just this kind of love, his "sensation of a universal fatherhood", as the Pope expressed his feelings on the day of his election, which deeply impressed mankind. In this way he won even the hearts of many non-Catholic Christians by storm.
The Council shall obviously embody this, his all-embracing love as father and good shepherd. It shall bear the mark of his personality, it shall express the intrinsic and supernatural power of the Church, of her unity and love. And in this way the Council will give a paternal invitation to all those who have been baptised in the name of Christ, to take advantage of the supernatural treasures of the one and true Church so that there may be one flock and one shepherd.
Note: This translation was done by Miss Swoboda, c/o Christian Germany. For information as to the contents please refer to translator.