Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Good Pope: John XXIII and Vatican II

This year marks the 50th Anniversary of the Second Vatican Council. There will be many books and magazine articles devoted to Vatican II as well as conferences and discussions based on this very important part of Church life.

However, we cannot talk about Vatican II without talking about the inspiring work of Pope John XXIII also known as "Good Pope John" or as the Italians called him, "Ill Buono Papa." It was his initial thought about calling another council which literally brought in fresh air to a stagnant Church.

Greg Tobin's new book, The Good Pope (NY: Harper One, 2012) gives readers a very good overview of the work and ministry of Pope John XXIII as a way to reflect upon the ongoing dissemination and reforms of Vatican II.

The book is divided into three sections: Priest and Protector, The Soul of a Pope, and Father of the Council. Tobin traces Pope John's lively personality to his family whom he loved very much but also to his own pastoral career. Rather than remain in Italy, Pope John spent much time in Bulgaria, Northern Greece, and in Turkey. While traveling and ministering in these countries he encountered the Eastern Catholics as well as the Orthodox. It was this that would foster and encourage his thinking about reform and renewal.

One of the major obstacles that Pope John had to fight against was the Roman Curia and its administration. Pope John was a prophetic figure, seeking change and renewal, things that the Curia did not want to deal with. Tobin tells us that they were shocked when Pope John even considered calling a world-wide council! Yet he bucked the system and went full steam ahead, not only calling the council but encouraging the bishops and theologians to actively participate in it's workings.

While reading Good Pope John one thing kept coming back to me again and again and that was how each of us can be the agent of change in this world. Very often I get discouraged as I see the potential for change and renewal in my parish for example or in the larger Church. It is easy to say, "Oh well, there's nothing that I can do" or "Who cares if I get involved or not." These negative feelings and thoughts usually guide us in our daily life. However, reading this book showed me how one person can make a difference in the world and in the  Church. If Pope John XXIII had negative thoughts he would have never called the Second Vatican Council in the first place. Yet he had deep hope. Hope that bishops, priests, and theologians could discuss, debate, and reflect upon the true calling of the Church to be the light, peace, salt, and leaven in the world, and that if we all work together great things would happen.

I am grateful for Greg Tobin and his book. I hope other readers will take time to learn more about the life and ministry of John XXIII in this special anniversary year.

For more information about the book click here