Now Pope St. John XXIII is remembered as the pope who opened the windows of the Church, who opened the Church to go out into the world with the message of the Good News, who opened the Second Vatican Council, to the consternation of many in the Curia.
In his address to the bishops assembled at the council in October 1962, Pope John said
In the daily exercise of our pastoral office, we sometimes have to listen – much to our regret – to voices of person who, though burning with religious zeal, are not much endowed with too much sense of discretion or measure. In these modern times they can see nothing but prevarication and ruin…. We feel we must disagree with these prophets of gloom. In the present order of things, divine providence is leading us to a new order of human relations which, by human effort and even beyond human expectation, are directed toward the fulfillment of God’s highest and inscrutable design; and everything, even human differences, leads to the greater good of the Church.
There are too many prophets of gloom these days. Too many see only the shortcomings of the world and of the Church. Too many want a Church aloof from the world.
I hear all too many people hear speak of the Church as being threatened by the world. I read of all too many in the US and beyond who fear the openness of Pope Francis.
Too many see only the evil, the dangers, the persecution.
I am not blind to the evil in the world. I read of the persecution of Christians in some lands – and I read of the exaggerated fears of Christians in the US. I see the violence of poverty and repression – and I read of those “Christians” who would deny the needs of the poor. I read of the billions spent by the US for its own military and for the militaries of many countries that only reinforce injustice – Honduras and Israel among them.
But I see the little signs of God’s Reign all around us. I see the strong words of Pope Francis against the evils of poverty and the devastation of nature. I see the people in many places standing up against violence and oppression.
I am beginning to trust in the Providence of God – but not as an excuse for evil and suffering. The Providence of God moves me to respond with love and hope, with the message that death and suffering do not have the final word, with the challenge that Pope John XXIII gave us from his deathbed:
The moment has arrived when we must recognize the signs of the times, seize the opportunity, and look far ahead.
We must be people of vision, prophets of hope, challenging the evil, the injustice, and the violence, with lives that show the world that something new is possible. We are not constrained by the past. We can participate in the New World that God is offering us.
The quotations from Pope John XXIII are taken from Robert Ellsberg’s All Saints: Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time, a book I highly recommend. (Now in Kindle!)