MY FATHER’S SHOULDERS
Blessed Pope John XXIII
There is an attraction to Blessed Pope John XXIII which I still cannot explain and it has been my search for an answer to this problem which has led to his becoming one of the saints who is closest to me, nearest to my soul. At first, I was interested in him as an intercessor for me on my quest for humility and “holy humor.” I needed to find an example of someone in the Church who was able to achieve holiness of life and purity in humor and speech, someone to whom I could really relate, so that I might finally be convinced that it is possible for a relatively normal person to be both gifted with humor and still live a life of holiness.
Eventually, I purchased the diary of John XXIII, which is one of the only documents of its kind in the history of the Church. This document, which John entitled Journal of a Soul, tells the life story of Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli, in his own words, from the time he was thirteen years old and continues in a nearly unbroken chain of entries until his death; the only complete story of a high school seminarian who became pope, written by the man himself. Through the course of his writing, especially in his years leading up to ordination, the pope describes a boy who is constantly afraid of never being good enough, who is constantly under performing academically, who cannot rise to the expectations of formation, and who does not think it is possible that he will ever grow in his spiritual life, given the severity of his shortcomings. He was a boy who was constantly battling his own pride in social situations, distractions in prayer, and lack of enthusiasm for the rules of seminary life. As he continued to grow in affective maturity, as he continued to go deeper in his own spiritual life and become more attentive to the Holy Spirit’s work in his life, Pope John began to become much more content with himself and his failings, learning to rely totally on the providence of God. This is why, during his professional career with the Vatican’s diplomatic corps, no matter how many times the Roman Curia cast him off to places like Istanbul as Apostolic Visitor or Paris as Nuncio, John never allowed himself to remain downcast because he knew that whatever gifts needed to diffuse the difficult situations in which the Church found herself would be given to him by God and that it was God, not himself or the Roman Curia, who was in charge and would ultimately determine the outcome of his life and of his clerical career.
When he was elected pope, John recalled how, some seventy years earlier, he was carried into St. Peter’s Square to see the Holy Father on the shoulders of his father and expressed how truly remarkable it was that he was now the one sitting on the throne of Peter, representing God to the world as the Vicar of Christ. When I read this, I was struck by his words, but not necessarily because they are in themselves profound. I find these words striking because I was instantly reminded of my first time inside St. Peter’s Square, that sixth day of September after having traveled for over twenty four hours, relying totally on the grace and providence of God. The next time I would return to that place, almost a month later after walking the Camino in Spain and traveling to France, Luxembourg, and England, I would watch the sun set over the dome of the St. Peter’s, standing with my brothers in that space and thanking God for the abundance of blessings and graces received, again relying totally on the grace and providence of God; in some sense, I was riding into St. Peter’s Square on the shoulders of my Father, who is Heaven.
I chose to take up the two instances of Jesus and Peter is scripture as a means to illustrate two important things. First, and more generally, it is important to note that the way Jesus spoke to Peter and the other apostles is the same way that he speaks to us today. Those questions posed over and over to Peter and his brethren are the same questions that Christ asks us today in the silence of our hearts united with his in prayer. Secondly, and more specifically, I am constantly inspired by Peter and his response to the Lord. When I look at St. Peter’s Basilica, under which lie the bones of the apostle himself, I am edified thinking that it is because of Peter’s trust in Christ that made all of this possible. There is an exact second in time that Peter both fell in love with Christ and accepted the Lord’s will for his life. It is because of Peter’s yes, in the same way that it is Mary’s yes, that we have a Church, that we have a vocation, that we have access to salvation. In the examples of Mary and Peter, we see the role that one person can play when he has come to totally trust and love Jesus Christ, when he ponders the mysteries of God in his life, and when he accepts the call, the invitation to holiness and the impact that these decisions can have on the rest of the Church, an impact that will last until the end of time. Jesus calls us, brothers and sisters, in the same way he called St. Peter and he has a plan for our life as equally important and necessary, perhaps only in spiritual terms, as Mary and St. Peter. When Jesus calls you from yourself and onto something greater and more beautiful in his name, may you find in him the courage and peace you need to pursue him, to find his will, and fall ever more deeply in love with the one who has snatched you from the fire, purified you with grace, and restored in you his promise of salvation and everlasting life.
“May the God of peace make you perfect in holiness. May he preserve you whole and entire, spirit, soul, and body, irreproachable at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” 1Thessalonians 5:23
Your brother in Christ,
Ryan M. Adorjan
9 October 2013