As the events of the canonizations wound down this weekend, one of the most remarkable things about the atmosphere in Rome was not the usual Church politics of left and right, progressives and conservatives. It was the outpouring of a universal Catholicity that seemed to unite the two popes being canonized, the two living popes concelebrating – and to transcend all merely passing differences.
It’s good for us to remember this universal quality of the Church – the Church that has adherents in far-flung lands and that is able to draw even its highest leadership from countries as diverse as Italy, Germany, Poland, and Argentina.
I mentioned the striking statement above from a person who reformed his life and is now a Catholic – who is also a prominent political operative who would never be publicly identified with such an experience – because it seems to fit in with a number of other developments the last of these extraordinary days.
As I’ve written here before, I spent this weekend in the EWTN booth doing television commentary during the actual canonizations – which meant both that I had a privileged perch but didn’t really get much of a chance to move among the crowd. Still, from that perspective, at least a few things were evident.
As is always the case in Rome for events like this, you are surprised by the human gregariousness – the sheer joy of coming together for some great spiritual good – and the deep recollection, even in the midst of vast throngs. As times, I had to go with that Catholic spirit and just let wash over me the beautiful music that the Vatican choir produced all through the more than two-hour ceremony.
And really: in what other venue will you begin an event with a litany of saints sung beautifully, and in Latin, stretching back centuries to ancient times? Or those beautiful voices intoning the Creed, again in Latin, going phrase by phrase through a set of beliefs that have persisted through two millennia and inspired billions of lives in ways too various to describe?
Many paid special attention to the homily that Pope Francis delivered about his two great predecessors. He clearly wanted to say something in the way he spoke of them. He recalled that John XXIII was the great pope of “docility” (docilità) to the ways in which the Holy Spirit leads us as we would not have anticipated.
Two young priests and two sainted popes: the Church renewed
It’s worth paying attention to this because the official translation of the homily, as is often the case, misrepresented the Holy Father’s words. Some translator apparently though that it was more colloquial in English to speak of John XXIII as the pope of “openness” – that empty and dangerous buzzword that sounds generous, but in fact leads us into vague inconsequence.
You don’t want to read too much into a few words in a brief homily, but Francis spoke of the great St. John XXIII in such terms. It would be good to see them repeated – and taken to heart – by the universal Church after years of distorting John XXIII’s record.
When Francis invoked St. John Paul II, he started by observing that John Paul wanted to be known as the “pope of the family.” The crowd, which had otherwise been quite tranquil, erupted in a wave of spontaneous applause at that point. A small thing, maybe, but – just maybe – also an indication of numerous faithful who want to see that side of St. John Paul II’s legacy honored, by continuing it.
My learned television colleague, Fr. Gerald Murray of New York (who wrote those moving personal reflections about JPII yesterday on this site), noted that the legacy of John Paul II on the family should only proceed from his forceful 1981 encyclical Familiaris Consortio.
Many of us who work on questions of family and culture have been worried about the Synod on the Family scheduled for this October. The worry stems not so much from what the Church will discuss during the synod as the ways in which various groups – the divorced, gays, lesbians, etc. – will take advantage of sympathetic secular media to try and build pressure for “change.”
Francis ended his homily Sunday with the observation that he was “particularly happy to point out [JPII’s desire to be remembered as the pope of the family] as we are in the process of journeying with families towards the Synod on the family. It is surely a journey which, from his place in heave, he guides and sustains. May these two new saints and shepherds of God’s people intercede for the Church, so that during this two-year journey towards the Synod she may be open to the Holy Spirit in pastoral service to the family.”
It might perhaps be thought too much to read a future agenda into this moment of celebration, in front of the relics of the two new saints, under Roman skies that co-operated by holding back rain until the sacred rites were over. Argentine friends in Rome this weekend assured me that reading things in that way would not be wrong – especially given Francis’s strong record in defending the family against a hostile government in his native Argentina.
And maybe it’s also reassuring that Jesus Christ, who is always the same – yesterday, today, and tomorrow – is now also inspiring the thought and plans of the Church through the lives of two new saints who were fearless in engaging our modern world.
The EWTN team: Raymond Arroyo, Fr. Gerald Murray, and Robert Royal