More things have been said about Blessed John’s pontificate than can be imagined, but a common observation is this: “The Church expected to get a ‘caretaker pope,’ but what she got instead was a holy shock.”
But there was nothing shocking about John’s pontificate, nor his call for an ecumenical Council. Courageous and pro-active, yes, but not shocking. Ever since his days as a young priest in Bergamo, he had venerated St. Charles Borromeo, the renowned archbishop of Milan, and champion of orthodoxy, who had implemented the reforms of the Council of Trent with great discipline and zeal. Pope John saw a similar need to address the problems of our own day, with equal vigor. His reverence for the reformer was such that he arranged to have his coronation as pope on the saint’s feast day (November 4, 1958), just a week after John’s election.
Blessed [now Saint] John knew, as does Pope Benedict, that Christianity is not simply a series of negative “No’s,” but an uplifting series of ringing affirmations “rooted in ultimate truth, designed for our salvation,” and this is why he placed an accent on the inspiring side of the Gospel, in order to attract new believers, and strengthen the old. But John could warn and censure with the best of popes, and whenever he needed to, he did. He decried the errors of Communism, even as he welcomed productive dialogue during the Cold War; he vigorously opposed sexual immorality (and had strict requirements for seminarians) but treated everyone so tempted with Christ-like love; he opposed religious indifferentism but welcomed common ground with non-Catholics; he cautioned exegetes and warned about technology but approved modern advances in harmony with the faith. – from “Pope John XXIII: Conserver of Tradition” (2012)