Letter #75: St. Paul VI

November 13, 2018, Tuesday

“All the faithful of Christ, of whatever rank or status, are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity.”—St. Paul VI (canonized by Pope Francis on October 14, in Rome. Paul (1897-1978, Pope from 1963 to 1978). This teaching, referred to as the “universal call” of all Christians to holiness (that is, to become saints) was “the most characteristic and ultimate purpose of the teachings of the (Second Vatican) Council.” In other words, the Second Vatican Council aimed to overcome the division of Catholics into two “classes,” the clerical and the lay — a battle we are still fighting today. Paul’s teaching on this point finds expression in Lumen Gentium (“Light of the Nations”), Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, which he promulgated on November 21, 1964.

“What is my state of mind? Am I Hamlet? Or Don Quixote? On the left? On the right? I do not think I have been properly understood. I am filled with ‘great joy’ (Superabundo gaudio). With all our affliction, I am overjoyed (2 Cor 2:4).” —An aging Pope Paul VI at the very end of his life (he was 80 years old), reflecting on Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet, in a private note written in 1978. He would die on August 6 of that year. On that day, he suffered a massive heart attack, after which he continued to live for three hours. At 21:41, he died in Castel Gandolfo. According to the terms of Paul’s will, he was buried in the “true earth” and therefore, he does not have an ornate sarcophagus but lies in the soil beneath the floor of St. Peter’s Basilica, in an area of the basilica’s crypt near the tombs of other Popes.

“If Paul VI was not a saint, when he was elected Pope, he became one during his pontificate. I was able to witness not only with what energy and dedication he toiled for Christ and the Church, but also and above all, how much he suffered for Christ and the Church. I always admired not only his deep inner resignation but also his constant abandonment to divine providence.” —The Jesuit Father Paolo Dezza, Paul’s confessor

“This Pope is a man of great joy.” —Ibid.

 

Earlier today, I received an email from a reader, as follows:

Dear Dr. Moynihan,

In a previous letter, you alluded to discussing the positives of the recently canonized St. Paul VI. Were you planning on getting back to that as I was looking forward to reading about that.

Regards,

Paul K.

Here below, following the advertisement for our Christmas pilgrimage to Italy (which I would urge those of you who do not have family obligations at home this Christmas to seriously consider) is the article on Pope Paul that the writer of this email is asking about.

This article also appears in the November issue of Inside the Vatican magazine, just now in the mail. If even 10 or 20 of you would consider subscribing to the magazine, or giving a year’s subscription as a Christmas gift, it would help us (you may order online in just a few seconds at this link).

We believe the article offers some insight into the mind and heart of Paul VI, canonized as a saint on October 14 by Pope Francis.

Paul is most famous, arguably, for his authorship of the encyclical Humanae Vitae (“On Human Life”) in 1968, now regarded by many Catholics as a prophetic cry to the Church and to the world not to separate the gift of life from human sexuality.

Paul was fiercely criticized for that encyclical, and never wrote another.

Still, there was considerable criticism of the decision to canonize this “prophetic” and “disobeyed” Pope. (The various criticisms can easily be found on the internet.)

One criticism is that Paul’s canonization is “political” (in the ecclesial sense). That is, that Vatican officials decided to beatify and canonize Paul VI in order to “canonize” the entirety of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), over whose final three years Paul presided — including canonizing those teachings of the Council questioned by more Traditional Catholics during the 53 years since the Council’s end.

So we sought a defense of Paul, a text that would offer compelling reasons to regard him as an heroic soul — despite the mistakes and sins he may have committed — and we found the article we reprint below.

At the end of his life, Paul VI faced a terrible tragedy. One of the dear friends of his life, Aldo Moro, a Catholic politician in Italy who had earlier in his career risen to the post of Prime Minister, was kidnapped by Italy’s “Red Brigades.”

Paul was desperate to try to save Moro’s life, and even offered himself in exchange for Moro, saying he would be willing to give up his own freedom, and his own life, in exchange for Moro’s release.

Moro was kidnapped on March 16, 1978.

For 55 days, the world and the Pope were in suspense.

On 20 April, Paul VI wrote a letter to the Red Brigades, as follows:

“I have no mandate to speak to you, and I am not bound by any private interests in his regard. But I love him as a member of the great human family as a friend of student days and by a very special title as a brother in faith and as a son of the Church of Christ. I make an appeal that you will certainly not ignore. On my knees I beg you, free Aldo Moro, simply without conditions, not so much because of my humble and well-meaning intercession, but because he shares with you the common dignity of a brother in humanity. Men of the Red Brigades, leave me, the interpreter of the voices of so many of our fellow citizens, the hope that in your heart feelings of humanity will triumph. In prayer and always loving you I await proof of that.”

Some in the Italian government accused the Pope of treating the Red Brigades too kindly. Still, Paul continued looking for ways to pay ransom for Moro — but to no avail.

On 9 May, 1978, the bullet-riddled body of Aldo Moro was found in a car in Rome a few steps from Rome’s Jewish Synagogue, in the very center of the Eternal City.

Pope Paul VI, broken with grief, died three months later. He had failed to save the life of his friend…

(Below, the article about St. Paul VI.)

St. Paul VI — Introduction

On October 14, the Church celebrated the canonization of Pope Paul VI, freeing this pontiff from more than half a century of exploitation.

The Pope of the Second Vatican Council was a man simply and madly in love with Jesus Christ.

Father Antonio Maria Sicari, the best known Italian author on the lives of saints, spoke about Paul VI with Costanza Signorelli.

Misunderstood Because He Was Holy: Who Paul VI Really Was

“Despite all the pitfalls of the Second Vatican Council, he constantly led the Church toward the one, sole goal: Jesus Christ”

By Costanza Signorelli, interviewing Fr. Antonio Maria Sicari (originally published on October 14 in La Nuova Bussola Quotidiana) (link).

Not a modernist or conservative, not a communist or a Christian Democrat — he was not even the Pope of this or that ideological current.

Giovanni Battista Montini was “simply” a saint.

And as such he was proclaimed during the canonization ceremony in St. Peter’s.

It was “his” Holy Mother Church, in the end, which freed him once and for all from the prejudices and exploitation of more than half a century of history.

And it is precisely his beloved Bride who gives him back the truth, even on this earth.

Paul VI today is called “Saint” because he was a man simply and madly in love with Jesus Christ.

“Remember,” Paul VI once said. “This is our perennial announcement, it is the voice that we make resound throughout the earth and for the whole course of the centuries. Remember and meditate: the Pope came here among you, and he cried out: ‘Jesus Christ!’”

This strong cry, which Montini pronounced at the ends of the earth, during one of his many apostolic journeys, was the same cry that echoed in his heart for a lifetime.

And, perhaps, it was this cry — that is, his radical belonging only to God — that cost Paul VI utter solitude and almost total incomprehension, especially at the end of his pontificate.

The ferocious attacks and contempt he had to endure for the publication of the encyclical Humanae Vitae are just one example. So much so that when he died, the great theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar would remember him passionately as: “The dileggiate [flouted or disobeyed one] of the Vatican, in whose figure the image of the Crucified Lord emerged with full force.”

This is, broadly speaking, the image that emerges in Fr. Antonio Maria Sicari’s new book, Paolo VI: Il Papa del dialogo e del perdono (“Paul VI: Pope of Dialogue and of Forgiveness”).

And it is precisely Father Sicari whom we asked to tell us, with confidence, about this new saint the Church has given to the people of God.

Bishop John Magee, secretary of Paul VI, called him the “Pope of Forgiveness.” In fact, he maintained that the first and most evident virtue of Pope Paul was that of being “the dispenser of forgiveness and of God’s mercy.” Is there any particular example that can be told about it?

Father Antonio Maria Sicari: I think the most telling example is precisely the statement of the secretary who was close to him for years and who was able to testify: “Paul VI never had a word of condemnation for anyone, always forgave.”

Paul said: “I am the first to be forgiven by God. I must never condemn anyone, I must always be the minister of forgiveness.”

He knew not only to forgive, but also to ask for forgiveness. The most moving evidence is in his Testament where, from the first lines, he was concerned with “remembering forgiveness, to ask how many I offended, failed to serve, did not loved enough, did not offer the forgiveness that someone wanted of me.” And, in a note, he carefully specified: “I beg your forgiveness for all those who have not done good. To all I give the peace of the Lord.”

Your book is titled: Paul VI. The Pope of Dialogue and Forgiveness. Therefore, to “forgiveness” you also add “dialogue.” Why?

Father Sicari: What impressed me most, sketching the portrait of Paul VI, was an intense testimony given by one of his dear friends, the philosopher Jean Guitton: “Paul VI had the gift of immediate adaptation to every person. Each was sensed by him in his temporal and eternal intimacy. When Montini was alone with a person, he gave the impression of being absorbed with him, the person becoming his universe; he was in no hurry, time did not flow anymore; it was like living an eternity in an instant… Sometimes he pushed his respect for the other, even an adversary, so I wondered if he had taken as a rule: ‘Love your enemy as yourself!’ Each partner in dialogue (especially those “far away”!) became “his universe” his “neighbor.”

On the Feast of the Transfiguration in 1964 (August 6), Paul VI published Ecclesiam Suam (“His Church,” that is, Christ’s Church), his first encyclical. In it, the relationship between the Church and the world is discussed. Montini defines it as a relationship of “mutual attraction” and speaks of “an immense sympathy for the world.” How did Pope Montini see the relationship between the Church and the world?

Father Sicari: For Montini, the quality of the Church-world relationship is entirely understood though that “His” (that is, “Christ’s”) which makes the Church “the loving mother of all men and of salvation.”

In the Church, in fact, and through her means, we must realize that evangelical proclamation that says: “God so loved the world that he gave his Son”: the Church is therefore the historical place of the embrace that God wants to give to every man.

We can say Paul VI’s dream was a Church in which all could feel loved, and in which Christians implemented that beautiful program that he had outlined when he was Archbishop of Milan: “We will love everyone… We will love our neighbor, and we will love those far away. We will love our homeland and we will love the homelands of others. We will love our friends and we will love our enemies. We will love the Catholics, we will love the schismatics, the Protestants, the Anglicans, the indifferent; Muslims, pagans, atheists. We will love all social classes, but especially those most in need of help, assistance, promotion. We will love the children and the old, the poor and the sick. We will love those who mock us, those who despise us, those who oppose us, those who persecute us. We will love those who deserve, and we will love those who do not deserve, to be loved. We will love our adversaries: as a man, no one wants to be an enemy. We will love our time, our civilization, our technique, our art, our sport, our world. We will love by studying ourselves to understand, to be compassionate, to esteem, to serve, to suffer. We will love with the heart of Christ: Come to me, all you… We will love with the breadth of God: for God has so loved the world…”

Paul VI was precisely the “timoniere” [“helmsman”] of the Second Vatican Council in which he believed strongly until the end. Despite the resistance of those who would have preferred to end the “holy adventure,” three months after his election, Paul VI reconvened the Council. Why? What urgency did he see for the Church? And what was his main goal?

Father Sicari: Immediately after the election, Paul VI took care to declare: “The pre-eminent part of our Pontificate will be occupied by the continuation of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, to which the eyes of all men of good will are fixed. This will be the main work, so we intend to spend all the energies that the Lord has given us.”

He resumed it with the decision to implement to the end what he had already asked before being Pope: “The unitary and comprehensive argument of this Council and all the immense material prepared should be drawn around this obvious and sublime center: the Holy Church.”

The Church, its mission and its dialogue with the world, were the goals that were close to his heart. He said that the Second Vatican Council was and should remain “a solemn act of love for humanity,” but “in the absolute conviction that [faith in] Christ is necessary and true.”

Precisely this point, the relationship of the Church to the world, was the great misunderstanding of his pontificate. There was a sharp division between those who were pressing for the Church to decide on new openings and those who instead called for closure and condemnation. For some, Paul VI was “too closed” and for others he was “excessively open”…

Father Sicari: Paul VI found himself compelled to lead an already very polarized Council, which had an immense need to be heard, but also to be firmly guided. He succeeded in carrying out the difficult task, but the tensions immediately reappeared during the implementation of the decrees issued by the Council. Thus Paul VI found himself strenuously resisting a double pressure: that of those who invoked “openings at any cost” and in every field (liturgical, dogmatic, moral, disciplinary) and that of those who stubbornly resisted any change. The former accused him of lacking courage and accused him of temporizing, the latter looked at him with suspicion and accused him of being uncertain and yielding. But Paul VI did not refuse to wait patiently, even if few understood that he had always and only one purpose: the accurate evaluation of problems so as to transmit the truth with all the necessary charity, and use the necessary charity without ever harming the truth.

When he was still cardinal in Milan, speaking of the Council in a letter to his revered teacher, Father Giulio Bevilacqua, he wrote: “Is there not a wrinkle of sadness furrowing the forehead? And we may know its secret; but we want to smooth out that wrinkle today; it must disappear. Yes, dear Father, we understood: Christ alone, Christ alive!” What was he referring to?

Father Sicari: It was a profound concern of Montini which he had absorbed from Fr. Bevilacqua (his revered teacher), whose vision he totally shared: “Never forget that the Church has no other purpose than to proclaim ‘Christ alone, Christ alive.’” To understand and appreciate it thoroughly, it is enough to reread two beautiful Christological texts of Paul VI that express this concern in the form of prayer, praise, song and joyful admiration. The first is found in a speech he gave during the General Audience of February 3, 1965 and the second in his speech in Manila on December 29, 1970. The latter concludes with a cry: “Remember: this is our perennial announcement, it is the voice that we make to resound throughout the earth, and through all the succession of the centuries; remember and meditate: the Pope came here among you, and he cried out: ‘Jesus Christ!’”

One of the most agonizing moments of his pontificate was the publication of his encyclical letter Humanae Vitae: it was very controversial, and there were those who came to call it the “suicide of his popularity.” It triggered a form of rejection and contempt whose echoes still reach us today. How did the pontiff react?

Father Sicari: It is good to quote Cardinal Albino Luciani, who became Paul VI’s immediate successor [Pope John Paul I]: “Someone said that Humanae Vitae was a ‘suicide’ for Paul VI, the collapse of his popularity and the beginning of fierce criticism. Yes, in a certain sense — but he had foreseen it, and, always with St. Paul, he had said: ‘Is it perhaps the favor of men I intend to earn, or rather that of God?… If I still sought that of men, I would no longer be a servant of Christ’ (Gal 1, 10).”

And another great theologian, Cardinal Journet, said: “The Pope did not make his decision to please the many, but rather before God, with his eyes on the eyes of Jesus: alone, as in the Garden of Olives.”

The Pope certainly had much trouble from the reactions of many to his encyclical, but he never had doubts or misgivings. The “saints” living at the time were to comfort and reassure him: among them we remember Padre Pio da Pietrelcina and the future St. John Paul II.

But Humanae Vitae was not an isolated case. Another very difficult matter for Paul VI was the liturgical reform after the Council. The defenders of the pre-conciliar liturgy said he had final responsibility for the “most reckless innovations,” while the “progressives” continually tried to pull him in the opposite direction. Was his response in his two beautiful texts, the encyclical Mysterium Fidei and the Creed of the People of God?

Father Sicari: The conciliar documents and the reforms proposed in the liturgical field were not “reckless.” But it cannot be denied that there were some “wild experiments,” later reconsidered, some misguided abuses which were introduced with cunning, and some theological interpretations “lacking in sanctity.” With this last expression I refer to the judgment of a great theologian like Henri de Lubac, who commented on certain post-Council results: “The drama of Vatican II consists in the fact that instead of being taken into the hands of the saints, as was the Tridentine Council, it has been taken over by intellectuals. And above all, it has been monopolized by many theologians, whose theology started with the preconception of ‘updating the faith to the needs of the world’ and of emancipating the Church from an alleged inferiority compared to modern society. Hence the difficulty of the post-Council is to be found in the intellectualism of theology, in the division between theology and Christian experience, in the separation between theology and holiness (…). The place of theology ceases to be the Christian community and becomes the interpretation of the individual.”

In this sense the most beautiful and useful reaction of Paul VI was to reaffirm doctrine with precision, beauty, and certainty. From this point of view, the proclamation of Mary as “Mother of the Church,” the encyclical Mysterium Fidei (with which he wanted to protect, intact, faith in the Eucharist, which many wanted to reduce to a symbol, laden with meaning but lacking in divine substance) and the Creed of the People of God are among the greatest gifts that the Holy Pontiff has left us.

Of Paul VI, all remember the famous and terrible words he pronounced on June 29, 1972, in a homily before the diplomatic corps: “The Holy Father has the feeling that smoke has entered — the smoke of Satan — into the temple of God.” Perhaps, however, only a few remember the numerous and heartfelt messages that from that moment on the Pope continued to address to “those Christians who seem to be more violently opposed to the Church, their Mother.” To whom and what was he referring?

Father Sicari: That the Church should always pay attention to the “smoke of Satan” that can penetrate the cracks in the Temple is a recurring concern in history. Even today, the Pope has not feared to mention this risk, which can only be overcome by prayer and by an obedient mind. Paul VI referred above all to those who had abandoned and betrayed their priestly and/or consecrated vocation and those who “no longer trusted the Church,” preferring to rely “on the first profane prophet who comes to talk to us from some newspaper or some motion picture, to chase after him and ask him if he has the formula of true life.”

And he also referred to that variegated world (still operational) of so-called Christian intellectuals and “professors” who transmitted their interpretations and their “research” more than true doctrine. Today the warning should be resumed and extended to all those who strive to find passable ways between true doctrine and practical arrangements.

As Paul taught us, charity without truth and truth without charity are still ecclesially risky diseases.

[End article]

Have you ever wished to visit St. Peter’s Basilica in the early morning, when the doves are beginning to glide across a nearly empty St. Peter’s square? Have you ever wished to visit Assisi, and pray at the tomb of St. Francis in the crypt of his 13th-century basilica, or at the tomb of St. Clare in her basilica, built of alternating pink and white stones?

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By |2018-11-26T00:51:31+00:00Nov 13th, 2018|Categories: The Moynihan Letters|