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A Gospel Presentation

My friend Andrew and I decided to film a simple Gospel presentation to share with the world over Youtube this year, and thanks to the great editing by our talented friend Becca (check out her Youtube channel with a short film, music videos, and more!), we have the finished video to share with you all! Enjoy!

This is a simple follow up to my longer post last year about how to share the Gospel, specifically as a Catholic. There’s plenty more that we could have said, but we kept it short and sweet at under 90 seconds.

Want to live in relationship with Christ? Say a simple prayer right now asking Christ to come into your life and reveal Himself to you. Make sure to talk with a Catholic friend or your local priest about how you can take the next steps toward joining an RCIA group. A great resource is Catholics Come Home. I’d be more than happy to answer any questions and give advice, as well!

God bless you!

FOCUS New Staff Training, Take 2

Well I’ve definitely fallen behind on blogging ever since I’ve been back at FOCUS New Staff Training again this summer, so here are some quick updates and thoughts:

  • This is such an exciting place to be. Besides the seminaries, this is largely where the future of the Catholic Church in America is. 400+ missionaries zealous for sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ on college campuses around the country. Every year there are more missionaries and campuses, it’s so cool to see God blessing this apostolate.
  • I already knew that I was returning to Montclair State University in New Jersey next year, but now I have some teammates! Here’s a pic of us (Mike, yours truly, Kristin, Anne, and Kerry), they’re awesome!
  • Team MSU 2014-2015
  • A few of the major topics that I’ve been learning over the past 3 weeks have been discernment of spirits, the Gospel of John (in depth), and Catholic Social Teaching. Each class has been really interesting, I’m a bit of nerd for stuff like that. But you’d probably assume that when you take into account that I blog in my free time about my faith :-D
  • This time in the summer is a great time to process all that happened over the school year so that I can learn from my experiences. I’ve been trying to talk with other veteran missionaries to learn best practices and those have been some fascinating conversations.
  • I’m off to a silent Ignatian retreat this weekend. I went on one last year as well, it was so cool to experience that silence. On the other hand, Ignatian prayer was tricky for me, so I’m hoping and praying that I’m more faithful to that this time around.
  • Easily one of my favorite things about training is sitting down at a table for a meal with all new people and getting to know them all and hearing how God’s worked in each of their lives to call them to the missionary life. Everyone is so unique and has such cool stories!
  • Reforming the Church and the world happens one person at a time. We have to be faithful to God first in our own life before we can focus our evangelization efforts on others.
  • The second half of the summer will be time for me to meet up with my mission partners who support me financially and spiritually. They truly are mission partners because I couldn’t get on campus and invest in the students without their help. Some give by going (missionaries), and others go by giving (mission partners). Both work together to bring forth the Kingdom of God, so thank you to all my mission partners out there!
  • God bless, hope you’re having a great summer!

The Reformation is over. Kinda.

From left: Bishop Dr. Christian Krause and Edward Idris Cardinal Cassidy sign the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, 1999.

From left: Bishop Dr. Christian Krause and Edward Idris Cardinal Cassidy
sign the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, 1999.

“Justification by faith alone is the article on which the church stands or falls.” – Martin Luther

It’s been nearly 500 years since the split of the Church in the west, which was started largely by Martin Luther and his claim of salvation being obtained only through faith alone. Unfortunately, this split the Church and many other doctrines were changed by the Protestant Reformers before long. But the good news is that there is finally some hope for reunification again! This is going to take a loooonnnnggg time, but the most critical issue, the one mentioned in the quote above, has been resolved! The Lutheran bishops and the Catholic Church made a Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification in 1999, and even the World Methodist Council adopted it as well in 2006.

Praise God for softening both sides towards each other so that they would be open to clear dialogue on the issues at hand. It seems like a large issue that separated the sides over the years is the language used. Words like “righteousness” and “justification” have many different meanings and contexts in scripture, so of course on a charged issue it would be easy to rush to judgement instead of having a complete understanding of both sides before drawing a conclusion. In the end, both made great points, stressing how only by God and faith someone can be saved, but also how our good works play a critical role in cooperating with God’s grace in bringing about the Kingdom of God in our lives. I’m not a theologian so that’s the best summary that I can give ;)

There is still quite a bit in the way of the complete reunification of the churches in the West, but this is a very important and exciting first step that resolves the most critical issue!

Here are some of my favorite parts:

Paragraph 1:

The doctrine of justification was of central importance for the Lutheran Reformation of the sixteenth century. It was held to be the “first and chief article” and at the same time the “ruler and judge over all other Christian doctrines.”

Paragraph 5:

The present Joint Declaration has this intention: namely, to show that on the basis of their dialogue the subscribing Lutheran churches and the Roman Catholic Church are now able to articulate a common understanding of our justification by God’s grace through faith in Christ.

Paragraph 15:

Together we confess: By grace alone, in faith in Christ’s saving work and not because of any merit on our part, we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts while equipping and calling us to good works.

Paragraph 19:

We confess together that all persons depend completely on the saving grace of God for their salvation.

Paragraph 22:

We confess together that God forgives sin by grace and at the same time frees human beings from sin’s enslaving power and imparts the gift of new life in Christ.

Paragraph 25:

We confess together that sinners are justified by faith in the saving action of God in Christ. By the action of the Holy Spirit in baptism, they are granted the gift of salvation, which lays the basis for the whole Christian life.

Paragraph 28:

We confess together that in baptism the Holy Spirit unites one with Christ, justifies, and truly renews the person. But the justified must all through life constantly look to God’s unconditional justifying grace. They also are continuously exposed to the power of sin still pressing its attacks (cf. Rom 6:12-14) and are not exempt from a lifelong struggle against the contradiction to God within the selfish desires of the old Adam (cf. Gal 5:16; Rom 7:7-10). The justified also must ask God daily for forgiveness as in the Lord’s Prayer (Mt. 6:12; 1 Jn 1:9), are ever again called to conversion and penance, and are ever again granted forgiveness.

Paragraph 31:

We confess together that persons are justified by faith in the gospel “apart from works prescribed by the law” (Rom 3:28). Christ has fulfilled the law and by his death and resurrection has overcome it as a way to salvation. We also confess that God’s commandments retain their validity for the justified and that Christ has by his teaching and example expressed God’s will which is a standard for the conduct of the justified also.

Paragraph 37:

We confess together that good works – a Christian life lived in faith, hope and love – follow justification and are its fruits.

Paragraph 40 (BOOM!):

The understanding of the doctrine of justification set forth in this Declaration shows that a consensus in basic truths of the doctrine of justification exists between Lutherans and Catholics.

Paragraph 41 (BOOM!):

Thus the doctrinal condemnations of the 16th century, in so far as they relate to the doctrine of justification, appear in a new light: The teaching of the Lutheran churches presented in this Declaration does not fall under the condemnations from the Council of Trent. The condemnations in the Lutheran Confessions do not apply to the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church presented in this Declaration.

Paragraph 44:

We give thanks to the Lord for this decisive step forward on the way to overcoming the division of the church. We ask the Holy Spirit to lead us further toward that visible unity which is Christ’s will.

Jon’s Testimony: A Jew on the Path to Catholic Conversion

The following is a testimony by my friend Jon, who I got to know over the past year at Montclair State University.

Jon and I

Coming into my Junior year I began with my Jewish religious beliefs, but would later come into an encounter with Jesus Christ at Montclair State. My first thoughts of Newman Catholic my first two years was that they were a Catholic cult on campus like I had felt before attending a couple of Catholic services. I WAS SO WRONG with everything, but my roommate Jeff, who will take no credit even though he deserves it a lot, has shown me a way to live my life through Catholicism and to a closer understanding of who Jesus is. We had made an agreement with each other that if he came to a Hillel (Jewish) service that I would come to a Newman Catholic event, and obviously I am still here today. My first event was mass and adoration at the Newman Center and it was an awesome experience between Father Jim’s homily to the atmosphere of the Newman Center. My main reason for coming back was the awesome people that were completely accepting and really welcoming, something that I hadn’t experienced too much in my own faith. Over the entire spring semester my connection with Jesus became stronger, thanks to getting involved heavily with Newman events ranging from weekly Sunday mass, Thursday mass and adoration, CIA, and more.

Throughout the semester I had attended mass as it was a fun environment and a way to pray with friends. My faith towards Judaism had not been present in my life. It wasn’t until my 21st birthday when I realized that I needed a change in my life. Leading into my birthday I had a toga party with my fraternity and got drunk and passed out. The next day and over the night there was a huge snowstorm and my car had been towed from my fraternity house and they kept trying to wake me up but couldn’t. I woke up and felt awful and I decided that the darkness and evilness had done me in for the last time.
When elections for E-board came for the 2014-15 year I ran for treasurer and won. I decided to run due to the fact that I wanted to give back to MSU Newman Catholic for all they have done for me, being in a dark place and showing me a light at the end of the tunnel. The other reason was to spread the Gospel of Jesus and evangelize on the MSU campus.

An instance that occurred on Palm Sunday would confirm everything for me. It was a typical mass on Palm Sunday during personal prayers after Eucharist when it hit me LITERALLY. I felt a jolt back with my body and it was a feeling like no other. I had no idea what it was at first but it was the cross hitting me on the head throwing me back in my chair. After mass I talked to Father Jim about it and he told me to contemplate it, which I did the next few weeks leading into the Easter season. More events like this encouraged me, for example at next meal I ate, my fortune cookie said “Among the lucky, you are the chosen one.” Through bible studies, masses, and talks with Father Jim as well as the missionaries, I have taken it upon myself to engage in conversion and RCIA for my senior year.

Later in the semester, speaker Leah Darrow came to MSU and gave a testimony. Three words during it stood out to me and returned to my head multiple times: “Jesus is home.” This is something that I have thought about whenever praying. Her father told her when she was in her darkest moments of her life. Using that quote I came up with one of my own, “Newman Catholic and the Catholic faith are home.” This year has 100% been up and down, but it is clear now to me which way to go from here on out.
I can see my life being turned around in everyday life. God and Catholicism have shown me the way I want to live the rest of my life. I am proud of being a Jew and my faith tradition, but as a Jew it is my job to follow the Messiah. I believe that Jesus is the Messiah and I am excited to enter into His Christian Catholic Church.

Missionary Life: Year 1 Reflections

Wow. So crazy as it seems, I’ve already completed an entire school year as a FOCUS Missionary. Life just flies sometimes, doesn’t it? Here are some observations and thoughts about the year!

  • In college I learned that life moves even faster than normal. Those 4 years were a blur… At graduation it still seemed like I moved in as a freshman the day before. Well, as a missionary, time goes EVEN FASTER. Jeepers, I was booked and busy. Sometimes a bit too much haha.. but constantly meeting with different people and going to different events and having intentional conversations will do that sort of thing!
  • I can’t share Jesus when I don’t know Jesus or live like Him. I definitely do know Him and try to live for Him, but I still could still grow closer to Him. Becoming more Christlike gives me more credibility in sharing the Gospel, and also gives me an even greater zeal to share it! Prayer is the foundation of evangelization.
  • I am a doer, a fixer, a go-getter. And yet despite everything that I did, I still got rejected, and relatively often. It’s a struggle for all who try and evangelize… but I have to remember that ultimately only God can touch someone’s heart, no matter what I do. I began to rely more and more on prayer by the end of the year, praying for the people in my life, because I knew that personal conversion is a matter between that person and God, and my job is simply to introduce the two parties and foster that relationship ;)
  • There were so many fun crazy things that I got to do as a missionary: relive the college experience WITHOUT GOING TO CLASS, so many retreats and conferences, seeing nearly every single state in the Northeast, hiking trips, the March for Life was only 4 hrs away, trips to NYC, Catholic Underground, meeting so many religious orders, being in spiritual direction, building such great friendships with the students, speaking in front of groups about JESUS, and literally see lives change before my very eyes.
  • I really couldn’t have done any of that without the support of my mission partners, who donate to and pray for my mission. Their generosity has shown me a glimpse of the charity of God Himself.
  • I got a kick out of seeing probably more Chicago Bulls hats than any other hat on campus… and it’s in New Jersey! Go Bulls!
  • Numbers are great, individual souls are priceless, and faithfulness to God is most important. I’m reminded of the Mother Teresa quote, “God doesn’t ask us to be successful, He asks us to be faithful.” Praise God that we did have some success in terms of conversions of students either back to their Catholic faith, from a different denomination home to Catholicism, or from another/no faith to the Church.
  • I could have been an engineer this year. Looking back, if I did that, so many things would have been different, in my life as well as in others. It’s amazing how much God works when we go out of our way to follow Him, even in a single thing.
  • Young people’s apathy for religion is unbelievable. This isn’t necessarily their fault as much as it is the fault of previous generations who should have taught them its importance. But either way, if there are belief systems out there that say that their way is the only way to live life, wouldn’t you at least want to check them out to see if they are true? Relativism has largely crippled any desire of the youth to search for eternal truth.
  • The lack of religious convictions by the youth has also given way to incredible boldness and zeal by my peers. My fellow missionaries and student leaders are courageous souls determined to shine the light of Jesus everywhere they go, because they know just how desperately our peers need that light. The greater the darkness, the more bright the lights of heroes shine.
  • Looking forward to next year! Who knows what God will do next :)

End of year BBQ

When I Called Out, You Answered

homeless

A couple of weeks ago I was hanging out at Yale in New Haven, CT with a couple of friends. We were walking down one of the main streets and about to go into an ice cream place when a man called out to us.

“Hey, can any of you help me out? Even change will do.”

I just averted my eyes and kept walking. I don’t remember if I had money or not on me, but either way I completely ignored him, saying a quick prayer to try to feel a little better about myself,

“Lord, be with him.”

Then we continued on. I have to give a lot of credit to one of my friends, afterwards he actually went up to the homeless man and asked him his name. Me? I just kept walking, an ice cream cone in hand and fully determined to have a good time with my friends.

I’ve been thinking and praying about this event ever since. What sort of human being am I? Deliberately choosing not to even acknowledge someone who cried out for help. And even more hypocritically, I prayed asking God to be with him. But as a member of the Body of Christ, I am one of His hands and feet! When I don’t show up for people in need, then people think that God doesn’t show up. God gave me that opportunity to reveal His love for that man.

On top of it all, I’m a freaking Catholic missionary! It would absolutely make my day if one day a student cried out asking for help with life’s problems or something and I got to help him or her. I pray for those opportunities every day, but often they don’t present themselves. Now, this time, I had someone who really was in trouble and I did nothing to help. Not even acknowledging them as a person. Am I really helping to bring peace on earth when I act like that, or am I just kindling even greater social tensions?

Jesus told us that we serve Him personally when we serve the poor and needy. This isn’t just a nice suggestion but a matter of eternal consequences.

“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.” – Matthew 25:35-36

“Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.” – Matthew 25:40

I need to foster a greater respect for the dignity of the poor and needy in my own life, especially the homeless.

The good news is that I have had really great experiences as well, for example last winter in Chicago I ran into a man who shared my name, Chris! He was very nice and yes he asked me for some money but I actually talked with him. It turns out that he used to work at O’Hare and was laid off. He is a veteran of the military as well, he showed me his drivers license to prove it because he was so excited about it. I asked him where he stayed and he said that he stays at the shelter that the Franciscans provide in Chicago. That was super crazy and I got all excited when I heard that because one (maybe two soon) of my college friends is a sister with the Franciscans of the Eucharist that helps out the poor in the city. He mentioned Fr. Bob, the CFR priest who helps them out.

If only all of my experiences were like that! Either way, this video inspired me to post my own experience that I’ve been praying about over the past couple of weeks. It really goes to show how much we don’t notice the homeless and how much more love we could potentially give them, instead of ignoring them.

The Third Way: Homosexuality and the Catholic Church

This film is absolutely powerful. I’d encourage everyone to watch it, especially because it conveys the truth about how the Catholic Church views people with same sex attraction, which has been so distorted by popular culture. My personal experiences with my friends who have same sex attraction tend to lead to the same conclusions as this video as well, so that’s a good reality check on it. Enjoy!

 

Legacy of a Visionary: The Life of Pope John XXIII (Part II)

The following is a guest post by Brian W. Geary. The first part of this article can be found here.

Part II: “Obedience and Peace” (1958 – 1963)

Pope John XXIII wave

Obedience and peace. This phrase, while so simple, so brilliantly captures the essence of Angelo Roncalli, Pope John XXIII, “The Good Pope.” From a small mountain town, to Bulgaria, Greece, Turkey, France, and Venice, Roncalli was driven by a love of service to the people of God, in humble accordance with the promise of obedience he took upon is ordination in 1904. The path wasn’t clear, but Roncalli’s trust in God was, and it was this trust and obedience that must have weighed on his heart in the Conclave of 1958.

It was a rather long conclave (by modern standards). By the end of day three, only black smoke had appeared from the chimney atop the Sistine Chapel (admittedly, white smoke did appear for about five minutes, but then turned black again). By the beginning of day four, the smoke was white. A pope had been elected. Inside the Sistine Chapel, the Dean of the College of Cardinals approached the newly elected candidate.

“Do you accept the election, canonically made, of yourself as pontiff?”

The words of Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli, written on a sheet of paper composed the previous night and during his lunch hour, are worth recounting here: “At the sound of your voice, I am made to tremble, and I fear. For what I know well of my poverty and insignificance is enough to bring me to confusion. But seeing the votes of my brothers…I bow my head and my back to the chalice of bitterness and to the yoke of the cross.”

“What do you wish to be called?”

“I wish to be called John. This name is sweet to us because it is the name of our father. It is sweet to us because it is the name of the humble parish church in which we were baptized; it is the name of innumerable cathedrals scattered throughout the world and first of all the sacred Lateran Basilica, our cathedral….But we love the name John so dear to us and to all the church, particularly because it was borne by two men who were closest to Christ the Lord, the divine Redeemer of all the world and Founder of the Church; John the Baptist…and John the disciple and Evangelist…May God dispose that both of these Johns shall plead in all the church for our most humble and pastoral ministry.”

The new pope was then taken to the traditional “room of tears” to don his new white vestments. Not present during the voting, John’s two assistants were allowed in to see him. In typical Roncalli wit, Pope John looked at them and said, “Well, you see what has happened to me.”

Those familiar with the election of Jorge Mario Bergoglio as Pope Francis in 2013 will remember the frenzy of activity and media speculation in the following days and weeks. So it was with Pope John XXIII in the fall of 1958. He had chosen a name not used since the fourteenth century (the last person to use it was the Antipope John XXIII). From the beginning he was different, and it was clear this would be a different type of papacy. I think Lawrence Elliott describes one such episode at the beginning of his pontificate the best:

[The official Vatican newspaper] flowered its every reference to the pope with such phrases as “The Illuminated Holy Father” and “The Highest Pontiff,” and prefaced accounts of his public statements with the likes of, “The chosen one, in his inspired and sublime discourse…” [The Pope] wished for an end to inflated and convoluted terminology.

“It’s the twentieth century. Let us have a style that suits the times. Wouldn’t it be better simply to write, ‘the pope said this,’ or ‘the pope did that.’?”
The stricken look on [the editor’s] face impelled John to soften his words. “I myself would prefer it,” he said gently. And, at the other’s final wince of pain, hastily corrected himself: “We would prefer it.” (256)

The papal use of the royal “we” would eventually be done away with by Pope John Paul I in 1978, but it’s clear that John had a different vision for the papacy. According to tradition, popes usually took their meals alone. After enduring several weeks of this, he remarked that he felt “like a seminarian under punishment” and did away with that. In another long-standing tradition (no pun intended), it was dictated everyone kneel when in the presence of the pope. After seeing an aide genuflect out of respect for him multiple times a day, John finally asked, “Don’t you think I believed you the first time?” He even threatened to walk out on an interview if the interviewer didn’t conduct the interview sitting in a chair, rather than on his knees. The first time he sat on his golden throne chair, the Seda Gestatoria, carried high above the crowds in public events, he sadly noted, “It’s windy up here.” He would later joke to the eight carriers of the chair that they should be paid extra, because he weighed so much more than his predecessor.

Soon, he made unannounced trips outside of the Vatican, showing up in unexpected places, and surprising the citizens of Rome from his car. He planned to make visits to every parish in his new Roman diocese. No doubt those who remember the election of Pope Francis will also remember the media frenzy he sparked after choosing to wear his own black shoes, instead of the traditional red. In 1958, every pope in recent memory had worn a set of red velvet slippers. Because of all his traveling, John broke with years of tradition, and had a new set of sturdy red walking shoes made. One gets the feeling he wouldn’t have gotten too worked up over Pope Francis’s choice of footwear.

John XXIII wasn’t one to accept what some had referred to as the “passive papal lifestyle.” Unlike Pius XII, who lived by a strict schedule, John wasn’t about to follow suit. His advisors put up a fuss about his unscheduled walks in the Vatican gardens, saying that they would not have enough time to close the cupola balcony on the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica, adding with a look of horror that all the tourists might see him. John, with his characteristic good humor, promised he wouldn’t do anything to scandalize them.

So then, it also came as a surprise that only three months into his papacy, Pope John called for an ecumenical council, soon to be known as Vatican II, to “let some fresh air in here,” throwing open his study windows one afternoon. For a man who spent his life in dialogue with the world, with the geographical and intellectual fringes of Christianity, standing by the pillar of truth in a world threatened by secularism, an “open-forum” council was his way of preparing the Church to reach out to the modern world. He was a man of peace to his core, and his landmark encyclical, “Pacem in Terris” (Peace on Earth), written in the wake of the Cuban missile crisis, would pave the way for ideological dialogue for years to come. A young Polish priest named Fr. Karol Wojtyla would take this text to heart, and later carry on John XXIII’s commitment to peace and dialogue in the spirit of Vatican II as Pope John Paul II.

Pope John opened the council on October 11, 1962, and the Church would never be same. Sadly he never saw the council closed, and it was up to Popes Paul VI and John Paul II to close it and struggle through its implementation. Shortly before the council opened, John was diagnosed with inoperable stomach cancer. The disease began to take its toll during the early part of 1963, and he began to suffer from internal bleeding. He spent his last days surrounded by doctors, aides, and friends. As his condition became serious, the pope was confined to his bed, moving in and out of consciousness. A vigil was held in the square outside of the Papal Apartments, and an outdoor Mass for the ailing pope was planned on June 3rd. Pope John XXIII took his last breath as the mass outside concluded with the words, “Go, the mass is ended.”

Coda: The Third Millennium

The body of Pope John XXIII was entombed in the grottoes beneath St. Peter’s Basilica. He was viewed as a father to millions, and an inspiration to an entire generation of Catholics. His body, discovered to be incorrupt, was later moved beneath the altar of St. Jerome in St. Peter’s, and can now be viewed by the faithful. Coincidentally, when he passed away in 2005, the body of John Paul II was laid to rest in the same alcove where Pope John’s tomb once stood. John Paul worked closely with him as a bishop at the Second Vatican Council, and in 2000 he beatified the man he viewed as a father of faith:

How many people were won over by his simplicity of heart, combined with a broad experience of people and things! The breath of newness he brought certainly did not concern doctrine, but rather the way to explain it; his style of speaking and acting was new, as was his friendly approach to ordinary people and to the powerful of the world. It was in this spirit that he called the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, thereby turning a new page in the Church’s history: Christians heard themselves called to proclaim the Gospel with renewed courage and greater attentiveness to the “signs” of the times. The Council was a truly prophetic insight of this elderly Pontiff who, even amid many difficulties, opened a season of hope for Christians and for humanity.

Two years later, the mission of Pope John XXIII came full circle, when John Paul made a visit to Bulgaria in the footsteps of his predecessor, presenting Bulgarian Catholics with a relic of their beloved Ambassador/Archbishop/Pope. Exactly fourteen years after his beatification, a group of pilgrims from Pope John’s home diocese of Bergamo gathered in St. Peter’s Basilica with his successor Francis. The two successors of Peter were already being compared for their warmth and humility. Perhaps the words of Pope Francis, the man who cleared the way for John XXIII’s canonization by bypassing the need for a second miracle, summarizes the life of “the Good Pope” best:

Exactly 50 years ago, at this very time, Blessed John XXIII departed this world. Those who, like myself, have reached a certain age have vivid memories of the emotion that spread everywhere in those days. St Peter’s Square had become an open-air shrine, welcoming by day and by night faithful of all ages and social backgrounds, fearful and praying for the Pope’s health. The whole world had recognized Pope John as a pastor and father; a pastor because he was a father. What had made him one? How had he been able to reach the heart of people so different from each other and even many non-Christians? To answer this question we may refer to his episcopal motto, Obedientia et Pax: obedience and peace. “These words”, Mons. Roncalli noted on the eve of his episcopal ordination, “in a certain way sum up my story and my life”. Obedience and peace.

So, maybe like me, you’ll be awake at three in the morning on Sunday to watch Pope Francis (and maybe even Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI) canonize John XXIII and John Paul II, two men who radically engaged the world, for Catholics and non-Catholics alike, in a new way, ready to bring the light of Jesus Christ to the farthest reaches of the earth. Maybe you’ll watch it on a replay later in the day. That’s cool too. May we learn to look to both of these men as spiritual fathers, as guides, and as intercessors. As we watch these two men elevated to the rank of Saint, let us remember their legacies, so providentially intertwined, and remember the path they laid for us, and for the church in the Third Millennium.

“Finally, may Christ inflame the desires of all men to break through the barriers which divide them, to strengthen the bonds of mutual love, to learn to understand one another, and to pardon those who have done them wrong. Through His power and inspiration may all peoples welcome each other to their hearts as brothers, and may the peace they long for ever flower and ever reign among them.”
- Pope Bl. John XXIII, Pacem in Terris

Popes John XXIII & John Paul II, PRAY FOR US!

Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII

Bibliography:
Elliott, Lawrence. I Will Be Called John: A Biography of Pope John XXIII. New York: Readers Digest Press/E.P Dutton, 1973. Print.
Francis. Address to a group of pilgrims from the Diocese of Bergamo. 3 June 2013. Web. 20 Apr. 2014
John Paul II. Homily for the beatification of five servants of God. 3 Sept. 2000. Web. 20 Apr. 2014.
John XXIII. Journal of a Soul. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1965. Print.
John XXIII. Encyclical Letter Pacem in terris: Peace on Earth. 11 Apr. 1963. Web. 21 Apr. 2014.
Tobin, Greg. The Good Pope: The Making of a Saint and the Remaking of the Church – The Story of John XXIII and Vatican II. New York: HarperOne, 2012.
Weigel, George. The End and the Beginning: Pope John Paul II – The Victory of Freedom, the Last Years, the Legacy. New York: Image, 2010. Print.
Weigel, George. Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II. New York: Harper Perennial, 2005. Print.

About the author:
Brian Geary graduated from the University of Illinois in 2013 with a Bachelor’s of Music Education degree. During his time at Illinois, Brian was involved in the Marching Illini, as well as several choirs at St. John’s Newman Center. He was an active student leader for FOCUS, the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, as well as a retreat leader. He has a special interest in the history of the Catholic Church and the Papacy.

Legacy of a Visionary: The Life of Pope John XXIII (Part I)

The following is a guest post by Brian W. Geary

Part I: Sotto il Monte (1881-1958)

Pope John XXIII

Pope John XXIII

Not too long from now, on April 27th, the Catholic Church is going to do one of the things it does best: throw a big party! The occasion? Two popes, arguably two of the most influential in the history of the church (and that’s saying a lot) will be elevated to Sainthood. It’s Catholicism’s way of saying they made our All-Star team.

If you’ve been keeping up with the news, you probably know who they are….Pope John Paul II (1978-2005) and Pope John XXIII (1958-1963). Perhaps you’re like me, and grew up in the waning years of John Paul II’s life. I can recall news reports of him waving before enormous crowds, with that huge Polish grin on his face. I remember the love he exuded wherever he set foot. Perhaps you also remember the news reports as his health began to deteriorate, and perhaps you even remember turning on the TV as I did, to learn that he had “gone to the house of his father.” One thing is certain: he electrified a generation, and if you grew up in the 90’s like I did, some would even say you were born in the tail-end of what’s now being called the “John Paul II” generation.

Well, almost ten years have passed since his death, and his face is once again all over the news, as the Church prepares for his canonization. And we should be excited! Yet, I can’t help but feel a little sorry for the man who’s being canonized with him, remaining in relative obscurity in the midst of all the hustle and bustle. In fact, the Church owes an incredible debt to the man we know as Pope John XXIII. He’s been revered since his death in 1963, so much so that two of his successors (John Paul I & John Paul II) even chose to honor him when choosing their own papal names. Yet, among younger generations, his name has gotten lost. So who is John XIII, and why is he so important for us today?

When compared to the story of any other famous figure who rose “from humble beginnings,” Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli’s story could almost write itself. He was born in the shadow of the Alps, in the small, out-of-the-way town of Sotto il Monte (literally, “Under the Mountain”) in northern Italy. His family was poor, and his birth in 1881 bumped the number of family members living in their small house to thirty-two. He would eventually have nine more siblings. They were a family of pious Catholic farmers, and it really wasn’t any surprise young Angelo felt the call to the Priesthood at an early age, eventually being ordained in August of 1904. His priesthood was interrupted by a stint of military service in the First World War, and like so many other young men experimenting with their new-found facial hair, grew a mustache. He’d later describe it as a “weak moment on my part.”

Young Fr. Roncalli (Pope John XXIII)

Following the war, Roncalli became a lecturer at the local seminary, and even taught for a bit in Rome. In 1925, Pope Pius XI appointed him ambassador to Bulgaria. The appointment came out of left field, and some have speculated it was due to suspicions that Roncalli was a “modernist” (a rather vague term that grouped together proponents of a rising tide of new and possibly unorthodox ideologies), after maintaining correspondence with a friend and excommunicated priest. After he was elected pope, he settled the question once and for all and asked to see his official Vatican file. Sure enough, written next to his name were the words “Suspected of Modernism.” In anger, and yet with a twinge of wit, he took a pen and wrote on the file, “I, John XXIII, Pope, declare that I was never a Modernist!”

And so, consecrated a bishop, Roncalli ventured to Bulgaria – an Orthodox country with no real Catholic heritage, with little diplomatic experience, where the title of “Archbishop” didn’t carry much weight. And yet, it was this experience that would help pave the way for the Church in the twentieth century, and indeed, Vatican II. Let’s look at a quote from his Journal: “May my ministry be one of reconciliation ‘in word and deeds’, and my preaching ‘not in the persuasive words of human wisdom but in the manifestation of the Spirit and power’ and the authority conferred on me by the Church never be used for my own glory – used not to break down but to build up.” And that’s precisely what he did. Roncalli built relationships with the Orthodox Church, arriving unannounced at Orthodox liturgies and monasteries, breaching a thousand-year gap nobody yet dared to cross. In a part of the world where the Catholic Church was viewed as no more than a missionary outpost, where Catholics even viewed themselves as subordinates of some sort, Archbishop Roncalli brought renewed life and hope. He even sought to establish a Bulgarian seminary to train priests in the Western and Eastern Catholic rites. Sadly the dream was never realized, and the long-awaited funding from Rome never arrived.

The years went on, and he was eventually sent as a diplomat to Turkey and Greece, where he encountered new struggles. Largely ignored by the Vatican, he was at times discouraged. World War II broke out across Europe, and again Roncalli went to work, using his diplomatic skills to send aid to German-occupied areas. As rumors of concentration camps began to leak, he used his network of connections to delay the transfer of thousands of Jews to concentration camps – enough time to get them immigration certificates to neutral countries. As if he had not done enough in his life, he was sent to France in 1944, a country in crisis after the war, with a government ready to oust its own bishops. He plowed forward, working closely with the people he came to serve, fervently defending the faith against an ever-rising tide of communism, socialism, and new existentialist philosophy that threatened the Church.

Pope John XXIII as bishop

Those who knew him personally could never say enough about Roncalli’s sense of humor. For a man of his experiences, to have kept his sense of humor is a testament to his greatness. Once, after overhearing a frustrated French carpenter utter a stream of obscenities so lengthy it could no longer be ignored, he approached the man and said, “What is all this my good man? Why can’t you say sh*t like everyone else and get on with your work?” In another instance, after a microphone malfunction, the Archbishop came down to the floor of the church. “Dear children,” he said, “you have heard nothing of what I was saying. That doesn’t matter. It wasn’t very interesting. I don’t speak French that well.”

In true diplomatic fashion, he was elevated to the rank of Cardinal and appointed Archbishop of Venice, where he told a welcoming crowd at his first mass there, “I commend to your kindness someone who simply wants to be your brother.” Now in his 70’s, age and health had begun to take their toll and Roncalli hoped to finally settle down. Pope Pius XII died in October 1958, and Cardinal Roncalli came to Rome to elect a new pope with a return ticket to Venice in his pocket. It soon became clear that God had different plans for the aging Cardinal.

Check out Part 2!