Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Lord, Remember Your Good and Faithful Servant Paul VI
September 26, 1897 -- August 6, 1978

We have been discussing 40 years of Humanae Vitae. Now, we pause for prayer and reflection on this 30th anniversary of the death of Pope Paul VI, who died on August 6, 1978. It was because of the heroic efforts of this misunderstood Pope that his successor, Pope John Paul "the Great" was able to revitalize the Church and institute the true goals of the Second Vatican Council. It was also Pope Paul, in great wisdom and surely under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, who elevated to Cardinal a certain German theologian by the name of Joseph Ratzinger.

Remarks of Pope Benedict XVI
Piazza Duomo, Brixen Angelus, 3 August 2008

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

* * * The first Reading reminds us that the greatest things in this life of ours can neither be purchased nor paid for because the most important and elementary things in our life can only be given: the sun and its light, the air that we breathe, water, the earth's beauty, love, friendship, life itself. We cannot buy any of these essential and central goods but they are given to us.

The Second Reading then adds that this means they are also things that no one can take from us, of which no dictatorship, no destructive force can rob us. Being loved by God who knows and loves each one of us in Christ; no one can take this away and, while we have this, we are not poor but rich.

The Gospel adds a third consideration. If we receive such great gifts from God, we in turn must give them: in a spiritual context giving kindness, friendship and love, but also in a material context - the Gospel speaks of the multiplication of the loaves. These two things must penetrate our souls today: we must be people who give, because we are people who receive; we must pass on to others the gifts of goodness and love and friendship, but at the same time we must also give material gifts to all who have need of us, whom we can help, and thus seek to make the earth more human, that is, closer to God.

Now, dear friends, I ask you to join me in a devout and filial commemoration of the Servant of God, Pope Paul VI, the 30th anniversary of whose death we shall be celebrating in a few days. Indeed, he gave up his spirit to God on the evening of 6 August 1978, the evening of the Feast of the Transfiguration of Jesus, a mystery of divine light that always exercised a remarkable fascination upon his soul.

As Supreme Pastor of the Church, Paul VI guided the People of God to contemplation of the Face of Christ, the Redeemer of man and Lord of history. And it was precisely this loving orientation of his mind and heart toward Christ that served as a cornerstone of the Second Vatican Council, a fundamental attitude that my venerable Predecessor John Paul II inherited and relaunched during the great Jubilee of the Year 2000. At the centre of everything, always and only Christ: at the centre of the Sacred Scriptures and of Tradition, in the heart of the Church, of the world and of the entire universe.

Divine Providence summoned Giovanni Battista Montini from the See of Milan to that of Rome during the most sensitive moment of the Council - when there was a risk that Blessed John XXIII's intuition might not materialize. How can we fail to thank the Lord for his fruitful and courageous pastoral action? As our gaze on the past grows gradually broader and more aware, Paul VI's merit in presiding over the Council Sessions, in bringing it successfully to conclusion and in governing the eventful post-conciliar period appears ever greater, I should say almost superhuman. We can truly say, with the Apostle Paul, that the grace of God in him "was not in vain" (cf. 1 Cor 15: 10): it made the most of his outstanding gifts of intelligence and passionate love for the Church and for humankind. As we thank God for the gift of this great Pope, let us commit ourselves to treasure his teachings.

In the last period of the Council, Paul VI wanted to pay a special tribute to the Mother of God and solemnly proclaimed her "Mother of the Church". Let us now address the prayer of the Angelus to her, the Mother of Christ, the Mother of the Church, our Mother.

Sadly, as compared with our Internet Age, when Pope Benedict's remarks from the other side of the world can be posted and read almost immediately, Pope Paul was not very well known throughout the world during his papacy. Thinking back to the 1970s, it seemed that the only time that many people saw or heard from Pope Paul was for a few seconds on television, when the newscasts might show a grainy clip of him giving a blessing at Easter or Christmas time. So, for many American people (at least from the perspective of one particular school kid), Pope Paul was some stranger who lived in a far off country. He was the Pope, to be sure, but the personal touch that we later received from John Paul II was not there, at least, that is what many of us were led to believe. In the popular American media of the time, at least from my recollection, Pope Paul was, at best, a non-entity. Vatican reporter John Allen notes that

[Paul VI] began to be enveloped in neglect almost from the moment of his death. Consider that when John Paul II died, The New York Times devoted a special section to the pope, including an obituary of some 13,500 words; when Paul VI died, his passing merited a lone obit of scarcely more than 1,000 words, which began by characterizing Paul as "not naturally gregarious and innovative" and a "consummate bureaucrat." The past two weeks have provided fresh confirmation of the point. Last week's 40th anniversary of Humanae Vitae, Paul's encyclical reiterating the church's ban on contraception, triggered a predictable flood of commentary (in which I participated, penning an Aug. 3 op/ed for the Times at the editors' request); the 30th anniversary of Paul's death this week has been met with a fairly deafening silence. In the popular mind, Paul's pontificate has essentially been reduced to its most controversial moment. Such summary dismissals are terribly unfair to a pope who was among the most consequential, and, in many ways, most admirable Catholic personalities of the 20th century. . . . In secular circles, Paul VI simply never caught on. Here's an anecdote that makes the point. During a CNN production meeting last April to plan our coverage of Benedict XVI's Mass at Yankee Stadium, I suggested that we roll footage of the first papal visit to the home of the Bronx Bombers -- Paul VI in 1965. Can't be done, I was told, because the run-down for the show was already full. Anyway, a young production assistant chimed in, probably fresh from a half-hour of research on Google, "Wasn't he that boring pope between the two interesting ones?"

--Remembering Paul VI, the superhuman pope, August 8, 2008

Yes, we have been terribly unfair to Pope Paul VI, both during his life on earth and continuing to his life in heaven. Nevertheless, I do remember that when Pope Paul died, even though he had seemed so distant, it was a sad time. Our papa was gone. So we might know a little more about this Pope who guided the Church through the Second Vatican Council, so as to better position the Church to announce and spread the faith, here is a short biography of him.

Vatican Biography of Pope Paul VI, 1963-1978 --

Giovanni Battista Enrico Antonio Maria Montini was born on September 26, 1897 at Concesio (Lombardy) of a wealthy family of the upper class. His father was a non-practicing lawyer turned editor and a courageous promoter of social action. Giovanni was a frail but intelligent child who received his early education from the Jesuits near his home in Brescia. Even after entering the seminary (1916) he was allowed to live at home because of his health. After his ordination in 1920 he was sent to Rome to study at the Gregorian University and the University of Rome, but in 1922 he transferred to the Accademia dei Nobili Ecclesiastici to study diplomacy continuing his canon law studies at the Gregorian. In 1923 he was sent to Warsaw as attache of the nunciature but was recalled to Rome (1924), because of the effect of the severe Polish winters on his health, and assigned to the office of the Secretariat of State where he remained for the next thirty years. Besides teaching at the Accademia dei Nobili Ecclesiastici he was named chaplain to the Federation of Italian Catholic University Students (FUCI), an assignment that was to have a decisive effect on his relations with the founders of the post-war Christian Democratic Party.

In 1937 he was named substitute for ordinary affairs under Cardinal Pacelli, the secretary of state, and he accompanied him to Budapest (1938) for the International Eucharistic Congress. On Pacelli's election as Pius XII in 1939, Montini was reconfirmed in his position under the new secretary of state, Cardinal Luigi Maglione. When the latter died in 1944, Montini continued to discharge his office directly under the pope. During World War II he was responsible for organizing the extensive relief work and the care of political refugees.

In the secret consistory of 1952 Pope Pius XII announced that he had intended to raise Montini and Domenico Tardini to the Sacred College but that they had both asked to be dispensed from accepting. Instead he conferred on both of them the title of prosecretary of state. The following year Montini was appointed Archbishop of Milan but still without the title of cardinal. He took possession of his new See on January 5, 1955 and soon made himself known as the "archbishop of the workers." He revitalized the entire diocese, preached the social message of the Gospel, worked to win back the laboring class, promoted Catholic education at every level, and supported the Catholic press. His impact upon the city at this time was so great that it attracted world-wide attention. At the conclave of 1958 his name was frequently mentioned, and at Pope John's first consistory in December of that year he was one of 23 prelates raised to the cardinalate with his name leading the list. His response to the call for a Council was immediate and even before it met he was identified as a strong advocate of the principle of collegiality. He was appointed to the Central Preparatory Commission for Vatican II and also to the Technical-Organizational Commission.

On the death of Pope John XXIII, Montini was elected June 21, 1963 to succeed him. In his first message to the world, he committed himself to a continuation of the work begun by John XXIII. Throughout his pontificate the tension between papal primacy and the collegiality of the episcopacy was a source of conflict. On September 14, 1965 he announced the establishment of the Synod of Bishops called for by the Council fathers, but some issues that seemed suitable for discussion by the synod were reserved to himself. Celibacy, removed from the debate of the fourth session of the Council, was made the subject of an encyclical, June 24, 1967; the regulation of birth was treated in Humanae Vitae, July 24, 1968, his last encyclical. The controversies over these two pronouncements tended to overshadow the last years of his pontificate.

Pope Paul had an unaccountably poor press and his public image suffered by comparison with his outgoing and jovial predecessor. Those who knew him best, however, describe him as a brilliant man, deeply spiritual, humble, reserved and gentle, a man of "infinite courtesy." He was one of the most traveled popes in history and the first to visit five continents.

His remarkable corpus of thought must be searched out in his many addresses and letters as well as in his major pronouncements. His successful conclusion of Vatican II has left its mark on the history of the Church, but history will also record his rigorous reform of the Roman curia, his well-received address to the UN in 1965, his encyclical Populorum progressio (1967), his second great social letter Octogesima adveniens (1971)—the first to show an awareness of many problems that have only recently been brought to light—and his apostolic exhortation Evangelii nuntiandi, his last major pronouncement which also touched on the central question of the just conception of liberation and salvation.

Pope Paul Vl, the pilgrim pope, died on August 6, 1978, the feast of the Transfiguration. He asked that his funeral be simple with no catafalque and no monument over his grave.

What I did not know until this moment was that, as with John Paul II, there was an assassination attempt on Pope Paul.


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