Sunday, September 28, 2008

Lord, Remember Your Good and Faithful Servant John Paul the First
October 17, 1912 -- September 28, 1978

Thirty years ago today, on Thursday, September 28, 1978, His Holiness Pope John Paul the First was called to the house of the Father, 33 short days after he had been elected as the Successor of Peter and Pope Paul VI. But we should not for one moment think that such a short papacy meant that the cardinal-electors erred in choosing him to be pope. We should not think that the cardinals ignored the guidance of the Holy Spirit or otherwise selected someone that the Holy Spirit did not want to lead the Church.

The greats never go alone. They always have someone preceding them to prepare the way.

To begin with, it was John Paul the First -- not the Second -- who began the new dawn of the Church, following the stormy night of the 20th century, which we were able to withstand because of the shelter of the Council and bravery of Paul VI. It was John Paul the First -- not the Second -- who began the process of demonstrating that the Church is not old and musty, but ever fresh and alive.

Having accomplished that feat (in a remarkably short amount of time), he accomplished another great feat by the very fact of his relatively brief papacy. It was that very briefness that led the cardinal-electors to look beyond Italy for a shepherd of the Church. It was John Paul the First's seeming premature death that opened the door to the election of John Paul the Great. Had he had a long papacy, or had someone else been elected to succeed Paul VI, it is a near certainty that we never would have had Karol Wojtyla as pope.

We might have had a John Paul the Second, that is, someone other than Karol Wojtyla, but we would not have had a John Paul the Great.

No, the cardinals did not get it wrong the first time. The Holy Spirit knew what He was doing in guiding the election of Albino Luciani, and in bringing him to the Father's house after he had accomplished his mission of preparing the way for the Rock who would lead the Church from the dawn to the bright day. That was the mission of Albino Luciani, John Paul I, that was his role, to prepare the Church and the world for he who would come after him.

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