Today, May 29, is the feast of Pope Saint Paul VI, who was canonized in 2018 by Pope Francis. The papacy of Saint Paul VI has been described by many as the most pivotal of the 20th century, and not without reason. It was Paul who decided to continue the Second Vatican Council after the untimely death of Pope Saint John XXIII in 1962, and he ratified all of its documents. He also approved and implemented the Council’s liturgical reforms, which dramatically impacted the worship of every Catholic in the Western Church. St. Paul VI reaffirmed the Church’s teaching on contraception in his 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae. Paul VI reestablished the Church’s ecumenical efforts with the Eastern Orthodox, and also began interreligious dialogue with other faiths.
More importantly, Paul VI was a man of great holiness, devotion, and prayer. His encyclical on the Eucharist, Mysterium Fidei (The Mystery of Faith), is one of my most loved encyclicals and remains a great source of inspiration to my faith.
Pope Francis has praised his sainted predecessor many times. We would like to share some excerpts from his excellent book, Open Mind, Faithful Heart: Reflections on Following Jesus:
“WHATEVER IS BORN OF GOD conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith” (1 John 5: 3-5). Today more than ever, the questions we ask ourselves about our apostolic effectiveness are difficult ones, and they risk entangling us in the very questions we have about our own fidelity. This matter is so important that we cannot allow ourselves to indulge in any form of improvisation. The same holds true with regard to the different apostolic decisions that we have to make in our pastoral activity. When Paul VI spoke to us about the effort involved in announcing the Gospel to the modern world, he pointed out something extraordinary; in our time, he said, we are “buoyed up by hope but at the same time often oppressed by fear and distress” (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 1). Hopes and fears are woven together even in our apostolic lives, especially when we have to choose among the different aspects of our work. We cannot take the risk of deciding such matters without clear discernment of our fears and hopes, for what is asked of us “in this time of uncertainty and confusion” is nothing less than to “accomplish this task with ever increasing love, zeal, and joy” (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 1). This is not something that can be improvised. For us who are committed to the Church, this challenge goes far beyond anything the positive sciences envision; it appeals rather to an original vision, to the very originality of the Gospel. Mutually consoled by one another’s faith (Rom 1: 11-12), we must unite with this vital force, and as apostles we must nourish our hearts with it precisely in order to recover the coherence of our mission, the cohesion of our apostolic body, and the consistency of our feelings and our actions.
WE ARE URGED to ask the Holy Spirit for the gift of happiness and joy. The opposite is sadness, for as Paul VI tells us, “Cold and darkness are above all in the heart of the person who knows sadness” (Gaudete in Domino, I). Sadness is the magic weapon of Satan, who hardens and embitters the human heart. When bitterness enters into the heart of a consecrated person, he or she does well to recall the warning of the same Paul VI: “Let the more agitated members of various groups reject the excesses of systematic and destructive criticism! Without abandoning a realistic viewpoint, Christian communities should become centers of optimism where all the members resolutely endeavor to perceive the positive aspect of people and events. ‘Love does not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things’ (1 Cor 13: 6-7)” (Gaudete in Domino, Conclusion).
But the most serious problem with the spirit of sadness is that it bears within itself the sin against hope. Bernanos says it well in his Diary of a Country Priest: “The sin against hope … is the most mortal of all, and yet it is the one most welcomed and honored. Much time is needed for us to recognize it, so sweet is the sadness that announces and precedes it! It is the most precious of the devil’s elixirs, his ambrosia.”
IN RESPONSE TO THIS, Paul VI states: “Joy which is properly spiritual, the joy which is a fruit of the Holy Spirit (cf. Rom 14: 17; Gal 5: 22-23), consists in the human spirit’s finding repose and a deep satisfaction in the possession of the Triune God, known by faith and loved with the charity that comes from God. Such a joy henceforth characterizes all the Christian virtues.”
Saint Paul VI, Pray for us!
Image: Pope Paul VI greets children as he visits the Church of St. Leo the Great in Rome on March 31, 1968 (CNS photo/Giancarlo Giuliani, Catholic Press Photo)