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Wednesday, 19 October 2011

'Oboedientia et Pax' - Blessed Pope John XXIII (1881-1963)

Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli was born on 25 November 1881 in the Bergamo province of the Lombardy region of Italy. He was fourth in a family of thirteen, and the first born son. His family worked as ‘share-croppers’, and although poor, could trace their heritage back to  Italian nobility who had fallen on hard times.

He received his First Communion  aged seven years, and was confirmed the following year. He was a pupil at the minor seminary of Bergamo from 1892-1895, followed by a period at the major seminary until 1900.  He then attended the main Roman seminary, the Apollinare, and after a break of twelve months for  compulsory military service,  was ordained priest in  1904 .  The following year he was appointed secretary to Mgr Radini Tedeschi, Bishop of Bergamo, retaining this position until 1914.

During World War I he was drafted into the Royal Italian Army, responsible for co-ordinating religious assistance to the troops, and appointed Military Chaplain to the reserve hospital at Bergamo. Discharged in 1919 he was then appointed as Spiritual Director to the diocesan seminary at Bergamo. 

         Fr Roncalli (3rd rt. back) with Bishop Radini Tedeschi

In 1925 Pope Pius XI appointed him Apostolic Visitor to Bulgaria, and in 1935 he was appointed as Apostolic Delegate to Turkey and Greece. 
In 1944 he was appointed by Pope Pius XII as Apostolic Nuncio to France, and in 1953 Patriarch of Venice and made a Cardinal.  
On 28 October 1958 he was elected Pope following the death of Pope Pius XII. 
He called the 2nd Vatican Council (1962-1965) but did not live to see it to completion, dying in June 1963. 
He was beatified on 3 September 2000.

                               Bishop Roncalli (front left) -  late 1930's?

From 1895 he kept a written record of his life, in the form of spiritual notes, in which is revealed that which he kept ‘a jealously guarded secret behind his smiling and innocent gaiety’: his prayer, his soul. In fact it contains notes, resolutions, meditations written on the occasion of various retreats and Spiritual Exercises from 1895, when the author was barely fourteen, until 1962, a few months before his death at the age of eighty-one. 
These notes, many written at night, by the  light of an oil lamp, were recorded in bundles of dog-eared papers and  crumpled copy-books, which were  kept  always close at hand, and over the years were re-read many times. In the spring of 1961, Pope John handed these notes to Mgr Loris Capovilla, an old and trusted friend, who asked him whether he might publish them. The Pope agreed somewhat reluctantly, for whilst recognising the potential world-wide interest in his diaries , he was sensitive to the personal and intimate spiritual matters revealed in their pages, and he thus stipulated that they were not to be published until after his death. 
'I was a good boy, innocent, somewhat timid. I wanted to love God at all costs and my one idea was to become a priest, in the service of simple souls who needed patient and attentive care.  Meanwhile I had to fight an enemy within me, self-love, and in the end I was able to get the better of it....Now, at a distance of more than sixty years, I can look upon these first spiritual writings of mine as if they had been written by someone else, and I bless the Lord for them.” (Pope John XXIII) speaking to Mgr Loris Capovilla.                                   

                         Pope John XXIII ( b.1881-d.1963)

'It has been suggested that initial perusal of ‘Journal of a Soul’ might leave a feeling of disappointment in the reader. The book could be adjudged as literal and formalistic piety .... a piety centred more on human contrivance than on the word of God, one that puts its trust in an exasperating profusion of wire entanglements, instead of that freedom based on familiarity with Sacred Scripture, the liturgy and writings of the Fathers; yet this was the  kind of spirituality that produced Pope John. This rigorously constructed spirituality was based on the letter of the law, but  within it lived and from it soared a great conception. Spiritual techniques degenerate if they remain purely mechanical, that is, isolated from all noble inspiration.  On the other hand no great conception can be realized without a rule, without a discipline. 
There is evidence in Pope John’s ‘Journal’, of a powerful and exalted evangelical impulse which dominated his whole existence.   Holy simplicity, the awareness of man's failings, scrupulous moderation and reserve, sensitivity, and above all, the will to aspire to the fullness of Christ, shine through his words. The ‘Journal’ records constant, yet gradual growth in understanding and knowledge of God’s purpose, reflected in both his personal life and ecclesiastical office. The formal framework becomes less rigid, the letter yields more and more to the spirit.'  (Fr Giulio Bevilacqua 1964)

                                         'oboedientia et pax'
                        Coat of Arms, Cardinal Patriarch of Venice,
  -  the words 'oboedientia et pax'  inserted by Cardinal Roncalli,              describing them as - 'in a way, my own history and my life'.

‘After having skimmed through the doctrine of various ascetical authors, I am now quite content with the Missal, the Breviary, the Bible, The Imitation and spiritual life must be intensified.  No overloading with devotions of a novel and secondary character, but fidelity to those which are fundamental, with passionate fervour ....gathering speed as I near the end.’(John XXIII Pp.)

‘Journal of a Soul’ is an interesting and fascinating account of the life of Pope John, deeply spiritual-often intimately so, always sincere and sympathetic to human frailty. Unlikely to be read in one sitting, but essential reading for those interested to learn more about Blessed Pope John XXIII.  The book includes several appendices  relating to specific events and devotions particularly dear to Pope John, also a copy of a letter written by him to his brother Severo, some 18 months before the Pope’s death, a letter described as a 'spiritual testament to all the Roncalli family',  which  reflects his great  love of God, the Church,  and  his family. Below are some extracts:-

My dear brother Severo,
Today is the feast of your great patron saint, who bore your own real Christian name, which is Francesco Zaverio, the same as that of our dear great-uncle, our ‘barba’, and now happily, the name of our nephew Zaverio.
.....  I used to enjoy typing so much and if today I have decided to begin again, using a machine that is new and all my own, it is in order to tell you that I know I am growing old -  how can I help knowing it with all the fuss that has been  made about my eightieth birthday? – but I am still fit, and I continue on my way, still in good health .....  For the present at least I can continue in the service of the Lord and Holy Church.
This letter which I was determined to write to you, my dear Severo, contains a message for all, for Alfredo,  Giuseppino,  Assunta,  our sister-in-law Caterina,  your own dear Maria,  Virginio and Angela Ghisleni,  and all the members of our large family,  and I want it to be to all of them a message from my loving heart, still warm and youthful.  Busied as I am............ I cannot forget the members of my dear family, to whom my thoughts turn day by day.
.......Now the great manifestations of reverence and affection for the Pope, on the occasion of his eightieth birthday, are at an end and I am glad, because rather than receive the praises and good wishes of men, I prefer to enjoy the mercy of God who has chosen me for so great a task and who, I trust, will uphold me until the end of my life.
......  You are very wise to keep yourselves very humble, as I too try to do, and not let yourselves be influenced by the insinuations and tittle-tattle of the world. All the world wants is to make money, enjoy life, and impose its own will at all costs, even with violence, if this should unhappily seem necessary.
My eighty years of life completed tell me, as they tell you, dear Severo, and all the members of our family, that what is most important is always to keep ourselves well prepared for a sudden departure, because this is what matters most:  to make sure of eternal life, trusting in the goodness of the Lord who sees all and makes provision for all.
I wish to express these sentiments to you, my beloved Severo, so that you may pass them on to our closest relatives.... wherever they may be..... Go on loving one another, all you Roncallis, with the new families growing up among you........I like to remember the names of those among you who have most to bear:  dear Maria, your good wife, bless her, and the good Rita who with her sufferings has earned paradise for herself and for you two, who have cared for her so lovingly, and our sister-in-law Caterina,  who always makes me think of her Giovanni and ours, who look down at us from heaven -  and all our Roncalli relations....
I am well aware that you have to bear certain mortifications......  to have a Pope in the family, a Pope regarded with respect by the whole world, who yet permits his relations to go on living so modestly, in the same social conditions as before!  But many know that the Pope, the son of humble but respected parents, never forgets anyone; ...... and a Pope does not honour himself by enriching his relations, but only by affectionately coming to their aid, according to their needs and the conditions of each one.
At my death I shall not lack the praise which did so much honour to the saintly Pius X:  ‘He was born poor and died poor.’  
I always keep by my bedside the photograph that gathers all our dead together with their names inscribed on the marble:  grandfather Angela, ‘barba’  Zaverio,  our revered parents,  our brother Giovanni,  our sisters Teresa,  Ancilla,  Maria,  and Enrica.  Oh what a fine chorus of souls to await us and pray for us!  I think of them constantly.  To remember them in prayer gives me courage and joy, in the confident hope of joining them all again in the everlasting glory of heaven.
I bless you all, remembering with you all the brides who have come to rejoice the Roncalli family and those who have left us to increase the happiness of new families, of different names but similar ways of thinking.  Oh the children,  the children,  what a wealth of children and what a blessing!
                                                              Joannes XXIII Pp.
                                                                Vatican.  December 1961.
Ack.  'Journal of a Soul'
Published by Four Square Books,  
New English Library,1966

'Blessed Pope John XXIII,  pray for the Church, especially for those who have strayed'


Anonymous said...


Thank you for this fitting tribute to Bl. John XXIII -- a simple Christian and a holy Pope.

Thanks also for commenting on my poem, "An Embarassment". I submitted a link to it on Rorate in connection with one of their posts regarding Assisi, but apparently they were not interested. I'm glad that you appreciated it!

God bless,

umblepie said...

Thanks for your comment.
Hope everything is well.
I always look forward to your posts,I shouldn't worry too much about Rorate.
Best wishes,