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Father Muench Says...

Remembering Pope John XXIII

Oct. 26, 2022

By Father William Muench
NCC columnist

Recently, I celebrated a daily Mass, and I discovered that it was the Feast Day of Saint Pope John XXIII. As you may remember, I have always been dedicated to Pope John XXIII. He is truly my patron saint. I can truly tell you that Pope John transformed my life as a priest and a person. I am certain that you remember many things about “Good” Pope John.

So, today, I would like to spend some time with you remembering Pope John XXIII. Pope John was elected Pope in 1958. I remember that I was a student in the seminary preparing for priesthood. He was to be pope only a few years, yet he was truly a transformative pope. Most of all I remember him as the pope who convened the Second Vatican Council. That Council was a true gift to our Catholic Church. It had a profound influence on all Catholics. So, as we remember Pope John XXIII, I want to remind you of some of the things about his council.

This Council was in session from 1962-65. I remember that Pope John XXIII opened the council with an introductory talk. He believed that the council would throw open the windows of the Catholic Church and allow the Holy Spirit in. He declared the initial theme of this council as a call to a new, more alive holiness for us all – clergy and laity.

When most of us think back to the Second Vatican Council, the first thing we think of is the changes that were made to the liturgy of the Mass. The council began with allowing the prayers of the Mass to be celebrated in the vernacular – for us, in English. For me, this was a huge change. For the first several years I was a priest, I celebrated Mass in Latin. Also, the celebrant priest would now celebrate Mass facing the congregation. I must admit to you that these changes brought about by the council had a profound effect on me as a priest. I discovered a new connection with the people at Mass; there was a new relationship.

The council’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium) urged a spirit of holiness for bishops and priests, as well as for all the laity, the men and women of the Church. The council urged the leaders of our Catholic Church to recognize the great gift to the Church of the laity. The council fathers felt that for much too long the laity were only spectators – spectators at liturgy, spectators to the various activities of the Church. Today, we know that the laity is invited to participate fully in the Mass and to take a part in the many activities of parish life.

The Second Vatican Council called upon all priests and lay Catholics to discover more deeply the Sacred Scriptures. We must admit this was not so true before the council. Today, we know the Bible is an integral part of the life of Catholics. Priests make the Scriptures a foundation for our homilies and talks. Lay people are now urged to read the Bible as part of their spiritual life. I continue to find great joy in being part of a parish Bible study group.

This council also brought to our Catholic Church a new Spirit of Ecumenism. We, Catholics, were encouraged to dialogue and pray with our brothers and sisters of other faith groups. The council spoke of these groups as brothers and sisters. Personally, I do find a certain joy and peace in interfaith meetings and services.

Recently, I noticed an article concerning the Second Vatican Council. This is a quote: We are all encouraged, clergy and laity, to continue to remain open to the Spirit. That Spirit that touched the Second Vatican Council so that our Church may do the work of the Holy Spirit, continuing the work of the council even now. We are urged to continue to study the documents of the council that all, especially the young, may understand the message of the council. Our hope is that our Catholic Church will continue to find new energy and it will explode in God’s own appropriate time.

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