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Goodness and Purity From Within


”The fragrance of flowers spreads only in the direction of the wind. But the goodness of a person spreads in all directions.” ~ Chanakya

Today our Church pauses to celebrate the man affectionately known as “The Good Pope,” Saint John XXII (1881-1963). Born into a large and quite poor sharecropping family, he once said “Italians come to ruin most generally in three ways: women, gambling, and farming. My family chose the slowest, most boring one.” In light of this quip and many others like it, Saint John XXIII is one of the primary reasons I have come to believe that humor truly is the 8th Gift of the Holy Spirit

In many respects however it would seem as though his jovial, good hearted nature is at times misconstrued. He has been labeled a progressive by some, this perhaps due in part to the fruits of the Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican, better known as Vatican II, which was convened on this date under Pope John XXIII’s leadership in the year 1962

Yet upon delving into the conciliar documents of Vatican II, one can clearly see that it is far from the liberal panacea it is often portrayed to be.

“Abortion and infanticide are unspeakable crimes.”….

“The Church is necessary for salvation because Christ is the only way.”….

“The Church has a “solemn mandate” to preach the Gospel.”….

“The “sensus fidelium” isn’t about the laity alone, but must include the hierarchy.”….

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“Gregorian chant is to have “pride of place”…

These are but a few highlights of the previously aforementioned conciliar documents of the Council which point to the fullness and richness of truth and love for tradition that emerged from the Second Vatican Council.

John XXIII’s most famous encyclicals were Mater et Magistra (Mother and Teacher/1961) and Pacem in terris (Peace On Earth/1963) but I draw your attention today to his very first Encyclical, Ad Petri Cathedram (To the Chair of Peter/1958). To those who questioned his orthodoxy, he launched this counterpunch in the opening words of this prophetic encyclical:

“All the evils which poison men and nations and trouble so many hearts have a single cause and a single source: ignorance of the truth—and at times even more than ignorance, a contempt for truth and a reckless rejection of it.”

These are not the words of a man who has disdain for tradition or would even consider abandoning it. The Good Pope goes on to explain that “God gave each of us an intellect capable of attaining natural truth,” but he qualifies this statement by stressing that ordinary people, when left to their own devices in a wayward and toxic culture, “cannot do this easily.”

This is why, he concludes, that God took mercy on man’s plight, sending his own Son to dwell among us, so that everyone could be led “not only to full and perfect truth, but to virtue and eternal happiness.” Throughout this entire encyclical, it is Pope John XXIII’s defense of objective truth and morality that leads the reader to believe that this document was in many ways the precursor to Pope Benedict XVI’s famous indictment of the “dictatorship of relativism” nearly 50 years later

In an effort to set a very clear tone for the Second Vatican Council, Pope John XXIII stated “The Church has always opposed errors. Nowadays, however, the Spouse of Christ prefers to make use of the medicine of mercy rather than that of severity.”These words call to mind the woman we commemorated less than a week ago, Saint Faustina As Cardinal Angelo Comastri once said, “If in John Paul II the key phrase is ‘courage of the faith,’ in John XXIII the key phrase is ‘the strength of goodness.’” This calls to mind the words of William Shakespeare who said “Virtue is bold, and goodness never fearful.”

In today’s Gospel (Luke 11:37-41), Jesus rebukes the Pharisees over their obsession with ritual as they allow their insides to be filled with “plunder and evil.” He prescribes almsgiving as a means through which we can pursue internal purity and cleanliness. “Whoever has a heart full of love has something to give,” Saint John XXIII would often say, a reminder that purity and goodness are the byproduct of the fruits of the spirit, which are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. We’ll have an opportunity to delve into these virtues tomorrow . These were virtues that Saint John XXIII possessed in abundance. “Do not walk through time without leaving worthy evidence of your passage.” This was his challenge to those in his midst. It is ours as well.

The world is full of successful people. Yet despite all this success, all this “greatness,” it would seem that goodnessis becoming more and more of a rarity. Ours should be the pursuit of goodness and inner purity as Jesus urges in today’s Gospel. As Anne Frank so eloquently put it, “Human greatness does not lie in wealth or power, but in character and goodness. People are just people, and all people have faults and shortcomings, but all of us are born with a basic goodness.” Let your goodness be known.

Saint John XXIII, pray for us….

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