By Don Clemmer

Editor’s Note: Don Clemmer is the assistant director of media relations for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington D.C. He wrote this blog for the memorial of Blessed John XXIII.

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Pope John XXIII and  Pope Francis hold the respective distinctions of ushering in the most significant reforms the Catholic Church had seen in a millennium and being the first Latin American and Jesuit pope. But both men are also witnesses to how Christian holiness permeates daily life in moments big and small and that it’s not just what a person does, but how he or she does it, that matters.

Sure, both men provide visions of The Big Picture. John XXIII gave his recipe for sustainable global peace in his final encyclicalPacem in Terris (1963). And Pope Francis has put in place with lightning speed his program of global solidarity and a Church that goes out to the margins to serve.

But Francis has also focused much of his preaching and teaching energy — exemplified by his daily Mass homilies especially — on the “small things,” behaviors of everyday life like gossip, laziness and cynicism. These are not lofty theological concerns, but pitfalls of human behavior that apply to everyone. And he doesn’t criticize them lightly. Often the devil gets dragged into it. It’s as if the last thing Pope Francis wants is a Church that “believes correctly” but is populated by otherwise miserable people.

Blessed John XXIII

While this may sound like “papal micromanaging” to some, it’s more like a cheat sheet for the Christian life. Yes, you know the 10 Commandments and the Catechism, but just in case there was any doubt, the end result should look like this…

John XXIII had his rules for dealing with the small stuff too. His famous managerial maxim (recently quoted by Pope Francis in his interview with the world’s major Jesuit journals) was “See everything. Overlook a great deal. Correct a little.” His guide to living together in harmony (attributed to St. Augustine) had a similar spirit: “In essentials, unity. In doubtful matters, liberty. In all things, charity.” 

Pope John’s leadership style was on full display at the Council. He didn’t participate, wishing to promote freer discussion among the bishops, but watched the proceedings from his apartment on closed circuit television. However, when the curia proposed a highly unpopular draft for the document on divine revelation and the bishops did not have quite enough votes to reject it outright, Pope John, to the Council fathers’ surprise, intervened and threw out the draft. He didn’t see the point in such an unpopular schema taking up so much of the Council’s time and energy. See everything. Overlook a great deal. Correct a little.

Pope smiles as he leaves general audience in St. Peter's Square at Vatican

Pope Francis exercised a similar sense of discernment and freedom in the act of moving ahead Pope John’s canonization without the required second miracle. Look at the witness of his life! The world has already proclaimed him a saint! This system was meant to guide us, not hinder us. Pope Francis seems to be saying. And he is, after all, the pope.

From the model of John XXIII to the current admonitions of Pope Francis, Catholics everywhere can learn from these men how to discern what is truly important in matters large and small and learn follow their lead in in exemplifying the key to a Christian witness: “See how they love another.” Both men extended that love, in word and deed, to the entire world.

 

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