Shepherd's Voice December 2018 - THE SPIRITUAL LEGACY OF PPOPE PAUL VI


On October 14, 2018, during the Synod for the Youth, Pope Francis declared Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador, who died a martyr for social justice in 1980, and Pope Paul VI, who died at the Vatican on August 6, 1978 after a fifteen-year pontificate, Saints of the One, Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. Another five were also canonized on the same day, viz. Vincent Romano, Franceso Spinelli, Nunzio Sulprizio, Nazaria Ignacia March Mesa, and Maria Katharina Kasper. With this declaration they are for us models of Christian discipleship in its various dimensions but above all they are our intercessors in heaven along with Mary our Blessed Mother so that we never lack the power of the Holy Spirit to live an authentic Christian life of fidelity to the Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ and be witnesses of God’s Kingdom here on earth. This is how we understand the mystery of our communion with the Saints. The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium) of Vatican Council II teaches (LG 50):

“The Church has always believed that the apostles and Christ’s martyrs, who gave the supreme witness of faith and charity by the shedding of their blood, are closely united with us in Christ; she has always venerated them, together with the Blessed Virgin Mary and the holy angels, with a special love, and has asked piously for the help of their intercession. Soon there were added to these others who had chosen to imitate more closely the viginity and poverty of Christ, and still others whom outstanding practice of the Christian virtues and the wonderful graces of God recommended to the pious devotion and imitation of the faithful.”

“To look on the life of those who have faithfully followed Christ is to be inspired with a new reason for seeking the city which is to come (cf. Heb. 13:14 and 11:10), while at the same time we are taught to know a most safe path by which, despite the vicissitudes of the world, and in keeping with the state of life and condition proper to each of us, we will be able to arrive at perfect union with Christ, that is holiness. God shows to men (sic), in a vivid way, his presence and his face in the lives of those companions of ours in the human condition who are more perfectly transformed into the image of Christ (cf. 2Cor. 3:18). He speaks to us in them and offers us a sign of this kingdom, to which we are powerfully attracted, so great a cloud of witnesses is there given (cf. Heb. 12:1) and such a witness to the truth of the Gospel”.

Pope Francis, in his homily, very beautifully summed up the radical nature of the Christian vocation when he said:

“Jesus is radical. He gives all and he asks all; he gives a love that is total and asks for an undivided heart. He gives himself to us as living bread; can we give crumbs in exchange? All these saints, in different contexts, put today’s word into practice in their lives, without lukewarmness, without calculation, with the passion to risk everything and to leave it all behind. May the Lord help us to imitate their example.”

Oscar Romero, who was beatified in 2015 in El Salvador, was the Archbishop of San Salvador the capital of El Salvador. He was shot while celebrating Mass on March 24, 1980, during the birth of a civil war between leftist guerilla forces and the dictatorial government of the right. Placing his faith in the Risen Lord and the power of his Gospel he was an outspoken critic of the violence and injustices being committed at that time on the poor and the marginalised. Very soon he was hailed as a martyr, in fact first by the Church of England even before the Catholic Church could officially consider his sacrifice as “martyrdom”. He was killed in hatred of his Christian faith because it was his unflinching faith in Our Lord Jesus Christ that wouldn’t permit him to keep silent in the face of such blatant violation of human rights.

Referring to him Pope Francis said: “Oscar Romero left the security of the world, even his own safety, in order to give his life according to the Gospel, close to the poor and to his people, with a heart drawn to Jesus and his brothers and sisters… Let us ask ourselves where we are in our story of love with God. Do we content ourselves with a few commandments or do we follow Jesus as lovers, really prepared to leave behind something for him?”

Pope Paul VI was beatified by Pope Francis on October 19, 2014 at the end of the Extraordinary Synod on Family. After four years the Pope had the joy of canonizing his predecessor with these words: “Pope St. Paul VI spent his life for Christ’s Gospel, crossing new boundaries and becoming its witness in proclamation and in dialogue, a prophet of a Church turned outwards, looking to those far away and taking care of the poor”.

So many people in India, particularly Mumbai, still cherish their beautiful memories of the visit of Pope Paul VI to Mumbai from December 2-5, 1964 for the 38th Eucharistic Congress under the leadership of Valerian Cardinal Gracias, the then Archbishop of Mumbai – the first visit of a Pope to India.

Pope Paul VI arrived in India as a “Pilgrim of Peace and Love” and especially during the progress of the Second Vatican Council when the Catholic Church was in the crucial process of renewing her understanding on several issues ad extra such as relationship with different faiths and ideologies in a pluralistic context, the indispensable need for inter-faith dialogue, the meaning of mission, the Church’s response to the realities of the modern world, all of which are of course indispensably related to the life of the Church ad intra such as liturgy, nature of the Church, ecumenism, ordained ministry, charism of consecrated life, role of laity etc. which are all part of the comprehensive renewal put in motion by the Second Vatican Council. His visit was very symbolic for the course the Catholic Church would take in the years to follow and which is the kairos we are experiencing today. He was oversaw much of the Second Vatican Council opened by Pope John XXIII, and brought it to completion in 1965. We remember his sonorous Jai Hind several times in his address before he left our soil, perhaps the first time a Pope has ever uttered a word in Hindi.

The Rite of the Mass we follow today in the Latin Church was promulgated by Pope Paul VI in 1969 as a result of the much needed liturgical renewal brought about by the Council. Some aspects of this renewal we already observe in the gestures of the Pope during his public Mass in Mumbai – a gradual change from the strict Tridentine Rite.

Pope Paul VI was the first Pope to undertake pastoral visits to different parts of the Universal Church to bring healing and hope in divided situations and affirm the believers in their faith and mission. He will be remembered for his humility and unassuming style of exercising his papal authority. One unforgettable event was the moment when he knelt down and kissed the feet of Patriarch Meliton of Chalcedon in 1965 representing Patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinople on the visit of the Constantinopolitan delegation to Rome. This was a gesture of reparation for some of the mistakes committed by the Church of Rome towards the Church of Constantinople in the middle ages and which led to the schism of 1054 A.D.

Pope Paul VI is most widely remembered for his landmark encyclical Humanae Vitae, which was published in 1968 and which reaffirmed the Catholic Church’s teaching on contraception in the wake of the sexual revolution. There was much negative reaction to this document from many quarters and it is said that the Pope never wrote any encyclical after that because he was a person of deep sensitivity.

Let me conclude with the words of Pope Francis in his homily during the canonization of the seven new Saints of Mother Church:

“Today Jesus invites us to return to the source of joy, which is the encounter with him, the courageous choice to risk everything to follow him, the satisfaction of leaving something behind in order to embrace his way. The saints have travelled this path… Let us ask for the grace always to leave things behind for love of the Lord: to leave behind wealth, the yearning for status and power, structures that are no longer adequate for proclaiming the Gospel, those weights that slow down our mission, the strings that tie us to the world… Without a leap forward in love, our life and our Church become sick from complacency and self-indulgence… The problem is on our part: our having too much, our wanting too much suffocates our hearts and makes us incapable of loving”.

Let this message resound in our hearts as we celebrate Christmas and encounter our Saviour born in the poverty of the manger and wrapped in swaddling clothes while the angels sing the song of peace to the world. Why?

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