Friday, May 29, 2020

Saint Paul VI: Joy in the Midst of Tribulation

Today we celebrate Saint Paul VI, the Pope of my childhood, the Pope of the Second Vatican Council and the tremendous struggles that followed immediately upon it for the Church and the world.

May 29th is now the memorial of this profoundly holy man, who taught courageously, suffered greatly, and loved Jesus Christ and the Church with all his heart. Also, this is the 100th anniversary of his ordination.

Near the end of his papacy, on May 9, 1975, the frail and apparently beleaguered Pope — whose fidelity to the gospel and his own particular mission as Successor of Saint Peter were so often misunderstood, bitterly criticized, or dismissed by the various factions of the post-conciliar crisis — published the beautiful and wise reflection Gaudete in Domino, on joy in the Lord. The whole text is worth reading, having lost none of its insight, vigor, or relevance after 45 years.

Here I quote (in bold type) a few passages that resonate with these days as we prepare to celebrate Pentecost, as we find ourselves once again so very much aware of our need for renewal in the Holy Spirit:

"John XXIII...envisaged a kind of new Pentecost as a fruit of the Council. We too have wished to place ourself in the same perspective and in the same attitude of expectation. Not that Pentecost has ever ceased to be an actuality during the whole history of the Church, but so great are the needs and the perils of the present age, so vast the horizon of mankind drawn towards world coexistence and powerless to achieve it, that there is no salvation for it except in a new outpouring of the gift of God. Let Him then come, the Creating Spirit, to renew the face of the earth!" (Gaudete in Domino VII:2)

In the present world "the joy of the kingdom brought to realization [in the risen and glorified Jesus] can only spring from the simultaneous celebration of the death and resurrection of the Lord. This is the paradox of the Christian condition which sheds particular light on that of the human condition: neither trials nor sufferings have been eliminated from this world, but they take on a new meaning in the certainty of sharing in the redemption wrought by the Lord and of sharing in His glory.

"This is why the Christian, though subject to the difficulties of human life, is not reduced to groping for the way; nor does he see in death the end of his hopes. As in fact the prophet foretold: 'The people that walked in darkness has seen a great light; on those who live in a land of deep shadow a light has shone. You have made their gladness greater, you have made their joy increase....' (Isaiah 9:2) The Easter Exultet sings of a mystery accomplished beyond the hopes of the prophets: in the joyful announcement of the resurrection, even man's suffering finds itself transformed, while the fullness of joy springs from the victory of the Crucified, from His pierced heart and His glorified body. This victory enlightens the darker souls. 'Et nox illuminatio mea in deliciis meis' [from Easter Vigil liturgy].

"Paschal joy is not just that of a possible transfiguration: it is the joy of the new presence of the Risen Christ dispensing to His own the Holy Spirit, so that He may dwell with them." (Gaudete in Domino III:9-10)

Finally, there is this one passage from Gaudete in Domino V:6, which I highlighted in a box and shared on social media. These words struck me as profound and timely regarding some of the trials our family has been called to endure over the past couple of years, with the illness and death of my Dad ("Papa" to his grandchildren) and the ongoing disability of my Mom ("Grandma"). Something of this "paradox" is hidden deep down in the experience of grief, and it expresses the mysterious working of the grace of the Holy Spirit "within" many kinds of suffering: