This last Tuesday, 6 August, we observed the Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord. In his most recent column for Il Sussidiario, "Paul VI/Albacete: His death on the day of the Transfiguration of Christ," Msgr Lorenzo Albacete (a fitting day to post something by a priest named "Lawrence" n'est ce pas?) also recalls that it was thirty-five years ago, on 6 August 1978, that Pope Paul VI died at Castel Gandolfo, thus inaugurating "the year of three popes." He also brings to mind that it was on 6 August 1945 that the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan. As a self-indulgent side-note, I also appreciate that Msgr. Albacete shares my view that CELAM's 2007 "Aparecida document" is the blueprint for Pope Francis' pastoral program.
I will let you read his article for yourself (it is very short), but especially in light of the fact we recently observed Natural Family Planning Awareness Week, I feel it is important not only to remember, but to celebrate, the faithful prophetic and even heroic witness given by Pope Paul VI, who is certainly the most reviled pope for Christ's sake in recent memory. Albacete does this wonderfully in his piece. Writing about Pope Paul and the other of St. Peter's successors, he points out that for the past 2000 they have "been forced to remind us that nature is good, that the human body is beautiful, that, totally against what it says in the cover article of Time Magazine this week, children are a grace, not a curse, all of this was taught in Humanae Vitae; one month before Paul VI came to Colombia where he was hailed as the author of the document that defended the poor from the pharmaceutical empire and the power of the rich nations whose citizens demand to be 'happy.'"
Along these lines, I came across something that is meaningful to me because it puts a lot of my own difficult-to-untangle experience as the father of six children into words, much better words than I could choose. It is something by comedian Jim Gaffigan, who is Catholic (he is not "a Catholic comedian," but a damn funny comedian who is also Catholic- an important distinction):
I watch the faces of single people in their twenties after I bring up that I ‘have children.’ I imagine them taking a small step backward as if to avoid contagion, with a look of ‘Sorry to hear that’ on their face. Like I naively volunteered to contract leprosy, forever quarantining myself from the world of having fun by having children. Well, why not? I guess the reasons against having more children always seem uninspiring and superficial. What exactly am I missing out on? Money? A few more hours of sleep? A more peaceful meal? More hair? These are nothing compared to what I get from these five monsters who rule my life. I believe each of my five children has made me a better man. So I figure I only need another thirty-four kids to be a pretty decent guy. Each one of them has been a pump of light into my shriveled black heart. I would trade money, sleep, or hair for a smile from one of my children in a heartbeat. Well, it depends on how much hairIn their On Faith section, the WaPo did a piece on Gaffigan not long ago: "Is comic Jim Gaffigan the Catholic Church's newest evangelizer?" My answer to this question is, "I hope so!".
Today the pope travelling is no big deal, but this era of popes visiting all over the world was initiated by Paul VI. Papa Montini took the papal name Paul in order to emphasize and renew the Church's mission, given to her by the Lord Himself, to take the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth, thus bringing the Pauline dimension of the papacy into more observable relief.
As Msgr. Albacete indicates, Pope Paul was very much a friend of the poor. If you think some the things Pope Francis has said to date about caring for the poor are edgy, I challenge you to read Pope Paul VI's encyclical . Populorum progesso. As you do so, do not lose sight of the fact to which Albacete alludes, namely that Humanae vitae, too, was written to defend the poor from the rich, the weak from the powerful, the women of Africa, the sub-continent of India, Latin America, and elsewhere from the likes of people such as Melinda Gates with her well-funded and politically well-supported effort to put all the women of the developing world on chemical contraceptives.
It was also Paul VI who not only re-initiated the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council after being selected as pope, due to the fact that the Council was ended upon the death of his predecessor, Pope St. John XXIII. To Pope Paul fell the unenviable task of actually reforming the Church according to the blueprint laid down by the Council, efforts that caused him much personal anguish and likely contributed to the decline of his health, which was very noticeable the last few years of his life on earth.
Since I already invoked Gaffigan in my remembrance of Pope Paul VI, in order to give what I am trying to communicate about the importance of Papa Montini some cultural credibility, in order to give it even more, I also draw your attention to a piece written by my friend Artur, who, in addition to being one of the up-and-coming Catholic intellectuals in the U.S., blogs over at Cosmos the in lost- "Confession: How I Lost My Faith After Reading Rachel Held Evans."
Being someone who falls in the seam between the Baby Boom and Gen. X, I am certainly not a Millennial, but Artur's piece serves as an example of what I mean by fostering "Christian discipleship in the late modern milieu in the diakonia of koinonia," especially at a time when it is very apparent that so many are lost in the cosmos. This is currently being exacerbated by too many people, influential Catholic commentators among them, celebrating what they take to be a new era of absolute uncertainty, the ushering in of a relativistic utopia in the Church by Pope Francis (he is not!). Nothing harshed this buzz before more than Paul VI promulgating Humanae Vitae. But one must not be myopic and keep in mind that, along with Populorum progessio and Evangelii nuntiandi, Humanae Vitae forms part of a triptych that constitutes the very heart of Paul VI's papal magisterium.
Here is what I perceive to be the take-a-way from Artur's post: "If church leaders will not provide us with authoritative responses to what’s going on in our deranged and eviscerated public square, with the right (ortho-)spiritual exercises, with the most fruitful paths to follow, with a new Philokalia, or the old one, then it’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there..." (cue Bob Dylan).
Papa Montini, pray for us.