The Good Old Days

A string of good popes!

In recent memory, all of the occupants of the Chair of St. Peter have been virtuous, good, even saintly men.

Only the naïve will consider that statement a “no-brainer.” Why? Because this has not always been the case.

We have had more than one bad pope! There are books written on them! We have had drunks, philanderers, tyrannical, bloodthirsty rogues whose exploits would make a truck driver blush.

Come to think about it, the first one, St. Peter, was no gem, as he denied even knowing Jesus, three times, at the very moment the Lord could most have used a loyal friend.

No wonder, one of the best histories of the papacy around is entitled Saints and Sinners, since we’ve had our share of both. And, no surprise, the word “Borgia,” the name of a family that gave us more than one medieval pope, connotes corruption and immorality.

What’s remarkable, of course, is not that there have been knavish, scandalous popes — there sure have been! — but that the Church keeps on going in spite of them.

No surprise there, if you trust the promise Jesus made that “I will be with my Church all days, even until the end of the world.”

In our time, though, the successors of St. Peter have been men of sanctity and honor, real luminaries for the Church and the world.

I’m just thinking of the pontiffs I’ve known:

Pius XII, who died when I was eight, was a man of piety, asceticism, diplomatic skills, and theological erudition. I remember my third grade teacher commenting, as we dropped to our knees to pray the rosary upon hearing of his death in 1958, “We’re all spiritual orphans now, and I don’t know who could ever take his place after his nineteen years as our Holy Father!”

The Holy Spirit was not as worried, and we got Blessed John XXIII. When he died in 1963, my hometown newspaper had an editorial cartoon showing the globe, with the face of a man, crying.

Then came Paul VI, who led the Church courageously and wisely through the final years of the council, and the decade of its implementation keeping us from “throwing the baby out with the bathwater.”

We can hardly remember the brief thirty-three days of Pope John Paul I in September, 1978, except that he captivated us with his warmth, smile, and sincerity.

But we sure recall with awe and devotion the twenty-seven years soon-to-be-Saint John Paul II filled the “shoes of the fisherman.” It was no hyperbole when shouts of Santo Subito (“a Saint now!”) filled the square at his funeral, or that God’s people began to refer to him as John Paul the Great. And today’s his feast day.

His successor, Pope Benedict XVI, was just what we needed after Pope John Paul II, and challenged us with insightful teaching worthy of the vicar of Christ. We’re still in awe of his act of humility in resigning the office of Peter lest the Church suffer from a fragile pontiff.

And now? Viva il Papa! The world has fallen in love with Pope Francis, who has already been hailed as “the world’s parish priest.” If I had a dollar for every New Yorker, Catholic and not, who has told me how much he or she loves our current Holy Father, I’d pay off the big repair bill of St. Patrick’s Cathedral!

So, face it: we’ve had quite a few popes throughout our 2,000 year run that have been real lemons, hardly worthy of the high dignity of the office. Thank God Jesus is in charge!

But, in our memories today, we’ve had great, holy, and good popes. These are “the good old days” for us as Catholics.

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4 Responses to “The Good Old Days”

  1. Terry says:

    If these are the good old days, why are still heading down this path that destroys faith? We all like someone who not demanding much from us. We like people who are nice. But when not much is expected of us, we will accomplish the least growth. Pope Paul did not demand much of us, and we did even less. Being nice if fine, but it will not help us become saints. Look at politics. Those who demand the least personal responsibility are always voted in. Those who expect much are made fun of, attacked, and mocked. This time in the church feels much like the times of Paul VI. Not much is demanded of us. Just be nice. It has never worked, and it will not work now. Jesus demanded much of us. Go and sin no more. He spoke of Hell more than Heaven. He forgave those who sought forgiveness, not those who refused to admit their sins. He did not say we were okay where we were at. He called us to change, to conversion, to believe that he is the Son of God, not that your faith in false gods or no god is okay as long your nice. He said Marriage is between one man and one woman, not what we want to make it. And no divorce. Never! This new church has a voice that I do not recognize as the Lords voice of the Gospels. It sounds strange, and I am not sure it is Lord.

  2. J Carr says:

    Brilliant. Speaking of humility. In our anxiousness to learn about the new Pope, we missed this.We cannot tell others to ask for forgiveness if we sit high on a white horse and claim to have been wronged. The act of penitence requires great humility on the pert of all the parties involved. We have to travel to the depths of humanity to see the face of God.

    When Francis washed the feet of a Muslim girl carrying a baby, in an European jail. we thought that was humble enough. A Muslim girl, unwed, with a baby, and in jail. How long would she last in a Muslim country? You think this escaped the reasoning of a traveled, and educated man like Fracis? When Francis bent even lower to kiss her feet. We learned that we could go lower and further in humility. With that gesture, we saw that it was Francis that was asking that human being for the forgiveness of all of us, including him. With that simple gesture Francis was saying to this lost child of God, “forgive men like me, it is our sins that have put you in this place.”

  3. Ursula says:

    Most of the time I am confused about what he IS saying. BUT I have become an expert on what he is NOT saying . I have spent so much time researching and refuting headlines. It seems to me that a lot of people love Pope Francis for things that he is NOT saying (and that makes me nervous). I DO think that it is good that they are ‘listening’ but they are listening to mainstream media and they have not gotten it right , yet!(imho). I see lots of confusion in his wake. I THINK I have gotten some of the message…Don’t be a Pharisee. Do not make the ‘law’ your idol or anything else for that matter. I think that he is calling us back to the beginning -to walk with Jesus as when he walked the earth with the apostles and the disciples- not to do away with the laws or the knowledge and understanding of revelation that has unfolded in the 2000 years since(at least I hope not!). I think he is calling us back to the beginning to remember who we are and what we are about- our mission in this world. I thought there would be more balance . He has addressed the extremes of a traditional position but has not addressed the extremes that result from NO tradition . I think that helps misinterpretations to continue. I am afraid that he does not like ‘tradition’…He seems to be addressing that a lot but he does not correct or address the media misinterpretations … many take silence to be assent. I realize that he cannot go around correcting all the mistakes but there are many people in the public square who defend the Church’s moral stance on important and pertinent issues (including yourself) who are left ‘hanging out to dry’while the misinterpretations get more embedded in reality. I do not think that he intends to do that but that is essentially what is happening in his wake. At least that is the way that I see it.
    And it would certainly be nice if people like Bishop Paprocki whose secretary was killed by a gay activist got some affirmation for his recent stance in not allowing the rosary for passage of gay marriage laws to be held in the Cathedral. Or am I just wrong altogether and the media misinterpretations are NOT misinterpretations. Is their view closer to what he is saying in the following article than what I realize?
    Basically, I guess I am still not sure what Pope Francis IS saying…I DO listen and try to hear but I am confused more often than not…often I just do not know what he means or where he is coming from…or what he is getting at….It is like I have come in in the middle of a conversation or something..sigh…I do not know how to explain it…but I will keep trying…

  4. Dr. Marrero says:

    As I sit here, recuperating from croup (which I suppose pediatricians can get, as it’s an infantile disease), I finally have a chance to catch up with your blogs! Thank you! Two things come to mind:
    Ask for the dollar to fix the roof. Seriously. Do a second collection. Parishes aren’t collecting for schools with the new regionalization, and ask for just a dollar, for the love of Pope Francis. So the cathedral roof shouldn’t fall in on him when he visits and we shouldn’t make a bad impression. Bet it works.
    I’ve also perused some stale email that proclaims sales, deals, etc. for “Meatless Mondays”. This is a secular thing from restaurants, that is eco-fabulous, etc. So I thought: wait just a moment. WE invented the meatless day, out of the memory of His Passion. Maybe secular can meet sacred and you can restore a meatless Friday for the Archdiocese idea with both purposes in mind. Calvary is where earth met heaven. Take back Catholic fasting! ‘m going to be so bold as to say that the aforementioned popes will give you their blessings!
    And my stethoscope is fine. The dog ate a little bit off the ear part, but soon mended.