The mystery of Paul VI

March 1, 2018-Reading time: 3 minutes

Pope Francis has said that Blessed Paul VI will be canonized this year. The date is not yet known, but it is expected to coincide with the Synod of Bishops in October. Professor Morales analyzes the significance of his figure in the context of recent Church history.

José Morales - Professor of Dogmatic Theology. Author of the book "Paul VI (1963-1978)".

Much has been said about the martyrdom of Pope Paul VI, but it is more appropriate to refer to the mystery of Paul VI to describe his papal reign, which was distinguished by a marked unity of purpose, patience and accomplishment. If the Second Vatican Council is his greatest achievement, the fifteen years of his entire presence at the head of the Church is probably the singular achievement of John Baptist Montini. The unity of the pontificate is found in the personality, character and charism of the Pope, not in external events, which blur him and belong to the contingencies of history.

Paul VI is a character impossible to describe. At once ancient and modern, a lover of tradition and open to the idiosyncrasies of contemporary man, aware that Catholicism and the Church itself are nothing more than an identity in time. He was a religious man, obviously, and could also be described as a mystic. He cultivated interiority, which was to a great extent the secret of his character. He was seized by the awareness that Jesus Christ was his Lord and this certainty went hand in hand with a deep and ardent understanding of the Church.

He was a person of uncommon humility, who appreciated faithfulness and loyalty. He thought that a God who loves man and a man who loves God must suffer. In this sense he bore some resemblance to St. Paul, whose name he chose as pontiff. St. Paul abounded in traits of what is considered modernity: he rejoiced in his weaknesses and felt listless, tempted, weak, uncertain. Paul VI bears in his nature this resemblance to the man of that time, in his aspirations and in his torments.

Paul VI was not spontaneous, nor was there any real familiarity about him. His gravity showed a certain melancholy, and although he seemed to cultivate the hieratic image of the supreme pastor, he was by nature and by grace profoundly optimistic. There have been Popes of triumphalism, but Paul VI was the Pope of humility and atonement. He spoke of historical faults in the Church. He was the man of charity.

During his pontificate the Church has truly become a universal Church. Open to all continents, as demonstrated in his travels, he acted as an exponent of the old Christian Europe, and destroyed the legend of papal pride in the East. The curia never wanted him. It judged him too modern, intellectual and problematic. He was a man of prayer and action, who carried with him the land of Brescia, like John Paul II that of Krakow. He said: "I will never tire of blessing and forgiving. A pope feels very little when he considers himself. My weakness has remained whole; but a strength that does not come from me sustains me, one moment after another. The life of a pope carries no moment of respite or repose. There is no interruption in paternity or in filiation. A pope lives from urgency to urgency".

The papal management of the Council was a work of art. The Council proceeded without major hitches; it was neither suspended nor interrupted, which might have happened with a less experienced helmsman. It achieved its intended ends, and in some cases exceeded the hopes placed in it.

His brilliant achievements include decisive encyclicals and apostolic exhortations. The debated liturgical reform, to bring the Christian people closer to the altar, was crowned by the promulgation of the Roman Missal, the rituals of the sacraments, the lectionaries, the calendar, and the introduction of the vernacular languages.

The reform of the Roman Curia and its internalization, the creation of the Women's Commission and the proclamation of Teresa of Jesus and Catherine of Siena as doctors of the Church, the creation of the Synod of Bishops and the Theological Commission, the renewal of catechesis with the Catechesi tradendae, the impulse given to CELAM with the trip to Colombia, the papal trips to the five continents, the repristination of the permanent diaconate, the remodeling of the African Church with the ordination of three hundred bishops of the land, the Creed of the people of God and the ordination of the diocese of Rome, the policy of the East, transparency in the procedures on books and doctrines, the creation of the Sala Stampa in the Vatican, the rehabilitation of Padre Pio of Pietrelcina, the age of cardinals and bishops, the simplification of the papal court, the presence of bishops in the Roman congregations, the advances in the dialogue with Orthodoxy, the approval of lay associations, etc., all contribute to consider this pontificate as one of the most fruitful and necessary of the 20th century.

Paul VI was beatified by Pope Francis on October 19, 2014. Now, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints has approved the miracle attributed to his intercession (the healing of a girl still in the womb), and the Pope himself has confirmed that the canonization will take place this same year 2018.

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