Column: This pontiff was hardly stiff

Father Mark Goldasich is the pastor of Sacred Heart parish in Tonganoxie. he has been editor of the Leaven since 1989.
Father Mark Goldasich is the pastor of Sacred Heart parish in Tonganoxie. he has been editor of the Leaven since 1989.

by Father Mark Goldasich

“See everything; overlook a great deal; improve a little.”

Way back on July 7, 1989, I borrowed those words from Pope John XXIII in the very first editorial I wrote for The Leaven. I used them again on July 6, 1990, after surviving my first year as editor.

Those words have been a philosophy that has guided my life — as a person, a pastor and an editor. I’ve always had a special place in my heart for John XXIII. He was the first pope that I really remember when growing up. He didn’t appear to put on airs, but always kept before him his “peasant” roots. He was the fourth of 13 children of a sharecropper, born in the tiny town of Sotto il Monte in northern Italy.

Pope John XXIII was like a grandpa, especially if your grandpa happened to be George Burns! Apparently, one of the many endearing qualities of this pope was his marvelous sense of humor. In his book “Between Heaven and Mirth,” Father Jim Martin describes John XXIII as his “avatar for holy humor.” He writes: “Who couldn’t love a man who was so comfortable with himself that he made jokes about his height (which was short), his ears (which were big), and his weight (which was considerable).”

Don’t think the guy was funny? Here are a couple of stories that Father Jim includes in his book:

• Shortly after his election, John was walking in the streets of Rome when a woman passed him and said to her friend, “My God, he’s so fat!” Overhearing her remark, the pope turned around and replied, “Madame, I trust you understand that the papal conclave is not exactly a beauty contest.”

• At one point in his papacy, John XXIII was giving a formal talk when the microphone went out. After it was fixed, he said, “Don’t worry about not hearing what I was saying. You didn’t miss anything. I didn’t say anything interesting anyway.”

Father Jim summarizes this remarkable pope with these words: “His humor seemed to flow naturally from his joy. His joy made him comfortable enough to laugh at himself and poke fun at his office and invited others into his humorous outlook on the world. And that joy made him comfortable with the absurdities of the world. For this openness, generosity, warmth and humor, ‘Good Pope John’ was loved by many.”

You’ll be hearing a lot about Pope John XXIII in the next year. Of course, he was not only a man of joy and humor, but also a man of wisdom, hope, renewal and vision. As you know, Pope Benedict XVI has declared a Year of Faith from Oct. 11 until Nov. 24, 2013, partly in honor of the 50th anniversary of the opening of the great Second Vatican Council, convened by John.

Our present pope has suggested that Catholics reopen the documents of Vatican II, study them and reflect again on their lessons. To that end, in this and upcoming issues, we’re having a number of archdiocesan priests who “had feet in both worlds” (the pre- and postconciliar times) speak about their impressions and help readers better understand four major constitutions of the council.

Please don’t feel that you’ll need an advanced degree to understand these documents or their meaning. Our featured priests will break things down in an inviting and understandable language.

For now, though, let me close with one last John XXIII story:

Someone once asked him about the Italian custom of closing offices in the afternoon. “Your Holiness, we understand that the Vatican is closed in the afternoon, and people don’t work then.”

“Ah, no!” said John. “The offices are closed in the afternoon. People don’t work in the morning!”

OK, how can you not love this guy?

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