Reflection by Aidan Troy
Just before I joined the Passionists, St John XXIII called a Church Council to open a few windows in the church. Like St Francis of Assisi before him, his aim was to rebuild the church, as people of God. Little could he have known what opening a window or two might let in or let out.
He was a great Pope who had been elected with little expectation that he would do very much outside of what had gone before. He smiled his way through a relatively short Papacy. Some still wonder was he right to call the Second Vatican Council. That is for you to pray about and decide.
What Pope John did is done. Keeping windows open is our challenge. The breath of the Spirit keeps the lungs of the Body of Christ going. There are good people who work to return to pre-Vatican days. Our challenge is to ask what Christ wants us to be today.
After the Passion the breakdown of spirit among the followers of Jesus took its toll. First of all, they got into the attic and kept all doors downstairs firmly locked. But doors still locked, Jesus stood in their midst and breathed on them. Receiving the Holy Spirit, they flung open the doors. Even the displeasure of the High Priest at them not following his injunction to keep silent, was no obstacle to them.
Obedience, in the sense of listening to God, comes ahead of listening to authorities, even to a High Priest. I love the freedom of the children of God in those early days. They had found Jesus through the Cross. There is no other way. There is no soft option. By obeying the Risen Lord, the Holy Spirit finds a home in our hearts.
After the Cross there set in a type of paralysis of soul among the disciples. They were disorientated. Even their skill at fishing deserted them. They caught no fish all night. In the bright light of morning, Jesus simply says to throw the nets to starboard and they will catch fish. They obey. The catch is 153 fish. Not a bad catch by any standards. All people are made to be brought to Jesus as were all the fish.
Jesus Risen is not above getting His hands dirty. He gives them breakfast. Even in the midst of all this, I love St John writing, ‘None of the disciples was bold enough to ask, ‘Who are you?’ Then he adds, ‘they knew quite well it was the Lord.’ This is what John XXIII was doing – he was enabling people to recognise the true face of Jesus. This is matters more in a world of false ‘gods’ and a lot of ‘fake news’.
Jesus does not set up a tribunal of enquiry of what went wrong with those He had chosen as Apostles. Peter is not put on trial for his denials of Jesus. His trial is tougher. It is a trial based on love. Keeping a law is a matter of decision. To love comes from the heart and a surrendering of all selfishness. Love is all that will last.
The test for all the People of God is always on Love. God is Love and in redeeming us brought us into the heart of the Divine. We are not only followers, we are family. This lay at the heart of the dream of Pope St John XXIII all those years ago. Little could he have foreseen how the abuse of love would devastate so many lives. The task remains to allow the Spirit to examine our religion to keep it pure.
St Joseph’s shows that the bravery of St John XXII was not in vain. We are called to open, not close doors and windows, and to keep them open.