Recent Canonizations Were ‘Radiant Illustration of Unity’ 

You’ll have to excuse me, because I’m still in the glow of the doubleheader canonizations of Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II by our present Holy Father in Rome a little over two weeks ago.

Yes, Pope Francis had multiple lessons to teach us in this unprecedented act of raising two modern pontiffs to the altar. I’m wondering if one of them was continuity.

Part of Catholic wisdom is that Jesus keeps us intimately close to Him in the Church. The Church continues the life, teaching, invitation, grace, mercy, and salvation that our Lord came to bring. He is the vine, we—the Church—are the branches.

For instance, I can remember being very moved, even as a boy of seven, when Mrs. Quinlan, my teacher, told us, as she prepared us for first Holy Communion and Confirmation (the two sacraments came only weeks apart back in 1957, and were celebrated in first grade) that every Mass was just like being there with Jesus and His apostles at the last Supper, and that our Confirmation would be as if we were there with the apostles and Mary in the Upper Room that First Pentecost.

Wow, I thought, I’m part of something big. This goes all the way back to Jesus…

That’s continuity.

This consoling bit of Catholic wisdom took a hit in the 1960s with an attitude Pope Benedict XVI would later dub “a theology of rupture.” This dangerous, albeit very popular opinion would posit that there is now a great divide between the “pre” and “post” Vatican II Church, that the Second Vatican Council was so radical, so dramatic, so earthquake-like, that everything that went before it was suspect, silly, over-and-done-with, and wrong. “That’s so ‘pre-council’” became the ultimate putdown.

I can even remember a priest telling me he threw out every spiritual and theological book he had that had been written before 1962, the year the Council began! (I hope he at least kept the Bible!)

Then there were those on the other side who rejected the genuine renewal of the Council, and dismissed anything that occurred after 1965 (the year the Council closed), as heretical and dangerous.

Continuity was out; rupture was in.

Such an attitude was of course a distortion of the great Council. To be sure, reform and renewal were very much needed. Continuity does not mean the Church is a frozen lake, with everything still, stalled, and immobile; rather, the Church is more like a flowing river: one source—Jesus Christ, the eternal spring—with fresh, life-giving water cascading through the centuries, defined by the river banks.

As a matter of fact, the inspired man who summoned the Council, Pope St. John XXIII, expressed it very well, as he set two goals of the Council: resourcement, or, a recovery of the Church’s teaching as found especially in Revelation, the Bible, the Fathers, and the saints—there’s continuity—and aggiornamento, or, updating, as the Church “ever ancient” is also “ever new” in presenting the gift of faith in fresh ways.

In the caricature which popularizes the “theology of rupture,” Pope John XXIII is the hero, “the liberal,” as he unleashed daring, radical change into the life of the Church; and Pope John Paul II, the discredited—yet—nine-lived stereotype holds, is the villain, the conservative who dashed hopes and returned to the bad-old days. In this cartoon, Pope Benedict is usually placed with the bad guys, and Pope Francis is the new Pope John.

“Stop all of this!” That’s the message Pope Francis gave us on April 27th, brilliantly canonizing both John XXIII and John Paul II, with Pope-emeritus Benedict there concelebrating the Mass!

What a radiant illustration of unity all of this was! The Church is one; we are in continuity with Jesus; factions, ideologies, caricatures are silly, harmful, and out-of-place. Let’s stop pigeon-holing and get to work!

No more labels—“I’m a ‘John XXIII Catholic’; you’re a ‘John Paul II’ Catholic—invites our Holy Father! We are “Jesus Catholics,” loyal to St. Peter and his successor, attentive to every council, as we relish our continuity with Jesus, His Apostles, and His Church!

Jesus… Peter… Linus… Cletus… Clement… St. John XXIII… St. John Paul II… Benedict… Francis… you… me… Jesus continues in His Church. Let’s not rupture that!