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Homily on the Memorial of St. Pope Paul VI, 29 May 2024, Mk 10:32-45

Today we celebrate the memorial of the Pope who completed and closed the Second Vatican Council which had been opened by St. Pope John XXIII in 1962. He was actually already part of the special commission formed by Pope John XXIII in 1961, in preparation for the launching of the Council before Christmas of 1962, which coincided with the 400th anniversary of the Council of Trent. His baptismal name was Giovanni Battista Montini.

Very early in his life and ministry as bishop, many people were already eyeing on Montini as a prospective papal candidate (papabile). And yet, despite the fact that he had worked in the Vatican Curia as substitute secretary of State for a long time under the papacy of Pope Pius XII and was later appointed as archbishop of Milan in 1954, Montini was known to have deliberately resisted what others regarded as a “career path” laid out for him because of Pope Pius XII’s great regard for him. As archbishop of Milan, he became very much involved in labor issues because as a pastor, he could not turn a blind eye on the labor unrest in his diocese involving labor unions that often declared strikes to demand for just wages and humane living conditions and sought his support as archbishop of Milan where the largest industries in Italy were operating. He was also much loved, not just by his Catholic constituents because he consciously reached out to Protestants, Anglicans, Muslims, pagans, atheists and schismatics in his diocese and engaged in friendly dialogues with them.

Historians tell us that Pius XII got very disappointed when Montini declined his appointment to be made a Cardinal in 1952. Apparently this had been publicly revealed by Pius XII himself, but that still did not stop Pius XII from appointing him archbishop of Milan. Pius XII, we are told, was consciously grooming him to become his successor, but Montini was not very keen on the idea, perhaps after having seen up close the insurmountable challenges that Pope Pius XII had to face during the second world war, when Montini served as a substitute secretary of State for him. Because of that, Pius XII, we are told, appointed no other new cardinals, perhaps feeling offended that his offer had been rejected by Montini. People say Montini would have been elected Pope in the Conclave of 1958 if he had accepted to be made a Cardinal much earlier. As history would have it, it was the old Angelo Roncalli who succeeded Pius XII, and became Pope, now also a Saint, John XXIII.

It was already under the papacy of John XXIII that Montini was finally pressured to accept the earlier offer made to him by Pius XII—to be made a cardinal. This time, he could not turn down Roncalli whom he regarded as a dear friend, and who expressed to Montini his great need of his help especially for the huge project that John XXIII wanted to realize, and that was to bring about a profound process of renewal or reform in the Catholic Church through the convening of a Second Vatican Council.

Montini was known to have been a silent worker, but practically one of the real prime movers of Vatican II, after John XXIII. Not only did he complete Vatican II in 1965, he made the Synod of Bishops into a permanent institution—a project which is now being given a fuller expression by the current Pope Francis. He also published, aside from some major Vatican II documents, some of the best known papal encyclicals, especially those that contain some of the best social teachings of the Church. (One of the few theologians who are most familiar with the theology of Pope Paul VI is our very own Cardinal Chito Tagle.)

Pope Paul VI was the one whom I immediately thought about when I read the Gospel early this morning about the ambitious apostles—James and John, the sons of Zebedee, and their bold request for positions of authority in their group. Giovanni Battista Montini seemed to have been the exact opposite. He did not seem that inclined to power, and never treated his close connections to Popes Pius XII and John XXIII as a political capital for a sure career path to the papacy. He must have taken very seriously the reply of Jesus to the two ambitious apostles: “IT SHALL NOT BE SO AMONG YOU!”

They say those who are too eager to become Pope when they enter the Conclave always come out of it as Cardinals. I know of one very reluctant Cardinal who is presently up there at the Curia. The foreign media and some overzealous admirers have put him in their shortlist of papabili and are too eager to get him to succeed the papacy after Pope Francis. But you know what? This Cardinal has no other wish at the moment than to finish his term and be allowed to come home to take care of his sick and aging parents. Believe me, nobody in his right mind really aspires to become Pope. It is the Lord who chooses them from us. And he chooses those who are ready to suffer and die upside down, like St Peter.

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Veritas Editorial

Rev. Fr. Anton CT Pascual

Rev. Fr. Anton CT Pascual

President of Radio Veritas

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