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Pope John Paul II, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, Pope Francis
Pope John Paul II, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, Pope Francis

ASK | Writings of three popes reveal a lesson from the Holy Spirit

While popes have different charisms, it is the Holy Spirit who truly guides the Church

Sometimes we hear someone say something along the lines of “I’m a JPII guy.” Another says “I’m a B16 gal,” and another “I like Francis.”

While we can appreciate in different ways the charisms of the Holy Fathers, to deny that the Holy Spirit is in each is short sighted and overlooks the fact that the Holy Spirit is the one who truly guides the Church. The Holy Spirit desires to guide and teach the faithful into deeper understanding and union with Christ, and the Holy Spirit’s lesson plan covers pontificates. Some of the Holy Fathers’ writings make this more clear.

In 2001, St. John Paul II wrote an apostolic letter called “Novo Millenio Inuente” (“Entering the New Millenium”), in which he wrote that now, more than ever, we as a faithful people were called to be contemplatives who gaze upon the face of Christ:

“(T)he men and women of our own day — often perhaps unconsciously — ask believers not only to ‘speak’ of Christ, but in a certain sense to ‘show’ him to them. And is it not the Church’s task to reflect the light of Christ in every historical period, to make his face shine also before the generations of the new millennium?

“Our witness, however, would be hopelessly inadequate if we ourselves had not first contemplated his face. The Great Jubilee has certainly helped us to do this more deeply. At the end of the Jubilee, as we go back to our ordinary routine, storing in our hearts the treasures of this very special time, our gaze is more than ever firmly set on the face of the Lord.” Novo Millenio Inuente, 16

Following the pontificate of St. John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI began his service in the Petrine office by writing the encyclical Deus Caritas Est (God is Love) which set the tone for many of his writings in which he encouraged people to encounter the love and mercy of God through the contemplation of Jesus, who came to give God a face for us to look at in order that we might experience his presence more fully. In his angelus address of January 1st, 2012 he said;

“We can contemplate the Face of God he himself made visible, he revealed himself in Jesus; he is the visible image of the invisible God. And this is also thanks to the Virgin Mary, whose greatest title we celebrate today; the title with which she plays a unique role in the history of salvation, as Mother of God. In her womb the Son of the Most High took our flesh and we can contemplate his glory (John 1:14), and feel his presence as God-with-us.”

Are you following so far? Step one: We are called to contemplate the face of Christ….Step 2: Through contemplation of the face of Christ we experience God’s loving, merciful presence….Step 3: enter Pope Francis. In his encyclical “Lumen Fidei” (“Light of Faith”), we read:

In faith, Christ is not simply the one in whom we believe, the supreme manifestation of God’s love; he is also the one with whom we are united precisely in order to believe. Faith does not merely gaze at Jesus, but sees things as Jesus himself sees them, with his own eyes: it is a participation in his way of seeing.” Lumen Fidei 18

So there you have it. Over a 13 year span, the Holy Spirit lays out this fundamental teaching; we are called to be contemplatives (JPII), in contemplating the face of Christ we encounter the face of mercy and love (Benedict XVI), which leads us to a participation in Jesus’ way of seeing (Pope Francis).

It would serve us all well not to be short-sighted or to try to create artificial “varieties” of Catholicism. There is only one faith, one hope and one baptism. Sometimes just one of God’s lesson plans take awhile to reveal itself….this lesson took three popes and thirteen years.

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