May 2018 UPDATE Pope Paul VI to be canonizedVatican News Pope Francis has announced that Paul VI will be proclaimed a saint on Sunday, October 14th in the Vatican.
filed April 28, 2014
About the Pope
This weekend's historic ceremony in Rome declaring not one but TWO modern popes to be defined as Saints causes me to reflect on my own Catholic childhood throughout which I prayed for one reigning pope whose name was Paul.
Both eyebrows and questions can now be raised about this rapid action of canonization: Did the cardinals lower the bar? Should any pope be canonized? And if these two individual popes, then why not others?
Well, I cannot answer such ecclesiastical questions. For this day only, not knowing what the future holds, I just wanted to share my recollections of the modern pope who was NOT elevated.
Pope Paul VI reigned the 15+ years from 21 June 1963 to 6 August 1978. Since I happened to be born in 1959, his papal reign corresponds almost exactly to my conscious childhood years, complete from my nursery age up through high school before heading off to secular Stanford.
For historical reference please consider: alone among my three siblings, I was enrolled in an all-Catholic New York City grade school. For academic grades one and two, while growing up in Brooklyn NY, I attended Saint Charles Borremeo. Each day for my uniform I wore dark slacks and a white shirt with a blue tie embossed with the initials SCB.
My teachers at SCB were always nuns dressed head to toe in full habit. Not a lay teacher in sight. Even the principal was a nun. School rules were strictly enforced. Yes, those nuns had erasers to throw and their long ruler always at the ready to wrap knuckles.
And so all during my childhood and youth -- blessed by and through the sacraments of confession, communion, confirmation -- all had in common one pope whose name was Paul. The pope was an Italian man. This made perfect sense to me because the Vatican was located there in Italy. To invoke nationalistic pride or hemispheric rivalry had no place when it came to papal infallibility.
Paul it turns out was the first pope to visit the USA. Pope Paul's first visit to the United States in October 1965 was a one day visit confined entirely to New York City. Since his first American visit actually brought him to our home town I remember sharing in multiple events of festive joy among the local faithful. Almost as much as the Beatles who two months earlier had played Shea Stadium. As with the Beatles, I did not meet this pope but he was a prominent figure in my childhood.
Two months later he closed the Second Vatican Council. As a curious youngster growing up later in California I could never grasp why this second Vatican had the potential to be so divisive. How could this happen in a modern and unified church? In the following years I acquired the strong sense that the pope's action to cut short debate, as it were, was visionary and showed compassion for his flock -- even if to intelligent American Catholics it looked more akin to a "punt" because he had knowingly left unresolved burning issues of doctrine.
I very briefly served as an altar boy when Paul reigned as pope. Each summer during the late 1960's I was faithfully attending a mountain camp run by the Salesian brothers. Paul was pope and we also landed on the moon. In those days even more than becoming an astronaut the highest aspiration of a celibate catholic boy was first to go to seminary in order then to become a priest who could be eligible someday to be pope.
His most visible legacy to those of us in the pews in the 1960's might be the fact that it was not until he was the pope that it came time to actually modernize the entire liturgy, which produced a very positive effect in America's churches. Yes, I am of an age to know firsthand the difference between a mass said in Latin looking at the priest's back compared with all its successor liturgy in English.
From a sociological perspective his most significant contribution is his encyclical called Humane Vitae. Perhaps that is why the Causes of the Saints passed him over. We do not know, of course. I am however fairly certain the pope's teaching in this area achieved a profound effect on me, helping to shape my strong views on traditional marriage and the primacy of natural law.