Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Lincoln's Bishops on the New Saints

Bishop Bruskewitz reflects on meeting saints

LINCOLN (SNR) - In anticipation of the canonization of Popes John Paul II and John XXIII, Southern Nebraska Register editor Father Nicholas Kipper asked Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz, bishop emeritus, to share his memories of meeting the two popes.

SNR: What do you see as the greatest impact that Popes John Paul II and John XXIII made during their pontificates?

Although the length of their pontificates varied greatly, (John XXIII from October 1958 to June 1963, and John Paul II from October 1978 to April 2005), both saints made very important, lasting, and significant impressions on the Church and on the geopolitics of the entire world. It would be impossible to list, much less to discuss thoroughly, the enormous impact of their apostolic labors. Things which come quickly to mind are the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, the liberation of Eastern Europe from the yolk of Communism after the collapse of the old Soviet Union, the many and frequent pontifical travels to all parts of the world, the numerous new institutions, such as World Youth Days, the Vatican II-inspired reforms as well as the reforms of the reforms in liturgy and general Church life, the episcopal synods both national and international, the monumental outpourings of pontifical documents, the new Code of Canon Law, the publication of the new Catechism and its Compendium, etc.

SNR: Can you speak of any visible signs of holiness that these great men made manifest?

Their lives were living homilies. Both were indefatigable workers, who nevertheless always found huge amounts of necessary time to pray, despite their countless tasks, responsibilities, and demands on their time and attention. Both had great devotion to the rosary and to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Both wrote and spoke much about the Holy Eucharist and about their love for and devotion to the Catholic Church. Both were great listeners and both enjoyed a sense of humor, making them capable of laughing at innumerable incongruities as well as at themselves. Both faced life with self-sacrificing heroism and faced death with courage and hopeful fortitude. Both were very respectful and observant of valid traditions and customs, while facing with joy the challenges their times and worlds presented. Their biographical writings tell the story of their holiness quite well. The “Journal of a Soul,” compiled by Archbishop Capovilla, the Secretary of John XXIII, and “Rise, Let Us Be On Our Way” by Pope John Paul II, will give some powerful indications of the deeply holy interior lives of those two saints.

SNR: Do you have any personal stories of these men or things about them that always impressed you?

There would not be space enough for all my stories about them! Angelo Roncalli was elected Pope at the beginning of my second year at the North American College in Rome. He was the Pope when I was ordained a priest in Rome by his Vicar General, Cardinal Luigi Traglia. I had several audiences with him and participated in many papal ceremonies with him.
I remember the audience after my ordination with my parents and relatives, when he told me never to despise the older, tried and true forms of apostolic work in my priesthood, and to judge the newer forms with a critical eye. He told me in another audience, after he asked me what my Bishop was going to do with me when I left Rome and returned home, and I replied that would be a parish priest, that being a parish priest was the highest and most splendid form of priestly existence and I should always consider that kind of priestly work as the greatest of privileges a priest could have. He profoundly loved Latin and insisted on its exclusive use in the Ecumenical Council, with only an exception for the Eastern Rite Prelates. Among his writing was “Veterum Sapientia” (“The Wisdom of the Ancients”) to promote the Latin language.
Karol Woytyla was elected Pope in the second conclave of 1978. I had the privilege of previously knowing him quite well in the years he was the Archbishop of Kracow. I interacted with him in many ceremonies, meetings, lunches, dinners, audiences, etc. In fact, five weeks before he was elected Pope, we had dinner together at my house (Villa Stritch) in Rome along with other Polish prelates. I was working in the Holy See at the time of his election, and he and I had worked over the years on various issues pertaining to the Catholic seminaries and universities.
He always remembered my dear mother, because they both spoke Bohemian (Czech) when they talked together in an audience. He was the Pope who named me a Bishop in 1992, and with whom I had several “ad limina” visits, when he always wanted to see a copy of our Lincoln diocesan seminary brochures. He was a true polyglot and would speak with me in a variety of languages, with German, English, and Italian predominating.
There are too many anecdotes in my association with him to be recounted here, but I have them all locked in my heart, and I shall, to my dying day, consider it one of the highest honors of my life to have been so closely acquainted with such a grand saint.
May Pope Saint John XXIII and Pope Saint John Paul II pray for us all in the halls of eternity.


Saint John Paul II

I had the privilege of working for Blessed John Paul II for nine years. As a young priest, I worked in the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops, and my boss, or perhaps my boss’ boss, was Pope John Paul II.
I won’t forget the nine years I spent in Rome with John Paul II. I had the honor of introducing him to my parents during the year of their 50th wedding anniversary. I had the privilege of being in his presence often and hearing him speak, and of watching him spend time with other priests, with families, with religious, and, especially, with the youth.
John Paul II possessed a gravity of presence, what is known in Latin as gravitas: his sanctity, and generosity, and joy absolutely filled a room. He was funny, and humble, and open. He was among the Church’s greatest theologians and philosophers, and at the same time, he was a pastor of souls: a lover of conversation, and folk culture, and pious worship.
During my years in Rome, the Church was still unpacking the meaning of the Second Vatican Council. After a council, theologians and bishops seek to implement new approaches and ideas, while retaining the continuity of our history and tradition. It’s a tenuous balance. Of course, some approaches are very good, and others are unreasonable, unsound, or unpractical.
Historically, Church councils, like Vatican II, always bring some measure of confusion to the Church’s life. Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman once wrote that Church councils “always savor of the soil from which they sprang.” In the case of Vatican II, the soil was the “sixties.” In the post-conciliar period, the good fruit of the council was intermingled, regrettably, with the anti-nomianism, anti-authoritarian, “free-love” spirit of the zeitgeist. There was confusion even among the theologians of the Vatican.
Newman reflected that one must get a bit downstream from a council—50, 75, 100 years—before the water clarifies and the stream gains strength and force.
In the midst of the post-conciliar confusion, John Paul II was a stabilizing and reassuring force: he was like a strong captain guiding the Church, the barque of Peter, through turbulent waters. At a time when many rejected the Church’s magisterial authority, John Paul II published the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Fides et Ratio, Evangelium Vitea, and hundreds of other texts, which unequivocally, and charitably, proposed the rich and ancient teachings of the faith. The Holy Spirit gave the Church John Paul II to protect her and guide her in a most difficult time. And with courage, and dependence on the Blessed Virgin Mary, John Paul embraced the greatness to which he was called.
I attended his funeral in 2005 with a heavy heart. Pilgrims had come from everywhere to mourn him. And by an extraordinary grace, the city of Rome became a place of joy, a place to celebrate a man who called us all to courage, and to greatness. The funeral of John Paul II was a celebration of the redemption of Jesus Christ, borne out in the life of John Paul II. On the streets of Rome, it was said that “he taught us how to live and he taught us how to die.”
While I concelebrated his funeral Mass, my mind returned to the very first Mass I’d ever attended with Pope John Paul II. It was 1979. I was 24 years old. I had finished college, and had spent time in a monastery, and was working on a small family farm with my friends in Kansas. Mostly, I was wondering what God had in store for me.
John Paul had come to United States shortly after becoming Pope, and in addition to visiting Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Washington, DC, and Chicago, he came to celebrate Mass on a historic farm in Iowa on October 4, the feast day of Saint Francis of Assisi. My friends and I drove up from Kansas. 
By the grace of God, we ended up close to the very first row. I was awestruck when John Paul II asked the young men in the congregation to consider priesthood. “Come follow me!” he said. I felt as though he was speaking just to me. Five minutes later, he came down to greet the crowd, and he looked directly into my eyes. One does not forget the glimpse of sanctity.
Three months after that Mass, I was a seminarian. Years later I was ordained a priest, and then a bishop. I’ve spent my priesthood following after Jesus Christ, but always in the footsteps, in the model, and by the measure of Blessed John Paul II.
On Sunday, he will be declared a saint. He is a patron for the whole Church. He may someday be called “John Paul the Great.” But I will always remember him as the man who called me to holiness, to greatness, and to the adventure of a lifetime.

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