When it came to be time to select my confirmation name, I chose John.
Officially, my choice came from St. John Berchmans, the patron of altar servers. But in reality, I wanted to have a simple name, so I went with John. I had an apathetic faith, so it made sense that I should choose an apathetic name to go with an apathetic confirmation.
Perhaps something was preparing me for a different John, one who would not become a canonized saint for another 18 years. That John, Pope John XXIII, will be canonized next Sunday, along with Pope John Paul II.
About a year and a half ago, a conversion experience led me to return to a life of faith. I didn’t know which faith, yet, but I was looking. Somewhere along the way, I picked up at the library a simple biography of John XXIII written by Thomas Cahill. What I learned about Il Papa Buono opened my eyes to a side of the Catholic Church that I did not know existed.
I had heard of the man before. I even knew that he was around for World War II and helped some Jews escape the Holocaust. And in Catholic school, I had learned that there was a Vatican II, but all I took from it was that it was a sequel to Vatican I, or something.
What I did not know from a cloistered Catholic education, however, was the breadth of John XXIII’s gifts to the world. As the papal nuncio to Turkey, Monsignor Angelo Roncalli (the future pope) used his office to help an estimated 24,000 Jews escape Nazi-occupied Europe. Outside of Catholic sources, history does not give Pope John enough credit for his role in avoiding nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis. The message of his encyclical, Pacem in terris (“Peace on earth”), continues to resonate 50 years later, even if governments ignore it.
Then there was the Council. Though he did not live to see its conclusion, John XXIII infused the Second Vatican Council with a spirit that lingers in the souls of spiritual Catholics today. Though John XXIII had no second “official” miracle to prompt his canonization, as my pastor pointed out, the Council itself was a miracle.
After learning about Good Pope John, I started to realize that there was a lot more to the Catholic faith than abortion, ritual and the sex abuse scandal. He helped set me on the path that brought me to my spiritual home. And I’m proud to bear his name, even if I didn’t know it when I chose it.