Thursday, January 25, 2007

Caritas Lex Suprema

Today's the feast of the Conversion of St Paul. Greetings on it as I await my own.

Sure, this is one of the most ancient and solemn observances of the calendar. But in a strange coincidence, it's also the day that three of contemporary Catholicism's more joyous red-letter events took place. Indeed, we could say this is the day the modern church was born.

That milestone came on this day in 1959 when, in a snap announcement to the cardinals after the customary Mass at St Paul's Outside the Walls, the newly-elected John XXIII revealed three initiatives: a synod of the diocese of Rome, a revision of the Code of Canon Law and, most seismically of all, the 21st ecumenical council of the Christian era.

John didn't inform his red-hats until after the news had been leaked to, and reported by, the media.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

His secretary, the still-living Archbishop Loris Capovilla, once recalled the day:
[T]he Pope rose at dawn starting his morning prayers with the Angelus said above the solemn embrace of Bernini's colonnade. He celebrated Mass in his private chapel and assisted at mine. He remained kneeling longer than usual. He paused at his desk for a quick glance at the newspapers and at some of the Secretariat of State's files. His question echoed in the air: "How can the Christian message be portrayed in its entirety to the people of our time? Modern man is not insensitive to the word of Christ, he is not averse to seizing the anchor of salvation that is offered to him".
The Council having come and gone, it took 24 years for the "Good Pope"'s other major project to reach completion. The revised Code of Canon Law was promulgated on this day in 1983 with the Apostolic Constitution Sacrae Disciplinae Leges of Pope John Paul II (shown above at its signing, a familiar figure over his shoulder).

In my thrice-great uncle's defense, it took Pietro Gasparri but 13 years to compile the first Code. All by his lonesome.

And, of course, it's been exactly a year since, marking the end of a labyrinthine path of scuttled drafts, translation battles, and a writing process spanning two pontificates, Benedict XVI unleashed his first encyclical into the world, carrying but one simple message: Deus Caritas Est -- "God Is Love."

It's been said that the seemingly easiest things are, in reality, the most difficult to do. And as one of the prophets of our time put it, probably without thinking of this day and its tie-ins:
"Peter said to Paul, you know all those words we wrote/
Are just the rules of the game and the rules are the first to go."
Especially in the latter case, these "rules" -- and the spirit behind 'em -- are too wise and valuable to let go as our road to conversion continues on.