Saint Pope Paul VI’s first feast day is May 29 — celebrate and reflect

Pope Paul VI was certainly not the most popular pope of the 20th century. The two events that marked his pontificate were not short of controversy, debate and rejection: the Second Vatican Council and the publication of Humane Vitae.

And yet, 40 years after his death, priests and faithful will be able to celebrate his memorial for the first time on Wednesday, May 29 — an occasion to reflect on his life and greatest teachings. Although the proper liturgical texts have not been officially translated from the Latin, priests will be able to choose from the “Common of Pastors: For a Pope.”

“Among [the popes], Paul VI shines out as one who united in himself the pure faith of Saint Peter and the missionary zeal of Saint Paul,” Cardinal Robert Sarah, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, wrote in a decree published Jan. 25, 2019.

The future pope, Giovanni Battista Montini was born to a Catholic family Sept. 26, 1897, in Concesio, Italy. He was ordained to the priesthood on May 29, 1920. Pope Francis chose to insert the celebration of Saint Paul VI into the Roman Calendar based on this day.

After his ordination, he worked as a member of the Vatican Secretariat of State under popes Pius XI and Pius XII, and also as a chaplain for Catholic university students.

Cardinal Sarah also asserted that, as the Substitute Secretariat of State, “he worked during the Second World War to find shelter for persecuted Jews and refugees.”

Father Montini was named Archbishop of Milan in 1954 and cardinal in 1958 by Pope John XXIII. He helped the current pope in the preparation of the Second Vatican Council, which he chose to continue after he was elected to the See of Peter in June 1963.

The publication of his last encyclica, Humanae Vitae, in 1968, in which he affirmed Catholic teaching on marriage, sexuality and contraception, was received by some as prophetical and by others as unrealistic and inhumane.

The Archbishop of Denver Samuel J. Aquila published a pastoral letter titled The Splendor of Love in February 2018 in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Humanae Vitae, in which he affirmed “the great beauty of the Church’s consistent teaching through the centuries on married love, a love that is so desperately needed today.”

In his letter, the archbishop highlighted the positive and negative developments in the understanding of human sexuality and marriage in the last 50 years; and through Scripture, John Paul II’s Theology of the Body and pastoral experience, presented an argument for the truth and beauty that Humanae Vitae offers in marriage and family life.

“[Pope Paul VI] defended the integrity of married love and warned us against the danger of reducing sexuality to a source of pleasure alone,” Archbishop Aquila wrote. “[He] teaches us the truth about married love, listing its four essential qualities: It needs to be fully human, total, faithful, and fruitful.”

He also called all priests and faithful to “share the liberating truth of God’s plan for sexuality… The world and its families need this witness to find lasting happiness.”

“He wished nothing other than the Church would have a greater knowledge of herself in order to be ever more effective in proclaiming the Gospel,” Cardinal Sarah said.

COMING UP: From the wilderness to the Promised Land: Learn your faith in the SJV Lay Division

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One of the famous episodes in the Old Testament is the wandering of Israel in the wilderness. The descendants of Abraham, whom God promised land to come to his descendants, wander for 40 years before they enter that land. A time of great miracles, to be certain – the manna in the wilderness, the rock that gushed forth water. But also a time of hardship and death – many battles that were lost, plagues that come up on the people. All of which is why the wilderness is associated with a time of great testing in the Scriptures.

We may seem like we are in our own wilderness today, aimlessly wandering without a sense of where life is going. Know that we, too, at the Lay Division of the Seminary, particularly our Biblical and Catechetical School instructors, intimately felt this great testing this past academic year. For the first time ever, we had classes online, by sheer force of circumstance in a world of coronavirus restrictions. In many ways, we felt our own desert wondering – unable to see students in person, unable to have normal interactions with students, lecturing to a little dot on a computer screen, seeing black screens with everybody muted, with no idea if students were smiling, laughing, crying, sleeping, or whatever else may be! This was, in many respects, wandering in the wilderness institutionally. Thankfully, the one thing that we can say for certain is that all of our lives fall under God’s infinitely wise, lovingly providential hand. It’s not merely cliché to say that God will bring good out of evil, but a true statement. And so we trust. God knows, and God takes care of all those who are faithful. And God works all things for good for those who trust in Him.

This upcoming academic year will be the start of a slow reintegration of our classes into parishes. However, we will still keep an online presence, with half of our classes returning to in-person locations throughout the Archdiocese of Denver and half remaining online. Certainly one of the positives about teaching classes online, and perhaps the good that God will bring for us institutionally out of our wilderness of this past year, is that it allows for expansion to reach potential students who otherwise aren’t capable of attending our in-person classes. Given that, taking a class with us will never be easier! It doesn’t matter what part of Colorado you live in — you can take a class online with us!

If you’ve never heard of who we are, then let me briefly introduce our institution: we are the Lay Division at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary for the Archdiocese of Denver. This makes our seminary unique: not just the formation of future clerics, but also a division dedicated to the formation of the laity. Our mission is to put people in contact and communion with Jesus, who alone leads us to the heart of the Father in the Spirit. We do this through various offerings which study God’s call to each and every person to have a personal relationship with him in the Church that he established with the Precious Blood of Jesus. Our two flagship programs are the Denver Catholic Biblical School, a four year study of the Sacred Scriptures, and the Denver Catholic Catechetical School, a two year study of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. We also offer various other programs of study – year long “Enrichment Courses” in different topics of the faith, short courses throughout the year, lecture series throughout the liturgical seasons, and day-long workshops. Wherever you’re at in your faith, we have something for everybody!

Classes for this upcoming year begin on Monday, Sept. 13. Visit sjvlaydivision.org to see all of the options for classes, locations/online times, information sessions, and to register. Make the choice to study with us to learn your faith and come to know and love Jesus Christ!