Reflections on “Rediscovering Paul VI” (William Doino Jr., First Things “On the Square”)

H/T William Doino Jr., First Things “On the Square” — Rediscovering Paul VI | First Things

I’ll be honest. I’m pretty sure I had no idea who Pope Paul VI was until I was in my mid-20s. I mean, I’d heard of some Catholic high schools named after him, but I went to public school so it was of no interest to me.

In my mid-20s, after years of identifying primarily as a Christian who faithfully worshipped in both Baptist and Catholic churches, I began to wonder about what I really believed. Being a “cafeteria Christian”–convinced of the Real Presence in the Eucharist and encountering Christ day-by-day in liturgical worship, yet also thinking that the only way to spread the faith was in evangelical congregations–no longer seemed to be a truly authentic identity. C.S. Lewis’ opening to Mere Christianity, which clarifies that a “mere” Christianity, “is more like a hall out of which doors open into several rooms…But it is in the rooms, not the hall, that there are fires and chairs and meals. The hall is a place to wait in, a place from which to try the various doors, not a place to live in,” rang true for me. After years of “bi-churching,” I was moved to find a room.

Lewis writes:

It is true that some people may find they have to wait in the hall for a considerable time, while others feel certain almost at once which door they must knock at. I do not know why there is this difference, but I am sure God keeps no one waiting unless He sees that it is good for him to wait. When you do get into the room you will find that the long wait has done some kind of good which you would not have had otherwise. But you must regard it as waiting, not as camping. You must keep on praying for light: and, of course, even in the hall, you must begin trying to obey the rules which are common to the whole house. And above all you must be asking which door is the true one; not which pleases you best by its paint and paneling.

After stepping into the “room” of Catholicism (to use Lewis’ language), I discovered Pope Paul VI’s Evangelii Nuntiandi. What a shock to someone who had grown up in a region of fading cultural Catholicism! Evangelization wasn’t just for the Baptist and nondenominational Christian congregations–but for Catholics too. What a relief for me to discover, as I explored this new “room” and prayed for the wisdom to know where to remain.

Though I’ve lived my life entirely during the pontificates of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, and known nothing but globe-trotting Roman Pontiffs, Doino points out the significant role the Venerable Paul VI had in preparing for this:

Consider the name he chose after being elected pope—“Paul.” “That was of great significance,” said Langlois, “because, like St. Paul, the new pope saw himself preaching the Gospel to the whole world.” Pope Paul did more travelling than any of his predecessors—visiting six continents—setting the stage for the international journeys of Blessed John Paul II, and Pope Benedict. Paul was determined to spread the Gospel to a global audience: the documents of his pontificate are suffused with evangelical fervor, and his words remain as inspiring as ever.

Today, especially in this Year of Faith and time of the New Evangelization, I am heartily thankful for my discovery (and continued re-discovery) of the Venerable Paul VI.


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