Remembering Pope John Paul I: 26 August - 28 September 1978

Author: Francesco Taffarel

Remembering Pope John Paul I: 26 August - 28 September 1978

Francesco Taffarel

A short-lived Pope lauds 'Sunday' for Life

When Albino Luciani, later John Paul I, would enter his hometown Church of Canale d'Agordo, he usually thought: "This is where Mama (Bortola Tancon) would come to Mass every morning and this is the pew where she would kneel; here is where I made my First Communion that transformed me inside; here I was an altar server, and when I entered the church the organ would be playing so majestically that I felt I was making a princely entrance; here, I celebrated my First Mass after I was ordained both a priest and a Bishop".

After celebrations in the parish, Fr. Luciani reflected: "Churches are beautiful not only for their art, but also and above all when they are full of people who love God and follow him".

But when summer came, on seeing the trail of cars on their way to the coast, he would say to himself: "These people must be helped to live the Lord's Day".

A Sunday mini-course

Fr. Luciani often shared these thoughts with the people he met. He believed that for some, Sunday meant attending Mass and paying dues to God's treasury. This would make God a tax collector and the Mass a boring obligation where passive listening excludes active participation.

For others, Sunday seemed to be lived "as an aside", where a sort of "religious bath" is taken: one is enough for the rest of the week.

For still others, regular attendance at Sunday Mass was seen as a "yardstick" for judging people's piety: "Going to Mass makes me a Christian". Christ, however, warned that it is not the one who cries out "Lord, Lord", but the one who does the will of God that is justified.

Fr. Luciani believed that, yes, attending Mass is a start, an indication; but God alone knows our hearts and our personal relationship with the Creator.

Sunday is the Lord's Day. The Lord is Jesus who has saved us, making a new covenant with the Eucharist as its seal; suffering, dying and rising exactly in the days when Israel celebrated the Passover.

For this reason it is said that Jesus is our Pasch, that the Paschal Mysteries are our salvation, with the Eucharist as its centre, the sacrifice of the new covenant mysteriously renewed and entrusted to the hands of the Church.

The Christian Passover is the memorial of a past event and is a participation in an actual mystery that is repeated daily. To live the Covenant and Easter more intensely, the Sunday of all Sundays is celebrated: Easter. Every Sunday, therefore, is a weekly Easter, and the yearly Easter is the Sunday of the entire year.

Sunday is the "day consecrated to God", dedicated to him in a special way, but in no way detached from the other days. Sunday must spiritually invigorate Christians, so as to be the day that gives meaning, flavour and fragrance to the other days.

Sunday, a day of rest, is not meant to be a "lazy" day, but should be a day to fill, not only with Holy Mass, but also with peaceful pastimes, joyful and pious reading, reflection, prayer and works of charity. It is a day of rest for the body, but also of the heart in God, with space given to true silence and not only the absence of noise.

Sunday is the "day of the Christian community". As Justin, a layman, wrote around 150 A.D.: "On the day of the sun, everyone in the city and country is called to gather together in the same place". Once gathered, the Christians were to think also of the other communities: at Corinth, for example, St. Paul asked offerings for the poor in far-away

Jerusalem (cf. I Cor 16:1). It is similar to what we do by having a collection for love of God to benefit the "poor of the third world".

Sunday in the family

Bishop Luciani, with the heart of a Pastor, would ask: "How can we now apply this 'mini-theology' to the Sunday reality of today's family?". In other words: How can we immerse the modern-day family in that atmosphere of joy which is in tune with authentic paschal joy, thus providing it with nourishment?

It is not easy, he would say. We live in an age of consumerism. Sunday is now given-over to sporting events, long outings, gatherings and shows of every kind; God is given the leftover crumbs, if any are left. This "holy day" of rest is called the "weekend"; so often, however, people do not rest but instead add fatigue to what has already been accumulated throughout the week. And so the fretful people who end up in traffic jams begin their Mondays more tired than they were on Saturday evening.

He also observed that the family has a "modern mentality", referring to that "model family" constantly placed before our eyes on billboards and in the media.

Here, children grow up healthy, fit and intelligent, raised on "just that brand" of processed baby food, cheese snacks and biscuits; a young woman can soon find the "perfect" husband by using a certain kind of soap with a delicate French perfume and just the right kind of toothpaste that makes her "teeth glisten" so that young men gather around her and older ones "turn their heads" as she passes; students, even if they don't study, would automatically have a career because they wear an expensive brand of clothes; the love between a couple remains strong because they drink such and such a liqueur which "sets the mood" and use top-of the-line bed linen recommended by yet another company.

And so, all of these flattering advertisements aim at the wallet. People actually believe them, forgetting the necessity of work, sacrifice and the painful realities that are laid bare before our eyes the second we enter a hospital, a prison or the slums.

Archbishop Luciani was convinced that in the family, an atmosphere of Christian festivity does not "just happen"; it cannot be an "island", parentheses preceded and followed by weeks of agnostic, worldly living; nor is it possible that faces, sulky and downcast all week long, are suddenly brightened by the shining ray of Sunday.

Cardinal Luciani believed that the head of the family should plan a schedule with his wife and older children and that Sunday was a day for the father to devote to his family. He believed a father abdicates his duty if he does not take advantage of Sunday to stay with his family, that he is an egoist if he is concerned only for "his" card game, "his" sporting event without thinking how his wife and children will be entertained, if he considers the tavern, the bar, the sports field as "calm" after the "storm" of the family. The contrary is true: the calm is the family.

When making a plan, the external aspect of a feast day should also be kept in mind, that it should be different from the other days. Here is an ideal way: Saturday evening is taken up by cleaning the apartment, choosing outfits for the next day and polishing many pairs of shoes. Everything needed for the Sunday meal is bought ahead of time and a cake is set aside for the occasion. After dinner the table is laid with the best tablecloth; already, this is a foretaste of Sunday. even me older children feel an air of freedom: "Tomorrow there is no school, Dad doesn't go to work; there is no one to 'breathe down our necks', as is the case throughout the week. Tomorrow, we belong completely to ourselves, as do our neighbours and friends. On Sunday we all will breathe the Sunday air, good as the 'Good Bread' we eat".

Another goal: to help Mom, who is usually the one who does most for the family. She was called the "Queen of the home" in the olden days; but on the contrary, she is the one who serves the family. At least on Sunday, she should be given a break from household chores. The children or husband can take her place in some things: "On Sunday, Mom, we can wash the dishes". "Sunday evening Mom doesn't have to cook; following the afternoon outing or visit to the grandparents and the aunts and uncles, we'll have a cold dinner and something already prepared". And after dinner and a bit of television, the Christian family should pray together. St. Therese of Lisieux wrote that on Sunday evenings after playing chess and singing, "we all went upstairs to say our night prayers together... [I had only to look at Papa] to see how the saints pray".

A well-lived Sunday

Cardinal Luciani wondered whether he could propose a well-lived Sunday, and came up with the following suggestion:

It must be as undivided as possible. Ordinarily, it is good that the entire family participate in the same Mass. St. Therese of the Child Jesus was so happy as a child to hold her father's hand and go to Holy Mass with him and her sisters. Because she was little, she did not understand the homilies well, and instead looked more often at her father than at the priest. Her father's face said much to her.

The Pope said of Mass: "Oh, Holy Mass! The Book and the Chalice!". The "Book" was the readings and the homily; for small children, though, their parents' faces and behaviour in church can be the Book or living Gospel.

He also said that whoever planned the Sunday lunch should remember to have a little something for everyone on the table and to encourage a general topic of conversation.

Holy Mass participation is also encouraged in one's own parish community.

Parents should also, with patience and understanding, take an interest in what their children talk about at table, however trivial it may seem: about sport, fashion, school. This means being involved in the conversation and making sure that all the children are listening and contributing to it. Putting them in front of the T.V. or sending them off to the movies is not wise or prudent.

At the same time, being overprotective is not the answer either. And if parents are always worried about their children, they do not have time for their own intellectual or spiritual growth. "Building community" outside the home is very popular today; but shouldn't the home have something "communitarian" about it?

Day of joy

A prevailing sign of Easter and of Sunday is joy. The Risen Christ gives us peace, telling us that death has been overcome and that he is the first to ascend into Heaven; there will be a long following after him, and this can give none other than joy to those who share in the same destiny.

"We are to live this day in joy", wrote a converted Egyptian Hebrew in the year 135 A.D. in the third century, the same idea appears in the Didache of The Apostles: "Be joyful or Sunday; those who are afflicted on Sunday commit sin". Tertullian also wrote: -On Sunday, there is to be no kneeling or lasting: this would be wrong". Why should we pray on our feet instead of on our knees? "As a sign of resurrection". St. Augustine explains. And St. Basil adds: "...also because Sunday is an image of the future that awaits us".

Before he was made Chancellor of the German Empire. Otto von Bismarck traveled to England for a holiday. On disembarking and heading down the road, he joyfully began to whistle. A man following behind him said: "Pray sir, do not whistle". "Why?", Bismarck asked. "Is it against the law?". "No", the man replied, "it is not illegal, but today is Sunday". Bismarck, in his own way, was deeply religious and he held that Sunday should be respected; however, not in that way to the point of disapproving of an innocent whistler who was hurting no one. Otto asked the man how to get to the railway station and he caught the first train to Scotland to escape from the net of an exaggerated puritanism. He wanted to live a Sunday that was Christianly and humanly joyful.

This is just a witty story, but it is useful. It advises us, as Pope Luciani would say, not to look at Sunday only from a moralistic or juridical point of view, to go to Mass and abstain from work and that is the end of it. Families could consider this as a weight and as something annoying like a tax to be paid into "God's treasury".

Therefore, Sunday is also an affirmation of a joyful future certainty. Indeed, the "short-lived" Sunday of today proclaims the "definitive" Sunday that rises above and beyond time and history, when the world will have finished living the present "week". St. Therese of the Child Jesus had this sense of "the Lord's Day"; she who, as a child, enjoyed Sunday immensely and would have wished that it never came to an end. Unfortunately, though, it did end: "This joyous day, passing all too quickly, had its tinge of melancholy.... I longed for the everlasting repose of Heaven, that never-ending Sunday of the Fatherland".

It then becomes obvious that creativity is needed to make Sunday interesting and to involve each and every family member. A willing and flexible spirit is also required.

One day hard at work in his study, Charles Darwin received "a messenger": one of his children. "Daddy, we have decided to pay you four shillings each time that you come to play with us and tell us one of your nice stories". Darwin was good in this way and, although deeply immersed in his studies and scientific research, he often put aside what he was doing to spend quality time with his children.

But much better still are those Catholic parents who, after having spoken with their children, make the time to read a good book or a serious magazine or newspaper or to attend courses of Catholic culture. Today, faith is conserved if it is defended: and considering the huge amount of propaganda currently in circulation against the Church, nothing is defended if we are not continually instructed and updated.

The same is asked of various Christian associations and groups. "Yes, involve your older children who feel drawn to participate in and to do acts of charity and works with their peers: but also allow them time with their family because it is important for them to spend Sunday with their parents and their brothers and sisters".

The family should also opt for something of the sort if they wish to live a Christian Sunday. Pope John Paul I said "the family", but was speaking in particular of the married couple; if they wish to give of themselves to their children, entrusted to them by God in the fullness of Christ's Paschal joy. they must live together moments of "family prayer" (21 September 1978).

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
27 September 2006, page 9

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