Pope St. John XXIII, often called “the good pope,” reigned from 1958 to 1963. He called and opened the Second Vatican Council, having found he had cancer just three weeks before it began. He died about eight months later, after the first session ended. Ordained in 1904, he first served as his bishop’s secretary, a writer, and seminary teacher. When Italy entered World War I, he became a military chaplain. After the war, he started his long service to the Holy See, which included representing the papacy in Bulgaria, Turkey and Greece, and then France. In 1953, he became cardinal and patriarch of Venice.
Seventy-seven when he was elected, he was expected to be merely a transitional pope. He wasn’t. Besides calling the Council, he issued two major encyclicals on Catholic social teaching, Mater et magistra and Pacem in terris. He worked for reconciliation with the Orthodox and with the Jews, and tried to reduce tensions with the Soviet Union. He was canonized with Pope St. John Paul II on 27 April 2014.
For the story of John’s death, go here.
I find myself on the threshold of eternity. My Jesus, chief Shepherd and Bishop of our souls, the mystery of my life and death is in your hands, close to your heart. On the one hand I tremble at the approach of my last hour; on the other hand I trust in you and only look forward day by day. . . . Sometimes the thought of the short time that remains to me would stem my zeal. But with the Lord’s help I will not give in. I neither fear to die nor refuse to live.
— Il Giornale dell’Anima, 1953
At the point of presenting myself before the Lord, One and Three, who created me, redeemed me, chose me to be his priest and bishop, and filled me with endless grace, I entrust my poor soul to his mercy. I humbly ask his pardon of my sins and deficiencies. I offer him what little good, even if paltry and imperfect, I was able to do with his help, for his glory, in the service of holy Church, and for the edification of my brothers and sisters. And finally I implore him to welcome me, like a good and generous father, among his saints in eternal bliss.
— Part of his spiritual testament when he was patriarch of Venice, dated 29 June 1954
“Give me more light as evening falls.” O Lord, we are now in the evening of our life. I am in my seventy-sixth year. Life is a great gift from our heavenly Father. Three-quarters of my contemporaries have passed over to the far shore. So I too must always be ready for the great moment. The thought of death does not alarm me. Old age, likewise a great gift of the Lord’s, must be for me a source of tranquil inner joy, and a reason for trusting day by day in the Lord himself, to whom I am now turned as a child turns to his father’s open arms.
— A prayer he wrote as Patriarch of Venice, June 1957, from Journal of a Soul
I must always be familiar with the thought of death, which serves both to give eloquence and joy to life.
— Il Giornale dell’Anima, 1942
Death is the future for everyone. It is the Last Post of this life and the Reveille of the next. Death is the end of our present life, it is the parting from loved ones; it is the setting out into the unknown. We overcome death by accepting it as the will of a loving God, by finding Him in it. Death, like birth, is only a transformation, another birth. When we die we shall change our state, that is all. And with faith in God, it is as easy and natural as going to sleep here and waking up there.
— Journal of a Soul