Archbishop Fulton Sheen pointed out that it seems that there is a crisis about every five hundred years in the history of Christendom. The first cycle of five hundred years was the fall of Rome, and God raised up Pope Gregory the Great to set about conversion of the barbarians and prepared the way for a Christian Europe.
At the end of the second cycle, around the year 1000, there was the Eastern schism and the decline of the holiness in the Church. Gregory VII reformed the Church and prepared the way for the great medieval civilization.
In the third cycle of the five hundred years, there was the Protestant revolt. Pope Pius V applied the reforms of the Council of Trent and established missionary activities throughout the world.
Before his death in 1979, Sheen wrote, “Now we are in the fourth cycle of five hundred years, with two world wars in twenty-one years, and the universal dread of nuclear incineration. This time God has given us John Paul II, who has drawn the attention of the world to himself as no human being has done in history.”
Vatican Council II
Before becoming Pope John Paul II, Karol Wojtyla attended the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) as a bishop. The Council was convoked by Pope John XXIII as a means to make the Church more effective in her ministry to the modern world.
Vatican II encouraged greater participation of the laity in the life of the Church and stirred the consciences of all Christians to work for unity and peace.
The Council also opened the Scriptures more fully for the faithful in the liturgy and brought the liturgies closer to the people.
John Paul II
Archbishop Fulton Sheen pointed out that false mysticism ends in politics. He wrote, “Our times have seen the rise of the Red mysticism of class and party in communism, the Black mysticism of the state under fascism, and the Brown mysticism of the race under Nazism. In other parts of the world, a false mystique uncoiled like a serpent suffocated freedom of speech and suppressed opposition and assassinated those who differed.”
Pope John Paul II was a true mystic who affirmed the dignity of the human person. He brought out clearly the message of the universal call to holiness. He proposed numerous saints and blessed as examples of authentic Christian living.
As a pastoral pope, John Paul II loved the people intensely and reached out to all people as their father and pastor.
Another saintly figure of the 20th century is Blessed Teresa of Calcutta. Like John Paul II, she was a mystic who affirmed the dignity of the human person. Desiring to satiate the thirst of Jesus Christ on the cross for love and for souls, Mother Teresa founded the Missionaries of Charity in 1950.
The constitution of the Missionaries of Charity states: “The spirit of our society is one of loving trust, total surrender and cheerfulness as lived by Jesus and His mother.”
Both John Paul II and Mother Teresa were intensely devoted to Jesus in the Holy Eucharist and the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Their words and examples help us to translate the teachings of Vatican II into actions, and equip the Church to face the great challenges of the 21st century.
These challenges include: the question of Islam, the new evangelization in formerly Christian regions, the continuing crisis of dissent with widespread ignorance of the Catholic teachings among the faithful, and the culture of death against the traditional values of family, marriage and life.
This article concludes the series of twenty-six articles on Church History. These articles can be viewed on my personal site: http://www.fatheranthonyho.com.