Father Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli (now Pope St. John XXIII) was called to military service in 1915.
On May 23, 1915, he wrote, “Tomorrow I leave to take up my military service in the Medical Corps. Where will they send me? To the front perhaps? Shall I ever return to Bergamo, or has the Lord decreed that my last hour shall be on the battlefield? I know nothing; all I want is the will of God in all things and at all times, and to work for his glory in total self-sacrifice.
“In this way, and in this way only, can I be true to my vocation and show in my actions my real love for my country and the souls of my fellows. My spirit is willing and cheerful. Lord Jesus, keep me always so; Mary, my kind Mother, help me ‘that in all things Christ may be glorified.'”
Father Roncalli served in the hospitals of Bergamo. He was discharged from military service on Dec. 10, 1918.
From 1918 to 1920, Father Roncalli was the spiritual director of the seminary at Bergamo. In November 1918 he founded the Students’ Hostel.
During a retreat in 1919 he wrote, “To succeed in my apostolate I will recognize no other school than that of the divine Heart of Jesus: ‘Learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly of heart.’ Experience also has confirmed the supreme wisdom of this method, which brings real success.”
“I shall love my young students as a mother her sons, but always in the Lord and with the intention of bringing them up as worthy sons of the Church and, if I can, as future generous apostles of truth and goodness; and at the same time I shall be cherishing in them the best hopes of our families and of our country.”
On Jan. 18, 1921, Father Roncalli began to work at Propaganda Fide (the Propagation of the Faith) in Rome.
Three years later he wrote, “Today, 18 January, the Feast of St. Peter’s Chair, it is three years since I began, under obedience, my work as President for Italy of the Propagation of the Faith in the World. You have always been with me, O Lord Jesus, and good and merciful: ‘Thy decrees are very sure.’
“To my sorrow, I left behind in Bergamo what I loved so much: the seminary, where the bishop had appointed my most unworthy self spiritual director, and the students’ hostel, the darling of my heart. I have thrown myself, heart and soul, into my new work.
“Here I must and will stay, without a thought, a glance, or a desire for anything else, especially as the Lord gives me indescribable happiness here.”
Here is the daily routine of Father Roncalli: “I fix the following rules as fundamental for the reorganization of my life: rising at 6 o’clock and saying my prayers in my room; from 7 to 8, work at my desk. From 8 to 9:30, Holy Mass and prayers (meditation, etc.).
“Less time to be spent after dinner and after supper in chatter. A short walk every day, and this to include a visit to the Blessed Sacrament. To bed at 11, never later.”
Father Roncalli’s writing reminds me of the words of Blessed John Henry Newman.
“If you ask me what you are to do in order to be perfect, I say, first, do not lie in bed beyond the time of rising; give your first thoughts to God; make a good visit to the Blessed Sacrament; say the Angelus devoutly; eat and drink to God’s glory; say the rosary well; be recollected; keep out bad thoughts; make your evening meditation well; examine yourself daily; go to bed in good time; and you are already perfect.”