If I am asked who my favorite Pope is, from the 1960s to the present, my answer is a toss-up between John XXIII and the current Pope Francis. Today is the feast day of the former.
By convening the Second Vatican Council, he opened the Church to the world. But on this memorial of this modern-day saint, I like to highlight not this unprecedented achievement but his self-effacing sense of humor. Examples of such are here given.
A journalist asked him, “Your Holiness, how many people work in the Vatican?” After a short pause, the Pope answered, “About half of them.”
Another inquired about the long siestas in Rome, “Your Holiness, we understand that the Vatican is closed in the afternoon, and people don’t work then.” The Pope quipped, “No. The offices are closed in the afternoon. People don’t work in the morning.”
Walking on the streets of Rome, he overheard a woman commenting, “He is fat!” The Pope turned around and answered, “Madam, the papal conclave is not exactly a beauty pageant.”
While not yet a Pope, he attended a dinner party. Seated across him was a woman whose dress exposed a great part of her cleavage. Someone whispered to him, “Are you not embarrassed that everyone is looking at the woman?” The archbishop calmly answered, “No. They are looking at me to see if I am looking at the woman.”
He once visited a hospital in Rome called the Holy Spirit Hospital. A nun came to meet him at the lobby and introduced herself, “I am the Mother Superior of the Holy Spirit.” The Pope replied, “Good for you. I am simply the Vicar of Christ.”
He once was presented with a draft document with a long list of condemnations against some theologians or theological propositions. Instead of discussing the draft with the authors, John XXIII took a ruler, measured the paper, and said, “Look, there are 30 centimeters of condemnations here.”
The lesson we can learn from Saint John XXIII: Saints know how to laugh, oftentimes at themselves. In contrast, people with bloated egos take themselves too seriously.
Fr. Ramon D. Echica is the Dean of Studies of the San Carlos Major Seminary. He obtained his doctorate in Sacred Theology from the Catholic University of Leuven (Katholieke Universiteit Leuven) in 1998.