There were just a few statements of his that I found puzzling. And these were precisely the ones that won over hearts and minds more than any others, because they seemed consistent with people's instinctive aspirations.
There was, for example, his judgment of reproof on the "prophets of doom."
The expression became, and remained, extremely popular, and naturally so: the people do not like party poopers; they prefer those who promise good times over those who advance fears and reservations. And I, too, admired the courage and drive, during the last years of his life, of this "young" successor of Peter.
But I recall that a sense of perplexity seized me almost immediately. In the history of Revelation, the true prophets were the ones who usually announced chastisements and calamities, as in Isaiah (chapter 24), Jeremiah (chapter 4), and Ezekiel (chapters 4-11).
Jesus himself, in chapter 24 of the Gospel of Matthew, would have to be counted among the "prophets of doom": his proclamation of future triumphs and impending joys do not usually relate to existence here on earth, but rather to "eternal life" and the "
The statement from John XXIII is explained by his state of mind at the time, but it should not be made absolute. On the contrary, it would be well to listen also to those who have some reason to alert their brothers, preparing them for possible trials, and those who believe it
is opportune to issue calls for prudence and vigilance.
"We must look more at what unites us than at what divides." This statement, too - which today is often repeated and greatly appreciated, almost as the golden rule of "dialogue" - comes to us from the era of John XXIII, and communicates to us its atmosphere. This is a practical principle of evident good sense, which should be kept in mind in situations of simple coexistence and for decisions on minor everyday matters.
But it becomes absurd and disastrous in its consequences if it is applied in the great issues of life, and especially in religious matters.
It is fitting, for example, that this aphorism should be used to preserve cordial relations in a shared dwelling, or rapid efficiency in a government office. But woe to us if we let this inspire us in our evangelical testimony before the world, in our ecumenical efforts, in discussions with non-believers. In virtue of this principle, Christ could become the first and most illustrious victim of dialogue with the non-Christian religions. The Lord Jesus said of himself, in one of his remarks that we are inclined to censure: "I have come to bring division" (Luke ).
In the questions that count, the rule can be none other than this: we must look above all at what is decisive, essential, true, whether it divides us or not.
"Distinction must be made between error and the person in error." This is another maxim that belongs to the moral legacy of John XXIII, and this, too, influenced Catholicism after him.
This principle is absolutely correct, and it draws its power from the Gospel message itself: error can only be deprecated, hated, combated by the disciples of him who is the Truth; while the errant person - in his inalienable humanity - is always a living image, however rudimentary, of the incarnate Son of God; and thus he must be respected, loved, and assisted as much as possible. But reflecting on this statement, I cannot forget that the historical wisdom of the Church has never reduced the condemnation of error to a pure and ineffectual abstraction.
The Christian people must be put on guard and defended against those who actually sow error, without ceasing to seek out his true well-being, and without judging anyone's subjective responsibility, which is known to God alone.
Jesus gave precise instructions to the heads of the Church in this regard: he who causes scandal through his behavior and doctrine, and will not be persuaded by personal admonition or the more solemn rebuke of the Church, "let him be to you as a pagan and a publican (cf. Matthew ); thus foreseeing and prescribing the penalty of excommunication.