Thanks to Lori Pieper and her dedication to Papa Luciani, I ran across a quote from Pope John Paul I. He was writing to the people of the diocese of Vittoria Veneto where he was bishop in 1966. He had returned from the diocesan missions in Africa, and had this to say:
“The history of the Catholic missions is by now a long road: at the beginning of that road is the Father of Mercy, who holds out his arms to all his children. All those who encounter the missionaries encounter the Father. And they also encounter the Son, the first missionary, who, obeying the Father, comes to the earth, becomes flesh in human nature, is one of us, in solidarity with our misery (except for sin) and ends up dying for us in order to then return to heaven, carrying on his shoulders the human race he has won back.
“Out of the same mold are the missionaries, who repeat, in some way, his journey. They too leave their fathers and families and depart to go among a foreign people. They too strip themselves of the refined culture they have acquired in their homelands; and of their native customs and habitat, of a hundred little comforts, in order to be in solidarity. With who? With a people who are on one hand naked and poor, and of the other rich in possibilities, which the missionaries intend to respect, value and elevate.”
I find this so in line with what I have been meditating on quite a bit in the past year: how so much of our spirituality is Trinitarian in nature. Our vocations call us into the life of the Trinity and we draw others into that same divine life of love.
I don’t know for sure, but I suspect Papa Luciani’s personal spirituality was truly contemplative in the sense that in his contact with humanity, he was taken into an experience of God’s very life and love. His description of Jesus as being the first missionary is an illustration of his contemplative nature. To see the relationship of Father and Son working in unison in the experiences and lives of missionaries, and the implication of the presence of the Holy Spirit in his final comment on the richness of possibility with the poor which is elevated and respected, gives us a glimpse into the heart of Luciani’s integration of prayer and work in his life.
Perhaps that is why he smiled so much!