Journal of a Soul
The Autobiography of Pope John XXIII
Image/Doubleday, $14.95, 453 pp.
Pope John XXIII is both an icon and a Rorschach test. For virtually all who remember him, he is revered as a good and holy man who was as warm as Pius XII was aloof, a man who visited the Roman prisons, received the archbishop of Canterbury, and welcomed Jewish visitors to the Vatican with the greeting, "I am your brother." For many, he remains the embodiment of all that is good in Catholicism, a reminder of that "one, brief, shining moment" when undreamed-of renewal was possible and a "new Pentecost" seemed on the horizon.
But for those under forty-five, John is at best a faint memory obscured by the conflicted Paul VI and overwhelmed by the titanic John Paul II. I was born seven years after John’s death and turned eight in the "year of three popes," just a few months shy of my First Communion. I have no firsthand recollection of John or Vatican II. My Catholic existence has been formed in large part by John Paul II-I remember Yankee Stadium in 1979, not Saint Peter’s in 1962. Who John was and what the big deal about him is remain questions for many Catholics my age.
So the reissue of Pope John’s spiritual diary, Journal of a Soul, comes at an opportune time. His beatification is scheduled for later this Jubilee year, John Paul II is in the twilight of his pontificate, and the inevitable reflection and politicking about what qualities the next pope should possess are widespread. More pointedly, after...