Thursday, March 20, 2014

Good Pope, Bad Pope by Mike Aquilina

Good Pope, Bad Pope: Their Lives, Our LessonsGood Pope, Bad Pope: Their Lives, Our Lessons by Mike Aquilina

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Of course, we all know about Pope Francis.

Even when he became a bishop and then a cardinal, he was in the habit of walking rather than riding, fasting, staying up all night to pray, and in general acting more like a humble servant than like a prince. But now that he was a pope, he was surrounded by imperial pomp. Would it change him?

The people knew right away that this pope was different. He gave his gifts to the poor.

The change of tone did not stop there. He lived in the magnificent palaces built by his predecessors, but he lived like a man who had taken a vow of poverty. He would visit the bedsides of the sick, minister to lepers, and wash the feet of the poor.
Except this isn't about Pope Francis.

It is about Michele Ghisleri, elected pope in 1566, who became Pope Pius V. (I changed just a bit of the wording to avoid mentioning Pius's name, or the Borgias and Medicis ...) When I read this, though, it was obvious that our good Pope Francis was not unique and would have been easily recognizable to Catholics in 1566. That's just one of the interesting things I found out when reading Good Pope, Bad Pope.

I was intrigued by the idea of reading about some bad popes (aside from the usual acknowledgement of their existence and then ... let's never speak of them again). As it turns out, this book was unexpectedly inspiring. The good popes, of course, one expects to be inspiring. However, by placing bad popes firmly in context of their time and without making apologies for their terrible moral qualities, Mike Aquilina shows that these men's shortcomings actually helped keep them from damaging the Church.

Pope Alexander VI, born Rodrigo Borgia, who was roundly hated by the people of Rome sowed the seeds of much needed reform with his appalling behavior. Pope Virgilius worked like a dog to become pope so he could lend support to his favorite heresy. But once he was installed he seemed to lose interest and actually became quite orthodox. I found this not only fascinating but inspiring as a record of the Holy Spirit's safeguarding of the Church under even the worst leaders.

This was a great, quick read and it fills in a gap in Catholic history that we would rather sweep under the rug. Highly recommended.

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