Pope St. John XXIII was very down to earth, funny, and quick-witted. I know that being pope and possessing those qualities aren’t mutually exclusive, but I don’t think we typically expect a pope to be those things.
Here are some funny and feel-good quotes from Pope John XXIII:
“Men are like wine—some turn to vinegar, but the best improve with age.”
“See everything, overlook a great deal, correct a little.”
“Mankind is a great, an immense family . . . This is proved by what we feel in our hearts at Christmas!”
“Italians come to ruin most generally in three ways: women, gambling, and farming. My family chose the slowest one.”
And my personal favorite . . .
“You must know that it is by the state of the lavatory that a family is judged.”
(Also, considering I have four boys ten and under, this last quote really worries me.)
It makes me fall in love with the Catholic Faith all over again to know that a pope can be such a relatable person. It brings me joy and hope to think that maybe I can be a saint too.
But Pope St. John XXIII doesn’t just give me hope, he also gives me (and you!) one of the greatest and most practical tools to living out our faith in the history of the Church. Yet many people have never heard of it. It’s like his hidden treasure he left for the Church . . .
The Daily Decalogue of Pope John XXIII
Pope St. John XXIII had a list of reminders he would read every morning to help him live a great life. They were sort of personal rules he wanted to live by. If you want to read the whole decalogue in its uninterrupted glory, I suggest you check out my post, “Does God Want Us to be Happy?”
What I’m going to do is break down the daily decalogue point by point with some helpful tips and tools for living out each of the rules. Most of them don’t need much explanation, but the application can get tricky. And because there are ten of them, I’m going to break this down into two posts so it’s a bit easier to digest.
Let’s dive in.
Rule 1: Only for today, I will seek to live the livelong day positively without wishing to solve the problems of my life all at once.
I don’t really care to admit how often I expect my life to be problem-free, and if there are any problems, I try to bring them to a swift and absolute resolution.
And how often does that work out? Yeah, that’s right, never.
So, Pope John XXIII tells us to be positive (all the livelong day) and don’t expect your problems to be solved all at once.
But how do we do that?
Living it out:
1. Don’t complain about the weather. Ever. Get in this habit. Don’t wish it would change, whine about it, or join in when others complain about it.
2. Laugh in the morning. One of the best ways to live positively is to laugh. Read the comics, get a joke book, watch a funny morning show. I don’t care how you do it, but find a way to laugh every morning. Let that feeling help you stay positive throughout the day.
Rule 2: Only for today, I will take the greatest care of my appearance: I will dress modestly; I will not raise my voice; I will be courteous in my behavior; I will not criticize anyone; I will not claim to improve or to discipline anyone except myself.
Want to know how to be humble? This is it.
I like to think of this rule as the practical implications of the litany of humility. It’s easy to want to be humble, it’s hard to actually do it.
This rule is the way.
Living it out:
1. Find a reason to compliment at least one person every day. Complimenting others is usually a spontaneous act. Add some intentionality to it by being on the lookout and finding someone to praise.
2. Speak second. Try, in all your interactions, to listen first and speak second. Just for that day.
Rule 3: Only for today, I will be happy in the certainty that I was created to be happy, not only in the other world but also in this one.
See? Even the pope says you were created to be happy.
And not just in heaven, but here and now. And he doesn’t want you to worry about that. He wants you to feel the happiness that comes with feeling assured of that belief.
Living it out:
Write this on a piece of paper, put it next to your bed, and recite it first thing in the morning:
“I am a beloved son/daughter of God. He created me to be loved by him and to love him back. He made me to be happy in this life and in the next.”
Recite it three times. The repetition will help you really believe it.
Rule 4: Only for today, I will adapt to circumstances, without requiring all circumstances to be adapted to my own wishes.
I don’t know if you’ve found any of these rules difficult so far, but this one is the first gut punch for me.
I, like most men, am a fixer. And for some ridiculous reason I usually think there is a way for me to bend all reality to fit my own wishes, despite the circumstances, sometimes to the extent that I’ll try to be in two places at once.
So, it’s hard for me to adapt and not ask everything around me to adapt.
Living it out:
1. Say, “Right. OK. Good,” whenever a circumstance doesn’t meet your expectation. I know this sounds a little goofy, but those words will put you into a mode of docility and acceptance, and they imply you’ll change. Trust me, it works.
2. Don’t let your preferences become expectations. This one is a little more ethereal, but half the reason we have so much trouble with adapting to circumstances is that we’ve let the way we want something to be become how we expect it to be.
Rule 5: Only for today, I will devote ten minutes of my time to some good reading, remembering that just as food is necessary to the life of the body, so good reading is necessary to the life of the soul.
This one is pretty straightforward. Get a good book you enjoy reading and find ten minutes for yourself. I suggest ten minutes on your lunch hour, but whenever works.
Shameless self-promotion: if you’re looking for a good book, make sure you check out my book, The Fundamental Theory of Happiness.
Alright, those are the first five. Let’s not pretend they’re not gigantic, life-changing ideas. But if you read these five rules and make every effort to live them out every day, you won’t believe the monumental impact they’ll have on your life.
Make sure you also check out “The Hidden Treasure of Pope St. John XXIII, Part II“!
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Dominick Albano is a nationally sought-after speaker, having spoken at countless men’s conferences, parish missions, and other parish events. His podcast, The Best Catholic Podcast, features interviews with some of the spiritual greats of our time. He lives in Northern Kentucky with his wife and their four sons. Learn more about him and his ministry at dominickalbano.com.
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