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Journal of a Soul

September 4, 2012 by  
Filed under Book Club, Vicki Burbach

Journal of a Soul: The Autobiography of Pope John XXIII

The following paragraphs are copied from the back of the book (Doubleday):

No other pope of this century has aroused so much interest and universal affection throughout the world as has Pope John XXIII. Journal of a Soul is an inspiring reading experience that records this pope’s thoughts and traces his spiritual development from adolescence to the seminary to a career as a priest, a European papal diplomat, Patriarch of Venice, and finally Pope John XXIII. This [book] includes several of his most moving prayers, sixty brief thoughts and aphorisms, his “Rules for the Ascetic Life,” many of his letters, even his last will and testament. Christians everywhere will welcome…”one of the most original, interesting, and inspiring revelations of intimate personal experiences ever written,” which “ranks well with the classic spiritual autobiographies”.

Journal of a Soul, the first ever such work from a Roman pontiff, opens new windows into the soul of the man himself.

Below is sneak peak from page 5 of Pope John XXIII’s autobiography.  It lists “Rules of life to be observed by young men who wish to make progress in the life of piety and study:”

Every Day

1. Devote at least a quarter of an hour to mental prayer as soon as you get out of bed in the morning.

2. Hear, or better, serve Holy Mass.

3. Devote a quarter of an hour to spiritual reading.

4. In the evening, before going to bed, make a general examination of conscience, followed by an act of contrition, and prepare the points for the next day’s meditation.

5. Before dinner or before supper, or at least before the general evening examination, make a particular examination concerning the best way to rid yourself of certain vices or failings and concerning the acquiring of certain virtues.

6. Be diligent in attending the meetings of the Sodality on feast days, in school and in study circles on week days, and always allow sufficient time for study when you are at home.  

7. Visit the Blessed Sacrament and some church or chapel where there is a special devotion to the Blessed Virgin, at least once a day.

8. Recite five Our Fathers and five Hail Marys in honor of the wounds of Our Lord Jesus Christ, between six and nine o’ clock in the evening, and make at least three acts of self-mortification in honor of the Virgin Mary. 

9. Recite the other vocal prayers and practice the other usual devotions to the Virgin Mary, to St. Joseph, to the patron saints and the Holy Souls.  These devotions must however meet with the approval of your own director, as must also the books for meditation and spiritual reading.

10. Read carefully and thoughtfully a whole chapter, or at least part of one, of the very devout Latin book of Thomas a’ Kempis. 

11. So as to be constant in your observation of these points, arrange the hours of your day, and set apart the special time for prayer, study and other devotions, for recreation and sleep, after consulting with your Spiritual Father.

12. Make a habit of frequently raising your mind to God, with brief but fervent invocations.

So with all these declarations, Blessed Pope John XXIII must have been near perfect, don’t you think? On the contrary, I think he would say that he was far from it. Rather, he would argue that he was flesh and blood just like the rest of us, with the same struggles and the same God to implore when he faltered. Another sneak peak, this time from page 58, offers a glimpse into his opinion of himself:

“Divine Providence wanted to show me that this was my duty, and so had me baptized under the name of Angelo. But what a disgrace for me, always to be called Angelo, with the obligation of behaving like an angel, when on the contrary I am no angel at all.”

Despite his humility (or rather because of it), Pope John XXIII was declared Blessed by Pope John Paul II on September 2, 2000. Perhaps by reading his journal we can obtain insight into how one holy soul put into to practice the instruction we’ve been given throughout our last two books.

I plan to spend about 12 weeks on this work. I will not be including the Introduction, Meditation, Biographical Note or Chronology in our timeline. Different versions of the book would not have the same information, so please feel free to read all introductory material on your own, and please share whatever is pertinent in your comments (On the other hand, I will be including the Appendixes – consider it a moderator’s prerogative:-)). Below is a copy of the schedule, beginning with Chapter I, 1995-1900. Perhaps you’ll be pleased to know that I didn’t lay out the schedule by page numbers, but by sections of the book – hopefully these sections will apply to all versions:

Week 1: 1895-Sept. 4, 1898

Week 2: Sept. 5, 1898 – Aug. 22, 1900

Week 3: Aug. 22, 1900 – Jan. 31, 1903

Week 4: Jan. 31, 1903 – End of 1903

Week 5: 1904 – End of 1914

Week 6: 1915 – End of 1934

Week 7: 1935 – End of 1944

Week 8: 1945 – End of 1958

Week 9: 1959 – End of Spiritual Testament to Roncalli Family

Week 10: Spiritual Testament – End of Devout Considerations

Week 11: Some Prayers – End of Appendix I

Week 12: Appendix 2 – End of Book

Happy Reading!

Read more: Previous Book Club Posts

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About Vicki Burbach

Vicki Burbach is a wife and homeschooling mother of six children ages four to sixteen years who relishes the calm inspiration of spiritual reading amidst the roller coaster of life. A passionate convert to the Faith, Vicki is an avid reader who started the book club so she could embark with like-minded bibliophiles on a spiritual journey through some of the greatest Catholic books ever written. She is author of the new book How to Read Your Way to Heaven - A Spiritual Reading Program for the Worst of Sinners, the Greatest of Saints, and Everyone in Between. You can also find her at

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  • Robert Kraus

    Look forward to reading this one, I’ll be devouring the introduction tonight before I begin the schedule, so I can get all the material in. 🙂

  • LizEst

    Hope the rest of his journal is as transparent and refreshing as he writes in the beginning. It is a joy to know he was just like the rest of us. I am anxious to learn how he overcomes his faults and becomes so saintly.

  • $1650412

    I think this first part takes place while he is about 14-17 years old. (I have a number of boys who have attended minor seminary at these same ages and this is a delightful insight into this particular spiritual development in the life of this Blessed.) Already, I love his simplicity and self-awareness, as well as his humanity and all his boyish-ness! He’s so real! The thing that I am really meditating on, though, as I read are his persistent struggles with the same besetting faults, but his perseverance in continuing to joyfully and hopefully redouble his efforts along the same challenging path of spiritual discipline- recollection, invocations and visits, and humility through personal reserve. Just the simple reflection on his own weaknesses is already teaching me so much about pursuing Jesus with fervor!

  • Mark B. A. Cappetta

    I am really looking forward to reading this autobiography of Blessed Pope John XXIII. I read this many decades ago, but not in the context of a book club. I am hopeful that with prayer and openness of mind, there will be a greater understanding of his inner self. I greatly admire His Holiness for his leadership of Holy Mother Church and the fruitage of Vatican Council II. May we all be blest through the study of this book. Jesu Mercy, Mary Pray!

  • DJ

    Can you tell me the title of the first book for the Book Club? I couldn’t find the original email nor on the web site. I didn’t have time to read it then but I’d really like to read it now. Sounds like a great book. Thanks

    • Approvd

    • LizEst

      The title of the first book for the Book Club was “The Spiritual Combat” by Fr. Dom Lorenzo Scupoli. I have the pdf. If you post your email address, I will send it to you.

    • Becky Ward

      Here ya go DJ.
      You can also select “Book Club” from the category list on the far right side of the page….might have to scroll a bit to get to it. And there is a search tool at the top-center of the page that can also be useful.

  • Had already started this book – delighted to see it listed for the book club!

  • Jackie

    I too am looking forward to reading this book. I was pleased to get the schedule today and will start this evening.

  • Sam Perez

    What an awesome start! Simplicity, humility on how we should live using the examples given to us in this refreshing autobiography of this great man of GOD.
    I am looking forward to all that I hope to learn from the examples of Blesssed Pope John XXIII.

  • On this one, Dan, I shall follow the excerpts of the Book, your Comments and learn from the Respondents’ Posts. I hope this way, I shall benefit from this Book in some small way.

  • Jennifer Burton Brannon

    Does Week 1 begin next week?

    • LizEst

      Jennifer – We are in Week 1 this week. So, this is the time we are reading the first assignment. Next week, Vicki, will be posting some reflections on the first assignment and asking for our comments regarding it.

      This is the link which announced the time frame (scroll down under the heading “Announcing Our Next Book: Journal of a Soul by Pope John XXIII”). You will find the information on just underneath that title (it’s slightly over a third of the way down the page):

  • Scott W Fischer

    Proverb 10:19 – When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but he who restrain his lips is prudent. I haven’t been able to finish the entire first section yet, but I find the future Pope’s struggle with controlling his lips to be particularly challenging. I’m encouraged that it’s a constant struggle for him, and hope that as we get deeper into his story, his own example will be able to inspire me to do better.

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