May 5, 2011
On April 8, 2005, the millions of people who attended the funeral of Pope John Paul II cried out “
Santo Subito.” Six years later on May 1, 2011, the Pope who canonized more saints than any other Pope in modern history, was officially listed in their ranks as Blessed by Pope Benedict XVI. In the eternal city, six years is
When Pope John Paul II was laid to rest, millions attended his funeral along with the single largest gathering of heads of state in history. When he was raised to the honor of Blessed, more than 1.5 million crowded St. Peter’s Square and the streets leading to it. This Pope who had the second-longest documented pontificate, who visited 129 countries and personally led 19 World Youth Days, has not only received a place in heaven, but has also won a place in the hearts of millions and millions of people, both Catholics and non-Catholics alike.
How significant was the day chosen for his beatification, Divine Mercy Sunday! On this same Sunday in 2000, John Paul himself not only celebrated the canonization of St. Faustina, but he also declared this day should henceforth be known as “Divine Mercy Sunday.” Two years later on this same Sunday, the Pope entrusted the whole world to Divine Mercy when he consecrated the International Shrine of Divine Mercy near Krakow. In his teaching and personal life, John Paul II strove to live and teach the message of Divine Mercy.
We were saddened in 2005 when God called John Paul II home to himself. But we did not fail to notice that He took our beloved Pope into the fullness of Divine Mercy just as the Church was beginning to celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday around the world. Now just six short years later, our eyes, once filled with tears at his death as Pope on earth, are filled with joy at his beatification as a Blessed in heaven.
The gospel for Divine Mercy Sunday (Jn 20:19-31) unlocks for us the secret of sanctity in John Paul’s life. To disciples locked in fear behind closed doors, the Risen Lord appears. He does not give up on them. In his mercy, he comes to them and strengthens them for their mission. He sees beyond their weakness and failure. He breathes on them the Holy Spirit and they are changed. No longer faltering, but faithful. No longer fearful disciples, but courageous apostles. No longer hidden, but out before the world as his witnesses.
John Paul was a faithful disciple and fearless apostle because, from his earliest years, the Lord breathed on him the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of wisdom and courage. The young man who joined the Rhapsodic Theatre when it was forbidden to do so, was the same young man who became a seminarian when it was a crime punishable by death and a priest just as the Soviet dictatorship began in Poland. Filled with the Holy Spirit, he lived a life of courage that carried over into his whole life as priest, bishop and pope. His courage was contagious.
In 1979, he made a pilgrimage to Poland that sparked a reaction culminating in the downfall of Soviet rule ten years later. Millions heard him speak and discovered that they were not alone in their struggle for freedom and dignity. His courage gave them hope. It inspired them to be courageous enough to go forward with the Solidarity Movement, a movement whose effect for good spilled over the borders of Poland into other countries of the Eastern Bloc.
John Paul’s courage to stand for the dignity of the human person went far beyond national borders. He spoke strongly and consistently for the rights of the unborn, the worker, the sick, the terminally ill and the oppressed. His words spoke to the young and the old alike. The shouts of critics and cynics could not deter him. The bullet of the expert Turkish gunman Mehmet Ali Ağca could not silence him. Close to Mary, he remained close to her Son from whom he drew his strength. How fitting that he was beatified on the first day of May, the month dedicated to Mary!
We need the example and the prayers of Blessed John Paul II. Communism has collapsed in Poland, but secularism and materialism have become worse threats to the Christian message in so many countries. Today, it is easier to be quiet, to stay behind locked doors, in our homes, in our schools and universities, in our places of work and entertainment and in our political discourse and decisions. What a needed gift of Divine Mercy is our new Blessed! In health and in sickness, in life and in death, on earth and from his place in heaven, he tells us “Be not afraid.”
Be not afraid to give witness to the truths and values which we receive from the Church.
Be not afraid to stand up for our Catholic faith in private and in public. For in so doing, like Pope John Paul II, we will open the world to the fount of Divine Mercy poured out on us and the entire world by Christ the Risen Lord.