Mercy Transformed into Mission

Mary Magdalene Jesus cropped

On the Feast of Mary Magdalene – July 22

“Love the sinner, hate the sin.” The famous catchphrase first appeared in the letters of St. Augustine, when he wrote, “With love for humanity and hatred of sins.” It was later included in the autobiography of Mohandas Gandhi as “Hate the sin and not the sinner.” But I can’t think of any figure who better exemplifies the essence of this phrase than Mary Magdalene, whose feast we celebrate today.

What can we learn from the life of Mary Magdalene? The Gospels reveal a woman marked by a past of “demons” who encountered the forgiveness of Jesus and was forever changed. For Mary Magdalene, Jesus changed everything. His healing power in her life meant that she could no longer remain who she was, she was transformed: she became new in the love of Jesus. Set free of the seven demons that had possessed her – whatever their nature – she pursued a path of loving devotion, of closely following Jesus, of being part of the community of disciples, of putting Christ before all things, and of moving forward in the mercy he brought her.

What does this mean for us? I think we all know how easy it can be to become discouraged, disappointed, ashamed, and despairing, mired in the guilt, anger, regret, and frustration produced by our own faults and the faults those around us. We spin a cocoon of negative emotion that paralyzes us in our own selves. But Mary Magdalene shows us that there is something greater than our sinfulness, our shortcomings and the strife they cause; rather, that there is some One greater.

Mary Magdalene could have fixated on her demons – whether they were bad choices she’d made or misfortunes she’d experienced through no fault of her own. Instead, she reached out to Jesus and allowed herself to be made new. She allowed his love to be more powerful than her sins, and her demons gave way to discipleship. For the Christian, this life-changing encounter with the merciful love of God through Jesus Christ is not just a one-time experience but a constant renewal brought about by the transformative power of Christ at work in our lives. This love is offered to us each day of our lives, especially when we fail, fall, and flounder. Do we receive it? Do we accept it? Are we open to it? Do we allow it to renew us and urge us on? Does it leave us forever changed?

Mary Magdalene had not one demon but seven. Her story is relevant for us no matter what our demons may be. She was a sinner but more than that, she was loved. She allowed her life to become a response of love to the one who loved her first. Weeping she would remain with him at the foot of the the Cross, despairing as he hung dying for the world. “While it was still dark” on that Easter morning, burdened with tears and spices for burial she would venture early to his empty tomb, astonished to encounter him anew and sent forth to exclaim: “I have seen the Lord!” (John 20:18) The Mercy she encountered sends her forth on mission, not caught up in her own past but urged on by the love of her Lord: transformed to share his transformative love with all the world.

400th anniversary of the death of St. Camillus de Lellis

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Today is the feast day and the 400th anniversary of the death of St. Camillus de Lellis, patron of nurses and the sick.

Camillus de Lellis was born on May 25, 1550 in Bucchianico, Italy.  He possessed a violent temper and struggled with a horrible addiction to gambling, and by 1574 was reduced to poverty and shame in Naples. He fought for the Venetians against the Turks.  He became a Capuchin novice, but was unable to be professed because of a badly diseased leg he contracted while fighting the Turks. Through a long and hard struggle he eventually conquered his weaknesses .  His dramatic conversion was evident as he began to devote himself to caring for the sick. He became director of St. Giacomo Hospital in Rome.

Camillus chose a red cross as the distinguishing badge for the members of his Order to wear on their black cassocks. He taught his volunteers to look upon the hospital as a house of God, a garden where the voices of the sick were music from heaven. He obtained permission from St. Philip Neri to be ordained. Along with two companions, he founded his own congregation, the Ministers of the Sick , also referred to as the Camillians, who were dedicated to the care of the sick. They ministered to the sick of Holy Ghost Hospital in Rome, founded a new house in Naples in 1588, and cared for those aboard plague-stricken ships in Rome .

In 1591, the Congregation was made into an order to serve the sick by Pope Gregory XIV, and in 1591 and 1605, Camillus sent members to minister to wounded troops in Hungary and Croatia, the first field medical unit.  Suffering and gravely ill for many years, he resigned as superior of the Order in 1607. On July 14, 1614 he died in Rome. He was canonized in 1746, was declared patron of the sick, by Pope Leo XIII, and patron of nurses and nursing groups by Pope Pius XI.

One of his most famous words of wisdom was this: “Brother, if you commit a sin and take pleasure in it, the pleasure passes but the sin remains. But if you do something virtuous even though you are tired, the tiredness passes but the virtue remains.”

St Camillus de Lellis is a true inspiration to all of us who deal with our own moral, spiritual or physical struggles and a wonderful testament to the real miracles of Christian charity.

“Preferring Nothing to the Love of Christ” On the feast of Saint Benedict – July 11

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On 27 April 2005, at his first General Audience, Pope Benedict XVI told the assembled crowds why he had chosen that name for his ministry as Bishop of Rome. Among other reasons, this was an homage to Saint Benedict, whose feast we celebrate today, who has played such a role in the spiritual and cultural formation of Europe, particularly Pope Benedict’s beloved Bavaria.

Yet there was also a profoundly spiritual reason. Pope Benedict quoted Chapter 72 of the Holy Rule, “Prefer nothing to the love of Christ,” placing his ministry decisively under the watchful care of Saint Benedict: “At the beginning of my service as Successor of Peter, I ask St. Benedict to help us keep Christ firmly at the heart of our lives. May Christ always have pride of place in our thoughts and in all our activities!”

Pope Benedict has honored his patron in more than words. An old friend who saw him a few weeks ago quoted him saying that he was spending his retirement living like a monk – nothing would be more pleasing to Saint Benedict.

Perhaps the best way to honor Saint Benedict is to attend to his teaching and to love the same things that he loves. He wrote a Rule which serves as the foundation of life for many, many religious communities. One reason why this Rule has endured for over 1500 years is that it is so balanced, so humane. Benedict demonstrates a profound understanding of human nature, and his Rule looks on human weakness with a compassionate eye while making it clear that life in the school of the Lord’s service is not always easy. As the Prologue states, “In drawing up its regulations, we hope to set down nothing harsh, nothing burdensome. The good of all concerned, however, may prompt us to a little strictness in order to amend faults and safeguard love.” The Rule is designed to help communities of Christians live a moderate life of prayer and work, so that in all things, God may be glorified.

One bit of wisdom Benedict’s example imparts to the wider Church is the necessity of a rule of life for serious discipleship. There are all manner of profound spiritual traditions in the Church, from Saint Benedict to Pope Francis’ beloved Saint Ignatius, to more contemporary figures such as Charles de Foucauld or Blessed Teresa of Calcutta. To be saved from abstraction, though, these profound teachings need to be integrated into a rule of life for the serious Christian: what time in my day am I giving to prayer? Where in my life is concrete service to the poor? Through his Rule, Benedict wants to be sure that the Gospel permeates every aspect of life. This need not be limited to women and men who live in monasteries.

Another great contribution of Saint Benedict to the wider Church was the generous time he allowed each day to holy reading, lectio divina. There are numerous resources to help Christians learn and practice this form of prayer, but an old spiritual director liked to tell me that the heart of lectio divina, the prayerful reading of the Word of God, isn’t really confined to a method. When teaching and practicing this prayer with students, I would say that lectio is really working well when the Word of God is influencing you in ways that you aren’t even really aware. It need not be complicated. Read the scripture readings for the day’s Mass, and spend a few minutes with a single line.

Perhaps one example of this is Pope Francis. Summaries of his daily homilies at the chapel next to the Vatican guesthouse where he is living have become required reading for many. It is said that these homilies emerge from the very early mornings that Pope Francis keeps, rising to pray over that day’s readings for Mass. Sounds awfully Benedictine to me. While Pope Francis is a joyful Jesuit, his recent invitation to spend five minutes each day with Psalm 102 could have come straight from the lips of Saint Benedict himself!

Of course, one cannot look at Saint Benedict without considering his twin sister, Saint Scholastica. In the Office of Readings for her feast day, we read from Book II of the Dialogues of Saint Gregory the Great. Benedict and Scholastica meet once each year and spend the day in spiritual conversation. When evening comes, Benedict is ready to return to his monastery.  Scholastica protests, asking Benedict to remain for yet further conversation about the things of God. When Benedict refuses, Scholastica begins to pray, and a great thunderstorm begins that settled the argument: Benedict could go nowhere. Gregory the Great explains Scholastica’s success: “It is not surprising that she was more effective than he, since as John says, God is love, it was absolutely right that she could do more, as she loved more.”

This is a fine summary of the goal of Saint Benedict and his Rule, lectio divina, and all Christian living: to love more. Through Saint Benedict’s prayers, may God bring to fulfillment that good work in us.

Nickolas Becker, OSB
Fr Becker

 

This blog post comes to us from Fr. Nickolas Becker, OSB, a Benedictine monk of Saint John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota. Father Nickolas professed his final vows as a Benedictine monk in 2010, and currently is pursuing a doctorate in moral theology at the Alphonsian Academy in Rome.

“When the heart is not applied, hands can’t do anything.”

Doubting Thomas cropped

“When the heart is not applied, hands can’t do anything.” On the Feast of St. Thomas the Apostle – July 3

There is a proverb that says: “When the heart is not applied, hands can’t do anything.” It seems as if this were written for Thomas the Apostle. The Resurrection Gospel stories that feature St. Thomas provide us with an archetypal experience of doubt, struggle and faith. John’s first appearance of the Risen Lord to the disciples is both intense and focused, a scene set with realistic detail: it is evening, the first day of the week, and the doors where bolted shut. Anxious disciples are hermetically sealed inside.

A suspicious, violent world is forced tightly outside. Jesus is missing. Suddenly, the Risen One defies locked doors, locked hearts, and locked vision. He simply appears. Gently, ever so gently Jesus reaches out to the broken and wounded Apostle. Thomas hesitatingly put his finger into the wounds of Jesus and love flowed out. Long ago St. Gregory the Great said of Thomas, “If, by touching the wounds on the body of his master, Thomas is able to help us overcome the wounds of disbelief, then the doubting of Thomas will have been more use to us than the faith of all the other apostles.”

Both Jesus and Thomas were wounded by unbelief. Jesus died of the wounds inflicted by the unbelief of his disciples and of the people. Thomas was wounded by his inability to believe, and out of this wound bled his deepest disappointment. But Thomas was healed by Christ’s wounds. He saw, even felt, the deadly injuries; but the one who bore them was living. Through them, life was victorious in Thomas. Thomas had to guardedly feel his way to faith until he recognized the truth in his heart. This was the beginning of his Easter. He could believe again.

Thomas, the doubter, was permitted to do something that we would all like to do. He was allowed to touch and “experience” something that by human means was not possible. For us it is more difficult. We need to begin with faith and then blindly touch our way to the heart of our lives.

Thomas the Apostle is truly one of the greatest and most honest lovers of Jesus, not the eternal skeptic, nor the bullish, stubborn personality that the Christian tradition has often painted. Thomas stood before the cross, not comprehending. All his dreams were hanging on that cross. All of his hopes had been shattered. What do we do when something to which we have totally committed ourselves is destroyed before our very eyes?

What do we do when powerful and faceless institutions suddenly crush someone to whom we have given total loyalty? And what do we do when our immediate reaction in the actual moment of crisis is to run and hide, for fear of the madding crowds? Such were the questions of most of the disciples, including Thomas, who had supported and followed Jesus of Nazareth for the better part of three years.

Do we not often like Thomas, never seem to be there when Jesus arrived? Has the absurdity of the resurrection rumour sent us away? Jesus keeps on appearing to us, again and again – unlocking the barriers between faith and doubt, between life and death, between past and future, between fear and joy. The Good News of the Gospel is eminently clear: when and where we least expect him, and when we most need him, Jesus just appears.

Centuries after Thomas, we remain forever grateful for the honesty and humanity of his struggle. Though we know so little about Thomas, his family background and his destiny, we are given an important hint into his identity in the etymology of his name in Greek: Thomas (Didymous in Greek) means “twin.” Who was Thomas’ other half, his twin? Maybe we can see his twin by looking into the mirror. Thomas’ other half is anyone who has struggled with the pain of unbelief, doubt and despair, and has allowed the presence of the Risen Jesus to make a difference.

The doubting Thomas within each of us must be touched. We are asked to respond to the wounds within others and ourselves. Even in our weakness, we are urged to breathe forth the Spirit so that the wounds may be healed and our fears overcome. With Thomas we will believe, when our seeking hand finally and hesitantly reaches out to the Lord in the community of faith. Blessed are we who have not seen and have believed!

Extraordinarily Ordinary, St. Josemaria Escriva

St. Josemaria and I

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I met Opus Dei, often coined “the Work”, in Vancouver through my best friend. She invited me to a centre of the Work to attend one of their Christmas Triduum’s. I was in awe of the beautiful centre and all the happy people I saw there.

Shortly after that I attended a silent retreat for University girls that was run by members of the work, and it was in that retreat that I knew I had happened upon something divine. From there, I began attending weekly activities, because all the people I met were genuine and down-to- earth.

Just under a year of having met Opus Dei, I had the privilege of visiting 6 different centers in 3 different countries: Canada, United States and Peru. I was making trips to visit family and to do a service project, so while I was travelling I made it a point to visit the nearest centre in each city.

Every experience was just as amazing as the last. Each centre was totally unique from the other in terms of appearance, yet all of them, whether its physical makings was a building or a house, radiated a home.

I was always warmly greeted, fresh flowers were often set out, and surfaces were immaculate. But, best of all the oratory in every centre was always quiet and peaceful, no matter how many people were praying there.

I was attracted by this spiritual solidarity. It wasn’t until later that I learned that this unity existed because Opus Dei is a family. If you ask any member why things are the way they are, you’ll often get a response like this, “… because our Father wanted it this way.”

At this point, I knew very little of the Work and even less about it’s founder, St. Josemaria, who members of the Work call their Father. I wanted to know the source of their joy and how they came to be so loyal and so in love with their founder and their Faith.

The more I learned about St. Josemaria, the more I appreciated Opus Dei. Some of his published works like his homilies, “Christ is passing by” and “Friends of God” or like “The Way”, “The Forge” and “The Furrow”, have helped me to aspire to follow Christ well and to love him even more.

Through his teachings I have grown to appreciate the church, and I found more clarity in the things I had been skeptical about, like devotion to our Lady. Now I see that devotion to our Lady is a very necessary part of being a Christian, because Christ wanted us to follow him in all things and he wanted us to have a mother.

Since Christ himself had a great devotion to Mary, it only makes sense as true Christians to imitate him especially in his love for his Mother, our mother. Ever since coming to understand this, I have obtained many graces from her intercession! In the words of St. Josemaria, “All with Peter, to Jesus through Mary!”

One of the greatest things that I have taken away from St. Josemaria is the plan of life. A number of things that I should struggle to fulfill well, throughout my day, which should fit my schedule like a glove, without becoming routine.

All these things are not new, nor invented by St. Josemaria. They are gifts of the Catholic church which the Work uses as a means to help us live closely united with Christ. These turn the entire day and all that consists of it into prayer. A few examples being: a dedicated time of dialogue with Christ, daily mass, the angelus, spiritual reading and the rosary.

Before having met the work and living a plan of life, I found myself going about each day just to survive. Yet this has given me the means not just to survive, but to live. It has been only a year and a half now since having met the Work and there are still so many things to learn about my Faith and St. Josemaria, yet if I had to describe him in one word it would be…

Saint Josemaria Escriva in a Word

Brilliant.

What made him brilliant was nothing more than his boundless love for God. St. Josemaria had an intrinsic capacity to contemplate all areas of his life very well. He would seek the Lord in all matters. And because of this, there were many things that God asked of him. Things that by human means seemed impossible, yet he persevered out of love with a supernatural outlook.

Josemaria’s greatest desire was to send Christ’s message to as many people as possible. He showed people how to sanctify themselves and to do apostolate, which is the foundation of Opus Dei.

His love for God is reflected well in his works, which are just as relevant, effective and true today as they were when he was alive. This is because his brilliance was merely a reflection of God’s brilliance.

He glorified God with his entire life
St. Josemaria Escriva, by way of life and feats has many titles. Yet, I believe the one he liked the least was Founder, and the one he liked the most was Father.

As a founder, he was given the incredible vocation to start Opus Dei in 1928. However, St. Josemaria would remind everyone that the true Founder of Opus Dei is God.

Everything he did was very natural and very ordinary, yet this is precisely what made everything he did extraordinary. He urged people to do even the smallest of things well, which was often his measure for love of God.

As a Father, St. Josemaria helped thousands of people from all walks of life to sanctify their ordinary lives. Rich, poor, young, old – he loved everyone and took great interest in each person he met and prayed earnestly for those he hadn’t met, but had only heard about.

In reading his life stories, you learn that his profound love for God and the church did not occur over night. In fact, he would often call himself merely a sinner who loved Jesus Christ. And the path to sanctity consisted of falling and getting up again each time stronger than the last. A strong ally to this was his message of constantly living in the presence of God.

His Legacy

His legacy continues by the lives over 90,000 members of Opus Dei in over 90 countries around the world. The members consist of single people living in apostolic celibacy, married people and even priests! Each one just regular Christians trying to sanctify their ordinary lives, just as St. Josemaria taught them how, and because God gave them the vocation to do so.

Not included in these 90,000 members, are the cooperators of Opus Dei. Which consist of people from all different backgrounds and even different religions. They have asked to be cooperators for all different causes, but what they all have in common is their admiration for St. Josemaria and his teachings.

Among these members of Opus Dei was Bishop Alvaro Del Portillo, who was the first successor of St. Josemaria from 1975 to 1994. He saw the work through many trials and successes. He saw Opus Dei become a personal prelature of the Catholic Church and was fortunate enough to witness the beatification of St. Josemaria in 1992.

This year, thousands of members of Opus Dei and their friends and family will be celebrating the Beatifcation of Bishop Alvaro on September 27, 2014 in Madrid, Spain.

Today the cause for beatification for over 13 members of Opus Dei both single and married members is open.
A Universal Call to Holiness

It seems people are really catching on to what St. Josemaria has been so eagerly explaining of the very teachings of Christ and the Catholic Church. I’ve noticed memes circulating social media with his quotes like:

“To be happy what you need is not an easy life, but a heart which is IN LOVE.”

“He did not say you would not be troubled, you would not be tempted, you would not be distressed, but he did say you would not be overcome.”

and

“We all must have the faith of children, but the doctrine of theologians.”

I have learned many things from St. Josemaria, which inspire me to be holy, but the greatest of these is to love the one who loved me first and to give him my all, as everything I have comes from him.

“May you seek Christ, may you find Christ and may you love Christ.” – St. Josemaria Escriva

Today is St. Josemaria’s Feast day, June 26th. Here you can find his prayer card, and you can ask him for help to continue in this worthwhile path. And if you haven’t started yet, you can start now. Sanctity is for everyone, we were all made for heaven, and you are no exception.

List of all the masses around Canada

By Guest Writer Trisha Villarante

 

A Unity Transcending All Differences

Peter and Paul

Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul – Sunday, June 29, 2014

June 29th marks the great solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul. Peter’s journey was from the weakness of denial to the rock of fidelity. He gave us the ultimate witness of the cross. Paul’s pilgrimage was from the blindness of persecution to the fire of proclamation. He made the Word of God come alive for the nations.

To be with Peter means to preserve the unity of the Christian Church. To speak with Paul is to proclaim the pure Word of God. Their passion was to proclaim the Gospel of Christ. Their commitment was to create a place for everyone in Christ’s church. Their loyalty to Christ was valid to death. Peter and Paul are for us a strong foundation; they are pillars of our church.

Affirmation, identity and purpose at Caesarea Philippi

Today’s Gospel story (Matthew 16:13-19) is about affirmation, identity and purpose. Jesus and his disciples entered the area of Caesarea Philippi in the process of a long journey from their familiar surroundings. Caesarea Philippi, built by Philip, was a garrison town for the Roman army, full of all the architecture, imagery, and life styles of Greco-Roman urban civilization. It was a foreign place to the apostles who were more familiar with towns and the lakeside.

Sexuality and violence ran rampant in this religious shrine town known for its worship of the Greek god Pan. In this centre of power, sophistication and rampant pagan worship, Jesus turns to his disciples and asks what people are saying about him. How do they see his work? Who is he in their minds? Probably taken aback by the question, the disciples dredge their memories for overheard remarks, snatches of shared conversation, opinions circulating in the fishing towns of the lake area. Jesus himself is aware of some of the stories about him. He knows only too well the attitude of his own town of Nazareth, and the memory probably hurts him deeply.

The disciples list a whole series of labels that people have applied to Jesus. And these names reveal the different expectations held about him. Some thought of him as fiery Elijah, working toward a real confrontation with the powers that be. Others considered him more like the long suffering Jeremiah, concentrating more on the inner journey, the private side of life. Above all, the question asked of the disciples echoes through time as the classic point of decision for every Christian.

Everyone must at some point experience what happened at Caesarea Philippi and answer Jesus’ provocative question, “You, who do you say I am?” What do we perceive to be our responsibilities and commitments following upon our own declaration of faith in Jesus?

Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus

In the year 35 AD, Saul appears as a self-righteous young Pharisee, almost fanatically anti-Christian. We read in Acts chapter 7 that he was present, although not taking part in the stoning of Stephen, the first martyr. It was very soon afterwards that Paul experienced the revelation that transformed his entire life. On the road to the Syrian city of Damascus, where he was going to continue his persecutions against the Christians, he was struck blind. Paul accepted eagerly the commission to preach the Gospel of Christ, but like many another called to a great task he felt his unworthiness and withdrew from the world to spend three years in “Arabia” in meditation and prayer before beginning his mission.

His extensive travels by land and sea are recounted in his letters in the New Testament. Paul himself tells us he was stoned, scourged three times, shipwrecked three times, endured hunger and thirst, sleepless nights, perils and hardships; besides these physical trials, he suffered many disappointments and almost constant anxieties over the weak and widely scattered communities of Christians.

The final earthly moments of Peter and Paul

According to the ancient tradition, on the morning of June 29, Peter and Paul were taken from their common cell at Rome’s Mamertine prison and separated. Peter was taken to Nero’s Circus where he was crucified upside down, while Paul was taken east of Rome to the area now known as Tre Fontane. The name records the legend of the saint’s beheading, when his severed head reportedly bounced three times, creating three fountains. Artists through the ages have dwelt on their goodbye, often depicting the last embrace between the two friends. The Golden Legend records their parting words:

Paul to Peter: “Peace be with you, foundation stone of the churches and shepherd of the sheep and lambs of Christ!”

And Peter to Paul: “Go in peace, preacher of virtuous living, mediator and leader of the salvation of the righteous!”

The connection between the two saints is also evident in their respective basilicas. Emperor Constantine built the first six Christian churches in Rome from 313 to 328, and among them were St. Peter’s Basilica and St. Paul’s “outside the walls.” Five of the churches face east, as was common in orienting churches at the time. St. Paul’s faces west, so that across the city, both basilicas watch over the sheep and lambs of their city.

A text from St. John Chrysostom is very appropriate at the end of the year dedicated to St. Paul. It comes from his final homily on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. After expressing his ardent desire to visit St. Paul’s tomb in Rome and see there even the dust of St. Paul’s body, St. John Chrysostom exclaims:

Who could grant me now this to throw myself around the body of Paul and be riveted to his tomb and to see the dust of that body which completed what was lacking in Christ’s afflictions; which bore the marks (of Christ) and sowed the Gospel everywhere … the dust of that mouth through which Christ spoke. …

Nor is it that mouth only, but I wish I could see the dust of Paul’s heart too, which one should rightly call the heart of the world, the fountain of countless blessings and the very element of our life. … A heart which was so large as to take in entire cities and peoples and nations … which became higher than the heavens, wider than the whole world, brighter than the sun’s beam, warmer than the fire, stronger than the adamant; letting rivers flow from it … which was deemed to love Christ like no one else ever did.

I wish I could see the dust of Paul’s hands, hands in chains, through the imposition of which the Spirit was given, through which this divine letter (to the Romans) was written.

I wish I could see the dust of those eyes which were rightly blinded and recovered their sight again for the salvation of the world; which were counted worthy to see Christ in the body; which saw earthly things, yet saw them not; which saw the things that are not seen; which knew no sleep, and were watchful even at midnight. …

I wish I could also see the dust of those feet, Paul’s feet, which run through the world and were not tired, which were bound in stocks when the prison shook, which went through parts populated and uninhabited, which walked on so many journeys. …

I wish I could see the tomb where the weapons of righteousness lay, the weapons of light, the limbs of Paul, which now are alive but in life were made dead (to sin) … which were in Christ’s limbs, clothed in Christ, bound in the Spirit, riveted to the fear of God, bearing the marks of Christ.

- St. John Chrysostom, “Homily 32 on the Epistle to the Romans,” Migne, Patrologia Graeca 60, 678-80

Together they built the Church

As ordinary men, Peter and Paul might have avoided each other from time to time. Peter was a fisherman from the Sea of Galilee and Paul a Greek-educated intellectual. But Jesus brought them together as a sign for his Church in which the entire spectrum of humanity would find a new place to call home. Together they worked to build the church. Together they witnessed to Christ. Together they suffered the death of their Lord, death at murderous hands. Paul died by the sword and Peter was crucified head-down. They had a unity that transcended all differences. They teach us about the depth of Christian commitment. For Peter and Paul, insight into Jesus’ true identity brought new demands and responsibilities.

At the close of the Year of St. Paul on June 29, 2009, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI invited each Catholic to hold up a mirror to his or her life and to ask, “Am I as determined and as energetic about spreading the Catholic faith as St. Paul was?” “Is spreading the faith both by example and by my conversations with friends, colleagues and acquaintances even a concern for me?” “What do I perceive to be my responsibilities following upon my own declaration of faith in Jesus?”

[The readings for the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul are: Acts 12.1-11; Ps 34; 2 Timothy 4.6-8, 17-18; Matthew 16.13-19.]

This reflection first appeared on the Zenit International News Service in 2010 as well as on the Salt + Light Blog. The complete collection of reflections for Year B, entitled “Words made Flesh,” is now available in book form through our online store. Book editions for Year A and C reflections are coming soon.

St. Barnabas, Son of Encouragement and Model of Discipleship

St Barnabas cropped

On June 11th we celebrate the feast of St. Barnabas. The Church sees him as an apostle though he was not one of the twelve. We first hear about him in the Acts of the Apostles, where he is given the name Barnabas which means “Son of Encouragement” (Acts 4).  And he lived up to his name. When Paul needed someone to support him after his conversion, it was St. Barnabas who supported Paul and had him received by the apostles.

St. Barnabas was also sent on a mission to investigate the new converts at Antioch. He persuaded St. Paul to go to Antioch and begin the missionary work with him; and there, in Antioch was where the followers of Christ were first called Christians (Acts 11).

As disciples of Jesus Christ, we need to live our faith like St. Barnabas to:

1)    Be an encourager.  To encourage one another in the faith, avoid being judgmental or gossiping about people and to build bridges, not barriers.

2)    Study the faith.  St. Barnabas encouraged the early Christians to remain faithful to the Lord. We need to practice our faith by celebrating the sacraments worthily. The Holy Eucharist and Reconciliation are God’s gracious gifts to the Church. Celebrating them will help us get closer to the Lord, while reading Sacred Scripture and the Catechism will help us remain faithful to Him and His teachings.

3)    Witness to the gospel.  St. Barnabas encountered hardships but he continued to persevere in spreading the gospel. The secular world of today needs the good news of Christ. We need to witness with boldness and love; and at all times, avoid being harsh. For this, we must always pray to the Holy Spirit for guidance.

4)    Dialogue with others.  Without undermining or compromising our Catholic beliefs, we need to dialogue with people of opposing views.

St. Barnabas Church in Scarborough is a community of faith, encouragement and hope. It is blessed to have St. Barnabas as its patron and namesake. Through his intercession may we all come to experience the fullness of God’s all-embracing peace and fellowship in parish life.

This post comes to us from Fr. Edwin Gonsalves, former Pastor of St. Barnabas Parish, Scarborough and presently Rector of St. Augustine’s Seminary. We thank Fr. Gonsalves for his insights into the life and legacy of this great saint.

(Photo courtesy biblicalarchaeology.org)

The “ordinary” holiness of Good Pope John

Pope John XXIII walking through the gardens

(Vatican Radio) In contrast to Pope John Paul II, whose memory is still fresh in the minds of many people, the pontificate of “Good Pope John” XXIII may seem like distant history. Pope Francis’ decision to canonize the two together has served as an opportunity for younger Catholics to rediscover the Pope who called the Second Vatican Council.

Sebastian Gomes, producer for Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation in Canada, was in Rome for the dual canonization. Born during the papacy of Pope John Paul II, Mr. Gomes spoke with Vatican Radio about Pope John XXIII and what he means for us today.

 

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“Pope Francis, as is now typical of Pope Francis, dropped a bomb on us by announcing the canonizations of these two popes together.

It’s interesting actually to see, in the first year of Francis’ pontificate, the little comments or references that he’s made to John XXIII. Obviously this is a Pope now who has a strong affinity to John XXIII. And it’s very significant. John was very different than John Paul II, but many people are noticing, very similar to Francis in a lot ways. So it’s powerful proclamation of the Church about what sanctity means and how it can express itself in many different ways.

At the Basilica of Saint Peter, there are always crowds of pilgrims, not only at the tomb of John Paul II, but also at the tomb of John XXIII. So what is it about John XXIII that is so attractive to so many people? I’d say he had the same qualities that attract people to Francis. He was very simple, humble, he came from utter poverty in northern Italy. But he was also kind of casual, and comfortable in his own skin. And that kind of normality really attracts. After the long reign of Pius XII here comes this short, stocky, jolly fellow who’s just kind of brushing aside some of the protocols and doing his own thing. That kind of thing attracts people, it’s ordinary. The ordinariness is what attracts, and I think that’s the enduring connection to the good Pope, Good Pope John.

One of the most enduring legacies of the Good Pope is his journal, The Journey of the Soul. John XXIII’s autobiographical story of his spiritual journey reveals a development, a spiritual growth that holiness is something that doesn’t necessarily happen overnight. It’s something that can take a lifetime.  That is an important message in a world that often looks for the quick fix, or they’re waiting for this kind of watershed moment, or a light bulb moment when it comes to religion or faith. And that doesn’t always happen. We can go to the mountaintop and some profound spiritual experience, and a lot of different movements in the Church today are promoting those kinds of things. But here’s a testament to the fact that… it’s slow, it’s difficult at times, it’s very human… So there’s that kind of slow progression in the spiritual life that is a lasting lesson that the life of John gives us.

The decision to canonize Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II together is significant. I think Francis also understands history, he knows the ups and downs of history. I think he wants to take the Church to the next level, in the sense, not of putting the past behind us, but putting a seal on the last 50 years, and what happened at the Second Vatican Council, what happened with John Paul trying to implement the Council, and really say, these were all great gifts for the Church. Now we have to take that on the road and go forward. So it’s a lesson for us to say what is our understanding of sanctity and holiness, because both of these men had limitations. And some of those came out in the media in the few days before the canonization. And those things have to be dealt with. But Francis is saying holiness comes in many different shapes and sizes, and different proclamations and understandings of living the Gospel, or doing your best to live the Gospel.”

From the Wound in His Heart Flows the Great Wave of Mercy…

Divine Mercy cropped

Second Sunday of Easter, Year A – Sunday, April 27, 2014

“Doubting Thomas” is a term often used to describe someone who refuses to believe something without direct, personal evidence; a skeptic. It refers of course to Thomas, one of the Twelve, whose name occurs in all the gospel lists of the apostles. Thomas is called “Didymus,” the Greek form of an Aramaic name meaning “twin.” When Jesus announced his intention of returning to Judea to visit Lazarus, Thomas said to his fellow disciples: “Let us also go, that we may die with him (John 11:16).” It was Thomas who, during the great discourse after the Last Supper, raised an objection: “Lord, we do not know where you are going; and how can we know the way (John 14:5)?”

Little else is recorded of Thomas the Apostle in the New Testament, nevertheless thanks to John’s gospel text for today (John 20:19-31) his personality is clearer to us than that of some others of the twelve. Thomas would have listened to Jesus’ words, and he certainly experienced dismay at Jesus’ death. That Easter evening when the Lord appeared to the disciples, Thomas was not present. When he was told that Jesus was alive and had shown himself, Thomas stated: “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe” (John 20:25). Eight days later, Thomas made his act of faith, drawing down the rebuke of Jesus – “Because you have seen me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.”

The real Thomas

Thomas the Apostle is one of the greatest and most honest of the lovers of Jesus, not the eternal skeptic, nor the bullish, stubborn personality that Christian tradition has often painted. This young apostle stood before the cross, not comprehending the horrors of what had happened. All his dreams and hopes were hanging on that cross. Thomas rediscovered his faith amidst the believing community of apostles and disciples. This point must never be forgotten, especially in an age when so many claim that faith and spirituality are attainable without the experience of the ecclesial community. We do not believe as isolated individuals, but rather, through our Baptism, we become members of this great family of the Church. It is precisely the faith professed by the ecclesial community we call Church that reinforces our personal faith. Each Sunday at mass, we profess our faith either in the Nicene Creed or the Apostles’ Creed. In doing so, we are saved from the danger of believing in a God other than the one revealed by Christ. 

Faith is not an isolated act

Let us not forget #166 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

“Faith is a personal act – the free response of the human person to the initiative of God who reveals himself. But faith is not an isolated act. No one can believe alone, just as no one can live alone. You have not given yourself faith as you have not given yourself life. The believer has received faith from others and should hand it on to others. Our love for Jesus and for our neighbor impels us to speak to others about our faith. Each believer is thus a link in the great chain of believers. I cannot believe without being carried by the faith of others, and by my faith I help support others in the faith.”

Divine Mercy Sunday

Divine Mercy Sunday celebrates the merciful love of God shining through the Easter Triduum and the whole Easter mystery. The feast recovers an ancient liturgical tradition, reflected in a teaching attributed to St. Augustine about the Easter Octave, which he called “the days of mercy and pardon,” and the Octave Day itself “the compendium of the days of mercy.”

Pope John Paul II’s interest in Divine Mercy goes back to the days of his youth in Krakow when Karol Wojtyla was an eyewitness to so much evil and suffering during World War II in occupied Poland. He witnessed the round ups of many people who were sent to concentration camps and slave labor. In his hometown of Wadowice, he had many Jewish friends who would later die in the Holocaust. During that time of terror and fear, Karol Wojtyla decided to enter Cardinal Sapieha’s clandestine seminary in Krakow. He experienced the need for God’s mercy and humanity’s need to be merciful to one another. While in the seminary, he met another seminarian, Andrew Deskur (who would later become Cardinal), who introduced Karol to the message of the Divine Mercy, as revealed to the Polish mystic nun, St. Maria Faustina Kowalska, who died at the age of 33 in 1938.

The Pope of Divine Mercy

At the beginning of his pontificate in 1981, Pope John Paul II wrote an entire encyclical dedicated to Divine Mercy – “Dives in Misericordia” (Rich in Mercy) illustrating that the heart of the mission of Jesus Christ was to reveal the merciful love of the Father. In 1993 when Pope John Paul II beatified Sr. Faustina Kowalska, he stated in the homily for her beatification mass: “Her mission continues and is yielding astonishing fruit. It is truly marvelous how her devotion to the merciful Jesus is spreading in our contemporary world, and gaining so many human hearts!”

Four years later in 1997, the Holy Father visited Blessed Faustina’s tomb in Lagiewniki, Poland, and preached powerful words: “There is nothing that man needs more than Divine Mercy…. From here went out the message of Mercy that Christ Himself chose to pass on to our generation through Blessed Faustina.”

In the Jubilee year 2000, Pope John Paul II canonized Sr. Faustina – making her the first canonized saint of the new millennium – and established “Divine Mercy Sunday” as a special title for the Second Sunday of Easter for the universal Church. Pope John Paul II spoke these words in the homily: “Jesus shows His hands and His side [to the Apostles]. He points, that is, to the wounds of the Passion, especially the wound in His Heart, the source from which flows the great wave of mercy poured out on humanity.”

One year later, in his homily for Divine Mercy Sunday in 2001, the Pope called the message of mercy entrusted to St. Faustina: “The appropriate and incisive answer that God wanted to offer to the questions and expectations of human beings in our time, marked by terrible tragedies…. Divine Mercy! This is the Easter gift that the Church receives from the risen Christ and offers to humanity at the dawn of the third millennium.”

Again in Lagiewniki, Poland in 2002, at the dedication of the new Shrine of Divine Mercy, the Holy Father consecrated the whole world to Divine Mercy, saying: “I do so with the burning desire that the message of God’s merciful love, proclaimed here through St. Faustina, may be made known to all the peoples of the earth, and fill their hearts with hope.”

In his Regina Caeli address of April 23, 2006, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said: “The mystery of God’s merciful love was at the centre of the pontificate of my venerated predecessor.” Now that same Providence has desired that this year, on Divine Mercy Sunday, three years after he was beatified on this same feast, Pope John Paul II, the great apostle and ambassador of Divine Mercy, will be proclaimed a saint.

Mercy is our hallmark

We must ask ourselves: what is new about this message of Divine Mercy? Why did Pope John Paul II insist so much on this aspect of God’s love in our time? Is this not the same devotion as that of the Sacred Heart of Jesus? Mercy is an important Christian virtue, much different from justice and retribution. While recognizing the real pain of injury and the rationale for the justification of punishment, mercy takes a different approach in redressing the injury. Mercy strives to radically change the condition and the soul of the perpetrator to resist doing evil, often by revealing love and one’s true beauty. If any punishment is enforced, it must be for salvation, not for vengeance or retribution. This is very messy business in our day and a very complex message… but it is the only way if we wish to go forward and be leaven for the world today; if we truly wish to be salt and light in a culture that has lost the flavor of the Gospel and the light of Christ.

Where hatred and the thirst for revenge dominate, where war brings suffering and death to the innocent, abuse has destroyed countless innocent lives, the grace of mercy is needed in order to settle human minds and hearts and to bring about healing and peace. Wherever respect for human life and dignity are lacking, there is need of God’s merciful love, in whose light we see the inexpressible value of every human being. Mercy is needed to insure that every injustice in the world will come to an end. The message of mercy is that God loves us – all of us – no matter how great our sins. God’s mercy is greater than our sins, so that we will call upon Him with trust, receive His mercy, and let it flow through us to others. Essentially, mercy means the understanding of weakness, the capacity to forgive.

Apostle of Divine Mercy

Throughout his priestly and Episcopal ministry, and especially during his entire Pontificate, Pope John Paul II preached God’s mercy, wrote about it, and most of all lived it. He offered forgiveness to the man who was destined to kill him in St. Peter’s Square. The Pope who witnessed the scandal of divisions among Christians and the atrocities against the Jewish people as he grew up did everything in his power to heal the wounds caused by the historic conflicts between Catholics and other Christian churches, and especially with the Jewish people. 

Today, on the day that the Church canonizes this great apostle of mercy and peace, I remember with affection and deep gratitude the stirring words that soon-to-be Saint John Paul II spoke at the concluding mass of World Youth Day 2002 at Downsview Park in Toronto. These words keep us focused on the importance and necessity of mercy in the Church today.

“…At difficult moments in the Church’s life, the pursuit of holiness becomes even more urgent. And holiness is not a question of age; it is a matter of living in the Holy Spirit…”

“…Do not let that hope die! Stake your lives on it! We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures; we are the sum of the Father’s love for us and our real capacity to become the image of his Son.” 

Today let us pray with joy and gratitude:

O God, who are rich in mercy
and who willed that Saint John Paul II
should preside as Pope over your universal Church,
grant, we pray, that instructed by his teaching,
we may open our hearts to the saving grace of Christ,
the sole Redeemer of mankind.
Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
One God forever and ever. Amen.

[The readings for the Second Sunday of Easter are: Acts 2:42-47; 1 Peter 1:3-9; and John 20:19-31.]

This reflection first appeared on the Zenit International News Service in 2011 as well as on the Salt + Light Blog. The complete collection of reflections for Year B, entitled “Words made Flesh,” is now available in book form through our online store. Book editions for Year A and C reflections are coming soon.

The Suffering and Death of a Shepherd

JP Good Friday cropped

Good Friday – Friday, April 18, 2014

For our Good Friday Reflection this year, and in preparation for the Canonization of Blessed Pope John Paul II next Sunday, April 27, 2014, I have chosen to share with you the this reflection on what Pope John Paul II taught us at the end of his life. I cannot celebrate Good Friday without remembering Pope John Paul II, especially his final Good Friday on earth in 2005. This reflection is part of a major address I gave at the Knights of Columbus Museum in New Haven, Connecticut, for the opening of the special exhibit, “Blessed,” that commemorates the life of this great man. 

On Human Suffering

One of the beautiful and not frequently cited writings of John Paul II was his 1984 apostolic letter Salvifici Doloris, “On the Christian Meaning of Human Suffering.” The late Pope, following the Apostle Paul and the entire Catholic Tradition, maintained throughout his life that it is precisely in suffering that Christ displayed his solidarity with humanity, and in which we can grow in solidarity with Christ, who is our life.

In Salvifici Doloris suffering is the consequence of sin, and Christ embraces that consequence, rather than repudiating it. By embracing suffering, he shares fully in it, he takes the consequence of sin into and onto himself. He does this out of love for us, not simply because he wants to redeem us, but because he wants to be with us, to share what we share, to experience what we experience. And it is this shared love, this shared suffering in love, which completes and perfects the relationship broken in sin, and so redeems us.

Pope John Paul II taught us that the meaning of suffering is fundamentally changed by the Incarnation. Apart from the Incarnation, suffering is the consequence of sin. It offers opportunities for insight into oneself, for personal growth, and for demonstrating practical love for others, but these are incidental. Because of the Incarnation, however, we become sharers in the Body of Christ. Our suffering becomes his suffering, and becomes an expression of redeeming love.

Because he was the leader of a billion Roman Catholics; because he was the first pontiff of the satellite and Internet age, reaching out to billions more, and because he was John Paul II, who has ruled the church for more than 26 years—in that public experience of suffering was found enormous power. And that he certainly knew. In 1981, after recovering from the gunshot wound that almost took his life in St. Peter’s Square, John Paul declared that suffering, as such, is one of the most powerful messages in Christianity.

During the final years of his pontificate, John Paul II brought suffering back into the realm of the expected in human life. Everyone could see that his spirituality gave him an inner strength – a spirituality with which one can also overcome fear, even the fear of death. What an incredible lesson for the world! His struggle with the physical effects of aging was also a valuable lesson to a society that finds it hard to accept growing older, and a culture that sees no redemption in suffering. 

In 1994, as age and infirmity began to incapacitate John Paul publicly, he told his followers he had heard God and was about to change the way he led the church. “I must lead her with suffering,” he said. “The pope must suffer so that every family and the world should see that there is, I would say, a higher gospel: the gospel of suffering, with which one must prepare the future.”

A consoling letter to his peers

In 1999, in preparation for the Great Jubilee, Pope John Paul II published his “Letter to the Elderly.” Following his Letters to the young in 1985, to families in 1994, to children in 1994, to women in 1995 and to artists in 1999 year – and not counting those Letters that he wrote each year to priests on Holy Thursday, since the beginning of his pontificate, he wrote deeply moving and encouraging words to his peers in the Letter to the Elderly. He had no fear in placing before the eyes of the world the limits and frailties that the years placed upon him. He did nothing to disguise them. In speaking to young people, he has no difficulty in saying of himself: ‘I am an old priest’.” John Paul II “continued to fulfill his mission as the Successor of Peter, looking far ahead with the enthusiasm of the only youth that does not deteriorate, that of the spirit, which this Pope maintains intact. The letter had a very personal, almost confidential, tone and was not an analysis of old age. Rather, it was a very intimate dialogue between people of the same generation.

“The passage of time,” wrote the Pope in that memorable letter, “helps us to see our experiences in a clearer light and softens their painful side.” Moreover, he says, the daily difficulties can be eased with God’s help. In addition, “we are consoled by the thought that, by virtue of our spiritual souls, we will survive beyond death.”

“Guardians of shared memory” was the title of the one part of the Pope’s Letter. Pointing out that “in the past, great respect was shown to the elderly,” the Pope remarks that this is still true in many cultures today, “while among others, this is much less the case, due to a mentality which gives priority to immediate human usefulness and productivity.” He wrote: “It has come to the point where euthanasia is increasingly put forward as a solution for difficult situations. Unfortunately, in recent years the idea of euthanasia has lost for many people the sense of horror which it naturally awakens in those who have a sense of respect for life.”

The Pope added: “Here it should be kept in mind that the moral law allows the rejection of ‘aggressive medical treatment’ and makes obligatory only those forms of treatment which fall within the normal requirements of medical care, which in the case of terminal illness seeks primarily to alleviate pain. But euthanasia, understood as directly causing death, is another thing entirely. Regardless of intentions and circumstances, euthanasia is always an intrinsically evil act, a violation of God’s law and an offense against the dignity of the human person.”

Pope John Paul II continued in that letter: “Man has been made for life, whereas death … was not a part of God’s original plan but came about as a consequence of sin.” “However rationally comprehensible death may be from a biological standpoint, it is not possible to experience it as something ‘natural’.” We ask ourselves, he says here, “What is on the other side of the shadowy wall of death?” The answer comes from faith “which illuminates the mystery of death and brings serenity to old age, now no longer lived passively as the expectation of a calamity, but rather as a promise-filled approach to the goal of full maturity.” 

Pope John Paul’s Letter to the Elderly closed with a section entitled “An encouragement to live life to the full.” He writes: “I feel a spontaneous desire to share fully with you my own feelings at this point of my life, after more than twenty years of ministry on the throne of Peter. … Despite the limitations brought on by age I continue to enjoy life. For this I thank the Lord. It is wonderful to be able to give oneself to the very end for the sake of the Kingdom of God! “At the same time,” he concludes, “I find great peace in thinking about the time when the Lord will call me: from life to life! … ‘Bid me to come to you’: this is the deepest yearning of the human heart, even in those who are not conscious of it.” What a magnificent signature piece of Pope John Paul II! He not only wrote the letter but enacted it in his own life. We were eyewitnesses.

The public suffering

Pope John Paul II taught us that life is sacred, no matter how painful his own life became for him. Rather than hide his infirmities, as most public figures do, Pope John Paul II let the whole world see what he went through. The suffering and dying of this Pope did not take place in private, but before television cameras and the whole world. In the final act of his life, the athlete was immobilized, the distinctive, booming voice silenced, and the hand that produced voluminous encyclicals no longer able to write. John Paul II’s final homily was an icon of his Galilean Master’s final words to Simon Peter: “Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” …After this he [Jesus] said to him, “Follow me” [John 21:18-19].

Many Catholics and non-Christians saw the pope’s suffering as something like the agony of Jesus himself, and neither John Paul nor those around him discourage such comparisons. When asked a few years ago if he might consider resigning, John Paul reportedly asked, in reply, “Did Christ come down from the cross?” His close aides say that debate about his ability to administer the church, as if he were the CEO of a secular corporation, essentially misses the point. This pope is not doing a job, he is carrying out a divine mission, and his pain is at its core.

That final Good Friday evening

One of my most vivid memories from the last week of our late Holy Father Pope John Paul II’s life was during the Way of the Cross on Good Friday evening in 2005, in which he participated by watching the service at the Coliseum in his chapel on television. The television camera in his chapel was behind him so that he would not be distracted from taking part in this ceremony in which he always took part personally. Then-Archbishop John Foley was doing the television commentary in English from Rome, reading the very provocative meditations prepared by a certain Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger.

At one point toward the end of the Way of the Cross, someone put a rather large crucifix on the knee of the Holy Father, and he was gazing lovingly at the figure of Jesus. At the words, “Jesus Dies on the Cross,” Pope John Paul drew the crucifix to himself and embraced it. I will never forget that scene. What an incredibly powerful homily without words! Like Jesus, Pope John Paul II embraced the cross; in fact, he embraced the crucifix of Jesus Christ on Good Friday night.

The death of a patriarch

Several hours before his death, Pope John Paul’s last audible words were: “Let me go to the house of the Father.” In the intimate setting of prayer, as Mass was celebrated at the foot of his bed and the throngs of faithful sang below in St. Peter’s Square, he died at 9:37 p.m. on April 2. Through his public passion, suffering and death, this holy priest, Successor of the Apostles, and Servant of God, showed us the suffering face of Jesus in a remarkable way.

The Pope of Holiness

Karol Wojtyla himself was an extraordinary witness who, through his devotion, heroic efforts, long suffering and death, communicated the powerful message of the Gospel to the men and women of our day. A great part of the success of his message is due to the fact that he has been surrounded by a tremendous cloud of witnesses who stood by him and strengthened him throughout his life. For John Paul II, the call to holiness excludes no one; it is not the privilege of a spiritual elite.

“Lumen Gentium,” the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church of the Second Vatican Council notes that the holiness of Christians flows from that of the Church and manifests it. It says that holiness “is expressed in many ways by the individuals who, each in his own state of life, tend to the perfection of love, thus sanctifying others” (LG 39). In this variety “one and the same holiness is cultivated by all, who are moved by the Spirit of God…and follow the poor Christ, the humble and cross bearing Christ in order to be worthy of being sharers in his glory” (LG 41). 

When the throngs of people began chanting “Santo Subito” at the end of the Pope’s funeral mass on April 8, 2005, what were they really chanting? They were crying out that in Karol Wojtyla, they saw someone who lived with God and lived with us. He was a sinner who experienced God’s mercy and forgiveness. He was the prophetic teacher who preached the word in season and out of season. He looked at us, loved us, touched us, healed us and gave us hope. He taught us not to be afraid. He showed us how to live, how to love, how to forgive and how to die. He taught us how to embrace the cross in the most excruciating moments of life, knowing that the cross was not God’s final answer.

That a person is declared a “Saint” is not a statement about perfection. It does not mean that the person was without imperfection, blindness, deafness or sin. Nor is it a 360-degree evaluation of the Pontificate or of the Vatican. Canonization means that a person lived his or her life with God, relying totally on God’s infinite mercy, going forward with God’s strength and power, believing in the impossible, loving one’s enemies and persecutors, forgiving in the midst of evil and violence, hoping beyond all hope, and leaving the world a better place. That person lets those around him know that there is a force or spirit animating his or her life that is not of this world, but the next. Such a person lets us catch a glimpse of the greatness and holiness to which we are all called, and shows us the face of God as we journey on our pilgrim way on earth.

In the life of Karol Wojtyla, the boy from Wadowice who would grow up to be a priest and Bishop of Krakow, the Bishop of Rome, and a hero for the ages, holiness was contagious. We have all been touched and changed by it. Pope John Paul II was not only “Holy Father” but “a Father who was and is Holy.” At his funeral mass on April 8, 2005, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger told the world that the Holy Father was watching us and blessing us “from the window of the Father’s House.”

As we prepare for the Canonization of this great shepherd and holy priest and bishop on Sunday April 27, 2014, may we learn from “Papa Wojtyla” how to cross thresholds, open doors, build bridges, embrace the Cross of suffering and proclaim the Gospel of Life to the people of our time. May we learn how to live, to suffer and die unto the Lord. Let us pray to have a small portion of the fidelity of Peter’s witness and the boldness of Paul’s proclamation that were so mightily present in Karol Wojtyla – Saint John Paul II. May he intercede for us and for all those who suffer in body and spirit, and give us the desire to help carry one another’s crosses, to grow in holiness and to become saints. 

[The readings for Good Friday are: Isaiah 52:13-53:12; Hebrews 4:14-16, 5:7-9; and John 18:1-19:42.]

This reflection first appeared on the Zenit International News Service in 2011 as well as on the Salt + Light Blog. The complete collection of reflections for Year B, entitled “Words made Flesh,” is now available in book form through our online store. Book editions for Year A and C reflections are coming soon.