Holy Popes! Significance of the Canonization of John XXIII & John Paul II

John XIII John Paul II Official Photos
Theories abound as to why Pope Francis decided to canonize both John XXIII and John Paul II on April 27. Some imagine that this was a politically strategic move on the part of Francis to unify a divided Church and to reconcile the divisions that exist among the Roncalli fans and bearers of the “spirit of Vatican II” and the Wojtyla disciples of a robust, doctrinaire Pope. They reduce the lives of these two great men to be the adventures of a progressive pope who dreamed up the Council and a conservative pope who put the brakes on the speed of its implementation. Nothing could be further from the truth, and such thoughts usually reflect the machinations of those who have yet to understand the Petrine Ministry of unity and the Call to Holiness that lies at the foundation of our existence as Catholic Christians.

The church doesn’t beatify or canonize people and use them as banners or standards under which groups can assemble and march, nor does she ever raise up for us role models who are arrows or weapons to attack others for ignorance, error and sin. Rather, the church offers the lives of outstanding women and men such as Angelo Roncalli and Karol Wojtyla to present to us models of holiness.

Yes, John will be forever linked to the dream and convocation of the Ecumenical Council we now know as Vatican II, and John Paul II will be forever linked to a new era of a truly global Church that took its message from the home office on the Tiber to the ends of the earth.

But even more than those historical factors, John XXIII and John Paul II modeled for us the call to holiness and reminded us, by the simplicity and joy of their Gospel-rooted lives, that we, too, are called to be saints. The Church is the “home of holiness,” and holiness is our most accurate image, our authentic calling card and our greatest gift to the world. It describes best who and what we are and strive to be.

That a person is declared “Blessed” or “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 a particular pontificate or of the Vatican. Beatification and canonization mean 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 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 or her know that there is a force or spirit animating his or her life that is not of this world, but of 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.

Angelo Roncalli was a man of international reach before he was pope. His preparation for the papacy was international in scope. He worked at the peripheries of Roman Catholicism, meeting with grace and peace the hostile challenges of both Orthodox Christianity and Islam, long before the buzz words of ecumenism or interreligious dialogue were the order of the day. Roncalli’s mission was personal, human; he excelled in using his own, innate common sense, understanding, and warmth so mightily evident to all and his priestly ministry flowed from his deep humanity.

From the very beginning of his priestly, episcopal and Petrine ministry, Roncalli taught us to see goodness in others, to love people and to hope beyond all hope when situations indicated otherwise. He won over the world, in many similar ways that Pope Francis is doing now because of his unabashed simplicity and genuine goodness and humor. He showed us that far more than realizing every project and program, we must dream bold dreams, nurture them, and hand them on to future generations.

In the life of Karol Wojtyla, holiness was contagious. Pope John Paul II was not only our Holy Father, but a Father who was and is holy. On April 2, 2005, he died a public death that stopped the world for several days. When the throngs of people began chanting “Santo Subito!” at the end of Pope John Paul II’s funeral mass on April 8, 2005, what were they really saying? 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.

Both men have deeply marked my entire life. I was born the year the Second Vatican Council was called and it has been the wind beneath my wings for my entire life, especially in my 28 years of ordained ministry. I had the privilege of working closely with Pope John Paul II on his last World Youth Day in 2002.

I am convinced that both men were gifts of God to the world at very specific moments in history. They also remind me that the Lord provides for the Church the shepherds we need at the right moments. That they receive the highest honor of my Church on the same day is a statement to the world of two important realities: that the Church’s best calling card is still holiness. And second: that Vatican II was their dream, their life’s work, their vision and their gift to the world. The world is a better place because Angelo Roncalli and Karol Wojtyla handed their dream on to us.


Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB is the CEO, Salt and Light Catholic Television Network, Canada and the English language assistant to Holy See Press Office.

JP II, We Love You – Pope John Paul visits Korea, 1989

jpii_weloveyou_blog_610x138

  POPE GREETS ENTHUSIASTIC KOREANS AT EUCHARISTIC CONGRESSPope John Paul II greets youths at the 44th International Eucharistic Congress in Seoul, South Korea, in 1989. The congress provided the opportunity for several Asian bishops to meet with the pontiff to discuss urgent human rights and democracy issues. (CNS file photo by Arturo Mari) 

 

Pope Francis’ Easter Urbi et Orbi message: Grant us life; grant us peace!

Easter urbi et orbi

Before a crowd of over 150,000 people in St. Peter’s Square this morning, April 20, 2014, Pope Francis celebrated the Mass of Easter Sunday. He did not deliver a homily during mass but gave the traditional “Urbi et Orbi” (to the city and the world) Message and Blessing to the crowd at the conclusion of mass.

Here is the English translation of “Urbi et Orbi” Easter Message and Blessing:

Dear Brothers and Sisters, Happy Easter!

The Church throughout the world echoes the angel’s message to the women: “Do not be afraid! I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised… Come, see the place where he lay” (Mt 28:5-6).

This is the culmination of the Gospel, it is the Good News par excellence: Jesus, who was crucified, is risen! This event is the basis of our faith and our hope. If Christ were not raised, Christianity would lose its very meaning; the whole mission of the Church would lose its impulse, for this is the point from which it first set out and continues to set out ever anew. The message which Christians bring to the world is this: Jesus, Love incarnate, died on the cross for our sins, but God the Father raised him and made him the Lord of life and death. In Jesus, love has triumphed over hatred, mercy over sinfulness, goodness over evil, truth over falsehood, life over death.

That is why we tell everyone: “Come and see!” In every human situation, marked by frailty, sin and death, the Good News is no mere matter of words, but a testimony to unconditional and faithful love: it is about leaving ourselves behind and encountering others, being close to those crushed by life’s troubles, sharing with the needy, standing at the side of the sick, elderly and the outcast… “Come and see!”: Love is more powerful, love gives life, love makes hope blossom in the wilderness.

With this joyful certainty in our hearts, today we turn to you, risen Lord!

Help us to seek you and to find you, to realize that we have a Father and are not orphans; that we can love and adore you.

Help us to overcome the scourge of hunger, aggravated by conflicts and by the immense wastefulness for which we are often responsible.

Enable us to protect the vulnerable, especially children, women and the elderly, who are at times exploited and abandoned.

Enable us to care for our brothers and sisters struck by the Ebola epidemic in Guinea Conakry, Sierra Leone and Liberia, and to care for those suffering from so many other diseases which are also spread through neglect and dire poverty.

Comfort all those who cannot celebrate this Easter with their loved ones because they have been unjustly torn from their affections, like the many persons, priests and laity, who in various parts of the world have been kidnapped.

Comfort those who have left their own lands to migrate to places offering hope for a better future and the possibility of living their lives in dignity and, not infrequently, of freely professing their faith.

We ask you, Lord Jesus, to put an end to all war and every conflict, whether great or small, ancient or recent.

We pray in a particular way for Syria, that all those suffering the effects of the conflict can receive needed humanitarian aid and that neither side will again use deadly force, especially against the defenseless civil population, but instead boldly negotiate the peace long awaited and long overdue!

We ask you to comfort the victims of fratricidal acts of violence in Iraq and to sustain the hopes raised by the resumption of negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.

We beg for an end to the conflicts in the Central African Republic and a halt to the brutal terrorist attacks in parts of Nigeria and the acts of violence in South Sudan.

We ask that hearts be turned to reconciliation and fraternal concord in Venezuela.

By your resurrection, which this year we celebrate together with the Churches that follow the Julian calendar, we ask you to enlighten and inspire the initiatives that promote peace in Ukraine so that all those involved, with the support of the international community, will make every effort to prevent violence and, in a spirit of unity and dialogue, chart a path for the country’s future.

Lord, we pray to you for all the peoples of the earth: you who have conquered death, grant us your life, grant us your peace!

-
Photo: Pope Francis delivers his Easter blessing “urbi et orbi” from the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican March 31, 2013. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters) (April 1, 2013)

JP II, We Love You – Pope John Paul II scans crowd at WYD Denver, 1993

jpii_weloveyou_blog_610x1381

POPE SCANS CROWD GATHERED FOR WORLD YOUTH DAY MASS IN 1993With rosary in hand, Pope John Paul II scans the crowd as his helicopter circles Colorado’s Cherry Creek State Park before the closing Mass for World Youth Day Aug. 15, 1993. “Place your intelligence, your talents, your enthusiasm, your compassion and your fortitude at the service of life,” the pope told the hundreds of thousands of people gathered there. (CNS file photo by W. H. Keeler) 

JP II, We Love You – People light candles in Warsaw, Poland

jpii_weloveyou_blog_610x1381

PEOPLE LIGHT CANDLES IN MEMORY OF POPE JOHN PAUL IIPeople light candles in Warsaw, Poland, to pay tribute to Pope John Paul II on the second anniversary of his death April 2, 2007. (CNS photo/Katarina Stoltz, Reuters) 

 

JUDAS WAS STANDING WITH THEM

Pope Francis Food Friday 2014

“JUDAS WAS STANDING WITH THEM” (JN 18:5)

Following the tradition, the homily for this afternoon’s Good Friday Service for the Passion of the Lord is preached by Capuchin Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa.

In the divine-human history of the passion of Jesus, there are many minor stories about men and women who entered into the ray of its light or its shadow. The most tragic one is that of Judas Iscariot. It is one of the few events attested with equal emphasis by each of the four Gospels and the rest of the New Testament. The early Christian community reflected a great deal on this incident and we would be remiss to do otherwise. It has much to tell us.

Judas was chosen from the very beginning to be one of the Twelve. In inserting his name in the list of apostles, the gospel-writer Luke says, “Judas Iscariot, who became (egeneto) a traitor” (Lk 6:16). Judas was thus not born a traitor and was not a traitor at the time Jesus chose him; he became a traitor! We are before one of the darkest dramas of human freedom.

Why did he become a traitor? Not so long ago, when the thesis of a “revolutionary Jesus” was in fashion, people tried to ascribe idealistic motivations to Judas’ action. Someone saw in his name “Iscariot” a corruption of sicariot, meaning that he belonged to a group of extremist zealots who used a kind of dagger (sica) against the Romans; others thought that Judas was disappointed in the way that Jesus was putting forward his concept of “the kingdom of God” and wanted to force his hand to act against the pagans on the political level as well. This is the Judas of the famous musical Jesus Christ Superstar and of other recent films and novels—a Judas who resembles another famous traitor to his benefactor, Brutus, who killed Julius Caesar to save the RomanRepublic!

These are reconstructions to be respected when they have some literary or artistic value, but they have no historical basis whatsoever. The Gospels—the only reliable sources that we have about Judas’ character—speak of a more down-to-earth motive: money. Judas was entrusted with the group’s common purse; on the occasion of Jesus’ anointing in Bethany, Judas had protested against the waste of the precious perfumed ointment that Mary poured on Jesus’ feet, not because he was interested in the poor but, as John notes, “because he was a thief, and as he had the money box he used to take what was put into it” (Jn 12:6). His proposal to the chief priests is explicit: “‘What will you give me if I deliver him to you?’ And they paid him thirty pieces of silver” (Mt 26:15).

*    *   *

But why are people surprised at this explanation, finding it too banal? Has it not always been this way in history and is still this way today? Mammon, money, is not just one idol among many: it is the idol par excellence, literally “a molten god” (see Ex 34:17). And we know why that is the case. Who is objectively, if not subjectively (in fact, not in intentions), the true enemy, the rival to God, in this world? Satan? But no one decides to serve Satan without a motive. Whoever does it does so because they believe they will obtain some kind of power or temporal benefit from him. Jesus tells us clearly who the other master, the anti-God, is: “No one can serve two masters. . . . You cannot serve God and mammon” (Mt 6:24). Money is the “visible god”[1] in contrast to the true God who is invisible.

Mammon is the anti-God because it creates an alternative spiritual universe; it shifts the purpose of the theological virtues. Faith, hope, and charity are no longer placed in God but in money. A sinister inversion of all values occurs. Scripture says, “All things are possible to him who believes” (Mk 9:23), but the world says, “All things are possible to him who has money.” And on a certain level, all the facts seem to bear that out.

“The love of money,” Scripture says, “is the root of all evil” (1 Tim 6:10). Behind every evil in our society is money, or at least money is also included there. It is the Molech we recall from the Bible to whom young boys and girls were sacrificed (see Jer 32:35) or the Aztec god for whom the daily sacrifice of a certain number of human hearts was required. What lies behind the drug enterprise that destroys so many human lives, behind the phenomenon of the mafia, behind political corruption, behind the manufacturing and sale of weapons, and even behind—what a horrible thing to mention—the sale of human organs removed from children? And the financial crisis that the world has gone through and that this country is still going through, is it not in large part due to the “cursed hunger for gold,” the auri sacra fames,[2] on the part of some people? Judas began with taking money out of the common purse. Does this say anything to certain administrators of public funds?

But apart from these criminal ways of acquiring money, is it not also a scandal that some people earn salaries and collect pensions that are sometimes 100 times higher than those of the people who work for them and that they raise their voices to object when a proposal is put forward to reduce their salary for the sake of greater social justice?

In the 1970s and 1980s in Italy, in order to explain unexpected political reversals, hidden exercises of power, terrorism, and all kinds of mysteries that were troubling civilian life, people began to point to the quasi-mythical idea of the existence of “a big Old Man,” a shrewd and powerful figure who was pulling all the strings behind the curtain for goals known only to himself. This powerful “Old Man” really exists and is not a myth; his name is Money!

Like all idols, money is deceitful and lying: it promises security and instead takes it away; it promises freedom and instead destroys it. St. Francis of Assisi, with a severity that is untypical for him, describes the end of life of a person who has lived only to increase his “capital.” Death draws near, and the priest is summoned. He asks the dying man, “Do you want forgiveness for all your sins?” and he answers, “Yes.” The priest then asks, “Are you ready to make right the wrongs you did, restoring things you have defrauded others of?” The dying man responds, “I can’t.” “Why can’t you?” “Because I have already left everything in the hands of my relatives and friends.” And so he dies without repentance, and his body is barely cold when his relatives and friends say, “Damn him! He could have earned more money to leave us, but he didn’t.”[3]

How many times these days have we had to think back again to the cry Jesus addressed to the rich man in the parable who had stored up endless riches and thought he was secure for the rest of his life: “Fool! This night your soul is required of you; and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” (Lk 12:20)!

Men placed in positions of responsibility who no longer knew in what bank or monetary paradise to hoard the proceeds of their corruption have found themselves on trial in court or in a prison cell just when they were about to say to themselves, “Have a good time now, my soul.” For whom did they do it? Was it worth it? Did they work for the good of their children and family, or their party, if that is really what they were seeking? Have they not instead ruined themselves and others?

*    *   *

The betrayal of Judas continues throughout history, and the one betrayed is always Jesus. Judas sold the head, while his imitators sell body, because the poor are members of the body of Christ, whether they know it or not. “As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me” (Mt 25:40). However, Judas’ betrayal does not continue only in the high-profile kinds of cases that I have mentioned. It would be comfortable for us to think so, but that is not the case. The homily that Father Primo Mazzolari gave on Holy Thursday 1958 about “Our Brother Judas” is still famous. “Let me,” he said to the few parishioners before him, “think about the Judas who is within me for a moment, about the Judas who perhaps is also within you.”

One can betray Jesus for other kinds of compensation than thirty pieces of silver. A man who betrays his wife, or a wife her husband, betrays Christ. The minister of God who is unfaithful to his state in life, or instead of feeding the sheep entrusted to him feeds himself, betrays Jesus. Whoever betrays their conscience betrays Jesus. Even I can betray him at this very moment—and it makes me tremble—if while preaching about Judas I am more concerned about the audience’s approval than about participating in the immense sorrow of the Savior. There was a mitigating circumstance in Judas’ case that that I do not have. He did not know who Jesus was and considered him to be only “a righteous man”; he did not know, as we do, that he was the Son of God.

As Easter approaches every year, I have wanted to listen to Bach’s “Passion According to St. Matthew” again. It includes a detail that makes me flinch every time. At the announcement of Judas’ betrayal, all the apostles ask Jesus, “Is it I, Lord?” (“Herr, bin ich’s?”) Before having us hear Christ’s answer, the composer—erasing the distance between the event and its commemoration—inserts a chorale that begins this way: “It is I; I am the traitor! I need to make amends for my sins.” (“Ich bin’s, ich sollte bü?en.”). Like all the chorales in this musical piece, it expresses the sentiments of the people who are listening. It is also an invitation for us to make a confession of our sin.

*    *   *

The Gospel describes Judas’ horrendous end: “When Judas, his betrayer, saw that he was condemned, he repented and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, saying, ‘I have sinned in betraying innocent blood.’ They said, ‘What is that to us? See to it yourself.’ And throwing down the pieces of silver, he departed; and he went and hanged himself” (Mt 27:3-5).  But let us not pass a hasty judgment here. Jesus never abandoned Judas, and no one knows, after he hung himself from a tree with a rope around his neck, where he ended up: in Satan’s hands or in God’s hands. Who can say what transpired in his soul during those final moments? “Friend” was the last word that Jesus addressed to him, and he could not have forgotten it, just as he could not have forgotten Jesus’ gaze.

It is true that in speaking to the Father about his disciples Jesus had said about Judas, “None of them is lost but the son of perdition” (Jn 17:12), but here, as in so many other instances, he is speaking from the perspective of time and not of eternity. The enormity of this betrayal is enough by itself alone, without needing to consider a failure that is eternal, to explain the other terrifying statement said about Judas: “It would have been better for that man if he had not been born” (Mk 14:21). The eternal destiny of a human being is an inviolable secret kept by God. The Church assures us that a man or a woman who is proclaimed a saint is experiencing eternal blessedness, but she does not herself know for certain that any particular person is in hell.

Dante Alighieri, who places Judas in the deepest part of hell in his Divine Comedy, tells of the last-minute conversion of Manfred, the son of Frederick II and the king of Sicily whom everyone at the time considered damned because he died as an excommunicated. Having been mortally wounded in battle, he confides to the poet that in the very last moment of his life, “…weeping, I gave my soul / to Him who grants forgiveness willingly” and he sends a message from Purgatory to earth that is still relevant for us:

Horrible was the nature of my sins,

but boundless mercy stretches out its arms

to any man who comes in search of it.[4]

*    *   *

Here is what the story of our brother Judas should move us to do: to surrender ourselves to the one who freely forgives, to throw ourselves likewise into the outstretched arms of the Crucified One. The most important thing in the story of Judas is not his betrayal but Jesus’ response to it. He knew well what was growing in his disciple’s heart, but he does not expose it; he wants to give Judas the opportunity right up until the last minute to turn back, and is almost shielding him. He knows why Judas came to the garden of olives, but he does not refuse his cold kiss and even calls him “friend” (see Mt 26:50). He sought out Peter after his denial to give him forgiveness, so who knows how he might have sought out Judas at some point in his way to Calavary! When Jesus prays from the cross, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34), he certainly does not exclude Judas from those he prays for.

So what will we do? Who will we follow, Judas or Peter? Peter had remorse for what he did, but Judas was also remorseful to the point of crying out, “I have betrayed innocent blood!” and he gave back the thirty pieces of silver. Where is the difference then? Only in one thing: Peter had confidence in the mercy of Christ, and Judas did not! Judas’ greatest sin was not in having betrayed Christ but in having doubted his mercy.

If we have imitated Judas in his betrayal, some of us more and some less, let us not imitate him in his lack of confidence in forgiveness. There is a sacrament through which it is possible to have a sure experience of Christ’s mercy: the sacrament of reconciliation. How wonderful this sacrament is! It is sweet to experience Jesus as Teacher, as Lord, but even sweeter to experience him as Redeemer, as the one who draws you out of the abyss, like he drew Peter out of the sea, as the one who touches you and, like he did with the leper, says to you, “ I will; be clean” (Mt 8:3).

Confession allows us to experience about ourselves what the Church says of Adam’s sin on Easter night in the “Exultet”: “O happy fault that earned so great, so glorious a Redeemer!” Jesus knows how to take all our sins, once we have repented, and make them “happy faults,” faults that would no longer be remembered if it were not for the experience of mercy and divine tenderness that they occasioned.

I have a wish for myself and for all of you, Venerable Fathers, brothers, and sisters: on Easter morning, may we awaken and let the words of a great convert in modern times, Paul Claudel, resonate in our hearts:

My God, I have been revived, and I am with You again!

I was sleeping, stretched out like a dead man in the night.

You said, “Let there be light!” and I awoke the way a cry is shouted out! 

My Father, You who have given me life before the Dawn, I place myself in Your Presence.

My heart is free and my mouth is cleansed; my body and spirit are fasting.

I have been absolved of all my sins, which I confessed one by one.

The wedding ring is on my finger and my face is washed.

I am like an innocent being in the grace that You have bestowed on me.[5]

 

This is what Christ’s Passover can do for us.




[1] William Shakespeare, The Life of Timon of Athens, Act IV, sc. 3, l. 386.

[2] Virgil, The Aeneid, 3.57.

[3] See Francis of Assisi, “Letter to All the Faithful,” 12.

[4] Dante Alighieri, Purgatorio 3.118-120: English trans. Mark Musa (Bloomington, IN: University of Indiana Press, 1985), 32.

[5] Paul Claudel, Prière pour le dimanche matin [Prayer for a Sunday Morning], in Œuvres poétiques (Paris: Gallimard, 1967), 377.

 

JP II, We Love You – Pope John Paul II looks on during Via Crucis

jpii_weloveyou_blog_610x138

FILE PHOTO OF POPE JOHN PAUL IIPope John Paul II looks at the faithful gathered at the Colosseum during the traditional Via Crucis (Way of the Cross) Good Friday service in Rome, 2003. (CNS photo/Max Rossi, Reuters) 

JP II, We Love You – Pope John Paul II prays the rosary

jpii_weloveyou_blog_610x138

L'OSSERVATORE ROMANO PHOTO SHOWS LATE POPE PRAYING THE ROSARY

Pope John Paul II prays the rosary in this L’Osservatore Romano photo dated May 4, 1991. This image, captured by a Vatican photographer, is the second most requested photo from the L’Osservatore Romano archives. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano)

JP II, We Love You – Pope John Paul II places prayer card in crevice of Western Wall

jpii_weloveyou_blog_610x138

POPE VISITS HOLY SITE OF JUDAISMPope John Paul II places a prayer in a crevice of the Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest site, March 26, 2000. Speaking to ecumenical leaders on the historic trip that included visits to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories, the pontiff prayed that the Holy Land would be a homeland to all faiths and peoples. (CNS file photo by Arturo Mari) 

 

JP II, We Love You – Pope John Paul II visits Poznan, Poland

jpii_weloveyou_blog_610x138

CROWD CHEERS POPE IN POZNAN, POLANDPope John Paul II waves to the throngs of people gathered for Mass in Poznan during his 1983 visit to Poland. Visiting seven cities, the pontiff defended Poland’s right to sovereignty and demanded political reforms. He offered support to Polish bishops who were defending human rights under martial law and urged fellow Poles to find courage in the Gospel. (CNS file photo by Arturo Mari)