The Herald and the Servant of the Council to be Canonized together on Divine Mercy Sunday, April 27, 2014
This morning Pope Francis presided over the Public Ordinary Consistory for the forthcoming Canonizations of Blessed Pope John XXIII and Blessed Pope John Paul II. During the course of the special gathering of Cardinals in the Vatican's Consistory Hall, the Pope decreed that his two predecessors will be raised to Sainthood together on April 27, 2014, the day on which the Church celebrates the Second Sunday of Easter and Divine Mercy.
In a recent summer opinion piece in the Chicago Tribune (July 14, 2013 Even popes can be saints
), Kenneth L. Woodward, former religion editor of Newsweek and the author, among other books, of "Making Saints: How the Catholic Church Determines Who Becomes a Saint, Who Doesn't, And Why" and an expert on the saint-making process, said the plan was not simply an exercise in placating two divergent ideological wings in contemporary Catholicism.
Rather by yoking the two popes in a single ceremony, Francis is reminding the rest of the church that the holiness each man manifest in his own way is more important than the papal office they had in common, Woodward wrote.
Blessed John XXIII
In 1958, at nearly 77 years old, Cardinal Angelo Roncalli was elected Pope upon the death of Pius XII. He was expected by many to be a caretaker and transitional Pope, but he astonished the Church and the world with his energy and reforming spirit. He expanded and internationalized the college of cardinals, called the first diocesan synod of Rome in history, revised the Code of Canon Law, and called the Second Vatican Council with the specific purpose of renewing the life of the Church and its teachings and reuniting Christians throughout the world.
In his opening address on October 11, 1962 (the date established as his feast and not the customary date of one's death), at the beginning of the Vatican Council, Pope John said, "In the every day exercise of our pastoral ministry, greatly to our sorrow we sometimes have to listen to those who, although consumed with zeal, do not have very much judgment or balance. To them the modern world is nothing but betrayal and ruination. They claim that this age is far worse than previous ages and they go on as though they had learned nothing from history and yet history is the great teacher of life.
On that same night of October 11, 1962, the day of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, Papa Giovanni appeared at his window in answer to the chanting and singing below from a crowd estimated at half a million people assembled in St. Peter's square. Many were young people who came in procession with candles and singing. His impromptu window address, now known as "the moonlight speech" is now part of Rome's legends. He cried out to the crowd of hundreds of thousands of torch bearing young people:
"Cari giovani, cari giovani, Dear children, I hear your voice." In the simplest language, he told them about his hopes for the Council. He pointed out that the moon, up there, was observing the spectacle. "My voice is an isolated one," he said, "but it echoes the voice of the whole world. Here, in effect, the whole world is represented." He concluded: "Tornando a casa ... As you return to your homes, give your little children a kiss -- tell them it is from Pope John."
For more on Pope John XXIII watch this video:
Blessed John Paul II: The Pope of Holiness
Karol Wojtyla 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.
Throughout his priestly and Episcopal ministry, and especially during his Petrine Ministry as Bishop of Rome, John Paul II preached God's mercy, wrote about it, and 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.
The Pope of Divine Mercy
Near 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, the protagonist and apostle of Divine Mercy, 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!"
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 that day: 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.
Why did Pope John Paul II insist so much on God's divine mercy and 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.
When the throngs of people began chanting "Santo Subito" at the end of John Paul'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 bold, prophetic teacher who preached the word in season and out of season. He taught us not to be afraid. He showed us how to live, how to love, how to forgive and how to die.
In over 27 years as Vicar of Jesus Christ John Paul II tirelessly traveled the world, not only bringing to men and women the Gospel of the love of God made flesh in Jesus Christ, beyond all geographical boundaries; but he also crossed the continents of the spirit, often far from one another and set against each other, to bring strangers close, to make the distant friends, and to make room in the world for the peace of Christ (cf. Eph 2:17). Truly he has been Pontifex, a builder of bridges in a world that too often erects walls and divisions.
In the life of Karol Wojytyla, 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. 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.
For more on John Paul II's legacy, watch this video:
Holiness is the calling card of the Church
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).
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 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 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.
Holiness is the calling card of the Church. It is the face of the Church as we have seen in the remarkable lives of Angelo Roncalli of Sotto il Monte and Karol Wojtyla of Wadowice. Both of these men did not get caught up in the quarrels, squabbles and passing things of their age. They based their lives on God's Word, immersed themselves in the liturgy of the Church, drew strength from the Eucharist and the Sacraments, and put their devotion into practice through clear teaching, compassionate loving, gentle yet firm shepherding, patient suffering, and generously serving the poor. They allowed God's will to be done in their lives on a daily basis. The Lord worked through their doubts, strengths and human weaknesses to unite the Church. Their action on Jesus' behalf was all very positive, hopeful, courageous, and straightforward. Their active faith in him and their decisive following of him are the unchanging quintessence of the Church's vocation. They are the real heroes and role models for those who wish to serve the Lord as disciples and witnesses today.
Two Righteous Popes
While there are indeed many points of convergence in their lives and ministries, I would like to call attention to one particular unifying theme in the lives and ministries of John XXIII and John Paul II. As millions of Roman Catholics rejoice today in the news that two beloved popes have been fast-tracked to sainthood, many Jews are also smiling with them. Jews throughout the world remember both of these men for taking steps that were a millennium in the making.
As Angelo Roncalli, papal representative in Istanbul during World War II, he provided bogus papers to help Jewish refugees flee the Nazis and escape to Palestine. He personally prodded the Catholic queen of Bulgaria to persuade her husband to protect the Jews of that nation. Roncalli is credited with saving the lives of tens of thousands of Jews. He was truly a righteous among the nations.
Perhaps because of what he saw during the Holocaust, John XXIII never lost an opportunity to modify church practices that nurtured anti-Semitism. He removed the term "perfidious" Jews from the Good Friday prayer. The pontiff condemned theological anti-Semitism. During one audience with a visiting Jewish delegation, he introduced himself with a Biblical verse that alluded to his baptismal name and underscored the relationship between Christians and Jews: "I am Joseph your brother."
In 1965, the Catholic Church did an about-face regarding anti-Jewish teachings with the release of the ground breaking conciliar document, Nostra Aetate, or In Our Age, a 1965 declaration of the Second Vatican Council. Pope John XXIII, the architect and dreamer of Vatican II, shepherded the Council along even though Nostra Aetate was released two years after his death.
Crossing the Tiber
If John XXIII brought about a Copernican revolution in the way that Christians and Catholics think, speak and teach about Jews, John Paul II boldly put that change of attitudes into action and went where no pope had ever gone before. As a young man in Poland under Hitler's evil empire, Karol Wojtyla witnesssed hell on earth. On April 13, 1986, the Polish born Pontiff crossed the Tiber and entered Rome's Great Synagogue, embracing Rome's Chief Rabbi Elio Toaff and calling Jews the "elder brothers" of Christians.
John Paul II visited Jerusalem and the Western Wall during the Jubilee Year of 2000, praying there for forgiveness for the way Christians had mistreated Jews for almost 2,000 years. He visited blood-drenched killing fields of Auschwitz-Birkenau. He established full diplomatic relations with Israel.
During John Paul II's final illness, the leaders of the Simon Wiesenthal Center requested an audience with him simply to say thank you. A group of Jewish leaders surrounded the very ill John Paul II and extended their hands in blessing over their brother, Karol. I have no doubt that the Jewish people will continue to offer thanks to the God of Israel for John Paul II and John XXIII. And they see their hopes and dreams realized beyond their wildest imaginations in the person of Pope Francis who continues to reach out to Jews, love them, embrace them and host them at table at Domus Sanctae Marthae for Jewish Sabbaths and holy days!
Instruments and agents of Mercy and Tenderness
As we prepare for Sunday April 27, 2014, the canonizations of these two great servants, priests and bishops, may we learn from Papa Giovanni and 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 be instruments and agents of mercy and tenderness, instead of poor models of harshness, rigidity, and smallness of mind and heart.
We can only hope 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 Angelo Roncalli and Karol Wojtyla. May they intercede for us and for all, helping us to become real pontifexes, bridge builders, to the men and women of our time.