At 10:30 am on the 10th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Pope Francis celebrated mass in St. Peter’s Square and presided over the rite of canonization of Blesseds Maria Elisabetta Hesselblad (1870-1957) and Stanislaus Papczyński (1631-1701). Below you will find the homily given by Pope Francis following the Gospel of the day. Also included are two brief biographies of the two new saints.
The word of God, which we have just heard, points us to the central event of our faith: God’s victory over suffering and death. It proclaims the Gospel of hope, born of Christ’s paschal mystery, whose splendour is seen on the face of the Risen Lord and reveals God our Father as one who comforts all of us in our afflictions. That word calls us to remain united to the Passion of the Lord Jesus, so that the power of his resurrection may be revealed in us.
In the Passion of Christ, we find God’s response to the desperate and at times indignant cry that the experience of pain and death evokes in us. He tells us that we cannot flee from the Cross, but must remain at its foot, as Our Lady did. In suffering with Jesus, she received the grace of hoping against all hope (cf. Rom 4:18).
This was the experience of Stanislaus of Jesus and Mary, and Maria Elizabeth Hesselblad, who today are proclaimed saints. They remained deeply united to the passion of Jesus, and in them the power of his resurrection was revealed.
This Sunday’s first reading and Gospel offer us amazing signs of death and resurrection. The first took place at the hand of the Prophet Isaiah, the second by Jesus. In both cases, they involved the young children of widows, who were then given back alive to their mothers.
The widow of Zarephath – a woman who was not a Jew, yet had received the Prophet Elijah in her home – was upset with the prophet and with God, because when Elijah was a guest in her home her child had taken ill and had died in her arms. Elijah says to her: “Give me your son” (1 Kings 17:19). What he says is significant. His words tell us something about God’s response to our own death, however it may come about. He does not say: “Hold on to it; sort it out yourself!” Instead, he says: “Give it to me”. And indeed the prophet takes the child and carries him to the upper room, and there, by himself, in prayer “fights with God”, pointing out to him the absurdity of that death. The Lord heard the voice of Elijah, for it was in fact he, God, who spoke and acted in the person of the prophet. It was God who, speaking through Elijah, told the woman: “Give me your son”. And now it was God who gave the child back alive to his mother.
God’s tenderness is fully revealed in Jesus. We heard in the Gospel (Lk 7:11-17) of the “great compassion” (v. 13) which Jesus felt for the widow of Nain in Galilee, who was accompanying her only son, a mere adolescent, to his burial. Jesus draws close, touches the bier, stops the funeral procession, and must have caressed that poor mother’s face bathed in tears. “Do not weep”, he says to her (Lk 7:13), as to say: “Give me your son”. Jesus asks to takes our death upon himself, to free us from it and to restore our life. The young man then awoke as if from a deep sleep and began to speak. Jesus “gave him to his mother” (v. 15). Jesus is no wizard! It is God’s tenderness incarnate; the Father’s immense compassion is at work in Jesus.
The experience of the Apostle Paul was also a kind of resurrection. From a fierce enemy and persecutor of Christians, he became a witness and herald of the Gospel (cf. Gal 1:13-17). This radical change was not his own work, but a gift of God’s mercy. God “chose” him and “called him by his grace”. “In him”, God desired to reveal his Son, so that Paul might proclaim Christ among the Gentiles (vv. 15-16). Paul says that God the Father was pleased to reveal his Son not only to him, but in him, impressing as it were in his own person, flesh and spirit, the death and resurrection of Christ. As a result, the Apostle was not only to be a messenger, but above all a witness.
So it is with each and every sinner. Jesus constantly makes the victory of life-giving grace shine forth. He says to Mother Church: “Give me your children”, which means all of us. He takes our sins upon himself, takes them away and gives us back alive to the Mother Church. All that happens in a special way during this Holy Year of Mercy.
The Church today offers us two of her children who are exemplary witnesses to this mystery of resurrection. Both can sing forever in the words of the Psalmist: “You have changed my mourning into dancing / O Lord, my God, I will thank you forever” (Ps 30:12). Let us all join in saying: “I will extol you, Lord, for you have raised me up” (Antiphon of the Responsorial Psalm).
Biography of Blessed Maria Elisabetta Hesselblad (1870-1957)
Mary Elizabeth Hesselblad was born in Sweden on 4 June 1870, the fifth of thirteen children. Baptized lutheran, she emigrated to the United States of America when she was eighteen. For many years (from 1888 to 1904) she worked diligently as a nurse at the Roosevelt Hospital in New York where, faced with the suffering and sickness of the patients, she honed her human and spiritual sensitivities, conforming them ever more closely to those of her fellow Swede, Saint Bridget. From her adolescence, Mary’s desire was for the unity of Christ’s flock. Guided by a learned Jesuit, she avidly studied Catholic doctrine and, by conscious decision, accepted the Catholic Faith, being conditionally baptized on the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, 1902. In 1904 she moved to Rome and, by special permission of Pope Saint Pius X, she took the religious habit of Saint Bridget in the residence where the saint had lived, which was then occupied by Carmelites. Led by the Holy Spirit, she refounded the order of Saint Bridget (1911), responding to the circumstances and the signs of the times. Her apostolate was inspired by the great ideal “Ut omnes unum sint” (that all may be one) and this motivated her to give her life to God in order to unite Sweden to Rome. With great courage and foresight, in 1923 she brought the Bridgettine Sisters back to Sweden, to Djursholm, and then Vadstena in 1935.
Her entire life was characterized by continuous works of charity. During World War II, she provided refuge to many persecuted Jews and turned Bridgettine convents into places where her spiritual daughters could distribute food and clothing to those who were in need. on 24 April 1957, after a long life marked by suffering and sickness, she died in the Casa Santa Brigida in Rome, having a reputation for holiness among her Bridgettine sisters, the clergy and the poor, who venerated her as mother of the poor and a spiritual master. She was beatifed by Saint John Paul II on April 9th of the Jubilee year 2000.
Biography of Blessed Stanislaus Papczyński (1631-1701)
Stanislaus of Jesus and Mary (in the world, Jan Papczynński) was born on 18 May 1631 in Podegrodzie (Poland) to poor but fervently Christian parents. He was baptized the same day. After studying at the Podegrodzie elementary school, he went to the Jesuit college and the college of the Piarist Fathers. Having become familiar with the Piarists, at 23 years of age he entered that Institute. In 1656 he professed simple vows, and was ordained priest on 12 March 1661. He became famous throughout Warsaw both as a professor of rhetoric and as a master of the spiritual life: he authored several books, and was a noted preacher and confessor. Among his penitents was the Apostolic nuncio in Poland at the time, Antonio Pignatelli, the future Pope Innocent XII.
In 1670, having obtained the required dispensations, he left the Piarists and founded the Institute of the Marians of the Immaculate Conception. The three goals of this Institute were (1) to promote devotion to the Immaculate conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, finding in Mary the heart of the Christian life, namely, God’s gratuitous gift of infinite love for humanity; (2) to offer prayers and sacrifices for the dead, especially those who were not prepared to die; (3) to minister to the poor and the marginalized. Stanislaus dedicated himself with apostolic zeal to these charitable purposes until the end of his life. He was faithful to his ascetical observances and to governing the Institute which, in 1699, received Pontifical Approbation.
Stanislaus died on 17 September 1701, in the monastery of Góra kalwaria. His last words were: “Into your hands lord, I commend my spirit”. Having expressed his ardent desire to unite himself to Christ, he blessed his religious brethren and exhorted them to fidelity. He left behind many spiritual writings. Among these are the Norma Vitæ (The rule of life), which treated religious life and the life of his Institute, and the Templum Dei Mysticum (The Mystical Temple of God) in which he proposed a spirituality for the laity. Pope Benedict XVI enrolled him among the blessed in 2007.
CNS photo/Paul Haring