Saturday, April 26, 2014

From the archives: Homily for first anniversary of JPII's passing

Below is a homily I preached at a Memorial Mass for Bl Pope John Paul II on 3 April 2006, which Mass marked the first anniversary of his passing into eternity:

In the words of the prophet Isaiah from our first reading: “Behold our God, to whom we looked to save us” (Isa 25:9)!, we hear echoes of the equally bold proclamation made by our Lord himself on several occasions, “Be not afraid” (Matt 10:31; 14:27; 28:5; 28:10)! These are the words chosen by the Servant of God, the late Pope John Paul II, in whose memory we gather this day, as the motto of his papacy.

In our gospel today Jesus tells us that “no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him” (Matt 11:27). Without doubt the Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, revealed his Father to Karol Wojtyla. Additionally, the Lord Jesus gave to this young Polish boy, deprived of his mother from a very young age, his own mother, Mary, just as he gave her as a mother to the beloved disciple as he hung on the Cross. On the eve of Poland’s invasion and occupation, the young Karol also lost his beloved and righteous father. In characteristically paradoxical fashion, God our Father made of this orphan a father for the whole world. It was in this paternal role while speaking to his beloved youth that John Paul summed up his own mission by telling the young people, “I have come to bring to you to Christ and to call you to pray.” In this, too, we hear an echo- the echo of words the of Peter on the road to Caesaria-Phillipi: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Matt 16:16). This is the message Peter’s successors have proclaimed throughout the past two millennia. Perhaps no man who has walked in the shoes of the Galilean fisherman communicated so clearly that the Truth is not a series of propositions, nor is Truth completely captured by words. Hence, a central point in all of John Paul II’s teaching is that all of us, great and small alike, can know the Truth because the Truth is a person, the Lord Jesus Christ. His first encyclical, Redemptor Hominis, promulgated a mere four months after his election, begins with the words: “The Redeemer of man, Jesus Christ, is the center of the universe and of history” (par 1).

Elected as Bishop of Rome at the relatively young age of 58, he walked in Peter’s shoes for 26 years, five months, and two weeks, thus making him the third longest serving pope in the 2,000 year history of the Church of Jesus Christ. Only St. Peter himself and the Blessed Pius IX served the People of God longer. The achievements of his pontificate are monumental by any measure. Beginning with the aforementioned encyclical from which “we can trace the entire path of his ministry,” he wrote fourteen encyclicals and numerous apostolic constitutions. “The volume and density of these documents are so great that, last October, in an interview with Polish Television marking the twenty-seventh anniversary of John Paul II’s election, Pope Benedict XVI said: ‘My personal mission is not to issue many new documents, but to ensure that his documents [on almost all of which our current Holy Father was a trusted collaborator] are assimilated, because they are a rich treasure . . .[that help] us to be the Church of our times and future” (Palmo, The Profound Legacy of John Paul II, in The Liguorian).

His episcopal motto Totus Tuus (totally yours) reflected his complete devotion and consecration to Mary, the Mother of God, who always brings Jesus to us. Therefore, it came as no surprise that eight centuries after tradition tells us the rosary was given to St. Dominic, he added five new Luminous Mysteries to the rosary. These mysteries allow us to meditate, through the privileged channel of the Virgin Mary, on the life of our Lord; his baptism in the Jordan, his miracle at at the wedding in Cana, his proclamation of the Kingdom, his Transfiguration, his institution of the Eucharist. In 1983 he brought to completion and gave to the Church a new Code of Canon Law, begun some twenty years earlier at Vatican II. In 1992 he set forth a revised Code of Canon Law for the Eastern Churches. Also in 1992 he promulgated the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the first universal catechism since the one issued by the Council of Trent in 1566.

The key to John Paul II’s successful papacy, however, does not lie in any of these achievements. Neither is it to be found in the key role he played in bringing about the demise of the false and cruel system of communism. Rather, he showed how effective the gospel message can be when it isn’t just spoken but "lived to the hilt" (Palmo, The Profound Legacy of John Paul II, in The Liguorian). He showed this as a vigorous, athletic pope swimming, mountain climbing, and skiing. He did it by breaking the mold of the papacy when he began Mass in Anchorage, Alaska by exiting a tepee, and by kissing ground of each country he visited. One vivid Christ-like moment occurred when, in Los Angeles, he jumped down from a four-foot stage and, to the surprise and worry of his security detail, he ran across the arena to embrace Tony Melendez, a guitarist born with no arms, who sang and played for the Pope with his bare feet. Before him and I daresay for a long time after, popes don’t and won’t act like this. The greatest challenge for a preacher of the gospel is to live what he preaches. In this, too, John Paul set an example when, in the twilight of his life, he made incarnate in himself that which he wrote in 1984 in the Apostolic Letter Salvifici doloris: "Suffering is present in the world to emit love, to make born works of love for our neighbor, to transform all of human civilization into 'a civilization of love'" (par 30). "His courageously-faced illness made everyone more attentive to human suffering, to all physical and spiritual pain; he gave dignity and value to suffering, witnessing that the human being's value does not depend on his efficiency or appearance but on himself, because he was created and loved by God" (Benedict XVI, remarks delivered at Rosary Vigil 2 April 2006).

Jesus Christ is the Lord of whom Isaiah prophesied and who Pope John Paul proclaimed. It is to Him we look rejoicing in gladness that “he has saved us” (Isa 25:9). Let us also rejoice in Christ for the gift of the blessed life of Karol Wojtyla. Last night at a Marian vigil held in St. Peter’s Square, our Holy Father, Pope Benedict, said: “Let us . . . not be afraid to follow Christ, to bring to all the proclamation of the Gospel” (Benedict XVI, remarks delivered at Rosary Vigil 2 April 2006). John Paul II certainly expects no less of us as he intercedes for us in heaven.

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