It started late last night when I was listening to the Office of Readings (divineoffice.org) for today and was surprised to learn that it was the feast of St. John Paul II.
I must admit that his canonization, from the time I first learned of it, had left me with considerable unease.
I did not dislike this popular Pope. I was neither one of his detractors nor one of his great fans.
My discomfort came from how quickly he was canonized, relative to the usual occurrence in the Catholic Church, and my fear that he was perhaps being pushed through simply because he had been so loved by the people he served.
While it is wonderful that he was so loved, that certainly does not make him or anyone else a saint. It seemed to me that a declaration of sainthood by the Church should be reserved for those whose lives demonstrated an exceptional level of sanctity.
The second reading in the Office was from John Paul II’s homily when he was inaugurated as pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church. I found the audio version presented on the website harsh to my ears – I am admittedly critical of both my own and others’ reading – so, as I often do, I decided to record the passage myself.
I find that recording a narrative causes me to enter into its substance more deeply. I am not just reading but trying to interpret, with tone and phrasing, the intended meaning so that the passage might be better understood.
As I did that with this particular excerpt, I found myself becoming strangely emotional, indeed, near tears, toward the latter part of it. The then new Pope prayed of Christ’s “sweet power” and prayed that he might be a servant of that power “that knows no dusk”. (Images of him with advanced Parkinson’s disease flashed through my mind.)
Then, his plea, “Do not be afraid…”
I realized as I read this that I really didn’t know this man. I had rather quickly slipped into an uneasy opinion about his sainthood while knowing very little about him.
How many of his sermons and encyclicals had I read? The answer would shame me.
In the Catholic Church, canonization requires the documentation of at least two miracles attributed to the intercession of the servant of God under consideration. The process for documenting the miracles is very stringent for this purpose. (At times, I have thought this process bordering on ridiculous. On the other hand, it does lead to a confidence that a miracle has truly occurred. Under these guidelines, an occurrence of healing cannot be explained by hysteria or some such.)
I realized as I was reflecting on this man’s life that I didn’t even know what the second miracle was that led to his canonization. (I knew the first one was a healing from Parkinson’s disease.) I just looked it up. Pretty amazing stuff.
Of course, all miracles are from God. And all saints are sinners whom God has saved.
I debated about whether to post this recording and reflection, not wanting to offend my Orthodox friends who don’t recognize the papacy. And not wanting to rouse the ire of any who hold the Pope responsible for the horrible sex scandal among some of our priests.
All of these things are complicated matters for which I have no answers. In the end, I decided to post, in hopes that the words that so moved my heart might move the hearts of others in our common journey toward Christ.
May God be merciful to us all and help us become true servants of His sweet power, the power that indeed, “knows no dusk”.
[Text] From the Homily of St. John Paul II, Pope, for the Inauguration of his Pontificate
Peter came to Rome! What else but obedience to the inspiration received from the Lord could have guided him and brought him to this city, the heart of the Empire? Perhaps the fisherman of Galilee did not want to come here. Perhaps he would have preferred to stay there, on the shores of Lake of Genesareth, with his boat and his nets. Yet guided by the Lord, obedient to his inspiration, he came here!
According to an ancient tradition, Peter tried to leave Rome during Nero’s persecution. However, the Lord intervened and came to meet him. Peter spoke to him and asked. “Quo vadis, Domine?” — “Where are you going, Lord?” And the Lord answered him at once: “I am going to Rome to be crucified again.” Peter went back to Rome and stayed here until his crucifixion.
Our time calls us, urges us, obliges us, to gaze on the Lord and to immerse ourselves in humble and devout meditation on the mystery of the supreme power of Christ himself.
He who was born of the Virgin Mary, the carpenter’s Son (as he was thought to be), the Son of the living God (as confessed by Peter), came to make us all “a kingdom of priests”.
The Second Vatican Council has reminded us of the mystery of this power and of the fact that Christ’s mission as Priest, Prophet-Teacher and King continues in the Church. Everyone, the whole People of God, shares in this threefold mission. Perhaps in the past the tiara, that triple crown, was placed on the Pope’s head in order to signify by that symbol the Lord’s plan for his Church, namely that all the hierarchical order of Christ’s Church, all “sacred power” exercised in the Church, is nothing other than service, service with a single purpose: to ensure that the whole People of God shares in this threefold mission of Christ and always remains under the power of the Lord; a power that has its source not in the powers of this world, but instead in the mystery of the Cross and the Resurrection.
The absolute, and yet sweet and gentle, power of the Lord responds to the whole depths of the human person, to his loftiest aspirations of intellect, will and heart. It does not speak the language of force, but expresses itself in charity and truth.
The new Successor of Peter in the See of Rome today makes a fervent, humble and trusting prayer: Christ, make me become and remain the servant of your unique power, the servant of your sweet power, the servant of your power that knows no dusk. Make me a servant: indeed, the servant of your servants.
Brothers and sisters, do not be afraid to welcome Christ and accept his power. Help the Pope and all those who wish to serve Christ and with Christ’s power to serve the human person and the whole of mankind.
Do not be afraid. Open, I say open wide the doors for Christ. To his saving power open the boundaries of states, economic and political systems, the vast fields of culture, civilization and development. Do not be afraid. Christ knows “that which is in man”. He alone knows it.
So often today, man does not know that which is in him, in the depths of his mind and heart. So often he is uncertain about the meaning of his life on this earth. He is assailed by doubt, a doubt which turns into despair. We ask you, therefore, we beg you with humility and with trust, let Christ speak to man. He alone has words of life, yes, of life eternal.