Saint John Paul II
In this lovely homily for 2nd Sunday of Easter, Year A, Father Hanly talks about the beatification of Pope John Paul II. It was delivered on 1st May 2011, the day of his beatification.
First Reading: Acts 2:42-47
Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 118:2-4, 13-15, 22-24
Second Reading: First Peter 1:3-9
Gospel: John 20:19-31
Today is a very special day. The reason of course is that, and you probably all know about it, but at this time, and they have been for the last twenty-four hours, the pilgrims and people of Rome have been coming to the Vatican, because today we are going to celebrate Pope John Paul who will be raised to the level of one short of sainthood.
I was thinking as I was coming over today, but more than that, even last night, of all the Popes that I have been alive for, which is quite a number, I think there was no-one quite like Pope John Paul.
Pope John Paul was, my first feeling was, I was in New York City when he came to visit New York, and there was a lady in New York, she was a reporter for the New Yorker magazine, and she jumped into a car, and the car was going, she told the taxi that she wanted to go to the Yankee Stadium.
The taxi driver was Jewish and he said, “Are you going to see the Pope?” because the Pope had been visiting New York that day and he was going to speak to the people in the Yankee Stadium, which was one of the largest areas of collecting people to watch the athletic events, but this time to see good Pope John Paul, whose reputation went ahead of him.
And she said, “Yes.” He said, “Are you a Catholic?” And she said, “Yes, I’m a Catholic.” And he said these lovely words: “You’ve finally got a Pope that can really pope.”
It was very cute. And she laughed and she later on wrote it up for the New Yorker magazine that, no matter where you came from, or how old you were or how young you were, or what race, creed or whatever, everybody felt that Pope John Paul was one that could really pope.
I looked into my little booklet and looked for the time that he died, as you recall he died in 2005, and not only his death but his illness and his dying and his burial were all on television throughout the whole world. And it seemed like the whole world stopped to witness the death and burial of this Pope.
And some of the things that I had written at that time on this old piece of paper, I’d like to share with you, because they mean even more to me now than when the passing of the Pope took place. I scribbled these ones.
Many emotions: there was joy, no, only sadness, a great sadness. It was a sadness that was brought about by the final death of a great Pope. But more than that, I can’t ever imagine witnessing the actual dying of a Pope. Because, as you know, the television sets had also taken care to film his last time, so what we were witnessing on television was not only the final agony of the Pope, but also his death.
And the pain of it all kind of unravelled before us. And I said to my friend, “You know he had Parkinson’s Disease, but not many people knew about it. But as you know Parkinson’s can be a very painful long process before you finally go home to God.”
And I said to my friend, “Why all the pain?” And he was a very gentle, loving kind of person and I said, “Did we have to have all this pain?” And he said, “Yes, we had to, because he had to die the way he lived, and he lived just as Jesus lived, he was his representative in the flesh in this world. But more than that, he had lived a life that was very much exactly the same as Jesus, his Lord and his Master, and, therefore, if Jesus had to die in pain, so good Pope John Paul also followed him. But he followed him as he followed Jesus into everlasting life.
There was a great sense of loss at the time when he passed away, a loss, but at the same time it was met with such an outpouring of people from all over the world that it wasn’t the Catholic Church that lost a leader, it seemed that everybody who attended or turned on the television, no matter where they were, felt that we’d all lost something very fragile, something very beautiful, something that we were all proud to have witnessed.
He was the second-longest reigning Pope in the history of the Catholic Church, which is a long time. And I think that, when he died, people of every age and every religion and in every way wept tears all together. So if his desire as Pope was to unite the whole world into a love of Jesus, by his dying he certainly united a good number of us in our own love for he himself.
The next thing I wrote down was his vision. He had a very distinct vision of who he was, as you know, his history, and what he wanted to be, and what he had to be when they made him Pope.
“Every person is endowed with an inalienable dignity.” That was his first poem: every person, every person was endowed with an inalienable dignity. And that inalienable dignity is deserving of love. It is deserving of love because God made him and God loved him first. If you haven’t found it yet: Why God loves. God loves because He is God. And what we are expected to do is to take that love with great gratitude and give it back in a kind of self-sacrificing love to all our brothers and sisters.
The second thing I wrote down came from a young boy. Pope John Paul had a great, great reputation among the young people. When he came to New York, they were dancing in the streets and telling jokes and singing songs. And even when I had seen him in Rome there were about ten thousand people in this room and every young group that came there sang him a song. It took hours. They sang him a song in every language that I knew. And it was lovely to see his response, because he was already sick but he was going to stay for the whole thing. And it just went on. And he answered the youth no matter what language they were in, in Russian, Greek, and in English, and in Italian, he thanked them in their own language.
Anyhow, the young boy had this to say about what the Pope meant for him: “This Pope always spoke the truth to us,” he said. “He had compassion for us. He treated us with dignity and respect. He said, ‘If you want to change yourself, to change your life, learn to respect other people. Try to love them and try to prove it by how you treat them. If you find you are going in wrong directions, turn to God and say you are sorry, and He will forgive you. He will. If you ask sincerely, He will give you whatever you need.
“’Also live up to your ideals. Sometimes they are very hard, but truth is always hard, sometimes it demands a certain harshness. But Jesus was never harsh and harshness is never demanded from a Christian.’”
And this is my favourite part of this quotation: “’Respect and love for your fellow human beings is the only hope for mankind’s future.’”
Today, we celebrate his beatification. And people used to say and they still say it now: “Too soon, too soon, we should wait a while, there might be secrets revealed that would give us second thoughts.” When I hear it, I kind of laugh, because if we waited and waited, the first five hundred years of the saints of the church would never have been beatified or consecrated.
And how did they make them in those days? People came together when they died and said, “This was a good man. This was a lovely lady. These people belong to God. And that’s how people get to heaven and that’s how people are judged.”
We will soon be calling him Saint, Saint John Paul, who was so in love with the church and what Jesus had done, he would call all the people in his congregation, “my dear saints,” because a saint is someone who belongs to God.
And as we began this little talk, the reason we belong to God is because God chose us and God sent His Son to redeem us. And His Son promised his disciples, while he was with us he said, “I will be with you always, even to the consummation of the world.”
So today we rejoice in having this wonderful, wonderful holy priest, who became a Bishop and a Cardinal and was given all the high values and honours that he could possibly want.
But the only thing he wanted was to be simply John Paul who loved the people. And he did. He loved them all.
Renata Sedmakova / Shutterstock.com
BRATISLAVA , SLOVAKIA – OCTOBER 1, 2014: The detail of mosaic in the St. Sebastian cathedral designed by Jesuit Marko Ivan Rupnik (2011) with the saints Sebastian, Gorazd, Zdenka and John Paul II.