As I start to write, it is 10:30pm on Saturday, 26 April. In about two and a half hours, a momentous occasion will begin, the canonization Mass of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II. For an institution that has seen over two millennia of human history, to say that tomorrow will be unprecedented is no small statement. Pope Francis will celebrate the Mass that elevates these two to the honors of the altar. Even more unprecedented will be the presence of Pope Emeritus, Benedict XVI. He is set to concelebrate the Mass with the cardinals. For those of you who know me, you know the esteem and affection that I hold for B16, and you can imagine that I am excited to watch this unfold.
Pope John XXIII is a misunderstood man by many. True, he is rightly described as "The Good Pope", and seen as a lovely, convivial grandfatherly-like man. He called, and presided over the first session of, the Second Vatican Council. When he called for the Council, he looked for an updating of the Church's teachings for the modern world. That his motto was "Obedience and peace" is a telling reminder that he saw himself as a servant of God, a servant of his Church, and a disciple of Christ, in who alone we find true and lasting peace.
Pope John Paul II (styled "the Great" by many) is still in the minds of so much of the world. He reigned from 1978 to 2005. Until I was 24, there was only one Pope; the former Karol Jozef Wojtyla of Wadowice, Poland. He was a philosopher, an actor, a poet, and a priest. Of all the hundreds of documents, speeches, and homilies that came from his pontificate, there is one theme. This was the theme at the very beginning: BE NOT AFRAID! OPEN WIDE THE DOORS TO CHRIST!
Sainthood is not the Medal of Honor. Sainthood is not the lifetime achievement award of some organization for seller of most widgets. Sainthood is not an earthly honor. Sainthood is what we are all called to. For these two men to be formally declared saints is to declare that they lived lives of such heroic virtue that their souls are in heaven now, and they are actively interceding on our behalf. This is why we honor and venerate the thousands of saints on the rolls of the Church, this is why images exist in our Churches and homes. If we cooperate with God's grace in our lives, this is what can happen!
I attended World Youth Day in Rome in 2000. After a few days' soujourn in Italy, my group of pilgrims arrived in Rome. I scorched my feet and backside on the cobblestones of St Peter's Square waiting for John Paul II to arrive to start our time in Rome together. I will never forget the thrill that we had as we saw him go past. At one point in his reflection for opening World Youth Day, he asked us, "Why are you here?", "Who are you here to see?". The correct answers were not, "St Peter's", "the Colosseum", or "the Pope", but rather "Jesus". The whole point of these men's lives was to point us to God and his Son.
John Paul II inspired so many of us through his life and his witness. John XXIII inspired the Council Fathers to allow themselves to be open to the Holy Spirit. It has been said that John Paul II told us what we believe, Benedict XVI told us why we believe it, and now Pope Francis is showing us how to act out what we believe.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and preserve in running the race before us," Hebrews 12:1
Popes St. John XXIII and John Paul II, pray for us! We love you!