Second Sunday of Easter 2011
BEATIFICATION OF POPE JOHN PAUL II
Homily Notes of
Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin
Archbishop of Dublin and Primate of Ireland
Pro-Cathedral, 1st May 2011
On this Second Sunday of Easter we celebrate the mystery of the Risen Lord and we remember in a special way Pope John Paul II, who was this morning declared Blessed at a magnificent liturgy in Rome. This evening we give thanks to God for the life of this great Pope.
We celebrate in union with the whole Church remembering the many gifts that Pope John Paul gave to the Church. Each of us has his or her own memories of Pope John Paul. Naturally, I have my own personal memories of the Pope in whose service I worked for many years, who ordained me a bishop in Saint Peter’s Basilica and who appointed me as Archbishop of Dublin.
We pray for renewal in the Church, that the Church in our times will regain those qualities of unity which are expressed in a special way in the first reading of today’s Mass from the Acts of the Apostles.
We recognise how our actions have damaged our communion with Christ and with each other and through the heavenly intercession of Blessed Pope John Paul we implore God’s mercy, forgiveness and strength.
In the Gospel reading we have just heard, we see how after Jesus’ death, the Apostles lost courage and became frightened. They closed themselves away in fear. Then, Jesus appears to them. He greets them with the greeting “Peace be with you”. He gives them the gift of the Holy Spirit which will free them from their fear and timidity and will enable them and the entire Christian people to attain the special peace which comes through encountering God’s forgiveness and mercy.
From the very beginning of his Pontificate Blessed Pope John Paul called on all believers not to be afraid, but to open their hearts to Jesus. He constantly reminded us of the mercy of God revealed in Jesus Christ, who would assist us in our needs and in our weaknesses. Pope John Paul II decided that this Second Sunday of Easter would be celebrated as Divine Mercy Sunday. It was on this feast of Divine Mercy that Pope Benedict wished to beatify his predecessor.
Over thirty-five years ago, in 1976, the then Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, was asked by Pope Paul VI to preach the Lenten Retreat in the Vatican. One of the conferences of the retreat was entitled Mysterium Mortis, the Mystery of Death. The future Pope noted that “Even though we do not chose our own death, nonetheless by choosing our own way of life we do, in a way, choose our death too. Our death becomes the perfect ratification of our life and of the choices we made”.
Of very few people can we say with such clarity, as we can of Pope John Paul II, that his path to death was truly a ratification of the life he spent in the service of the Lord and of humanity and of the Church. His entire life was dedicated to preaching the message of Jesus and to helping people understand how when they opened their hearts to that message they opened their hearts to their real selves as well. As Pope Benedict recalled in his homily this morning, as Pope John Paul grew older, the Lord slowly stripped him of his earthly strengths, but still he remained as Peter should be: a rock of strength.
Pope John Paul’s death reflected his life. As the world watched his physical powers decline, Pope John Paul never flinched in his dedication to the mission he had received, until that final moment when he realised that it was time to return in peace to the house of his Father. His life was realised in a special manner in the way he publicly and courageously encountered death. His death teaches all of us so much about how we should live.
Faith in Jesus Christ is never easy. Faith in Jesus Christ is not just a matter of feeling or of the formulae of doctrine, but of an encounter with Jesus Christ as a real person, a real person who reveals to us in his life and mission that God is love.
Faith in Jesus Christ is never easy. It might indeed appear that faith in Jesus is somehow even more difficult in our times and I could quote a whole medley of statistics and anecdotes which might seem to corroborate such a claim. We saw, in the Gospel reading, how Thomas doubted. Thomas is very much like many men and women of our times; people whose lives have been marked with familiarity with the Christian message but who cannot come to real faith. They know about Jesus, they can speak the language of belief, and yet they find belief hard if not well nigh impossible
Why are there today so many doubts about faith especially in our Western culture? What are at the roots of such doubt? People will have varied answers: they will say that their doubts come from perplexity about one or other dogma, or one or other aspect of the moral teaching of the Church, or about the structures of the Church, or about the failure in witness of believers and Church leaders.
Their doubt, however, goes much deeper. It is doubt about the very ability and utility of believing in Jesus Christ. It is doubt about the fact, to paraphrase the very end of today’s Gospel reading, that it is only through believing in the name of Jesus that we may have life.
Thomas is remembered as the one who doubted, but there is also the sense in which he is the one who overcame his doubts and came to belief.
What can we learn from the doubt and from the belief of Thomas? What changes Thomas? Thomas changes when he sees Jesus. It would be more accurate to say that he believes when he sees the real Jesus and no longer a Jesus of his own making. His doubt about Jesus was because he had formed his own idea of the Risen Jesus, his own idea and the wrong idea. Faith comes when Thomas allows Jesus to shape his life, rather than himself trying to shape his own idea of Jesus and force his ideas about Jesus on those around him.
Thomas believes when he sees the wounds of Jesus. Thomas believes when he understands why the Risen Jesus still bears the wounds of his death. He understands that the wounds are the signs of that self-giving love which had led Jesus to the ignominious death on the Cross for our sake. It is in seeing the wounds still present in the Risen Jesus that Thomas fully understands how much Jesus loved him and how much Jesus continues to love him and us. Jesus had taken upon himself the wounds of humankind, and in rising he had healed those wounds and enabled humanity to cope with its own doubts and uncertainties, with its own troubled history.
The faith of Pope John Paul allowed him to achieve remarkable things in remarkable times. His faith was rock-like and gave him the courage to follow intuitions he received from the Lord, which at times were not understood even by his close collaborators.
There were those who were critical of his call for prayer for peace by leaders of various religions at Assisi. We often tend to forget the political climate in which that Assisi event took place. It was at the height of the build up of nuclear weapons during the Cold War. Enormous nuclear arsenals were built up facing each other. Pope John Paul understood that peace is not the fruit just of politics or negotiations; peace is a gift of God to be implored in prayer. He realised that it was possible and indeed necessary for people of various religions to come together in one place and understand each other’s prayer and witness together to the God of peace.
There were those who were critical of Pope John Paul’s call for Christians to ask forgiveness for the sins of past centuries in the Church. Pope John Paul’s understanding of the holiness of the Church was so strong that it enabled him to recognise openly and to pray for forgiveness for the sins of Christians who over the centuries had resorted to methods which were far from Christian, in inquisitions and crusades, in relation to the Jewish people and in the divisions which emerged among believers in the same Jesus.
It was Pope John Paul’s faith and his sense of prayer that gave him a special appeal among young people. In a youth culture marked by doubt and uncertainty about ultimate values, Pope John Paul stood out as someone who was uncompromising in his proclamation of truth yet outstanding in his witness of love.
In our sophisticated culture, more and more we wish to block out physical weakness and remove from sight the starkness of human death. In his life, his ministry and in his death Pope John Paul witnessed to the strength which comes despite human weakness when we allow the message of Jesus to be the guide of our lives.
We pray that the Church of our times will enjoy the protection from heaven of one who loved and served and suffered for the Church during his life, Blessed Pope John Paul II. ENDS