“Have many of you watched the tv or internet about the making of the two saints today? Probably not, since it was broadcast live at 3 a.m.! But, did any of you see coverage or watch stories about it. I didn’t expect it so. Therefore, I wrote a homily about them, and it has a lot of details… are you willing to listen in for awhile, as I teach on the Gospel of today but then tie in the new saints St. John XXIII and St. John Paul II, the double pope saints?” (Good. I will.)
SECOND SUNDAY OF EASTER HOMILY (DIVINE MERCY SUNDAY, SUNDAY OF TWO SAINTS ANEW)
Alleluia! Alleluia! We celebrate the 8th day of Easter– its Second Sunday. It’s Holy Time in God’s Church. It’s the special time of year. We recall on the very First Easter time, that on the second Sunday of it, Jesus chose to come into the midst of the apostles at the Upper Room space in Jerusalem, and He showed them again that He was indeed alive and risen from the dead. He was ministering unbounded now, as John’s Gospel proclaims to us, walking through the walls, with Jesus showing His triumph and His divine identiy, yet also showing to them His human identity, asking surprisingly “Do you have any cooked fish to eat here?” He also showed the marks of His bodily crucifixion to them, mainly, to Thomas, the apostle who hadn’t been there the last Sunday, the Day of Resurrection, the Great Day of thePaschal Lord, His first official appearing. Thomas is astounded. He cries out: “My Lord and My God.” This is a five word prayer that some people use nowadays at the consecration, praising the Real Presence of Jesus come to the church at Mass. “My Lord and My God.” The servers ring the chimes to have us give attention to Christ’ arrival in Body and Blood to us, in Sacrament encounter. Perhaps it can signal you to pray “My Lord and My God” as St. Thomas did when He saw the Lord at the Upper Room on the original 8th day of Easter.
One other verse in today’s gospel that reaches into me is John 20:21. I said so in last Sunday’s homily, too, it is a verse for The Joy of the Gospel theme. John 20:21 should also become true of us, and not just of those at the first Easter time. “The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Risen Lord.” They rejoiced.
Easter IS a time to rejoice in the Risen Lord. WE are the disciples today who are to rejoice.
This is a unique Sunday in the Church, with some extra rejoicing, courtesy of Pope Francis, that two popes would be elevated today to sainthood on this Eighth Day of Easter. These two holy people, new St. John the 23rd and new St. John Paul the Second, were pontiffs whom we knew in our own modern times. If you are in your late 60’s and up, then you probably knew something of Pope John XXIII and his influence on the world and to the Church. If you are in your later 20’s and up, then some of the same might be said of you knowing of the ministry of Pope John Paul II. They made an impact. We live in their blessings today. It is why Pope Francis chose for us to honor and elevate them in our recognition as our newest saints, done so on this Divine Mercy Easter Sunday, as led by the Holy Spirit for us to do. With St. Sister Fautina being the one with private revelations of the Merciful Christ showering mercy to the present age, and that she was made a saint by her fellow Pole, Pope John Paul II, it also is appropriate that the canonization of JPII can happen today, as St. Faustina might have wanted to return the favor to Pope John Paul II for recognizing and passing on the call of our Lord to appeal to His precious five wounds for mercy to an amuck society fallen further into sin in this modern time. Oh, dear Lord, how the world needs God’s mercy, and how it needs intercessors of mercy. Praise God.
For you younger folks, you can understand from this sainthood Easter Sunday that we, your “elders,” draw some deep meaning from the elevation of these popes to being heralded as saints. We (those of a previous generation or two) saw that this troublesome last century of ours, filled with wars and sins and more, was a time when God used the office of papacy to move the world into certain ways back into goodness and grace, rather than fall further into darkness. God would use the papacy, the chair (or office) Jesus first gave to Peter, to help for some great things to happen in the world via the Church.
When I was little, Pope John XXIII was leading things for our Catholic Church. That was over 50 years ago. Good Pope John was quite the influence on the world, They needed direction into peace and harmony, still quite soon after two successive world wars almost torn up the world. Many of our grandparents and great uncles had gone into war. So, in the late 1950’s and early 60’s, many nations and its leaders were listening to this friendly and engaging old pope, as he spoke of peace and of a natural law (or an inside built-in guide from God) to teach people about how to live in a higher design, in the honor of God, and now to strive to become nicer people, and folks with more understanding of others. (And with less war and division.) Pope John XXIII had people, even many non-Catholic ones, talking about the message of the Catholic Church a lot. It became popular. I remember as a kid going to a big world’s fair in New York—it was a large international festival of amusements and culture and arts and diversity. I attended it, a few times, as it was nearby where I lived as a boy. The World’s Fair was held in New York City, and I was impressed that the Catholic Church had a big pavilion in it, displaying our faith to the world. It was right in the spirit of openness of the pope of that time, Pope John XXIII, who is being made a saint today. (Do you see the large poster photos we put of him on the west wall of the church today?!) I was proud to be a Catholic at that World’s Fair Vatican exhibit. I was also proud of the picture of the pope we had in various places in our home (walls, bible, parent’s wedding document). Good Pope John also changed things for me as a young boy when the pope asked for countries to put the Mass in our own language, rather than just Latin anymore. I went from listening mysteriously to the Mass to better understanding it. Imagine it, now, if your Mass today was mostly in the Latin language—you might not follow all that was going on.
Let me tell you of the impact of today’s other saint upon me and the world. For Pope John Paul II, when he became pope, I wasn’t a little boy anymore, but I was a college student in 1978 at the University of Maryland. I remember that the pope came to D.C. and gathered hundreds of thousands of persons down to Washington to the big lawn”mall” and I attended it. It was a half-day gathering, centered on an outdoor Mass. Do you know what I did that day? I took a college girl on a date to it. It was a half-day celebration of music, and people together being happy, and then the Mass. My girlfriend/date was not Catholic, but she was getting used to sharing Catholic things with me, and this event surely was a very neat and very popular thing. Who else could draw hundreds of thousands of people on a weekday to the DC Mall?! No one but the popular Pope John Paul II. She was moved by the whole day. No, not by me, her date, but of something greater, the Faith of the Ages going back to Jesus and the Apostles. She “got” who we were all about, and why the Church IS special. Later, I can say, that college girl became a Catholic convert. She met a Catholic guy and they were married. In the 1990’s, they had me as their pastor for a couple of years, in a funny turn of fate.
This Pope John Paul II was fairly young, and he decided to travel all around the world doing gatherings and Masse, once gathering a million people for a Mass in Manila in the Philippines. He also had a World Youth Mass regularly, a special Mass and week in which he invited mostly teens and young adults to gather with their pope somewhere special in the world. I recall it greatly affected a college student named Larry. Larry was so moved by the pope when he came to World Youth Day in Denver, seeing the pope as a priest who loved his celebration of Jesus, that Larry was inspired to become a priest himself one day. Larry later lived with me for a Summer (in the 1990’s) as a seminarian, and now Fr. Larry is pastor of a parish that I used to be the pastor of. Fr. Larry is also playing baseball today on the priest and seminarian baseball team who takes the field today in a minor league stadium in Waldorf. He is the player manager of that team. I will see him today. His changed life is just one of millions affected by St. John Paul II.
There are many more things to say of these two new pope saints. Certainly they both promoted God’s Mercy to the world. They presented Christ Jesus as the Head of the Church, and over the body of believers (us!), Who was a Risen Lord on High at the Throne, Who also was greatly involved on earth in our affairs, being the life in our souls, and being the Life in our Sacraments, and the Center of our Story in Scriptures and the Traditions of Jesus’ believers.
I guess I should point out that these men were among the many Catholics who kept their faith and their allegiance to Church, when so many other things were going wrong in the world. Both saw the bad horrors of war. Pope John XXIII was in the medical corps and chaplaincy in WWI and treated the badly wounded of war. That was in his young adult days. Then he saw WWII come and as a Italian priest helping in Turkey, Greece and France—he saw his beloved part of the world get mostly destroyed and divided by the Nazi’s. As for Pope John Paul II, he already had personal family heartache in his mother dying when he was only 9 yrs. old, his brother dying when he was 12 yrs. old, his older sister passing away before his birth, and then his father passing, all before he reached the age of 22. That was enough sadness, but then his Poland got attacked when he was that young adult, and much was taken by control of the Nazis’. Then , some years later, the Communists of Russia came in and did even worse to Poland. Pope JPII knew war, too. All too well.
So it was interesting to see these two popes do so much for peace in their times. They were well know for being peacemakers. Pope John XXIII “Pacem in Terris” is still one of the great 20th century documents of the world. There is a Spirit of Peace available to guide us all, He said (of the Spirit of God). Pope John Paul II saw that the same Spirit offered human dignity and freedom to humankind, working with a natural, God-given inner law in humanity— if we could just cooperate with the Spirit. Their messages still bring us hope.
So, that is what I can say of these two pope saints, and by the way, did you also notice the poster photos of Pope John Paul II on our east wall, beside the picture of St. Faustina of the Divine Mercy, of whom JPII elevated to sainthood, and renamed this Sunday of Easter for the Divine Mercy?
Now we live in the time of Pope Francis. We have had over a year of his papacy, and much good is coming about through the office of Christ’ Vicar on Earth again. Christ does love his Peters in the Church! Francis is doing fresh things for the Church and world, but he himself knows that he is just building on the work of these two great predecessors of himself. Pope John XXIII was the one who said positive things in the late 1950’s, like: “We, the Church, must throw open our windows and let the fresh breath of the Holy Spirit in over us.” Indeed. Let the Spirit of God breathe and blow on us to bring new vitality to our Faith. As we get into 2014 a little further, God asks His Catholics to believe in this vitality, and to get into this freshness of the Spirit, and into the Joy of the Gospel.