27 March 2014
Dcn Les Ruhrmund
In his homily on the occasion of the canonisation of Saint Faustina on the second Sunday after Easter in 2000, Pope John Paul II said:
“It is important then that we accept the whole message that comes to us from the word of God on this Second Sunday of Easter, which from now on throughout the Church will be called Divine Mercy Sunday. Christ has taught us that we not only receive and experience the mercy of God, but we are also called to practise mercy towards others. The light of the message of Divine Mercy which the Lord wished to renew in the world will be as much a beacon of hope for the third millennium, as the apostles were in the first.”
Pope John Paul II died on the eve of Divine Mercy Sunday in 2005 and it’s quite remarkable that he will be canonised by Pope Francis in Rome today, Divine Mercy Sunday, 9 years after his death. We have been privileged to witness a saint’s journey in our own lifetime.
Also being canonised in Rome today is Pope John XXIII, known affectionately as ‘Good Pope John’.
I was but a boy when he died in 1963 and knew very little about him. Pope John XXIII may be the lesser known of the two pontiffs who will be made saints today, but his short papacy was one of the most important of the 20th century.
When he was elected Pope in 1958 he was already 76 years old and widely considered a ‘stop-gap’ following the 20 year long pontificate of his predecessor, Pope Pius XII. But right from the day of his election as Pope, from his very choice of the name John, through to his death four and a half years later, he gave the papacy a new vision and set before the Church a new version of its mission to the world.
Less than three months into his papacy he announced that he would convene the Second Vatican Council; an announcement that greatly surprised those within the Vatican as much as it did the world.
Few people had as great an impact on the 20th century as Pope John XXIII. His role in defusing the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 was crucial. His letter to President Kennedy of the United States and Premier Khrushchev of the Soviet Union (that was published with their permission in newspapers around the world) appealed to them as world leaders to maintain peace for the sake of all humanity and it allowed Kennedy and Khrushchev a way to back out from what was almost certain nuclear war without either having to acknowledging defeat.
In 1963 he was awarded posthumously, together with President John F Kennedy, the highest civilian award of the USA.
In his speech making the award, President Johnson said: “I have also determined to confer the Presidential Medal of Freedom posthumously on another noble man whose death we mourned 6 months ago: His Holiness, Pope John XXIII. He was a man of simple origins, of simple faith, of simple charity. In this exalted office he was still the gentle pastor. He believed in discussion and persuasion. He profoundly respected the dignity of man. He gave the world immortal statements of the rights of man, of the obligations of men to each other, of their duty to strive for a world community in which all can live in peace and fraternal friendship. His goodness reached across temporal boundaries to warm the hearts of men of all nations and of all faiths”.
Pope John XXIII is credited with saving thousands of Jews during the Holocaust and with opening the door to Judeo-Christian dialogue. A document on file at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Israel cites the future pope as being “among the most sensitive to the Jewish tragedy and most vigorous in rescue efforts”.
Like Pope Francis, he had a keen sense of humour and – despite being head of the Church – tried not to take himself too seriously. Asked by a journalist how many people worked in the Vatican he replied famously “about half.”
One morning he was visiting a hospital in Rome called the Hospital of the Holy Spirit. When he was introduced to the sister who ran the hospital, she welcomed him saying “Holy Father, I am the superior of the Holy Spirit.”
“You’re very lucky,” said the pope, delighted. “I’m only the Vicar of Christ!”
In this morning’s Gospel, we heard the familiar story of Thomas meeting Jesus, the week after the Resurrection.
Notice that it is Jesus who comes to Thomas; not the other way round. And he doesn’t rebuke or condemn Thomas for doubting his Resurrection. He is kind and loving. The Risen Christ is gentle with doubters, with those who are confused, with those who do not believe. In his Divine Mercy he calls us by name and assures that we are loved and forgiven; that there is nothing in our past, present or future that can stop him from loving us. He comes to us where we are and says simple “Trust in me.”
In this past week, Loyola Press published a book by Pope Francis called ‘The Church of Mercy”. The book is a compilation of Pope Francis’s homilies, interviews and essays in this first year of his papacy.
Let me finish with a quote from the book that’s particularly appropriate today.
“Let the risen Jesus enter your life, welcome him as a friend, with trust: he is life! If up till now you have kept him at a distance, step forward. He will receive you with open arms. If you have been indifferent, take a risk; you won’t be disappointed. If following him seems difficult, don’t be afraid. Trust him, be confident that he is close to you, he is with you and he will give you the peace you are looking for and the strength to live as he would have you do.”