His Eminence, Cardinal Angelo Comastri
Homily for the Mass of Thanksgiving for the Canonization of John Paul II
Monday, April 28, 2014
St. Peter’s Square, Vatican City
On April 8, 2005 – just nine years ago – so many of us were here in this Square to give a final greeting to John Paul II. Our eyes, moist with tears, observed astonished – do you remember? – The Book of the Gospels placed on the simple oak coffin, situated in the center of the Church Square. A sudden wind, to the amazement of all, began to flip through the pages of the Book.
At that moment we all wondered: “Who was John Paul II? Why did we love him so much?”
The invisible hand that flipped through the pages of the Book of the Gospels seemed to say, “The answer is in the Gospel! The life of John Paul II was a continuous obedience to the Gospel of Jesus: this is why – the wind told us! – this is why you loved him! You recognized in his life the Gospel of always: the Gospel that has given light and hope to generations upon generations of Christians!”
Today, we know that that presentiment was an inspiration, because yesterday, the Church, through the Pope, recognized the sanctity of John Paul II: and today, we commonly rejoice and thank God, the tireless maker of saints.
But recalling the words of John Paul II: “the saints do not ask for applause, but to be imitated”; we rightly ask ourselves: “What does his holiness teach us about this extraordinary disciple of Jesus in the 20th century?”
The first answer is immediate: John Paul II had the courage to speak openly [of] faith in Jesus in an era of “‘silent apostasy’ on the part of people who have all that they need and who live as if God does not exist” (Ecclesia in Europa, 9). On the evening of October 16, 1978, the newly elected Pope John Paul II, looking out from the loggia of the façade of this Basilica, cried: “May Jesus Christ be praised!” This was the cry of his faith; it was the purpose of his life, it was the incipit (beginning) of his pontificate.
On April 3, 2006, in this same Square, Benedict XVI, speaking of his predecessor, exclaimed: “The late Pontiff… in passing through the crucible of apostolic labors and sickness, appeared more and more as a ‘rock’ of faith. To those who had the opportunity to be close to him, that firm and forthright faith was almost tangible. If it impressed the circle of his collaborators, it did not fail during his long Pontificate to spread its beneficial influence throughout the Church in a crescendo that reached its highest point in the last months and days of his life. It was a convinced, strong and authentic faith – free of fears and compromises.”
Thus did Benedict XVI testify.
Rightly, therefore, during the illness of John Paul II, a French journalist made this astute reflection: “As the Pope became less effective in body, his witness became more effective: his faith shone as a lamp in the night.”
Today, we are here to tell him: thank you! And above all, we are here to receive the legacy and example of his courageous faith. What legacy, and what example?
John Paul II had the courage to defend the family, which is a plan of God written quite clearly in the book of life: he defended the family as confusion and public aggression towards the family was spreading in a mad attempt to write an “anti-genesis,” a counter-plan of the Creator. In the Apostolic Exhortation, Familiaris consortio, John Paul II lucidly said: “At a moment of history in which the family is the object of numerous forces that seek to destroy it or in some way to deform it, and aware that the well-being of society and her own good are intimately tied to the good of the family, the Church perceives in a more urgent and compelling way her mission of proclaiming to all people the plan of God for marriage and the family” (3).
After a period of convalescence in the hospital, at the Prayer of the Angelus on May 29, 1994, he said: “Through Mary, I would like to express today my gratitude for this gift of suffering… I’ve understood that it is a necessary gift… and I have understood that I must introduce the Church of Christ into this Third Millennium with prayer, with various initiatives, but I have seen that this is not enough: I must lead it with suffering – with the attempt on my life thirteen years ago and with this new sacrifice. Why now? Why this year? Why in this year of the Family? Precisely because the family is being threatened; it is being attacked. The Pope must be attacked, the Pope must suffer, so that every family and the whole world might see that there is a superior Gospel – the gospel of suffering, with which we are to prepare the future: the Third Millennium of families, of every family and of all families.”
Saint John Paul II, from Heaven, obtain for us the gift of such great light to find again the way of God’s plan with regard to the family, which is the only way that gives dignity to the family and truth to the love and future of spouses and a future for children.
John Paul II also had the courage to defend human life – and all human life! – at a time when the culture of waste was spreading, as Pope Francis has often expressed: yes, in the contemporary “famine” of love, the weakest are discarded because egoism [selfishness] does not support them, but perceives them as a weight. A terrible fact: a sign of a regression of civility!
The Encyclical Letter, Evangelium Vitae, which was an impassioned cry to defend life, ended with a beautiful prayer to Mary, in which there is the entire soul of John Paul II. He writes:
“O Mary, bright dawn of the new world, Mother of the living, to you do we entrust the cause of life. Look down, O Mother, upon the vast numbers of babies not allowed to be born, of the poor whose lives are made difficult, of men and women who are victims of brutal violence, of the elderly and the sick killed by indifference or out of misguided mercy. Grant that all who believe in your Son may proclaim the Gospel of life with honesty and love to the people of our time” (Evangelium Vitae, 105).
How true are these words, how relevant, how prophetic: they are a precious legacy.
But his passion for the defense of human life became an authentic cry in the Valle dei Templi, in Agrigento. Pope John Paul II, overcome by a tremor worthy of Amos or Isaiah, cried: “God said once: thou shalt not kill! No man, whoever he may be, whatever group…. can change or overturn this most holy law of God. (…) Civility of life is needed here! In the name of this Crucified and Risen Christ (and with his eyes he pointed out the Crucified [Christ] that he held within his hands), in the name of this Christ who is the way, the truth, and the life, I tell those responsible: ‘Convert! One day the judgment of God will come!’”.
What faith, what strength, what heroism was hidden behind these words: it was the heroism of a Saint!
But the courageous faith of John Paul II did not stop here.
He had the courage to defend peace while the dark winds of war were blowing. In 1991 and in 2003, he tried with all his strength to halt the two Gulf wars: he was not heard, but he did not tire of crying: Peace! On March 16, 2003, in an extreme attempt to block the war machine, he allowed himself to say: “I know what war is. I must say to these people: ‘war does not solve problems, but multiplies them.’” Holy words, true words, relevant words.
John Paul II had the courage to go out to meet young people to free them from the culture of emptiness and of the ephemeral and to invite them to welcome Christ, the only light of life and the only one capable of giving fullness of joy to the human heart.
On August 15th of the year 2000, welcoming an immense crowd of young people here in St. Peter’s Square, he greeted them thus: “What have you come in search of? Or rather, who have you come here to find? There can be only one answer to that: you have come in search of Jesus Christ! But Jesus Christ has first gone in search of you… Don’t ever think then that you are unknown to Him, as if you were just a number in an anonymous crowd. Each one of you is precious to Christ, He knows you personally, He loves you tenderly.”
Young people from all over the world recognized in John Paul II a true father, an authentic guide, and a faithful educator. Who can forget the embrace between the Pope and a young man who, during the Vigil at Tor Vergata, passed through all the security barriers, and ran to him to simply say: “Thank you! I love you!” It is a scene that entered into our hearts and the history of humanity.
John Paul II, in the difficult period of the crisis of priestly vocations, had the courage to live before the world the joy of being a priest, the joy of belonging to Christ and to expend himself totally for the cause of His Kingdom.
An ex-priest, who had been reduced to living as a homeless person, came one day accompanied by a brother priest to an audience of the Pope in Clementine Hall. The Pope was informed of that individual presence and, once the audience concluded, he asked to meet the ex-priest. What happened? The Pope knelt down and asked to be confessed in order to reawaken in the heart of the priest the awareness of the greatness of the priesthood.
Greeting him, he said: “See how great your priesthood is! Do not sully it!” Words and actions worthy of a Saint.
John Paul II, finally, had the courage to face the “Marian winter,” which characterized the first post-conciliar phase.
He re-proposed devotion to Mary with force and with conviction: a devotion that is a fundamental part of the Gospel, that is, of the work of salvation as it was and is carried out by God in Jesus Christ.
“On May 13, 1981,” – these are his words – “while an assassin’s hand shot to kill me, I felt a maternal hand which halted the Pope at the threshold of death.”
And on February 24, 2005, after a tracheotomy that deprived him of his voice, he wrote on a sheet of paper: “What have you [all] done to me! But… totus tuus” (completely yours).
Up until the end, John Paul II allowed himself to be led by Mary on the way of faith, abandonment, and the total gift of himself.
He was a Saint!
St. John Paul, pray for the Church, whom you so loved and courageously pushed along the path of heroic fidelity to Jesus.
St. John Paul, pray for us, so that, closely [gathered] around Pope Francis, we might form (according to the desire and prayer of Jesus), one heart and one soul, so that the world might believe. Amen.