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The Beatification of John Paul II

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beatification

The Beatification of Pope John Paul

Blessed Pope John Paul II

 

On Divine Mercy Sunday, 1 May 2011, Pope Benedict XVI
beatified his predecessor, Pope John Paul II.
There were more than one and a half million people who had come to Rome for the event and
countless others watching on television across the world.  Friends of mine were pleased to secure a
place for the Mass of beatification on the packed Via della Conciliazione,
which – being half a kilometre long and outside the Vatican City – gives you an idea of how
large an event it was!

 

‘It was glorious to be
out there for it’
said one, ‘you
know, they talk about a dying Church…
[but] many, many thousands of them were young.  The whole experience was especially
‘electrique,’ given that the beatified soul is very much in the realm of living
memory and the countless people there have personal memories of him.’
That
certainly seems to be the case, doesn’t it?
When you talk of Pope John Paul II, whose pontificate spanned more than
quarter of a century, everyone has something different yet significant that
they will remember about him.

 

Thinking back six years to seeing those millions present in
Rome in the days following his death, seeing the diversity and magnitude of
world leaders who attended his funeral, one couldn’t help but wonder, what was it
about this man that attracted not just Catholics, but people of all faiths and
none to admire him, to listen to what he had to say and then to pay their final
respects?

 

I am sure that it was the attractiveness of his
authentically holy life that drew so many to him.  He lived the Gospel – in public and in
private – ‘in season and out of season.’

 

Pope John Paul II had a particular affection for the young
and they for him.  The World Youth Days
must surely be one of his more spectacular legacies, attracting unprecedented
numbers of youth to hear and see for themselves what he had to offer.

 

Of course, what he had to offer was what he had been given
himself: the faith of the Church.  To the
Youth of Poland in June 1997, he preached on Peter’s faith as he walked on
water (Mt 14:22-33).

 

‘Peter’s faith had lacked one essential
element — complete abandonment to Christ, total trust in Him at the moment of
great trial; he lacked unreserved hope in Him. Faith and hope, together with
love, constitute the foundation of the Christian life, the cornerstone of which
is Jesus Christ.’

 

This ‘complete abandonment to Christ’ was evident in our Successor of
Peter as he sought to live according to his own preaching, fearlessly defending
the Gospel, refusing time and again to bend or dilute the Church’s teaching
simply to give itching ears what they wanted to hear (cf 2 Tim 4:2-3).  He demonstrated that living Christianity is
not just something for calm weather, but also when we know that the wind and
waves encroach from every side and it would be far easier to stay in the
boat.  From his very first encyclical, Redemptor hominis through lower-profile
documents like 1994’s Letter to Families to his more widely cited encyclicals,
like Redemptoris Mater, Veritatis splendour and his (in my
opinion) absolute cracker Evangelium
Vitae
and Fides et Ratio, Pope
John Paul always boldly proclaimed the teaching of the Church without selling
us short through omission, trusting that the same Lord who saved his
predecessor from sinking beneath the waves would protect him also.

 

One can see that trust shining
through the hidden humility of the recently beatified soul in his own Last Will
and Testament:

 

I express the most profound trust that, in spite of all my weakness,
the Lord will grant me every grace necessary to face, in accordance with His
will, any task, test or suffering that He sees fit to ask of His servant during
his life. I am also confident that He will never let me fail through some
attitude I may have – words, deeds or omissions – in my obligations to this
holy Petrine See.

 

John Paul II’s example of
entrusting himself in all his weakness to Christ makes Our Lord’s teaching in
John 10:10 (‘I have come that they may
have life and have it to the full’
) easier to understand.  One might question the ‘fullness’ of lives
lived in extreme poverty or physical suffering, but Jesus was not promising
wealth, health or even superficial happiness.
More valuable are the treasures of heaven, spiritual health and Christian
joy.  Our late Pope taught us (for
example through his teaching on the ‘love
of preference for the poor’
in Sollicitudo
rei socialis
) to care for the suffering and do what we can to alleviate
their wretchedness, but he also taught us – by word and example – how to suffer.

When Pope John Paul spoke to a group of the sick at Jasna Gora, the famous
Marian Shrine in Poland, he not only demonstrated that he saw the intrinsic value
of the lives of those who suffer, but had the humility and wisdom to ask for
their prayers:

‘On His
cross the Son of God accomplished the redemption of the world. It is through
this mystery that every cross placed on someone’s shoulders acquires a dignity
that is humanly inconceivable and becomes a sign of salvation for the person
who carries it and also for others.

I beg you
to make use of the cross that
has become part of each one of you for
salvation. I pray for you to have light and spiritual strength in your
suffering, that you may not lose courage but may discover for yourselves the
meaning of suffering and may be able to relieve others by prayer and sacrifice.
And do not forget me and the whole of the Church, and the cause of the Gospel
and peace that I am serving by Christ’s will. You who are weak and humanly
incapable, be a source of strength for your brother and father who is at your
side in prayer and heart.’

As early as 1984, Pope John Paul II wrote his apostolic letter on human suffering,
Salvifici Doloris, in which he
taught,

In bringing about the Redemption through suffering, Christ has also raised human suffering to the level of the Redemption. Thus each
man, in his suffering, can also become a sharer in the redemptive suffering of
Christ’ (SD 15).

 

When considering the written works
of John Paul II (whether delivered on paper or orally), we know, of course,
that he would have spent a good time writing and revising and perhaps it is
easier to come across as holy when one has the opportunity of redrafting!  It is, then, the witness of the life he lived
– especially in his latter years – that showed most clearly what we had already
suspected; that with this man there was no ‘mask’ of holiness, no charade.  His life was authentically holy.  He was the same on the outside as the inside;
in public as in private.

 

Ten years before his death, he commented on his own
suffering, that ‘The Pope must suffer so
that every family and the world should see that there is, I would say, a higher
gospel: the gospel of suffering, with which one must prepare the future
’.

 

…and suffer he did.  Millions
know that, for we could see images of him suffering on the television and in
our newspapers.  Here was the man who
spent so many years setting out what is now known as the ‘Theology of the Body’, who taught that every life is to be rejoiced
in and defended, from conception to natural death.  Here was the man who called for each of us to
recognise that ‘every cross placed on
someone’s shoulders acquires a dignity that is humanly inconceivable and
becomes a sign of salvation for the person who carries it and also for others’.

This very same man then – in phenomenal
physical weakness – showed more powerfully than ever before that it is God’s
love for us that makes us whole and that complete abandonment to Him in all
things is the only way to live and to die.

 

Blessed John Paul II, pray for us!

 

Jane Critten.

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