Saturday, May 28, 2011
Mrs. Wilson had been teaching her CCD class about the Holy Trinity. The next week as a review, she asked if anyone could name the three members of the Trinity. Young Johnny enthusiastically raised his hand and said he knew the answer, “The Holy Trinity is the Father, and the Son, and the Big Bird!” Confused, the teacher asked, “Johnny, why do you think the Holy Spirit is a big bird?” “Because,” he said. “Last week, you kept calling the Holy Spirit, the Parakeet!”
In today’s Gospel, Jesus likewise gives to His people a mirror through His words. He took pains to hold before them the bold message that He would not leave because He loved them. He said, “I will not leave you orphans. I will come to you.”
Let’s recall the setting Jesus says this in. It was the Last Supper and Jesus had announced His impending departure. This left the disciples nervous, anxious, even depressed. But, being the astute teacher He was, Christ had to lift His people off the floor and put them back on their cushions. He promised to continue His relationship with them through a Helper. The Helper is of course the Holy Spirit. The word in Greek is Paracletos, or Paraclete – not quite the Big Bird, the Parakeet!
So, what is a Paraclete? There are many translations of the word: Advocate, Comforter, Counselor, Helper. The Greek Paracletos literally describes someone who is called to stand beside a client. In legal terms that would be your attorney. But a Paraclete is much more than an attorney. Probably the best word that we use today that captures the meaning of Paraclete is the word “coach.” The Paraclete is our coach, always by our side, to instruct and correct us when we make mistakes, to encourage and motivate us when we feel down, to challenge and inspire us to be the best we can be, to defend us and fight for us when the world is unfair. In short, the Paraclete means for all of us, what Jesus meant for the disciples.
Why do we need a Paraclete? For the same reason that athletes and sports people need coaches. No matter how good they are, athletes always need coaches. Even Big Papi, Dustin Pedroia and my favorite Red Sox this year Jed Lowrie – all need a coach. Left on our own, we are prone to mistakes and errors. Without God we can do nothing. In the 5th century ad there was a British thinker called Pelagius who taught that human beings have the natural ability to fulfill God's commands if they so choose. The church condemned his teaching as a heresy, insisting that human beings always need God's grace in order to please God. Pelagianism is the belief that we can fulfill our human destiny just by being ourselves, and that we do not need the grace of God that comes through faith, prayer or the sacraments. Many people today are Pelagians without even knowing it. Jesus tells us in today's gospel that we all stand in constant need of divine help. We all need the divine Helper, the Holy Spirit who stands always by our side, the Paraclete.
How then do we receive this all-important Helper? By striving to live according to the law of Christ which is love o-f God and love of our neighbor. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you forever.” After the Ascension of Our Lord, the disciples “together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus” retired to the upper room to wait and pray for the promised Paraclete. We cannot do better than follow their example. We must do as they did and invite the Helper into our lives. The Helper does not enter uninvited. He waits for an invitation. But, once invited, He will lead us into truth. He guarantees we are God's children. He helps us pray. He offers us hope. He empowers us to help other believers. He aids us to be like Him. He gives us spiritual muscle.
This Thursday is the Feast of the Ascension. Between Ascension and Pentecost the church invites all her children to a period of prayer and waiting for the gift of the Holy Spirit. Let us observe this period as a special period of prayer just as the disciples did because we need the Holy Spirit today as much as they needed it two thousand years ago.
A poet sums up the Parakletos well in these words. “Eternally the Holy Spirit is love between the Father and the Son but historically the Holy Spirit is love between God and the world.” “I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you. The Father will give you another Advocate to be with you always.” Come, Holy Spirit, Come!
May God give you peace!
Saturday, May 21, 2011
A priest died and was waiting in line at the Pearly Gates. Just ahead of him was a man dressed in sunglasses, a loud shirt, leather jacket, and jeans. Saint Peter addressed the man, “Who are you, so that I may know whether or not to admit you to the Kingdom of Heaven?” The man replied, “I’m Joe Green, taxi-driver, of Noo Yawk City.” Saint Peter consulted his list, smiled and said to the taxi-driver, “Welcome to the Kingdom of Heaven. You may have that beautiful mansion on the left.” St. Peter motioned to the priest with the same question, “Who are you, so that I may know whether or not to admit you into the Kingdom?” The priest answer, “I am Fr. Michael O’Connor, I was pastor of Saint Mary’s for the last 43 years.” Saint Peter again consulted his list and said, “Welcome to the Kingdom, Father. Yours will be that lovely little cottage down there on the right.” Surprised the priest said, “But, St. Peter, that man was just a taxi-driver, and you gave him a great mansion. I’m a priest and all I get is a cottage. How can this be?” St. Peter looked at the priest and said, “Father, up here, we are all about results, and while you preached, people slept. But, while he drove, people prayed.”
I’m sure you all followed the news this week about the group in California who believed that the Rapture is upon us and that it would take place at 6 p.m. last night. This prediction came from 89 year-old Harold Camping, who believed he discovered some pretty complex mathematical equations that prove definitively that yesterday was Judgment Day that would usher in the Rapture and the Second Coming of Jesus. Well, we’re still here!
Now, there were many reasons to be skeptical of this proclamation. First of all, this wasn’t Mr. Camping’s first prediction. He also predicted the Rapture would take place in 1994, and when it didn’t blamed his calculator – the math was off. Not to mention that we all know the ancient Mayans predicted the end of the world would be in December 2012, so that gives us another year, or so. I know in my own lifetime, I can think of at least a half a dozen times that the end has been near! And, we’re still here. To quote the R.E.M. song, “It’s the end of the world as we know it; and I feel fine.”
Of course, all joking aside, there are also some really good reasons to be skeptical whenever anyone makes claims like this. For example, most profoundly, Jesus said in Mark’s Gospel; reiterated in Matthew, speaking of His Second Coming, “Of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come.” Can we take a moment to let that sink in? Jesus tells us clearly – no one will know when the Judgment Day will be upon us – and by no one Jesus said that not even angels in Heaven know; not even He knows the day or the hour – and yet, some guy living in Oakland, CA knows. Jesus, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity doesn’t have this information, but a retired civil engineer-turned radio preacher, somehow figured the whole thing out. As for me, I’m sticking with Jesus: “You do not know when the time will come.”
The other reason a believer should be skeptical is much deeper and, I think, more beautiful. If yesterday were the day? If the end of the world really did take place last night at 6 p.m.? So what!? What difference does that make to a baptized believer; to a true follower of Jesus? It shouldn’t make any. On the day of your baptism – whether it happened recently or many years ago – the priest or deacon said, “May all who are buried with Christ in the death of baptism rise also with him to newness of life.” My friends, this tells us something important – the end is not near; the end happened a long time ago – the end happened on the day you died in baptism and we’re reborn into eternity in Christ. From the moment that the waters of baptism embraced us, we have been marked out for eternity; for immortality; for never-ending life with God in Heaven. The end, then, was that day, not today. On that day, Jesus conquered death in our lives, so that we might live forever. Since that day, we became luminous, immortal, destined for the same glory that we spend these 50 days of Easter celebrating.
Predictions like these recent ones by Mr. Camping serve only one purpose – to make people anxious, nervous and even frightened. They are more caught up in hellfire and damnation than anything that resembled the Good News that Jesus came to share with us. And, today’s readings are so perfectly attuned to the real truth of the Good News.
To the anxiety and nervousness that Mr. Camping and others like him preach, Jesus says today in our Gospel, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me.” To the gospel of fear that these predictions bring, Jesus says, “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be.”
This is the authentic, loving and comforting message that Jesus wants us to hear today; that He wants us to hear throughout the glorious season of Easter; and He wants us to hear every day of our lives. He says, “Where I am going you know the way,” because, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” So, my friends, “do not let your hearts be troubled.” Instead, let us build up one another in our faith and our trust in Jesus Christ and all that He promises; a faith that has conquered even death itself and opened for all the baptized the gates to eternal life. Let us pledge once again to follow Christ who is the way, who is the truth, and who is the life! And, let us follow Him all the way to Heaven.
As St. Peter reminds us today, we are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of [God’s] own.” We have “put on Christ, in Him we have been baptized.” So, let us live renewed in the joy of that same faith; let us live recommitted to a true life in Christ; and please, let not our hearts be troubled.
May the Lord give you peace.
Saturday, May 14, 2011
A shepherd was herding his flock one day when suddenly a shiny BMW came towards him. The driver, a well-dressed young man leaned out the window and asked the shepherd, “If I tell you exactly how many sheep you have in your flock, will you give me one?” The shepherd looked at the man, then looked at his peacefully grazing flock and calmly answered, “Sure.” The man quickly pulled out a laptop computer, surfed to a NASA web page, called up a GPS satellite, and scanned the area. Finally, his computer beeped its completion and he turned to the shepherd and said, “You have exactly 1,586 sheep.” “That is correct; take one of the sheep.” said the shepherd. He watched the young man select one of the animals and bundle it into his car.
We heard in our Gospel passage today, “The sheep follow [Me], because they recognize [My] voice…I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” We have a few different celebrations taking place today. We celebrate Good Shepherd Sunday and the Church calls us to mark today as the World Day of Prayer for Vocations. I think as we reflect we see that there is something wonderfully complimentary about these celebrations.
Perhaps one of the most powerful images that Jesus gives us of Himself is as the Good Shepherd. So, we need to know a little bit about shepherds and what they do. In Jesus time, there were two kinds of shepherds. There was the hired hand for whom keeping the sheep was just the available job. He moved from flock to flock depending on the conditions of service and he would not risk his life for them. Seeing danger he would flee and leave the flock untended. Then there is the shepherd-owner of the flock who grows up with the flock and stays with the same flock all his life. He knows each and every sheep in the flock individually. He calls each one by name and knows everything about each of his sheep. He knows which ones are strong, which are weak; which ones might stray from the flock and would keep an eye on them. When in danger, he would risk his life to defend his sheep.
Jesus tells us that this is the kind of shepherd He is. He knows each one of us individually. He knows the cares and concerns of our lives. He knows our needs. He knows our strengths and weaknesses. He knows what we can be. And this is the heart of vocation: discovering our best identity – who we are called to be in God’s sight. You know, God is continually calling people. Our task, as His sheep, is to create environments in our lives, in our families, in our communities, where we help and allow people to hear the voice of the Good Shepherd, so that they can follow where He will lead. “The sheep hear His voice and follow Him.” And this is a common task for every one of us. Now, our individual vocation may not be to formal ministry in the Church as someone ordained or consecrated, but the Good Shepherd is calling all of us to something. Can we hear His voice?
As we find ourselves today in between celebrations of Mother’s and Father’s Day, I’ve often thought that the Good Shepherd sounds a lot like a Good Mother or a Good Father. A good parent likewise knows their children in each and every way. They try to protect them, lead them, guide them towards the things that are happy and good and holy. Good parents play a crucial role in building up the kingdom of God's love within their families. Just as our Blessed Mother Mary and St. Joseph had unique roles in shaping the life of Jesus, so every parent is called to shape the religious life of their own children. Much like the Good Shepherd, a Good Mom or Dad nurture their children in the light of faith so they can truly discover their identity in God’s sight – the only identity that really matters.
And that is what connects our different celebrations today. It is all about identity. Who we are is what is important. And the only important answer to the question of our identity is who we are before God. St. Francis would remind his brothers, “You are what You are before God. That and nothing more.” And nothing less. The Good Shepherd helps us to see this. He knows who we are intimately. Good parents helps us to grow towards this as they encourage us to see ourselves primarily through the eyes of faith – as God’s sons and daughters. And when we know our true identity before God, we discover our vocation; our calling; who we are to be in His sight.
If this identity has been nurtured by our parents, and if we’ve been open to the Good Shepherd, we see it most clearly each and every time we gather around the Eucharistic table of our Lord. Receiving the Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Jesus, tells us something about ourselves. When we enter into that personal relationship with Jesus that we can only have in the Eucharist, Jesus helps us to discover who He has called us to be. We are most clearly the people we are called to be in the Eucharist. You want to know what Jesus asks of you, what Jesus wants you to do, what your vocation is – meet Jesus in the Eucharist and he will reveal it to you.
My own vocation story boils down to this very same reality. As a teen, I really didn’t have any faith. I had not begun on a faith journey with the Lord. In my early 20s I felt drawn for the first time in my life to the Eucharist. When I began going to Mass, I started to have powerful experiences – with the Mass speaking to me in a way it never had before. I felt the presence of Jesus that I had never felt before. I remember receiving the Eucharist at one of these Masses and in a spiritual sense this was my first true Communion because it was the first time that I truly believed in my heart that this was Jesus. And when I met him personally, for the first time, He began to show me who I really was and what He really wanted from me. It was through meeting Jesus in the Eucharist that I discovered my vocation, my calling, my place in God’s Kingdom. And you can too.
We have all been led here by a Good Shepherd who knows His sheep and wants the best for them. We have been nurtured by Good Mothers and Fathers (and by our Blessed Mother) who want us to grow in the ways of faith and draw closer to God. We will meet Him in a profound and special way in the Eucharist and discover who we are in God’s sight and what God has planned for them in His Kingdom.
“The sheep follow [Me], because they recognize [My] voice…I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly”
Let us pray that more young men and women will have the will to pursue the vocation that God is calling them to; that they will follow the Good Shepherd. Let us be people who encourage them to do so. Let us pray for all our families that God will strengthen them in being places where young people can discover who they are in God’s sight and have the courage to follow.
May God give you peace.
Saturday, May 7, 2011
A young man was walking through a supermarket to pick up a few things when he noticed an older woman following him around. Thinking nothing of it, he ignored her and continued on. Finally he went to the checkout line, but she jumped in front of him. “Pardon me,” she said, “I'm sorry if my staring at you has made you feel uncomfortable. It's just that you look just like my son, who I haven't seen in a long time.” “That's a shame,” replied the young man, “is there anything I can do for you?” “Yes,” she said, “as I'm leaving, can you say 'Good bye, Mom!' It would make me feel so much better.” “Sure,” answered the young man. As the old woman was leaving, he called out, “Good bye, Mom!” As he stepped up to the checkout counter with his loaf of bread and gallon of milk, he saw that his total was $125. “How can that be?” he asked, “I only purchased bread and milk!” Pointing to the old woman as she walked out the door, the clerk said, “Your Mom said that you would pay for her."
The younger son told the story: One Sunday morning, while vacationing in Colorado, they were driving down a mountain road. It was raining heavily and suddenly they came upon an old man without an umbrella. He was soaked through and through and walked with a noticeable limp. Yet he kept trudging along down the road. The brothers stopped and picked him up. It turned out that the stranger was on his way to Mass at a church three miles down the road. The brothers took him there. Since the rain was coming down so hard, they decided to wait for the stranger to take him home after Mass. It wasn’t long before the two figured they might as well go and wait inside. As the two listened to the reading of scripture and sat through the breaking of the bread, something moved them deeply. The only way they could later explain it was: “It felt so right, like getting home after a long, tiring trip.”
The story of the two brothers and their encounter with the stranger on the Colorado road bears a striking resemblance to today’s gospel. The two disciples travelling along the road to Emmaus had once followed Jesus with hope and joy. They truly believed he was sent by God to establish God’s kingdom. Then came the stormy hours of Good Friday - all their hopes and dreams got smashed into a thousand pieces. Totally disillusioned, they left Jesus in an unmarked tomb and returned to their former ways.
It was against this background that they met the stranger on the Emmaus road on Easter Sunday morning. The disciples listened to him. They watched him break bread. And something moved them deeply. The stranger was not a stranger at all. It was Jesus. He was alive and risen.
Almost the identical thing happened to the brothers on the Colorado road. There was a time when they followed Jesus closely. They truly believed he was the Son of God, sent by God to redeem the world. Then came stormy days for them; perhaps all their hopes and dreams smashed into a thousand pieces too. Totally disillusioned they too left Jesus and went on their way. It was against this background that they met the stranger on the rainy Sunday morning. He spoke to the brothers about Jesus not by using words but by his simple, dedicated example. As they listened their hearts began to burn within them. Then during the breaking of the bread in the church, they discovered the Jesus they had lost.
For us too, we sometimes have stormy periods in our lives when our faith is smashed or weakened. During those times perhaps we have fallen away from the church and the practice of our faith. But then one day we met someone – a stranger perhaps. And it was through the stranger that we found Jesus again, in the midst of His church, in the breaking of the bread.
And so today’s gospel contains an important message for all of us – especially for those still searching for Jesus, or for those who have lost Jesus. Sometimes we hear people say, “I believe in God, and I believe in Jesus but I don’t believe in the church.” Whenever we hear this we should recall another traveller on another road. We should recall Paul on the road to Damascus, as we hear in Acts, “Suddenly a light from the sky flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him ‘Saul, Saul! Why do you persecute me?’ ‘Who are you Lord?’ he asked. ‘I am Jesus, whom you persecute,’ the voice said.”
Paul was confused. He had not persecuted Jesus. He had persecuted only His followers. Then it dawned on him; Jesus and His followers are one. They were like a head and a body. Trying to separate Jesus from His church, the community of His followers, was like trying to separate our own head from our body.
If we were to find the risen Jesus today, it will be the way the disciples found Him on the road to Emmaus. It will be the way the two brothers found Him.
Lord Jesus, look kindly on those who have left you behind for dead in the some unmarked tomb. Come to them as you did to the disciples on the road to Emmaus. Explain to them the scriptures again. Stir up in them the fires of faith that still smoulder in their hearts. Sit down with them at table. Show yourself to them again, in the midst of your church in the breaking of the bread.
May God give you peace.
Thursday, May 5, 2011
The long-awaited news finally came at 11:35 p.m. on Sunday night: America's great enemy Osama Bin Laden had been killed by U.S. special forces in a 40-minute raid on his compound in Pakistan.
The moment was greeted with rejoicing in the streets and a collective sigh by a nation holding its breath for nearly 10 years since that fateful day.
Monday, however, brought a different question — what are we to make of this moment now? And, even another question for the followers of Jesus Christ — what should our response be to this unforgettable moment in the history of our nation? After all, we are the people called not to rejoice over the death of our enemies, but to love them, even in the face of evil.
In fact, just two days after those tragic events in 2001, the daily Gospel reading at Mass was from Luke, "But to you who hear I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you." (Luke 6.27-28)
God was speaking peace to us even in the midst of that horror back then and reminding not to give in to hate and violence and revenge and fear.
Certainly Sunday's news was met with a collective sigh of relief — after all this man, whose evil actions changed our world and our lives forever — would not be able to hurt again. His evil is done. His moment has passed.
But Sunday's news was also met with trepidation — what will the reaction be among those radical terrorists who looked to bin Laden as their leader? Will their response only continue the deadly cycle of violence?
The question for the Christian is, Should there also be joy? Should we rejoice that bin Laden is dead?
The Vatican on Monday issued a statement offering the official Catholic response to the news: "Osama bin Laden, as we all know, bore the most serious responsibility for spreading divisions and hatred among populations, causing the deaths of innumerable people, and manipulating religions to this end. In the face of a man's death, a Christian never rejoices, but reflects on the serious responsibilities of each person before God and before men, and hopes and works so that every event may be the occasion for the further growth of peace and not of hatred."
I think in this response, we find our answer — and perhaps the most challenging part of being a believer and disciple of the Lord — "a Christian never rejoices" at a man's death.
We can be comforted that evil has not won today; that justice, though delayed, has triumphed; but we must also remain vigilant in our prayer that peace among men and women is our true goal even when it seems far off.
It is not easy to love our enemies; it is not easy to pray for our persecutors; it is not our natural response to turn the other cheek — but all of it is, most definitely, Christian.
As we have known since the earliest days of Christianity — the followers of Jesus are meant to be identified by the way that they love others and one another; a radical love that can in its most noble moments embrace even the enemy and change the world.
Pundits have commented on a return to the sense of unity that came immediately after the events of Sept. 11; a unity that faded into partisan wrangling in the years since. Perhaps our hope and our prayer should be that this might indeed be "the occasion for further growth of peace" in our world — an opportunity to embrace a new way forward together in hope. Perhaps our hope and prayer should be that we might be united in our desire for an end to war and a fulfillment of the promise of peace.
To paraphrase the words attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, "Lord, make each of us instruments of your peace
Tuesday, May 3, 2011
Sunday, May 1, 2011
I would like to offer a cordial greeting to all of you who on this happy occasion have come in such great numbers to Rome from all over the world - cardinals, patriarchs of the Eastern Catholic Churches, brother bishops and priests, official delegations, ambassadors and civil authorities, consecrated men and women and lay faithful, and I extend that greeting to all those who join us by radio and television.
Today is the Second Sunday of Easter, which Blessed John Paul II entitled Divine Mercy Sunday. The date was chosen for today's celebration because, in God's providence, my predecessor died on the vigil of this feast. Today is also the first day of May, Mary's month, and the liturgical memorial of Saint Joseph the Worker. All these elements serve to enrich our prayer, they help us in our pilgrimage through time and space; but in heaven a very different celebration is taking place among the angels and saints! Even so, God is but one, and one too is Christ the Lord, who like a bridge joins earth to heaven. At this moment we feel closer than ever, sharing as it were in the liturgy of heaven.
"Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe" (Jn 20:29). In today's Gospel Jesus proclaims this beatitude: the beatitude of faith. For us, it is particularly striking because we are gathered to celebrate a beatification, but even more so because today the one proclaimed blessed is a Pope, a Successor of Peter, one who was called to confirm his brethren in the faith. John Paul II is blessed because of his faith, a strong, generous and apostolic faith. We think at once of another beatitude: "Blessed are you, Simon, son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven" (Mt 16:17). What did our heavenly Father reveal to Simon? That Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. Because of this faith, Simon becomes Peter, the rock on which Jesus can build his Church. The eternal beatitude of John Paul II, which today the Church rejoices to proclaim, is wholly contained in these sayings of Jesus: "Blessed are you, Simon" and "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe!" It is the beatitude of faith, which John Paul II also received as a gift from God the Father for the building up of Christ's Church.
Our thoughts turn to yet another beatitude, one which appears in the Gospel before all others. It is the beatitude of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of the Redeemer. Mary, who had just conceived Jesus, was told by Saint Elizabeth: "Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord" (Lk 1:45). The beatitude of faith has its model in Mary, and all of us rejoice that the beatification of John Paul II takes place on this first day of the month of Mary, beneath the maternal gaze of the one who by her faith sustained the faith of the Apostles and constantly sustains the faith of their successors, especially those called to occupy the Chair of Peter. Mary does not appear in the accounts of Christ's resurrection, yet hers is, as it were, a continual, hidden presence: she is the Mother to whom Jesus entrusted each of his disciples and the entire community. In particular we can see how Saint John and Saint Luke record the powerful, maternal presence of Mary in the passages preceding those read in today's Gospel and first reading. In the account of Jesus' death, Mary appears at the foot of the cross (Jn 19:25), and at the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles she is seen in the midst of the disciples gathered in prayer in the Upper Room (Acts 1:14).
Today's second reading also speaks to us of faith. Saint Peter himself, filled with spiritual enthusiasm, points out to the newly-baptized the reason for their hope and their joy. I like to think how in this passage, at the beginning of his First Letter, Peter does not use language of exhortation; instead, he states a fact. He writes: "you rejoice", and he adds: "you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls" (1 Pet 1:6, 8-9). All these verbs are in the indicative, because a new reality has come about in Christ's resurrection, a reality to which faith opens the door. "This is the Lord's doing", says the Psalm (118:23), and "it is marvelous in our eyes", the eyes of faith.
Dear brothers and sisters, today our eyes behold, in the full spiritual light of the risen Christ, the beloved and revered figure of John Paul II. Today his name is added to the host of those whom he proclaimed saints and blesseds during the almost twenty-seven years of his pontificate, thereby forcefully emphasizing the universal vocation to the heights of the Christian life, to holiness, taught by the conciliar Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium. All of us, as members of the people of God - bishops, priests, deacons, laity, men and women religious - are making our pilgrim way to the heavenly homeland where the Virgin Mary has preceded us, associated as she was in a unique and perfect way to the mystery of Christ and the Church. Karol Wojtyła took part in the Second Vatican Council, first as an auxiliary Bishop and then as Archbishop of Kraków. He was fully aware that the Council's decision to devote the last chapter of its Constitution on the Church to Mary meant that the Mother of the Redeemer is held up as an image and model of holiness for every Christian and for the entire Church. This was the theological vision which Blessed John Paul II discovered as a young man and subsequently maintained and deepened throughout his life. A vision which is expressed in the scriptural image of the crucified Christ with Mary, his Mother, at his side. This icon from the Gospel of John (19:25-27) was taken up in the episcopal and later the papal coat-of-arms of Karol Wojtyla: a golden cross with the letter "M" on the lower right and the motto "Totus tuus", drawn from the well-known words of Saint Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort in which Karol Wojtyla found a guiding light for his life: "Totus tuus ego sum et omnia mea tua sunt. Accipio te in mea omnia. Praebe mihi cor tuum, Maria - I belong entirely to you, and all that I have is yours. I take you for my all. O Mary, give me your heart" (Treatise on True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin, 266).
In his Testament, the new Blessed wrote: "When, on 16 October 1978, the Conclave of Cardinals chose John Paul II, the Primate of Poland, Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski, said to me: 'The task of the new Pope will be to lead the Church into the Third Millennium'". And the Pope added: "I would like once again to express my gratitude to the Holy Spirit for the great gift of the Second Vatican Council, to which, together with the whole Church - and especially with the whole episcopate - I feel indebted. I am convinced that it will long be granted to the new generations to draw from the treasures that this Council of the twentieth century has lavished upon us. As a Bishop who took part in the Council from the first to the last day, I desire to entrust this great patrimony to all who are and will be called in the future to put it into practice. For my part, I thank the Eternal Shepherd, who has enabled me to serve this very great cause in the course of all the years of my Pontificate". And what is this "cause"? It is the same one that John Paul II presented during his first solemn Mass in Saint Peter's Square in the unforgettable words: "Do not be afraid! Open, open wide the doors to Christ!" What the newly-elected Pope asked of everyone, he was himself the first to do: society, culture, political and economic systems he opened up to Christ, turning back with the strength of a titan - a strength which came to him from God - a tide which appeared irreversible. By his witness of faith, love and apostolic courage, accompanied by great human charisma, this exemplary son of Poland helped believers throughout the world not to be afraid to be called Christian, to belong to the Church, to speak of the Gospel. In a word: he helped us not to fear the truth, because truth is the guarantee of liberty. To put it even more succinctly: he gave us the strength to believe in Christ, because Christ is Redemptor hominis, the Redeemer of man. This was the theme of his first encyclical, and the thread which runs though all the others.
When Karol Wojtyla ascended to the throne of Peter, he brought with him a deep understanding of the difference between Marxism and Christianity, based on their respective visions of man. This was his message: man is the way of the Church, and Christ is the way of man. With this message, which is the great legacy of the Second Vatican Council and of its "helmsman", the Servant of God Pope Paul VI, John Paul II led the People of God across the threshold of the Third Millennium, which thanks to Christ he was able to call "the threshold of hope". Throughout the long journey of preparation for the great Jubilee he directed Christianity once again to the future, the future of God, which transcends history while nonetheless directly affecting it. He rightly reclaimed for Christianity that impulse of hope which had in some sense faltered before Marxism and the ideology of progress. He restored to Christianity its true face as a religion of hope, to be lived in history in an "Advent" spirit, in a personal and communitarian existence directed to Christ, the fullness of humanity and the fulfillment of all our longings for justice and peace.
Finally, on a more personal note, I would like to thank God for the gift of having worked for many years with Blessed Pope John Paul II. I had known him earlier and had esteemed him, but for twenty-three years, beginning in 1982 after he called me to Rome to be Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, I was at his side and came to revere him all the more. My own service was sustained by his spiritual depth and by the richness of his insights. His example of prayer continually impressed and edified me: he remained deeply united to God even amid the many demands of his ministry. Then too, there was his witness in suffering: the Lord gradually stripped him of everything, yet he remained ever a "rock", as Christ desired. His profound humility, grounded in close union with Christ, enabled him to continue to lead the Church and to give to the world a message which became all the more eloquent as his physical strength declined. In this way he lived out in an extraordinary way the vocation of every priest and bishop to become completely one with Jesus, whom he daily receives and offers in the Eucharist.
Blessed are you, beloved Pope John Paul II, because you believed! Continue, we implore you, to sustain from heaven the faith of God's people. Amen.