My friend Antonio Russo, formerly of the Guardia Svizzera Pontificia, shared this photo with me via Facebook. Here he is attending his final audience with the Holy Father before departing service with the GSP a few years ago. He has in his hand a zucchetto that I obtained with the purpose of giving to the Holy Father to wear in the hope that he would offer it back as he frequently was known to do. He wore the zucchetto for the duration of the audience and then at the end asked Antonio, "Quale vuole?", meaning, "which do you want: the one you gave to me or the one I am wearing?" Antonio asked for the zucchetto he had offered and then returned the zucchetto to me, now a relic of the second class.
I first met Blessed John Paul as a seminarian, celebrating Mass and receiving communion in his private chapel. I was able to kiss his ring as a sign of reverence for the office of the Vicar of Christ on earth and to say a few words to him. I was moved to be able to enjoy this privilege desired by so many Catholics.
During the Jubilee Year 2000, now as a priest, I once again was invited to the chapel to concelebrate with the Holy Father who was now quite advanced in years and less energetic but who still radiated prayerfulness.
I remember on one of those occasions being ushered into the chapel while he was still kneeling at his prie dieu in prayer and hearing him groan aloud, his spirit seeking God in the midst of a world of problems great and small with the tragedies of injustice and evil, the scourge of wars and inhumanity. And so many of these evils were brought to his attention as Christ's representative on earth, first for his prayerful intercession but also for his active efforts to work with others for a more just and peaceful world that would better reflect the love of God who made the world and everyone and everything that it is in it. A world apart from God would destroy itself. The work of Christ in His Church must be to restore through grace what has been taken from God's purpose for the good of men and the glory of God. This need has its place in the mission of every successor of Peter. Pope Benedict mentioned the mission of the Redeemer through the pope and the Church in his homily at the beatification Mass for John Paul.
"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." (Benedict XVI, JPII Beatification homily)
To believe in the possibility of holiness, that is to put faith in the dream that human beings can become so like unto God so as to possess and to fully share His eternal life is an act of faith. To believe that a man, like Blessed John Paul II, can now confirm his communion with God and all the blessed in heaven through a miracle as a response to the prayer of faith requires in itself the courage made possible only through the power of grace. Of course, that faith must find its constant source in Jesus Christ who alone makes it possible for humans, by means of the human nature he shared with us, to become like God, through the divine nature that was joined to His human nature in the one divine person Jesus Christ. This mystery of the Incarnation our our constant source of hope.
The Incarnate one, having truly died as we do, and having truly Risen according to His all-powerful nature as God, now desires in love to share His life with us forever. This is the joy of Easter. This was the joy that John Paul II shared as a believer like us. This is the hope that John Paul II and all the blessed call us to constantly share through the victory of our holy Faith. We must live fully in this world as do all human persons but, marvelously, at the same time find the possibility through the grace of Faith to live very much as though this world is passing away.
"We know neither the moment of the consummation of the earth and of man, nor the way in which the universe will be transformed. The form of this world, distorted by sin, is passing away, and we are taught that God is preparing a new dwelling and a new earth in which righteousness dwells, in which happiness will fill and surpass all the desires of peace arising in the hearts of men." (CCC 1048)
The mission of the Church in this passing world is to give what Blessed John Paul II took so well from her: the means of sacramental grace through Christ, the Word living and breathing in the Holy Spirit who works through the Word proclaimed and the grace of the sacramental life.
"In the Church this communion of men with God, in the 'love [that] never ends,' is the purpose which governs everything in her that is a sacramental means, tied to this passing world. '[The Church's] structure is totally ordered to the holiness of Christ's members. And holiness is measured according to the 'great mystery' in which the Bride responds with the gift of love to the gift of the Bridegroom.' Mary goes before us all in the holiness that is the Church's mystery as 'the bride without spot or wrinkle.' This is why the "Marian" dimension of the Church precedes the 'Petrine.?' " (CCC 773)
To believe in the holiness of Blessed John Paul means that we must also believe at the same time in the possbility of our own call to holiness, of the purpose of God in Christ through the way of the Church to make blesseds and saints also of each one of us. The courage to believe and to follow this way of Christ, lit up for us now also by Blessed John Paul, requires the courage that can come only through Faith, only through the gift of God. Jesus Christ is the way in which God constantly offers this gift to us which truly answers and satisfies our hope. And the Church, the "place of faith" as Pope Benedict calls her, is the way in which Jesus Christ walks this daily path of the words and works of faithful love.
To "open wide the doors to Christ" as Blessed John Paul called us to do, means very simply to start with ourselves, to open the doors of our hearts and minds to the words and works of Christ who is God among us and with us and in us. This can happen in the fullest way only as children of the Church, living together and loving one another in faithfulness to the liturgy of holy Mass on Sundays and at other times. This means also seeking Christ's forgiveness particularly through confession when we have sinned gravely. Having opened ourselves to God and having truly received Him in sacramental grace we must then give this God in us to others thereby growing in His life.
Blessed John Paul, pray for us!
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