Homily of the Archpriest of the Vatican Basilica, Cardinal Angelo Comastri, delivered on the St. Peter’s Square during the Mass celebrated one day after the canonization
April 28, 2014
May Jesus Christ be praised!
On April 8, 2005 – just nine years ago – so many of us were here in this square to give John Paul II’s the final respect. Our eyes, moist with tears, observed astonished – do you remember? – the Gospel book placed on the simple oak coffin, situated in the center of the square in front of the Basilica. 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 Gospel seemed to say: “The answer is in the Gospel! The life of John Paul II was 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 everlasting Gospel: The Gospel that has given light and hope to generations upon generations of Christians!”
Today, we know that, that presentiment was an inspiration, as the Church, through the Pope, yesterday recognized the sanctity of John Paul II, and today, we rejoice and jointly give thanks to God, the tireless maker of saints.
Remembering the words of John Paul II: “The saints do not ask for applause, but to be imitated” we should ask ourselves: “What does the holiness of this extraordinary disciple of Jesus on the 20thcentury teaches us?”
The first answer is immediate: John Paul II had the courage to openly demonstrate the faith in Jesus in an era of “silent apostasy” of people who have all and who live as if God does not exist (Ecclesia in Europe 9.) On the evening of October 16, 1978, the newly elected Pope John Paul II, looking out from the loggia of this basilica called: “May Jesus Christ be praised!” This was the call of his faith, it was the purpose of his life; those were the first words of his pontificate.
On April 3, 2006, on the same square, Benedict XVI speaking of his predecessor, said: “The late Pontiff, to whom God gave various human and spiritual’s values, in passing through the crucible of apostolic labors and sickness, appeared to be 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 his closest co-workers, 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.” That is was testified by Benedict XVI.
Thus, rightly during the illness of John Paul II, a French journalist made this astute reflection: “As the Pope became less effective in body, his witness become more effective: his faith shone as 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 when 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 the current historical moment 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 wellbeing 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 its mission of proclaiming to all people the plan of God for marriage and the family.” ( Familiaris consortio, 3)
He was telling us about it on May 29, 1994, during the Prayer of the Angelus, after a period of convalescence in the hospital: “Through Mary, today, I would like to express my gratitude for the gift of suffering. I’ve understood that it is a necessary gift. I have understood that I must introduce the Church of Christ into this third millennium with prayer, with various initiatives, but I have seen 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, as the family is being threatened; it is being attacked. Also, the Pope must be attacked, the Pope must suffer, so that every family and the whole world might see that there is the Gospel – we should say – the “superior” Gospel of suffering, which we should proclaim; which we should use 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 the way of God’s plan with regard to the family. This is the only way that gives dignity to the family and truth to 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 scream to defend life, ended with a beautiful prayer to Mary, in which there is the entire soul of John Paul II. He writes:
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.
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 scream in the Valley of the temples, in Argigento. Pope John Paul II, overcome by a tremor worthy of Amos or Isaiah cried: “God said once: thou shall 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 there. 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 continuously cried for 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; actual 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 15, 2000, welcoming an immense crowd of young people here on St. Peter’s square, he greeted them: “What have you come in search of? Let me, please, ask you again: 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 is the first, who search for 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 a true father, an authentic guide, and a faithful educator in John Paul II. 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 decrease in the Marian’s Devotions, which characterized the first post Vatican Consul. 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. He said himself: “On May 13, 1981, while an assassin’s hand shot to kill me, one hand was holding the gun, while other was directing the bullet. 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 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, as the total gift of himself. He was a saint!
Saint John Paul II pray for the Church, whom you so loved and courageously pushed along the path of heroic fidelity to Jesus.
Saint John Paul II 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.