Sunday, April 27, 2014


   Second Sunday of Easter - Divine Mercy   A 
For the honor of the Blessed Trinity,
the exaltation of the Catholic faith
and the increase of the Christian life,
by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ,
and of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, and our own,
after due deliberation and frequent prayer for divine assistance,
and having sought the counsel of many of our brother Bishops,
we declare and define Blessed John XXIII and John Paul II
to be Saints and we enroll them among the Saints,
decreeing that they are to be venerated as such by the whole Church.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

With those lofty words, 
just a few hours ago in Rome,
Pope Francis, gathered with
about a half-million Catholic pilgrims,
gave the Church and the world two new saints.

These are not saints who are unfamiliar to us,
but men who are remembered 
by many here this morning.
I’m too young to personally recall 
Pope John XXIII,
but I vividly remember Pope John Paul II.
In fact, as the ways of Divine Providence 
would have it,
I had the privilege of meeting 
Pope John Paul on a few occasions,
and he did me the great honor 
of being the first to use my chalice—
the chalice with which I offer Mass this morning.

These two popes, these two saints,
have left notable marks on the Church.
Pope John called the Second Vatican Council;
although he didn’t live long enough to see it through,
he did initiate this visionary project of renewal.
And Pope John Paul—who had been a bishop at Vatican II—
was the great interpreter of that Council,
leaving us more than 70,000 published pages
that will be studied for quite some time to come.

Now-Saint John Paul II left his mark on me, too,
but it wasn’t so much through any of those many volumes
of his wise and learned teaching.
On March 19—St. Joseph’s Day—1998,
I was asked to serve Mass for the Holy Father in St. Peter’s Basilica.
I would be the Pope’s official hand-washer during the ceremony.
(If he needed water and a towel, I was his man!)

This was a special day:
the Pope was about to ordain
three of his closest collaborators as Bishops.
Eventually, the Pope shuffled along with his cane
into the small, hidden room which served as a sacristy.
Even though it had already begun to droop
and lose some its expression, his face positively lit up
when he saw his three coworkers awaiting him there.
There were smiles, hugs, laughter.
And then it was time to prepare for Mass.
I was brought forward to wash the Pope’s shaking hands.
(His weren't the only hands that shook!)

Next, the Holy Father was to put on his priestly vestments.
He was unable to do so by himself anymore.
I was so struck by how the Pope 
simply held out his arms in the figure of a Cross
and allowed others to dress him.
Before me stood a man
who was the spiritual leader of about a billion Catholics,
also admired by men and women of other faiths or no faith at all,
arguably one of the most recognized and powerful people on the planet, 
who in the weakness of illness and old age
had to allow others to change his clothes.
The combination of both moral greatness and utter humility
in that very simple but profound gesture
something of the divine shining through the utterly human—
taught me more about real and living holiness
than any book he ever wrote or talk he ever gave.

As the Apostle Thomas makes clear in this Sunday’s gospel,
sometimes words just aren’t enough to satisfy the human spirit.
As people of flesh and blood and heart,
we are more than our minds—
and so it’s only natural that we seek after more
than just stimulating our intellect:
we desire action and personal experience;
we want to see and feel things for ourselves.
I often think that Thomas’ nickname—Didymus, “Twin”—
points to just how much we all have in common with him.

Maybe it was Thomas’ initial pangs of doubt
that inspired the first Christians to live in the way
which we hear described in the Acts of the Apostles.
Yes, we hear that they devoted themselves 
to the Apostles’ teaching.
But in addition, we hear that
the devout way in which the prayed,
the joyous way in which they shared their common life,
and the loving way in which they took care of one another’s needs
caused everybody around them to look on with awe.
They weren’t just well-studied and well-spoken 
in what they believed,
but they lived out that faith,
which made them stand out from other people.
They lived in a manner that wouldn’t make any sense
if Jesus Christ hadn’t been raised from the dead.
Their actions spoke even louder than their words ever could.

What spoke so loudly then still speaks so loudly now.
Pope Paul VI—who reigned between our two new saints—
once wrote:
            For the Church, the first means of evangelization
            is the witness of an authentically Christian life….
            Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers,
            and if he does listen to teachers,
            it is because they are witnesses.…
            It is therefore primarily by her conduct and by her life
            that the Church will evangelize the world,
            in other words, by her living witness of fidelity to the Lord Jesus—
            the witness of poverty and detachment,
            of freedom in the face of the powers of this world,
            in short, the witness of holiness.  (Evangelii nuntiandi, 41)

Saints are followers of Jesus
who make it to heaven to live with God forever.
Some saints have a capital “S”:
those who—like Pope John and Pope John Paul—
are formally recognized as such.
But it’s vital that we remember
there are countless more saints down through the ages
who won’t be given their own feast days
or have churches named after them.
Saints—as today’s canonization reminds us—are what it’s all about.
The Church exists for one purpose only:
to produce saints;
to make us holy now, and to get us to heaven forever.
Yes, we are all called to be saints—
not just a few of us, but all of us!
To give flesh and blood, to give a living face, to the risen Jesus—
both great and humble, wounded yet glorious!
With two new models of holiness for us to imitate,
let’s be the witnesses that our times so desperately want and need—
not just talking about Divine Mercy but showing it,
that the world might see and touch it’s Lord and God today.

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