May 2, 2014

A reflection on the canonizations of John XXIII & John Paul II

By Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin, C.Ss.R.

Archbishop Joseph W. TobinLast Sunday, millions of people throughout the world watched as Pope Francis officially confirmed the sensus fideles (sense of the faithful) that two of the greatest, and holiest, figures of the 20th century—Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II—are, in fact, saints. What a wonderful sign of hope for the world! What a powerful statement of love and joy!

I wish to echo the words of Pope Francis in his homily during the canonization Mass:

“[John XXIII and John Paul II] were priests, bishops and popes of the 20th century. They lived through the tragic events of that century, but they were not overwhelmed by them. For them, God was more powerful; faith was more powerful—faith in Jesus Christ the Redeemer of man and the Lord of history; the mercy of God, shown by those five wounds, was more powerful; and more powerful too was the closeness of Mary our Mother.”

“Closeness” is a word Pope Francis uses frequently to describe the intimate connection that exists between God and his people, between Jesus and each of us who encounter him personally, and between holy women and men and those they serve in Jesus’ name. Both popes were close to Jesus and to his mother, Mary. This profound sense of intimacy, or closeness, was felt by everyone who came into contact with these two holy men who are now recognized by the Church as saints of God.

“In these two men, who looked upon the wounds of Christ and bore witness to his mercy,” Pope Francis says, “there dwelt a living hope and an indescribable and glorious joy (1 Pt 1:3,8). The hope and the joy which the risen Christ bestows on his disciples, the hope and the joy which nothing and no one can take from them. The hope and joy of Easter, forged in the crucible of self-denial, self emptying, utter identification with sinners, even to the point of disgust at the bitterness of that chalice. Such were the hope and the joy which these two holy popes had received as a gift from the risen Lord, and which, they in turn, bestowed in abundance upon the People of God, meriting our eternal gratitude.”

St. John XXIII was pope during my boyhood and youth. He symbolized for me—and for millions the world over—the Easter joy of springtime and hope for the future. His openness to the world and his desire for authentic renewal in the Church inspired me to want to serve as a “missionary disciple” (to use Pope Francis’ term). 

St. John Paul II was pope during most of my ministry as a priest of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer (Redemptorists). His passion, energy and missionary zeal for proclaiming the Gospel were an inspiration to me, to my Redemptorist brothers and to millions of people everywhere. 

With Pope Francis and the entire Church, I rejoice in the canonization of these two beloved popes. I invite all my sisters and brothers in central and southern Indiana to join me in thanking God for the great gift of these new saints! †

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