Gratitude Magazine March 2015 Edition

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Feast of Heaven and Earth

Kingsley Chikwendu Madubuike, SJ

MaM article picny have come to describe the event in the Vatican on Sunday, 27th April 2014 as a once in a lifetime event. Some would like to call it the “Day of the Four Popes.” The reason for this title is not far-fetched for before the eyes of the world was a ceremony that brought about four popes with two of them alive and two dead in the flesh, but alive with the Lord to whom we all belong whether alive or dead (cf. Romans 14:8). It was a celebration replete with the great mysteries of our faith and of our communion with the saints as an article of our Christian faith. It was indeed a feast of both heaven and earth.

The event was the canonisation of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II and it was taking place on Divine Mercy Sunday, a feast instituted by Pope St. John Paul II himself some years back. It is a feast that is deeply rooted in the very nature of God, God as mercy Himself and very connected to the mystical experiences of a fellow Polish, St. Maria Faustina Kowalska. Throughout his pontificate that spanned for almost twenty-seven years, St. John Paul II exemplified in his own life the incomprehensible mercy of God. It was this love and mercy of God that drew him several times out of the Vatican to God’s people in many parts of the world. He also brought this same love and mercy to people of diverse cultures and religious affiliations whether in their home countries or those who came to visit him in the Vatican. Pope St. John Paul II presented to the entire world in ways that were both simple and powerful, God who is dives in misericordia or rich in mercy – words that open his 30th November 1980 encyclical on God’s mercy. It was only fitting that a celebration in which he was raised to the high altars alongside the beloved Pope John XXIII took place on the feast of the Divine Mercy. The process that led                                              

to that day for Pope St. John Paul II has been the fastest so far in the history of the Church counting from the Easter Saturday, 2nd April 2005 date of his death. Worthy of mention here is the fact that Pope John Paul II breathed his last just on the eve of the same Divine Mercy Sunday in the year 2005, the twenty-seventh of his rather long pontificate.

Emotions ran very high as one watched the serenity the wrapped the countenance of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI as the canonisation ceremony evolved knowing that the pope emeritus was a very close collaborator and immediate successor of Pope St. John Paul II, whom he had the rare privilege (first of its kind actually in history) of beatifying on Divine Mercy Sunday, 1st May 2011. For the very humane, simple and humble Pope Francis, he was blissfully honoured to canonise a man who through the eyes of God saw into his (Pope Francis’s) future when during the ordinary consistory of 21st February 2001, Pope John Paul II created him a cardinal. That was the singular opportunity that the then Archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio had of electing the successor of Pope John Paul II and himself being one day elected as pope. No doubt, Pope Francis must have been filled with that immense gratitude that characterises the lives of Jesuits.

In his homily at the Mass and Rite of Canonisation of the new Saints John XXIII and John Paul II, Pope Francis described the duo as courageous men who, like St. Thomas the Apostle, were neither afraid nor ashamed “to look upon the wounds of Jesus, to touch his torn hands and his pierced side.” In his words, Pope Francis says of Popes Saints John XXIII and John Paul II that “they were not ashamed of the flesh of Christ, they were not scandalized by him, by his cross; they did not despise the flesh of their brother (cf. Is 58:7), because they saw Jesus in every person who suffers and struggles.” These statements are very true of our new saints in that they saw each human being as bearing the imago Dei. For them, we are all children of the one God who is father of us all. St. John Paul II was once quoted to have said in one of his messages for Mission Sunday that in our walk of faith, irrespective of our religious beliefs, we all are journeying to the same Father albeit through different routes. He would stick out his neck in firm defence of every human life from the moment of conception to its natural end because all life comes from God and is returning to the same God. And for St. John XXIII, God is love and “no one is excluded by love”, he was quoted to have said on his death bed.

Not only did these men see God in every human person, they also, through their own physical ailments and sufferings, bore profound witness to Christ. Thus they became powerful signs of the image of the church as the universal community of the people of God who are frail and wounded in one another, yet very joyous and hopeful in the risen Lord.
Both men laboured to the very end to build a church that is all inclusive. Without mincing words, it would not be out of place to say that the church that Pope St. John XXIII met was more like an old museum. He felt that the church should be like a garden illuminated by God where different plants cohabit peacefully. Bishops of the Church, according to him, guide the Church from different places that Rome itself cannot even imagine. Popes and Saints 2These bishops, therefore, have to be heard, and Rome needs to always listen to them. To this end, he thought of convoking an ecumenical council while imagining and envisioning a Church where every voice is heard like flowers in a garden opening to the sun. That rising sun is Christ Himself (cf. Luke 1:78-79).

On 11th October 1962 eventually, Pope John XXIII opened the windows of the church to let in some fresh air by opening the Second Vatican Council that had in attendance people from all walks of life, representing the entire human race. That ecumenical council, rightly called a Second Pentecost of the Church, became an avenue through which God breathed a new breath of His spirit upon His Church and brought about a kind of aggiornamento – a renewal of the face of not only the Church, but of the whole world. The Church in the modern and contemporary world would never remain the same afterwards. All thanks to the vision and courage of good Pope John XXIII, the rippling effect of Vatican II is still being felt everywhere in the Church. Pope John XXIII did not live to see the end of that council as he died a few months into it on 3rd June 1963. Vatican analysts and watchers would say that he was actually elected to be a transitory pope, but good Pope John, as he was fondly referred to by many, left his mark in the annals of the Church’s history.
 
The popes after him, but especially Pope John Paul II, saw to it that the fruits of Vatican II were gathered by the Church in all the corners of the globe. Like the generous farmer in the gospels (cf. Matthew 13:1-9), Pope St. John Paul II, through his many missionary journeys, his encyclicals, apostolic letters and exhortations, sowed the good message of the Second Vatican Council in every people and nations of the world. By proclaiming many blessed and saints more than what his predecessors did put together, Pope John Paul II reminded the world of the teaching of Vatican II on our collective vocation to be holy and to become saints right in the middle of our world notwithstanding our varied vocations and way of life. Finally, in initiating in 1984, the World Youth Days, Pope St. John Paul II reached out to the young people of our world and created an image of a church that is both old and young or ancient and new, to borrow St. Augustine of Hippo’s expression.

In our contemporary world that is torn apart by strife, hatred and conflicts, the voices of Popes Saints John XXIII and John Paul II could still be heard calling for tolerance among religions and people everywhere on earth. Once in responding to a question on why he sympathized with socialism, Pope John XXIII said, “sometimes, tolerance reaches further than the whip and I am unequivocal in my belief that society must be constructed upon the teachings of the gospel.” He maintained that one can be religious without ever pronouncing the name of God if only one acts for the good of humanity. In this vein, he called on world leaders not to remain deaf to humanity’s cry and anguish that rise from all the corners of the world, and spare the world of the horrors of war whose terrifying consequences are unimaginable. For him, dialogues and negotiations are ways of wisdom and of caution that favours the blessings of heaven and earth. Dialogues between the religions and nations of the world are essential elements for world peace. We must talk the talk and not fight the fight, walking the walk of life together alongside one another.

Peace on earth, according to Pope St. John XXIII, is a miracle that is brought about when divine will coincides with human will. God wills that there be peace everywhere on earth and all people of goodwill long for and work for that same peace. Little wonder then that on that most holy night when heaven became wedded to earth; that night when God made true His ancient promise through the prophets and holy men, and deigned to visit our world; that night when the eternal Word of God became man and one with us in the mystery of the incarnation, angels sang, “Glory to God in the highest, and peace to people of goodwill” (cf. Luke 2:14). Pope St. John XXIII contemplated and understood all these. In turn, he bequeathed to humanity, his beloved encyclical, “Pacem in Terris” as a lasting testament and memorial of his earthly sojourn, and as a constant reminder that we all have the obligation to work for peace everywhere on earth.

Now that through the Petrine ministry of Pope Francis, the Church affirms that Popes John XXIII and John Paul II have arrived at the home of our Father and have taken their places among the saints in the halls of heaven, we implore them to still look upon us from there and bestow their blessings in abundance on us.

“We are made for heaven, we are here a little time and then we take up our journey again”- Pope St. John XXIII.
“Do not be afraid. Open wide the doors for Christ” – Pope St. John Paul II.

 

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