5TH SUNDAY IN LENT – 2nd APRIL 2006
1ST ANNIVERSARY OF DEATH OF POPE JOHN PAUL II
HOMILY GIVEN BY
CARDINAL SEÁN BRADY
ST. PATRICK’S CATHEDRAL, ARMAGH
Last week I received an e-mail from a young Polish priest who last year was studying English in our diocese and comes from Krakow and who is now a missionary in Tanzania. He sent me the text of a poem he composed after his return from Rome and the funeral of Pope John Paul II. I will quote some of this to you.
Today, throughout the world, the Catholic Church is commemorating the First Anniversary of the death of Pope John Paul II. Here in Armagh we do so with this special Mass.
Some of the Readings will be in Polish and some of the Prayers will be offered by Polish people. It will be an opportunity for all of us to welcome them to our country and to express our sympathy to them, once more, on the death of their great compatriot – Pope John Paul II.
We will also be reflecting on his life and the lessons which we can draw from it in the light of the suffering death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Today we celebrate the First Anniversary of the death of the great Pope John Paul II. We pray for his eternal rest and happiness. We also pray for his beatification and eventual canonisation. As we do so we remember how Pope John Paul lived his life and especially how he faced his death – something which each one of us must do. We recall how courageously he carried the cross of suffering, right to the end. We know how faithfully he led his people – even dragging his sick and feeble body to the window of his apartment three days before his death for one last inspirational farewell. We recall the courage of his defence of the truth at all time – whether it was popular or unpopular – in season or out of season. We remember the inspiration of his life – lived to the end out of love for God and love for people.
I believe that Pope John Paul II was able to do this because of his intense faith in Jesus Christ and his friendship and knowledge of Jesus Christ. He certainly didn’t rely on his own strength – it came from the time he spent in prayer and meditation – especially on the passion and death of Christ. The challenge to each one of us is to do likewise. His strength also came from his daily celebration of Mass. There he ate the Bread of Life and drank the Blood of the New Covenant.
The prophet Jeremiah tells how God planned to make a new covenant with his people. A covenant that would be written, not on slabs of stone but on the hearts of people. Written not in ink but in blood. ‘I will be their God and they shall be my people’ God said. The New Covenant will reveal a merciful God – a God that is slow to anger and willing to forgive. ‘I will forgive their iniquity and never call to mind their sins’.
Jesus came to establish this new covenant between God and His people. On the night before he suffered, he took the cup, filled with wine and changed it into the cup of his blood. For his blood would be the blood with which the new covenant would be sealed. His blood would be shed on the cross, for love of us.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus foretells all of that. He says, ‘Unless a wheat grain falls on the ground and dies, it remains only a single grain’. He is talking about his death – his death will yield a rich harvest.
Naturally he was troubled at the thought of his approaching death. He was even tempted to ask the Father to remove the prospect this death but then he said, no, he wouldn’t pray like that because it was for this very reason that he had come. It was for this hour that he had come into the world
Jesus said, ‘When I am lifted up from the earth’ – he meant lifted up on the cross – ‘I shall draw all men to myself’. He means that he will draw all people away from their sins. He will lead them on the road of conversion. He will ask them to do penance for their sins and they shall be forgiven and rejoice in the mercy of God.
Pope John Paul II explained all this in a marvellous series of talks which he gave on sin, conversion, penance and mercy in preparation for the new millennium. He began by emphasising the need that each one of us has of acknowledging our sins. He also warned against the craftiness and deception of the devil. The devil – the Spirit of Darkness – is quite capable of showing God as an enemy of his own creation.
The devil – the Father of Lies – the Pope said, ‘Would like us to believe that God is our enemy and God is the source of danger’. The devil tries to sow in our hearts the seed of opposition to God. In other words, the devil tempts us to become the enemy of God. Satan tempts us to sin. Of course the devil does not put it as starkly as that, instead he dresses up sin as something that appears to be good. Satan tempts us to replace love of God with love of self.
Jesus refutes that argument very powerfully in today’s Gospel when he says, “Anyone who loves his life, loses it’. St. John the Apostle, who stood on Calvary to the bitter end and who saw the result of our sins and what Jesus had to suffer and endure, wrote years later ‘If we say we have no sins, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins’.
To see ourselves as being sinners, not only capable of sin but actually inclined to sin, that is the first step and it is an essential step on the journey back to God on the road to conversion. Pope John Paul II was convinced of this – that people of our time find it harder than ever to recognise their mistakes. We get it very hard to turn around and retrace our steps and to begin again after changing course. We seem very reluctant to say ‘I am sorry, I made a mistake, I have gone the wrong way, I am lost’.
‘Modern man’, the Pope said, ‘seems to refuse anything that is penance in the sense of a sacrifice, accepted and carried out for the correction of sin’. Yes, of course we accept the sacrifice of dieting and physical exercise for the sake of our health, for the sake of our figure, for the sake of our fitness or sport and that is fair enough. But the idea that we should do penance for the sake of our sins, that, apparently, is not at all acceptable and therein lies the tragedy. “The Church’s penitential discipline’ the Pope goes on, ‘even though it has been softened for some time, cannot be abandoned without serious loss to our own spiritual life. Yes, of course, Christian penance will only be authentic if it is inspired by love and not by mere fear. It takes, as its model, Christ, who, though he was innocent, chose the path of poverty, patience, austerity and one can say, a penitential life.
Recourse to the sacrament of penance – the sacrament of Confession – is necessary, when even only one mortal sin has been committed. However, the Christian who believes in the effectiveness of sacramental forgiveness has recourse to the sacrament even when it is not a case of necessity. People find therein a source of peace, a help in resisting temptation; and a sight of the life that responds more and more to the demands of the Lord and the love of God.
In the final analysis, everyone must take responsibility for what they say and do themselves. So, the practice of individual confession, going to confession, in a personal act of sorrow with the intention to make amends, to amend our ways and make satisfaction, that practice defends the right of every follower of Christ to meet his crucified and forgiving Saviour. Christ also has the right to meet each one of us in that key moment and to say to us, ‘your sins are forgiven’.
The secret of the life of Pope John Paul II was love. His love for Christ and his love for Mary, the Mother of Christ. His coat of arms says it all: ‘Totus Tuus ‘Totally Thine’. These words were addressed to Mary. He felt especially protected by Mary, especially on the 13th May, the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima – the day on which he was shot in St. Peter’s Square. He loved to go on pilgrimage to shrines of Our Lady in his own beloved Poland and throughout the world. Remember the purpose of his coming to Ireland was to visit the national shrine of Our Lady at Knock.
Mary, as the mother of the Church, was given to us to be our mother by Christ, as he died on the cross. It is Mary’s dearest wish that we should all turn away from our sins and put our trust in the mercy and love of her son, Jesus Christ.