In the preface for the Mass of Holy Men and Women, the Church proclaims its faith in God’s ability to renew the Church in every age, by raising up men and women outstanding in holiness, living witnesses of his unchanging love.

This evening, that faith is renewed again as we celebrate God’s gift to the Church and to the world of an outstanding witness to Christ, a loving Pastor and an historic leader of the of whole human family, in the life of our beloved Holy Father, Pope John Paul II.

Much has been said and written about Pope John Paul II in recent days. There is no doubt that in religious, philosophical and political terms, his legacy will be immense. But this evening I would like to suggest that it is in the Gospel of the Annunciation, which we have just read, that we discover the deepest and most intimate source of his untiring generosity, his utter commitment to the ministry of service and unity, which is the office of Peter and his heroic proclamation of the Gospel of life across the world.

In our Gospel this evening, St. Luke tells us that “Mary was deeply disturbed by these words”. No doubt when, on Monday 16th October, 1978, at 18 minutes before six, one of the College of Cardinals approached the Archbishop of Krakow and told him he had been elected to succeed his beloved predecessor, Albiano Luciani, even the young, strong Karol Wojtyla, was disturbed. We know this because he told us so.

In his very first address from the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica, the newly elected Pope John Paul II said: “I was afraid to accept this responsibility. Yet I do so in a spirit of obedience to the Lord and total faithfulness to Mary.”

Then, in his first homily, in words which echo the intimate dialogue of salvation between Mary and the angel in this evening’s Gospel, the newly elected Pope John Paul II, opened his ministry as Pope with the words, ‘Do not be afraid! Open wide the doors of Christ. To his saving power, open the boundaries of states, economic and political systems, the vast fields of culture, civilisation and development. Do not be afraid!’

Opening every aspect of our hearts, our lives and our human and social activity to the life-giving and transforming presence of Christ, this was the defining mission of Pope John Paul II. Everything flowed from and returned to this. While the impact of this mission was immense and its character truly fearless, it’s source was much more simple and profound. This was a man who, like Mary, had learnt from a very early age to rely, not on his own power, or logic, or gifts or talents, but to rely totally on the loving power and providence of God. When he chose the motto of Totus Tuus for his Pontificate, it was an expression of his total abandonment to God and of his untiring generosity to others.

Such total trust in God’s providence and power is often characteristic of those who, like Mary, have discovered two things in their lives – God’s intimacy and closeness in prayer, and God’s sustaining presence in the midst of their suffering.

Perhaps it was the broken heart of a young boy who had lost his mother and only brother at such a young age. Perhaps it was his experience of the Nazi occupation and war in Poland, the cruel treatment of his many Jewish friends in the holocaust or the experience of the oppressive and lifeless impact of atheistic communism on the lives of his fellow Poles. But whatever it was, it was clear that this was a man who, like Mary, had learnt at a very young age to trust in the intimacy of God which he had first experienced in the silence of contemplation and prayer. It is no coincidence I believe, that the theme of his doctoral studies as a young priest was not that of ethics, or Catholic Social teaching, or the renewal of the Church, extraordinary though his insights and teaching on each of this themes has been. His first study was that of mysticism and prayer in the life the great mystic and renewer, St. John of the Cross.

It is so appropriate that the last word spoken by the Holy Father was the word ‘Amen’ – the same response of Mary to the Angel who asked her open her heart, her very body to the presence of Christ – ‘Let it be so’. As we honour his life, his death, his untiring service and his extraordinary legacy, perhaps we could take to heart again those words. The words with which he greeted us as he began his ministry and which he repeated as he carried us across the threshold of hope into a new millennium – Open wide your hearts to Christ. Do not be afraid! Do not be afraid!