MASS OF THANKSGIVING
HOMILY OF CARD. TARCISIO BERTONE,
Saint Peter's Square
“’Simon, son of John, do you love me?... ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you’” (Jn 21:17). The dialogue between the Risen One and Peter is the dialogue that precedes the mandate: “Feed my sheep”, but it is also a dialogue that first scrutinizes the whole of man’s life.
Might not these be the question and answer that marked the life and mission of Bl. John Paul II? He himself said so in Krakow in 1999: “Today I feel called in a particular way to give thanks for this 1,000-year old community of Christ’s pastors, clerics and lay people, because their witness to holiness thanks to the environment of faith which they formed and continued to form for 10 centuries in Krakow, have made it possible at the end of this millennium, on the very banks of the Vistola River at the foot of the Wawel Cathedral for Christ’s exhortation: ‘Peter, feed my lambs’ (Jn 21:15) to be heard. It became possible for one man’s weakness to find support in the power of the perennial faith, hope and charity of this land, and to give the response: ‘In the obedience of faith before Christ my Lord, entrusting myself to the Mother of Christ and of the Church, conscious of the great difficulty, I accept’” (cf. Homily at Mass in Krakow, 15 June 1999).
Yes, it was this dialogue of love between Christ and man that marked Karol Wojtyła’s entire life and led him not only to faithful service to the Church but also to the unreserved personal dedication to God and to men and women which characterized his journey of holiness.
I think we all remember that on the day of the funeral, during the celebration, at a certain moment the wind gently closed the pages of the Gospel Book that lay open on his coffin. It was as if the breath of the Spirit had wished to mark the end of Karol Wojtyła’s human and spiritual adventure, illumined throughout by Christ’s Gospel. In this Book he discovered God’s plans for humanity and for himself but it was from it in particular that Karol learned Christ, his face and his love, which for him were always a call to responsibility.
In the light of the Gospel he read the history of humanity and the vicissitudes of every man and every woman whom the Lord set on his path. His faith flowed from here, from the encounter with Christ in the Gospel.
He was a man of faith, a man of God, a man who lived of God. His life was a ceaseless, constant prayer, a prayer that lovingly embraced every individual inhabitant of our planet, created in the image and likeness of God and for this reason deserving of respect; redeemed by Christ’s death and Resurrection, and for this reason truly the living glory of God (Gloria Dei vivens homo [the glory of God is a living man] — St Irenaeus).
Thanks to the faith that he expressed above all in prayer, John Paul II was an authentic champion of every human being’s dignity and not merely a fighter for political and social ideologies.
To his mind, every woman, every man, was a daughter or son of God independently of his or her race, skin colour, geographical and cultural background and even religious belief. His relationship with every person is summed up in this marvellous sentence, written by him: “The other belongs to me”.
Yet his prayer was also a constant intercession for the whole human family, for the Church, for every community of believers across the earth — perhaps all the more effective the more heavily marked by the suffering that featured in the various phases of his life.
Was it not from here — from prayer, from prayer linked to so many painful events, his own and those of others — that flowed from his concern for peace in the world, for the peaceful coexistence of peoples and nations? In the First Reading we heard: “How beautiful up on the mountains are the feet of him who brings good tidings, who publishes peace” (Is 52:7).
Today let us thank the Lord for having given us a Pastor like him. A Pastor who could read the signs of God’s presence in human history and who subsequently proclaimed his great works in all the world, in all the languages. A Pastor who had rooted within him a sense of mission, of the commitment to evangelize, to proclaim God’s word everywhere, to shout it from the rooftops....
“How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good tidings... who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, ‘your God reigns’” (ibid.).
Today let us give thanks to the Lord for a witness like him, so credible, so transparent, who taught us how we should experience faith and defend the Christian values, starting with life, without complexes or fear; and how we should witness to faith courageously and consistently, living the Beatitudes in our daily experience.
Let us thank the Lord for giving us a guide like him who, profoundly living faith based on a solid and close bond with God, was able to transmit to men and women the truth which is “Jesus Christ, who died, yes, who was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us!”, and that “we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For... neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8: 34, 37-39).
The life, suffering, death and holiness of John Paul II are a testimony to this, as well as a tangible, indisputable confirmation.
Let us thank the Lord for giving us a Pope who was not only able to give the Catholic Church a universal outreach and a moral authority at an unprecedented global level, but also, especially with the celebration of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, a vision that was more spiritual, more biblical, and more focused on the word of God. A Church which knew how to renew herself, how to structure a “new evangelization”, how to intensify ecumenical and interreligious relations and rediscover ways to fruitful dialogue with the new generations.
Lastly, let us thank the Lord for giving us a man as Holy as him. We were all able to perceive — some from close at hand, others from afar — how consistent his humanity, his words and his life were. He was a true man because he was inseparably bound to the One who is Truth. In following the One who is the Way, he was a man constantly on the move, ever striving for the greatest good of every person, of the Church and of the world, and for the destination which for every believer is the glory of the Father. He was truly alive for he was a man full of the Life, which is Christ, ever open to his grace and to all the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
His was a holiness lived out, especially in his last months, his last weeks, in total fidelity to the mission that had been assigned to him, until his death.
Although this was not, properly speaking, a martyrdom, we all saw how in his life the words we have heard in today’s Gospel came true: “Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you girded yourself and walked where you would; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish to go” (Jn 21:18).
We all saw how everything humanly impressive about him was taken from him: his physical strength, his physical expression, the possibility to move, even his speech. And it was especially then that he entrusted his life and his mission to Christ, because Christ alone can save the world. He knew that his physical weakness made Christ working in history even more clearly visible. And, by offering his suffering to him and to his Church, he gave to all of us a last, important lesson of humanity and of surrender, held in God’s arms.
“O sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all people of the earth! Sing to the Lord, bless his name”.
Let us sing to the Lord a hymn of glory, for the gift of this great Pope: a man of faith and prayer, a Pastor and a Witness, a guide in the passage between two millenniums. May this hymn illumine our life, so that we do not only venerate the new Blessed, but, with the help of God’s grace, follow his teaching and his example.
As I address a grateful thought to Pope Benedict XVI, who has wished to raise his great Predecessor to the glory of the altars, I would like to end with the words he spoke on the first anniversary of the new Blessed’s death.
“Dear brothers and sisters... our thoughts turn with emotion to the moment of the beloved Pontiff’s death, but at the same time our hearts are, as it were, impelled to look ahead. We feel reverberating within them his repeated invitations to advance without fear on the path of fidelity to the Gospel, to be heralds and witnesses of Christ in the third millennium. We cannot but recall his ceaseless exhortations to cooperate generously in creating a more just humanity with greater solidarity, to be peacemakers and builders of hope. May our gaze always remain fixed on Christ, the same ‘yesterday and today and for ever’ (Heb 13:8) who firmly guides his Church. We have believed in his love and it is the encounter with him ‘which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction’ (cf. Deus Caritas Est, n. 1). May the power of the Spirit of Jesus be for all, dear brothers and sisters, as it was for Pope John Paul ii, a source of peace and joy, and may the Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church, help us to be in every circumstance, like him, unflagging apostles of his divine Son and prophets of his merciful love”. Amen!