Benedict XVI's Homily at Mass for John Paul II
"Death Was the Seal of an Existence Totally Given to Christ"
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VATICAN CITY, APRIL 2, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the homily Benedict XVI gave today when he celebrated Mass on the third anniversary of the death of Pope John Paul II.
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Dear brothers and sisters,
The date of April 2 has been imprinted in the Church's memory as the day the Servant of God Pope John Paul II [said] good-bye to this world. Let us again live with emotion the hours of that Saturday afternoon, when the news of his passing away was received by a great multitude of people in prayer who filled St. Peter's Square. For a few days, the Vatican Basilica and this Square truly became the heart of the world. An uninterrupted river of pilgrims paid homage to the remains of the venerated Pontiff and his funeral was a last testament of the esteem and the affection that he had won in the spirit of so many believers and people from all the corners of the earth.
Just like three years ago, today as well, just a short time has passed since Easter. The heart of the Church finds itself still submerged in the mystery of the resurrection of the Lord. In truth, we can interpret the entire life of my beloved predecessor, particularly his Petrine ministry, according to the sign of Christ resurrected. He felt an extraordinary faith in Him, and with Him, he maintained an intimate, unique, uninterrupted conversation. Among his many human and supernatural qualities, he had an exceptional spiritual and mystical sensitivity.
It was enough to see him praying: He literally submerged himself in God and it seemed that everything else during those moments was left outside. During the liturgical celebrations, he was attentive to the mystery being carried out, with a keen capacity to perceive the eloquence of God's word in the development of history, penetrating deeply into God's plan. Holy Mass, as he often repeated, was for him the center of the day and all his existence -- the "living and holy" reality of the Eucharist that gave him spiritual energy to guide the people of God on the path of history.
John Paul II died on the vigil of the Second Sunday of Easter, "the day the Lord made." The throes of death happened on this "day," in the new time-space that is the "eighth day," desired by the Holy Trinity through the work of the incarnate Word, dead and risen. Pope John Paul II showed on various occasions that already from before, during his life, and especially in the fulfilling of his mission as Supreme Pontiff, he was in some way submerged in this spiritual dimension
His pontificate, taken together and in many specific moments, presents itself to us as a sign and testimony of the resurrection of Christ. This paschal dynamism, which made of John Paul II's existence a total responding to the call of the Lord, could not be expressed without a participation in the sufferings and the death of the divine Master and Redeemer. "This saying is trustworthy," the Apostle Paul says, "If we have died with him we shall also live with him; if we persevere we shall also reign with him" (2 Timothy 2:11-12).
Since childhood, Karol Wojtyla had experienced the truth of these words, finding the cross on his path, in his family, with his people. Very soon he decided to carry it beside Jesus, following in his footsteps. He wanted to be his faithful servant to the point of welcoming the call to the priesthood as a gift and a commitment for all of his life. With Him, he lived, and with Him, he wanted to die. And all of this by way of the unique mediation of most holy Mary, mother of the Church, mother of the Redeemer, intimately and truly associated with the salvific mystery of his death and resurrection.
In this evocative reflection, the biblical readings just proclaimed guide us: "Be not afraid!" (Matthew 28:5). The words of the angel of the Resurrection, addressed to the women before the empty tomb, which we just heard, became a type of motto on the lips of Pope John Paul II, since the solemn beginnings of his Petrine ministry. He repeated them on various occasions to the Church and to the world on the journey toward the year 2000, and after having passed that historical time, as well as afterward, in the dawn of the third millennium. He always pronounced them with inflexible firmness, first raising up [his] crosier predominated by the cross, and later, when his physical energies were weakening, nearly clinging to it, until that last Good Friday, in which he participated in the Way of the Cross from his private chapel, embracing within his arms the cross.
We cannot forget that last and silent testimony of love for Jesus. That eloquent scene of human suffering and faith, in that last Good Friday, also indicated to believers and to the world the secret of every Christian life. That "be not afraid" was not based on human strength, nor on successes accomplished, but rather, only on the word of God, on the cross and resurrection of Christ. In the degree in which he was being stripped of everything, at the end, even of his very words, this total surrender to Christ manifested itself with increasing clarity. As it happened to Jesus, also in the case of John Paul II, words gave way at the end to the ultimate sacrifice, to the gift of self. And death was the seal of an existence totally given to Christ, conformed to him even physically with the traits of suffering and trusting abandonment to the arms of the heavenly Father. "Let me go to the house of the Father," these words -- report those who were at his side -- were his last words, the fulfillment of a life totally oriented to knowing and contemplating the face of the Lord.
Venerated and dear brothers: I give thanks to all of you for having united yourselves to me in this Mass for the soul of the beloved John Paul II. I address a particular thought to the participants in the first world congress on Divine Mercy, which begins precisely today, and which aims to go deeper in his rich magisterium on this theme. The mercy of God, he himself said, is a privileged key for interpreting his pontificate. He wanted the message of the merciful love of God to reach all men and women and he exhorted the faithful to be its witnesses. (Cf. Homily at the dedication of the Shrine of Divine Mercy, Aug. 17, 2002.)
For this reason, he wanted to elevate to the altars Sister Faustina Kowalska, a humble religious converted by the mysterious divine design into the prophetic messenger of divine mercy. The Servant of God John Paul II had known and personally lived the terrible tragedies of the 20th century, and he asked himself during a long time what could stop the advance of evil. The answer could only be found in the love of God. Only divine mercy, in fact, is capable of putting limits on evil; only the omnipotent love of God can topple the dominance of the evil ones and the destructive power of egotism and hate. For this reason, during his last visit to Poland, upon returning to his native land, he said, "Apart from the mercy of God there is no other source of hope for mankind."
Let us give thanks to God because he has given the Church this faithful and courageous servant. Let us praise and bless the Virgin Mary for having ceaselessly watched over his person and his ministry for the benefit of the Christian people and all of humanity. And while we are offering for his chosen soul the redeeming Sacrifice, we ask him to continue interceding from heaven for each one of us, for me in a special way, who Providence has called to take up his inestimable spiritual heritage. May the Church, following his teaching and example, faithfully continue its evangelizing mission without compromises, spreading tirelessly the merciful love of Christ, fount of true peace for the entire world.
[Translated by Kathleen Naab]