TWO NEW POPE-SAINTS - MISSIONARY WITNESSES
If we trust God and commit our lives to His Gospel, clinging to the Cross, we will experience His blessings. This is what Isaiah is promising us, what Paul challenges us to, what Jesus commands his disciples to.
Blessed John XXIII and Blessed John Paul II were just slated to be added to the list of saints of Roman Catholic Church. These two popes of our own era were spectacular because God knew we needed them in our world today. As we hear Jesus sending out the 70 disciples in the Gospel today, we find in these two soon-to-be saints good examples of missionaries, evangelists, messengers of the Gospel who take the Gospel to the world. When John XXIII shocked all the Church's cardinals, who expected a few years of transition with the very elderly pope, by declaring an ecumenical council, he said we need to open the windows of the Church and let in some fresh air so that the Gospel could be proclaimed in a new way. He did that in his own life, even as pope: Blessed John XXIII would walk out in the streets and slums of Rome, visiting the poor and sick, sharing the Joy of the Gospel with them. That joy, flowing from a deep sense of hope, was seen in his sense of humor, my favorite account of which was his response to the question, “Holy Father, how many people work here in the Vatican?” The Pope: “Oh, about half.” By his joy and by his charity, John XXIII shows us the sometimes forgotten side of a missionary: we don't have to cross oceans or borders to share the Gospel of God's love and proclaim “the Kingdom of God is at hand!”
John Paul II, however, was a missionary who did travel the world, many times over. The Gospel worked its power as John Paul II proclaimed its message. What was the most powerful effect if his missionary work? Perhaps the many souls who saw him face to face, as an elderly woman in Mexico described to me the encounter of so many years ago with fresh tears like it happened yesterday (and I myself experienced in Toronto). Perhaps the non-violent fall of the Communist regime in Poland and then eastern Europe? Perhaps the visit to publicly forgive and evangelize Ali Agca, the man who attempted to assassinate him in St. Peter's square.
John XXIII and John Paul II show us both the ordinary and the courageous ways we are called to proclaim the Gospel to the world. And in the midst of their overwhelming successes, they also shared in difficulties and trials. Paul finishes his letter to the Galatians with the words we hear today, writing this last part in his own hand (as verse 11 tells us), as a way of authenticating the letter and emphasizing its conclusion. Here he presents us with the Cross.
CCC 1235: The sign of the cross, on the threshold of the celebration of Baptism, marks with the imprint of Christ the one who is going to belong to him and signifies the grace of the redemption Christ won for us by his cross.
That cross is again placed on the casket of the deceased. And as two bookends, it is present throughout the entire life of a Christian.
CCC 2015:The way of perfection passes by way of the Cross. There is no holiness without renunciation and spiritual battle.68 Spiritual progress entails the ascesis and mortification that gradually lead to living in the peace and joy of the Beatitudes:
He who climbs never stops going from beginning to beginning, through beginnings that have no end. He never stops desiring what he already knows.69
Following Christ to the Cross means dying to our plans, our desires, our comforts, our safety. But letting go of the Cross is like letting go of the rope that holds us up, like abandoning the anchor that keeps us safe in the storms of life.
I remember how John Paul II held his cross until the end. I can't say about John XXIII since I was around yet, you'll have to ask Fr. Bill. But JPII, slowly fading with Parkinson's disease, eventually barely being able to speak or move, showed us that the Cross, when embraced, brings hope. Let us pray that as we bring the message of the Gospel to the world with joy and with hope, we can embrace the difficulties of Christian life, placing our faith in the Resurrection of Our Eucharistic Lord Jesus, who never abandons us, who suffers with us, and who rejoices in victory with us.