Canonization of St. John Paul II and St. John XXIII – a personal comment

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On Sunday 27th April 2014 two former Popes were canonized by Pope Francis, and more than million of people gathered in Rome from all over the world to take part in the celebration. In Dublin some of the cinemas were screening the Mass live from Rome in 3D and since a friend got me a ticket I followed the events from Rome in 3D. Quite extraordinary! I found it very moving, especially at the beginning of Mass. Yes, I teared a little. Recently I took part in a discussion entitled: “religion makes you happy?”. I was pondering on that question as I was watching the crowd gathered at St. Peter’s Square, recalling how much John Paul II meant to me when he was the Pope, and thought to myself, “yes, today it does make me happy, this is Church at its best”. However, this reflection is not solely inspired with the events from today, but more so with a negative comment I saw about it.

Perhaps it was just a usual comment by someone who is not a Catholic, and who does not have a very fond feelings about the things Catholic. Sometimes I may see a comment that touches the heart, and not with a sentiment that is very encouraging – basically talking about things some of us find sacred, yet in a way that is not respectful… Usually I do nothing about it, I read it, hardly ever comment, maybe it hurts me, maybe it doesn’t (it depends), probably annoys me at least a bit, but then I let it go… Anyway, today I saw such a comment and this time decided not to remain silent, maybe merely because I really loved St. John Paul II.

As I said, it was a comment about the canonizations that happened in Rome today. I already know that most of you don’t need to read this – you would have already known this, or at least have a heart wide enough to allow others to celebrate even if you don’t agree or fully understand all the reasons behind it. Thank you to all of you who celebrated with us!

Since the comment was partly about canonization not being ‘biblical’ (and that kind of makes me angry because we can question whether this or that in this or that tradition is ‘biblical’ but we hardly ever question whether our attitude is also biblical, or not…), so in the light of that let me just say this:

“Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ—whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have died in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (1 Cor 15:12-19)

But we don’t only hope in Christ for this life alone – even though that too; we believe in the resurrection of Christ, and because of that we also believe in what we proclaim in the Creed: the resurrection of the dead and the communion of saints – who are with Him in heaven.

So what does canonization do? Canonization affirms that those who are canonized – like St. John Paul II and St. John XXIII were today – “lived a holy life, are in heaven, and are to be honoured by the universal Church. Canonization does not ‘make’ a person a saint; it recognizes what God has already done.” God makes someone into a saint during the person’s life on earth; the Church then recognises it after the person’s death and declares that we believe that this person is now for sure in heaven; that’s really it. So canonization affirms our faith in the resurrection!

“For Catholics, however, saints don’t have to be perfect. In fact, Catholics are inspired by the ability of saints to do good despite their human flaws.” We don’t always express this in the best ways, but basically saints are not super-humans, they are merely people who allowed God’s grace to be active in their lives – and it showed. These people are examples for us; some of them will resonate with our life experiences more than others. I don’t know that much about John XXIII but John Paul II influenced many of us, especially young people as he took a great interest in us. He encouraged us, thought us, challenged us, trusted in us and always, always directed us towards Christ. Today we rejoiced because we are grateful to him!

Not every holy person is going to be canonized. We have probably known many ‘saints’ in our lives, and God calls each of us to be one too – we are all called to live a life of holiness. This call extends to people of all backgrounds and religions. Not sure about you, but I’m personally not there yet. I remember that during the World Youth Day in Rome in the year 2000 St. John Paul II told us, “young people do not be afraid to be saints!” I was thinking of that today too. You see, we are afraid and we lack courage, sometimes anyway, and more so we are tempted, we are weak. And that’s why we need examples to cheer us on, to remind us never to give up, to point us towards God’s overwhelming mercy and instruct us that in Him, and with Him we will have the fulness of life, and that our lives can make a difference too. We need examples! And we need teachers. Today we got two new ones. And for that, we are grateful.

St. John Paul II and St. John XXIII, pray for us!

© Iva Beranek (Dublin, 27th April 2014)
Photo by © Iva B.

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