Homily at Vigil Mass for Beatification of John Paul II
Sunday 1 May 2011
Vigil for the Second Sunday of Easter, Divine Mercy Sunday
and the Beatification of Servant of God,
John Paul II, Pope
Mass in the College Chapel
St Patrick’s College, Maynooth
In 1978, Rome and communist Krakow were worlds apart. However, on the evening of the 16 October that year there was an unlikely synchronicity. A stage-curtain of two-halves drawn back: St Peter’s heavy red ceremonial veil and Communism’s Iron curtain. Karol Wojtyla, man from a far country, emerged as John Paul II on St Peter’s central loggia overlooking Vatican square. An uncertain but warm first night crowd greeted him.
From the outset, John Paul was a people’s pope who spoke with passion. His motto, totus tuus captured the Marian spirit by which he lived the entire span of his Petrine ministry: the enthusiastic emissary at its beginning, frontline pope, pope of the threshold and pope of the new frontier, most traveled, first to visit mosque and synagogue; and at the end a totally spent disciple, semper fidelis. And all through his ministry the echo of iconic words: Non abbiate paura! Aprite, anzi, spalancate le porte a Cristo! Do not be afraid! Throw open the doors for Christ!
This evening’s Gospel brings us to a different place: behind closed doors with Christ’s closest, afraid! What a contrast! John evokes an image of men feeling helpless in a hostile environment! Night is falling and for these no-hopers it might never be dawn again! The only concern for these men is their safety; fear prompts them to keep the doors safely closed. They only want to be safe, safe men who see only hostility.
Does this experience resonate with us? Do we inhabit the same room as the first followers of Christ? Does everything look hostile? And is our safety all we should be interested in? Is locked-in syndrome something that we in the Irish Church could be suffering from at the moment? And there are other strait jackets too: ideologies, habits, mindsets, paranoia, even ritualism. Sometimes it seems that we’ve locked the tomb-rid risen Christ in a tabernacle where he is safe and we are safe!
As with John Paul, Christians stand out in society because of their ability to open doors, to unlock lives, to give that bit extra, to think big and beyond small-mindedness, to raise Christ up and make him the centre of the complex relationships that form the kingdom of God on earth, in parishes and dioceses.
When you think of it some of John Paul II’s most iconic words and gestures were at doorways, life’s doorways, pushing out boundaries, reaching across human divides: Ali Agca’s prison cell forgiving his assailant, Drogheda pleading with people to turn away from violence, Looking out onto the new millennium on his knees in the threshold of the Holy Door, placing a petition for peace in Jerusalem’s wailing wall.
John Paul’s groundbreaking and much publicized gestures remind us of nothing more than the ordinary work of every disciple: to open doors, to enter new rooms, new territory. Respecting new ground and life there with the attitude of reverence reflected in John Paul’s own gesture of venerating the soil of a new country.
27 years after the energetic Wojtyla walked on to the balcony of St Peter’s who could forget the last image of this faithful disciple on that last Easter Sunday of his life at the window of the Papal apartment? He faced the final frontier of earthly life emaciated but with unyielding courage. Death rattled in his voice as he gave his final blessing urbi et orbi. John Paul’s extraordinary life teaches ordinary men and women like us that if we live our lives with the risen Christ at the centre, nothing will hold us back; nothing will imprison us, we will always be free!
May the peace of the risen Christ be with you always!
Rev Paul Prior. Maynooth College