The following Homily was given by Fr. Herbert Nicholls on October 23rd at the Mother of the Light Convent
1978 will remain forever a landmark year in the Catholic Church. Following the sudden but not unexpected death of Paul VI in August, the election of Cardinal Albino Lucini as his successor was swift and dramatic. His warmth and humility immediately endeared him to an astonished world that seemed to have grown hungry for the things of God but needed the reassurances of a smile before expressing that longing. But John Paul I who brought hope to the world would reign as its pastor for only 33 days. To many it seemed as if the new dawn had been merely an illusion.
But the conclave of October gave us an even more surprising Pope, the emergence of the first non-Italian Pope in more than 400 years. The months that followed the election of Cardinal Karol Wojtoyla brought intense interest in him as a sprirtual leader, and as a potential force for good in the world.
Though his election might have been a surprise to the world at large; he had been steadily “eyed” as he came from Poland as a young priest to study in Rome at the Angelicum. He went to France and Belgium to involve himself closely in the ferment of ideas and renewal that were germinating at the time.
He returned to Rome as a peritus for Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski at the Second Vatican Council. As such he played an important role in determining the emphasis of the Dogmatic Constitution of the Church (Lumen Gentium) and the Pastoral Constitution on the Church (Gaudium et Spes).
Another aspect of this saintly man which attracted attention far beyond the frontiers of Poland was his prayer, faith and receptivity to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. On October 27, 1978 in his solemn inaugural address, the new Holy Father began: Be not afraid! Open wide the doors to Christ!
On March 25th, 1983, inaugurating the 1950th Jubilee Holy Year of Redemption, he said: Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God, grant that all of us may love you more. As in ourselves we live the mysteries of your life again. From the conception and birth to the cross and resurrection. Be with us through these mysteries. Be with us in the Holy Spirit. Help us to change the direction of the increasing threats and misfortunes of the world today! Lift man up again! Protect the nations and peoples! O Lord Jesus Christ, show how more powerful, in man and in the world, is the work of your redemption!
On November 10, 1994, he sought to prepare the world for the dawn of the Third Millennium with a burning hope for a new beginning, a new springtime that heralds the transformation of ourselves, the Church, our nations, and our world. He reiterated the words of his inaugural address: the words remind us that in this century we are to go forth with great hope on our journey to discover God’s love for us and with each step to realize the necessary condition of uniting our will to the will of God!
He is perhaps the papacy’s most prolific writer. He is the author of 14 encyclicals, 42 apostolic letters, 15 apostolic exhortations, 10 apostolic constitutions, hundreds of public addresses, numerous poems, five books, a number of plays, all this in addition to being the most traveled and most influential pope of the modern age.
The magnitude of this man’s accomplishments, world statesman, philosopher, Church leader has perhaps obscured his greatest role, that of humble pastor. He knew something about how men and women can find God, how they can come to understand the power of God released in their lives.
He was able to share this conviction that in each person’s journey there begins to change when the road to holiness begins to change. Ultimately a person’s only desire is to recognize and follow the light of God’s will. This not happen in one particular flash of light nor does it resemble a dazzling grand finale of fireworks. God’s inviting light gradually increases and probes deeper and deeper into the darkness of the human soul.
His supreme desire was that we come to embrace this faith that transforms the way we work, the way we relate to other people, and the way we live in the world. This was the simple message that he brought as he travelled the world. Sound bites or verbal bites cannot begin to encapsulate the greatness and the belovedness of this awesome servant of the servants of God.
On May 13, 1981, the Pope had the closest possible brush with martyrdom as a bullet pierced his chest. Protected by Our Lady of Fatima, the crown of martyrdom was not to be his. For the rest of his life he bore living witness to the value of suffering. The bullet devastated his health, developing Parkinson’s disease which produced loss of taste, loss of smell and loss of appetite. With that came a loss of saliva and loss of speech.
Thousands had gathered on Easter 2005, but when he went to the window to give his blessing he was not able to utter a word, not even a sound, and the crowd below was just as silent and in tears.
Seven days later, Saturday, April 2 at 10PM, the vigil of his beloved Divine Mercy Sunday, he crossed over the threshold of death, the threshold of hope, to be with the Redeemer whom he had so faithfully preached in word and deed.
In a world often deemed indifferent to religion, who would have guessed humble Polish priest would become a pope the world would mourn? Even among those who might be called “professional” Catholics there has been a sense of awe and wonderment at the life and accomplishments of John Paul II. Everywhere he went he drew crowds in the millions, in his native Poland, in the Philippines, in the United States, in Latin America and of course in Rome where he was nearly assassinated. It is difficult to imagine any other person living or dead who has seen or been seen by so many people who want to see him. Why?
We can touch his books, hear his words, see his videos, and he wants us to; but what he desires most is for us to discover that experience of faith that can change the world. Many thanks John Paul the Great!