By: Sr. Clare Hunter
It occurred to me while watching the canonizations of Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI knew both of these men. I wondered how many others present and watching had met, or worked with, both of them. Certainly countless were alive during both papacies. Of course, so many more knew John Paul II, and the personal stories of encounters and his influence in people’s lives have been inspiring.
As the days leading to the canonizations approached and the Mass celebrated by Pope Francis aired, it is amazing to think that I had met, and touched, a saint. On November 9, 2002, with a group of my Community, I was able to attend a private Mass and meeting with Pope John Paul II. To touch his soft hands and look into his eyes, to feel his touch on my cheek…such a memory! John Paul II had always been an influence in my faith, my vocation and my love for the Catholic Church. A rather odd notion to think that for 25 years a man I had only met once for a few moments could have had such a strong impact on my life. It is quite a moment in one’s life when saints cease to be untouchable medieval heroes and Biblical reflections. There are countless modern day saints who have powerful stories and inspire me to live a faithful life. But with John Paul II, it almost feels like a relative has been canonized.
During talks, I’ve started to ask the question, “Who here wants to be a saint?” Little kids always raise their hands and shout “ME!” I suppose that’s the case with any question. Adults seldom do, and I’ve even had a brave soul respond that “It’s too hard to be one.” True enough. In fact, we have been explicitly told that it is impossible. “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God…For human beings it is impossible, but not for God” (Mk 10:24, 26). Jesus has just finished instructing his young friend on the qualifications for sainthood: keep the Commandments, sell and give away everything, and follow Him. Not a good sign that the men who have already been following Him declare it to be too difficult. Even worse when Jesus agrees. Oh how I wish Jesus had turned and said “My friends, it will be easy! I will be with you! See how easy and fun it has been these days?” If only.
We know only too well what following Jesus will mean. Not breaking the Commandments and giving everything to and for God is a constant battle. But it is the crosses, the crucifixions, which mean suffering and dying that scare us the most and cause despair. And yet, countless men and women have done just that. They fell deeply in love with Jesus Christ and let nothing stop them from following Him all the way. That is probably why from such an early age I loved Pope John Paul II, and trusted him. There was something about his example, his witness that convinced me there was something to this “Catholic faith thing.” Certainly I had others in my life who witnessed to the same truth, but there was something special about him.
As Catholics, we believe in the communion of saints. Our own call to sanctity is only possible with God, who allows the saints to intercede for us. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, “The witnesses who have preceded us into the kingdom, especially those whom the Church recognizes as saints, share in the living tradition of prayer by the example of their lives, the transmission of their writings, and their prayer today. They contemplate God, praise him and constantly care for those whom they have left on earth. When they entered into the joy of their Master, they were ‘put in charge of many things.’ Their intercession is their most exalted service to God’s plan. We can and should ask them to intercede for us and for the whole world.” (2683)
I love that line: “put in charge of many things.” It certainly alters our notion of “resting” in peace. Lest we think heaven is boring with eternity spent on a cloud with a harp, we hear that we will still be within the mission of Jesus Christ, following Him, and doing the Father’s Will. May both St. John Paul II and St. John XXIII be put in charge of many things, and most particularly, interceding for our world, that we grow in our desire to be saints and join them in eternal life.
St. John XXIII, pray for us! St. John Paul II, pray for us!