News Analysis

Tuesday 23 September 2014

Worthy honour for a holy man who was a 'maker of saints'

Bishop Brendan Leahy

Published 26/04/2014 | 02:30

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WE can only imagine that there must have been quite a celebration when John Paul reached the gates of heaven.

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After all, it has often been said of him that he was a 'maker of saints'. In his almost 27 years as Pope he canonised 482 saints – that's more than the church did in the 400 years since Pope Sixtus V provided the official criterion for the recognition of sanctity in 1588. If we add in the number of witnesses to holiness that he beatified, the number rises to 1,338. And now he is to be numbered among the saints.

The Second Vatican Council was a fanfare for the universal call to holiness which it defined as 'the perfection of love.' It wanted us to appreciate that we can all strive for that regardless of our occupation, age or social condition. It doesn't mean perfectionism or this or that particular practice or penance, but rather, following the way of love that God has marked out for each of us.

Faithful to the council, the Polish Pope emphasised holiness as the way of renewal in the church, and didn't neglect his own personal journey of holiness along the way.

'Mercy, love's second name', as John Paul liked to put it, is at the root of our journey towards holiness: 'That mercy flowed from the Crucified Christ. In looking to him we turn around and start believing that love is present in the world and that this love is more powerful than any kind of evil in which individuals, humanity, or the world are involved.' (Dives in Misericordia, 7).

The photo of John Paul visiting his would-be assassin, Mehmet Ali Agca, is an eloquent reminder of how he lived out this mercy. His declining years of ill-health showed us, too, how his belief that because of Jesus Christ's merciful love, suffering can be transformed. The spirituality John Paul embraced was influenced by the writings of Grignion de Montfort. It was Christo-centric (his Inauguration Homily: 'Open wide the doors to Christ; do not be afraid'); Trinitarian (each of his three early encyclicals was dedicated to one of the Three Divine Persons) and Marian (his Papal coat of arms contained a golden cross with the letter 'M' and the motto 'Totus tuus' expressing his consecration to Mary).

Love of the Eucharist was central for John Paul. It provided the plan for mission and was at the root of his own enormous evangelising initiative: 'For the Eucharist is a mode of being, which passes from Jesus into each Christian, through whose testimony it is meant to spread throughout society and culture. For this to happen, each member of the faithful must assimilate, through personal and communal meditation, the values which the Eucharist expresses, the attitudes it inspires, the resolutions to which it gives rise' (Mane nobiscum Domine, 25).

There can be little doubt that the rosary was John Paul II's favourite prayer. It sustained him not least in the horrors of World War II and again during his life and ministry under communism.

DEVOTION

His devotion to the Spirit should not be underestimated in considering his journey to holiness. A simple episode from his youth reveals the beginnings of this relationship. The young Karol had become an altar server but obviously was given to being a little distracted during the ceremonies: 'My father, having noticed my distraction, said to me one day: you are not a good altar server. You don't pray enough to the Holy Spirit.' Attentiveness to the spirit was to become one of the distinctive features of John Paul's prayer, teaching and action. It explains his promotion of the ecclesiology and spirituality of communion, as well as his lively appreciation of the charismatic and Marian dimensions of the church. The spirit made him a man of dialogue as we saw in the famous 1986 Assisi meeting of the leaders of the world's religions.

It was at the prompting of the spirit that John Paul found courage to confront issues of justice, solidarity and peace as seen in his dealings with communism and in his approach to the war in Iraq.

It was the spirit, 'the Giver of Life', who emboldened John Paul to be the great promoter of the Gospel of Life, the dignity of the human person, and the importance of culture.

It was the spirit who prompted him, in the concluding days of his life's journey, to whisper: 'Let me go to the house of the Father'.

BRENDAN LEAHY IS BISHOP OF LIMERICK AND AUTHOR OF 'BELIEVE IN LOVE: THE LIFE, MINISTRY AND TEACHINGS OF JOHN PAUL II' (VERITAS, 2011).

Irish Independent

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