The Day of the Four Popes

(photo: CNA)

On the Second Sunday of Easter, Divine Mercy Sunday, in the Year of our Lord 2014, two great men were raised to the honor of the Altar and were canonized saints. There is no Catholic Christian alive that has not been directly affected by the decisions, teaching or holiness of St. John XXIII and St. John Paul II. Perhaps we can say that these two men influenced the Church far more than anyone in our times.

John XXIII called for the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council and John Paul II had much influence in provoking discussion and lending a hand in drafting one of the most important documents that came out of the Second Vatican Council — Gaudium et Spes, the pastoral constitution on the Church in the Modern World. Gaudium et  Spes (Joy and Hope). These two words say it all. They are precisely what the world needs to hear in our troubled times.

I cannot think of a better way to have celebrated the last day in the Octave of Easter. Easter joy was tangible throughout the whole city of Rome throughout the day and perhaps  throughout the entire Universal Church. These two new saints would be quick to tell us that everything that they accomplished was never about them. It is all about Jesus Christ.

I heard a story a few days ago that after St. John XXIII was elected Pope, he often worried much about the Church and the way he was governing the Church. The story goes that an angel said to him in a moment of distress — “Don’t take yourself so seriously!” Maybe this is what led him say what he often said before retiring to bed at night — Lord, this is your Church, You take care of her!”

How true! Jesus Christ does take care of his Church. The day we think we have accomplished anything without God’s gracious assistance is the day we take our eyes off the Risen Christ.

St. John Paul II has provided the Church with a clear vision of interpreting the teaching of Vatican II. A phrase from Gaudium et Spes became his motto. Perhaps he may have even penned it himself: “The truth is that only in the mystery of the Incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on new light. For Adam, the first man, was a figure of him who was to come, namely Christ the Lord. Christ, the final Adam, by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His Love, fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear” (22).

Read that again and again and then again. If you want to understand St. John Paul II, pray and meditate on these words.

In his first encyclical, Redemptor Hominis (The Redeemer of Man), St. John Paul II asserts that Jesus Christ is the answer to every question that the human heart asks. Whether it be the meaning of life, why am I here, where am I going, why do people have to suffer and does suffering have any human value, St. John Paul II would unceasingly point to Jesus Christ as the definitive answer. History cannot be understood properly without Christ. Our new saint grew up and lived in the midst of a culture that attempted to erase Christ from history. It simply cannot be done.

This day will always be remembered as the day of the four popes — Francis, Benedict XVI, John Paul II and John XXIII. All four of these men were alive together at a particular moment in history. It is the first time ever in Church history that two popes were canonized together. It is also the first time in Church history where a current pope and his predecessor celebrated Mass publically together.

St. Paul’s saying proves to be absolutely true: “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26).