2 nd Sunday of Easter:
Divine Mercy and Beatification of Pope John Paul II
Jn 20:19-31

"We are all called to Holiness - Do not be afraid "


Preached by Fr Philip Heng, SJ at Church of St Ignatius – Singapore
on Sunday 1st May 2011

In today’s Gospel we hear of how the apostles had much fear of being persecuted and even killed for being a believer of Jesus.  They had other fears in their lives too.  But, Jesus brought peace to them through the Holy Spirit and also sending them out to bring His Peace to all others. How is this to be done?  In His mercy and compassion Jesus knew that our sins are one of the main causes of our pains and sufferings in our lives and in today’s world.  And it is the Divine Mercy and Compassion of the Father that sends His Son to us toredeem us through His life, death and resurrection. 

It is the Mercy of God that our lives and our world still has hope; real hope; it is because of the Mercy of God that constantly forgives us of our sins; that we are still alive today and still holding on to our faith.  You may say, “What about those who have stop practicing their faith and the millions who do not know Christ, our Risen Lord?  For all these people, God continues to show them His Mercy and Compassion, and God wants each and everyone of us to be His instruments of His Peace, Truth, Love and Mercy in our daily living. 

Our Archbishop Nicholas has specifically reminded us priests to preach about Divine Mercy and the beatification of Pope John Paul II in our homilies today.  He has even sent each priest of his Archdiocese some beautiful homily points, and I will use them generously here.  He says that the beatification of Pope John Paul II on the Feast of Divine Mercy is a grand occasion for celebration within the Catholic Church all over the world.  Beatification is the first step towards sainthood; a model to be imitated by others – a true image of Christ.  John Paul II was genuinely a holy man whose essence and spirit touched all who met him, and today, he becomes “Blessed John Paul II”.

Divine Mercy Sunday was chosen for the beatification of John Paul because this date has much significance in his life. It was Pope John Paul II who named Divine Mercy Sunday as a Feast Day in April 2000, as he presided at the canonization of Saint Faustina Kowalska, a countrywoman from his native Poland.  Thus, Divine Mercy Sunday is to take into account the full Easter mystery – the suffering, death, burial, resurrection and ascension of Christ, followed by the sending of the Holy Spirit. 

Sr. Faustina was a simple nun with little education who came from a very poor family.  The Lord Jesus appeared to her in 1931, wearing white and showing her His wounds - especially the wound in His Heart, the source from which flows the great wave of mercy poured out on humanity. 

Sr. Faustina saw two rays of light streaming from Jesus’ heart, one red and one white. Jesus explained to her that they represent blood and water. The blood recalls the sacrifice that Jesus made for us by dying on the Cross and the gift of the Eucharist.  The water represents not only Baptism but also the gift of the Holy Spirit, as Jesus pours out His mercy on humanity through the Holy Spirit.

Pope John Paul II expressed the ultimate mercy towards Mehmat Ali Agca the man who tried to assassinate him.  The bullets caused severe intestinal wounds which led to a blood infection and a long recovery.  Two years later, in 1983, Pope John Paul II visited Agca in his prison cell in Rome for a quiet meeting of reconciliation.  The Pope later convinced Italian government to pardon Agca, who had been sentenced to life imprisonment, and return him to his native Turkey.

While his obvious suffering in later life from Parkinson’s disease affected much of his papacy, his entire life was plagued by suffering and setbacks, which brought him in closer communion with Christ. 

Born Karol Józef Wojtyla in Poland on 18 May 1920, he was the youngest of three children.  His early childhood was marked by the death of his mother, sister and brother, which affected him deeply.  At the age of 20, he lost his father.  Having lost everyone he loved, he became even more determined to live the truth of his faith.  He responded to God’s calling and was ordained to the priesthood on 1 November 1946, on All Saints Day. 

At the age of 38, Karol Wojtyla became the youngest bishop in Poland and later became Archbishop of Krakow.  During his decades as a bishop in Poland, Karol Wojtyla fought tirelessly against communism, using a non-violent approach to confront government oppression.

On 22 October 1978, Karol Wojtyla became Pope John Paul II, adopting the name out of respect for his predecessor, John Paul I, who served as Pope for only 33 days before his untimely death.  John Paul II was the 264th Pope, the first Polish pope and the first non-Italian in 455 years.  He was also the youngest Pope in 128 years.

Pope John Paul II was the most travelled pope in history, visiting 129 countries.  In addition to his travels, John Paul II was a prolific writer, having written 15 encyclicals, 50 major documents, five books, poems and plays (two of which have been made into movies).  He canonized 483 saints, beatified 1,340 people as he believed that the exemplary lives of the saints could inspire the faithful to answer the universal call to holiness.

Pope John Paul II also established global movements such as World Youth Day in 1984, World Day of the Sick in 1992, among his many “firsts” as Pope.  During his papacy, John Paul II came into contact with believers from many different religions and always strived to find common ground.  He established the World Day of Peace in 1986, where representatives of numerous religions and Christian denominations come together for a day of fasting and praying. 

The magnitude and diversity of his accomplishments as a global statesman, philosopher, theologian and Church leader were amazing.  He constantly challenged us, encouraged us to raise our moral and religious standards.  “Do not be afraid!  Open wide the doors to Christ!” he rallied us.  Pope John Paul II stood for peace, justice, unity and above all, authentic and Christ-like love.

Pope John Paul II became the first Pope to visit Singapore on 20 November 1986.  Those of you who are old enough may remember that day - despite torrential rain, a crowd of 63,000 people gathered peacefully in the National Stadium to attend the Mass.  It was the first time in the history of Singapore that such a large number of Catholics gathered in one place.  

Pope John Paul II died on April 2, 2005, on the eve of Divine Mercy Sunday.   His funeral at St Peter’s Square was historic; even Prince Charles had to postpone his wedding!  CNN alone had 24 hours coverage for almost a week!  TV footages showed how millions of people over the world, young and old were on their knees praying and weeping in the streets when the news of his death was announced.  We also know that all the most prominent political leaders and dignitaries from all over the world together with almost 3 million people flooded the city of Rome for the Funeral Mass.  Deeply moved by the Holy Spirit the crowd were chanting, “Santo Subito” meaning “make him a saint now or a saint in our presence.”  A Jesuit professor of the Gregorian University told me personally that he had to queue for about 14 hours; standing; just to have file pass Pope John Paul II’s body and it was very worth while.

Let me conclude by saying that throughout his life, Pope John Paul II transcended race, religion and politics due to his commitment to living Christian values.  He radiated peace, unity and the love of God for all people of all nationalities. Very significantly, He was a model of the Divine Mercy and Compassion of Our Lord; he was called the “Mercy Pope.” 

We should all be inspired by Pope John Paul II, to be venerated as Blessed today; holding the all time record of being declared a “Blessed” within the shortest time.  His life was truly an example of Christ’s image on Earth and an inspiration to all.  Let us all ask him to pray for us that we too will live our faith and the Gospel of Christ fully and wholeheartedly.  Yes, we too are each called to holiness by God and can even become a saint one day, if with God’s graces we respond wholeheartedly to the challenges of overcoming our sinful ways and growing in the Gospel virtues in our daily living . . .  one day at a time . . . this is the “Peace of the Risen Christ” that Jesus gave to His apostles when He met them in the Upper room.  This is the same “Peace” that the Risen Christ too wants to give to all of us to help us grow in holiness; as we are gathered here in this Church, in His Name and through the intercession of Blessed John Paul II.

Fr Philip Heng,S.J.

 

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