On the cover of the Nov. 10, 1958 issue of Time magazine was Pope John XXIII, elected pope on Oct. 28, 1958 and installed on Nov. 4 of the same year. I have always had an affinity to Pope John for his courage in convening the Second Vatican Council in 1962, a move that ushered in an unprecedented renewal of the Roman Catholic Church.
When I was ordained priest in 1993, I developed a devotion to Pope John, understanding and experiencing more the grace of Vatican II. It helped that, immediately after my ordination, I was sent to New York for my master’s studies.
In one of my walks along Broadway on the Upper West Side, I came across tables of old issues of Time, well preserved and neatly wrapped in plastic bags. I looked for the issue closest to my birth date, and, lo and behold, it was the Nov. 10, 1958 issue.
Today we celebrate the canonization of Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II, two beloved popes of the modern era. Both saw the Church through difficult periods: John XXIII, who convened the Second Vatican Council in the early ’60s; and John Paul II, who was instrumental in the collapse of communism.
It is interesting to note that there are only three popes who were named Time’s Man of the Year: John XXIII in ’62, John Paul II in ’94 and Pope Francis in 2013.
The three somehow embody the graces we celebrate today as the Church declares John XXIII and John Paul II as saints.
Renewal of inspiration
Last Holy Week, we conducted an Easter Triduum Recollection for almost 70 persons in Santa Rosa, Laguna. We synthesized the three-day gathering with the story of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus.
There were two main themes that emerged: the re-inspiring of our journey with a renewed living out of our mission (“Were not our hearts burning within us…” from Luke 24:32); and the expression of meaning and mission in community, specifically building a caring community.
It is the renewal of our inspiration, which comes from meaning, identity and mission. It is one of the great gifts of Easter.
Let us reflect on the message of the Risen Lord to his disciples in today’s Gospel: “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you. And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.’” (John 20)
It reminds us that the meaning of our life lies in mission, in our being sent into the world to make it better by bringing the message of Christ. Together with the sending or “missioning” is the gift of peace and the Spirit of the Risen Lord, accompanying us in our mission-journey.
The readings also remind us of the centrality of community in mission. The first reading from the Acts of the Apostles beautifully describes the early Christian community centered on mission, the Eucharist and prayer.
The last part of Christ’s words in the Gospel gives another characteristic of the Christian community—to forgive sins and thus, through mercy and compassion, heal and make whole the community. At the same time, the community is to render justice through the retention of sins.
In the book “Why Christianity Must Change or Die,” Anglican Bishop John Shelby Spong talks about how the most urgent challenge the Church must respond to is the building of communities of compassion and care. The book cites the growing numbers of Muslims globally which, in a few years, will make Islam the world’s largest religion, eclipsing Christianity.
And with the growing secularization of many societies, the Christian churches can best respond by building vibrant, life-giving, compassionate communities.
The Feast of the Divine Mercy is an appropriate occasion for us to pray for this grace, that our Church, our own local church communities, our neighborhood communities, and our families may be renewed to be compassionate and caring communities.
It is in compassionate and caring communities that individuals can come into their own—healing, becoming whole, discovering their own meaning and mission, and excel. Chris Lowney, in his book “Heroic Leadership,” comes to the conclusion that the greatest achievements in human history, particularly the “heroic” achievements of the Jesuits in its over 450-year history in various fields, were done by persons who grew and were trained in a caring environment.
Writer and lecturer Margaret Wheatley makes similar points in her book “Leadership and the New Science,” citing love in organizations as the most powerful element in helping the members of an organization excel.
In building such caring and compassionate communities, leadership is crucial. This is what we remember and celebrate today as we canonize Popes John XXIII and John Paul II. We remember their charismatic, caring leadership that has renewed the Church.
Saints are meant to inspire the faithful and serve as examples worthy of emulation to help us live a meaningful and, I dare say, holy life. Most certainly, this is leadership by example exercised by our two Pope-Saints.
Even before he was elected pope, John XXIII exuded simplicity and holiness, which is the grace we can pray for today and always.
The charisma of John Paul II is legendary. While media helped project this, stories abound of how people in crowds of hundreds of thousands and even millions would weep after seeing him even for a few seconds.
Bro. Jun Banaag, OP, aka Dr. Love of dzMM, told me how his wife wept just seeing Pope John Paul II pass by Roxas Boulevard on his way to the beatification rites of St. Lorenzo Ruiz in Luneta.
Broadcaster Marc Logan also told me that he was in the vicinity of the old Congress building, now the National Museum, covering the same event. He asked, how does one explain that, even if they were so far from the stage and from the pope, separated not just by distance but by crowds in the millions, many of them wept, too?
St. Ignatius of Loyola calls this consolation without previous cause—when we are moved to tears of consolation or joy without any logical explanation. This can be caused only by God’s grace, an experience of his presence.
Most certainly, Pope Francis is also saintly. Stories of his down-to-earth simplicity have inspired many to return to the Church. Many have observed how our churches the past Christmas, Ash Wednesday, Lent and Holy Week have been packed more than before during these occasions. This phenomenon has been attributed to the inspiration of Pope Francis.
There are stories that Pope Francis sneaks out of the Vatican in the evenings, wearing ordinary clerical clothes to be among the poor and the homeless. The same was said of Pope John XXIII, who sneaked out of the Vatican to walk around the city and minister to the less fortunate, which earned him yet another term of endearment, “Johnny Walker.”
Today is truly a day to celebrate, to give thanks and to renew our faith, to believe once more in the goodness, the love and compassion of our God, The Divine Mercy. It is love, compassion and goodness that come shining through in our two new saints today, St. John XXIII and St. John Paul II.
We also thank Pope Francis, for making us proud and inspired to be Catholics again.
May this renewal lead us to reform that will build caring and compassionate communities in our spheres of influence. If we do this, there is much hope that, even in our lifetime, we will have a world filled with love.