The following text is excerpted from Bishop Malooly’s homily April 27 at St. Hedwig Church in Wilmington, where he celebrated a Mass on Divine Mercy Sunday commemorating the canonizations that day of Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II.
It’s very moving for me to see so many of Polish descent because John Paul was not only a great leader, he was almost a savior to his people. A sign of hope when there was not hope, a sign of love and he had a real sense of strength and confidence, which is not unlike you as people.
So it’s great to see so many of you here today to celebrate the canonization of both men [Popes John XXIII and John Paul II].
I like to think of this time of the year as the second season. Salvation history was a long stretch leading up to Jesus. With Jesus, we had his public ministry; we had the time after he rose, the time he spent with his disciples during the Easter season, and the third season began at Pentecost and continues today, the coming of the Spirit, the growing of the church.
In a sense during that Easter season, it was like a crash course for the disciples, the men and women who followed Jesus. After the early training, everything kind of fell together and began to make sense. It allowed some perspective on what Jesus had taught, because this was completely new. Suffering, dying and rising, that we might have eternal life.
It opened their eyes and their hearts. They had listened, they had watched during his public ministry. Now they did the same with the Risen Lord. With that early church, this Gospel, this event would have had as much impact as anything.
Jesus appears in the Upper Room, that first Easter Sunday night and the first thing he does is talk about peace and forgiveness.
He doesn’t say, “where were you? Why did you abandon me?’ His first words are mercy.
“Peace be with you.” Then he tells them that through the power of the Spirit they would receive in orders, that they would then impart that forgiveness to others. They would do that in his name. Peace and forgiveness, Jesus not only did it, he showed us how to do it. He lived it out.
Earlier this morning in Rome … our Holy Father Pope Francis spoke about the importance of the Divine Mercy Sunday and its connection with both of our new saints.
He said a church of mercy always hopes, forgives and loves. Pope Francis really has made that a mantel of his ministry, too, in addition to the joyful Gospel that he always proclaims.
I was in Pocomoke last night for confirmation and there was a big picture … of the Holy Father just beaming. The minute you walk into church, you saw that. I challenged the young kids, “You go to a website, see if you can find one picture of him not smiling.”
He also talked about Pope John and Pope John Paul. He called them men of courage, who bore witness to God’s mercy.
It’s interesting, too, in this Gospel, after the appearance to Thomas a week later, we had that doubt turned into faith and always the struggle to do that, another sign that would have been very important to the early church.
Then, we hear there were many other signs, many appearances during that time — twice in the Upper Room, to the disciples on the road to Emmaus, to the women at the tomb, on the shore at Tiberius, and finally at the Ascension on the hillside of Galilee.
If we look back at the early church, how did they do what they did? We call them Easter people because they were a sign of Christ to others, the Risen Lord to the world.
It’s interesting. The early converts did not see Jesus. Jesus never went to Rome. He didn’t go to Athens; he didn’t go to Corinth. He was in the Holy Land. It was his disciples who took the message and the Spirit with them to other lands. The arguments were not from the New Testament, it wasn’t written yet. Certainly there were arguments from the Hebrew Scriptures that led up to a Messiah but the argument for faith was in visible community.
Both our saintly popes reached far and wide to spread the Gospel. They clearly were witnesses of Jesus Christ. We say clearly they were Easter people, each in his own way, but they reached out to the world.
John XXIII gathered all the bishops in Rome. He gathered them in, they came into Vatican II, an ecumenical council, and he followed his own coat of arms, his motto, “obedience and peace.”
He heard the Holy Spirit calling him to bring the bishops together, to rejuvenate them and then send them back home to take the message to their people.
My predecessor, Bishop Michael Hyle, (I knew him as a teenager. I guess I wasn’t even a teenager. He would visit my home parish in Baltimore.) He went to the council and brought the joy and the enthusiasm of the council back home.
John Paul, the saint, traveled the world much like St. Paul, and his famous words, so often he would use them and it made sense from his Polish background with the Communist regime, “do not be afraid.”
We heard that last Sunday on Easter in Matthew’s Gospel. There was an earthquake, the stone of the tomb was pulled back, the angel told Mary Magdalen and the other Mary, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell the disciples that he is risen.”
Then as they are going back to the disciples, they encounter Jesus himself, who said that same line, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my disciples.”
John Paul II had a real knack for bringing people together — Jews, Muslims, other Christians. He had a way of being God’s presence that related to all of those traditions.
He clearly was a great missionary. He had a personal holiness that was obvious anytime you encountered him.
As Pope Francis said today, [John Paul II] was the pope of the family. He always liked to use that phrase which leads up to the synod on the family, which is coming up in the near future.
On a personal note, I think back to my high school days when John XXIII was pope and how enthusiastic so many of us were because of the newness of the activity in the church. In a sense, he brought the church to us, even though he drew the bishops to himself, because he sent them back home.
I think of my opportunities to greet John Paul. I think it was between 15 and 20 times I was able to greet him between 1989 and 2005. In ’89, I was introduced to him two days in a row, which for a young priest obviously was a very moving experience and every experience after that was.
This crucifix I wear, he gave to me on my visit to Rome in 2004 with the bishops of our region. Each of us received a crucifix and a chain. It’s a constant reminder that it’s the presence of Christ in him, that I need to have in my life. I need to do that so that you will be conscious of the presence of Christ in your life.
That’s how the message spread in that first generation of the church. They saw these changed people. They saw this visible community. We heard about it in the second reading; they did everything in common. They celebrated the Eucharist; they prayed and numbers were added to them day by day.
In our time it’s still the same. In our time in history we need to be even more committed to witness the faith that we have. We need to speak it. We need to share it with others.
Now we have the example of two new saints, who did that so well in different ways, who will be watching over what we do. We celebrate with great joy today but it’s also a reminder of challenges we have for our time, thank goodness, under the leadership of a great pope, like Pope Francis.