Karol Wojtyla Beatified. "They Will Look Upon Him Whom They Have Pierced"
Today almost everyone admires him. But in life he was opposed and mocked by many, even within the Church. His holiness is the same as that of the martyrs. His beatitude is the same as that of Jesus on the cross
ROME, May 1, 2011 – In Polish, he used to say of himself in his last years: "I am a biedaczek, a wretch." A poor old man, sick and worn out. He, so athletic, had become the man of sorrows. And yet it was precisely then that his holiness began to shine, inside and outside of the Church.
Before that, instead, pope Karol Wojtyla was admired more as a hero than as a saint. His holiness began to conquer the minds and hearts of many men and women from all over the world when what Jesus had prophesied for the old age of the apostle Peter happened to him: "Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go."
Now that he has been proclaimed blessed, John Paul II is unveiling to the world the truth of the saying of Jesus: "Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."
He did not radiate holiness in the hour of his triumphs. Much of the acclaim that he received while he was traveling the world at a breathtaking pace was too biased and selective to be sincere. The pope who knocked down the iron curtain was a blessing in the eyes of the West. But when he fought in defense of the life of every man born upon the earth, in defense of the most fragile, smallest life, the life that has just been conceived but whose name is already written in heaven, then few listened to him and many shook their heads.
The story of his pontificate was for him a matter of lights and shadows, welcome and rejection, with strong opposition. But but his dominant profile, for many years, was not that of the saint, but of the combatant. When in 1981 he had a brush with death, shot for reasons still not entirely clear, the world bowed in reverence. It observed its minute of silence, and then went right back to the same old unfriendly song.
Many in the Church also distrusted him. For many, he was "the Polish pope," representing an antiquated, antimodern, populist Christianity. They looked not at his holiness but at his devotion, which wasn't a hit with those who were dreaming of an interior and "adult" Catholicism, so obligingly immersed in the world as to become invisible and silent.
And yet, little by little, from the crust of the pope as athlete, hero, fighter, devotee, his holiness also began to unveil itself.
The jubilee, the holy year of 2000, was the turning point. Pope Wojtyla wanted it to be a year of repentance and forgiveness. On the first Sunday of Lent that year, March 12, before the eyes of the world, he presided over an unprecedented penitential liturgy. Seven times, for the seven capital vices, he confessed the sins committed by Christians century after century, and asked God's forgiveness for all of them. Extermination of heretics, persecution of the Jews, wars of religion, humiliation of women... The pope's anguished face, already marked by illness, was the icon of that repentance. The world looked at him with respect. But also with derision. John Paul II exposed himself, defenseless, to blows and insults. He let himself be scourged. There were some who demanded more repentance each time, for yet more faults. And he beat his breast for all of it.
However, he certainly never publicly asked forgiveness for the sexual abuse of children committed by priests. But there is also no record of anyone leaping up in 2000 to castigate him for this omission. The scandal was still not big enough, for the distracted masters of public opinion at the time. Now the same ones who were silent then accuse him of that silence, they accuse him of letting himself be snared by the disgraced priest Marcial Maciel. But these are posthumous accusations that reek of hypocrisy.
The ones who understood what was true in the holiness of that pope were the millions and millions of men and women who bestowed on him the most grandiose collective "thank you" ever given to a man in the past century. The heads of state and government of almost two hundred countries who flocked to his funeral in Rome did so in part because they could not stay away from that wave of admiration that was sweeping over the world.
But John Paul II also wanted that jubilee of 2000 to be the year of the martyrs. The countless martyrs, many of them nameless, killed out of hatred for the faith in that "Dominus Iesus" whom the pope wanted to reaffirm as the only savior of the world, for the many who had forgotten about him.
And the world intuited this: that in the suffering figure of the pope was the beatitude that God had promised to the poor, to the afflicted, to those who hunger for justice, to the peacemakers, to the merciful. The pope mocked, opposed, suffering, the pope who was gradually losing the use of speech was sharing in the fate that Jesus had proclaimed to his disciples: "Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me."
The beatitudes are the biography of Jesus, and therefore of those who follow him with pure hearts. They are the image of the new world and of the new man that Jesus inaugurated, the overturning of worldly criteria.
"They will look upon him whom they have pierced." As beneath the cross, many today see in the beatified Karol Wojtyla an anticipation of paradise.
[This commentary was written by Sandro Magister for "La Tercera," the leading newspaper of Chile, and published on the day of the beatification of John Paul II, May 1, 2011].
FROM THE HOMILY OF THE MASS OF BEATIFICATION OF JOHN PAUL II
by Benedict XVI
Dear brothers and sisters, [...] today is the Second Sunday of Easter, which Blessed John Paul II entitled Divine Mercy Sunday. The date was chosen for today’s celebration because, in God’s providence, my predecessor died on the vigil of this feast. [...]
“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe” (Jn 20:29). In today’s Gospel Jesus proclaims this beatitude: the beatitude of faith. For us, it is particularly striking because we are gathered to celebrate a beatification, but even more so because today the one proclaimed blessed is a Pope, a Successor of Peter, one who was called to confirm his brethren in the faith. John Paul II is blessed because of his faith, a strong, generous and apostolic faith. We think at once of another beatitude: “Blessed are you, Simon, son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven” (Mt 16:17). What did our heavenly Father reveal to Simon? That Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. Because of this faith, Simon becomes Peter, the rock on which Jesus can build his Church.
The eternal beatitude of John Paul II, which today the Church rejoices to proclaim, is wholly contained in these sayings of Jesus: “Blessed are you, Simon” and “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe!” It is the beatitude of faith, which John Paul II also received as a gift from God the Father for the building up of Christ’s Church.
Our thoughts turn to yet another beatitude, one which appears in the Gospel before all others. It is the beatitude of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of the Redeemer. Mary, who had just conceived Jesus, was told by Saint Elizabeth: “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord” (Lk 1:45). The beatitude of faith has its model in Mary, and all of us rejoice that the beatification of John Paul II takes place on this first day of the month of Mary, beneath the maternal gaze of the one who by her faith sustained the faith of the Apostles and constantly sustains the faith of their successors, especially those called to occupy the Chair of Peter.
Mary does not appear in the accounts of Christ’s resurrection, yet hers is, as it were, a continual, hidden presence: she is the Mother to whom Jesus entrusted each of his disciples and the entire community. In particular we can see how Saint John and Saint Luke record the powerful, maternal presence of Mary in the passages preceding those read in today’s Gospel and first reading. In the account of Jesus’ death, Mary appears at the foot of the cross (Jn 19:25), and at the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles she is seen in the midst of the disciples gathered in prayer in the Upper Room (Acts 1:14). [...]
Dear brothers and sisters, [...] in his Testament, the new Blessed wrote: “When, on 16 October 1978, the Conclave of Cardinals chose John Paul II, the Primate of Poland, Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski, said to me: ‘The task of the new Pope will be to lead the Church into the Third Millennium’”. And the Pope added: “I would like once again to express my gratitude to the Holy Spirit for the great gift of the Second Vatican Council, to which, together with the whole Church – and especially with the whole episcopate – I feel indebted. I am convinced that it will long be granted to the new generations to draw from the treasures that this Council of the twentieth century has lavished upon us. As a Bishop who took part in the Council from the first to the last day, I desire to entrust this great patrimony to all who are and will be called in the future to put it into practice. For my part, I thank the Eternal Shepherd, who has enabled me to serve this very great cause in the course of all the years of my Pontificate”.
And what is this “cause”? It is the same one that John Paul II presented during his first solemn Mass in Saint Peter’s Square in the unforgettable words: “Do not be afraid! Open, open wide the doors to Christ!” What the newly-elected Pope asked of everyone, he was himself the first to do: society, culture, political and economic systems he opened up to Christ, turning back with the strength of a titan – a strength which came to him from God – a tide which appeared irreversible.
By his witness of faith, love and apostolic courage, accompanied by great human charisma, this exemplary son of Poland helped believers throughout the world not to be afraid to be called Christian, to belong to the Church, to speak of the Gospel. In a word: he helped us not to fear the truth, because truth is the guarantee of liberty.
To put it even more succinctly: he gave us the strength to believe in Christ, because Christ is "Redemptor hominis," the Redeemer of man. This was the theme of his first encyclical, and the thread which runs though all the others.
When Karol Wojtyla ascended to the throne of Peter, he brought with him a deep understanding of the difference between Marxism and Christianity, based on their respective visions of man. This was his message: man is the way of the Church, and Christ is the way of man. With this message, which is the great legacy of the Second Vatican Council and of its “helmsman”, the Servant of God Pope Paul VI, John Paul II led the People of God across the threshold of the Third Millennium, which thanks to Christ he was able to call “the threshold of hope”.
Throughout the long journey of preparation for the great Jubilee he directed Christianity once again to the future, the future of God, which transcends history while nonetheless directly affecting it. He rightly reclaimed for Christianity that impulse of hope which had in some sense faltered before Marxism and the ideology of progress. He restored to Christianity its true face as a religion of hope, to be lived in history in an “Advent” spirit, in a personal and communitarian existence directed to Christ, the fullness of humanity and the fulfillment of all our longings for justice and peace. [...]
Blessed are you, beloved Pope John Paul II, because you believed! Continue, we implore you, to sustain from heaven the faith of God’s people. Amen.
The complete text of the homily:
> "Dear brothers and sisters..."
A profile of the new blessed written by Professor Pietro De Marco for "Corriere della Sera," Florence edition, and for the blog "Settimo Cielo":
> Karol Wojtyla o "la forza dei martiri e la paura dei cristiani"
In the illustration, the presentation of the special edition of "L'Osservatore Romano" published in seven languages on the occasion of the beatification of John Paul II, containing all the homilies pronounced by Joseph Ratzinger as cardinal and pope in memory of his predecessor.
English translation by Matthew Sherry, Ballwin, Missouri, U.S.A.