Last week I was blessed to take part in the wonderful Canonization ceremony and Mass of Thanksgiving for St. John Paul II and St. John XXIII. The experience certainly was one of the most precious of my entire life.
I was blessed to visit Rome for the first time in the mid-’70s and God’s providence has enabled me to return a good number of times. Yet, never once have I seen Rome so crowded as it was during those days leading up to the Canonizations. More so than the crowds that might gather at a secular event such as a World’s Fair, I was reminded of the crowds that fill the streets at World Youth Days.
‘Reverential joy’ in the air
There was not only a wonderful spirit of devotion, but also a tremendous number of energetic young people who moved around the city, even through the night, attending the numerous programs and opportunities for prayer in the various churches around Rome.
During those days, it was very easy to stop and chat with complete strangers and even to feel very bonded to them almost instantly. There was a very clear and proximate sense of the Universal Church and of our unity. That was the atmosphere, the environment against the background of which this wonderful celebration took place.
There was what I would call a “reverential joy” in the air, and despite the large numbers of people, that reverential joy often manifested itself through silence.
The silent moments during the Mass of Canonization were very full and almost miraculous given the one million people who were gathered in close quarters. The silence spoke volumes, as with so many languages and cultures represented (not to mention the rest of the world watching), we were able to be united in prayer on a very large and very profound scale.
By sheer providence (and absolutely nothing else), I wound up with a first row seat to
concelebrate the Canonization Mass with Pope Francis. This in itself allowed the splendor of the liturgy around me to envelop me at a very deep level. The strong beauty and glory of the moment was manifest in the ritual and the music, in the beauty of the vestments and other gestures. It was something that grabbed my soul at a very deep level.
And then there was the presence of Pope Francis, along with Pope-emeritus Benedict, who had come out of his seclusion to visit with old friends before the Mass. Benedict is clearly an inspiration to Pope Francis, and their embrace provided a very strong inspiration to me and elicited a strong cheer from the whole crowd. That remarkable gesture of unity tells us tons about the real hope that we can have in the Church for unity among ourselves.
The new saints
And then there were St. John XXIII and St. John Paul II. George Weigel calls them the “bookends of the Second Vatican Council.” And so they are.
Pope Francis accentuated Pope John XXIII as a man of hope, open to the Spirit, and Pope John Paul II as a man of courage and “Pope of the Family.”
Both trusted completely in the Holy Spirit to bring about His intent, and both were most solidly rooted in tradition and yet in the desire to bring about real reform in continuity with the past. And indeed Pope Francis is the heir to this legacy, as he has publicly proclaimed.
The sense of Church, that one could almost taste in this celebration with almost 1,000 bishops and so many thousands of priests, was a wellspring of joy much as our two new Saints were popes both of hope and of courage.
For many of us, our lives have been defined by the papacy on St. John Paul. Especially so many of our younger people find their Catholic identity rooted in his hope, his strength, and his sacrificial witness — from the moment he began his pontificate, to the extreme suffering of his final illness before he went to the House of the Father.
So, too, Pope John XXIII opened new doors and windows left and right, wanting the truth of Christ in its integrity to flow out through those doors and windows to embrace and to overwhelm the world with the love of Christ.
He’s often considered a reformer, yet St. John XXIII was also a man of tradition and of history. It’s noteworthy that one of the first things St. John XXIII attempted to do as Pope was to restore the Latin language to the study of theology in seminaries. Shortly before, an attempt had been made to switch the language for the study of theology to the vernacular. But Pope St. John XXIII, seeing the difficulties involved with the change, wanted the truth proclaimed in its integrity and made attempts to stem the change and restore Latin.
‘An incredible gift’
Along with Pope Francis and Pope Benedict, the awesome presence of these two new Saints lovingly watching over the crowds and over our celebration was unmistakable and an incredible gift. Their presence was also a very strong testimony of Christ present to us through those who are Successors of Peter even up to the present moment.
The ceremony and Mass of Canonization are available on the internet, and I strongly encourage our faithful in the Diocese of Madison to take advantage of the opportunity to view this marvelous celebration.
Please enter into it prayerfully so as to witness the Holy Spirit so clearly revealing Himself in that celebration. See the loving unity manifest between Popes Francis and Benedict and see the loving unity in continuity revealed through the Petrine ministries of St. John XXIII and St. John Paul II, between Pope Benedict and Pope Francis.
Universality of the Church
This is a unique opportunity to experience the universality of the Church — that is, the universality of Christ’s love for His people, through our Church. It is a wonderful moment to allow oneself, without reservation, to experience and to express love for the Church and for the Holy Fathers.
Only the Catholic Church could engage such a worldwide celebration as She has done many times in the past. Indeed the Church is alive.
Please let us not allow this precious moment to pass us by as something that will be quickly forgotten. This is such an important moment for the coming to life of the true meaning of the Second Vatican Council. This moment is a special gift from God and we would be gravely mistaken to allow this Kairos, this time of visitation from the Lord in a very direct and special way, to pass us by.
Thank you for reading this. God bless each one of you. Christ is risen; indeed He is risen!