1/04/05 Mass for Pope John Paul II

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Homily Notes of
Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin
Archbishop of Dublin and Primate of Ireland
Pro-Cathedral, Dublin, 1st April 2005

I am grateful to all of you who have come here to the Pro-Cathedral to pray for Pope John Paul II.  I express my appreciation to President Mary McAleese, who is represented here by Captain Lorraine Fahy.   I am very appreciative of the gesture of the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin, Dr John Neil, who is represented by Archdeacon David Pierpoint.

There is inevitably much media speculation about details of the Pope’s health and about what exactly is happening in that room where the he lies suffering.  What is happening is very simple:  A man is patiently facing that great moment of human fragility: his own death.  And he is facing it with extraordinary spiritual strength, deep faith in God and dignity.

In his Apostolic Letter Salvifici Doloris the Pope wrote: “[Jesus] does not answer the human question about the meaning of suffering in the abstract. We hear Christ’s saving answer to the question of suffering as we ourselves gradually becomes sharers in the sufferings of Christ” (# 26). In these hours Pope John Paul II is realising the meaning of these words in his own flesh. 

 One of Pope John Paul’s biographers asked him how he felt when he was in hospital after the assassination attempt on his life.  The Pope replied recalling his philosophical work The Acting Person.  It was a book about subjectivity as an essential dimension of being a human person, a underlying theme of all the Pope’s reflections on human dignity and human freedom.  In hospital, then, the Pope wished to be “the ‘subject of his illness’ instead of simply remaining “the object of treatment’” (G. Weigel: Witness to Hope p. 415).  He wanted to know what was happening with his body, with his health; he wanted to be part of was being done to help him.

Listening to the reports by the Holy See’s spokesman this morning I could see that now, as he faces deterioration in his health and as perhaps he approaches his last days or hours, the Pope still wishes to live out that moment as an active subject.  He asked that the Way of the Cross be read for him, that those around him pray with him, that various texts of scripture be read for him.  He met with his closest collaborators in a gesture of closeness and gratitude. 

At the opening of his Pontificate the Pope told us not to be afraid.  He asked all of us to throw our hearts wide open to Christ.  Now physically weak, yet in full consciousness and in all serenity, he is offering his heart and his soul totally to the Lord, in preparation for that definitive encounter with Lord, the Redemptor Hominis.

“Earnest prayer for [Peter] was made to God by the whole Church” (Acts. 12:5). Such was the reaction of the early Christians to the suffering of Saint Peter, arrested by Herod.  Over the centuries when the successors of Saint Peter have found themselves in sickness or suffering, again and again they were comforted by the earnest prayer of the entire Church.

That is what has brought us here this evening.  We join with Christians all around the world to pray as we realise the seriousness of this latest deterioration in the health of Pope John Paul II.  What can we say, except pray?  We pray for a Pope who has shown total dedication at all times in his ministry. We pray that the Lord will be alongside him in his suffering and comfort him at this moment in his life.  Knowing the Pope, I am sure that he offers his suffering for many around the world in a similar situation.

We pray for the Pope, we thank God for the Pope.  Pope John Paul, as successor of Peter, is truly a rock, a rock who even in his suffer8ing continues to strengthen the faith of his brethren, and touches the hearts many, even those who did not share his Christian faith.  For over twenty six years, in speeches and homilies and significant Church documents, Pope John Paul II taught and interpreted for us the significance of the truth and the love of Jesus.

His Pontificate is marked from its inception by an enormous dynamism and clear sightedness.  Just think of his apostolic journeys, of his role in the fall of communism.  I always remember listening to him talking about the injustice of the division of Europe made at Yalta.  He spoke at a time when it was almost political heresy to challenge the status quo so categorically.   Today, thank God, we live in a very different Europe where the hollowness of the Yalta system is evident to all.

Despite his clear political insights, Pope John Paul II is not a politician.  He is above all a pastor, a priest and a Bishop.  I can remember watching the extraordinary energy with which Sunday after Sunday he headed out of the Vatican to a different Parish in his diocese of Rome and seeing him return, tired but rejuvenated, at times late into the evening, having met all the various groups in the parish.

This Pope who showed such dynamism was paradoxically slowly struck by a series of illnesses which would touch him first in his movement, then in the very expression of his face, then in these days in his ability to speak.  But there was no holding him back in his ministry, even until Wednesday last when against all advice he appeared at his window so as not to leave disappointed a large group of young people gathered in Saint Peter’s Square.

This is not the time for a panegyric or a eulogy.  It is a time rather when as faithful Christians we pray for our sick Pope.  We return something of the debt we owe to him who is called to lead God’s people in difficult times and who has done so in health and in sickness, when his body was strong, and when physical weakness slowed him down.

As we pray, he continues to teach us.  He does so in the intimacy of that most dramatic moment of anyone’s life, as physical weakness breaks down his mortal body, but his spirit remains strong, fixed where it has always been, on Jesus Christ.

Anyone who has had even a superficial acquaintance with Pope John Paul knows how much he is a man of prayer.  It was obvious in the way he prepared for and celebrated Mass.  On his apostolic journeys he would rise to pray in the early hours before a gruelling full day programme.  His rosary was always at the ready, in the car, on a helicopter, indeed even as meetings got into their less interesting moments.  Pope John Pail II was impatient to be close to the Lord.  His entire routine was built around a discipline of prayer.

Pope John Paul II always felt under a very special protection of Mary, the Mother of Jesus.  He lives out his sufferings now as another expression of his total dedication, his Totus Tuus.  May he continue to experience that powerful protection of Mary especially in these days!