Archbishop John Dew
‘Holiness, a message that convinces without the need for words, is the living reflection of the face of Christ’. Pope John Paul II, Novo Millennio Ineunte (At the Beginning of the New Millennium).
These words have always appealed to me, challenged me and inspired me to try to be a ‘living reflection of the face of Christ’. I suppose they are words that we could use to describe a saint. I am sure that when John Paul wrote them in 2001, he would not have dreamed that just a little over 13 years later he would be one of the canonised saints of the church.
Later this month, 27 April, two popes of our time will be declared saints, Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II. In that same letter John Paul wrote of holiness: ‘Holiness, whether ascribed to popes well known to history or to humble lay and religious figures from one continent to another of the globe, has emerged more clearly as the dimension which expresses best the mystery of the church’ (NMI 7). Both popes are being recognised for their holiness and for their incredible contribution to the church. It is their holiness that tells us something about the church, as does the holiness of people from our families, friends and wonderful devoted and prayerful parishioners.
Many Wel-Com readers remember John XXIII with affection. He was the pope who touched our hearts with his simplicity and humility, the one who surprised the world by announcing the Second Vatican Council. We will soon acknowledge him as St John XXIII. Maybe our greatest acknowledgement of him will be in reading and reflecting on the documents of that great council, in our own attempts to understand the ‘mystery of the church’ and to keep his spirit alive. For some John XXIII is a distant figure, but for many he is someone of our lifetime.
John Paul II someone of our lifetime, a man who came to our country, who celebrated Mass here in Wellington, who anointed the sick, who was the first pope to wear a korowai. Many of our own Polish families met him as Archbishop of Krakow when he visited NZ in February 1973.
John XXIII and John Paul II would readily say they tried to live by the Spirit of Christ, the Spirit which enabled them both to be ‘the living reflection of the face of Christ’.
Pope John Paul chose his name in memory of both Pope John XXIII and Pope Paul VI. So what is happening to Paul VI? Is he not a saint, too? John XXIII called the Second Vatican Council; Paul VI guided it through three further sessions to its conclusion in 1965. The documents of the council, the synodal movement in the church, and encyclicals like Evangelii Nuntiandi are his legacy to us. It takes a great leader to launch an idea; it takes an equally gifted leader to turn the dream into reality. Pope Paul VI may be compared to a bridge between the two new saints we will honour later this month.
On 27 April, the day of their canonisation, the 7pm Mass at Sacred Heart Cathedral will be a Mass of thanksgiving for these two great men. This will be a day to rejoice and give thanks with the Italian and Polish communities who rightfully acclaim ‘their saints’. We will remember them and what they have done for the church and the world.
In New Zealand we already have a Roncalli College (in Timaru) and two John Paul Colleges (Greymouth and Rotorua). No doubt there will be other schools, colleges and parishes named after them in the future. What is important for us now though is to remember them as men of humble service, men of prayer who were for us ‘the living reflection of the face of Christ’.
Because we know them, because we have heard so much about them it is almost as though they are our own. We do, of course, have one of our own whose cause for canonisation is being advanced in Rome. Wouldn’t it be a blessing for the Church of New Zealand if we had our own Suzanne Aubert formally and officially recognised among the saints of heaven. She was most certainly someone who was ‘the living reflection of the face of Christ’. She is one of our own saints. We pray that before long she will also be numbered among the saints.
St John XXIII, St John Paul II, pray for us.