On Sunday, April 27, 2014, Pope Francis will canonize John XXIII and John Paul II. These two men were very different from one another. John was an Italian pastor, bishop, and Vatican diplomat noted for his simplicity and humility. John Paul was a man of steel, fire-tried through his battles with the communist authorities in Poland. John was a historian; John Paul a philosopher. Yet both these beloved popes had something in common: they were optimists, filled with hope because of their faith in Jesus Christ. The hope they radiated, however, was not blind to the difficulties of life. In his personal journal John XXIII often laments his sins and failings. He says, for example, “My persistent pain . . . is always the same old thing: . . . having to constantly try to overcome my natural sloth.” He goes on, saying, “My defects and my miseries, ‘my countless sins, offenses, and negligences’ . . . do not allow me to exalt myself in any way.” Then he offers a reason for hope: “But neither do they weaken my confidence, my abandonment in God.” John didn’t dwell on his sins and weakness, but he turned with great hope to God, knowing that the Lord would lift him up in hope.
John Paul II took a similar view. In his 1995 address at the United Nations, he called himself “a witness to hope.” From his first days as pope, despite the problems in the Church and the world, he looked forward in hope to better days to come. When he was elected in 1978, who would have thought that the Berlin Wall would soon tumble down? Yet it did, and that event brought with it new hope for freedom. John Paul also looked forward to the third millennium as a time of hope, as a new springtime of evangelization.
So what can we learn from them for our own journey as disciples of Jesus Christ? It is not by chance that these two popes are being canonized on Divine Mercy Sunday. In our own walk with the Lord, we can entrust ourselves to the infinite and tender mercy of God, just as they did. When John Paul canonized Saint Faustina, he said that the message of mercy is especially for those who, afflicted by a “harsh trial or crushed by the weight of the sins they have committed, have lost all confidence in life and are tempted to give in to despair. To them the gentle face of Christ is offered. . . .” Then he proposes a simple prayer, “Jesus, I trust in you!” In any difficulty, say that prayer and you will receive the courage and grace you need.
Heavenly Father, we thank you for giving us Saint John XXIII and Saint John Paul II as models of how to be true disciples of Jesus, your Son. We ask their intercession for all of our needs, especially that we might always trust in you and never give up hope in the trials of life.
By Marianne Lorraine Trouvé, FSP
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