MEDIA RELEASE                                                                          5 APRIL 2005

 

EMBARGOED UNTIL 7.30PM

 

 

Homily at Requiem Mass for Pope John Paul II

Tuesday 5 April 2005

 

 

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

 

I well remember my first meeting with Pope John Paul. It was before he became Pope. I was travelling in Poland, a guest of the priests of the Society of Christ. In Krakow we were invited to dine with the Archbishop, Archbishop Karol Wojtyla. What impressed me immediately was the quiet strength that emanated from him. Here was a man physically powerful, not particularly tall, but broad of shoulder, whose clear blue eyes looked directly into ones own and suggested other strengths as well. Little did either of us know then that within a few months he would be elected Pope. The years that followed would demonstrate just how true my first impressions were.

But of course the Church and the world were soon to learn that the new Pope's strength was backed up by other remarkable attributes. He was a man of formidable intellect - without doubt, one of the greatest intellects of our time. This was manifested throughout his pontificate in his capacity for understanding with extraordinary perceptiveness the most complex questions and events of both the Church and the wider world. He had a profound sense of history, and played a significant role in world events of his own time. The fall of Communism in the USSR provided just one example of his influence. He was a man of great vision. At all times, however, it was as "Peter" that he manifested his interest and his influence.

His was always in substance a pastoral approach. 

No Pope ever filled the role of first teacher in the Church more comprehensively than did Pope John Paul. By both the written and the spoken word he addressed every conceivable subject of significance for the Universal Church of his day. He travelled far and wide, tirelessly proclaiming the Gospel and applying its truth and wisdom to local situations. In a world rife with injustice and discrimination and the consequent misery for millions of people, the central theme of his teaching was consistently the dignity of every person. His teaching will be both a challenge and a guide to individuals and to nations for years to come. At a time when basic Christian belief and behaviour was (and is) under concerted attack by the forces of secularism, the Pope stood firm, and courageously spoke out in defence of Christian morality, giving leadership to Christians everywhere. Great courage was another of the Pope's exceptional attributes. 

It would take more time than we have now just to list the accomplishments of Pope John Paul in their entirety. He was indefatigable in his work for world peace, for Christian unity, for reform within the Church. The instruction and encouragement of youth throughout the world made a special claim on his time and energy. His ability to relate to the young was extraordinary. And he still found time to prepare us for the new millenium. It is worthy of special note that his pontificate as a whole was a call to "be not afraid" and to face the future with limitless hope. It is to be remembered, too, that for virtually all of his pontificate he suffered from ill-health and a series of physical ailments that began with the attempt on his life in the piazza outside St. Peter's Basilica in 1981. 

Pope John Paul was profoundly prayerful. I had an opportunity to witness this at close quarters while travelling throughout Australia with him when he made his pastoral visit in 1986. Even in the popemobile he prayed constantly, and the cheering crowds - though he responded to them warmly - did not appear to distract him from his communing with God. Over the years many were privileged to see and be deeply moved by the devotion with which he celebrated his morning Mass. His day always began and ended with prolonged periods of prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. 

One might expect that a man so prayerful, of such academic brilliance, and with so many heavy responsibilities on his shoulders, would be at all times remote and preoccupied. On the contrary, nothing gave him more pleasure than mixing with people at their level and showing his affection and understanding for young and old alike. His sense of fun surfaced frequently at these times. He always seemed uplifted and rejuvenated following such occasions, whether in the Paul VI auditorium in Rome or in some far-flung parish in South America or in Africa. He treated bishops and priests as brothers and readily extended to them his hospitality. Even on the busiest of days, as, e.g., during Synods in Rome, instead of seizing the opportunity for a little respite and solitude, he would have as many join him at lunch as his table could accommodate. I frequently enjoyed that hospitality and never ceased to be amazed at how relaxed he was, indulging in good humoured banter with those present, and in a variety of different languages. His facility with languages was, of course, yet another of his great talents. 

Some have labelled Pope John Paul as rigidly conservative, reactionary, and out of touch. Given his firm stand on so many issues, it was inevitable that he would provoke opposition, but only those with their own axes to grind could possibly describe him in such terms. He had played a significant role in the Second Vatican Council, and was thoroughly imbued with its spirit. He was a good listener. Nothing better illustrated his humility and his willingness to listen than his invitation to Christians of all denominations to suggest how he might better exercise his Petrine ministry. 

Few, if any popes have had greater impact on the Church of their day than did he. He did not, however, achieve all his goals. At his death, world peace seems more unattainable than ever, relations with the Jews are still something less than fraternal, the obstacles to Christian unity are still stubbornly in place, and renewal within the Church still has a long way to go. A lesser man would have gone to his grave deeply disappointed. But such words cannot be used of Pope John Paul. To the end, his hope was unassailable, and his resignation to the unfathomable judgments of God was complete. He was ever mindful that Christ's "failure" on Calvary was followed by the triumph of the resurrection. He himself spent his final heroic days governing the Church from the cross. 

There will be many different assessments of the Pope's pontificate. History, however, will take its time - as it always does - in forming its final judgment. I have no doubt that it will find Pope John Paul one of the outstanding Popes of all time. He will be ranked with those Greats of the Church's history, Leo and Gregory, and, like them, will be gratefully remembered and revered for ages to come. 

It has been our privilege to live in the pontificate of Pope John Paul II. 

Death, however, comes to us all - to popes no less than to others - death and judgment and eternity. Every one of us is created for eternal happiness, and to behold the face of God. Life is a preparation for death. With St. Paul, Pope John Paul always looked beyond the material and the temporal to the deeper realities and to the eternal glory waiting on the passing troubles and outer decay of this present world. None realized better than he that "when the tent that we live in on earth is folded up, there is a house built by God for us ... not made by human hands". We are confident that, in the terms of St. John's apocalyptic vision, Pope John Paul's name has already been inscribed in the book of life, and he has been judged on its record of his faithful and extraordinary service. Like St. Peter, be has demonstrated his great love for his Saviour, taken the utmost care of the Lord's flock, and given God glory in his death even as he did in his life. There seems to be in this evening's Gospel an uncanny relevance to Pope John Paul. 

Confident though we be that the Holy Father has claimed his eternal reward, he himself, aware of the awesome responsibilities of his calling, and of his own human condition, would earnestly beg of us our prayers - indeed has begged of us our prayers. He has a claim on our prayers. 

Therefore, with hearts filled with gratitude for his selfless ministry, his encouragement and inspiration, we pray for his eternal repose. May Christ Our Saviour embrace him, take him by the hand, and usher him to paradise.

 

+ Cardinal Edward Clancy
Retired Archbishop of Sydney