Lives of Newly Sainted Popes Point to Jesus

You have been following the jubilation here in Rome. Last Sunday—the second Sunday of Easter, Divine Mercy Sunday—Pope Francis canonized Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II. Alleluia!

The city rejoiced as two acclaimed, beloved recent Popes were declared saints. The millions in Rome were ecstatic; Italy was happy with their “buon Papa,” John XXIII; Poland was thrilled with its hero, John Paul II; the Church was pleased as we had two splendid new examples and helpers in heaven; even the world—which both new saints had so engaged—smiled in approval.

From the box seat I enjoyed on all of this here in Rome, I beamed, too. But, I also wondered if the only two people uncomfortable with all this exhilaration were…Angelo Roncalli (Pope Saint John XXIII) and Karol Wotyla (Pope Saint John Paul II)!

Why did I wonder that?

Well, for one, the two new saints would remind us that all of this is not about them at all, but all about Jesus. For them, life was—is—Christ! He, and He alone, should be the center of attention. He is our Lord and Savior, the beginning and the end, the way, the truth, and the life. “Jesus, my Lord, my God, my all!” as we often sing.

Secondly, these two men would be the first to tell us that they never, ever considered themselves saints at all, but, really, as sinners.

As Pope Saint John XXIII was in his final weeks of life, suffering from stomach cancer, his loyal secretary, Monsignor Loras Capovilla, recalls, the pontiff seemed uncharacteristically somber and introspective. Father Capovilla asked if anything were bothering the Holy Pope.

“Yes,” Good Pope John replied. “I am anxious about meeting the Lord.”

“Holy Father, why?” asked his priest-secretary. “The world knows of your sanctity, your virtue, your love. So does God.”

“But, my son,” responded Pope John, “Jesus tells us that, ‘from those to whom much has been given, much will be expected.’ I realize so much has been given me; I worry that I have not lived up to the expectations!”

After the first couple months of his pontificate, the loyal Polish sisters who cared for Pope John Paul II came to him all concerned about his health and well-being.

“Your Holiness,” they said, “you never stop. You stay up late, get up early, hardly take a moment off, and listen to big problems all day. We worry about Your Holiness!” the Sisters concluded.

“Oh, you’re not alone,” answered John Paul II with a twinkle in his eye, “because I worry about my holiness too!”

See, both men knew they were weak, struggling, imperfect sinners. Both men would rebuke anyone who thought them a saint. We might not be surprised that they are now saints, but they are!

Three, Pope Saint John XXIII and Pope Saint John Paul II would preach that the canonization of a new saint is not about what the new saint has done, but what the Lord has done! It’s all about the grace and mercy of God incarnate and lavishly available in Jesus!

From Saint Peter’s Square, I could imagine the two of them in heaven shrugging and remarking, “What’s the big deal? We’re all called to be saints! And, it hardly depends upon us at all, but upon the Lord’s grace and mercy!”

But, on second thought, they probably smiled and enjoyed it. After all, thanks to their successor, Pope Francis (a man much like both of them), the ceremony was, as a matter of fact, all about Jesus.

Easter continued, as the new life of Christ, triumphant over death, sin, selfishness, and Satan, was radiantly on view as we celebrated what His grace and mercy can do in two simple, humble, good men whom we now venerate as saints! And we asked Jesus for the same grace and mercy.

“Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever!”

Pope Saint John XXIII, and Pope Saint John Paul II, pray for us!