Sunday, May 1, 2011

Second Sunday of Easter: Blessed John Paul II

    Our first reading today gives us an interesting insight into the early Church. We hear that they were living in common, met in homes, prayed in the temple, and ate their meals with rejoicing. It said that "awe came upon everyone." It is easy to see why the Christians would be in awe: Jesus just rose from the dead. Wouldn't it have been amazing to be alive in those days? I cannot help but be a little bit jealous as we have read through the various resurrection stories. Don't get me wrong, there is plenty to like about living in our modern world: indoor plumbing, cars, electricity, air conditioning, golf… But, just imagine what it would have been like to see Jesus.

    Put yourself in the place of St. Thomas. Don't we sometimes feel like him? We have heard from others about Jesus, but we just want to see and touch him. We would believe if Jesus would just come to us as he did to Thomas. I think if we are honest, we would all wish to be in that room with the apostles when Jesus enters and says "Peace be with you."

But, instead we get this interesting line from Jesus: blessed are those who have not seen and believe. Blessed! We might feel as though we were unlucky for missing out on the appearances of Jesus, but we are truly blessed. Why? Jesus gave the gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church. The Holy Spirit has never departed us; rather, he continues the saving work of Christ down through the generations.

So, our first reading says that awe came upon everyone, and that sense of awe should continue to be part of our lives. We belong to the same Church; we have received the same Holy Spirit. When you think about the Church are you filled with awe and wonder? Very often we think of the Church not in glowing terms but as a lumbering bureaucracy full of rules and regulations. And while there is some truth to this at times, the Church remains ever new, ever exciting because its mission is to proclaim the resurrection of Christ to every generation by the power of the Holy Spirit.

John Paul II was a wonderful example of this kind of enthusiasm for the gospel. His pontificate was certainly new and exciting. He was the first non-Italian pope in over 450 years. He brought with him a fresh approach to the gospel. He came to Rome in a particularly difficult time. He was elected 10 years after the publication of Humanae Vitae. Many people had gotten the idea that even after the Second Vatican Council the Church was still an unfeeling and maybe even cruel organization that imposed unfair restrictions upon its people. This line of thinking supposes that the Church is nothing more than a bunch of rules and regulations: you can't do this, you can't do that, you have to go to Church on Sunday, etc. John Paul was certainly a contrast to this kind of thinking. He was convinced that the Truth was ultimately beautiful and that if people were presented with the Truth in an understandable way they would accept it and want to follow it. John Paul spent his whole life trying to share with the world what he called the Veritatis Splendor: the beauty of the truth.

This morning in Rome John Paul was beatified by Pope Benedict XVI. By declaring him Blessed the Church says that he lived a life of heroic virtue worth of our emulation. Today in the gospel Jesus tells us: "as the Father sent me, so I send you." So, as we are sent out by Christ to share the good news with others, we take John Paul as our model. He was not a heavy-handed dictator who preached nothing but sin and condemnation. Rather, he was an enthusiastic and joyful priest who tried to share with others the beauty of the Truth.

We should want to be like John Paul, he should be our model. But, where did he find that joy and energy? Every morning John Paul went into his chapel to pray in front of the Blessed Sacrament and to celebrate Holy Mass. It was here in the Eucharist that he found strength and consolation. It was here in the Eucharist that he found Jesus. While it is certainly true that cannot be in that upper room with the apostles, that we cannot put our hands into the side of Jesus as did St. Thomas, Jesus continues to come into our midst. He continues to say to us "Peace be with you," here in the Holy Eucharist. He continues to send us out to share this good news with the world. I can think of no better patron to pray for all of us as we try to carry this out than John Paul II: Blessed John Paul, pray for us.

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