Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Sts. John XXIII and John Paul II: Lessons in Suffering and Self Abandonment

We now have two new saints enrolled in heaven, Pope St. John XXIII and Pope St. John Paul II. Pope Francis gave a beautiful sermon in the canonization Mass that sheds much light on the role of the Church in the world today. Being that it was Divine Mercy Sunday, the Holy Father's sermon focused on the great message of Divine Mercy, which I believe, as I have already stated many times, to be the driving force behind the contemporary Catholic Church. I don't believe we can understand or be a part of the Catholic Church today unless we understand this great message as given to St. Faustina.

Divine Mercy is deeply and intimately connected with the Passion of Jesus Christ. The Mercy of Our Lord cannot be understood apart from His Suffering. We receive the Mercy and Forgiveness of Jesus by partaking in His Suffering:
“There is more merit to one hour of meditation on My sorrowful Passion than there is to a whole year of flagellation that draws blood; the contemplation of My painful wounds is of great profit to you, and it brings Me great joy.” (Diary 369)

“There are few souls who contemplate My Passion with true feeling; I give great graces to souls who meditate devoutly on My Passion.” (Diary 737)

“My mercy is greater than all the sins of the world… For you I descended from Heaven to earth; for you I allowed Myself to be nailed to the Cross; for you I let My Sacred Heart be pierced with a lance, thus opening wide the source of mercy for you. Come then with trust and draw graces from this fountain… I never reject a contrite heart … You will give Me pleasure if you hand over all your troubles and griefs. I shall heap upon you the treasures of My grace.” (Diary 1485)
“But there is no way to heaven except the Way of the Cross. I followed it first. You must learn that it is the shortest and surest way…“I endured that too when My soul was crushed in mortal anguish at the Garden of Olives… I am giving you a share in those sufferings because of My special love for you and in view of the high degree of holiness I am intending for you in heaven. A suffering soul is closest to My heart.” (Diary 1487)
The gospel reading on Divine Mercy Sunday is the story of doubting Thomas, who was not present the first time the Resurrected Lord appeared to the apostles in the upper room.  It is interesting to note that when our Lord first appeared to the apostles in the upper room, He identified Himself by His Wounds, which He will carry with Him for all eternity.  John 20:19-20:
On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.
Thomas refused to believe Christ was alive and stated, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” (John 20:24). And once again, when Our Lord appeared with Thomas present, Jesus identified Himself by His Wounds.  John 20:26-27:
A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
Thomas responded with the famous statement that we still use when we behold Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament:  "My Lord and My God."

Shroud of Turin
If we are to know Jesus Christ and be His true followers, we must know Him through His Suffering and His Wounds.   Our Lord has given us an actual physical artifact showing His Wounds in a way that has astounded even nonbelieving scientists, and that is the Shroud of Turin.  Many scientists have spent their entire lives studying this cloth because there is nothing else like it in all of creation.  It is not a painting and not a photograph.  In 1978, a group of scientists, many of whom were atheists and certainly no believers in the Shroud, were given physical access to the Shroud to study it and compile data with the sole purpose of discovering what made the image.  In 1981, they issued their final report, which you can read HERE:
No pigments, paints, dyes or stains have been found on the fibrils. X-ray, fluorescence and microchemistry on the fibrils preclude the possibility of paint being used as a method for creating the image. Ultra Violet and infrared evaluation confirm these studies. Computer image enhancement and analysis by adevice known as a VP-8 image analyzer show that the image has unique, three-dimensional information encoded in it. Microchemical evaluation has indicated no evidence of any spices, oils, or any biochemicals known to be produced by the body in life or in death. It is clear that there has been a direct contact of the Shroud with a body, which explains certain features such as scourge marks, as well as the blood. However, while this type of contact might explain some of the features of the torso, it is totally incapable of explaining the image of the face with the high resolution that has been amply demonstrated by photography.
The conclusion of these scientists:
Thus, the answer to the question of how the image was produced or what produced the image remains, now, as it has in the past, a mystery.
We can conclude for now that the Shroud image is that of a real human form of a scourged, crucified man. It is not the product of an artist. The bloodstains are composed of hemoglobin and also give a positive test for serum albumin. The image is an ongoing mystery and until further chemical studies are made, perhaps by this group of scientists, or perhaps by some scientists in the future, the problem remains unsolved.
Over 30 years later, the Shroud remains a mystery.  However, it has been studied by forensic scientists who conclude it is absolutely anatomically correct and shows a man who was ruthlessly tortured and whipped, with 120 scourge marks found on his body, signs of crucifixion through the wrists and feet, a crown of thorns thrust on his head and a spear wound to his side, as stated in this paper released by THE THIRD DALLAS INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON THE SHROUD OF TURIN: DALLAS, TEXAS, SEPTEMBER 8-11, 2005 [HERE]:
Although not all scientists are unanimous, it has been shown by many scientists that the linen sheet enveloped or wrapped the corpse of a man who had been scourged, crowned with thorns, crucified with nails, and stabbed by a lance in the side. Also impressed are many other marks due to blood, fire, water and folding, which have greatly damaged the double body image. Of greatest interest are the wounds which, to forensic pathologists, appear to be unfakeable.
Just as Our Lord appeared to the apostles and then to Doubting Thomas and identified Himself by His Wounds, in the same way He has identified Himself down through the ages and to us today, 2000 years after His Death and Resurrection.  

This was the primary message that Pope Francis gave us at the canonization Mass of Sts. John XXIII and John Paul II.   

Pope Francis began his homily by stating that the "glorious wounds of the risen Jesus" are at the heart of Divine Mercy Sunday:
At the heart of this Sunday, which concludes the Octave of Easter and which John Paul II [at the specific request of Jesus Christ to St. Faustina] wished to dedicate to Divine Mercy, are the glorious wounds of the risen Jesus. He had already shown those wounds when he first appeared to the Apostles on the very evening of that day following the Sabbath, the day of the resurrection. But Thomas was not there that evening, and when the others told him that they had seen the Lord, he replied that unless he himself saw and touched those wounds, he would not believe. A week later, Jesus appeared once more to the disciples gathered in the Upper Room, and Thomas was present; Jesus turned to him and told him to touch his wounds.  Whereupon that man, so straightforward and accustomed to testing everything personally, knelt before Jesus with the words: "My Lord and my God!” (Jn 20:28).
Pope Francis then explains the contradictory nature of the Wounds of Jesus, that they are a scandal and stumbling block and at the same time, they are the test of our faith.  Christ will carry these wounds on His Glorified Body for all eternity:
The wounds of Jesus are a scandal, a stumbling block for faith, yet they are also the test of faith. That is why on the body of the risen Christ the wounds never pass away: they remain, for those wounds are the enduring sign of God’s love for us. They are essential for believing in God. Not for believing that God exists, but for believing that God is love, mercy and faithfulness. Saint Peter, quoting Isaiah, writes to Christians: "by his wounds you have been healed” (1 Pet 2:24, cf. Is 53:5).
Pope Francis tells us that we cannot believe Christ, we cannot have faith in the salvation He offers us apart from His Passion and Wounds.  The Wounds of Jesus Christ impart to us the belief that "God is love, mercy and faithfulness."  Both John XXIII and John Paul II willingly and lovingly embraced the Suffering Lord, and they saw the Suffering Lord in all men everywhere.  This is the great message we can learn from these two saints:
John XXIII and John Paul II were not afraid to look upon the wounds of Jesus, to touch his torn hands and his pierced side. They were not ashamed of the flesh of Christ, they were not scandalized by him, by his cross; they did not despise the flesh of their brother (cf. Is 58:7), because they saw Jesus in every person who suffers and struggles. These were two men of courage, filled with the parrhesia of the Holy Spirit, and they bore witness before the Church and the world to God’s goodness and mercy
This message of the Suffering Jesus, who took on the sins of the world and healed us through His Suffering, has always been the message of the Church, but it has received even greater emphasis in the 20th Century and now 21st Century. John XXIII and John Paul II experienced firsthand the suffering of modern man. This produced not bitterness and anger in them, but great love and compassion because they identified so strongly with the Suffering Lord:
They were priests, bishops and popes of the twentieth century. They lived through the tragic events of that century, but they were not overwhelmed by them. For them, God was more powerful; faith was more powerful – faith in Jesus Christ the Redeemer of man and the Lord of history; the mercy of God, shown by those five wounds, was more powerful; and more powerful too was the closeness of Mary our Mother. 
Pope Francis explains in greater detail just how the Suffering Jesus gave hope and joy to our two newest saints and allowed them rise above the suffering and misery that surrounded them and filled them with such a great love for all people.  For John XXIII and John Paul II, like all saints, their great joy and hope was born from the suffering they willingly endured in their lives and which led them to the hope and joy of Easter and filled them with the Love of God:
In these two men, who looked upon the wounds of Christ and bore witness to his mercy, there dwelt a living hope and an indescribable and glorious joy (1 Pet 1:3,8). The hope and the joy which the risen Christ bestows on his disciples, the hope and the joy which nothing and no one can take from them. The hope and joy of Easter, forged in the crucible of self-denial, self emptying, utter identification with sinners, even to the point of disgust at the bitterness of that chalice. Such were the hope and the joy which these two holy popes had received as a gift from the risen Lord and which they in turn bestowed in abundance upon the People of God, meriting our eternal gratitude.  
Pope Francis takes us back to the very beginning of the Church and shows that the same hope and joy shown by Sts. John XXIII and John Paul II were in the first believers in Jerusalem.  It is the same Spirit which has filled the Church for 20 centuries:
This hope and this joy were palpable in the earliest community of believers, in Jerusalem, as we read in the Acts of the Apostles (cf. 2:42-47). It was a community which lived the heart of the Gospel, love and mercy, in simplicity and fraternity.
Pope Francis now ties in the Second Vatican Council to this beautiful message of hope and joy which we receive from the Suffering Christ. As Pope Francis tells us, it is the saints - those who have been sanctified and made one with the Suffering Christ - "who give direction and growth to the Church." Our Lord has always chosen to speak to us through His Saints, and that is a major reason why the Church formally recognizes saints through canonization, so that we will know that these are people who have been given a special message to which we must pay attention. To disregard the message of formally declared saints will bring judgment upon us:
This is also the image of the Church which the Second Vatican Council set before us. John XXIII and John Paul II cooperated with the Holy Spirit in renewing and updating the Church in keeping with her pristine features, those features which the saints have given her throughout the centuries. Let us not forget that it is the saints who give direction and growth to the Church. 
As Pope Francis now tells us, John XXIII was the tool of the Holy Spirit when he convened the Second Vatican Council.  The Holy Spirit was leading and guiding the Church.  Pope Francis tells us that the greatest service of John XXIII was his "openness to the Spirit," a great lesson for all of us:
In convening the Council, John XXIII showed an exquisite openness to the Holy Spirit. He let himself be led and he was for the Church a pastor, a servant-leader. This was his great service to the Church; he was the pope of openness to the Spirit. 
Pope Francis tells us that John Paul II was the great defender of the family, the one who defended the sanctity of life.  The Church is continuing this defense of the family in the Synod later this year.  I know many think that great heresies will come from the Synod, but if anyone actually believes that, then they are doubting the very words and promises of Jesus Christ:
In his own service to the People of God, John Paul II was the pope of the family. He himself once said that he wanted to be remembered as the pope of the family. I am particularly happy to point this out as we are in the process of journeying with families towards the Synod on the family. It is surely a journey which, from his place in heaven, he guides and sustains. 
Pope Francis summarizes the points in his homily, urging us to be open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and enter ever more deeply into the "mystery of divine mercy":
May these two new saints and shepherds of God’s people intercede for the Church, so that during this two-year journey toward the Synod she may be open to the Holy Spirit in pastoral service to the family. May both of them teach us not to be scandalized by the wounds of Christ and to enter ever more deeply into the mystery of divine mercy, which always hopes and always forgives, because it always loves.
There is a beautiful message from Jesus Christ to St. Faustina as recorded in her diary which very much echoes the words of our Holy Father, and which we should take to heart.  We must be willing to humble ourselves, to make ourselves small as St. Therese of Lisieux said so many times.  If we think that we have all the answers and refuse to listen to His Church, we may well be cutting ourselves off from the saving grace and mercy of Jesus Christ. Remember, the entire message of Divine Mercy can be summarized in five words:  Jesus, I Trust In You.
My child, make the resolution never to rely on people. Entrust yourself completely to My will saying, “Not as I want, but according to Your will, O God, let it be done unto me.[these are the words of Jesus Christ as He suffered in the garden] These words, spoken from the depths of one's heart, can raise a soul to the summit of sanctity in a short time. In such a soul I delight. Such a soul gives Me glory. Such a soul fills heaven with the fragrance of her virtue. But understand that the strength by which you bear sufferings comes from frequent Communions. So approach this fountain of mercy often, to draw with the vessel of trust whatever you need. (Diary 1487)
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