Death of Pope John Paul II but God continues to guide the Church

Homily for Wednesday Week 2 of Easter, April 6th 2005

by Fr. Tommy Lane

During these days of mourning the death of Pope John Paul II we can better imagine the sadness that must have enveloped the church in Jerusalem at the arrest of Peter and the apostles in the first reading from Acts (5:17-26). But even though Peter, the first Pope, was out of sight God was still totally in charge of the Church as we see in the miraculous deliverance of Peter and the apostles from prison. The Acts of the Apostles makes it very clear that the risen Jesus guides the Church from his place at the right hand side of the Father in heaven (Acts 2:33). Even so, we mourn now because we are deeply affected by the passing of Pope John Paul II. We each have our own precious memories of this great successor of St. Peter. I have many memories from my five years in Rome, one precious memory is being one of a number of deacons for the Pope’s Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper in the St. John Lateran Basilica in 1990 and later that year and in the following years I concelebrated Masses with Pope John Paul.

In Acts, there are many examples of God firmly in command of the Church just as God is guiding the Church in our own time also.  My bishop, John Magee, was being interviewed on Italian TV some years ago and mentioned that when he was secretary to Pope John Paul I the Pope said to him one day that his successor was sitting opposite him during the conclave (first conclave of 1978). Bishop Magee, then Msgr. Magee, did not think about it again until after the election of Pope John Paul II a short while afterwards and then he took out the map of the conclave that elected Pope John Paul I and saw that Cardinal Karol Woytyla was indeed sitting opposite Cardinal Luciani. How did Pope John Paul I know who his successor would be? Is it too much to say that somehow the Holy Spirit brought him to this conclusion and that in it we see God continuing to guide the Church as we see in the Acts of the Apostles? 

In our first reading we can see the charismatic effect that Peter and the apostles had on the people of Jerusalem. Because of their popularity the Sanhedrin was afraid to use force on the apostles in case they would be stoned. Now at the passing of Pope John Paul we see very clearly the effect he has had on the whole world, and even on the non-Catholic world. Even countries with a minority Catholic population have declared Days of National Mourning. Egypt has declared one Day of National Mourning. India has declared one Day of National Mourning. Lebanon has declared one Day of National Mourning. Cuba has declared three Days of National Mourning.

In the Gospel we heard that God sent his Son into the world not to condemn the world but so that through him the world might be saved (John 3:17). Pope John Paul was a very special envoy of God’s mercy. As Archbishop of Krakow he was the one primarily responsible for the Holy See approving the authenticity of the apparitions of Jesus to Sister Faustina. Later as Pope, early in his pontificate at a shrine in Italy in 1981 he said his destined role was to bring the era of Divine Mercy to the world and he stated,

“Right from the beginning of my ministry in St. Peter’s See in Rome I consider this message my special task. Providence has assigned it to me in the present situation of man, the Church and the world.”

Surely heaven has confirmed these words by calling him to the next life shortly after the Vigil Mass of Divine Mercy Sunday had been celebrated in his room.

During these days when we are anxious about the future we place our trust in God because as the Gospel today states God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost but may have eternal life (John 3:16).

Copyright © Fr. Tommy Lane 2013

This homily was delivered in Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, Emmitsburg, Maryland.