Feast of Saint John Paul II
Do you remember August 1978? Our Catholic Church said goodbye to a beloved Pope Paul VI who had directed us through the Second Vatican Council and had begun to implement the Council’s directions for the Church in the modern world. We then welcomed a vivacious Pope John Paul I only to be sent reeling by his untimely death thirty-three days later. I recall anxiously waiting to hear who would be our next Shepherd. The wait seemed to last forever. On the eighth ballot, the College of Cardinals elected Karol Wojtyla, Cardinal Archbishop of Krakow who would become Saint John Paul II. Today we celebrate his feast day on the anniversary of his inauguration as Pope John Paul II.
Our sacred scriptures today invite us to reflect upon our foundational calling to be unified with Christ and one another, contributing our gifts to the building up of the Body of Christ to full stature. At times, this may sound rather esoteric and theoretical. What exactly does it mean to grow into full stature of Christ?
St. Paul reminds us that each one of us has been blessed with graces according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Is he talking of a generic grace? I think not. St. Paul is reflecting on the wondrous mystery of each unique person being blessed with gifts which are marked with the vitality, creativity, and hallmarks of each unique personality. In Paul’s hope, each is invited to continuously grow into the fullness of the man or woman that God created us to be. We are to purposely discover the gifts lying within ourselves, accept them, foster them and finally make them available to all of God’s people for the purpose of building up the Body, the Church. With each of us making our individual contributions, the Church continuously grows toward unity in faith and full stature in Christ. Paul is saying to the Ephesians and to us that we are no longer “infants” in the faith. We have progressed beyond that and are moving toward adulthood in the faith. We are asked to recognize this and begin living as adults so as to avoid being pulled and tossed around by every wind or false understanding of the faith.
Saint Luke reinforces Paul’s thought by remembering the lesson of Jesus to those who thought sinners were punished more gravely than others. Jesus makes it very clear that each of us must acknowledge our sinfulness and repent of it. We are not to be looking to the lives of others and drawing conclusions from what is on the surface of life. Look to ourselves only. See within the need for conversion in our own lives and accept the graces offered. It is only from this humble stance in life that we are able to work with Christ’s gifts to continuously grow into the man or woman that God intends for us to be.
Our scripture passages today are a great source of consolation and strength. We are urged forward in the sure understanding that through Christ, the Father intends for each of us to be all that we can be. This is not a theoretical or esoteric invitation. Rather, it is a down to earth, everyday calling that deals with the very stuff of each life. With great humility, we are called to accept our part in helping Christ reach full stature in our world. As we celebrate St. John Paul II today, I cannot think of too many others who lived that calling so forcefully, publically and humbly. His very election called forth a greater understanding of the universality of Christ’s Body the Church. His international travels over decades reinforced that understanding. His vitality even in surviving an assassination attempt and in his senior years revealed his own acceptance of his call to keep growing, keep contributing, continuously do his best to enhance Christ’s presence, come to full stature in our modern world. Throughout his life and now, St. John Paul II calls us to put all of our energy into bringing full stature to our own lives, to His Body, the Church, and to our world.
Fr. Richard Burke, CP, is a member of St. Paul of the Cross Province. He lives at St. Ann’s Monastery in Scranton, Pennsylvania.