Message: St. John Paul teaches the better part: listen and learn from Jesus.
Today we arrive at the 7th and last homily focusing on what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. I'm wrapping up the series not so much because 7 is the perfect number, but because next week I will be in Poland for World Youth Day!
To illustrate discipleship I've taken a few World Youth Day patrons: St. Kateri Tekakwitha - a woman of sorrow who radiates inner happiness. And last week St Edith Stein: a woman of towering intellect who shows the double compassion of a disciple, that is, love of neighbor for the love of God.
For this 7th homily on discipleship we have St. John Paul: the man who "embodies the trials, tragedies and triumphs of the twentieth century" - a man who bent the course of history. He had relatively humble beginnings and when the Nazis took over his country, they pressed him into manual labor.
One night on his way home a German army truck struck him and sped away. With a concussion and broken shoulder he lay in a ditch. A local woman and a German officer rescued him taking him to a hospital. Their act of compassion saved one of the greatest, if not the greatest man of the 20th century: St. John Paul II.
Much of our World Youth Day pilgrimage will focus on his life: Wadowice where he lived till the age of 18 then Krakow, his next 40 years first acting in an underground theater, then as a priest, bishop and cardinal until his election as pope in 1978. What can we say about St. John Paul in a homily?
Well, we have an almost perfect Gospel: the sisters, Martha and Mary, who represent the two poles of human personality - action and contemplation. Jesus comes down on the side of contemplation. "Mary has chosen the better part."
And so did St. John Paul. We see that preference in the underground theater. The future pope sensed that the greatest power does not come from the military or from economics, but from culture. Culture includes stories, music, dance, humor and ways of treating others. Culture involves listening to and learning from great minds. The heart of culture is cult or worship. What we worship defines who we are. The Nazis worshiped race; the Communists worshiped the proletariat. The worship of idols leads to slavery. St. John Paul taught that we attain freedom by renouncing idols and worshiping God.
He focused on culture, not just to fight totalitarianism, but so we can discover who we really are. Nazis and Communists reduced the human person to biology. Culture shows we are more than machines. We have a purpose, a call. From the beginning of his papacy he said, "Be not afraid. Open wide the doors for Christ."
To youth Pope John Paul spoke these words: "You are our hope; the young are our hope. We are not the sum of our weakness and failures; we are the sum of the Father's love for us - and our real capacity to become the image of his Son."
I mentioned earlier that St. John Paul bent the course of history. He did it not by some complex program, but by calling people to discipleship. Disciples of Jesus in Poland and in other Communist countries brought about a peaceful revolution. A Jewish writer named Charles Krauthammer said it well:
It was Stalin who gave us the most famous formulation of that cynical (and today quite fashionable) philosophy known as 'realism' -- the idea that all that ultimately matters in the relations among nations is power: "The pope? How many divisions does he have?" Stalin could have said that only because he never met John Paul II...Within 10 years of his elevation to the papacy, John Paul II had given his answer to Stalin and to the ages: More than you have. More than you can imagine.*
I put a fuller quote in the bulletin. It's an interesting coincidence that Krauthammer's great-great-grandfather had been chief rabbi of Krakow. In our World Youth Day pilgrimage to Krakow we will reflect on our relationship to the Jewish people who suffered so terribly during the Second World War. St. John Paul will accompany us as we reflect on the mystery of the Jews.
St. Paul today talks about the sufferings that are "filling up what is lacking in the affliction of Christ" and of the "hidden mystery that is Christ." When we go on the pilgrimage to Poland we want to be like Mary: listen and learn from Jesus. As St. John Paul shows, that is the better part of being a disciple - and no one can take it from us. Amen.
*See The Power of Faith By Charles Krauthammer
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