Feast of Pope St. John Paul II/Oct. 22, 2015
Holy Spirit Parish/UK Newman Center/Student Mass
He lost every member of his family – every member of his family – before he was as old as most of you in this room. At an age when most of us are focused on passing exams and making sure there’s enough beer in the fridge (don't pretend like you don't know what I'm talking about), he was bobbing and weaving through the streets in the middle of the night trying his best not to get arrested for doing such a horrible thing as studying to become a Catholic priest. When the whole society around him bitterly opposed absolutely everything that the Catholic faith stood for, he resisted. They threatened to exile him from society, and he resisted.
They threatened to throw him in jail, and he preached. He preached love and mercy, he preached freedom and laughter and living the abundant life. He preached the Truth – without shame, without watering it down, and without letting it sour him. He preached Truth, they harassed him, and he preached all the more clearly. As bishop, and then later as Pope, the world fought valiantly to transform life into something that was only valuable when it could produce, and reduce truth to what is comfortable, what is easy, what satisfies our appetite and preference, and still he soldiered on.
As a young man, he loved hiking, fishing, skiing, canoeing, and camping - he loved poetry, symphony, theater, philosophy and literature – but he loved them because they put him in contact with God, with God’s love – with God’s mercy, forgiveness and healing – with God’s wisdom; he loved doing those things because through them he could invite others to encounter Truth, Goodness, and Beauty – and the heart of God from whom they flow.
His posture bent, his skin wrinkled, his mouth slackened. And he taught us absolutely as much about how to die as he’d taught us how to live.
But you know what I remember most about Pope Saint John Paul the Great? His smile. His smile! It was broad, and easy. It came naturally – even when the muscles of his face tried to forget how to do it – he smiled. There are pictures of him on the mountainside, smiling. There are pictures of him facing down communist dictators, smiling. There are pictures of him reprimanding bishops and priests for dangerous, heretical thoughts – just before turning to them in love and compassion – with a father’s smile. And in March of 2005, just three days before he died, they wheeled him to the window so he could bless the people; and though he was unable to speak because the Parkinson’s disease was so far advanced, as he offered his priestly blessing – yes…he smiled.
John Paul II’s smile is forever etched in the recesses of my mind, I think, because he was a kind man. Deep down inside, kindness – genuine kindness – was a foundation upon which everything else he was had been built. Pope Saint John Paul the Great was kind – but he never let that become distorted into giving up on everything and giving in to everything in order to be nice. Like Jesus – John Paul II came to set the world on fire.
“I have come to set the world on fire – and how I wish it were already blazing!!! – Do you think I have come to establish peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!!” This seems so strikingly out of character for the Jesus that we try to shove into the nice, neat little box that goes along to get along, that seeks to make everyone comfortable by being friendly and nothing else – this seems so contrary to the Jesus we sometimes want to make into our nice little buddy who follows us around, helping us stay out of trouble, and most of all doesn’t make waves. The Jesus who is so nice and agreeable that He’s really a God made in our own image rather than the other way around.
But, friends – that Jesus is a figment of our imagination.
Yes, Jesus came to call sinners and heal their wounds and give them the grace to grow in virtue. But that doesn’t include letting us define what is true based on what makes us feel good or keeps us on friendly terms with the world around us. Yes, Jesus came to restore relationship with the marginalized, serve the poor and down trodden, and give them a place at the table – yes, Jesus came to befriend the sinner – but not by letting them pretend that “if it feels good do it” makes any sense.
Jesus came to set the world on fire – the burning, purifying fire that calls us out of our sinfulness and into sanctity that isn’t based on defining ourselves, our morality, our ideas of success, or our paths in life on the enemy’s lies: “Eat whatever fruit you want – taste it…go ahead…surely you won’t die – God’s law is just a guideline to be interpreted to suit what you think would be nice.” No – He came to set the world on fire with the Truth from God, the Truth which is God – the Truth which has fallen out of fashion in our world, in our country, in our town, and – yes – on our campus.
The Lord Jesus is the Prince of Peace – but not a peace that is based on hiding or softening the Truth so that we can get along without making anyone uncomfortable or upset. That’s not peace – that’s pretend! Standing up for the truth – struggling to live the truth in our own lives in a world that is trying to tell us that the only standard for what is true is what we decide to make it – standing up for the Truth in this world sometimes sets father against son, mother against daughter – some of you are living that reality even now in your lives. John Paul lived it too…but take courage…take courage…because, what I remember most about him is his smile. You can find that smile, too.
“To believe in Jesus is to accept what he says, even when it runs contrary to what others are saying. It means rejecting the lure of sin, however attractive it may be, in order to set out on the difficult path of the Gospel virtues.” (WYD 2002 welcoming address.)
“The future is in your hearts and your hands. God is entrusting to you the task, at once difficult and uplifting, of working with him in building up the civilization of love.” (WYD 2002, Downsview Address)
“To believe in Jesus today, to follow Jesus as Peter, Thomas, and the first apostles and witnesses did, demands of us, just as it did in the past, that we take a stand for him, almost to the point at times of a new martyrdom: the martyrdom of those who, today as yesterday, are called to go against the tide in order to follow the Divine Master, to follow the lamb wherever He goes.” (WYD 2000,
These are the words of someone who set the world on fire!!! You want to be a part of that? Listen to the words of John Paul the Great – be formed by his example – be inspired by his life! Give up trying to be nice – challenge the world around you – stand for Christ – stand for truth – stand for what is right. Let yourself catch fire!!!!
I came here tonight to set you on fire – and how I wish you were already blazing!!! Join me – join John Paul – join Christ – set this campus on fire!!!
Pope Saint John Paul II – pray for us!!!