HOMILY FOR POPE’S REQUIEM
We think of the word ‘Peace’ meaning that people are not fighting. But the word really means: having a good healthy relationship with the people who surround us in life. This means that we are not to be frightened or bullied by them and there is a true and genuine interaction between us. This implies also that people who try to use force to push people around are put back in their place not by bigger and stronger people but by the force of love and a real sense of togetherness.
As pupils, as teachers as staff at the college and as a chaplain, we all hope and strive for that relationship of respect and togetherness so that we all feel at ease with one another, whilst affirming our differing roles and working for the good of the College and all the people who call this place home
We have just finished celebrating the feast of Easter in which Jesus, our brother, shows how the religious and government bully boys are put down by the sheer courage and love potion of Jesus. And the best bit of all, the greatest fear of all of us, the fact of inevitable death, is conquered by the power of the spirit of God and he promises that this power of the spirit to overcome our worst fear. Death, can be given to us.
It is noteworthy that our beloved Pope John Paul II died in Easter week, Easter Saturday to be precise. He showed in unmistakeable fashion, that peace, the right relationship with people around us, is the greatest gift we can give ourselves and others around us. Let me draw out this thought.
Karol Wojtyla (who was late to become Pope John Paul II) grew up when the Nazis were in charge of Poland. They banned the use of the Polish language, they could not accept valid criticism, they demanded that people work for them irrespective of their own talents and calling. Karol would not accept this bullying. Despite the fact that they forced him to work in a quarry he still found time to wrote poetry, act in plays (which were constructively critical of the bully boys) and most importantly for him and for us, he found time to study secretly to become a priest. To that his talents would be available for the people whom God would want him to influence.
After he became a priest he kept up his friendship with the people with whom he had grown up, especially his Jewish friends who had suffered terribly under the rule of the Nazis. Friends he knew at University remained his friends for a life time, friends who married and had children found in him a simple uncomplicated and loyal friend.
When he became a Bishop, Archbishop and later Pope more bully boys were in power. This times the communists. Once again he refused to be bullied and by the strength of his love and commitment he managed to break the power of communism His stand again Communism brought repercussions, even an attempted assassination on this life, to wipe him out.
Barely a year after his election in 1978 he retuned to his native Poland. It was June 1979. He was the non-Italian Pope since 1523. He comes from a Communist country The unimaginable happens. He went home to Poland. A great crucifix is erected in Victory Square in Warsaw. There before a million people on the eve of Pentecost he addresses the people Sir John Gielgud was around at that time, and he said that, ‘though he didn’t understand a word of Polish, he’d never heard the Polish language used to such magnificent rhetorical effect.’ The Pope concluded his sermon, crying out in the way he had, underlining the words, ‘Come Holy Spirit, renew the face of the earth, of this earth’. That is common prayer for Pentecost. But the Pope gave it a special spin. ‘This earth’, meaning ‘this land, this Polish land here’, and that phrase, ‘Come Holy Spirit, renew the face of this earth’ was said, in every Polish church, every day until the collapse of Communism.
It was the 13th of May 1981 when Agca,. a fanatic shot and very nearly killed the Pope as he drove around St Peter’s square meeting pilgrims. It is highly likely that this man was put up to this act of hatred by the bully boys since they correctly saw the Pope as the greatest danger to their power and their tactics of strong arm and intimidation. Two years later, John Paul visited the prison in which Agca, the fanatic was jailed. He came to tell him, that he forgave him completely.
He travelled the world. He sought out those places were people were bullied. He gave them new hope by stressing that love, courage and the strength which comes from the risen Lord who can overcome all the powers of hatred and evil.
As he got older he suffered from Parkinson’s disease. He was confined to a wheelchair. The voice of the man who could speak dozens of language fluently became muffled and in the last few weeks of his life it fell silent.
His courage in this ongoing weakness inspired us all. He did not lie down. He battled on as best he could. In confronting his oncoming death he showed what peace is all about.
He was a man of prayer, so that the God to whom he was going to, was no stranger.
Jesus has promised that on the last day those who have been kind to the least of the brothers and sisters will receive a welcome from Jesus. John Paul had travelled the world giving a message of hope, peace and respect for life. He had celebrated with love and devotion the Mass in which we discover how death is transformed to life. This prepared him well for his last journey.
Now he lies in peace and millions of people will gather to farewell him. He got it right because he could establish sound enduring relationships with his God and the people around him. He had the courage to fight bullying and injustice wherever he found it but still had it in his heart to work on changing the bullies. He leaves us a wonderful example. He rests in peace. I pray and we all pray that following the example of John Paul all teachers, pupils and workers will live the peace which the risen Jesus and John Paul so clearly displayed. We pray, as John Paul urged the Polish people to pray to renew this earth (the place where we live and the place where we study) so that our relationships with those in charge and even with those who might try to heavy us will be filled with hope and joy.
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