Today is the feast of Pope St. John Paul II, who was pope from 1978 until his death in 2005.

As the pope who served at the precipice of the third millennium and who declared the Jubilee year in 2000, his words about the Church in the future are worth revisiting with regularity:

Dear Brothers and Sisters, it is especially necessary for us to direct our thoughts to the future which lies before us. Often during these months we have looked towards the new millennium which is beginning, as we lived this Jubilee not only as a remembrance of the past, but also as a prophecy of the future. We now need to profit from the grace received, by putting it into practice in resolutions and guidelines for action. This is a task I wish to invite all the local churches to undertake. In each of them, gathered around their Bishop, as they listen to the word and “break bread” in brotherhood (cf. Acts 2:42), the “one holy catholic and apostolic Church of Christ is truly present and operative”. It is above all in the actual situation of each local church that the mystery of the one People of God takes the particular form that fits it to each individual context and culture.

In the final analysis, this rooting of the Church in time and space mirrors the movement of the Incarnation itself. Now is the time for each local Church to assess its fervour and find fresh enthusiasm for its spiritual and pastoral responsibilities, by reflecting on what the Spirit has been saying to the People of God in this special year of grace, and indeed in the longer span of time from the Second Vatican Council to the Great Jubilee. It is with this purpose in mind that I wish to offer in this Letter, at the conclusion of the Jubilee Year, the contribution of my Petrine ministry, so that the Church may shine ever more brightly in the variety of her gifts and in her unity as she journeys on.

Saint John Paul II, Novo Millennio Ineunte (6 January 2001)

One thing that strikes me is his emphasis on the lived experience of the Church. Much like Francis has asked of us for the synodal process that has just begun, John Paul says, “Now is the time for each local Church to assess its fervour and find fresh enthusiasm for its spiritual and pastoral responsibilities, by reflecting on what the Spirit has been saying to the People of God.” Two decades later, we once again have the opportunity to listen for the movement of the Holy Spirit in our own personal experience of the Church and living the faith. We must continue to do this because the Church is constantly in a state of renewal, growth, and development, and we must always be open to new opportunities to live out the Gospel and bring Christ to others.

Pope Francis canonized him, along with his predecessor John XXIII in 2014. From his canonization homily.

This hope and this joy were palpable in the earliest community of believers, in Jerusalem, as we have heard in the Acts of the Apostles (cf. 2:42-47). It was a community which lived the heart of the Gospel, love and mercy, in simplicity and fraternity.

This is also the image of the Church which the Second Vatican Council set before us. John XXIII and John Paul II cooperated with the Holy Spirit in renewing and updating the Church in keeping with her pristine features, those features which the saints have given her throughout the centuries. Let us not forget that it is the saints who give direction and growth to the Church. In convening the Council, Saint John XXIII showed an exquisite openness to the Holy Spirit. He let himself be led and he was for the Church a pastor, a servant-leader, guided by the Holy Spirit. This was his great service to the Church; for this reason I like to think of him as the the pope of openness to the Holy Spirit.

In his own service to the People of God, Saint John Paul II was the pope of the family. He himself once said that he wanted to be remembered as the pope of the family. I am particularly happy to point this out as we are in the process of journeying with families towards the Synod on the family. It is surely a journey which, from his place in heaven, he guides and sustains.

27 April 2014: Holy Mass and the Canonization of Blesseds John XXIII and John Paul II | Francis (vatican.va)


Image: By Zkoty1953 – Cropped from File:Jan Paweł II portret Z. Kotyłło.jpg, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=31549308

 


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Mike Lewis is a writer and graphic designer from Maryland, having worked for many years in Catholic publishing. He's a husband, father of four, and a lifelong Catholic. He's active in his parish and community. He is the founding managing editor for Where Peter Is.

Feast of Saint John Paul II
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