Yesterday in Rome, the pope announced what many had hoped: That Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII will be canonized on April 27 this coming year. That will be the Sunday after Easter that has been known, since 2001, as Divine Mercy Sunday. If any Sunday personifies the charism of this current pope — and he is not unlike previous popes here, but the world sees it in a whole new way with him — it is Divine Mercy Sunday. His very first angelus message was a plea that we go to God for His foregiviness, that we never tire of doing this. That’s been an incessant message of his papacy. One prays he doesn’t get tired of saying it! You see him answer people’s letters, as a father, giving interviews as a brother (what you see in the La Republlica interview).
In the New York Post today, Cardinal Timothy Dolan writes about the three most recent popes and the spiritual, intellectual, and pastoral aspects of our lives they point to.
The three most recent ones, the trio most of us vividly recall, are all giants: Blessed — soon to be Saint — John Paul II (1978-2005), Benedict XVI (2005-2013) and now Francis.
A good way to understand the different gifts of each of these recent pontiffs might be to use the imagery of soul, head and heart.
John Paul II emphasized the soul. President Jimmy Carter, welcoming him to the White House in 1979, even called him “the soul of the world.”
The soul of the church seemed exhausted and scared when he stepped out onto that balcony on Oct. 16, 1978, and simply proclaimed, “Be not afraid!” — the advice from God most often found in the Bible.
His eloquent calls to prayer; his accent on the revival of the spirit; his concentration on the sacraments and devotions of the church, which bring the grace and mercy of Jesus; his tender trust of Mary, the mother of Jesus, and his record “saint-making,” cogently reminded us that the soul comes first.
Bring on Benedict XVI, a renowned theologian, and popular professor and author, who had served John Paul in helping him pass on faithfully the church’s doctrinal treasures, and we have a successor of St. Peter who emphasized the head. He would renew the church’s vast intellectual heritage, and remind us so effectively that faithand reason are hardly at odds, but actually allies.
So, Pope Benedict could revive the church’s charism as the engine of truth, humanity’s best friend in the pursuit of learning and education.
And now, Pope Francis emphasizes the heart.
There’s no coincidence, of course, in all the threes, pointing to the Trinity — the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — who Catholics believe we are called to live in union with . . . who is behind all of the encounter talk of these three pontiffs.
In her recent book, How the West Really Lost God, Mary Eberstadt talks about how foreign Christianity can be to post-moderns. What’s the Holy Family to one who hasn’t seen a loving, working traditional nuclear family? What’s the Christ child mean to an only child who has no children? People won’t be open to the spiritual and the intellectual proposals of the Church if they don’t see the love, the love of Christ, in men. Pope Francis isn’t a mystic, he tells us, he’s practical. When he talks about love, it’s not pop-song love or just the kind of thing a pope is supposed to say. It’s an invitation to the healing power of prayer and sacraments. It’s an invitation to Christ. We believe God invites all to know His love, but sometimes we can’t hear and sometimes we don’t really listen. Christanity offers an alternative, it calls us to countercultural love. And what better day to get the world to focus on all this but Divine Mercy Sunday.
And on the topic of healing: Almost a year ago now, Pope Benedict XVI marked, with a gathering of cardinals and bishops for a Synod for the New Evangelization, the 50th anniversary of the opening of the second Vatican Council. That which was meant to help the mission of the Church in the modern world became a moment of division, confusion, ideological co-opt. The ongoing year of faith — and with it an encyclical written by both Benedict and Francis on faith, which, they write, illuminates everything — is about fundamentals, re-proposals. For all our arguments, even within the Church, there is one word that might unite us in a not-so-small miracle of Divine Providence: Mercy! If we enter into these things in some humility . . .