‘THE WAYS OF HOLINESS ARE MANY’: REFLECTIONS ON THE WITNESS OF BLESSED POPE JOHN PAUL II
By Monsignor JOSÉ GOMEZ, Archbishop of Los Angeles
Blessed John Paul was a gift of God for our time. He was a witness to the power of holiness in history.
His beatification will be a beautiful grace for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, for California, and for all the nations of the Americas and the rest of the world.
I feel connected to him by bonds of filial affection and deep ties of grace.
I was a new priest, ordained just three months, when he was named Pope in 1978. He called me to be a bishop in 2001 and, not long before his death in 2005, he called me to be an archbishop.
In 1987, I was privileged, along with dozens of my fellow priests, to celebrate the Eucharist with him for more than 350,000 faithful in San Antonio. I will never forget that day!
I knew him as a wise and holy spiritual father. And I feel the hand of Providence at work in his being beatified as I begin my ministry here in Los Angeles.
Blessed John Paul’s teaching and personal witness continue to inspire my pastoral ministry.
He was a poet, a philosopher, and playwright. But most importantly, Blessed John Paul was a priest.
He once said: “Holy Mass is the absolute center of my life and of every day of my life.”
OUR ‘MOST HIGH CALLING’
Blessed John Paul called all of us to holiness, which he described as the “high standard of ordinary Christian living.”
He called us to accept the vocation given to each person in baptism. He said this meant living for God’s glory and for the love and service of our neighbors. He wanted us to join him in seeking the Kingdom, in building a civilization of love and a culture of life.
These were not original ideas. They are the essence of the Gospel. Blessed John Paul’s gift was to make the Christian ideal seem new again.
He lived the Gospel with a passion and intelligence that was attractive. He made the Christian way of life look so beautiful, so attractive. People wanted to follow him, to know the joy that he knew.
He became a true spiritual father for our times.
In speaking to young people, especially, he stressed that God has a plan for every person. He challenged all of us to realize that we have been born for a reason, that each of us has a destiny in this great drama of salvation.
He refused to accept the false premise that Christian faith makes us indifferent or complacent in the face of injustice and human needs.
“Intense prayer,” he once wrote, “does not distract us from our commitment to history. By opening our heart to the love of God it also opens it to the love of our brothers and sisters, and makes us capable of shaping history according to God’s plan.”
He held up as examples saints and martyrs who changed the times they lived in and the lives of those they lived around.
He reminded us that Christ calls all of us to be saints. That we too are called to shape our lives and the history of our times according to the purposes of God.
THE NEW EVANGELIZATION
He reminded us that Christianity once transformed the world. Not by violence, but by the simple force of men and women living the teachings of the faith with joy, courage and hope.
That’s what his call for a new evangelization was all about. Remaking the world once more in the image of Christ and his Gospel.
He knew that large sectors of modern society now operate as if God does not exist. And he knew that the Christian message was just one of many “messages of salvation” to be found in a global marketplace of ideas.
In the face of this, he proposed a high and beautiful vision of Christianity. He proclaimed Jesus Christ as the answer to every human question.
For him, the new evangelization is always personal. It means individual Christians sharing the gift of faith, heart to heart, with the men and women of our time.
But the new evangelization also means evangelizing the culture. It means bringing the Church’s teachings into dialogue with contemporary thought.
Blessed John Paul recalled how St. Paul preached the Gospel at the Areopagus, the center of the cultural elite in ancient Athens. Christians today, he said, must take the Gospel to all the “Aperopagi” of modern culture.
He called us to infuse Gospel values into every area of our civic life.
He told us to pay special attention to those areas where elite attitudes and opinions are formed and expressed — science, politics, business, the arts, philosophy, higher education, popular entertainment, the media.
THE IMPORTANCE OF AMERICA
Blessed John Paul visited nearly every region of the United States. Millions of Americans heard him speak. I have been blessed to minister in three cities that he visited: Denver, San Antonio, and now Los Angeles.
He saw Americans as a people whose way of life was rooted in deeply held spiritual and moral values. He saw a Christian inspiration in our founding documents, especially the Declaration of Independence, with its vision of inalienable human rights endowed by our Creator.
But over the years he increasingly worried that our sense of moral truths and the sanctity of life was eroding.
On his last visit to this country, in St. Louis in 1999, he issued this warning:
America faces a … time of trial today. Today, the conflict is between a culture that affirms, cherishes, and celebrates the gift of life, and a culture that seeks to declare entire groups of human beings — the unborn, the terminally ill, the handicapped, and others considered ‘unuseful’ — to be outside the boundaries of legal protection.
Because of the seriousness of the issues involved and because of America’s great impact on the world as a whole, the resolution of this new time of testing will have profound consequences for the century whose threshold we are about to cross.
THE MISSION OF LOS ANGELES
Blessed John Paul honored the Archdiocese of Los Angeles with a pastoral visit on Sept. 15–16, 1987. He was welcomed by then-Archbishop Roger Mahony and retired Cardinal Timothy Manning.
During that visit he gave us a challenging vision and mission for our local Church.
He told us that we are living in a “great metropolis,” a great city of the world. That means we have special duties and obligations.
Because Los Angeles is a meeting place for the world’s religions and nationalities, we must be a people of dialogue and proclamation. A people who seek to be instruments of peace and who promote the good of the whole human family.
Because Los Angeles is so influential in shaping the culture, fashions, and opinions for our country and the rest of the world, we must be a people who proclaim a noble vision of the human person. A vision that promotes what is beautiful and true.
He warned that our culture is growing more and more secularized. He warned that the Gospel message of salvation is now only one of many in “a world filled with competing ideologies and so many false and empty promises.”
He urged us to resist the lure of “consumerism and a pleasure-seeking mentality.” He called us to struggle against a culture “where utility, productivity and hedonism are exalted, while God and his law are forgotten.”
Blessed John Paul told us we must find our identity and purpose in the missionary and immigrant origins of Los Angeles — in the great evangelization of Fray Junípero Serra and the missions of El Camino Real.
He told us that our Church is called to be an icon of what God intends his Catholic Church to be — a Church of many colors, families, races and languages, all united as one family of God.
He drew this beautiful portrait of our Church:
Today in the Church in Los Angeles: Christ is Anglo and Hispanic. Christ is Chinese and Black. Christ is Vietnamese and Irish. Christ is Korean and Italian. Christ is Japanese and Filipino. Christ is Native American, Croatian, Samoan, and many other ethnic groups.
In this local Church, the one risen Christ, the one Lord and Savior, is living in each person who has accepted the Word of God and been washed clean in the saving waters of baptism. And the Church, with all her different members, remains the one Body of Christ, professing the same faith, united in hope and in love.
I pray that Blessed John Paul’s beatification will be a source of inner renewal for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, as we look forward to 2012 and the 25th anniversary of this historic visit.
In thanksgiving for his beatification, let us commit ourselves to a new evangelization of our city and our culture. Let us build the culture of life and a city of charity and truth.
Through our witness to his resurrection let us build a new El Camino Real, a new King’s Highway — a new pathway of love upon which we can walk with our brothers and sisters in friendship with our risen Lord.
GOSPEL FOR A NEW MILLENNIUM
Blessed John Paul left us a rich intellectual and spiritual legacy to draw from in our evangelization efforts.
His “theology of the body” is a prophetic message to our society, which is so confused about matters of sexuality and marriage.
In an age of globalization, he made a great contribution to the search for solidarity and peace by insisting that religious liberty and the sanctity of life must be the foundations for all other rights and freedoms.
In our present moment here in California and across the country, his teachings on government’s proper role in the political economy and his critique of the “social assistance state” seem not only timely, but urgent.
Blessed John Paul knew that in a multicultural world religion could become the source of conflict and even violence. He grasped early on that this century would be marked by the deadly rise of religious fundamentalisms and terror in the name of religion.
He worked hard to promote peace and understanding. To build friendships and mutual respect with other Christians and with believers of all other faiths. He had a particular love for the Jewish people.
In this too he also left us an example to follow.
He gave us a joyful, powerful vision of the Church rooted in the Eucharist and the teachings of the Second Vatican Council (1963–1965). He was the Council’s true interpreter. The great monument to his renewal efforts will always be The Catechism of the Catholic Church (1994), which he described as “a symphony of the faith.”
His goal was to refocus the Church on her missionary identity.
The Church’s only purpose in every age — but especially in our time — is “to direct man’s gaze, to point the awareness and experience of the whole of humanity toward the mystery of Christ,” he wrote in his first encyclical, Redemptor Hominis (1979).
Today, more than ever, we need to reclaim this missionary vision.
FINDING THE SOURCE
In his last book of poems, Roman Triptych (2003), Blessed John Paul wrote:
If you want to find the source,
you have to go up, against the current,
Break through, search, don’t yield …
Blessed John Paul taught us to seek the source of our lives in Jesus Christ. He taught us to go up against all the currents in our culture of cynicism, indifference, and flight from God. He taught us to break through every line of resistance in our hearts and in our society — to seek the things that are above, to search for the face of God.
He went ahead of us to show us the way, to show us how to follow Christ.
He would quote the great Polish poet Cyprian Norwid: “Not with the cross of the Savior behind you, but with your own cross behind the Savior.”
These words, he told us, “express the ultimate meaning of the Christian life.”
He preached nothing that he did not practice. This is important to remember.
Pope John Paul has been beatified, not for his accomplishments in the Church or on the world stage. He has been beatified because he cooperated with God’s grace and lived a holy life.
He proposed with new vitality the ancient Gospel teaching. That God desires our sanctification; that each of us is called to be a saint; that with his grace we can imitate Christ and be made perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect.
“The ways of holiness are many, according to the vocation of each individual,” he said.
He showed us that we have to strive for that holiness, that pure love of God and neighbor, in everything we do — at work or in school; in our homes; and in all our actions in society and the political arena.
Even in his final years when his health deteriorated, he continued to show us what it means to carry our cross behind Christ. He showed us the redemptive power of suffering embraced for the love of God and for the love of others.
At the heart of his witness to holiness was the Eucharist.
“Nothing means more to me or gives me greater joy than to celebrate Mass each day,” he told young people in Los Angeles in 1987.
He lived the mystery he celebrated with joy each day. And he taught us how to live that way too. He gave us a beautiful vision. To love as Christ loves. To make our lives into a gift that we offer to God and for our brothers and sisters.
Again, these were old ideas, as old as the Gospel.
Blessed John Paul had a way of making us see all things new.
At the conclusion of his homily at Dodger Stadium in 1987, Blessed John Paul made a special act of entrusting our city and nation to our Blessed Mother.
Let us renew that act of trust in Mary. Let us entrust to her all these resolutions we make today to follow her Son with new devotion.
May this city named in honor of Nuestra Señora de Los Angeles, be a place where men and women strive with new purpose for holiness.
And may she help us to follow Blessed John Paul in this great adventure of Christian living, as we seek the purposes of her Son for our lives and for our world.