This past weekend, we joined the universal Church in offering thanks and praise to God for our two new saints — the great 20th century popes, St. John XXIII and St. John Paul II.
Their canonizations show us that, even in our deeply secular age, the world is still moved by the example of holiness.
More than 800,000 people were on hand to participate in the celebrations in Rome and millions more around the world watched on television. Stories about these two saints and their influence dominated global news for more than a week leading up to the canonizations.
The Catholic Church doesn’t “make” saints. Only God makes people holy. And Catholics don’t think of saints as “mini-gods” or perfect people. “Holiness lives in history,” St. John Paul II once said, “and no saint has escaped the limits and conditioning which are part of our human nature.”
Saints are ordinary men and women, just like us. But through grace and their own desire for holiness, they are able to live in beautiful friendship with God — trying to do his will in their everyday lives; living with purity of heart and compassion for others. In canonizing someone, the Church is recognizing the work of divine grace in the person’s life and their virtues.
In every age, the saints show us the power of God and the beautiful possibilities that God intends for our lives. The saints show us that we all have a vocation to holiness, to be saints!
In fact, in the early Church, “saint” was another word for Christian. St. Paul used to address his letters to “the saints” and to those “called to be saints.” That’s what we’re made for. To be holy. To be saints.
Both of our new saints loved life and they lived life to the fullest — with their arms open to the world and their hearts open to God. And each, in his own way, changed the course of history in our times.
When we read the journals and spiritual writings of St. John XXIII, we meet a gentle man, a man of goodness and inner peace, who had a simple love for God and for the whole human family.
St. John Paul II had a totally different personality. But like St. John XXIII, he was deeply rooted in the faith of his family and his country, and he was motivated by the same deep desire for God.
Our new saints showed us how to live a holy life in “unholy” times. They showed us how to live in a world where the awareness of God is fading, where more and more people are living as if God does not exist. They showed us what we must do to live in these times where the sanctity and dignity of human life is forgotten or denied.
They showed us that we all share a common task, a common responsibility for the human family. We are called to bear witness — that life is precious and that only God, the true and living God, can satisfy our human desires for happiness and love, for mercy and peace.
We all remember the story of St. John Paul II showing mercy to the man who tried to assassinate him. We remember how he went to the man’s jail cell and spoke to him and prayed for him. He told this man, “I forgive you.” He even petitioned the authorities to have the man pardoned. And eventually this man was set free.
This is a beautiful example for all of us. We all need to have more compassion, more understanding for others. Especially for those who are closest to us — in our families, in our neighborhoods. We need to forgive more. And we need to be better at seeking forgiveness from those we have hurt by our words and actions.
This is the path of peace, the path of mercy. And this is the path that our new saints teach us to follow.
So this week, let’s pray for one another! And let’s ask the intercession of St. John XXIII and St. John Paul II. Let’s ask them to pray for peace in our world and peace in our hearts.
As we continue in this Easter time, may God grant us all the grace to make our lives a way of love and a path of holiness.
And we ask the prayers of our Mother Mary, the Holy Mother of Jesus. May she help us to always know that our lives have a purpose and a destiny. That God has made us to be holy as he is holy. That he has called us to shape our world according to his beautiful plan of love. That he has made us to be saints.