Homily of the Holy Mass of the Holy Mass in the feast of St. John Paul II, 22nd october 2015, in the altar of the Chair of St. Peter at St. Peter’s basilica
In the day in which Pope Francis canonized John Paul II, he associated him with the family. “St. John Paul II – he said – was the pope of the family. He himself once said that he wanted to be remembered as the pope of the family.”
In the context of the celebration of the Synod on Family, I would like to speak a bit about some ideas that our dear St. John Paul II had precisely about the family.
In the book Gift and Mystery, John Paul II speaks of the profound influence that his family had on him during his childhood. He speaks about his own family as his “first seminary”:
“The preparation for the priesthood, received in the seminary, was in a certain way preceded by that which was offered to me with the life and example of my parents in the family”.
He presents deeper detail about his relationship with his father, whom he considered as his most influential religious educator, by his teaching and example:
“My gratitude goes especially to my father, who became a widower at a young age. […] After her death [of his mother] and upon the death of my brother, I was left alone with my father, a deeply religious man. I daily observed his life, which was austere […] after he remained a widower; his life became a constant prayer. Sometimes I would wake up at night and find my father on his knees, just as I always saw him on his knees in the parish church. Between us there was no talk of vocation to the priesthood, but his example was for me in some way the first seminary, a kind of domestic seminary” (Gift and Mystery).
This witness upon the young Karol Wojtyla is highly suggestive. Who could have said to his Father that his son would one day be nothing less than St. John Paul II, the Great Pope, a man of such transcendental influence upon the Church and the world?
The following text from the exhortation Familiaris Consortio, seems to manifest what the Holy Father had himself experienced in time of his childhood and youth:
“By virtue of their ministry of educating, parents are, through the witness of their lives, the first heralds of the Gospel for their children. Furthermore, by praying with their children, by reading the word of God with them and by introducing them deeply through Christian initiation into the Body of Christ – both the Eucharistic and the ecclesial Body – they become fully parents, in that they are begetters not only of bodily life but also of the life that through the Spirit’s renewal flows from the Cross and Resurrection of Christ” (FC 39).
St. Thomas Aquinas speaks of the family as a “type of spiritual womb” (S. Th. II-II, q. 10, a. 12). Explaining that normally, it is in the heart of the family where divine dispositions are received and Christian values are absorbed. This is where these values are acquired, as if by osmosis, by means of the good examples that are observed, even more so than what is heard, as John Paul II expressed related to his own father.
In Familiaris Consortio the Holy Father even says that the Christian family not only forms children of God but that it is the first and most excellent seminary:
“The family must educate the children for life in such a way that each one may fully perform his or her role according to the vocation received from God. Indeed, the family that is open to transcendent values […] and is aware of its daily sharing in the mystery of the glorious Cross of Christ, becomes the primary and most excellent seed-bed of vocations to a life of consecration” (FC 53).
These are weighty and highly relevant words. In the middle of the crass materialism in which we are living in today’s society, where the existence of God is often denied and opposed to in a systematic way, families have a role similar to a “greenhouse,” in which plants are protected from the cold. Following the Council, John Paul II called the family “the domestic Church,” where virtues are learned and the negative influences of the world are neutralized.
In this spiritual uterus, “All members of the family, each according to his or her own gift, have the grace and responsibility of building, day by day, the communion of persons”… where there is an “educational exchange between parents and children, in which each gives and receives. By means of love, respect and obedience towards their parents” (FC n. 21).
This reality, which we experienced in our own families, can be verified as well in the religious family. Just as St. Thomas spoke of the family as a spiritual uterus, this image can be applied analogically to one’s own Congregation, to our Religious Family:
In the name of Christ, we desire to be a religious family:
- In which its members are willing to live radically the demands of the Incarnation, the Cross, the Sermon on the Mount and the Last Supper;
- Where the humbleness of Nazarethand Calvary can be lived;
- Where one can enter into the secrets of Tabor and Gethsemane;
- Where the paternity of the Father is experienced, as well as the brotherhood of the Son, and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit;
so that we can love each other as sons of the same Father, brothers of the same Son and temples of the same Holy Spirit, that we may form one heart and soul (Acts 4:32). (Const. n. 20).
The Congregation, our dear religious family: is she not our mother, who gave birth to our spiritual life?
It is where God has called us, summoning us in a particular way from many corners of the world, with a common mission to fulfill.
It is where where we receive all the supernatural means for our spiritual growth. The Congregation, as a true Mother, nourishes us through grace and instructs us in our spiritual life. She is the mother that formed us, where we learned about the bi-millennium Magisterium of the Church, St. Thomas and the doctors and saints of every age.
Where, through a proper style of life, according to our charism, we support and encourage one another in the journey towards holiness (Cf. Const. n. 92).
From our brothers and sisters we constantly receive – as if by osmosis – the good examples and stimulation to practice virtue in the following of our call and the fulfillment of our mission.
This reality creates unmeasurably profound ties; just as “Who is my Mother and who are my brothers?”, the Lord asks, “The one who does the will of my Father, who is in Heaven, this is my brother, my sister and my mother” (Mt 12, 59). This is what forms us as “one heart and one soul” (At 4, 32).
Therefore, it is from theological motives, and not accidental or folkloric motives, that we have such a deep love for our religious family.
This reflection makes me think of our fathers and sisters in the Middle East, who continue to be in the midst of a prolonged and bloody war, surrounded by numerous dangers, who ask to stay for the sole reason of accompanying the people of their mission.
I think of the fathers and sisters who are dedicated to works of charity, caring for Christ in the poor and sick. In particular, our sisters who attend lepers under extremely difficulty circumstances.
I think of our missionary fathers and sisters in the jungles of Guyana, Papua New Guinea and Africa.
I think of those that mission in the steppes of Russia, and among the Muslims in Central Asia.
I think of those who work in the freezing climates of the North, and in the plateaus of the South.
I continuously think about those who are preparing to mission in the great nation of China.
I think of those serving Christ in the poor and marginalized of the great modern cities.
I think of those that endeavor to announce Christ among the agnostic and hostile Christophobic world.
I think of our contemplative monks and sisters, hidden in the cloisters, who daily offer themselves and their prayers for us, making a continuous oblation of their lives.
I think of our seminarians and in our sisters in our houses of formation who dream of their future missions. I think of our novices and minor seminarians as well as in the aspirants.
I think of our Religious brothers, who humbly serve others in a hidden way.
I think of those religious who are sick, who draw down the grace of God. I think of the elderly, the disabled and the orphaned in our homes.
I think of all the deceased members of our Religious Family who while they intercede for us they await us in heaven…
I think of our families. It has been said and with good reason that the strength of our religious family in a certain sense comes from the families of our religious, by means of their fidelity to God, by their example of prayer for and commitment to the Church and our Institutes.
This is our mother, our dear family, to whom we all belong and in which we desire to die, because she has born us and will lead us to our celestial homeland!
This is the mother that we love because besides the Scriptures warn us: “those who insult their mother are accursed by the Lord” (Sir 3, 16).
Today let us make our own the prayer of the martyrs of Barbastro (Spain):
I will shout at the top of my lungs, and in our passionate cries deduce, dear Congregation, the love that we have for you, as we carry you in our memories even to these sorrow regions void of Christ (…) Beloved Congregation! Your children, missionaries throughout the world, greet you from their exile and offer you their sorrowful anguish as an expiatory holocaust for our deficiencies and in witness to our faithful, generous and everlasting love. Long live the Congregation! And when it is our time to leave, we will say: Goodbye, beloved Institute. We are going to heaven to pray for you. Goodbye! Goodbye!
The Pope of the family, St. John Paul II, is the Father of our religious family. Let us especially ask him today to intercede for our religious family. Let us ask him to intercede for all of our families. “May the Blessed Virgin Mary, who is Mother of the Church, also be Mother of the ‘domestic Church’” (FC 86)
 Pope Francis: homily of the canonization of John Paul II 27-IV-14.
 cf. George Weigel, Witness to Hope, 1999, pp. 31-32.
 Cf. Familiaris Consortio n. 21; Lumen Gentium n. 11.