Benedict XVI’s sermon for the beatification: “turning back with the strength of a titan – a strength which came to him from God – a tide which appeared irreversible”

B. John Paul IIThe Holy Father’s sermon for the beatification of Bl. John Paul II.

Benedict XVI does not do many beatifications.  He has delegated them to others, for the sake of underscoring that a beatification is not an infallible act.

We join the Pope in medias res, after the less substantive introductory section.

My emphases and comments.


“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe” (Jn 20:29). In today’s Gospel Jesus proclaims this beatitude: [Note how the Holy Father uses one sense of “beatitude” to interpret other senses.] the beatitude of faith. For us, it is particularly striking because we are gathered to celebrate a beatification, but even more so because today the one proclaimed blessed is a Pope, a Successor of Peter, one who was called to confirm his brethren in the faith. [And so Benedict ties in the late-Pope’s vocation, given by God, that is, an important element of his job description.  Then he answers a question … :] John Paul II is blessed because of his faith, a strong, generous and apostolic faith. [He spoke above of “beatitude of faith”.] We think at once of another beatitude: “Blessed are you, Simon, son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven” (Mt 16:17). What did our heavenly Father reveal to Simon? That Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. Because of this faith, Simon becomes Peter, the rock on which Jesus can build his Church. The eternal beatitude of John Paul II, which today the Church rejoices to proclaim, is wholly contained in these sayings of Jesus: [1] “Blessed are you, Simon” and [2] “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe!” It is the beatitude of faith, which John Paul II also received as a gift from God the Father for the building up of Christ’s Church. [So, John Paul is “blessed” in the sense that his life manifested the “beatitude of faith” and, in doing so, strengthened the brethren.]Our thoughts turn to yet another beatitude, one which appears in the Gospel before all others. It is the beatitude of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of the Redeemer. [The term “redeemer” is a common thread in John Paul’s encyclicals and thought.] Mary, who had just conceived Jesus, was told by Saint Elizabeth: “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord” (Lk 1:45). The beatitude of faith has its model in Mary, and all of us rejoice that the beatification of John Paul II takes place on this first day of the month of Mary, beneath the maternal gaze of the one who by her faith sustained the faith of the Apostles and constantly sustains the faith of their successors, especially those called to occupy the Chair of Peter. Mary does not appear in the accounts of Christ’s resurrection, yet hers is, as it were, a continual, hidden presence: she is the Mother to whom Jesus entrusted each of his disciples and the entire community. In particular we can see how Saint John and Saint Luke record the powerful, maternal presence of Mary in the passages preceding those read in today’s Gospel and first reading. In the account of Jesus’ death, Mary appears at the foot of the cross (Jn 19:25), and at the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles she is seen in the midst of the disciples gathered in prayer in the Upper Room (Acts 1:14).

Today’s second reading also speaks to us of faith. Saint Peter himself, filled with spiritual enthusiasm, points out to the newly-baptized the reason for their hope and their joy. I like to think how in this passage, at the beginning of his First Letter, Peter does not use language of exhortation; instead, he states a fact. He writes: “you rejoice”, and he adds: “you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Pet 1:6, 8-9). All these verbs are in the indicative, because a new reality has come about in Christ’s resurrection, a reality to which faith opens the door. “This is the Lord’s doing”, says the Psalm (118:23), and “it is marvelous in our eyes”, the eyes of faith.

Dear brothers and sisters, today our eyes behold, in the full spiritual light of the risen Christ, the beloved and revered figure of John Paul II. Today his name is added to the host of those whom he proclaimed saints and blesseds during the almost twenty-seven years of his pontificate, thereby forcefully emphasizing the universal vocation to the heights of the Christian life, to holiness, taught by the conciliar Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium. All of us, as members of the people of God – bishops, priests, deacons, laity, men and women religious – are making our pilgrim way to the heavenly homeland where the Virgin Mary has preceded us, associated as she was in a unique and perfect way to the mystery of Christ and the Church. Karol Wojtyla took part in the Second Vatican Council, first as an auxiliary Bishop and then as Archbishop of Kraków. He was fully aware that the Council’s decision to devote the last chapter of its Constitution on the Church to Mary meant that the Mother of the Redeemer is held up as an image and model of holiness for every Christian and for the entire Church. This was the theological vision which Blessed John Paul II discovered as a young man and subsequently maintained and deepened throughout his life. A vision which is expressed in the scriptural image of the crucified Christ with Mary, his Mother, at his side. This icon from the Gospel of John (19:25-27) was taken up in the episcopal and later the papal coat-of-arms of Karol Wojtyla: a golden cross with the letter “M” on the lower right and the motto “Totus tuus”, drawn from the well-known words of Saint Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort in which Karol Wojtyla found a guiding light for his life: “Totus tuus ego sum et omnia mea tua sunt. Accipio te in mea omnia. Praebe mihi cor tuum, Maria – I belong entirely to you, and all that I have is yours. I take you for my all. O Mary, give me your heart” (Treatise on True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin, 266).

In his Testament, the new Blessed wrote: “When, on 16 October 1978, the Conclave of Cardinals chose John Paul II, the Primate of Poland, Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski, said to me: ‘The task of the new Pope will be to lead the Church into the Third Millennium’”. And the Pope added: “I would like once again to express my gratitude to the Holy Spirit for the great gift of the Second Vatican Council, to which, together with the whole Church – and especially with the whole episcopate – I feel indebted. I am convinced that it will long be granted to the new generations to draw from the treasures that this Council of the twentieth century has lavished upon us. As a Bishop who took part in the Council from the first to the last day, I desire to entrust this great patrimony to all who are and will be called in the future to put it into practice. For my part, I thank the Eternal Shepherd, who has enabled me to serve this very great cause in the course of all the years of my Pontificate”.

And what is this “cause”? It is the same one that John Paul II presented during his first solemn Mass in Saint Peter’s Square in the unforgettable words: “Do not be afraid! Open, open wide the doors to Christ!” What the newly-elected Pope asked of everyone, he was himself the first to do: society, culture, political and economic systems he opened up to Christ, [NB] turning back with the strength of a titan – a strength which came to him from God – a tide which appeared irreversible. By his witness of faith, love and apostolic courage, accompanied by great human charisma, this exemplary son of Poland helped believers throughout the world not to be afraid to be called Christian, to belong to the Church, to speak of the Gospel. In a word: he helped us not to fear the truth, because truth is the guarantee of liberty. To put it even more succinctly: he gave us the strength to believe in Christ, because Christ is Redemptor hominis, the Redeemer of man. This was the theme of his first encyclical, and the thread which runs though all the others.

When Karol Wojtyla ascended to the throne of Peter, he brought with him a deep understanding of the difference between Marxism and Christianity, based on their respective visions of man. This was his message: man is the way of the Church, and Christ is the way of man. With this message, which is the great legacy of the Second Vatican Council [And something which the young Polish bishop helped add to the Council’s Gaudium et spes in especially par. 22.] and of its “helmsman”, the Servant of God Pope Paul VI, John Paul II led the People of God across the threshold of the Third Millennium, which thanks to Christ he was able to call “the threshold of hope”. Throughout the long journey of preparation for the great Jubilee he directed Christianity once again to the future, the future of God, which transcends history while nonetheless directly affecting it. He rightly reclaimed for Christianity that impulse of hope which had in some sense faltered before Marxism and the ideology of progress. [We still have a lot to do.] He restored to Christianity its true face as a religion of hope, to be lived in history in an “Advent” spirit, in a personal and communitarian existence directed to Christ, the fullness of humanity and the fulfillment of all our longings for justice and peace.

Finally, on a more personal note, I would like to thank God for the gift of having worked for many years with Blessed Pope John Paul II. I had known him earlier and had esteemed him, but for twenty-three years, beginning in 1982 after he called me to Rome to be Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, I was at his side and came to revere him all the more. My own service was sustained by his spiritual depth and by the richness of his insights. His example of prayer continually impressed and edified me: he remained deeply united to God even amid the many demands of his ministry. Then too, there was his witness in suffering: the Lord gradually stripped him of everything, yet he remained ever a “rock”, as Christ desired. His profound humility, grounded in close union with Christ, enabled him to continue to lead the Church and to give to the world a message which became all the more eloquent as his physical strength declined. In this way he lived out in an extraordinary way the vocation of every priest and bishop to become completely one with Jesus, whom he daily receives and offers in the Eucharist.

Blessed are you, beloved Pope John Paul II, because you believed! Continue, we implore you, to sustain from heaven the faith of God’s people.

[The Holy Father added off the cuff in my translation: “Many times you blessed us in this square from that palace, today we beg you, Holy Father, to bless us.]


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. I’m looking forward to viewing the Beautification Ceremony at 7 PM.
    Thank you, Fr. Z., for this commentary.
    Blessed John Paul II, pray for us!

  2. LorrieRob says:

    This is a beautiful posting. Today (as a new convert) I attended my first Chaplet of Divine Mercy. There is so much richness to the Catholic faith and a lifetime-however long that may be-to take it in. Today for the first time I was deeply moved by Tantum Ergo-for the first time absorbing its meaning and beauty and appreciating its history…I guess I will have to learn a little Latin :-)

  3. Did anyone else notice that midway through his homily, Pope Benedict suddenly started speaking in what sounded like Polish? It continued for several sentences. Perhaps this was off the cuff too?

    The whole Mass was incredibly beautiful, though I was quite disappointed in EWTN’s coverage. Besides cutting out before the final recessional, Raymond Arroyo would not stop yacking. He talked right through the Credo and Gloria, then said “now we’ll return to St. Peter’s Square and let you enjoy the music.” Well, by that time it was already over! Vatican Radio commentators, while still ocassionally annoying, do a much better job.

  4. Random Friar says:

    At the English OF Mass, using EP III, I made darn sure to add “St. Maria Faustina Kowalska and Bl. John Paul II.”

  5. William says:

    EtVerbumCaro: try this site next time It’s in French but “yacking” is minimal. They video and live all big events from Rome.

  6. benedetta says:

    I liked all of it. The paragraph about the reading from St. Peter really has a resonance in light of the enthusiasm JPII himself so easily and happily conveyed.

  7. Geoffrey says:

    The homily and Mass were beautiful. I agree about EWTN’s coverage. I would have preferred to hear the solemn pronouncement in Latin, and then enjoy the special hymn that was sung immediately after, and just enjoy the moment. I could barely hear any of it. Luckily, a portion of it has been posted:

  8. Brad says:

    What beautiful thoughts and words! Of course the rose in the bouquet is the Madonna and any mention of her, like water to a planet of parched souls.

  9. teaguytom says:

    I loved the set-up, with Holy Father’s throne set up under the canopy on the steps decked out in red and violet. I thought it was also a great idea to emphasize that clapping and flag waving were to refrained from during the actual mass. It helped to keep the emotionalism down that was prevalent at Blessed JP2’s funeral such as the Swing and Sway with Papa J with the flags and cheers. That way everyone can focus on Christ in the Eucharist.
    I also second the link to ktotv. They cover all major papal events and are not annoying with the voiceover.

  10. RichardT says:

    Has he been beatified? Splendid.

    I hadn’t realised – the British newspapers stil have no room for anything except last Friday’s wedding.

  11. Lori Pieper says:

    I stayed up practically all night to watch all 4 hours of it. It was beautiful, all of it, the pilgrims, the hymn, the awesome picture of the Blessed (just how I remember him from his early days), but the Holy Father’s homily was especially beautiful.

    Am I the only one, or did I sense a bit of defiance twoard JPII’s nay-saying critics in the Pope’s opening words, where he pointed out that the beatification “came quickly because it is pleasing to the Lord!” He could almost have added: “So there!”

    (Not that Benedict every really does stuff like that, but he must have been been tempted).

  12. TNCath says:

    This homily just goes to show the world how close Blessed Pope John Paul II was to our present Holy Father. Were it not for Blessed Pope John Paul, there would never have been a Pope Benedict XVI. Deo gratias! How I wish I could have been there for the ceremony and for lunch at Roberto’s afterwards just to hear what was said afterwards.

  13. restoration says:

    Well, at least altar girls now have a patron saint, right?

    The emperor who had no clothes was still telling people about the “new springtime” right up until his death. He stubbornly refused to acknowledge the collapse of the Church in country after country and instead mused about the mythical springtime in the Church. Meanwhile, secularism, militant feminism and homosexuality closed in around us–often within our own parishes, seminaries and dioceses.

    I don’t understand why the current Holy Father perpetuates the fiction of the “new springtime” instead of the nuclear winter that is a reality for most faithful Catholics.

    Beatifying a naked emperor still leaves him naked or as Christopher West might say, Naked without Shame.

  14. Geoffrey says:

    ‘Am I the only one, or did I sense a bit of defiance twoard JPII’s nay-saying critics in the Pope’s opening words, where he pointed out that the beatification “came quickly because it is pleasing to the Lord!” He could almost have added: “So there!”’

    I noticed that too! George Weigel said something like there are two camps who oppose this beatification: progressive Catholics who hate him for not turning the Catholic Church into another Protestant denomination, and traditionalists who hate him for “not repealing the 20th century”. God’s Will be done!

    And I didn’t go to bed until after 4am PT. Well worth it!

    Beate Ioannes Paule Magne, ora pro nobis!

  15. Bragging is not a good thing, yeah?
    I just have to, though, with this beautification.
    Cardinal Burke was ordained a bishop by Blessed John Paul II.
    Cardinal Burke ordained me a priest in 2003.
    I am proud, privileged and humbled to be a priest according to the order of Melchizedek in the lineage of Blessed Pope John Paul II.
    It is both an honor and a challenge for me.
    I am sure many of my brethren can claim the same.
    But I am most humbled and honored by this. Praised be Jesus Christ!

  16. Tom Piatak says:

    An excellent commentary on the beatification of John Paul II, focusing on some of the ideas expressed by the Holy Father in his commentary today:

  17. @restoration: I *hope* I’m a ‘faithful Catholic’, and I sure don’t see any “nuclear winter”. My parish is OF, but it’s very orthodox and takes the faith very seriously … lots of confession times, regular reminders about the Sacrament of Reconciliation in the homilies. Now maybe I have an especially nice parish, but even the other parish I’ve gone to regularly doesn’t get close to “nuclear winter” levels…

  18. Fr_Sotelo says:


    Do “faithful Catholics” have the custom of referring to a new Blessed with a term like the “emperor with no clothes?” And if “faithful Catholics” show that type of respect to those things usually regarded as sacred in Church Tradition, what gives them any right to whine and complain about the “nuclear winter?” Their attitude is part of the problem, part of the radioactivity, if you will.

    I don’t think Blessed John Paul was blind to the collapse of faith; unlike most of us, he lived under Communism, within a day’s travel of the Soviet border, and would have seen apostasy in his own native land, well before Vatican II could be blamed for such defections. But this Blessed knew also that to combat the allure of Communism, the Church in Poland (and elsewhere) could not run around crying and pouting and broadcasting its losses and defections.

    As Pope, John Paul II had to encourage and uplift the faithful with the Good News of Jesus Christ our Lord. Speaking for myself, having grown up under Paul VI and hearing the incessant dirge, the whine about the collapse all around us, and the smoke of Satan, and “wow, we’re so screwed up, who would want to be Catholic any more” I was ready for a bold and exuberant leader. I was ready for a man who sucked it up, had already gone to hell and back in his own life, and explained to the world why Christ was the best answer to the worse problems of the sin-sick soul.

    Even if the Church were in a nuclear winter, we don’t get out of it by throwing that in people’s faces. They have plenty of their own problems to deal with–they don’t Popes, bishops, and priests ranting about their hard luck life. The “new springtime” was a way for the Blessed to speak of Christian hope (a virtue last time I looked it up) and what can happen in the Church when we turn back to Christ and live the life of Christian perfection. Six years after his death and 1.5 million people making a trip to Rome for his beatification, I would say the message had its impact.

  19. Centristian says:

    Do “faithful Catholics” have the custom of referring to a new Blessed with a term like the “emperor with no clothes?”

    I’ll bet the devil’s advocate at his continuing cause will have plenty of objections about the late pontiff to verbalize, too, perhaps many that are much more painful to confront than a breezy remark referencing the emperor’s new clothes. That man will be a faithful Catholic, nevertheless.

    Sometimes, persons with legitimate criticisms of Pope John Paul II and his pontificate are assailed as “detractors”, “nay-sayers”, or even have their Catholic credentials questioned, outright. I’m not saying that you are doing that, Father Sotelo; I’m now referencing the broader selection of remarks I have read posted to this blog heading, and elsewhere.

    Pope John Paul II is not, for every Catholic, the light of the world. That isn’t his role, in any case. For some he always was and remains something of a question mark. And Catholics may feel that way about him and still be Catholics in good standing. For some, he will always be “JP2: we love you!!!” For others, he is merely the deceased last pope, one of many deceased popes.

    One thing I would not care to see happen is the use of John Paul II’s beatification as some sort of litmus-test of Catholic fidelity: those who were all for it were the good Catholics, and those who found themselves troubled by it, the bad ones. That’s all wrong. There are good Catholics who wish Pope John Paul II would have reigned another 20 years…and there are good Catholics who will not miss his pontificate, at all.

    Pope John Paul II is but one notable personality amongst so many in the history of the papacy, and the history of the Church. No Catholic ought to be judged according to whether or not he was particularly enthused by him or by his beatification.

  20. Ignatius says:

    Outstanding homily and commentary by Fr. Z.
    And Fr. Sotelo: you nailed it on the head!
    Best regards,

  21. BruceBarker says:

    The detractors are technically correct that a beatification is a matter of human opinion, and on non-definitive issues we may have our own. However, as a matter of prudence it should at least give them pause if they think their judgment is better than the judgments of the historical and theological experts who weighed the matter of his life and virtues, and especially if they think it better than the Pope’s, whose grace of vocation, after all, must count for something, even when not exercising the charism of infallibility.

    However, they should perhaps be looking to the future and steeling themselves for the day when John Paul II is canonized. The grace of infallibility will attend that act if it occurs, with the obligation of faith to recognize it and of religion to venerate.

  22. Fr_Sotelo says:

    Centristian: I did not criticize Restoration for objecting to elements of Blessed John Paul’s pontificate; in fact, I sense that I would agree with Restoration on a critical look at some of the Blessed’s decisions as pope. And if you or anyone doesn’t want to do hand springs of joy over the beatification of John Paul, that is fine.

    But I don’t understand, nor do I accept, this attitude that outside of a canonization, it is still a free for all as far as how you address the character and reputation of a person now elevated for local veneration–and this by a solemn act of the Pope. It smacks of the same mocking that liberals give “Humanae Vitae” because, after all, “it is not yet considered ex cathedra.”

    Traditional Catholics also have it ingrained in the upbringing of a good Catholic home that you don’t mess with persons accorded public veneration, whether Blesseds or Saints, because “you are messing with God.” Canonization and infallibility are matters that theologians can squabble about, but the average Catholic need only be concerned that the Pope calls us to show honor to those whom he has honored with either beatification or canonization. I was raised that regardless of what you thought of a Blessed or Saint, such a decision of the Pope deserved your public deference and respect, or your well-mannered silence.

    Shall we start making up new rules as we go along, rules which show a double standard? I still remember referring to “Marcel” and being excoriated by a poster who asked why I didn’t say “His Grace” or “the Archbishop” (it was an oversight on my part, no disrespect intended). But now a man can be declared Blessed and we refer to him as the emperor who had no clothes on–a term which is derisive and which no devil’s advocate would use publicly.

    What’s next? Pio the Idiot instead of Blessed Pius IX? Miguel the Wetback instead of Blessed Miguel Pro? I am not asking people to agree with every decision made by a Blessed or even a Saint in their lifetime. I am not asking any one to agree or be happy with every act of beatification. But I am asking for manners, and the etiquette which at one time was so obvious it needed no discussion. Would it be the end of the world, for instance, to say “Blessed John Paul” instead of continuing to refer to him as John Paul, as if no Pope had beatified him?

  23. The Remnant has issued a call to “pray for the soul of Pope John Paul II”…
    I am very sorry to have read this.
    Somehow, with all due respect to those involved, who are in good faith, I must presume, this is not good news…in fact…it could show some kind of break with the Church of Rome. I hope this is not the case.
    But in questioning the process of beautification, and then calling for the faithful to “pray for the soul of Pope John Paul II” is very indication of a schismatic attitude. The Holy Spirit guides the Church, the Holy Father. If you question this, if you call for some kind of repudiation of his acts, this is not good. Not good at all.

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