For the Church as a whole, the event provided yet another global opportunity for Pope Francis to advance the work of the new evangelization. For me, John Paul II has been one of my heroes for decades; so this felt very personal indeed! In fact, I received the Sacrament of Confirmation right around the time he became pope, and my gradual, sometimes circuitous process of conversion unfolded along with his historic papacy.
John Paul's commissioning of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and his encyclical letter on The Gospel of Life, among other magisterial works, proved to be pivotal in my intellectual and spiritual journey. In addition, his brilliant insights on the "Theology of the Body" crystallized truths which Pope Paul VI had articulated and which had already started shaping my own marriage and family. His devotion to our Blessed Mother and his courageous witness to Hope--as well as his critique of the cancerous culture of death and his call for a civilization of love--helped me navigate my own path of Christian discipleship. His commitment to the revelation of Divine Mercy confirmed and concretized my own experiences of God's grace offered in the Person of Jesus, through the ministry of his Church.
Perhaps above all, however, John Paul's call for a "new evangelization" continues to lift up and transform my heart. In the face of challenges posed by a post-modern culture intent on washing countless souls away from their Savior, Jesus' blunt question seems less and less rhetorical: "When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Lk 18:8). But, thanks to the countless everyday evangelizers who are embracing the baptismal call to holiness, I definitely see signs of the "new springtime" which JPII envisioned.
If John Paul II was more like an intellectual and pastoral mentor for me, then John XXIII feels more like a spiritual father. But since I was born after the close of Vatican II, he is a father I never knew personally. Nonetheless, both my lived-experience of daily Mass (in the vernacular, of course) and my understanding of the lay vocation to holiness in the world have been shaped by the Council called by J23.
Many people have rightly noted that good Pope John's goal was to open the doors of the Church not so the Church could become more like the world, but so the Church could bring the Light of Christ to the world. John XXIII understood the need to propose the fullness of the faith to the modern world, and the opening paragraph of Lumen Gentium still rings true today: "Christ is the light of all nations....By her relationship with Christ, the Church is a kind of sacrament of intimate union with God, and of the unity of all mankind" (LG, n. 1).
Of course, like any spiritual father, Pope John XXIII ultimately reminds me of the gratuitous generosity, the perennial wisdom, and the boundless mercy of God the Father. He managed to model this for the world--much as John Paul II did--because he had formed his life in imitation of Jesus, the Love of the Father in the flesh.
John courageously inaugurated and John Paul definitively interpreted Vatican II. John called the whole Church to Rome, and John Paul brought the Roman Catholic Church to the whole world. Each of them was like "the head of a household who brings from his storeroom both the new and the old" (Mt 13:52): that is, they fearlessly brought the light of the Gospel to bear on the most difficult questions of the day. They also helped reposition the Church to be able to address the deepest needs of the human person, by focusing on the primacy of God's grace.
These two holy brothers modeled a profound love of the same Mother. They also helped renew a missionary Church which is once again showing signs of being as young as it was in the upper room on Pentecost. May these words of John XXIII be our prayer for the new evangelization:
"Consult not your fears but your hopes and your dreams.
Think not about your frustrations,
but about your unfulfilled potential.
Concern yourself not with what you tried and failed in,
but with what it is still possible for you to do."
Ss. John XXIII and John Paul II, pray for us!
P.S. For a "treasure trove" of reflections on these newest saints of the Church, check out the USCCB's webpage.