Celebrating Easter and Pope John Paul II

| April 28, 2011
Archbishop Nienstedt

Archbishop John C. Nienstedt

Easter is such a great feast in the life of the church that we are given eight days to celebrate it and another 42 days to ponder its meaning.

At least 643 persons entered the church in this archdiocese at the recent Easter Vigil, either as catechumens (those who had never been baptized) or as candidates for full communion in the Catholic Church (Christians who were baptized in a Christian denomination other than Cath­olic).

What a grace that is for all of us! But we cannot take the presence of these new members of Christ’s body for granted. Our brothers and sisters now begin what is called a period of “Mystagogia,” that is, a period of reflecting upon what has just happened to them through the reception of the sacraments.

Time of transition

However, it is also a time of transition for these new converts into the “normal” life of being a Catholic. Those of us who have lived that life for years need to be attentive to these new brothers and sisters. Their time in the RCIA has given them a support group to affirm and sustain them. Suddenly, that support is gone and they can feel adrift with no one to look after them. It is up to the parish community to make sure that does not happen.

Thus, the period of “Mystagogia” is essential for integrating our new converts into the life of the church.

Inspired by pope

There is, moreover, a uniqueness to this year’s Easter octave.  Not only will it culminate on Divine Mercy Sunday, as it does every year, but on this same Sunday this year the church will celebrate the beatification of the Servant of God, Pope John Paul II.

Because I worked for him for five years in the Vatican and since he called me to be a bishop 15 years ago, I plan to go to Rome for this event.  In many ways, I continue to be inspired by the late pontiff’s apostolic energy and I strive to model my life as a bishop on his.

His legacy, of course, is huge.  Some of the things for which he is best remembered:

» His apostolic visits: Pope John Paul II saw the world as his parish.  These visits took him literally to every corner of the globe (he visited the USA five times), throughout Italy and among the many parishes in Rome. It has been said that he was seen in person by more people than any other figure in history.

» World Youth Day: I was privileged to be the pope’s English speaker in St. Peter’s Square for the very first World Youth Day in 1985. No doubt inspired by his outdoor travels with college students as a young priest, the Holy Father gathered young people in various countries for a pilgrimage of worship, catechesis and public witness to the Gospel. Here young Catholic men and women could share their faith openly, knowing what a blessing it is to be a Catholic in the world today.

» Saints for our times: Knowing that young adults need heroes and heroines to admire, Pope John Paul canonized 482 saints and 1,338 blessed, giving the church outstanding models of holiness and humanity.

Once criticized for declaring so many saints, the pope replied, “Is it my fault that God has raised up so many virtuous figures in our day?”  His own witness to evangelical holiness inspired countless vocations to the priesthood and religious life.  These young priests and religious are known as the “John Paul II generation.”

» Theology of the Body: Recognizing the moral confusion that resulted from the sexual revolution of the ‘60s and ‘70s, Pope John Paul proposed a new way of appreciating the inviolable dignity of human life and the beauty of married love. In this new grammar of life and love, the Holy Father shared that “from the beginning,” man is called to use his capacity to know and to love as a search for the “other,” seeking not self-satisfaction but rather self-gift.

The fundamental meaning of sexual difference provides for the union of a man and a woman in a true communion of persons, a communion which results not only in the total gift of self that is marriage, but also leads to virginity and celibacy.

» Apostolate of reconciliation: I was in the Vatican the day the Holy Father was shot by Mehmet Ali Agca, looking down on St. Peter’s Square as the ambulance rushed him to the Gemelli hospital.  Months later, photos hit the media of the pope sitting with his would-be assassin in a jail cell, telling him he had been for­given.

At the same time, the passion of his preaching on the inherent dignity of man and his right to freedom of worship was already beginning to galvanize the Solidarity Movement in his native Poland, a country which would soon witness the downfall of Communism and the break-up of the Soviet Union. Here was a man of God who was not afraid to speak the truth in and to the public square.

Local celebration

A special celebration to honor the new Blessed will be held at the Church of the Holy Cross in northeast Minneapolis. A prayer service will be held on Sunday, May 1, at 1 p.m. in the church, preceded by a eucharistic procession and followed by a program in the Pope John Paul II Catholic School.

Praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet will conclude the celebration and that will take place in the Church of All Saints at 3 p.m.

Recently, Pope Benedict XVI said of his predecessor:

“John Paul was a great scholar and great apostle of Christ. God chose him for the Chair of Peter and granted him long life in order that he might accompany the church into the third millennium. By his example, he guided us all in pilgrimage and continues to do so from above.”

Blessed John Paul, intercede for us!  God love you!

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Category: Only Jesus

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