Two Saints: St John Paul II and St Maria de la Purisima meet during the Pontiff's visit to Seville
There are so many things we could reflect on today, the feast of St John Paul II. Given recent events we could launch into his teaching on marriage and the family, his theology of the body, his reflections on the nature of sex and its theological significance. However, there is one thing missing from all the talking at the Synod and it is that theme which was central to the teachings of the Second Vatican Council, the reason for the Church, the motivation of the Church and the element which was to inspire the laity, clergy and religious to renew and was the basis of renewal: the universal call to holiness.
The more I read St John Paul's writings on the nature of man the more I see him pointing in one direction - to sainthood - not as an unreachable ideal but as the ordinary state of a human being: anything less than that is not fully human. A theme the Synod should have looked at is the family as the seed-ground of holiness, the forum in which spouses and children learn authentic heroism. The Christian Marriage is all about heroism, hence Christ's seeing the need to make it a sacrament.
As a Pole John Paul loved his Saints, and I suppose that is another reason why God chose him to be Pope. His philosophy and theology were no mere academic ruminations, but the fruit of prayer, observation, listening and reflection. As he listened to the experiences of married couples he could see their joys and struggles in the context of faith and our human destiny, and he realised that it was all about holiness - the struggle for holiness, rejoicing in holiness, celebrating holiness, propagating holiness through word, example and, yes, sacrifice. It was the Pauline race for the laurels that never fade, it was carrying the disciple's cross to the summit, it was being transformed through vision of Mount Tabor accessed through prayer.
St John Paul II encouraged us all to strive to be Saints, not to engage in a fantasy, but to finally open our eyes and see what Christ was getting at. "Can you not see?", he said to his disciples time and time again - not that they had to see that we are weak and need to wallow in that weakness and cry mercy as an excuse, but rather we see that we can be strong in faith: we need to get up off our beds, open our eyes, lose the baggage and open ourselves to the grace that transforms. Sadly, so many Christians do not see this. Comfortably wedged into the bare minimum or, worse, respectable Christianity, we have lost the ability to see.
To celebrate St John Paul's feast well, we need only remember that where he has gone we are called also to follow. As the psalm says "Holiness is fitting for your House, O Lord" and indeed it is: the Church is the House of the Lord and it is to filled with holy people, and if we are not holy yet, then we must strive to be, and support each other on that path. I am beginning to think that the greatest enemies of the Church are actually those within who discourage holiness, who tell people that they just fine as they are because God loves them. They are wrecking Christ's plan of salvation for all of us. Yes, we all fall, but we must get up if we are to have any chance. To be fully human is to be a Saint.
Happy feast day to you all.
St John Paul and Blessed Teresa of Calcutta