Last year on this day, my parish celebrated a special Mass to mark the first feast day of Blessed John Paul II. Below is part of my homily for that occasion. It remains a personal favorite of mine. Blessed John Paul, pray for us! — DGK
He was a typical village priest. He said mass, heard confessions, presided at baptisms and weddings and funerals. He founded a small youth group that quickly became so popular, it grew from 20 people to 200. He took students hiking, kayaking and skiing. While he was kayaking on the lakes of northern Poland, he got word that Pope Pius XII had named him a bishop. He was 38 years old. Karol Wojtyla refused to cut short his trip. He kept on paddling.
And so it began. This is how he began the path to sainthood. His was a life spent not only gazing toward the heavens, but also kissing the earth. He picked up those who fell and rescued those in need and risked his life for what he knew to be true. He saw hardship, and hate, and hope. He shared joys and sorrows, struggles and fears. And he saw God’s mercy at work, in sins that were forgiven and faith that was restored.
So it was that 33 years ago today, on an autumn morning in 1978, he stood before the world and said with clarity and conviction: “Do not be afraid.” They were the first words of his first homily as pope. They were words that he had lived.
This day, we remember where they came from.
And we remember, too, that greatness often begins in unexpected places.
Blessed John Paul had his own Nazareth. But so do we all. Maybe it’s an apartment in Queens. It might be a hospital in Brooklyn, or split-level on Long Island, or a shelter in the Bronx. But it is still Nazareth: the place where life is lived, where we are formed day-by-day, where we learn and grow and love.
These are the places where God’s plan unfolds.
He has a plan for each of us – just as He did for Karol Wojtyla.
So, on this, his first feast day, we recall that lonely boy from Wadowice, that poet in Krakow, that laborer in the mines, that priest in the kayak paddling against the current. We pray for his intercession, and his companionship. We ask him to be with us, to guide us, to be a reminder to us of God’s infinite mercy.
And we ask him to help us remember the words that gave light to world hidden in darkness — words that angels spoke to shepherds two thousand years ago, and that then echoed in our own age, from Rome to Gdansk to Manila to Denver to New York.
They are words of boundless hope.
This is the message of Blessed John Paul — the message he learned as Karol Wojtyla: no matter how lonely, how isolated, how persecuted, how endangered we might feel…no matter how wide the world or how great our challenges…a merciful God is with us. He calls on us still to remember that.
“Do not be afraid.”