Canonization of Bl. Jan Sarkander and Bl. Zdislava of Lemberk Olomouc, Czechoslovakia

Author: Pope John Paul II


Pope John Paul II

Given on May 21, 1995 at canonization of Blesseds of Lemberk Olomouc, Czechoslovakia

1. "I go away, and I will come to you" (cf. Jn 14:28).

Jesus speaks these words in the Upper Room on the day before his death. They contain in briefest summary the paschal event: his departure through his Death on the Cross and his coming again in the Resurrection.

But the setting of today's Gospel also points to another dimension.

After the Resurrection, on the 40th day, Christ will leave the Apostles and return to the Father. This final departure is at the same time the condition for a further presence, which will last from generation to generation, according to Christ's own words: "I am with you always, to the close of the age" (Mt 28:20).

"I am with you" means: I am with the Church built on you, and I come always in the power of the Holy Spirit. This coming takes many forms: in the words of the Gospel, in the sacraments, especially in the Eucharist, in the mysterious indwelling in the heart through grace. It is to this last coming that the words we have just listened to refer: "If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him" (Jn 14:23).

Love enables people to dwell spiritually in one another. This is true at the human level; and it happens in an even deeper way at the divine-human level. "If a man loves me ... my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him" (Jn 14:23). Love for Christ thus draws the Father's love and enables the Son and the Father to be present in the human heart, to give themselves intimately to man. This "gift" is the work of the Holy Spirit, who is Uncreated Love. Poured out into the human heart, he brings it about that the whole Blessed Trinity is present in man and dwells in him.

This indwelling, which springs from love and enriches love, demands to be expressed in truth. Whoever loves Jesus keeps his word, that word of which he says: "The word which you hear is not mine but the Father's who sent me" (Jn 14:24). Whoever loves Jesus lives by his Gospel.

Christ is the Word of the Father. In him is achieved the fullness of truth which is in God and which is God himself. He "became flesh" (Jn 1:14) in order to hand on to us this truth in human words, in human deeds and, ultimately, in the paschal event of his Cross and Resurrection. Now Christ says: "I go to the Father" (Jn 14:28).

This is a source of divine joy for him, a joy which he desires to give to his disciples. With his assumed humanity, the Word returns to his own Origin—to that Eternal Source from which he takes his beginning without beginning.

2. "I go away, and I will come to you". I will come to you in the power of the Holy Spirit. Christ promises: "The Counsellor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you" (Jn 14:26). In presenting today these words spoken by Jesus in the Upper Room on the day before his Passion, the liturgy turns our thoughts to the forthcoming mysteries of the Lord's Ascension and Pentecost. The Apostles have already received the Holy Spirit in the evening of Easter Day, when the Risen One came among them in the Upper Room, showed them the wounds in his hands and his side, and said to them: "Receive the Holy Spirit" (Jn 20:22).

What took place inwardly just now take place in the midst of the people gathered in Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost. Jesus will no longer be with his Apostles in the Upper Room, but the coming of the Holy Spirit will enable Christ to begin working with new force in them and through them: working as truth and love.

The Counsellor, the Holy Spirit, will teach the Apostles and the Church all that Christ himself told them, until the end of the world.

He will see to it that Jesus' teaching, his truth, will abide without end in the Church; that the Word, one with the Father in his divinity, will continue to unite people to one another, from generation to generation, in that truth and love which he revealed by his first coming into the world. This Sunday's Gospel, then, directs us very clearly to the Church's birth and her mission.

"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you" (Jn 14:27). Christ says this at a time when the Apostles' faces show signs of worry and anxiety. These are the last hours before his Passion. For this reason he says to them: "Let not your hearts be troubled" (Jn 14:27). You will indeed witness my humiliation, my crucifixion and ignominious death on te Cross. It is understandable that you are anguished by such a prospect; that you suffer at the thought that your Master must leave you in this way. But do not worry! After my departure I will come back to you risen and you will enjoy the peace which I give you. Amid the troubles of the world, this peace will enable you to be my witnesses, will enable you to proclaim the Gospel and lead people to holiness.

3. "I go away, and I will come to you".

The words spoken by Christ in the Upper Room are fulfilled from generation to generation. Starting on the day of Pentecost, the Apostles went into the whole world to proclaim the Gospel to all nations, as the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles has reminded us. The Gospel was proclaimed, by the lips of Paul and Barnabas, among the pagan peoples. And this openness to the world was confirmed by the Spirit by the lips of the apostolic community, as attested by what is known as the Council of Jerusalem.

In due time this same Gospel of truth and holiness reached our Slav lands—it arrived in Bohemia and Moravia, and was established here, as also in the neighboring regions. Down the centuries it has produced abundant fruits of grace and holiness. It has also produced them in this ancient and illustrious Church of yours, which today I have the joy of visiting. I greet your beloved Archbishop Jan Graubner, whom I thank for his cordial address and the kind greetings which he has extended to me on everyone's behalf. With him I greet the Auxiliary Bishop and the other Bishops present. I also greet the priests, religious, catechists, committed lay people and all of you who have come to this solemn celebration.

Today, here in Olomouc, I have the privilege of celebrating with you the canonization of Blessed Jan Sarkander and Blessed Zdislava of Lemberk.

4. The life of St. Zdislava, who was born in Moravia and lived in northern Bohemia in the thirteenth century, is marked by an extraordinary capacity for self-giving. This is shown particularly by her family life, in which as the wife of Count Havel of Lemberk she was—to use the words of my venerable predecessor Paul VI—"an example of marital fidelity, a support of domestic spirituality and moral integrity". It is also confirmed by her generous efforts in charitable and relief work, especially at the bedside of the sick, for whom she showed such care and concern that even today she is remembered as the "healer".

St. Zdislava, by intensely living the spirituality of a Dominican tertiary, was able to make a gift of herself, in the words of Jesus: "It is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20:35). This is the secret of the great attraction which her figure always exercised during her life, as well as after her death and still today. Her example seems remarkably timely, particularly with regard to the value of the family, which—she teaches us—must be open to God, to the gift of life and to the needs of the poor. Our saint is a marvellous witness to the "Gospel of the family" and to the "Gospel of Life", which the Church is more than ever committed to spreading during this transition from the second to the third Christian millennium.

Families of Bohemia, families of Moravia, the priceless treasure of this nation, become what you are in God's plan by reflecting the example of your saints! And you, Zdislava of Lemberk, guide the families of your homeland and of the whole world to an ever deeper knowledge of their mission, make them open to giving—you, a mother gentle and strong, charitable and devout!

5. Almost four centuries later we meet Jan Sarkander, priest and martyr. He is your special boast, dear Moravians. You have always loved and venerated him as your protector, particularly in the most painful moments of your history.

His figure shines with exceptional light especially at the end of his life, when he is imprisoned and receives from the Lord the grace of martyrdom. In a tumultuous age, he is set as a sign of God's presence, of his faithfulness amid the contradictions of history.

Still today we are struck by the firm resolve of this simple and generous priest: his faithful devotion to duty, until death. In the dungeon of the Olomouc prison—which I vividly remember from my visit there—after being subjected to weeks of atrocious torture, he prays and the Lord enables him to offer a rare example of patience and constancy.

Perhaps today more than ever, after the Second Vatican Council and on the threshold of the third Christian millennium, we are able to grasp the mysterious message of Jan Sarkander for the Church in Europe and the world. His canonization first of all gives honor to all those in this century, not only in Moravia and Bohemia but throughout Eastern Europe, who preferred the loss of property, marginalization and death, rather than submit to oppression and violence.

This canonization must in no way reopen painful wounds, which in the past marked the Body of Christ in these lands. On the contrary, today I, the Pope of the Church of Rome, in the name of all Catholics, ask forgiveness for the wrongs inflicted on non-Catholics during the turbulent history of these peoples; at the same time I pledge the Catholic Church's forgiveness for whatever harm her sons and daughters suffered. May this day mark a new beginning in the common effort to follow Christ, his Gospel, his law of love, his supreme desire for the unity of those who believe in him: "That they may all be one" (Jn 17:21).

6. "Let all the nations praise you, O God!" (Responsorial Psalm, refrain).

So the Church sings on this Sunday of the Easter season. "Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth" (Ps 66:5). This invitation to joy originates from the fulfillment of the promises Christ made in the Upper Room at the Last Supper: they spring from the paschal mystery of his Death and Resurrection.

It is the joy of Pentecost. Indeed, in the power of the Holy Spirit the Apostles of Christ and their successors evangelized the peoples and nations of the whole world, to make known upon earth the way which is Christ, that all nations might receive his salvation (cf. Ps 66:3).

Today this joy particularly includes the Slav peoples of Bohemia and Moravia, where the way of the Gospel has been open for over 10 centuries. Today, our rejoicing springs particularly from those who followed this way and who lead us along it to the meeting with Christ: St. Zdislava and St. Jan Sarkander. By their witness the light of God's kingdom came upon men and illumines the path of the generations towards the Heavenly Jerusalem, the eternal dwelling-place of God.

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