FUNERAL MASS FOR POPE JOHN PAUL I
Carlo Cardinal Confalonieri
During the celebration of the funeral rite for Pope John Paul I, which took place in St Peter's Square at four p.m. on Wednesday, 4 October, the Dean of the Sacred College, Cardinal Carlo Confalonieri delivered the following homily.
Venerable Brothers in Jesus Christ,
No one would have thought that less than two months after we celebrated the funeral rites in St Peter's Square of Pope Paul VI, who died suddenly, we would once again be gathered here to say our final farewell to his successor, our Holy Father John Paul I. He died so suddenly after only 33 days of his pontificate.
We ask ourselves, why so quickly? The Apostle tells us why in the well-known and beloved, explanation: "How deep his wisdom and knowledge and how impossible to penetrate his motives or understand his methods!... Who could ever know the mind of the Lord?" (Rom 11:33). Thus is presented to us, in all its immense and almost oppressive greatness, the unfathomable mystery of life and of death. We have scarcely had the time to see the new Pope. Yet one month was enough for him to have conquered hearts — and, for us, it was a month to love him intensely. It is not length which characterizes a life in a pontificate, but rather the spirit that fills it. He passed as a meteor which unexpectedly lights up the heavens and then disappears, leaving us amazed and astonished. Already the Book of Wisdom (4:13) spoke of this when telling of "the just man": "Coming to perfection in such short time he achieved long life." "Consumatus in brevi, explevit tempora multa". The funeral prayer which we are soon to recite brings this comforting touch of reality: "Grant O Lord that he may praise you without end in heaven, he who on earth served you with a constant profession of faith."
In Pope John Paul we greeted and venerated the Vicar of Christ, Bishop of Rome and Supreme Pastor of the universal Church; but in the brief contact had with him, we were quickly struck and fascinated by his instinctive goodness, by his innate modesty, by his sincere simplicity in deed and word. The very papal allocutions themselves — the few that he was able to give — reflect this quality. It began with the first discourse that he gave in the Sistine Chapel on the day after his election (for him, how unexpected and how painful!). Through his speeches we are able to get a glimpse of the great lines that would have been the programme of his pontificate: the authenticity and integrity of faith, the perfection of Christian life, the love of great discipline in the many activities that lead to the growth of the kingdom of God as well as the spiritual and temporal prosperity of all mankind.
How could one forget the homily read on the occasion when the Holy Father took possession of the Cathedral of Rome, St John Lateran? With absolute respect for the liturgical readings, he knew how to illustrate clearly and apply the fundamental concepts contained in them. He applied them to the plans and expectations of the Church in Rome, to the tasks of the spiritual development of the faithful and to the primary duties of his pontifical mission.
What emerges even more in his loving gift of self was his manner of teaching. He knew well how to translate with ease and joy the lofty theological doctrine into the more accessible language of a catechist. He taught with clarity the way of Christian formation, so necessary (as pastoral experience confirms everyday) in order to keep the sense of the divine in the holy people of God as it daily advances towards the goal of eternal happiness.
The perfect teacher
He was the perfect teacher: the time that he spent at Belluno, at Vittorio Veneto, at Venice witnessed to this. His few weeks of ministry as the Supreme Pastor were enough to reveal him as such to the world as it listened both near and afar, to the sound of his fatherly lessons. All understood that he was speaking in order to reach their soul. This was true even when, with wonderful humility and the wisest psychological intuition, he spoke directly to children "in order that they might help the Pope", (as he so graciously put it). Everybody understood that he was speaking to the little ones in order that the adults would hear and understand. That delicacy, so evident to all, drew from his listeners both attention and action.
Was it the need for spirituality, now more deeply felt because of the general neglect of spiritual values that pushed the multitudes towards the Pope? How else can we explain the very crowded audiences of Wednesdays? Visitors came from everywhere! How else can we explain the crowds which literally filled St Peter's Square at midday each Sunday, a time dedicated to greeting the family and joining together in the recitation of the "Angelus"?
Who has not been moved — and deeply moved — by seeing in these recent days the endless, spectacular lines of the faithful, of Rome and of all the world? They moved step by step, along the entire colonnade of Bernini, whether under a scorching sun or pouring rain. Finally, after two or more hours of patient and heroic waiting, they would reach the Sala Clementina and the Vatican Basilica to see yet once again the Pope of goodness and of the smile.
Yes, because before a world submerged in hatred and in violence, Pope John Paul has been himself, personally, a message of goodness. He called for peace, he prayed for peace; he had a thirst for justice for all — for the oppressed, the suffering, the poor, the needy in every social category. He exalted labour; he preached charity. And always with a smile on his lips, that smile which never left him, even at the last instant of life. In fact we saw him like that, in the first hours of last Friday. There on his death bed, his head lightly inclined towards the right, his lips were half-open, in his ever present smile. Thus he entered into the peace of the Lord.
Venerable Brothers: Civil leaders, clergy, religious, everyone! Just a while ago we heard that page of the Gospel (John 21:15) which speaks of the threefold question of Jesus and the triple response of the first Apostle: "Peter, do you love me?" "You know that I love you, Lord." So the pontificate of John Paul was a dialogue of love between father and children — without pause, without hesitation. On the preceding Wednesdays, reminding us of John XXIII, Pope John Paul I spoke of faith and hope. Last Wednesday, he spoke of love. These are the three theological virtues which unite us directly to God. He said that man must always progress, always progress, in everything that is good, up to perfection. This is the law of progress which rules life. First of all one must grow in the love of God and in the love of neighbour. This is his will and testament. It is the will and testament of the Divine Master, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Weekly Edition in English
12 October 1978, page 1
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