HOMILY OF THE HIS EMINENCE TARCISIO CARDINAL BERTONE
Secretary of State of the Holy Sea
at the Ceremony of the Beatification of Father Stanislaus Papczyński,
Licheń, 16 September 2007
My Brother Cardinals,
My Brothers in the Episcopate and the Priesthood,
Distinguished Civil and Military Authorities,
Dear Members of the Religious Family founded by Blessed Stanislaus,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
First of all I thank the Lord because, for the second time within the space of a few months, he has given me a welcome opportunity to visit your beloved country, the homeland of Blessed Stanislaus Papczyński and of the Servant of God John Paul II who, let us hope, may himself soon be raised to the glory of the altars. I also thank the Lord because in this very shrine, where last night we gathered for Vespers, it falls to me today to preside at the solemn Eucharist during which, in the name of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI, I have had the honour of beatifying Father Stanislaus Papczyński. It is both significant and moving that this should happen at the famous shrine of Our Lady of Licheń, where for many years Marian Fathers and Brothers, the spiritual sons of the new beatus, have carried out their pastoral ministry, ever faithful to the charism of their Founder.
With these sentiments of deep gratitude towards the Lord, I would like to extend a cordial greeting to the Cardinals, Archbishops and Bishops present, with a particular word of thanks to Bishop Wiesław Mering of this Diocese, who has provided a truly fraternal welcome to me and to those who have accompanied me here. I respectfully greet the civil and military authorities from the locality, the region and the State, beginning with the President of the Republic of Poland, Mr Lech Kaczyński. Today we see fulfilled the wish of the Sejm [Parliament] of the Res Pubblica of the two nations [Poland and Lithuania], which in 1764 petitioned the Apostolic See to raise to the altars “Stanislaus Papczyński, a Pole famous for his miracles” (Volumina Legum, vol. VII, Saint Petersburg 1860, p. 168, no. 105). I greet all the priests and deacons, consecrated persons, and among them in particular the Marian Fathers and Brothers with their Superior General, Father Jan Mikołaj Rokosz. I greet the pilgrims who have come here from various parts of the world, some of whom have travelled great distances. Lastly, I greet those who are spiritually united with us in this sublime liturgy through television and radio, and I am thinking especially of the elderly, the sick and those in prison.
The Word of God that we hear in today’s liturgy for the 24th Sunday of Ordinary Time presents us with the mystery of sinful man and God’s response of supreme and infinite mercy.
“The Lord repented of the evil which he thought to do to his people” (Ex 32:14). In the first reading, which we heard a moment ago, Moses, after making a covenant with God, ascends Mount Sinai to receive the tablets of the Covenant and remains there to converse with the Lord for forty days. The Israelites grow tired of waiting for him, and they turn their backs upon God, forgetting the wonders he has worked to deliver them from slavery in Egypt. The scene which the sacred author describes is truly moving: when God reveals to Moses the Israelites’ sin and his intention to punish them, Moses becomes their advocate and ardently implores pardon for that ungrateful and sinful people. He does not ask God for justice, knowing well that Israel has committed the gravest of sins by yielding to the temptation of idolatry, but instead he appeals to divine mercy and to the Covenant which God, on his own initiative, established with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. God hears Moses’ prayer: patient and merciful, he abandons his plan to punish his people, who have turned their backs on him. How many lessons we can learn from this passage from the Book of Exodus! It helps us to discover the true face of God; it helps us to understand the mystery of his good and merciful heart. However great our sin, divine mercy is always greater, because God is Love.
A wonderful testimony to this mystery is the human and spiritual experience of the Apostle Paul. In the second reading, from his first Letter to Timothy, he confesses that Christ has touched him in the depths of his spirit and has made him who was once a persecutor of Christians into an instrument of divine grace for the conversion of many. Jesus, the true good Shepherd, does not abandon his sheep, but wants to lead them all back to the Father’s flock. Dear brothers and sisters, is this not our experience too? When our sin leads us away from the right path and deprives us of the joy of God’s friendship, if we then repent and return to him, we discover not the severity of his judgment and condemnation, but the gentleness of his love which renews us within.
“Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Lk 15:10). These words of Jesus, reported by Saint Luke in the Gospel passage we have just heard, offer a further confirmation of our certainty of the Lord’s merciful love. Divine mercy is the good news that we must never tire of proclaiming and testifying in these difficult times. Only Christ, who knows man intimately, can speak to his heart and restore to him the joy and the dignity of one created in God’s image. And for this he needs faithful and trusted collaborators; he needs saints and he calls us to be saints, that is, true friends of Christ and heralds of his Gospel.
One true friend and tireless apostle of Christ was Blessed Stanislaus of Jesus and Mary. Born in Podegrodzie of a poor peasant family, he lived at a time when Poland was afflicted by numerous wars and plagues, falling deeper and deeper into chaos and deprivation. Formed in the sound principles of the Gospel, young Stanislaus wanted to give himself completely to God, and from his adolescent years onwards he felt drawn towards the Immaculate Virgin Mother of Christ. Gradually the Lord transformed the little shepherd-boy, who found it so hard to study and was physically so frail, into a preacher who drew crowds through his wisdom filled with erudition and profound mysticism; into a confessor whose spiritual counsel was sought after even by the great men of Church and State; into a well-prepared teacher and an author of various works published in numerous editions; into the founder of the first Polish Religious Institute for men, the Congregation of the Marian Clerics of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Guiding him throughout his life was Mary herself. In the mystery of her Immaculate Conception, the new beatus marvelled at the power of the Redemption worked by Christ. In the Immaculate Virgin, he discerned the beauty of the new creation given totally to Christ and to the Church. He became so fascinated by this truth of the faith that he was prepared to give his life in its defence. He knew that Mary, the crowning glory of God’s creation, is the confirmation of the dignity of every man and woman, loved by God and destined for eternal life in heaven. He wanted the mystery of the Immaculate Conception to be the distinguishing mark of the religious community that he founded, to be its constant support and its true joy. How many times in this very place, in this Shrine of Our Lady, Mother of Sorrows, where throngs of pilgrims come together to pray, has Blessed Stanislaus’s moving prayer resounded up to the present day: “Mary, you console, comfort, sustain and raise up the oppressed, those who weep, who are tempted, who are weighed down … O sweet Virgin! Show us Jesus, the blessed fruit of your life!”
Inspired by God’s love, Blessed Stanislaus burned with a strong passion for the salvation of souls and he addressed his listeners with heartfelt pleas such as this: “Turn back now to your Father! Why do you wander through the distant land of passions, deprived of the loving sentiments of the Supreme Good? Go to your Father! Christ is calling you, go to him!” (Inspectio cordis, 1, 25, 2). Following the example of the Good Samaritan, he stood at the side of those wounded in spirit and eased their sufferings, he consoled them and filled them with hope and serenity, he led them to the “inn of pardon” which is the confessional, thus helping them recover their lost or rejected Christian dignity.
Divine charity impelled Blessed Stanislaus to become an evangelist of the poor in particular, of simple folk, the socially marginalized whose spiritual needs were overlooked, and of those who were in danger of death. Knowing how widespread the scourge of alcoholism was at the time, through word and example he taught sobriety and inner freedom as an effective antidote against all forms of dependence. Filled with profoundly patriotic love for the united Polish, Lithuanian and Ruthenian nations, he did not hesitate to condemn the way in which those in power sought their own advantage, abused the privilege of nobility and promulgated unjust laws. Today too, the new beatus offers a timely invitation to Poland and to Europe, in its arduous search for unity: only by building solidly upon God is reconciliation possible between people and between nations. Without God there cannot be true social justice or stable peace.
Dear brothers and sisters, Blessed Stanislaus’s love for his fellow men extended also to the dead. After his mystical experience of the suffering of those in Purgatory, he prayed fervently for them and exhorted everyone to do the same. Alongside spreading the cult of the Immaculate Conception and proclaiming the Word of God, praying for the dead thus became one of his Congregation’s principal aims. The thought of death and meditation upon Heaven, Purgatory and Hell help us to “spend” wisely our time on earth; it encourages us to think of death as a necessary stage on our journey towards God; it leads us always to accept and respect life as a gift from God, from its conception to its natural end. What an important sign for the modern world is the miracle of the “unexpected recovery of pregnancy between the 7th and 8th week of gestation” which occurred through the intercession of Father Papczyński. God is the Master of human life!
The secret of life is love: the ineffable love of God, which surpasses human frailty and moves our hearts to love life, our neighbour and even our enemies. To his spiritual sons, the new beatus entrusted this message from the beginning: “A man without charity, a religious without charity, is a shadow without the sun, a body without a soul, he is simply a nothing. What the soul is to the body, that is what charity is in the Church, in religious orders and in religious houses.” It is hardly surprising, then, that a number of his disciples, amid many hardships and crosses, were distinguished by their evangelical perfection. Suffice it to recall the Venerable Servant of God Father Kazimierz Wyszyński (1700-1755), an ardent promoter of Marian devotion, Blessed Archbishop George Matulaitis-Matulewicz (1871-1927), who carried out a providential renewal and reform of the Congregation of Marian Clerics and was a champion of reconciliation between Poland and Lithuania; the Blessed Martyrs of Rosica (Belarus), Jerzy Kaszyra (1904-1943) and Antoni Leszczewicz (1890-1943), who freely gave their lives during the Second World War for their faith in Christ and for love of their fellow men. Even in dramatic times of persecution, the work of Blessed Stanislaus was never eclipsed. Blessed George Matulaitis-Matulewicz gave it new impulse, bearing witness once again to the fact that Love conquers all.
Dear Marian Fathers and Brothers, today this precious spiritual heritage of your Founder is entrusted to you: welcome it and, like him, be tireless heralds everywhere of God’s merciful love, keeping your gaze fixed upon Mary Immaculate, so that in each of you the divine plan may be fulfilled.
Dear pilgrims and faithful people, the Church in Poland is celebrating the elevation to the altars of this chosen son of hers. May the example of his holy life and his heavenly intercession encourage all of you to open your hearts at every moment, trusting in God’s all-powerful love. Filled with joy and hope, let us give thanks to God for the gift of the new beatus and let us praise the Lord in the words of the Apostle Paul: “To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen” (1 Tim 1:17).