On Saturday 30 April 2022, Bishop Martin Ashe celebrated Mass at Ta' Pinu Shrine (All Nations Marian Centre) and blessed a new statue of St John Paul the Great. Below is his homily from the Mass.
When children are preparing for the Sacrament of Confirmation, I often ask them what confirmation name they are choosing and why. Some of the candidates reveal examples of the saint’s life attractive to them and which motivates them to choose that particular saint. Amongst the many spoken of, saints like Mary, the mother of the Lord, Peter and John Paul II are often included. The lives of saints inspire, console, and encourage us on our journey of faith and the manner in which the Holy Spirit was active in their lives. We are drawn here today to Ta’ Pinu because of our devotion to Mary, and today many of us are here also for the blessing of the St John Paul II monument whose life and example has helped us on our faith journey.
In the Gospel today, Peter’s encounter with Jesus is deeply significant and has a profound effect on him. The Risen Lord is showing himself to the disciples. Again, they are filled with joy and their faith in him is being strengthened. Peter as their leader is near the charcoal fire and surely bringing back painful memories of his denial in the high priest’s house of not knowing Jesus. Jesus speaks to him and asks three times, “Do you love me?” We can appreciate how Peter must have felt and yet for Peter this becomes a healing encounter. Jesus does not focus on his past failures but rather on the quality of his love for Jesus and the role he will be called to embrace into the future. It will be his love for Jesus that will determine the quality of his discipleship and the kind of leader he is called to be within the early Christian community. To follow in the pathway of Jesus the Good Shepherd who laid down his life for his sheep for Peter, is to also be willing to do the same. We know that from Peter’s life his love for Jesus was total and his leadership was one of a deep commitment in giving his all in the proclamation of the Good News, including the sacrifice of his own life.
Our faith as disciples of Jesus is not only knowing about him and about his teaching. It is an invitation to be in relationship with him, to nurture a deep real love for him in our hearts. It is also to know him more and to allow ourselves to be known and loved by Jesus. At the heart of being a missionary disciple is to reveal this love of Jesus to the world around us.
There are many other disciples who have followed him on that road and whose witness continues to encourage and inspire us. In coming to Ta’ Pinu today not only are we honouring Mary, the mother of the Lord, we are also calling to mind in a special way St John Paul II who had a deep devotion to Mary and who visited the Ta’ Pinu Shrine in Malta.
John Paul grew up in a loving Christian family where prayer was an important part of their lives. This became more important to him in his growing up years. He was not immune from suffering in his young life especially when his mother died when he was only eight. His older brother died when he was eleven and he lost all his family by the age of 20 when his father died. Like many others, he endured great suffering during the war years in Poland. Yet, at the same time he was recognised for his courage in the way he sought to protect and care for people around him and especially a number of Jewish families whom he found shelter for. He risked his life in all of this.
His relationship with Jesus and his love for Him gave him increasing courage and strength and a sense of purpose in his life. In the midst of the total depravity of war, he learned to be convinced more than ever of the dignity of every human being and the importance of caring for the other. He impressed many around him including young people with his strength of faith and his desire to bring the Gospel of Christ to life in the world of his day. At the beginning of his pontificate his words to the world were: “Be not afraid – Open the door of your heart to Christ”.
What also became important to him in his growing up years was his devotion to Mary the Mother of God. Sometime soon after his mother died, his father took him as a young boy and his older brother to a Marian Shrine. His father said to them, “The Virgin Mary will look after you now”. From then on Mary became for him his spiritual mother. He often said that Mary brought him closer to Christ. One of the influences on him becoming a priest was a book by St Louis de Montfort on Mary. His papal moto is Totus Tuus. This is the short version of a prayer: “I am all yours, and all that is mine is yours”. It is the offering of his Papal Ministry to Mary to accompany him in his life as the leader of our Catholic community. Pope John Paul would also write this motto on each of his writings and speeches, again offering each of his works to Mary. In the many countries he went to visit, he would also include a visit to a Marian Shrine.
When he was shot on 13 May 1981 – it happened to be the feast of Our Lady of Fatima – John Paul said that he was convinced that the Mother of God had saved his life.
As we gather here today for the inauguration and blessing of the St John Paul II monument, we are inspired by his life and his total commitment to the person of Jesus Christ. We are also inspired by his courageous witness in revealing Christ as the way to fullness of life. May we in this time of conflict in our world give witness especially to the peace that Christ sought to bring to our world. May we, like St John Paul II, allow Mary’s presence to accompany us so that through her intercession we might be faithful to our calling of being true missionary disciples of Jesus in the world of our time.