On Canonisation, Happiness and the Catholic Faith (A Personal Reflection)


You know that spark of energy you sometimes get in the morning (perhaps after coffee)? When you open your eyes and feel so grateful for another day? I had that today, and it’s not even my birthday. Though the morning has worn off, I’m still bursting to share my joy with you because it involves you too. True story: I woke up feeling especially good about being Catholic.

Making headlines the world over is the canonisation of two of the twentieth-century Church’s most influential Catholics, the late popes, John XXIII and John Paul II, on this Divine Mercy Sunday. I’m not old enough to remember the ‘good pope John’ and have a smattering at best, of the significant events of John Paul II’s pontificate. But today I rejoice in celebration with the millions of faithful worldwide as the current pope, Francis and his predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI officiate at the ceremony in this historic event. What’s there not to be happy about?

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Photo: Reuters. Pilgrims pose with cut-out pictures of the two pontiffs in Vatican City.

Feeling a little left-out of the events in Rome, I rummaged around before Mass this morning, for a photo of John Paul II that I had kept from among my grandparents’ snapshots. It shows the then-spritely pontiff descending a plane which had landed at the miniscule dot of an island-nation known as Singapore. The year was 1986. If memory serves me right, it was one of the proudest days for my grandfather, who often told us stories of his pilgrimages to various holy sites around the world, including Europe and the Holy Land. With the pope in his hometown, my grandfather must have been over the moon that a part of that world was now in his backyard.

John Paul II, Singapore 1986. (C) Keeping-Company.com

It is this precise universality of the Catholic faith that I treasure today. I recalled the funeral Mass of John Paul II that was televised internationally. I remember seeing the masses of people, from all over the world, notable and unknown alike. I recall the reported conversions and return of many Catholics to the Church attributed to the death of such a holy man. I remember that this man installed World Youth Day, the largest international gathering of Catholic youth in the same place at the same time.

Yes, as crowds gather, and news reporters, photographers and videographers prepare their devices to record this day in phenomenal numbers, it is easy to say that the Catholic faith is a beautiful thing.

But in truth, this feeling of joy and pride at being Catholic came about on Saturday at some point. I know we are in the season of Easter, typically marked by hope, rejuvenation and joy, but yesterday was especially so, at the ordination of some friends in the Redemptorist congregation (CSsR) to the Order of Deacon. Both provinces of Australia and Vietnam were united in prayer. Members from the Kew community of FCJ Sisters were in attendance, in support of their Vietnamese neighbours, whose monastery they frequent for daily Mass.

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Photo: G. Anderson, 2014. Stole and Dalmatic (liturgical garments) laid out, ready for Investiture.

I have written about this topic before, but I will say it again: to be present at a public profession of faith is something remarkable. To witness and pray with and for a candidate – and friend – is a humbling experience that makes the presence of God almost tangible.

PicsArt_1398482807411Officiating the ceremony was Auxiliary Bishop of Melbourne, Vincent Long OFM Conv. who spoke an impassioned and heartfelt homily to the congregation. Bishop Long’s speech lamented the current climate of Catholic identity in Australia as “a seriously damaged brand, at least at the level of public perception in the wake of the Royal Commission Hearing.”

But he goes on to say that despite the “battered, bruised” image of the Church, we are nevertheless at a “critical juncture as the new exile.” He called for the congregation, but especially the deacons, to be as prophets at this time, “prophets who accompany their people and point us to the sign of the new kairos (reign/kingdom of God), and lead them in the direction of the kingdom” with humility, service and simplicity.

What gave me hope is that these are words that I, an ordinary member of the Church, can believe in. Bishop Long acknowledged the real brokenness of our time, but not with despair. “Our wilderness [as Catholics], our exile is daunting, disorienting and challenging. And in the pope’s words, we are bruised, hurt and dirty.”

For all our efforts to promote the mission and identity of the Church, and the gospel at large, such a statement speaks from a place of truth, from a place of reality that we cannot ignore. Yes, this wilderness Bishop Long speaks of can sometimes feel like a rather isolated place, and that “the wind of secularisation has blown away what’s left of our defenses.” But more so are we encouraged to band together, and “…not to retreat fearfully. Not to disengage with the world, not to, as [the] pope says, not to engage in self-referential pop, but a time of faith, a time of courage as we are called to accompany our people in the new exodus.”

I draw emphasis on the themes of accompaniment and companionship that the FCJ Sisters live by. I thank most graciously, our friends at the Redemptorist community, especially to the new deacons, who have shown us by example, what beauty, grace and joy there is in professing our faith. May God’s blessings continue to be upon Pope Francis and his fellow leaders, and all the faithful. May we, like John Paul II and John XXIII, all aspire to sanctity – the radical sanctity that comes from true humility, selfless service and love for Jesus Christ.

How is that for challenge and inspiration? If I have not convinced you, let me end here, with a quote from a saint:

Do not abandon yourselves to despair. We are the Easter people and ‘Hallelujah’ is our song. | John Paul II

By virtue of our internationality and universality, in what joins us and in what diversifies us, may we continue to true to the gospel as members of the faithful. For all Christians, this is indeed a happy day. Alleluia, alleluia! Not just this day, but every day.

8 thoughts on “On Canonisation, Happiness and the Catholic Faith (A Personal Reflection)

  1. Thank you so much for your sharing and for your love of the Church…

  2. Thankyou, Geralyn. Uplifting words at a time of great joy in the Church! We have much to do as we look ahead! Ann Rennie

  3. Thank you all, for sharing your responses. Barbara, you’re quite right, sometimes the delight is buried in the past by those born into the faith.

    Thank you all, for conversation! Let’s keep this going! 🙂

  4. Dear Geralyn,
    It is so encouraging and refreshing to receive glimpses like this of the joy and enthusiasm of being Catholic: thank you! Today at our parish (Isleworth in London) Sunday Eucharist, our 81 year-old assisting priest was delightfully spontaneous and youthful in his enthusiasm and joy at the canonization of John XXIII and John Paul II. Father David had begun his journey as an Anglican priest and showed that particular sense of delight at being Catholic — sometimes buried far in the past by those of us born into the faith. I was reminded of the joy of our newly-baptized Easter Catholics and asked for us all the same sense of wonder that the disciples of Jesus experienced after his Resurrection! May you keep your enthusiasm and joy and transmit that to others!

  5. Thanks so much for your very ‘hopeful, joyful’ sharing today!! Yes, we have so much for which to thank God and to shout out “Alleluia”!
    Blessings to you and all.

  6. Dear Audrey, thanks for your comments. Perhaps we ought to meet some time and we can share some experiences. I too, was born in Sg. 😉 Blessings on your journey.

  7. Dear Sister Geralyn,
    Thank you for these reflections! I understand what you mean about feeling especially good to be Catholic today. And I was especially thrilled to see your grandfather’s picture of Pope John Paul II in Singapore! As a native of this “minuscule dot of an island nation”, born too late for that historic moment, it was a very pleasant and unexpected surprise to see this memento on your FCJ Australia blog. We just spent the past two evenings in our parish watching two movies on the life of Pope John Paul II, and I was struck by his unfailing hope and confidence amidst the tragedies of the 20th century… May some of that also rub off on us this Easter season!

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