There are many reasons why John Paul II is a saint. He was a great thinker, writing many eloquent things about the Catholic faith. He was a tireless evangelist, traveling all over the world to proclaim the message of Jesus Christ. He was a politically savvy player on the world stage, using his influence to help topple Soviet Communist domination of Central and Eastern Europe. The most significant reason that John Paul II was a saint has nothing to do with any of these. John Paul II was a saint because he was a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ.
One example of John Paul II’s Christian discipleship came when a Turkish national Mehmet Ali Agca tried to assassinate him. On May 13, 1981, Ali Agca fired four shots at close rage. All of them struck their target, seriously wounding the pope. As the ambulance rushed John Paul to the hospital he cried out to the Mother of God to intercede for him with Jesus in order to save his life. And she did. John Paul II survived the assassination attempt and went on to serve as Pope until his death in 2005.
The most significant part of this story came when the John Paul II was still in recovering in the hospital. He publicly forgave his attacker. Less than two years later, he went to visit Ali Agca in prison in order to personally extend his forgiveness. In 2000, he begged the President of Italy to grant Mehmet Ali Agca a pardon for his crime of attempted murder.
None of the statements of the pope’s would be assassin up to now show any clear sign of repentance. Despite this fact, John Paul II went as far as reaching out to his family members in order to seek reconciliation with them also.
On this Holy Thursday we mark off the beginning of Jesus’ Passion. We also commemorate the institution of the Holy Eucharist and the constitution of the Apostles as priests of the New Covenant. Sometimes we miss something significant when we recall these great acts of love. Jesus Christ did all of these things for twelve men who were about to abandon Him. As He knelt and washed Judas feet, He did so knowing that he had already betrayed Him for thirty pieces of silver. When He gave Holy Communion to Peter, He knew that the prince of the Apostles would within hours deny three times that he even knew Him. While Saint John reclined on his chest, Jesus knew that minutes later during His Agony in the Garden the beloved disciple would fall asleep after He begged him to pray with Him for just one hour.
We tend to live in a world of conditional forgiveness, which means that we forgive others only when we believe they are truly sorry for what they have done to us. Sometimes even then we withhold forgiveness because we think that some things are unforgivable. This is not the case with Jesus. He does not wait to forgive us until after we are sorry. Jesus Christ extends forgiveness to us even before we are sorry for our sins…
As He as done for us, so we are called to do for others…