Pope John Paul II and the Call of Peter


National Catholic Register, 16 October 2018

COMMENTARY for 40th anniversary of papal election: In order for the Church to receive the gift of Peter, one man must be willing to pay the price.

The 40th anniversary of the election of St. John Paul II as pope brings to mind his two rhetorical introductions, the power of which instantly characterized his long papacy.

First, there was the “pope from a faraway country” address on the balcony moments after his election Oct. 16, 1978. Then there was the “be not afraid” homily of Oct. 22, 1978, at his inaugural Mass in St. Peter’s Square.

In the coming days, the video of both those world-changing moments will be replayed countless times.

But there was another moment of rhetorical magnificence — and significance — in October 1978. There is no video of it, and it was largely unknown until papal biographer George Weigel included it in Witness to Hope. He discovered it in the Kalendarium życia Karola Wojtyła, an exhaustive pre-papal chronology compiled by Adam Boniecki.

It took place after the death of Pope John Paul I. The Polish cardinals had come to Rome for the second conclave of that year. At a memorial Mass offered by Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski, the primate of Poland, Cardinal Karol Wojtyła, the archbishop of Kraków, preached the homily on the conversation between Jesus and Peter in John 21:

And Christ asked: Do you love me more than these? ... This question was so difficult, so very demanding. And possibly Simon Peter, of all the apostles, best understood how this question exceeds the scope of a human being. That is why he trembled in answering. He was giving himself up to the love of him who was asking, when he answered, “Lord, you know that I love you.”

The succession of Peter, the summons to the office of the papacy, always contains within it a call to the highest love, to a very special love. And always, when Christ says to a man, “Come, follow me,” he asks him what he asked of Simon: “Do you love me more than these?” Then the heart of man must tremble. The heart of Simon trembled, and the heart of Albino Luciani, before he took the name John Paul I, trembled. A human heart must tremble, because in the question, there is also a demand. You must love! You must love more than the others do, if the entire flock of sheep is to be entrusted to you, if the charge, “Feed my lambs, feed my sheep” is to reach the scope which it reaches in the calling and mission of Peter.

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