“Much will be required of the person entrusted with much” (Luke 12:48).
Today’s Gospel about Jesus’ instruction to Peter and the other disciples about being good servants seems a perfect text for the first commemoration of St. John Paul II, who was canonized last June together with St. John XXIII.
JPII held the chair of Peter for the second longest papacy in history (1978-2005), a tumultuous period that saw the struggle for reform initiated by the Second Vatican Council, the fall of the Soviet Union and end of the second millennium. The pope used his authority to enforce orthodoxy and tighten control inside the church and his enormous popularity to take its bully pulpit and mission into the global community with trips to 129 countries. He survived a 1981 assassination attempt and in 2001 was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, a debilitating illness that marked his final years.
As chief shepherd of the Catholic church for 32 years, the pope bore the heavy burden of leading a divided church in a world facing continuous war and crisis. Even his canonization was caught up in the controversy of clergy sex abuse and charges that Rome had done too little too late to address the problem.
The scriptures for today’s Mass remind us that all power in the church is for the sake of service. Pope Francis reminded his brother bishops of this at the close of the Synod the Family, that whatever status they have is for the sake of serving God’s people. This is the same measure by which all Christians will be judged before God, but bishops and popes bear an especially weighty responsibility for caring for the flock entrusted to them.