A reflection on Pope John Paul II shared at Saint Columbanus’ Catholic Church, Loughlinstown, Co Dublin on Friday, 8th April 2005.
Many things have been said in this past week. Many eloquent and learned tributes have been paid. Many words more profound than anything I could muster have been spoken.
For a few moments this evening, I thought I would ponder on just one thought, what has John Paul to say to you and to me? What has John Paul to say to Catholics in Loughlinstown and Protestants in Ballybrack about our lives, about what we live for?
I was in Tesco yesterday morning doing the week’s shopping. At the checkout I asked the lady at the till if the store would be closing for a couple hours this morning.
‘No’, she said, ‘we have to stay open’. She was clearly upset.
‘I was reading some of the Pope’s writing on the internet last night’, I told her. He says people matter more than things.
‘Not here, they don’t’, she replied.
Here is what Pope John Paul wrote in Laborem Exercens in 1981, ‘We must emphasize and give prominence to the primacy of man over things’. What is he saying to us? He’s reminding us of something that should be obvious—that people matter more than money; that people matter more than possessions. Jesus said to us, what does it profit us if we gain the whole world and lose our soul. We have lost our soul. When people are refused a couple of hours for one of the most solemn moments in modern history, we have lost our soul.
John Paul realised the way things were going; he realised that those words in 1981 were not being listened to. In 1991 in Centesimus Annus he said, ‘a culture reveals its overall understanding of life through the choices it makes in production and consumption’. What he is saying to you and to me—to people in Ballybrack and in Loughlinstown is that if we want to see how people see their lives, then we need to look at what they spend their money on.
In 1991 the Pope warned us about ‘consumerism’. If we look at the fuss that surrounded the opening of Dundrum Shopping Centre, we see how powerful consumerism has become. John Paul warned about appeals being made to our basic instincts, appeals that create consumer attitudes and lifestyles that are damaging to physical and spiritual health.
We can see how true his forecast has been. We now choose to do whatever we want. Maybe we will go to church, maybe we won’t. Maybe we will visit our family, maybe we won’t. Maybe we will care for our neighbour, maybe we won’t. Life is seen as a supermarket, where we can choose whatever we like—if we are consumers then we are under no obligation to anyone; we have no responsibilities.
John Paul would have had clear understanding of what is happening to the society that you and I live in. He said in 1991 that we can’t just leave everything to the economic system in the way that our Government seems determined to do, where you only count if you have money.
What he says to you and to me is to look at our lives and ask ourselves about what really matters; look at the people around and ask what matters to the people in your street, to the people in your parish. John Paul says that what matters is that people are put before things; what matters is that we realise there are spiritual needs in our life that all the possessions in the world will not supply.
In 1995 Pope John Paul wrote in Evangelium Vitae that we are called to ‘a fullness of life which far exceeds the dimensions of earthly existence, because it consists in sharing the very life of God’.
We are called to fullness of life; Catholics in Loughlinstown; Protestants in Ballybrack; we are called to fullness of life. We are called to share in the very life of God, the life that we know John Paul now shares.
If there was just one thing I would remember him for, it’s the constant stress he placed on human dignity; his constant reminder of the value of human life; people matter, you, each one of you, matter, all of us matter.