October 22 marks 45 years since Pope St. John Paul II delivered his first homily as pope in St. Peter’s Square. To commemorate the anniversary, we’ve compiled five highlights from his prophetic first papal address to the Church!
A profession of faith: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
The newly elected pope began by repeating Peter’s resounding words of faith, spoken just before Christ handed him the keys. John Paul II makes clear that he wants this great Petrine faith to be the foundation of his own pontificate:
All of you who are still seeking God, all of you who already have the inestimable good fortune to believe, and also you who are tormented by doubt: please listen once again, today in this sacred place, to the words uttered by Simon Peter. In those words is the faith of the Church.
“Quo Vadis, Domine?”
The pope then acknowledged his own trepidation and awareness of his unworthiness of the office. He considers the human weakness and subsequent perseverance of Peter in Rome:
According to an ancient tradition (given magnificent literary expression in a novel by Henryk Sienkiewicz), Peter wanted to leave Rome during Nero’s persecution. But the Lord intervened: he went to meet him. Peter spoke to him and asked. “Quo vadis, Domine?” — “Where are you going, Lord?” And the Lord answered him at once: “I am going to Rome to be crucified again.” Peter went back to Rome and stayed here until his crucifixion.
John Paul II expressed his unwavering commitment to follow Christ and the will of God faithfully. Like Peter, he underwent considerable suffering at the end of his life during the severe decline of his health due to Parkinson’s disease. During that time, the Church witnessed his total commitment to follow Christ through his marked determination to serve until death.
“Make me be a servant.”
John Paul II spoke of the role of the Church hierarchy in relation to the Second Vatican Council’s teaching that all the faithful share in Christ’s threefold mission of Priest, Prophet, and King. Namely, that the hierarchy’s “sacred power” is characterized primarily by service to the People of God.
The new Successor of Peter in the See of Rome, today makes a fervent, humble and trusting prayer: Christ, make me become and remain the servant of your unique power, the servant of your sweet power, the servant of your power that knows no eventide. Make me be a servant. Indeed, the servant of your servants.
“Brothers and sisters, do not be afraid…”
In Crossing the Threshold of Hope, John Paul II later reflected on his use of this phrase during his first homily, which was to become the most utilized maxim of his pontificate:
When, on October 22, 1978, I said the words “Be not afraid!” in St. Peter’s Square, I could not fully know how far they would take me and the entire Church. Their meaning came more from the Holy Spirit, the Consoler promised by the Lord Jesus to His disciples, than from the man who spoke them.
Christ: the answer to the questions of the human heart
John Paul II had extraordinary insight into the depths of the human heart and the common existential questions that plague it. He knew that the temporal solutions offered by the world will not satisfy man’s deepest longings, and he proposed Christ as the sole solution:
So often today man does not know what is within him, in the depths of his mind and heart. So often he is uncertain about the meaning of his life on this earth. He is assailed by doubt, a doubt which turns into despair. We ask you therefore, we beg you with humility and trust, let Christ speak to man. He alone has words of life, yes, of eternal life.