Catholic Culture Liturgical Living
Catholic Culture Liturgical Living

In The Beginning: John Paul II's First Homily

by Pope Saint John Paul II


This is the homily that Pope John Paul II preached at the Mass for the inauguration of his pontificate, October 22, 1978. It was translated from the Italian (minus brief greetings in several other languages) by a Benedictine priest. The homily seems to be a prophecy of his person and work as pope.

Publisher & Date, October 22, 1978

1. “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Mt. 16:16)

Simon son of Jona pronounced these words in the territory of Caesarea Philippi. It is true that he expressed them with his own language, with a deep, lively and heartfelt conviction; but those words do not have their fountain, their source, in him: “because neither flesh or blood have revealed it to you, but my Father who is in heaven” (Mt. 16:17). These were words of Faith.

They mark the beginning of the mission of Peter in the history of salvation, in the history of the People of God. From that moment, from such a confession of Faith, the sacred history of the salvation of the People of God was to acquire a new dimension: to express itself in the historic dimension of the Church. This church-dimension of the history of the People of God has its beginnings, its birth, precisely in these words of Faith. This church-dimension of the history of the People of God is tied to the man who pronounced these words of Faith: “You are Peter—rock—and upon you, as upon a rock, I shall build my Church.”

2. This very day and in this place, the same words need to be again pronounced and listened to: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Yes, Brother and Sisters, Sons and Daughters, those words above all!

What they contain opens to our eyes the mystery of the living God, the mystery that the Son knows and has brought close to us. No one, in fact, has brought the living God close to men, no one has revealed Him as He himself alone has done. In our knowledge of God, in our journey towards God we are totally bound to the power of these words: “Whoever sees me, sees indeed the Father.” He who is Infinite, inscrutable, ineffable has brought himself close to us in Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son, born of the Virgin Mary in the stable of Bethlehem.

—All of you who already have the immense fortune to believe,

—all of you who are still searching for God,

—and even you who are tormented by doubt:

come and welcome one more time—today in this sacred place—the words pronounced by Simon Peter. In those words is the faith of the Church. In those same words is the new truth—in fact the last and definitive truth about man: the Son of the living God. “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!”

3. Today the new Bishop of Rome solemnly begins his ministry and the mission of Peter. In this City, in fact, Peter unfolded and fulfilled the mission the Lord entrusted to him.

The Lord confronted him and said: “when you were younger you girded yourself and you went where you chose; but when you are old you will hold out your hands, and someone else will gird you and take you where you do not wish” (Jn. 21:18).

Peter came to Rome!

What guided and led him to this City, heart of the Roman Empire, if not obedience to the inspiration that came from the Lord? Perhaps this fisherman of Galilee would not have wanted to come all the way here. Perhaps he would have preferred to stay there, on the banks of the lake of Gennesaret, with his boat, with his nets. However, guided by the Lord, obedient to his inspiration, he came here!

According to an ancient tradition (which has also found magnificent literary expression in a novel by Henryk Sienkiewicz), during the persecution by Nero, Peter wanted to abandon Rome. However, the Lord intervened: he went to meet Peter. Peter turned to him and asked: “Quo vadis, Domine?” (Where are you going, Lord?). The Lord immediately answered him: “I go to Rome to be crucified for the second time.” Peter turned back to Rome and he stayed here until his own crucifixion.

Yes, Brothers and Sisters, Sons and Daughters, Rome is the See of Peter. Through the centuries new Bishops have always succeeded Peter in this See. Today a new Bishop ascends to the Roman Chair of Peter, a Bishop full of anxiety, knowing his unworthiness. How could anyone not be anxious when facing the greatness of such a calling, and when facing the universal mission of this Roman See?!

Today in Rome a Bishop who is not a Roman ascends to the See of Peter. A Bishop who is a son of Poland. However, from this moment on, even he becomes a Roman. Yes, a Roman! Furthermore, he is a son of a nation whose history, from its first awakenings, and whose thousand-year traditions are marked by a lively, strong, never-interrupted, heartfelt and living link with the See of Peter, a nation that has always remained faithful to the See of Rome. How inscrutable the plan of divine Providence!

4. In past centuries, when the Successor of Peter took possession of his See, the triple crown, the tiara, was placed on his head. The last man so crowned was Pope Paul VI in 1963. However, after the solemn rite of coronation he never again used the triple crown, and left to his Successors the freedom to decide about it.

Pope John Paul the First, whose memory is so alive in our hearts, did not wish the triple crown, and today his Successor does not want it. It is not the time, in fact, to return to a rite that, perhaps unjustly, was considered a symbol of the temporal power of the Popes.

Our time invites us, pushes us, obligates us to look to the Lord, and to plunge into a humble and devout meditation on the mystery of the supreme power of Christ himself.

He who was born of the Virgin Mary, the so-called son of the carpenter, the Son of the living God, as Peter confessed, came to make all of us “a kingdom of priests.”

The Second Vatican Council has reminded us of the mystery of this power, and of the fact that the mission of Christ—Priest, Teaching Prophet, King—continues in the Church. Everyone, the whole people of God has a part in this threefold mission. Perhaps in the past, we put the triple crown on the head of the Pope to express by such a symbol that the whole hierarchical order of the Church of Christ, all of Christ’s “sacred power” exercised in the Church, is nothing else but service, service that has one goal alone: that the whole People of God take part in this threefold mission of Christ, and remain always under the Lord’s power. His power comes not from the powers of this world, but from the heavenly Father and from the mystery of the Cross and of the Resurrection.

The absolute power of the Lord is even sweet and gentle. So, it answers all the depths of man; it answers his highest aspirations of intellect, of will, of heart. His power does not speak with a language of force, but it expresses itself in charity and in truth.

The new Successor of Peter in the See of Rome raises up today a fervent, humble, trusting prayer: “O Christ! Make me able to become and to be a servant of your unique power! A servant of your gentle power! A servant of your power that has no sundown! Make me able to be a servant! In fact, a servant of your servants!”

5. Brothers and Sisters! Do not be afraid to welcome Christ, and to accept his power!

Help the Pope and all who want to serve Christ and, with the power of Christ, to serve the human person and all of humanity!

Do not be afraid! Open, in fact, break down the doors for Christ!

To his saving power, open the borders of the Nations, the economic systems, the political systems, the vast fields of culture, of civilization, of development. Do not be afraid! Christ knows “what is in the heart of man.” He alone knows it!

So often today, man does not know what he carries inside himself, in the depth of his soul, of his heart. So often he is uncertain of the meaning of his life on earth. He is invaded by doubt that shifts into desperation. So then, allow—I beg you, I implore with humility and confidence—allow Christ to speak to man. Christ alone has words of life, yes, of eternal life.

Exactly today the entire Church celebrates “World Mission Sunday.” The Church prays, meditates and acts so that Christ’s words of life may reach all men and be received by them as a message of hope, of salvation, of total freedom.

6. I thank all those here who have chosen to take part in this solemn inauguration of the ministry of the new Successor of Peter.

I heartily thank the Heads of States, the Representatives of Authorities and the Government Delegations for their presence that so honors me.

Thank you, Most Eminent Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church!

I thank you, beloved Brother Bishops.

Thank you, Priests!

To you Sisters and Brothers, members of the Religious Orders and Congregations! Thank!

Thank you, Romans!

Thank you to the pilgrims gathered from all the world!

Thank you to all who are joined to this Sacred Rite through the Radio and the Television!

7. [The Holy Father begins to speak in Polish, and then briefly explains, as follows, what he said in Polish.]

This was an appeal and an invitation to prayer for the new Pope, an appeal expressed in the Polish language. Making the same appeal I turn to all the sons and daughters of the Catholic Church. Remember me today and always in your prayer.

[The Holy Father begins to speak in French. Afterwards, he says the following in English.]

To all of you who speak English I offer in the name of Christ a cordial greeting. I count on the support of your prayers and your good will in carrying out my mission of service to the Church and mankind. May Christ give you his grace and his peace, overturning the barriers of division and making all things one in him.

[Then, the Holy Father speaks in several other languages before concluding as follows.]

I open my heart to all the Brothers and Sisters of the Churches and Christian Communities, greeting, in particular, you who are present here, even as I look forward to our next personal meeting; but for now I express to you sincere appreciation for your choosing to attend this solemn rite.

Once again, I turn to all men, to each man (and with what veneration the apostle of Christ must pronounce this word: man!).

Pray for me!

Help me so that I can serve you! Amen.

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