Honoring John Paul II on the Tenth Anniversary of His Death
On October 16, 1978, the Cardinals of the Catholic Church gathered for prayer and discernment. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, they chose Karol Cardinal Wojtyla as the 263rd successor to the Apostle Peter. He took the name John Paul II as his first teaching act, sending the signal of continuity with his predecessors, Paul VI and John Paul I.
He stepped out on to the balcony in St. Peters Square and proclaimed: “ Be Not Afraid! Open up, no; swing wide the gates to Christ. Open up to his saving power the confines of the State, open up economic and political systems, the vast empires of culture, civilization and development… Be not afraid!”
Affirmed by many as one of the chief architects of the Second Vatican Council and its extraordinary document on the relationship of the Church to the modern world (entitled Joy and Hope or Gaudium et Spes in Latin), this strong, passionate, charismatic priest and Bishop now occupied the chair of Peter.
At a critical time in the history of both the Church and the world, he stepped forward like a lion, with a prophetic roar. He strode onto that platform with strength and vitality.
That mountain climbing, youthful, athletic Polish Pope was so filled with the love of God that it was contagious. A talented and gifted man of letters, a playwright, a philosopher, an intellectual giant, a poet, but more importantly, a genuine human being with a heart that embraced the whole world, like the Heart of the One whom he represented on earth. He truly became the Vicar of Christ, representing the Lord, the King of Kings, for millions throughout the world.
Like a lion in Peter’s chair, he consistently and tirelessly lived what he boldly proclaimed with great courage. Unafraid, he traversed the globe, proclaiming freedom to the captives and truth to the victims of failed false ideologies that had ravaged the people of the twentieth century, the bloodiest in all of human history. He has not stopped passionately re-presenting the classical, unchanging, Christian message with a prophetic urgency, profound clarity and contemporary relevance.
Communism, atheism, secularism, false humanisms of every sort, were exposed in their empty promises. The horrors that they unleashed in the wake of their false utopian claims was exposed. This Pope proclaimed that the Redeemer of Man (the title of his first encyclical letter), Jesus Christ, is the path to authentic personal, social and universal freedom!
He authored more encyclical letters, apostolic exhortations, constitutions and letters than any Pope in the two thousand year history of the Christian Church. In these writings and in so many allocutions, this marvelous man gave us a treasury to unpack for centuries to come. He developed profoundly inspired themes during his service to the Church and the world.
Among them; The Culture of Life, The Civilization of Love, The New Evangelization, The New Springtime of world missions, The Universal Call to holiness; Christian Marriage and family life as a domestic church; A Spirituality of Communion; The Theology of the Body; The Common Good; The Unity of Life; The New Humanism; The New feminism and the Feminine Genius; The Two Lungs of East and West; Catholic Action, the role of the lay apostolate, the nature of authentic human freedom, the reflexive nature of human choice and the moral life, and the New Advent for all of humanity in Jesus Christ.
His writings were vast, 14 Encyclicals, 15 Apostolic Exhortations, 11 Apostolic Constitutions, 45 Apostolic Letters and five books, Crossing the Threshold of Hope (October 1994), Gift and Mystery, on the fiftieth anniversary of my ordination as priest” (November 1996), Roman Triptych poetic meditations (March 2003), Arise, Let us Be Going (May 2004) and Memory and Identity (February 2005).
He promulgated the current Official Catechism of the Catholic Church. He reformed the Eastern and Western Codes of Canon Law . He was an extraordinary Pope on every front, a man so holy that his life and death has inspired millions to pursue holiness in their own state in life.
His teaching magisterium set forth a framework for the New Evangelization of the Catholic Church which is currently underway. It is also informing a new missionary age. He helped to bring about an authentic renewal of the Catholic Church and reached out to the whole Christian community. He also reasserted the vital mission of the Church to engage and transform human culture, including the arts, politics, the academy, and economic and political realm.
He insisted that no area of human experience is off-limits to the influence of the Gospel and the Church. The Church is, in the words of the Fathers of the second Vatican Council, an expert in humanity and walks the way of the person.
Saint Pope John Paul II called all men and women to the Redeemer, Jesus Christ. He reminded us that only in Jesus Christ can we discover the purpose and fulfillment of human life, and our own lives. He proclaimed that human existence is an invitation to communion with God and with one another.
He told an age bent on self fulfillment that true human fulfillment only comes by giving ourselves as a gift in love to the God who gave His Son – and to one another. He called us to live a unity of life, wherein the implications of the Christian faith inform the entirety of our whole life, with no contradiction or separation into compartments.
He confronted, exposed and opposed, what he labeled the culture of death , wherein every human person is treated as an instrument to be used rather than an unrepeatable gift to be received. He proposed a different way, building a new culture of life where every human person, at every age and stage, is recognized as having an inviolable dignity and right to life, freedom and love.
He charted a path to peace and solidarity, by proclaiming to the nations that we are all our brothers’ keeper and that we owe an obligation in solidarity to one another and, most especially, to the poor in all of their manifestations.
He wrote of authentic freedom as a freedom for and not just a freedom from , a freedom that must be exercised properly, by choosing what is true, because there is a moral foundation to freedom.He affirmed the classical Christian of the moral obligation to choose and do what is right. His encyclical letter entitled The Splendor of Truth (Veritatis Splendor) sparked an ongoing renewal of moral theology.
He exposed what he called in his Encyclical The Gospel of Life a counterfeit notion of freedom as a raw power over others. He countered the false notion of the autonomy of the individual as the measure of a freedom to do whatever one wants – by insisting instead that the path to human flourishing is using our freedom, the mark of the Image of God within us, to choose to live in love.
He proclaimed the Christian faith is a new and true humanism because we can be made new in Jesus Christ, the first born of a new creation. We were created in the Image of God and made for communion. However, we abused our freedom.That is called sin. And in all those wrong choices, we continue to sin – and our freedom is fractured.
The only splint which can heal the fracture caused by sin is the Cross of Jesus Christ. John Paul proclaimed and carried the Cross of Christ with such eloquence and attractive example that he brought the world to its knees.
He insisted that only by applying the truths and principles found in the treasury of the social teaching of the Catholic Church – in our relationships with one another, in our families, in our societies, our nations and in the global community – can authentic justice and freedom be achieved.
This body of teaching, the Social Doctrine of the Church, is neither left nor right, it is a branch of moral theology and offered to the whole world. He authorized its compilation in a Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church which provides the raw material for a true rebirth of the social order, if it is followed and worked into the culture as leaven in a loaf, by men and women from every walk of life.
Entrusted for twenty six years with the most important role of service in the Church and the world, Saint Pope John Paul II was a prophetic Pope in word and deed. From his first encyclical letter entitled The Redeemer of Man to his last, the Church of the Eucharist, John Paul countered the moral relativism of the age by proclaiming that the truth is, as he wrote in his profound Encyclical Letter on the Moral Life, a splendor.
He called for reconciliation among separated Christians in his famous encyclical letter entitled May They Be One and proposed a new model of full communion with the Church which is beginning to be implemented. For example, under Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI with the creation of Anglican Ordinariates as an example, and now, with the extraordinary courage of Pope Francis reaching across confessional lines to embrace all Christians as brother and sister.
With deep love for what he called the Light of the East , John Paul called Eastern and Western Christianity to rediscover their dependence upon one another so that the entire Body of Christ might once again breathe with two lungs – and thus be able to present the whole Jesus Christ to a world that needs to be born again and liberated. Again, his successors have continued the effort, and the progress unfolds with extraordinary promise with the growing warmth between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches.
The oft-repeated paragraph 22 from Joy and Hope (Gaudium et spes) , one of Saint Pope John Paul’s favorite documents of the Second Vatican Council, is a key to understanding his theological anthropology:
In reality, it is only in the mystery of the word made flesh that the mystery of man truly becomes clear. For Adam, was a type of him who was to come, Christ the lord, Christ the new Adam, in the very revelation of the mystery of the Father and of His love, fully reveals man to himself and brings to light his most high calling.
John Paul II began his pontificate like a lion roaring and ended it like a lamb. The once vibrant, strong Pope became frail, sick and physically weak. The giant of a man who once climbed mountains, mounted the cross of human suffering and, in his frail frame, exercised the authority of his office from a unique chair, though still the Chair of Peter, a wheel chair.
How fitting it was that the champion of the weak, the disabled, the elderly, those who have no voice, was finally joined physically to them in order to show the world the truth of the beauty and dignity of every human life.
The Pope who revealed the love of God through years of emptying himself out for the Lord and His people showed us the beauty of a suffering endured in love and offered for others in his last days among us.
With decreasing verbal eloquence because his lips stammered from the ravages of Parkinson’s disease, he achieved something beyond words; he demonstrated the truth of the Christian message of love by revealing the God who came to suffer for us all in his beautiful silence
Then he went home to the Father having become a seed of the New Springtime he proclaimed; a grain of wheat like the Savior he followed.
The Lord Jesus proclaimed that “unless a grain of wheat fall to the ground ” and when this Pope’s prophetic mission on earth was over he joined the Lion of the Tribe of Judah and the Lamb who was slain for our sins. On April 2, at 9.37 p.m., the Octave of Easter and the Vigil of Divine Mercy Sunday, he died, falling to the ground as a grain of wheat in imitation of the Lord whom He loved and served so well.
Ten years after his death, I still deeply mourn his loss. I am still sad when I think of him. I still miss him. His theological work has become my passion – as I try to learn from the wealth of wisdom which this servant of the servants of God offered to the world. I do so through prayer, reflection and continual reading of his writings.
I also studied at his Graduate School, the John Paul II Institute, focusing on the theology of marriage and family. I am still trying to complete doctoral studies in Moral Theology, focusing on his contributions. However, most importantly, I am trying, with the help of grace, and in my own little way, to follow his example by living out my own vocation as a husband, father, grandfather and deacon of the church.
I have a long, long way to go. Every morning I ask for his help – and look at his smile in the multiple holy cards I have nestled in my Bible, the Liturgy of the Hours, and my books for reflection and contemplation. I know he is very much alive. I often think of the time I met him – and could not speak. And yes, believing as I do in the communion of saints, I talk to him.
On the tenth anniversary of his death, I honor my champion and hero, Pope St. John Paul II.
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