Speaking Through Silence
© Third Millennium, LLC
By: Deacon Keith A Fournier
Like millions of Catholics, other Christians, people of faith and people of good will the world over, I am keeping a vigil of prayer for Pope John Paul II. I have signed up online for "breaking news", I have found myself turning news on with ridiculous frequency, hoping to hear encouraging, or other news. As a member of the Clergy of my Diocese I have been sent "talking points", by my Diocese, to explain how Popes are elected or, to speak to the Pope's life and mission, should the press contact me. The whole world is watching.
Over the last few years, seeing this once robust man now rendered so frail, weakened by Parkinson's disease, stooped by age, yet so clearly and profoundly in love with the Lord whom he serves so well and the people for whom he offers even his suffering, has made me reflect on how this Pope has touched my own life - and what it is about him that still inspires millions. It is quite simple, he is so genuinely holy. The word itself literally means to be "set aside" for God. For example, objects, such as chalices and patens, are made holy when they are set aside and used for the Eucharistic sacrifice. People are made holy when they freely choose to totally surrender their lives in love to Jesus Christ and then, in Him, to give themselves up for the world.
It came as no surprise to me that the first words that Pope John Paul II scribbled on a pad upon awakening from his recent tracheotomy (after his characteristic deferential humor "What have you done to me?") were those that express his consecrated life: "I am forever Totus Tuus (all yours)." He has surrendered himself to the maternal care of Mary as he lives out his vocation to follow Jesus Christ, her Son and Savior.
How long ago it now seems that this same Pope who is resting in a hospital bed, silenced by a tracheotomy, once traversed the globe as a missionary. I remember him stooping down upon arriving anywhere and kissing the soil, as a part of a prayer of re-consecrating the world that God had created back to Him, through Jesus Christ. Then, all too soon it seemed, he was no longer even able to bend down, so he had the soil lifted to his frail and shaking lips. The media, who has covered John Paul II more than any Pope in history, wasn't quite sure how to respond to all this as John Paul graciously entered into the autumn of his life. In a society that has attempted to reduce human beings into human doings, a utilitarian society that has equated worth to function, they could not begin to grasp the message and the mission of a suffering servant Pope.
With the beauty of age, his message came through with even more clarity. Though spoken with a whisper rather than a roar, it possessed the prophetic insight that has been the hallmark of his service. He led us into that Third Millennium that he had written, spoken and prayed so much about, telling the whole world as we crossed over what he had called the "threshold of hope":
''The new millennium opened with two contrasting scenarios: one, the sight of multitudes of pilgrims coming to Rome during the Great Jubilee to pass through the Holy Door which is Christ, our savior and redeemer; and the other, the terrible terrorist attack on New York, an image that is a sort of icon of a world in which hostility and hatred seem to prevail....Christ alone is the cornerstone on which it is possible solidly to build one's existence.... The 20th century often tried to do without that cornerstone, and attempted to build the city of man without reference to him. It ended by actually building that city against man. Christians know that it is not possible to reject or ignore God without demeaning man.'' Pope John Paul II
Our beloved pope, John Paul II had entered the autumn of his life with a beauty and dignity that holy men and women possess. This beauty and dignity comes from deep within where the source of all goodness, the living God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, dwells. As in the natural order, so in the supernatural, there are times and seasons in every human life. The autumn is a time when the "grains of wheat", the seeds, must fall to the ground. The beloved disciple John recorded the Masters reflections on his own impending death in the twelfth chapter of his gospel:
"Jesus answered them, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit."
John Paul II is now walking the way of all mankind toward his death and the Passage into eternal life. He is doing so configured to the life -and the death- of the Son of Man. All that he has lived, written, prayed, prophesied and embodied will produce lasting fruit for the Church and the world. He is living a "co-redemptive" life by participating in the redemption of Jesus through participating in the "fellowship of suffering" of which that great apostle Paul wrote to the Christians at Philippi:
"But whatever gains I had, these I have come to consider a loss because of Christ. More than that, I even consider everything as a loss because of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have accepted the loss of all things and I consider them so much rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having any righteousness of my own based on the law but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God, depending on faith to know him and the power of his resurrection and (the) sharing of his sufferings by being conformed to his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead." (Phillipians 3: 7-11)
Pope John Paul II now willingly and lovingly shares in the sufferings of the Savior whom he follows and whose message he lives and proclaims. He does so in the full view of an age that fears suffering and fights with utter futility the inevitability of death. He shows us all that for men and women of faith, death can become a friend and a doorway to life.
As we observe the path that he now walks, the entire world is witnessing a drama of redemption. The winter is upon us. However, as in nature, so in his life, this winter will be followed by the spring.
Just a few weeks ago, he was hospitalized and the world paused. "Was it time?" we asked. It seemed particularly significant to me that that last appointment with sickness and suffering involved intense difficulty with breathing. I wrote then that this Pope who has repeatedly called, with great prophetic urgency, for the "two lungs" of the Church, East and West, to breathe together again, in order for the "New Springtime" of Christianity in the Third Christian Millennium to truly begin, was perhaps being given a little more time to continue this last great missionary effort, advancing the coming communion between the two lungs of Christianity, East and west.
In the Old Testament, the prophet was often asked by the Lord to live the message that he proclaimed in a symbolic way. To, in a sense, become the message. One has only to call to mind Hosea's marriage to a harlot as a prophetic sign of Israel's infidelity to her Lord and the Lord's redemptive mercy, always ready to forgive. (Hosea 1:4-9). This tradition of prophetic action has continued throughout the history of our beloved Church in the lives of great men and women, the Saints and Heroes of the faith, who continue to "incarnate" God's love and reveal the beauty of the face of Christ in our midst.
It is in this tradition that Pope John Paul II now exercises his Petrine ministry, one day at a time. With this latest hospitalization I see emerging an even more profound prophetic message from the silence of this holy man, as he surrenders to death, unafraid, before the whole world.
Jesus spoke to Peter: "Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go." (St John 21:18) This Pope is poured out, in the words of St .Paul, like a "drink offering" for others. Soon, he will "finish the race" (2 Timothy 4:6-8); and we will mourn. However, then he will be home and we will carry on the great work that he has proclaimed in both word and deed.
When he goes home to the heart of the Father he will leave us a legacy of love, still to be unpacked, containing the material from which the great restoration of the Church and - through her the world - will proceed. Barely able to steady his hand to hold a pen, he writes "totus tuus" to his friends at bedside. This athletic Pope, who once climbed mountains and has been presiding over the universal Church from a wheelchair, now does so from a hospital bed, and in his silence he speaks a final message that sums it all up. He tells us the very words with which he began his wonderful service to the Church and the world "Be Not Afraid.".
This giant of a man, who once climbed mountains, has mounted the cross of human suffering and, in his frail frame, exercises the authority of his office from a hospital bed, with the help of a breathing tube. This is all happening during the same week that dear Terri Schiavo, in a bed in Florida, in the United States, is fighting to stay alive, through her parents; while the denizens of death seek judicial protection for their murderous efforts to starve her to death. How fitting it is that the champion of the weak, the disabled, the elderly, those who have no voice, is now joined to her, showing the world the truth of the beauty and dignity of every human life! She has a tube to help her eat, he a tube to help him breathe.
This man, who has so profoundly "incarnated" the love of God and the truth of the Christian faith throughout his years of emptying himself out for the Lord and His people, now shows us the beauty of a suffering endured in love and offered for others. In one of his shorter apostolic letters entitled "On the Christian meaning of Human Suffering", written in 1984, he concluded with these words:
"This is the meaning of suffering, which is truly supernatural and at the same time human. It is supernatural because it is rooted in the divine mystery of the Redemption of the world, and it is likewise deeply human, because in it the person discovers himself, his own humanity, his own dignity, his own mission.
Suffering is certainly part of the mystery of man. Perhaps suffering is not wrapped up as much as man is by this mystery, which is an especially impenetrable one. The Second Vatican Council expressed this truth that "...only in the mystery of the Incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light. In fact..., Christ, the final Adam, by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and his love, fully reveals man to himself and makes his supreme calling clear". If these words refer to everything that concerns the mystery of man, then they certainly refer in a very special way to human suffering. Precisely at this point the "revealing of man to himself and making his supreme vocation clear" is particularly indispensable. It also happens as experience proves--that this can be particularly dramatic. But when it is completely accomplished and becomes the light of human life, it is particularly blessed. "Through Christ and in Christ, the riddles of sorrow and death grow meaningful".
I now end the present considerations on suffering in the year in which the Church is living the extraordinary Jubilee linked to the anniversary of the Redemption. The mystery of the Redemption of the world is in an amazing way rooted in suffering, and this suffering in turn finds in the mystery of the Redemption its supreme and surest point of reference."
In his silence, this Pope speaks the truth of the Christian message of love by revealing the God who came to suffer for us all in Jesus Christ. His continued presence, in that hospital bed, speaking in silence, invites all to give ourselves away in love to God, in and in Him, for one another.
Soon Pope John Paul will go home to the Father, having become a seed of the "New Springtime" he has proclaimed. We who are left behind must build a living legacy in his honor, a Church that is holy, proclaiming and demonstrating the "good news" of the Gospel that this wonderful Pope has proclaimed in word and in deed.
Until then let us continue to keep watch and listen as he speaks through silence.
Thank you for the great gift of your Servant of Servants, Pope John Paul II. We ask you, in the name of your beloved Son, Jesus Christ, whose Vicar he is, that you surround him with your holy angels during his time in the hospital. We ask, out of your abundant mercy, that you comfort him and speak to him as he seeks you in this time of illness. We also thank you that you are speaking through him, even in his silence. May the world hear the message, turn from sin and believe the Gospel."
Deacon Keith Fournier is a married Roman Catholic Deacon of the Diocese of Richmond, Virginia who also serves the Melkite Greek catholic Eparchy with permission. A graduate of the Franciscan University of Steubenville, the John Paul II Institute of the Lateran University and the University Of Pittsburgh School Of Law, Deacon Fournier has been a human rights lawyer and policy advocate as well as an author and communicator, proclaiming and helping to build a new culture of life and civilization of love. Having recently turned fifty, he has dedicated the "second half" of his life to making the teachings of Pope John Paul II known and offering them as the path toward the authentic renewal of Church and culture.
Third Millennium, LLC
http://www.catholic.org VA, US
Deacon Keith Fournier - Deacon, 757 546-9580
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