Be Not Afraid!
By Deacon Keith Fournier
© Third Millennium, LLC
"I am happy. You should be too. Let us pray together with joy" Pope John Paul II
"Now it begins...now it all begins." Words spoken by Zerah upon entering the crypt and seeing the cloth lying on the empty slab. Franco Zeffirelli's, Jesus of Nazareth
"I feel that my mission is about to begin, my mission to make God loved as I love him, to teach souls my little way ... the way of trust and absolute surrender ... I will spend heaven doing good on earth." St. Therese
The words were just announced to a waiting world "Pope John Paul II has died." The heart of that world has broken. The tears of the faithful will fill rivers. We will pray, and reflect on the life and example of this incredible gift, Pope John Paul II, for centuries to come. We had in our midst, John Paul the Great.
With millions of the faithful throughout the world, I watched and prayed throughout these painful days for our Pope. He showed us how to live for Jesus Christ. He showed us how to love, poured out for others. He showed us that suffering, joined to the Savior, can become a sign of God's continued mercy and an occasion of grace. Then, he showed us how to die, not with fear, but with faith.
Just this morning, he spoke these words to a friend at his bedside "I am happy. You should be too. Let us pray together with joy"
It seems like only yesterday that 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!"
He strode onto that platform with strength and vitality. This mountain climbing 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 represents on earth. He was truly the "Vicar of Christ", representing the Lord, the King of Kings, for us all. We had him but a short time.
Now, he is home with the Lord.
He lived what he boldly proclaimed with such 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 passionately proclaimed the ever new, classical, unchanging, Christian message with a prophetic urgency, profound clarity and contemporary relevance.
Many tried to label him a "conservative" or a "traditionalist". He demonstrated just how shallow and worthless the labels are. He was a Christian, who stood on the shoulders of giants, rooted in the ancient rich tradition of the Church, proclaiming the unchanging message of Jesus Christ whom he regularly proclaimed as "forever young."
Communism, atheism, secularism, false humanisms, were exposed in their empty promises and the horrors that they unleashed in the wake of their false utopian claims were ended because he had the courage to stand up to the tyrants with the bold message of the God who came among us and makes us all new! He taught that 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. He was, himself, as the Apostle Paul wrote, a "living letter."
In all of his writings and allocutions, this "Pope of popes" gave us a treasury that we must now unpack. Though we no longer have him to hold, the legacy that he left us must be made flesh. We must build a living legacy. The themes of his pontificate provide the building material for a restored Church and, through her, the culture of life and civilization of love can be spread throughout the whole 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"; "A New Catholic Action", and a "New Advent" for all of humanity in Jesus Christ.
His rich teaching can lead to a transformation of the arts, politics, the academy, and economic and political theory -the entirety of culture- because, as he so wonderfully preached and demonstrated, 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". She is, in the words of the early Christian Fathers, the "world reconciled", and the "world transfigured." Her mission to the world is today, as it has been from the beginning, to continue the redemptive mission of Jesus Christ until He returns.
That task is now ours.
Pope John Paul II called all men and women to Jesus Christ. He taught that in Him alone we discover the purpose of human life. He proclaimed that human existence is an invitation to communion with God and with one another. He proclaimed to an age bent of "self fulfillment" that human fulfillment only comes through giving ourselves in love to God and to one another. He called us to live an integrated Christian faith and lifestyle, what he called a "unity of life", wherein the implications of the Christian faith inform the entirety of our life with no contradiction or separation.
Confronting and exposing the "culture of death", he proclaimed in its place a different way, 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 authentic 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 in our midst. He wrote of authentic freedom as a freedom "for" and not just a freedom "from"; that freedom that must be bounded by truth and lived in accordance with the moral imperative of choosing what is right.
He exposed as a "counterfeit notion of freedom" the contemporary notion of the autonomy of the individual and the power to do whatever one chooses. He spoke of human solidarity and our call to communion as the path to authentic human freedom, rooted in truth and committed to the common good. He proclaimed that human flourishing passes through living this communion. He called for a new and true humanism, built upon a rediscovery of the truth that we were created in the Image of God, called to become fully human only by giving ourselves away in love.
He insisted that through applying the treasury of the social teaching of the Catholic Church, authentic justice and freedom as well as the "Joy and Hope" for which we all hunger, could actually be achieved. His writings provide the tools we now need to build this new culture of life and this civilization of love. Not only are they treasuries of rich theology and philosophy but they offer principles that, when unpacked and applied, will change entire cultures and build truly just political and economic systems.
The work of unpacking and building are ours now. It can be our tribute to this giant of a pope, a living legacy in his honor. Pope John Paul II was a Prophet. From his first encyclical letter to his last he proclaimed that the truth can be known by all men and women. He called for reconciliation among separated Christians and, in one of his most profound encyclical letters, "May They Be One", offered the path to a new model of communion. With deep love, respect and dedication for the "Light of the East" he called for Eastern and Western Christianity to rediscover their absolute dependence upon one another in order that the entire Body of Christ might breathe with "two lungs" and present the whole Jesus Christ to a world that needs to be liberated. This work must become our work now.
Now it begins.
Pope John Paul II was an extraordinary gift. His life and death can, if we choose, usher in a great missionary age. The body of work that he has left to us is as profound for our age as the work of Thomas Aquinas was for his. I recall that when I began my studies at his Institute, I informed a fellow student, a priest, that I felt that "a greater than Thomas was here" in the person of John Paul II. He asked if I truly believed that. My answer then, and now, is the same.
It is no accident that the God whom he served with such beauty, the One who is "Rich in Mercy", allowed his son to live until the Feast that he cherished and helped to bring to the universal Church, the Feast of Divine Mercy. He understood the depths of that Mercy. He now lives in the heart of God of Mercy and calls us all to "Be Not Afraid."
I believe the true work now begins; to build a living legacy in his honor. He is praying for us now. Like Therese whose little way he loved, he too "will spend his heaven doing good on earth."
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. He is a human rights lawyer and public policy advocate. Deacon Fournier is a graduate of the Franciscan University of Steubenville (BA), the John Paul II Institute of the Lateran University(MTS), and the University of Pittsburgh School of Law(JD). He also holds honorary Doctorates in Humane letters and Divinity (LLD,DD) He is the Senior Editor and Correspondent for Catholic Online and a contributing Editor for Traditional Catholic Reports and Reflections. Deacon Fournier has written hundreds of articles on faith and life and seven books. His eighth book, The Prayer of Mary: Living the Surrendered Life" will be released by Thomas Nelson this summer. Long active in efforts to bring Christians together, Fournier is well known in the broad Christian community. Having recently turned fifty, he has dedicated the "second half of life" to making the teachings of Pope John Paul II known to the world.
Third Millennium, LLC
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John Paul II
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