The Grain of Wheat: R.I.P. Pope John Paul II
By Deacon Keith Fournier
© Third Millennium, LLC
"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. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be. The Father will honor whoever serves me."
John 12: 21-24
Like multiple millions throughout the entire world, my eyes and my heart have been turned to Rome during the events of this last week. The servant of the Servants of God, Pope John Paul II has now been placed in the earth. The "transitus", the passing to eternal life, of this holy and wonderful gift from God is completed. The whole world has literally stood still, profoundly and significantly changed by the events of the week, but, more importantly, by the profound witness of one man so singularly conformed to the One whom he served, Jesus Christ.
The timing of this event is so prophetically profound that it belies words. He died as he lived, giving himself in surrendered love to the Lord, for the Lord and, in the Lord, for others; carrying forward the redemptive mission of Jesus, through his words and his witness of life and death. In fact, there is little doubt that he was, in both life and death, a "living letter", as St Paul wrote. Now, like the Master whom he loved so eloquently, he has become a "grain of wheat", fallen to the ground. On the last day, he, with the scores of all who died in Christ, will rise to the fullness of salvation, receiving his gloriously transformed and resurrected body to dwell with the Lord in a new heaven and a new earth.
However, until then, his legacy is a gift package to the Church and the world, waiting to be unpacked. Let us begin this work! Like so many others, my life has been forever changed by this giant and prophet who occupied Peters chair for such a brief time. As a young man, I was captured by his life, his message and his profound "hermeneutic", his vision and message for our age. Once I started reading his writings, I knew I could not stop. I had to consume them, become them and offer them to others. The events of this past week have only heightened my passion and deepened my resolve.
Over all these years, I have tried, to proclaim and practice his message of love and life, his new evangelization, his extraordinary call to communion and authentic ecumenism, his culturally engaging message of authentic freedom, and, though I have done a little, I have failed to even touch the task. However, most importantly, I know the task does not end with my beloved Pope being paced in the dirt this morning. In fact, it has just begun. I know that in John Paul II, we are given a gift for building the Third Christian Millennium. His body of teachings, contained in his letters, his apostolic exhortations, his allocutions and his encyclical letters, re-present the timeless relevance of the fullness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to an age that has lost its heart and soul. They also give all of us who are left behind the materials out of which we must now rebuild the Church and, through her, begin a new missionary age. Our call is the same call that has faced the Christian Church of every age, to restore all things in Christ, to bring a dying world and its inhabitants back to life through an encounter with Jesus Christ who is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Above all else, this is the message of the last week. Pope John Paul II is the great evangelist of the Third Christian Millennium.
Yes, his name, and his service over the last twenty six years, carried forward the trajectory of the Second Vatican Council, the great missionary and ecumenical Council of the last part of the Second Millennium. Yes, by choosing that name, he honored the work and memory of his predecessors, John XXIII, Paul VI, and John Paul I - and signaled the continuity of the true message of that Council, which he had so much to do with. But he did so much more. He embodied the spirit of the original Christian leaders who bore those names.
He lived the Gospel of Love that was written -and lived - by the beloved disciple, the Apostle John who gave us the fourth gospel in the New Testament along with the beautiful epistles that bear his name. He lived the passion and holy compulsion demonstrated by the great Apostle and Evangelist Paul who took that Gospel of Jesus Christ out to the ends of the earth and also left us, in the Canon of the Bible, the most profound theology of the mission of the Church. John Paul II was a "living letter" or a "living epistle" and his life and death have touched an age desperately in need of redemption. He was a Patristic Pope, a Father, and his death now heralds a new Patristic Age. His message must now be unpacked. Now that he is with the father, our task has just begun.
Like millions, I am convinced, and have been for many years, that history will record him as "John Paul the Great." However, I am even more convinced that history has been and will be written anew as his message becomes a living legacy of renewal. He has given us a body of work through which we who have survived the mourning of these days must now usher in the "New Evangelization" and "Springtime" of world missions that he proclaimed. Like a grain of wheat, he has fallen to the ground. But also, like a grain of wheat, he had to, in order for the fruit and the harvest to be borne.
Let us rise now, dry our tears, and begin the work. Let us proclaim the joy of the Good News of Jesus Christ to the "ends of the earth". Let us rebuild a fallen world, transforming it from a culture of death into a culture of life and a civilization of love. Let us become the apostles of the coming restoration of the Church and let us say yes to the vocation of the age. Let us lose our life, and find it once again, made new in Jesus Christ and given now for others. That is the beginning of our continuing response of love, building a living legacy to Pope John Paul II.
There is no doubt that we had a saint in our midst. One who was so filled with the life of Jesus Christ that, like the Apostle Paul, he no longer lived but "Christ lived in him." That is the only explanation for the absolutely miraculous way in which the world has stood still, watching, weeping, praying and reflecting during these events of the last few weeks. Consciously or unconsciously, millions have been led into an encounter with the Lord through the life and death of one of his servants. After all, that was his life's work.
That work must now continue through us.
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 Law 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
http://www.catholic.org VA, US
Deacon Keith Fournier - Deacon, 757 546-9580
John Paul II
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