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The Autumn of His Life: A Tribute to Pope John Paul II

----- A Three Part Series -----

© Third Millennium, LLC
By: Deacon Keith A Fournier

Like the rest of the world, I was deeply moved by watching the latest papal journey.

Seeing this once robust man now rendered so frail, weakened by Parkinson's disease, stooped by age, so profoundly in love with the Lord whom he serves so well and the people for whom he offers even his suffering, made me reflect on how this Pope has touched my own life - and what it is about him that still inspires millions.

No longer even able to bend down in order to kiss the ground upon his arrival, he now has the soil lifted to his frail and shaking lips. There is something so moving, so beautiful about it all that words alone cannot begin to describe what it did to and for me.

The media, who has covered John Paul II more than any Pope in history, wasn't quite sure how to respond:


"But can a ''suffering pope'' preside over what some call the world's oldest multinational corporation? And how does his example come across in a secular society that regards him as the powerful head of a powerful organization?

''It doesn't translate very well in our media,'' says Thompson, the Syracuse professor. ''Theologically, what he's doing makes sense. But the media don't understand theological nuances. The images of this trip will be of an infirm old man in the midst of an institutional crisis. . . . It's a PR nightmare in the midst of a PR nightmare.''
USA TODAY July 22, 2002


"The great man of the age, a giant, the old pope, comes to our continent, to Canada, and arouses now a thing he never inspired, pity. Well, pity and awe. The Toronto Sun called the trip "a stubborn act of courage" and said his arrival was "magnificent." On Wednesday when a little girl was pushed forward to greet him on behalf of the children of Canada, she seemed to flinch, accepted his kiss and fled in tears. Her mother later said she was so moved she wept. But she seemed frightened to me, and understandably. Why would God allow the slow public withering of the man who fills the shoes of the Fisherman just as the Church rocks with crisis? Is God allowing the beauty and gallantry of John Paul's soul to be obscured and hidden from us by the now-rough outer shell? Why? Is the pope bearing the woe of the world outwardly, for all of us to see? What does his suffering mean? What are we to learn from it?"

Peggy Noonan, "A Time of Lore"


Yet his message continued with consistency and crystal clarity. Though spoken with a whisper now rather than a roar, it still possessed the clarity and prophetic insight that has been the hallmark of his service:


''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 pope said. ''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


I believe that our beloved pope, John Paul II, is now in the autumn of his life. In order to treat the implications of what all of this may mean, I offer the following three part series.

As in the natural order, so in the supernatural, there are times and seasons.

The autumn is a time when the "grains of wheat", the seeds, must fall to the ground. The beloved disciple John records the Masters reflections on his own 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.


This treasure of a pope, John Paul II, is walking the way of all mankind toward his death, and the Passage into eternal life. However, he is doing so configured to the life -and the death- of the Son of Man.

He has become a grain of wheat.

All that he has lived, written, prayed, prophesied and embodied will produce lasting fruit for the Church and the world. He is living a redemptive life by participating in the redemption of Jesus through his persevering ministry -even to point of visibly 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.


John Paul II is sharing in the sufferings of the Savior whom he loves and whose message he lives and proclaims. As we observe the path he walks, the entire world is witnessing a drama of redemption- and the autumn is soon upon us. However, as in nature, so in his life, the autumn is preceded by a spring and a summer.


Part I :The Spring

On October 22, 1978, Pope John Paul II stepped out on to the balcony in St. Peters Square and signaled his mission:

"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 proclaimed to cheering throngs of the faithful gathered in St. Peter's square.

One of the chief architects of the Second Vatican Council and it's extraordinary document on the Church in the Modern World, "Joy and Hope", (Gaudium et Spes) now occupied the chair of Peter.

In his invitation to build what he would later call a new "Culture of Life" and "Civilization of Love", this giant of a man stepped not only onto the balcony of St. Peter's, but also onto the world's stage.

History would never be the same.

Perhaps never in the history of the Church has such a talented and gifted "man of letters" ever occupied this office. He is an intellectual giant, a philosopher, a playwright, a poet, and a genuine human being.

However, not only has he been entrusted with the most important role of service in the Church and the world, I believe that he is a Prophet. His prophetic gift is "incarnated" in his writings and his witness of a life of holiness and redemptive love for "the world".

From his first encyclical letter entitled "The Redeemer of Man" forward he has not stopped passionately re-presenting the classical, unchanging, Christian message with a prophetic urgency, profound clarity and contemporary relevance to the "modern world".

The transforming themes of his efforts have been memorialized for future generations in a body of rich theology (and philosophy) that lays the ground for a renewal and reform of the Church and through her, the transformation of human culture. They were developed over years of his writings and produced more encyclical letters and apostoclic letters than any Pope in history.

The oft-repeated paragraph 22 from "Joy and Hope" is a key to understanding John Paul's deep faith in the dignity of every human person and their eternal destiny and vocation as intricately connected to Jesus Christ:


"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."


He was a chief architect of the second Vatican Council and many speculate that these words (and others) were actually a part of his contribution. They reflect the foundation for what would flourish in his writings when he writes of "new" and "true" humanism, a calls for a "new" feminism reflecting the "feminine genius", and lays a foundation for every area of theological inquiry through the entire body of his rich theology.

There is not one area of theological or [philosophical inquiry untouched. Not one "ology" in the entire sphere of what we call "theology" that has not been given his inspired touch, his extraordinarily well developed anthropology, ecclesiology, soteriology, eschatology and even his insights into issues such as economics and the "social question" have shaped the Church for her future mission.

He is an intellectual giant.

However, he is something so much more important, he is a humble, holy servant in whom the "little ones" see Jesus manifested. He carries on the incarnation. That is because he has himself been captured by the One whom he serves so well.

He had responded to his own vocation in a Poland under the terrible bondage of a false ideology. He lived through a war that witnessed false ideologies, left and right, promise utopian accomplishments and leave in their wake, death, destruction and the loss of the fundamental truth concerning the dignity of every human person as an unrepeatable image of the God who created them.

Karol Wojtyla , a trained philosopher, a playwright, a theologian, an artist but most of all a truly and authentically human person who knew that the fulfillment of the aspirations of every man and woman were to be found in Jesus Christ who "fully reveals man to himself and brings to light his most high calling," began very early on to present the Christian claim in the culture and the language of the age.

He did not call for a retrenchment or a return to a former age, but insisted instead that Jesus Christ, the Gospel and His Church are 'forever young" and eternally relevant. His unique ability to impart the love of God to any whom he would encounter, from heads of State to the poorest of the poor, knows no bounds and few equals in history. From the smallest of children to the most sophisticated scholar, to every race, culture and age group, he preaches and embodies the gospel.

He is a man on mission.

Taking the names of John and Paul, his two predecessors who had laid the framework for the extraordinary renewal of the Holy Spirit that was the Second Vatican Council, Pope John Paul II knew that for the true fruit of that Council to truly be borne and flourish required great prayer, intense sacrifice and hard work.

He was ready for the task.

He stepped out onto the world's stage, into our hearts and into the springtime of his own life. This Pope, full of vitality, who was, in fact, a mountain climber, had mountains to climb on a pilgrimage that has changed the Church he serves. It has also changed the world into which she is called to continue the redemptive mission of her founder, Jesus Christ.

And climb them he did, bringing the Church and the world along with him on the journey of extraordinary faith that has marked the life and ministry of this man whom history will record as "John Paul the Great"

He climbed the intellectual mountains of "modernism", "secularism" and so many others as he engaged the entire palatte of "ism's" that had contended for the hearts and minds of men, women and nations throughout the twentieth century.

He neither feared nor retreated from their claims but rather met them in the field of battle. He did so through his extraordinary engagement of the "modern world" and its ideologies with the Christian claim by using the pen of a scribe, revealing the heart of a saint and drawing upon the stamina of a trained athlete.

"Be Not Afraid"

This dynamic Pope is a deeply dedicated man of prayer, rising early every morning to draw strength from the Captain whom he serves. He knows the monumental task that the Church faces both within and without.

He is a warrior pope, unafraid of battling with the ancient enemy of the soul and unafraid of the challenges presented to the Church by the modern world.

Yes, he has written more than any Pope in history. However, the contributions that he has made will only begin to bear the lasting fruit they are intended to bear when he has finished his race.

It truly has been a race.

He is rightly called the "Pilgrim Pope." Since 1978 he has crossed the globe and spoken to more people than any Pope in history. He has logged more miles traveling than all other popes combined. He has completed almost one hundred pastoral journeys outside of Italy and 141 within, visiting 120 countries during his 24 years as the "servant of the servants of God", the Pope.

He was consecrated a Bishop at the age of 38, the youngest bishop in modern Polish history. At the age of 47 he was elevated to the College of Cardinals, again the youngest, and called to lead his beloved Poland from the devastation wrought by the counterfeit promises of creating a "new man" without redemption - the ideology of Marxism that had devastated his nation and so many others.

He spoke into that bankrupted system with extraordinary insights into what it was about the Marxist ideology that led so many to buy the lie, making Poland an officially atheist country. He lived and presented the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, whose redemption alone can make one new, as the path to true and authentic human freedom, personal, social, cultural, economic and national.

Nine years later he was elevated to the College of Cardinals, the youngest cardinal, guiding the faithful in a country that was officially atheist, even though the population was overwhelmingly Catholic.

In 1978, at the age of 58, the College of Cardinals elected him to lead the entire Catholic Church. He has used every vehicle of communication, including his embrace of the new technologies of communication such as the World Wide Web, in a passionate commitment to proclaiming the message of the Gospel as the hope of the entire human race and the only path to true human fulfillment and peace.

I will never forget the vibrant energetic smile of that young Pope, filled with hope, proclaiming "Be Not Afraid!" on that historic day in October, 1978. The whole world fell in love with him. He was in the springtime of his ministry. The world was watered by the spring rains that flowed from his walk with the Lord and in the Holy Spirit and the Church awakened to the promise of his pontificate.

There was so much more that he would offer as the spring turned to summer.


Next: Part II. The summer of his Service


Rev. Mr. Keith A Fournier, the founder and president of "Common Good", is a constitutional lawyer. Long active in political participation, Fournier was a founder of Catholic Alliance and served as its first President. He is a pro-life and pro-family lobbyist. He was the first Executive Director of the ACLJ (American Center for Law and Justice). He also served as an advisor to the presidential campaign of Steve Forbes. Fournier holds a Bachelors degree (B.A.) from Franciscan University of Steubenville in Philosophy and Theology, a Masters Degree (M.T.S.) in Sacred Theology from the John Paul II Institute of the Lateran University, a Juris Doctor (J.D.) from the University of Pittsburgh and an Honorary Doctor of Laws (L.L.D.) from St. Thomas University. Fournier is the author of seven books on issues concerning life, faith, evangelization, ecumenism, family, political participation, public policy and cultural issues. He is a features editor for Catholic Online and the Co-Director of "Your Catholic Voice"


Common Good VA, US
Deacon Keith Fournier - President/Founder, 757 546-9580



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