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45 Years Ago - A Tribute to Pope Saint John Paul II
On October 16, 2023, we commemorated the election of Pope St John Paul II as the successor of the Apostle Peter, the Bishop of Rome, the Pope. This is a Tribute.
Photo credit: Ajayjoseph Fdo
In October of 1978, 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 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 occupied the chair of Peter with a grace and dignity which pointed all who encountered him to the Lord Jesus whom he served. 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. This mountain climbing Polish Pope was so filled with the love of God that it was contagious. He was 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 so beautifully as Vicar on earth, the King of Kings, Jesus the Lord.
Like a lion in Peter's chair, he consistently and tirelessly lived what he 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 human history. He never stopped passionately re-presenting the classical, unchanging, Christian message with a prophetic urgency, profound clarity, and contemporary relevance.
Communism, atheism, secularism, false humanisms ... were all exposed in both their empty promises and the horrors that they had unleashed with their false utopian claims. Pope John Paul II proclaimed that the "Redeemer of Man" (the title of his first encyclical letter), Jesus Christ, was 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 developed many themes during his service to the Church and the world. Among them; "The Culture of Life", "The Civilization of Love", "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.
He called all men and women to the One Redeemer, Jesus Christ, to be set free from the consequences of sin and made new. In Jesus Christ they were invited to discover the purpose and fulfillment of human life itself. He proclaimed the truth that human existence is an invitation to communion with God and with one another. He told an age bent of "self-fulfillment" bordering on self-worship, that we can only find our human fulfillment in giving ourselves away in love, to God and, in Him, to one another, as a gift.
He called us to live a dynamic, integrated Christian faith and lifestyle, what he called a "unity of life", wherein the implications of the Christian faith inform the entirety of our lives with no contradiction or separation.
Confronting and exposing what he called the "culture of death", wherein the human person is treated as an instrument to be used rather than an unrepeatable gift to be received, he proposed a different way, that of 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 spoke of building a "Civilization of Love" and called us to be about the task of building it.
He insisted that the path to authentic peace and solidarity, requires that we understand that we are our brothers' keeper and that we owe an obligation in solidarity to one another and, most especially, to the poor in all their manifestations in our midst.
He wrote of authentic freedom as a freedom "for" and not just a freedom "from", a freedom that must be bounded by truth and lived in accordance with the moral obligation to do what is right. A Freedom which must be directed to what is true, beautiful, noble, and good. He decried what he called a "counterfeit notion of freedom" as a raw power over others. He rejected any false notion of the autonomy of the individual and insisted on the Christian vision of the human person as made for communion and self-gift.
He proclaimed that the path to authentic human flourishing is only found in this rediscovery of our call to communion with God and, in Him, with one another. His writings thus proclaimed a new and true humanism, a rediscovery of the truth that we were created in the Image of God, made for communion, and that we can only become fully human when we live that communion.
He insisted that the treasury of the Social teaching of the Catholic Church was for the whole world offering principles which could help in building truly just and peaceful societies which promoted the real common good. He insisted that the Social Teaching, properly understood and taught, was a path to authentic peace and principles for just international relations. He was right. The problem is that Catholic Social teaching largely remains both unread and untried or coopted by some with other objectives.
His writings, in continuity with the Sacred Tradition, still provide the tools we need to build this new culture of life and this civilization of love. The Compendium of the Social teaching of the Catholic Church was dedicated to him as the "Master of Social Doctrine and Evangelical Witness to Justice and Peace". The work of unpacking and building this body of teaching to which he invited us remains. His witness in life and death, beyond his brief time with us, beckons us to continue it, forty five years later.
I believe that Pope Saint John Paul II was a Prophet. From his first encyclical letter "The Redeemer of Man" to his last, "The Church of the Eucharist", he eloquently, with deep spiritual beauty, and extraordinary eloquence, proclaimed that Truth is, as he wrote in one of his finest Moral encyclicals, entitled the "Splendor of Truth", is all a "splendor." To an age which denies the very existence of objective truth, He proclaimed that it is manifested in Jesus Christ, the Way, the Truth and the Life.
He called for reconciliation among separated Christians and, in one of his encyclical letters entitled "May They Be One" he offered a path to a new model of Christian cooperation which should be taken up in this age of continuing division among Christians. 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 Jesus Christ might rise up and once again breathe with "two lungs" in order to present the Lord Jesus Christ to a world that needs to be liberated.
The transforming themes of his pontificate laid the ground for an authentic renewal of the Church and, through her, the transformation of human culture. The oft-repeated paragraph 22 from "Joy and Hope", which many say he authored, is a key to understanding his thought, deep faith and hope:
"...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."
Our Catholic Christian faith does not just speak only to our "personal" lives. It is not only "private". It is meant to inform and transform the entire way we both view and live our daily lives. It is also profoundly public, to be lived out as an integrated whole. He showed us the way this is done by his example.
He began his pontificate like a Lion roaring. He ended it as a Lamb.
A once vibrant, strong Pope became frail, sick and physically weak. Then, like the grain of wheat of which the Lord spoke (John 12: 24-26), he fell to the ground and died. That giant of a man, who once climbed mountains, symbolically mounted the cross of human suffering and, in his frail frame, exercised the authority of his office from the Chair of Peter, a wheel chair.
How fitting for the champion of the weak, the disabled, the elderly, those who have no voice, that he was joined physically to them to show the world the truth of the beauty and dignity of every human life! He "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. He showed us the beauty of a suffering endured in love and offered for others.
Then, 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. His presence invited us to give ourselves away in love. Even in his beautiful silence.
He has joined the Lion of the Tribe of Judah and the Lamb who was slain for our sins. He heard those wonderful words "Well done, good and faithful servant".
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