Thursday, April 28, 2011

Beatification of Blessed Pope John Paul II

Pope John Paul II had a tremendous impact on the Church, partly simply because of the length of his pontificate -- 27 years, I believe the third longest -- but especially because of the way he travelled and preached the Good News so passionately. People all over the world saw in him a fearless, committed, and above all holy leader and servant of Christ. The chants of "Santo subito!" which rang so loudly at his funeral six years ago were a clear popular recognition of that. Holiness, being more like Christ, always stands out in a world whose norms are so much NOT those of Christ.

What does Pope John Paul II's beatification mean to us as deacons or future deacons, here in this diocese? I think we can take three lessons from it, and strive to imitate what Pope John Paul II did best in preaching the Gospel: to preach fearlessly, consistently, and joyfully, as much by our actions and comportment as by our words.

Fearlessly: One of the Blessed Pope's most common watchwords was "Don't be afraid!" From a man who endured fascism and Communism for decades, and successfully fought against both with the spiritual weapons of the Gospel, this is not trite. The world now runs on fear. Because the modern world rejects every traditional (stable, permanent, universally valid) truth, and demands the "right" to define its own (constantly changing and personally valid only) "truth," "quaint" notions like trust, duty, obedience, and honor work against it. So these too must go. And into this vacuum rushes the will to power - i.e., that one's individual idea of truth will either dominate (success) or be dominated by (victimhood) those of others in one's social milieu. Thus fear flourishes, the fear of being overturned, of being victimized in either large or subtle ways -- the fear, in short, of having one's most intimate will thwarted.

Against this ubiquitous dread, the Pope's example of preaching Christ's truth (stable, eternal Truth) without fear, without seeking power over or fearing victimization from others really stands out. This resistance to fear is rooted only in trust, in faith in the kingship of Christ over human relations. Because Christ rules, love is the true nature of our shared life. His love is what overturns fear. The Blessed Pope knew this intimately, from the struggles of his own life in Poland; and he also knew intimately the fearlessness of Christ's love. We too know something of that fearlessness, from the best parts of our family and ecclesial lives, even if we haven't had to endure its opposite in the brutal manner of the two occupations of Poland. We too can draw on our own shared experience of the reality of Christ's love ruling our hearts, to refuse to be mastered by the fear demanded by the worldly culture around us.

Consistently: One great image of this Pope's consistency in preaching the Gospel is his forgiveness of Ali Aga who tried to assassinate him. Pope John Paul II didn't preach one way when things went well for him, and another when they didn't. He preached the same truth, regardless of who was listening, who was betraying, who was shooting (in this case literally) at him.

In the same way, another image was his suffering from Parkinson's in the last years of his life. Again, he preached the same unchanging Gospel. His own suffering added a personal depth to his imitation of Christ, to be sure, but the Good News remained. It continued to be Good for the same reasons, and his own illness was part of that Goodness, not opposed to it.

This kind of consistency is easy to admire as an ideal. But striving for it in practice means ever deeper conversion of heart. It requires a real and personal commitment to carry the Cross, however and going wherever Christ wants us. This commitment will not be rewarded by the world. Sometimes, perversely, it's also not rewarded in the Church, because we're all human and we can't hermetically seal out either concupiscence or some of the attitudes of the world. (Tangentially, how dangerous is it to mistake the consequences of our pride for evidence of being a "martyr" within the Church! Quod Deus advertat.) Simplicity, humility, and patience are the keys here. And a really good spiritual director. And, yes, even with these, easier said than done.

Joyfully: When we read Abp Dolan's book "Called to be Holy" in Colloquium last year, most of us were struck by what he said about joy and reliability in ministry. Pope John Paul II exemplified this very well. No matter what he was doing, or for whom, and even in his serious illness, joy in Christ's love was a tangible aspect of his ministry. Again, this is a very high ideal that demands serious, hard work against concupiscence and pride in our interior life. But this is precisely the work of carrying the Cross with Christ, of kenosis for the sake of the exaltation promised: "He did not deem equality with God something to be grasped at, but emptied Himself...."

The foundation of this kind of visible joy is gratitude. Can we be thankful for the Cross that we bear with Christ? It's easy to be thankful for blessings, and to return love for love. But as Christ says, "even pagans" do this. Those who belong to Christ are called to more, to give back only love for fear, hate, and indifference; to be grateful for suffering. Those who are called to Holy Orders have to show the faithful that this is possible, because they're certainly not going to learn it from the world (though of course they also learn it from each other, not only from us). So we must cultivate gratitude, by actually thanking God for every gift, whether we experience that gift as a blessing or as a burden.

Finally, it's no accident that this beatification is taking place on Divine Mercy Sunday. Not only did this pope approve and promote this devotion, which is so well fitted to our own times, but also God's mercy and providence were undeniably at work in choosing him when He did, and in sustaining him throughout his pontificate. Deo gratias! So, as deacons and future deacons, may the example and intercession of Blessed Pope John Paul II inspire us to ever more fearless, consistent, and joyful proclamation of the Good News of our Lord Jesus Christ! Joyous Easter!

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nath99 said...
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