As the current political and financial situation of our great country seems to be very dim, I would like to reflect on a man up a balcony thirty years ago today who instructed us to "Be Not Afraid…"
As I am sure we can agree, God has a master plan for all of us. I think one of the greatest gifts from the life of this great Pope was that it assured and reminded us that God has a master plan for our "little lives" because we saw God’s master plan for Pope John Paul II’s majestic life so clearly. It is easier to see paint on the canvas when there are broad strokes rather than thin lines.
I heard many years back, and wish I could quote the source, maybe George Weigel, that it was very against the tradition of the Papacy to have a Pope call himself, the first. And yet in 1978, when Albino Luciani was elected Pope John Paul I, it happened. This unique situation in 2,000 years of Church history and the use of the Roman numeral was not a pointless effort because it foreshadowed a second to come. It was God’s plan to have Karol Wojtyla in the Papacy at that time as seen by how he called Pope John Paul I home after less than two months. Looking back, the first designation makes all the sense in the world now as we now know who was coming. For those trivia buffs out there, Wojtyla’s first instinct was to be called Pope Stanislaw, or Pope Stanley, to honor a very significant Polish saint and bishop of Krakow. He reconsidered and took the name John Paul.
When they announce "Habemus Papam", or Latin for "We Have a Pope!," on that night in St. Peter’s square the announcement of the non-Italian sounding name, "VOY-TEE-WHA." brought confusion and polite applause from the crowd in the courtyard. I often think he in his life went from polite applause that October night to 4,000,000 people coming to his Mass in the Philippines 15 years later. What an impactful life!
The two most incredible events that I have seen in my forty years of life, were both tied to this great man. One was the week of his funeral and viewing. The non-ending lines of mourners went on day, after day, after day. I remember telling a friend, the scene felt more like of a funeral for a beloved King, not a humble priest. I also vividly see as I write this post the page-flipping Bible on his plain wood casket during his funeral and the Cardinals holding on to their birettas/hats. A great wind was present at his funeral, a sign of the Holy Spirit.
The second most incredible world moment of my life was the week when the Berlin Wall came down. To see East-Germans sitting on top of the wall and swinging sledgehammers is an image that no one can ever forget. They were not breaking into tiny bits a structure, they swung their hammers thinking about smashing an evil regime and an ideology into tiny bits. An oppressive government collapsed and people were free.
Many do not know a story about John Paul that lead to this moment. When the Polish Solidarity movement was about to be crushed by Soviet tanks, John Paul II communicated to the secretary of the Soviet Communist party stating that if there was any Soviet aggression against the Poles, he would resign the Papacy and stand on the front lines with his people. I would have loved to be a fly on the wall when the Kremlin received that letter. This was not a political ploy, he was dead serious. He would resign the Papacy and stand with his people. It is somewhat of a global PR nightmare to run down a defenseless Pope in a tank. The Russians hands were tied and they continued to lose their control of Poland. As a historical note, the Kremlin feared the senior Cardinal of Poland, Stefan Wyszyński, much more than Karol Wojtyla when they were Cardinals. They felt Wojtyla was less of a threat and could be reasoned with when comparing the two Polish Cardinals. I read a comment that was made within the Kremlin after Wojtyla's election, saying at least it was not Wyszynski. They could not have been more wrong.
I will finish this reflection with VCR friend Fr. Owens Kearns’ statement after the passing of John Paul II. He was a guest on a cable news network and was asked by the commentator what was the greatest achievement of this Pope’s life was. So many thoughts riffled through me head: defeating Communism, his encyclicals, the "Culture of Life" movement he established. Fr. Owen surpassed my thoughts. He said, paraphrasing, "The example he gave us of life’s beauty and value in its fading days, the way he accepted his suffering and died with grace." I was speechless and stunned. This was also more poignant because Terri Schiavo's life was being seen as having no value at the same moment down in Florida.
I think many parents have many things they want to teach their children. Being honest, how to play Sports, finances, relationships, family history, cooking, etc… Don’t ever underestimate the learning opportunity we can gift wrap to our children as they witness us meet our most difficult trials in our lives with grace, acceptance and Faith; offering everything up. John Paul,a spiritual parent to us, did not underestimate this teaching opportunity.
John Paul the Great, Pray for Us!