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FRESH Exemplar: St. John Paul II

October 22

Happy Memorial of St. John Paul II!

Fear not! So goes one of the most often repeated commands of the Bible, and it is a message we need to hear constantly, perhaps most especially today when we are faced with medical, social and political turmoil on a vast scale. Be not afraid! Scripturally, the central reason for this is twofold: Christ’s promise to be with us always (Mt 28:20) through the gift of his Holy Spirit (Jn 14:16); secondly, and consequently, the Holy Spirit’s indwelling gifts us with the very love of God itself, and it is this “perfect love” which the First Letter of John tells us “casts out fear” (1 Jn 4:18).

The saint celebrated by the Church today made this message central to his pontificate. At the inaugural Mass of his pontificate in 1978, St. John Paul II proclaimed: “Brothers and sisters, do not be afraid to welcome Christ and accept his power. Help the Pope and all those who wish to serve Christ and with Christ’s power to serve the human person and the whole of mankind. Do not be afraid. Open wide the doors for Christ. To his saving power open the boundaries of States, economic and political systems, the vast fields of culture, civilization and development. Do not be afraid. Christ knows ‘what is in man’. He alone knows it.” Notice the outward thrust of these few lines, the late pontiff asking us not only to wait without fear, but to go forth courageously in proclaiming the Gospel of Christ’s saving love, allowing him to transform every last facet of our existence. Having celebrated this Mass on “World Mission Day,” fearlessness in proclaiming the Gospel was embodied by St. John Paul II throughout the course of his pontificate, and his memory calls us to do the same today.

But notice, please, that there is no sense that we are to go at this alone, rather we do so communally, in friendship, as the family of Christ, seeking to make that family ever larger by calling others to join in the saving love of Christ. This bond of friendship which we share is affected by the same Spirit of Love that casts out fear. And, it is the very same Spirit whose dwelling within us implants within us the theological virtue of hope. As Christians we may not be optimistic about worldly events, but we are full of hope, filled with hope in the promises of Christ that speak of his desire to share the embrace of Triune love with us beginning now, and for eternity. It is this hope in Christ that John Paul II expresses in his letter to his friend, the great theologian Henri de Lubac, reassuring him that we are not in this alone but in friendship, a friendship animated by hope, a hope that assures us that in Christ, we are, and will forever be, happy.

St. John Paul II, pray for us that we too might embody the joy of the Gospel, so that in Christ and by the power of the Holy Spirit, the human family together, might set out anew on the royal way that leads to the eternal embrace of the Father. 

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