John Paul II, Faithful Follower of Jesus Christ
Remembering John Paul II.
by Brother Michael Maciborski, LC | Source:
Life is worth celebrating, and when it’s lived well, it’s worth remembering. John Paul II lived an extraordinary life, and the footprints he left behind are so remarkable, that it’s only right to remember him. Whatever words we use to describe his personality and virtues, his dramatic life, and his long and eventful papacy, cannot but fail to do justice to the spirit, the essence of this man who taught us that faith can change history, and who showed us that being a Christian in today’s world is not only possible, but actually worth all the difficulties it entails. Irrespective of these limitations, on the second anniversary of his death it is only right to stop for a little while and ponder the example of ‘John Paul the Great’.
What is a pope, if not first a Christian; and what is a Christian, if not a faithful follower of Jesus Christ? John Paul encountered Christ at the dawn of his life, and his ongoing communion with Jesus set the backdrop for his whole existence. In showing us how Christ was in the center of his heart, John Paul offered Christians everywhere an unforgettable example of how to live the Gospel, in good times and bad.
As a young man, he saw his homeland torn between two aggressors, The Nazis rounded up and executed his professors and his Jewish friends. In this darkness, he followed Christ… Next, the Soviets arrived, clamped down on the Church, bullied his people and pounded them with morally corrosive propaganda. He turned to Christ and learned how to bring the Gospel to shine on individual human rights and human sexuality. He stimulated the faith of the believers he served, bringing Christ to them in the countryside and in the city, in kayaks and in the streets. Like Christ defending his disciples, as Bishop he stood with his flock before Communist officials, declaring the right of believers to construct a house of prayer in a city specifically designed to exclude God and the Church.
The moment eventually came when he was asked to fill the shoes of the Fisherman, and accepting the call, he obediently followed his Master onto the world stage. When the curtains of his papacy opened, he openly proclaimed the person who was his inspiration in the encyclical ‘Redemptor Hominis’, ‘The Redeemer of Man’. Challenging humanity to look to Christ to find the meaning of human existence, John Paul cried out, “The man who wishes to understand himself thoroughly […] must with his unrest, uncertainty and even his weakness and sinfulness, with his life and death, draw near to Christ.” With the power flowing from this message, he instilled hope in throngs of Catholics growing up at the end of an all too bleak 20th century. Around the globe, thousands gathered to hear him speak about Christ and the hope He brought to human existence. Regardless of the size of these crowds, the experience was always personal. You could be in the nosebleed section of stadium, and you felt like the Pope was talking directly to you. Conversion and commitment followed in the wake of these encounters. Not surprisingly, many of the priests ordained in the last several years have attributed their decision to radically follow Christ to the example of this Pontiff.
John Paul II will also be remembered for bringing new life to Christ’s words, ‘Let the children come to me, for the Kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these’ through the World Youth Days he initiated. These intense encounters of prayer and fellowship challenged young people to discover the meaning of their lives in Christ. John Paul’s words captured the hearts of today’s youth, and they followed him faithfully from Rome to Manila, from Toronto to Cologne. They journeyed to catch just a glimpse of him or to hear him speak of the promise of eternal happiness with Christ. Restlessness seized them as they eagerly awaited his arrival, and the sight of his tiny white pope-mobile electrified the crowds like a bolt of lightening and elicited thunderous cheers. All applause and smiling faces, laughter and inexplicable joy, the young people gently surrendered the noise to listen to the gentle Pontiff communicate the truth in love, in their now hushed and silent attention. They came to him in droves, thirsty and hungry for the Word of God, and he, like a faithful shepherd, dried their tears and fed them on the bread of truth.
In Toronto in 2002, his final World Youth Day, all of nature seemed to participate in the joy and festivities. Young people raced ahead to the front sections as soon as the gates opened. They waited for his arrival with immense longing. Everyone felt that this was a special moment, that this would probably be his last World Youth Day. Something special was taking place, and you were glad just to be there. On Sunday morning, the final day of the celebration, the crowds were soaked to the bone by the early morning showers. Refusing to become disheartened, they continued to dance, to cheer, to laugh and enjoy the moment. When John Paul arrived, the show began. Shouts of joy and recognition rang out. The wind began to blow with such an intensity that the roof over the main stage where Mass was going to be celebrated shook and trembled so violently that a piece of it actually tore off. Large pieces of equipment went sent flying. It was as if God was blow-drying the crowds. The think dark clouds pealed back and revealed a deep, blue sky at the precise moment that the readings for Mass began. The finale came as the Pope approached the microphone. The sun beamed out and poured its golden rays on the crowds, drying every article of clothing and evaporating every puddle on that wide field. His words reflected the beauty of the moment: with pauses just long enough for the onlookers to drink in the fact that he was sharing their experience, that he was one with them in recognizing the extraordinary features of this event, John Paul said, “Rain…wind…sun.” Moments later, in his homily, the Pope encouraged the young people to look for Christ, to seek to encounter Him. ‘He is eternally young,’ the Pope proclaimed. There could have been no more powerful message than hearing these words from an old man at the end of his life, but with the eternal youth of Christ beaming through his tired and pain ridden body.
And thus began the dialogue. The young people began chanting the well known “John Paul II, we love you!” No one wanted to see him go. No one wanted the encounter to end. ‘The pope is old’ he said. They immediately responded in unison ‘The pope is young! The pope is young!’ They were right. Their words spoke a truth reflected in John Paul’s very words concerning Christ. If Christ is eternally young, and he lives in his followers, then his followers share in what is truly the fountain of youth. They become young with the young Christ. The young people cut to the quick and their words serve as a fitting eulogy. John Paul II is not old, a memory of yesterday. For those who believe, he is not gone. He continues lives today, immersed in a new and eternal life with Christ.
Today is the day to remember that throughout all the events, behind all the glitz and buzz of the media, at the back of all of those encounters with world leaders and the massive crowds of the faithful, in all of his travels to and fro, John Paul was, above all, a faithful follower of Jesus Christ. This was the guiding thread of his life, his priesthood, his episcopate, and his papacy. Today, two years after his death, this is his legacy and his challenge: to follow like he did in the footsteps of the Master, and gain eternal life in the world to come.
Brother Michael Maciborski, of the Legionaries of Christ, studies for the priesthood in Rome.