Last night, I was driving my son, Buster to his job and we had the radio on and tuned to talk radio. Buster was a little annoyed that I wasn’t allowing him to listen to a CD, but I told him – “You can listen to ELO anytime you want, right now the Pope is dying…” Buster has a vague appreciation of John Paul II. A few years ago he had to write a report on a global figure and he skimmed through enough of George Weigel’s excellent biography Witness to Hope to have respect for the man’s story, and he watched parts of the Pope’s last Youth Day – in Toronto in 2002 – and was touched by him…but Buster is 15 years old and a zoot-suit wearing walking hormone. He doesn’t quite get it.
I heard Mark Levin read a statement about the pope’s condition and then exclaim to his audience: “This is a great man. You young people don’t really understand it.”
I tried to explain to Buster what it was like to see this vibrant, healthy, handsome and athletic Pole after years of dying Italians. He was hopeful, energetic, devout and unmovable. He wrote prolifically – it’s probably going to take decades to really go through all of his writings and bring them up from their depths.
But what I told Buster was this:
He told us many great things, and he teaches us, even now – voiceless, in his suffering…but there are two great messages which always resonate in my mind. John Paul II told us that we must be always aware of the Culture of Death that is encroaching upon us and – more importantly – he told us, endlessly, endlessly, DO NOT BE AFRAID.
I can hear him, saying it in his big, deep voice, booming out among the hundreds of thousands of people: DO NOT BE AFRAID.
He said it everywhere he went, over and over again, and whenever he said it, he was quoting the Angels: DO NOT BE AFRAID.
We live in strange and unsettling times. As a nation we face unprecedented challenges at home and abroad, in our policies and in our private lives. The message needs to be taken in and internalized: DO NOT BE AFRAID.
JPII was never afraid. He trusted in the Lord and went about doing His work. It is a great lesson for all of us.
He was not afraid to go back out after an assassin’s bullet laid him low.
He was not afraid to travel the world and show us the face of suffering and infirmity, demonstrating – over and over again – that age and infirmity and a compromised physicality does NOTHING to devalue the worth of the human person.
God bless and keep him. Godspeed, John Paul the Great. Flights of Angels lead thee to thy rest. It will be good to have you in heaven, available to us in the Communion of Saints.
We will remember. We will not be afraid.
I wrote this a few weeks ago re John Paul II:
A boy is born in the humbled and humiliated country of Poland. He is Wojtyla. His mother dies when he is very small. His father is a working man, and he raises his son in the faith before he too dies at a young age. The son is very bright, very capable – a scholar and an artist! But while still very young he is put under a jackboot. He is made a slave of brutal killers – dark, dark proponents of a Culture of Death that is ever-growing. When his enslavement ends, he is put under another jackboot, this time of Communism – the other side of the same, massive Culture of Death. Feeling called to serve, he attends seminary underground. Elevated to an extraordinary global position, he is laid low when an assassin attacks, on the 13th, on an important anniversary for Lucia. On his watch, with the influence of two others, the world begins to change in dramatic ways. Wojtyla and Lucia meet. Several times. He gets old, and his aging is ungraceful and hard to watch, “we turned our faces away,” and yet he keeps going. It is almost as if he, too, is waiting for something to happen before he can die.
The man named Wojtyla, whose own voice has been nearly silenced, nevertheless calls out to the world, and what he says is this: BEHOLD! With my body crooked and failing, with my voice nearly silenced, with my face frozen and expressionless, in all of my weariness, I LIVE. My body is no longer obedient, and you would not want it, and yet, I LIVE. LEARN THIS LESSON, before it is too late, before you enter into a heart of darkness, into the abyss of the Culture of Death, from which I, myself was delivered, of which I have been warning for all these years. It is a hungry culture, the Culture of Death, and you must STOP FEEDING IT! Hear, O my people, hear the lesson. It is: I LIVE! It is not the life you would want, but it is the life I HAVE, and I will live it!