When I was 21 a Pole by the name Karol Wojtyla became the head of the Catholic Church; at the time I was a self-assured, cocky suburban secularist – who knew that the Catholic Church was cause of most of the trouble in the world – they didn’t have a clue about life and they always tried to control it. I relished in the discomfort that the Church seemed to have in coming to grips with a non-Italian pope. Anything that made Catholics uneasy made me happy.
That started to change on October 22, 1978 when John Paul gave his homily at his inauguration mass. The secular press took hold of one phrase in particular: ‘Do not be afraid.’ ‘Do not be afraid.’ He told the world. ‘Do not be afraid. Open, I say open wide the doors for Christ… Do not be afraid. Christ knows “that which is in man”. He alone knows it.’
It struck me as I heard those words that they were important – but I wasn’t sure how or why. It was over the next 20 years that a realization grew in me that I was exactly who the Pope was talking to in 1978 – I was afraid. I was afraid to admit that I didn’t, couldn’t have the answers that I thought I had. I was afraid to find the truth. I was afraid to let myself be blindly guided, it seemed, by someone else. I was afraid because I was starting to realize that even though society espoused self-determination and primacy of mankind to handle all individual and societal problems – we really, deep down, didn’t trust each other – our answers, indeed our very lives, were built on a charade on an illusionary curtain.
And now; here was a man who told us, told me, to not be afraid and open wide our interior doors to Christ – to the one who knows me better than I know myself. And for me that was the last fear – to allow someone to show me who I really was. Deniability, darkness, is a sweet place to be – light is too harsh for those of us who have things to hide.
And if it would only have been the Pope’s words – I wouldn’t have listened. But it was his life, the life led in full public view – the witness to the joy of opening wide the doors that made his words a reality to me. It was obvious to those who truthfully looked at him, at his life; that he wasn’t his own master. He was servant of another that made him able to open the doors – he was a servant to Christ; the one who ‘has forever perfected those who are being sanctified’. And this wasn’t some secret – the Holy Father said right from the start – in his inaugural homily who he was.
“The new Successor of Peter in the See of Rome, today makes a fervent, humble and trusting prayer: Christ, make me become and remain the servant of your unique power, the servant of your sweet power, the servant of your power that knows no eventide. Make me be a servant. Indeed, the servant of your servants.”
Here is, for me, the key result to not being afraid, to finding happiness, finding the meaning of being human – service to Him, and his loved ones who deserve the same joy.
And this service, this outward manifestation of self-surrender, of allowing Christ to take control – that has brought joy to my life. This is what Blessed John Paul the Great means to me. His was a life of self-surrender to God, of not being afraid, of being servant.
He died on the vigil of this great feast of divine mercy – and when news reached me of his death I was in Tucson and preparing to pray Lauds, Morning Prayer – the reading for that hour is from Romans 14:7-9; and every time I read it it brings tears of joy.
“None of us lives as his own master and none of us dies as his own master. While we live we are responsible to the Lord, and when we die we die as his servants. Both in life and in death we are the Lord’s. That is why Christ died and came to life again, that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.”
Pray for us Blessed John Paul, pray that we too can in both life and death be the Lord’s. Pray that we all may take as our own your motto ‘Totus Tuus’ – totally yours Mary our Mother, totally yours Jesus our Lord.