Tuesday, October 22, 2013

John Paul II: Opening Wide the Doors For Christ

Pope John Paul II at his installation,
October 22, 1978
It has begun to seem like a long time ago. The world was different in many ways. It was the world of the Iron Curtain and the Berlin Wall; the world of unimaginable stockpiles of nuclear weapons, the world of "mutually assured destruction." It was the world that had risen from the ashes of two horrible wars, the vast explosion of technological power, and the emergence of peoples and nations struggling to affirm their own identity.

It was the world of my youth. The Communist Empire of the Soviet Union seemed indestructible, an awful reality that appeared to be one of the permanent fixtures of the wild and scary new epoch that was emerging. There were no great ideals looming on the horizon (at least none that I was aware of). There was (it seemed) only the exponential growth of human power over the external world. But human hearts were full of strange dreams and empty of God. He was ignored or had been forgotten by the "free" world, and He was banned by communism.

On October 22, 1978, the sun rose on a dark and terrible world. Who could imagine that something new might happen? Who would have guessed that this day would inaugurate the beginning of a great energy, an expression of intelligence, and above all a witness that was destined to leave an ineradicable stamp on the emerging epoch? No one had predicted that the greatest man of the 20th century was about to take the stage of history. A man was about to appear who would help us begin to understand what had happened in these tumultuous decades of colossal growth and vast destruction. He would help us understand the continuing changes at the end of the second millennium. He would point the way forward, open new vistas of understanding and affectivity, and above all he would remind us of the love of God.

The greatness of John Paul II, of course, was his witness to Christ. It was a singularly powerful witness. He entered into so many realms of human experience and endeavor only to efface himself so that Christ might shine through him. We learned that Christ had never left us, and that at the beginning of the third millennium it was Christ who alone was sufficient to subordinate the new power of human beings to a new and deeper awareness of their dignity as children of God.

The feast day of the man who will soon be St. John Paul II commemorates a moment in his own life and in the life of the Church, but also a decisive moment for the history of the world. There were some who heard his words that day and recognized that something great had begun. There were some who, on that day, began to discover a new courage in their lives.

"Do not be afraid.
Open, I say 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 'that which is in man.'
He alone knows it.

"So often today,
man does not know that which is in him,
in the depths of his mind and heart.
So often he is uncertain
about the meaning of his life on this earth.
He is assailed by doubt,
a doubt which turns into despair.
We ask you, therefore,
we beg you with humility and with trust,
let Christ speak to man.
He alone has words of life,
yes, of life eternal."

Blessed John Paul II
October 22, 1978