Saturday, April 02, 2005

Pope John Paul II the Great

There are few times across the span of living generations when a person comes into the world and influences it to such an extent that it is changed forever in some way. Of course it could be said of everyone that his or her actions, for good or evil, have such effects unseen. That is not the kind of influence that Pope John Paul II has exercised over the last, nearly thirty years since he became Pope in 1978. Much of his influence has been visible as well as invisible and to a marked degree.

In the next weeks and months millions upon millions of words will be expended to describe the influences of this extraordinary man.

His role in the collapse of Communism, his efforts to bridge divides between religions, between Christian communities, between rich and poor, between men and women, between a technology that reduces and destroys and a technology that can be the tool of justice for all, have been monumental. His world travels, making him the most recognized person on earth, have brought him in actual sight of more people than any human who has ever lived. The list of achievements could go on and on.

Over many years he gave of the world his love of the arts (he was a poet and dramatist), his philosophical insights and his deep love of nature and of God as the author of being. But he has given something else in last years.

In the last years he has given his suffering to the world as well, as a sacrifice in line with his great Exemplar - - as a witness to unstinting care for others even out of great personal weakness.

Soon he will be generally regarded, as have few in the tradition of the Catholic Church have, as John Paul the Great. In due course, no doubt, this shall be followed by beatification and Sainthood itself when he becomes St. John Paul the Great. His influence has been that profound.
As this is being written he is dying inside that complex of ancient and new, of beauty and grace, called the Vatican. He is no prisoner there as some Popes have been in the past. He stays there of his own will to die as one should at a certain point in life. He will use no “extraordinary means” in the bringing about of the end of his extraordinary life.

He shall die as he lived - - in obedience.

He is taking his last breaths and will pass beyond all our understanding into what can only be known by faith and experienced after death. A way that all of us, one way or another, must go. But his is a hopeful passing for, if his and the beliefs of so many are true, he shall not die but step from this life to an eternal one that has been prepared for him since before he was born. That is the audacious claim of his Faith.

Whether he dies today, the Saturday after Easter or tomorrow, the second Sunday of Easter and now called Divine Mercy Sunday, which he himself instituted one year after the Canonization of a Polish nun, Sr. Faustina Kowalska, whom he called a “witness and messenger of the Lord's merciful love” (died 1938), remains to be seen.

There is a wonderful and awesome symmetry, however, in the fact that tomorrow he shall be recalled at Masses around the world by one billion of the people who called him their Holy Father on this Feast that he himself first proclaimed a few short years ago.

In his Homily given for that Feast - - the Feast of Divine Mercy, on the first Sunday after Easter in 2001, he said the following, and it might stand as a summation of his own life and work:

Let us thank the Lord for His love, which is stronger than death and sin. It is revealed and put into practice as mercy in our daily lives, and prompts every person in turn to have "mercy" towards the Crucified One. Is not loving God and loving one's neighbor and even one's "enemies," after Jesus' example, the program of life of every baptized person and of the whole Church?

John Paul II, Divine Mercy Sunday, 2001. (the full homily may be found at
Now that he has reached the end of all his worldly travels and sufferings may flights of angels sing him to his rest.

Iain T. Benson ©
First Saturday after Easter
April 2, 2005