Sunday, May 01, 2011

Blessed John Paul II: A Man Unafraid!

(Second Sunday of Easter (Divine Mercy Sunday, Year A): This homily was given on May 1, 2011 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read John 20: 19-31.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Divine Mercy Sunday 2011]

“Be not afraid!”

That’s a command that Jesus uttered many times during his 3-year earthly ministry, and it’s a command that his Vicar on earth, Pope John Paul II, repeated many times during his 26 years as the Successor of St. Peter, beginning at his first Mass as Holy Father.

And today that same John Paul II, who lived a life of fearless discipleship, is being beatified. Beatification, of course, is the second-to-the-last step in the canonization process. A person is beatified by the Catholic Church only after his or her life has been analyzed, and scrutinized, and meticulously investigated—and after a miracle has been attributed to his or her heavenly intercession. (The Church, incidentally, has very strict standards as to what qualifies as an official miracle!) As most of you know, the healing of a French nun, Sister Marie Simon-Pierre, of Parkinson’s Disease back in 2005, was the miracle attributed to the heavenly prayers of John Paul.

He’ll need another one before he can be canonized a saint—something for which I have humbly volunteered my services. Whatever I can do to help Blessed John Paul II become Saint John Paul II I’ll be glad to do.

What a nice guy I am!

As I prayed about what I would say on this day of his beatification, that famous line of his came to mind: “Be not afraid!”

It’s been said that “love makes the world go ‘round”—and there’s a lot of truth in that statement; but because we live in a world that’s tainted by original sin, it’s also true to say that much of this world “goes ‘round” in FEAR, not love!

• People fear that they won’t be appreciated at work or at school, so to make themselves look good they put down their co-workers or fellow students and spread nasty rumors about them

• People fear that they won’t have enough money for themselves when they retire, so they steal—or they cheat on their taxes

• We fear that we’ll lose our friends if we don’t engage in the same immoral activity that they engage in on a regular basis, so we compromise our moral values and follow our friends into sin (that’s what we usually call “peer pressure”)

• A young woman fears that her boyfriend will reject her if she doesn’t give into his sexual advances, so one day she finally gives in

• We fear that others will perceive us as weak and take advantage of us if we forgive, so we nurse grudges against the people who have hurt us

And on and on it goes.

Reflect on your own life today, my brothers and sisters. If you do so—honestly—you’ll find that many of the things that you do (and don’t do) each and every day are motivated by fear.

The fear is usually unconscious, but it’s real nonetheless.

To which Blessed John Paul II would say: “Be not afraid!”

These words, incidentally, were words that he himself made every effort to live by! Make no mistake about it, when it came to dealing with fear, John Paul II’s LIFE stood behind his teaching. Because of the events of his personal life, and because of the political and social situation he had to deal with for many years, John Paul confronted fear constantly—from the earliest days of his youth.

But, by the grace of God, he consistently won the battle. And if he can do it, so can we!

So what words would John Paul say to us today, if he were standing here at this pulpit? What insights would he give us on battling fear, based on his own personal experience? Well, we can’t know the answer to that question for sure, but I strongly suspect he would say things like this:

• “Do not fear that God will fail to provide for your needs. He will always provide. Remember, I lost my entire family before I was 21 years of age. My only sister died before I was born. My mother died when I was 8. My elder (and only) brother, a medical doctor whom I greatly loved and admired, died 3 years later; and my father, who was my greatest spiritual inspiration, died tragically less than a decade after that. At 20, I had already lost all the people I loved. But the Lord was always there for me, and he will always be there for you.”

• “Do not be afraid of lies—the lies the world tells you every day about the human person and about life and its meaning. When I lived under Nazi and Communist rule in Poland I battled these lies every day. But I knew the truth, rooted in my faith, and I proclaimed it as openly and as clearly as I could. Nazism and Communism were political and economic systems built on the very worst of lies, so they were doomed from the start. Many people were surprised when Soviet Communism crumbled in Eastern Europe in the early 1990s, but I wasn’t. What’s built on lies, eventually dies. So don’t be afraid of them.”

• “Do not be afraid of suffering. I suffered in so many ways in my life. I just told you about some of them: losing all the members of my family before I was 21; living for years under Nazi and Communist oppression (I was even forced to study for the priesthood secretly, in an underground seminary). But there were many other sufferings as well: for example, the time I was shot in St. Peter’s Square in 1981 and nearly died; and, of course, my long and difficult battle with Parkinson’s Disease. But through these and all the other trials of my life, I looked to God and found my strength in him. His grace was always sufficient for me, and it will always be sufficient for you. So don’t be afraid.”

• “Do not be afraid to confront your sin and repent of it. I instituted today’s feast, the feast of the Divine Mercy, to remind the world that every sin can be forgiven through the blood of Jesus Christ. And don’t be afraid to take your sins to the sacrament of Confession. Jesus gave the power to priests to dispense his mercy to repentant sinners. As you heard him say to the very first priests in today’s gospel, “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them.”

• “And speaking of forgiveness, do not be afraid to extend forgiveness to others. Forgiveness is not a sign of weakness; it’s an act of strength. And it’s an act that brings with it liberation and peace. Remember how I forgave the man who tried to assassinate me back in 1981? I did that because it was the right thing to do—the thing Jesus wanted me to do—and I did it to set an example for the world. Hate destroys, but forgiveness heals.”

• “Do not be afraid to face the tough issues and the tough questions—after all, as a Catholic you possess the truth! Because I wasn’t afraid of taking on the difficult contemporary issues relative to sexual morality, I gave the world a series of teachings known as ‘the Theology of the Body’—teachings that will help people to find fulfillment in their relationships for generations to come.”

• “And finally, do not be afraid of the future; and certainly do not be afraid of death. Jesus promised to be with us always, until the end of time. And he told us that in his Father’s house there are many dwelling places—including one for us, if we remain faithful. Remember how I approached death: I put myself confidently in the hands of Jesus through Mary. The last words my secretary heard me say on my deathbed were, ‘Totus tuus’—‘Totally yours, Mary.’ And without any fear in my heart I said to a nun in my final hours, “Let me go to the Lord.”

I hope you will join me today in thanking God for the gift of John Paul II, and for the many lessons our former Holy Father taught us—especially that very important lesson: “Be not afraid!”

Given the fact that he is now Blessed John Paul II, I think the best way for us to conclude this morning is to seek his heavenly intercession for all of our special intentions. For this purpose, I’ll use the prayer I gave out for people to say for my healing. I ask you now to kneel as I say the prayer in the name of each of us:

O Blessed Trinity, we thank you for having graced the Church with Pope John Paul II, and for allowing the tenderness of your Fatherly care, the glory of the cross of Christ, and the splendor of the Holy Spirit, to shine through him.

Trusting fully in your infinite mercy and in the maternal intercession of Mary, he has given us a living image of Jesus the Good Shepherd, and has shown us that holiness is the necessary measure of ordinary Christian life and is the way of achieving eternal communion with you.

Grant us, by his intercession, and according to your will, the graces we implore, hoping that he will soon be numbered among your saints. Amen.