Monday, April 11, 2005

Witness to Hope

I know I'm rather late on my Pope John Paul II blogging, but for the last week I've been kind of numb to everything and trying to understand and collect my thoughts on it.

As attested to by anyone who had encountered him and by the titles of books written by/about him, Pope John Paul II was a man of hope. As a friend and I discussed last week, the pope experienced many tragedies in his life - his mother's death when he was 8, the deaths of his father and brother by the time he was 21, life during the Nazi occupation in which he watched his friends be brutally killed by Nazis, life under Communist rule in which he saw his beloved Poles oppressed, an assasination attempt. For any regular person, any one of those things could have caused a person to give into despair. But for John Paul, even the combination of all those things couldn't drive him to despair. Instead, he was full of hope - not because his life got easier as he went on (it did just the opposite, in fact, as evidenced by his final sufferings and the burden of the office he carried), but because he drew strength from the Eucharist and Our Lady and through them found that his real goal was Heaven, not consolation here on earth. One of my favorite quotes from him is: "We are an Easter people and hallelujah is our song."

When I was home for spring break (which was Holy Week), my sister was telling me about how they had had a discussion in her religion class (she, like me previously, attends Pope John Paul II High School, the first high school in the nation named after the pope). The discussion involved Judas and that his biggest sin was not his betrayal of Christ, but the despair that led him to suicide because he couldn't accept that Christ could forgive him. There are many Judases in our world today whose sin of betrayal is tiny in comparison to their rejection of Christ's mercy and forgiveness. In one of the talks on our recent CSC retreat, Chris observed that he thought more people didn't take advantage of the Sacrament of Reconciliation because they hadn't yet learned to accept a God who offered them infinite mercy.

In that way, I think we could characterize much of American society as Judas-like. Once one societal sin is commited (acceptance of pre-marital sex, for example), we refuse to believe we can change or turn around. Instead, we push deeper and deeper into despair and commit other sins - abortion, contraception, adultery, divorce - because we naively believe they will solve the hurt, anguish and pain that accompanied our first sin.

Our late pontiff rejected that. He would not allow himself or the Church he so faithfully guided to fall into despair. As a Catholic people, we must be witnesses to hope. That hope in God's great love and enduring mercy stems from His creation of us in His image and His acceptance of human nature for our sake. Though we are unworthy in so many ways, Christ Himself makes us worthy. He shared in our humanity so that we may share in His divinity. And Christ was/is never more present to us than in His Incarnation and the Eucharist. That brings us back to Our Lady, whose surrender to God's Will was essential to the Incarnation, and the Eucharist, which we must strive to receive frequently and worthily. And those are the two things that John Paul II presented to us consistently: Our Lady and the Eucharist, Our Lady and the Eucharist, Our Lady and the Eucharist. Those were the last two years he cultivated for the Church: The Year of the Rosary and the Year of the Eucharist. The Rosary and Our Lady lead to the Eucharist and it is in the Eucharist that our hopes are fulfilled.