Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Feast of the Blessed John Paul II: October 23, 2011

Bishop Sheridan established October 23rd, 2011, the Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time and the day following John Paul’s feast day, as the day for the liturgical celebration in this diocese.  We also continue in our thoughts on Stewardship, and look at commitment and love in this context. Certainly, there is no greater example of a human being who lived out these virtues of commitment and love in front of the world than in the Blessed John Paul II.

He visited 116 countries, promoting church teaching on personal behavior and public morality and condemning what he said was a decline of spiritual values brought about by the rising materialism of the twentieth century. The most traveled pope in history was also the first non-Italian to lead the church in more than four and a-half centuries.

Born in Poland, he secretly trained for the priesthood under Nazi occupation, lived under Communism, and was recognized by secular historians, along with Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, as having greatly contributed to the fall of the Iron Curtain by denouncing the oppression of Christians. John Paul II unequivocally opposed pre- and extra-marital sex, homosexuality, abortion, and the use of contraception.

A priest nearly all his adult life, John Paul had a remarkably varied resume. As a young man, he worked in a quarry for a chemical company and was a playwright and actor. A pope who had been a manual laborer was a change of pace for the Catholic Church, as was his love of soccer, swimming, canoeing and skiing, pastimes shelved as he stepped into the limelight at the Vatican, but characteristics which endeared him to many, making him seem more like a man of the people. He loved to sing. Once he said, “I have a sweet tooth for song and music. This is my Polish sin.”

John Paul was the first pope to humbly and publicly ask forgiveness for the Church's past sins. As Pope, he officially made public apologies for over 100 of these wrongdoings, including:

· The legal process on the Italian scientist and philosopher Galileo, himself a devout Catholic, around 1633.
· Catholics' involvement with the African slave trade.
· The Church Hierarchy's role in burnings at the stake and the religious wars that followed the Protestant Reformation.
· The injustices committed against women, the violation of women's rights and for the historical denigration of women.
· The inactivity and relative silence of many Catholics during the Holocaust.

We celebrate today the life of a man who lived in commitment to Christ and His church, and whose sacrifice and dedication—of his mind, his talents, his heart, and his comforts—literally changed the world around him, which led Pope Benedict XVI to beatify him in a ceremony attended by 1.5 million people, including our own pastor Fr. Andzrej.  John Paul II preserved the unity of the Catholic Church at a moment when it seemed likely to fracture.

I was a schoolboy during the years before John Paul II’s predecessor; what I remember from the time was a sense that the boundaries of Catholicism were being stretched until they seemed likely to snap. The Catholic Church in the 1970s had something of the flavor of the Anglican and Episcopal churches today. American and European theologians were hurling fundamental assaults on Catholic belief in the Real Presence of Christ in communion, the sacramental priesthood and many other doctrines. As a high schooler needing some guidance and clear teaching, I remember watching a US priest in my parish drive a VW beetle automobile up the main aisle on Easter Sunday, dressed in a bunny suit….anything for attention, except adherence to the Scriptures. I did not need entertainment; I needed someone to preach with conviction.

John Paul II used the power of the papal office to settle debates over these matters, and keep the church focused on her mission. What we were witnessing was the leader of a worldwide religion using his teaching authority to declare that the Church believed X and not Y. No religion can survive without such boundaries, wherever they are drawn—and we see that happening with the failure of mainstream Protestantism today. The Church in the past settled debate over the divine nature of Christ; John Paul ruled that the Church did not have the power to ordain women now or ever – and, in issuing this ruling, put the prospect of women priests beyond the boundaries of Roman Catholicism, just as anything less than the Real Presence of Christ in Holy communion is firmly outside authentic Catholic teaching. The Church became a more peaceful place as a result.

These are just a few examples; there are other instances of boundary-drawing which kept in what other Catholics were trying to throw out, such as traditional devotion to the Virgin Mary, which was marginalized after the Second Vatican Council but, thanks to Mary's devoted servant John Paul II, is now firmly back in the mainstream.

Karol Votiwa was a man of formidable intellect. His central achievement was to spell out what Catholics believe and what they do not, something that was by no means clear when he took office.

Paul writes to Timothy in our second reading today in prophetic predictions of the times that Blessed John Paul II lived, and the times in which we live.
1I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingly power:  2 proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching.

Paul tells Timothy what to focus upon…preaching the Word. Timothy, don’t lose your focus, don’t lose you way, don’t descend into entertainment or cutesy stories—you preach the word! We know that Blessed John Paul II was a man of the Word of God. Paul tells Timothy, “you preach when it’s convenient, and you preach it when it’s not” (not sure when it’s ever convenient, but I know when it’s not).

--it’s not convenient when it challenges our beliefs
--it’s not convenient when it challenges us to give more, to sacrifice more, to love more, to get outside our comfort zone, to really love our spouses
--it’s not convenient when it challenges us to change the way we think about being a Christian
--it’s not convenient when it does against everything that everyone else believes
--and I know it’s not convenient when the homily runs longer than 10 minutes!

3 For the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine but, following their own desires, will accumulate teachers 4 and will stop listening to the truth and will be diverted to myths.

Blessed John Paul II encountered a post-modern world that no longer tolerated sound doctrine, a relativistic world that as a result of the Enlightenment no longer saw the Bible as the inspired word of God, no longer saw sexual morality as ordained and defined by God. Out of selfishness, self-centeredness, and pride, they gathered more and more religious teachers who just told people what they wanted to hear, not what they needed to hear. Paul wrote to Timothy—you keep preaching the Word, don’t get sidetracked. Blessed John Paul II took every Wednesday for several years and gave us his Theology of the Body, one of the greatest gifts to the Church—insights into the way we should treat our bodies, how we should live sexually. Pope John Paul II confronted the culture of death—of euthanasia and sterilization and abortion—and he was a prophetic voice of warning. And decades later after Roe v. Wade and forced government sterilization programs around the world, euthanasia policies increasingly being adopted around the world and even embraced in our own nation, the myth that we live in a world that cannot sustain itself, that we need to stop having children—and today we confront a Western Europe who can no longer replace its population and so is importing a lower, resentful, servile class from the third world which is destroying the Western democratic tradition, a Japan growing weaker because it has fewer and fewer youth, and an America that has lost 33 million of its unborn citizens—33 million—and we wonder how prophetic indeed was the blessed John Paul’s voice.

Today we face the same challenge—people want to have something less than the Word of God as their authority. They want an ambo filled with cutesy stories and happy talk; they want to feel that everything is ok, and that nothing is really wrong with our world. They want entertainment, they want laughter, they want a version of Christianity that does not challenge them to do better.

5 But you, be self-possessed in all circumstances; put up with hardship; perform the work of an evangelist; fulfill your ministry.

Today, we are called, like Timothy, like Paul, like Blessed John Paul II, to take up again a stewardship of commitment, of sacrifice. We will be defined by what we believe in, by Who we follow, and by what it costs us. Paul told Timothy to preach the Word, to correct, to rebuke, to encourage…and Blessed John Paul II did just that. John Paul II had the wonderful gift of balancing correction with encouragement, of speaking powerfully against sin, but all the while showing great love and joy. He corrected with the power of Jeremiah or Ezekiel, but he encouraged and he loved, just as Jesus lovingly reinstated Peter in our gospel reading this morning. “Peter, feed my sheep!””Peter, I know you’ve betrayed me, I know you’ve denied me—not to the Roman or Jewish authorities on the witness stand, but to a servant girl in a courtyard.” “Peter, I still love you, I still believe in you, and I have the greatest mission in the world for you—you are going to feed my sheep.” Remember what Blessed John Paul II told us:

“Do not abandon yourselves to despair. We are the Easter people and hallelujah is our song.”

John Paul got Paul’s admonition to Timothy right. Correct, rebuke, encourage. He corrected people. When he faced down a hedonistic society, when he challenged liberation theology and called it incorrect. He spoke boldly when he said, “Freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought.”

He rebuked the culture of death in this world, and he spoke boldly to people who did not believe him when he said, “From now on it is only through a conscious choice and through a deliberate policy that humanity can survive.” If our world is to survive, it will be as he predicted—only through a conscious, deliberate, pro-life foundation.

He preached, he rebuked, he corrected…but his was also the role of encourager. He en-couraged—he put courage back into—the wavering church. He built back up our faith when he said “Have no fear of moving into the unknown. Simply step out fearlessly knowing that I am with you, therefore no harm can befall you; all is very, very well. Do this in complete faith and confidence.”

May we be stewards of the graces of Christ, may we follow the virtue and exemplar of the saints in our world, and may we reverence the memory of the Blessed John Paul II.

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