Sunday, 1 May 2011

Beatification of John Paul II, Divine Mercy Sunday, 2nd Sunday of Easter

The royal wedding has been the big news item of the week. As Catholics, however, we have our own big news item this week, this Sunday in fact, but it's possible that you might not have heard about it in the news: Pope John Paul II is being beatified in Rome this Sunday (beatification being the penultimate step on the road to being formally declared to be a saint) -it is already six years since Pope John Paul II died.

I'm too young to remember it myself, but in 1978, when the young Polish Cardinal was elected as Pope John Paul II, his first words to the world from the Papal balcony were, "Do not be afraid". These words repeated one of the Easter greetings that Our Lord used to His disciples after He rose from the dead (Mt 28:10), a greeting that characterised Pope John Paul II’s Easter faith.

The risen Jesus greeted His disciples with the words "do not be afraid" because He knew that they WERE afraid. This greeting of Jesus, however, is about much more than the specific fear of seeing a man that they thought was dead. Rather, the greeting of the risen Jesus is a greeting that tells us something about how we should respond to ALL of the things in life that PREVIOUSLY had been causes for fear –because by Jesus's triumph over death, suffering, and evil, He has given us a reason to not have fear.

Fear is our reaction to some future evil (St Thomas Aquinas, ST I-II q41 a2) –because we recognise that it will bring us suffering and pain.
And there are a great many things in this life that we know can bring us suffering.
But surely, underneath all of these causes of fear, is the deeper fear that somehow we are ALONE in the face of what confronts us, that somehow we are powerless to overcome the evil that confronts us, that somehow the existence of evil signifies that God is not active in our lives, or at least that He is not active in the face of this evil that assails us.

The historical event of the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead, and, more specifically, of the guiding hand of the Almighty working through the tragedy of the Crucifixion in order to achieve not only our salvation but the further glorification of the Son,
this event gives us reason to hope that the same God who was active in that suffering will be active in our own suffering too.
And so the Easter greeting of the risen Lord, "Do not be afraid", is a greeting that is meant to resonate at the level of every single fear that lies within us.

Of course, we all know that it is not easy to have faith rather than fear when we face suffering. But this, I want to point out to you today, is one of the ways in which we see the greatness of John Paul II.
John Paul II, who the church now calls "Blessed John Paul II", was a man who had experienced the evil that this world has to offer. He had lived through the wartime Nazi atrocities wrought on his beloved Polish homeland. He had endured seeing these be supplanted by the afflictions of the atheist tyranny of Soviet communism.
We might well expect such a man to have a rather timid and persevering sort of attitude, however, his faith was such that he came to experience the reality of God's power being manifest PRECISELY IN human weakness, precisely where it is needed the most, precisely in the face of evil.
And it is the triumphant Resurrected power of the Lord in the midst of weakness that the great Pope John Paul II identified as the action of "mercy" (c.f. Dives in misericordia, nn.7-8).
It was because He recognised the action of God in weakness as “mercy” that He responded to the apparitions of St Faustina to have this 2nd Sunday of Easter declared to be “Divine Mercy Sunday”,
and it is the recognition of this connection between mercy in weakness and the Resurrection power in the face of weakness that led Pope Benedict to chose to beatify Blessed John Paul II on this very day.

The application of this to our own lives is a transforming act of Resurrection faith that we need every time we experience fear in the face of some evil before us. Let us remember the victory of Christ, and remember His resurrection greeting, "Do not be afraid".

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