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On the Death of Pope John Paul II | by Michael O'Brien
Of the myriad phenomenal gifts which God gave (and will continue to give)
to the Church and the world through John Paul II, one in particular stands
out for me as especially significant for our times.
He was a living icon of holy fatherhood.
In this great apostle, priest, teacher, and chief shepherd of the flock
of the Lord, we experienced an image of Christ's love, and of God the Father
as revealed in Christ Jesus. John Paul II embodied all that was best in
human nature, irradiated with grace. An ardent priest, a philosopher, an
artist, a sportsman, a man of sacrifice, a man of tender heart and nerves
of steel, of wit and laughter and tears, he expressed the essential nature
of what it is to be a fully-alive Christianto be a person in whom
Truth and Love are integrated.
His qualities seem inexhaustible, his sanctity unquestionable, the legacy
of his pontificate so rich that it will be centuries before we absorb it
completely, if we ever do. The effects of this extraordinary generosity
on the part of Heaven have already begun, yet there is more to come, perhaps
centuries more, during which the light he brought to us "from above" will
increase and not fade in memory.
A beloved father to us all, his passing into eternity has gripped the entire
world as no other pope's death has done until now. It is a "death in the
family." Our "Papa" has died; we knew he loved us; he fed us so well, and
protected us magnificently, yet he always challenged us to grow. He was
a sign of contradiction from his earliest years, and during his time in
the Chair of Peter he lived out this mystery to completion, moment by moment,
day by day, for close to three decades, often with great personal suffering.
We grieved when he died, yet this grief was mingled with a mysterious joythe
joy that he was Home at last, and that in Christ he has gone ahead to prepare
a place for us.
As we all know, the man who will be the new Holy Father will have "very
big shoes to fill." Yet, in the vast and mysterious plans of the Holy Spirit,
it is probable that another great apostle will be given to us, for the times
are gravely ill. As St. Paul says, "Where evil abounds, there grace also
We dont need to worry about the size of the feet that must fit into
the shoes. We must pray for the man soon to be elected, but there is nothing
to fear. It is certain that the new pope will not be big enough for
those shoes, for the shoes are always too big for any man to fill,
and popes, generally, are the first to know this. John Paul II felt it on
the day of his election, and it surely must have been a constant awareness
for him. In this awareness, a genuinely apostolic pope opens his heart to
Christ still further, so that Christ himself will fill the shoes.
My sense is that our next pontiff will feed the flock of the Lord amidst
many tribulations, and that he will do so as popes must always do, by allowing
grace to build upon his own unique personality and gifts. He will not be
like John Paul in terms of public persona, but he will be very much like
him in the order of grace, that is, he will be Petrus, he will be
our father, the rock upon which the Church is built. He too will ask us
to grow. He too will be a sign of contradiction to the spirit of the world,
and to those voices within the Church that advocate a compromise with the
There can be no doubt that the configuration of world events have changed
for the better in some major aspects under the hand of John Paul II, yet
the war between good and evil will last until the end of time. As John Paul
warned us so often, we must not assume that because the more brutal forms
of Marxism have fallen, mankind will now right itself and a new world order
of peace and prosperity will begin. He was the first to say that this was
not so, and that the nature of the war had merely changed. He was particularly
urgent about our tendency to misread situations by surface appearances.
He taught us again and again that Materialism is far from dead and that
it threatens in the long run to bring about a far more comprehensive destruction
of souls than the destruction brought about under overt totalitarian regimes.
This is the situation the new pope will face.
But he will also inherit a generation of young people who were born and
raised in the pontificate of John Paul II. He will inherit a dynamically
orthodox Church growing in Africa and Asia.
In the underground Church in China, for example, despite the ongoing persecution
of Christians in that country, there are probably more true disciples of
Christ than in all of Western Europe and North America combined (The Communist
Party of China admits that there are between 80 and 100 million underground
believers, all of whom at any moment may be forced to pay a terrible price
for their beliefs.) He also will inherit a complex reconfiguration of what
was once called Christendom. The waning of Christian influence in the governments
of the West is a symptom of top-down social revolutions that are abusing
democratic procedures to undermine democracy, and doing it in the name of
The list of other geopolitical problems goes on and on. In each and every
one of them, ranging from the last vestiges of Stalinism to the new globalist
Capitalism (I mean by this a form of capitalism without conscience), the
new Holy Father will need extraordinary wisdom and holiness. He will be
called to speak the truth fearlessly, prophetically. Indeed, he may be called
by God to live out the fullest dimensions of Simeon's prophecy, not only
as a sign of contradiction to those forces and social philosophies in the
modern world that would negate the whole truth about Man, but as a sign
that will be rejected.
After a week of worldwide mourning (and surprisingly respectful media coverage)
the dissemblers have recommenced their efforts to undo what John Paul II
began, and to make it more difficult for the next Pope to continue the work
of the Petrine charism. In societies where truth has become no more than
a negotiable "value," where good is often called evil and evil called good,
those who live and teach truth will continue to suffer much malice from
those who do not know what they are really doing.
The contempt which some "enlightened" media commentators heaped
upon John Paul II during his lifetime, and now upon his memory (more or
less silenced for a week), is a symptom of hearts grown weary and cold,
unable to believe in genuine fatherhood. At root it's a cry of pain from
the fatherless who do not yet know themselves, a sad adolescent reaction,
understandable within the context of the culture of death, but its time
is nearing an end.
The voice of malice will eventually fall silent because it is loveless and
sterile. The memory of John Paul II will remain as a vibrant sign of love,
fruitfulness, hope. His successor will continue to build the civilization
of love, though he may have much to suffer until the culture of death has
run its course. Regardless of his apparent victories or defeats, we will
stand with him, for where Peter is, there the Church is, and where the Church
is, there Jesus is.
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Michael D. O'Brien
April 13, 2005
D. OBrien is the former editor of the Catholic family magazine,
Nazareth Journal. He is also the author of several books, including
his seven volume series of novels published by Ignatius Press, notably the
Elijah. For more than thirty years he has been a professional artist.
Michael's most recent novel is Sophia
House, the sixth novel in the acclaimed Children of the Last
Days series. It is a prequel to Father Elijah.
Michael and his wife Sheila have six children. He writes and paints full-time
at his home near Combermere, Ontario. His paintings and published articles
can be seen at his gallery website: www.studiobrien.com.
Visit Michael's page at IgnatiusInsight.com
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