FROM LIFE TO LIFE
ON 2 APRIL 2005 JOHN PAUL II PASSED AWAY TO FATHER’S HOME
On 2 April 2005, nine years ago, at the time of the Jasna Góra Appeal Prayer, at 9.37 p.m. , the Polish Pope’s heart stopped beating. Between Saturday, when he passed away to Father’s Home, and the following Friday, when he was buried, it looked as if the world stopped. The next pope – Benedict XVI started the beatification process quickly. Nearly six years later, on 1 May 2011, John Paul II was raised to the glory of altars by his successor. Now there are preparations for canonization, which is going to be carried out by pope Francis on 27 April 2014.
Floribeth Mora woke up and her look fell on the photo of John Paul II which was on the cover of the supplement to the newspaper. The publication contains the biography of the Pope, the description of his pontificate, a list of his journeys. She was looking at the photograph of the Holy Father for a long time, who was spreading his arms in a characteristic gesture as if he wanted to embrace everybody. She was looking at his eyes and suddenly heard a voice which said: ‘Stand up, do not be afraid’.
It happened in Costa Rica on 1 May 2011, a few hours after in Rome Benedict XVI had beatified his predecessor. Three weeks earlier, on 8 April – exactly on the 6th anniversary of the funeral of John Paul II – Floribeth woke up with a terrible headache. Its reason was the surgically irremovable brain aneurysm.
Humanly inexplicable disappearance of the aneurysm was the miracle which opened a way to canonization of John Paul II. What is extremely significant in this history are the dates: the illness appeared on the anniversary of his funeral, just after the beatification – it disappeared. There are more significant words which she heard after her health recovery: ‘Stand up, do not be afraid’.
‘When ‘His hour’ came, Jesus says to those who were in the Gethsemani garden with him – to Peter, Jacob and John, the closest, especially the chosen and beloved disciples: ‘Stand up, let’s go!’ (see Mk 14.42) – writes the Pope in his book devoted to his bishopric ministry. ‘Not only is he to ‘go’ towards fulfilling what Father has intended but also they with Him’.
It is just the work of John Paul II to which cardinal Joseph Ratzinger referred in his homily during the funeral Holy Masson 8 April 2005:
‘«Stand up, let’s go!» - it is the title of his second to last book «Stand up, let’s go!» - he woke up us with these words from tired faith, disciples’ dream, those from yesterday and those in the contemporary times. «Stand up, let’s go» - he says these words also to us. The Holy Father was a priest till the depth because he devoted his life to God for his sheep of the whole world, in the everyday gift of ministry to the Church, especially in a difficult attempt of the last months’.
Cardinal Ratzinger was saying at that time about three answers to the calling: ‘Come with Me!’ – to the calling for priesthood, for bishopric ministry and finally for papal ministry:
‘In October 1978 cardinal Wojtyła hears Lord’s voice anew. A dialogue with Peter is renewed which sounded in today’s Gospel: ‘Simon, John’s son, do you love Me? Graze my sheep!’ To Lord’s question: Karol, do you love Me”, the archbishop from Cracow answered from his heart: ‘Lord, you do know everything, You know that I love you’. Christ’s love was the main strength of our beloved Holy Father. Somebody who saw him praying, who heard him proclaiming the Gospel, knows. And, so, thanks to this deep being rooted in Christ he was able to carry this burden which exceeds normal human strength: be a pastor of a flock of Christ and His universal Church’.
Every next day, month and a year of pontificate brought other answers ‘yes’: an assassination and forgiveness of Ali Agca, pilgrimages all over the world and canonizing so many faith witnesses, till the last struggles with his illness and weakness. The words ‘Stand up, let’s go!’ were the words characteristic for the World Youth’s Days, a fight for human life defence, many attempts for peace, aiming at the unity in the Church, and also request for forgiveness for the Christians’ sins.
Do not be afraid!
‘Do not be afraid, dear brothers and sisters to accept Christ and His power! Help the Pope - help everybody who want to serve to the man and the whole humankind. Do not be afraid – open your doors to Christ, open the doors of His redemptive power, open borders of countries to it, doors of economic systems, political systems, wide areas of culture, civilization and development. Do not be afraid – Christ knows what is inside of the man, only He knows it. And today the man does not often know what is inside him. He is not often certain about the sense of his life on the Earth, he is struggling in doubts and despair. Please, let Christ speak to the man. It is only Him who has words of life – eternal life’.
We remember this fragment of Pope’s homily of the pontificate inauguration, on 22 October 1978. The words ‘Non abbiate paura! (Do not be afraid!) were also seen on the Square of St. Peter on the day of his beatification, on 1 May 2011.
It is worth noting that the Church, setting the date of the reminiscence of blessed pope and soon saint John Paul II resigned from such an important date of birth for Heaven (that is, the death date) just for the sake of 22 October.
Why was he speaking about fear at that time? We understood it in the context of the world’s situation – the reign of atheistic communism, maybe terrorist attacks, the threat of nuclear conflict. But wasn’t the Pope describing also his own experience then? After all he confessed: ‘I was afraid to accept this election’, saying about the verdict (or, as he called it himself – ‘a verdict’) of the conclave.
The words ‘do not be afraid’ remind also the fragment of the Gospel according to St. Lucas about the birth of Jesus. Shepherds in Bethlehem hear from angels: ‘Do not be afraid, here I announce you a great joy’. John Paul II was thinking at the threshold of his pontificate that he was going to face a task of leading the Church into the third millennium from the birth of Jesus.
And it was successful. After the Great Jubilee of the year 2000, there were dangers, however, whose symbol are collapsing skyscrapers of the World Trade Centre.
And then the pope started repeating (also in Cracow during his last pilgrimage to Poland): ‘Stop being afraid’. Then we saw more than in the beginning of his papal path that he had a lot to be afraid of – illnesses, disabilities, infirmity.
A virtue of courage
We know facts quite well – at least the most important ones – from the history of pontificate of John Paul II. Today when we are getting prepared for canonization of our great Compatriot, it is worth reflecting on what virtues are expressed by them. A saint man is the one who practices three theological virtues in a heroic way: faith, hope and love and moral virtues: prudence, justice, moderation, courage. In the process of canonization one must show all virtues, although they do not have to appear to an equal extent.
We know that John Paul II was a man of great faith. How he prayed, how much grace and miracles were experienced by people through the intercession to God! We know that he was a man of great hope – during his pontificate impossible things became possible. It is well presented by words of the Pope to the chancellor of Germany Helmut Kohl when they were crossing the Brandenburg Gate together: ‘Federal Chancellor, it is a joyful moment in my life, we are at the Brandenburg Gate, pope and chancellor. There is not the wall any more, Germany is united and Poland is independent’. We also know that he could love. We received its testimony in the last week of his pontificate, when – he was suffering from his illness -said to archbishop Dziwisz: Maybe it would be better if I died, if I am not able to fulfill mission entrusted to me any more’. However, he added after a while: ‘Let Your will come true. Totus Tuus’.
When we are thinking on his moral virtues, it is easy to notice the virtue of his courage. Every ‘yes’ of the Pope was an act of great courage in human way. Here we reach a scene anew, which became an inspiration for the title of the book about his bishopric ministry. One of its chapters is directly entitled “Courageous in faith’. John Paul II starts it with reminding about the person of the primate Stefan Wyszyński and cites a big quotation from ‘Prison notes’:
‘Lack of courage – he said – is the beginning of a defeat for a bishop. Can he still be an apostle? After all, what is essential for an apostle is a testimony to the Truth! And it always requires courage’ (cardinal Stefan Wyszyński, ‘Prison notes’, Paris 1982, p. 251). And also these words: ‘The biggest lack of an apostle is fear. Because it causes distrust to the power of Master, squeezes heart and throat. The apostle does not confess any more. Is he an apostle? Disciples who left Master gave courage to torturers. Everybody who keeps silent towards enemies of the matter, emboldens them. Fear of an apostle is the first ally of the enemies of the matter. ‘Force somebody to keep silent through fear’ – it is the first task of godless strategy. Terror used by all dictatorships is estimated onto anxiety of apostles. Only then does silence have its apostolic significance when it does not turn its image away from a torturer. It was done so by Christ. But he showed his courage in this sign. Christ did not allow for being terrorized by people. When he came out for a meeting with a crowd of people, he bravely said: ‘I am here’
From a funeral to resurrection
Floribeth Mora and her whole family had experienced very difficult three weeks since 8 April 2011. Floribeth was very scared of death, and she was suffering more, seeing sadness on her husband and children’s faces. That period in their life somehow became a picture of what so many people were experiencing between 2 and 8 April 2005. The funeral of John Paul II, which took place on that windy and rainy day, was a culmination point of that grief and pain of farewell. Despite our belief about holiness of the Pope (‘Santo Subito’), despite wind turning pages of the Book of Gospels on the coffin (breath of the Holy Spirit?) raindrops mixed with tears in many participants of the funeral. 6 years later, when it was a beautiful and sunny day, Benedict XVI proclaimed his predecessor the blessed. Everybody who was on the Square of St. Peter, remembers this unusual feeling of joy, which appeared in us when the image of John Paul II was unveiled on the loggia of the Basilica of St. Peter. If we were to follow the key of the book ‘Stand up, let’s go!’, we would have to say that after Gethsemani, Calvary and laying body in a grave, we were back in the Upper Room on that first day of the week, when ‘scared and terrified’ apostles heard ‘Peace with you’.
At the same time many thousand kilometers to the West, under the cover of night (Costa Rica and Vatican are different in time of five hours) there a miracle which was opening life for the wife and mother of the family anew.
Now she is to be present during the canonization ceremony. She will hear that the ‘faithful and good servant’ who was John Paul II can be happy about the name of a saint on that day, so a man who made his life similar to the life of Master, with God’s help, becoming an intercessor for others (how effective) and …..an example.
Our everyday fears
Once, probably in the Jubilee Year 2000, in Gdynia, on the beach there was a concert of ‘Noah’s Ark’. Robert Friedrich wanted to introduce a song about holiness and asked: Who wants to go to Heaven? Everyone raised their hands. Then there was another question: who wants to go to Heaven today? And here reaction was not somehow spontaneous.
This is what the problem with happiness is based on. We want it, but the path to it raises our anxiety.
For some people this is anxiety of contracting a permanent marriage, for others – this is anxiety of having a child. Other people may be afraid of spiritual vocation. Generally today many people are driven by fear of any permanent duty. Our fears are little and big. Parents and educators are afraid of demanding anything from children (and themselves!), we are afraid of doing self-examination, a confession, even fear of the fact that party without alcohol will turn out bad. If it is fear which becomes the main criteria of our choices ( a lack of a decision is also a decision), then we become its slaves more and more, and create dark spaces in ourselves, into which we do not want to let the light come. As a result we are looking for ‘replacing lights’, replacing ‘joys’, replacing ‘happiness’: in a supermarket, in front of TV, computer, in superficial relationships.
On 22 October, over three decades after that saying ‘do not be afraid’, it will be the first time we will have been celebrating reminiscence of saint John Paul II - that is, an intercessor and an example to follow. As an intercessor he proved many times – during his life and after his death – his effectiveness. And as an example? I remember when during the World Youth Days in Toronto, a Pole, living in Canada, looking at the Holy Father struggling with suffering said briefly: ‘I will never complain about anything’. At that time the Pope was talking to us with his own words and his attitude. He also speaks today.
Soon after the beatification of John Paul II the weather was beautiful in Rome and nothing presaged rain. In the afternoon we went into the Basilica of St. Peter. There was an hour before its closing. And just then it started raining. There was fresh spring rain while pilgrims were praying at the relics of blessed pope, while they were writing intentions on little sheets of paper and were throwing them into baskets. A bell sounded, ceremony service stood across the church and started go towards the exit, politely, but consistently asking people out. When we were at the threshold of the Basilica, it stopped raining, the sun came out and – a beautiful rainbow appeared. Somebody said: ‘John Paul II made an alliance with us’.
Let’s refer again to the saying ‘Stand up, let’s go!’
‘Surely we are facing trials. It is nothing unusual. It depends on life of faith, sometimes trials are mild, sometimes very difficult, and even dramatic. In a trial we can feel alone, but God’s grace, the grace of victorious faith never leaves us. Therefore, we can win a victory in every trial.
When I was speaking about it to the Polish youth in the year 1987 in Westerplatte in Gdańsk, I referred to this place as a symbol of faithfulness in a dramatic trial. There, in the year 1939 a group of young Polish soldiers, fighting against the German invader of the definite prevalence of force and arming, gave a victorious testimony of courage, enduring and faithfulness. I referred to that event, encouraging especially young people to reflect on the reference between being more and having more, I was warning them: ‘The very having can never win. Because the man can lose the most valuable thing: his humankind, his conscience, his dignity’. In this perspective I was encouraging them: ‘You must demand from yourselves, even if others would not demand anything from you’. And I was explaining: Each of you finds his Westerplatte in his life. Some tasks which must be done. A righteous matter which must be gained. A duty, obligation which it is impossible to avoid. One cannot escape. Finally, a kind of an order of truths and values which must be ‘maintained’ and ‘defended’, like this Westerplatte in ourselves and around ourselves. Yes, defend – for ourselves and others’ (12 June 1987).
People have always needed examples to follow. They need them also now, in our times, marked with changeable and opposable ideas’.