Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 34:17-18, 19-20, 21, 23
Gospel: John 7:1-2, 10, 25-30
On April 2nd, 2005 at 9:37pm in Rome, the world watched one of its great heroes pass away. After requesting that one of his closest friends read a few chapters of the Gospel according to John, Karol Wojtyla, ak.a. Pope John Paul II, a.k.a. John Paul the Great went to meet God. Although death comes to every descendant of Adam and is always sad, it was joyous as well, for it was death on his own terms. It was not the death intended for him by his enemies.
15 years after the fall of the communist Soviet Union, evidence has come out to match the allegations that the U.S.S.R. was behind the assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II by Mahmet Ali Agca. The Lord’s faithful servant, who preferred the papal title "Servant of the Servants of God", was conspired against by (in the words of President Ronald Reagan) "the Evil Empire." In so many ways, the pitched battle between communist Russia and the Pope seems almost to have been predicted by the words from the Book of Wisdom. This is because no servant is greater than their master – those who align themselves with the forces of evil persecuted Jesus, such that, for a time, even the Son of God himself had to be careful where he went. Why would they not likewise persecute the Vicar of Christ on Earth.
"He is obnoxious to us; he sets himself against our doings" (Wisdom 2:12) – no truer words were said of Pope JP2 standing up to an empire that controlled half of Europe by intimidation. John Paul II not only spoke out against communism, but also aided the Solidarity Movement in Poland, and also wrote directly to the Kremlin that if the U.S.S.R. continued to oppress his countrymen, he would have no choice but to abdicate the Throne of Peter to be with his people – such a course would pit the U.S.S.R. directly against 1 billion Catholics worldwide.
"Let us see whether his words be true; let us find out what will happen to him. For if the just one be the son of God, he will defend him and deliver him from the hand of his foes… Let us condemn him to a shameful death; for according to his own words, God will take care of him." (Wisdom 2:17-18) After the assassination attempt on May 13th, the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima, John Paul II recognized that 2 hands guided the bullet that hit him: the hand that started the bullet on its path was that of Mahmet Ali Agca, guided by a plan hatched by Soviet military intelligence; the second hand prevented the bullet from hitting any major organ or blood vessel by millimeters – the hand of God gave the Pope the protection pleaded for by the mother of the One whom the Pope represents to the people on Earth.
"They knew not the hidden counsels of God; neither did they count on a recompense of holiness." (Wisdom 2:22) Not only did the enemies of the Pope believe their plan would not fail at least to slow him down, if not outright kill him, they also did not expect (nor did much of the world) that the Pope would confront his would-be killer and offer forgiveness, "a recompense of holiness," to him. In the end, it was this great man who outlived the empire he stared down.
In 2 days, we celebrate what in the future is almost sure to become the annual Feast Day of John Paul the Great. The designs of God were greater than the designs of evil men, and God rewarded his faithful servant with a happy death – a servant who (in the words of Joaquin Navarro-Valls) "taught (so) many people around the world how to live was also teaching in those moments how a person can die." Although many will celebrate this day in years to come with parades all over the world, for us this year, the loss of our late pontiff of almost 27 years is still too new for much more than rememberance, maybe a pilgrimage, and the almost certain fact that we will not see his kind again in our lifetimes. However, we have comfort in that "the Lord is close to the brokenhearted." (Psalm 34:19)
Pray for us, John Paul the Great, as we try to learn from your example how to walk our life’s pilgrimage to meet God. May we, like you, always remember to turn to Mary, the Mother of God, for all our needs, so as to be eternally happy with her Son. And may we especially, like you, through the grace of God, be able to stand against our enemies while praying for their conversion, in firm knowledge that God will take care of us as well. Requiscat in Pace, Papa Johannes Paulus II.