On the Passing of John Paul II
I heard the news when I got off work and turned on the radio. My initial
reaction, while emcompassing sorrow, was a sort of surge of exhiliration and
gratitude: this Pope had served long and well; he had taught us in his strength
and in his weakness, and now had entered glory.
Still, every time the radio announcer would say "This is a special report
on the death of Pope John Paul II" I would choke up at the words "the death of
Pope John Paul II". Death at any time seems unreal to the living, but if any man
seemed larger than death, it was Karol Wojtyla.
So far as I know, the term "Pope John Paul the Great" first appeared in the
pages of Caelum et Terra, over ten years ago. If others had used the
term before that I was unaware of it when I wrote the words, and am unaware of
it now. It has since become a commonplace, even among those who differ radically
on the meaning of his pontificate, and now more than ever it seems impossible to
overestimate the importance of this man and of his effect on the Church and the
John Paul II was a gift of God to the Church. He came at a time of crisis
and confusion and weakness, seeming to stride purposefully, jaw set, eyes afire,
into his pontificate. He was at that time youthful and strong, an athletic and
handsome man whose personal vigor seemed to shake the Church out of its slumber.
Maclin Horton, writing at that time, called him "one of God’s true knights", and
this captured the way that the Polish Pope had restored the romance to
Catholicism. Poet, playwright, philosopher, mystic, worker, athlete: this was a
whole man if ever there was one.
I cannot begin to chronicle here his achievements; suffice it to say that
he, more than any living soul, is responsible for the reinvigorated Church of
our day, and that this was accomplished not only by sound teaching and wise
leadership, but by the strength of his personality, which touched countless
souls around the world. I will be writing in the coming weeks about how this one
remarkable man affected my life, and I am sure most of you have your own stories
So he has passed, on the eve of Divine Mercy Sunday, at the end of Bright
Week. The Divine Mercy devotion was already associated with John Paul ll; it was
he who canonized St Faustina, the Polish visionary who began the devotion, and
it was he who promoted its spread to the wider Church. With its evocation of
Eastern Christian spirituality, its repeated "have mercy", and the final Thrice
Holy Hymn ["Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us"] the Divine
Mercy chaplet seemed to express John Paul’s hope of reunion between the Churches
of East and West. Now the feast and the devotion are forever tied to the
ministry and the memory of Pope John Paul II.
There will be other popes, hopefully other good and holy men, but I doubt
any of them will ever be "Holy Father" to me the way this man was.
And here in Ohio, there was an April snowstorm as I made my way home, and
the brown earth and still-bare trees were slowly covered in white, like the
Mercy of God.
For the sake of His sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the
Pope St John Paul the Great, pray for us.