May 1, 2014 by Alex Johannigman
“Brothers and sisters, do not be afraid to welcome Christ and accept his power. Help the Pope and all those who wish to serve Christ and with Christ’s power to serve the human person and the whole of mankind. Do not be afraid. Open wide the doors for Christ. To his saving power open the boundaries of States, economic and political systems, the vast fields of culture, civilization and development. Do not be afraid. Christ knows “what is in man”. He alone knows it.”
These are words from Pope John Paul II’s first homily as Pope in St. Peter’s Square on
Sunday, October 22, 1978. Since (now St.) John Paul the Great was canonized at the beginning of this week, I’ve been reflecting on the legacy of his papacy lately. Over the past couple years, the first thing that’s come to mind for me when thinking about St. John Paul the Great has been the Theology of the Body, his great teaching about his integrated vision of the human person – body, soul, and spirit, which was given over 129 Wednesday audiences. It’s been one of my favorite Catholic teachings and part of what made me fall back in love with Catholicism after college.
But when trying to determine the theme of his papacy, one word has come to mind for me: Courage.
St. John Paul the Great lived out courage like none other during his lifetime. He took on Communism in Poland and across the world with his teachings and was instrumental in the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Union. He was shot in public and then met his would-be assassin face to face in prison and forgave him for what he did. And he was constantly reminding us to “Be not afraid”:
“Do not be afraid. Do not be satisfied with mediocrity. Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.”
“Do not be afraid to take a chance on peace, to teach peace, to live peace…Peace will be the last word of history.”
“Have no fear of moving into the unknown. Simply step out fearlessly knowing that I am with you, therefore no harm can befall you; all is very, very well. Do this in complete faith and confidence.”
“Ask yourselves, young people, about the love of Christ. Acknowledge His voice resounding in the temple of your heart. Return His bright and penetrating glance which opens the paths of your life to the horizons of the Church’s mission. It is a taxing mission, today more than ever, to teach men the truth about themselves, about their end, their destiny, and to show faithful souls the unspeakable riches of the love of Christ. Do not be afraid of the radicalness of His demands, because Jesus, who loved us first, is prepared to give Himself to you, as well as asking of you. If He asks much of you, it is because He knows you can give much.”
“This is no time to be ashamed of the Gospel. It is the time to preach it from the rooftops. Do not be afraid to break out of comfortable and routine modes of living in order to take up the challenge of making Christ known in the modern metropolis.”
Fear can be one of the greatest hindrances to living out the gospel. It keeps us from going out into what is uncomfortable. Fear is what kept the disciples hidden in the Upper Room after Christ’s crucifixion instead of out in the world preaching the gospel. And it has kept me from loving those living on the streets who I encounter every day as much as I should because I am afraid of how they will respond to what I have to say.
But St. John Paul the Great called us to be courageous and generous in giving all that we have to Jesus Christ. He challenged us to “break out of the comfortable,” to move “into the unknown,” and to “open wide the doors for Christ.” He said there is nothing to fear when we trust in Christ.
Reflecting on John Paul II this week has made me ask myself: Am I afraid? In what ways am I holding something back from Jesus out of fear? Is my fear harming my faith? Is it keeping me from having hope? Is it hindering my ability to love those that I encounter? Am I truly sharing the gospel, or still hiding in the Upper Room? They’re questions that I think we can all benefit from asking ourselves every day.