As I write these words, it is the 100th birthday of the great pope, St. John Paul II.
I feel a close connection to him and have been thinking about him, praying for his intercession, reflecting on how his life has inspired me in my ministry.
I was ordained a priest two months before he was elected pope in 1978, and he appointed me a bishop in 2001. In December 2004, he named me an archbishop, just a few months before he died.
St. John Paul reminded all of us that the reason for our lives is to know Jesus, to love him, and to share his life with others.
In this Easter season, we always return to the Acts of the Apostles and the stories of the Church’s beginnings. Those first disciples gave their whole lives to follow Jesus and continue his mission. Their love for him was so strong it cast aside all fear.
Jesus had told his disciples on that first Easter night, “Do not be afraid.” St. John Paul repeated these words in his first homily as pope.
“Do not be afraid. Open wide the doors to Christ,” the pope told us. These words speak more clearly to us in this time of plague.
Following Jesus means sharing in his life. It means carrying our cross with him. And it means accepting that we will suffer, as he suffered for us.
I am praying for all of you who are worried about your businesses, your jobs, about what the future will look like for your children and loved ones, for our economy and our way of life. I am praying for all of you who are grieving and feeling abandoned and lonely.
We are in this together, we are suffering together. In his Providence, God is allowing this pandemic to happen to all of us.
And God is asking us to bear these burdens without the consolation of the sacraments, without being able to come to church for many weeks now. This is a profound sadness for me, as I know it is for you.
We closed our churches out of love for our vulnerable brothers and sisters and concern not to spread the disease. Now, we are working on it, trying hard to open our churches back up. I am confident that we are getting there, that it will be a matter of weeks now, not months.
The Church has always suffered, from the beginning. Being Christian does not mean we escape suffering. Being Christian means we know that our suffering will be redeemed, that divine mercy overcomes every evil, that divine love is stronger than death.
God is alive and he goes with us. He has a plan for human history and a plan for every human life. Jesus Christ is still the light that shines in the darkness. We need to look for that light with the eyes of faith. We need to walk by that light with the courage and love that he gives us.
This is what Jesus meant when he said, “Do not be afraid.” This is what St. John Paul meant.
In this pandemic, God is asking each of us what we value, what is important to us. He is showing us that in the end, it is only love that matters. The love that Jesus Christ has for us. The love that we have for him. The love that we have for one another.
We are coming out of the darkness of this coronavirus pandemic, and as we open the doors to get back to work and some kind of “normal,” we are going to see the damage this virus has left in its wake: economic, spiritual, emotional, and psychological. Lives broken and emptied of hope, people hurting in ways we cannot yet imagine.
Our society needs the Church, perhaps now more than ever. Love is the only answer, the only credible way to proclaim Christ. And love alone can cast out fear.
In his book, “Crossing the Threshold of Hope,” St. John Paul wrote, “Love that became man, Love crucified and risen, Love unceasingly present among men. It is Eucharistic Love. … He alone can give the ultimate assurance when he says ‘Be not afraid!’ ”
Jesus is calling us in this hour to love without holding anything back. We need to help our neighbors get back on their feet. We need to help them mourn their dead and heal their wounds, to begin their lives again. We need to make sure the poor are not forgotten. We are in this together. And we are stronger together, better together.
Pray for me this week and I will pray for you.
Let us ask our Blessed Mother Mary to intercede for us as we prepare for the reopening of our society and our churches.
And let us entrust our lives to her Immaculate Heart, just as St. John Paul did. Let us say as he said, “Totus tuus.” All for Mary.