“Be not afraid,” were among St. Pope John Paul II’s first words to the Church upon his election as pope. During his 1978 inaugural Mass homily, on the day we celebrate his feast, October 22nd, he proclaimed with these words the living presence of Jesus to those in the world. This was not a man who had enjoyed a prosperous life of luxury, nor a life of ease. Instead, the man who was reiterating the words of the Risen Lord – “Be not afraid” – was a man who had faced evil and suffering throughout his entire life. This was a man who had lost his mother by the age of eight, and his father and brother by the time he was twenty-one. This was a man who had to endure the persecution of his friends and compatriots by the Nazis, witnessing even the death of his dearest friends at the hands of men of darkened hearts. This was a man who entered the seminary in secret for fear of being killed by those same men, a man who later would struggle against the forces of atheistic communism, forces intent upon quashing any belief in the dignity of the individual human person. Yet on that balcony, despite all of his past suffering, in his words were hope. It was a hope that belonged to an entire people. We Catholics are that people of hope.
“To come to know God – the true God – means to receive hope,” later wrote John Paul II’s successor.1 It is in knowing a God who gives his only Son for our own sake, out of love for us, that we come to know true hope. While the world tosses and turns amidst evil and suffering, and many heed the response of false promises by those in power, Christ appears and says to us, “Be not afraid.” He calls us to himself, in whom we find an infinite ocean of mercy, in whom our shortcomings, our failings, our sins and our brokenness all find forgiveness and healing. Much like the disciples after the death of Jesus, John Paul II encountered the “Living One” in the midst of sorrow and darkness.2 And so he could echo the words of St. Augustine loudly: “Do not despair; ‘we are an Easter people, and Alleluia is our song!’”
Because Jesus the Redeemer, our Beloved, is standing before us now continually offering his love, his mercy and his very self, by daily accepting this offer we receive profound hope in all things. Thus, the Scriptures tell us, “If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? … It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us.”3 In encountering the true God, we come to know he who is “for us.” Yes, for “all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”4 And, thus, in living out our baptism, we become a people of a future, a people who stand in the face of evil with the hope of life in our hearts. For Jesus redeems all things for our good and his glory, so that even the suffering from which the world turns its face becomes an opportunity of God’s grace.
“I want to know Christ,” St. Paul wrote, and yet he did not stop there: “… and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”5 What hope there is! “I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own,” he continued.6 This is a hope born of love and of being loved, begotten from the life of Christ within us. With “Be not afraid” echoing within the chambers of our hearts, we can overcome the world by our faith in the Risen Lord, and with all the saints beside him to intercede on our behalf. For our hope is not in the men of this world, nor in the empty promises of riches or pleasure, but in the God of all love. In the vein of St. John Paul II and of St. Paul, then, we can confidently say, “We also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”7 Oh, and what marvelous sweetness that hope produces in us, the people of God!
1 Pope Benedict XVI. “Spe Salvi – Encyclical Letter, Benedict XVI.” Vatican: the Holy See. Vatican Website. Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2007. Web. 9 Oct. 2017.
2 Rev. 1:18 NRSVCE
3 Rom. 8:31-32,34
4 ibid., 28
5 Phil. 3:10-11
6 ibid., 12
7 Rom. 5:3-5