Some memorable things occurred shortly after the vernal equinox in 2005. Good Friday fell on Annunciation Day, a very rare occurrence. (Many ancient Fathers held that Christ’s crucifixion took place on March 25.) And Easter Saturday fell on April 2. With sunset, the Feast of Divine Mercy began. And Pope John Paul II died.
For the first time since that day, the calendar date and the liturgical days align today.
“Should we obey men, rather than God?” To be humble, submissive to legitimate authority, pleasing to one’s neighbors—these are all virtues, to be sure. It’s not as if Pope John Paul II wasn’t every bit as good a politician as Ronald Reagan was. They both had been actors, after all.
But for all his avuncular charm, Pope John Paul had a deeper compass. The whole world knew that his interior life and his intense studies guided him. Yes, he pleased us. But: a politician, fundamentally Pope John Paul II was not.
“Go to all the world and proclaim the Good News!” To proclaim anything to anyone requires relating to them. For people to relate to each other, some common ground must be found.
I think it’s fair to say that Pope John Paul II was the greatest genius for finding common ground that any of us will ever share the earth with in this life. His skill at connecting with people arose, of course, from his total intimacy with the New Testament. When you furnish every room of your soul with pages from the gospels and epistles, then you expand towards others constantly, by the sheer power of the Holy Spirit.
Americans tend to think of America as the center of the world. And we have a myth of the Vatican as some kind of walled-in warren of creepy Italians in effeminate-looking cassocks.
John Paul II made the Vatican the crossroads of all peoples. My first visit there changed my life, in the spring of the Jubilee Year 2000. Americans—northern and southern—Africans, eastern Europeans, southeast Asians, coming and going, talking constantly, united in a common purpose. The best and wisest, most well-informed and most connected man in the world was our pope.
When we lose a parent, the first part of life ends, and a second part starts. My own dad and John Paul II died a year apart from each other. Eleven years ago, the first part of my life ended, and a second began.
But: why do we gather together at the holy altar to celebrate Mass every day, for God’s sake? Lord Jesus rose from the dead! Death does not separate us from each other. Life has a Part III, and it involves more intimacy, more love, more joy—and it never ends.