Updated: Oct 5, 2020
These are urgent and pressing times. Our nation is wrestling anew with wounds caused by the evil of racism while at the same time dealing with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing shutdown. In addition to the tremendous social unrest, economic losses, divisive election season, rioting, and attacks on law enforcement, we are seeing outright attacks on our faith Catholic faith. The attacks range from vandalizing sacred statues to an unveiled attempt to disqualify people from public service because they are both practicing and believing Catholics. Many local governments are unfairly limiting the freedom of the Church through unnecessarily burdensome COVID restrictions that are not applied to other types of gatherings. Recently the Archbishop of San Francisco, Arcbishop Salvatore Cardileone was forced to publicly plead for the right of worship to be restored (click here to read more).
During these challenging times, we enter into this significant month of October. October is the month of the Holy Rosary as we celebrate the Feast of Holy Rosary on October 7. I encourage you to pray the Rosary daily for our nation! In addition, October is Respect Life Month. We need real men who are going to stand up and defend all attacks on human life. We need men to defend the most defenseless, voiceless, innocent, and vulnerable among us, unborn children.
And, in this month of October, we celebrate the feast day of a giant of faith whose life can be a great example for us during these challenging times, Pope Saint John Paul II. This month Catholic Men’s ministry presents Pope John Paul II as the saint of the month and the virtue of faith as the virtue of the month. Saint John Paul II was a giant of faith whose life of faith deeply influenced the 20th century. He was born on May 18, 2020 and he died on April 2, 2005.
I will never forget Midnight Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica in 1997. Saint John Paul was the celebrant of the Mass. I had a seat on the center aisle of the Basilica and after the conclusion of the Mass, sometime around 1:30 AM, I had the opportunity to see Pope John Paul II pass by and for the briefest moment to make eye contact with him. He was not the vibrant young pope that was elected in 1978 at that point. I was deeply moved at how evident it was that he was pouring himself out for Christ and for the Church. That moment defines for me his entire life and ministry: a life poured out in service to Christ and the entire world. That memory is my fondest memory of him. I trust many of you have your own special memories of the life and influence of Pope John Paul II. (Who can forget the week the entire world stopped as we held vigil with him as he was dying?) I encourage you to keep alive his memory and his example. I can honestly say that I am not sure I would be a priest today apart from his influence in my life. In addition to encountering him during my year in Rome, I had the great privilege of attending World Youth Day in Denver in 1993 and I remember the invitation and the challenge he gave me and the other young people to respond to the call of Christ in our lives. As a student at Franciscan University of Steubenville, I had the opportunity to see him again (this time at a General Wednesday Audience) while visiting Rome as part of a semester of study in Austria.
As I am sure you know, there are many great books and videos made about his life. If you are looking for a book that truly presents the story and significance of his life in the context of the 20th and early 21st century, I encourage you to read George Weigel’s biography of John Paul II called Witness to Hope and the companion book entitled The End and the Beginning. The next time you are in Washington DC, I encourage you to visit the Saint John Paul II National Shrine, just up the road from the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.
Pope Saint John Paul II was a giant of faith in a time in which the faith suffered attack from the Nazi’s, Communists, and Secularists. Describing the influence of his faith, George Weigel wrote in Witness to Hope:
“Much of late modernity assumes that dependence on God is a mark of human immaturity and an obstacle to human freedom. The life of Karol Wojtyła and his accomplishment as Pope John Paul II suggest a dramatic, alternative possibility: that a man who has been seized and transformed by the ‘more excellent way’ can bend the curve of history so that freedom’s cause is advanced.”
The Catechism of the Catholic Church has a rich teaching on the theological virtue of faith. I especially commend to you paragraphs 142-184. It concludes with this summary:
“Faith is a personal adherence of the whole man to God who reveals himself. It involves an assent of the intellect and will to the self-revelation God has made through his deeds and words. ‘To believe’ has thus a twofold reference: to the person, and to the truth: to the truth, by trust in the person who bears witness to it.We must believe in no one but God: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Faith is a supernatural gift from God. In order to believe, man needs the interior helps of the Holy Spirit. ‘Believing’ is a human act, conscious and free, corresponding to the dignity of the human person. ‘Believing’ is an ecclesial act. the Church's faith precedes, engenders, supports and nourishes our faith. the Church is the mother of all believers. ‘No one can have God as Father who does not have the Church as Mother’ (St. Cyprian, De unit. 6: PL 4, 519). We believe all ‘that which is contained in the word of God, written or handed down, and which the Church proposes for belief as divinely revealed’ (Paul VI, CPG # 20). Faith is necessary for salvation. the Lord himself affirms: ‘He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned’ (⇒ Mk 16:16).‘Faith is a foretaste of the knowledge that will make us blessed in the life to come’ (St. Thomas Aquinas. Comp. theol. 1, 2).” (CCC 176-184)
Brothers in Christ, through the intercession of the great Pope Saint John Paul, may we grow in the virtue of faith and live this moment of our lives in complete fidelity to Christ. Through the intercession of Saint Joseph and all the saints, may we bring virtue in a world increasingly bereft of virtue. And, through the powerful intercession of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary, may our nation and the Church enjoy peace, virtue, healing, and the unity that is the will of God for us.