I believe that Pope John Paul II was one of the greatest Popes to have ever served the Church. History has shown him to be a man who can be all things to all people. He was an athlete, an actor, a writer, a priest, a bishop, an activist, and most of all a follower of Christ. He was a man who was deeply in love with Christ and the Church. He was willing to do whatever it took to lead the faithful into the victory that Christ has won for us.
In terms of leadership and bravery, William Wallace has nothing on this guy. During the years of Pope John Paul II’s service to the Church, he encountered many things that would make the average person run and hide:
- He was shot in public and then met his would-be assassin face to face in prison and forgave him.
- He met with foes and led a movement of reconciliation on behalf of the Church.
- He fought against Communism leading to the Berlin Wall being torn down and the collapse the Soviet Union.
Clearly this is a man who knew that not only how to overcome fear, but he wanted others to overcome their fear too. Throughout his papacy, he challenged young people around the world with a simple statement: “Be not afraid.”
But how do you do it? Here are four simple questions you can ask yourself to know if you are living up to the challenge Pope John Paul II gave to us.
1. Do I Embrace Sacrifice?
“If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” Luke 9:23-24
Christianity is not for those who seek comfort. Christ plainly tells us that if you consider yourself a follower then you must die daily to the temptation of comfort, and embrace the cross in your life. The truth is that sometimes bad things happen to good people. Sometimes we can’t explain why parents split up, why our friends get in to car accidents and die, or why we see so much brokenness around us.
The measure of a saint is not the events of what he or she went through, it is where they found Christ in the situation and how they embraced their cross through such events. Hold your ground and unite your suffering with Christ and do not run from it.
2. Do I Truly Love?
“There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment, and so one who fears is not yet perfect in love” (1 John 4:18).
At the heart of the Gospel, true authentic love is found. Pope John Paul II was driven by the love he had for Jesus as well as the love he had for all people. Our inspiration for loving without fear is found in Christ and the lives of his saints like Pope John Paul II. Fear can present itself in many forms in our lives:
- Threat of intimidation from those who oppose God and His will
- Parents who don’t understand why you are involved with Church
- People at school who put you down for living a life that goes against everything of how modern society tells us who we should be and how we should act
- …or even what you think God might be calling you to do might seem scary
But, if you truly love, you will know that “no weapon fashioned against you shall prevail”(Isaiah 54:17); and you will find hope in the plan that God has for your life.
3. Am I Ashamed of Gospel?
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel. It is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16).
The feeling of shame makes us want to hide. When an act happens and the result of that act is shame our first reaction is to make it look like it never happened. The good news is that Christ has come and defeated death and that He calls you to take part in His life and triumph by actively participating in His body, the Church. How do you answer Him? Do you run and hide, pretending that it never happened? Or do you take hold of it proclaiming true gratitude towards God for the hope the Gospel has brought to your life?
Living unashamed in light of the Gospel can be challenging. Our enemy, the Devil, wants us to believe that the Gospel is not true and it is something for us to hide because it is shameful. Saint Paul encourages us in his letter to the Ephesians to live as children of the light because in the light of God there is no shame.
4. Am I Eucharistic Centered?
“Jesus said to them, ‘Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you’” (John 6:53).
It is not a fact that just because you breathe and have blood pumping through your veins that you are alive. To live an unafraid life means that you must first have life. When Jesus gathered His disciples and instituted the Eucharist, He made a bold statement. He proclaimed that the bread and the wine are His body and blood. And unless we eat His body and drink His blood we will not have true life within us. The Eucharist is the source and summit of Christian life (CCC 1324).
Be honest with God and yourself, do you truly believe that the Eucharist is Jesus as if He is standing before you? Or are you like the disciples that left the room saying that the thought of the Eucharist is crazy?
Be Not Afraid
To close, let me share with you one of my favorite Bible verses about how nothing should frighten us because Christ’s love is always stronger.
“No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8: 37-39)