"The Agony and the Ecstasy!"
One week down, fifty-one to go and we have mixed feelings as we turn the first page of the final chapter of the millennium. Amidst all the Y2K scares and the tragic news out of the Congo where 500 innocent souls were senselessly slaughtered on New Year's Day and now the killings in Angola and harassment in Sierra Leone, plus word out of China that the communist government is up to their old tricks again in persecuting priests and religious with unspeakable crimes one would think Armaggeddon is truly near. Yet, despite all this bad news - and we haven't even mentioned the current impeachment trial, there is hope on the horizon: The Holy Father ordained nine new bishops a few days ago; the Vatican is making grandiose plans for a memorable two-week papal visit down memory lane as Pope John Paul II not only will return to his old "haunts" in June, but officiate at the millenial celebration of the Diocese where he was born and grew up - Wadowice, Poland which was established in 999. That, in itself is commendable, but the fact their favorite son will be there makes it all the more special. But before he sets foot on the soil of his beloved homeland, he will wing his way to our shores with a special 24-hour stop in St. Louis on January 27th and a much-anticipated showdown with badboy Bill Clinton after officially closing the Synod of America in Mexico City at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe. There is much speculation that he will announce at that time when he will canonize the venerable visionary Blessed Juan Diego. There are even rumors that the Holy Father will make an unscheduled stop-off in Havana where, one year ago, he brought the entire island to its knees including hard-hearted Fidel Castro who only John Paul could soften through the grace of God. The results of that visit are showing great fruits with even the United States relaxing their hard line stance that has held since John F. Kennedy shut out Cuba well over three decades ago.
The agony of omission and oppression
It brings cause to offer John Paul II's name as not only the most influential man of the twentieth century, but possibly of the second millennium. A list of the top 1000 most influential people of the millennium has just been released in a book titled "1,000 Years, 1,000 People: Ranking the Men and Women Who Shaped the Millennium" and Pope John Paul II is not even in the top ten. When you consider who is on the list, it bears one to answer why the back-handed prejudice or was it just ignorance? Johann Gutenberg topped the list because he invented the printing press and played a significant role in circulating the bible. Good selection, but still, not number one. Christopher Columbus was ranked number two. Yes, he skippered the expedition that discovered the New World and was most effective in bringing the faith to these shores through the Queen's commission and Pope's encouragement of sending missionaries along. The rebellious, disobedient monk Martin Luther was number three and that is akin to saying Benedict Arnold was a great hero of the American Revolution. Enough said. Number four was Galileo Galilei whose death we commemorate this weekend. Though his contributions were large, he did not effect the soul as others such as John Paul II. The fifth name William Shakespeare evokes thoughts of the heart and soul, but not in the spiritual sense. Number six we can't argue too much with for he proved that what goes up, must come down. Hopefully it was the Second Coming Isaac Newton was referring to when he discovered the law of gravity. Coming in number seven was Charles Darwin. Oh, please!!! The next man on the list deserves to be higher for he truly imbued the truths of the existence of God in his brilliant writings providing the cornerstone of faith for millions, make that a billion Catholics! That holy man holding down the number eight spot was Saint Thomas Aquinas, the angelic Dominican Doctor of the Church. Number nine was the talented Leonardo da Vinci, the master painter but not as influential as many might think. Rounding out the top ten, according to their poll, was Ludvig van Beethoven. As great as his music, we have one thing to say: Move over, Beethoven. It is truly a travesty that men like John Paul II and Winston Churchill were not included in the top ten. While the latter remains one of the strongest of this century, still his accomplishments pale in comparison to our present pontiff. Oh, there were great saints in this millennium as well such as Saint Francis of Assisi, Saint Dominic, Saint Thomas Aquinas, Saint Bridget of Sweden, Saint Catherine of Siena, Saint Teresa of Avila, and more modern ones such as Saint Theresa of Lisieux and Mother Teresa of Calcutta. There were many great leaders such as Saint Louis IX, king of France, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln but none with the global impact as John Paul II. No man in the history of the Popes or in the annals of nations, has ever commanded the sincere respect and response this 264th successor of Peter has. This millennium has had some great Sovereign Pontiffs such as Pope Saint Gregory VII in the eleventh century; Pope Saint Pius V in the sixteenth century; and the triumverate of Pope Pius IX, who declared the Immaculate Conception, Pope Leo XIII who tweaked the world's conscience about communism and socialism, and Pope Saint Pius X who was truly one of the most Eucharistic Vicars of Christ ever. But even with this illustrious list of great and holy men, none achieved the overall impact on history that John Paul II has. And yet, he wasn't even close in the top twenty! When you look at the next ten of that questionable list we find eleven through twenty listed as John Locke, Mohandas Ghandi, Michelangelo, Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, Napoleon Bonaparte, Albert Einstein, Nicholas Copernicus, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and, the most vile, despicable villain of the millennium - Adolph Hitler. One thing is definitely certain: with the omission of John Paul II we have no doubt there is something rotten in Denmark!
Consider that our present pontiff has been largely responsible for the fall of the iron curtain; consider that he has remained one of the lone voices upholding the sanctity of life in a world being suffocated by the culture of death. The UN-sponsored Cairo Conference and Beijing Conference set the course for ultimately phasing out the human race with its culture of death platform. NATO is listing badly, the European Union, as well as Russia and China are still trying to flex their ungodly muscles, and everywhere the moral fiber of our society is being ripped to shreds from the unnatural becoming the natural and indecency triumphing over decency from the White House to China, from the jungle villages of Africa to the jungle climes of Central America, from Indonesia and India to the courtrooms of America where one liberal judge after another is overturning the partial-birth abortion ban as unconstitutional.
The ecstasy of faith, hope and love
But there is one constitutional truth that rises above them all - the Holy Father who remains one of the singular beacons of morality and goodness in a darkened world. Practically every country has invited him to visit their land regardless of their majority faith including Orthodox countries like Romania and Islamic ones such as Iraq where the Pope hopes to walk in the footsteps of Abraham at Ur in November of the new millennium. Leaders of these lands realize the consequences or should we say "fruits" of his visits for everywhere the Pope goes, he preaches the gospel of life and human dignity, something many despots do not agree with such as Castro, but once the Supreme Pontiff has touched hearts and souls in a country he leaves an indelible mark that no temporal government can erase. John Paul II is the one man who has placed emphasis of God over country rather than the propaganda we have been fed so long of "my country, right or wrong." We ask you, what man can not only bring countries to their knees, but persuade them to forgive millions and millions, yea billions of dollars in debts as the Pope is in requesting advanced, well-to-do nations to forgive the debts of third-world, impoverished countries. The Holy Father has started this whole "reconciliation" ball rolling, asking forgiveness of the Jews for any inaction or insensitivities Catholics might have been guilty of in the holocausts, asking forgiveness of all for any unjust treatment by the Inquisition throughout the centuries when it was abused by political leaders and clerics, prelates and even a few popes for their own personal gains or prejudices, and asking others to forgive and seek forgiveness in an overall "cleansing of the soul" in preparation for Jubilee 2000.
You see, the one difference between John Paul II and all the other leaders of this century, nay even millennium, is that he practices what he preaches at all times. And what he preaches is exactly what Jesus teaches - the greatest man Who ever lived. Not bad company! So you see, even as satan scours the world for souls, there is great hope because of one man who greatly balances the scales in God's favor. Christ said that "I will be with you always" and because John Paul II is setting the example we can be assured Our Lord is not only truly with us but personified through His exemplary Vicar on earth. John Paul II is so obedient that Jesus has commissioned His very Own Mother Mary to guide and protect her beloved-Pope, who, in allegiance, has dedicated his pontificate from the beginning to Our Lady - Totus Tuus. It is only through the grace of God and the intercession of the Mother of God, the Mother of the Church that he is still with us. He was almost taken from us on May 13, 1981 when he was shot in St. Peter's Square on the 64th anniversary of the first apparition at Fatima. But Our Lady intervened and through the Mercy of God he was miraculously healed and allowed to remain with us for another two decades. Now, in 1999, as finite man is wont to do, the Pope is growing older, much older, and more feeble; the sands of time are catching up to his frail body but not his mind. His wisdom remains stronger than ever and his resolve remains more committed than ever in not only righting the stately ship of the Church, but inviting the world to board the barque of Peter in sailing through the rough seas of temporal waves and safely anchoring between the two pillars of Eucharistic Devotion and Devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
There are many Catholics who hail Vatican II but deride John Paul II for keeping the Church imprisoned in the middle ages, not allowing her to sail free of the bondage of old, outdated customs and traditions. They call for more changes for they attest the "spirit of Vatican II" hasn't been fulfilled. They blame John Paul II for that, not realizing that he was one of the major authors of all that was good about Vatican II and that the "spirit of Vatican II" did not come from him nor the Council Fathers, who were indeed inspired by the Holy Spirit, but rather by liberals who purposely mislead and deceived great numbers with their own translation of what came out of the Second Vatican Council. Their objective was to promote their own agenda rather than the will of God. Now, thirty some years laters John Paul II continues to reign in the stampede that resulted from insubordination and the same pride that caused the downfall of Martin Luther and his ilk that were responsible for millions of souls in the 1500's. Our Lady balanced those scales by appearing to a humble, obedient Aztec hermit effecting millions of conversions and the birth of the faith in the New World.
Now the Holy Father returns to the origins of those fruits nearly 500 years later. There was a novel, made into a movie on the life and trials of Saint Thomas More called "A Man for all seasons.". In truth, this title best befits this man as well as the emotional highs and lows of Karol Wojtyla's life attest, summed up in another novel and film about a Pope and a great artist. For today's Pope is a true Michelangelo in creating a masterpiece to be cherished by those of the third millennium through his inspiring portrait of the true faith illustrated to an unbelieving world as, with tools of doctrine and Divine inspiration, he sculptures the sanctity and dignity of life out of hearts of granite. Yes, with the Father's inevitable Justice about to come and God's Mercy still available with tremendous hope and promise for the future, the great tableau is truly coming to completion in this last year that could appropriately be called "The Agony and the Ecstasy!"