This weekend, we celebrate the memorial of St. Pope John Paul II, who led the Church on earth for over a quarter century from turmoil and division to her triumph over the Soviet Empire and renewal in teaching and missionary zeal. His most read book is Crossing the Threshold of Hope and the most famous English biography of his life is George Weigel’s Witness to Hope. The common term of hope in these works is not a coincidence. For the life and ministry of St. Pope John Paul II exemplified the Christian virtue of hope.
Christian hope is not a simplistic confidence that the future will be better than the past. Part of Christian heroism is precisely that we do not know exactly what the future will bring. Each day and each year is a new adventure sent by God. Rather, Christian hope means that we trust in the grace of God, friendship with Jesus Christ and the intercession of the saints and angels to guide us through whatever will come. Jesus promised that the jaws of death could never overcome the Church and assured His Apostles at the Last Supper, “In the world, you will have tribulations, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” John 16:33.
The life of St. John Paul II, born Karol Wojtyla, was a glorious example to this Christian hope. His family suffered tragedies early on as his mother and older brother died when he was young. But his mother gave him the Catholic faith and an image of the Blessed Mother; and his brother was a wonderful witness of courageous charity as he ministered to patients with scarlet fever before dying from that disease. Although his nation regained independence in 1918, Poland was overrun by the Nazis in 1939 and then taken over by the Soviet Union in 1945-46; Karol’s father died in 1941 under that occupation. But in the midst of this darkness, Karol Wojtlya’s faith shone through as a young man, then priest, archbishop and finally as Pope John Paul II. He never gave into despair nor showed hatred of his enemies. Rather, he ever tried to see how God was working through his struggles, including the assassination attempt in 1981 and the Parkinson’s disease that afflicted him later in life. He gave to the world a living example of what Saint John said, “The light shines on in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it.” John 1:5