The Holy Father’s last illness and death have surely made this an extraordinary and memorable Easter season.
Pope John Paul II poured himself out in service to others even as he grew weaker. In a spirit of faith, he accepted death as a part of this mortal life and as entry into eternal life.
Through all of those special days, his witness of faith spoke to the hearts of people all around the world. Whether they shared our faith or not, whether they were always in agreement with John Paul or not, they respected and admired the man. I believe that people paid him such respect and gratitude because of the values for which he stood and for the consistency and clarity with which he expressed them.
I know that I have thought about him and prayed for him a great deal these days. I am sure I would have done so no matter when he died; he had great influence on my life during his tenure. But, I am mindful that his death has put a special mark on this Easter season, and on my thinking and prayer in these holy days. I suppose that is because the faithful way in which he faced his death gave powerful witness to the Paschal Mystery. His message to the church when he first occupied the Chair of Peter was, “Be not afraid.” The last message he gave to us — not in words but in deed — was “Be not afraid.” In the quarter of a century between that first moment and his last, his trust in the Lord sustained him, made him attractive to millions and prepared him for his last days.
I write these words at St. Catherine’s in Ithaca in a quiet moment before I confirm candidates from St. Catherine’s, Immaculate Conception, All Saints and the Cornell University Catholic Community. I have prayed for those candidates today. I pray that the gift of the Holy Spirit will strengthen and guide them through all of the sufferings and challenges that will surely be a part of their lives. I pray that the gifts of the Spirit will help them to be salt and light, helping others come to the light who is Christ.
I am also mindful now that by the time you read these words we will most likely have in place a successor to John Paul II in the Chair of Peter. I pray for him as well — that the same Spirit who will touch the hearts of our candidates tonight will touch his heart with all of the gifts he may need to strengthen the bonds of faith and charity which mark us as disciples of Christ.
His task will not be an easy one, given the pain and division so prevalent in life both inside and outside the church today. Difficult though his task may be, he will enjoy the prayers of faith communities in every part of the world.
The illness and death of our Holy Father have heightened our awareness of the papal office and its significance in the life of the church. The election of a successor for that office will sustain that level of awareness for quite some time.
I encourage you to support the new pope with your prayers and affection. And I invite you to think about the office he holds and your hopes for his leadership. Let me invite you to consider a couple of questions that may help you do so:
1) What do you think is the first area of pastoral concern our new Holy Father should address?
2) What suggestions would you make about the most fruitful way he could address that concern?
I hope you are blessed by the Easter Season.
Peace to all.