It was sometime in 1993 when I first read the great papal encyclical ?Splendor of Truth,? written by Pope John Paul II. The slender book was recommended by Fr. C. John McClosky while he was counseling me during the worst personal crisis of my life: Alcohol and drug abuse were dragging me down. The problem got much worse before I finally surrendered to God, literally on my knees, and began a new life of faith -- and sobriety.
John Paul?s book had no direct advice on drugs or alcohol. But, then again, as I came to realize later, it had everything to do with these things. The book is about the need for spiritual and moral courage in choosing good over evil in our daily lives. It is about being personally accountable for our actions. It is about abiding by our conscience so that we may hear the voice of God and follow His direction.
As a full-fledged member of a twelve-step fellowship, I later learned that the biggest problem facing all those who suffer from chronic addiction is ?sickness of the soul.? That?s exactly what John Paul II talks about in ?Splendor of Truth.? He tells us to ?be not afraid? in pursuit of the life of faith. Be not afraid to trust God. Be not afraid to stand for the right values. Be not afraid to be faithful to your spouse, or unselfish to friends, or diligent in work and the many duties of everyday life.
On a much grander scale the pope tells us to pursue right values concerning the sanctity of human life, human rights, freedom, democracy, and the redemptive value of suffering in life. He preaches a moral theology that applies to everything: Be not afraid in the pursuit of God?s will and the teachings of Jesus Christ. To live such a life requires courage, but it is precisely this moral courage that gives our lives meaning and purpose.
John Paul II lived what he taught and was tough of character in pursuit of his beliefs. He dodged the Nazis and then the communists when he grew up in Poland. He rose rapidly through the Church hierarchy. His first visit to Poland as Pope was surely a turning point in that nation?s journey toward liberation. He worked with President Reagan to finally bring down the Iron Curtain and send the Soviet Union to the dustbin of history.
His recovery from the bullet of a would-be assassin is yet another example of his toughness. So was his visit to Rome?s Jewish synagogue, his subsequent denouncement of the Holocaust, and his establishing Vatican ties with Israel. Not only was John Paul II tough both physically and mentally, but also morally. His belief structure was unyielding.
And he loved to spread his gospel. Father George Rutler believes that John Paul II spoke to ?more people than anyone in human history.? That may be so. Rutler also thinks John Paul II was the first pope in modern history to perform weddings. Catholic scholar Pia de Solenni points to the pope?s reverence for the holy sacrament of marriage as the sacred building block of family and society.
The pope spoke to everyone, and in particular ?He awakened a thirst for faith among the young,? according to Bishop William Lori of the Bridgeport, Connecticut, diocese. Hundreds of thousands attended his special youth masses -- much to the amazement of many in the media who still cannot understand the pope?s great appeal to the young, or his message for them. John Paul II actually preached that the values of fidelity and responsibility enhance life. The media just can?t grasp that.
John Paul II reached across all religious lines, becoming the most evangelical pope in recent memory. He was tireless as he spread his message of traditional religious faith and values to anyone who would listen -- believers, nonbelievers, Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, Jews. This will surely be one of his most enduring legacies. You do not have to be Catholic to be grateful for the service John Paul II rendered to all mankind.
In late 1997, I completed my instruction and was received into the Catholic Church as a convert. Actually, my instruction is still unfinished, for I have so much more to learn and read. Faith is a life?s endeavor.
But as the journey unfolds, my life keeps getting better and better. Materially, there are always ups and downs. But the spiritual life of faith sustains me each day. I have learned to be not afraid to follow this new path. I believe that?s what God wants me to do. He sent Pope John Paul II to all of us to preach this timeless message: Be not afraid. For that we will be eternally grateful.