Be Not Afraid! St. John Paul II’s Key to Building a Culture of Life

No good deeds will go unpunished, but Heavenly goodliness trumps worldly awfulness, always.

It Is Fear That Sustains the Culture of Death

By Denise Hunnell, MD

WASHINGTON, D.C., May 14, 2014 (Zenit.org) – The recent canonization of Saint John Paul II offers an impetus to reflect on both his life and his papacy. The Pope’s leadership of the Catholic Church was exemplified by his signature phrase “Be not afraid!” Yet, what exactly was he exhorting the faithful to face without fear?

Pope John Paul II first uttered this often repeated phrase on October 22, 1978, in St. Peter’s Square in his first address as Pontiff. In discussing this theme in the book Crossing the Threshold of Hope, Pope John Paul II recalls these words as inspired by the Holy Spirit. He goes on to say that they are addressed to all people in all parts of the world as an exhortation to conquer fear in whatever situation the temporal world presents. Such courage is possible where there is faith in God’s love and mercy, as demonstrated in the Passion and Resurrection of Our Lord.

“Be not afraid!” does not suggest that faith will prevent challenges and suffering. Rather, faith will sustain hope in the face of suffering and guard against despair. When looking at contemporary assaults on a Culture of Life it is clear that they are rooted in fear.

Consider the scourges of contraception and abortion that have spread around the world, most recently in the “reproductive health” law approved this past April in the Philippines. Fear of an increased maternal mortality rate moved legislators to require government health centers to provide abortifacients and contraception to all women as well as mandate sex education and free condoms in public schools. Instead of seeking the root causes of maternal mortality and crafting solutions that uphold the sanctity of life and the virtue of chastity, the Philippines government despaired and opted for the less challenging but morally objectionable path.

Countries in North America and Europe have already trod this road and the results are predictable. Once pregnancy is depicted as dangerous and undesirable, the barriers to accepting abortion as a solution to unplanned pregnancies fall and legalized abortion-on-demand becomes a reality.

A similar dynamic is playing out in the United States with the HHS mandate under the Affordable Care Act, which provides for universal insurance coverage of contraception, abortifacients, and sterilizations — at the expense of religious liberty. Proponents of the HHS mandate fear the loss of worldly pleasure, and argue that motherhood is a detriment to a woman’s success in life. Pregnancy is likened to a disease that must be prevented.

In contrast, the courageous woman embraces femininity and fertility, and sees pregnancy as a gift and part of the vocation to which God calls her. She does not fear her child, but freely gives herself to the nurturing and care of her child to the best of her ability. She does not despair over an unplanned pregnancy and turn to abortion. She seeks life-affirming solutions like adoption if she is unable to provide for her child.

Fear also drives the worldwide push for assisted suicide and euthanasia. Belgium became the first country to remove all age limits for euthanasia and will now kill children to “relieve” their suffering. Proponents claim this is an act of compassion. However, the word “compassion” literally means to suffer with. True compassion offers comfort and solidarity instead of killing the sufferer because their suffering makes us uncomfortable. Euthanasia and assisted suicide are acts of despair motivated by the fear of potential personal suffering, or the fear of witnessing the suffering of others.

Again we can turn to St. John Paul II and see both his words and his life as witnessing to the redemptive power of suffering. When Cardinal Karol Józef Wojtyła was elected as a successor to St. Peter he was relatively young and vibrant. He had been a soccer goalie at one point in his life and continued to be physically active. In the early years of his papacy we were captivated by pictures of him hiking and skiing in the Italian Alps. But over the ensuing years a combination of age, an assassination attempt, and the progressive neurological deterioration due to Parkinson’s Disease eventually sapped his strength and left him unable to speak or move without great difficulty. He was clearly suffering.

Yet Pope John Paul II did not fear his infirmities. He embraced them as his cross and united them to the suffering of Christ. He lived in solidarity with all who suffered. He was not afraid to entrust himself to the generosity of others and accept help to accomplish his papal duties. He was humble enough to delegate pastoral duties as necessary. He put his personal suffering in full view to give dignity to all who suffered. His very life proclaimed that suffering does not diminish one’s humanity.

Even before Pope John Paul II personally experienced great physical suffering, he was cognizant of the need to recognize the redemptive power of suffering. He wrote his Apostolic Letter, Salvifici Doloris, in 1984 while he himself was still physically fit. In this seminal work on human suffering he writes:

“In bringing about the Redemption through suffering, Christ has also raised human suffering to the level of the Redemption. Thus each man, in his suffering, can also become a sharer in the redemptive suffering of Christ.” (19)

This is not to suggest that Christians should be masochists and seek out unnecessary suffering. But every human being will face some sort of physical, psychological, or spiritual suffering throughout his life. It is an inescapable part of the human condition in this temporal world. Pope John Paul II assures us that this suffering has meaning. Patience, generosity, and humility, can all be among the fruits of suffering. Again from Savifici Doloris:

“Suffering must serve for conversion, that is, for the rebuilding of goodness in the subject, who can recognize the divine mercy in this call to repentance. The purpose of penance is to overcome evil, which under different forms lies dormant in man. Its purpose is also to strengthen goodness both in man himself and in his relationships with others and especially with God.” (12)

It is fear that pushes evil solutions to suffering and denies its potential to generate goodness and virtue. It is fear that sustains the Culture of Death. In order to push back and build a Culture of Life we must be not afraid to embrace our crosses. With steadfast faith and hope we trust in the mercy of God to bring goodness from our troubles. In the face of suffering we must not despair.

St. John Paul II, pray for us!

About Brother Burrito

A sinner who hopes in God's Mercy, and who cannot stop smiling since realizing that Christ IS the Way , the Truth and the Life. Alleluia!
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11 Responses to Be Not Afraid! St. John Paul II’s Key to Building a Culture of Life

  1. Toadspittle says:

    What a wonderful illustration! (Alma-Tadema?) Anyway, what fun the sinful crowd seem to be all having – and not one person staring blankly at his, or her – Ipod, and ignoring everyone else.
    …Lucky old things.
    (Fun? In fact, they all look, on second inspection, rather bored – very much like the Ipod crowd on a train these days. Plus ca change,… as Roger says, or might.)

    “Countries in North America and Europe have already trod this road and the results are predictable. Once pregnancy is depicted as dangerous and undesirable, the barriers to accepting abortion as a solution to unplanned pregnancies fall and legalized abortion-on-demand becomes a reality.

    …This is just plain silly, I suggest.
    Pregnancy is never (or hardly ever) regarded as “dangerous and undesirable” – only as occasionally inconvenient at certain times in a couples’ life – maybe all of it, on odd occasions.
    It is simply an option: one of several – no more – or no less.
    …But, unusually, one where human beings can actually do something constructive about it if they so desire.
    …Perfectly reasonable. Most of us will agree with this, I think. ( Of course, I don’t honestly think that for a moment – I know what is considered what is considered reasonable round here – and contraception ain’t….Unless, of course, you got rhythm.)

    At one time, there was vastly less to be done, let alone said, about contraception than there is nowadays.
    …Things change – quite fast – with developments in knowledge.
    Nevertheless, If I were a woman, I’d be still very scared indeed, about having an abortion – it is still a very serious internal surgical operation, with a perceptibly dangerous failure rate.
    …Far better to have the baby and get it adopted, I suspect – especially as we are frequently told that there is a “shortage” of wanted babies – in the West, at least. (God knows why.)
    …But then I’m not a woman, so I don’t really know how women feel, or what it all means to their minds, any more than…

    [Moderator writes: Sorry Toad, three lines omitted. We are going to put a stop on our blog to this sort of talk from now on against things we hold as HOLY!]

    …And – it would be disgraceful of me, as – not only as a “man,” but even more so as a “toad”- to comment unkindly regarding the vast army of deeply unhappy women who feel they must choose abortion.
    Very, very, hard decision, indeed – I suspect.
    But I can’t know, for sure, of course..

    (Do’h! Set out to write a short, pithy, answer and ended up with one of my now-normal, interminable, boring rants.
    This really must stop…None of it matters in the long run…wherein we are all dead, and that’s that. Sorry. This is all dopey and boring.)

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  2. Toadspittle says:

    “The Pope’s leadership of the Catholic Church was exemplified by his signature phrase “Be not afraid!” Yet, what exactly was he exhorting the faithful to face without fear?”

    …What a very good question.
    A few weeks (or was it months, now?) ago, I was struck by Kathleen’s admission that she was personally frightened of dying unshriven, which is to say being in a state of sin when the celestial axe unexpectedly falls.
    …Sadly, she may not be the only one. As a child, the prospect of this waking nightmare was drummed regularly into my skull a dozen times a week or so – generally coupled with loving, but brutal, buffeting around the ears.
    In Kathleen’s case, for example, by an an unfortunate circumstance – and after having lived an exemplary life – until that very last moment, when she might – (having just called the drunken Mini-cab driver that mowed her down at 3.30 a.m. in the Bayswater Road – an unkind name, say) – be packed off to eternal damnation (only “might,” mind you) as a result.

    …Well, we all see that as very silly, surely?
    Surely God makes some sort of allowances for human weakness?
    Bit of favouritism, perhaps? Only human of Him.
    I would.
    But we shall see.
    Possibly.

    Like

  3. kathleen says:

    “A few weeks (or was it months, now?) ago, I was struck by Kathleen’s admission that she was personally frightened of dying unshriven, which is to say being in a state of sin when the celestial axe unexpectedly falls.”

    Did I Toad? I have no recollection of that at all!

    However, surely we should all pray for a “happy death”, or in other words, for a death that should come to us after having received the Sacrament of the Dying (Last Sacraments) to help us on our way home to Heaven.
    Naturally though, as no one knows whether death could overcome them suddenly and unexpectedly, let us walk a path free of mortal sin and in a holiness of life.

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  4. Toadspittle says:

    It seems Toad went too far – yet again – at 16.35 yesterday.
    Can’t recall what I wrote that merited the blue pencil, but whatever it was, I’m sure it was utterly frightful – and I apologise.
    (Being a founder member of “The Gone Too Far Club,” Toad is still prone to the occasional outburst of contumely, when insufficiently medicated.)

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  5. mkenny114 says:

    Dear Toad,

    I have a question…

    ‘Nevertheless, If I were a woman, I’d be still very scared indeed, about having an abortion – it is still a very serious internal surgical operation, with a perceptibly dangerous failure rate.’

    It is indeed. However, do you think that perhaps there may be another, more compelling, reason that some women decide not to go through with abortions – namely that their consciences call out to them that this is the taking of an innocent life and therefore morally wrong?

    ‘Pregnancy is never (or hardly ever) regarded as “dangerous and undesirable” – only as occasionally inconvenient at certain times in a couples’ life – maybe all of it, on odd occasions.’

    I think that inconvenience here is the key word – that we can see newborn life as being so is a great contributor to the number of abortions are performed in the West. I personally would argue that this attitude has arisen out of the contraceptive mentality that has become more and more prevalent since the 1960’s. Regardless of whether you see that as being the case or not though, the fact that many do indeed see pregnancy as an inconvenience, to the point that they are willing to take the life of a child growing inside them is a deeply troubling indication of our culture’s loss of perspective and an affirmation of how deeply utilitarian a people we now are (and also a very good example of where utilitarianism can lead you).

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  6. kathleen says:

    Yes, you have hit the nail on the head Michael.
    It is a sorry state of affairs we have come to, that we can hear someone calling a life being conceived as an “inconvenience” and not be absolutely appalled! Children are the greatest of God’s gifts, and bringing a new human being with his/her immortal soul into the world, should delight us and fill us with awe.

    Abortion (together with homicide) is one of “the four sins that cry to God for vengeance”: http://www.catholicculture.org/commentary/articles.cfm?id=29

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  7. Brother Burrito says:

    Toad,

    A lot of readers have been emailing us asking why we tolerate your incessant drunken ranting on our blog. Our answer up to now has been to say “The poor beggar has nowhere else to go”.

    Maybe you could help us out by taking your underpants off your head, re-trousering yourself, and keeping schtum for a bit. We hate banning you, but we might have to, again.

    Like

  8. Brother Burrito says:

    It perpetually amazes me how the human race has managed to blind itself to fact that abortion is the worst possible evil.

    Every man, woman and child that draws breath was an embryo once. The “cognitive dissonance” (trendy term) of this is heart-stoppingly astounding.

    The devil has done quite a job. We must do better, and change hearts and minds back to Truth.

    Like

  9. Toadspittle says:

    Yes, Michael and Kathleen – I see we are – or seem to be for once – all absolutely agreed that “inconvenience,” is the key word here – along with the Big Bad Bogeyman word of my childhood – “contraception.” “Birth control!” Horror!” “End of the world!” “Not enough starving babies in Africa!” “Send more pocket money!”
    And so, it seems, contraception is – to many, even now – a bogeyman word..
    Anyway, I must shamefully (Not!) admit I’ve been a great fan of contraception over the last 60 or so years. Practised it “religiously.” And nobody complained, as far as I know.
    …And I was not the only one in the world doing it, I rather suspect.
    Might even have been Catholics at it. (Surely not?)

    There is, I have to think, much to be said for contraception.
    It doesn’t always work – (but then, what always does? Hang-gliding? Lion-taming? The Three-Card- Trick? … but it generally works a great deal much less worse than anything else – which is a good deal better than nothing.
    …Luckily now, none of it matters for me any more – as I’m personally beyond Good and Evil – physically, at least.
    …Although I’m talking contraception, rather than abortion, here.
    There is a massive difference.

    You probably do not agree. Which is difficult, to be sure. …But there we are.

    …By the way, what sort of “vengeance” is our loving, wanting, caring, God likely to inflict on us shabby old sinners, upon receiving “The Call To Vengeance”? Does He seek “vengeance” on His poor, limited, creatures, regardless of what even the “worst” of them might conceivably have done?
    No reprieve?
    Sounds decidedly unchristian. Probably isn’t.
    …But what do I, Toad, know? “Vengeance” and “Hate” (also “Fear”) are very Catholic words indeed these days, or so it seems to me – from the sidelines..
    Always have in fact, now that I come to consider it. I was carefully instructed about God’s vengeance towards, and “unfondness” regarding Jews, for example – back in the 50’s, at considerable length.
    Didn’t swallow it.
    Ugly family quarrel, I put it down to.

    Still, I do know that nothing my dogs could ever do would ever make me consider wreaking any form of serious “vengeance” on them. I love them all too much.
    If they love me back or not, I don’t care.
    All “vengeful” alternatives are hideous, vile, inhuman, and insane, I suggest. Might be wrong.
    Maybe vengeance is good. Who knows? It seems unlikely to me. But.
    However, I also suggest it has nothing at all to do with “Free Will,” which is a very slippery theological customer indeed.
    …Involving what “vengeance”? Burning at the stake? Aids? Malaria? Miscarriage? …Even more Mel Gibson movies?
    My personal “vengeance” is no more than to give my beloved Furry Fools a mild clout round their fat heads and big black noses – nothing else, and keep them on the lead to stop them doing dopey stuff, like running in front of cars, in case they get killed.

    Cruel? Maybe – but we all lose our tempers from time to time.
    The hell with Hell for all eternity.
    Does that make me kinder than God?
    It would apparently, on the face of it, seem so.
    Surely not?

    Shut up Toad,
    Big bore.

    Like

  10. Brother Burrito says:

    “Big bore”

    Yes Toad, you are.

    Commenting privileges withdrawn for a month.

    Ithangyew.

    Like

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