Just as the last verse often reveals the meaning of a poem, so did the death of John Paul II shed new light upon his life, revealing its deepest meaning.
The words pronounced at his funeral by the one who a few days later would become his successor, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, reaffirmed for us the certainty that the meaning of the Pope’s life, which his death has now illuminated, is God’s call. A call which first the young Lolek, then Father Karol, later Cardinal Wojtyla, and finally John Paul II, always answered with a total generosity. “‘Follow me.’ The Risen Lord says these words to Peter. They are his last words to this disciple, chosen to shepherd his flock. ‘Follow me’—this lapidary saying of Christ can be taken as the key to understanding the message which comes to us from the life of our late beloved Pope John Paul II.”
The memory of the Pope places us once more before the truth that we have only one sure guide who guarantees that our behavior in this world has a direction and meaning, a destination that it is worthwhile attaining. There is only one sure way, and it is Jesus Christ himself, who told us that he is “the Way, the Truth and the Life.” John Paul II understood this very clearly and put it into practice, and in this lies his greatness.
As Cardinal Ratzinger pointed out during the Mass for the election of a Pope, today’s world offers us so many fraudulent “follow me’s,” so many illusions, so many incitements to the most improbable adventures of the ego: “How many winds of doctrine we have known in recent decades, how many ideological currents, how many ways of thinking... The small boat of thought of many Christians has often been tossed about by these waves—thrown from one extreme to the other.” Under the deceitful cloak of self-sufficiency our world today contains an immense amount of disorientation, of perplexity, of ships set adrift. Therefore the figure of John Paul II is for the men and women of our times—for Christians, but also for those who do not believe in Christ—like a beacon in a storm.
In his moving recollection of the deceased Pope, Cardinal Ratzinger told us: “How often, in his letters to priests and in his autobiographical books has he spoken to us about his priesthood, to which he was ordained on November 1, 1946. In these texts he interprets his priesthood with particular reference to three sayings of the Lord. First: ‘You did not choose me, but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last’ (Jn 15:16). The second saying is: ‘The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep’ (Jn 10:11). And then: ‘As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love’ (Jn 15:9).” Remaining in Christ’s love—or what is the same, persevering and being faithful to it—means opening oneself to the truth, to the truth that today is sometimes so difficult to find, owing to an oppressive “dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as for certain and which has as its highest goal one’s own ego and one’s own desires.” Being faithful to Christ’s love means recognizing that Jesus is not only the Way and the Life, but also the Truth, for we only attain the Truth if we go out of ourselves, if we love.
“At the evening of life, we shall be judged on our love.” These words of Saint John of the Cross, which John Paul II liked so much, are a beautiful image of Christian life. Today many prefer to revolve around themselves, to follow the dance of relativism, a movement that leads nowhere: “in circuitu impii ambulant,” the ungodly walk in circles, says the Psalmist. We, however, know we have been called to fulfill a mission in this life: to be useful to God and to our fellow men and women, to blaze a trail, to shed light. And one who has a vocation is traveling towards a specific port. To travel means to make progress, to refuse to give in to one’s own ego: not only to be faithful, but to be more faithful each day, with one’s eyes set on the goal. And there we now see a new light shining: a lighted beacon named John Paul II.