John Paul II

Central to both Bl. John Paul’s personal life and teachings was his relationship with God the Father. In fact, when one is faced with death, all unimportant things disappear and are replaced by what is closest to our hearts. Hence, the last words of Pope John Paul II were, “Let me go to the Father’s House.”

It is not easy to decide from where to begin, in examining this centrality of God the Father in John Paul’s life. At the outset of his pontificate, JP II proclaimed to the world, “Be not afraid.”  Hence, his thoughts as expressed in Crossing the Threshold of Hope would seem to be a good place to start, because hope is a bulwark against fear, and one of the theological virtues that binds us closer to God.

Crossing the Threshold of Hope consisted of a series of questions that JP II answered in writing. The subject of fear was best explained by him in the very last question, where he addressed it explicitly, in response to the following question: “Holy Father, in light of everything you have said to us, and for which we  are grateful, must we conclude that it is truly unjustifiable today more than ever “to be afraid” of the God of Jesus Christ? Are we to conclude that it is really worth it all “to cross the threshold of hope,” to discover that we have a Father, to rediscover that we are loved?”

The Holy Father responded, “The psalmist says: ‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom’ (cf. Ps 110[111]:10). Allow me to refer to these biblical words in responding to your question. The Holy Scriptures contain an insistent exhortation to cultivate the fear of God. We are speaking here of that fear which is a gift of the Holy Spirit Among the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, indicated in the words of Isaiah (cf. Is 11:2), fear of God is listed last, but that does not mean it is the least significant, since it is precisely fear of God that is the beginning of wisdom. And among the gifts of the Holy Spirit, wisdom holds first place. Therefore, we need to pray that people everywhere and especially people in our own time will receive the fear of God. From the Holy Scriptures we also know that this fear, the origin of wisdom, has nothing in common with the  fear of a slave. It is filial fear, not servile fear! The Hegelian paradigm of master-slave is foreign to the Gospel. It is a paradigm drawn from a world in which God is absent. In a world in which God is truly present, in the world of divine wisdom, only filial fear can be present.”

John Paul II continued, “The authentic and full expression of this fear is Christ Himself. Christ wants us to have fear of all that is an offense against God. He wants this because He has come into the world in order to set man free for freedom. Man is set free through love, because love is the source par excellence of all that is good. This love, according to the words of Saint John, drives out all fear (cf. 1 Jn 4:18). Every sign of servile fear vanishes before the awesome power of the All-powerful and all-present One. Its place is taken by filial concern, in order that God’s will be done on earth, that will which is the good that has in Him its origin and its ultimate fulfillment.”

“The father-son paradigm is ageless. It is older than human history. The ‘rays of fatherhood’ contained in this formulation belong to the Trinitarian Mystery of God Himself, which shines forth from Him, illuminating man and his history. This notwithstanding, as we know from Revelation, in human history the “rays of fatherhood” meet a first resistance in the obscure but real fact of original sin. This is truly the key for interpreting reality. Original sin is not only the violation of a positive command of God but also, and above all, a violation of  the will of God as expressed in that command. Original sin attempts, then, to abolish fatherhood, destroying its rays which permeate the created world, placing in doubt the truth about God who is Love and leaving man only with a sense of the master-slave relationship. As a result, the Lord appears jealous of His power over the world and over man; and consequently, man feels goaded to do battle against God. No differently than in any epoch of history, the enslaved man is driven to take sides against the master who kept him enslaved.”

John Paul II concluded, “After all I have said, I could summarize my response in the following paradox: In order to set contemporary man free from fear of himself, of the world, of others, of earthly powers, of oppressive systems, in order to set him free from every manifestation of a servile fear before that ‘prevailing force’ which believers call God, it is necessary to pray fervently that he will bear and cultivate in his heart that true fear of God, which is the beginning of wisdom. This fear of God is the saving power of the Gospel. It is a constructive, never destructive, fear. It creates people who allow themselves to be led by responsibility, by responsible love. It creates holy men and women, true Christians to whom the future of the world ultimately belongs. André Malraux was certainly right when he said that the twenty-first century would be the century of religion or it would not be at all. The Pope who began his papacy with the words “Be not afraid!” tries to be completely faithful to this exhortation and is always ready to be at the service of man, nations, and humanity in the spirit of this truth of the Gospel.”