KRAKOW, Poland – I woke up Tuesday morning to Donald Trump and a fog machine on CNN International, prime time back home. Perhaps nothing could have better illustrated the last thing we need: More fog.
It was raining Sunday when I visited Wadowice, the hometown of Saint John Paul II, for the first time. The rain there had the opposite effect of a Las Vegas-style smoke machine. It was cleansing and clarifying.
When you walk into what was once the parish church of a boy known as Lolek, you fall to your knees. When you walk into the apartment where he lived, and see the bed on which he slept, and the kneeler on which he kneeled, you realize the miracles God wants to work in the world.
My encounters lately with many Catholics have involved the awkward exercise of Republicans explaining to me why it is their moral obligation to vote for Donald Trump, because “she is evil incarnate,” is how it is sometimes explained to me. One variation includes a reminder that the Supreme Court hangs in the balance.
But whenever I hear about the Court anymore, I can only think of two things: four decades and counting of legal abortion – the damage that has been long done and doubled down on — and the night the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died.
I heard the news Scalia died as Mass with Pope Francis at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe ended this past February.
Pope Francis had just emphasized that Mary “set out without delay, without doubts, without lessening her pace, to be with her relative who was in the last months of her pregnancy.” Characteristically of her response to the angel Gabriel, Mary did not let the big Divine ask of her “hold her back,” instead leading her to further and complete “surrender to God” and “surrender to her brothers and sisters.” She was all “yes.”
“Yes” to what? Clearly our Father, our Creator. Yes, to what is literally unbelievable without the eyes of faith.
A lot seems impossible today. Peace. Family. Anything like certainty. How many people feel love is not within their reach? Anxieties are high.
Christ Himself is eternal hope and victory. And Christians have the challenge to witness to this.
In Wadowice, in the now minor basilica of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, one sees the image of Our Lady of Perpetual Help that was a comfort and inspiration to Karol Woytla. Standing as it does next door to the childhood home turned museum, the words of Pope Francis in Guadalupe come to mind.
“We are all necessary, especially those who normally do not count because they are not ‘up to the task’ or because ‘they do not have the necessary funds’ to build all these things. God’s Shrine is the life of his children, of everyone in whatever condition, especially of young people without a future who are exposed to endless painful and risky situations, and the elderly who are unacknowledged, forgotten and out of sight. The Shrine of God is our families in need only of the essentials to develop and progress. The Shrine of God is the faces of the many people we encounter each day….”
Do we see the shrine of God in the domestic church? In the faces of the innocent and abandoned and forgotten and inconvenient?
In Wadowice, you take a deep breath and remember that pretty fundamental yeses can change the world. Near the end of the museum exhibit at his family home, a replica of the holy door at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome includes, in many languages, St. John Paul II’s inaugural words to the world: “Do not be afraid! Open wide the doors to Christ!”
There’s a revolution in that that doesn’t begin with the political. It nourished every aspect of life. But it doesn’t begin with a platform. It begins with a surrender. With a heart open to life and freedom.
For anyone anxious about the political, go back to Mary of Nazareth and the big Divine ask. Realize that all it requires is an open heart. Total surrender. And consider that that’s exactly the mercy the world needs from those of us who profess to be Christians. Get that yes right and it will beget many other yeses. Get that yes right and His grace will build on the nature of our disposition to follow Him, with the example of His Mother urging us along.
There’s an image in the store beside the Wojtyla home of John Paul II in the arms of the Blessed Mother. A whole nation could afford that position now. To hear the words: “Am I not your mother?”
As Pope Francis put it at her shrine in the Americas, in Guadalupe:
“Do not let trials and pains overwhelm you, she tells us. Today, she sends us out anew; as she did Juancito, today, she comes to tell us again: be my ambassador, the one I send to build many new shrines, accompany many lives, wipe away many tears. Simply be my ambassador by walking along the paths of your neighborhood, of your community, of your parish; we can build shrines by sharing the joy of knowing that we are not alone, that Mary accompanies us.”
“Be my ambassador, she says to us, giving food to the hungry, drink to those who thirst, a refuge to those in need, clothe the naked and visit the sick. Come to the aid of those in prison, do not leave them alone, forgive whomever has offended you, console the grieving, be patient with others, and above all beseech and pray to God. And in the silence, tell him what is in our heart.”
The rain I saw Sunday in Wadowice seemed an entreaty to wash away tears and get to the work of healing. That’s not a political platform, but it’s the mission of our lives.
Pray for prudence in the face of bad political choices. Don’t waste time on calculations and justifications, but overwhelm the world with bold surrender to Love Himself. That’s the work of mercy the world needs from each one of us.