What could a twenty-first century computer salesman, former pope, now saint and Peter, the first pope, share?
What could men living millenia apart, varied cultures and relgious backgrounds have in common? Especially an ode to hope: Todd Beamer, Pope John Paul and Peter?
Do you remember Todd Beamer?
His then pregnant wife Lisa?
Here’s a hint. Todd’s last words ‘Let’s roll’ traveled the world. And now, upon reflecting on them twenty years later, we stop.
To wonder, “What would we have done?”
Todd Beamer was the thirty-two-year-old Oracle salesman, husband and father whose last thireen minutes of life was recorded in a conversation with a United Airlines employee.
William Cook of Spectator World writes that,
and ended up talking to a call center supervisor for the firm who handled United Airlines’ in-flight phone service. The supervisor’s name was Lisa Jefferson (Todd was struck by the strange coincidence that she shared his wife’s name). Their 13-minute conversation is a precious record of an extraordinary act of heroism, a testament to the bravery and humanity that survived that awful day.
Todd and Lisa recited the Lord’s Prayer together. They recited Psalm 23 (‘Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil’). Other passengers joined in. Todd remained remarkably calm, though his voice rose a little when the plane went into a dive. ‘Lisa, Lisa!’ he cried out. ‘I’m still here, Todd,’ replied Lisa. ‘I’ll be here as long as you are.’
Todd and a group of fellow passengers (and several flight attendants) held a council of war, and took a vote, and resolved to storm the cockpit (even faced with almost certain death, American democracy prevailed). ‘If I don’t make it, please call my family and let them know how much I love them,’ he told Lisa. The last thing she heard him say was, ‘Are you ready? OK, let’s roll.’
Todd and his fellow passengers must have known their chances of success were minuscule, but they preferred doing something to doing nothing. They preferred to go down fighting…The Very American Heroism
Published in 1993, I’d seen the book numerous times, but had never read it. Until now.
Italian journalist Giovanni Paolo ll asks remarkably provocative questions of Pope John Paul ll.
Why does God tolerate suffering? How does a pope pray?
How can you-a man- be the leader of all the Catholics in the world?
Pope John Paul ll replies in prose worth meditating on. Almost every paragraph.
Here are just a few examples of why I say this.
“The words Christ uttered are repeated by the Church. And with the Church, they are repeated by the Pope. I have done so since the first homily I gave in St. Peter’s Square: “Be not afraid!” These are not words said into a void. They are profoundly rooted in the Gospel. They are simply the words of Christ Himself. Of what should we not be afraid? We should not fear the truth about ourselves. One day Peter became aware of this and with particular energy he said to Jesus: “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.”
Creation was given and entrusted to humankind as a duty, representing not a source of suffering but the foundation of a creative existence in the world. (italics mine). A person who believes in the essential goodness of all creation is capable of discovering all the secrets of creation, in order to perfect continually the work assigned to him by God. It must be clear for those who accept Revelation, and in particular the Gospel, that it is better to exist than not to exist.
And because of this, in the realm of the Gospel, there is no space for any nirvana, apathy, or resignation. Instead, there is a great challenge to perfect creation-be it oneself, be it the world. This essential joy of creation is, in turn, completed by the joy of salvation, by the joy of redemption. The Gospel, above all, is a great joy for the salvation of man. The Creator of man is also his Redeemer…
“Against the spirit of the world, the Church takes up anew each day a struggle that is none other than the struggle for the world’s soul. If in fact, on the one hand, the Gospel and evangelization are present in this world, on the other, there is also present a powerful anti-evangelization which is well organized and has the means to vigorously oppose the Gospel and evangelization.
The struggle for the soul of the contemporary world is at its height where the spirit of this world seems strongest. In this sense the encyclical Redemptoris Missio speaks of modern Areopagi. Today these Areopagi are the worlds of science, culture, and media; these are the worlds of writers and artists, the worlds where the intellectual elite are formed…”
A couple of weeks ago at daily mass we heard Luke’s account of Peter’s catch. Afterward, I researched the passage.
Was St. Luke really writing of their first meeting?
Why did I question it?
Well think about it for a few minutes. Apparently the Lord had been speaking alongside the water. Peter was one of many who listened. Maybe only half listening because he had been up all night. Suddenly, Jesus approaches Peter and commands him to go out again.
And Peter obeys!
“…he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”
Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”
These were experienced fishermen.
They had been up all night and caught nothing. We can readily imagine Peter’s exhaustion and frustration at all those hours of futile work. And yet, at the words of this stranger, Peter says, ….because you say so, I will…
Why would he do this?
.”..they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.
When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners.“
I have tried to explain to a number of my unbelieving friends that faith is not about religion, Christianity, Catholicism, it’s about a person: Jesus. One of the many reasons I ponder this gospel passage long after I heard it is the memories Peter’s reaction invokes.
My own startling, stunning drop to my knees that felt shocking…. and yet freeing. A freedom I had never imagined. Could never imagine.
I can guess at Peter’s thoughts, “Who is this?” “This is no ordinary man…?”
“Who am I that he should come to me?”
But this hope isn’t the inert, passive, wimpy verb used commonly. As in, “I hope it doesn’t rain.”
It’s the theological virtue of hope.
What does that mean? Theological virtue?
It emanates from Christ. At baptism, the virtues of hope, faith and charity are infused into our souls providing us with the armor needed to overcome fear.
The Catholic catechism describes the work and function of hope. It states: : takes up the hopes that inspire men’s activities and purifies them so as to order them to the Kingdom of heaven; it keeps man from discouragement; it sustains him during times of abandonment; it opens up his heart in expectation of eternal beatitude. Buoyed up by hope, he is preserved from selfishness and led to the happiness that flows from charity. (CCC 1818)
“Holy Father, in light of everything you have said to us… 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?
“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.