"In order to ensure that the new millennium now approaching witness a new flourishing of the human spirit, mediated through an authentic culture of freedom, men and women must learn to conquer fear. We must learn not to be afraid, we must rediscover a spirit of hope and a spirit of trust. Hope is not empty optimism springing from a naive confidence that the future will necessarily be better than the past. Hope and trust are the premise of responsible activity and are nurtured in that inner sanctuary of conscience where "man is alone with God" and thus perceives that he is not alone amid the enigmas of existence, for he is surrounded by the love of the Creator" (Address to the Fiftieth General Assembly of the United Nations Organization as quoted on page 14 of Witness To Hope).
Of all the reading for the first week of my class on John Paul II, this is the section that most impressed me. Not with its loftiness but with its concreteness. True, "freedom" and "hope" and "trust" are abstract concepts, perhaps transcendentals. Nonetheless, this short section epitomizes the mission of John Paul II. Overstated? I think of Cardinal Ratzinger's statement "Karol Wojtyla's vocation matured while he was working in a chemical factory, during the horrors of the war and the occupation. He himself described this period of four years in the world of labor as the most decisive period in his life" (Ratzinger, Joseph. John Paul II: My Beloved Predecessor, pages 7-8.). In this workplace, in a life surrounded by extreme fear and despair, I propose that Carol Wojtyla came to hope and trust and freedom in Jesus through the concreteness of his ora et labora in the midst of horrors to which our world has grown numb and blind and deaf.
I have read that there were more martyrs in the twentieth century than all of the preceding combined--perhaps so. However, it is those of us who live through and in the horror of great evil who must decide: is there any substance in the suffering, is there any bottom to the endless falling? The young Carol Wojtyla literally worked through the grieving of the evil around him and found freedom in obeying Jesus, found hope in the death and resurrection of Jesus, found trust that Jesus was in the midst of the suffering around him. From this came his mission: to display the face of Christ, crucified and risen; "... the great aspirations of modernity to freedom and dignity could be realized and lived nobly if men and women rediscovered Jesus Christ as the answer to the question that is every human life--if the men and women of the third millennium could see in the face of Christ, crucified and risen, the deepest truth of their humanity." (WTH, p. xxiii).
In his interior life, nourished by his physical work and his studies, he came to know the truth of Christ: "Be not afraid" (Matthew 14:24). And with that realization he was free to show Jesus to others, to demonstrate "Here, in the death and resurrection of Christ, the deepest truths about human destiny were and are revealed . Here, in the embrace of obedience to God's will, human beings are truly liberated. Here, in the demonstration that death does not have the final word in either our individual stories or in the story of humanity, is the source of a courage that can overcome fear and match, even conquer, worldly power." (WTH, page xx.) He carried out that joyful mission as a priest, a bishop, and a pope, and drew out the heroic life from so many.