The Friday wedding of Kate and William on the Feast of St. Catherine of Siena was historic and grand and full of hopeful portent.
The next few days of that same weekend were even more so, and as I look back on this week of news flashing across my screens with events nearly too significant, almost too sudden, one upon the other, to fully absorb, I became immensely grateful for Good Shepherd Sunday, today, the Second Sunday after Easter. For today made sense of it all.
Pope John Paul II, a shepherd of his sheep, huge in his love for the world and each person in it, was appropriately beatified on Sunday, May 1, known as Divine Mercy Sunday. He was, to be sure, full of Christ’s divine mercy, full of God’s love. Many scenes of his life and work come to mind, but perhaps the most powerful was his meeting in the jail cell with the man who had attempted to martyr him. The Pope visited this man to forgive him and share with him the divine mercy of God. John Paul lived on, battling Parkinson’s disease silently and with grace. He showed the world the face of love.
May is the month of Mary, to whom this pope was devoted, and whose image one sees throughout Rome, frescoed on walls, brought in from the streets to holy altars where the faithful venerate the mother of Christ and receive her comfort. Of all the many miraculous Madonnas in Rome, the one most revered and most ancient is the Salus Populi Romani (Protector of the Roman People). The icon is reputed to be painted by St. Luke, is dated to the first century, and hangs high over a gilded altar in the north transept of Maria Maggiore. The Madonna has led sacred processions through Rome as the people prayed for the ending of plagues, the ending of wars. On the night of April 30, 2011, a solemn vigil in the Circus Maximus was held. In the torchlight, the Lukan Madonna was processed to her shrine and venerated, as the faithful prepared for the beatification of John Paul the following day.
John Paul II preached peace and an end to terrorism, which, as many of us believe, may have to be ended through unpeaceful means. The attack in New York nearly ten years ago changed our world, for it was an attack on the freedom to believe, to speak out, to assemble. It was an attack on our hopes for peaceful ways and means. It was an invitation, if not a command, to war.
On the day of the Pope’s beatification the leading terrorist of our world was found and killed. What does it mean that this man, the symbol of all terror, this architect of horror, was found and killed on this day? A coincidence some say, and perhaps they are right. But history has an amazing way of unfolding and sometimes such coincidence seems too difficult to believe.
As we drove to church this cold spring morning, I held two parallel sequences in my mind. One, the planning, arrival, attack, and thirty minute run through the three story house where this terrorist was hiding, then his death. The other, the singing, the processions, the beatification of a saint, his glory in Christ. Both sequences were and are historic forces. One force for hate, one force for love. One for chains, one for freedom. One for evil, one for good. The terrorist met his maker that day – did he meet divine mercy in his judgment? The saint looked upon us from Heaven as we honored his love for us – did he smile in his tears for each person?
One of the delightful and comforting things about being a Christian is that we don’t have to answer these questions. We simply watch history unfold. We watch God act through and in our time. We wonder, we marvel, and we smile. We say our prayers and we worship together in our churches as Christ’s body. We partake of God. When we do these things, our world makes sense.
And so we sang in church this morning, The King of love my shepherd is, Whose goodness faileth never; I nothing lack if I am his, And he is mine forever…, based on the Twenty-third Psalm, and considered the immense love of God in Christ our Good Shepherd. As we sang, this entire week – the wedding, the beatification, the death of this evil one – wove together in some kind of answer. I knew this Good Shepherd would care for his sheep. I knew he would not let me go. He would find me, no matter how lost I was, and bring me home, for he is the Shepherd of Divine Mercy.