(Optional) Memorial of Saint John Paul II, pope
(Ephesians 3:13-21; Luke 12:49-53)
The two Scripture passages today seem at odds with one another. In the first the author writes of Christ as the root of the love in the believer’s heart. In the gospel Jesus sounds like the source of rancor and division. “’I have come to set the world on fire,’” he declares. But there is no contradiction in Jesus. He is the face of God’s love for the world. It is such an extreme love that people will reject it as overbearing.
In Dostoyevsky’s novel, The Brothers Karamazov, the monk Fr. Zossima exemplifies the paradox of love in the two readings. When he was young, Zossima was an arrogant army officer. He challenged a civilian to a duel knowing that he could easily defeat him. But before the duel took place, Zossima had a revelation of his cruelty and repented of his many sins. In the duel he allowed his opponent to shoot first. When the shot only grazed him, Zossima refused to fire back. Some of his fellow officers despised him for dishonoring the army. However, Zossima’s life had been completely changed from preoccupation with self to love of all.
Today we honor a saint whom many of us remember well. St. John Paul II possessed a great love for the world. He seemed to have no difficulty embracing victims of the AIDS virus and visiting the man who attempted to take his life. Yet some people, even within the Church, reject him because of what they perceive as an entrenched conservatism. That is regrettable. We are wise to emulate his love rooted in Christ.