May 13th, 1981: JPII’s Good Friday | Our Pentecost
By: John Sohl
May 13, 2021
On May 13, 1981—Pope John Paul II was shot at point blank range by what was likely a hired assassin. That was 40 Years ago today. Forty years of time is a profound period of trial, longing, and endurance. It is a profound encounter with the thirst of human existence, with a longing for more. More beauty, more truth, more goodness—more strong catechesis, evangelization, and apologetics!
Indeed, we are made for more! In 1981 sadly, the Church didn’t have an adequate or easily accessible Catechism of the Catholic Church. It didn’t have the profound impact of World Youth Days. There wasn’t a Fr. Mike Schmitz or Bishop Barron on YouTube so accessible we take it for granted. People back then were lucky to catch a glimpse of holiness on their television sets, let alone their bedrooms!
In fact, the morning after the tragic shooting of our beloved Holy Father, a young woman all the way in America was having a hard time watching the news reels herself. Certainly, this difficulty was out of compassion and worry for the Holy Father’s well-being, but more practically speaking, she was struggling to see the television set at all, for her boyfriend had beaten her so severely the night before that her eyes had swollen shut. So, she did the one and only thing in that moment that could give her any comfort.
She offered up for suffering for the Holy Father’s miraculous recovery.
That is what changed the world forever, at least—it changed her world in ways she could never fully imagine. For in the weeks and months that took place after this tragic encounter with death, both the Holy Father and this woman had to share in a recovery of sorts, a rebaptism that would shake the foundations of Heaven and Earth. This woman would go on to become my own mother, and after getting away from that terrible relationship, she would find the man, my father, who would love her the way she deserved. Together, they brought me into this world and gave me the gift of life.
Back in 1981, there was no easy access to Theology of the Body, and so the world of domestic abuse overshadowed the domestic church—and sadly, for many people unaware of the antidote to our times, such suffering continues. Families are suffering, wounded, broken seemingly beyond repair.
The story and fate of this saving work of Theology of the Body though was caught up mysteriously in the very survival of the Holy Father, for on the day of this Assassination Attempt, John Paul II was supposed to establish the Pontifical Institute for Marriage and the Family that would serve as the main teaching arm to disseminate these weekly Wednesday audiences. Christopher West among many others is a graduate of this very Institute. That same day, May 13th, JPII was to deliver the beginning reflection on Chapter 3 of Part I in TOB titled “Christ Appeals to the Resurrection.”
Indeed, the day of his Assassination Attempt—May 13, 1981—was a Wednesday.
On May 6th the week before, he had finished his long reflections on our Origin and History, affirming the innocence of Eden and decrying the abuse of pornography in media. He invited us to rescue the artist’s perspective and approach the beauty and glory of the human body with purity, and yet just seven days later—it seemed the powers of darkness would consume him to thwart these very efforts.
So just as Christ entered into the depths of Hell itself to untwist and redeem our darkest moments of despair, addiction, or death, so too did the Holy Father share in the Good Friday of today’s Eclipsing Church.
Forty years later, the Church’s influence in society seems all but non-existent. Many people may not see that or believe that, but the dark days are coming. The “Springtime” of Evangelization to which JPII referred may not be the flowering or blooming of new Church membership and increasing RCIA attendance. Rather, the springtime of the Church, the birth of the Church which began on Pentecost ultimately led these infant and jubilant apostles 2,000 years ago to the bloodbath of courageous martyrdom, the Red Crown of Total Sacrifice.
Remember though, we are an Easter People, and St. Joseph’s great love for us is guiding us in these sacred weeks and months ahead! Just as Christ was raised from death—likely bringing forth his own earthly father St. Joseph from death as well (see Mt 27:52-53)—so too did Pope John Paul II make his own comeback, stronger and more determined than ever to guide the Church into the Second Millennium.
After all, the date of this shooting, May 13th was also the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima, for in the words of JPII, “One hand fired the gun, another guided the bullet”. Our Lady of Fatima promised that “In the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph”. These are the days of triumph, for the very Cross of Christ is a symbol not of defeat but of victory! On November 11, 1981—JPII would resume his Wednesday audiences in the Theology of the Body starting with the ironic and humorous line, “After a rather long delay…”
Now all these years later, just like my own mom encountered in her own way, we too can be a follower of JPII. We too can follow him to Christ who guides us to His Heavenly Father. In JPII’s Apostolic Exhortation Redemptoris Custos, he introduced this reality quite simply.
“Inspired by the Gospel, the Fathers of the Church from the earliest centuries stressed that just as St. Joseph took loving care of Mary and gladly dedicated himself to Jesus Christ’s upbringing, he likewise watches over and protects Christ’s Mystical Body, that is, the Church, of which the Virgin Mary is the exemplar and model. (1)”
As JPII loved us so dearly, God the Father loves us and cares for us infinitely more. Just as St. Joseph cares for us and strengthens our ability to see Jesus’ love for us more clearly—so too can we do the same for our families. Only through this love can we ever hope to follow Jesus to the Promised Land of Resurrection.
Forty years ought to do it, right?