Saints of WYD 2011: Blessed John Paul II
“It is Jesus that you seek when you dream of happiness; He is waiting for you when nothing else you find satisfies you; He is the beauty to which you are so attracted; it is He who provoked you with that thirst for fullness that will not let you settle for compromise; it is He who urges you to shed the masks of a false life; it is He who reads in your heart your most genuine choices, the choices that others try to stifle. It is Jesus who stirs in you the desire to do something great with your lives, the will to follow an ideal, the refusal to allow yourselves to be ground down by mediocrity, the courage to commit yourselves humbly and patiently to improving yourselves and society, making the world more human and more fraternal.”
“Do not be afraid. Do not be satisfied with mediocrity. Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.”
“There is no evil to be faced that Christ does not face with us. There is no enemy that Christ has not already conquered. There is no cross to bear that Christ has not already borne for us, and does not now bear with us.”
Ok, so John Paul II is not officially a saint yet, but he was just beatified this year by Pope Benedict XVI. The “Blessed” person for today means more to me and my family than I think words could adequately convey. When I look at the images of Pope John Paul II when he was just a little boy I peer deeply into his face and wonder if he, or anyone else sensed the great plans God had for him. No matter what ones faith, no one can deny his wisdom or the fact that he was truly a man who spoke truth to our day and age, addressing such a myriad of issues as marriage, abortion, homosexuality, the elderly, contraception, and the meaning of suffering. And yet Pope John Paul II was not just offering intellectual responses to these issues of our day. He deeply desired to know what God intended for the human person… what did it mean to be truly made in the image and likeness of God? What does that mean as a person, as a man, as a woman, as a child, as a priest, as a laborer… and so on. And the answer he found was that we are made to love as our Creator loves– to give and receive love in a way that is attentive to the truth and dignity of the human person. Simply put, we are called to be gift, just as we ourselves are gift– made in total love by the Father. If this piques your interest, check out his beautiful and brilliant book “Theology of the Body“– a compilation of his addresses on these issues.
JPII”s deep understanding of suffering came from his own personal life and being in the unique position of watching his beloved Poland and family and friends face the ravages of WWII. He lost his mother and brother early in his life, and later his father. He witnessed the cruelty of World War II first hand, playing a part in Poland’s fierce resistance both as a layperson and as a priest. Even his studies for the priesthood had to be done in secret for fear of arrest and death. And somehow, through all the suffering that JPII experienced, he also developed an intense love for God and saw beauty in all its splendor – be it in creation, the love between a man and a woman, the love of a parent for their child, and in poetry, music, art, philosophy, and literature. He loved to kayak, mountain climb, and as a Priest and Bishop used to take youth and married couples on spiritual retreats up in the mountains. And when Parkinson’s Disease started to rob him of his life, Pope John Paul II visibly suffered on the world stage, putting a face, hope, and meaning to human suffering. Pope John Paul II truly gave the world the gift of Himself, just as he taught us to do in his life and writings.
But, I think I can speak about this great man best when I talk about what he means to me and my family. This is an essay I wrote for the NC Catholic Magazine just a few months ago, in celebration of the Beautification of John Paul II.
Pope John Paul II revealed to me the beauty of marriage, the beauty of my vocation
as wife and mother and most importantly, helped reveal to me what it means to be
human. When I was 21, I felt a calling to grow deeper in my faith. My search led me to
the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family in Washington DC.
There I spent 2 years plumbing the depths of our Fathers love by reading and studying
not only Pope John Paul II’s writings and teachings, but also the 2000 plus years of
collective wisdom that is our faith. It was as if my soul had struck gold. In a world where
the dignity and sacredness of human life is met with opposition at every turn, JPII emphatically
fought for an understanding of the human person as made in the image
and likeness of God– made in Love and called to Love as revealed in the person of
Jesus Christ. Thus, a tremendous amount of JPII’s teachings and writings focused on
the sacredness of the human person, marriage, and family. Here I discovered what
John Paul II called the “feminine genius”– or my special calling as a woman made in the
image of God. Here I discovered the sublime role and importance of the family in our
church and world and the tremendous calling we have as parents. Here I discovered
why it was of utmost importance that we as Catholics work to defend life in all it’s
stages– from conception to natural death. I learned about the gift of our sexuality and
how in marriage our sexuality is a beautiful way of imaging the creativity and love
present in the Holy Trinity. I learned why in marriage, our vocation is to “choose life” by
being open to children and to be the primary educators of our children, raising up little
saints. And here, at the John Paul II Institute, I began a deep and holy friendship with
the man I would one day marry. Our second son, Charlie, is named after Karol (Polish
for Charles) Wojtyla, the humble polish priest who is now on the way to becoming one
of the greatest saints in our church. Our family has a special relation with JPII and we
call on him often to intercede on our behalf. We feel the graces every day.