This past weekend some friends hosted a party in honor of Bl. John Paul II. We were blessed to have Fr Andrew with us to celebrate the Holy Mysteries followed by a potluck and much joy and celebration.
The occasion reminded me of the large role John Paul II has played in my life and led me to give thanks for this faithful servant of God!
I first met John Paul senior year of High School when I picked up a biography on him. I am still not sure how I came upon it. The biography detailed his life before becoming Pope.
Fascinated by this man so full of life, love, joy, energy, passion, and zeal, I had to know more. Discovering he was an outdoors man, friend of the youth, avid reader, contemplative pray-er, and playwright to boot!
I continued to read about him, but also started to read everything written by him. Love and Responsibility in a particular way shaped and moved me profoundly about the necessary self-sacrificial nature of married love.
John Paul’s first words to the world through an Encyclical letter as Pope have always stuck with me:
The Redeemer of man, Jesus Christ, is the center of the universe and of history.
This Christocentrism, focusing totally on Christ and living out of Chris, was a hallmark of his life, priesthood, and pontificate. John Paul taught me a deep, personal, Eucharistic love of our Lord Jesus Christ in and through his own witness of words and deeds.
His profound words about our Lord’s presence and gift in the Eucharist in Ecclesia de Eucharistia manifested John Paul’s deep and passionate love for our Eucharistic Lord, moving me to often seek Jesus in His Eucharistic Presence.
His developed theological anthropology expressed in A Theology of the Body was so formative in my own understanding of the human person in creation and God’s plan of salvation, that it continues to enable me to have difficult conversations about marriage, homosexuality, divorce, feminism, and the like with people seeking truth in love. This understanding of the human person formed the foundation of Respect for Women Week, an initiative of the College Catholic group I was part of in response to the Vagina Monologues being performed on our campus. These Monologues provided a reduced understanding of woman as a mere sexual organ and object. We wanted to protest in a positive way, sharing the truths about the human person that included but transcended our sexual dignity, integrating it into the whole of who each of us are called to become in Christ.
John Paul’s love for the arts and his own poetry and plays have significantly enriched my life. Seeing his Jeweler’s Shop, which is an intimate meditation on married love, live at Duquesne University for the first time moved me to tears. I was resolved to share this gem with others. Over the years I have gathered more than 7 times with friends for an evening of food, fellowship, and a reading of this beautiful play. Each time I glean different kernels of wisdom as I approach the play through the eyes of different characters. The play is ripe with insights to be taken to prayer such as:
Every person has at his disposal an existence and a Love. The problem is: How to build a sensible structure from it? (88)
This is just what compels me to think about human love. There is no other matter embedded more strongly in the surface of human life, and there is no matter more unknown and more mysterious. The divergence between what lies on the surface and the mystery of love constitutes precisely the source of the drama. It is one of the greatest dramas of human existence (57-58).
From a man who lived through crushing oppression from two atheistic political régimes, the Nazi’s and Communism, we see an unbreakable joy and fountain of life which speaks of the living God in Christ Jesus. We do well to heed his words of warning in his last book of reflections Memory and Identity that the great evil we face today is not as obvious as Hitler or Stalin, but is more insidious since it comes from the inside. Ideologies that deny good and evil, denigrate the dignity of all human life especially that of the unborn, and attack the basic structure of society, the family and marriage–‒according to John Paul the Great, these are the greatest challenges to the flourishing of humanity and the proclamation of the Gospel.
Let us all pray for his canonization and continue to ask his powerful intercession as we seek to live as fervent disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ. Lights of Christ for the New Evangelization in an increasingly secular West. John Paul’s words ring true to the heart of every man:
Man cannot live without love. He remains a being that is incomprehensible for himself, his life is senseless, if love is not revealed to him, if he does not encounter love, if he does not experience it and make it his own, if he does not participate intimately in it. This, as has already been said, is why Christ the Redeemer “fully reveals man to himself”. (Redeemer of Man)
John Paul the Great, ora pro nobis!