When Saints Become Real

I am very excited to hear that Pope John Paul II will finish the canonization process and be declared a saint. While this news is exciting on many levels, there is one aspect of his sainthood that excited me more than the rest. JPII is a saint for the modern Catholic. Not only is he a recent Pope whom many remember hearing and seeing themselves, but he is a beautiful example of how the saints were regular people in their lives as well. Too often we focus on the bigger named saints who are from days long past. These men and women lived hundreds, if not over a thousand years before us. While their lives were exemplary and this does not diminish their deeds in the least, I sometimes have difficulty assimilating their example to our modern lives.

I would never think that these men and women would not be as faith filled today as they were in their time, but in the same thought, our challenges are, well . . . different. Even though at the root of all evil and sin we find the same elements, some vices are more readily accessible today and can therefore be harder to fight off. So, while searching for an example of someone who lived in this world, but was not of this world, many of our classic saints did not fully fit the bill for what I was/am looking for at times. However, as I contemplated this dilemma and looked for a modern saint whom I could relate to, I found something in my own back yard that brought it all into sharp focus for me.

In my town, we are blessed to have a wonderful Catholic High School that is fittingly named after our beloved, and soon to be canonized Pope. Pope John Paul II High School is a beautiful large campus that is a beacon of Catholic teaching right here in the “buckle” of the Bible Belt of Tennessee. I have been trying out going to daily Mass at the school since it is so close and the time fits well with my schedule. One time after Mass, I thought I would look around at the campus before escaping to work. Of course there were great pictures, murals and words of the Pope, but there was one display case that caught my attention. I had heard of this before, but I had forgotten that it resided here.

In a tall glass case, off to the side of the hall way near the chapel, was displayed the black ski jacket worn by JPII. This jacket, which will shortly become a second-class relic, was accompanied by pictures of JPII wearing it and an article discussing his love of the outdoors and skiing. Apparently, JPII loved going skiing so much that on more than one occasion, he would put on regular priest clothes and go out in a nondescript car, to enjoy some skiing without the hustle and bother of his normal travels.

As I looked at this jacket, as I read the simple stories of a humble man sneaking away to enjoy nature, I began to see JPII in a new light. Yes, he was a man of tremendous faith. Yes, he negotiated the end of the Cold War. Yes, he wrote some of the most beautiful and theologically profound words about the human condition and sexuality. But, he was also a regular person. He got stressed out, he felt the pressures of life and work, he didn’t need the extravaganza that comes with his office; he was human and needed an escape. Our beloved pontiff just wanted some moments to himself. When he put on this ski jacket and got a few runs down the slopes, he wasn’t the leader of over a billion faithful. He was Karol Józef Wojtyła, a humble Polish man who loved nature and skiing.

When I get stressed out, need a moment to myself and feel the pressure, I no longer think I am less than I need to be. It is not selfish to care for one’s self by taking a break for a few. If such a tremendous man and faithful leader as JPII can need a moment, perhaps we can learn from his example that God loves us not only in our moments of great care for others, but also  in our moments of care for ourselves. Pope John Paul II, pray for us all!

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