Pope John Paul II and the Path to Holiness

Today’s Solemnity of All Saints reminds me of St Pope John Paul II’s reflections on holiness, and I’d like to share with you some of his most powerful and life-changing thoughts about it.

In his message to the young people of Sicily as they were preparing to make a pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Tears in Syracuse, given on October 18, 2000, the Polish Pope said: Sicilian young people, sustained by the eloquent testimony of these compatriots, courageously follow the path of personal holiness and diligently nourish yourselves with the word of God and the Eucharist. The holier you are, the more you can contribute to building up the Church and society (no.2). Hence, holiness is a personal path.

On another occasion Pope St John Paul II saw holiness as a process of growing in virtues. In his homily given during his apostolic journey to Cuba between January 21-26, on Friday 23 January 1998, at Camagüey, he said:  …Accept the call to be virtuous. This means being strong within, having a big heart, being rich in the highest sentiments, bold in the truth, courageous in freedom, constant in responsibility, generous in love, invincible in hope. Happiness is achieved through sacrifice (no, 4). Holiness is the constant dying to self and the rising to Christ.

Holiness necessarily demands prayer. In his address to the Members of the Univ 2002, delivered on Monday, 25 March 2002, Pope John Paul said: …Prayer, intimate dialogue with the One who is calling you to be his disciples, must come first. Be generous in your active life…and be deeply immersed in the contemplation of God’s mystery. Make the Eucharist the heart of your day (no.4).

Moreover, holiness means putting out into the deep with, for and in Jesus. While delivering his message to the Guides and Scouts of Europe for the Sixth European Jamboree Meeting, given on 30 July, 2003, Pope Wojtyła said: …Be generous in answering Jesus’ call inviting you to put out into the deep and become his witnesses, discovering the trust he puts in you to devise a future together with him. Above all, to fulfill this mission the Church is entrusting to you requires that you cultivate a genuine life of prayer nourished by the sacraments, especially the Eucharist and Confession (no.2).

In St John Paul II’s teaching holiness implies surrendering to God, trusting in His goodness and loving Christ under the coaching of Mary, Our Mother. Pope John Paul II gave us this splendid reflection in his homily while performing his apostolic journey to the United States of America, in Washington on Saturday, 6 October 1979. He said: From Mary we learn to surrender to God’s will in all things. From Mary, we learn to trust even when all hope seems gone. From Mary, we learn to love Christ, her Son and the Son of God…As a great sign that has appeared in the heavens, Mary guides and sustains us on our pilgrim way, urging us on to “the victory that overcomes the world, our faith” (1 Jn 5:5).

As it was his holy custom, Pope St John Paul II did not mince his words in challenging his hearers to view holiness as the radical way in the following of the Christ. In his book entitled The Meaning of Vocation, he boldly wrote: Do not be afraid of the radicalness of His demands, because Jesus, who loved us first, is prepared to give Himself to you, as well as asking of you. If He asks much of you, it is because He knows you can give much.

To the young people gathered in Santiago de Compostela, the Holy Father, while encouraging them to undertake the path of holiness, told them that in doing so they are being both courageous and humble. He wrote to them: Do not be afraid to be holy! Have the courage and humility to present yourselves to the world determined to be holy, since full, true freedom is born from holiness.

In his powerful encyclical concerning on the moral life, Veritatis Splendor, issued on 6 August 1993, Pope St John Paul II sees holiness as a resplendent, humble, hidden, liberating, faithful, simple and most attractive way of life since it is imbued with the beauty of truth. He writes: The life of holiness which is resplendent in so many members of the People of God, humble and often unseen, constitutes the simplest and most attractive way to perceive at once the beauty of truth, the liberating force of God’s love, and the value of unconditional fidelity to all the demands of the Lord’s law, even in the most difficult situations. For this reason, the Church, as a wise teacher of morality, has always invited believers to seek and to find in the Saints, and above all in the Virgin Mother of God “full of grace” and “all-holy”, the model, the strength and the joy needed to live a life in accordance with God’s commandments and the Beatitudes of the Gospel (no.106).

Holiness is the offering of one’s own sufferings to Christ and unifying them with him for the consolidation of both the Church as well as the world. In his apostolic letter dedicated to human suffering, Salvifici Doloris, given on the liturgical Memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes, on February 11, 1984, Pope St John Paul wrote: We ask precisely you who are weak to become a source of strength for the Church and humanity. In the terrible battle between the forces of good and evil, revealed to our eyes by our modern world, may your suffering in union with the Cross of Christ be victorious! (no.31).

Finally, holiness is the track to Heavenly glory. In his message for the XI World Youth Day, Pope St John Paul II said: The way Jesus shows you is not easy. Rather, it is like a path winding up a mountain. Do not lose heart! The steeper the road, the faster it rises toward ever wider horizons! (no.8).

Lord make holy and inspire me to be holy through the empowering reflections of Pope St John Paul II. Amen.


Previous articlePope Benedict and All the Saints
Next articleA Saintly Major-General
Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap was born in San Gwann on August 26 1972. After being educated in governmental primary and secondary schools as well as at the Naxxar Trade School he felt the call to enter the Franciscan Capuchin Order. After obtaining the university requirements he entered the Capuchin friary at Kalkara on October 12 1993. A year after he was ordained a priest, precisely on 4 September 2004, his superiors sent him to work with patients as a chaplain first at St. Luke's Hospital and later at Mater Dei. In 2007 Fr Mario obtained a Master's Degree in Hospital Chaplaincy from Sydney College of Divinity, University of Sydney, Australia. From November 2007 till March 2020 Fr Mario was one of the six chaplains who worked at Mater Dei Hospital., Malta's national hospital. Presently he is a chaplain at Sir Anthony Mamo Oncology Centre. Furthermore, he is a regular contributor in the MUMN magazine IL-MUSBIEĦ, as well as doing radio programmes on Radio Mario about the spiritual care of the sick.