Today, even if superseded by Sunday this year, is the memorial of Pope Saint John Paul II, who was beatified on May 1st, 2011 by Pope Benedict XVI, and canonized by Pope Francis on April 27 in 2014. This October 22nd was chosen as his feast, for it was on this day in 1978 that Karol Wojtyla, Archbishop of Krakow, was installed as the 264th successor of Saint Peter, which seems aeons ago in more ways than one. An era without the Internet, Facebook, smartphones and universal surveillance seems scarcely imaginable. His feast was added by Pope Francis three years ago, a welcome addition to the calendar of saints, not least since I happen to share, by a quirk of my own parents’ choice, the name he adopted.
The greatness of a man – of such a true spiritual and universal father – such as he can only be measured in broad historical terms: His saintly life, forged in early suffering with the loss of his father, mother and brother; his own self-formation his cooperation with grace and his own disciplined habits; his great love of God’s creation, and leading young people to the great outdoors, hiking up mountains, kayaking Poland’s lakes and rivers; when someone once remonstrated with him, that it may be unfitting for a cardinal of the Church to ski, he replied, it’s unfitting for him to ski badly.
This physical training allowed him maintain his heroic schedule, of indefatigable missionary journeys, with those half his age scarcely able to keep up; his obvious love for each person he met; his voluminous writings, of a spiritual and intellectual depth that defies description, and which will guide the Church, the world, and all of our own consciences, through history until Christ comes again, an eschaton which seems a lot sooner now than it did in the late seventies. Then the example of his death, accepting the suffering sent to him by God, whose depths we may never know, with a calm and serene resignation to the will of God, living out his own profound meditation on this mystery in his 1984 Letter Salvifici Doloris.
All I can recommend is that you delve into what he wrote, even little bits and snippets, his audiences and addresses, his encyclicals and letters, all of which which are truly transformative. I know it changes the lives of the students with whom I read a number of his works, year by year. We as Catholics are called not to focus over-much upon the travails, follies, even the evils of this world, the form of which is already passing away. Our eyes, with Pope John Paul, should be on our heavenly homeland, towards which we are all on pilgrimage. The great Pontiff was so devoted to the Virgin Mother – his papal motto was Totus Tuus – I am all yours, and all I have is yours, adopted from Saint Louis de Montfort’s consecration. We should, with Karol Wojtyla, say a small fiat to God for what he wants to do with our lives – which means saying yes to each inspiration of the moment – we will soon be with him and all the saints in the heavenly Jerusalem. You may be surprised at what fruits may be borne on the way.
Pope Saint John Paul II, ora pro nobis!