John Paul II We Miss You
John Paul II We Miss You
I don’t know about you, but Pope John Paul II, he was my pope. His papacy lasted for over 26 years. For me, it began when I was 6 years old and ended when I was 32. With all the travel, the writing, the diplomacy, the liturgies. the longevity and the overall sanctity he really deserved the title, 'The Great'.
At the time, I just thought that was what popes do. It wasn't until those great big shoes failed to be filled by his successors that I realized how special he was and how blessed I was to grow up with him as my Holy Father.
Here are four things that I think we all took for granted from the pontificate of John Paul II...
His Commitment to Orthodoxy
He spoke the truth no matter the cost. He didn't water it down. Instead, in the face of dissent, he doubled down on doctrine. He knew when to push and when to pull back. Within and without the Church, he was a people person and diplomat, always playing the long game as well as any politician. He was shrewd as a serpent, yet innocent as a dove.
He had his fair share of theological detractors from both sides, traditionalists and liberals. He was a man of the Council, yet he stubbornly adhered to Tradition and the Deposit of Faith, especially on the sensitive 'cultural of death' issues.
It is said that confusion is bred by the devil and clarity is the courtesy of the philosopher. John Paul II's message was clear and consistent.
There was never one time when Pope John Paul II left anyone scratching their heads and wondering, "What does this mean? Did he really say that?”.
As a Polish Catholic, he wasn't big on 'surprises', yet the many highlights of his papacy could be described as unexpected and groundbreaking.
Beginning with his motto ‘Totus Tuus’ or ‘Totally Yours', he was a leader whose priorities were ordered and formed in the way of the two pillars of orthodoxy, Mary and the Eucharist. As both guardian and advocate, he never sacrificed or watered down the Deposit of Faith. He wasn't in to false compassion or bridges to nowhere. Instead, he stood in the truth with love and presented it in all of its rigor and vigor.
His Connection With Young People
A week in Denver in 1993, sleeping on the floor of a high school gym, my wife at twenty years old, went to World Youth Day to see Pope John Paul II. It was raining and cold and she was crouched down in a field with stomach pain and a mild illness. Because of the massive multitude, she never once was able to have a direct line of sight to him. After traveling all the way to Denver from Los Angeles by bus, to see him she never did.
It didn’t matter because she experienced his presence. She watched him on a large screen nearby as he spoke and as he prayed silently. She recalls that even though she was surrounded by thousands of people, she felt as though she had a personal connection with him. Tearing up as she recalled that day, she said, “He was praying for each one of us who were present. I felt that.” As a young adult, she hung on his every word and became personally invested in his message. She felt consoled and understood. It turns out he was her 'papa' too.
I’m reminded of when, on a separate occasion, a young crowd spontaneously chanted, “John Paul II - We love you!” and he responded, “Perhaps, I love you more.” I think he really did...I know he did.
His Magnetic and Magnanimous Persona
When he was a young priest, he would do excursions with his young adults from his parish in the mountains and in the woods. When they went canoeing, everyone wanted to be in his canoe. He was so loved and admired by young couples to whom he taught the Theology of the Body in its seed form.
As pope, the enthusiasm of his admirers seemed to to snowball with every missionary journey throughout the planet earth. His acting background prepared him well for that world stage.
He mastered the subtle art of showmanship before an estimated 2.5 million people in Poland. When Pope John Paul II called down the Holy Spirit in his booming Polish voice, the crowd spontaneously chanted, “We want God, we want God”. It was over for the Communists. Everything changed after that nine day trip.
By tipping that one domino, he peacefully brought down communism in Eastern Europe and later in the USSR.
His Catholic Way of Suffering
Given his childhood experience in Poland, growing up with the loss of his mother and brother, he knew suffering from a young age. With the guidance of his father, and with a strong Polish Catholic subculture propping him up, he managed to integrate his emotional pain with his spirituality. One in four of all his schoolmates did not survive World War II as he worked in a rock quarry to avoid the German invaders.
When he was nearly killed by an assassin in 1981, he maintained his sense of humor and he later met with his attacker and forgave him. When he was on his deathbed, six hours before his death, John Paul said in Polish, weakened with mumbled words, 'Let me go to the house of the Father'.
Leading up to the day he died, he was shown via livestream, like the corpus on his crosier, frail and slumped over in prayer.
It occurred to me that not only did he teach us how to live in Christ, he also taught us how to die in Christ.
He put on a clinic, if you will, on how to do redemptive suffering and how to make your whole life an offering to God until the very last breath. There was no tapping out, no surrender, he remained our pope until the end.
I remember his last day, I was studying his Encyclical, Redemptoris Mater with gregorian chant in the background and I had a feeling that I wasn't alone. I felt his presence and later that night it was announced that he had gone to the house of the Father.
John Paul II - We miss you.