Little Way of the Family


Blessed John Paul II: Teacher, Hero, Saint

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I am thinking today of our former Holy Father on his memorial. He was an inspiration to me as I converted. Earlier I described my conversion story, but what I didn’t mention then was that during my “searching” period in Italy, I actually saw Pope John Paul II. I was on one of my weekend jaunts to Rome, when I happened upon a very large crowd in St. Peter’s Square. After a bit I figured out that the Pope was speaking right there in the square! I couldn’t get close – he was barely a white speck to me – but he was a discernable white speck, even in the 35mm photograph I took and still have today.

To many in the world, I fear that John Paul II was just another historical figure, akin to a politician, one of those characters of the cold war who are only interesting because of the times they lived in. I fear they think the Church is canonizing him just because he was Pope, and that maybe they canonize anybody that was Pope. He was so much more.

He was a teacher. His books are marvelously accessible, and he broke such important theological ground, both in his work as a bishop and cardinal, particularly with respect to Vatican II, and as the Holy Father. He gave us a much more profound understanding of human sexuality, of our roles as male and female, and especially of the family.

He was a hero. This is a man who became a priest durin the Nazi occupation of Poland, a bishop during the communist regime. He risked his life on a daily basis to bring the faith to others. And once he had the world stage, he made the boldest statement of all. He could have stayed safely in the Vatican, out of controversy and out of harms way. But he went to Poland – almost forced himself there against the wishes of the communists. And he took them to task on their own turf. He gave the people of Poland – and the people of all Eastern Europe – a voice, and he was one of the great catalysts for the miraculous changes that seemed to take place overnight.

He was a Saint, no doubt about it. He met with and forgave the man who tried, and almost succeeded, to kill him. He suffered at the end of his life, in a very public way, showing the world that old age, that the slow decay of disease cannot and does not take away an ounce of a person’s humanity or value, and he stayed at his post until the most painful end.

I am so lucky to have lived during the lifetime of such a man. If only some fraction of his holiness might rub off on me I would be assured of finding my way to the feet of our Lord when my time comes.

Blessed John Paul II, pray for us!

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My Experience with John Paul II
January 15, 2011, 7:48 am
Filed under: Atheism, Children, Conversion, John Paul II, Passing on the Faith

When I was living in Italy, back when I was a confused and searching atheist, I had a habit of hopping the bus to Rome on Saturdays. I enjoyed walking the city and spending significant time in both the monuments – like the Coliseum – and in the cathedrals. I particularly liked Santa Maria Maggiore and St. Peters.
On one occasion I walked to St. Peters Square. I had intended to see the basilica. But the square was packed with thousands and thousands of people. The entire sea of shoulder-to-shoulder people was centered on one tiny white speck of a person. I had never seen a crowd like it. Of course I knew who the white speck was. And of course I took a picture. I still have it.
At the time, I felt as if I had seen a celebrity from afar. But it was more than that. I was seeing the power of the faith. I was seeing a 72 year old religious figure being treated like a rock star. Better than a rock star, with thousands of people hanging on his every word.
Moments like this – and moments like my awe at the paintings of Carravaggio in Santa Maria Maggiore or my curiosity at the stories told at the San Pietro in Vincolo (St. Peter in Chains) church – were tilling the soil of my heart, preparing me for the seed that soon God would be planting there.
So today I see the news of John Paul II’s beatification. I was in the presence, even tangentially and even if he was just a speck in the distance, of one whom we will call blessed, of one whom eventually we will call Saint. It is a thrilling thought.
These experiences that prepare one’s soul for God’s grace, we owe them to our children. Even local shrines or monasteries or diocesan cathedrals can be moving and can give one a glimpse of the majesty of God, a taste of the supernatural. On May 1, there will be another chance for such an experience, with the beatification ceremony of John Paul II. My kids and I will be watching.