Catholics enjoy the opportunity to look to holy men and women as role models and guides in fulfilling our true purpose in life. The more I read and learn about the saints, the more profoundly I experience fellowship. Saints lived through suffering experiences with patience and reliance on God’s help.
Perhaps no other 20th century figure, and this includes a legendary list, provided a better example of following the golden rule and forgiving other as St. Pope John Paul II. Being my personal hero, I was overwhelmed with joy upon his canonization a mere five years after his death! While countless reasons exist for why I love and admire John Paul II, here are five facts that make the great Polish pope, well, great.
A lifetime of tragedies
Born in 1920 Karol Wojtyla, who became John Paul II, grew up during one of the most tumultuous eras in Polish history—Nazi occupation and later during the reign of Communism. Before he turned 22, Karol lost all of his immediate family members (his mother passed away during childbirth, his sister died before Karol was born, and his brother and father stated reason/manner). As if losing a family was not enough suffering to last a few lifetimes for anyone, in the beginning of his pontificate, John Paul was shot in a failed assassination.
The leader of the Catholic Church united himself so much to the suffering of Christ on the Cross. According to Jason Evert author of Saint John Paul the Great: His Five Loves, “When someone mentioned the impending suffering that would be required by one of his surgeries, [the pope] replied, ‘The Church needs suffering.’”
The Polish pope’s famous motto was Totus Tuus. This Latin phrase translates as “Totally Yours”, and was a reference to Mary’s total obedience to the Father’s will.
Among the defining events of the sainted pontiff’s life, the assassination attempt on May 13th, 1981 certainly had to be a monumental turning point. Already possessing a strong piety to the Blessed Virgin, this only increased after the bullet missed hitting vital organs by mere millimeters. He quipped, “It was a mother’s hand that guided the bullet’s path.” Totally trusting in the mediation of Mary in his life, John Paul II provides a good example for other Catholics to rely on the Mother of God to be a good protector and guide towards Christ.
Jason Evert in his biography talks of the pope’s admiration to Mary in this way, “In True Devotion to Mary, St. Louis de Montfort wrote, ‘the most faithful servants of the Blessed Virgin, being her greatest favorites, receive from her the best graces and favors from heaven, which are crosses.’ If suffering is a sign of predilection, then John Paul II must have been one of our Lady’s favorites!” Of the importance of the rosary John Paul II declared, “[The rosary is] our daily meeting which neither I nor the Blessed Virgin Mary neglect.”
Recently, my family started praying a decade of the Rosary each night before putting the kids to bed. My outlook on life and graces for patience have never been higher. I am thankful for John Paul the Great’s great witness to Marian devotion!
A people’s pope
John Paul II instituted World Youth Day, a worldwide gathering of Catholic youth every four years. He saw the importance of youth, especially teens as being the future of the Church. The excitement that revolves around this event continues even in the years after his death. The Polish pope traveled extensively across the globe administering to all God’s people and showing the love of Christ. His long tenure afforded the opportunities for a generation to grow up under his papacy and enjoy stability of leadership for the Catholic Church.
Lover of confession
Although John Paul II lived a remarkable life and endured his sufferings of Parkinson’s disease to the end, the most impressive feat of his papacy (and priesthood) was his daily reception of the Sacrament of Confession. He declared,
“It would be an illusion to seek after holiness, according to the vocation one has received from God, without partaking frequently of this sacrament of conversion and reconciliation. Those who go to Confession frequently, and do so with the desire to make progress, will notice the strides that they make in their spiritual lives.”
I feel out of whack spiritually when I fail to go to the proverbial “Medicine Box” for over a month. His near mastery of virtue—through the aid offered by the Holy Spirit in the confessional—is evident by his encounter with all he met and his quick canonization less than half a decade after his death.
Heroic herald of truth
Along with John Paul II’s ability to forgive others, such as the man who attempted to murder him, the Polish pope safeguarded and articulated the Catholic Church’s teaching boldly and clearly. Intrepidly standing up to the evils of Communism, the sainted pope never watered down truth for the sake of diplomacy.
St. John Paul II stated, “Remember that you are never alone, Christ is with you on your journey every day of your lives!” Truly God gifted the world with the holiness of Karol Wojtyla. St. Thérèse of Lisieux wrote, “You cannot be half a saint. You must be a whole saint or no saint at all.” Following in the footsteps of Pope John Paul II will not be an easy feat, but it is a surefire and joyful path toward closer union with God.
Thank you Lord for the life of this wonderful saint, John Paul II!