5 Things that Make John Paul the Great, Well—Great!

JPII MORE THAN GOOD GREAT

Catholics enjoy the opportunity to look to holy men and women who followed before as role models and guides in fulfilling your true purpose in life. As I learn and read 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 JPII below are five main things that make the great Polish pope—great.

 

1. Endured a Lifetime of Tragedies: Born in [enter year] Karol Wojtyla, John Paul II’s pre-papal name] grew up during the most tumultuous eras of 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 your family was not enough suffering to last a few lifetimes for anyone, in the beginning of his pontificate John Paul gunned down via 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 surgies, he replied, ‘The Church needs suffering” (p.192).

JPII Mary

2. Marian Devotion: The Polish pope famous motto was Totus Tuus. This Latin phrase translates as “Totally Yours”—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!” (Saint John Paul the Great: His Five Loves, p. 191). 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!

3. Pope for the People: John Paul II instituted World Youth Day, a worldwide gathering of Catholic youth every 4 years. He saw the importance of children and teens 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.

Stay holy

4. King of Confession: While John Paul II lived a remarkable life and endured to the end—suffering from Parkinson’s disease, 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 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.

JPII Bring down communism

5. Heroic Herald of Truth: Along with John Paul II’s ability to forgive others, especially the man who tried 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. Below are two links to encyclical letters where the Supreme Pontiff clearly upholds the Catholic teaching on the priesthood being reserved for males alone and the reciprocal relationship between faith and science:

http://w2.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/apost_letters/1994/documents/hf_jp-ii_apl_19940522_ordinatio-sacerdotalis.html

http://w2.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_jp-ii_enc_14091998_fides-et-ratio.html

St. John Paul the Great 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 again for the life of this wonderful saint!

Gandalf share in adventure.gif


“The more ready you are to give yourselves to God and to others, the more you will discover the authentic meaning of life”

“Do not be afraid to become the saints of the new millennium!”

Spiritual Weapon to Slaughter Pride

Over the course of Catholic Church history, the inner tension between good and evil has been described in warlike and violent language. From to premonition of the Woman crushing the serpent’s head in Genesis 3:15 to the various Old Testament battles and even Jesus Christ himself fashioning a whip to run out temple abusers in John 2:15, the spiritual battle is so real that no other way to talk about it save as a battle does justice to describe it.

Peter Kreeft stated, “Pride looks down, and no one can see God but by looking up.” All sin is rooted in pride. According to the great monastic St. Benedict, “The first degree of humility is prompt obedience.” This is precisely why the Blessed Virgin is honored as the greatest of the saints—her humble and total obedience on the news of her bearing the Son of God. Selfishness exists when we prideful think that our life is in our complete control. As a mere creature of the Creator, I need to re-orient my thoughts away from self-centeredness and instead towards gratitude at the life granted by God.

Below is the best, most effective, and simplest of prayers that I rely on to fend off the sin of pride in my life. I sincerely hope you receive great peace, joy, and the virtue of humility over the course of time in reciting the Prayer of Humility.


O Jesus! meek and humble of heart, Hear me.

From the desire of being esteemed,

Deliver me, Jesus.

From the desire of being loved…

From the desire of being extolled …

From the desire of being honored …

From the desire of being praised …

From the desire of being preferred to others…

From the desire of being consulted …

From the desire of being approved …

From the fear of being humiliated …

From the fear of being despised…

From the fear of suffering rebukes …

From the fear of being calumniated …

From the fear of being forgotten …

From the fear of being ridiculed …

From the fear of being wronged …

From the fear of being suspected …

That others may be loved more than I,

Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

That others may be esteemed more than I …

That, in the opinion of the world,

others may increase and I may decrease …

That others may be chosen and I set aside …

That others may be praised and I unnoticed …

That others may be preferred to me in everything…

That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should…

Facts about the Assumption of Mary that We Should Assume

Catholics around the world [and throughout time] celebrate the Feast of the Assumption of Mary on August 15th. Along with the feast of the Immaculate Conception and the Motherhood of Mary this feast day is a holy day of obligation for Mass attendance. The reason for this is due to the veneration—NOT WORSHIP—Catholics hold for the Mother of God. Marian doctrines closely relate and point us to the even greater truth of the Incarnation—God becoming Man. While specifically, the feasts of Mary, Mother of God and Immaculate Conception point to the teaching of the Incarnation, the feast of the Assumption orients us to look toward the Resurrection of Jesus.

1. Assumption—Logically Flows from Being Immaculately Conceived: When I taught high school theology one of my favorite lessons involved the subject of the teachings on Mary. I enjoyed showing the interconnectedness between the various Marian dogmas. Because she was preserved free from the stain of original sin, Mary would not suffer the same type of bodily decay and separation of body and soul the rest of mankind—born into original sin—suffered/would suffer. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 966, “Finally the Immaculate Virgin, preserved free from all stain of original sin, when the course of her earthly life was finished, was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things, so that she might be the more fully conformed to her Son, the Lord of lords and conqueror of sin and death.”

Along with the clear connection made in the catechism, Divine Providence inspired the office of the papacy to proclaim the infallible teaching pertaining to Mary to be viewed in unity with one another. Pope Pius IX in 1854 infallibly defined Mary as being immaculately conceived and nearly a century later his successor bearing the same appellation—Pius XII—formerly declared the infallible dogma of Mary being taken into Heaven Body and Soul.

2. Assumption Hinting at the Resurrection and Destination of Heaven: Again, I will defer to the Catechism for the best explanation of the Assumption of Mary pointing to the Resurrection, “The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin is a singular participation in her Son’s Resurrection and an anticipation of the resurrection of other Christians:

In giving birth you kept your virginity; in your Dormition you did not leave the world, O Mother of God, but were joined to the source of Life. You conceived the living God and, by your prayers, will deliver our souls from death. [Emphasis added mine] (CCC966).

According to Saint Pope John Paul II, “In her, assumed into heaven, we are shown the eternal destiny that awaits us beyond the mystery of death: a destiny of total happiness in divine glory. This supernatural vision sustains our daily pilgrimage. Mary teaches about life. By looking at her, we understand better the relative value of earthly greatness and the full sense of our Christian vocation.” Saint Pope Pius XII in Munificentissimus Deus articulated the fact that Mary orients us to Heaven even more clearly, “it is our hope that belief in Mary’s bodily Assumption into heaven will make our belief in our own resurrection stronger and render it more effective.” Because the entirely of Mary’s earthly life centered on obedience and love of God, she is the perfect guide to the Son and union with God in Heavenly bliss. Marian titles such as Stella Maris [Latin for Star of the Sea] and Morning Star point to the reality as well.

Mary’s Assumption into Heaven, body and soul, gives Christians hope that the promise of the Resurrection and eternal life is a gift that may be attained through the merciful gift of grace poured out through the Sacrificial death of Jesus on the Cross and via our cooperation with this divine grace by obeying God’s Word. I am grateful for the gift of the Blessed Virgin Mary, our Advocate in times of darkness. Please pray for us in our time of need!


“Mary shines on earth “until the day of the Lord shall come, a sign of certain hope and comfort to the pilgrim People of God” (Lumen gentiumn. 68).

Resources: http://w2.vatican.va/content/pius-xii/en/apost_constitutions/documents/hf_p-xii_apc_19501101_munificentissimus-deus.html

Forming Good Habits—Say Yes to the Good and No to the Bad

Irish playwright Bernard Shaw spoke once said, “There is no love sincerer than the love of food.” Truly, what could be more commonplace than eating, save for drinking water or possibly sleep. Food is a necessity to living—nourishment sustains us physically. Ralph Waldo Emerson whimsically wrote, “Moderation in all things, especially moderation.” Any physical good in this world is susceptible to become an evil if it interferes with a higher good or turns into a disordered love.

Excessive eating of sugary foods [candy, mocha coffees, and fast food] is something I have struggled with over the course of recent months—an past few years! Normally, I would rationalize my food choices. “I have a good metabolism!” or “I ran several miles yesterday,” were a couple of my excuses for refusing to stymie my desire for fast-food and over-indulging in sweets. While some people may simply view overeating leading to physical effects, this bad habit of gluttony actually may have pernicious changes to your spiritual life.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church 1866, gluttony is listed among the deadly sins, “Vices can be classified according to the virtues they oppose, or also be linked to the capital sins which Christian experience has distinguished, following St. John Cassian and St. Gregory the Great. They are called “capital” because they engender other sins, other vices.138 They are pride, avarice, envy, wrath, lust, gluttony, and sloth or acedia.”

Although not the most sinister, dangerous, or even the most common of the 7 deadly sins, the sin of gluttony seems to go under the radar and unnoticed as an underlying issue. Perhaps it is because I live in the United States and 21st century were food choices and availability abound, but I always viewed gluttony as the stealthiest of the capital sins. The Evil One seeks to entrap souls by stumbling into this seemingly benign pit of primal urge to eat. Pope Saint Gregory the Great spoke of gluttony in this manner, “The vice of gluttony tempts us in five ways. Sometimes it forestalls the hour of need; sometimes it seeks costly meats; sometimes it requires the food to be daintily cooked; sometimes it exceeds the measure of refreshment by taking too much; sometimes we sin by the very heat of an immoderate appetite.” My unhealthy desire for Burger King Ice Mocha Coffees certainly fit the holy pontiff’s description as a temptation. Increased expenses in our budget and causing me to rush to work unnecessarily are physical effects of my gluttonous attachment.

Regarding my spiritual life, my gluttonous habits caused undue financial stresses and anger flares between my wife and I. What is the remedy to my sickness? Simple. Say no to the bad and say yes to the good!

1. Fasting:  Pope Saint John Paul II declared, “Fasting is to reaffirm to oneself what Jesus answered Satan when he tempted him at the end of his 40 days of fasting in the wilderness: “Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Mt 4:4). Combined with the sacrament of Confession the fruit of fasting include greater self-control and trust in God. Currently, I am limiting my caffeine intake and making more conscience and controlled situations with what I eat.

Fasting means abstaining from food, but includes other forms of self-denial to promote a more sober lifestyle. But that still isn’t the full meaning of fasting, which is the external sign of the internal reality of our commitment to abstain from evil with the help of God and to live the Gospel . . .

2. Say Yes to the Good: What exactly is good? Is that not relative to each individual? Ultimately, there is an inherent goodness to all of creation—Genesis 1:31 mentions “God looked at everything he had made, and found it very good.” Saint Augustine reiterated this biblical truth that all created reality contains goodness, but focusing on a smaller good over a greater good is in a sense committing evil. “All of nature, therefore, is good, since the Creator of all nature is supremely good. But nature is not supremely and immutably good as is the Creator of it. Thus the good in created things can be diminished and augmented. For good to be diminished is evil,” the Doctor of the Church declared in his Confessions. Place creation above human interactions would be considered disordered and likewise placing humans over God would be also disordered.

Giving up my penchant for coffee and sugar

to sacrifice for the greater good of my

family’s budget—more money to go around

for healthier food and needs for my children,

is following the chain of being.

Forming better habits involve sacrificing

lesser good for higher goods.  The first step is

to say no to the bad—this may be achieve

with penance and fasting. Secondly, say YES

to the good—prioritize accordingly. God first,

others second, yourself third.


“And He said to him, “Why are you asking Me about what is good? There is only One who is good; but if you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” –Matthew 19:17

Missing Pieces or Finding Peace—How the Puzzling Brokenness of Human Nature Leads to God

Saint Augustine’s simple and ageless maxim, “Because God has made us for Himself, our hearts are restless until they rest in Him” resonates with mankind regardless of history and time. No amount of material possessions, health, or control over finances will provide lasting and authentic happiness and peace. Humanity is naturally a broken species—greed, pride, anger, lust, gluttony, sloth, envy abound. This truth is evident simply by noticing daily interaction with yourself and others. Perfectibility in the human race—eugenics—was tried and failed many times, arguably most notoriously during the Nazi regime in the mid-20th century. True perfection does not occur through purely human willpower and scientific advancement. Rather authentic perfection—or holiness is achieved through cooperating with the Divine Will.

Possessing all the catechetical knowledge in the world will not ensure that a person has the puzzle of life solved. A relationship with Jesus Christ is absolutely essential to fill that “God-shaped” hole in my soul/complete the puzzle of life. As a perfectionist, I struggle mightily with falling into the heresy of Pelagianism. St. Augustine, himself, battled the false teaching of the monk Pelagius. Heresies rise and fall. Pope Francis warned of the dangers of this heresy in his encyclical letter Gaudete Et Exsultate. He declared,

Those who yield to this pelagian or semi-pelagian mindset, even though they speak warmly of God’s grace, “ultimately trust only in their own powers and feel superior to others because they observe certain rules or remain intransigently faithful to a particular Catholic style”.[46] When some of them tell the weak that all things can be accomplished with God’s grace, deep down they tend to give the idea that all things are possible by the human will, as if it were something pure, perfect, all-powerful, to which grace is then added. (no. 49).

Awill lacking humility cannot fix the human condition no matter one’s tenacity and intellectual prowess. As I mentioned before I struggle with relying on my willpower over cooperation with my Creator’s gift of grace He bestowed on me. After a frustrating situation at work, I expressed concerns to my manager, “I did everything right. I provided accurate information, willingness, to help, and empathy to customer situations. Normally, I am able to control/steer nearly all my customer interactions to a positive outcome. I wish I could have this influence for all situations.”

Listening intently to my concerns, my manager acknowledged my frustrations yet added this profoundly simple, but very applicable analogy—that of a jigsaw puzzle. “Imagine you are working on a 500 or 1000 piece puzzle and you completed everything perfectly. When you get to the end you discover there is a piece missing. No matter how perfectly you worked with that piece missing the puzzle is still incomplete. Some customer conversations are like that. You may do everything perfect on your end, but still a piece is missing to prevent your perfect result.”

Now I am not aware of my manager’s theological leanings. His analogy originally meant to be for a practical workplace example, after further reflection I learned that this example of a puzzle missing a piece applies to my faith life as well. Willing myself toward perfection and completion cannot happen because a piece of missing in the puzzle of my life—a God-shaped hole!

C.S. Lewis stated “We have a strange illusion that mere time cancels sin. But mere time does nothing either to the fact or to the guilt of a sin.” Humanity cannot evolve out of the original brokenness of human nature ushered in through the Fall of Adam and Eve. Time and time again my hubris leads to the danger relying solely on my will. However, God’s merciful gift of confession allows me to exercise my free will to cooperate with Divine grace to complete the puzzle of my life and overcome my inclinations for self-centeredness. True peace only happens when we have a relationship with God.


Trying to fill the God-sized hole in our hearts with things other than God is like trying to fill the Grand Canyon with marbles. —Peter Kreeft

Universal Antidote to Loneliness and Despair

Confusion, misunderstanding, strife, and conflict pervade our modern world. “Fake-news” recently become a moniker attached to popular United States media outlets. The human race seems to be more splintered and fractured now more than ever! Ancient Greek tragedian Sophocles declared this timeless truth, “Despair often breeds disease.” Viewing life from the singular optic of the self-perspective also leads to despair. I am most troubled and experienced hopelessness especially when my daily living is self-centered.

According to the great Christian apologist C.S. Lewis, “Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ, and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.” In high school I used to listen to Green Day [not sure if this is a good thing to admit or not! :P] when I ran for cross country practice. The song Boulevard of Broken Dreams had a catchy beat and was always on the top of my playlist. Not fully reflecting on the meaning of the lyrics, in hindsight the words hint at a forlornness that is sadly all too familiar in the modern world:

I walk a lonely road

The only one that I have ever known

Don’t know where it goes

But it’s home to me, and I walk alone

I walk this empty street

On the Boulevard of Broken Dreams

Where the city sleeps

And I’m the only one, and I walk alone

Last week, I previously wrote about how hope fends off despair. Because of the incessant onslaught from our Adversary despair creeps into life each and every day! Being aware of our daily battle as humans and knowing our ultimate aim in this journey in life are excellent ways to help ward off despair.

Along with hope, being thankful daily is essential to combat devilish despair and pessimism. St. Gianna Beretta Molla spoke of gratitude in this way, “The secret of happiness is to live moment by moment and to thank God for what He is sending us every day in His goodness.” The days where I experience greater peace, joy, and contentment are the same days where I make a point to be thankful for the simple blessings. As a Catholic my faith life centers on the Eucharist. A few years ago, I discovered that the word Eucharist comes from the Latin Eucharisiai which translates as thanksgiving. The Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life (CCC 1324).

Despair, worry, and anxiety sprung up on me suddenly several times this week. Usually it stems from hearing news that I perceived as bad, viewing it solely from my perspective, or possessing an entitled mindset. Giving myself a small five or ten minute break allowed me to reframe my mindset.

Reminding yourself to be thankful throughout the day is absolutely key to fending off despair and anguish. Martin Luther King Jr. declared, “We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.” Times where I am angry or frustrated with my children or wife usually is not indicative of their behavior. Rather, it is an indictment on my attitude of ingratitude for the blessings that God bestowed on my daily. As a father, I need to be more thankful—promoting this mentality will flow to the rest of my family and create a culture of love and compassion.

We all come from different backgrounds, past, and family make-ups, but holds humanity together is our ability to be thankful daily! Let us start anew and don a thankful attitude to combat despair and loneliness.

“Gratitude is the first sign of a thinking, rational creature.” –Ven. Solanus Casey

3 Ways Hope Can Overcome Despair

According to the great English writer, J.R.R. Tolkien, “Oft hope is born when all is forlorn.” When I first discovered this pithy quote by the creator of Middle Earth, I paused and pondered his words’ truth. More often than not, the seed of hope gets planted within the soil of my loneliness. Over the past year, my wife and I experienced spiritual highs and lows. Currently, I am in a period of stability—a time where hope is my guiding light! Reflecting back on my personal valleys, I realized that the times I felt distant from God, my friends, and even my wife. Oddly enough, this become an opportunity for me to turn to the virtue of hope! Since I placed my hope [and ultimately greater trust in the Lord], I am better anchored in my faith—even in the midst of continual strife.

Mahatma Gandhi once declared, “When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it–always.” Hope defends against despair, especially hope in truth, goodness, and beauty. According to Mike Pacer in Mercy and Hope, “Hope guides us through the darkness. It assures of the light that is just beyond our sight.” Along with this profound insight, I discovered three easy ways which helped shift my mindset away from despair and towards hope.

1. Larger Piece of the Puzzle: Growing up my mom and I used to always work on jigsaw puzzles during hot summer days or cold winter months. Five hundred and one thousand piece puzzles seem daunting at first. What helped alleviate any anxiety is knowing that I was not alone in figuring out how the pieces fit together. A second key aspect to putting together puzzles is forming the outside frame first. Finishing the perimeter provided hope that the puzzle could be solved!

Getting lost in the shuffle of life is analogous to navigating through a massive jigsaw puzzle—without borders and helpers it is easy to lose hope and give up. Puzzles provide a concrete example of how different pieces fit together perfectly to create a completed picture. Knowing your place in the world—as a piece to the larger story of life—may be helpful in lessening anxiety and orient us towards hope.

2. Hope Our True Consoler, Not False Optimism: Dovetailing off the previous point, the virtue of hope is a true helper. According to Mike Pacer, “The key to hope is to acknowledge our feelings and separate them from reality (Mercy and Hope p.121). Hope should not be reduced to wishful thinking or mere pseudo-optimism. A realness exists with hope. The virtue of hope does not procedure a placebo effect like false-optimism.

Hope is a gift granted by God, most especially by the Third Person of the Holy Trinity—the Holy Spirit. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph number 691, “When he proclaims and promises the coming of the Holy Spirit, Jesus calls him the “Paraclete,” literally, “he who is called to one’s side,” ad-vocatus.18 “Paraclete” is commonly translated by “consoler,” and Jesus is the first consoler.19 The Lord also called the Holy Spirit “the Spirit of truth.”

3. Heaven—the Final Frontier: Referring to St. Paul’s assertion for our yearning for Heaven in Hebrews 13:14, Mike Pacer declared, “We are not living in our permanent home. Rather, we are on a journey. We have a definite destination (Mercy and Hope pp. 134-135). Put another way, St. Augustine’s axiom, “Our souls are restless until they rest in thee [God].” All the material possessions, power, and control in the world do not offer long-term and lasting fulfillment. Humanity keeps yearning for something greater, and greater, and greater!

St. Therese of Liseux famously summed up this truth using a nautical example, “The world’s thy ship and not thy home!” Earthly existence is a pilgrim journey. The virtue of hope allows us to don our theological lens to view more clearly that Heaven is the final frontier!

O my God, relying on your infinite goodness and promises, I hope to obtain pardon of my sins, the help of your grace, and life everlasting, through the merits of Jesus Christ, my Lord and Redeemer.