This past Christmas, our church gave to all parish and visiting families a copy of Jason Evert’s book Saint John Paul the Great: His Five Loves. I finished it this past week while recuperating, and it seems only right that on this tenth anniversary of the great man’s passing, I offer a brief review and encourage family and friends to read it.
First, let me encourage you to read the Foreword and Introduction, as both share personal anecdotes that share what sort of man Pope John Paul II was, The first half of the book, then, is a condensed and easy-to-follow biography of Karol Wojytla from his boyhood in Poland to his death at the Vatican at age 85. Some years ago, on a long solo road trip, I had the pleasure of listening to an audiobook version of George Weigel’s JPII biography, Witness to Hope — Evert’s book uses Weigel as one of several sources, and provides a great overview of the events and circumstances that shaped young Karol into Father Wotyla, then bishop, archbishop, pope, and saint. When I hear these stories, I can’t help but be proud to be (half) Polish and Catholic.
The second half of the the book uses additional sources and anecdotes to outlines the “five loves” that inspired and sustained Pope John Paul II in his priestly ministry and personal holiness:
- Young People: From his earliest priesthood, he was drawn to youth and young adults, recognizing early on that they were the church’s best hope for the future, and that a watered-down morality would not satisfy their idealism and thirst for the challenge of living full and Godly lives.
- Human Love: He saw, in human love and sexuality, and image of the Holy Trinity’s loving and life-giving communion, and went to extraordinary lengths to explain the unity of love, sex, marriage,and procreation and to elevate these topics to the realm of the sacred.
- The Blessed Sacrament: His love for the Holy Eucharist and experience of the Real Presence of Jesus was so deep and strong that he spent hours in adoration and conversation with God, and more than once, located the Blessed Sacrament in hidden chapels and unknown places by his love for and sense of the Divine alone.
- The Virgin Mary: After the loss of his mother, and ultimately his brother and father as well, he embraced Mary, the Mother of God, as his own and never ceased his devotion to her guidance and intercession — he knew that she always leads us to Christ.
- The Cross: He saw the dignity in the elderly, the disabled, the sick, and the suffering, and showed it to them, first by articulating the ways in which human suffering can be used to benefit others, and finally, by living his own painful and debilitating struggles in the public eye, serving the Church until his death.