Blogger’s Note: This is the third of three posts along my path to the Sacred Heart about the three Polish saints whose loving example pervaded World Youth Day in Kraków, Poland.
Pope St. John Paul II
“We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures; we are the sum of the Father’s love for us and our real capacity to become the image of his Son.” — Pope St. John Paul II
Born Karol Wojtyła in Wadowice, Poland, in 1920. Suffered the loss of his family, freedom, and country by the time he was 21 years old; risked his life under the Nazi regime to promote Polish cultural resistance and study for the priesthood. Recognized as a gifted theologian, pastor, and bishop; elected pope in 1978 and brought the Good News to 129 countries. Instrumental in the fall of dictatorships and Communism; wounded critically in an assassination attempt in 1981; credited Our Lady for preserving his life and met with and forgave the assassin. Served as pope until his death in 2005, despite declining health due to Parkinson’s and old age. One of the most recognized figures of the 20th century. View a more complete biography here.
Unlike yesterday’s saint, Faustina Kowalska, St. John Paul II is the Polish saint I know best. I’ve read countless articles and two biographies: Witness to Hope by George Weigel and Saint John Paul the Great: His Five Loves by Jason Evert. He was the pope during my return to Catholic church and for more than half my life so far. Additionally, he is the one (known) saint I’ve had the privilege of seeing and hearing in person, at World Youth Day 2002 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
How did Pope St. John Paul II loves as God loves? Joyfully, unreservedly, mercifully—without regard for brokenness, sinfulness, age, station, religion, or any other human limitation. What struck me most in all of my readings, all that we heard and saw in Poland (from his hometown of Wadowice to his parish as a young man in Warsaw to his pervasive presence in Kraków), and my own experience of him in Toronto is that, for a man exposed to so much sorrow and suffering from such an early age, he radiated joy, peace, love, and mercy to everyone. You couldn’t help but love him in return, because that what we are made for.
The photos below are from the papal Mass in Toronto: They show our beloved Holy Father, frail of health and bent with age, standing in persona Christi capitis and pouring himself out for the Church. He was moving slowly and speaking with effort, but he would not be cut short or led back to his seat—and we loved him.
We are created by love, from love, for love. Even the hardest heart responds to authentic human love, which images the love of the Trinity and the selfless gift of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
- Aesthetic Witness: Using Beauty to Build the Kingdom
- Book Break: Saint John Paul the Great: His Five Loves
- Servant of the Servants
- Chivalry Is Not Dead: Sacramental Sexuality in an Age of Lust
- Learning to Live with Yourself
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How else did these three Polish saints love as God loves? Unto death—St. Maximilian Kolbe, by stepping forward in courage to die as a martyr in Auschwitz; St. Faustina, by embracing her own suffering and uniting it mystically to Christ’s passion, passing at the young age of age 33; and St. John Paul II, by overcoming his own suffering early in life to serve as pope with grace and dignity until his death at age 84.
They captured my imagination by their love. May we learn to love as they did, in our own circumstances and lives!
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