Tomorrow, October 22, is the Feast of Pope Saint John Paul II. Elected to the papacy in 1978, over the next 27 years he was indefatigable in his apostolic fervor to preach, teach and sanctify the Universal Church. Canonized in 2014, Pope Saint John Paul won over countless souls to Jesus Christ and His Holy Church including the President of Lansing Catholic High School, Dominic Iocco. Here’s Dominic’s story which begins in Rome in winter some 26 years ago. He writes:
Christmas Day 1996. I landed in Rome with my family. I was a Sophomore in college and, unfortunately, not a committed Catholic. The idea of standing somewhere for hours to maybe catch the Pope’s motorcade passing by seemed like a waste of precious time in Italy. And so, I missed my one opportunity to see Pope John Paul II in the flesh. It’s one of my deepest regrets. Yet, I attribute much of my reversion to JPII, and the initial seed of my reversion was planted during this trip.
We had arranged a tour of St. Peters with a priest stationed in Rome. His excitement about the faith and his explanation of the beauty of St. Peters planted the initial seed of my eventual reversion. The thought planted in my heart during that trip was, “This is real.” I attribute much of this priest’s excitement to the culture that JPII had created.
Volumes have been written about John Paul the Great’s incredible life, and if you ever have the time, I highly recommend Weigel’s Witness to Hope. Sometimes, the sheer volume is overwhelming, and the impact of JPII on the world seems like another saint story that I can’t live up to. But I want to suggest that JPII gives us a perfect model for how we can all change the world, even if all of our culture seems stacked against us. I want to focus on three key aspects that apply to us.
• Challenge Young People
We live in a culture that indulges our youth and has actively extended adolescents until 40. Look no further than the fact that adulting is now a word that even my spell check accepts. And what are the results? Young people are more miserable than ever.
John Paul the Great took a different approach. He challenged youth to become what God called them to be. And because of this, he was loved by youth around the world.
At the world youth day in Denver, he said, “At this stage of history, the liberating message of the Gospel of Life has been put into your hands. And the mission of proclaiming it to the ends of the earth is now passing to your generation. Like the great Apostle Paul, you too must feel the full urgency of the task: “Woe to me if I do not evangelize” (1Cor 9,16). Woe to you if you do not succeed in defending life.”
I’ve met many people who attended World Youth Day in Denver, and they are, almost without exception, some of the most on-fire Catholics I’ve ever encountered. Our young people need to be called to a mission, given a purpose, and challenged to become what God created them to be.
How can I call our youth to Christ’s mission?
• Be present:
If you ever meet someone who spoke to John Paul the Great, I can promise they will all share one detail: He was always fully present. I have heard witness from so many people that if you spoke to him, you felt like you were the only one in the room, even if there were thousands of people. He understood that evangelization is person-to-person.
I fail at this so often! With my personality and the day’s hectic pace, it is too easy to dismiss a casual interaction as a distraction or annoyance. But if the Pope can stop and be truly present to each individual, then I can pause and do the same.
How can I be more present to every person I encounter amid my hectic day?
• Mary and the Eucharist:
John Paul the Great always frustrated one group: those who tried to keep him on a schedule. For example, in 1995, they tried to hide a chapel that he would walk past so that he wouldn’t stop and pray. Yet, as he passed the unmarked chapel, he stopped and motioned for the door to be opened. He then proceeded to pray in front of the tabernacle.
When you reflect on everything John Paul the Great accomplished in life, with overwhelming odds stacked against him, you are led to ask how is it possible that one man accomplished so much? And the reality is he didn’t. Instead, he followed Christ and joined in Christ’s work. He did that by relying on the grace and strength from his two great devotions to Mary and the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist.
We are blessed to have multiple churches within a short drive where Christ waits for us in the tabernacle. How often do I pass by without at least saying hello to our Lord? If John Paul the Great thought it was worth disrupting the entire papal schedule for an impromptu visit with Our Lord, I can find time to at least stop and say hello.
How can I find a way to turn to our Lord and Mother more regularly in the middle of my busy schedule?
• Final thought:
Each of us has a choice to make. We can admire St. John Paul the Great from a distance or learn from him. I pray that one of these ideas connects with you and that you’ll take a cue from St. John Paul the Great and plan to act upon one of the many lessons this great saint has to teach us.
May God bless you this day, and may you recognize it as a blessing from God!