Friday, October 21, 2016

7 Lessons from Pope John Paul II

Narrowing down the lessons taught by Saint John Paul II to a mere 7 is a nearly impossible task. These are the 7 things that have most touched me - please feel free to share how he has impacted your life in the comments below!

Do not be afraid.
"Brothers and sisters, do not be afraid to welcome Christ and accept his power....Do not be afraid! Open wide the doors to Christ." These words, spoken by Pope John Paul II during his inaugural homily on October 22, 1978, are perhaps the most well-known words of his entire pontificate. They resonate deeply in the heart of each of us because they challenge us to overcome a nearly universal fear - the fear of the Lord's demands. I am not referring to the gift of a holy fear of the Lord - that is a virtue which enables us to experience awe and wonder at the majesty of God. I am speaking about the fear in our heart of what surrender to the Lord Jesus will require of us.

What habits will I have to give up to follow Jesus? What changes will I need to make in my day to day life? What challenges will I face if I truly submit to the Lordship of Jesus? What hurts will I have to forgive? Will I be persecuted? These are some of  the questions that I have asked myself over and over again. Pope John Paul II, through his constant repetition of this theme, has provided me with the fatherly "push" that I needed both to begin and to persevere in my spiritual journey. His exhortation urges all of  us to throw open the doors of our heart and mind in complete and total surrender to Christ. Most of all, the witness of the Holy Father's life was one of a  lived-out fearlessness  - his life was permeated by a constant openness to the will of Christ, no matter what the cost, and that witness continues to urge us forward today.


Bring the best and the worst of yourself to Christ.
"...the man who wishes to understand himself thoroughly - and not just in accordance with immediate, partial, often superficial, and even illusory standards and measures of his being - must, with his unrest, uncertainty, and even his weakness and sinfulness, with his life and death, draw near to Christ. He must, so to speak, enter him with all his own self; he must 'appropriate' and assimilate the whole of th reality of the Incarnation and Redemption in order to find himself. If this profound process takes place within him, he then bears fruit not only of adoration of God but also of deeper wonder of himself." (Redemptor Hominis)

WOW!. That quote is sure a mouthful (and a mindful as well). I have simultaneously wrestled with and meditated on this quote for several years now. What strikes me the most about the Holy Father's words is the necessity of entering into Christ with everything we are - both good and bad. For years I subscribed to the thought that I needed to be perfect in order to approach the Lord. Because of this assumption, I found myself hiding my sins and weaknesses from God much in the way that Adam and Eve covered their nakedness in the Garden after they sinned. The reality that the Pope points out is that we need to bring everything to Christ - the good, the bad and the ugly- in order that he may forgive, heal, purify and cleanse us. Once my thinking shifted and I was able to begin to live out these words - my life changed dramatically in just the way the Holy Father described. When I was able to bring the worst of myself to Jesus, and realize that it was met with mercy and love, my response was to shout the praises of God from the rooftops!

Prayer of petitions are worthy prayers.
I have often heard that prayers of petition are a "less-desirable" form of prayer and should somehow become more limited as one grows in relationship with the Lord. That concept has always bothered me, because somehow I feel as if the closer I get to the Lord the more I realize my total dependence upon him for everything and, consequently, the more my prayer is filled with petitions of various kinds. I was so excited to find this quote from Pope John Paul II in Jason Evert's book: Saint John Paul The Great - His Five Loves"There was a time when I thought that one had to limit the 'prayer of petition.' That time has passed. The further I advance along the road mapped out for me by Providence, the more I feel the need to have recourse to this kind of prayer." Thank you Papa for the blessing of your example of the merit of prayers of petition.

Pray, pray and pray some more.
Images of Pope John Paul II lost in prayer are so familiar to us. His prayer life is legendary, both in the amount of time he spent praying and in the intensity of his prayer. Again, Jason Evert vividly describes his prayer life saying:
"Prayer was the rhythm of the Holy Father's life. He made time to pray before and after his meals, and interspersed his Breviary prayers (the Liturgy of the Hours) throughout the day and night, calling it very important, very important. At six in the morning, at noon and again at six in the evening, he would stop whatever he was doing to pray the Angelus, just as he had done while working in the chemical plant in Poland. He prayed several rosaries each day, went to confession each week, and did not let a day pass without receiving Holy Communion. Each Friday, (and every day in Lent), he prayed the Stations of the Cross"
Pope John Paul II's prayer life is inspirational and challenging. It provides us with a powerful lesson on the connection between holiness and prayer. We must seek to meet the Lord in deep personal prayer each day in order to strive for the heights of holiness which the Holy Father achieved. I find myself asking for his intercession to help develop my own routine that punctuates the day with times of prayer and reflection. Saint John Paul the Great, pray for us that we might grow to imitate your devotion to the Lord through prayer.

Hold the bar high with love.
I was 11 years old when Pope John Paul II was elected. For my entire adolescence and all of my young adult life, he was the only Pope I knew. And despite the fact that I was living a life far away from the Lord during most of those years, he was always compelling figure for me - passing the cynical "sniff-test" of my youth. I don't think I am alone in my reactions to him. His ability to draw stadiums full of screaming teenagers was one surpassed by few rock stars.

So what exactly was it about the Pope that was such a powerful attraction for young people? For me, it was his ability to hold the bar high while maintaining a loving, encouraging attitude towards the youth he encountered. The Pope believed in the ability of young people to follow the radical demands of the Gospel. Instead of echoing the culture's dismay over the state of the youth, he challenged them. At one World Youth Day he exhorted his audience: "Remember: Christ is calling you; the Church needs you; the Pope believes in you and he expects great things of you." Young people, for their part, responded to him in love, in gratitude and in ardently striving to meet the challenges he set down before them.

Pope John Paul II's example provides a powerful lesson for us as adults and parents.  Like him, we must reach out to children and youth with the full message of the Gospel, while also verbally cheering them on to meet the demands of Jesus' message. All people respond to a challenge, and young people especially gravitate towards the heroic as they search for meaning in their lives. Pope John Paul II provided that for them, and the response of those young people to him is still bearing fruit in the church today.

Forgive those who hurt you.
One of the most memorable teaching moments of Pope John Paul II's pontificate for me was when he met with Ali Agca, his would-be assassin, and offered words of prayer and forgiveness. Part of me simply recoiled at the notion of the Holy Father forgiving this man. I wanted to shout - "NO! He tried to kill you!" Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, who was the Holy Father's secretary, wrote in his book "A Life with Karol" about the meeting between the two saying Agca "never asked for forgiveness".

What would compel the Holy Father to continue to offer forgiveness to a man who never asked for it? The answer is simple - the Holy Father was imitating Jesus, who offered forgiveness from the cross to all those who never asked for it. In that moment of meeting with his potential assassin, Pope John Paul II was demonstrating to the world that it is possible to live out the Lord's imperative in the Sermon on the Mount: "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." (Mt 6:44) In moments when I am having difficulty forgiving others for far more minor offenses, I think of the Pope's example and pray to the Lord for the strength to imitate him.

Suffering, infirmity and old age does not rob one of inherent dignity.
Watching the once strong, athletic and vigorous Pope John Paul II physically deteriorate right before our very eyes taught me one of the most profound lessons about the dignity of every person. It was heartbreaking to watch the Holy Father hunched over, barely able to speak the words of the Consecration at Mass, his head bobbing and his hands shaking. Yet, in his physical frailty he seemed to exude a supernatural power and peace. It was clear that despite all the abilities that Parkinson's disease had stripped from him, it had never changed what was essentially him. In the years that have passed since the Lord called the Holy Father home, I have witnessed several close relatives suffer a diminishing of their physical abilities due to age and illness. Through the example set by the Holy Father's courage in continuing to present himself in public in spite of his frailty, I have learned to see past the external withering away of a loved one's body to see the person who still remains in all their dignity. I am grateful for his witness to the beauty of life in all ages and stages.

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10 comments:

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    1. Mine too Eileen - he has a special place in my heart! But I do so love our Pope Francis and Pope Benedict! God has blessed us with so many wise and holy Papa's. Thanks for visiting!

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  2. Beautiful post. Thanks for sharing these! I love JPII. He influenced me so much in my teenage/young adult years, and I will always consider myself part of the "JPII generation".

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    1. Same here Lea, - he is very special to me too! Thanks for commenting!

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  3. SO much good stuff here, Debbie! I especially appreciated #7. Our society today wants to hide the infirm, the disabled and the elderly, you are so right to remind us of JPII witness to the inherent beauty of life, no matter the degree of ability/health/age.

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  4. Thanks Katherine! I thank The Lord for the powerful witness of our new Saint John Paul II-there is so much to learn from him! Thanks for visiting!

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  5. Beautiful, Debbie! I wish I could say I had been a Catholic under his "papa-ship" :-), however I didn't become Catholic until about 2 wks. after the world met Pope Francis. I would like to read more on St. JPII. Do you have any recommendations?

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    2. Kim: Hope I am not out of line and not too late to make suggestions... May I suggest Witness to Hope by George Weigel? Although excellent, it can be overwhelming due to its length. As a homeschooling mother, I benefit tremendously from my daughter's learning materials. Two biographies of Pope John Paul II have stood out for us: John Paul II: The Journey of a Saint (don't be put off by graphic novel/comic book format, it is deeper than the medium suggests, much like Know Your Mass and The Picture Bible). Our favorite in the car is Glory Stories series' audio drama of Pope John Paul II life by Holy Heroes. Hope these are as enriching for you as they have been for us. God bless you and your family.- Nora

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  6. I really appreciate his teachings on marriage and sexuality - sexuality is good, but only in the proper context. He did a lot for our understanding of NFP and contraception at a confusing time in the church. Also he wrote a lot of the Catechism. I occasionally return to his document Dies Domini about keeping Sunday holy.

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