Thursday, April 2, 2009

What Pope John Paul II means to me...

Today is the 4th anniversary of the passing into Eternal Glory of our beloved Pope, John Paul II.

Pope John Paul II passed away the same year I entered into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church, so he was my Pope for only a very short time. But he had become, for me, a guiding light on my journey home to the Catholic Church.

So it seems only right that today I write about my feelings for Pope John Paul during this first year of my own Catholic blog.

As we all know, John Paul was bigger than life. His presence demanded that you pay attention; his words demanded that you listen.

I began to listen a couple of years before my conversion to the Catholic faith, mostly by watching the Catholic television network, EWTN. I watched it pretty faithfully for a couple of years before I even dreamt that one day I would be a Roman Catholic. I would watch Life on the Rock with Jeff Cavins and I would watch Daily Mass celebrated at the Our Lady of the Angels Monastery, broadcast in the evenings.

I remember one particular winter when I was sick as a dog with whooping cough for almost six months and would spend the evenings huddled up in a blanket in my recliner, full of cough meds and prescription anti-biotics, dozing on and off throughout the evening. I would turn Daily Mass on at 7:00 and sit there with my eyes closed, just listening. Then I would continue to listen to whatever Catholic programming was on after Mass.

This was very comforting to me. I knew that I would not be jolted awake by scenes of violence or profanity. I could literally ‘rest in the Lord’ while I gathered my strength for the next day.

And it was during that winter that I became acquainted with John Paul II. I heard him spoken about with deep respect and affection. I heard others talk about his teachings. I watched him celebrate Holy Mass at St. Peter’s on Holy Days. I began to look for news about him and to schedule time to watch EWTN if I knew he was going to be televised. I began to feel my own deep respect and affection for this man.

At that time, I knew that as Pope, he was the head of the Roman Catholic Church, but that was all I really knew about the Papacy. I didn’t know that he was the Vicar of Christ, that he had received his authority from St. Peter himself, through Apostolic Succession, I didn’t know that he would become such a powerful influence in my own spiritual life.

As we all know, Pope John Paul II was a prolific writer. It has been said that you could spend the rest of your life studying the words and thoughts of JPII and not be able to fully digest all that he had to offer. His books, his encyclicals, his poetry… so much to take in.

One of his teachings, however, that has drawn me in and captivated my attention, is a series of Wednesday messages, given over a period of about six years, beginning in 1978 right after his election to the Chair of Peter. These teachings are known as Theology of the Body.

I remember my pastor in 2005, Fr. Paul, talking about Theology of the Body (TOB) and stating that it would take Catholic scholars and laity a hundred years to fully ‘unpack’ these remarkable teachings. But that these teachings on human sexuality would literally ‘revolutionize’ society’s distorted ideas about the role of human sexuality and its place in our lives. Through TOB, we would learn that our sexuality is so much a part of who we are and who we are called to be, beings made in the image and likeness of God, that we would find new freedom and wholeness in our lives and use the God given gift of our sexuality as it was intended to be used – as a divine expression of the life of the Trinity.

TOB is, in its major components, a study in anthropology, in sociology, and in theology. It is a ‘right ordering’ of our human desires and needs firmly grounded in the Person of Jesus Christ. It is a life-changing study. And I can only wish that I had found it much earlier in my own life!

John Paul II was a man of remarkable depth, deep intellect, and an uncanny ability to convey complex theological ideas in layman's terms. This deep study of the human person is accessible to everyone.

Our parish has over the last five years offered studies of TOB. We started out with a beginner’s class, just noting the basics of this remarkable teaching. We moved on to a deeper level with Theology of the Body Explained, presented by Christopher West, who has made the ‘unpacking’ of this material his life’s vocation.

We are now in the middle of an advanced class, going deeper and deeper into the profound implications of life lived authentically, as either a married or celibate person. This advanced level class is called Into the Heart and is again taught by Christopher West, using the text of John Paul II's Man and Woman He Created Them.

But this is just the tip of the iceberg of JPII’s writings. His encyclicals alone need more time to be delved into and the gold nuggets of his rich wisdom mined.

There is no better person to study (outside of Jesus Christ Himself), if you want to know the deep wisdom of our Christian, and Catholic, heritage.

As this blog often deals with various apparitions of our Blessed Mother, I end with this: a few days after the passing of John Paul II into Glory, it was reported by one of the Medjugorje visionaries, that during an apparition of our Lady, John Paul II was seen standing beside our Blessed Mother, young and vibrant. Mary told the visionary, ‘Here is my son – he is with me.’

John Paul II lives in the fullness of the Kingdom of God and enjoys the Beatific Vision.

May Jesus Christ be praised! Amen

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