Sunday, April 02, 2006
Remembering John Paul the Great  

Today is, of course, the one year anniversary of the death of John Paul the Great. It is a time to remember the greatness of this man from Poland. His greatness lies in his having submitted himself so completely to God. He accepted God's will that he serve as the 263rd successor to St. Peter. And through one of the longest pontificates ever, he led the Church through his incredible service to all of mankind.

I will always associate John Paul II with my having entered into the Catholic Church. Years ago, my wife, before she was my wife, gave me a copy of John Paul II's Crossing the Threshold of Hope. Through this unique book in which he, as the Pope, answered the questions of a journalist, I was introduced to the Gospel in a new way. He answered many of the questions which I had about the Catholic Church through his clear answers to difficult questions about the faith. He employed Scripture, Tradition, and philosophical reasoning to help answer the journalist's probing questions. Later, my wife, who was not Catholic either, gave me a books on tape version of a biography of John Paul II. It was absolutely fascinating. Here was a man who had known incredible suffering from early in his life through the many deaths in his own family, occupation of his country first by the Nazis, then by the communists, and a couple of near death experiences. Yet, he pressed on by never taking the easy route. Instead, he grew closer and closer to God, and he continually urged others to do the same. These two books had a deep impact upon me. They were important pieces of the bridge that drew me from evangelical Protestantism into the Catholic Church.

John Paul II's impact goes back even farther in time. Back in the early eighties, when my family lived in Germany, we took a trip to Rome which included a visit to the Vatican. Of course, I remember viewing the beauty of the Vatican. I also recall being outside on some upper deck of St. Peter's where I was able to view the Papal apartments across the square, as I sat next to a huge statue of, I believe, Moses. The tour included attending the public Sunday Angelus. At that time, I first received the apostolic blessing from John Paul II. Even this, was part of God's drawing me into the Catholic Church.

The only other time, I was able to see Pope John Paul II was when he came to World Youth Day in Toronto in 2002. At this time, my wife and I had been Catholic for not yet two years. We never saw Pope John Paul II directly because of the huge throng of young people who had come to be with him. However, we felt very close to him simply because he had opened himself up to be available to the youth and indeed all people.

Seeing the Pope in person is not like being close to a celebrity in order to feel some sense of success or popularity. No, seeing the Pope in person, if one is able to, is an opportunity to be close to Christ. It is Christ who founded the papacy through St. Peter. He did so to provide a visible head for His Church. When I am able to see the Pope, even on television, I recognize that the Church has a visible head on earth, and that person is the Pope. God, in his infinite understanding of human weakness, has provided us with a person to represent Christ on earth.

Some of the popes over the centuries have been horrible persons, but that does not detract from the office that Christ established. In fact, it underscores the fact that God has always worked through weak and failing human beings. Although God asks us to strive for holiness, He does not require perfection in order to accomplish His will. John Paul the Great, on the other hand, is in the category of the truly great popes of all time. His life demonstrates what God is able to accomplish when someone cooperates with God's will. Accordingly, his legacy will long and great.

Posted by David at 9:42 AM  |  Comments (0)  | 


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