The Catholic Thing
Memories of St. John Paul Print E-mail
By Fr. Gerald Murray   
Sunday, 27 April 2014

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On October 2, 1978, I found myself amidst a joyous throng on Boston Common awaiting the arrival of Pope John Paul II, who celebrated Mass in the rain that afternoon. He preached on the gospel of the rich young man who went away sad after he refused to answer the Lord’s call to sell what he had and come follow Him.

I was with a group from my college chaplaincy, which had traveled three hours by bus to Boston. I look back on that day with great fondness. It was my senior year. I applied to the seminary not long afterwards. I’d decided on the priesthood the year before.  The pope’s visit strengthened my resolve, especially the prospect of serving Christ’s Church as a priest under the guiding hand of such a strong and vibrant shepherd.

It is refreshing to think back on what the election of John Paul II meant for the Church as he is elevated to the altars this Divine Mercy Sunday 2014, a feast he himself placed on the Roman Calendar. His life was shaped by his deep faith, tested sorely by the great trials of the twentieth century.

He lived under the two large ideological tyrannies of his day: National Socialism and Communism. Both forms of atheism violated his country, and he fought back with the sure knowledge that truth is more powerful than lies. He was a man who believed in Providence and knew he was a living instrument in the hands of the Lord.

The Church underwent numerous convulsions in 1978. John Paul II restored stability and doctrinal sanity. He represented the timeless Faith, which had been assailed by organized efforts to cast aside essential teachings and previously unquestioned ways of living.

His devotion to Our Lady was shocking to misguided ecclesiastics who discouraged all forms of traditional piety. Poland had been spared much of the controversy and chaos after the Second Vatican Council – because of the oppression of the Church by the communist government.

That oppression meant that the newly elected John Paul II was a veteran at defending both Catholic teaching and the right to live out the faith, free from coercion and violence. That Faith also needed defending from the secularizing West and its apologists among the Catholic intelligentsia. 

As a seminarian and then young priest, I felt great confidence in God’s guiding hand as John Paul, without apology, proclaimed Church teachings, both then and over his entire pontificate.

           John Paul II at the shrine of Divine Mercy, Krakow, Poland (1997)

Think of Familiaris Consortio, Reconciliatio et Paenitentia, Veritatis Splendor, Evangelium Vitae. One particular gift he gave the Church is the Catechism of the Catholic Church, a sure reference. It remains absolutely fundamental for confronting the spirit of our age with beautiful, timeless Catholic truth.

Part of John Paul II’s achievement was his persistent refusal to treat the status quo as something that had to be accommodated. Christ did not come into the world merely to suggest that we might want to think about hearing him out. Christ called everyone to radical conversion of mind and heart.

So did John Paul II – when he called upon the people of his native Poland to be true to their Faith and to the history of God’s providence in preserving the Polish people as faithful, and therefore free, followers of Christ. His message to the Communist oppressors was clear, and they knew it was coming from the moment il polacco stepped out onto the balcony of St. Peter’s: God made man to freely serve Him, and any political arrangement that sought to prevent that was unjust – and had to go.

That same message was spoken in January 1998 when John Paul II visited Cuba. I had the privilege of being in Havana and listening to the Cubans assembled for Mass in Revolution Square chanting: “The pope wants us to be free!”

From my position among the concelebrating priests, I saw Fidel Castro and his entourage sitting silently while the pope and the Cuban people spoke the truth in love. Fidel might have felt he was trapped in these, for him, novel circumstances. But he was in fact hearing the voice of the Lord calling him to repent. He still has time to do so.

The pope knew that the deepest human desire can only be satisfied by Christ. Dictators of all sorts may be able to enslave and kill the people they claim to be liberating; John Paul II roamed the world proclaiming that there is relief and true liberation only in Christ. That day in Cuba, he ad-libbed from the altar, “The Spirit blows where it wills.”

That is how he conceived what was going on that day, and every day. God is the actor, we are cooperating parties. Our share in this drama can only be understood and embraced if we know that our cooperation with God is worth every sacrifice, because it unites us to Christ and gives meaning to everything. Apart from Him, nothing makes sense and we wander.

John Paul II’s canonization reminds us that God has not left us orphans in a hostile world. Rather, we are a flock well guided by saints, some of our own era, who boldly brought Christ to the world. That boldness included teaching with precision the doctrine of the Faith in an age that often rejects the very idea of truth. Their very lives teach that being a good and faithful servant of the Lord produces immense spiritual benefits.

We have all been touched by the life and works of this newest saint, and we must thank the Lord for giving us such a remarkable shepherd, who now intercedes for us from our true home in Heaven.

The Rev. Gerald E. Murray, J.C.D. is pastor of Holy Family Church, New York, NY, and a canon lawyer.
The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

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Comments (19)Add Comment
written by Chris in Maryland, April 27, 2014
Thank you Fr. Murray.

John Paul II was a great and faithful father to us. I give thanks that such a man laid down his life for the Church.

In Christus Veritas
written by Manfred, April 27, 2014
"John Paul II's canonization reminds us that God has not left us orphans in a hostile world." In my opinion, the exact opposite is true. The file photo taken on November 30, 2004 which shoes John Paul blessing the forehead of Fr. Marcial Maciel tells an enormous story. This priest(?) was known in the Vatican for FIFTY YEARS as a drug addict, predator of seminarians and young priests, the father of children (whom he also abused)by two women, the founder of the Legionnaries of Christ, a con man who sent millions of dollars to the Vatican, and we are to believe that JP II knew nothing of this despite serving as pope for 26 years! Then add Assisi I and II, kissing the Koran, praying in a glade in the South Pacific with natives who believed it was the home of their gods, Communion in the hand while standing, altar girls, allowing the Traditional Mass to be denied for his entire pontificate,and tell me this man demonstrates that he is deserving of canonization.
written by James Swetnam, S.J., April 27, 2014
I visited Sotto il Monte in 1973 with three Italian priests and talked to Zaverio, the brother of Pope John XXIII. He assured us that his brother would never have approved of married priests in the Latin rite or women priests. Providence placed me in St. Peter's Square for the blessing of the newly elected John Paul II. And allowed me to distribute communion at his installation as bishop of Rome and to distribute communion at his funeral. These events remain with me to remind me of God's kindness to me personally but especially to the Church Universal. James Swetnam, S.J.
written by schm0e, April 27, 2014
There is nothing new under the sun.

Only more so.
written by Bangwell Putt, April 27, 2014
Re: Post from "Manfred":

When your life has ended and you come before God, may he remember the good you have done; may he forgive the sins of commission and omission that you have committed in this life, especially those failures of understanding and charity. While you remain on earth, may God, through the power of the Holy Spirit, may charity be the root and foundation of your life". Amen.

For a better understanding of Pope John Paul II and of sainthood itself, please type "The Jewish Conduction and the Polish Pope" into your google search bar.

God bless you.
written by debby, April 27, 2014
Boston, 1979 (not 1978 Fr.). I am a freshman at a Nazarene College just outside of the city. A group of my Protestant friends and I planned to "go see the Pope" but had no idea how the throngs of people he would draw - we opted to watch him on TV instead. When he spoke, something happened inside of me....
God knew (of course!) my great need for a Real Father. A Holy Man who would love me for my soul's sake without personal gain. God my Father spoke to me and delivered me from a dark dungeon through JP2. a few years later i was received into the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. (many of those same friends also converted to Catholicism) A few years later as i grew in this Deep Faith and in part because of JP2's fatherhood, our Lady is my Queen and Mother - Totus Tuus!
Thank you GOD! i will be praising the Lord Forever because of His Great Love and Mercy, heard viscerally via St. John Paul II, my own dear Father!
what MORE could anyone want?
St. Pope John Paul II, pray for us!
written by Theodore M Seeber, April 27, 2014
Manfred- while what you say is true, here is what I see. Pedophilia, drug abuse, and womanizing are extreme sins, especially for a priest, most certainly for the leader of a group the size of the Legion of Christ. Likewise, Cardinal Law, whose very name has become an internet meme in the same light as Godwin's law (Godwin's law is that any given flame war, the probability of somebody mentioning Hitler is in direct proportion to the number of posts in the thread; Cardinal Law is that given any flame war about the Catholic Church, the probability of somebody mentioning the sex abuse scandal is in direct proportion to the number of posts in the thread) represents an even bigger sin of omission committed against those abused by priests and joined in by a large number of Bishops.

But none of these are the unforgivable sin.

Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, which I would describe as the failure to repent, is the unforgivable sin. It's unforgivable precisely *because* we fail to trust God enough with our own sins. You can't judge another person to be unforgivable, nor can I. That's between them and their confessor and God.

Clearly the Church believed that these men were repenting. And on this Divine mercy Sunday, I find it very powerful indeed that the Church seems to be saying that yes, no matter what the sin, if repentance is undertaken, forgiveness is possible. Perhaps not perfect forgiveness. Perhaps the repentance wasn't perfect either. But what a powerful, powerful example of FORGIVENESS Pope John Paul II gave us in how he treated these sinners.

Let us respond to that not with hatred for the Church, but with a greater call to forgiveness in our own lives.
written by Manfred, April 27, 2014
Post Script: I would simply ask that readers read on the lives of St. Pius v who was the pope who mounted the Counter Reformation, and St. Pius X who pulled out all the stops to suppress Modernism just over one hundred years ago (the same Modernism which was the victor at Vatican II). Both endured rigorous examinations of their private lives as well as their pontificates. Both satisfied the miracle requirements. They are the only two popes canonized in the last 700 years. And now we have two canonized in one day! Don't these facts and the facts I presented earlier today raise concerns for you? The very question of whether canonizations are de Fide are at stake here or whether these are merely "political" in order to "canonize " Vatican II. Why is not Pius IX, who wrote the Syllabus of Errors in 1869 and called the First Vatican Council in 1870 canonized? Pius XII cannot be canonized because it is alleged he did not do enough to aid the Jews in Europe during the WW II era, but we can canonize a pope who did nothing in response to his own priest predarors who ruined the lives of hundreds of Carholic children, cost the Church Its moral authority as well as billions in settlement costs and lawyers fees.
Finally, please compare the Church of 1958 when Pius XII died with the Church today. Thank you.
written by Bangwell Putt, April 27, 2014
The article to which I referred is, "The Jewish Conductor and the Polish Pope". I apologize for the typing error.
written by debby, April 27, 2014
dear manfred,
if someone insulted you to your children, would you want them to just walk away silent or at least look the guy in the eye and speak of their love for you?
i have to respond to you even though i am sure it is pointless.
i knew you would be a very unhappy man today.
don't you want to be a Saint?
don't you try to foster the love, joy and holy desire within your children and your wife to be a Saints?
how can there be TOO MANY SAINTS in the world?
there aren't enough children or Saints or flowers in my eyes. or too much Mercy. or Prayer. or Grace.
which, BTW, St Paul says that when sin abounds, grace SUPER-abounds.
of course we have a lot of new Saints, makes perfect Biblical sense: our world is darker than it has ever been, so God is MORE Abundant in Mercy and Goodness as His response at this time in History.
that whole destroying the world by a flood was in the past-
Now His Desire is to SAVE the WORLD BY A NEW FLOOD -
the Ocean of Mercy Pouring out from His Sacred Heart!
The Triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary!
Converted Sinners becoming Saints!
Isn't that the point of the Rosary and OL Fatima's message?
when did Jesus ever tell us that to grow in love with God and our neighbor the best method was to live in the past and wish things were different? and complain? and criticize?
can you honestly say you are "MORE Consecrated" to our Lady than JP2 or anyone for that matter?
Honestly, most days i try to see things from your point of view, but i just couldn't sit by today and let you trash a beloved son of Jesus and Mary who captured my heart for the Roman Catholic Church, the Bride of Christ.
JP2, i love you.
manfred, i am trying.
written by David Dickey, April 27, 2014
With these two canonizations accomplished, it is time for us to turn this to our advantage. Catholics should do all we can to persuade Francis that Pius XII should be beatified along with Paul VI in the fall. If there can be a double beatification of Pius IX and John XXIII, and a double canonization now, then why not?
written by Paul, April 27, 2014
What every country needs is a true capitalist government and true Christian citizens.
written by Jack,CT, April 27, 2014
@debby,I hear you but I ask u to remember
that when those admit over and over
they are barely Christian,Just consider
who is speaking.
written by Jack,CT, April 27, 2014
St John Paul showed us how to live and
how to die-
written by Benedict Augustine, April 27, 2014
Manfred makes a good point: this double-canonization seems to be an attempt to canonize Vatican II more than the celebration of holiness. What truly warranted this status of sainthood? Perhaps their intercessions did result in miracles--in JPII's case, I can recall something like this--and perhaps they led holy lives that warranted the title of saint, but too many articles and posts seem to focus on their political accomplishments more than their spiritual ones. For the most part, Catholics and those outside the church recognize both JPII and John XXIII for their attempts at popularizing Catholicism and making it contemporary. I'm glad Fr. Murray highlights JPII's commitment to traditional piety rather than his partnership with Reagan and Thatcher in tearing down the Iron Curtain, but in a church that has suffered so many liturgical abuses in the recent decades, could we call JPII successful in restoring sanity? I remain mystified at John XXIII's positive impact on the Church and the reasons for his canonization. He did some valiant things during WWII, saving many Jews from the concentration camps, and he was a lovable teddy bear as pope, but his main impact on the Church, calling Vatican II, remains highly questionable. In spite of the many apologists who insist on its benefits, Vatican II has taken a disastrous toll on the identity of Church, leaving her with less priests, less practicing laymen, and a whole lot of confusion. The intentions behind it, like the intentions behind Pope Francis's actions, might reflect hope and enthusiasm, but the lack of wisdom and clarity in realizing those intentions led to a dissipated and fractured Christian community.

Before someone condescendingly states that they'll pray for Manfred, and tells him not to judge, please acknowledge his objections. While I do not agree with all his assertions, I do think he brings up valid concerns that all Catholics should consider. Canonizing a person is a big deal, and we shouldn't simply remember the good things and forget the bad things to show ourselves good Catholics. Otherwise, as Mandred said, sainthood will degenerate into a political agenda and not a recognition of true holiness.
written by Diane Stack, April 27, 2014
We are all called to be Christ like. The Popes are especially called to be Christ like. Jesus allowed all sinners in his life and to spend time with him. To eat with him. Mary Magdalen, a prostitute, Judas, a betrayer, Peter, his first Pope, who denied him twice and Matthew, a tax collector. You only need to follow the life of Saint John Paul the Great to realize his holiness and his suffering. That cannot be denied. There have been many miracles before and after his death through his intercession. He truly deserves to be elevated to Sainthood and does not deserve these despicable accusations.
written by Tom Piatak, April 28, 2014
Thanks for this great reflection by Fr. Murray.
written by Hen, April 28, 2014
There seems to be a somewhat understood resentment against what has been called the "Papalization of Catholicism" It all seems to be about them which is probably a reflection of media zealotry. A truly great refreshing piece of simply needed theology for today lies in a certain talk host's saying, "talent on loan from God". In my opinion true hope for the future of human kind by way of Catholic Faith has to come from each and every one of our priests, dedicating themselves daily to the cause that made them find their vocation.
written by MARY L. HOOKER, April 28, 2014

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