Of all of the many graces that God has bestowed on me, I would have to consider and thank God most abundantly for the gift of the Priesthood, but also the unique, unmerited, and humbling experience of having been ordained by one of the greatest men in the history of the world—POPE SAINT JOHN PAUL II—JOHN PAUL THE GREAT!!!
Yes, it is true. I had the unique privilege of being under the holy hands of the Bishop of Rome, the future saint, John Paul II on May 25th, 1986, which was a Sunday and the Solemnity of the Most Blessed Trinity, in which we praise the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
In all truth, I can say that I have a holy head and holy hair because I was touched, blessed, and ordained by the hands of Pope Saint John Paul II. How abundant God truly is in His enormous blessings. I am a living third class relic!
The following day, after celebrating my first Mass by myself (actually my first Mass was after ordination with Pope Saint John Paul II and the many other Bishops and newly ordained priests), I had the privilege of meeting with Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta, both blessing her and then Mother kissing my hands!
So within not much more than 24 hours, I had the unique privilege of meeting with two of the greatest towering figures and modern saints—Pope Saint John Paul II and Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Without a doubt, a time in my life that I will never forget—meeting with the two greatest missionaries in the 20th Century!
In gratitude for so many blessings, as we celebrate on May 18th, 2020, the 100th Anniversary of the birth of Pope Saint John Paul II, whose name was Karol Wojtyla, I would like to render this great man of God homage by highlighting and thanking God for ten of his almost countless accomplishments for the Church and for the world at large.
1. TOTUS TUUS! This great pontiff started off his pontificate by consecrating his service to the Church with a very special emblem or motto: TOTUS TUUS—Totally Yours (Mary)! This comes from the great Marian Saint, Louis de Montfort, who left us a sure and powerful path of consecration to Jesus through Mary, True Devotion to Mary, as well as his literary classic on the Rosary, The Secret of the Rosary. John Paul II wanted to receive a special protection from Mary whom he loved as Mother, Guide, Star of the Sea, and Star of the New Evangelization. Upon his numerous papal visits throughout the world, he would often seek out the Marian Sanctuary and pay tribute and honor to Mary in that sacred place. No surprise that the most visited place in his pontificate outside of Italy was Mexico, where he visited the famous shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe several times.
2. CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH. Never have we lived in a time, place and epoch with so much information. However, at the same time, never have we lived in a world with so much confusion, a true mass of confusion, and this sadly is applicable with respect to doctrinal and moral truth. For that reason, possibly the greatest literary accomplishment of John Paul II was the promulgation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. This literary masterpiece explains clearly the four pillars of Catholic Truth: 1. Dogma—Who God is and His attributes; 2. Morality—the Ten Commandments; 3) The Sacraments—Channels of Grace and Sanctification; 4. Prayer—Union and Friendship in conversation with God.
3. WORLD YOUTH DAY. It was John Paul II who called meetings with the youth throughout the world. One even took place in Denver, Colorado in 1993, the first WYD held in either North America or an English-speaking nation. Catholic News Agency (CNA) reported: “As the registrations started coming in, it went to 150,000,” said Archbishop Dennis Schnurr of Cincinnati, who served as national director for Denver’s WYD. “The final registration was 500,000. We know there were walk-ons, particularly for the final Mass. It was 750,000 people there.” Who would have ever believed that an elderly man dressed in white could attract thousands upon thousands of youth, be viewed by millions, and generate an enthusiasm that shook the very foundations of the modern materialistic, hedonistic, and sensual culture in which modern humanity is so deeply immersed!
4. CANONIZATIONS AND BEATIFICATIONS. We are all called to become saints. Lumen Gentium, Chapter V, exhorts all with “The Universal call to holiness”. All of us are called to be holy, all of us are called to become saints, as Jesus so clearly reminds us: “Be holy as your heavenly Father is holy.” (Mt. 5:48) However, it is worthy of mention to list ten of the most renowned figures or persons who were canonized during the 26-year Pontificate of John Paul II.
Here is the list: 1. Saint Pio of Pietrelcina—known as Padre Pio. 2. Saint Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer—Founder of the Opus Dei Movement. 3. Saint Faustina Kowalska, the first saint to be canonized in the new Millennium, known as the Secretary of Divine Mercy. 4. Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross—Jewish convert to Catholicism, Carmelite nun, and martyr in Auschwitz (Like Kolbe). 5. Saint Katharine Drexel, an American saint who gave of her riches to find her treasure in God. 6. Saint Maximilian Kolbe—the Martyr of charity, who chose the two crowns that Mary offered him. 7. Saint Gianna Beretta Molla, who sacrificed her life for her baby in the womb; 8. Saint Juan Diego—the Apostle of Our Lady of Guadalupe; 9. Blessed Jacinta Marto—The Little Victim Soul. 10. Blessed Francisco Marto—The Little Mystic. (Jacinta and Francisco were two of the three visionaries of Our Lady of Fatima. Pope Francis canonized them Saints on May 13, 2017.) By beatifying and canonizing so many from all walks of life—Religious, priests, and Lay-people, John Paul II highlighted and exhorted all of us to pursue true holiness of life.
5. THEOLOGY OF THE BODY. No doubt one of the greatest accomplishments in moral theology was the teaching of John Paul II on the Theology of the Body. In 1968, Pope Saint Paul VI published one of the most explosive and controversial Encyclicals in the history of the Church, Humanae Vitae. In this explosive document, Paul VI stated unequivocally that human sexuality must be open to the possibility of life, to procreation, and that any form of artificial means of contraception is intrinsically disordered. The Magisterial Teaching of John Paul II developed in greater detail this true understanding of human sexuality. Either the human person is viewed as an object to be exploited, used, and discarded or the human person is respected, loved, and cherished for their innate dignity and eternal destiny. The great Pontiff was giving a series of teachings on these great truths during his Wednesday Papal audiences, but this was interrupted by the attempted assassination May 13, 1981.
6. MERCY AND FORGIVENESS. If you were to ask anybody about one of the most important memories of John Paul II, most likely many would call to mind the day and the moment that he was shot and almost killed on May 13, 1981. (The same month and date as the first Apparition of Our Lady of Fatima in 1917.) After his recovery in that same year of 1981, John Paul II was seen in the prison cell embracing and forgiving the man who had planned and attempted to kill the great pontiff. This would turn out to be one of the most powerful icons or images of mercy and forgiveness in the history of the world. The words of Jesus as He hung on the cross resonate far and wide in this gesture of John Paul II: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.” (Lk. 23:34)
7. SAINT FAUSTINA AND DIVINE MERCY. As mentioned earlier, the first canonization of John Paul II in the new Millennium was that of his compatriot from Poland who lived contemporaneously with him and Kolbe, Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska. It was heard that this day, April 30th, 2000 was the happiest day in the life of John Paul II. The reason? He both canonized Saint Faustina and officially instituted the Solemnity of Divine Mercy—the second Sunday after Easter, the crown and culmination of the Easter Octave! John Paul II felt that one of his primary missions was to promote far and wide the urgent need to be merciful and to trust in God’s infinite mercy.
8. MISSION OF THE REDEEMER. Pope Saint John Paul II and Saint Mother Teresa can be seen as the two greatest Missionaries in the world in the twentieth century. Never in the history of the world was a man so visible and never had a Pope traveled so many miles, circling the globe several times in distance, visiting so many diverse places, and offering so many different talks. In his Encyclical, “Mission of the Redeemer” (1990), John Paul II stated with utmost clarity and urgency that all the baptized have an urgent call and vocation to be missionaries—to bring the Word and Person of Jesus to the whole world. The last words of Jesus were a missionary mandate: “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, until the end of the world.” (Mt. 28:19-20)
9, HIS ENCYCLICAL AND TEACHINGS. Nobody can doubt that John Paul II was one of the greatest teachers in the history of Catholicism, even in the history of the world. One day he will be declared a Doctor of the Church—for the depth and spiritual profundity of his Magisterium. For sake of brevity, we will list only ten of his most renowned writings with the hope of delving into the immense ocean of his sublime teaching:
- The Redeemer of Man (1979)—His first Papal Encyclical which set the stage for his intensely Christological Pontificate. Christ the Redeemer of man reveals man to himself, his dignity as well as his eternal destiny.
- Rich in Mercy (1980)—Encyclical. Emphasizing the greatest attribute in the Heart of Jesus—His mercy. This is taught by means of an explanation of the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Lk. 15:11-32), that could correctly be called, “The Parable of the Merciful Father!”
- The Gospel of Life (1995)—Encyclical. Condemns the worst moral evil of our day—abortion, killing of the innocent child in the womb. The Ignatian Two Standards comes into play: “The Gospel of Life against the Culture of Death.”
- Faith and Reason (1998)—Encyclical. God calls us to a deep faith in His presence but we are also to use reason as a means to arrive at God. The two do not contradict each other, but rather they complement each other. Saint Thomas Aquinas can be our model.
- Reconciliation and Penance (1984)—Apostolic Exhortation. The loss of the sense of sin and the call to return to God through the practice of Sacramental Confession.
- Familiaris Consortio (1981)—Apostolic Exhortation. The essential value of the family as the Domestic Church and as the basic cell of society. The future of the world depends on the future of the family.
- On the Dignity and Vocation of Women (1988)—Apostolic Letter. The woman has great dignity and value, and carries out a fundamental role in the world and in evangelization.
- The Salvific Value of Suffering (1984)—Apostolic Letter. Human suffering has infinite value, especially when it is united to the suffering of Jesus. We must learn to sanctify our own suffering.
- The Church and the Eucharist (2003)—Encyclical. The source and summit of the Christian-Catholic life is the Eucharist—the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus. This is found in the context of the Mystical Body of Christ, the Church.
- Mary: Mother of the Redeemer (1987)—Encyclical. Christ is the only Redeemer, but Mary helped Him in the work of Redemption; she collaborated with Him, especially as she stood at the foot of the cross.
10. HIS DEATH: A MODEL FOR ALL OF US AS EARTHLY PILGRIMS. At the end of his life, Pope Saint John Paul II’s health declined and deteriorated, especially in the last five years of his life. However, he taught the world an invaluable lesson: aging, suffering, and offering one’s human limitations has infinite value in the eyes of God! Jesus is our supreme Model in all times and places, but especially as He suffered and died on the cross for the salvation of all of humanity. Pope Saint John Paul II died on April 2nd, 2005, in the evening at about 9:00 p.m. It was the First Saturday of the month, dedicated to Our Lady of Fatima, but most important, it was the Vigil of the Solemnity of Divine Mercy Sunday. He died in the arms of Mary and was received into the Merciful Embrace of the Eternal Father and the Eternal Home of Heaven.