Out of all the topics I talk about, this one has to be one of the toughest to write. It's not really because of emotional hangups, but more that I don't think I'm the right person to talk about this; still, I'll give it a shot.
While it might be another Sunday, today is the feast day of St. Pope John Paul II, or St. John Paul the Great. I'll admit that 10 years ago, when I first came to Youth Group, I didn't know what it meant to be Catholic; in fact, I didn't even know who John Paul was in 2005, or why the media was making such a big deal about him passing. St. John Paul became a father to me; he's taught me what it means to be a Christian man, one who knows what true love is, including chastity, and what it means to be pure. We started youth group that fall by talking about something called Theology of the Body. These were a series of teachings St. John Paul did on love, sex, and purity. He cared a lot about us; his booming but challenging voice was always reassured with a smile, encouragement and love. He really loved youth.
There's not enough time or room to talk about who he was, so I'm going to recommend you check out this video and reflect on it: https://youtu.be/y9lYvkmY874
One guy who is an expert on his life, and an awesome dude teaching it, is Jason Evert. Jason founded the Chastity Project along with his wife Crystalina. In 2014, he wrote a book called St. Jon Paul the Great. If you haven't read it, get it! This book seriously changed my life and it's an awesome read (shoot me an email and I'll send you a link for it).
As I said in the opening, he loved youth; John Paul was young at heart all his life (even skiing at 78 years old in the Swiss Alps!).
John Paul taught us (the youth) that True Love, was/is free, total, faithful and fruitful. True Love is something only Christ can give you. Man and woman (including you guys!) have the responsibility of guarding the human dignity both woman and men have; one isn't better than the other, they compliment each other (physically and in other ways). The same thing is said with marriage; it was meant to be between one man and one woman. Marriage is the cornerstone of all vocations, and the cornerstone of society. It doesn't mean that we (as Christians and Catholics) are condemning those who consider themselves "gay" or "lesbian" or even transgender; they are called to the same desires we have, which is to love in a chaste and holy way. We're called actually to have a same sex attraction; it's important for guys to have holy chaste relationships with other guys (like the Knights of Columbus), the same with girls. But when you give into a culture that says you should sexualize everything, that's when things go bad. Chastity isn't old fashioned or doesn't work; believe me, it does, and it's pretty awesome.
John Paul also loved the Eucharist; he would go to Adoration 20 times a day. Our own Fr. Rick can attest to this; he actually did mass with St. John Paul several times. On one occasion, Fr. was given the chalice John Paul drank out of; while it was handed to some other priests and cardinals first, by the time it got to Fr. Rick something happened. Fr. served with St. John Paul in 1998-1999. By that point, John Paul had severe Parkinson's, with uncontrollable drooling being one of the traits. When John Paul gave the chalice to Fr. Rick, some of his drool went into the chalice. Fr. Rick had to finish the chalice; so he can honestly say they swapped spit with a saint.
John Paul also inspired me to checkout the priesthood, even if I'm not sure I'm called to it. I can honestly say that if I do become a priest, it will be one of the biggest highlights of my life; giving people a reconnection with God in confession, giving people Christ' own body and blood, and even witnessing births in baptism or confirmation has to be one of the greatest joys on Earth. In any event, I'm in the process of becoming a Lay Dominican.
Ever wonder why we always start and end group with a Hail Mary? I honestly think it came from my devotion to St. John Paul; he had a huge love for her. Especially our Lady of Fatima; when his own life was threatened in 1981, it was on the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima. After the Assassination Attempt, he said his life was spared with the help of the Blessed Mother. As a fellow Pole, we both have a devotion to Our Lady of Czestochowa. We also love the Rosary, because he helped me understand why it's such a great and powerful prayer.
Lastly, he knew what it meant to suffer; he watched his friends get killed by Nazis and Communists, and he lost most of his family by the time he was 21. Padded crosses don't exist, so don't ask God to give you one. When John Paul was nearing the end of his long journey, he did not ask the plug to be pulled for him, he didn't stop. In my mind, anyone who believes that killing themselves through something such as euthanasia is only denying the ultimate goal of every person, namely to be united with God in Heaven with everyone else. To paraphrase Mother Angelica, "crosses aren't for whips sweetheart, they're mandatory."
St. John Paul said that a life with Christ is a wonderful adventure, and he wanted us to take every single minute and appreciate it.
"Be Not Afraid!" was the theme of his pontificate. We need to know the story of John Paul, because we need someone like him to help us get off our spiritual butts and not be mediocre Christians. No! John Paul, and so many saints and people on Earth, want you to join him in this wonderful, and sometimes maddening, adventure. I hope to do just that, and I hope you do to.
"Be not afraid...open I say, open wide the doors for Christ!"
Want some resources to know about him better? Check out these links
Photo 1: An Icon that I keep of him in my office.
Photo 2: A little tribute I posted awhile back (including a rosary that was blessed by him, and a copy of the book by Jason Evert. Jason actually signed my copy of his book earlier this year).