Reprinted with Permission and with special thanks to
Monsignor Charles M. Mangan
With Gratitude and Admiration:
Reflecting on the Legacy of Pope John Paul II
Monsignor Charles M. Mangan
Anyone who attempts to analyze the notable contributions made to the Church and to the world by Pope John Paul II (1978—2005) is immediately confronted with a pressing question: “Where do I begin?”
The Holy Father said and did so much during his remarkable twenty-six year Pontificate that is it difficult to know where to start, much less to offer an adequate summary.
One could take as his point of departure the Holy Father’s bold proclamation—uttered scores of times in scores of locations—that the human person is created by God in His splendid image and likeness and, therefore, is worthy of love and esteem.
Or one could first consider the pilgrimages, including the famous World Youth Days, which the Vicar of Christ made not only throughout Italy but also around the globe, addressing diverse themes of great importance to his listeners wherever he went.
Instead one could commence this challenging endeavor by highlighting the hundreds of heroic men and women, boys and girls beatified and canonized by Pope John Paul II.
Any of these approaches is valid and worthwhile. This author, however, rather than concentrating on the memorable words and deeds of the late Bishop of Rome, prefers to reflect on the “who” instead of the “what.” Who was Karol Jòzef Wojtyla?
He really believed! The faith of Pope John Paul II was extraordinary and evident for all to see. Although imbued with a keen and profound intellect, this philosopher and theologian had a child’s faith—quick to believe, unstinting in trust. He believed that God would care for him in the midst of the heavy trials he had to confront: the deaths of his parents and brother, the diabolical oppression of Nazism and Communism directed towards his beloved Poland, the unspeakable agony of seeing many refuse to embrace Christ, His Church and His life-giving message. The Holy Father’s unshakable confidence in Jesus carried him through periods of joy and sorrow. The former Archbishop of Krakòw readily acknowledged that the Lord would preserve and sustain him.
A man filled with hope. Having experienced both the “highs” and the “lows” of human existence, Pope John Paul II possessed a firm hope in the Risen Lord Jesus Christ. One could see etched in his entire life the beautiful and significant words of the Act of Hope. “O my God, relying on Thine infinite goodness and promises, I hope to obtain pardon of my sins, the help of Thy grace and Life Everlasting, through the merits of Jesus Christ, my Lord and Redeemer. Amen.” The Holy Father had assurance in the divine compassion held out by Jesus the Messiah.
Conscious of his identity before the Lord. In our troubled era that is besmirched with incredible confusion and turmoil, Pope John Paul II knew well his vocation and strove to live it cheerfully. With inspiring perseverance, he submitted himself to God, seeking to be the best Catholic, priest and bishop possible. His acceptance of his identity as a son of the Almighty and to what—perfect union with the Most Blessed Trinity in Heaven—he was summoned meant that he remained steadfast and unrelenting in his commitment to pursue Christian holiness.
Unafraid to speak on behalf of the Holy Gospel. The papal biographer George Weigel, who authored the valuable Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II (New York: Harper Collins, 1999), has quipped that in his opinion, the most prominent quality of the Holy Father was his fearlessness. Whether his audience was composed of Kings, presidents, adolescents or paupers, the Successor of St. Peter clearly enunciated the Truth, regardless of whether or not he would be rejected by those in attendance.
Willing to go the extra mile. Like St. Paul, Pope John Paul II poured himself out as a libation (cf. 2 Timothy 4:6) to the glory of God and for the spiritual and temporal welfare of his brothers and sisters. He decided at a tender age that he would follow Jesus to Calvary, thereby totally surrendering himself to the divine plan. The Holy Father selflessly yielded to the Lord’s wise will and never retracted his pledge to take up the sweet cross of the Savior.
Pardoning his enemies freely and sincerely. The televised image of Pope John Paul II visiting Mehmet Ali Agca, his would-be assassin, on December 27, 1983 in Rome’s Rebibbia prison was a telltale sign that the Holy Father, putting stock in the virtue of mercy, forgave those who injured him. He meekly and generously extended charity to his friends and those who opposed him. Only God Himself knows how many have been converted to Christ due in large measure to this testimony to the Divine Mercy given by the Pontiff.
Wedded to the Apostolic Tradition. Pope John Paul II comprehended that because the humble St. Peter was his cherished Predecessor, he in turn was obliged to teach, in harmony with the first Pope, the doctrines of the Catholic Faith with fidelity, precision and conviction. When explaining the Teaching of the Magisterium, the Holy Father was sufficiently serious in conveying that our beloved Master demands certain things of His brothers and sisters that require our full and attentive effort.
Limited as our reply is to the query, “Who was Karol Jòzef Wojtyla?,” now we can see more clearly our advantage of having lived during the Pontificate of Pope John Paul II. We have witnessed a saint in our midst!
The Holy Father’s personal sanctity is part of the lasting heritage of the Church. Like him, we will grow in conformity to Christ by availing ourselves as he did of: daily prayer, including the prayerful reading of Sacred Scripture; the frequent reception of the Sacraments, particularly Penance and the Most Holy Eucharist; genuine veneration and imitation of the Ever-Virgin Mother of God by way of the recitation of the Most Holy Rosary and the wearing of the Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel; the practice of the Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy; regular acts of self-denial; etc.
We benefit from the edifying holiness of the Pontiff. His example will rub off on us if we are receptive to the gentle stirrings of the Holy Spirit Who guided him.
Now God has called the Holy Father to Himself. Our Church and world miss terribly his earthly presence—notwithstanding our delight in having such an outstanding Sovereign Pontiff in the hallowed person of Pope Benedict XVI. But we rejoice for Pope John Paul II who has left this valley of tears for our true homeland and justly repeat the sentiments that, almost 2,000 years ago, St. Paul applied to himself: “I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4:7)
In the Lord’s good time, may the same be said about each of us.
(Copies of this pamphlet are available from Eternal Life, 902 W. Stephen Foster Ave., Bardstown, KY 40004. Reprinted here with permission.)