Imitating Pope St John Paul II

Imitating Pope St John Paul II

Today is the feast day of Pope St John Paul II. He is the only saint (so far) who directly impacted me in his own lifetime.

I met him once. Sort of. I was in St Peter’s Square on 6 October 2002, when he canonised St Josemaría Ecrivá. I was one pilgrim among half a million, but it was an exhilarating moment. He was my Holy Father. I loved him then, and I love him now.

Maybe my faith would be weaker without his influence. Maybe I wouldn’t love our Lord so much. Certainly, I wouldn’t be a priest. JP2 was a big factor in the discernment of my vocation.

I think John Paul impacted me because he was a saint. But not only that. He impacted me because we had a relationship, however remote.

I have many relatives and friends who weren’t impact the same way. Why? I think it’s because they weren’t in a relationship with him. Wojtyla was like a third grandfather to me, so his words and gestures and witness had a profound influence.

That’s the thing about saints. They’re not magic. Relationship is key. That’s why it’s important for you and I to become saints. JP2 may have had little or no impact on some family and friends, but we can have an impact, precisely because we are in relationship with them.

John Paul II was a rockstar pope, with a name and face recognised by millions. He was also a mystic, who apparently received extraordinary graces. In one sense he’s not the easiest guy to imitate. But in another, more important sense, we can follow his lead.

Joaquin Navarro-Valls, the Polish pope’s press secretary, tells the story of the first time they prayed the rosary together. When they reached the first Our Father, and Navarro started reciting it, the pope raised a hand to quiet him, and explained apologetically that he liked to chant the Lord’s Prayer. Would that be okay? (Navarro, of course, consented.)

Navarro began by praying each Hail Mary at the normal pace he was accustomed to. But gradually, he fell into a much slower pace, following the lead of the pope, who almost relished each syllable. A prayer he normally prayed in 20 minutes took twice as long when he prayed it with John Paul II.

Bishop John Magee, the Irish bishop who was ‘secretary to three popes’ (Paul, JPI and JP2), relates a story which occurred just a few days after Wojtyla was elected pope. It was early in the day, before normal working hours, when Magee received an urgent request from some VIP to see the pope. He checked the chapel, then the pope’s office, the private sitting room, the dining room, and the pope’s bedroom, but the pope was nowhere to be found. In a state of mild panic, he told the pope’s Polish secretary, “We’ve lost the Holy Father!”

His Polish counterpart was dubious. “Did you check the chapel?”

“It was the first place I looked.”

“Look again. More carefully.”

Magee returned to the darkened chapel. The pope was not at his seat, or his at prie-dieu. But he was in the chapel after all: at the altar, embracing the tabernacle, crooning a Polish lullaby.

Now I’m not advocating slavish imitation of these practices. But it’s something we can adapt to our situation.

I spend a lot of time in the car, and I usually pray the rosary there. Mostly attending to the road (and kangaroos); only partly attentive to the mysteries I’m contemplating and words I’m praying. If your rosary is something similar, keep it up. It’s better than not praying the rosary.

But it’s not so hard to pray an extra decade some other time during the day, more closely imitating John Paul II’s way of praying. It must please our Lady very much.

I’m not in the habit of hugging the tabernacle — and I’m a priest, with after-hours access to churches, when no one else is around! If I had only normal access, I’d be even less eager to approach the sanctuary and make a spectacle of myself.

But still we can pay a short 5 minute visit to the Blessed Sacrament, and sing a song to the Lord under our breath, sitting in the pew. We can bring our smart phone, and show him the interesting photos we took this morning. We can repeat the exciting news a friend told us, or complain about the lousy customer service we experienced this afternoon.

I think our Lord craves that sort of easy familiarity. It’s not uncommon to speak to our closest friends for a just a few minutes, but every day, and about the every day. Why not Him?

I think if we live this way, coupling small acts of affection with more pious practices (not least frequent communion and frequent confession), we can have the impact of a JP2 on our circle of family and friends. The ‘orbit’ is much smaller, but the love of God is not.

  • Simon Hogan

    Yes I am back with more tips for Moonee Valley tomorrow Fr. Corrigan and the fellow readers!
    You could called Moonee Valley a great artwork track!
    Well in Race 1. No10,14,11 and 6.
    Race2. No2,5,4 and 9.
    Race3.No.9,2,6 and 8.
    Race4. No6,4,2 and 8.
    Race5. I like 7,1,9 and 6.
    Race6 My numbers are 4,6,9 and 5.
    Race7. My tips are 10,14,2 and 7.
    Race8 it is the big Cox Plate I like
    Forteller number 4,5,7 and 9. It’s great race to watch! One year all the horses were inline coming in the home straight! In 2005!
    Well the last race is at 20 past six! My numbers are 3,7,11,12 and 9.
    Happy Punting and bet eachway. Have a great weekend from Simon the Pieman.

  • Simon the pieman

    I must say the Pope has been to Flemington many years ago! I wonder the current Pope knows about big race in first Tuesday in November! That is Tuesday week! Happy punting!

  • adri

    I share your love and admiration for Saint JP2. I’d like to share an experience with you about his holiness and charisma. Standing in one street in La Habana, Cuba on January of 1998 waiting for his arrival and benediction, my group of friends and I were trying to explain to some of the locals who this “man” was? since most of them never even heard of Jesus or even a less number about the catholic church after more than 35 years under the communism regime. Suddenly he was approaching in his Pope mobile and people all around us started to cry and screaming asking for blessings. It’s hard to explain the reaction we saw. Pleople experiencing a conversion right in front of our eyes is beyond any word, his holy presence, the reality of being the Vicar of Christ bringing to this oppressed island in the Caribbean the love of God. That day I saw a Saint and many miracles happening during his visit. Totus tuum.

  • MuMu

    I haven’t been able to access your blog for some time, Fr John, for incomprehensible missing program bit problem, but can now and loved your piece on St Pope John Paul 2, especially the Tabernacle and the Polish lullaby story. This is piercing arrow of love in the heart stuff.

  • Simon Hogan

    Well tomorrow it’s derby day at the Catheral of Racing at Flemington. So all men should wear top hats! We have to watch and see who wears the best hats!
    Race One I like 13. Justaway. At the moment it very juicy odds. So back it eachway. I also like 14,3 and 11.
    Race 2.10 Yesterjoy 12. Thunder Lady, 2. Veluelicious and 5. Miuscovado.
    My numbers are 10. Woodbine and also like 1,5 and 12.
    Race4. I like 15,10,2 and 14.
    I like 4,12,1 and and 2.
    Race6 My numbers are 10,4,11 and 6.
    Race seven it’s called The Derby!
    I like 11. Atmosphere 4. Firehouse Rock 10 Royal Standing and 5. Magicool.
    Race8. It’s called the Myer Classic Group One for fillies and Mares! I like 2,12,13 and 19 if it gets a run!
    Race 9 Lucky last my numbers are 11,6,8 and 1.
    The Melbourne Cup barrier draw will be on Tvn at 7pm tomorrow night! It’s good to watch and you may get a laugh out of it! Keep Well and Happy Punting to Fr Corrigan and the rest of you!

  • Lizzie via Bendie

    What a wonderful account, Fr John. Have saved it! Apropos of previous on Benedict – have just completed a Benedict 16 study in M Theol and yes he would have to be the greatest Christian theologian of the 2oth C. Easily! Pax in Domino, Lizzie via Bendigo

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