Oblate Program at Belmont Abbey, NC

He is a Saint (part I)

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One John Paul II Priest Recalls the Influence of John Paul the Great

Allow me to quickly describe to you my personal experience with the newly beatified pope, whom I was allowed to meet at a general audience when I was 18 years old. As he walked through the middle aisle of the audience hall he offered me his hand. He radiated warmth and a fatherly love which is difficult to describe. In hindsight this moment was a decisive moment of my life. I know that John Paul II influenced my priesthood profoundly, just as he profoundly influenced the priesthood of many and awakened many vocations.
Blessed John Paul II

AUSTRIA (Catholic Online) - A lot has been said and written about Pope John Paul II in the last few weeks and months. In Poland alone 500 new books about the century pope have been published within the last two months. Many new aspects about his life and his work have been revealed, and many insights have been gained.

And yet, everybody has probably his own personal memories of John Paul II. This newly beatified pope was so close to us in these times. He influenced our own lives, and everything anyone says or writes about him will always be personal. Please allow me to quickly describe to you my personal experience with the newly beatified pope, whom I was allowed to meet at a general audience when I was 18 years old. As he walked through the middle aisle of the audience hall he offered me his hand. He radiated warmth and a fatherly love which is difficult to describe. In hindsight this moment was a decisive moment of my life.

At that time I did not yet know that 11 years later I would be allowed to accompany the Holy Father as a student of theology to the various celebrations of the Jubilee Year 2000, during which I followed his addresses and gestures intensely. What a moment when he opened the Holy Doors at the beginning of the Jubilee Year 2000, for instance. I was aware of the fact that many of those gestures and addresses made history. These were words and deeds which would mark the Church and the world for decades and even longer - and this may have been the reason why everything appeared a bit surreal, and I asked myself why God had permitted me to participate in many of these events.

I know that John Paul II influenced my priesthood profoundly, just as he profoundly influenced the priesthood of many and awakened many vocations. In 2002, fifty youth and I were able to participate in the World Youth Day in Toronto, Canada. I witnessed how many young people decided to live a life filled with faith because of the Holy Father's inspiring and also admonishing words. And for most of them this resolution was not short-lived. Many young priests confess that one word by the Holy Father allowed them to discern the way of total surrender.

In the week after Easter in 2005 I took young people to the great pilgrimage sites in Poland. When this trip was planned I had no idea that the Pope in Rome would be on his death bed while we were visiting the great places of grace of his Polish homeland. Niepokalanow - city of the Immaculate Mother of God - founded by St. Maximilian Kolbe. Czestochowa - the Marian Shrine, which was most like home to the Holy Father. The Shrine of Divine Mercy in Lagiewniki near Cracow (St. Faustina), Wawel containing the Bishop's See of the Archbishop of Cracow, which Pope John Paul II held before he became Pope.

At all these sites we were particularly connected with the dying Pope. We were waiting daily for news of his condition. But it was not until we returned to celebrate the Vigil of Divine Mercy Sunday that we learnt of his passing. Many like myself who consider themselves to be part of "Generation John Paul II" and are "priests of the 3rd millenium" lost a father. And yet, regardless of all grief we all knew that particular night: a saint went home to the Father. And it was no accident that the Father called home His representative on earth on Divine Mercy Sunday, a feast which the Holy Father himself introduced in 2000 on the Sunday after Easter. His passing was and is a message - just like his entire life was.

Why is John Paul II a Saint?

During the pilgrimage to Poland the Holy Father was the number one topic. I remember especially a conversation with the youth who asked: Why is the Pope a saint? And we soon came to the conclusion that what counts are not his deeds but his being. History will tell what John Paul's pontificate means for the Church and the whole world. All major politicians and statesmen agree that the removal of the Iron Curtain would not have been possible without this pope. But all the great things he did are really only secondary in the quest for John Paul's holiness.

The reason for his beatification, which allows the faithful to honor him during the liturgy regionally in Rome and in the dioceses in Poland, the reason for his eventual canonization, which we may certainly expect soon, which will allow the entire Church to liturgically honor him as example and intercessor, was his heroic love for God, his unconditional surrender to God. He was, what he encouraged the faithful to be: "a soul in love with God" (MnD). John Paul practiced a very personal and profound friendship with God. A deep love relationship with God - as St. Augustine would say. He loved God with his total surrender and passion, with every fiber of his heart. He knew God loved him, and this gave him strength to accept and carry the cross and suffering in his life.

Blessed John Paul believed in the merciful love of God - he also believed in the inconceivable love of God. God will always remain inconceivable to us. We cannot understand nor comprehend His love; we can only accept and believe.

The great convert and apologist of our Catholic Faith, CS Lewis, wrote a unique novel: "The Screwtape Letters - Letters from a senior to a junior devil". In these letters from an older devil to a younger, inexperienced one, the younger one has the task of tempting a young man who has just returned to practicing the Christian Faith. The goal is to teach him all the tricks to make this devil's attempt successful.

At a certain part the author participates in a discussion which develops between the two demons.... They cannot comprehend that their enemy, this is how they call God, really "loves every human being and desires their freedom". They are certain that this cannot be. It must be a deception, a trick. We have been deceived, they say, from that day since Lucifer distanced himself from Him because of it. We have not yet uncovered this, but the day will come. The love of God for His creatures is the mystery of all mysteries for them.

For John Paul II God's Love was real and tangible. He experienced this love daily when he was immersed in prayer for hours - in profound conversation with his Lord and Savior. He was given the understanding how God shows us His love over and over again: through His Word, through His Cross, and through the Bread - the Holy Eucharist. (To be continued...)

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Fr. Bernhard Speringer is a priest of the Order of Holy Canons Regular of the Holy Cross in Austria.

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