May 18, 1920 probably seemed an ordinary day in Wadowice, Poland. Little did the Polish people, the Catholic Church, or I (born 42 ½ years later) realize what an impact one man would have on so many people for years to come, even after that one man passed beyond the Veil into eternity.
The man, of course, was Karol Wojtyla, later Pope John Paul II.
Pope John Paul II blessing a communion wafer during a service at the Basilica of St Therese, Lisieux, June 3rd 1980. (Photo by Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
It is said that the first encyclical of a new pope marks his entire pontificate. Indeed, that proved true in St. John Paul’s case. In paragraph 10 of his first encyclical, “The Redeemer of Man,” he wrote, “Man cannot live without love… his life is senseless… if he does not encounter love, if he does not experience it and make it his own….” In other words, knowing the objective truth about love is not sufficient; we must each experience it.
In other words, objective truth and personal experience are meant to be “wed.” I think this synthesis is one of his most important contribution to Catholicism and the entire world. I encourage you to make it your own; I’ve tried to. God wants us to encounter His love and make it our own.
In my early 20’s I began to have silence, read Scripture slowly, prayerfully, as the Veil lifted momentarily in a loving embrace. The Mass, too, became a place and a time to enter more deeply into God’s covenant of love. Unbeknownst to them, family and friends unveiled for me God’s love, as I became mindful of God’s desire to reach me through the visible Body of Christ (Incarnate, Eucharistic, and Mystical) so as to make His love my own. I am loved by the Bridegroom of the Universe.
St. John Paul’s Theology of the Body underscores this great synthesis for he treasured femininity, particularly Our Lady. To emphasize only the Bridegroom, Christ, without His Bride, is to render St. Paul’s great Mystery (Eph. 5:22-33) senseless. We must emphasize both Jesus and His Body-Bride the Church, Vatican II’s favorite description of the Church.
That is why it is so important to get marriage right; it is not marriage alone that St. John Paul was interested in preserving. It’s also what marriage points to: the eternal Wedding Feast of the Lamb with His Church… and our personal encounter with our Lord, through the visible Church, particularly in the sacraments.
I conclude with my personal encounter with St. John Paul. It was 1992. My friends and I were at an audience, behind a barricade. Pope John Paul was making his way, and everyone was saying in Italian, “Long live the Pope!” I decided to say something different: “I’m from Texas! I’m from Texas!” He stopped, looked me in the eye, and said, “Oh, you’re from Texas! God bless you.” I have a picture of me holding his hand.
Karol, one day, I look forward to eternal dialogue with you when I am received by Jesus and Mary, you, and all the saints beyond the Veil. Until then, please keep praying for all of us who try to evangelize through TOB. Amen.
President, Content Creation, International Speaker