I will always be grateful to Saint John Paul II for his influence on my life and his leadership of the Church. After I experienced a conversion (or reversion, as I was brought up Catholic) as a college student, the Pope became important in my life. I began reading his encyclicals, apostolic letters, and talks. I came to understand why the Pope is called our Holy Father, because he really was a true father to me and to all Catholics. He was someone I could rely on to help me live as a faithful laywoman in the modern world. I prayed for him often and knew he prayed for me as a member of the Church. Saint John Paul II influenced me in many ways. He helped me understand my vocation as a laywoman and made me realize the importance of supporting priests and working for a culture of life.
Saint John Paul II was the Pope during a confusing time for women. Secular feminists had influenced the culture and women were expected to seek material success and worldly power, yet this way of life is unfulfilling and not according to God’s call to holiness for every person. In his Letter to Women and On the Dignity and Vocation of Women, Pope John Paul II taught that women’s greatest vocation is a vocation of love and that they have important contributions to make in the Church and in every aspect of society.
When the role of priests seemed to have been diminished, Pope John Paul II encouraged priests to remain faithful in their vocation by writing them an annual letter every Holy Thursday. He also wrote a beautiful memoir, Gift and Mystery, about his experiences as a priest. The Pope’s encouragement of priests conveyed a message for the members of the Church to also support priests. I think he influenced me in my commitment to always pray for priests.
One of Pope John Paul II’s most important and most needed teachings was on the culture of life. In his encyclical, The Gospel of Life, he taught about the value of every human life and the responsibility of everyone to protect people from threats to their lives, especially from abortion and euthanasia. He wrote about celebrating the Gospel of Life, by living with “self-giving love for others” (86). He also spoke of the role women have in “transforming culture to support life” (99). Pope John Paul II’s teachings on life and his witness has continued to influence me in my apostolate to priests who are sick.
Pope John Paul II showed a particular concern for people who are chronically ill. He established an annual World Day of the Sick on February 11, the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, wrote an apostolic letter on suffering, and visited the sick on his many trips. He gave witness too, by his life. As his physical strength decreased because of Parkinson’s Disease, he continued to serve as Pope, despite his illness and demands from the media and some members of the Church for him to resign. By remaining active to the extent that he did, I think he gave hope to other people with health problems that they could still contribute to the Church and society.
As a young adult, I appreciated Pope John Paul II’s support for other young Catholics. Instead of assuming we would conform to the values of secular society, he encouraged us to strive for holiness, become saints, and use our talents in service of God and other people. His efforts to meet with Catholic teenagers and young adults by organizing World Youth Days made a great impression on me. These events reminded me that I was not alone as a young Catholic—there were many faithful young Catholics throughout the world.
One of Pope John Paul II’s greatest gifts to the Church was the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Before it was written, many Catholics were uncertain about what the Church taught. After its publication in 1993, people had one definitive source in which to find all the doctrines of the Church, as well as what the Church teaches about prayer.
Pope John Paul II was often criticized by the secular media and some Catholics for teaching the truths of the Faith, instead of deeming them irrelevant for our era. He tried to give Catholics a deeper understanding of moral theology in his encyclical, The Splendor of Truth. He taught that we cannot separate faith from morality. He wrote, “Faith is a decision involving one’s whole existence. It is an encounter, a dialogue, a communion of love and of life between the believer and Jesus Christ, the way and the truth and the life (cf. Jn. 14:6). It entails an act of trusting abandonment to Christ, which enables us to live as He lived (cf. Gal. 2:20), in profound love of God and of our brothers and sisters” (88). In his encyclical, Pope John Paul II helps us to understand that the Church’s teachings are not oppressive but lead to true freedom and are all rooted in love of God and agape love—a total self-giving form of love of one’s neighbor. In this encyclical and in his other writings, Pope John Paul II, who had a great devotion to Mary, encouraged Catholics to see her as our mother and as a model of Christian discipleship.
As I am someone who loves the saints, I was happy that Pope John Paul II beatified and canonized so many people, some of them lay people from the 20th century. These new saints and blesseds remind Catholics that we, too, are called to be saints, and we have friends in the communion of saints who are always available to assist us.
I was someone who wanted Pope John Paul II to be named as a saint right away and was very happy when he was canonized. I believe that Saint John Paul II strived to do God’s will all during his life and demonstrated great faith, hope, and love, as well as the moral virtues, particularly fortitude. We know that he devoted a lot of time to prayer and even when he was in poor health, was willing to make sacrifices in order to serve others. He was always faithful in teaching what the Church teaches, even when it made him unpopular with some people.
As Pope, Saint John Paul II encouraged Catholics to have great love for Jesus in the Eucharist and to make Mass an important part of our lives. His last encyclical, in 2003, was on the Eucharist, and he died during the Year of the Eucharist.
Saint John Paul II died on the vigil of Divine Mercy Sunday, April 2, 2005, and left us a message for that day: “As a gift to humanity, which sometimes seems bewildered and overwhelmed by the power of evil, selfishness and fear, the Risen Lord offers his love that pardons, reconciles and reopens hearts to love. It is a love that converts hearts and gives peace. How much the world needs to understand and accept Divine Mercy!”
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