Getting Lost is Being Found
The future Pope John Paul II was born as Karol Wojtyla in Poland in 1920. John Paul had an extremely difficult childhood. His mother passed away when he was a boy, his brother died when JPII was 20 and his father died when he was 21. By the time he was in his early 20s, every person he had ever really loved had died.
However, St. John Paul II is known as one of the most joyful saints in the history of the Church. His devotion to Mary and his worship of the Eucharist was the source of his strength and joy from an early age. He met Jesus each day in the Eucharist and he spent hours each morning in deep prayer before the Blessed Sacrament.
As pope he was known to have Mass in his private chapel in the mornings. JPII would get to the chapel early to pray and would become so focused on Jesus’ presence that he would be absorbed in prayer. Many who were invited to Mass with him over the years commented on this. Several even said that the pope would be so still and serene that no one would desire to disturb him. On some occasions Mass would be delayed for close to two hours. He wasn’t putting on an act. John Paul was simply praying. He was immersed in the heart of God.
John Paul wrote and spoke frequently on the Eucharist but here are some of his words that sum them up:
“Thus the Lord unites us with Himself through the Eucharist—Sacrament and Sacrifice—and He unites us with Himself and with one another by a bond stronger than any natural union. Thus united, He sends us into the whole world to bear witness, through faith and works, to God’s love,” (On the Eucharist and the Mass)
“the bread and wine—are transformed mysteriously, but really… through the power of the Holy Spirit and the words of the minister, into the Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Son of Mary, through whom the Kingdom of the Father has been made present in our midst.” (On the Euharist and the Mass)
“Whenever the Eucharist is celebrated at the tomb of Jesus in Jerusalem, there is an almost tangible return to his “hour”, the hour of his Cross and glorification. Every priest who celebrates Holy Mass, together with the Christian community which takes part in it, is led back in spirit to that place and that hour.” (Ecclesia de Eucharistia)
Among his many thought provoking lines here, there are three that should be highlighted:
- The Eucharist unites us to God;
- the Eucharist is really Jesus,
- and the Eucharist places us at the moment of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
We are united to Christ because we receive him and we all receive him as one community. Therefore, the faithful become close to their God, but we also become closer to one another. The bread and wine actually become the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ who was born of Mary. This is not an empty phrase or lofty platitude: we mean what we say. That is him on the altar, the savior of the world.
Finally, the Eucharist doesn’t just celebrate Jesus’ death and resurrection. We are placed at the moment when his suffering, death and resurrection wins everlasting life to us, where sacrifice conquers the impossible. Christ loves us so much that he not only desired to save us; he wanted us to be able to be there with him when the victory was won.
These three points are only the beginning of what the Eucharist means for us and the world. But they also give us good insight into why John Paul II would often get consumed by what was before him in that chapel. He could never get enough when it came to Christ, so he spent his life in front of the Eucharist.
There are countless pages written on this pope and saint. However, I think before and above all else John Paul would want us to know that the Eucharist is truly Christ with us, that we should go to him as often as we can, and that we should allow ourselves to get lost in him when we do.
image: Pope John Paul II during a visit to the Baltimore Basilica in the 1990s. Baltimore, Maryland / Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, photograph by Carol M. Highsmith [reproduction number, e.g., LC-USZ62-123456]