The Lasting Contribution of The Servant of God Pope John Paul II
Monsignor Charles M. Mangan
During the last day of March and the first two days of April 2005, much of the world was riveted on the third floor of the Vatican Apostolic Palace—the home for the last twenty-six years of Pope John Paul II. The once physically strong Pontiff finally succumbed to a panoply of medical ailments.
As was to be expected, the days following his death were the backdrop for much analysis, both scholarly and popular. What is the legacy of the Holy Father? What are the perduring contributions of Karol Wojty³a to our troubled era? Undoubtedly, these pressing questions will be asked in the years and decades—even centuries—to come.
In cataloguing the remarkable achievements of Pope John Paul II, one faces a stiff task. There are so many things that the simple priest and bishop from Krakow did that it is difficult to know where to begin.
John Patrick Cardinal Foley, then President of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications in Vatican City, was a long-time collaborator of Pope John Paul II and an astute observer of his noteworthy Pontificate, often being called by the media to give his perspective on various papal initiatives.
Almost two months after the death of the Successor of St. Peter, then Archbishop Foley, who was appointed to his position by Pope John Paul II in 1984, traveled to Orlando, Florida, where he attended the meeting of the Catholic Press Association. In a homily he gave during the gathering, the prelate avoided the understandable temptation to provide a lengthy list of the incredible accomplishments of his dear friend—an exercise that surely does have merit. Instead, Archbishop Foley was content to summarize the Holy Father’s legacy as follows.
“Pope John Paul II taught us that there is much more to the papacy than speaking, writing, greeting people and traveling—although he certainly did enough of all of that.
“Pope John Paul II taught us how to live, how to suffer and how to die.”
Admitting that the “numbers” of this Pontificate—countries visited, encyclicals penned, men, women, boys and girls beatified and canonized, audiences held, babies embraced, bishops appointed, civil authorities encouraged—are helpful and do tell part of the notable story very well, this author, taking a cue from Cardinal Foley, rather will consider what lessons we learn from Pope John Paul II as he lived, suffered and died.
As He Lived
“It was not you who chose Me, but I Who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain” (John 15:16). Jesus Christ the Great High Priest had designs on Karol Wojty³a from an early age. The merciful Lord was preparing the sensitive lad who lost his mother at a tender age to become a priest after His own Heart.
God has been glorified and souls saved because the Polish youth said his personal fiat—“May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). In fact, we can assert without hesitation or exaggeration that the world has been significantly altered for the better because the young man destined to be the Bishop of Rome surrendered his will to the Almighty. Karol Wojty³a bore fruit. So it is whenever anyone submits to God’s sagacious and inscrutable plan.
“Behold, your Mother” (John 19:27). The sincere veneration of the Holy Father directed to the Immaculate Ever-Virgin Mother of God was legendary. His papal motto, Totus Tuus (“Totally Yours”), demonstrated not only an intellectual assent to the Church’s wise doctrines concerning Our Blessed Lady but also a real—and lasting—recognition of her rightful place in the spiritual life.
Pope John Paul II could say with St. Bernard of Clarvaux (1090-1153): De Maria numquam satis—“Concerning Mary, never enough.” Correctly understood, this assertion corresponds to the traditional theology and praxis of the Church. The Pontiff spent himself in imitating Our Blessed Mother and making her more loved in the hearts of the Faithful. He generously consecrated himself Ad Iesum Per Mariam (“To Jesus Through Mary”) in the spirit of St. Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort (1673-1716) and lived that consecration joyfully, courageously and unreservedly.
“For from the rising of the sun, even to its setting, My Name is great among the nations” (Malachi 1:11). The Holy Father displayed an urgency in his words and deeds that this Old Testament verse should be increasingly realized. Of course, as it stands, this sentence is true—the Lord’s Name is blessed throughout the universe. But, sadly, we confess that not everyone professes the Holy Name of God with faith, conviction and love.
The multiple excursions made by the “Pilgrim Pope” only underscored the fervent desire of Pope John Paul II that the Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ be preached to—and accepted in—the four corners of the globe. His ...
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