Pope John Paul II was arguably the most iconic priest of the last century. Millions attended his Masses — at extraordinary World Youth Day rallies, from Denver to Manila. And over the course of his twenty-seven-year pontificate, tens of thousands more attended the “private” weekday Masses in his apartment, whose little chapel was always crammed with as many people as possible.
He inspired a generation of men to answer God’s call and follow his footsteps to the altars of our Catholic churches. They sometimes call themselves the “John Paul II Generation” of priests. And now they are inspiring another generation to give themselves in service to Jesus Christ and his Church.
From his first days enrolled in the underground seminary in Nazi-occupied Poland, Karol Wojtyla gave everything and held nothing back. He showed himself willing to risk his life for the faith. Once he almost gave his life, when he was felled by an assassin’s bullet. But God restored him for two more decades of service.
In his last years he remained the iconic priest, even as he was hobbled and required assistance at the altar — even when he could no longer ascend the altar and could only offer his personal suffering from his sickbed.
For such a life he was canonized in short order, less than a decade after his death. This year — for the first time — we will celebrate his feast day as a saint. We at the Saint Paul Center will mark it in a special way, with a festive dinner, attended by two bishops, and an address by Yours Truly.
He was pope when I converted. He was pope when we founded the Center. It was in his words that we found our mission: “The most urgent task is that of the biblical and liturgical formation of the people of God, both pastors and faithful.” From the moment I read that sentence, I knew what I had to do. God confirmed the mission by placing me in the midst of so many talented people who were eager to serve the Church in the way the Church wanted to be served.
I am so looking forward to the celebration, the Gala Dinner at LeMont, a premier restaurant in Pittsburgh. But, I have to admit, I’m already celebrating the feast. Because this semester I am myself absorbed in seminary studies. I am teaching with Father Robert Barron at Mundelein Seminary in Chicago; and I continue to teach theology at Franciscan University, where many of my students are preparing for priesthood. This fall, my wife Kimberly and I also said goodbye to our son Jeremiah as he left for Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, as he began his studies to be a priest of the Diocese of Steubenville.
I said just a moment ago that the priestly life of Saint John Paul is “iconic.” That doesn’t mean we’re supposed to admire it from afar. As Catholics, we venerate icons. We contemplate their message. We imitate the lives they portray.
In life Saint John Paul called the Church to a New Evangelization, and his successors, Benedict and Francis, have renewed that call. Such a movement of the Spirit cannot proceed without the sacraments, which are the ordinary means established by Jesus for the salvation and transformation of the world. For that we need good priests, holy priests, well-formed priests.
We at the Saint Paul Center are doing what we can do to accomplish this “most urgent task” — the biblical formation of the faithful and priests of the Church. I am invested in this in a passionate and personal way.
I’m glad you are, too, and I thank you for all you’ve done to advance our cause, through your prayers, your encouraging words, and your donations.
Please join us in prayer in a special way on the first Feast of Saint John Paul.