The saints who will be canonized on April 27 changed Catholics’ lives dramatically – Pope John XXIII by opening the Second Vatican Council, and Pope John Paul II by implementing it.
In planning a week of events leading up to the naming of our St. John Paul II Student Center on his canonization day, we devoted a day each to areas of life he had affected profoundly: human rights, marriage and family, faith and reason.
It made me realize that on a smaller scale, what I do daily has been changed by John Paul. Here are 10 examples from this week:
1. I attended the newly translated Mass.
The new Mass, with its doctrinal precision and liturgical beauty, will influence the faith of our children and the future of our Church. John Paul (with plenty of help) changed the Mass; Benedict just happened to be pope when the process was finally finished.
2. I said the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary.
When John Paul II urgently called all Catholics to the daily rosary after Sept. 11, 2001, our family started our nightly rosary. Then he added the “Mysteries of Light” in the “Year of the Rosary” the next year and even more people to join in.
3. I taught at a renewed Catholic College.
John Paul transformed higher education. One example among dozens: When he promulgated Ex Corde Ecclesiae in 1990, Benedictine College had 570 students. Today we have 1,700. The U.S. bishops implemented Ex Corde in 2000. Since then Benedictine College has opened 11 new dorms and is now ranked by U.S. News as one of America’s best colleges.
4. I consulted the Catechism to answer questions … on my own and in the parish class my wife and I teach.
If all he had done was promulgate the first universal Catechism since 1566, John Paul II would still be one of the most influential popes in memory. Church education before and after this one act is night and day. It is no longer possible to credibly make up your own version of the faith.
5. I strategized about the New Evangelization.
John Paul II popularized the term “New Evangelization” and called for Catholics to reinvigorate the faith of the lands that have already been Christianized. By the Jubilee Year, it was a constant buzzword — and the concrete way Vatican II was being implemented on the ground. It meant seeing our faith not just as something to be defended, but something to be shared.
6. I said a Chaplet of Divine Mercy.
Without Blessed John Paul II, St. Faustina and her Divine Mercy devotion may have stayed on the fringes of the Church’s self-expression. Now it is in the very center, changing the “us vs. them” culture war to an “us and them” culture rescue: “For the sake of his sorrowful passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.”
7. I worried whether the Cold War would return … not whether it would end.
Blessed John Paul wasn’t the only reason communism fell, but he was a major reason it fell. He first developed his strategy as a bishop. The communists wouldn’t build a Church in Nowa Huta, so he said Masses there in a field. The swelling crowds taught Christians that they weren’t alone, and taught officials that they couldn’t be ignored. Fast forward to 1979, and Pope John Paul II’s gathering in Poland in the “nine days that changed the world” led inexorably to the events of 1989 and Gorbachev’s Vatican visit.
Speaking of the Nowa Huta strategy …
8. I went to Masses celebrated by two priests who found their vocations at World Youth Day.
John Paul’s World Youth Day is Nowa Huta on a worldwide scale. At these massive papal events, young people discover the strength of their faith, and the strength of their numbers. World Youth Day in Denver is for the United States the line of demarcation between the aging “people adrift” church reacting to the council and the vigorous “Be not afraid” Church implementing it.
Benedictine College chaplain Father Brendan Rolling was there. So was our Abbot James Albers. Many priests and religious discovered their vocations at World Youth Days, but so did the laity …
9. I kissed my sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth children goodnight.
Humanae Vitae didn’t seem to have a chance in the 1980s. It was a dead letter. Then came Theology of the Body. My wife and I rejected contraception from the start, and she earned her masters from the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family. Now we have nine children and we just got back from a home-schooling event where no one drove anything smaller than a minivan and the children outnumbered the adults present a dozen to one — just like similar events we have attended in Virginia, Maryland, Connecticut and California.
Speaking of those events …
10. My kids played with friends named Pio, Kolbe and Gianna.
The massive number of beatifications and canonizations John Paul presided over doesn’t just add new names to the Michaels, Teresas and Katies — it means new examples of holiness drawn from faraway lands and representing diverse vocations.
John Paul’s canonizations are the Vatican II universal call to holiness personified in a cast of heavenly helpers. And they show us how to live differently. Every week.