I remember seeing him, stooped and shaky, being pushed on a wheeled platform down the long aisle of St. Peter’s Basilica because he could no longer walk it. Despite his diminishing stature and the physical difficulties brought on by illness and old age, Pope (now Saint) John Paul II was the most magnetic person in the cavernous church, filled with people from around the world, there to celebrate the holiest night of the year, the Easter vigil, with our Papa. We celebrate his feast day this Saturday, October 22. For 27 years he shepherded the Catholic Church—not always perfectly, but heroically and lovingly—and in what he did and what he taught us, he was a giant of a man, a sharp contrast with the frailness that beset him late in life.
That image came to me last week, unexpectedly, as I went about my day—many years after that experience of seeing one of my spiritual heroes, and half a world away. I had taken my four-year-old son and nephew on a bike ride, and was driving home from the trail we had gone to, lost in thought as I passed home after home sporting political signs in their yards. Disgust for the ones I disagreed with. Solidarity for those I didn’t. Judgment of the people living in those homes either way. And in the middle of these thoughts, suddenly the image of St. John Paul II sprang to mind along with the words that he proclaimed over and over again during his papacy: “Be not afraid!”
What I (and what so many of us) have the tendency to do is to boil people down to the labels we (or they) place on them—the label becomes their identity. It has probably always been this way, because human hearts struggle with the same sins, the same temptations throughout history, but it certainly seems as though in our own culture and time, the events of the past few years have been especially divisive. We objectify each other when we do this. It is far too easy to view other people as walking ideologies, carriers of disease, threats to us and the things we hold dear. What our Papa John Paul II taught us throughout his life in his words and actions was exactly the opposite: the human person is inherently valuable, and has inherent dignity. That dignity does not depend upon a person’s beliefs, abilities or lack of them, the suffering or mistreatment they have endured, or whether or not their life is desired or deemed worthy by others. A person is of infinite value simply because they are a person, created in the image and likeness of God.
When we forget this, fear gains a foothold. Our labels for another person based on what they believe, how they live, what they look like become the first and only thing we see, until we are so afraid that we cannot love them. Our own thoughts matter more than what God thinks. And God, who created each one of us out of His love (regardless of the circumstances of our own births), LOVES each person. We know that God “does not see as human beings see; they look at appearances but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7) It can at times be incredibly difficult to separate a person from the labels, because in our “speak your truth” society, we often label ourselves, proudly flaunting outward signs of what we believe in an in-your-face way that is hard to see beyond.
What I was reminded of that day was of the call to make my own vision more like the Lord’s. To ask him to help me to not be afraid to love other people—even, and perhaps especially, those who do not look like, think like, or live like me. Sometimes this does mean speaking the truth in love to someone who does not know it, or who has turned away from God’s law. But it should be done out of a desire for the other person’s good, a care for their soul, not out of my own sense of righteousness. We are not to be afraid of others, but we are also not to be afraid of proclaiming the Gospel, as St. John Paul II told us often. We are also not to be afraid of the present world situation, though it may seem to us to be growing darker. God has redeemed us and loves us, and calls us to place our hope and trust in him.
"There is no evil to be faced that Christ does not face with us. There is no enemy that Christ has not already conquered. There is no cross to bear that Christ has not already borne for us, and does not now bear with us."
St. John Paul II, pray for us.
During his life, St. John Paul II was devoted to our Blessed Mother, especially after his own earthly mother died when he was a young boy. The motto of his papacy was “Totus Tuus” —Totally Yours—a complete entrustment of a son to the Mother of God. He urged Catholics to pray the Rosary, and to consecrate ourselves to Mary. He even gave us the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary, in which we pray and meditate on the life and ministry of Jesus. At Chews Life, our mission is to equip all Catholics with rosaries for life. We offer rosaries for all ages and stages of life, from the smallest among us, up through the oldest (and hopefully wisest!). This weekend we have a special Saint John Paul II and friends special collection, buy one item from this collection and get the second 25% when you use code JP2- Shop HERE. You can also shop our other beautiful rosaries at any of the following links silicone rosary and decades for babies; rosaries for children; men’s and women’s collections; and more!