Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe.
1 Timothy 4:12
by Jason Evert
Young people yearn for meaning, truth, love, and freedom, and they get themselves into no small amount of trouble attempting to unravel these mysteries of life. As they stumble to find the answers, they grow weary of a culture that views them as a disappointment. Then along comes Saint John Paul the Great, declaring: ‘‘Young people of every continent, do not be afraid to be the saints of the new millennium! Be contemplative, love prayer.’’ And on the occasion of another World Youth Day:
Dear young people, do not be content with anything less than the highest ideals! Do not let yourselves be dispirited by those who are disillusioned with life and have grown deaf to the deepest and most authentic desires of their heart. You are right to be disappointed with hollow entertainment and passing fads, and with aiming at too little in life.
This was perhaps the first trait of John Paul that the youth discovered upon encountering him: he was uncompromising. Perhaps one bishop put it best when he said that the Holy Father was ‘‘happy and demanding.’’ It never occurred to the Pope that he might want to tone it down to draw bigger crowds, or lower the bar so as to avoid putting off teenagers. That was the world’s job, not his. If he lowered the standard, he’d miss the chance to invite people to live lives of heroic virtue. Some suggested that young people would be more interested in the Church if the Holy Father would unwind a bit and lighten up about all the moral regulations. But his refusal to do so is precisely what drew people to him. He wasn’t alluring despite his challenges, but precisely because of them. If young people wanted someone to offer them an easy life, insulated by their own subjective moral values, they could have sat in front of a television instead of making an intercontinental pilgrimage and sleeping overnight with a million strangers on a dirt floor.
Young people didn’t make the trips to see him because he was simply a good man, but because he was capable of revealing to them their own capacity for goodness. He saw something in the youth that perhaps they didn’t even see in themselves. As one attendee of World Youth Day remarked, ‘‘He showed us to ourselves.’’ John Paul did this by directing them to the person of Jesus Christ. In his words, ‘‘Without the Gospel, man remains a dramatic question with no adequate answer.’’
The youth wanted answers, and John Paul never vacillated in offering them. He knew young people well enough to understand that they don’t want a watered-down version of the faith. They want to be presented with the fullness of a message, and then be given the freedom to accept or reject it. He knew this, and reminded teens in Madison Square Garden that they are ‘‘approaching that stage in your life when you must take personal responsibility for your own destiny.’’
In Canada, he challenged the youth to avoid the trap of seeking out the false consolations of the world: ‘‘In times of darkness do not seek an escape,’’ the Pope said. ‘‘Have the courage to resist the dealers in deception who make capital of your hunger for happiness and who make you pay dearly for a moment of ‘artificial paradise,’ a whiff of smoke, a dose of drinking or drugs. What claims to be a shortcut to happiness leads nowhere.’’ The most famous maxim of Marxism was that religion is the opium of the people. One of John Paul’s friends noted that he rightly inverted this notion, demonstrating that opium [in its many modern forms] had become the religion of the people.
John Paul knew what the youth wanted because he knew them. He was well aware that young people don’t want authority figures pandering to them. One of the young people who had camped with him in Poland noted, ‘‘Today, many priests try to be like the kids. We were trying to be like him.’’
Those who gathered to hear him also discovered that he was authentic. Young people have a knack for detecting duplicity and authenticity, and this is one reason John Paul’s personality was such a magnet for them. As Pope Paul VI remarked, ‘‘Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.’’
A French journalist observed, ‘‘In him the Gospel, the vocation and the person all form one—not a very frequent occurrence—and it is this literally nuclear inner coherence that gives him his radiance.’’ There was no difference between what he believed and what he said, or what he thought and who he was. Young people often sense an unnerving level of disintegration within themselves because their beliefs and behaviors aren’t often in harmony. They sense a lack of and old—John Paul was a much-needed examination of their conscience. One author noted, ‘‘For every person, an encounter with the successor of Christ was, and it had to be, a challenge, a moment of reflection on one’s self and on one’s life. It was really as if one stood in front of one’s own conscience, in total truth in front of one’s self.’’
John Paul’s presence was an invitation for people to evaluate not only their current spiritual state, but also where they would ultimately stand before God. While offering a day of recollection for youth in Poland, he encouraged them to examine their own conscience, ‘‘so that God does not surprise us with an examination one day . . . We are often tempted not to enter the depth of our own conscience; let us reject this immediately and proceed into the depth.’’ Although the idea of the final judgment is intimidating, John Paul said, ‘‘In his transcendence man goes to meet God, who is infinitely perfect. He halts, so to speak, on the threshold of judgment, which is to be understood as a need to see where he stands when finally confronted by absolute and universal truth.’’
As the Vicar of Christ, he showed the young people that this was not about standing in a courtroom, awaiting a guilty verdict. Rather, it meant putting aside all masks, rumors, facades, and illusions of themselves in order to see themselves as God sees them. One should not fear this, because as he said to the youth in Toronto, ‘‘We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures; we are the sum of the Father’s love for us and our real capacity to become the image of his Son.’’ In many ways, John Paul was an earthly icon of the Holy Father in heaven. As he wrote in his play Radiation of Fatherhood, ‘‘And in the end . . . everything else will turn out to be unimportant and inessential, except for this: father, child, and love.’’
This excerpt is taken from Saint John Paul the Great: His Five Loves by Jason Evert.
Photo from pixabay.com
“They try to understand me from the outside. But I can only be understood from the inside.” – Saint John Paul the Great
Reflect upon the five greatest loves of Saint John Paul II, through remarkable unpublished stories from those who have encountered him from his childhood up to his last moments.
Divided into two sections:
- A brief overview of John Paul’s life.
- The depth of his five great loves: Young People, Human Love, The Eucharist, Our Lady, The Cross.
Read and be inspired by what has captivated this great saint’s heart. And with that, enkindle that similar loves within your own heart.
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SAINT JOHN PAUL GREAT LOVED?
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ST. JOHN PAUL THE GREAT: HIS FIVE LOVES
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Photo credit: http://piccsy.com/2011/05/reading-8ozcw6p11/ through vi.sualize.us