Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The 5 Great Loves of John Paul II

by: Christopher McCarthy

            In a private revelation of Our Blessed Lord to St. Faustina Kowalska (1905-1938), there is related a prophecy which has been frequently interpreted as a reference to the papacy of Pope St. John Paul II. Speaking of the experience, St. Faustina relates that, “As I was praying for Poland, I heard the words: ‘I bear a special love for Poland, and if she will be obedient to My will, I will exalt her in might and holiness. From her will come forth the spark that will prepare the world for My final coming.”’[1]
            While these words provide little insight as to the imminence of Christ’s Second Coming, they certainly ring true in context of John Paul II’s life and vocation as one of the greatest Popes in the history of the Church. Even a brief examination of his life reveals a unique depth of holiness and divine charity; traits that came to define his twenty-seven year papacy, and that found their fullest expression in his outpouring of sacrifice and service for the Christian community across the globe.
As with every spark, however bright it may be, some preexisting conditions must be met before it can be ignited. To understand the nature of a fire, we must first understand the conditions that created it. For to truly understand the life and vocation of John Paul II, it must be understood, “from the inside.”[2]
The best way to arrive at this understanding is first to understand the five great loves of John Paul II’s life as these are the defining factors that shaped his contribution to the New Evangelization. As such, they are the guideposts for mapping out an accurate representation of his identify and mission.

Young People
            Pope John Paul II truly believed that young people are the future of the Church and of the world. As such, they held a place of special importance within his ministry and his heart. He understood that these are the people to be evangelized first, for these are the people who need it most and who are the most receptive to the Gospel message. Countless millions of young people would gather to hear him speak, for as Jason Evert notes his popular novel, Saint John Paul the Great: His Five Loves, “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 … John Paul knew what the youth wanted because he knew them.”[3]
            His early years as a clandestine actor in Nazi Germany helped him to form deeply human connections with his peers who were also enduring the hardships of oppression and persecution by an antihuman regime. The horror of watching his friends and loved ones die at the hands of such a regime did not embitter him but rather deepened his conviction that all life is precious, especially the life of the young.
            This however, does not mean that John Paul II somehow overlooked the evangelization of the elderly or indeed of anyone in or outside of the Church, for as George Weigel explains in his biography of John Paul II, Witness to Hope:

“To those who ask, ‘Who, then, is to be evangelized?’ John Paul II has a direct answer: everyone. That evangelization takes different forms. One is the pastoral care of the evangelized people of the Church. Another is the ‘new evangelization of those who have fallen away from the Christian faith or who were poorly instructed.”[4]

            The New Evangelization therefore is primarily represented by a spreading of the Gospel to those who are already members of the Church, while traditional evangelization is understood to be a spreading of the Gospel to those who have not yet received it. In his evangelization of young people, John Paul II teaches us that the Gospel is more than a mere contract to be signed and forgotten. Rather, it is living relationship with Our Redeemer which must be continually enriched and renewed. 

Human Love
            Pope John Paul II writes in Crossing the Threshold of Hope that, “As a young priest, I learned to love human love.”[5] Like his great love of youth, his love of human love springs from his witness and endurance of countless tragedies which shamelessly violated it. His deep and authentic connection to real people in the most difficult trials and hardships fostered within him a penetrating appreciation for the dignity of human life and love. This understanding strengthened his uncompromising, authentic, and loving[6] approach to counseling married couples, for he recognized the danger inherent even within marriage of degrading the dignity of another person when human love is not properly expressed. In his own words:

“The essential reason for choosing a person must be personal, not merely sexual. Life will determine the value of a choice and the value and true magnitude of love. It is put to the test most severely when the sensual and emotional reactions themselves grow weaker, and sexual values a such lose their effect. Nothing then remains except the value of the person, and the inner truth about the love of those connected comes to light.”[7]

            John Paul II was keenly aware of the primary reason that most marriages fail within the first five years, and he states it explicitly here. His great challenge to young people and to
married couples therefore is to love with the mind and heart of Christ, which is by nature sacrificial. He teaches us that for evangelization to be effective, it must never compromise on principles that so powerfully affect the state and wellbeing of a human soul. Furthermore, he teaches us that these principles can be presented in a way that appeals to our natural human desire for love, happiness, and truth. There is no need to water down the truth in order for it to be accepted, nor to pummel our listeners with its often stark reality. It suffices that we set the truth free, knowing that the human heart will instinctively be drawn to it. 

The Eucharist
            John Paul II recognizes the Eucharist as the source of the New Evangelization and its power while summarizing his own immense devotion to Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament in his encyclical, Ecclesia De Eucharistia, where he says that:

“Every commitment to holiness, every activity aimed at carrying out the Church's mission, every work of pastoral planning, must draw the strength it needs from the Eucharistic mystery and in turn be directed to that mystery as its culmination. In the Eucharist we have Jesus, we have his redemptive sacrifice, we have his resurrection, we have the gift of the Holy Spirit, we have adoration, obedience and love of the Father. Were we to disregard the Eucharist, how could we overcome our own deficiency?”[8]

            There was nothing that John Paul II believed he or the Church could accomplish without the grace of the Eucharist to empower and sustain him. Thus, he bore an unparalleled devotion to and love for Our Eucharistic Lord, taking great pains to visit the Blessed Sacrament in nearly every chapel he came across. His visits to the Blessed Sacrament were so long and so frequent that his personnel would often try to misdirect him away from the chapel so that he would not be late for his appointments or appearances. He was quick to discover their schemes however, as he possessed such a powerful attraction to Our Lord that he could sense where the Eucharist was, even behind closed doors, and would simply wave a disappointed finger at his deceivers before entering the chapel anyway.
            He would rise at 5am each morning, a time when most people are asleep, and spend several hours before the Blessed Sacrament in Adoration. His love of Adoration was so great that even the communist agents who spied on him during his early priesthood noted that he would spend at least six hours in prayer each day. Of his devotion to the Eucharist, John Paul II himself explains that, “The Eucharist is the secret of my day. It gives strength and meaning to all my activities of service to the Church and to the world.”[9]
            By his love of the Eucharist, John Paul II teaches us that the New Evangelization must be rooted within the Blessed Sacrament as its source and its model. No effort of service for the Church or the good of souls will bear any fruit if it is disconnected from an authentic love and emulation of Our Lord. We are therefore called to deepen our relationship with Him at every moment of our lives so that we may be empowered to bring His light and love into the world. 

The Virgin Mary
            Second only to John Paul II’s love of the Eucharist was his love for the Mother of the Eucharist.  Of this fact, Jason Evert relates that John Paul II was born on:  

“The evening of May 18th 1920, [while] parishioners of the Church of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary gathered to sing evening prayer. Across the street, thirty-six year old Emilia Wojtyla was in labor at home and noticed the
 sound of hymns in honor of the Virgin Mary emanating from the church. She asked her midwife to open the window in order for the songs to be heard. Amidst the sacred music, she delivered a son, Karol Jozef.[10]
            The praising of Our Lady, an act which came to define the birth of John Paul II, would later come to define his entire life, from his childhood devotion to Mary to his arduous adult years slaving in the quarries of Nazi Germany to his clandestine priesthood under the watch of communist spies to his hugely successful archbishopric and ultimately to his world-renowned and game-changing papacy. Every aspect of his life and mission was characterized by and emboldened with Mary’s spirituality of faith, humility, and complete surrender to the will of God, which John Paul II expressed as, “My weakness, His mercy, My yes.”[11]
            He fully understood the providential significance that Mary was to play in the coming of the third millennium, as he alludes in his encyclical Redemptoris Mater:

“Following the example of Mary, who kept and pondered in her heart everything relating to her divine Son (cf. Lk. 2:19, 51), the Church is committed to preserving the word of God and investigating its riches with discernment and prudence, in order to bear faithful witness to it before all mankind in every age.”[12]

            As it was through Mary that the world received Christ physically, so it is through Mary that the world will receive Him spiritually. John Paul II’s profound understanding of this reality prompted him to pray the entire rosary each day as well as consecrate his life and papacy to her maternal care and protection. In a similar fashion, he consecrated the whole Church and world to her Immaculate Heart so that she might lead, love, and protect everyone as she did him during his lonely childhood years after his earthly mother passed away.
           His devotion to Mary teaches us that we must evangelize like Mary. We must remain open for the providence of God  to act in our lives in ways that we might not immediately expect, as she herself was when she uttered her “fiat” at the time of the Incarnation, thus ushering in, “the salvific design of the Most Holy Trinity, the mystery of the Incarnation [which] constitutes the superabundant fulfillment of the promise made by God to man after original sin.”[13] In doing so, we may truly become vessels of Christ’s divine grace which can then go forth and carry that grace to everyone in need.
The Cross
            Perhaps none of his five great loves more profoundly penetrated his life and being than his love of the cross, for the cross was truly with him from the first moment of his life until the very last, such that his entire life may be described as an ongoing crucifixion. In spite of his many terrible trials, he never became embittered by the suffering he was forced to endure, for he intimately understood the value of redemptive suffering and appreciated the vast wealth of benefits to be reaped from its patience endurance. He succinctly expresses the true significance of the cross in his encyclical, Salvifici Doloris, which says that:

“This is the meaning of suffering, which is truly supernatural and at the same time human. It is supernatural because it is rooted in the divine mystery of the Redemption of the world, and it is likewise deeply human, because in it the person discovers himself, his own humanity, his own dignity, his own mission.”[14]     

            Human suffering, united to the suffering of Christ, is therefore bound up within the New Evangelization itself, for it was the cross that brought about the Redemption of mankind in the first place. Thus, by his patient endurance of his constant pains and hardships, from losing all of
 his loved ones by the time he was 27 to growing up under two oppressive regimes to bearing the rigors of his austere religious vocation to surviving two assassination attempts to contracting Parkinson’s disease and dying a painful death, John Paul II’s life became an uninterrupted example of the New Evangelization put into practice. He attests that evangelization is more than merely the speaking of truths or the touting of theoretical principles. It is rather a witness to the love of Christ; a witness that bears its testimony most effectively through a life of suffering in union with Christ, which ultimately leads to Resurrection with Christ. 
            If we may glean one certainty from the prophecy of St. Faustina, it is that Pope St. John Paul II was not merely a spark but more like a flaming torch that set the whole world ablaze with renewed faith, hope, and love. As a young person myself, I am strongly impacted by the life and legacy of John Paul II, such that I find myself called to participate within the great work of the New Evangelization.
            To whatever vocation I am ultimately called, I must bring the same uncompromising, authentic, and loving[15] approach to sharing the message of the Gospel with my colleagues, family, and friends. I must learn from the life and witness of John Paul II by integrating an immense love of the Eucharist, of the cross, and of Mary into my vocation. In so doing, I will be enabled to take up the great commission of Our Blessed Lord to His Apostles to make disciples of all nations, that I may one day help to bring about it fulfillment. Contained within this great commission is the call to strengthen and renew members of those nations who have already been baptized. A task which stands before all of us as immense as it is rewarding.

[1] Kowalska, St Faustina. The Diary of St. Faustina, 1732
[2] Weigel, George. Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II.
[3] Evert, Jason. Saint John Paul II: His Five Loves, 95
[4] Weigel, George. Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II, 635
[5] Paul, John. Crossing the Threshold of Hope
[6] Evert, Jason. Saint John Paul II: His Five Loves, 93-97
[7] Ibid, 105
[8] Paul, John, II. "Ecclesia De Eucharistia." 60
[9] Evert, Jason. Saint John Paul II: His Five Loves, 140
[10] Evert, Jason. Saint John Paul II: His Five Loves, 3
[11] Ibid, n.p.
[12] Paul, John, II. "Redemptoris Mater” 43
[13] Ibid, 11
[14] Paul, John, II. "Salvifici Doloris, 31
[15] Evert, Jason. Saint John Paul II: His Five Loves

Monday, October 24, 2016

A $96,000 Lesson from a Homeless Man

by: Christopher McCarthy

Photo Credit: Flickr/flightlog      

As I was walking home from college the other day, I ran into a local homeless man who frequents the campus grounds. His name is Greg and everyone at school knows who he is. He sticks around the campus because he feels appreciated by the community there. Actually, most people ignore him, but there are a few kind hearted souls who try their best to make him feel welcome. For as long as I’ve been attending classes there, I have walked past this man every so often on my way to class, never stopping or giving a second thought to how his day must be going.

But this time was different. Something compelled me to greet him, as I passed by and exchanged some brief small talk. I immediately noticed something unusual about Greg this afternoon as he began to tell me all about his struggles and hardships as a homeless man on the streets. He was suffering. And suffering terribly. While he admits to have “done this to himself,” he desperately wants to live a normal life again.

I watched him cry as he gave voice to the torments of his soul, living his life alone and unloved in the slums of Escondido, always wondering if today is the day he will die. Awaking each frigid morning on a hard concrete sidewalk only to remember how utterly hopeless his plight seems. Dragging himself through the city streets in search of any food he can find, breaking laws just to survive, wishing only for the forgiveness of his ex-wife and the company of his son or at least the consolation of a fine steak dinner. Looking on with contempt at all the busy people around him who have so much yet appreciate so little; with their attractive spouses, their fancy cars, their college degrees, and their hordes of cliquish friends. Wondering if perhaps God loves these people more than him, and if God loves him at all, why his lot in life must be such an abysmal one. Wishing in the midst of his despair for death to end it all.

In all my years as an evangelist (not very many, actually), there is nothing that could have prepared me for this moment. All of my studies and experience failed me as I stood stricken with compassion for his poor, suffering man. All I could bring myself to say was an apologetic, “I don’t know what the answer is, man.” To which he chuckled with grief and replied, “That’s a good answer, man!”

He went on to tell me that I inspire him due to my kindness, honesty, and positive outlook on life, and that he often prays for me in hope that I will avoid the same mistakes that led him to his current plight. But the truth is, Greg inspires me. The more he revealed about himself, the more I understood how alike we really are. The only difference between Greg and I is that I have a roof over my head and he doesn’t. Sure, he was half-drunk. Sure, he cussed a lot. Sure, he spent what little money he had on cigarettes instead of food. Sure, he was bitter, lonely, and disturbed. But if I were in his place, I might be just the same.

And in some ways I think I am. There are many types of poverty and many types of homelessness. You don’t have to be on the streets to know what loneliness feels like, and you don’t have to be homeless to fear for an uncertain future. You don’t have to suffer physically to suffer spiritually. In some strange way, I connected more genuinely with this man in 20 minutes than I have with my 300 classmates in 2 years. Because in spite of his sinful past and painful present, this is a man who understands the cross. Perhaps more than any of us ever will. And it is the cross which unites us and reminds us that we are all partakers of one human experience. The man on the street in tattered cloths and the man in the classroom in a suit and tie are essentially the same. Take away the pomp, the circumstance, the exterior, and you’ll find that the hopes and dreams of a poor drunk man in Escondido are the same as yours and mine.

In the end, we’re all dreaming about the same thing because we were all created by the same God. A God Who is Love itself. A love so radical that it stooped down to become, essentially, a homeless Man in the slums of Jerusalem. The very kind of man that we so often overlook because we’re just too busy or too important to recognize his humanity. But if we cannot recognize the humanity of a homeless man, how can we ever recognize the divinity of a God Who became one of them?

Christ is not to be found in great cathedrals or in stately universities or in the pompous activity of our daily lives, but in the hearts of our fellow man. The more disconnected we become from our neighbor in real life, the more disconnected we become from Our Creator, and consequently from ourselves. Something that the social media generation would be wise to consider.

While I cannot say what will ultimately become of this man or his soul, I will always remember him as the man who taught me what $96,000 worth of private tuition could not; namely, what it truly means to love my neighbor as myself. Not merely in an abstract, theological sense, but in a tangible, practical way. It is a skill and a virtue that has been lost by so many Christians in the wealthy Western World, and one which desperately needs to be rediscovered.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Gift of Tongues: What It Is and What It Isn't

by: Christopher McCarthy

The supernatural gift of tongues is one of the most misunderstood concepts in all of Christianity, and it is frequently abused by Pentecostals and by the Charismatic movement within the Catholic Church. 

As recorded by St. Luke in the book of Acts, the gift speaking in tongues was granted to the Apostles by the Holy Spirit on Pentecost for the purpose of evangelization within the primitive church that had just emerged. This gift enabled the Apostles to speak in the language of the people to whom they were to preach the Gospel. They were able to understand actual, historical languages that they had never previous studied, and it served as an enormous tool for the spread of the Faith in those early, difficult days of evangelization. 

But when most people think about the gift of tongues today, they are thinking of something completely different than what St. Luke is describes. In the mind of a Pentecostal Protestant or a Charismatic Catholic, the gift of tongues is more like a hyper-emotional ecstasy which disconnects you from your intellectual faculties and causes you babble incoherently. Some people oddly refer to this as “catching the Spirit.” 

The spiritually of these people has been so dumbed down that they can’t even tell the difference between the working of the Holy Spirit and an emotional high. Their entire spiritual foundation is based on emotion. If they feel good about something, then it must be from God. And if they feel bad, it must be from the devil. That is a childish, immature theology. And it’s dangerous. Because the devil has the power to influence your emotions. In many cases, people sin precisely because it feels good, emotionally, psychically, whatever. But it is ultimately destructive. And vice-versa, people hate doing penance because it hurts! 

You cannot base the discernment of the spirits on emotion, because nine time out of ten, you’re going to be wrong. 

Michael Hitchborn, President of the Lepanto Institute, recently related a disturbing experience that a friend of his had during a so-called “healing Mass.” There was nothing wrong with the Mass itself. The liturgy was fine and there was nothing noticeably out of place. But as the Mass went on, a bunch of people in the pews started murmuring to themselves. The man who was listening to this possessed an extensive background in the study of ancient languages including Greek, Latin, Aramaic. When the Mass was over, he approached one of the murmuring parishioners and asked him what he was doing. The parishioner said that the Holy Spirit had granted him the gift of tongues and that he was speaking in the language of God. The friend asked him if he knew what he was saying. The parishioner said “no, I have not been given the gift of interpretation, only the gift of tongues.” Immediately, the friend looked at him and said, “Yeah, I know what you were saying. You were speaking Aramaic and you were blaspheming God!”  

What kind of spirit are these people actually catching? This is scary business, and we should be mindful of what spiritual influences we open ourselves up to. 

I sincerely doubt that anyone in modern times has actually been given the gift of tongues as described by St. Luke because there’s no point. The Faith has been established. If you want to learn another language than all you have to do is pick up a copy of Rosetta Stone. There is no longer any reason for the people of God to speak in tongues. Regardless of the fact that St. Paul exhorts Christians to speak in tongues, we have no idea if he was referring to all Christians throughout history or simply to the early Christian community that still had the difficult task of establishing the Faith.

Either way, the hyper-emotional psycho-babble that people call the gift of tongues is completely unbiblical and it is contrary the Christian theology. It is by his intellect that man is able to know God. To over-emphasize emotion in the spiritual life is to stunt the intellect. And it prevents you from knowing God in the fullest possible sense as a rational being. 

If you want to have a true, authentic relationship with the Holy Spirit, then you need to study Him, contemplate Him, and pray to Him in silence. For it is only in silence that he voice of God can truly be heard.