John Paul II on the Importance of Consecrated Life

Last Sunday we began the liturgical year 2015. Pope Francis has declared this a “Year of Consecrated Life,” a year to think about the importance of religious life. We will explore that importance throughout this year.

Today let us begin with a quotation from St. John Paul II’s Familiaris Consortio. John Paul is often called the “pope of the family.” No one has done so much to declare the dignity of the married vocation as John Paul. But that should not make us forget that, as John Paul himself says, “the Church, throughout her history, has always defended the superiority of this charism [of consecrated life] to that of marriage, by reason of the wholly singular link which it has with the Kingdom of God.”

Religious life reminds us that what marriage symbolizes is the marriage of the soul, and the Church, with Christ. It reminds us that marriage is at the service of holiness – that marriage is not a replacement for radical consecration, but a place where it is called out. We who are married need the witness of religious life to call us deeper into the true meaning of our vocation.

Let us pray for and encourage vocations to consecrated life. And let us keep ourselves close to them, that we may always be inspired by their necessary witness.

pope-john-paul-IIVirginity or celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom of God not only does not contradict the dignity of marriage but presupposes it and confirms it. Marriage and virginity or celibacy are two ways of expressing and living the one mystery of the covenant of God with His people. When marriage is not esteemed, neither can consecrated virginity or celibacy exist; when human sexuality is not regarded as a great value given by the Creator, the renunciation of it for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven loses its meaning. . . .

In virginity or celibacy, the human being is awaiting, also in a bodily way, the eschatological marriage of Christ with the Church, giving himself or herself completely to the Church in the hope that Christ may give Himself to the Church in the full truth of eternal life. The celibate person thus anticipates in his or her flesh the new world of the future resurrection.

By virtue of this witness, virginity or celibacy keeps alive in the Church a consciousness of the mystery of marriage and defends it from any reduction and impoverishment.

Virginity or celibacy, by liberating the human heart in a unique way, “so as to make it burn with greater love for God and all humanity,” bears witness that the Kingdom of God and His justice is that pearl of great price which is preferred to every other value no matter how great, and hence must be sought as the only definitive value. It is for this reason that the Church, throughout her history, has always defended the superiority of this charism to that of marriage, by reason of the wholly singular link which it has with the Kingdom of God. . . .

Christian couples therefore have the right to expect from celibate persons a good example and a witness of fidelity to their vocation until death. Just as fidelity at times becomes difficult for married people and requires sacrifice, mortification and self-denial, the same can happen to celibate persons, and their fidelity, even in the trials that may occur, should strengthen the fidelity of married couples.

-St. John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio, “On the Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World”

St. John Paul II on “Celebrating the Gospel of Life”

pope-john-paul-IIBecause we have been sent into the world as a “people for life”, our proclamation must also become a genuine celebration of the Gospel of life. This celebration, with the evocative power of its gestures, symbols and rites, should become a precious and significant setting in which the beauty and grandeur of this Gospel is handed on.

For this to happen, we need first of all to foster, in ourselves and in others, a contemplative outlook. Such an outlook arises from faith in the God of life, who has created every individual as a “wonder” (cf. Ps 139:14). It is the outlook of those who see life in its deeper meaning, who grasp its utter gratuitousness, its beauty and its invitation to freedom and responsibility.

It is the outlook of those who do not presume to take possession of reality but instead accept it as a gift, discovering in all things the reflection of the Creator and seeing in every person his living image (cf. Gen 1:27; Ps 8:5). This outlook does not give in to discouragement when confronted by those who are sick, suffering, outcast or at death’s door. Instead, in all these situations it feels challenged to find meaning, and precisely in these circumstances it is open to perceiving in the face of every person a call to encounter, dialogue and solidarity.

It is time for all of us to adopt this outlook, and with deep religious awe to rediscover the ability to revere and honour every person, as Paul VI invited us to do in one of his first Christmas messages.(108) Inspired by this contemplative outlook, the new people of the redeemed cannot but respond with songs of joy, praise and thanksgiving for the priceless gift of life, for the mystery of every individual’s call to share through Christ in the life of grace and in an existence of unending communion with God our Creator and Father.

. . .

We are called to express wonder and gratitude for the gift of life and to welcome, savour and share the Gospel of life not only in our personal and community prayer, but above all in the celebrations of the liturgical year. Particularly important in this regard are the Sacraments, the efficacious signs of the presence and saving action of the Lord Jesus in Christian life. The Sacraments make us sharers in divine life, and provide the spiritual strength necessary to experience life, suffering and death in their fullest meaning.

Thanks to a genuine rediscovery and a better appreciation of the significance of these rites, our liturgical celebrations, especially celebrations of the Sacraments, will be ever more capable of expressing the full truth about birth, life, suffering and death, and will help us to live these moments as a participation in the Paschal Mystery of the Crucified and Risen Christ.

In celebrating the Gospel of life we also need to appreciate and make good use of the wealth of gestures and symbols present in the traditions and customs of different cultures and peoples. There are special times and ways in which the peoples of different nations and cultures express joy for a newborn life, respect for and protection of individual human lives, care for the suffering or needy, closeness to the elderly and the dying, participation in the sorrow of those who mourn, and hope and desire for immortality.

. . .

Part of this daily heroism is also the silent but effective and eloquent witness of all those “brave mothers who devote themselves to their own family without reserve, who suffer in giving birth to their children and who are ready to make any effort, to face any sacrifice, in order to pass on to them the best of themselves”.

In living out their mission “these heroic women do not always find support in the world around them. On the contrary, the cultural models frequently promoted and broadcast by the media do not encourage motherhood. In the name of progress and modernity the values of fidelity, chastity, sacrifice, to which a host of Christian wives and mothers have borne and continue to bear outstanding witness, are presented as obsolete …

“We thank you, heroic mothers, for your invincible love! We thank you for your intrepid trust in God and in his love. We thank you for the sacrifice of your life … In the Paschal Mystery, Christ restores to you the gift you gave him. Indeed, he has the power to give you back the life you gave him as an offering” (homily for St. Gianna Beretta Molla).

-St. John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae

St. John Paul II on “Schools of Prayer”

Too little known is John Paul II’s spiritual testimony Novo Millennio Ineunte, “At the Close of the Great Jubilee Year 2000.” As we begin the new millennium, said the great Pope, above all we must “contemplate the face of Christ.” And he explains why. The quotation below nicely frames this in terms of evangelization, a nice contact with the Aparecida document.

We often hear of how people today want “spirituality, but not religion.” We can approach that phenomenon with scolding. But John Paul approaches it with evangelization. They want spirituality? We have that! And we have it more deeply, because we can enter into the journey “totally sustained by grace”: Christ graces us new depths of spirituality.

Notice that at the end he says “our Christian communities” – not “some communities,” or “here or there,” but any “Christian community” worthy o the name – must “become schools of prayer.”

And schools, finally, that by teaching us to fall in love with Christ teach us also the true meaning of falling in love with our neighbor.

pope-john-paul-II Is it not one of the “signs of the times” that in today’s world, despite widespread secularization, there is a widespread demand for spirituality, a demand which expresses itself in large part as a renewed need for prayer? Other religions, which are now widely present in ancient Christian lands, offer their own responses to this need, and sometimes they do so in appealing ways. But we who have received the grace of believing in Christ, the revealer of the Father and the Saviour of the world, have a duty to show to what depths the relationship with Christ can lead.

The great mystical tradition of the Church of both East and West has much to say in this regard. It shows how prayer can progress, as a genuine dialogue of love, to the point of rendering the person wholly possessed by the divine Beloved, vibrating at the Spirit’s touch, resting filially within the Father’s heart. This is the lived experience of Christ’s promise: “He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him” (Jn 14:21).

It is a journey totally sustained by grace, which nonetheless demands an intense spiritual commitment and is no stranger to painful purifications (the “dark night”). But it leads, in various possible ways, to the ineffable joy experienced by the mystics as “nuptial union”. How can we forget here, among the many shining examples, the teachings of Saint John of the Cross and Saint Teresa of Avila?

Yes, dear brothers and sisters, our Christian communities must become genuine “schools” of prayer, where the meeting with Christ is expressed not just in imploring help but also in thanksgiving, praise, adoration, contemplation, listening and ardent devotion, until the heart truly “falls in love”. Intense prayer, yes, but it does not distract us from our commitment to history: by opening our heart to the love of God it also opens it to the love of our brothers and sisters, and makes us capable of shaping history according to God’s plan.

What “Christian communities” are you part of? How could they become better “schools of prayer”?

St. John Paul on Finding Eternity Today

pope-john-paul-IIThis morning, while watching the newly crawling baby search for things to choke on, I flipped through a book of John Paul II’s poetry. I liked the following section, from a cycle of poems on St. Veronica, written just about the time he was elected pope.

I think it evokes two dynamics. First, eternity is here to be found. But second, we have to search. In the context of the poem cycle, interesting to think how Veronica seized her moment. But there is no reference to her here, because we too are called to seize the moment.

No ready footpaths for man.

We are born a thicket

which may burst into flame, into the bush of Moses,

or may wither away.

We are always having to clear the paths,

they will be overgrown again;

they have to be cleared until they are simple

with the mature simplicity of every moment:

for each moment opens the wholeness of time,

as if it stood whole above itself.

You find in it the seed of eternity.

-Karol Wojtyła

Bl. John Paul II on Heaven and Earth

pope-john-paul-IIIn his encyclical on the Eucharist, John Paul reminds us that the Eucharist points us forward to eternal life with all the saints in heaven – and that our longing for eternal life “increases, rather than lessens, our sense of responsibility for the world today.”


The acclamation of the assembly following the consecration appropriately ends by expressing the eschatological thrust which marks the celebration of the Eucharist (cf. 1 Cor 11:26): “until you come in glory”. The Eucharist is a straining towards the goal, a foretaste of the fullness of joy promised by Christ (cf. Jn 15:11); it is in some way the anticipation of heaven, the “pledge of future glory”. In the Eucharist, everything speaks of confident waiting “in joyful hope for the coming of our Saviour, Jesus Christ”. Those who feed on Christ in the Eucharist need not wait until the hereafter to receive eternal life: they already possess it on earth, as the first-fruits of a future fullness which will embrace man in his totality. . . .

The eschatological tension kindled by the Eucharist expresses and reinforces our communion with the Church in heaven. It is not by chance that the Eastern Anaphoras and the Latin Eucharistic Prayers honour Mary, the ever-Virgin Mother of Jesus Christ our Lord and God, the angels, the holy apostles, the glorious martyrs and all the saints. This is an aspect of the Eucharist which merits greater attention: in celebrating the sacrifice of the Lamb, we are united to the heavenly “liturgy” and become part of that great multitude which cries out: “Salvation belongs to our God who sits upon the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Rev 7:10). The Eucharist is truly a glimpse of heaven appearing on earth. It is a glorious ray of the heavenly Jerusalem which pierces the clouds of our history and lights up our journey.

A significant consequence of the eschatological tension inherent in the Eucharist is also the fact that it spurs us on our journey through history and plants a seed of living hope in our daily commitment to the work before us. Certainly the Christian vision leads to the expectation of “new heavens” and “a new earth” (Rev 21:1), but this increases, rather than lessens, our sense of responsibility for the world today. I wish to reaffirm this forcefully at the beginning of the new millennium, so that Christians will feel more obliged than ever not to neglect their duties as citizens in this world. Theirs is the task of contributing with the light of the Gospel to the building of a more human world, a world fully in harmony with God’s plan.

. . . Significantly, in their account of the Last Supper, the Synoptics recount the institution of the Eucharist, while the Gospel of John relates, as a way of bringing out its profound meaning, the account of the “washing of the feet”, in which Jesus appears as the teacher of communion and of service (cf. Jn 13:1-20). The Apostle Paul, for his part, says that it is “unworthy” of a Christian community to partake of the Lord’s Supper amid division and indifference towards the poor (cf. 1 Cor 11:17-22, 27-34).

–Bl. John Paul II, Ecclesia de Eucharistia

Thomas Aquinas and Karol Wojtyła on Mercy

(With thanks to Zack in Rome):

St. Thomas Aquinas defined mercy as “the compassion in our hearts for another person’s misery, a compassion which drives us to do what we can to help him” (ST II-II.30.1).

In Love and Responsibility, the future pope wrote: “We love (the person) along with his virtues and vices, in a sense independently of the virtues and despite the vices. The greatness of this love is manifested the most when this person falls, when his weaknesses or even sins come to light. One who truly loves does not then refuse his love, but in a sense loves even more – he loves while being conscious of deficiencies and vices without, however, approving of them. For the person himself never loses his essential value.”