This Saturday is the feast of one of my heroes St. John Paul II. I can’t believe it has been over 11 years since he passed away in 2005. I can still remember how I felt after learning he had passed. I was a senior in high school, and I was all set to take a pilgrimage to the Vatican that June to see the newly elevated archbishop of Galveston-Houston receive the pallium and to finally see my hero Pope John Paul II. I was so upset after his passing that I would never get the chance to see my hero that I called off my trip that I had been planning and saving months for.
11 years later we are still seeing the major effects that St. John Paul II had on the Church. As the so called, John Paull II generation comes of age we are seeing the profound difference that he made in so many lives. This generation is living today as priests, married couples, mothers and fathers. Many of the priests and religious, in formation across the country, claim that their vocation was inspired by the life of St. John Paul II. The John Paul II generation can be identified by several distinct characteristics: defense of all life from cradle to the grave, understanding of the sanctity of sexuality and marriage, deep prayer lives, in particular devotion to our Blessed Mother, and joyfully sharing the Gospel message with others.
I was recently reading another book about St. John Paul II and have found a new appreciation for the great gift his life and teachings have been to the Church. The one chapter that struck me the most is the chapter on “human love.” In his book, Crossing the Threshold of Hope, John Paul wrote, “As a young priest I learned to love, human love.” He spent so much of his pontificate preaching and teaching on human sexuality and the sanctity of marriage in his famous “Theology of the Body” talks. When once asked why he talked so much about sexuality, he responded, “There is nothing wrong with sexuality itself, but the abuse of sexuality is the main obstacle to spirituality.”
I have read and studied John Paul II’s Theology of the Body numerous times throughout my life, but now I am able to understand these teachings on a whole new level. One of the reasons I looked up to John Paul II as a youth was because I felt like he truly understood the struggles and desires of all young people like me. John Paul once wrote, “…young people are always searching for the beauty in love. They want their love to be beautiful…in the depths of the hearts they still desire a beautiful and pure love.” I first began to understand this as a high school youth trying to find my way struggling with love and relationships.
Theology of the Body isn’t just another treatise on human sexuality, but rather a look at the human person understood through God’s plan for us, a plan of love. It begins with the understanding that we are all made in the image and likeness of God and since God is Trinity, a communion of persons, we were made to be in communion with others. Gaudium et Spes, a document of the Second Vatican council speaks of this concept as it states “man…cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself.”
The world today is filled with many false ideas about love and sexuality. The world tells us that it’s all about doing what is best for me, what suits me, what makes me feel good. John Paul II taught us that instead it’s all about love. We were created by Love, out of love, for love. The opposite of love is not hate, but rather use, using somewhere for my own gain, instead of respecting their dignity and putting their happiness before my own.
This Saturday, take some time to pray for St. John Paul II’s intercession, he is the patron saint of all young people and families. If you are married, pray for strength and guidance for you and your family. If you are single, pray for patience and understanding in discerning God’s call authentic human love. Together, we can transform the world’s understanding of love one relationship at a time.