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Faithful Living: Love can soothe the world
Jesus calls us not only to come to him,
but to go for Him.
Rick Warren, The Purpose-Driven Life
There have been any number of events this past week surrounding the death of Pope John Paul II that have moved me. One of the most astounding came Thursday when CNN showed satellite photos of the faithful, estimated to be nearly 4 million, who have descended upon Rome to pay tribute to their holy father. The crowd, standing at times 35 abreast and for extended hours under the blazing Italian sun by day and near freezing chill by night, can be seen for miles as they wind their way up Italian streets, onto Vatican City limits, and eventually into St. Peters Basilica. Once inside, mourners are able to capture a glimpse of the Pope for only a matter of seconds, but they go, undeterred.
Regardless of our association with the Catholic Church, political alliances or theological views on issues reverberating among American Catholics in particular, John Paul is a man who lived a life worth contemplating. He was made for a mission. He seemed to understand that his life was about doing all he understood God wanted him to do.
Before he became the leader of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope John Paul II was baptized Karol Jozef Wojtyla. He was born in 1920, the son of a retired Army officer and a school teacher. While raising Karol and his brother in a strictly Catholic home, his parents did not share the anti-Semitic views held by many of their Polish neighbors. And it was the loss of nearly all of his childhood Jewish friends in the Holocaust that seemed to have created the incredible love of humanity demonstrated during his tenure as pope. He traveled more than any other pope, leaving the Vatican to visit, counsel and minister to people of all faiths and ethnicities, not just Catholics.
The kind of pope Karol Wojtyla eventually became seems to have been created, in part, from enormous personal loss as well. A baby sister died before his own birth. His mother died of heart and kidney problems a month before his ninth birthday. Next came the death of his 26-year-old brother, a practicing physician, from scarlet fever. Finally, in February of 1941, Karols father died without ever knowing his son would enter the priesthood. The future pope was 21 years old but an orphan, nonetheless.
But was he? One gets the sense that God drew near and young Karol, known for his love of poetry, sports, religion and theater, caught sight of a heavenly love and companionship to be experienced beyond family and friends. And right along with this love (that only God can offer) came another most wondrous gift: a mission to take that love and tell it to a world filled with people experiencing their own loneliness and pain.
Poor. Orphaned. Pope John Paul could have used tragedy and heartache to forge his future and his personality. Instead he came to understand more than a few dynamics about taking on a mission.
The first? It seems Pope John Paul embraced the idea that God had sent him into the world to continue Jesus mission on earth. He must have realized early on that the Great Commission was not merely a suggestion to believers but a command: Get out there! People of all nations must be given the opportunity to hear about Jesus.
Interestingly, it is a command for all believers. The Great News of the Bible and the life of Christ is to be passed on by all of us, not only those in the priesthood or in ministry. Sometimes the best witness to all that God has done is you.
Second, John Paul served in his capacity as pope as if it was a privilege to serve God. Imagine that. Fewer and fewer American men are willing to serve in the Catholic priesthood because of the personal sacrifices required, and yet John Paul seemed have embraced his mission with passion and abandon. He gave it his all and it may be this factor above all else that has brought the enormous number of pilgrims this week to the Vatican.
Third, John Paul believed his mission was life-saving to the people he met and taught. He saw the ravages of AIDS. He witnessed utter poverty and war crimes. He came to understand what happens to human beings when they cannot seem to experience forgiveness, purpose, peace and eternal life beyond what they know here on earth. This burden tugged so strongly on his heart he pressed on in spite of all he personally endured during his later years when pain and sickness weakened his own body. He never quit because he believed his work was important and it was Gods job to stop what He alone had begun 84 years ago.
Last, John Paul understood he could not waste a day because God had called him to serve the people of the world and he was duty bound to become a part of human history. Therefore, all he did required him to be disciplined, pure, loving and serving. After all, above the need to serve as a good role model, John Paul understood he was being used by God to love His people.
Freelance writer Joan Bay Klopes e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.