Tuesday, October 22, 2019

My Friend, Pope John Paul II

John Paul II was a friend of mine. Other than briefly meeting him once in his later years, I never personally spoke to him, corresponded with him, or spent time with him. He didn't know my name. But he knew me. He was my friend. He has been a lifelong friend.

In the early 2000's, a newly ordained priest and I were walking through St. Peter's Square very late at night. We stopped for a few moments and were looking up at the Apostolic Apartments where John Paul II resided. I said to my friend, "It's amazing to me that whenever he speaks, I feel as though he is speaking directly to me, like he actually knows me. And that everyone else who hears him feels the same way. How is that possible?"  My friend thought for a moment and said, "It must be because he knows the true man--Jesus Christ--so well, that he is able to speak directly to the heart of every man." 

John Paul II was a friend of mine because he always pointed me to Jesus Christ. He spoke convincingly about Jesus. He spoke to my heart and appealed to my youth. He was an old man, but his soul was young. He presented the challenge of the Gospel in a way that invited me into something epic, consequential, and exciting. He didn't nag or harangue his listeners. Instead, he proposed to them a new way of life, a possibility of following Christ and of laying down one's life for something greater. John Paul II was a friend of mine because he invited me to walk together with him in following Jesus Christ. He invited people everywhere to follow Christ. He inspired countless young people to give themselves to Christ. We were living something special together. We were all part of something together.

John Paul II was a friend of mine who encouraged me. He knew how temptation, sin, and evil could weigh upon a person. He was not afraid to speak about how destructive sin was. But, he did so in a manner that made it clear that sin was the enemy, not the sinner. He encouraged me by reminding me that the path of holiness was always open to me. Jesus was always extending his hand, reaching out, and inviting me to "Come, follow me." 

John Paul II was a friend of mine. He was a friend to everyone. He didn't simply speak about the poor. He spoke to the poor. He didn't simply speak about the sick. He spoke to the sick. He didn't simply speak about priests. He spoke to priests. He didn't simply speak about the lonely. He spoke to the lonely. He didn't simply speak about sinners. He spoke to the sinner. He spoke to the married, the single, the religious, the elderly, the young. He spoke to those who were afraid. He spoke to the prisoner. He spoke to the heart of the human person. He spoke to me.

One of the students at the BU Catholic Center approached me last week. She said, "Father, is it okay if next Tuesday we have a party to celebrate John Paul II's Feast Day?" This request really struck me. Most of the students I work with were only small children when John Paul II died. Yet, they too are his friends. Young people are still moved by his example, his teaching, and his love. John Paul II--the friend of Jesus Christ--is still speaking to the hearts of young men and women. He is still calling out to them, encouraging them, and assisting them to follow Christ. They see in John Paul II a shepherd who challenges them and who loves them. They find in him a shepherd who appeals to their youth. He is their friend too. 

I recall one time tens of thousands of young people chanting, "JP2, We Love You."  John Paul II replied, "And JP2, he loves you." I knew those words were true. He did love us. He was our friend. I am grateful today to spend his Feast Day with a new generation of young people who consider John Paul II to be their friend. I am grateful that we can live this extraordinary friendship together, a friendship that begins and ends in the One who alone answers the desire of the human heart, Jesus Christ.

John Paul II is a friend of mine.

Thanks for the Friendship, JP2. We love you.

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