Gift and Mystery – Some High Points, chaps. 1-4

Today at the University of St Thomas we will hear from Father Robert Crooker, CSB, about “Gift and Mystery,” the reflections of Pope John Paul II on priestly vocation.

John Paul explains the mystery of vocation as the mystery of divine election. We hear the passage from the Gospel of John — “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit would abide.” (Jn 15:16) This saying of Jesus pulls any Christian to heed the opportunities of the hour and to live in faith and hope. The gift transcends the individual, John Paul said, so we must speak with humility.

Karol Wojtyla set out on the path of study — the study of Polish language and culture — and this study made possible much of the fruit of his mature thought. I highly recommend the first two chapters of Rocco Buttiglione’s Karol Wojtyla: The Thought of the Man who Became Pope John Paul II to have a deeper understanding of the Polish roots of John Paul’s life and work. As he studied at the Jagiellonian the Nazi’s invaded Poland. Karol worked in a stone quarry and participated in an underground theater, eventually joining an underground seminary. His priestly mentors were heroic men who faced intimidation and death from Nazis and then Stalinists. Some were sent to Dachau (3,000 Catholic priests were interned at Dachau alone!); later, others were subjected to the Stalin show trails (and countless priests were sent into that vast Gulag of torment and suffering). All the while these brave men protected Karol as he studied his St. Thomas Aquinas and learned his theology from “the center of the great theological tradition.” The tragedy of war made the value and importance of his priestly vocation very clear: “The spread of evil and the atrocities of war” and the tremendous goodness and kindness he experienced from many people during those hard times illuminated the call to priesthood for him. He said that their lives were still “brightened by the light of beauty which radiates from music and poetry.” (40)

John Paul highlights the “Marian thread” of his vocation. Our Lady of Perpetual Help, the Carmelite scapular, the living rosary, the Angelus, the apparitions, and Saint Louis de Montfort all formed him deeply to see that “Mary leads us to Christ” and “Christ leads to his Mother.” His great motto, Totus Tuus, comes from de Montford’s dedication or entrustment prayer: “Totus tuus ego sum et omnia Tua sunt. Accipio Te in mea omnia. Praebe mihi cor Tuum, Maria.” (Mystery and Gift, 30). “I am all Yours, and all that I have belongs to You.” Later in 1987, Henryk Gorecki composed a choral piece (Totus Tuus, opus 60) to celebrate John Paul’s visit to Poland.

Karol Wojtyla was rdained on All Saints Day, 1946 in the private chapel of the Archbishop of Krakow. Pope John Paul II shares a profound and moving meditation on the ceremony, especially considering the prostration on the floor each ordinandi makes. “In lying prostrate on the floor in the form of a cross before one’s ordination, in accepting one’s own life — like Peter — the cross of Christ and becoming with the Apostle a ‘floor’ for our brothers and sisters, one finds the ultimate meaning of all priestly spirituality. Standing in St Peter’s during the Vatican Council, he wrote a poem about the experience. Here are a few lines he shares in the book, Gift and Mystery:

Peter, you are the floor, that others
may walk over you . . . not knowing
where they go. You guide their steps
. . .
You want to serve their feet that pass
as rock serves the hooves of sheep.
The rock is a gigantic temple floor,
the cross a pasture.

Prophetic words from Karol Cardinal Wojtyla.


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