Why he is a saint: Wojtyla the Mystic (c 3, pt 2)

The second half of chapter three in Msgr Oder’s discusses his life of , piety, and suffering.

The section begins with this summary: “The life of Karol Wojtyla was an impressive synthesis of prayer and action. It was from prayer that he derived the fertility and effectiveness of his actions. Those who were his confidants noted that was well aware that ‘the pope’s first responsibility towards the Church and toward the world is to pray’ and that ‘from prayer he derived the capacity of speaking the truth without fear, since one who is alone before God has no fear of men.'” (147)

Msgr. Oder recounts the numerous situations when John Paul II would take recourse to prayer: before appointing bishops, during political events (martial rule in Poland), discussing and writing his encyclicals, walking in the woods, etc. If need be he would use a utility room, a bathroom, any place he could hide away to turn to God in prayer. And one close to him reports: “So many times I saw his face, after contemplation and adoration, visibly changed and happy. During prayer he seemed to be in continual conversation with God, like Moses who spoke to God face to face. During prayer, Wojtyla did not notice anything that happened around him. He seemed to lose all sense of time, to the extent that his secretary at a certain point would have to shake him out of this extraordinary sense of concentration because other commitments awaited him.” (151) Yet most of us are distracted by the commitments that await us and lose our concentration in prayer; Wojtyla cultivated this gift of prayer.

Wojtyla would arise at 5am for prayer; he would attend Mass at 7am.  He carried with him at all times, a piece of paper with a prayer that ended “Totus tuus, Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.” The paper was folded into the shape of scapular and carried with him at all times. (155) I am reminded of Pascal’s (an intense Christian, but not declared a saint)  Memorial, the paper he sewed into his coat with his exclamation in prayer before God. He also prayed the Angelus daily, as well as compline. He also had a special prayer for the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Here it is:

Holy Spirit, I ask of you the gift of wisdom for a better understanding of you and of your divine perfection. I ask of you the gift of Intellect for a better understanding of the essence of the mysteries of the mysteries of the holy faith. Give me the gift of Knowledge so that I may know how to orient my life in accordance with the principles of faith. Give me the gift of Counsel so that in all things I can seek counsel from you and can always find it in you. Give me the gift of Strength so that no fear or earthly motivations can take me away from you. Give me the gift of Piety so that I can always serve your majesty with filial love. Give me the gift of the Fear of God so that no fear or earthly motivations can take me away from you. (155-156)

I consider this prayer in the following light — not only does his heroic life of virtue indicate that he was free of the mortal sins that weigh down the souls in hell and purgatory, and in this life (namely, lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, anger, envy, pride), he actively sought to be transformed by the Holy Spirit. His teacher, Father Garrigou Lagrange had this to say about the gifts of the Holy Spirit:

according to the teaching of St. Thomas, who considers them permanent infused habits, which are in every just soul that it may receive the inspirations of the Holy Ghost with promptness and docility. According to the fathers of the Church, the gifts are in the just soul like the sails on a vessel; the boat may advance by rowing, which is a slow and painful way of making progress; this is the symbol of the work of the virtues. It may also advance because a favorable wind swells its sails, which dispose it to receive, as it should, the impulsion of the wind. This analogy was indicated in a way by Christ Himself when He said: “The Spirit breatheth where He will; and thou hearest His voice, but thou knowest not whence He cometh and whither He goeth. So is everyone that is born of the Spirit.” The gifts of the Holy Ghost have also been compared to the different strings of a harp which, under the hand of a musician, give forth harmonious sounds. Lastly, the inspirations of the gifts have been likened to the seven flames of the seven-branch candelabrum used in the synagogue. The Three Ages of Interior Life, part 3 chap. 22, passage found here)

Indeed the life of had much sail, because of his docility to the Holy Spirit.

Msgr. Oder explains special interest in the divine mercy, so it is appropriate that the day of the beatification is on this day. In his homily of June 7, 1997, Pope John Paul II said “The Message of Divine Mercy has always been near and dear to me. It is as if history has inscribed it in the tragic experience of the Second World War. In those difficult years it was a particular support and an inexhaustible source of hope, not only for the people of Crakow but for the entire nation. This was also my personal experience, which I took with me to the See of Peter and which in a sense forms the image of this pontificate.” In 2003 he revealed that he truned to divine mercy prior to accepting the chair of Peter. His first two encyclicals explore the theme of divine mercy, especially the second, explicitly on the mercy of God (Dives in misercordia). And of course he died on the vigil of the Divine Mercy.

Wojtyla’s devotion to Mary is legendary. A few new things Msgr Oder brings to light — Pope John Paul II would not allow the medical team to remove his blood stained scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel during the surgery after he was shot; he promised Mary many pilgrimages on foot if she would bring more seminarians to the near empty seminary in Cracow; he would frequently delay his schedule by stops to Marian shrines; he said of the rosary: “Our hearts can enclose in these decades of the rosary all of the facts that make up the life of an individual, a family, the nation, the Church, and all mankind. Thus the simple prayer of the rosary beats the rhythm of human life.” (167)

Finally, Msgr. Oder recalls his embrace of suffering as a way of union with God: his “distinct mystical inclination found full expression in the manner in which he lived and conceived suffering as a form of expiation and as a gift of himself to mankind.” (170) He would thank God for all the suffering he endured, and his pontificate is marked by much suffering. Along with the stay after the shooting in 1981, the stays included 1992, 1993, 1994, 1996, and 2005. Msgr Oder tells us he spent 164 days at Gemelli Polyclinic dubbing the clinic “Vatican Number 3.”He said “I ask myself what God is trying to tell me with this disease.” And in 1984 he issued Salvifici doloris (The Salvific Power of Pain). In 1997 he said pain receives a new light in Christ as it becomes a “positive collaboration in the project of salvation,” and it is no longer wasted energy but “transformed by divine love.” But pain must also generate “solidarity, dedication and generosity in all those who suffer and in all those who hear the summons to attend them and aid them in suffering.” This evening a friend of mine suggested that Pope John Paul II would become a doctor of the Church. His teaching on suffering and mercy may well achieve that level.

Throughout his life John Paul II recited the stations of the cross every Friday; whether in his on chapel or on the road, without fail he would meditate on each station. One man reported seeing him do this on a helicopter during their travel. On the day before he died, no longer able to talk, he wrote down “Via crucis,” and a nun read the stations out loud and the Holy Father traced a cross with his finger every time a station was read. He was truly a Holy Father..

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