In word and deed, Pope John Paul II taught about charity, unity, fraternity and patriotism
Pope John Paul II often expressed great affection for the Knights of Columbus. Even more profoundly, by his own priestly example and his vast efforts to teach all nations about Jesus Christ, he shed a good deal of light on the Columbian virtues.
UNITED IN CHARITY
Like many others, I had the privilege of participating in Masses celebrated by John Paul II in his private chapel. After vesting, we priests and bishops would quietly take our place there, only to find the pope already absorbed in prayer. John Paul II's life of deep prayer, founded upon the Eucharist and his frequent reception of the sacrament of penance, was the source of an immense pastoral charity. The pope loved his worldwide flock, both consoling us and teaching us the truth about God and man. In a special way, he loved the poor and the vulnerable, as we saw by his defense of the unborn and his interventions on behalf of the elderly and those condemned to die.
To put into practice the first principle of the Order, we too must pray daily and make the Eucharist and all the sacraments the foundation of our lives in Christ. In other words, before showing charity to others, we must welcome Christ's mercy and love. All of our charitable work is but the evidence that this love has taken root in our hearts.
Pope John Paul II's ardent life of prayer was also the source of his insight and strength as he relentlessly strove "to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Eph 4:3). His homilies, addresses and writings were suffused and shaped by the doctrine of the Holy Trinity — the source of the Church's communion and the ultimate basis for unity of the human family.
John Paul II taught bishops and priests that the unity of the Church was at the heart of their ministry. He traveled to the ends of the earth to unify God's people and worked persistently for Christian unity, especially with the various Orthodox communions. He also reached out to the Jewish community and other religious groups. The unity that he promoted was built not on compromise, but on the truth about God and the human person, fully revealed in Christ. A profound philosopher in his own right, John Paul II defended reason's capacity for truth. He witnessed to the truth in which the rights and dignity of the human person is rooted and upon which a civilization of love can be built amid the diverse cultures of the world.
The pope's witness to unity-in-truth should inspire us to pray and work for unity in our Order, in the Church and in the world. Our unity does not spring merely from our own good will, but is instead rooted in God. This profound sense of unity must extend to all of our relationships.
LOVE OF BROTHER, LOVE OF COUNTRY
Closely allied to unity is fraternity, what John Paul II often referred to as solidarity. The pope understood this to mean much more than just a group of people with common interests. Rather, he frequently taught that at the heart of a truly universal brotherhood is the very fact that Christ assumed our humanity. By becoming man, Christ in a certain way united himself to every person. The pope also taught that the family, based on the love of husband and wife, is where human dignity, the virtues and brotherly love are first learned.
Through baptism, we become the Father's adopted children and, thus, brothers and sisters in Jesus. Our brotherhood with Christ is constantly re-established and strengthened each time we receive his body in the Eucharist. So, with Pope John Paul II, we can say that our faith in Christ is the source of our fraternity. It is expressed in how we support one another in professing and living the faith, and in how we help one another in times of need.
Our fraternity includes our families and all those who share our Catholic faith. It also extends to people who need a helping hand or who long for the fullness of truth. We manifest our brotherhood by placing ourselves "in service to one, in service to all." Thus, when we greet one another with the title of "brother," let us remember that we are brothers in Christ.
During John Paul II's papacy, the world witnessed the fall of communism in Eastern Europe. Even then, however, the pope did not rest easy. In his love for the world, he taught the relationship between truth and freedom. True love of country demands that its citizens use the God-given gift of freedom to protect human dignity and to secure the common good.
From the time of its founding, members of the Knights were patriots, even when their love of country was not appreciated by their fellow citizens. To be sure, creating a culture that respects life and loves justice is a very difficult task. Nonetheless, many of our brother Knights work tirelessly doing just that, some with their very lives.
Because we want what is best for our country, and because our patriotism is rooted in charity, unity and fraternity, we want our native lands to respect other nations and to be forces for justice and peace in the world. Linked to such authentic patriotism is a longing for our true homeland in heaven. May Blessed Pope John Paul II continue to inspire us to live the principles of our Order and stregthen us by his prayers.