A Model for All

2/28/2011

Pope John Paul II's life and heroic virtue stand as an extraordinary witness to the world

by Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson

Carl A. Anderson

I am sure we all felt a great sense of joy upon learning that Pope Benedict XVI will beatify Pope John Paul II this year on May 1, Divine Mercy Sunday.

There is no doubt that John Paul II will enter into the history books as one of the greatest popes who ever lived. His papacy was marked by a legacy of tremendous accomplishments, from his theological contributions to his work that helped end Communism and bring freedom and unity to Europe to his travels and tremendous ability to connect with people of all ages anywhere in the world. Historians will surely record him as a giant who changed the destiny of entire continents — and did so peacefully.

But his beatification is about John Paul II the man and his life of personal holiness. It is about the fact that, though he witnessed some of the worst carnage and oppression of the 20th century, he never lost hope. He preached the Gospel of Peace and called us all to a vocation to love.

Though he was the victim of an assassination attempt, he never lost faith. He forgave the man who shot him. He found constant strength in his relationship with God and his concern for his neighbors — no matter how marginalized they might be.

The beatification of Pope John Paul II means that Catholics, and indeed all people, have a model for the heroic virtue that each of us should strive to embody. He demonstrated a love of neighbor and defense of human dignity, a willingness to break down barriers and to dialogue with people of other faiths, and the sincerity to ask for forgiveness for himself and the Church.

This was a man who taught us how to live and who, in the twilight of his years, taught us how to die. He was during his life, and remains now, a man for all people, a man for all seasons and an example to us all.

In his last message to the Supreme Council on the occasion of the 122nd Supreme Convention in 2004, Pope John Paul II reminded us of his conviction expressed in Ecclesia in America that the lay faithful "are largely responsible for the future of the Church." He called on us "to continue to work as a leaven within society for the promotion of social justice, the protection of human life and all forms of loving service to those in need." These are words that Knights of Columbus everywhere, now more than ever, must continue to take to heart as a sure guide.

On the 50th anniversary of his priestly ordination, John Paul II wrote the book Gift and Mystery, which he described as a personal testimony offered in a special way to the priests of the world. In it, he addressed these words to priests, which are also an extraordinary description of his own life:

"While the Second Vatican Council speaks of the universal call to holiness, in the case of the priest we must speak of a special call to holiness. Christ needs holy priests! Today's world demands holy priests! Only a holy priest can become, in an increasingly secularized world, a resounding witness to Christ and his Gospel. And only thus can a priest become a guide for men and women and a teacher of holiness. People, especially the young, are looking for such guides. A priest can be a guide and teacher only to the extent that he becomes an authentic witness!"

Surely Pope John Paul II was all of this and more. May the Knights of Columbus, through his intercession, follow his example more closely so that "in an increasingly secularized world" we, too, may become "a resounding witness to Christ and his Gospel."

Vivat Jesus!