This video, from 2005, is the speech given by George W. Bush on the death of St.Pope John Paul II. One world leader with international influence speaks of his regard for another such leader, describing him as humble, wise, fearless and great. He tells of how the Holy Father changed the course of history, as the influence of the Solidarity movement swept across the Eastern Bloc and eventually led to the fall of the Berlin Wall.
But there is a big difference between a Pope and any other kind of world leader. Saint John Paul II was not a political leader and he was not elected Pope because he sought power or influence or to change the world. He did not campaign for his election and he sought only holiness.
Freely choosing to follow God’s plan for him he became a priest, studying in an underground seminary whilst holding down his officially sanctioned job in a quarry. Later he responded to his vocation to become a bishop and eventually Pope. He did none of this for himself, for any kind of reward, but out of obedience to God he gave his life in service to others. He may have inspired the fall of Communism, but he did not set out to do so with the sword or the pen, even if he did speak constantly of the dignity of every human being.
As President Bush said, “All Popes belong to the world.” This is true, in the sense that the Holy Father served tirelessly, but it is important to distinguish between being in the world and for the world, and being of the world. St.JPII may have belonged to the world, but he was of God. The world may have listened because he was the Pope, but he was not the Pope because the world listened, and it was not the world who gave him that mission.
All rights imply responsibilities and the right to vote is no exception: the Catechism even tells us that it is “morally obligatory” to vote (CCC 2240). With the US Presidential elections coming up, this is an appropriate moment to consider what makes leadership good. No president may have been canonized, but there are plenty of saints who were kings or queens, abbots or abbesses, as well popes, who were holy leaders.
Many politicians promise change (by which they generally wish to imply improvement), but the example of Saint John Paul II shows us that true change must start in the heart of the individual person: he entrusted his heart to God, and God used him to change the world.
Saint John Paul II is described as a “hero for the ages” at the end of the video, but he was not a hero in the conventional way. He did not face down armies, dive into a river to save a drowning child, undergo torture, steadfastly endure wrongful imprisonment, perform daring feats…I could go on… He prayed, bore witness to the truth, loved greatly, forgave radically, suffered with joy and courage and carried out his mission at no thought of the cost to himself.
In our Christian lives, and our apostolate, we can then ask the following: What made Saint John Paul II a hero? What is it about holiness that demands heroism? I think it is important to draw a parallel between the more “traditional” concept of a hero and the demands of Christian life. Christian life is an adventure, we have our mission and we too fight a battle (spiritual combat) on many fronts.
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