May 13, 2011


Blessed John Paul II

The date for this issue, May 13, is the 30th anniversary of the attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II. It is also the feast of Our Lady of Fatima.

Pope John Paul attributed his survival from that attack to Our Lady, and he made a pilgrimage to the shrine at Fatima, Portugal, 29 years ago today.

Pope John Paul II was beatified on May 1. We thought it fitting to publish this editorial about his sanctity, which is why he was beatified, on this feast of Mary.

Did anything demonstrate his holiness more than the fact that he forgave the man who shot him and met with him in prison?

He had a great devotion to the Blessed Virgin. After his election as pope, John Paul took the motto “Totus Tuus,” which is Latin for “Totally Yours.”

It was an expression of his consecration to Mary, borrowed from the Marian consecrating prayer in the book True Devotion to Mary by St. Louis de Montfort. The full text of the prayer is, “I am all yours, and all that I have is yours.”

In all that has been written about Pope John Paul’s beatification, the emphasis has been on his accomplishments as pope, achievements that many people believe qualify him to be called John Paul the Great. Only two popes have that honorific title—Leo I and Gregory I.

However, we must remember that he was beatified mainly because of his personal holiness, although his actions as pope certainly figured into that.

Since we have already mentioned his devotion to Mary, and May is a month dedicated to her, we should note that Pope John Paul always prayed several rosaries each day, at least one during his walks in the Vatican Gardens after his lunch and short nap. He also commissioned the mosaic icon “Mother of the Church” at the top of the colonnade in St. Peter’s Square.

He wrote his encyclical Redemptoris Mater (“Mother of the Redeemer”) about Mary, teaching us that she was the ideal disciple of Jesus as well as his mother because she accepted God’s will throughout her life. But he also included Mary in his other encyclicals, usually asking for her intercession in his conclusion.

Besides his devotion to Mary, Pope John Paul was known as a man who prayed all the time. We can all recall the photos of him in absolute concentration on his prayers even in the most public of places.

We know from George Weigel, his biographer, that Pope John Paul rose every day at 5:30 a.m. and, after dressing, spent more than an hour in private prayer in his chapel, kneeling before a modern crucifix and an icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa. His prayers included hundreds of personal requests that his household nuns took from his correspondence, and typed on sheets they placed inside the top of his prie-dieu.

At 7:30 a.m., he concelebrated Mass with his secretary and invited priests before a small congregation that included his nuns and invited guests. Those guests were often invited to stay after Mass for breakfast with him.

Weigel reported in his book Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II that “John Paul’s daily routine was punctuated with prayer, not simply when he was in the chapel for Mass or the recitation of the Liturgy of the Hours [to which he attached great importance], but constantly—in between meetings, en route to audiences, in a car, in a helicopter, even on the roof.

“Paul VI had installed a solarium atop the Apostolic Palace, to which John Paul II added a set of modern Stations of the Cross. He prayed the Stations every Friday morning during the year and every day during Lent. Each week, he received the sacrament of penance and made his confession to a Polish priest.”

Pope John Paul did his writing each day from 9:30 a.m. to 11 a.m., often in his chapel before the Blessed Sacrament. He had a lifelong practice of putting a brief prayer at the top of each page. He also frequently prayed before the Blessed Sacrament while lying prostrate on the floor. He made all his major decisions on his knees before the Blessed Sacrament.

Pray for us, Blessed John Paul II.

—John F. Fink

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