"But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God." - John 1:12
Become Who You Are
Last month I wrote about a fascinating and mystical saint, Padre Pio of Pietrelcina, who died in 1968. Even more recently, however, a holy and courageous man walked among us. John Paul II reigned as pope from 1978-2005, and his life was a series of magnificent moments of self-sacrifice and trust in God.
John Paul II was an extraordinary man and a dynamic leader. He was the most traveled pope in history, truly living the New Evangelization. With a shepherd's heart he visited God’s people, always calling them into a deeper relationship with Him. John Paul II also beatified and canonized more saints than all of his predecessors of the previous five centuries! It is generally thought that he was instrumental in the downfall of communism in Poland and the rest of Europe. Miraculously, he survived an assassination attempt on May 13, 1981 and attributes his survival to the intercession of Our Lady, to whom he had a great devotion. He leaves behind a legacy of 14 encyclicals, the incredibly insightful Theology of the Body, and a completely new set of mysteries of the Rosary -- the only change made to the rosary since St. Dominic received the devotion directly from Our Lady in 1208! John Paul II was definitely a mover and a shaker!
One of the greatest gifts John Paul II shared with us was his deep love and affection for the youth. He instituted World Youth Day and attended as long as his health permitted, inspiring millions of youth all over the world. In 1993, World Youth Day was held in North America for the first time, in Denver, Colorado. It was an event that many people thought couldn’t happen...not in North America or the United States, in particular. But, this event turned out to be a spark plug for the New Evangelization in America. John Paul II biographer, George Weigel, describes it like this:
“It was a colossal undertaking that exhausted everyone involved in it (except, perhaps, for the ebullient John Paul II), and it succeeded far beyond anyone’s expectations (except, again, for the pope). The event itself was a marvel. The helicopter pilot who flew John Paul into the old Mile High Stadium said the noise from the cheering crowd created air turbulence the likes of which he hadn’t experienced since being under fire when flying in Vietnam. The chief of police later noted that there hadn’t been a single felony arrest in the city during the entire time World Youth day was underway — right after Denver had been experiencing a serious crime wave. Skeptical people who hadn’t seen the inside of a church in years found themselves giving water and candy to young pilgrims as they walked 15 miles through and out of the city they’d transformed, to the closing Vigil and Mass at Cherry Creek State Park.”
John Paul entreated the crowd in 1993, “Young people of America, World Youth Day challenges you to be fully conscious of who you are as God’s dearly beloved sons and daughters. Your fundamental apostolic work in the Church is always to be who you are. The value of life lies in who you are, not in what you possess or in what you are able to do.”
George Weigel goes on to describe the closing Mass:
And during that Mass, the pope brought it all to a fine, dramatic conclusion with this challenge: “Do not be afraid to go out on the streets and into public places, like the first apostles who preached Christ and the good news of salvation in the squares of cities, towns, and villages. This is no time to be ashamed of the Gospel…It is the time to preach it from the rooftops.”
“Proclaim the truth and do not be silent through fear.”- Catherine of Siena
The two themes of World Youth Day 1993, and indeed, of JPII’s entire pontificate still resonate with us today: Become who you are, and be not afraid.
Become who you are.
Interesting choice of words. They don’t encourage us to “find ourselves” or choose our path in life. They encourage us to recognize who we already are -- unique and unrepeatable children of God, made in His image and likeness, with our own particular talents and inclinations. Rather than looking outward for our direction or our value, we must look within ourselves and to the One who created us.
This sentiment strikes a chord with me, as it goes hand in hand with our mission here at Mount Royal Academy. To educate the whole child, we need to truly see the child -- who they are -- not who the test scores say they are, not who their behavior says they are, or who their friends say they are, but who God created them to be. We need to see each individual child and lead them in the path to truth.
Be not afraid.
How often fear holds us back! Fear of being wrong can prevent a student from participating in class discussions. Fear of rejection can hold a student back from making new friends, or worse, cause them to make a decision that is detrimental to their own welfare. In short, fear can keep us from becoming who we are!
As we stand here between the feast day of John Paul II and All Saints’ Day, I pray that we can embrace the fearless determination of the saints to follow God’s will for them, detached from the opinions of the world, and that along that path we can truly become who we are. Because as St. Catherine of Siena said, “Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.”
Be not afraid!
Mrs. Lisa Sweet, Academic Dean