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Dear St John Paul II… a thanksgiving for your holy influence in my life

Dear St John Paul II… a thanksgiving for your holy influence in my life

Dear St John Paul II,

What a blessing to go to Mass this morning on your feast day! Your life had such a big impact on mine; your holy influence has fueled some of my best prayer practices and my most earnest studies.

Long before you instituted World Youth Days, you struck a chord with me as a youngish youth minister when I accompanied my youth group to Madison Square Garden. You told us: “Look to Christ!” So simple, yet so life-changing. We have so much that distracts us in this age. Only one thing is needed: keeping our eyes on Jesus.

Screen Shot 2014-04-27 at 4.23.47 PMYour love for the Blessed Mother caught my attention. I had mixed emotions about Mary until I read your advice in Redemptoris Mater about Total Consecration to Jesus through Mary. You said it was a way to better live my baptismal promises. That inspired me to say yes to Marian Consecration when I was invited by some local friends to do so. Who knew the timing would be just months before my breast cancer diagnosis? I would need Momma Mary all the more during that time. But you know that ANY TIME is a good time to get closer to Mary.

To this day, I remember my profound shock and joy when the The Catechism of the Catholic Church came out in English in 1994. I have a first edition. Some people laughed that I cared to read it. Yet its teaching grounded my love for Christ and the wisdom of the Church. It’s amazing footnotes and multiple indices sent me back to grad school for my Masters to learn what all that “alphabet soup” meant — all those abbreviations! — all the magisterial teaching and the wisdom of the church doctors and saints continues to thrill and inspire my life and my work. I’m still learning from it, by the way. I’m grateful that I’ve been blessed to write a monthly column in Catholic Digest about it for the last few years.

A happy fallout of learning the Catechism in the 90s is that it put me in touch with the profound theological master, our dear Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. Reading you and reading him made me grow to love Christ and the Church all the more.  What a legacy your remarkable friendship has given the world!

Your Theology of the Body renewed my marriage and gave me a path for raising my teens — sharing with them God’s plan for marital love and fidelity to whatever vocation that God gives them.

I remember standing with my Bob and my daughter Katie in St Peter’s Square with you, toward the end of your earthly life. It was our first general audience in 2004. That was a long time since our youthful selves were at the Garden in ’79. But your age and infirmity did not matter, you were still happy to be with us. By then I knew you were a living saint. I yelled out my love and prayers with that crazy throng as you passed by in your Popemobile.

Let me tell you one last thing. When I was a young mom, I stumbled upon your musings about “the feminine genius”, in Mulieris Dignitatem and Letter to Women… Little did I know the impact they would have. Later, those writings, and related homilies, and your encyclical Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life), would eventually become the basis of my book, Blessed, Beautiful, and Bodacious: Celebrating the Gift of Catholic Womanhood.  How can I ever thank you for that? Maybe someday in heaven, right? I’m hoping my work is part of that great thank you. Did you have a hand in my book being recently translated into Polish is advance of the next World Youth Day in Krakow? Either way, I’m crediting your influence.

Speaking of all good things Polish! I have loved the Divine Mercy devotion and St Faustina for years, thanks to you! It has changed my 3 o’clock hour. Not to mention your addition of the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary. That was brilliant.

Okay I’m rambling here, but you get the point. Thank you, thank you, dear Papa! There’s so much more I could write and gush about. I know you are praying for the universal church, and for your little friend here, who is writing a new manuscript with fear and trembling, and looking to you again for your holy tutelage. What a gift to ask for your intercession!

St John Paul II, pray for us!

My Top Ten Inspirations from the Pontificate of St John Paul II

My Top Ten Inspirations from the Pontificate of St John Paul II

The long pontificate and life of St John Paul will have a lasting impact on the church until Jesus returns. Screen Shot 2014-04-27 at 4.23.47 PMGiven his canonization today, I thought I’d share with you some of John Paul’s gifts to the church, and extraordinary accomplishments, that have held meaning for me through the years. He’s been an inspiration to me since I was 18, a college frosh when he was elected. I’m so grateful that in 1979 I was among the youth who greeted him in New York, as I chaperoned a trip to see him. (More on that below.) Decades later in Rome, I was, again, among the throng at a 2004 papal audience alongside my husband and daughter. Both experiences were unforgettable!

Today I woke up at 4am to watch the canonization. This, after giving a women’s retreat at Saint Benedict Parish in Halifax, NS, that highlighted our new Saint’s writings and teachings! But I could not miss it “live”. And as I sat there in my bed in my hotel room before I had to catch a plane home, all the fondness for this Saint flooded back to me. It’s not just who he was, but what he wrote and taught that has inspired me and helped to shape me as a Christian.

:::

Here’s my Top Ten List of Inspirations from St John Paul II:

  1. The Catechism of the Catholic Church – This was a monumental achievement, as it was the first update to the Roman Catechism in over 400 years. From my archives: some commentary on catechism trivia.  
  2. His Marian Devotion, especially through his Total Consecration to Jesus through Mary, and his writings on Mary, including Redemptoris Mater and Rosarium Virginis Mariae.  The latter gave us the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary. I’ve been personally inspired by John Paul’s devotion to Our Lady of Fatima, in the aftermath of the assassination attempt on his life.
  3. The feminine genius, as described in Mulieris Dignitatem and Letter to Women… and other related homilies and writings, such as Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life). I truly believe these were the fruit of the Saint’s devotion to Mary, our Mother. These specific works also had a positive influence in my own life, and I tell that story in my book… which I’m giving away in a free drawing here.
  4. The Theology of the Body – a series of papal audiences and teaching given over several years on human love, sexuality, and anthropology. You can find classes in this area of study here. In the US, there is a Congress this summer.
  5. His Apostolic visits to 129 countries around the world — including 7 trips to the United States.
  6. The myriad of saints he canonized.
  7. Restoration of the Sistine Chapel.
  8. His books, outside of his magisterial teaching, that are now read in popular culture, especially Crossing the Threshold of Hope and Love and Responsibility.
  9. The Jubilee Year 2000 (and the years of preparation for the new millennium).
  10. World Youth Days (I never did get to attend one, but I was at a special gathering for youth in Madison Square Garden with JP2 in 1979.)Below is a favorite quote from WYD 2000.

It is Jesus in fact that you seek when you dream of happiness; he is waiting for you when nothing else you find satisfies you; he is the beauty to which you are so attracted; it is he who provokes you with that thirst for fullness that will not let you settle for compromise; it is he who urges you to shed the masks of a false life; it is he who reads in your hearts your most genuine choices, the choices that others try to stifle. It is Jesus who stirs in you the desire to do something great with your lives, the will to follow an ideal, the refusal to allow yourselves to be grounded down by mediocrity, the courage to commit yourselves humbly and patiently to improving yourselves and society, making the world more human and more fraternal.

Dear young people, in these noble undertakings you are not alone. With you there are your families, there are your communities, there are your priests and teachers, there are so many of you who in the depths of your hearts never weary of loving Christ and believing in him. In the struggle against sin you are not alone: so many like you are struggling and through the Lord’s grace are winning!

Thank you St John Paul for your holy influence in my life! St John Paul, pray for us!

We need ‘apostles of the theology of women’ — and so it goes…

We need ‘apostles of the theology of women’ — and so it goes…

Pope Francis has got people talking and thinking about women, their dignity, their vocation, and how the Church fits into all of that. (I’ve already penned my thoughts on this subject in the Washington Post’s “On Faith” blog, and the same content is found reprinted at my column at Patheos.)

rebeccaOver at the Catholic News AgencyRebecca Ryskind Teti, in the lead-in to writing a review of my book, Blessed, Beautiful, and Bodacious, she powerfully reads the cultural barometer where women are concerned and how they are demeaned by society, and even by themselves. She also astutely nails the problem that motivated me to write my book in the first place:  the Church has a great message on the dignity and vocation of women, but its marketing of that message stinks. Or to quote Teti’s erudite eloquence: “…what the Church already knows about the full, free, joyful flourishing of women has yet to break out into the culture at large. It’s still a mostly-hidden treasure, enjoyed by those who have discovered it in rarified Church circles.”

Take this in…

Two utterly unrelated stories have me thinking about what Pope Francis means when he says the Church must “go out.”

The first comes from Francis himself, who recently told reporters that the Church “need[s] to develop a profound theology of womanhood.” That jarred me a little initially. Bl. Pope John Paul II’s 1988 encyclical on the role of women, together with his Letter to Women, changed my life and the way I think about what it means to be a woman. Does the Pope mean to suggest Bl. John Paul’s work was not profound?

Hardly. In the same press conference Francis spoke enthusiastically about Bl. John Paul’s pontificate and why he will soon canonize his holy predecessor. But he did complain that the intra-church discussions we tend to have about women can be sterile. When Church-y people – those of us who in one way or another make our livings or dedicate our volunteer time in service to the Church—talk about the role of women, we tend to debate what women are “allowed” to do. Within the walls of the Church, should they be altar servers, lectors, Eucharistic ministers? (Priesthood, Pope Francis said, is a definitively closed question.) Outside the Church, should women work or should they be mothers?

We all invoke Church documents to defend our answers to these questions, but Francis seems to shake his head and say those questions are a bit pragmatic – they don’t get to the essence. “The role of women in the Church must not be limited to being mothers, workers, a limited role… No!  It is something else!” He indicated he did not have time to explain fully what this “something else” might be, but he gave two hints: he invoked an episode in history where the women of Paraguay took stock of a country in post-war shambles and made the conscious decision to save their nation and culture. And he reminded us that Mary is the most important (non-divine) person in the Church and women are “more important than bishops and priests.” It’s less important what women specifically do, those examples suggest, then who they are – and what happens in a culture because of who they are.

Two weeks prior to the Pope’s making these remarks, the New York Times ran one of its perennial stories about sex on campus. The headline triumphed, “She can play that game too,” but the story of co-eds deliberately getting drunk because they dislike their sex partners and can’t hook-up sober is anything but liberating. If a man forced a woman into nightly sex, we’d call it sex-slavery. What is it called when a woman forces it on herself?

There have always been promiscuous women and telling their titillating stories under the guise of journalism is hardly new. What’s novel in the story is the reason given for this self-punishing behavior. In my day, a woman might sleep around in search of love – not a wise plan, but at least understandable; these students sleep around to avoid entangling relationships because they are too busy for them.

Here we begin to see Pope Francis’ point. A woman so alienated from herself that she gets drunk to be able to have a human connection which is deliberately rendered neither human nor connected is not touched even slightly by parish tiffs over who serves at the altar or internecine battles over individual child-rearing decisions.

We need a better theology of woman in the sense that what the Church already knows about the full, free, joyful flourishing of women has yet to break out into the culture at large. It’s still a mostly-hidden treasure, enjoyed by those who have discovered it in rarified Church circles. We need apostles of the theology of women.

You can read the whole thing here. And if you’d like to hear Rebecca Ryskind Teti speak for herself on womanhood, you may enjoy my Among Women interview with her from earlier this year. I know I did, and I hope Rebecca might keep writing about the subject in the days ahead. For more Q and A as to why I’m writing on this subject, go here. 

This makes me think…. about the beautiful gift sensitivity in women and why it’s so needed…

Perhaps more than men, women acknowledge the personbecause they see persons with their hearts. They see them independently of various ideological or political systems. They see others in their greatness and limitations; they try to go out to them and help themIn this way the basic plan of the Creator takes flesh in the history of humanity and there is constantly revealed, in the variety of vocations, that beautynot merely physical, but above all spiritual-which God bestowed from the very beginning on all, and in a particular way on women.

-Blessed John Paul II, Letter to Women, par. 12.-

For more on this subject, read Ch 6 of my book, Blessed, Beautiful, and Bodacious.