This Sunday, Karol Jozef Wojtyla will be canonized as Saint John Paul II. Born in Wadowice, Poland on May 18, 1920, he planned as a young man to become an actor. However, when Germany invaded his Polish homeland, the 19-year-old Wojtyla chose to become a priest instead. He became the first non-Italian pope in four centuries when he was elected in 1978; his was the third-longest papacy in history. From his remarkable life and ministry, I would like to highlight three life choices today.
First, choose excellence.
Karol Wojtyla attended a secret seminary at night, then completed doctoral studies in just two years. He could speak three languages by the time he was 14, and eight as an adult. As pope, he wrote more than 3,000 pages a year and traveled more than 775,000 miles, equivalent to traveling to the moon and back three times. His memory was as prodigious as his work ethic: the pope knew every one of the 2,000 Roman Catholic bishops in the world by name. He served his Lord with his best gifts. Does God want less from us?
Second, choose relevance.
Before becoming pope, Wojtyla served as a bishop in Poland and then archbishop of Krakow. During his tenure there, he helped create 11 new parishes through door-to-door evangelism. As pope, he declared: “I sense that the moment has come to commit all the Church’s energies to a new evangelization and to the mission. No believer in Christ, no institution of the Church can avoid this supreme duty: to proclaim Christ to all peoples.”
How are we to proclaim him? John Paul II was especially interested in using media and arts to engage the lost. He noted that “contemporary reality demands a capacity to learn the language, nature and characteristics of mass media. Using the media correctly and competently can lead to a genuine enculturation of the Gospel.” Does God seek the same commitment to cultural relevance from us?
Third, choose passion.
Above all, John Paul II embodied passion and joy in Christ. Consider this observation: “It is Jesus 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 provoked 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 heart 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 ground down by mediocrity, the courage to commit yourselves humbly and patiently to improving yourselves and society, making the world more human and more fraternal.”
Excellence, relevance, passion—three commitments that will empower us to advance the Kingdom. Does God ask them of you today?