As a convert I never got to grow up with a Pope. My picture of a Pope was quite skewed growing up. I always saw the Pope on a throne, letting his hand down for people to kiss his ring. I remember when I was 15 or 16 and my friend invited me to Life Teen. I accepted the invitation. He introduced me to a friend of his named John Paul.
Okay, pause for a moment. You know when you meet someone who is named two first names? As in their last name is a first name too? Like Kevin Peter? (Yeah, that’s a real friend of mine.) Well I always found that bizarre when I was a kid. Didn’t their parents know better?
Then I met John Paul. Two first names, as the first name?! You can do that? I asked him, “Why John Paul?”
“You know… the Pope?”
Duh! I felt like an idiot, which isn’t anything unusual for me. I suspected that his parents felt such a connection with this Great that they wanted their kid to grow up to be like him. Sort of like when people name their kid Apple. Okay it’s nothing like that. Being from the southwest, I grew up with people names Jesus. It’s more like that!
But I didn’t grow up with a Pope. That was about as far as my thoughts went growing up. I missed out on a lot.
I converted just months before Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI resigned. After being convinced of what the Pope *actually is*, I had no time to actually frequent myself with the Holy Father. Fatherless, I was highly anticipating the election in 2013. My whole family was glued to the TV when the white smoke came, the red curtains were opened, and a humble little man in white gave a simple and charming smile, raising his right hand as a wave. I had never heard of this Cardinal Bergoglio but that entrance had me entranced.
I imagine that is what people like John Paul’s parents must have felt when Pope John Paul II was standing on the same balcony on October 16, 1978. How desperate they must have felt in the midst of the Cold War, a recently ended and unpopular Vietnam, and a rate of inflation that held people in panic. How different the world was then and how much John Paul II did for that hopeful generation of Catholics.
There are so few people in history who really understand their own times. Pope John Paul II was one of those individuals. Through the years of his papacy, few have accomplished what John Paul II had. An argument can be made that he was the cause for the end of the war between the two greatest powers of the last century, an end to communism. His documents brought a Church that was treading in mud of disagreement over the moral interpretation of Vatican II, such as Veritatis Splendor. Others to forge a battle with the rise of the sexual revolution like Theology of the Body. And still, continuity to bring forth a solid and structured philosophy for our era, Fides et Ratio. His intense love for humanity had its touch on Rwanda, organized crime, and the sick.
Oh but there is so much more.
I wonder how we will look back, in so many years, at the coming achievements of Francis and how Benedict XVI’s unsurpassed theological teachings will be received.
I didn’t grow up with Pope John Paul II. I didn’t have any interest in the man. However, I have an idea that, however remote, he had me in mind, as he did so many of the growing and numerously diverse converts that are flooding the Catholic Church with enthusiasm and excitement for his canonization. So on that note, here’s to Pope John Paul “The Great” and his coming canonization.