Many of us are part of the John Paul II Generation. I know I definitely am. We grew up with this Pope. He was the only Pope many of us knew for twenty-five years. John Paul II was and is a spiritual father to many of us. I know that I personally was able to see this Pope in St. Louis, Missouri and Toronto, Canada during one of his visits. also was blessed to spend some time living in Rome, Italy during his pontificate and attended world youth days that he began. In my own life, he has inspired me to defend the unborn, to fight against sexual sin, to love purity, to make time for prayer, and to embrace the feminine genius as a woman.
John Paul II was born as Karol Wojtyla, in the small town of Wadowice, in Poland. A star student, he graduated from high school and attended the Jagiellonian University. His life was touched by hardship, from the death of his mother at age ten and his father at age twenty-one to living in Poland under the occupation of Nazism and then Communism. He would go on to become a priest and one of the youngest bishops ever at age thirty-eight. Later, he would become Pope. His papal motto was “Totus Tuus”, meaning that he totally belonged to the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Does this new saint have lessons for singles? He certainly does!
1. EMBRACE THE ARTS
John Paul II was an amateur actor from his earliest days. He certainly used this gift throughout his life, as he lit up the world stage with his personal magnetism and holiness. Enormously prolific, he also wrote-poetry, literature, books, and encyclicals.
The arts can certainly enrich our lives. Many of us grew up with lessons-perhaps music lessons, singing lessons, or dance lessons. I know God gave me the gift of years of violin lessons, as I studied violin and played with a performing group in my younger years. These are gifts that we can share with the world. Have you ever thought of joining the choir at church or playing the violin in an orchestra? Music and art can be a way of worshipping God. And even if you never had lessons as a child, you can pursue the arts as an adult. You can join an acting group or learn to play the guitar. If you can’t do this, you could become a supporter of the arts or an arts enthusiast.
Listen to beautiful music each day. Mozart, Bach, Handel, Beethoven-these men wrote some of the most beautiful sacred music ever. Listening to their works can help us to know our Creator better.
John Paul II exercised avidly. He was an athletic Pope. As a young man and a priest, he would ski, hike, kayak, and swim. He also planned excursions with groups of young people intertwining God’s glory in nature with the great outdoors. Even as a Pope later in life, John Paul II made a point to swim and ski. He realized that his personal effectiveness was contingent upon keeping his body strong and fit and keeping stress levels down.
Find a form of exercise that you enjoy. All of us can make time to walk for an hour three times a week and perform some simple strength-training exercises at home. Or take up swimming, biking, tennis, soccer, dance, whatever you like. Exercise increases our endorphins which generally makes us feel good about life.
How does this play into your relationships? Taking up the exercise habit will help you be a better spouse when you marry. It will also give you more energy to be a better parent. For those who marry in their thirties, forties, or later, we need to be thinking about being the best possible spouses to our husbands or wives and the best possible parents to our children. Exercise will help us. It can also help us to develop the virtue of fortitude, which is so necessary in life.
3. READ “THEOLOGY OF THE BODY”
This is perhaps one of John Paul II’s greatest contributions to our Church. Certainly for singles, embracing this teaching is life changing. At the heart of his teaching is that we are all made to give the gift of self. For those of us called to marriage, that means that we are called to give the gift of self within the context of family life. It can be a struggle to give the gift of self especially in this culture, which encourages men and women to be endlessly single, to date forever, and to use other people in casual sexual encounters. It can be a struggle to commit to one person forever in the sacrament of marriage. But John Paul II taught us that we are called to greatness, that we can do it, that with God’s grace, we can be the saints of this millennium, that we can make this world a better place and transform the culture. And in giving the gift of self, therein will lie our greatest fulfillment, our path to holiness, and our way to happiness and true freedom.
“Genuine love … is demanding. But its beauty lies precisely in the demands it makes. Only those able to make demands on themselves in the name of love can then demand love from others.” Pope John Paul II quotes
A second key component of John Paul II’s “Theology Of The Body” and his other writings on human sexuality, is that the sexual act outside of the context of a lifelong marriage, is a lie. That we can only be honest with our bodies when we are giving of ourselves to another that we have pledged our lives to, and only after we have taken those vows in the sacrament of marriage. His teachings also encourage us to reject using another human being in any way. We can use people in many ways, including sexually and emotionally.
So save sex for marriage. If you have made mistakes in this area, begin again. Use the sacrament of penance. With God’s grace you can live chastely as a single and live conjugal chastity when you are married. Love the Church’s teachings on human sexuality. They are beautiful. They are meant to set us free. Yes, they are a challenge, but as singles, we love a good challenge.
John Paul II had to certainly face some real challenges in loving others. When he was Pope, Ali Agca attempted to assassinate him on May 13, 1981. The Pope was struck by a bullet and nearly died. After recovering, John Paul II went to see his would-be assassin. No one knows what was said in that conversation, but most likely John Paul II offered his forgiveness. In the years since then, Ali Agca has converted to Catholicism and is even considering becoming a priest! Certainly the prayers of St. John Paul II have played an enormous role in Ali Agca’s conversion.
Many of you singles, I am sure, have faced heartaches, have been hurt deeply by people, maybe even by people who are Catholics or other Christians. Many of you may have had to endure horrible divorces, bitter betrayals, making you question where God was in your life. Perhaps some of you singles have been hurt by another’s selfishness, perhaps some of you have had your virginity taken by someone, or have lost the years you could have had children due to the selfishness of another. Some of you may have lost children due to abortion. Whatever our sufferings, singles can go through very difficult times in life.
The good news is that God is love. God also makes all things work for the good. We have to be willing to start the forgiveness process and God will help us. God does not want us to live in bitterness, He wants us to live in joy! Forgiveness is love. If we can forgive, and that means forgiving ourselves as well, we are growing and becoming loving and merciful people. That’s who we really are as children of God. When we practice love and mercy, we become more like Our Father in heaven. The truth of it is that each of us is a princess or prince who is a precious part of God’s family. We are destined to live eternally with He who is the King of Kings in heaven.
5. LOVE MARY
John Paul II was a Marian Pope. From his earliest days after he lost family members, he took Mary as his mother. He wore the Brown Scapular, which is a wonderful practice. It is one that means you are being embraced by Mary’s love, that she is continuously looking after you. This practice will also help you in the area of sexual purity. Early on his life as well, John Paul II did St. Louis de Montfort’s consecration to Mary. Through this consecration, it means you are offering everything to Mary that she may lead you to her Son. With Mary, you cannot go wrong. The great Saints knew that true devotion to Mary is the shortcut to becoming a Saint.
6. BE PEOPLE OF PRAYER
John Paul II was a man of deep prayer. He would pray about anything and everything. Some people said that as Pope, he would spend up to seven hours or more a day in prayer. When he experienced hardships as a Bishop, he would go to a Marian shrine in Poland, spending long period of time in prayer and praying about his problems. At the end of this time, God would lead him to solutions.
As lay people, we are called to be Saints. That’s the universal call to holiness. But we can’t be close to God unless we are praying. Aim for a half hour of prayer or more every day. T his could be fifteen minutes of Scripture reading and fifteen minutes of mental prayer. This could be listening to a song of praise or taking fifteen minutes to thank God for all of His blessings in your life. Find a time that suits you the best, whether it is early in the morning or in the evening. Be diligent about this. Present your problems to the Lord and watch your life change. Prayer changes things. Prayer changes us. Prayer will make us into the Saints God wants us to be. This will make us better people and better spouses and parents if the Lord calls us to marriage.
I am including this last point because it is so necessary in our world today! After Jesus Christ, John Paul II was one of the greatest evangelists this world has seen. He was absolutely convinced that Jesus Christ is the answer to every problem we will face. He sought to bring Jesus Christ to every person that crossed his path. He traveled the world evangelizing for Jesus Christ.
As a single, maybe you think, how can I evangelize anyone? As Catholics, we absolutely have to be thinking about the salvation of other souls. As singles, we have a bit more time now than those with families. It is not enough for us to know Jesus Christ, we have to bring him to those around us.
Look around you, it is a world so desperately in need of the Light of Christ! I was part of the RCIA leadership team at one of the churches in Chicago last year. I will never forget what one of the catechumens said. He was in his fifties, had been a part of the Church of Christ before. He absolutely fell in love with the Catholic Church. He said, “Why did I have to wait to be fifty-five before I entered the Catholic Church? I am learning so much!” Think how many people would love to be Catholic and have the graces you have. Maybe God is calling you to tell them about it.
So start to pray for your friends. Perhaps you can invite a non-Catholic friend to a Catholic event. Find ways to spread the Good News or join a Catholic group like St. Paul Street Evangelization which has many teams all around the country and the world which are helping to bring the good news of Christ to our incredibly needy world.
Our current pope, Pope Francis, is widely quoted throughout the media today. Maybe this is the reality of the world today: our popes are quoted in near real time. If St. John Paul II were with us today, I think we’d hear him echo this quote: “Do not be afraid to be saints!” St. John Paul the Great