All my life, I’ve had the gift of being surrounded by men of strong character. My grandfather, my father, my brothers, and then later my-father in-law and of course, my husband. I never lacked for positive male influences in my life, and I never suffered from a Daddy complex. From my youngest memories through the first years of my marriage, I considered Pope John Paul II as one of those men. In my own way, I cared for him as much my own as my beloved grandfather. Rome is a bit more distant than Sacramento, but the feeling remained. John Paul II belonged to me.
As a little girl, when I saw photos of him on magazines or newspapers, or video clips on the news, I felt a tiny thrill of celebrity. There was my Papa. He helped bring about the fall of Communism. (Yes, perhaps I was a tad bit too aware of the Cold War. My nightmares would attest to that.) He met with powerful leaders and seemingly seconds later, was hugging poor children of Mexico. I was as proud of John Paul II as a little girl could be, and I loved him with a love that is only formed by a bond, by a possessiveness. He was a part of my family.
As I grew older and became more jaded, I distanced myself from him and from the Church, but no matter how confused I was about my faith or my direction in life, he was a man who unfailingly made me proud. In my darkest days of college, when I had tossed all but the last shreds of my faith aside, a glimpse of him made me long for home. Not the home of my parents, but the comfort of a universal family of which he was the patriarch. Huh. Imagine that: the word that meant oppression and misogyny in so many of my liberated circles, and it was what I still longed for.
As a young married woman, I started to rediscover my faith. I still struggled with certain tenets of it, things that seemed to me to be restrictive, unfair, outdated. I would think about John Paul II, a man who at that point was in very poor health. And my questions and confusions often found their way back to this thought: a man whom I loved without reservation, who lived the gospel in ways that brought me to my knees in humility and a genuine prayer for God to change me… If this man was able to overcome the questions and put his faith in the Catholic Church, then it just might be possible for me too.
When John Paul II died, I felt it as deeply as I had felt the death of my grandfather 3 years before. I wept. I prayed. And I sincerely didn’t know who could follow such a great man as the Vicar of Christ. Thank goodness my feeble faith wasn’t a reflection of the Holy Spirit’s strength. Both Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis have more than lived up to the task and remain strong and beautiful examples of Christ’s message. But I think there will always be a little hole in my heart left by the pope of my youth, the Papa who remained my anchor when I strayed and my lighthouse beacon on the darkest nights.
I never needed a father figure, or a grandfather figure. But I got a bonus one in John Paul II anyway. To me, that is what the papacy is at its best: a gentle calling home from a man who loves his flock and wants the best for us.
My favorite image of this great man:
And the video that makes me laugh, cry, and dance.
Linking up with Jenny @ Mama Needs Coffee for her JP II Love Story Link Up. If you’d like some recommendations for great hid’s books on the subject of popes and John Paul II in particular, check out my recent book review.
And finally, if you have questions about the papacy, about John Paul II, or about Catholicism in general, I’m happy to answer them. Leave questions in the comment box or email me. My address is on the contact page. God bless you!