Happy 100th!

If I were their officemate, my sons and husband mused at one of our recent lunches in the oft frequented “Café 5350”, I would be that annoying co-worker who hits “reply all” for the express purpose of issuing inane and needless (Hey, thanks!) email replies, thus clogging up the inboxes of others. 

“So, let me get this straight? I am getting raked over the coals at this lovely family lunch on my own patio because I am HYPOTHETICALLY guilty of being the annoying co-worker you finance and accounting guys detest?”

They laughed their big bellies off and agreed, uniformly, that hypothetically speaking, I am absolutely guilty. 

In my defense, I’ll simply offer the fact that my giftedness in the area of interconnectedness is superior to some of my accusers, and I think those handsome clowns are just jealous, ha?  

Authentic, value-based, and positive leadership, I’d argue, makes mutual care and interconnectedness a priority.  For the past few days, I’ve been reading about a man whose life defines that particular model of effective leadership.  It makes me yearn for more men and women like him in 2020. Were he still alive, St. Pope John Paul II would have been 100 years old TODAY!

Reading about his remarkable life and leadership qualities have left me aching for political and spiritual leaders of his ilk.  Instead, it feels like we are all living in a vacuum, a void, an utter emptiness of such pilotage.  I don’t mean to be mean, but the incapacity and ego-driven shenanigans of many of the folks in charge during this pandemic is a bit mind-numbing.  There’s so much preoccupation with one’s own feelings and egotistic self-absorption present in the never-ending press conferences that I long for a selfless captain without ulterior motive. 

The ultimate test of your greatness is the way you treat every human being. (St. John Paul II)

They stand in stark contrast with the person of Karol Wojtyla.  This was a remarkable man who lost his entire family before the age of 21, was trained in dangerous circumstances in an underground seminary as Nazis closed in, and whose entire upbringing was beset with socio-political tragedies.  He had every reason to be a bitter or jaded, but this man truly was a Witness to Hope. He was the pope we remember for his indispensable contributions in the peaceful conclusion to the Cold War.

An inspiring man who operated in love, it seems to me this priest of Jesus Christ saw his work as not burdensome, but rather a way to serve his fellow man.  He firmly believed in “The Law of the Gift”, which is about how the happiness of man rests in his ability to sincerely give himself to others. 

Everyone lives, above all, for love.  The ability to live authentically, not great intellectual capacity, constitutes the deepest part of a personality.  It is no accident that the greatest commandment is to love.  Authentic love leads us outside ourselves to affirming others:  devoting oneself to the cause of man, to people, and above all, to God.  (St. John Paul II)

 I love so much in this story unfolding before me in the pages of George Weigel’s biography, Witness to Hope, but I especially am drawn to the humility on display.  For instance, it’s reported that when he was a Cardinal, he once had to bring in a misguided priest for a reprimand of some note.  After the discussion, Cardinal Wojtyla prayed with the young priest at great length.  At just the point when the poor kid was nearly unnerved, the Cardinal turned to the younger man and asked him to hear his (Wojtyla’s) confession.   What a beautiful example of how to properly conduct fraternal correction!

Inspiring leaders believe in people.  They make others feel special.  St. Pope John Paul II could speak truth, create a climate of wonder, defend the faith, and witness to joy and love precisely because he was humble man who was deeply in love with Jesus.  He was intimately involved with much of the work done during Vatican II.  Here’s a tidbit from Witness to Hope that I found especially moving.

Wojtyla also developed a profound critique of the utilitarianism that permeates modern culture—the temptation to measure others by their financial, social, political or sexual utility to me—by demonstrating the moral fact that our relationship to truth, goodness, and beauty is the true stuff of our humanity.  Finally, Wojtyla showed how accepting the moral truth involved in the Law of Gift is not a limit on our freedom or our creativity.  Truth makes us free and enables us to live our freedom towards its goal, which is happiness.

It seems to me the virtuous way he cared for others and his desire to create a spirit of unity with all humanity is a beautiful example with implications for our contemporary leaders, but also deeply important for our own lives. 

St. Pope John Paul II reminds me that one human being can have an amazing impact on the world.  It’s the same message I was attracted to when I chose St. Catherine of Siena as my confirmation saint many years ago as a teenager.  She famously said, “Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.” It rings true.

Christian love is “the more excellent way”.  I am finding myself moved today to reflect on my life as well as my own circumstances.  Do I have an encouraging attitude?  Am I fostering good relationships?  Am I filled up with solipsism or do I value self-awareness, humility and compassion for others?  As it relates to the dignity and sanctity of human life, do my actions match the truth of Christ I proclaim to believe?

Let me put it to you in more practical terms.  This morning, a lovely friend of mine asked me for some “concrete” spiritual advice.  She said she felt during this pandemic especially helpless, that she wasn’t doing anything useful with her time.  In the absence of access to the sacraments, and with job losses suffered in her family, she is feeling more powerless than at any previous time as it relates to leading her family in faith, she said.  I agreed with her that I have never understood more clearly in my life the importance and centrality of the Eucharist, and that like her I long for the return to access to the sacraments we both hold dear.  However, we can’t control that, so I suggested something simple.  I asked her if she prayed for her family and friends? Then, I told her this.  Prayer is powerful, I believe, because I know the Lord looks on us with such affection that He wants to use us in His work. While it’s His saving work, in my heart I am certain that this prayerful intercession of ours does matter, and the prayers do help.  Most of us, no matter how lowly our situation, can give this gift.  There’s always more we can do to love others, but it’s a start. 

While we’re praying, let us ask today for St. John Paul II’s intercession for our civic leaders, both here and abroad, at the national and local levels as they navigate during these unusual times.  Additionally, we’ll call on the “birthday boy” to intercede for us as it relates to our spiritual leaders.  May they fall more deeply in love with Jesus and have the necessary courage to be fully present, humble, and self-giving shepherds to all the souls in their care. 

St. John Paul II, PRAY FOR US!