John Paul's Christmas Present to the World

There is a subtle breeze blowing through the lives of our young faithful these days. It is a quiet reverence for the great mysteries of our faith, a willingness to act on the truth of the ages. It's our Holy Father, Pope John Paul II. We who are so fortunate to have children growing up under his tutelage watch in awe as “his” generation comes of age.

My 16-year-old daughter came to me recently, eyes moist, looking like a storm-tossed waif with a dark history.

“I have to tell you something, Mom,” she said. “I've been trying all week to figure out a way to say it. I feel so bad about what I've done. Get ready, Mom, this is a big one.”

I gripped my seat and drew a deep breath. My mind checked the “dread list” of mistakes kids confessed to their parents in my day: drugs, sex, pregnancy. Not my little girl, I thought, but then right away: Oh, every parent says that — “Not MY kid…”

“Here it comes,” I said to myself. “This is it, the ‘big one.’ Please God, let me take it well.”

“Tell me, Sweetie,” I said. “You know there's nothing you can do to make me stop loving you. What is it?”

Tearfully, she told me: A school peer had encouraged her to buy a popular horror novel. She knew I wouldn't approve, she said, but she was trying to show off. She bought it, read portions of it and was horrified at its contents.

“I feel so ashamed, Mom,” she said. “They said it would be just … like the Dracula novel. And since it was near Halloween, I thought… Oh, it was stupid! I'm sorry, Mom, I knew you and Dad wouldn't like it.”

A book. That was “the big thing.” I swallowed my heart again and nearly laughed with relief. Quietly, I asked her why she did it.

“So you did that — to prove your independence?”

“I know,” she said. “It was sooo stupid.”

“Honey, did your friends tell you that the author of that book also writes some pretty hideous porn novels under a pseudonym?”

“No,” she said. “Ew.”

“I guess the money you spent kind of feels like you just flushed it down the toilet.”

“I wish I had!” she said, her eyes wide.

I hugged her, and she cried a bit, vowing to go to confession as soon as possible. She asked me if I'd just take the book and get rid of it. As much as I hated the idea of book burning, I agreed, dumping it in the recycle bin.

But I was curious: What was the deciding factor that had brought this child to me? What was the final straw? What had she read on those pages that so horrified her — was it graphic sex? Atheistic dogma? I asked her, and she recoiled in humiliation.

“I can't say it out loud,” she whispered.

“Come on, what was it?” I said, moving closer.

“There's a part where one of the characters has a dream about … about harming the Host … Oh, Mom, the Body of Christ!”

Now I understood. I was angry and as horrified as she. My beautiful daughter, her beautiful faith — singed by an evil culture under the guise of “art.”

I reminded her of my husband's devout Lutheran grandfather in the foxholes of World War I: The young man spent a long evening with his fingers in his ears — singing hymns to himself to block out the stories other soldiers told of their escapades with prostitutes. He knew, he said later, that if “Satan got that garbage in my head, I'd never get it out.”

“That's how I feel, Mom. Contaminated!”

“But of course there's God's grace, Honey. That can repair anything.”

“Mom! You know what the Holy Father says about the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist!”

So that was the difference — John Paul's careful attention to our youth. When I was 16, I had excellent teachers, but there was no serious effort to recognize youth as the future of the Church or, indeed, of humanity. As a result… yeah, I knew Jesus was really, really, like — you know, present in the Eucharist. Just like I new Brian Bumiller was a really really cute guy and that bell bottoms were really really cute clothes and that I like, really really didn't want zits.

But this child — and I must say, her friends at her Antioch Youth Group — are a new creation, with seeds planted and lovingly cultivated by the Pope himself. These kids have integrated a teaching into their very souls, a teaching that comes directly from that beautiful soul in Rome.

As our Holy Father in Rome seems to weaken, I am tempted to despair. The world has never seen such a profoundly pious generation of young people. Our Pope has, to a great degree, turned back the hands on the clock of destruction by taking our children to his heart and giving them back to us more alive, more sensitive, more devout than we might have dreamed they could be. As my daughter tells me, “John Paul II says my generation will produce more saints than any before it.”

A 16-year-old girl, living in an ever-darkening world, thinking about sainthood, seeking her Messiah. She has seen his star in the sky; she follows it over the rough, dry desert she travels each day. That star, her Christmas star, is John Paul, and where he points is her epiphany. The Christ he brings will be with us always, even until the end of the age.

Susan Baxter writes from Mishawaka, Indiana.