God’s Love Made Him Great
Book review of Saint John Paul the Great
SAINT JOHN PAUL THE GREAT
His Five Loves
By Jason Evert
Ignatius Press, 2014
300 pages, $21.95 (hardcover)
To order: ignatius.com
In the days leading up to the canonization of John Paul II, I read Jason Evert’s new book on our new saint. It was a fitting preparation before watching the Mass on Divine Mercy Sunday 2014 on EWTN.
I found Saint John Paul the Great hard to put down. Page after page, I learned new things about our beloved Holy Father — or remembered things I had heard over the years.
I enjoyed how Evert — speaker and founder of ChastityProject.com — focused on the topics of young people, human love, the Eucharist, Our Lady and the cross: St. John Paul II’s five loves, per the subtitle.
Inspiring and insightful, John Paul’s words, through speeches and writings, are interwoven with personal remembrances from those who were blessed to meet and know him.
I particularly liked anecdotes about how he would bless the communist spies who would follow him as he attended to his pastoral work as a priest in Poland. He knew God would protect him and love would prevail.
It was touching to read how he was late to say Mass one day because he needed to borrow shoes (as he had given his away on the way to church).
Each story reflected a life of holiness, including how many hours John Paul would spend in prayer.
He was so open to God’s will — a good lesson for readers, me included. “Every vocation changes our plans, disclosing a new one, and it is astonishing to see how much inner help God gives us,” he once wrote. And he took this advice to heart, discovering that God wanted him to be a priest instead of an actor, which led him to study for the priesthood in secret during World War II.
Some of the best quotes Evert shares are from people who recognized that John Paul II was truly present to those around him.
“He spoke to me with his eyes, because he could do that, you know,” one man remarked.
He “had this incredible, mysterious gift: Even talking to a crowd, even a crowd of millions, he made each and every member of the crowd feel that it is only him or her to whom he speaks,” another person recalled.
His holiness drew people to him — just like all of the iconic images of him attest.
“[T]he reason why millions flocked to him was not because they viewed him as a superstar. No, they wished to see Jesus,” Evert writes in the section about John Paul’s love of young people.
He told youth the truth about chastity and God’s plan for love. He enjoyed spending quality time with young people, serving as a grandfather to the world.
The section on his love of the Eucharist was also moving. He could always sense the presence of the Blessed Sacrament and would pray for 30-40 new petitions each day.
As an extension of this love, he loved Mass: “Nothing means more to me or gives me greater joy than to celebrate Mass each day and to serve God’s people in the Church.”
I like to journal in the adoration chapel, so I was happy to see that John Paul saw the value of writing there, too: “I have always been convinced that the chapel is a place of special inspiration. What a privilege to be able to live and work in the shadow of His presence.”
“The Eucharist is the secret of my day,” the pope-saint noted. “It gives strength and meaning to all my activities of service to the Church and to the whole world. … Let Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament speak to your hearts. It is he who is the true answer of life that you seek.”
This Eucharistic love also was linked to his love of the Blessed Mother: “Is not the enraptured gaze of Mary as she contemplated the face of the newborn Christ and cradled him in her arms that unparalleled model of love which should inspire us every time we receive Eucharistic communion?”
Mary helped him survive the near-fatal 1981 assassination attempt (and others as well). He wrote a poem dedicated to her called Totus Tuus (Totally Yours), which was also his papal motto. Those words are said to be the last words he wrote, too, a fitting tribute to his Marian spirituality.
In addition, faith was the impetus for his outreach to those in need, particularly the sick and suffering. He taught people how to suffer himself, as his health grew worse at the end of his earthly journey. He helped relieve people’s pain, even with a touch, Evert shares: lifetime miracles, as it were.
Often referred to as the “Mercy Pope,” he felt privileged to offer God’s mercy to the faithful in confession and brought Divine Mercy to the world (the day he canonized St. Faustina, he said, was the happiest of his life, as this book recounts).
This saintly pope suffered so much in life, with the deaths of his family while he was a little boy and young man and in living through turmoil and war in his homeland.
But God chose him to show the world Jesus’ love — not to mention help end Polish communism and bring down the Berlin Wall, while writing prolifically on faith and visiting more people than any other person ever has.
His Christlike life is indeed a saintly legacy, making him worthy of the title “great.”
As Evert put it, “If it was Christ who the young people were looking for, why were they coming to see the Pope? The answer is simple: Like Jesus, the Pope was uncompromising, authentic and loving.”
Amy Smith is the Register’s associate editor.
Paperbacks are available in bulk for parishes or schools, for $2, via JP2Book.com.
- May 18-31, 2014