Pope John Paul II: A Pope For Mary

A Pope for Mary

– Father Johann G. Roten, S.M.

John Paul II is hailed by the media as never before. He is the actor, the playwright and the sportsman. He has mesmerized the media and galvanized the crowds. He has brought down communism. He made of the Catholic Church a global church. He is the pilgrim who goes to the ends of the world. He was recognized as a global player in the political arena. He was gifted with charisma and an iron will. Fearlessly defending the sacred traditions of the Catholic Church, he was no less fearless in advocating the right to life in its manifold forms, the preferential option for the poor, and the age-old quest for justice and peace. He made us proud and challenged us. He is unanimously called an "extraordinary pope." For many he is among the greatest, and bets are already out how soon he will be made a saint.

But there is one thing that seems to go unnoticed. Every great man has in his life a unique source of inspiration, a spiritual center from which he draws his strength, and a constant point of reference from which he takes direction as well as corrections. We may call it centeredness or individuation as some psychologists would, or give it a more poetic ring by naming it a "secret garden" and a "holy grail." Pope John Paul II's person and life was fashioned and inspired by a life-giving spring which was neither hidden nor a simple psychological device. It was plainly visible on his coat of arms as Pope, and held in the short and challenging motto "Totus tuus." "Totus tuus" is the abbreviated version of the Marian consecration according to de Montfort. Karol Wojtila made the total consecration to Mary at the age of fifteen, vowing: "I am totally yours (totus tuus), and all that I possess is yours. I accept you in all that is mine. Give me your heart, O Mary." The full sense of this consecration includes a real and essential reference to Jesus Christ: "Jesus Christ our savior, true God and true man, must be the ultimate end of all our other devotions; otherwise they are false and deceiving." (L.M. Grignion de Montfort) The consecration to Mary encompassed the whole life of the deceased Pope. Only recently, and barely able to speak, "Totus tuus" were the first words he uttered after surgery on his throat. It is not exaggerated to say that John Paul II's consecration to Mary is the real secret and the not-so-hidden source of his grandeur. He was an extraordinary Pope. He owed it in great part to his dedication to Mary. Consecration has a binding force. It centers the whole person and disciplines it. It is a constant source of inspiration and purpose. Not least, consecration to Jesus Christ through Mary is a school of perseverance in adversity as is plainly shown in the figure of Mary standing at the foot of the cross. It is symbolized on the Pope's coat of arms with the sturdy letter M underneath the looming horizontal cross beam.

Some of the outstanding qualities of the Pope's persona can easily be traced to his profound Marian dedication.

There is first of all his single-mindedness which is the disposition and attitude of a person that has only one real purpose in life. This quality can also be rendered as faith in God alone, surrendering to His will, and totally dedicating oneself to his work. Such is the very personal profile of Our Lady whose life is known to us as pure service of God. John Paul II was the champion of the New Evangelization, of a new Pentecost in the hearts of all those who seek God. It was the overriding and ever-present purpose of his papacy which he pursued with a single mind and relentless energy.

There is a second and amazing quality that characterized the man Wojtyla. It is his generosity of heart. Only the truly dedicated ones are capable of great generosity. Our heart secured and steeped in God widens to new understanding and commitment. Moved by the love of God, the heart reaches out to others as far as carries our generosity. John Paul II's heart was wide with generosity. He reached out to friends and foes. He offered understanding, begged for forgiveness, built bridges, and practiced communality with all of good will. Generosity of heart is a typically Marian virtue. It has its ultimate source in God himself who inspired Mary to this most personal and generous profession of faith: "I am the handmaid of the Lord."

Third, we should highlight the Pope's sense of obedience. Heir to Christ's mission and instrument of the Spirit, no Pope is his own master. John Paul II knew that he was the guarantor of Tradition, which is both a heavy spiritual and moral burden and the life-line of Revelation. You don't treat lightly the legacy of Christ, but as a man of this time you also have to listen to the voices of the present. The Pope did both, and he did it in the light of what he perceived as the will of God voiced in his very Word, Jesus Christ, and treasured in the Church animated by the Holy Spirit. Obedience is a constant listening and pondering of the language of salvation. It is also the continuous and heartfelt repetition of the Marian prayer: "May it be done according to your will." Only when the two come together will obedience become a source of true freedom, looking beyond what pleases the opinion of the moment and the appeal of labels.

Herein lies the reason for John Paul II's strength of courage, which is still another quality of his person. Strength of courage was the Pope's way to live and proclaim Mary's Magnificat. He knew that God is the "collector of the unwanted," and he said so, with a loud and clear voice. He had the courage to be countercultural, when needed. He had the strength and perseverance to tout totalitarianism until it collapsed. He saw himself as the figurehead and rallying point of those who champion the values of the Spirit in the face of rampant materialism. Indeed, Mary of the Magnificat is the epitome of strength and courage steeped in God's promise. John Paul II was her faithful disciple.

He shared with Mary the humble pride of those blessed by the Lord. Many, especially among the simple people, attested to him a profound humanness. He was noted for his simplicity, easy manner, ready humor, and his affectionate reaching out to the little and the famous. His title as the servus servorum took on a special and lively meaning when he knelt down to kiss the ground of whatever country he visited, or when he kissed babies and hugged the lonely and suffering. Humble pride is the quality of people who know that they are sharing in the "greatness of the Lord," where pride is the gift and humility the answer, in joy and gratitude, for the gift given.

Last but not least, John Paul II was a lover of life. There is no word that qualifies the person of Mary better than that of 'life'. Virgin, she celebrates life for and in God. Mother, she receives life and passes it on, in spirit and body. And so John Paul II became the promoter of the culture of life: of life as inalienable right, of life as promise, and life as new beginnings. He fought for life against violence and war. He celebrated it with many people, in many languages and with many cultures.

The life and work of this extraordinary Pope shows that Mary can be fashionable. It certainly shows that Mary is not for the sacristy. She does not appreciate being mistaken for a cheap mascot dangling from the dashboard of our cars. She is mother, but not the guardian of spiritual infantilism. She is virgin, but no monument of splendid isolation. Hailed as beauty queen, she wants to be the queen of hearts. Revered as Queen of Heaven, her attention stays with the pilgrims of this earth. She stands up for the poor and the little but not for the faint-hearted and the cowards. Mary's mission reaches to the end of the world and times because she is the ultimate promoter of her Son, and the recreation of all and everything in Christ. She was the star of this Pope, and he was a pope for Mary.

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