Blessed John Paul II: his prayer life revealed


Continuing our series in celebration of the beatification of Pope John Paul II, this morning we will be looking at prayer, and what it meant for the Polish Holy Father.

The Congregation for the Causes of Saints spoke about the simplicity of John Paul II’s prayer, a quieter side to his life than the big addresses and meetings he is known for.

In John Paul II – The Road to Sainthood by Jim Gallagher, the author tells us that prayer was part of Karol Wojtyla’s life from a very young age. At seven, the boy became an Altar Server, attending mass and saying Morning Prayer before school each day.

And this love of prayer did not change when he became first a priest, then a bishop, as Gallagher writes:

“Most of his writing throughout his life as bishop and pope, though, was done on his knees. Every day he made two or three hours to spend before the Blessed Sacrament where he would write his speeches, conferences, pastoral letters and so on.

“He once wrote, ‘Prayer makes the priest and through prayer the priest becomes himself.’”

“Knowing Pope John Paul from the inside”

As a young man, Karol read the works of the Spanish mystic St John of the Cross, becoming thereby a lover of Carmelite spirituality.

The 16th-century Saint once said:

“In tribulation immediately draw near to God with confidence, and you will receive strength, enlightenment, and instruction.”

And the Holy Father understood this. All his political, philosophical and theological impact cannot be divorced from this intense life of prayer.

As George Weigel points out in his masterly biography, “Witness to Hope”, the secular and political world understand Wojtyla from the outside; understanding his spiritual life means understanding him “From the inside.”

Praying with the saints

And inside was a man who always turned to the Lord for strength, and not just to God, as Jim Gallagher explains:

“He truly believed in the communion of saints and knew that the prayers of the saints in Heaven, the Church Triumphant, could benefit us here on earth in the Church Militant.

“On a piece of white card he had a litany of Polish saints that he prayed to every day, wherever he was in the world. As he ‘made’ new ones he added them in pen to his list!”

An illustration of the importance of prayer

Prayer was vital to him because he saw that closeness to Christ as the source of any good he could accomplish.

One night, the nuns that cared for him could not find the Pope. After searching the house, they rushed panicking into the chapel, where they found him on his knees in prayer.

Noticing their worry, the Pope asked, “Sisters, is anything the matter?”

“We were worried for Your Holiness,” they replied. The soon-to-be-blessed John Paul II smiled, “I too, was worried for my holiness.” He answered.

John Paul II – The Road to Sainthood by Jim Gallagher is available from CTS at £2.95

Of related interest:

John Paul II: The Pope who Made History – A unique and monumental 5-DVD collection that chronologically follows Pope John Paul II’s life, including his childhood in Poland, his appointment as Pope, his most important foreign visits, and his last days.
John Paul II: His Life his Pontificate – his DVD contains two feature-length documentaries: His Life (30 mins) and His Pontificate (60 mins). They consider the two parts of John Paul’s life, before and after his election as Pope.
How Saints are Canonised – Through baptism, all Christians are called to be saints, and yet there are also ‘saints’ who are ‘canonised’ by the Church. This booklet gives an overview of the history and process of beatification and canonisation in the Catholic Church.

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