To end this series on the excellent book Seven Men and the Secret of Their Greatness by Eric Metaxas we will move into the church setting. A politician, an athlete, and a pope walked into a bar. Er, I mean, walked into the blog post…
While the first two men highlighted this month were giants of their respective arenas, this next man was a powerful man who was remarkably different from his peers.
Karol Wojtyla was 58 when he was selected as the next pope, which is a baby by papal standards. Pope John Paul II was quickly seen as different because he was Polish, an outdoorsman, wrote plays and poetry, and jogged. This jogging pontiff was also friendly, optimistic, and was devout without being a sour religious type. Quite frankly, he seemed to know God while also remaining full of life.
Born in 1920, Karol lived through the Nazi occupation of Poland. However, he managed to get through WWII while holding onto both his faith and life. Through much sorrow and suffering early in his life (his mother, father, and brother all died before he hit 20), the future pope began to see that God’s hand was at work in his life. He realized that there were no coincidences and that every event in his life helped him on the path God had in store for him.
Young Karol had a full life, he attended a secret seminary away from the prying eyes of the occupying forces, while also maintaining his involvement with theater and work at a chemical factory. He worked hard and eventually would become ordained in 1946.
Karol would rise in the Roman Catholic Church quickly, moving from a subordinate to the bishop of Krakow to archbishop to cardinal in a decade. A man who never aspired to a life of politics, Karol was well liked and he was placed in positions of great power out of this genuineness. When Pope John Paul I died unexpectedly (after a month in office), Karol was elected to the papacy. Here the incredibly down to earth man was cut off from his previous life with no possible exit to his former life. Still, Karl did not hesitate to accept the call, even if it meant his life would irrevocably change.
John Paul II addressed the crowds with such vulnerability and grace that people gravitated to him. He humbly communicated with clarity and he was charming without any sort of guile. His lifetime equipped him for this moment, his devotion, trust, humility, and service empowered him for this leadership.
What stuck out to me was his generous, broad minded nature while remaining seriously orthodox. Metaxas pointed out that the views of John Paul II flowed out of a place of love. His theological views were rooted in the belief that we are created in God’s image and that everything flows from this place. Our rights, freedoms, and responsibility flowed from this love. Even in the last stage of his life, he demonstrated that in suffering and weakness, God still provides strength. Once a strong man, Pope John Paul II would rely on Christ for strength. His grace, humility, life of prayer, and intellectual prowess help show that John Paul II was truly a man worth admiring.