It was a constant refrain.
During my happy years as a rector at the North American College in Rome, I had the annual pleasant duty of reading the spiritual autobiographies of our incoming class of forty-five or so new men.
Over and over again I would read, "The example of Pope John Paul II has been a major factor in my discernment of a vocation to serve Jesus and His Church as a priest."
While I'm not all that fond of the term, I have to admit the happy reality that we now have an entire generation of "John Paul II priests." Although I would also claim to be a "Pius XII priest," a "John XXIII priest," a "Paul VI priest," and, I hope, a "Pope Peter I priest" I, too, gratefully claim the badge "John Paul II priest."
What attracted these seminarians, these priests, even these bishops, to the man now called "Blessed John Paul II"?
One factor would be the centrality of Jesus. He would laugh at the term, "John Paul II priests." He'd remind us, "No! We are disciples, priests of Jesus Christ."
For John Paul II, Jesus Christ is the answer to the question asked by every human life. His existence on earth was a daily response to the invitation given the disciples on the Sea of Galilee, "Come, follow me."
Thanks to his Christ-centered life, millions more made Jesus the focus of their lives. They would converse with the Lord in prayer, gaze upon Him in the Eucharist, serve Him in the poor, find His other disciples in the Church, and ask Him what He wanted them to do with their lives. For a number of them, the reply was, "be a priest."
It would be John Paul who would powerfully remind the Church that, while all were called to be configured to Christ, some men were invited to be "re-ordered" at the core of their being to be configured to Christ as head, shepherd and spouse of the Church through the sacrament of Holy Orders.
The second factor: Blessed John Paul II moved a generation of priests by his courage. This is the man who kept repeating those words of God the Father and God the Son, "Do not be afraid."
He sure had every earthly reason to be scared: born into the decimation of post-World War I Poland; losing all of his family by the time he was only twenty-one; the Nazis; then Stalin's tyranny; Communist lies and oppression.
Yet he radiated a conviction, a confidence, a courage that a skeptical and frightened world craved. And young men were among them, reluctant to commit their lives to a question mark, but itching to embrace an exclamation point! They were tired of living in doubt and fear.
They would converse with the Lord in prayer, gaze upon Him in the Eucharist, serve Him in the poor, find His other disciples in the Church, and ask Him what He wanted them to do with their lives.
The third factor would be that John Paul reminded these men that they were God's work of art; they had an eternal destiny; they were at their best when according to his oft-repeated law of the gift they gave themselves away in love, like Jesus on the cross.
Yes, you could do that radiantly through marriage and family, through consecrated religious life, as committed single disciples.
But a good number of men knew you could do it in a particularly effective way as priests.
For them, the Church became a resounding "yes!" to everything noble, liberating, virtuous and heroic in life. For them, the Church was a radiantly attractive spouse, and fidelity to her would be their new project in life.
So, for every one you read about in shock on the front page of the paper, there are ninety-nine who are faithful and generous.
If you ask these priests what keeps them that way, they'll probably corner you and say, "No, not what, but who."
And the who is Jesus, His Mother, His Spouse, the Church, His Real Presence and the example of a man we now call "Blessed."
Archbishop Timothy Michael Dolan. "John Paul II Priests." Headline Bistro (May 1, 2011).
"Headline Bistro: News Catholics Need to Know". HeadlineBistro.com is maintained and sponsored by the Knights of Columbus.
This article is reprinted by permission of the media office of the Archdiocese of New York.
Cardinal Timothy Michael Dolan was named Archbishop of New York by Pope Benedict XVI on February 23, 2009. Archbishop Dolan is the author of Doers of the Word: Putting Your Faith Into Practice, To Whom Shall We Go?, and Advent Reflections: Come, Lord Jesus!.Copyright © 2011 Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan
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