Feast Day: October 22nd | Patron of Popes, Families, Youth, Laborers, Actors, Athletes, Human Life, Poland, the Elderly, and those with Parkinson’s
For the next few weeks, I’d like to introduce you to one of my favorite saint-friends: Pope John Paul II. He was one of the inspirations for my own call to the priesthood, and getting to spend 5 years living just a few minute walk to his tomb, and then to get to do additional studies at the Institute founded by him for the study of God’s Love manifested by Holy Matrimony and in family life … boy, it was an amazing gift! I would love to write so much more about his life, his papacy, his writings, and his sanctity, but I think you’d be given a better glimpse into his heart by reading his own words, so these next weeks will be taken entirely from his own reflections. First, from Gift and Mystery, about his first discovering within his heart his vocation to become a priest as a young man (some edits of my own in the following text to make for easier reading than the original clunky translation):
My preparation for the priesthood, which was finished in the seminary, had somehow been preceded by that given me in the life and example of my parents in our family. My gratitude goes especially to my father, who became a widower early. I had not yet made my First Communion when I lost my mother: I was just nine years old. I have not a clear awareness of the contribution that she gave to my religious education, though it was certainly great. After her death and, later, after the death of my brother, I was left alone with my father who was a deeply religious man. I was especially impacted by the austerity of his daily life. By profession he was a military man, and when he became a widower, his life became a constant prayer. I would wake up at night and find my father on his knees, as was always his practice in our parish church as well. Between us there was no talk of a vocation to the priesthood, but his example was for me in some way my first seminary, a kind of domestic seminary.
Later, after the years of my early youth, my seminary became the quarry and the water treatment plant in the baking factory in Borek Falecki. And it was no longer only a pre-seminary, as in Wadowice [my hometown]. The factory was for me, at that stage of life, a real seminary, although illegal. I began working in the quarry in September 1940 after a year spent at the water treatment plant in the factory. It was during these years that I came to my final decision [to follow God’s call the become a priest], and in the fall of 1942, while still working at Solvay, I, a former student of Polish Philology, undertook to enter into clandestine seminary studies. I did not realize then the importance that this would have for me. Only later, as a priest, during my studies in Rome, would I encounter through my brother-priests in the Belgian College the situation of worker-priests and the movement of the Young Catholic Workers (JOC). I realized then that, what had become so important for the Church and for the priesthood in the West – true contact with the world of labor, I already had in my own life experience.
In truth, my experience was not as a “worker-priest” but a “worker-seminarian”. Laboring by hand, I knew what it meant to endure physical fatigue. Every day I met with people who worked hard. I got to know the environment of these people, their families, their interests, their human value and dignity. Personally I experienced a lot of cordiality on their part. They knew I was a student and they also knew that, as soon as circumstances would permit, I would return to [full time] studies. I never met hostility for this reason. They did not give me trouble when I brought books to work; rather, they said: “We’ll watch out for you; you read well.” This happened especially during night shifts. Often they said: “Get some rest, we’ll watch out.”
I made friends with many workers. Sometimes they invited me to their house. Later, as a priest and bishop, I baptized their children and grandchildren, blessed marriages and officiated at many of their funerals. I also had occasion to note how many were hiding their religious feelings and profound wisdom of life. These contacts, as I mentioned, remained very close even when the German occupation ended and continued almost up to my election as Bishop of Rome. Some of them continue still in the form of correspondence.
– Fr. Dominic Rankin has to go out of his way to reach the end of the day bone-tired from plain hard work. Neither hard exercise, though tiring, nor the work that good prayer, liturgy, and preaching does require, results in the same tangible tiredness that breaking rocks or trudging to physical-work demands. Yet, I think that all of us know that some lessons can only be learned during a hard day working outside. Certain prayers are only drawn out of us, and strength built up in us, and quiet instilled within us from honest, physical, outdoor, labor. I need to find time for it more often!