Pope John Paul II and the Call to Holiness

On October 22, 2014, we celebrate the first Memorial of Pope St. John Paul II (the Great). His tenure as pope was known for many things:

Surviving an assassination attempt and publicly forgiving his assassin (May 13, 1981- Mehmet Agca)

The third longest reign of any pope (26 years, 5 months and 18 days- 9,665 days)

Visiting more countries than any pope (117).

His own IMDB page featuring his two plays/movies: Our God's Brother (1997) and The Jeweler’s Shop (1989).

The establishment of World Youth Day (First held in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1987).

All these things endeared him to generations of people, but my connection to JPII has nothing to do with any of these facts. Rather, I came to know St. John Paul II through a book that was written about him. The book is entitled The Pope and the CEO by Andreas Widmer, a former Swiss Guard. In this book, Widmer combines writings from JPII's pontificate, stories about his interactions with the Saint and his own reflections on the lessons from these experiences.


The most moving part of the book for me was the reflection on vocation, and I read this chapter probably one hundred times during my discernment prior to joining the Dominicans.  In this chapter, Widmer describes how he saw JPII living out his vocation, and how that in turn inspired him to reflect on his life and his faith.


“When he (JPII) would return to the Vatican from weeks on the road, he didn't head straight for his rooms and collapse like most would. Instead, he would stop and greet all the staff who had gathered to welcome him home. Like a general reviewing his troops, he would inspect us, the guards lined up in honor formation, talking to us and shaking our hands as he moved down the row. He had every right and reason to walk right past us to the calm and quiet of his apartments, but he knew it was his sacred duty to make a gift of himself to us as much as to the crows that greeted him in foreign lands.” (20)


“Day in and day out, John Paul II poured himself out in response to what God asked of him. The reason he could do that joyfully and unfailingly was because he knew what God had made him to do. He knew his vocation.” (21)


Widmer then goes on to reflect upon JPII's description of the universal, primary and secondary vocation that all people are called to.


1. Universal Vocation: The call to holiness and right relationship with God. “To know, love and serve God in this life so that you can know love and serve him eternally in the next.” Living this relationship requires that you treat it as one: with prayer, works of service to God present in your neighbor, and striving to learn more about him.


2. Primary Vocation: How the universal vocation is lived out: married, single, consecrated, or priestly life. It is in this vocation that one is called to bear witness to their relationship with God. Each of these vocations requires a complete dedication of unselfish love to the people God places in one's life. If a person is married, they are to give themselves completely to their spouse and children, if a person is consecrated they are to give themselves fully to their community and those they serve, likewise for priests and single people, they are to give themselves unselfishly to those whom they minister.


3. Secondary Vocation: The way that a person is called to use the gifts and skills that God has given them. It is this call that requires that one gives glory to God for their bodies, minds and imagination through using them to the best of their ability. Whether one is a professional athlete, a dancer, artist, doctor, priest or a manual laborer, God has given them the ability to do their occupation, so it should be done with the best of one's ability as an offering of gratitude to their Creator.


In Summary: 

Universal vocation= Overarching Call to Holiness

Primary vocation= Mode of living one's life

Secondary vocation = The way one uses their gifts and skills to serve God.


In discerning our vocation, we are all called to examine how we are best able to fully give ourselves to God and his people while using the gifts and talents he has blessed us with.  In reading and reflecting upon this idea, I came to a realization that this decision is not about me, and there is not a right or wrong answer. There is great solace and comfort to be found in knowing that regardless of which vocation a person ultimately discerns, as long as they are growing closer to God through it, they have selected correctly. Discerning a vocation is not about passing or failing; rather it is about making a choice to have a deep relationship with God! 


Thank you Pope St. JPII for your example of service to the Church and calling us all to holiness through your vision of a vocation!


BONUS: In honor of JPII's Feast Day, Here is a slideshow featuring JPII's favorite song and pictures from throughout his life: