From Eucharistic Adoration
Woman, this is your son. Son, this is your mother. (John 19:27)
As the second millennium of the birth of Christ drew near, Pope John Paul II issued a reflection upon the Mother of the Redeemer. Citing the Second Vatican Council, he recalls that the church in the course of history “proceeds along the path already trodden by the Virgin Mary who ‘advanced in her pilgrimage of faith and loyally persevered in her union with her son unto the cross.’” There, he says, “Mary’s motherhood is a gift, a gift which Christ himself makes personally to every individual.”
Karol Wojtyla’s life was characterized by devotion to the mother of God who, he believed, saved him when he lost his own mother at the age of eight. The words of Jesus, “This is your mother,” (John 19:27), had personal significance for him; he once called them, “The origin of all Marian devotion.” Throughout his life the Rosary was an important prayer for John Paul.
From my youthful years this prayer has held an important place in my spiritual life. The Rosary has accompanied me in moments of joy and in moments of difficulty. To it I have entrusted any number of concerns; in it I have always found comfort. On October 29, 1978, scarcely two weeks after my election to the See of Peter, I frankly admitted, “The Rosary is my favorite prayer.”
During all the years of his pontificate, Pope John Paul invited anyone who wished to join him in a public recitation of the Rosary on Saturday evenings in the Vatican. He personally wrote a new set of meditations, the “Luminous Mysteries,” concentrating on Jesus’s public life, to accompany its prayers.
If you stand in front of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, you will notice on the right a mosaic portrait of Jesus and Mary placed there by John Paul. His personal coat of arms sets aside traditional symbols of family and nation and consists simply of the cross of Christ with one bar elongated over a large letter M: Mary at the foot of the cross. His episcopal motto beneath it reads, “Totus tuus,” which is a short rendition of the prayer, “I am totally yours, dear Jesus, through Mary, your mother.”
During the Wojtyla years, the Pope’s private chapel in his apartment was adorned above the altar with the image of Our Lady of Czestochowa, patroness of Poland and focus of its religious identity. The original icon, piously believed to have been painted by Saint Luke, is housed in a shrine on the mountain of Jasna Gora where, on August 15th, people from all over Poland gather in pilgrimage. The faces of the Virgin and Child are darkened with the patina of the ages, and the face of the Virgin shows a slash done by an enemy of religion that has never been repaired.
On the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima, May 13, 1981, during a Wednesday public audience in St. Peter’s Square, the Turkish terrorist Ali Agca fired a shot at the Pope, nearly killing him. A year later, Pope John Paul traveled to Portugal to place the bullet in a crown for Our Lady of Fatima, attributing to her his survival from this attack.
Some who have known him have called John Paul II a mystic. Let me cite one personal experience I had that confirms it for me. I was asked to visit the apartment in the Vatican of Cardinal Andrzej Deskus, a close personal friend of the Pope going back many years to their earlier lives in Poland. Deskur, whom I met that day for the first time, showed the effects of a crippling stroke that struck him just three days before the election of his friend Wojtyla as Pope. The new Pope interpreted this event as a mystical offering by his friend for the success of his pontificate.
Before our meeting, I spent some time in the cardinal’s private chapel. When we sat down together afterward, he asked me if I had noticed anything unusual about his chapel and I responded that I did not. Then he told me the remarkable story of how his friend, coming from Poland for meetings in Rome, would stay with him in this apartment and how he discovered that his friend was spending entire nights lying on the chapel floor in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. It was then that Deskur decided to remove the traditional Italian tile floor from the chapel and replace it with wood, “so my friend would not catch a cold.”
Before being ordained a priest, Karol Wojtyla worked in a stone quarry. When I met him and talked with him over the years, he appeared to me to be a man of stone. He had to be to live through not one but two totalitarian regimes in his homeland and survive. In one of his poems called, “The Quarry,” he wrote,
Hands are a landscape. When they split, the
pain of their sores
surges free as a stream.
But no thought of pain—
no grandeur in pain alone.
For his grandeur he does not know how to name.
John Paul II saw as his mission in life to point out the grandeur of being a human person, and the amazement for that grandeur, he once wrote, is the gospel.
My soul magnifies the Lord,
And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.
For he has regarded the lowly state of his maidservant;
For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed.
For he who is mighty has done great things for me,
And holy is his name.
And his mercy is on those who fear him
From generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He has put down the mighty from their thrones,
And exalted the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
And the rich he has sent away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
In remembrance of his mercy,
As he spoke to our fathers,
To Abraham and to his seed forever.