When I heard that my parish church was giving away free copies of a new biography of St. John Paul II on the day of his canonization, I was skeptical. The last giveaway book I picked up at a church was pretty blah. But since it’s basically impossible for me to resist a free book, I took a copy anyway.
Jason Evert’s Saint John Paul the Great: His Five Loves turned out to be a very readable and interesting summary of the former pope’s life, followed by an explanation of what the author considers St. John Paul II’s five highest priorities: Young People, Human Love, the Eucharist, the Virgin Mary, and the Cross.
The first half, the biography section, is like a supplement to George Weigel’s massive, authoritative, two-volume biography of John Paul II: Witness to Hope, published while JPII was still living, and The End and the Beginning, covering the final years of his papacy and his death. I’ve read the first volume. Evert has drawn on these two books, but he also adds a number of personal testimonies and previously unpublished incidents, such as the large number of assassination attempts that were made on the pope after the famous one in 1981.
Included are stories of different people who claim that John Paul II touched and healed them–a priest with a damaged vocal cord, a 5-year-old dying of leukemia, and a demon-possessed woman. He also shares testimonies about the intensity of JPII’s prayer life, which were very inspiring.
My favorite story in the book involved an American priest who recognized a panhandler in Rome as a former seminary classmate who had left the priesthood. The American priest asked the pope to meet with the former priest. When the fallen-away priest met with the pope, JPII immediately asked him if he would hear his confession. The man responded, “I’m a beggar,” and the pope said, “So am I.” After hearing the pope’s confession, the former priest confessed to the pope, who promptly assigned him to a parish in Rome, ministering to the homeless.
The section on “The Cross” as one of the pope’s loves was also very strong. I think it was St. Josemaria Escriva who said that the prayers of children and the sick are the nearest and dearest to God. I suspect JPII agreed with that, given the time he devoted to ministering to youth and to the sick. When he met with the ill and the infirm, he would say to them, “I entrust the Church to you” and talk of bearing sickness and disability well as a special vocation from God. That gave me a lot to think about.
Over the last few months, I read C.S. Lewis’s Space Trilogy for one of my book clubs, as well as The Abolition of Man. If I had to sum up those four Lewis books in one sentence, it would be that when a society denies the existence of a universal moral law, that society ceases to be human and inevitably devolves into an animalistic fight for power.
I think everyone should read The Abolition of Man. I was surprised to find that it was written in 1943 because it describes contemporary culture so accurately.
But I wasn’t surprised to read in Evert’s book that JPII, as a young youth minister, read C.S. Lewis aloud to the college students he took on hiking and camping trips. If you’ve read much Lewis you know that he would agree heartily with John Paul II that true human freedom “consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought.”
More books talk at Jessica’s!